Category Archives: Consumer Alert!

Brownell’s Buys: Ghost Glocks, Threaded Barrels, Aimpoint PRO

We missed a one-day-only on these Polymer80 Glock frame kits for $39.99, but at $69.99 they’re still more than half off. Frame, metal guide rails insert, jig, and cutting tools all in one handy kit. Available in black, OD, or FDE.

The only reason we didn’t buy any this time is that we still have two untouched ones (including the one in the picture) — bought for list price.  We’ll get to ’em when we get to ’em. Supposedly, there’s a new version of the G17/17L/34 size frame coming out. These frames will work in 9mm or in .357 SIG/.40 S&W so you can actually clone the Glock 17, 17L, 22, 24, 31, 34, and 35; the compact frame for the G19 size guns is not being blown out, but will still set you back $150.

The G17 etc. frames are considerably blockier than the original Glock (which is saying something), so our guess is that the new version will be closer to the Glock original, like their G19 frame is. But that’s only our guess, we have no crystal ball. These are so popular that inexpensive Glock parts kits have become nonexistent.

What goes with a ghost Glock better than a suppressor? So you’re going to need a threaded barrel (also useful for making politicians’ heads spontaneously ess-plode like Mr Creosote). Most Silencerco Glock barrels are $40 off which brings them to $150, but there’s an even better deal on the higher-priced G43 barrel, for all you wannabe silent single-stackers out there. But Silencerco threadeds are for sale for several pistols: SIG 226, S&W M&P, HKVP9, and Beretta 92/M9.

Beretta 92! We bet this breathes life into a lot of dusty M9s/ 92s out there. Don’t have an M9? We interrupt this Brownells pitch to bring you a deal on an M9 (NB, that vendor has a “mixed” reputation, and its owner has been convicted of felonies under some bizarre California laws. We’ll pass, but maybe you feel lucky… punk). OK, back to Brownells.

Our two favorite AR optics are the ACOG and the Aimpoint, and for up-close-and-personal like shooting masked teenagers in the kitchen, we’d go with Aimpoint 10 out of 10 times. Brownells has a little bit of a deal on the Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic); they’re throwing in a $25 Brownells gift card with each one at $437. Your net, $412, plus shipping. We paid more than that for a well-worn Comp M2 used. The PRO is half the price, roughly, of the Comp M2’s successor, the Comp M4.

The PRO includes the features we like, like crazy long battery life, a near-Ranger-proof forged case, and 6 visible and 4 IR reticle brightness settings. (That said, if you don’t have NODS or plan imminent purchase of them, don’t be a tactard: don’t pay extra for NVG compatibility). Likewise, don’t bother with Killflash unless you’re planning on going out and hunting with it (bipeds or quadrupeds, the game is the same); for plinking and home defense you’re good to go out of the box. The one accessory you might consider is a quality QD mount, if you’re in the habit of trading optics a lot.

Ten Rules for Collecting

These are not original, not any of them. But they are wisdom passed down from generations of collectors before us. And almost every collector has a story to go with each one. These are specifically aimed at gun collectors, but they’re general enough that they’ll work for whatever you collect, whether it’s Spiderman comics, barbed wire, or cats.

Wait, not cats.

1: Some Day Your Item Will Be Sold Again

Perhaps you will sell it to deal with a financial calamity, like your daughter being accepted to college. Or a sixteen-count Federal indictment. You never know what the future holds. Moreover, if you keep eating red meat (or anything else) and breathing oxygen, one of these days you’re going to up and die. (Sorry to break it to you). What then?

You should probably think, before you buy, about the potential circumstances in which you will sell, and plan accordingly. The default option, “Let my heirs sort it out, it won’t be my problem,” does not do those heirs any favors. Most of them will cut some deal with a dealer and your collection will be dispersed for 30¢ on the dollar, if that. Set it up so the heirs get as much of the whole dollar as possible, and they can spend it on whatever silly $#!+ they collect! Or donate it to a museum, but if you do that, you’d better know that the museum might want a piece or two but will just auction your stuff to get cash to buy whatever the curator’s priority is.

Collection entropy. It happens. You can’t prevent it.

2: Buy the Book Before You Buy the Item

This is old, old, old advice, and almost everyone has a story. “I thought this was incredibly rare, and then I got Roger Kaputnik’s book where I learned that all 600,000 produced, minus the one in the Royal Museum of Ruritania, were imported to the USA by Val Forgett in 1966. After that, I started seeing them in every shop in Podunk for half what I paid.”

