Category Archives: Weapons Technology

Tool Deprivation Syndrome: Excuses and Gunsmithing

This Brownell's premium AR toolkit is $1500, but you don't have to wait till you buy it to work on ARs -- if you're careful and sensible.

This Brownell’s premium AR toolkit is $1500, but you don’t have to wait till you buy it to work on ARs — if you’re careful and sensible. (That’s a good thing, as it’s on backorder anyway).

IF you spend a little time in the professional tools section of Brownell’s or Midway’s catalogs or website (let alone turn yourself loose on McMaster-Carr or MSC Direct) you may just develop a case of Tool Deprivation Syndrome. The TDS sufferer has a backlog of jacked-up guns and a series of excuses that begin with the magic phrase:

If only I had a [insert magic talisman], I could fix the [insert name of appropriate member of the dead-gun pile].

You know the way it goes: “If only I had a drill press, I could mount that scope.” “If only I had an action block.” “If only I had a CNC Bridgeport.” We call bullshit. Today, in guerilla workshops in Darra Adam Khel and in shantytowns in Mindanao, bush gunsmiths are making functional copies of modern weapons with saws and files and grinding wheels, because nobody told them they need a CNC Bridgeport.

There are four answers to a dead-gun project that get the gun up and running:

  1. Admit you’re never going to fix it, and take it to a pro.
  2. Suck it up and get the tool.
  3. Improvise, substitute, or make your own equivalent of the factory tool.
  4. Take a patient, manual approach.

Take it to a Pro

There are some things that absolutely require Approach #1. An example of that is coatings: a professional that does them all the time will do them, especially difficult ones like rust blue, flame blue or straw, and aluminum anodizing way, way better than the home or small-shop smith can. (Well, with practice, anyone can get good at simpler coatings like rust blue or parkerize, but you’re going to make some ugly ducklings before you’re turning out swans). The semi-Bubba alternative is Cerakote. You never want to go full Bubba, but the full-Bubba approach is Krylon rattlecan. (Unless you’re trying to emulate an SF team’s personalized camo finish on their arms, which was probably applied with Krylon rattlecans).

Suck it Up, Get the Tool

Bubba was here. His wrong-sized screwdriver slipped, taking the finish quality of this revolver down 5-10% and the value down 30% or more. Hope it was his own revolver. Screw fit is such a big deal we ought to do a post on it alone. Image: courtesy Wheeler Engineering.

Bubba was here. His wrong-sized screwdriver slipped, taking the finish quality of this revolver down 5% and the value down 30% or more. Hope it was his own revolver. Screw fit is such a big deal we ought to do a post on screwdrivers alone. Image: courtesy Wheeler Engineering.

There are some things that absolutely require Approach #2. One of them is a small thing, and yet it seems to be the last one newbie smiths acquire — a very comprehensive set of screwdrivers. Before you get the Ruritanian FAL handguard bushing no-go gage*, have a set of premium screwdrivers. Gunsmiths need hollow ground or parallel-ground screwdrivers, not taper ground hardware store drivers. A screwdriver should fit exactly in its screw slot. The semi-Bubba uses an undersized driver, damaging the slot in the screw. Full Bubba uses an oversized driver, or a right-sized one deployed off center, to provide optimum damage to the screw and to the wood and metal around the screw head. One screwdriver manufacturer has a whole drawer full of images like the one to the left. (That’s actually a mild one).

Similarly, a full set of punches in steel and brass are mandatory. Roll pin punches and roll pin starter tools, also, if you work with modern firearms that use these fiendish fasteners.

Finally, a set of reamers. You know why the pins in your homemade AR lower rattle, and the ones in an el cheapo lower rattle, and the ones in a GI rifle don’t? The GI gun (like most premium ARs) is drilled undersize and reamed to size for a perfect fit. Perfection is an asymptote: you may never get there, but you ought to be trying, or go back to Approach #1 and Take it to a Pro.

Improv, Substitute, Make

Approach #3 is actually the trad gunsmith solution for… inter alia, screwdrivers. If you have an unusual size screw, find an oversize (but expendable) screwdriver and grind the tip to a perfect fit. You’ll never damage a screw or any of the things it fastens this way.

This Bubbalicious moment is actually from an online disassembly guide to the SVT-40. Note the cheap Chinese hardware store wrench. Don't do this!

This Bubbalicious moment is actually from an online disassembly guide to the SVT-40. Note the cheap Chinese hardware store wrench. Don’t do this!

Some foreign and obsolete weapons require odd spanner wrenches or slotted screwdrivers; the temptation here to try to use a general-purpose tool like a vice-grips or Leatherman is strong. Resist it, for that is a path well trod by Bubba the Gunsmith and quite a lot of actions and stocks bear the scars of it, in mute testimony to his passage.

One good substitute for a punch is a reversed drill bit of the right diameter, chucked into a drill press. Best to do this with a worn-out or run-out bit, lest you scar the cutting edges with the jaws of the chuck. Scarred cutting edges go walkabout in wood and metal alike, producing drill holes that are not cylindrical, or even not round.

