The S&W Model 61-2 Escort- a Good Little Gun that Wasn’t Good Enough

S&W Model 61-2 .22 Pistol

The Gun Control Act of 1968 effectively prohibited the importation of most sub-compact ‘pocket pistols,’ leaving a void in the market that Smith & Wesson was quick to try to fill. They announced the Model 61 Escort in 1969, but they did not become available until 1970. They were produced until 1973, with a total production across four variants of around 65,000 guns.

The design was based on the Pieper Bayard, a small Belgian .380 ACP gun produced in 1908, with the recoil spring and slide mounted above the barrel. The slide had an under-slung breech block to engage with the barrel, and the design was a simple blow-back gun with a concealed hammer.

Two different finishes were available- a nickel-plated gun with white plastic grips meant to resemble Mother of Pearl, and a blued gun with plastic grips meant to resemble wood.

The first three variants had a die-cast aluminum frame. In the first two the barrel was pressed into the frame. In the third variant the barrel was mounted in the frame with a bushing, which led to greater accuracy in the placement of the barrel.  This improved both accuracy and- more importantly- reliability. Early guns had issues with malfunctions, and many guns were returned to the factory for warranty service, eroding the meager profits from these guns.

While the early guns had issues the bulk of production was -2 and -3 guns, which did not have these issues. The gun received a boost in publicity when it was featured in the movie ‘Taxi Driver.’ While somewhat oddly proportioned they were attractive enough, had surprisingly decent sights, a good trigger and were easy to maintain. So why were these guns not a success? There were a number of reasons.

The Model 61, while classified as a sub-compact, was not nearly as small of most of the guns it was competing with.  Shown with a Colt Junior for size comparison.

For one thing it isn’t that small; it’s noticeably larger than most of its direct competitors. It also had a five-shot magazine, where most guns in its class had 7-8 round magazines. Another problem was that it was a relatively expensive gun; it was very well constructed but that came at a price.  It also took long enough to get to market that competition was heating up. Colt and FIE had ‘on-shored’ production of their sub-compact offerings, and Raven had started manufacturing its MP25. Other companies were beginning to step up as well- and every one of them cost less and held more shots than the Model 61. Despite rectifying most of the Model 61s shortcomings the gun never gained any traction in the market, and in 1973 production shut down permanently.  

I purchased this gun from Pinto’s Guns for $130. This is quite a bit less than these guns typically go for; it was discounted because of the condition of it’s finish. The gun is mechanically sound however, and I’ve always found these little guns interesting.  As mentioned it is a straight blow-back with an internal hammer. The safety, located just behind the trigger on the left, allows the gun to be carried ‘cocked and locked.’ At the top rear of the left grip there is a tiny stud that protrudes slightly when the hammer is cocked, which is very easy to feel without looking at the gun.

Disassembly is dead simple- press in the stud at the front of the slide (actually the recoil-spring guide rod,) lift the front sight out. This releases the guide-rod and recoil spring- which will shoot out of the gun and across the room if you don’t control it. Then the slide may be drawn to the rear and lifted off, and the gun is field-stripped.

The Model 61-2, Field-stripped.

Naturally I was eager to test-fire the gun, so after setting up and decorating the Christmas tree and stringing some lights I headed for Champion Arms in Renton, Wa.

I inherited several ‘bricks’ of vintage .22LR from my Uncle Jim. I thought this would be perfect for test-firing as it is contemporary to the gun.

While I have some Winchester and CCI ammo on-hand I chose to take some vintage Sears-brand ammo that was produced around the same time as the gun. Seemed fair as it’s the sort of ammo the gun might have been loaded with when new. In fifty rounds I had one failure-to-fire; the primer struck true and crushed the rim adequately but the round simply didn’t ignite. Hey, this stuff is fifty years old- I can make allowances. 

So how is it to shoot? In a word- it’s fun. The sights are very good for a pocket-pistol, the trigger isn’t heavy, has short travel and breaks clean. The trigger reset is very short. The low bore-axis means your sights come back on target quickly, the safety is well-located and easy to use.  On top of that it’s ridiculously easy to shoot well.

I started at five yards, unsure what to expect, but the gun shoots to point-of-aim. Initially I was more interested in whether the gun functioned so I was firing rather quickly, so I was delighted to see all of the bullets had landed in the black.

 

Five yards, fired with no particular care for accuracy- impressive for a pocket-pistol!

Heartened by the results I backed the target up to seven yards and tried to fire at a 1-shot/second rate. At Champion Arms you can rapid-fire- if you are a member and have been checked out by the staff. If not the request that you restrict yourself to one shot per second, and I generally comply. Mostly. Sort of…

Seven yards at more-or-less one shot per second. The trigger on this little gun is so nice I may have slipped in a couple of double-taps…

I backed it up to ten yards…

I kept shooting quickly, and at ten yards things started opening up a bit.

After shooting at ten yards I threw caution to the winds and rolled the target out to the maximum range, twenty-five yards. I fired carefully at this distance, and the results were impressive for a gun of this type.

For most guns this would not be an extraordinary group at twenty-five yards… but for an old pocket-pistol? It’s almost ridiculous!

I’m certain I can improve on this with practice. I’ll get that practice, too- this gun is a ball to shoot, and it’s going to be a regular on range trips for the foreseeable future.

