Livin’ the Puglife.

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     I finished this gun last night, a Pietta 1858 Remington ‘Pug-nose’ revolver. Sort of a western ‘Belly-gun’ or ‘Shopkeeper’s Special.’ I posted pictures on some of the gun forums, as I often do. Commentary was positive, though after tendering his complements one fellow commented,  “I just can’t see how you’ve improved over the original here. After a lot of work it seems you’ve created something less accurate and less comfortable to shoot?”
     It’s a fair question, I suppose. The tempting response is, ‘If you don’t get it I can’t explain it.’  That’s a bit of a cop-out though, isn’t it?
     Whether I’ve improved the gun is very subjective; if one wished to carry the gun concealed it’s certainly better for the purpose than if it still had the original 8″ barrel and grip-shape. That leaves aside the fact that you’d have to be a bit daft to do so; there are certainly better options in this day and age.
     This is obviously not intended to be any sort of modern, practical gun. First of all it’s a cap-and-ball gun, which has been obsolete for over 130 years. Even if fitted with a conversion cylinder to fire modern metallic cartridges it’s still quite a bit less efficient than a Ruger Blackhawk or Vaquero. What we have here is an historical ‘what if?’ What if someone living in the 19th C. wanted a full-frame .44 as a concealed carry weapon? Shat would they base it on, what would it look like and be like to shoot? I understand the appeal, obviously; I like ‘cowboy’ guns and I like snub-nosed revolvers. If you are not a fan of either or both you will probably not ‘get’ this gun.
     There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; I only dimly understand the idea of taking a utilitarian service pistol and turning it into and ultra-high tech tactical race-gun. The thing is we’re all in this hobby, this common obsession together. I don’t need to understand something to appreciate the passion and creativity of it’s construction.
     Of course there is often more to it than simply the gun itself; there’s always a story that goes with it, a learning experience that I just don’t get from a standard, stock pistol.
     The story here is that some years back a gun-writer did a similar gun and posted it to YouTube. A friend of mine liked the idea and asked if I would convert one of his guns in a similar fashion. He had a pair of 1858s and offered me one in exchange for the work. It was a fun project. To make a long story short I practiced on ‘my’ gun to work out the details, then made his. For me the work was the point of this project; I got to practice my hobby-twice- with virtually no expense to myself and got a free gun into the bargain. Even after I spend $350 on a cartridge conversion I’ll come out ahead on the deal… I also get the added fun of making a custom holster or two for the gun.
     While there are more practical options I’m a lot more likely to strap this gun on for woods-walks or as a hunting companion than I would be the full 8″ barreled gun, and while harder to shoot accurately it will probably be more than adequate for my purposes.
     As for being unpleasant to shoot I have a pretty good suspicion that this gun in it’s current form is as heavy as a 4-5/8″ Single Action Army, and with standard loads .45 Colt is pretty much a pussycat. I had a 3-1/4″ Cimarron Thunderer that wasn’t at all unpleasant to shoot; even my recoil-averse wife was OK with it.
     I really enjoy working on guns, seeing a concept come to life and overcoming the challenges (like the shortened loading-lever.) Turning a vision into a reality, as it were. It doesn’t hurt that I wind up with a unique, interesting firearm that is the work of my own hands.
     Did I improve the gun? From my perspective and uses I most certainly did; I took a common, inexpensive reproduction gun and turned it into something unique, fun and that I can justifiably take pride in. You may not, and don’t need to, understand that. The important thing is that I do, and since it’s my gun that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?
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.22 Magnum Pistol Build (Part 3)

This is the ‘home-stretch’ of this build. Lot’s done, and little left to do at the end of it.

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Side-plate and mainspring in place.
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This view shows the parts, including the trigger and trigger return spring in place. The trigger is actually the piece v=cut our of the frame for the trigger.

 

 

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Here is the hammer In the cocked position.  The half-cock notch is recessed so that the trigger cannot be pulled.