Take a patient, manual approach

In finance, borrowing is “leverage” and leverage, just like a lever in mechanics, gives you an amplifying effect. If you win and borrowed to leverage your bet, you win proportionately bigger. If you lose… you got it, you lose bigger if you have leverage. Leverage in gunsmithing comes from power tools and time-savers. If you’re not doing this for money, you’re not trying to beat the clock (in the standard English idiom, not SAS, sense). Take your time, think it through, do it gently, get it right. Use nonmarring tools and cushion the jaws and surfaces of marring ones. Most of all, never let your tools, especially power tools, get to anyplace your mind hasn’t already been.

Bubba is always in a hurry. And being Bubba, he doesn’t even know why that’s a bad thing.

To Sum it Up

Judgment is more important than purchasing power when you have a job that needs a specialized tool. The Brownell’s tool kit shown at the top has many (not all) the tools you need for AR work, and it has some good and overlooked necessities (non-marring vise jaws and an FSB block go a long way towards making you “not Bubba.”). But here are a few secrets Brownell’s won’t tell you (although you can pick them up if you read the reviews judiciously).

  1. The tools in the kit aren’t always the best ones. (They’re always OK, though).
  2. It’s nice to have a box with cutouts for the key tools, but the box itself is cheap molded polyethylene, and you can save $150 by skipping it. That’s more than 10% the price of the whole set, for the lowest quality item in it.
  3. You can actually detail strip and reassemble an AR, apart from four seldom-needed things, without any of the tools shown here. The AR is so well-designed for assembly that you can do it with a dummy cartridge or a wrong-caliber cartridge (for safety), or even use the firing pin if you don’t have a cartridge, although we don’t recommend using the firing pin as it may mar the wider pins. The parts you need tools to disassemble are: barrel from barrel extension (especially to reassemble), FSB from barrel and return, staked key from carrier, staked receiver extension (buffer tube) from receiver (and it’s good to have a torque wrench for receiver extension reassembly).
  4. These tools are not “everything”. You’ll still need headspace gages (unless your name begins with “Bub” and ends with “ba”), a good bench vise or machinists vise (quality costs here), and if you’re dealing with old barrels (and who isn’t) a throat and muzzle erosion gage, which is a very costly precision gage, and a straightness gage (although you don’t need a gage to identify a barrel that’s not straight by the shadows in the rifling). By comparison, Brownell’s kit for the FNH SCAR 16/17S includes both 7.62 and 5.56 headspace gages and a barrel straightness gage.

Since you still need some expensive things even with the $1,500 armorers kit, consider a much less expensive kit from Wheeler Engineering (also available from Brownell’s, and, we think, Midway). However, Brownell’s kits are made mostly from US tools, and Wheeler doesn’t say where their stuff is made; and the Brownell’s click torque wrench, for example, seems to be higher quality than the Wheeler beam one. (As a rule of thumb, click-type wrenches are more accurate than beam type but are more vulnerable to losing calibration, especially if stored improperly). Fortunately, the torque requirements for AR parts are quite wide-ranging, at least, according to the M16 and M4 maintenance documents.

While we’ve used AR-specific examples, most of what we’ve said about tools is just as applicable if you’re working on 1911s, Smith & Wesson revolvers, or a Brown Bess (for the latter, you should probably make your own screwdrivers, as each maker made his own screws and the slot sizes are all over the place — plus, many have been Bubba’d in the last couple of centuries).

Us your judgment first. Then use the right tool, in accordance with your judgment. And you’ll never be Bubba.

* In case you didn’t figure this out already, Ruritania is a fictional country, FAL handguards do not have bushings, and if they did, it’s hard to imagine what a Ruritanian FAL handguard bushing no-go gage would look like, or what page of the Brownell’s catalog it would be on. It’s just an expression

Holy Fallschirm! Original FG42 falls short… of $300k. Barely.

The standount seller at the Rock Island Auction last week was the German FG42 Type II, lot number 1465. It blew through the estimate of $160-240k and was finally knocked down at $299,000. Here’s a picture (and it does embiggen).

FG42-Right

That’s plus a buyer’s premium of 15 to 17.5% (low end is cash or wire transfer; high end, credit card). Here’s the other side for you to look at, assuming you were not the guy who took it home (or will take it home sometime in 2015 when ATF completes the Form 4) for a price higher than the average house in this country.

FG42-Left

Here’s Ian from Forgotten Weapons running it down (video courtesy RIA).

The German words Ian is groping for at about 9 minutes are Einzelfeuer (single-fire; semi-auto) and Dauerfeuer (continuous fire; full-auto). The same words that lead to the S-E-D markings on a G3.

FG42 in combat 4We would just add to Ian’s history (which is spot on) that German — and Allied — airborne forces in World War II were not just parachute forces. They also were power users of a weapon whose entire history was contained in the war and a couple of postwar years: the combat glider. This German para is in front of a DFS 230 glider (we think the picture is from the rescue of Mussolini at Gran Sasso, but it could be from the Balkans).

