Building guns from scratch isn’t much different than making knives from scratch. The thing is I’ve been making knives for decades, making guns is new and done strictly as a hobby. There’s no pressure to pay the bills and I can take my time and stretch my imagination and skills. Linda supports this fully because it gets the creative juices flowing, and that spills over into my work. This makes me more productive, so it’s all to the good.
Last week Linda bought me a couple of .22 caliber barrel-liners and that got me thinking of projects. Barrel liners are important- it’s legal to make your own guns, but those guns have to conform to legal standards. For a pistol this means a rifled barrel. Since I’m not much inclined to build my own rifling rig this means barrel liners. I drew probably a half-dozen designs for single-shot derringers last week, and Saturday morning I made a trip to the hardware store and then launched into it. Of course I didn’t use any of the designs I’d already sketched out- I did a quick sketch and dragged it into the shop and started making parts based on it. This basically means drawing things on steel with a Sharpy marker and cutting them out on the bandsaw, then refining the shapes on the belt grinder.
I actually started with he barrel-block, a piece of 1/2 x 1-1/2 mild steel. I drilled a 3/8 inch hole in it lengths and then cut it away so the barrel would be exposed.
Side plates were next, cut out of 1/8″ mild steel. The first one was the full-profile of the gun including the grip. I used that to pattern the grip-frame and breech/hinge assembly in 1/4-inch half-hard 5160 spring steel. I also slotted the barrel-block at the front to accept the hinge-lug. Once I had these pieces cut away the grip shape from the 1/8-inch profile and made a second side-plate.
This shows the barrel fitted to the barrel-block.
The barrel-block has been bored through the lug for the hinge pin, and with the pieces fitted together the finished shape has emerged. I’ve also bored a hole under the barrel for a plunger that protrudes into the breech-face to lock the barrel closed. At this point I was about five hours into the build and called it a day.
Sunday morning first thing was to drill and pin the interior frame parts to the right side-plate. These were then silver-soldered in place to form the gun’s frame. Now I could get started on the internal parts… We will draw the curtains of charity of the next several hours. Suffice it to say I made three hammers, two triggers and three mainsprings before I had to admit that a leaf-type mainspring simply wasn’t going to work without a significant design change. Well, if you can’t go forward…
…try going sideways. I’d purchased some music-wire on my Saturday-morning hardware-store trip, and after a half-dozen attempts I’d wound the spring pictured above. I relieved the side of the hammer to accommodate the new spring, cut an anchor-hole in the grip-frame and I was back in business. This picture shows the hammer at rest.
At half-cock the trigger springs forward from the shroud.
…and remains exposed when the hammer is brought to full-cock.
Here the second side-plate and the barrel-block are fitted. The Allen-head hammer pivot screw has been flattened and slotted for a screw-driver. This will eventually be done for the barrel-block hinge screw as well.
At full cock the trigger is exposed just enough to pull it comfortably- about 3/32″
Here’s the gun with the barrel-block open. There will be a pin protruding from the slot on the barrel block to depress the plunger to open it for loading.
With the barrel in the closed position. At this point it’s effectively done except for fitting the firing-pin, final fitting and finishing, and of course making the grips.
People keep asking if I plan to get a manufacturer’s license so I can sell these guns. Nope. For one thing it would spoil the hobby aspect. For another it’s a hassle, but there is a more compelling reason. At this point I am fifteen hours into this build. Likely there will be another 10-12 hours before it is actually finished. 25-27 hours of work at my hourly rate would make even a simple pistol like this absurdly expensive, and the finished quality and function of the gun would in no way justify that price.
These projects are and will remain firmly in the realm of the hobbyist; they are interesting and fun to build. I learn a lot and it gets the creative juices flowing, which is a good thing. But honestly I can buy a much better gun than I can build, and at a fraction of the cost once my time is counted into the price.
From here out this build will be progressing piece-meal, and hour here and there. I’ll eventually do up another post once it’s finished, but that could be awhile.
The goal of shooting someone boils down to one of two things- you either want to kill someone or you want them to stop what they are doing. Preferably before they can do it any more. Handguns are great at killing people; they are in fact the most common firearm used in murders in the United States. Nope, it’s not them thar evil assault rifles, it’s handguns. But stopping people? That’s a lot more complicated. It’s quite possible to kill someone without stopping them fast enough to do you any good.