That’s why gun collectors say, “Buy the book before you buy the gun.” It’s not just gun collectors. Every serious car collector looking for a Shelby Cobra has the SAAC book that documents, to the extent possible, the provenance and disposition of every chassis by CSX Number. This protects you against fakes, misrepresentations, and (most common problem) your own errors. Buy the book. It armors you with knowledge. Books aren’t perfect, but there’s stuff in that book you’ll never learn without it. Learn from the other guy’s mistakes!

3: Rarity has no Direct Effect on Price

Something could be the only one made, or the only one surviving, and yet nobody cares, or almost nobody. We watched one of the rarest and most historic rifles in existence expire, and get re-listed, for over a year on GunBroker — before we finally up and bought it. And as far as we know, nobody else was even following it. The gun was a survivor of only a few thousand made, ages and ages ago. We didn’t snap it up right away because, like the French knights’ master, we already had one. Finally we gave in to the impulse to corner the market, kind of like the Hunt Brothers but in a much smaller pond. That doesn’t mean our two ultra-rare rifles just got more valuable. It just meant we have two examples right here to write about, and whoever liquidates our collection has double the rare-Brno-rifle headaches.

Meanwhile, have you seen prices on GI 1911A1s lately, or M1 Carbines? A beater GI M1 Carbine, which was produced in a quantity of over 6 million, is worth over double the value of the above-mentioned extremely rare rifle, of which around 1000 times fewer were made, and which seems to have had a much lower survival rate than the common Carbine. And the Carbine will almost certainly appreciate (although that appreciation will have its limits).

Rarity does affect supply, but that’s only one side of the equation. The rarity of Colt Walker revolvers only adds up to headlining auction numbers because of the firearm’s historical importance and high collector demand. For all we know, Italian Rigarmi .25s may be nearly as rare as Walkers, but as a crummy, derivative gun from a forgotten company in a secondary gun-manufacturing country, they’re functionally orphans. We’ll give you a Rigarmi for a case of beer — and you can owe us the beer.

Here’s a very direct example of how rarity does not impact price. If you were to machine, yourself, a steel copy of an M1 Carbine receiver, engrave your own name and “Serial Nº 1” on it, and build it up with available parts, you would have the only one of its kind. But people want an Inland, ideally one that is documented to have hit the beach on D-Day, but remains in new condition (yes, those are contradictory objectives. That’s collectors for you). They will pay much more for the Inland than they will for your copy, even if you spent 10,000 hours making it, and even if it is machined and finished far better than anything produced during the war.

(Incidentally, this example also proves the untruth of Karl Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, the principle on which the whole monstrous lie that is Marxian economics stands).

4: Highest Price, Highest Appreciation

A rising tide lifts all boats, perhaps, but if you want to appreciate faster than average, you need pieces that are higher quality than average — which means, they are already higher priced than average.

This also means that the value of these high-flyers will take the greatest hit in a market downturn; but that’s temporary. Over time, the most in-demand pieces (Winchesters, Colts, Lugers, that original FG-42 that went for nearly $300k) will outpace the general market consistently.

5: Junk Just Becomes Old Junk

And popularity gets magnified. While some things are so rare and historic that even beater-condition examples are valuable, that’s not the house bet. If it was el cheapo crap when it was new, it may be an interesting way to have a collection of cheap crap culture of the period, but there’s just never going to be that much interest in no-name spur-hammer .22 short revolvers of the 1870s, or crummy Spanish, Italian and Belgian.25s of the 1945-68 era. You can call your junk “vintage” if it amuses you to do so, but when you go to sell it, it will bring junk prices. Unless you sell it on a street corner in the Engelwood section of Chicago, which we don’t recommend for health reasons.

6: Buy the Piece, Not the Patter

Every gun comes with a story. But absent proof of provenance, it’s just a story. Some dealers are extremely skilled at selling you the sizzle, but all that you will have when you open the package is the steak… and if you aren’t a similarly skilled purveyor of sizzle, you won’t be able to pull off the same stunt. (Even be careful of provenance documents. We’ve observed computer-faked Colt and S&W letters, and there’s some jerk out there that’s used one CMP document to “authenticate” dozens of inauthentic M1 Rifles with the help of some digital Wite-Out. See Rule #9).

