Category Archives: Weapons Technology

Where RPDs are Reborn as Semis

Earlier this week, we visited Project Guns, a small 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 Szakalski CHECK SPELLING 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 th.

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.




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.

Ghost Gunner Update x 3

Today, we have not one, but three, Ghost Gunner updates for you. The first is from the website, and brief; the second is a longer, official one, from Cody R. Wilson of Defense Distributed. The third is our own, and it is unfortunately briefer, as we have received the unit but haven’t had time to put it into production. We had a post half-drafted with some complaints, but as Cody, if not exactly answering, does explain why we have those complaints, we thought we’d let him go first.

Website Update

Here’s what went on the website on 15 November. It differs slightly from the longer email sent to owners, and includes more detail on the improved power supply.

The GG team spent the summer upgrading our machine and creating new business relationships. All Ghost Gunners will now ship with a 160w power supply and upgraded cutting tool, to take better advantage of our higher speed settings and address the latent power issues we’ve had time to observe with some machines in the field. These new machines make a distinctively different species of chip.


If you look at that picture (we changed the orientation 90º clockwise) you san just see the spindle working in the trigger pocket. The characteristic plastic 3D Printed hold-downs are one of the innovations in the Ghost Gunner technology. Before anyone asks, no, the GG is not configured to work with coolant or cutting fluid.

The GG and the software that comes with it works with milspec-dimensioned forged and some billet lowers (as you can see in the image, where a billet lower is in process).  Back to the update:

In early October we celebrated shipping our last order from 2014, and we’ve been working to take hundreds of backers off our wait list since May.

I’ve thought for months now that we’d start selling GG through distributors, but there is a large appetite for the product from simple word of mouth, and we have committed to making another 250-350 units for Q1 of this year and still more if the demand is there. As well, we’ve made the decision to offer custom lower receivers for sale.

There’s often confusion about what lowers to use with our machine, even though we try to make consistent recommendations. So from now on, we’ll begin offering billet 7075 80% lowers that were vetted for use with the GG. We’ve got quite a few in stock now.

The other images on the web update are the same as the ones below in the email update.

Wilson’s GG Update

Verbatim as Received, only bold subheadings added for clarity’s sake.


We spent the summer months overcoming our banking and payments issues to forge strong relationships with many providers in our industry. As well, we’ve been able to keep maturing the Ghost Gunner itself after shipping over 700 and watching them in the field. All GG’s now ship with upgraded cutting tools and power supplies, as well as improved cutting and operating code.

Celebration-last 2014 backorder

After we celebrated taking care of all orders from 2014 to early January, we’ve been taking backers off of our wait list by the hundreds. Please check your spam folders since I know many of our wait list invitations have been lost and many of you have waited a long time for your chance to get your machine.

Before we get to still other news, I’m please to announce that we are now selling Ghost Gunner 80% lowers directly. For now, just 7075 billet lowers, but we’ll add forged lowers and the AR-10 as time goes on. Our lowers are specifically manufactured for use in our machine, to clear up all the confusion we’ve seen over the months about how to best use our jigs or just what is or isn’t a mil-spec piece.

Pile of Lowers
Quite a few in the shop now.

What’s the Holdup With More Options?

As for further software options or jigs for sale, I’ll explain the delay this way. Our expectation when launching the product last year was that we’d be able to have a user’s forum where those who purchased the machine (and the public) would be able to quickly iterate on our work and drive some of the necessary improvements that would lead to the implementation of better cutting code and support for other kind of gun components or projects. What we got instead was a hostile US State Department literally threatening us and our attorneys over the suggestion of our forum in our user’s manual. To date our forum is not active because the federal government takes the insane and asinine position that a public Ghost Gunner forum would violate their invented definition of a defense technology export.

So since last year our team has been doing all the software and hardware development it can while we support and manufacture the machine. The money is often thing because of our ongoing lawsuit against the State Department; our fight to make sure that the Internet is recognized as the public domain and that all people have the right to speak about and share information related to their Second Amendment.

Updates to that case can currently be found on our parent website. And the last I’ll say about it is that we expect some success when we are before the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans in the month of March.

We’ll interject here to add the link to the court case files:

Looking Forward

Looking forward, we’re committed to producing at least another 300 machines for Q1 of the upcoming year, and more as demand permits. We’ve been courted by distributors for months, but as word of mouth and public interest stays where it is, I don’t see the need to go there yet. I want to make the machine as cheaply and quickly as possible to show our commitment to the cause rather than to profit. To that end, we’re adding another shift at our shop and hoping to double our capacity by the end of the year.