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The mechanism complete and assembled. After adding a .062″ music-wire firing-pin I did the first firing test, shooting into a 5-gallon bucket of water. Not wanting to get splashed I placed a piece of cardboard over the bucket. This did keep me from getting splashed but it didn’t stop about 1/2 gallon of water from wining up on my shop floor…
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Walnut stocks fitted. Both the handgrip and fore-stock are each made of three sandwiched pieces glued together. This allowed for a very snug fit- the pieces actually stay in place without screws.
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With the chamber opened. The fore-stock serves no practical purpose I can think of; I just thought it looked cool when I sketched the pistol originally.
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Semi-finished. Difficult to tell in the picture but I have lightly cold-blued the frame and barrel, mostly to protect them until the sights are mounted. I sanded the grips and did a bit more shaping. The fore-stock has a single screw through the bottom to secure it. For the hand-grip I debated whether to use a single screw from the bottom or a cross-screw; you can see which won. The stocks are finished with a penetrating acrylic finish;it’s essentially a super-thin superglue but it creates a durable, water-proof finish that dries in under a minute. In the past this has proven quite durable.
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Though not visible in these pictures the block on the top-front of the barrel has been hollowed to place a front-sight. I have not settled on the design of the rear sight; I have both fixed and adjustable concepts that I am playing with.

After the sights are mounted I’ll refinish the gun with a darker blued finish. Currently there is no extractor; while I can do some very limited milling on the drill-press I cannot achieve anything like sufficient precision for fitting the extractor. Once I get the correct power-supply set of for the milling machine I’ll attend to that.

The 3/8″ barrel-liner will also be replaced eventually; the chamber is very ‘sticky’ owing to the lack of a proper reamer. I’ll polish it as best I can, but I am dubious that i can achieve a satisfactory finish. right now empties must be driven out with a brass rod inserted into the barrel. This means that right now the barrel is secured with glue; once I fit a new barrel-liner with a properly reamed chamber it will be silver-soldered into place.

I’m very satisfied with the trigger; in the half-cock notch it is quite impossible to ‘pull through’ and drop the hammer. At full-cock the trigger-pull is extremely light and breaks sharply, and while there is significant over-travel it doesn’t bother me. Eventually I may fit an over-travel screw if it becomes an issue.

This build is going to be in-progress for some time to come, but it is finished enough now that it will be going on the next range trip. I’m really pleased with it, and with the progress that I have made so far. It feels great in my hand and points naturally. Once it’s fully refined and finished it’s going to be a really nice little pistol.

Since, aside from a few details, the gun is essentially complete this is the end of the build series, though there will be updates as more work is done. I am also looking into getting video and/or more detailed photos of future builds; a friend has offered to be a photographer/videographer for the next build so we’ll see what happens.

 

.22 Magnum Pistol Build (Part 2)

Between doing things that actually make money I got a few more hours in on this project. Having a bit more experience this time around is making a difference; this one is going rather faster than previous builds. The work shown here was spread out over a couple of evenings, though some odd small bits were done while glue was drying.

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The chamber is reamed for .22 Magnum and burnished with a hardened steel rod. hopefully this will be significantly smoother than some of my past chambers…
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The crowned muzzle. Smoothed to 600 grit, then chamfered carefully by hand with a conical reamer and polished. This has been very successful in the past so I have every faith it will work this time as well.
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1/16″ brass pins secured the central frame sections to the right-hand side plate, then they were carefully silver-soldered and cleaned up. The frame is now permanently assembled.
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Holes in the frame drilled and tapped for the assembly screws. these start life as 8-32 Allen-head screws, but eventually will wind up as slotted screws.
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Sideplate mounted. the screws will be recessed and shortened, then slotted later in the build.
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The barrel hinge-screw has been drilled and tapped. The hammer has been cut out and placed in the frame.

 

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The hammer is now milled for the mainspring, and I fabricated the hinge-screw, which protrudes from the side plate; the mechanism can be assembled and tested without the side plate. I wound the mainspring from music-wire and mounted it, but it was getting late so pictures will have to wait. The trigger and lock are next. Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day which I traditionally take off work so I imagine I’ll finish the build tomorrow.