7: “Instant Collectibles” — Usually Aren’t

Things that are manufactured and sold, new, in large quantities, as collectibles? Like Franklin Mint, American Historical Foundation, various gaudy el cheapo commemoratives, those kinds of collectibles? Well, they aren’t, much. There are a few exceptions in commemorative or limited-run guns by makers that make proportionately few limited-run guns. If an outfit’s business is commemorative-heavy, it’s selling sizzle and not steak.

8: Don’t Let Yourself be Rushed

There are a very few items that exist in single digits, and a very, very few deals that will never be equalled. Don’t let yourself be rushed into something prematurely. Remember that the “higher price later” will probably just reflect general inflation, and may even be short of that. It will almost certainly be short of what your money will make in an index fund in the same period. Being able and willing to walk away from a piece puts you in charge. Make Je ne regrette rien your motto, when the Deal Of The Century scoots away from you. There are other days and other deals.

9: Not Everyone is as Honest as You Are

This is a painful lesson to learn, but we’ve found that there are two reasons a piece might be misrepresented: the seller doesn’t know his representation is incorrect (a real possibility; maybe he didn’t buy the book); or, the seller does know his representation is incorrect. A seller misrepresenting one gun may be making a mistake; a seller misrepresenting many guns, whether he does so in series or in parallel, is a different thing entirely. Most sales take place on an as-is basis, and the buyer has no recourse. The seller will always deny any intent to deceive, and he may be telling the truth, or think he is. (Some of these guys are so bent, they deceive themselves). If you suspect someone is this kind of guy, look over his return policy (3 days if the firearm is unfired and unmolested, no other questions asked, buyer pays shipping back, is fairly standard; deviations from this against the seller’s interest should be a caution signal). But as a buyer, you have the right not to do business with anyone (as a seller, likewise). It’s a right well exercised.

10: It’s Not an Investment

We can’t hammer this enough. While this is a great fiction to tell yourself (or your wife, or in one case we know about, husband), as an investment collector anything is speculative, risky, and almost certain to lag the stock indices.

That said, it does have a purpose for some people. Just as equity in a home is some people’s only savings — savings because it has been forced upon them — for some people, the only store of wealth they have is in their firearms. Firearms are always convertible to cash, unlike most other collectible items.

Bonus: In the End, You Do this for Entertainment

Don’t take it too seriously, don’t expect too much of it, don’t be freaked when others in your life don’t understand. You’re doing this for your own entertainment and education, and the only one you have to please, as long as you keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, is yourself.

You do keep the obsession short of 12-step-program levels, don’t you?

Fred Ray: A Confederate Whitworth Sees Auction (Corrected)

Here’s another amazing find by Fred, in an auction catalog that AFAIK hasn’t come to Hog Manor yet in the treebark edition. but is already online. (Uh, we just realized, thanks to a comment, that while we were sleep-writing this post last night we confused Rock Island, whose catalog we do subscribe to, with James Julia, whose catalog we don’t — and probably should. The two auction houses are entirely different, and are keen competitors; both have a seemingly endless supply of historic firearms).

Auctioneer James D. Julia has a rare Confederate Whitworth up on the block. This one even has the four power Davidson telescope.

 

The brass tube Davidson scope was adjusted for elevation by turning the knurled knob on the right side of the forearm. This loosened the clamp on the left side so the 1-1/2″ bar graduated in 1/16″ increments could be raised and lowered, pivoting on the rear mount secured by the rear lock plate screw. The normal long range ladder sight could be used for normal short range shooting. There is extensive documentation on the acquisition of this rifle, along with correspondence regarding the use of these guns during the Civil War. This gun was originally found with the telescopic sight missing which was later purchased from Confederate authority Steve Mullinax and put back on the rifle according to documentation. In a 1992 letter from noted Whitworth authority John Morrow The Confederate Whitworth Sharpshooters, 1989. “The telescope mounted Whitworth ‘2nd Quality’ No. C529 Rifle” described here conforms to the specification of all the other known surviving examples of the Confederate Purchase Special Arms. Specifically, it is in the correct SN range, the simple form of the iron sights, two bbl bands, lack of a safety bolt, common breech rather than patent breech, very short muzzle projection beyond the forend cap (note that the bbl appears to have lost 3/16″ at the muzzle, it should be 33″ exactly), the method of mounting the telescope the form of the checkering and everything else about it confirm this. The total number shipped in this telescopic configuration is not known but only 8 have been traced up to this moment.” One identical to this gun, is pictured in Firearms of the Confederacy, plate XXIII and discussed on pages 27 and 28.