For now, the only way to get in line for a Ghost Gunner remains to join our waitlist at

I’ll announce improvements in software and fixturing as they become available.

A Final Thanks

Lastly, I’d like to thank Alan Gottlieb and the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear arms for recognizing the work of Defense Distributed through our lawsuit and our Ghost Gunner project at the most recent Run Rights Policy Conference in Phoenix, AZ. I’m more proud of this recognition than anything else, and it really helps us keep going over here.
Thank you all for your patience and, as ever, if you have questions, need support, or have an address change or other important update, please email us at

While we’re excited about the GhostGunner for its technological promise, Wilson is motivated by something completely different: the disruption he’s seeking is political, small-l libertarian, even small-a anarchistic. Well, maybe not completely different; different, perhaps, in degree. We doubt we would meet his standards for ideological purity. But the fates put us shoulder to shoulder in this pass, with the horde of national socialist persian government lawyers advancing, threatening to blot out the sun. So the least we can do is pick up the sword.

We believe you have the right to give your friend in a foreign country a copy of Stuart Otteson’s The Bolt Action Rifle, or to put the dimensions of a 7.62mm NATO chamber reamer on the web for any and all to see. The national socialist lawyers believe you do not. And all the judges come from their ranks, not ours.

Still think the Thermopylae reference was over the top?

Our GG Unit Update

Our Ghost Gunner was received finally in September and is sitting in a corner of the office, partially unpacked. It can’t go into the shop because that space is full of an airplane stabilator, half a fuselage, and two in-process wings at the moment. A bit hard to swing a cat in there. In adddition, we’re busy with work and life and a little blogging, so it’s been a bit hard to fit it in. (It’s not the only machine that is sitting idle. So is our 3D printer).

In order to ship it to us, they had to run our name and SSAN by a prohibited persons list maintained by the Department of State. As far as we know, this is simply an attempt by the national socialists at State to maintain a registry of these devices in hopes of receiving authority to confiscate them later.

The Ghost Gunner was very well packed and arrived complete. It is heavy and well made. There are a couple of parts that we’d have deburred a little more thoroughly and/or radiused a little more before sending them out for finishing, but that’s us… we don’t care for sharp edges on stuff. Most of the parts do not have this issue, and the overall impression is of a quality device from an experienced company, even though we know it is a debut product from a bunch of Texan revolutionaries. It doesn’t have Apple level industrial design, but neither does the stuff from post-Jobs Apple, whose business model seems to deliver twice the sanctimony but without the technical superiority and innovation that made even the old levels of Silicon Valley sanctimony bearable.

We’re pretty cynical about revolutions around here — they usually end with the survivors worse off, and damnably few survivors — but we bear Wilson’s revolutionary rhetoric, in part because we agree with him, and in part because the device promised technical superiority and innovation, and we’re suckers for that.

We don’t know if we got the improved cutting tools and power supply. We don’t know how to tell, or whether it makes a difference. We have asked DD, and if we get an answer we’ll append it here as an update, unless it merits a post of its own.

The documentation is still the 1.0 version that is available (mirabile dictu, seeing the way they’ve been attacked by partisan hacks at the Department of State) on the website, and it is somewhat inadequate if you want to really understand things, and develop new fixtures and new G-Code. So the machine is, at present, a bit of a black box for grinding out AR lowers, which is not what we want. (Although it’s a useful capability).

One thing we’d really like to have is the ability to engrave lowers with ATF-legal marks; this would let us mark our lowers for our retro collection and maybe open the door to doing some Form 1 SBRs in house. We can’t believe we’re the only ones looking at a GhostGunner and trying to figure this out. We’d have to fixture the lower differently, and two ways if we also want to engrave on the right side.

If anybody knows of a good g-code tutorial in pixel or print, kindly clue us in.

The lack of the planned forum really crimps the utility of the GhostGunner, and is part of why we haven’t set ours up and run it off yet. That is, of course, why the anti-gun politicians at the State Department have suppressed the forum to date.

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.

German MG5 Accuracy Issue was Barrel Changes — Updated

Bear with us a bit as we’re still sick as the proverbial dog, and translating a long document, courtesy of Nathaniel F of The Firearm Blog. Along with a couple of interesting series on oddball magazines and the mid-20th-Century Light Rifle concept (which yielded the NATO rifles of the second half of the century, until the resurgent intermediate assault rifle concept and the 5.56 cartridge replaced them), he’s also stayed on the Bundeswehr’s small arms scandals.

