Category Archives: Weapons Education

Polymer 80% Glock Frames Available for Pre-Order

Well, it had to happen, and sooner rather than later. An ATF-approved Glock-off frame that a home hobbyist can complete himself, producing a legal “Ghost Glock.”


Like any Glock frame, it’s adaptable to multiple uppers (and therefore calibers) that suit the same generation (it’s made for Glock G3 parts) and length (full length, a la G17) receiver. One frame supports two slides, three calibers, and nine Glock model-equivalents.


The frame is not only incomplete, requiring several areas to be milled or drilled out, but also Glock spare and aftermarket parts just went up in price, and some enterprising fellow that can assemble complete kits is going to have a good business. (Polymer-80 promises them, too, in the unspecified future sometime after the January, 2016 predicted date for the lowers).

Here’s some of what they say about it on their intro page:

Let’s switch gears now and briefly talk about the pistol frame design and all of its features and benefits.

The high level overview is this frame is designed as an 80% frame, and includes all the necessary end mill bits and drill bits, along with the Jig to assist completing your pistol project accurately. Most people use a drill press with a cross vise to mill out the product, many folks have drill presses sitting in their garages, or can find someone who has one available to borrow. The frame accepts Glock17 9mm slides, as well as the Glock 40 caliber slide. The Smith and Wesson 40cal slide is also compatible with the Sig357 barrel configuration, which essentially gives you 3 different calibers to choose from.

Unlike the Glock, this frame includes a uniquely extended beaver-tail, and most notably a super tactical 1911 pistol grip rather than the standard glock styled pistol grip. Even better, this pistol grip includes a built in flared magwell for speed loading. This feature will surely be a favorite amongst competition shooters who require speed and accuracy.

We note that the original 3D printed (yes!) prototype they submitted to the ATF to approval had a more traditional Glock grip angle, as this ATF photo shows:


“NFC” is a reference to the ATF’s reference collection of firearms. This image is not entirely square on, but you can see how the angle of the grip has been reduced:


The front of the trigger guard appears now to be orthogonal to the barrel axis (that’s 90º for you CMF 55 ammunition handlers). The Picatinny rail and aggressively flared magwell of the prototype have been retained.

Finally, the areas that need to be milled out to complete this project include:

  • The barrel bridge
  • The top rails of the receiver
  • The slide guide rails

Once completed, you insert the custom locking block which comes with the kit, it provides additional metallic rails up front.

We assume (that dread word) that the locking block has weight enough to meet the so-called Undetectable Firearms Act metallic minimum.

They also have a Q&A here, promising “build, buy, shoot” kits later, and multiple colors.

The ATF letter for the Polymer-80 “Spectre” [.pdf] (formerly called the GC9) demonstrates that the part is approved by Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) as “not a receiver”  (the pistol reciever blank is discussed after the firm’s .308 “Warhogg” polymer receiver blank).

In case Polymer-80 is hit by a truck, here’s our OCR’d copy of the letter: ATF Determination Letter for Polymer 80 OCR.pdf

Lessons from the ATF Letter

There are three points we learned from the ATF letter that are extremely interesting to us, and probably each is worth a post on its own to explore in depth:

  1. The submission was not a final injection-molded partial receiver. (Polymer-80 is up front about the fact that they’re using customer deposits to have the complex multi-part mold made). Instead, Polymer-80’s attorney submitted the part in an additive-manufactured form that was dimensionally identical to the proposed injection-molded part, but possibly manufactured from different plastic. This was insightful on Polymer-80’s part opens up a lot of possibilities for both firearms and near-gun part designers to submit for ATF designation earlier in the design process. (An approval letter will help with fundraising).
  2. As is customary for FTB, The letter goes to great lengths to disclaim any applicability to any other case. It is the ATF’s position that these decisions are non-precedential, and can change any time with the whim of FTB, or more seriously, the real managers of ATF, the chief counsel’s office. This is their document, in the instant case, today; they do not wish to be held to it at any future date or in any future location.
  3. The FTB letter goes into depth about the part’s non-firearm status under the Gun Control Act, 18 USC § 921(a)(3)(B), but also fires a shot across Polymer-80’s bow, noting that they are also regulated by Washington’s latest anti-gun agency, the State Department:

Please be aware, while not classified as a “firearm”; the submitted items are each classified as a “defense article” as defined in 27 CFR § 447.11. The US Department of State (USPS) regulates all exports from, and particular imports into, the United States. Firearms, parts, and accessories for firearms are all grouped as “defense articles” by the USDS and overseen by there Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Information regarding import/export of defense articles can be found on their website at

This also comes, no doubt, from the extremely anti-gun Chief Counsel’s Office in conjunction with their fellow DC anti-gunners at State. It represents not only State’s grab for extra-legislative anti-gun regulatory powers, but an attempt at implementing the signed, but unsubmitted for ratification, UN Small Arms (gun ban) Treaty.