The glider had the signal advantage that it landed all the troops together, safely, with all their stuff. German paras particularly tended to put their stuff in bundles. The bundles hung under their Ju52 jump planes and dropped with color-coded chutes: your squad’s gear had a red chute, the other platoon had a green one, that sort of thing. The parachutes were not steerable and a German para could do little to prepare to land, as his chute made a single connection between his shoulder blades. His Parachute Landing Fall was, typically, knees->elbows->face. That’ll leave a mark, and it increased the appeal of gliders.

Apart from springing  Il Duce, the most important glider ops were a strike on the Belgian fortress Eben Emael in May 1940, and an attack on the mountain hideout of Josip Broz “Tito” in 1944. The first used the same small DFS 230 gliders and was a great success. The Yugoslavian raid used larger gliders, but their quarry slipped away.

The FG42 did not have a very large effect on these combat operations, but it was just one advantage the German para tried to have on hand (in the later ops, obviously. In Belgium and Holland they had K98k rifles, and MP38s). But it remains an important part of the German paratroop legacy.

Here’s RIA’s write up:

This is just an exceptional example of a super rare late WWII Fallschirmajagergewehr FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle, with the original issue Luftwaffe marked ZF4 sniper scope and original mount. These rifles were exceptionally unique weapons that were developed by the German engineers that was way ahead of anything that the Allies had.

This rifle design married the concept of both the basic German infantry rifle with the fully automatic “light rifle” weapon, somewhat akin to our Browning BAR and later developed further by various countries in the post-War years. Some of the more notable weapon designs that used this concept were the FN/FAL and M14 rifles, which used a full sized rifle round in both the semi-automatic and fully automatic mode.FG42-8

 

 

One of the most unique aspects of this weapon was that it fired from a “closed bolt” when shooting in the semi-automatic mode and an “open bolt” in the fully automatic mode, which aided in reducing cook-offs. Some of the other easily identified characteristics of this rifle are a horizontal 20 round box magazine, a “brass deflector” on the right rear side of the receiver, a permanently attached folding bipod, and folding front and rear sights.

These rifles were developed fairly late in WWII at the direction of Herman Goring and were specifically issued to only German Paratroopers. It is estimated that only appropriately 5000 were ever manufactured with most being destroyed after the war with very few surviving intact examples know today. This example is a mid-production Second Model that has the more horizontal grip with the bakelite grip panels and laminated buttstock and two piece wooden forend.

There is a typo in that last paragraph. This rifle, which is indeed a 2nd Model, has a more vertical grip than the 1st Model, which had metal grip surfaces.

This rifle is complete with an original WWII German “Luftwaffe” issued and marked ZF4 sniper scope, with the original scope mount/ring set. The scope is a standard ZF4 scope that has been marked with a large “L” on the left side signifying it for Luftwaffe issue. The top of the receiver of these rifles were specifically machined with a long dovetail type base designed to accept the two scope rings. The rings each have a single locking lever that allowed easy installation and removal of the scope depending on the specific combat scenario; general combat or in a limited sniping role.

The top of the receiver is marked: “fzs(the wartime code for the Krieghoff Company)/FG42/02314″. The left side of the scope is marked “Gw ZF4/57309/ddx (Voigtlander & Sohns)” with the large “L” signifying Luftwaffe issue following the standard markings. This wonderful light combat rifle has the late war green/gray phosphate finish on the receiver and barrel assembly with a blue/black painted finish on the lower trigger group/housing assembly. This exceptionally scarce rifle is complete with the original ribbed compensator on the end of the barrel which installs on the same muzzle threading as the included cup-style grenade launcher, the original folding bipod, spike bayonet and one original magazine.

Condition: Excellent with 97% plus of the original WWII combination phosphate/blue type finish with minor handling/firing wear. The scope and rings are also in excellent condition with 95% of their original finish. The wooden forend and buttstock are also in excellent condition with their nice original finish with minor handling marks from light use. A few English selector markings have been hand-added to the trigger group. Truly a super rare and very unique WWII FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle with all of the extremely rare accessories!

We’re guessing that the new owner will not be taking it to the range to blow off some Yugo 7.92 x 57 corrosive any time soon. We congratulate him on his purchase (and congratulate RIA on the ~$45k buyer’s premium, plus any sales commission, they’re getting for facilitating this sale).

FG42-2

This is an incredibly historic firearm, you see. While the FG42 didn’t change the course of a single battle in a long war, it did change the course of firearms history. The US Army Ordnance Branch became infatuated with it and copied it several ways, trying to simplify it and adapt the MG42 belt feed to the FG42 operating system and design. The result was the M60.