Curiously these guns have not attracted the attention of collectors, and with the pitting and bubbling nickel this one would be unlikely to be seen as ‘collectible’ in any event. I’ll likely strip and polish the aluminum frame and strip the slide then rust-blue it. The grips I’ll replace with some custom exotic hardwood grips.

As their name indicates these were designed as a self-defense pistol, so the question is, ‘Will I carry it?’ Nope. As much as I like this gun it’s too big for a six-shot .22, and I’m not that interested in finding a second magazine for it. I might drop it in my pocket when checking the mail or going out to my workshop, but I’m afraid it’s really not suited to it’s original purpose. But as an interesting and fun range gun? That it will do, and very nicely too.

Prices on guns in good cosmetic condition are running $200-$400. If you fancy one I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 December 2018

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I Want a New Drug… The Sig-Sauer P238 Legion

My wife of over twenty years has a new love now. Am I jealous? Nah… after putting up with me for all these years she’s entitled to take her fun where she can get it. Besides, it’s a gun.

We are in the habit of picking out our Christmas gifts together and putting them on layaway. This year her gift was a Microsoft Surface, and we paid off the layaway this week… only to discover it was not up to her needs. We returned it for store credit at Ben’s Loans in Renton WA. This is actually a pawn shop, and one of our favorite gun stores. Hmmm… store credit at a gun store… what to do… what to do?

The P238 Legion, new-in-box with all the fixin’s

Linda does not shoot nearly as much as I do, but she has a good eye for guns– and bargains. The store had happened across an exceptional deal on a Sig Sauer P238 Legion, and were willing to pass those savings on to Linda. Despite the deal she was a little hesitant; Linda has an unhappy history with sub-compact .380s. She has a dodgey wrist and snappy recoil is painful to her, and tiny .380s are notoriously snappy. After consulting the internet via her phone for reviews she was reassured; they all agreed that the gun was unusually pleasant to shoot for a gun its size and caliber. She was also reassured by the fact that we could certainly sell it for more than we would be paying for it if she didn’t like it.

We snagged a couple boxes of .380 from the store and another of my reloads at the house and headed for Champion Arms gun range. I fired the gun first, grinned at my wife and said, “You are going to love this.” She did. It is not snappy; not at all. Moreover she was able to start getting hits immediately, and it only got better.

Let’s talk a little bit about the P238. It looks a lot like a miniature 1911, and it is a bit like one. It’s a single-action semi-auto of largely conventional Browning-style operation. Disassembly is pretty standard- line up the notch in the slide, pop the slide-stop out and it all comes apart. There is a full-length steel guide-rod with a non-captured recoil spring and a cammed tilting barrel. The single-action mechanism insures a consistent, short trigger-pull and makes the preferred carry method Condition 1- cocked-and-locked. Unlike the safety on a 1911, however, the Sig’s safety can be applied when  the slide is locked open, meaning you can chamber a round with the safety on- a useful feature, I think.  Like a 1911 the Sig has a seven-shot magazine.

The gun is 5.5″ long, 3.9″ tall and 1.1″ thick. It weighs in at 15 oz. empty- about the same as an alloy-frame J-frame revolver, but in a more concealable package.

The P238 Legion comes standard with three magazines

So what does the Legion package add to this? Quite a lot, actually. Starting with the trivial it has a Cerekote finish called ‘Legion Gray’ and a Legion badge on the grips. Legion Gray is an attractive finish in a medium gray with, to my eyes at least, a greenish tinge. Add aggressively textured G10 grip-panels, checkering on the front-strap, trigger-guard and mainspring housing.  It also has front cocking serrations on the slide, an ambidextrous safety,  a metal magazine funnel for easier loading under stress, high visibility day/night sights and an aluminum trigger to replace the standard model’s polymer trigger. All of this adds an almost $200 premium to the standard gun’s price.

So, how is it to shoot? In a word– excellent. Recoil is soft, the sights are highly visible, the grip comfortable. It’s an easy gun to shoot well, and Linda found it very easy to put rounds on target at standard defensive distances.

Linda’s first target

The large, green-dot front sight lends itself to speed more than precision, appropriate enough on a self-defense firearm, but precision can be achieved.  

This little gun is a ball to shoot. The trigger is excellent, the sights are easy to use and the grip is quite comfortable for such a small gun. I rode the safety with my thumb, just like I do with a 1911, and the gun never bit or caused any discomfort. Recoil is mild and follow-up shots come fast and accurate. It’s addictive; Linda put more than a hundred rounds through it quite happily, and the next day she asked if I could reload some more .380…

We did experience one malfunction, a failure to eject. This happened with one of my reloads, so I’m inclined to chalk it up to the ammunition. We’ll run a few hundred more rounds through it to insure that it is reliable– believe me, that will be no hardship!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 December 2018

 

Range Report for 1 December 2018- Something Old, Something New…

Webley Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary in .450 Adams

Tonight I had a gun to test, ammo to test and a new gun to fire for the first time. Well, new after a fashion…

Starting this off with the Webley RIC. I’ve been gradually sorting minor issues with this gun, and it was time for a final test. .450 Adams cartridge is not really commercially available so I have been trying various loads for it. It has shown a marked preference for hollow-base bullets; my go-to utility bullet (Aardvark Enterprise’s 200gr. TRNL Cowboy bullet) tends to key-hole from this gun.  I set up a swage-block and punch to make them into 200gr. hollow-base semi-wadcutters.

