Category Archives: Weapons Technology

Two views of the M4 can’t both be true

One is expressed by Tom Kratman, a science fiction author who uses an appeal to authority based on his service as some kind of support guy attached to 5th Group as an enlisted dude, and more credibly his time as an 11A (that’s an infantry officer for those of you whose brains remain undamaged by the Army encoding Tom and we have undergone). Tom retired as an infantry LTC and served as an infantry officer in combat, and you can assume he’s well experienced in the capabilities and employment of standard US weapons for the last 20+ years.

Worked for us.

Tom doesn’t like it, but it worked for us.

Tom thinks the M4 sucks like an Electrolux. That’s our paraphrase of the blog posts suspended by these click-bait headlines at some Gawker-looking lowbrow site1:

America’s Soldiers Deserve a Better Rifle

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons?

Go read them and see if he makes his case.

The other is expressed by firearms expert and TFB writer Nathaniel Finch, who writes in his own blog a careful and thoughtful rebuttal to Tom’s over-the-top position. In fact, he has written very nearly the article we would write, and thought about writing, when we saw Tom’s first article. Only better and more soberly. (We actually didn’t know about the second Kratman article until seeing it linked at Nate’s place).

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons? No.

We note that Nathaniel’s article gets a rather snippy comment from Tom, correcting him on fine points of Tom’s military service (which Nathaniel is only mistaken about because Tom has not been crystal clear to a non-Army person in his own description. In Tom’s defense it is extremely hard to encapsulate a 20- or 30-year military career in a form civilians will read and understand, let alone in the length you get in a typical online bio: one line).  And then Tom incorrectly refers to “Bennings claim that no improvement in rifles is possible,” in reference to tests that actually concluded that the particular weapons it was testing, at that time, did not offer enough improvement to justify the expense (and, don’t forget, risk) of changing weapons.

Tom knows how to a construct an argument, but he really doesn’t, he just says, I got this:

CIB Combat Infantryman Badge

Well, so do we, but that doesn’t mean we have to take long showers together.

Nathaniel responds rationally to the comment.

And then he gets a comment by some internet commando who asserts that various friendly Armies have taken the great leap forward to 1950s vintage 7.62 rifles (he’s probably misunderstanding the same nations’ adoption of limited numbers of designated marksman rifles) and that the US needs to go to the SCAR-H. As a retired member of one of the formations that received the SCARs early and used them in intensive training and combat (after my retirement!), the word I get is that it’s pretty good and the guys like it, for specific purposes (notably CQB with the short barrel). But it’s not a great leap forward over an M4. For some purposes, it’s great, but the idea of buying a million plus of them to reequip the Joes is silly… it’s a lot of money spent on a negligible improvement in capability.

(And that’s our experience. The Ragnars hated ‘em, although, we’ve heard that some old SGMs gave them to the young bucks with the instruction, “See if you can break these things.” Boy, that’s a lucky break not every private in the Regiment gets. Of course they broke them).

Right now, the M4 can hit beyond the range its average operators can, and giving them a caliber with more range isn’t going to whack any more bad guys. Some improvements in terminal ballistics would be nice. Some improvements in reliability? Any engineer will tell you that as long as initial design was not inept, getting from 90% to 98% is a slam dunk, 98 to 99.9% is a bunch of hard work, and every 9 you add to the right of the decimal point after that is going to cost you orders of magnitude more blood, sweat, tears and toil. Diminishing returns not only pounce on you, they maul you with fang and claw and leave you drained of your precious lifeblood — that is, money.

None of the would-be M4 replacements were significantly more reliable (despite internet bloviation on the subject, caused by release of an apples-v-oranges comparison). The things people are attracted to, like 7.62 NATO or a short-stroke gas system, do not meaningfully improve the weapon (except marginally in terminal ballistics). More effect would be had by going to an improved projectile and be damned to the Staff Judge Advocate — he’s enemy-forces anyway.

Until they invent the death ray or photon torpedoes or something, we’re going to be launching metallic projectiles using energy stored in solid chemicals and released by a combustion or maybe deflagration process. Yes, they can be improved, but we’re into that flattening asymptotic line… diminishing returns.

Now, on the gripping hand, some of Tom’s military science fiction is very good. He had a moving novel (or is it a novelette?) recently about the memories of a damaged and outdated sentient tank of the future as she undergoes the process of assessment and reutilization. That had a whiff of Heinlein and more than a whiff of Philip K. Dick to it, and was well worth the pittance Kindle charged for it, and the rather more-precious time expended reading it, so we’ll keep enjoying the science fiction end of Tom Kratman’s writing career, and keep reading his military weapons opinions skeptically.


1. Gawker-looking? Well, these are the links suggested to us at the top of Tom Kratman’s author page on that site today (in fairness, these are not Tom’s own submissions, all of which have more sober military subject matter and graphics. But they illustrate the advertising-eyeballs nature of the site):

Screenshot 2014-11-18 08.13.00‘Cause nothing says military professionalism like bimbo clickbait. Really, who’s the sideboob here?


What’s New in 3D-Printed Guns & Enabling Tech

From time to time we take a look at developments including technologies as well as designs, to see if this field is progressing as rapidly as everyone originally expected it to. Today, we’ll put up the data and let you be the judge of progress.

First, New Tech in Additively-Manufactured Guns

And we have a couple of those to begin with: one all additive but the springs and grips, and one a hybrid of additive and subtractive (lathe turning) technology.

Radically Customized Stainless 1911

As everyone has read here before, Solid Concepts of Texas built a proof-of-concept .45 of stainless steel, another of exotic Inconel, and then a short production run of historic (and priced accordingly: $12,000!) printed pistols.

Solid has to tread lightly these days, having been acquired mid-2014 by the militantly anti-gun lefties of Stratasys, whose diet of “that enchanted stem, laden with flower and fruit” has cause these hermits of Eden Prairie to believe that wishful thinking, and banishment of deodands, can erase evil from the world1. But the guy who headed up Solid’s pistol projects, VP Eric Mutchler, built himself a fully-customized 1911 that he calls The Reason (as in, “Who dares argue with Reason?,” or maybe along the lines of Bourbon cannon labeled in relief, “Ultima Ratio Regum“).


We found the story when Reason Magazine (no relation) ran the story on 27 October:

It was made by him and for him, merely as his personal example of how interestingly personalized 3D printing allows metal weapons to be. (Solid Concepts, now owned by a bigger, and publicly held, 3D printing interest Stratasys, is trying to avoid being too connected with the weapons field these days.)

The weapon was made mostly out of stainless steel with store-bought grips, using an EOS M280 3D printer. It chambers 10mm ammo and features the word “Reason” printed in the slide, and the preamble to the Declaration of Independence on the front of the grip.