Hat tip, Mike at ENDO, one of our 2013 Wednesday Weapons Websites of the Week. Mike notes that it might be a bigger seller at a lower price. Our guess is that the firm must recoup its mold-making expenses. (Priced injection-molding molds lately? They’re a task for a very limited subset of machinists and machine shops, although for small parts and short runs you can improvise a mold with epoxy facings on an aluminum frame). In the long run, prices may come down, especially if there is market competition.

Hmm… who’s got a good 3D file of a G3 Glock lower?

Where RPDs are Reborn as Semis

Earlier this week, we visited Project Guns, a tanmall manufacturer in Florida and the home of an interesting project to recreate the Communist Bloc RPD light machine gun. The RPD is the 7.62 x 39 mm squad automatic weapon used by Soviet, satellite and “fraternal socialist” armies and “national liberation movements” from the 1950s through the 1970s. It’s a gas-operated, belt-fed truly light machine gun that evolved from the ancient pan-fed DP through the DPM and DP-46 from Degtyaryev; the RPD, Ruchnoi Pulemyot Degtyaryeva, was, in keeping with its intermediate cartridge, smaller, lighter, and handier.

These Project Guns RPDs are shown on the website, but have already shipped to their new owners.

These Project Guns RPDs are shown on the website, but have already shipped to their new owners. They’re all made on Polish surplus RPD kits — while the metal is in great condition, the wood varies from “new” to “pretty beat up.”

Along with Russian production, RPDs were made in China and several satellite countries. The quality of manufacture varies from nation to nation.

In recent years, there have been numerous attempts to build RPDs from demilled kits into working semi-autos. The best known is probably the Wiselite build, but there are several small shops out there, and DSA is currently shipping RPD semis.

Stan Szalkowski of Project Guns took time out of his production day — the company comprises Stan and a guy who’s his helper and understudy — to show us how he did it. When he invited us in he was test-fitting parts in one of a batch of guns nearing completion.

A semi-auto RPD approaches completion with careful hand-fitting on the gunsmith's bench. When it works and passes test-fire, it'll be blued, packed, and shipped to its proud new owner's FFL.

A semi-auto RPD approaches completion with careful hand-fitting on the gunsmith’s bench. When it works and passes test-fire, it’ll be blued, packed, and shipped to its proud new owner’s FFL.

The shop is neatly organized into three parts in an industrial zone of many small businesses. The main shop includes the desk Stan’s seldom at unless he’s on the phone to a customer or subcontractor, or designing a part or fixture in CAD (of which more later); the production benches and machinery, including manual lathes and mills, a Tormach CNC, presses, and of course, the gunsmith’s standard standbys: stones and files. Attached to the main shop is the stockroom, where the remainder of 150 RPD kits recently delivered await attention and some completed firearms for foreign destinations await the necessary paperwork drill: approval by national authorities, customs clearance and so forth. (Project Guns has a manufacturer’s license — in fact, as you go in the door, all the required licences are displayed on the wall in case officialdom ever comes looking). The third section of the company, which we didn’t personally see, is in a separate unit, and it is where the messy and noisy processes happen: test firing and hot blue. Each rifle is test fired for forty or fifty rounds into a bullet trap (and remediated if needed). The hot blue process is extremely time sensitive, if you want to avoid having the whole thing flash to rust; so the separate shops encourage concentration on the job at hand. There are assembly days and bluing days.

To rebuild an RPD, Project Guns uses their own receiver design, milled from solid 4130 steel for them by a large Florida machine shop. Stan bead-blasts the receivers, then fits the parts to them, test fires them and disassembled them for rebluing. Apart from the US-made barrels and receivers (and many small parts), each RPD is assembled with parts that came from a single demilled RPD. Each kit came from Poland individually boxed and serial numbered, and the boxes are used to keep each set of parts together along its course of modification and assembly.

A row of in-process RPDs. The nearest ones have their new, US-made chrome-lined barrels installed.

A row of in-process RPDs. The nearest ones have their new, US-made chrome-lined barrels installed.

While the cut receiver parts from the original guns can’t be reused (Stan has been down the path of receiver rebuilds before, but with hundreds of RPDs under his belt, having a custom receiver is much easier), the front sight, bipod and gas system must be removed from the stubs of the demilled barrel. The barrel stubs are also scrap.

The design of the receiver is modified so that full-automatic parts don’t fit. Neither the internals nor an unmodified trigger group housing from a full-auto RPD can go on to a Project Guns receiver. This is required for ATF compliance. The Tormach CNC comes in handy making the required cuts to modify the trigger group housing, operating rod/slide and other internals, as we’ll see when we talk about CAD below.

Here's one of the US-made barrels installed in an RPD. If you peek over to the left, you see a batch of customer guns -- Czech UK Vz.59s -- in for troubleshooting.

Here’s one of the US-made barrels installed in an RPD. If you peek over to the left, you see a batch of customer guns — Czech UK Vz.59s — in for troubleshooting.