Cute little suckers, aren’t they?

I loaded these over 3.5gr. of Unique with a CCI300 Large Pistol primer. This was a deliberately light load, but it turned out to be too light. These might have been coming out at well under 400fps. Better to be too careful in these cases, of course. The good news is the bullets appeared to fly true- as near as I could tell. They tore the paper rather than punching proper holes, but examination of the target did not show evidence of Key-holed rounds as near as I could tell.

I am delighted to report that the gun functioned flawlessly throughout.

I suspect that the tendency to hit to the right is an artifact of my shooting, not the gun or ammunition.

 Moving on to the Remington conversion revolver chamber in .44 Colt, I was trying out a load with the .451 heel-base round-nose bullet. These were loaded over 5.5gr. of Unique with a CCI300 Large Pistol primer.

Armi San Marcos Remington reproduction converted to a ‘Bulldog’ and chambered in .44 Colt (original)

These turned out to be extremely inconsistent- the crimp is not holding the bullets well at all. What seemed to occur on several occasions was that the powder did not ignite properly; it was as if the primer was blowing the bullet into the forcing cone before the powder really got going, resulting in a very large flash from the cylinder-gap and an anemic ‘thump’ rather than a bang. The bullets all went downrange, but at highly variable velocities- many of them quite slowly.  Accuracy was within acceptable limits– however.  Normally I load these bullets with 6.5gr of Unique, and in the future I’ll be using that load with these bullets.

The two strikes on the white were both basically squibs. This target was shot at seven yards.

I think I am going to pursue my experiments with hollow-base .430″ wadcutters; while I need to tweak the design of the bullet slightly they are, on the whole, consistent in ignition and velocity even with the smaller powder charge.

Last but not least was a new acquisition in the form of an early Christmas present from Linda- a mint 3: S&W 31-1. Despite having been made in 1970 this gun appears new- possibly even un-fired!

‘Like New’ is no exaggeration on this gun- the checkering on the grips is actually uncomfortably sharp, and there are no signs of wear on the finish except for a faint drag-mark on the cylinder. Not bad for a 48 year old gun!
Stock S&W grips have never really suited my hand, so I cobbled up this target grip in Curly Maple

The load I was using was a 96gr. TRN bullet (from Aadrdvark Enterprises) over 3.8gr. of Unique with a Federal Small Pistol primer. This is a stout load- I recommend that it only be used in modern firearms in good condition! I do not, for example, fire them out of my I-Frame .32 Hand Ejector.

My first results at seven yards were un-inspiring; groups were decent overall but there were far to many fliers. This was all me, of course. I realized that I have been spoiled by the very nicely worn-in trigger on the S&W .32 Hand Ejector and the superb trigger on the .32 Colt New Police Detective Special. Buckling down on my fundamentals I focused down and was able to shoot this seven-yard target-

Ten rounds, double-action/standing unsupported at a 1-shot/second cadence. That’ll do.

The gun does consistently shoot a little low, but I can live with that. Next time I’ll load some target loads and see about pushing the distance out. The new grip was very comfortable to use; not too surprising since I tailored it to fit my hand!

A fun and informative evening all told. I am very pleased with the Webley’s performance and the new S&W. I’m looking forward to shooting them more on the future- especially that little .32!

Size comparison between the 31-1 and the 1903 .32 Hand Ejector. The I-frame 1903 makes the J-frame 31-1 look positively beefy!

Addenda: I will need to modify the left-hand grip panel; the inside casing hangs up on the grip on ejection. That’s a simple fix at least.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 1 December 2018

Rust Blue for Dummies (like me)

As much as I like Van’s Instant Blue it has it’s limitations, and depending on the steel results can be quite variable. It is and will remain my go-to cold blue, but I wanted something a little more professional. Rust blue seemed to be an option that fits my circumstances, and after researching the subject I decided to try Mark Lee Express Blue #1. This is a product that claims to produce a good finish in ‘as little as an hour.’ 

I bought the small bottle (4oz.) from Track of the Wolf.  Including shipping it ran about $17. Service was prompt and the package arrived in a couple of days.

‘Thumper,’ an Armi San Marcos Walker reproduction converted to fire metallic cartridges. The finish in the photo is an ‘antiqued’ treatment.

I had selected ‘Thumper,’ my ASM/Walker cartridge conversion for my first victi… uh… attempt. I completely disassembled the gun and began surface prep. The barrel, cylinder and frame needed to be done. I used 320-grit sandpaper to completely remove all trace of bluing from these parts, using small scraps of wood as sanding blocks where needed to avoid rounding off lines that I wished to remain crisp. The instructions recommended 320-400 grit for this; any finer and the solution might have trouble ‘biting’ into the steel. This entire process took about an hour; it’s a pretty simple gun…

Next I soaked all the parts in acetone as the first stage of de-greasing them. From the time they went into the acetone until the time it was finished I never touched it with bare hands again. I used standard surgical gloves from there on out, and went through several pairs. After the acetone bath I moved from the shop to the kitchen, where I scrubbed all of the parts with warm water and ‘Barkeeper’s Helper’ powdered cleanser. After that I rinsed them thoroughly and dried them.