Some other details actually ran the day before in 3D, which is where we found the picture of the gun (we think it came from Mutchler himself). Frankly, we wouldn’t have customized a 1911 that way. We’d have customized it completely differently. Which is one of the incompletely-exploited gifts of 3D printing — the age of mass personalization. We think it would be a gas to build one in Titanium. We don’t have an EOS gathering dust in the lab, though.

Machined-steel Cartridges Extend Utility of Plastic Gun

There are several conceptual approaches to the limits of consumer 3D-printing plastics in firearms applications. You can accept the limitations of a short-lived, low-rigidity firearm. You can print the gun in metal, like the Reason above. You can seek better 3DP materials than legacy plastics like ABS and PLA. (We’re getting a demo of a printer from 3D Systems next week, that prints nylon for much more structural parts than ABS or PLA. Nylon enables a lot of things).

And then, you can hybridize a 3D-printed gun to use a metallic (or carbon fiber, perhaps) insert of some kind. There’s a new design that’s conceptually similar to Cody Wilson’s original Liberator, but that uses heavy-duty steel cartridge cases to contain a lot of the energy of firing. Brass cartridge cases remain popular a century and a half after their initial adoption because of their excellent obturation, but neither they nor any of the alternative materials provides any strength; that comes from the barrel and breech or cylinder. A cartridge that provided strength as well as containment and obturation would be wastefully heavy, but ought to work in a flimsy gun.

Michael Crumling is a machinist who has developed such a product, which he calls the .314 Atlas. This has produced a lot of hyperventilating in the so-called tech media like Wired and The Register, which amusingly insults Wired with supercilious British contempt for gun-happy colonials like ourselves, while writing a similarly shallow article that does at least note that: “Crumling makes them using a lathe — a machine tool.”

The author of the Register piece, Lewis Page, contends that he’s a great expert on firearms because he spent eleven years in the Royal Navy, during much of which he had to qualify on individual weapons. We’re so impressed. (Of course, that means he probably does edge out the Wired guy on hands-on experience). If we ever need an expert opinion on rum, sodomy, or the lash, we know where to turn.

Crumling’s own blog, Mike’s Custom Weaponry, is worth a read. He has not released the design files for his Liberator-based pistol that he uses with the .314 Atlas. He’s keenly aware that this is not a complete weapon equivalent to manufactured firearms (which kind of takes the air out of Wired’s and Mashable’s freak-outs, and Page’s attempt to be the veritable Nelson of battles against strawmen). You may want to check his post on the .314 Atlas. It’s named, by the way, after his vintage lathe, which like any true machinist he builds parts for himself.

Future metal printing technologies

As we have pointed out over and over and over again (damn. Dave Clark Five earworm), the immense investment in physical plant and where’s-the-hydropower-dam electrical demands of the SLS and DMLS technologies used on prototype firearms today, won’t be state of the art forever. Since a lot of the key technology involved in repeatably positioning a print head in three dimensions is already mature and commoditized, it’s only a matter of time before metals printing is in hobbyist hands.

Indeed, a Michigan Tech team demonstrated 3D metal printing with a welder-based printer two years ago. And now there are at least two different new startups promising to bring low-cost (relatively) printing to the shop or office, and more new technologies appearing the the academic literature.

New Startups — Aurora Labs and Weld3D

Aurora Labs, based in beautiful Perth, Australia, hit with a splash in September, and then sank with a bubble in October. The company claims it has new SLS-like technology, which it refuses to detail, that allows it to sell for $AUD 4,000-8,000 the capabilities that 3DS sells for hundreds of thousands. It launched a Kickstarter campaign on 23 September 14, which met the company’s goals of $100k AUD in three days and soared to over $300k in a couple of weeks — before being yanked 9 October 2014. The company’s head, David Budge, told StartupSmart (an Australian tech publication):

They essentially wanted us to give them and everyone else a tour of every inner working of our machine. After various discussions back and forth it just wasn’t enough. I understand they have to protect their position and model… but I decided to pull the site down.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as if Kickstarter shut him down.  The Aurora website is currently in chaos, with warnings not to use the ordering software and promises of the site being up by various dates, the latest of which appears to be 5 November 2014. If the company really has the revolutionary technology, and ability to deliver product, that they have promised, they’re a game changer. But so far, all they’ve shown is press releases, claims, and two small photos, one showing a pyramid of supposedly printed material 4mm high, and one showing a simple, flat part.

In the StartupSmart article, intellectual property attorney Brian Goldberg explains that they might be best advised not to disclose their innovations, “if there’s no [intellectual property protections] in place. … [J]ust to publicly disclose it hoping that no one will copy it … is a high risk.”

If and when Aurora rises from its present hibernation, you’ll probably see it in their Facebook timeline or Twitter feed first.

On the other hand, Weld3D produces steel parts with a crude surface finish, but can make geometries impossible (or, at least, extremely difficult) with traditional, subtractive manufacturing. The company is simply a couple of engineers in Huntsville, Alabama, working to commercialize what appears to be the arc-welding-deposition process pioneered by Michigan Tech. They’re not selling anything at present, but they’re gaining know-how that has great potential. Here’s their machine in action:


Looks like a welder to us, but it’s not joining metals, it’s building up a shape from the bead. 

And here’s an example of a roughly-finished, but solidly-welded, part with a radical geometry:


How would you make that on a milling machine? Beats us with a stick.

A number of Weld3D’s demo parts appear to be bare-bones de Laval rocket nozzles. Makes sense, in Huntsville. Post-manufacture machining can bring the surface finish into tolerances. This part is a nozzle, machined on the outside. (Other pictures show that it is still rough on the inside).


We, of course, wish both these startups all success, and we think they each show a dimension of the shape of the wave of the future. Weld3D shows that two guys in a garage, standing on the shoulders of academic experimentation, can make something new that has not been made or even imagined before. And Aurora Labs shows that there’s a lot of money out there seeking startups in this field. 

We leave the utility of these technologies for firearms development to the reader’s imagination.

Entirely New Technologies: SIS, ?, and Multi-Jet Fusion

So, with so many smart minds working on the problem of building up things in three dimensions, there are more developments than you can easily keep up with. Liebert Publications publishes a journal called 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, edited by 3-D expert Hod Lipson, PhD (professor at Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering). You must register for ongoing access, but the individual articles linked here should be accessible for about 3 weeks.

New Tech 1: Selective Inhibition Sintering

Selective Inhibition Sintering is a new approach to laser sintering that offers potential for what its inventors call “consumer metal additive manufacturing”. Here’s the paper from 3DP v. 1 No. 3. In this process, rather than apply a sintering enabler (the laser) to the part of a bed of raw powder intended to be sintered, this process applies a sintering inhibitor outlining the perimeter of the intended part.  This requires a different slicing algorithm than traditional 3D slicers. (Disregard figure numbers, they’re from the paper).