First let’s define what it means to ‘stop’ someone. It means they immediately cease doing whatever it was that made you feel the need to shoot them. This can mean they surrender, run, faint dead away or even die more or less instantly. It can also mean that no matter how much they want to they are physically incapable of continuing. Basically there are two kinds of ‘stops-‘ the Psychological Stop and the Physiological Stop.
Technically if you point your gun at someone and they immediately surrender you have achieved a ‘Psychological Stop.’ For the purposes of this article, since it’s about stopping power, we’re going to assume a shot or shots were fired. So what produces a ‘Psychological Stop?’ Well, people don’t like being shot. They have been taught all of their lives that this is a very bad thing. So when they get shot Fight/Flight/Freeze reflex kicks in. In most cases Flight or Freeze wins, and either one of these constitutes a stop. The body also responds to trauma on an automatic level. Pretty often the brain responds to a gunshot injury by saying, ‘Right, we’re done.’ People that receive even minor gunshot injuries often find themselves sitting down with no idea how they got there. Odds are if you ever have to shoot someone they will either run like hell or be rendered ineffective by psychological shock.
The problem is Psychological Stops are unreliable. If the Fight reflex kicks in and you haven’t damaged something important you’re in real trouble- you shoot your assailant and he goes berserk. Statistically this result is a minority, but it happens. Other things can prevent a Psychological Stop as well- certain drugs like PCP, methamphetamine and alcohol can prevent it. Training and mental preparation on the part of your assailant can also play a significant role in preventing a Psychological Stop.
In short a Psychological Stop is likely, but not certain. With your life on the line you can hope for one but you have to train and focus on achieving a Physiological Stop. Which is unfortunate, because handguns suck at producing them. So how does one produce a Physiological Stop? Simply put by breaking something so important that their body cannot function without it. To accomplish this a bullet has to penetrate deeply enough to hit a vital structure, and has to be aimed well enough to actually do so. Vital Structures include the heart, the major veins, the brain and the spine. Of these only the brain and cervical spine are absolutely certain to produce an instant stop. People can and have been shot through the heart and continued to fight effectively for a surprisingly long time.
Handgun bullets are not, in the grand scheme of things, particularly powerful. As a rule they do not produce enough of a shockwave in bodily tissue to create permanent damage; a persons innards are amazingly elastic and surprisingly tough. High-powered rifle bullets can damage things inside the body that they don’t touch, but generally they are moving in excess of 2000 fps. This seems to be the threshold for what is inaccurately called Hydrostatic Shock. Properly speaking it is Hydrostatic Disruption- the bullet produces a shockwave in tissue severe enough to tear tissue that the bullet does not touch. Conventional handgun rounds don’t do this.This means that the only parts of the body that a handgun bullet will damage are the parts it actually touches. A larger diameter bullet will interact with more tissue, which up to a point increases their effectiveness. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the bullet starts out large or gets that way via expansion- the important point is that it damages more tissue.
But it’s not enough to damage more tissue; to insure a Physiological Stop the bullet has to hit the right tissue. Assuming the bullet has enough penetration to reach vital structures this is a function of the shooter. Yep, that’s right- you are more important than the caliber or bullet type. If you don’t put the bullets where they need to go your assailant will not be forced to stop. No matter what gun, caliber or bullet type you are using you have to make sure it hits the right things. The easiest way to do this, as established by long experience, is to put multiple bullets in the middle of the attacker’s body. More bullets equals more gross damage and more chance of hitting a vital structure. The heart, the aorta and spine are all in the middle of the body. Any bullet you put through one of those structures will be better than any other bullet that doesn’t hit them. In that sense is doesn’t matter if it’s from a .25 ACP or a .44 magnum. Still, all things being equal more damage is better.
OK, but if a hit to the brain is the best way to insure a stop why not aim for that? Simple- it’s easier to hit the center of the body than the much smaller, more mobile head. Especially when under stress and acting as fast as humanly possible. More room for error with a center-mass aim point, and it moves around less.
If you have to use a handgun to defend your life or the lives of innocents your best bet is to use a service-caliber handgun and select good quality modern ammunition. Then you need to insure that it functions properly in your gun of choice, and train enough to reliably hit vital structures with those bullets. With proper ammunition selection which service-caliber you use is largely irrelevant; they all penetrate deeply enough and do enough damage to reliably produce a Physiological Stop with a well-placed bullet. This isn’t to say that smaller calibers are useless; far from it. With careful bullet selection any readily available handgun can produce an instant stop, but the smaller and less powerful a round is the less likely it is to be able to do so reliably.
