I Always Value New Experiences…

…but I could have lived without this one!

I traded a fella for an Iver Johnson Viking .38 recently. These were a top-break in .38 S&W, and look like a near-copy of Harrington & Richardson’s Defender. Like the H&R these are manually ejecting via a rod under the barrel. They were made from 1963-1974 as an inexpensive self-defense pistol. They have a rep for being very stout little guns.

Not my specific gun, but identical.

This one arrived with some blemishes on the frame, holster wear and a genuinely pretty nice double-action trigger-pull. The ergonomics are neither great nor tragically bad, and I was eager to give it a whirl. I finally got it to the range today, and on the third shot pieces followed the bullet downrange.

Honestly it wasn’t even scary; it happened so fast I was like, “Well, that happened. Crap.”

Revolver cylinders tend to blow up and sideways when they go, and since I was on an indoor range with dividers between the firing positions neither I nor anyone else was injured.

Upon reflection I am afraid I cannot recommend this particular revolver.

My first thought on seeing a cylinder like this is ‘overpowered handload,’ and indeed that was my first thought here. Anyone can make a mistake, but I am an extremely meticulous handloader. I calibrate the powder scale before each loading session, and visually verify the powder charge in each case before seating the bullet. No, it could not have been a double-charge; a double-load won’t even fit in the case, and I would have noticed the powder overflowing…

The load used was a 125gr. .361 caliber lead SWC over 2.7gr. of Unique. This is far, far under the maximum recommended load for a top-break. Actually 2.7gr of Unique under a 148gr. lead bullet is not over the maximum for a top-break revolver. I fired this identical load in two other revolvers today without a problem, and in the past have fired it from an Iver Johnson revolver made in the 1880s, so the load itself is not at fault. The specific cartridge might have somehow been overloaded, and while I doubt it it’s possible.

There might be another answer- the steel of the inner chamber wall shows a dark area. This is caused by carbon precipitation when the steel cracks in heat-treat. This most often happens when the steel is overheated during the process, which produces a characteristic pattern of large grain-growth.

In this photo you can see the grain-structure of the steel along the fracture lines, and (though it didn’t show well in the photo) a dark area in the inner cylinder wall indicative of carbon precipitation in a crack formed in heat-treatment.

OK, that’s definitely some large grain growth, and this indicates a very weak structure. Look at the image below- the top is the cylinder wall in close-up. On the bottom is the edge of a broken piece of properly heat-treated steel. There is a pretty major difference!

That is some seriously ugly steel in the top picture. Yes, these pictures are to scale!

Also when a cylinder blows it tends to only take out the chamber being fired and one of both of the adjacent chambers. But if there was a pre-existing crack in the inner cylinder-wall it would explain why the cylinder cracked relatively neatly in half.

Regardless of whether the individual cartridge was over-powered, I think the real culprit is a very bad heat-treat and micro-cracks in the cylinder; this gun was a time-bomb from the moment it left the factory, and I just drew the short straw.

So what now? Well, what is not going to happen is me blaming my buddy for sending me a bad gun. No way he could have known about this. Hell, it might have blown up on him as easily as me. I can replace the broken latch with a part from Numerich arms, but unfortunately they are out of .38 cylinders, so if I decide to repair this I’ll make my own… out of properly heat-treated 4140 steel!

I got this gun because I thought it would be interesting… well, it surely has been that! Though not, perhaps, in the way I had hoped… You win some, you lose some. If or when I get around to repairing this gun I’ll keep you posted.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 August 2019

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The CZ P-07: High-Tech Meets Old-School

I’ve been a fan of CZ pistols for a long time. Over the years I’ve owned a number of their small-caliber offerings, and their unique roller-locked fireball in 7.62 x 25 Tokarev, the CZ-52. Without exception they have been well-made, reliable and interesting guns.

In the ’80s, when the CZ75 was unobtainium, I had several of the Italian clones. I loved the ergonomics and found them to be very good pistols. More recently my wife owned a CZ-75 clone, the EAA Witness Carry-Comp .45. Fantastic gun, reliable and a great shooter. I’ve gotten to shoot several actual CZ-made variants in the last decade and loved them. For some time I’ve been contemplating gritting my teeth and paying the price for one, but they are spendy beasts and I had not quite convinced myself to, uh, ‘pull the trigger.’

You might not guess it from the contents of this blog, but polymer-framed guns and I go way back. I owned one of the early Glock 17 imports in the mid-eighties, and have had a few other Glocks since. Fantastic guns; if I needed to carry a duty-gun these days I have often figured it would be a Glock 17. They are wonderfully light-weight, legendarily reliable, but the trigger and ergonomics never thrilled me. I much prefer the more old-school single-action of the 1911, or DA/SA style trigger of the CZ75.