The instructions recommend heating the parts to 150-200 degrees with a propane torch or other means. For my ‘other means’ I used our toaster oven. I allowed the parts to heat up, then removed them and applied the bluing solution. The directions specify putting a small amount of the bluing solution in a glass or plastic dish and working from that.  This is presumably to prevent contamination of the product in the bottle. I used cotton balls to apply it. 

It’s important not to overdo the application; whatever you are using as a swab should be damp rather than wet. I applied a thin coating to each piece and, with the parts heated to 200 degrees, they dried quickly. I treated each part and then replaced it back in the toaster oven. After three applications I immersed them in boiling water for five minutes. I used tap water for this, but tap water varies and you might want to use distilled water.

At the end of five minutes the parts came out and I patted them dry. They had turned dark gray. I removed the surface residue with de-greased OOOO steel wool. After only one treatment the finish was darker than I had originally used for this gun. I repeated this cycle two more times- three applications, allowing the parts to dry between applications, then boiling and scouring with steel wool before the next applications. After three cycles of treatment I was satisfied with the result, and per the instructions provided with the bluing solution I immersed the parts in a mix of baking soda in water for 30 minutes. Finally I thoroughly oiled the parts and re-assembled the gun.

Thumper after rust-bluing.

The case-hardened frame did not take as dark a color as the barrel and cylinder, but overall I am quite happy with the result. The total time invested in refinishing this gun, including disassembly, surface prep and re-assembly, was about four hours.

I subsequently treated the cylinders of two of my cartridge conversions with very good results, then did a full refinish of a S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector that I have been rehabilitating, and the results were excellent.

Pietta 1858 Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .450 Adams
Armi San Marcos Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .44 Colt (original)
S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector with custom target grips.

It would seem the key to attaining a good result with this product is simply following the given directions scrupulously, and avoiding touching the parts bare-handed after de-greasing. 

Bluing the two guns and the two cylinders used up the entire 4oz. bottle, and there is already another, larger bottle on the way. I can give it no higher recommendation.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 November 2018

Bulldog Round-up

Right around the end of the Civil War Webley introduced a series of solid-frame double action revolvers in large calibers. These were adopted for the Royal Irish Constabulary, causing the model to be officially named the RIC. A short-handled variant for pocket-carry was also introduced, known as a ‘Bulldog.’ These became very popular, and were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States. In the American west of the 19th C. these guns were widely carried by people as a concealed-carry weapon or ‘belly gun,’ to the extent that at least one author has dubbed them, ‘the gun that really won the west.’

While Webley only applied the name ‘Bulldog’ to guns of forty-caliber or larger, guns made in other places were often called ‘British Bulldogs’ regardless of caliber. In Belgium small caliber guns with folding triggers were referred to as ‘Puppies,’ though to the best of my knowledge none were actually marked as such. So here are my Bulldogs, starting with…

The Puppy

I found this gun on Gunbroker being sold for $50 as a parts gun. While it is proudly labelled ‘British Bulldog’ it is most likely Belgian-made. When it arrived I was surprised to find it was pretty much all there, and promptly assembled it into a functional gun. The hammer-spur had been crudely removed, so I smoothed that out first of all.

The gun was chambered in .320 revolver/.32 Colt, which is pretty nearly unobtainium these days. After carefully measuring the cylinder I bored it out to chamber .32 S&W, which I already reload and which has similar operating pressure to .32 Colt.

It’s missing the small part that causes the hammer to rebound to a safe position, so it can only safely have five of the six chambers loaded. I also needed to fabricate a replacement for the trigger-return spring almost immediately, but that was actually pretty easy.

Despite having a surprisingly smooth double-action trigger this was not an easy gun to shoot. Not only are the sights nearly useless, but locating my hand on the grip and preventing it from shifting under recoil was difficult. Something over thirty years ago I saw a gun in the case in a pawn-shop that had a feature that seemed designed to counter those problems, and since there was an extra screw-hole in the front of the grip frame I reproduced that feature for this gun-

I don’t know if this feature was original to the gun I saw it on or was added by the owner, but I haven’t seen so much as a picture of  a gun so equipped on the Internet. It tremendously improves the gun’s shoot-ability without compromising conceal-ability.

You might notice that the sight is located surprisingly far from the muzzle. I am told that this may have been due to import restrictions on barrel length in some countries, and the sight was located so that the barrel could be cut short after import. I don’t know if this is true, but it makes sense.

Forehand & Wadsworth British Bulldog .38

Forehand and Wadsworth produced their British Bulldog models in America from 1880-1890. These were available as a five-shot in .442 Webley, a six-shot in .38 S&W and a seven-shot in .32 S&W. These revolvers were very popular as concealed-carry ‘belly gun’ or as a back-up to a full-sized revolver.

This .38 caliber example was purchased at a Washington Arms Collector’s show for rather too much money… It turned out that the cylinder pin was inextricably stuck in the gun, and it needed to be bored out to remove it. I very carefully did this after sourcing another from Numerich Arms. The trigger-return spring broke while I was sorting the gun and I had to fabricate a replacement.