The good news is that modern ammunition has come a long way, and there are a number of bullet designs in a variety of calibers that penetrate deeply enough and damage enough tissue to produce a Physiological Stop. The bad news is that whether or not they work is on you.
Yes, there are still macho, mouth-breathing dinosaurs that insist that anything less than a .45 is a waste of time. But frankly the evidence is not on their side; in real-life shootings all service calibers (.38 Special, 9x19mm, .357 Sig, .40 S&W &.45 ACP) perform similarly when modern hollow-point ammunition is used- at least in service-sized weapons. Most people consider these the minimum calibers that should be considered for concealed carry. The snub-nosed .38 Special remains a favorite, and recently there have been a spate of sub-compact 9x19mm pistols but it is possible to get a reasonably concealable gun in any of these calibers. So are the smaller calibers- .22LR and magnum, .25ACP, .32 ACP and .380- still necessary and relevant?
All other things being equal it can be reasonably argued that they are not. The smaller 9mm guns are pretty easy to carry and conceal, and many of them are no bigger than some of the .380 and .32 offerings. The problem is all other things are seldom equal. If you go to the beach even these diminutive guns might be a bit much, but a North American Arms Pug .22 Magnum can ride in a swim-suit pocket pretty unnoticeably. Likewise a Baby Browning .25. But are these tiny calibers ‘enough?’
From the perspective that ‘any gun is better than none’ they arguably have a place in your system of carry, inadequate as they are. But just how inadequate are they really? To answer that question we have to delve into the nature of armed self-defense.
Generally speaking civilian defensive shootings are fundamentally different from ‘on-duty’ shootings. Generally only 2-3 shots are fired. Generally these shots are fired at a full-frontal target at point-blank range. Police and military engage a much wider variety of targets, and these are not necessarily full frontal. Police shootings often involve an exchange of gunfire, and on occasion turn into protracted battles. They need the capability to penetrate light barriers, and to have their bullets reach vital structures even if a limb or light cover is in the way. A service-caliber, high-capacity gun suits their needs best. For most civilians self-defense needs people can, and usually do, get by with a lot less gun.
Most civilian uses of firearms for self-defense probably don’t involve firing at all. Merely competently displaying a firearm seems to be sufficient in many cases. It’s difficult to quantify this, because such incidents seem to be badly under-reported, but there is strong anecdotal evidence that this is the case, and for this nearly any weapon that is readily recognizable as a gun is likely to be effective.
But let’s suppose that you do need to fire- what is the goal? Simply put it is to stop your attacker from doing whatever it is that made you feel it was necessary to shoot them. This doesn’t mean dropping them dead in their tracks. People don’t like being shot. In most cases when someone is shot their instinct is to run away, take cover or surrender. Because if they don’t you might shoot them again, and if getting shot once is bad…
From this perspective it really doesn’t matter what you shoot them with. But suppose you are that one-in-a-million case where the perpetrator’s desire to get you overrides their instinct to flee. Will the small-calibers do the job? Yes- and no.
Handguns on the whole, even service caliber guns, are unreliable at stopping a truly determined attacker. It has been determined that the only way to reliably stop someone with any handgun is to hit something important- the central nervous system, the heart or major arteries being the most effective. Multiple hits work better than single ones. To hit these structures you need to penetrate deeply enough into the body to reach them. You need to shoot accurately enough to hit them, and the bigger the hole you put in those structures the better off you are. But the most important thing is to hit them; a good solid hit with a .22 is more likely to do the job than a bad hit with a .45.
The standard set by the FBI for penetration is 12-18 inches in calibrated ballistic gel after penetrating four layers of denim. This does not represent similar penetration in a human body- for one thing human bodies contain bone and organs of varying density. It has simply been found that bullets that will do this generally penetrate deeply enough in a human body regardless of the angle the body is at relative to the gun or if a limb gets in the way. But as previously mentioned most civilian self-defense shootings are full-frontal, requiring less penetration to achieve the desired effect.