And the designers of the M60, if they ever knew, didn’t seem to take note of the strong resemblance the FG42 receiver, bolt, and operating rod have to those of an earlier weapon: the Lewis Gun. Our assumption is that Louis Stange, looking to make a light automatic weapon, chose the most successful light automatic weapon of World War I as his point of departure. (The FG has some Lewis DNA, but it’s a far cry from a monkey-see-monkey-do copy of its WWI ancestor. Stange added numerous features, including the innovative closed-bolt-semi, open-bolt-auto operating system).

NOTE: The preceding line originally described the operating system of the FG42 backwards. It has been corrected. Thanks to Chris W. in the comments for catching the error.

Other auction results are available in RIA’s writeup. This was a quite successful auction for them, with $11.9 million in sales.

 

SPARTY, Circa World War I

This grainy, moïre-wracked image comes from American Machinist, Volume L (50) Jan-Jun, 1919.

wwi_sp_arty_experiment

It appears in the bound volume of the trade magazine on page 266, and does not seem to be referenced in the text. A few pages earlier, there’s another self-propelled artillery piece, a 9.2 inch howitzer.

wwi_sp_arty_experiment_9-2_inch

The first of these weapons, at least, is well known to specialist researchers. The Holt Tractor Company of Stockton, California made early tracked tractors for agriculture. Their initial models steered not by differential braking or power to the tracks, but by a “tiller wheel” that was mounted out in front of the machine. By World War I their ag tractors were very successful, and their engineers adapted them to military use around the time of the US’s entry into the long-running European war in 1917.

All the military tractors were experimental. The Army Ordnance Department experimented with them, but deployed none of them to France.

The versions included what may have been the first manufactured tank, and at least seven or eight iterations of the self-propelled artillery design, most of which mounted the US 75mm M1916 field gun, a variant of the French 75.

The popular Holt tractor was also adapted in Britain, experimentally, and France and Germany produced tanks based on Holt running gear. The most famous of these tanks was the German A7V, a tank that was outnumbered in German service by captured British tanks.

The Holt company is a trademark you may not recognize today, as the forerunner of a modern giant whose trademarks you definitely know. As the company was best known as the maker of the Holt’s Caterpillar Tractor, it changed its name first to Holt’s Caterpillar and finally, just to Caterpillar. So Holt’s tractor is still with us.

While Caterpillar (and small-c caterpillar) tractors would be successful as artillery prime movers, the company does not seem to have adapted their post-war tractor models into potential military sales. The engineering requirements for tank tracks and suspensions are too different from those needed for tractors, bulldozers and earth-moving equipment. And also, the US didn’t get serious about tanks until it began to seem clear that we’d need to start numbering our World Wars, so there was no money in tank development for an American firm in most of the interwar years.

Sten Gun Manufacturing, 1943 or So

This footage survives because it was documenting something thought remarkable at the time — entire ordnance factories operated mostly by women. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be more interested in what these British ladies are doing in the Royal Ordnance Factory at Enfield: manufacturing STEN Mk II submachine guns.

The guns and their near-cottage-industry manufacturing processes are both interesting. The guns are clearly Mk. IIs, but there appear to be two variants of the tee stock — perhaps the film crew was there at the exact moment of a running change, or perhaps the stocks came in from subcontractors and a degree of variation in appearance was the norm.

The industrial processes in use include some automatic rifling machines, but it looks like a lot of manual labor went into a STEN. It was only the el cheapo gun of legend because these ladies of Enfield were getting paid such token sums. In the short video, you’ll see brazing, welding, and hand-riveting with a hammer. There has to be a video somewhere of Guide Lamp cranking out Grease Guns, and you can imagine the automotive industry process engineers shaking their heads if they saw how a STEN went together.

Some men work in the plant, too, but the original filmmaker’s focus was on the women. Men have had held some jobs exclusively, including test-firing completed STENs, but women are doing a lot of things that they’d never have applied themselves to pre-1939. After the war, it was no longer unprecedented for women to work outside the home, even in industrial crafts, and England (and the world) never reverted to the status quo ante.

As a bonus, in keeping with the theme of women in war production, here’s a film about how they did it at the Willow Run B-24 plant (Ypsilanti, MI).

Tracking Tease

Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don't know yet what exact model our guys had.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.

Quick take-aways:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
  • It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • Here’s how the zero-zero capability works:  they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
  • The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge. 
  • It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
  • They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
  • An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but
  • A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.

As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.

Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.

We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.

We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!

Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.

PC Plod seizes “3D Printed Gun Parts” — that weren’t.

Hot-Fuzz-2The Greater Manchester (England) Police are looking staggeringly inept after a highly publicized raid that seized “gun parts” turned out to be nothing of the sort. Working on a tip, the Manchester rozzers seized a MakerBot Replicator 2 and a number of works in progress that they trumpeted in a media event as “gun parts.”

Greater Manchester Police have seized a 3D printer and suspected “homemade” gun components during police raids in Manchester. Detectives initially said the parts are being testing to see whether the gun were viable.

They said more than that. The pointy-headed flatfeet trumpeted that they’d seized gun parts including a “gun clip” and a “trigger.” But they hadn’t, actually: the “gun parts” were Replicator 2 spares. The “clip” was a filament spool holder, and the “trigger” a feed pawl for the filament feed. Fail.