Then, the whole metal unit is sintered, but the inhibitor ensures that the part can be broken out of the extraneous material (this obviously does impose a recycling burden, but the much lower cost of a sintering furnace versus an industrial sintering laser produces enormous overall savings).



Using a bronze alloy material, the experimenters, Torabi, Petros and Borshnevis from the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) laboratories2 at the University of Southern California, successfully produced parts, including a crescent wrench and an impossible-by-subtractive-methods Möbius Strip. That was the good news:

[A] consumer metal AM machine was prototyped and its capabilities were demonstrated in the successful fabrication of metallic parts. The SIS-metal process has proven adaptable for use in a consumer-level machine by way of an inkjet printhead.

So, proof of concept is successful. Now for the bad news: the .stl files need editing, the software and hardware remains prototypic, experimental, and problematic, and so far, dimensional tolerance is so-so and surface finish bad. And there may or may not be shrinkage problems: too early to tell.

While the proof of concept for a high- resolution and affordable metal alloy 3D printer has been established, there is much room for improvement. Software and hardware upgrades are necessary to improve the robustness of the process. In addition, part strength and porosity have not been characterized for the finished bronze parts. Shrinkage and surface quality of parts may be improved upon as well. It is currently unknown if the intradirectional shrinkage percentage is linear with respect to part length in a given direction. More research will be conducted on variation in interdirectional shrinkage (X vs. Y vs. Z) as well. Lastly, overpenetration of liquid inhibitor results in surface defects in up- facing surfaces of the sample parts. A fine-tuning of inhibitor deposition is planned to avoid these defects.

New Tech2: Laser Solid Forming

From the same edition of 3D Printing, we learn of this highly-developed Chinese technique. Starting in 1979, the United Technologies Research Center of the State  of the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian, China, has been working to develop an energy-beam material-deposition technology for prototyping, manufacturing,  and repair. Their objective, which they claim to have partially reached, was to make an additive manufacturing technology that can produce Titanium alloy, steel alloys, and superalloy parts with mechanical properties equal to or superior to wrought and even forged alloys. It is unclear whether what they describe is identical to extant western methods like SLS or DMLS, or is entirely new Chinese know-how.

3dp_lsf_dual-alloyThis is obviously not going to be a desktop technology, but the Chinese have employed it with imagination, as in this hybrid additive/cast engine casing using two separate Inconel alloys:

The additive manufacturing characteristics make it easy to combine LSF technology with the conventional processing technology, such as casting, forging, and machining. Figure 10 shows In718/In961 dual-alloy casing of an aero engine by hybrid manufacturing with LSF and casting. The main body of the In961 alloy of the casing is made by casting, and the complex parts of the In718 alloy in the casing are built by LSF.

They have also put this technology to work doing high-value, high-precision repairs on Inconel and titanium parts. They’re not perfect yet, but:

For repairing by LSF, the mechanical properties of the repaired zone can be matched with the main body to achieve high-performance repairing through the composition and microstructure control of the repaired zone with a synchronous material feeding technique.

Prediction: sometime in the 21st Century it will be practical for an arsenal, or even a gunsmith or restoration shop, to fix pitted barrels and other steel parts as good as new. You read it here first. 

The Chinese paper is both delightful and frustrating: delightful because it describes in detail what Weidong Huang and Xin Lin and their colleagues have done, but frustrating in that there is little detail on how they do it. That was, however, beyond the scope of their article, and the answers may line in the many references Huang and Lin cite.


New Tech 3: A Nonmetallic Technology to Watch

HP is planning to introduce a new plastics printing technology, Multi-Jet Fusion, which uses a bed of materials, much like laser sintering, but then applies chemical fusing and “detailing” (which seems to mean “inhibiting”) agents to define the shape of the printed part, and then fuses the part with energy, generally laser-delivered.

HP_MultiJetFusionThese printers are years from the market, but they offer two very interesting potential capabilities: very high precision and parts with variable properties in different parts of the part. (Now, any machinist who ever heat-treated one end of a tool is thinking, “I do that all the time,” which is true). One wonders if the unfused material is as easily recovered in this process as it is in laser sintering. Most of the hype around HP MJF seems to focus on its ability to make parts of multiple colors, but we think multiple hardnesses and flexibilities are the real long-term winner of this technology. Time will tell.


1. The Direct Metal Laser Sintering used by Solid Concepts to print guns of stainless steel and Inconel is not a Stratasys technology; DMLS was developed by EOS of Munich, Germany, and Stratasys’s own technology is restricted to plastics. Indeed, Stratasys may have acquired Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies not only as going businesses, but also to get eyes on competitors’ technologies that those two service bureaux own and use.

2. The URL for the CRAFT lab in the paper itself is wrong (yes,the guy’s own link to his own lab 404s). The correct link is this: CRAFT has been working on SIS for at least 10 years, and has demonstrating printing of ceramics with this technology already.

Weapons Term that Stumped Us: “Pronock”?

We don’t often run into a word referring to weapons that’s completely unfamiliar to us. Even more rarely, we can’t even track the word down. That’s what happened to us in reviewing a 1952 document by the Operations Research Office, a now-defunct FFRDC1 operated by the US Army at the time.

Even generals got in on the tank killing. Of course, this one wound up a POW, out doing a corporal's job with a bazooka.

Even generals got in on the tank killing. Of course, this one wound up a POW, out doing a corporal’s job with a bazooka.

The document reviews the performance of US tanks and tank units in the first year of the Korean War. It was originally classified as SECRET, and the second of two volumes does not seem to have survived. The lost (?) second volume comprised Appendix K to the fundamental document: surveys of some 239 North Korean T-34 tanks examined by American ordnance experts. Fortunately, some conclusions from those surveys made it into the first volume.

But the original document is full of fascinating insights. One of them was that napalm was hugely successful against Nork T-34/85s, and was potentially a threat to American tanks. Napalm is mentioned nearly 60 times in the 308-page report. The mechanism of destruction wasn’t completely certain, but it appeared to be that the nape set the tanks’ solid rubber road wheels on fire, and the burning wheels got hot enough to cook off the rounds in the tanks’ sponsons. FOOM! End of tank, or as tankers say now, “catastrophic loss.” In 1952, the term was “loss, unrecoverable.” That described the situation where the burnt-out hull was here, the insinerated turret was there, and both of them had small, carbonized cinders of what had been the crewmen.

Unknown what killed this tank, but napalm is a possibility. It appears to be buttoned up, but still burning. Tough luck for the Norks inside.

Unknown what killed this tank, but napalm is a possibility. It appears to be buttoned up, but still burning. Tough luck for the Norks inside.

On the basis of limited evidence, air attack accounted for 40 percent of all enemy tank losses in Korea, and 60 percent of all enemy tank losses caused by UN weapons.

On the basis of limited evidence, napalm was the most effective antitank air weapon thus far used in Korea. (p.2).