The barrels are a story in themselves. The new barrels are US-made compliance parts, but they’re made for Project Guns by a major barrel maker: they’re chrome-lined like the originals. One problem with RPDs has been sight, barrel and gas system alignment. Some satellite nation guns, and some US semi builds, have been constructed with canted parts, which in a sight is inimical to accuracy, and in a gas system can be damaging to function. Stan has designed and built not only a special tool that ensures the perfect alignment of the parts, but also a specialty press for barrel installation that works with the tool.

Scratch-Built Custom Barrel Press. Barely visible on the right is the RPD barrel, sight and gas system alignment tool.

Scratch-Built Custom Barrel Press. Visible immediately to the left of the parts sorter on the right is the RPD barrel, sight and gas system alignment tool.

(He also uses a press that started off as a factory Harbor Freight press, but that he has extensively rebuilt, trued, and reinforced so that it actually works).

He showed us how he makes a custom tool, like the barrel/sight/gas system alignment tool, once he has it visualized in its component parts. (There are three parts to the tool: a base with a hole for the barrel and one for the mandrel, a mandrel that holds parts in alignment, and an insert that notches into the ejector cut in the barrel to ensure that everything’s directionally oriented and aligned properly). He envisions the part, and then sketches it in CAD. The program he uses is not something ridiculously expensive like CATIA, or something cutting-edge like SpaceClaim (which is a relatively reasonable $5000 or so). Instead, he used a combination of free and inexpensive PC software that meets his needs perfectly.

Initial design is done in the free application that’s downloadable from E-Machine-Shop. It also allows you to put your part out to bid. Stan has found that doing that, rather that working with shops he’s got experience with, can produce parts with so-so tolerances. But while the E-Machine Shop tool can produce a 3D file, it’s simply a drawing or representation — it’s not machine-ready.

For that, he uses Vectric’s VCarve Pro ($699 direct). We’re familiar with Vectric’s software (which is made in a confusing variety of versions, but they will help you find the right one for your application) for 2D cutting applications like laser cutting or CNC routing, but Stan uses it to generate tool paths. It accepts input for specific machine, for tool type (i.e. four flute end mill), size and, of course, feeds and speeds. Stan does these from experience, but a beginner can use feeds and speeds from Machinery’s Handbook and come out alright. In VCarve Pro, one can visualize the tool path in a simulation and correct it all on the screen before committing to metal. When the part looks like it’s being cut properly in the simulation, Stan saves the file to a thumb drive, and carries it a few feet to the Tormach.

The Tormach also comes in handy for the repetitive work involved in, for instance, modifying the trigger group housings. It repeats so well that if you design a fixture that doesn’t move when you remove and replace a part, you can set up the fixture and indicate in the first part, and then just run the Tormach and replace the parts without touching the indicator again.

Apart from parts modification, the in-house CNC is used mostly to make prototype parts and production tooling. Stan has a long-established relationship with production shops that make parts in mass quantities. These include semi-auto internals like linear hammers, small pins and dowels, muzzle nuts, and anything that’s unsat or not reusable in the basic kits.

Project Guns' small parts come from US short-run machine shops. After inspection, they go in this parts sorter for the assembly gunsmith.

Project Guns’ small parts come from US short-run machine shops. After inspection, they go in this parts sorter for the assembly gunsmith.

Stan has built and shipped 450 RPDs in the past, and notes that the quality of this batch of kits shows that they’re more well-used than the early batches, which were guns that had been stored new and never fired until they were demilled. With a new receiver and barrel, and many new small parts, and new bluing, the metal parts will look new, but some of the wood in this shipment shows that some of these guns were used hard by the Polish Army during its Warsaw Pact days. You can probably make a request for a more pristine or a more “characterful” RPD at this point, but there’s no assurance there’s any more kits to be had after these, and as they get used up your choices may dwindle.

Of the 150 kits he’s building, 100 are earmarked for United States customers and 50 are spoken for by a Canadian distributor, assuming the Canadian can get clearance from the Mounties, something he’s been working on for some time already. It’s pretty hard to imagine a collector firearm like this, essentially an expensive toy, finding a criminal use, but the mere look of it casts an icy blast of terror on hoplophobes.

Project Guns is not a retail gun dealer. If you want to get your name on the list for an RPD — they’re $2,500 a pop — it’s time now, and the gun will be delivered to your local FFL.



Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: The Selous Scouts Home Page

Selous Scouts cap badgeWhile this website does not appear to have been updated since 2007, in other words, in eight years, it still contains a great deal of useful information.

Its owner, Troy A. Lettieri, is an Army Special Forces soldier who not only shares the usual SF fascination with Rhodesian COIN, but also has made an avocation of man-tracking, bringing him closer, perhaps, to the long-disbanded unit than he would be otherwise.