All of the small calibers offer ammunition that will achieve 9-10 inches of penetration in these tests, even when launched from the smallest commercially available handguns. This ought to be sufficient for the vast majority of civilian shootings. Would it be better to use a service caliber gun? Of course- but if that is not an option you don’t need to feel pathetically under-armed with a smaller-caliber gun. These weapons can and have worked in the past, and they will continue to do so. But they will also continue to fail…
The single most common reason for failing to stop an attacker with a handgun of any caliber is simply not putting a bullet through something important enough to force them to stop. No matter what gun or caliber you employ you need to be able to shoot it quickly and accurately, which brings us to the real failing of truly small guns- they are hard to shoot well. They don’t fit well in most people’s hands and usually have minimal sights that are difficult to acquire quickly. They are also the guns that people are least likely to practice with. “It’s just a back-up…” In reality it is even more important to be proficient with these guns since you are already somewhat handicapped by their relative lack of power and penetration.
One piece of advice I see frequently is that if you are going to use a small caliber you should use full-metal case ammunition. This is under the assumption that you need to duplicate the penetration of a service-caliber weapon, which is unlikely to be the case. The problem with this is that small caliber full-metal case round-nose ammunition, most notably .25 ACP and .32 ACP, have an annoying tendency to deflect off bones. Skulls and even ribs have foiled these rounds on numerous occasions. The edges of hollow-points can dig into bone, which can allow them to penetrate instead of being deflected. If you do your research you can find hollow-points in these calibers that offer surprisingly good penetration- even in .25 ACP.
A case can be made for .22LR in a very small gun, if for no other reason than that it is quite a bit less expensive to shoot so it is cheaper and easier to practice with. The downside is that rimfire ammunition is a bit less reliable than centerfire, and the rimmed cartridge was never designed to function in autoloaders; it can be less reliable than other choices. This isn’t a consideration in a revolver, of course, and there are a number of small revolvers in this chambering that hold as many as nine rounds- of course these are as large as .38 Special revolvers that hold five rounds, at which point you might well be better off with fewer rounds of a larger, more effective caliber.
.25 ACP is often laughed off, but again modern ammunition makes a difference. There is at least one hollow point out there that expands reliably and penetrates an average of 10 inches in standard testing from a two-inch barrel. The downside is it’s expensive and increasingly difficult to find. .32 ACP is a better choice; cheaper, more readily available and more options for bullet designs and manufacturers. It also makes a bigger hole, which doesn’t hurt. .380 is the largest of the small calibers, and if you don’t need absolutely the tiniest possible gun it’s the best choice. There are even a couple of loads that actually meet FBI test standards. There are some very small guns chambered in this round, but if you are at all recoil sensitive you might be better off considering a .32; the recoil of some small .380s can be quite snappy.
Do your research and find a hollow point that works, or play it safe with FMJ loads if you want- but I would not recommend frangible ammunition like Glaser safety Slugs in these small calibers. Real-life shooting data for service-caliber Glasers seems to indicate that in most circumstances they will be as effective as modern hollow-point ammunition for civilian uses. But the smaller, less powerful sub calibers seem likely to be markedly less effective than conventional bullets, and there is just not enough real-world data available to refute that impression. Until there is I would avoid them.
Speaking of avoiding things I would avoid derringers as well. They only offer two shots, are awkward to use and generally as large and heavy as compact semi-autos that hold more rounds and are easier to fire. The do offer the option of two shots of a potent caliber, but their size and relatively poor handling characteristics offset this in my mind. The other problem with them is that basically they come in two flavors- cheap and unreliable or expensive. For a reliable, well-made modern derringer prices start at about $500. Really? For a two-shot, overweight dinosaur? If you insist on a pocket single-action a North American Arms micro-revolver is a better choice. They’re still kind of awkward, but at least they are tiny and you get five shots.
The keys here may seem familiar… fire your gun enough to be certain you can put rounds where you want them quickly. Do your research to find an effective load and make sure it functions in your gun. Aim for vital structures in the central nervous system or circulatory system. In a lethal encounter any commonly available, reliable gun can be enough. Whether or not it is depends more on you than it does the gun or caliber.
Addenda– Just after writing this I did a little more research on .32 ACP.
How about a load that exits a 2.7 inch barrel at over 1000fps, creates the kind of permanent wound track you expect from a good hollowpoint and achieves 13.5″ of penetration in standard FBI testing? Sounds incredible, but the Lehigh Extreme Cavitator .32 does all of this. Not just according to the company that makes them, but in independent tests as well. This is a standard-pressure load, too, so you don’t need to fear shooting it in older guns. Color me impressed!
That bullet profile ought to feed pretty well too. Not saying this is the ultimate .32 ACP, but it’s easily the best that I’ve seen. Price is competitive with other high-quality defensive ammo, too.