The gun does not lock up particularly tightly, but it is shoot-able- though the useless sights make accuracy beyond a few yards a dubious proposition. The double action trigger is, again, surprisingly good. However because of relative lack of accuracy I don’t shoot this gun very often

The British Lion


This is a somewhat enigmatic gun; no one knows who made them for starters. This one has Birmingham proof and inspection marks, but that does not indicate British manufacture, merely that it was imported for sale in Britain. I suspect this was after Webley trademarked the name ‘Bulldog’ in 1878, that being the reason the gun is marked ‘British Lion.’ There is reason to suspect these guns were made in Belgium but this is not certain.

This gun is chambered in .450 Adams. While the ergonomics of the handle can best be described as odd, once you are used to that it is an excellent shooter. The sights- a blade front and a reasonably deep V-notch at the rear- are decently usable at five to seven yards. The gun is quite stout and well-made, giving up little if anything in quality to the Webley Bulldogs.

This was my first big-bore bulldogs, sold to me by a fellow on a Cowboy Action shooting board for a very reasonable price.

The Webley Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary

OK, this is not technically a bulldog, but the previous model of this gun was the ancestor of all Bulldogs, so it’s close enough in my book!

This was the second model of the famous RIC, incorporating numerous improvements over the original model. It is almost certainly the gun used by Dr.Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

 This one is also chambered in .450 Adams. This cartridge was originally loaded with a 225gr. bullet over a charge of 13gr. of FFFFg black powder. Starting in the late 1880s it was loaded with smokeless powder and remained in use as a ‘2nd standard’ cartridge for .455 and .476 caliber revolvers until at least the end of WW1.

The grip of this gun is surprisingly comfortable and the double-action pull is excellent. The timing took a little work, but now the cylinder locks up very tightly. The sights are quite decent with a brass blade in front and a deep v-notch rear sight. Recoil is easily managed, the gun is reasonably accurate and it’s a real pleasure to shoot! I have to reload my own ammunition of course, but that’s no great hardship. 

In Conclusion…

Bulldog revolvers are fun and interesting to collect and shoot; most were not fired much in their working life and are often in quite good condition as a result. Belgian-made Bulldogs and Forehand & Wadsworth revolvers can often be found in usable condition for a few hundred dollars. Webleys command a premium (as they should) and are usually found between $800-$1500.

The usual caveats apply, of course: Have the gun looked over by a competent gunsmith to determine whether it is safe to fire, and exercise great caution when determining the loads you will use. The safest bet is, of course, when in doubt don’t.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 November 2018

.44 Colt- That Hollow Feeling…

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Custom 1858 reproduction converted to fire .44 Colt

.44 Colt ain’t what it used to be. No, really; originally designed for cap-and-ball revolvers converted to fire metallic cartridges, it had straight-wall chambers and used heel-base .451″ diameter bullets.  Modern .44 Colt (basically invented by Italian gun companies) has a .429″ bore and is basically a slightly shortened .44 Special with a smaller rim.

I’ve done conversions in .44 Colt before, and since cap-and-ball .44s are actually .45s, I swaged my own heel-base bullets. These work pretty well, and with a couple of extra steps in the reloading process they were only a bit of a pain in the butt. Enough of one that I started to wonder if there might not be another way…

Delving into history-  Heel-base bullets are the same diameter as the outside of the cartridge case, with a section of reduced diameter at the rear to fit inside the case,  like a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. On firing pressure caused the soft lead base to expand to bore diameter… or nearly enough. But in the days of black powder lubricated bullets were vital, and to insure they worked properly the lubricant had to be on the part of the bullet that was outside the case.

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Modern Heel-Base .44 Colt. Note the band of lubricant just above the casing.

This is problematic because the lube can pick up dust and grit, and under the right conditions even melt.  44 Colt waned in popularity as cartridge conversion and open-top revolvers were gradually phased out, but two other heel-base Colt cartridges lasted well the early 20th Century- .38 Colt and .41 Colt. These two cartridges, however, lost their heel-base bullets in favor of smaller-than-bore-diameter hollow-base bullets that fit inside the cartridge and would (hopefully) expand to engage the rifling when fired. This was desirable because then the band of lubricant was protected inside the case, as with other modern rounds. These more or less worked, but were never an ideal solution.

Coming back to the present I wondered if a .429 Hollow-Base Wad Cutter, cast in soft lead, might be the answer to simplifying my reloading. I could reload them like conventional bullets and it would all be good. I decided to give it a try– only to discover that no one seems to sell .429 HBWCs commercially. Perhaps I could eventually track down a specialty manufacturer that makes them, but that would inevitably come at a specialty price. Or I could swage my own…

Turning to the lathe I made a punch to create the hollow base, then I bored a .430″ hole in a block of mild steel to form a die- not entirely through, but deep enough to leave a hole approximately .320″in the bottom so I could punch the bullets out of the die.

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The punch, die and the punch used to drive the bullet out of the die after swaging, with two cartridges loaded with the resulting HBWC bullets.

Some time ago I picked up a small bag of 225gr wadcutters from the reloading odds-and-ends shelves at Pintos, and these seemed a good candidate for the process. Very shortly I was producing quite credible 225gr HBWCs.

IMG_1216

These are a fair bit longer than the original bullets, so I decided to load them with a portion of the bullet outside the casing like a more conventional bullet. Of course there is no loading data for this bullet, but after some research I decided 5.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer would be a reasonable place to start. I loaded up a box of ammo and headed to the range to test them.