Welcome to the SELOUS SCOUTS, once the most feared counter-insurgency force on the African continent.

During the course of the war the Selous Scouts were officially credited with either directly or indirectly being responsible for 68% of all terrorist killed, while losing less than 40 scouts in the process.

With this site I tried to obtain as much information on the Scouts to give the reader hopefully clear idea of who and what the Scouts were and what they were fighting for in and around the former country of Rhodesia.

In putting this site together there is a lot of general information on many facets of this counter-insurgency conflict, so it truly becomes a site of not just the Selous Scouts but also a Rhodesian interest site.

This site should be helpful for some, due to the fact in some African countries information on the Selous Scouts and the Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence (Chimurenga War, 1966-1980) was or is BANNED!

This site is still in the working and as I find and obtain more information on the scouts, I will continually update the site as needed.


It’s a pretty good source of general information on the Scouts as well as photographs and stories, most of it pulled from period media but some of it sent in by veterans of the Scouts or other units.

Ultra Rarities: Dardick 1100 and 1500 Pistols

In the history of firearms, one of the obscure yesterday’s “weapons of tomorrow” whose morrow never dawned was the Dardick “tround” (triangular round) system. The idea was for the weapon to use special trounds, or tround adapters that took a round of conventional fixed ammunition — .38 Special, for the standard Dardick, although an attempt was made at a .50 Dardick gun for aircraft usage. There was also a triplex tround.


The ammunition’s unusual sectional shape made it easy, at least in theory, to design feeding mechanisms.

Dardick never successfully commercialized his product, instead surviving for some years on R&D money from the military.

A seller at GunBroker has not one, but two, of these for sale in a single auction: a Model 1500, the most common Dardick (although “common” in Dardick terms means there may have been three dozen made), and a rarer Model 1100.


I don’t think it gets much more obscure than this! Up for auction are my two Dardick pistols and small collection of Trounds, pamphlets, etc. Both are original and complete.

The more scarce of these two is the Model 1100. It is said that only 40-50 firearms total were ever produced by the Dardick Corporation and only a small handful of those were the Model 1100, one of which was presented to JFK by David Dardick. This 1100 has not been test fired with live ammo but functions/cycles flawlessly in both double and single action.


The Model 1500 is complete but will need some work to get it running smoothly. As it sits, the cylinder and other components rub on the frame and do not rotate/cycle without assistance.


Both pistols have the complete adjustable sights and fully functional firing pin selector/adjustment features in-tact. These pistols have NOT been refinished and the factory etched/white information is clear and not painted over on the barrel and receiver of each.

Included in the collection are a selection of several live Trounds (one .38 HiVAP, Two Well Busters, a .50 caliber and a standard Tround with what appears to be a smaller projectile than the usual .38 projectile, possibly a .32?). Also included are an original box for the Model 1500 and several original/old stock pamphlets and booklets.

via Dardick 1100 and 1500 Pistols : Other Collectible Guns at


The initial bid requested on the auction is $5,000. There are two ways of looking at this. It’s a lot of money for a couple of guns you’ll likely never have ammo to fire, that’s one way. And then there’s the other way: two guns from a remarkable dead-end lineage of firearms history, guns which personify 1960s Space Age firearms design, for about the price of one relatively common WWII rarity like a Johnson or a modern replica like Ohio Arms Works BAR.

Only you know if it’s worth $5k to you. We regret we can’t buy every firearm we feature in these pages. (Hmmm… how long till we qualify for a reverse mortage, we could monetize the Manor….?)

Rhodesian Mine Ambush Protected Vehicles 1975-80

We’ve mentioned before that long before the US decided it needed vehicles that could survive mines (or, technically, whose crews could survive mines — one mine FOOM and anything that came on its own wheels is leaving on something else’s). the Rhodesian Army invented, developed, and mastered the concept, on a shoestring budget.

The vehicles were called Mine Ambush Protected or MAPs, and a confusing variety were improvised and made in unit workshops and national steel-working firms from about 1972 to the end of the war.

These vehicles might be entirely lost to history, if not for two things: the cruelty & corruption of the Mugabe regime which produced a global Rhodesian diaspora; and the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of combat-vehicle modelers, who pursue the most minute details with a singlemindedness that Javert himself could only envy.

Between the proud Rhodies, wherever they may fetch up these days, and the fiddly autism-spectrum anoraks who seem to breathe a heady mixture of detail and toluene, plenty of information about Rhodesian vehicles is at hand (and more is emerging regularly).

The best place to begin is wargamer John Wynne Hopkins’s page. He has done an intensive study of these vehicles.

The Problem

This photo illustrates the problem:

Mercedes 4.5 under tow

The slick-sided Mercedes 4.5 ton truck hit a land mine enroute out, and is being towed back to base. Hopkins (from whom we light-fingered the photo) explains that this is a convoy of 5 Independent Company, Rhodesian African Rifles, enroute back from a trip in support of the elections for the brief (and internationally unrecognized) compromise Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government in January 1979. Their efforts were futile: American President Jimmy Carter and British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington had agreed to support only “one man, one vote, one time” elections as demanded by the nominally Communist kleptocrats who led the two guerrilla movements.