“Gun Clip,” per the Greater Manchester Police.

Filament spool holder, per Makerbot. Heh.

Police have issued a new statement following earlier claims after the 3D printing community pointed out they may be harmless printer upgrade parts.

“We need to be absolutely clear that at that this stage, we cannot categorically say we have recovered the component parts for a 3D gun,” write the police in the statement.

“Can’t categorically say,” PC Plod? Taking time to walk this one back, apparently. You know, the longer it takes to admit you blew it, the more embarrassing it is. People in the 3D community recognized the parts almost instantaneously when the first press release hit:

3ders user Chris Thorpe says “they’re replacement parts for a MakerBot”, and user Joo and Kit F point out that “gun clip” is a spool holder for the Replicator 2.

via 3ders.org – 3D printer ‘gun parts’ found in Manchester raid may be parts for a printer | 3D Printer News & 3D Printing News.

Still, despite the British cops twisting in the wind as bunglers, it’s very different from the bungling our Yank cops get up to. Nobody’s been shot (not even the dog). Or beaten up, or thrown on death row because some payroll patriot in the evidence locker lost the DNA proving him innocent. So, there is that.

One hopes the media will be there when a red-faced policeman — undoubtedly one much lower-ranking that the one that ordered the raid — brings back the MakerBot.

Incidentally, you can’t really make guns on a MakerBot very well, as they only really support polylactic acid (PLA), and PLA isn’t strong enough. The Liberators the Australian police and the BBC blew up were deliberately made flimsy, by using PLA and as little as 20% infill (the instructions specify ABS or nylon, and 100% infill). They also used 9mm parabellum ammunition in the .380 chamber. Gee, shocking it blew up, eh?

Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 2

You can find Part 1 here: Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 2

In Part 1, we describe the pistol and the principles of troubleshooting it. In Part 2, we do some mechanical training with the firearm, and learn something’s not right about it. What? Read on.

Kid’s Naïve Observations of Luger Design

It was interesting and rewarding to see how this firearm looked through a new set of eyes, coming to it with no preconceptions. In the first place, he was amazed at some of the good features of the design, considering that the gun he held in his hands was quite literally 100 years old. Georg Luger’s design has a nearly perfect grip angle, is practically compact and well-balanced, points naturally in large hands or small, and its important controls fall near enough to hand. The magazine release is of a type that Browning also used, and that has become the modern standard: the push-button set where the bow of the trigger guard joins the magazine well. True, the safety is awkwardly placed for single-handed operation. But contrary to the practice on a range, a military pistol in the field in those days was generally left on safe until combat is joined, and only taken off safe on emerging from the other end of the dark tunnel of combat alive.

Many Luger features would become standards, such as the clearly labeled safety (which says”Gesichert,” or “safe,” when activated) and the loaded chamber indicator which has visual and tactile signals of a loaded firearm. These were both novelties in 1900, when the first Lugers began to be noticed worldwide. (Luger the man had been working on improving the Borchardt action since 1895 or so).

Kid made no comments about the weapon’s secondary weakness, its sights. We expect those will come when we get the range renewal unscrewed.

But he did zero in on the gun’s achilles’s heel: its complexity. He marveled at the design decisions Georg Luger made, many of which seemed to complicate the firearm. Not knowing, yet, the Borchardt and the Luger’s prototype history, he’s in the dark about just how evolved the Luger really was. Every single change from the Borchardt to the P.08 made a gun that was more compact, more reliable, easier (although not easy) to manufacture, and better suited to the rigors of military service. The Borchardt today is a collector’s item because of its position in history, which was largely assured by the Luger, and by its rarity, which resulted, frankly, from all its problems as a practical pistol. (Remember the buyer of a Borchardt wasn’t operating in a vacuum — even on its introduction in 1893, he had many less expensive, more robust, well-proven revolvers to choose instead, and in a few years he had Mauser’s C96 as an autopistol alternative). The Luger is a collectors’ item because of its position in history, and despite its mass production and the survival of many thousands of examples.

But there is something Heath Robinson about the Luger’s intricate toggle, about the way its mainspring works through a system of levers and a bellcrank, about its very indirect trigger mechanism. Let’s describe that, so you get a feel for it:

The trigger moves the short arm of a lever that pivots on an axis parallel to the bore down, which moves the long arm of the lever in towards the lateral centerline of the pistol. The bearing surface of that long arm presses on a spring-loaded pin that protrudes from the nose of the sear, which is pivoted at its center on a pin arranged vertically. If the safety is on, i.e., gesichert, the sear is blocked from pivoting. If the safety is not on, the nose of the sear pivots in towards the centerline, and the tail of the sear pivots out, disengaging the bearing surface of the sear from the engagement lug on the firing pin, and releasing the firing pin to race forward under the power of its spring.