The difference between all enemy tank losses, and enemy tank losses caused by UN weapons is presumably the same thing that caused a lot of US/UN losses: mechanical failure. A table on p. 36 bears this out, and is discussed on p. 35:

On the basis of this record, the greatest single cause of loss in NK T34’s would seem to be UN air attack, which accounted for 102 out of 239, or about 43 percent of the total losses.

Napalm appears to be the most effective weapon of all, accounting for 60, or about 23 percent of the total count. Abandonments, in most instances without any visible evidence of cause, accounted for 59, almost another 25 percent of the total count. Tank fire was the third largest single cause, knocking out 39 tanks, or about 16 percent. (p. 35).

This led to a discussion of napalm’s effects:

Napalm as a weapon to defeat armor must be given rather special consideration. It is essentially a weapon of an accidental nature. With the possible exception of the relatively rare occurrence of a direct hit, napalm does not of itself destroy or seriously damage a tank. However, it is fully capable of starting a chain of events which may bring about the loss of the vehicle. A napalm bomb, if a hit is registered sufficiently close to the tank, will splash its burning fluid on the tank. Because of the fire, the crew may suffer burns or be induced to abandon the tank. However from the prisoner of war interrogations it appears that tank crews usually had sufficient time to get clear before the fire had spread (see Appendix D). However, the abandonment of the tank ultimately led to its destruction, for the napalm from the first or successive strikes had sufficient time to ignite the rubber on the road wheels, heat the ammunition to the point of detonation, and set fire to the fuel. Any or all of these factors brought about the loss of the tank. (p. 37).

Amplified, and considered in terms of US tanks in this partly redundant passage:

From a general examination of US tanks, the Air Force Operations Analysis tests of napalm against T34 tanks (FEAF Operationr Analysis Office Memo No. 27, prepared jointly with Deputy for Operational Engineering, FEAF, 30 October 1950) and the ORO tank survey (see Appendix K), it is belleved that napalm- caused tank fires are essentially “accidental” in nature, i.e.,
the napalm itself does not have enough energy to set ammunition or fuel afire by bating a tank, but it does have enough effect to set afire rubber bogie wheels , which In turn can fire the tank bilge or amnunition and thus kill the tank. Also, napalm entering through the air intake of a tank can set the bilge afire, again firing ammunition and killing the tank. It appears that both of these “accidents” can be eliminated by minor tank redesign or by fire extinguishing techniques. (p. 59).

Not clear what killed these tanks, but our guess is that the Nork crewman in the foreground suffered a terminal case of amall-arms projectile sickness.

Not clear what killed these tanks, but our guess is that the Nork crewman in the foreground suffered a terminal case of amall-arms projectile sickness.

The USSR may conclude on the basis of the Korean campaign that napalm is a very effective antitank weapon. This possible conclusion can be vitiated by minor redesign of US tanks to reduce effectiveness of “accidental” fires. In future attack on Soviet-manufactured tanks, napalm may remain effective, but the types of fluid filler–such as “G” agents, chlorine trifluoride, or pronock — in improved napalm-type tanks may be even more effective. (p. 60).

There’s the word “pronock.” What is it?

But first, let’s continue our digression into the Korean War tank effectiveness report. The unexpected effects of nape on tanks got the ORO thinking. Some of the thoughts probably explain why the report was classified so highly in the first place:

On the basis of the burning of the rubber on tank road wheels with napalm, resulting in the destruction of the tank, tanks appear vulnerable to 40-kt atomic-weapons attack up to a distance of 2,500 yards on a clear day, and 2,000 yards on a hazy day. (p.3).

Er… yeah. T-34s were vulnerable to destruction by nuking. We’ll accept that.

Original caption: Napalm Bomb Victims.  Mute testimony of accuracy of close support missions flown by Fifth Air Force fighters are these Red Korean tanks, blasted out of the path of advancing 24th Infantry Division units near Waegwan, Korea. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM#:  77799 AC

Original caption: Napalm Bomb Victims. Mute testimony of accuracy of close support missions flown by Fifth Air Force fighters are these Red Korean tanks, blasted out of the path of advancing 24th Infantry Division units near Waegwan, Korea.

And then there was a list of things that the US ought to develop, based on combat experience with tanks in Korea:

Support a vigorous and expanded research and development program to provide a balanced family of antitank weapons without, however, either overemphasizing or neglecting the role of heavy gun tanks such aa the US T43. This program should emphasize:

a. Development of an effective long-range antitank gun for use by the infantry. This gun should be capable of being moved over rough and unfavorable terrain, preferably in a light, highly mobile vehicle.

That, of course, is the paragraph that gave birth (by a circuitous route, it’s true) to the US M40 106mm recoilless rifle. The M40’s immediate ancestor, the M27, would be rushed to Korea and tested in combat.

b. Development of a family of lethal, influence-fused antitank mines s with sterilizing and arming devices, suitable for remining by rockets, artillery, and air.

Simultaneous development of corresponding mine-detection &vclearing devices.

That stands to reason.

d. Research and development on new types, of air and ground munitions utilizing liquid fillers, such as napalm, chlorine trifluoride, pronock, and G-agents.

That’s the strange use of the strange word, “pronock.” What is it? Napalm is well known. G-agents are nerve agents originally developed by the Germans: Tabun, Soman, Sarin, and Cyclosarin, known in the US/NATO coding system as GA, GD, GB and GF respectively.

Chlorine trifluoride is less well-known, but was a remarkable German “twofer” that produced both incendiary and toxic effects, and that was produced by the Third Reich’s chemical-warfare directorate as “N-stoff” or “Substance N.” The incendiary effect of ClF3 is pretty remarkable — it’s hypergolic not only with normal fuels, but also with water. And it can set asbestos on fire. It does bad things to human beings. It’s never actually been used in warfare (or in most other applications) because containing and handling it is a challenge; Rocketdyne once developed rocket engines that used this stuff as oxydizer with Hydrazine Hydrate as fuel. Hydrazine (N2H4), another Nazi product (as the fuel in the mixture “C-stoff”) used in the V1 and Me163, still has some uses (in the ACES ejection seat, IIRC), but is itself among the nastier things in the hazmat catalogue.

For completeness’s sake, the last of the list of recommendations:

e. Continued development of special amunition, such as shaped-charge and squash-head ammunition, together with improved bazookas and recoilless rifles.

But what in the name of science is “pronock?” It clearly is something that can be used as a tank filler, like napalm, like chlorine trifluoride, like the G-agents. And something that, like those substances, one would rather not have fall on him. Beyond that, we’re stumped. Google was not our friend, either.