5 Indep Coy RAR convoy forms up at Derowa Mine for ‘Muzorewa’ elections Jan 1979. … Unfortunately, one of these pookies [mine countermeasures vehicle — Ed.] could not be spared on the journey out, with the result that the 45 seen being towed hit a mine (2nd in the convoy), as did a mobile surgical unit second from back. No casualties, thank goodness, although the driver of the 45 was severely shaken – the anti-mine armour had only been fitted the day before to an almost new vehicle.

Of course the driver was shaken! The mine went off right in front of him (vehicles in Rhodesia were right-hand drive).

Anti-mine armor on vehicle chassis or floorboards was an interim step; the definitive Rhodesian vehicles were full MAPs, but there were never enough to eliminate the use of slick trucks.

There are basically two classes of Rhodesian MAPs: transport/utility vehicles, and mine-clearing vehicles.

Mine Protected Transports

As you might expect from the improvisational, highly decentralized Rhodesian Army, a wide variety of vehicles were made, with some of the more exotic and lower-density ones appearing in elite forces’ motor pools.

We despaired of ever sorting these out, but Don Blevin came to our rescue (via Hopkins) with a great chart of the main variants, based on the three chassis they were produced on: the Nissan 2-ton commercial truck, the Mercedes 4.5 ton, and the Mercedes 2.5 ton Unimog.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration.

We joined the two sides of the drawing and cleaned it up a bit. Don Blevin illustration. It embiggens thunderously.

This chart makes it look nice and neat. It wasn’t, though, because there were modifications and special purpose vehicles like weapons carriers and wreckers. Here’s some more Mercedes variants (same source):


And if you have a hard time keeping the Mercedes family straight, wait till you check out the utility Unimogs.


As you’ve seen from the initial image, a truck could take a TM-46 hit and still be survivable — it was luck of the draw based on where the blast took the vehicle. The truck in that picture was probably soon repaired and back in the field.

Mine Countermeasures Vehicles

If the Navy can use minesweepers, why can’t the Army? That simple question lay at the moment of conception of the Pookie, the principal Rhodie mine countermeasures vehicle. (There were others, built on the same principle.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo essay here.

A somewhat forlorn Pookie on display. From a photo walkaround by Steve Barrow here.

There were never enough to keep earthen roads open, so vehicles ran in convoys — another lift from naval experience). The Pookie’s equivalent of a naval minesweeper’s nonmagnetic hull was its very low ground pressure, too low to trigger an AT mine. It could trigger anti-personnel mines, and anti-tampering devices attached to the secondary fuze wells on AT mines.

Between 1972 and 1980, it is estimated that more than 600 people were killed and thousands more injured by landmines on hundred of kilometres of roads and runways in Rhodesia. The toll would have been much higher but for the invention of Pookie, a small detection vehicle designed to travel ahead of military and civilian convoys and light enough not to detonate anti-tank mines.

Pookie, originally designed and developed by Ernest Konschel, an engineer and farmer from Rhodesia, was constructed on a lightweight chassis and carried a one-person armour-plated cab. The cab had a V-shaped undercarriage designed to deflect any blast away from the driver and to combat centre blast mines. The wheels were positioned some distance from the cab, again to protect the driver in the event of detonation by offsetting the seat of explosion, and they were housed in Formula One racing tires, apparently bought in bulk from the South African Grand Prix. Wide with low pressure, they exert a minimum ground force. The vehicle was propelled by an engine from a Volkswagen Beetle that was capable of taking Pookie to mine detection speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour. Two drop-arm detectors were mounted left and right and equipped with a detection system that bounced magnetic waves into the ground as well as an acoustic signal to indicate metal.

On first trials, Pookie detected every metallic mine and went on to prove itself both reliable and safe. Even though Pookies did detonate anti-personnel mines and several booby-trapped anti-tank mines in action with the Rhodesian army, this was only at the cost of new wheels and rim replacements, but no serious human casualty.

Only one Pookie operator lost his life during the vehicle’s long service. His tiny cab was hit by a lucky RPG-7 shot, and his number was up. Pookies shrugged off small arms, and a tank mine detonation only disabled the vehicle, blowing off one or more sacrificial wheels, but the operator survived — shaken and temporarily deaf, usually. None of the Pookies ever ditecyly tripped a TM-46, the Soviet anti-tank mine that was the Rhodesian terrorists’ primary weapon, but they did .

The initial detector used coils that were contained in long cylinders that could be lowered parallel to the surface of the road, or raised for transport.

The Pookie Today

The source of the above quote was this feature in a counter-mining journal by Willie Lawrence, which goes into detail about how wartime Pookies have been rehabbed and updated with ground-penetrating radar for detecting the improved (if that’s the word) anti-magnetic mines that international mine-clearing groups are dealing with today.