After the weapon fires, the slide and toggle recoil together until the mechanical advantage of the toggle is broken by contact with the frame’s opening ramp. As the toggle opens, a protrusion on its nose withdraws the firing pin, recompressing the spring. The spring-loaded pin in the nose of the sear acts as the disconnector.

Hey, don’t feel bad if you can’t visualize it from that. Just visualize it from this:

Yes, that’s an awesome animation. Here’s another one by the same guy. They’re over with pretty quick, so you may want to play them a few times:

There are a number of other animated Lugers out there on YouTube, thanks to the engineering drawings of the gun long having been available. (Hey, SolidConcepts, 3D Print that!).

Simple Takedown — and a Discovery

As anyone who’s handled one extensively knows, the Luger is pretty easy to take down and field strips with no tools into six mostly good-sized parts: barrel & slide unit; toggle assembly; toggle pin (best reinserted in the toggle or slide immediately, when disassembling in the field, as this is the smallest part); frame; sideplate assembly; and magazine.  Assembly can be more difficult; as aircraft mechanics say, it comes apart a thousand ways, and there’s a thousand ways to put it together, but only one of those thousand methods of assembly is right. In particular, it can be tricky to get the “handlebars of the trapeze” (part 9 in the illustration below) caught just right under the “hands of the acrobat” (the bellcrank, part 23 in the illustration below).

luger08

 

In time, though, Kid mastered it and was happily assembling and disassembling the Luger. He knows that if you want to learn how to do something, the best way by far is by doing it — by drill. (This is part of why so many colleges do better at producing athletes than thinkers: the coaches, unlike the professors, have not lost sight of the utility of drill in human education).

(Aside: it’s amazing how the human mind works. Kid is bright, but badly dyslexic. He struggles to read, which is a challenge he’ll face all his life — they teach him some coping mechanisms, but we can’t just hand him the Sturgess book and say, “Study this.” Yet he instantly grasps the purpose and orientation of each part, and while there’s something awry in the part of his mind that tells “W” from “V”, he can look at a Luger part a year from now and say, “oh, that’s a Luger toggle pin” without the slightest difficulty, or identify a Smith from a Colt by its shape — the same shapes that bedevil him when trying to turn them into words. Hell of a thing).

Then, disaster struck. Or at least that’s what it looked like on his face. “It won’t come out!” After several frantic attempts to remove the toggle pin (part 20 in the illustration), he reluctantly handed the gun over. Didn’t want to give up. We almost hated to show him up.

But — we couldn’t get it out, either. The Luger had come apart normally. Then it went together — normally. Several times. All was copacetic. But now, it wouldn’t come apart at all. After attempting to do it with fingers, and to do it with inertia (swinging the gun by the barrel, landing a light tap on an upholstered chair arm, which should have sent the toggle pin flying), we looked around for a non-marring tool and tried the cap of a Sharpie. No joy. We actually broke the cap of the Sharpie. Ruh-roh.

OK, lets get serious. Support the receiver, orient the flanged end of the pin down, line up an unsharpened pencil (serving as a dowel) on the opposite end, and whack it.

No joy.

Whack it with a mallet.

Still no joy. Even swearing at it in its native German isn’t helping. That sucker isn’t coming out. We’ve come as far as we can in the living room. (What, there are no mallets in your living room?)

Kid has a sick “I broke it” look on his face. But he didn’t; he didn’t do anything wrong. We tell him this. He does not believe, and still looks stricken.

Down to the machine shop. Teachable moment about wood in vise jaws, when to use soft and hard wood, when to use rubber (“Ah, that’s why you don’t throw away inner tubes from the bikes but bring them down here”). Teachable moment on shop philosophy. “Don’t be Bubba, we’re only custodians of these guns during our short lives on earth.” Align pin with the lasers on the drill press. (One excellent feature on an otherwise el cheapo press). Insert a dowel in the chuck and press the pin out.

We could have done it with the big press, but there’s a bunch of stuff piled on that, so we bent the “right tool for the right job” rule a little bit, but didn’t bend the Luger, which is the important thing.

One gentle cycle of the downfeed lever, and out it comes. Mechanical advantage FTW.

Minute eyeball examination of the pin. Nothing the least bit unusual about it. Nothing unusual in the holes in the receiver or toggle. A quick look with some measuring tools found nothing out of alignment (despite the bozo stunt with the chair arm).

Luger parts tend to be a very tight fit and the toggle pin is no exception. (When it is in place in the receiver, the line that separate the two is barely visible to the naked eye).

Placing the pin in the receiver and rotating it gave us our first clue: there was one point in its 360º travel where it froze up. Either the pin, or the holes, is out of round enough to be dragging, both in rotation and in attempts to withdraw the pin. Force-rotate it away from the “sticky” spot and it slides right out.

Could this intermittently sticky toggle pin be responsible for our maddeningly intermittent failures to feed in the Artillery Luger? What’s causing it, and how do we fix it without leaving Bubba prints for some future gun blogger to mock us for?

Looks like there’s going to be a Part 3. Sorry about that!