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First target shot with the hollow-base wadcutters.  The lowest impact appears to have been yawing when it hit the paper, but it did not key-hole.

The actually seem to work pretty well. Out of the box I fired three yawed and one key-holed (hit the target sideways.)  I reckon that’s not too bad for a first attempt.

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Three bullets passed through the uppermost hole, and one quite plainly hit sideways (at the bottom of the hole)

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The final target of the day I knuckled down and tried for accuracy, and was rewarded two hits in the 7-ring and one int the 6-ring… and yes, two in the 4-ring. nobody’s perfect, right?

Clearly accuracy of the bullets isn’t an issue; though mine could justly be called into question. At this point I’d call these bullets a qualified success. As far as the load goes it is quite light- maybe too light. I’m going to work up a little bit and see if that increases rifling engagement enough to get rid of the occasional yawing issues.

This is also the first time I’ve fired this gun on the range; that’s not really what this post is about, so I’ll just briefly say there were some minor issues, but nothing that isn’t easily fixed. It also shoots rather high, so I may replace the front sight. I might not too; hits are well centered when I do my part, and that’s all to the good.

Thanks to liberalgunowners.org for the targets!

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 6 November 2018

 

A Tale of Two Holsters

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Detonics Mk.1 Combat master .45, likely made in the early 1980’s.

I’ve been needing a holster for the Detonics Combat Master ever since Linda got it for me last June. Over the summer I used a pocket-holster, and that was fine, but now that the weather is cooling something less discrete would likely serve me better.

I’ve been making my own holsters since the 1980s (I’m a cheap bastard,) and eventually I got around to making one for this gun. Nothing fancy, just a simple OWB with a thumb snap for retention.

I like it pretty well; carries the gun high, nice and secure and disengaging the thumb-snap leaves my thumb ideally positioned to sweep the safety off. The leather is well away from the trigger-guard so I can get a proper grip when drawing.  The problem is it’s less discreet than I was wanting; the shape does not hold the butt of the gun in tight enough. Sure, it will work OK under a winter coat, but I really wanted something lower-profile. Something that might be hidden under a bulky sweater or lighter jacket.

I was talking it over with my buddy Pat and he said he had just the thing- it was even made for a Detonics.  I could try it out if I liked. Why not?

The holster in question is an OWB pancake holster made by K Rounds of Tukwilla, WA. In a fit of creativity they named it the OWB Pancake Holster.  It’s Kydex, very nicely molded to the firearm and curved to match the contour of the waist.

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Nicely shaped with a slight forward cant. There is an adjustable tension screw just ahead of the trigger guard that allows you to adjust how firmly it grips the gun. The sweat-guard completely covers the hammer and safety.

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Ask me how I know it was made for a Detonics. Go on, ask me.

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the curve holds the gun quite close to the body, and the kydex belt loops are very stout.

I didn’t need to adjust the tension screw; the gun was held quite securely, but remained easy to draw. Attempting to shake the (unloaded) gun loose required more force than one would be likely to encounter.  Being kydex the holster weighs basically nothing. Worn at the 4-o’clock position the gun was kept tight to the body. The gun was adequately concealed under a light jacket, and quite easy to access and draw. Overall it was very comfortable, but…

That sweat-guard. It isn’t my favorite. It would occasionally poke me when sitting or driving, and it was a bit in the way of my thumb when drawing the gun.  Understand, I’m picking nits here; it pokes me because I’m fat, and the thumb thing is a problem because I’m a dinosaur who insists on using a 1911-pattern gun. This would not be an issue for more modern guns like a S&W Shield or Glock. Anyway, I’ve been living with the holster for most of a week, and while I am not a big fan of kydex I would not be unhappy to keep right on living with it.

These holsters are available for right or left-handed people, and you can select the amount of cant etc. when ordering. They offer this holster for a lot of different handguns, and for $64.99 I think you could do a lot worse; this is a solid, quality product that delivers the goods. I would recommend it. You can find it here: K Rounds OWB Pancake.

So, is my search for a holster at an end? Nope- as good as the K Rounder is I’ll be making another holster soon. I really do prefer leather over kydex.  I also like the security of a thumb-snap; in the real-world I’m not sure it’s better than a kydex tension holster, but I feel better with one. Especially on a short gun worn high on the belt. Besides, making holsters keeps me from getting in worse trouble…

Thanks to Pat Hillyer for the loan of the holster!

Michael Tinker Pearce,  1 November 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Range Report- the Custom Taurus M85

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The first range trip for the Taurus is finished, and I have to say it went well. I took several loads ranging from mild to +P.  The loads used were:

125gr TCL over 5Gr. of Unique with a CCI500 primer (mild load) These were very  low recoil and easy to shoot.

125gr JHP over 5.3gr. Unique with a CCI500 primer (Maximum SAAMI load) Comfortable to shoot.

146gr HJSWCHP over 4.5gr. of Unique with Federal SPP (No data- may be +P) I’ve liked Speer’s Half-Jacketed Semi-Wadcutter Hollow Point since the ’80s in .357 Magnum loads. Had a few of them lying around so I thought I’d try them. Surprisingly comfortable to shoot.