And the concept has been extended today with countermine vehicles like the Meerkat (caution, many spammy popups at that link). But the Pookie stands out as an example of brilliant simplicity, enabled as much as its designers were restricted by the fact that the Rhodesian Army had no choice but to run lean and on a shoestring.

“The Best Portfolio They’d Ever Seen” –Bill’s 1942 semi conversion

Here’s a firearm you might not have seen, unless you’ve been to the National Firearms Museum in Virginia. It looks very familiar, at least to deer hunters of a certain vintage, but a little… well, different.

ruger savage 99 prototype left

Let’s begin by going back to the 1890s when the concept first was tried. One of the first semi-auto firearms made by John M. Browning was a semi conversion of a lever-action rifle. It proved the concept of gas-operated firearms and led directly to the Browning-designed Colt Model 1895 “potato digger.” Nearly fifty years later, the above rifle was created by a young man named Bill, using an updated version of the same concept. Here’s the other side.

ruger savage 99 prototype right

And here’s a close-up of the action and operating rod.

ruger savage 99 prototype charging handle

In 1942, Bill did the same basic thing JMB had sone — convert a lever to semi — with a Savage 99 lever gun in the deerslaying .250-3000 round. But he did it using a gas piston and operating rod similar, conceptually, to the M1 Garand. He used this as a calling card when he went to Springfield Armory and applied for a job. They called his converted Savage “the best portfolio they’d ever seen.” It’s in the National Firearms Museum now.

ruger savage 99 prototype top view

And yeah, they hired him. After the war Bill went out on his own.

You might have heard of Bill… Bill Ruger.

Ruger went on to bring new manufacturing processes and technologies into gun design; someone would probably have begun using investment castings if he hadn’t, but we probably wouldn’t have seen anything like the laminated parts of the Ruger Mark I pistol (because who has ever copied that idea?

His legacy in the gun culture is muddled, because he also became an anti-gunner, or at least an appeaser thereof. But his whole complex career began with this one carefully-finished rifle.

springfield_entranceIf you were to show up today, on the site that was once the downtown section of the Springfield Armory, with a rifle of your own invention, you’d probably be thrown in jail for years by the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. The actual Springfield Armory Museum has not one, but something like five, “Victim Disarmament Zone” and “Criminal Support Zone” stickers on it!

But in 1942, it was still an armory, still a place where guns and the manufacturing of them were designed and built. And the country had not yet lost its ever-lovin’ mind over firearms.

Shoot Like a Fed II: The FBI Qualification 1997-2013

keep-calm-and-carry-a-fbi-badgeCan you shoot like an FBI  Special Agent? A single box of ammo will tell you, as the qualification runs 50 rounds. True, this is an outdated certification that dates from the days that the Bureau issued DA/SA SIG pistols. (The current qualification has some insignificant changes, like starting at the close targets and working back; and some significant ones, like eliminating the 25-yard line and requiring all strings to be fired after drawing from concealment. We may cover that in the future).

While a listing of a qualification’s stages in black and white is necessary and works for people who learn well from the printed page, we think videos like this one, which one of our readers found online, really help to get the points across.

The FBI then used the Q target. Scoring is simple: a round touching the line of or inside the “bottle” counts for 2 points, a round outsize zero. The standards are: 85% to qualify, and 90% for instructors. The stages are listed below this 2012 video from Darkwood Personal Defense, which lasts 4:18.

Stage I:
25 yards. 75 seconds. Firearm fully loaded. All shots (regardless of barricade side) are taken with two hand hold with strong hand operating pistol.
6 rounds prone; 3 rounds strong side kneeling/barricaded; 6 rounds strong side standing/barricaded; 3 rounds weak side kneeling/barricaded. Total 18 rounds.

Stage II:
Start at 25 yards, firearm fully loaded, in holster. Total time 18 sec.
Start at 25 yards; but shooter does not fire here. On command, shooter displaces to 15 yard line, draws, fires 2 rounds, 6 seconds. Decock (if DA/SA) and return to low ready. On command, Fire 2 rounds in 3 seconds, return to low ready. Repeat on command 2 rounds, 3 seconds, three times. Total 10 rounds (running total 28).

Stage III: 
Start at 15 yards, firearm loaded with fewer than 12 rounds, in holster, and spare magazine on belt. Total time 15 sec.
Start at 15 yards; but shooter does not fire here. On command, shooter displaces to 7 yard line, draws, fires 12 rounds — including a reload — in 15 seconds. Total 12 rounds (running total 40).