Printed AR Lowers Continue to Evolve

The mainstream media have left this behind for now, although another round of ZOMG Invisible Ghost Guns!!1!!!1!! is never too far in the future, and indeed in Calfruitopia a “Ghost gun ban” bill which criminalizes build-your-own firearms is on the desk of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh er, Governor Brown. (We regret the error. They’re easily confused). But printed AR lower designs continue to evolve.

The process is largely an iterative one, driven by trial and error, with the errors exposed by testing. This photo shows you a handful of the iterations that have been tried, rejected, and improved, and tried again.

Printed Lowers

This is hardly the first time iterative engineering has been applied to this 60-year-old design. Armalite modified the prototype AR forging for greater strength where prototypes were weak, and Colt modified production receivers for greater strength where service found them vulnerable to failure (i.e. from Model 601 to Model 602 to 603, and from 603 to 703; for the last, compare the profiles of the buffer tower and front pin areas of an M16A1 and A2 lower receiver).  In just the same way that Colt reinforced the lower receiver of the M16 for greater service durability, the experimenters working with FDM plastic lowers have reinforced those same vulnerable areas (and others) to adjust for the different  properties of their material, relative to the forged 7075 aluminum alloy of the original.

Note the reinforced buffer tower and greater material thickness near the top of the control cavity.

Note the reinforced buffer tower and greater material thickness near the top of the control cavity.

Right now, they’re getting the strength back by simply beefing these areas up and changing shapes and angles to eliminate designed-in stress risers. It time, it’s possible that an arrangement of ribs or stiffeners may provide the required strength while allowing material usage and print time to be reduced again, but for right now, it looks like a lower with massive lugs in the front, a cut-off mag well, and reinforced areas along the top of the control cavity will get the job done.

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We don’t have info, yet, on the performance of the FOSSCAD Vanguard in the field, but it does build in to a firearm:

jt printed lower Assembled into AR best jt printed lower Assembled into AR

JT printed lower

Another goal of the tinkerers has been to improve the buildability of the lower on ordinary, consumer-grade 3D Printers. The first working LR was printed by Have Blue on a commercial Stratasys machine that cost a king’s ransom when new. This example was printed on a DaVinci 1.0 printer, a unit  that uses 0.6 kg filament cartridges and prints only in polylactic acid (PLA) plastic. It’s made by XYZPrinting in Taiwan and is available for $500 from Amazon and other resellers. As the Amazon reviews should show you, this is a low-end printer indeed. Yet, it produces a functional Lower Receiver.

The JT Vanguard on the DaVinci print bed, with support material that is readily removed.

The JT Vanguard on the DaVinci print bed, with support material that is readily removed.

This is one genie that cannot be rebottled. The technology is marching inexorably toward greater capability: more speed, better resolution, better materials, lower cost. Luddites like California’s Governor Brown and State Senator Kevin de Leon who would ban this technology are the equivalent of the Stasi, trying to keep East Germans in line by registering typewriters lest someone express an unauthorized idea.

Even the mighty shoguns of Japan, who had power that todays power-lusting politicians can only fantasize about, could not arrest the march of technology — they could only delay it, locally, and at the cost of national weakness.

Meanwhile, while California politicians are winding up to throw their wooden shoes into the machinery, technology stays ahead of them on fleet feet — probably shot in Made-in-USA New Balances. Manufacturing’s not dead, but some states can kill it locally if they like.

All images from FOSSCAD.

UPDATE

Here’s another FOSSCAD Vanguard being printed, this time on a Printrbot (another entry level printer). And here’s the Imura Revolver, named after open-source gunsmithing’s first martyr.

Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 1

The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).

So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)

First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.

“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.

The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.

(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).

Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.

While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.

Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.

On to Troubleshooting

There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:

  1.  All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
  2. All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
  3. As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
  4. The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.

And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)

It's many things, but a Luger is not simple.

It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.

With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.

We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.

So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.

And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!

Prototype AR-10 on the Block!

This one is a big deal. A commenter flagged us to it, and we took our time getting to this “Original Armalite AR-10″ because we figured: “Ho hum, Dutch Artillerie Inrichtingen AR-10, interesting but we’ve written about ‘em already. A lot.” And… well, when we finally looked at the AR, it wasn’t a mass-produced gun from the Portuguese or Sudanese contract at all, but one of the earliest, hand-built prototypes, a gun that would not only be a centerpiece in an AR collection or modern military arms collection, but would be a centerpiece in many museums. 

Julia AR-10 #38 right

Several things mark it as a prototype, including its front sight base without any gas cut-off, and especially the pepper-pot flash suppressor, but there are other markers as well.