158gr. LSWC over 4.5gr. Unique with federal SPP (+P load) These loads produced conspicuously more recoil than any of the others. It wasn’t too bad, but I wouldn’t want to shoot more than a few cylinders of them.

160gr. HJSWC over 4.0gr. Unique with Federal SPP   Comfortable to shoot.

At seven yards all loads shot More or less to PoA using a six-o’clock hold. As you’d expect the +P loads had markedly more recoil, but were still manageable. I shot mostly at 7 yards; this is the distance I use most for defensive shooting training, and I am well acquainted with what I can do with a short-barrel revolver at this range. All shooting was done double-action. While it is possible to cock this gun and fire single-action I don’t recommend it and don’t intend to do it. Here are the relevant results-

Targets
From left to right- all targets fired at 7 yards. The first target was two cylinders, five shots in five seconds each.  The middle target (after about twenty-five more rounds) is two cylinders rapid-fired. The final target was the last fired for the day and was rapid-fire.

Despite the unconventional grip it wasn’t hard to shoot this gun. As you may have seen in the video in my previous post about this gun the ergonomics of the handle force me into a very high grip, which aids a great deal in control. It didn’t take me long to get dialed in with this gun, and I have no doubt I’ll improve with practice.

I did try the 146gr. Speer bullets at 25 yards, and we will draw the curtains of charity over the results. The shots were mostly on the paper, but that’s about the best that can be said. I expect that too will improve with practice. I’m happy with the results so far; enough so that I feel comfortable carrying his piece for self-defense.

That being the case I made my typical pocket-holster- a simple piece of leather folded over rough-out, glued and riveted together and finished with Carnuaba wax. Ugly but functional.

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So far this little experiment seems to be working out nicely. I’ll be pocket-carrying this piece, practicing deploying it etc. and see how it works out. It’s possible that it will be necessary- or at least desirable- to tweak this design a bit here or there. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Halloween!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 October 2018

P.S.- This thing needs a name. Linda has already expressed her intent to beat me with it if I name it Mini-Taur, so that’s out…

The J-Frame*- How Small Can It Get?

*Yes, I know a Taurus M85 and a Rossi M68 are not really J-Frames, but they are the same size. Additionally one of them is derived from the S&W and the other is a direct copy.

For many years custom gunsmiths have produced trimmed-down J-Frames for deep-cover concealed carry.  Then a while back (2014) Taurus introduced a gun called the 85-VTA, or Model 85 View. This was a Model 85 smoothed out and minimized for concealed carry, and as a special added feature the side-plate was Lexan so you could see the internals.

85VTA-1

This gun is seriously light. Like 9-1/2 ounces light.  Between that and the tiny grip most commentators have said that it is quite unpleasant to shoot; one thick-fingered individual was actually bleeding after ten shots. It is also difficult to maintain a consistent grip with two hands; the reviewers I watched all had to resettle their grip between shots, and this is death on rapid, accurate fire.

I don’t mean to insult this gun- except for that stupid see-through side-plate; I’ll happily insult that. This is a gun with a purpose- to be the smallest, lightest, easiest to conceal gun of its type.  They work well and can even achieve reasonable accuracy. The tiny grip and short sight radius don’t make this easy, mind you, and the very unpleasant recoil doesn’t encourage mastering it. That means that for all but the most dedicated users this will be a point-blank ‘Get off me!’ gun. Fair enough- that’s what it was made to be and it does that job well.

The very short ejector rod works surprisingly well- until you get a sticky case. But, given the gun’s mission, fast reloads take a back-seat to conceal-ability, and that’s not an unreasonable trade off. As a deep-cover gun or back-up it fits the bill admirably, but as a general carry gun it is compromised in a number of ways.  Personally I’m not happy with those compromises; I want a carry-gun that retains the capability of getting hits out to 25 yards, is easy and pleasant to practice with, but still as concealable as is reasonably possible.

This led me to wonder- how small can a gun like this get without being compromised? At least not more than a typical example of a J-Frame sized gun? I needed to establish my criteria for this project. First- sights as good as a typical factory gun. Second- a grip that, while significantly more concealable than a factory grip, does not brutalize you when you fire it.  Third- a more effective ejector. Fourth- a steel frame. This one seems to run counter to mission, but I believe you need a carry gun that is not actively unpleasant to shoot so that you will actually feel motivated to practice with it. But given the mission of a deep-concealment gun it ought to be reasonably light, leading to… Fifth- a target weight between 15-20 ounces.

I had an old Rossi M68 (a part-for part clone of a S&W Model 60) and set to work. I got it to an interesting configuration that met my goals, but that gun had a hard life, and failure after failure led me to eventually retire it and put the project on the back-burner. Then this week a Taurus Model 85 came my way, completely stock with the original-style wood grips.

This is a good, inexpensive work-horse of a gun, and made a fine starting point for resuming this project. Experience with the Rossi had taught me what I wanted, and I set about it.

A hammer-spur on a revolver like this is definitely a no-no, so I bobbed the hammer with a cut-off wheel and files, then polished the result. I have to confess I didn’t remove the hammer to do this, I simply masked off the gun to keep the nasty little metal bits from getting into the works. I polished up the result and moved on.

I made note of the maximum travel of the mainspring guide-rod, and cut the grip-frame just below this. (Note- S&W and Rossi guns have the serial number on the bottom of the grip-frame- cutting this entirely off is a Federal crime! There are work-arounds to do this legally but they are a major pain in the ass.)