Looking for some photos of tank kills definitely attributed to napalm, we found this period article on napalm in Korea which depicts — unfortunately, in a very horribly reproduced half-tone — one of the tests of napalm on a captured T-34. It also describes the thickened gasoline’s composition, and effects on the enemy:

Red tankmen weren’t afraid of diving planes at first, their tough armor would repel 20 mm fire, it was hard to hit the maneuvering tank with rockets, and bombs had to be right on to kill a tank. Napalm was another story. Pilots drop the fire bombs short from low altitude, let it skip to the target. Accuracy is not at a premium. The napalm bomb will cover a pear-shaped area 275 feet long and 80 feet wide. A solid sheet of 1500° fire envelops everything , Killing personnel, exploding ammunition. It is not a flash fire like gasoline alone would be but clings and burns and burns.

… As fast as the Reds moved in tanks to stop the retreat, napalm was dropped on them. They ran out of tanks and weight of phases of the war have seen far fewer communist tanks in action.

The article noted two indirect effects of napalm on the enemy: tanks would be found with the crews inside, unmarked but dead of suffocation, the napalm fires having stolen the very oxygen from the air they breathed. And the psychological effects of the weapon induced many surrenders.


1. FFRDC: Federally Funded Research and Developmant Corporation. The most famous are probably RAND, which was sponsored by the USAF. The ORO was an Army/Johns Hopkins lashup, that the Army grew tired of and pulled the plug on in the 1960s.

The Walther PPK/S: Gun Built by Ban

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Walther PPK. This pocket pistol, introduced in 1931, was a compact version of Walther’s excellent PP, whose initials stand for Police Pistol in its native German. Walther, which had previously made several models of high-quality but otherwise unremarkable small pocket pistols, introduced the PP in 1929. It was the first shot of a revolution; it became the model for most double-action/single-action auto pistols that would follow it, using a trigger bar that runs along the right side of the frame to activate its sear, and containing a then-patented decocking safety.

The PPK was the inevitable compact version; its German name, Polizei Pistole Kriminal, essentially means Detective’s Police Pistol. (You would not be the first student of German to laugh at the idea that regular beat cops are called a name that translates literally as Order Police, and detectives are Criminal Police, Kripo for short. We’ve known a few criminal police, too, but that’s what linguists call a “false cognate.” End of digression).

Even though both are pocket pistols by American standards, and were manufactured primarily in .32 ACP, the PP was normally carried by beat cops in a flap holster, and the PPK carried concealed. Both the PP and PPK were popular with German military officers, who until 1945 were allowed (and sometimes required) to privately purchase personal sidearms. Staff officers and aviators and others who didn’t really have a need to haul around a big 9mm horse pistol checked the pistol box with a little PPK. The Carl Walther firm in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia (a suburb of the gunmaking center of Suhl), prospered.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip. It was banned from importation to the USA in 1968, despite being an extremely rare crime gun.

The PPK was the same width as the PP, but its length (and sight radius) was reduced, and its height (and magazine size) was also reduced (the PPK held six rounds, then considered perfectly adequate). This made it as small as some of the more sloppily engineered .25s of the day. Instead of a solid backstrap with grip scales, the PPK has an open backstrap that is covered with a plastic (bakelite, originally) grip. The original grips are extremely prone to cracking and many PPKs today sport replacement or reproduction grips, but they made for a lighter and more concealable gun when new.

A number of PPs and PPKs were imported into the USA before the war, where the technical advancement of the pistol and its high price compared to domestic arms or cheap Spanish imports won it a very selective user base, and relatively few sales.

After the war, the wave of captured PPs and PPKs increased their popularity, and new ones began to be imported. With Zella-Mehlis and Suhl bombed flat and, after an American withdrawal to a mutually agreed line, behind the Iron Curtain, Walther produced guns at a former licensee in Alsace (Manurhin) beginning in 1952, and at a new factory in West Germany.

(Time for another digression of sorts. You can find pistols from 1952-1985 or so production marked Walther and marked Manurhin. The Walther marked pistols received roll marks, heat treatment of the slides, and final assembly in Ulm, Germany, and were proofed and inspected there, with German marks. The Manurhin pistols were finished, proofed and inspected in Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, with French marks. Yet Alsace (Elsaß) was German from 1870-1918 and 1940-45 — maybe 1944. Because Walther and Manurhin used different heat treating methods, the slides of Walther pistols often don’t color-match the frames very well, and Manurhin ones match perfectly, usually).

As a result of this strange history and the usual churn of importers here in the USA, PP and PPK pistols are found with a very wide range of slide markings and proof marks, but except for 1940s production guns, which may have been sabotaged by slave labor, all are sure to be of high quality.

How a Gun Law Attacked the PPK

In the 1960s, Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia was the importer of the PP series and all was going swimmingly, until two political assassinations (Martin L. King and Robert F. Kennedy) led to a wave of gun-control legislation. American politics at the time was very different from politics today — gun control’s adherents were found in both parties, with opposition largely restricted to Southern Democrats and Western Republicans; and Democrats controlled, and had for years, both Houses of Congress and the White House. Two bills passed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. (So, giving bills Orwellian names is nothing new).

The new laws were supported by the NRA and American gun manufacturers, because they also gave the manufacturers something that they wanted: protectionism. It was no skin off Colt’s or Smith & Wesson’s nose if foreigners wanted to sell their cheesy little guns here, but it was a major threat to high-cost, low-quality manufacturers like Harrington & Richardson or Iver Johnson. Rather that write the transparent ban on imports the manufacturers wanted, instead imports were subjected to a Sporting Purpose test (something drawn by Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd from Nazi and Weimar gun control laws, which he had come to admire, and placed in early drafts of the bill — before Dodd was censured by the Senate for his unrelated (we think) but legendary corruption, which would end his career this same year.

The Sporting Purpose test, as it was conceived, made it an object of US law that only hunting and organized target shooting are legitimate reasons to own firearms, and by implication, defense of self, others or property explicitly is not. As originally passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, these laws banned the import of military surplus weapons of all kinds (one objective of the manufacturers), and applied a “points test” to the importation of pistols. These laws have been modified by subsequent legislation (and by ATF regulation; the ATF Office of Chief Counsel holds that the “sporting purpose” test invalidates the 2nd Amendment), but the sporting purposes test and the pistol points test survive. (The law also banned the import of Class III weapons for private sale, under the sporting purposes test. The weapons in the market called “pre-May” or “pre-86″ dealer samples were brought in between October 1968 and May 19, 1986, under provisions of this law).

ATF_Form_4590_-_Factoring_Criteria_for_WeaponsThe points test was applied by ATF Form 4590. This image is a vintage form. The current version is ATF Form 5530.5.

Note that, while the ATF has taken up the cudgel of this law with great joy, the cudgel itself was crafted by the legislature, and signed into law in due course; it was upheld rapidly by 1960s liberal courts, and so only can be disposed of the same way it was spawned.

The sponsors of the law meant to come back and apply the points test to domestic production, but they never had the votes — some of the nation’s most anti-gun politicians shrank from voting to shutter factories in their home states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. (And some, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Dodd, who would be replaced by his equally crooked son after a brief interregnum, didn’t).