.22 Magnum Pistol Build (Part 1)

The next build is… Surprise! A single shot pistol!  A bit stir-crazy the other night, so I ripped off a quick sketch and headed into the shop. The new pistol has derringer-like features but is definitely not a derringer. Doing some new things with this one; for example since I won’t be using a flat-spring for the hammer the shape of the grip-frame is arbitrary. I decided to do a ‘generic’ grip frame that could be fully enclosed by the grip, which opens up a lot of leeway in the final grip-shape. There will be some other refinements on previous designs, but things that work- like the plunger-type lock- will be retained from other builds.

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First step- carefully cut out the outline of the gun and trace it onto .262″ 5160 Spring-steel with a Sharpy-marker. This includes the shape of the barrel as that finished shape, thickness etc. has yet to be determined at this point.
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Here’s a shot of the sketch showing a rough idea of the mechanism. The hammer-spur has been cut off so I can trace the shape of the frame.
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Here’s the frame partially cut out. You can see the method used to cut the inside curves- a series of short, thin cuts that can be easily cut out. Then the inside curve can easily be smoothed out with the belt-grinder.
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Here’s the finished cut before smoothing.
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The recess for the trigger was cut in the same fashion. Here’s the frame compared to the original sketch.  Note that on the sketch the hinge at the front was originally going to be in the barrel assembly, but at this point I decided to mount the hinge on the lower portion of the frame.
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Originally I was intending to make the barrel assembly out of 1/2″ mild-steel but since my equipment is not up to boring a 3-1/2″ hole straight enough. I resorted to boring the hole in 3/4″ steel then thinning and squaring it. I cut and filed the slot in the lug ay the bottom-front of the barrel to a snug fit on the frame. The protrusion on the top will he hollowed out for the front sight
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The two side-plates were traced from the sketch and cut out of 1/8″ mild steel, then the center 1/4″ 5150 central frame was cut to allow room for the mechanism. The rifled barrel-liner can be seen below
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Here are all of the bits temporarily assembled to give an idea of the final form. The grip-shape is not quite the final shape; this is just what I whipped up for the photo. This gives a good idea of the finished form of the gun.  The next step is to pin and solder the central frame onto the left side plate for for the finished frame, drill and tap a few holes then start working on the mechanism.

I haven’t decided whether to leave the barrel protruding or to trim of off even at 3-1/2″as I had originally planned; I suspect the final decision will be based on esthetics as much as anything. The grip will almost certainly be walnut, as will the fore-stock. Yes, there will be a Contender-like fore-stock. Mostly because I thought it would look cool that way.

Not sure when the next installment will be; sooner than it ought to be most likely; I’m getting pretty excited about this build.

OK, Seriously?

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I was watching a Youtube video comparing some polymer-framed gun to a Glock 19. The reviewer liked features of the other gun better, but had to give the nod to the Glock 19 because if was 3 ounces lighter. “That can make a big difference when you are carrying a gun all day!” he proclaimed. This guy was not tiny, wasted away from disease or a death-camp survivor- and he’s worried about 3 ounces? Are you kidding me?

I’ve recently seen other healthy specimens of humanity proclaim that an all-steel J-Frame was too heavy for all-day concealed carry. Never mind that tens of thousands of cops and others managed to do so for decades at a time. Suddenly it’s too heavy. Another said a steel-framed gun he was reviewing was a fine range or house gun, but of course it was too heavy for daily carry. This obsession with lightness seems more and more pervasive in gun culture- or at least among the talking heads of said culture.

It’s been ages since the halcyon days of my youth when I carried a full-size government model (or other comparably-sized handgun) on a daily basis. Typically I just drop a small revolver in a pocket- or in a pocket holster- and call it good. I don’t have any alloy-frame revolvers, and I wasn’t hip enough to modern thought to realize the weight of these guns should be causing me discomfort.