All that being the case, when this gun was offered up in trade I jumped at the chance to try it out.

The Details:

Magazine Capacity– 15

Frame– Polymer

Chambering– 9x19mm

Trigger Mech– DA/SA

Sights– Low-profile fixed Three-Dot

Barrel Length– 3.75 in

Weight– 27.7 oz

Overall Length– 7.2 in

Height– 5.3 in

Width– 1.46

Safeties- Ambidextrous, Decocker or Manual Safety, Safety Stop on Hammer, Firing Pin Block Safety

MSRP– $510.00

The CZ P-07 is very comparable in size to the Glock 19. It is slightly thicker, in part because of the ambidextrous decocker (or safety.) It’s a good size for an ‘all-arounder;’ large enough to be a duty pistol, small enough for concealed carry.

The gun comes well equipped in CZ’s hard plastic case, with two magazines, three back-panels for the grips, interchangeable flat or extended magazine bases, and both a safety that enables the gun to be carried cocked-and-locked or an interchangeable decocker. There is a well-made and detailed user manual (in several languages) and a couple of cleaning tools (missing in this used example.)

The gun uses CZ’s full-length inside slide-rails, front and rear cocking serrations and standard three-dot sights, which I don’t much like. The magazines are stoutly made of steel- a feature I like quite a lot. There are stippled serrations on the frame just above the trigger, nicely located as a safe-position for your trigger finger. The grip panels are stippled also, and there are interrupted lines on the front and back of the grip. The total effect is to provide a secure but comfortable grip.

The low-profile sights offer good visibility. The rear is drift-adjustable for windage, and the front is user-replaceable. Both are secured by Allen screws (the wrench is provided with the gun.) The double-action trigger gives second-strike capability on a dodgey primer, a very useful feature.

Following the included instructions (and a Youtube video or two) I configured the gun to suit me, fitting the largest of the grip panels and the decocker. The extended magazine base-pads were already fitted. The decocker was the hardest to fit, but the only tool required was a small screwdriver to position the return spring.

Take-down is much the same as any Browning-based semi-auto; drop the magazine, line up the witness marks, pop the slide-stop out and the slide comes off the front. The recoil spring is a captured unit!, so it’s very easy to remove and reposition when assembling the gun. The barrel simply lifts out. It’s not quite as easy as a Glock, but it’s not a bother either.

P-07, field-stripped

Impressions:

The gun, as I have set it up, feels good in the hand and points naturally. For me the sights line up nicely as the gun comes to bear on the target. Empty magazines are practically fired from the gun when you press the well-located, but not obtrusive, magazine release. The gun has a pleasingly solid feel in the hand.

I am not keen on three-dot sights. They are fine for close-up work and rapid acquisition, but I’ve always found it hard to wring much precision out of them, especially at extended ranges. That’s quibbling though; they are fine for the gun’s intended purpose and can easily be altered to suit.

The double-action trigger is smooth with no stacking. It’s fairly long, but that’s no handicap to someone used to double-action revolvers. There’s quite a lot of slack in the single-action trigger, but it breaks fairly crisp. You really don’t notice while firing owing to the fairly short reset. A well-tuned 1911 puts it in the shade, but it’s good for its type.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road:

I grabbed some ammo this afternoon and headed down to Champion Arms indoor range to give the gun a good wringing out. Some of the ammo I fired was some unconventional old rounds formerly used by the South African Police, the New Generation Sentry 9mm+P. These use an 80gr nickel-plated monolithic copper hollow-point with a ballistic cap for feeding that makes 1375 fps. from a 4″ barrel. They had a good record in service, and I inherited several hundred of them from a friend’s estate. They were handy and they make pretty holes in paper targets so I grabbed a couple boxes. The remainder were 125gr. TCL standard-pressure handloads. The gun functioned properly throughout testing.

Sentry ammunition. Center- complete round, right- projectile with ballistic cap removed, left- what they look like when the have bounced clear back to the firing line off the bullet-stop.

First off I loaded a magazine with 15-rounds of the Sentry ammunition, dropped the hammer with the decocker and did a seven-yard mag-dump. The results were encouraging-

Don’t them Sentries make pretty holes?

The second test was to load five rounds, decock the gun, then raise the gun rapidly from waist height and fire a double-action shot at seven yards, then repeat five times. Again, the results were promising-

Not bad at all.

OK, the gun feels like it points naturally- but how does that translate on a target? I ran a target out to three yards, loaded ten rounds, decocked the hammer and lowered the gun to waist level with the gun held in the strong-hand. Then I raised the gun quickly to mid-chest level and fired a double-tap, still one-handed, with the first shot DA and the second SA. I repeated this five times. The results were pretty good for a gun I’d never fired before today-

The ballistic caps of the Sentry rounds apparently detach and usually shatter when the round exits the muzzle; the taped-over holes are from caps or fragments.