The base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It's mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG.

HK’s base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It’s mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG. It has a close resemblance to the Mk,48, a scale-up of the Mk.46 US version of the Minimi which the MG4 resembles, in design and ergonomics.

These scandals have tested the tight relationship between the Bund’s ordies and their major supplier of shootin’ irons, Heckler & Koch. The Oberndorf firm has been rocked by various accusations of a too-tight relationship with the service, which has resulted in undertested weapons that fell short of some sensible expectations, particularly in sustained accuracy with a hot gun (where the G36 rifle flags) and holding point of impact after a barrel change (where the specs were altered to meet what the 7.62mm MG5 could practically do.

It's most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock.

The HK MG5 is most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock. Any NATO optic can be attached, like the EOTech seen here..

Note that this is not a problem of precisionThe new barrel puts the bullets in as tight a group as the old one did. It is a problem of accuracy — the new group is in a new position. This is fairly normal with an MG barrel change (it’s why some MGs incorporate adjustable foresights on the barrels, so both barrels in a typical GPMG’s suite of two can be zeroed to the same point of impact). The initial specification called for a very tight 5 centimeter — two inch — shift in mean point of impact after a barrel change in semi-auto fire, and 10 cm (four inches, 4.16 if you want to be pedantic, and we do, don’t we?) in automatic fire. In the end, these numbers were not achievable, which shouldn’t shock anyone who’s ever worked with the design, maintenance, or operation of machine guns. You’re not going to get that out of anything you change barrels on without insane amounts of hand fitting, at least, for a production service firearm. You can’t get that consistency out of a Minimi/249, a 240, a PK, or a 60 or 1919 for you Old School guys.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. All images courtesy HK.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. The German service is all in for this gun. All images courtesy HK.

They changed the mean-POI-shift spec, by agreement between the ordnance officers and H&K, to 10 and 15 cm respectively — still pretty impressive numbers.

This document relates to those specs and that change. It is a series of increasingly suspicious questions put by the Bundestag, Germany’s unicameral Parliament, to the Ministry of Defense. Indeed, the suspicion towards the end of the questionnaire devolves into nearly-paranoid badgering.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

We have already shared the translation of the first parts of with Nathaniel (it was only fair, as his source Axel brought him the original document), and shortly we’ll post a couple excerpts of it to this post, and attach a .pdf. Meanwhile, Nathaniel went live with a robotranslated version.


In our bozosity we looked at the sentence several times, sure we had something wrong, and sure enough published with accuracy and precision starring in a swapped places farce, like the Prisoner of Zenda. Honest, Germany only sometimes resembles Ruritania, and we only sometimes confuse the two.


This post has been updated. Some small typos have been corrected. Our original intent was to post the document here, but it will be posted later this week (there’s a lot of it to translate).


The Fracas over Finger Grooves is Not New

Finger grooves are one of the perpetual battles of the firearms arorld. Some firearms have ’em, some don’t. And some shooters like ’em, some don’t. We propose a radical idea: whether or not you like the grooves probably depends on how the grooves fit your hand.

This all came to the fore because the new FBI solicitation demands that the next FBI pistol not have finger grooves. Some people, like the guy at pistol-training we linked to in that recent post, and Todd Green, see this as a blatant attempt to eliminate Glocks (which have grooves or bumps since Generation 3) in favor of SIGs (which do not have grooves).

This is all complicated by the fact that the ATF gives extra import “points” on the Nazi-derived1 “Sporting Purpose” test for “thumb rests” and other deformities on a grip. When the ATF drafted the checklist in 1968, a prominent thumb rest was a common characteristic of target pistols.

Typical 1960s target pistol -- a Hi Standard Supermatic Trophy with a fluted bull barrel and a prominent thumb rest. Great, unless you're left-handed.

Typical 1960s target pistol — a Hi Standard Supermatic Trophy with a fluted bull barrel and a prominent thumb rest. Great, unless you’re left-handed. (LH grips were available then ex-factory, but the factory went belly up ages ago).

Such a rest was not found on defensive pistols. (The Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 both assumed that there was no legitimacy to defensive firearms use, and only formal target shooting and hunting were legitimate justifications for owning firearms, an assumption still strong in parts of the ATF today). So it found its way onto the Sporting Purposes Checklist, and that’s why your Glock has two vestigial ears which may or may not be in your way.