Now, the lip-service the gun bansters paid to just wanting to ban the bad guns would seem to have excepted the jewel-like PPK, but the little gun was caught on the horns of the points system. The points test counts: length, width, depth of the gun (larger is better); caliber (larger is better); target-shooting gingerbread like adjustable sights and thumb-rest grips; and safety mechanisms (more, and more fiddly, seems to please the Bubbas at Firearms Technology Branch better). The dimensional requirement from Form 4590 was (and on 5530.5 is):

The combined length and height must not be less than 10” with the height (right angle measurement to barrel without magazine or extension) being at least 4” and the length being at least 6”.

So the PP just barely sneaked through (especially in .380; the .32 version was borderline on points). But the PPK was hopeless as its overall dimensions were too small. The term used by the bansters at the time for a small handgun, implying a cheap and disposable nature, was
“Saturday Night Special,” but the application of the law didn’t affect any of the domestic shoddy pot-metal  .32S&W revolvers, but did catch the safe-as-houses PPK.

With Continued Demand for a Suddenly Banned Gun, What’s Next?

By this time, the James Bond books, favorites of the late John F Kennedy, and the hugely successful movies had given the PPK new cachet, so Interarms was sitting on a stack of wholesale orders for guns it couldn’t bring into the country. It had a few potential courses of action, not including smuggling the guns and everybody going to jail (that was ruled right out).

  • They could send the checks back to the wholesalers. If you ever met Sam Cummings of Interarms, you knew this was not on. Indeed, smuggling probably didn’t get dismissed as quickly as this approach.
  • They could make the PPK in the USA. Walther wasn’t keen on this COA, and Interarms would have been taking a huge risk even if they could talk their German partners into it. Because Dodd, LBJ and others have sworn to come back and extend the “Saturday Night Special” ban (which is how they thought of the silly points system) to domestic production. Interarms did produce PPKs in the late 1970s, as this image from a 1979 catalog shows, but by then it was clear that the “Saturday Night Special” ban threat had passed. The failure of the gun control acts to influence crime was already patent.


  • Or, they could modify the PPK to pass the points test, maybe.

It turned out that modifying the PPK wasn’t all that hard. It only needed about half an inch of height to pass the points test. The vast majority of Americans preferred the .380 caliber, which gave them a little headroom, although in time . (Hint: if you just want a PPK for some fun shooting, the .32’s a lot more pleasant to fire, even though the ammo’s more expensive, usually). And the half inch was easily come by: simply adapt the PP frame to the shorter PPK slide. As a side benefit, buyers of the new version would get an extra round in their mags.

A more imaginative marketer might have tried to get a Bond tie-in, or named it after Dodd, who indirectly created it, and sent the crooked ex-Senator a penny of graft for each one, in his involuntary retirement. It would have been publicity gold, but the industry was intimidated and more shy about controversy in those days, and the launch of the gun called it the PPK/Special or PPK/S. It was a US-only model of the already venerable gun (not many pocket pistols were still popular after their 35th Anniversary. Especially in a nation still in love with revolvers). The marketing materials played up the “Special” and played down the fact that this was merely a natural reaction to a dumb law.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

At first, to a Walther fan, the PPK/s didn’t look right. The PP was familiar; the PPK was familiar; the S looked sort of deformed. Over time it grew more common. Nowadays, people have many options of smaller, lighter guns that pack a bigger punch, so the PP series has faded from actual employment as a defensive handgun. And they’ve been produced in many more variants in Germany, France and the USA, blued, stainless, and two-tone, engraved and plated, and copied even farther afield. But of all the variations, the PPK/S was the one created by a gun ban.

How an Original Tiger Wound up in Fury

One of the most remarkable things about Fury is the presence of a real, running, Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger 1 on screen. This is the first time a real, live, Tiger, and not a mockup on some other chassis, a scale model, or a CGI digital emulation, was used in a feature film. Here’s a video of how a high-strung thoroughbred war machine from most of a century ago performed before the cameras:

As Tigers belonged to an empire that was crushed to rubble some 70 years ago, the few of them that have survived have mostly come to nest in museums. But one that was captured in 1942 in the Western Desert nation of Tunisia has been running (occasionally) and entertaining visitors at the Royal Armored Corps’s Tank Museum in Bovington, England for some years now. Tiger 131 was shipped to the set (along with some doting caretakers), and the Museum also provided the title character, Fury the Sherman tank.

The Museum now has a temporary exhibit dedicated to the movie, including some of the props they didn’t originally provide, and wargaming stations that let visitors get creamed by Tiger tanks themselves — at least, in the digital realm.

The Tank Museum also posted this video explaining some of the other lengths the movie makers went to, to make Fury as grimly accurate as they did.

We did note the absence of anachronisms on the screen, at least in terms of props and settings. (Some of the language and human expression is more 21st Century than 1945, but what can you do about that?) If you’re planning to see the movie (about which we remain uncharacteristically ambivalent), these videos contain no real spoilers and may help you look for details you’ll enjoy seeing.

A Challenging Refinish Job on a Colt 1902

This comes to us from Guns and Gunsmiths, a website that primarily seems to exist to promote the video courses of the American Gunsmithing Institute. But there are also a good number of tips and tricks on the site that serve to extend the information in the courses, some of which really stand on their own as “war stories” of real-world gunsmith tasks. An example was this tale of a tough refinish job on a Colt 1902 auto pistol that was in really bad shape. Unfortunately there are no “before” pictures at the site, and the only “after” pictures are small ones, like these here.

Some smiths would not work on such a rare gun, but when it’s really trashed, customization or restoration could be a good idea. (There are shops that specialize in this work). In any event, it’s the client’s gun, and his money; only he knows what’s valuable to him.

This gun came to me looking pretty bad. Rust pitted, worn, beat up, actually. My client wanted me to restore it to as new as possible. It wasn’t possible to make it “like new” for a number of reasons, which we will go into, but it was possible to make something that looked worse than this Google photo (1) into this shown in photo 2. Actually, my client wanted it to be a little bit customized. He wanted it to be as close as possible to original color for the frame and slide, but he wanted a Peacock Blue for the screws and pins. The hammer and lanyard ring swivel was to be Color Case Hardened. That was the easiest part. He, being somewhat of a craftsman himself, was going to make custom hardwood grips for it.

The first problem was the frame and slide, as they were in terrible condition. The only way to get rid of the rust pits and dings on the sides was to have them surface ground by my trusty machine shop (everyone needs one of those). Further examination also showed that someone else had worked on this gun, as evidenced by the rather plain Bakelite grips and for some odd reason, the extractor pin hole at the top of the slide had been welded over. This needed to be drilled out. The extractor itself was broken. The weld had also been poorly done, leaving some pits and small sink areas in the top of the slide. To restore the contour, those areas needed to be filled in as well. The problem was the steel was porous enough that bubbles kept popping up until it was obvious that further effort would be non-productive.

via Nitre Blue Colt 1902 | Guns And Gunsmiths.