I did a whole lot of general target shooting at ranges from seven to twenty-five yards for a total of a couple of hundred rounds. The gun functioned flawlessly with both the +P Sentry ammo and the mild reloads. Felt recoil felt soft and was easily managed; I really enjoyed shooting this gun.

Conclusion:

This is a well-made, well-thought out gun, and it comes with options to personalize it. Accuracy and reliability are both what you would expect from a CZ- very good indeed! The $510 MSRP is not bad for a gun in this class, and the extra magazine and accessories are a bonus. Of course these guns can routinely be found for quite a bit less than that price.

The combination of the old-school SA/DA mechanism and modern polymer construction just might make this the perfect 21st Century pistol for a dinosaur like me. I’m looking forward to a lot more shooting with this gun, and plan to run it in an ASI match soon.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 August 2019

When the Adrenaline Hits the Fan

Detonics Mark 1 Combat Master .45, rapidfire at seven yards.

A lot of instructors make much of the loss of fine motor control when you are in the throes of an adrenaline rush. They are correct; it has been scientifically demonstrated that this occurs. Many have interesting and varied theories about the effect of this in combat, and what to do about it.

An adrenaline dump occurs when the amygdala, the collective name for the portions of your brain dedicated to dealing with strong emotions, decides that a fight-or-flight response is needed. To give you the tools to help you survive it instructs your brain to trigger the adrenal glands, located above your kidneys, to dump adrenaline into your system. This is not a graduated thing; your autonomous system has determined that if you don’t act now it’s over, so it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn’t trickle adrenaline into your system, it dumps it. This makes your heart beat faster, increases blood flow, and tells your body to rapidly process sugars for energy. Your eyes dilate to take in extra light and information, and the increased oxygen and sugar sharpens your reflexes and temporarily increases your strength. It also erodes your fine motor control.

But a lot of these instructors forget or overlook a simple reality; as competition shooter Tim Bacus points out, operating a pistol does not require fine motor control. Want to carve the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice, or paint it on the tail-light of your hotrod? Or just thread a needle? If you experience an adrenaline dump you are probably out of luck.┬áBut people can and do operate pistols just fine.

Adrenaline dumps are more or less created equal. It was determined in the ’80s that a competitive shooter’s adrenaline dump from ‘match nerves’ is functionally identical to one caused by a lethal threat, which makes sense. Your brain has decided it GO TIME. It doesn’t calculate how much you need and meter it out; it’s the full-meal-deal or nothing. Yet participants in action shooting sports regularly perform awesome feats of marksmanship and gun manipulation. How?

Training and mental preparedness. If you have practiced your manual of arms to the point where the actions are automatic you will perform them as fast or faster under the impact of an adrenaline dump. Getting a sight picture, reloading, clearing a jam- all easy if you are trained and mentally prepared. Yes, if you aren’t trained you are going to fumble these actions a bit, but that’s as much a function of trying to perform an unfamiliar task in a hurry as any physiological reason.

Similarly people with little training tend to shoot more poorly during an adrenaline dump, and even competitors sometimes find this happening. Under pressure it’s only natural to be in a rush, and that does not make for good accuracy. But- I and some other shooters actually shoot better under an adrenaline dump. Training and other physiological effects of the adrenaline dump counter the shakes and whatever loss of motor control there is. The extra strength lets us clamp down and overcome the shakes, the increased focus gives us greater precision etc.

My suggestion would be to practice all aspects of gun handling and manipulation over and over again, until they become automatic. Don’t try to do them fast- just do them right every time. When that adrenaline hits you will do what you trained to do. Best to train the right habits; in the fight adrenaline will give you all the speed you need.

That’s my two cents. I’m not a doctor, or a trainer, researcher or what have you. I’m just a guy with s few decades of experience watching how things play out in the real world, so take this for what it’s worth.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 5 August 2019

Pietta Remington 1858 ‘Gunfighter’ Project

Pietta 1858 with a color case-hardened frame and checkered grips. This is a catalogue photo, because like an idiot I didn’t take pics before I went to work…

Perusing the case at Pinto’s I spotted this Pietta 1858. It stood out for the checkered grips and case-hardened frame. The grips are quite nicely made and appear to be some sort of maple with a bit of quilting. It was used, though it appeared to have never been fired. I was flush with cash from selling two shotguns I never shoot and the price was irresistible, so I didn’t.

By this point I don’t imagine that it’s any secret that I am not a big fan of long-barrelled revolvers. Oh sure, there are exceptions, like my Abilene .44 Magnum, but that is for handgun hunting. There was never much question that I was going to shorten the barrel, it was just a matter of how much. I already have two 1858 ‘snubbies’ so I didn’t feel any great need for another. In addition with the color case-hardened frame and fancy grips I was kind of locked in to not modifying the frame.