It’s up for bid at the James D. Julia fall firearms auction, of which more in a moment. Julia accepts bids by phone, email (using a bid form available on their website) or, of course, in person.  First, here’s what Julia says about it:

**ORIGINAL ARMALITE AR-10 MACHINE GUN (FULLY TRANSFERABLE).
SN 1038. 308 cal. 21″ bbl. This extremely attractive and early AR-10 includes one 20 round magazine and has light brown hand guards, hand grip and buttstock. It also has a perforated muzzle break giving it an extremely unusual, yet attractive, appearance. Marked on left side of magazine well with the Armalite winged horse logo and model designation as well as “Hollywood, Calif. U.S.A.” address. Firing mechanism functions smoothly when operated by hand. This weapon appears fully functional. PROVENANCE: The class III weapons formerly on loan to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. CONDITION: Overall appearance and finish is 98% with virtually no loss of finish on metal parts and perhaps just the very slightest of handling marks and slight brassing at the muzzle. There are some small places on the stock and hand guards where there has been a scrape, revealing black material underneath. Bore is shiny and bright with some slight frosting close to the muzzle. Bolt face is extremely fine. This weapon has been fired, but not very much. 4-51756 JWK73 (15,000-20,000) – Lot 10

via *ORIGINAL ARMALITE AR-10 MACHINE GUN (FULLY TRANSFERABLE).

The Julia firearms staff, like rival auction house Rock Island’s, are true professionals. They  seldom make an error; they tend to extreme conservatism in their descriptions, which is probably why they’re not using the word, “protoype.”

Julia AR-10 #38 serial

We use the word with confidence for the following reasons:

  1. There was no true production of AR-10s in Hollywood or Costa Mesa. All were toolroom jobs, built by hand, and no two were quite the same (same is true of California AR-15s).
  2. The serial number, “1038,” is almost certainly gun number 38 produced, with a leading 1000 inserted to provide an aura of maturity around what was, in 1955, a very radical design.
  3. The gun lacks some of the features of all production AR-10s from Artillerie Inrichtingen.
  4. The furniture is clearly hand-poured. A contemporary Guns Magazine article showed some “production” photos from the Hollywood shop, and one of them shows hand-mixed resin being poured from a Dixie cup. (We wrote about the process here).

While original AR-10s, meaning the production guns from Artillerie Inrichtingen, are exceedingly rare (only a few thousand were produced), enough that both transferable pre-68 imports and US-receiver semiauto conversions are very rare, prototype ARs almost never see the light of day. They are all in private collections or museums. Many of the most historic guns are in Reed Knight’s Institute for Military Technology, and you can expect, if you’re bidding on this, museums and the most advanced collectors will be bidding against you. That makes Julia’s pre-sales estimate of $15,000-20,000 seem low; we’d be shocked if this historic rifle didn’t go for half again Julia’s top estimate.

Yes, we do like the original AR-10. As we’ve said:

  1. In May 2012: GunBroker Rarity: Semi AR-10, then About that AR-10… and Some AR-10 News and Views.
  2. In June of that year: an AR-10 in Photos (this is the same gun in the May posts. We also started a second photo essay on this gun but didn’t finish or post it; it molders in the queue).
  3. In November, 2012, we dealt with a t-shirt that was a great idea, badly implemented, by announcing that We Hate Bad History. Principal beef was that the artist displaced the AR-10 from its proper place as the grandsire of the AR line.
  4. In September, 2013 we mentioned the early AR-10 experiments with composite barrels in an article on a new composite AR barrel: Composite barrel: old idea, but this time it works.
  5. In November, 2013: We can’t buy ‘em all: Original Portuguese Armalite/Sendra AR-10
  6. In January, 2014: we explored How Armalite (1955-60) Made Stocks & Furniture, and covered An intriguing scope mount (on a Dutch AI AR-10 in the Springfield Armory museum).
  7. In July, 2014: Jerry Miculek meets the Original AR-10 (this was an original AI full-auto gun).
  8. We also posted (thanks to a commenter) a 1960 Aberdeen Proving Ground Report On: A Test of Rifle, Caliber 7.62-mm, AR-10. (.pdf naturally).

Yes, we want it. However, we need to color within our budgetary lines here.

The gun was one of the Evergreen Ventures Class III collection. The collection was a separate corporation, but displayed the same vision of the fantastic Evergreen Air Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (which we’ve been privileged to visit). The funds for all this flowed from a large and successful air freight company, Evergreen International, which didn’t survive the transition from the entrepreneurial to professional management.

Some other highlights of the collection, which is now being auctioned by the James D. Julia auction house in Maine as part of the house’s annual Fall Firearms Auction (they also have a Spring Auction) in early October, along with other firearms treasures, such as an eye-popping Winchester Model 21 shotgun collection, a collection of gorgeous Colts, Sharps and other frontier guns, the third installment of the Dr Geoffrey Sturgess European pistol collection, the Dr Douglas Sirkin collection of early firearms, and the former Springfield Armory, LLC, artillery collection. Some celebrity pieces are at the auction, also, including Eleanor Roosevelt’s revolver, presentation pieces for Napoleon III and Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tom Custer’s Spencer repeater. Here’s a sort of highlights reel. The auction is so richly provisioned with fine and rare firearms that this AR-10 prototype didn’t even make the highlights!