Unfortunately, after some welding repairs, he decided that he ought to punt the job to Turnbull. Turnbull does great work, but due to the welding having introduced different alloys into the metal, didn’t think they could get a blue up to their standards. Therefore, they declined to work on the 1902, and sent it back. It’s impossible to say whether they’d have taken it on in the state he began with. He was ultimately able to make an attractive pistol out of this sow’s ear, but he didn’t make money on the job, when the opportunity cost of his time is factored in. (He explains all this in depth if you Read The Whole Thing™).

Now, we’ve said this before, and don’t mean to disparage the AGI or its instructors when we say: you are not going to learn to be a gunsmith by sitting on your ass watching videos, any more than you’re going to get ready to join SF by watching John Wayne slaughter NVA extras in The Green Berets. You have to get out there and do, as this guy, Clint Hawkins, has done. And he’s done everyone a favor in describing some of the errors he made, so that you don’t repeat them on a chemical hot-bluing job. For example:

The slide at first looked like it had gotten caught in a sand pit. Thorough cleaning showed nothing wrong with the surface, although it needed to be polished again. What caused this? Aha! In my haste, I had not cleaned the steel wool. The salts didn’t want the oil but the steel did. Steel wool looks clean, but isn’t. Cutting off a fourth of a pad and rinsing it in about a pint of lacquer thinner gave a pretty brown result. Another rinse in fresh thinner gave clear and we’re good to go.

He also had some troubles with temperatures — both getting the colors indicated on the temperature-color chart, and getting the tank to the required temperature to begin with. But in the end, Clint’s client was delighted with his new-old 1902, Browning’s first locked-breech production pistol. By all means Read The Whole Thing™.

X Products AR Can Launcher

There’s modular, and there’s crazy modular. Here’s an AR upper with a twist — it contains a plugged, ported barrel, and launches an ordinary 12 oz. soft drink can out to 100 yards. Coming soon from X Products, you can preorder it (as an upper) now with a $20 deposit.


More fun than anyone should have… The Can Cannon is a patent pending launching device that uses a propriatary gas ported barrel and pressure tube to launch heavy, thin wall objects, without burning a hole in them or directing hot gas directly into them. Currently set up for launching full un-opened 12oz soda cans, when used with standard mil spec blanks it can reach an average distance of 105 yards!
Why would you launch a soda can? Because it’s fun! Plus, it’s an incredibly fast and fun decoy to shoot at. Every demonstration leads to more smiles and laughs than any product we’ve ever introduced. BATFE approved design is not considered a Destructive Device or firearm.

via AR-15 Soda Can Launcher – Accessories Launcher – X Products.

Expected cost of the whole thing will be $399 or less (again, this is upper only) and it works with GI M200 blanks.

X Products is, of course, well known for its line of 50-round drum magazines for ARs and various other rifles in 5.56, 7.62 and 9mm. One is shown above in the Can Launcher, and the one below is in a Black Rain Ordnance AR.

X-15_Drum_in_Black_Rain_Rear_ViewThe metallic X Products drums are heavy for a 50-round mag, but reliable (although they can be… selective… about the supposedly-STANAG weapons they’ll work with, X is pretty up-front with this information).

You’re probably wondering a few things. Like: how does X make this work? And how did they get ATF to sign off on this as a non-gun? And we wouldn’t be if we didn’t have answers for you.

That big, soda-can-caliber cylinder threads on like a free-floating fore-end, but the barrel of this AR is radically different. It’s short, and ported, and capped. When you drop a can in, it rests on the cap and creates a de-facto high-pressure-low-pressure system like that going on inside a 40mm grenade.

The blank’s high pressure in the barrel exits through the ports into the large area behind the can, pressurizing it and sending the can downrange with a satisfying toonk!

The pressure in the “low pressure chamber” behind the can is sufficient to launch the can.

The ATF, for their part, appears satisfied that the capped blanks-only barrel is not intended for live-ammunition use. (And indeed, if you tried it, you would not be pleased with the result).

There are videos of this in action at the link above. So, how much did we like it? Enough to put ourselves down for one:



We have absolutely no earthly, practical use for the thing (X Products suggests launching decoys for training gun dogs, but our dog only thinks he’s big enough to do that). But we are buying it because it’s neat, it will be fun if we can figure out where to shoot it, and because imagination ought to be encouraged, and we know no better encouragement than the profit motive.


Here’s an AR training aid of sorts

We have our doubts as to whether an injection-molded plastic part, even one with brass inserts, will be serviceable as a practical AR-15 lower. Even the manufacturer says so. (Yes, we now you can build a lower out of anything, but even the forged-aluminum-alloy originals wound up benefiting from reinforced pivot pin receiver bosses and a beefier buffer tower). But just for showing off how an AR trigger mechanism works, they’re the cat’s ass!

unpolished ghost gun receiver

We are proud to offer our Clear Stripped Lower Receiver we are calling the “Ghost Gun.” This lower is made as a training tool and product showcase model that is usable but is not designed for the rugged use that our fiber-reinforced Nylon models are. We designed this model to showcase trigger and internal function for teaching and industry usage. This receiver is made from a UV stabilized Nylon that is highly resistant to oils and lubricants. It also weighs in at 3.6oz ( the lightest receiver that has ever been made) Any high quality parts kit can be installed but minor fitting might be required.

flame poliched ghost gun receiverThe manufacturer, Tennessee Arms Co. LLC, offers the “ghost” receiver for under $60; a flame-polished version, which makes the surface of the plastic smooth and clear, is an extra $10, or you can do it yourself with a propane torch (and a great deal of caution). Or you can use the receiver in its standard, translucent mode (seen in the image at top).

Another good use might be to show off different AR triggers on a shop counter.

Because it is a complete receiver, it must ship to an FFL (or export in accordance with law). They do reiterate the warning about durability on their sales page:

This receiver is only intended as a teaching tool and for product showcase. If regular hard use is intended please purchase one of our Fiber-Reinforced Nylon models.

via Ghost Gun- Clear Stripped Lower Receiver – Tennessee Arms Company, LLC.

Along with the clear receiver, which they say is a clear aliphatic polyamide (Nylon), TN Arms also makes opaque receivers of other nylon polymers. Nylon has a long history in firearms; the first mass-produced plastic receiver was nylon (the Remington Nylon 66), as are Glock receivers.

The injection molding of the receiver seems to have been quite a challenge, with two brass or bronze inserts, limited draft, and areas that have to be cored, including the magazine well, trigger pocket, and mag release pockets, to name a few. We’d like to see that mold! (And we wouldn’t like to pay the bill for it!)