A few years back I did a 3-1/2″ gun and I like it quite a bit. Not too large to conceal, very balanced in the hand and it points very naturally. I had come to think of this as a ‘gunfighter’ length because I imagined its handiness and speed might appeal to a man of action.

‘The Dandy,’ my 3-1/2″ 1858, chambered in .44 Colt (original)

I decided that I was going to use my Kirst gated conversion; the gun it was mounted in has been slated for further work that will include a bespoke cylinder. You’ll see more on that in a future post.

First thing first was to cut the loading port in the blast-shield to allow cartridges to be fed into the cylinder. I mounted the Kirst unit and marked where the gate was, then I removed it and dismantled the revolver except for the loading lever and cylinder pin; I left those because I would need to mount and remove the Kirst cylinder several times in the process.

Typical flex-shaft rotary tool.

To do this I used a 1/2″ 80-grit sanding drum in a rotary flex-shaft tool. You can use a standard Dremel tool, but in my experience you will need to stop several times in the process to let the tool cool down. I slowly cut the port, being careful to keep the drum straight and level in the cut. This is a lengthy process; it will take some time to make an uncorrectable mistake, so as long as you are careful it ought to come out alright.

After a certain point I knew I was getting close and fitted the cylinder to check. I wasn’t getting close. I fitted and removed the cylinder several times before cartridges were able to slide easily in and out of the cylinder. Once I had accomplished that I used a 600-grit sanding drum to smooth everything out, then applied cold-blue paste to darken the metal in the port.

The finished loading port, just large enough to allow a cartridge to slide easily in our out of the cylinder.

With this completed I marked and shortened the barrel to 3-1/2″. I mounted the frame in the drill press, and aligning it carefully I used a conical reamer to crown the barrel, then polished the crown.

Conical reamer for deburring pipe. Properly set up it also cuts a pretty good barrel-crown

The cylinder pin is normally held in by the loading lever, which is retained by a catch on the barrel. The 3-1/2″ barrel is far to short to allow the cylinder pin to be withdrawn if the catch is fitted in conjunction with a shortened loading lever, so another method of retaining it is needed. You can buy a catch from some suppliers, but I think these are ugly and result in an awkward-looking gun.

1858 cartridge conversion with a commercially-made cylinder-pin quick-release. I think these are unattractive and awkward-looking.

My preferred method is to shorten the loading-lever, bore through it into the cylinder pin and install a plunger to lock the lever in position. Not only is this more attractive, it can still be used as a loading lever if the percussion cylinder is mounted.

Loading lever on ‘The Dandy,’ which provided the pattern for the loading-lever/cylinder pin release on the Gunfighter.

With the loading lever completed I used a cut-off wheel in the flex-shaft tool to cut a carefully centered slot in the top of the barrel to hold the new front-sight. I cut the sight out of bronze plate, just thick enough that it needed to be force-fitted in the slot. I like to use brass or bronze front sight because they are more visible, under a variety of conditions, than black steel. I tapped the sight gently into the slot, secured it temporarily with superglue, then staked it in place with a punch. The gun was now essentially complete.

At some future point I will refinish the barrel to get rid of the chopped-off stampings, but for now I’m OK with them. Time to test this beast!

I sat down at my reloading bench and cranked out fifty-five of my default .45 Colt load- a 200gr. LRNFP from Aardvark Enterprises over 8.0 gr. of Unique with a Federal #150 large pistol primer. With these in hand I was off to Champion Arms indoor shooting range.

I fired the gun at 7, 15 and 25 yards. It was right on at 7 yards, but somewhat weirdly it shot higher at fifteen and higher still at twenty-five. Group sizes were OK- well, I think they were OK. At twenty five yards there were only two hits at the top of the target, though they were only about 3-1/2″ apart. The other hits were off the top of the paper. The backing cardboard was pretty well shot up, but it looked like the other shots were similarly spaced although it’s hard to say with any certainty.

First time shooting the gun. The target was at seven yardsnothing to complain about here, except maybe my shooting.

I finished up with a target at five yards. I simply pointed the gun without aiming and fired five shots as fast as I could thumb the hammer. Only one shot landed out of the black. Then I repeated this, aiming at the lower right corner and produced a three inch group. One more time, this time aiming at the lower left corner with similar results. I’m really pleased- the gun points very naturally.

The checkering is grippy, but not so sharp as to be uncomfortable, and the ample dimensions of the handle scales made recoil very easy to manage. All in all quite a pleasant gun to shoot.

I found myself thinking of this gun as ‘The Gunfighter,’ so I guess that’s as good a name as any. This is not the most interesting or extensive conversion I have done, but I am really, really happy with the result. I expect this gun will get a lot of range-time!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 3 August 2019