Stage IV:
Start at 7 yards, firearm loaded with a 5 round magazine, in holster, spare mag on belt with 5 rounds. Total time 15 sec.
Start at 7 yards; but shooter does not fire here. On command, shooter displaces to 5 yard line, draws strong hand only, fires 5 rounds.  Transfers gun to weak hand (this can happen before, during or after the reload. It is safest before, and fastest during, as the instructor demonstrates), reloads, fires 5 rounds weak hand only. Time limit 15 seconds. Total 10 rounds (running total 50).

This is a much simpler and easier qualification than the ICE/DHS HSI qualification that we’ve posted before. We’ve never heard of a Bureau candidate being sent to hit the bricks for failing the pistol test (we’ve heard of a few “retested” by managers after the instructors gave up on them, and miraculously passing. This happens in every agency), but we have heard of special agents in the field being retasked to desk work after repeated failures to qualify. It is a rare agent who will fire his or her firearm in anger, but every one is supposed to be ready to do so. The replacement qual is not significantly more difficult, although it’s generally closer in, and stresses starting from concealment, which is more realistic for an investigative agency. (Sure, if they’re expecting trouble, like a warrant service, they unholster in advance or even break out the long guns… or they re-plan the arrest so that it’s less risky, if possible). The FBI’s upcoming change to 9mm from .40 S&W will make it easier yet.

So, can you shoot like a Fed?

Washbear 3D Printed Revolver Update

Back in September, we introduced the Washbear, the first successful 3D printed .22 revolver (although it looks like a pepperbox, it has a rudimentary barrel), and we promised you more information, including the files, when it was time.

It’s time.

James R. Patrick has continued to develop theWashbear and he now has it working even better. In addition, the files are available. This is his rendering of the current version:

Patrick Washbear Release Rendering

It is all 3D printed, except for one roofing nail (firing pin), one elastic band (mainspring), and a grip-enclosed steel mass if one must meet the requirements of the United States’ Undetectable Firearms Act.

This video is a design analysis by Patrick himself, followed by a brief video of a shooting session of a version printed by FP (FreedomPrint) of the FOSSCAD group. There are two separate cylinder designs: a eight-shot cylinder, with steel liners, for printing in ABS filament; and an six-shot cylinder that requires no liners if printed in nylon filament. The cylinders are interchangeable. There’s no reason you couldn’t print a nylon, lined, 8-shot cylinder, too, for increased strength.

It is designed with more attention to safety than to perfect function at this point. The clever mechanism rotates the cylinder half-way on trigger release, so that the DAO trigger only has to move the cylinder half-way — but also so that the firing pin rests on the cylinder between chambers, in between shots, rendering the firearm drop-safe. (We would suggest making a notch in the cylinder’s rear face to receive this firing pin, locking the cylinder between shots and ensuring the cylinder can’t be torqued sideways and initiate an out-of-battery fire, for added safety. That would not be a factor in a center fire version, which would probably require materials advances). James Patrick notes that the current mechanism leads to a suboptimal trigger press.

Well, it’s early days.

Again, back in September, we promised you the files when James was ready to release them. He released them this past weekend. You can download the zipfile from Sendspace here. Follow that link and click on the blue button:

Note that James’s own website remains blocked by some antivirus software. Should you not be under that handicap, it’s here:

Are we still the best place to get technical firearms news on the web, or what (they said modestly)?




Why It’s Harder for an Army to Buy Guns, than for You

Developing a NATO weapon? There are a lot of nations to please, too.

Developing a NATO weapon? There are a lot of nations to please, too.

Buying a rifle seems pretty straightforward, to most of our readers. After all, most of us have bought more than one rifle, and it’s never been too dramatic. (Unless we did it with the rent money and didn’t tell Herself). But militaries have a lot of requirements to meet.

How many? This is a list of almost three dozen minimum requirements for a notional future NATO rifle, from a DTIC-hosted NDIA presentation by NATO’s Barton Halpern from this past April.

How many of these can your favorite rifle meet? How many can you document that it can meet?

  1. Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO according to STANAG 4172.
  2. Magazine: 30 rounds according to draft STANAG 4179.
  3. Barrel length: 260, 350 and 508 mm, free floating.
  4. Mass: <3.5 kg unloaded w/o sight.
  5. Length: <1.0 m with 350 mm barrel.
  6. Life expectancy: >10 000 rounds according to D/14.
  7. Accuracy: Must be able to shoot 10 rounds within 0.6 mils at 100 meters with NATO reference ball ammunition.
  8. Rate of fire: <750 rpm.
  9. Adjustable butt stock, adjustable in length approx. 80 mm, with adjustable cheek rest.
  10. Ambidextrous controls.
  11. Rails according to STANAG 4694, on top of the upper receiver, and preferable around hand guard at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock.
  12. An option of powered rail according to STANAG 4740.
  13. Flash hider: TBD.
  14. Muzzle thread: M15 x 1 RH.
  15. All weapons controls must be able to be manipulated with gloved hands.
  16. Ambidextrous three point sling positions.
  17. Automatic bolt catch.
  18. Being able to withstand NBC decontamination agents.
  19. Safe ejection for both right and left hand shooters.
  20. Compatible with sound suppressors.
  21. Able to use training ammunition.
  22. Iron sights must be able to be adjusted without special tools.
  23. Screws that the user needs to manipulate shall be metric and use the same tool.
  24. Internal parts should not need lubrication.
  25. Minimal movement at firing.
  26. Easy dismantling and reassembly.
  27. It shall not be possible to reassemble incorrectly.
  28. No small parts that can be lost during cleaning.
  29. It shall be possible to install an electronic shot counter.
  30. No degradation of accuracy and/or point of impact for hot weapon.
  31. It shall be possible to mount a grenade launcher and fire rifle grenades.
  32. It shall be possible to mount a bayonet.
  33. No degradation of function with devices (sight etc.) with a total weight of 3 kg.
  34. Parts shall be interchangeable according D/14.
  35. The weapon shall be safe for the operator according to D/14.