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Firearms History, Technology & Development

firearms_history_technology_developmentThis site is a worthwhile, irregularly updated look at, like the title says, the history, technology and development of firearms. It’s found at

Welcome to the Firearms History, Technology and Development blog. In this blog, we will trace the history of firearms development over the years, advances in technologies and the world wide development and spread of firearms technology.

via Firearms History, Technology & Development: Welcome.

Because of its very wide range, you will find interesting matters here, regardless of your present level of expertise, but it’s all presented on a level that makes it accessible to everyone, including beginners and English-as-a-second-language readers.

Over the years, hundreds of posts have covered firearms from the days of the lit match to the latest developments.

Recent posts have included a 12-part (and continuing) series on the metallurgy of firearms, and the metallurgical history of firearms development. The progress from bronze, to pig/cast iron, to wrought iron, to steel was necessary to progress from coarse powder, to fine powder, to smokeless powder, with the rise in chamber pressures permitted by the metallurgical improvements. Without steel, breechloaders and cartridge arms would not have been practical, and no sort of automatic or semiautomatic weapon would have been possible. You may think you know metallurgy, but do you know what a puddling furnace is, or why 19th Century manufacturers sometimes specified a product called “shear steel” (let alone, what “shear steel” was?).

Along with developments in metallurgy (firearm and cartridge metals) and propulsives chemistry (powders), the development of firearms depended, and still depends, on manufacturing processes.

The blog does cover such manufacturing processes as rifling, but also covers sights, actions and other firearms components that we may take for granted today, but that each has its own development history and technical rationale. Good stuff!

Bubba the Gunsmith does an AK Trigger Job…

…or does a job on an AK trigger, actually. How do we know it’s Bubba? Well, we’re sure Winston Groom would agree that Bubba is as Bubba does. But also, we have other indicators. For one, the video is from Century Arms; if Bubbadom spreads like Christendom, Century’s Vermont warehouse is its St. Peter’s Basilica. For another, this is what Bubba is building:



What in the name of Niffelheim is that? An Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation for Apert Syndrome or some other syndactylic genetic aberration? It turns out to be available at J&G Sales. J&G is Century’s frequent partner in distribution of firearms with Century-Induced Firearms  Dysplasia, and has some quantity of these, as the bookmark on the page indicates. In fact, they seem pretty desperate to move them: not only does this model sell for less than the firm’s less-deformed AKs, they’ll throw in a drum mag, just so the boys in the warehouse don’t have to look at this horrible deformity any more.

Because our readers are made of sterner stuff, and can look upon this gorgonic beast without turning to stone, here is a close-up of the trigger:


And here’s another (all from the J&G website, obviously):


We suspect that Mikhail Kalashnikov would be spinning in his grave if he knew what they’d done to his rifle.

Now, these things may some day be collector items, like the hideous Fender paisley telecasters that came in as flower power was on the way out: so hideous when new they were desirable when old because of their rarity. No doubt some of them will be reconverted into AKs. It shouldn’t be too hard, with a trigger guard or a piece of sheet steel from which to bend one, and a couple of rivets. Just follow the video of Bubba below, in reverse.

True, he’s not trashing a rare or valuable gun for this, just one of Century’s canted-sightpost specials with tacticool furniture. But still, what’s with that trigger? In the name of all the saints, why? 

We first saw it on Max Popenker’s Russian-language blog, posted with a question: for weak fingers? If it stumped Max, who is from the land of Kalashnikov His Ownself, then it’s probably not anything from Soviet officialdom, or any of the usual satellite copiers. (The gun in the picture looks like a Yugoslavian parts kit with an aftermarket barrel and wood, but it turns out that this conversion was done on new Serbian AKs).

In a half hour of asking other experts in Soviet and bloc small arms, nobody had ever seen this thing. They were all willing to guess, though. A really ill-conceived cold-weather trigger (as ill-conceived as the absence of a trigger guard on the original Finnish M60, which the Finns repented rapidly), was the most common guess, but it doesn’t make sense. The Russians are scarcely ignorant of the fact that it gets cold in their country, and they have a perfectly suitable arctic-trigger system (and suitable gloves for firing in cold temperate-zone conditions) and have managed to run an army in their country without losing all their fingers yet.

Well, it turns out, this abortion has been offered on two Century AK variants at present. Anyway, you used to be able get this cool trigger on a black tacticool milled-receiver AK like the one in the video below, and can still order it in the sort-of-ordinary looking and rather inexpensive ($539 wholesale) AK that we and Max illustrated.

So Why So Serrated?

tipmann toy double grooved trigger

The Tippmann double grooved paintball trigger, from the Tippman Parts website.

Century is not forthcoming, any place we’ve seen, about why this trigger exists. But we were able to dope it out. Basic bottom line: it is for paintball choads coming over to real guns, who want to continue the paintball practice of firing high volumes of unaimed fire.  As Tippmann, a major maker of paintball toy guns, describes their double-trigger kit for their paintball launcher:

The added area allows two fingers to walk the trigger to a faster rate of fire. Double grooved for comfort.

The canonical name for this in the paintball world is somewhat unclear. Some call it the double finger grooved trigger, and others call it the double trigger. We call it Holy-Mother-Machree-that’s-Fugly.

And it seems to offer a false promise. On a semiautomatic AK clone, your maximum rate of fire is limited not by the speed of your human trigger reset, unless you have the reaction time of a three-toed sloth on barbiturates, or a former Disney Channel starlet on whatever they’re all on. It is limited by the mechanical trigger reset. Having two fingers rather than one to alternate pulling an unreset trigger seems futile. Given the physics of the trigger as a lever, the stronger finger has the shorter travel, and the relative travel of both is widely different, adding even more inconsistency. On the other hand, the safety hazard of exposure of a larger trigger inside the larger guard is real.

And in any shooting for any purpose other than noise making, maximum rate of fire is completely irrelevant. What you’re interested in is maximum rate of aimed fire, and that is limited not even by trigger reset but by time to bring the sights back on target.

Misses don’t count for anything except noise. We’d be willing to bet that we can take any of our rack grade semi AKs (including the Egyptian one, which has to make the Russians at Izmash weep; it brings the al-Bubba and is over 30 years old), and match the rate of fire of one of these paintball-poseur products, and beat the hell out of it when hits on targets at reasonable AK ranges (say 0-400m) are counted.

But for you completist collectors, here’s how they do it:

We were honestly surprised to see that Century’s smiths have some professional gunsmithing tools, like a Foredom (vs. Dremel) tool. The Lyman Revolution low-budget gun vise looks good and is adequate for this kind of work; all expensive Chinese-made gun vises are really suitable for cleaning and field-stripping, not for doing anything that will put more pressure on the action or barrel.

(PS. We were going to Max’s blog because we saw, from the new stats plug-in, that he linked to us. Spasibo bolshoi!)