 

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The cut grip-frame and a piece of spring-steel that will become the new bottom of the frame.

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Ready to weld, with all the bits held securely in place my my big-ass magnet.

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Here’s the back of the frame gas-welded…

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…and the front.

With the frame shortened I cleaned up the welds, re-profiled and refinished the frame.

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The grip-frame size is now comparable to the M85 View.

By this point the project had me in it’s teeth and I forgot to take more in-progress photos. Oops… Next I shortened the barrel by 1/2″ using my metal-cutting bandsaw and my belt-grinder. I re-crowned the barrel and re-contoured the bottom corner of the barrel-shroud, then polished it and re-blued it. During the cutting, grinding and polishing operations I had cleaning patches stuffed in the bore to keep the nasty stuff out. Afterwards I cleaned the barrel in the usual fashion to remove any residue.

To finish things off I relieved the trigger-guard at the front on the right side to make access to the trigger a bit faster and more comfortable, then took the corners off the cylinder release and polished it. I refinished everything and was ready to move on to the grips.

These are important- I had a frame sized similarly to the M85 View, but these are notably uncomfortable. I wanted something as concealable but significantly more comfortable, consistent with the mission of making a gun that was not obnoxious to practice with.  I had made a pair of custom Zebrawood handles for the Rossi, and these were easily adapted to the Taurus.  These grips were carefully shaped for the mission and are very flat.

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A bit hard to see, but the handles are very low-profile.

So- the gun was basically finished, and excepting the extra 1/4″ of barrel it’s as small as the M85 View. More than double the weight at 19.2 ounces unloaded, but I am a big guy and that doesn’t bother me.

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In this picture you can see the cut-way trigger guard, which makes it faster to transition from a safe trigger-finger position to a firing position.

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The grip has a single finger-groove, but it is actually a two-finger grip; the ring-finger actually wraps around the grip from underneath. It’s surprisingly secure and comfortable. But how is it to shoot?

Today I ran five rounds of ‘warm’ 173gr. LSWCs, and ten rounds of 125gr.JHPs loaded to maximum SAAMI standard pressure (but not +P. ) So how did that go? Unfortunately the video of the 173gr loads did not work out, but you can see the 125gr. loads-

Shooting the gun!

There is more muzzle-flip than it would appear in the video, but at 30 frames per second it shows up poorly. The gun was quite civilized to shoot with both loads, so much so that I expect even occasional +P loads would not be too abusive.  I wasn’t particularly focused on accuracy, but even so all rounds hit in a fist-sized group at five yards.

So it seems I have created what I set out to- a very compact J-frame sized revolver that does what I want it to do.  Now I am going to live with it for a while and see how well it does the job. I’ll be doing a more extensive test on my next range trip, and will report further on this gun then.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 28 October 2018

 

 

Range Report for 16 October 2018- Less is More!

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Custom Hawe’s Western Marshall .45 Sheriff’s Model

Two things to test today- two new .45 Colt loads, and the Helwan .380 conversion. The .45 loads in question are for when I am using this gun as a sidearm for hunting. Both use a 270gr. Kieth bullet, but one load uses 8.0gr. of Unique and should get about 825fps out of this gun. The other is a +P load with 9.0gr. of Unique, probably pushing the bullet out at 900+fps.  Both loads use CCI300 large pistol primers.

I started out with the 9.0 gr. loads at seven yards. They definitely have some recoil, but easily manageable in this gun. The problem was I could not get a good tight group with them. OK, moving on…

The 8.0gr. load is, make no mistake, a stout load. It was notably easier on the hand, and groups were acceptable. My instinct to not adjust the sights until I tried this load were justified; as you can see unlike the 200gr. loads this one does not shoot low.  Now if I can stop pulling them to the right…

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OK, time to test the Helwan .380 conversion. This was the first range outing for this gun and I was curious to see how it would go. I had fifty rounds of mixed .380 ammo; some 96gr. FMCRN from PPU, and some handloads with a Montana Gold 90gr BPRNL over 2.0gr. of Red Dot with a CCI500 small pistol primer. So, how did it perform?

I loaded the first magazine and dropped the slide using the slide-stop and- stovepipe. Not good. OK, cleared and reloaded and this time pulled the slide to release it. Fed like a champ. This proved to be the rule- if you release the slide with the slide stop it stovepipes. OK then. I ran a target out to 7 yards, took a deep breath and fired. The gun functioned flawlessly with both types of ammo. I loaded five rounds at a time for a bit, then started loading it with the full seven rounds it will take. Never a bobble. I was ecstatic.

Truth be told I was far more interested in the gun functioning than in shooting to the gun’s accuracy potential. Also, as you can see, the gun is shooting low.  There’s no room for shortening the front sight, so a taller rear sight is in this gun’s immediate future. There is one other small problem- it’s crunching about half the brass.

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Not certain what is causing this, but both my handloads and the PPU ammo are pretty wimpy stuff; maybe that’s the problem. Also there is a till some slight ballooning of the brass, but no worse than I have seen from some other guns.

So, 9mm converted to .380, and the lighter of two .45 Colt loads worked the best. Just today, in these cases, less is more.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 October 2018