Now you see a little more of what a contemporary designer (or, really, a design team) is up against. Things the average individual never thinks about, like insensitivity to highly caustic decontaminant agents (#18), are potential sales killers for a military firearm. Then there’s the standards you have to meet: four STANAGS and the 1977-vintage “Evaluation Procedures for Future NATO Weapon Systems: Individual Weapons; Support Weapons; Area Fire Weapons,” published by NATO’s AC/225 Panel III, and the same panel’s 1975 “Operational Requirement for Individual Weapon.”

As a rule of thumb, different sub-teams work on the design of the actual weapon, and on shepherding its specifications and test results through chutes and ladders of the bureaucracy.

Now do you think you’re ready to design the Next Big Thing?


Rapid-Build Improvised SMG

Meet the “Table Leg Typewriter”, recently written up in The Firearm Blog, it’s a beyond-crude SMG that can be made in a few hours from common materials and (mostly) simple tools. (The exception, the one tool that requires some practice to use, is a welder).

It looks, in the diagram below, like just another Sten-alike — and it does use a Sten mag, although an alternative, apparently un-prototyped, mag design is provided — but it actually has a number of fascinating features that make it even more fit for cottage manufacture, and especially, for manufacture under conditions of pervasive surveillance, than even the robust, simple Sten.


The trade-offs, however, are rather stiff and you can expect to have problems with this thing, if you ever try to use it as a weapon. Problems like these:

  1. There are several compromises that negate the gun’s accuracy potential. In the order of their seriousness, they are the lack of a stock, the lack of any sights, and the lack of a rifled barrel.
  2. The use of screws and bolts suggests the gun has a high potential for self-disassembly.
  3. There is literally no safety designed into this weapon. That is, both “safety, n., a device on a firearm to prevent accidental discharge,” and also “safety, n., the state or status of being safe.” Both are utterly lacking here! To be safe, a blowback, open-bolt SMG needs a way to lock the bolt closed over an empty chamber, and a safety notch with the bolt back is also  a plus (this was added to the MP.38 in production, and standard on the Sten). The Table Leg Typewriter lacks a trigger guard (the trigger is a rectangular plate), and it also lacks any mechanical advantage preventing the bolt from overriding the sear (which can be seen in the drawing as a square piece with a spring putting tension on it).

The design is one of at least a dozen published in small booklets. The series is titled “Practical Scrap Metal Small Arms.” Most of them show a remarkable simplicity, even elegance, in their crudity.

For the Table Leg Typewriter, the interesting thing is the way it is built to exploit readily available structural shapes, with the absolute least requirement for tools and tooling. For instance, where a part must be thick, like the bolt, for example, it is made of multiple nested thinwall box-section tubes, with a bar welded in its center. Need to make a hole, and don’t have a milling machine? Nothing to it. Drill a series of holes, connect them with an angle grinder, and clean up. From the booklet, here’s the formation of the ejection port:


The conceptual design of the nested-tube parts may be the most interesting facet of the design, but the bog-simple (if unsafe) trigger is also interesting. The whole weapon is an example of reduction ad minimum and it illustrates the unpleasant fact, for gun controllers, that the next simplest gun to a zip gun is a zip submachine gun. No, it’s hardly a Mk.17 SCAR-H, but it’s a real, working, gun (although the prototype shown in the book allegedly has a permanently demilled barrel).

Paradoxically, such weapons are often produced where oppression is greatest; disarming Homo sapiens sapiens is a foolish, doomed venture, so long as h. sapiens retains a thinking mind and opposable thumbs.

Will a weapon like this work? That depends on how you define “work.” If you mean, “Be a good armament for some element of a national army, then, no. That’s not what this weapon is for. Even as a guerrilla or resistance arm, it really needs a stock, sights, a trigger guard and a notch safety, or your G’s are going to be self-attriting before they ever see the enemy.

But if you define “work” as “successfully fire, and serve as a better alternative to nothing when nothing is otherwise the only alternative,” then, yeah, it ought to work.