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The Helwan in an IWB holster. This is not enough belt…

The other morning on a whim I decided to carry the Helwan Brigadier. This is a full-sized steel-frame service gun. I selected a stout, broad leather belt and a good IWB holster and strapped up. At lunch I went to use the restroom and was surprised- I had forgotten that I was carrying- despite the fact that I am unused to the weight of the gun and this holster. Neither my house-guest nor my wife noticed that I was carrying.  OK, admittedly I am a brute. 6’4″ and 300 pounds. But even at a svelte 210pounds the weight never bothered me or was uncomfortable. By the end of the day, despite the stupendous weight of the steel dinosaur strapped to my hip, I was not uncomfortable in the least.

OK, I don’t hate light-weight guns. You can get eight rounds of 9mm in a lot smaller and lighter package than a Helwan. So why wouldn’t you? Well, in my case because I don’t have one. Another reason might be some of the tiny 9mm guns have some pretty snappy recoil, which might bother some folks. Even if it doesn’t bother you it makes for slower follow-up shots, and the short sight-radius isn’t conducive to great accuracy. Not to mention that if a gun is unpleasant to practice with people tend to not practice. Yes, one can always go with a smaller caliber- .380 or .32 ACP- and have an even smaller gun… not that some of the smaller .380s aren’t pretty snappy in their own right.

Lightweight guns do have advantages, especially for police and soldiers that carry a lot of stuff along with their service handgun. Let’s face it, the Glock became ‘the new 1911’ because it was a better mousetrap. More firepower, much lighter yet still not so light that it’s unpleasant to shoot. Simple and intuitive to operate, and with the expanding variety of sizes and calibers, not to mention the ever-expanding after-market support, it’s a hammer for every nail. But when it comes to a tiny gun in a service-caliber if you get any smaller than the CC Glocks recoil and handling become genuine issues for a lot of people. It’s easier to CC a lighter gun; you can take liberties that you can’t with say, a 1911 or a steel-framed revolver. But practicing with them can be a whole other problem.

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Rossi M68 2-1/2″ barrel, pocket holster made for the back pocket of my jeans

An example would be the S&W 442. Short-barreled, ultra-light .38 Special. Dead easy to carry… but not what you would call pleasant to practice with. Most folks I know that carry one will admit that it’s a handful, especially with full-powered loads. And if you are recoil sensitive? Forget it; even target loads will feel abusive.  This gun weighs in at 14.7 ounces- 1.3 ounces under a pound. A steel frame gun like the model 36 weighs 19.3 ounces- not an awful lot heavier, really. But those extra 4-5 ounces translates into a gun that is much easier and more pleasant to shoot and no larger; you just can’t be as casual about carrying it. Size-wise it’s just as easy to conceal, but comfort-wise? If you do it right, yes. The problem is that people seem to have forgotten how to do it right. Just in case we haven’t turned into a bunch of wusses and people simply don’t know here are a few tips that will help wether you carry a plastic-wonder-gun or something heavier:

*Wear enough belt. I can’t tell you how much difference a really good belt makes; it’s the anchor of your entire system. Forget flimsy military style web-belts and normal dress belts. Thick, honest leather, ideally at least 1-1/2 inches wide. Something stiff enough to keep everything in place and not be distorted by the weight of the gun. A purpose-built  gun-belt from a company like Bianchi will be life-changing, and will make nearly any holster work better.

*Wear enough holster. Something that holds the gun securely in place, and protects you from the gun as much as it protects the gun from you. Fabric and thin, flexible leather holsters may be cheap and easy to hide, but you pay for that after a day of having an edge or control digging into your tender flesh. Heavier Leather or even Kydex will serve you better. Thicker leather might be slightly harder to conceal, but will be more comfortable and easier to draw from or to re-holster the weapon.

*Wear the right holster. People come in all shapes and sizes and at least two sexes (last time I checked.) Not every holster or every method of carry will work for everyone. Experiment, find out what works for you and your wardrobe. Practice deploying the gun and replacing it, move, jump up and down. Don’t be afraid to adjust your wardrobe- all-day comfort should be more important than fashion. And don’t buy a holster just because it is ‘the hot set-up;’ what works for one person may not work for someone else.