Hands Come in Different Sizes

This seems obvious, but it isn’t always taken into account in product designs: human hands vary widely in size, strongly correlated with human size. Human interface designers have long known this and customarily work with hand sizes that represent from the 5th to the 95th percentile of homo sapiens. (Until recently, military equipment designers mostly worked with the 5-95 percentile male hand, which is larger than the female hand or combined male-female hand sizes). If you’re in the 1st or 99th percentile in hand size, you’re going to struggle finding the right firearm for your jewel-like or ham-sized mitts, respectively. Even if the designers used ergonomic best practices, which as we’ll see, they probably didn’t.

Firearms are more likely to be designed by an individual or small team than by a large industrial combine with a staff of human interface design specialists. This was especially true historically, where designers usually just built the gun to fit their own hands. (This makes us wonder if, for example, Ludwig Vorgrimler or someone responsible for the HK G3 safety-selector switch was double-jointed or otherwise deformed, but that’s a question for another day). As a result there are some firearms that fit only some hands out there. This is often to blame for uneven reviews of a gun: it fits one reviewer perfectly, and another poorly, leading to a cascade of performance and preference differences.

The sad thing is that all the research on hand size is out there, available to anybody to use. You don’t have to be Northrop Grumman to think about what makes a good fit for a good range of users, and you don’t have to be U-Isaac Newton to do the math required.

But as we’ll see, the debate over finger grooves has been around for a while.

Finger Grooves, 1980s

In the early 1980s, Marine Corps experimenters looking for more accuracy and range from the M16 developed the M16A2, and with it, brought the finger rest that has ever since blessed (or cursed) the AR-15 platform. The initial model was actually built up with epoxy body filler by one Marine officer to suit his hand, and then copied by Colt. And then copied by everyone else. If you like the feel of an A2 grip, you have a hand about the same size as one retired Marine. That not everyone has the same size hand is one of the reasons there are forty-elebben different AR grips on the market.

Not including, for the simple reason that manufacturers including Colt modified their A1 molds to make the A2 molds, the original A1 grip.

Finger Grooves, 1920s

Of course, the most famous 20th Century finger grooves were on the grip of the M1921 Thompson Submachine Gun, and like later ones, they were controversial. They were designed to be ergonomic, but the ergonomics of the Tommy gun don’t fit everybody,

STL Police Thompsons

But the battle over finger grooves didn’t start with John T. Thompson and his “trench broom.” We can go way, way back.

Finger Grooves, 1780s

The muskets of the world at the time of the American Revolution were more alike than they were different, because military technology tends to converge rapidly when innovations happen. The differences between the muskets of the world powers — England, France, Prussia, Spain — were more alike than different at this point. All were flintlock muzzle-loaders of ½ to ¾ inch caliber, with smoothbore barrels of forty-odd inches, and stout walnut stocks enabling usage as a pike with a fixed bayonet. The differences between them — it would have scandalized their ordnance officers, but it’s true — came down to questions of styling.

Like the finger grooves. England’s Brown Bess in all its versions and Spain’s Model 1757 didn’t have them. France’s .66 caliber Model 1777 did; this was sort of a G3 version of the 1766 and 1768 Charleville muskets. This picture of what we believe to be an Indian (dot, not feather) -made replica (from here) shows them clearly.

French 1777_11

Colonial muskets had been mostly copied from stout English models, but as the war ground on and more French aid came in, and French arms acquired by a purchasing commission led by Benjamin Franklin, American practice became to copy the more gracile French designs. The first US Musket, the Model 1795, was clearly a kissing cousin of the “G2” Model 1766, without the grooves.

In 1816, Springfield Armory improved its musket design, by more or less knocking off the ’77 French firearm. It did make one small change.

Springfield deleted the finger grooves.


  1. The Sporting Purpose test was copied into US law from the Nazi 1938 Gun Control Act by Senator Thomas Dodd, a man who appears to have been the only one to attend the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 (as an assistant prosecutor, no less) and come away with admiration for the Nazis. The Nazis, for their part, had found the test in a previous Weimar-era law, and adapted it to their own purposes. This despicable fellow was not in office when his (and Himmler’s) bill was signed into law by LBJ, because he’d been censured out of the Senate for corruption. (It was another time; that would never happen today, when they’re all crooks). His son Christopher inherited the seat and continued in his father’s anti-gun and personally corrupt tradition, until his career, too, was terminated by his corruption.