*Choose the right gun.  Find something that fits most situations for your physical size, needs and climate that you enjoy practicing with. The ability to reliably put rounds on target is more important than materials, weight or even caliber– which means you need to practice. If you don’t enjoy shooting the gun you probably won’t. This is really important for ‘summer-carry’ guns; you still need to practice. Arguably more, since smaller guns are harder to shoot accurately. If you can’t find a service-caliber gun that meets your concealment needs that you will actually practice with, drop to a smaller caliber. Fast, accurate, repeated hits with a .32 ACP will do more for you than slow, bad hits with a 9mm.

Remember that the way you carry is a system, and all of the parts- including your own body- need to work together

Range Report for 11-01-16

Both Linda and Aeryn (our house-guest) said, “You’ve been under a lot of stress- go shooting!” Yeah, twist my arm why don’t you… The obvious guns to shoot were the .22 Derringer and .45 Derringer since both had been modified to increase their reliability. The .22 target pistol needed to go too since I modified the front sight. So, testing… what else needs testing?  The Helwan is pretty new and hasn’t had gobs of ammo through it yet, so that for sure. I also took the Shopkeeper’s Special and the M&P .38 Hand Ejector just because they are a delight to shoot.
First up was the TD22 derringer. This had abysmal reliability in the first outing owing to the firing pin striking both light and too much towards the center of the base. With a new spring with better leverage and the firing pin adjusted to strike the rim it was reliable even with the crappy Remington Bulk ammo- only one round needed two strikes to ignite. The target below was shot at 3 yards. It is not an easy gun to shoot accurately, even at 3 yards but by the end I was learning to point-shoot it fairly well. It’s fun because it’s difficult.
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Next was the TD45 derringer, shooting Freedom Munitions 230-grain copper-plated hollow points. These have a ‘jacket’ of thick copper plating that completely covers the lead core. Recoil was predictably snappy but not painful… until it wore a hole in my hand after about 25 shots. 100% reliable, BTW. The target was shot at 5 yards. I borrowed a band-aid and soldiered on.
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Sorry about the crappy picture- didn’t realize until I got home.
The Helwan functioned flawlessly with Freedom Munitions 115gr. Hollow-Points- basically the 9mm version of the .45 hollow points described above. Freedom Munitions XTP self-defense loads also ran without a hiccup. So far this gun has been 100% malfunction-free with ball and three types of 115grain HPs through both magazines. Accurate, mild recoil with a decent trigger and good rapid-fire groups at 7 yards; I am really enjoying this gun.
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The .22 Target Pistol shot good ten-yard groups- still unfortunately high. Didn’t do a lot of shooting with it as it was having head-space issues; the barrel was slipping forward against the set-screws which resulted in unreliable ignition. A thorough cleaning and some lock-tight will hopefully solve the problem.
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The Shopkeepers Special shot pleasing palm-sized rapid-fire groups at ten yards with Freedom Munitions 158 grain HPs- Fully plated like the 9mm and .45 loads. I also shot these out of the .38 M&P hand-ejector, producing this five-shot rapid-fire group at ten yards. Yes, the hole on the left is actually from three bullets. A twenty-five yard rapid-fire target produced two five-shot groups about twice as large as this one with two flyers about 5 inches low. Oops.
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In the course of things one of the rangemasters recognized me from the internet and we had a pleasant chat. He tried out the TD45 (one shot was sufficient, thanks) and the two .38s. He remarked on the trigger of the M&P; it really is light and exceptionally smooth. The century-old workhorse did herself proud tonight! He also let me try out his 1911A1- an old-school IPSC comp-gun with a double-chamber compensator, full-length guide-rod etc. Delightful gun, very accurate. I ached to do double-taps with it, but sadly that’s against the range’s rules. Damn.
Finished things u at home cleaning all the guns while catching up on NCIS:LA with my Sweety and a good, strong cup of coffee. All in all a great evening.