Fred goes on to explain what the marking “2nd Quality” on Confederate Whitworths means, and as always, Read The Whole Thing™.

Along with many photos, Julia has published a detailed provenance (.pdf) on the rifle. It goes back to its “rediscovery” in March, 1991, so you’ve got 26 years of the rifle’s over-150, and 125 or so years of mystery. Better than nothing.

Whitworths have characteristic hexagonal rifling.

At that time it was acquired by one Tom Hutchinson of Alton, Illinois, and Hutchinson immediately began a search for the just-as-impossible-to-find telescopic sight. Which he did find and have reinstalled. Whitworth military rifles with possible Confederate provenance are you-can-count-em-on-your-fingers rare, and several are missing their scopes; it’s the sort of detail collectors argue about, whether this rifle is original or restored. We would say “restored with original and correct parts,” perhaps, and that is pretty much what Mr Hutchinson, subsequent owners if any, and the James D. Julia crew have done.

That is also a solid reason why you should read every line of an auction catalog item, examine every picture, and ask questions rather than make assumptions. Sure, you may be bidding on a $300 Glock rather than a five-figure Confederate sharpshooter rifle, but it’s your money, and you earned it (we hope), and don’t want to be disappointed, surprised or definitely shocked when you open the package.

In our experiences with premier auctioneers, mostly with RIA, we’ve had a couple of positive surprises when guns were better than described, and only one negative surprise — when we didn’t look hard enough and long enough at the images, which accurately showed the poor condition of the extreme rarity we were purchasing.

Rare Firearms… An Investment?

Julia estimates that the rifle will sell for $50,000-70,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator, inflation alone has raised today’s value of the $17,500 that Mr Hutchinson presumably paid to approximately $31,200, or approximately 178%. If the gun sells for low estimate, 286%; high estimate, an even 400%. That sounds great, but remember it’s over 26 years, and 178% of it is pure inflation, so your real gains are 90% to 222% over 26 years. How does that compare to the stock market?

If you invested in the S&P 500, according to this calculator, in March 1991, you would have made an annualized return of over 9.5%, and reinvesting the dividends into the account would have made a total of ~977% (540% without reinvesting). The calculator lets you calculate while accounting for inflation, and as you might expect, deflates those big numbers. Your total is only 502% and that comes to an annualized rate of return of 7.47%.

Not what Jack Madoff promised, but a pretty good example of a real-world result. But it’s more than double what the Whitworth did.  If.

If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right, and not the usual auctioneer lowball. Some lots do sell for under estimate — and some lots blow estimates away. We would not be shocked to see this rare rifle rocket into the six figures. If it goes for a quarter-million, as some rare, historic, and beautiful firearms have done of late, then this rare rifle has blown the stock market away. But it’s not the way to bet your retirement fund.

In general, firearms are a lousy investment. On the other hand, they’re a very financially sound piece of personal property. And on the gripping hand, something you want to buy anyway, and that will almost certainly sell for as much, if not more than you paid for it, even if it’s not the very best economic use of your money… well, things like that are rare. If you’re that guy, jump on it.

This Post Has Been Corrected

Due to operator fatigue and lack of layers and layers of editors, the original release of this post discussed Rock Island and Julia as if they were the same thing, which was probably received by both houses as an insult. (Actually, we in the collector community depend upon them both).

While correcting that error, we also decided to expand on the penultimate paragraph of the original post (the one that begins, “If? Yes, if Julia’s estimate is right…”) to include a discussion of the probability and consequences of this rifle blowing through the auction house’s $50-70k estimate.

Naturally, we regret the error, are grateful to the reader that identified it, and take pride in correcting it. A correction or clarification is always welcome in the comments.

Walking in PO Ackley’s Footsteps

In a post we wrote a couple of years ago but that never appeared on this blog (because it was never finished), we wrote about legendary 20th Century riflesmith and cartridge wildcatter Parker Otto Ackley, known to all as P.O. Ackley.

PO Ackley made an entire career of making what he called “improved” cartridges. Each of the Ackley improved cartridges was based on some mainstream cartridge but with an increased powder capacity and a sharper shoulder, which implies less taper in the body of the cartridge itself.

We described Ackley similarly in another post that did get published, in 2012. That of course understates Ackley’s career, because apart from all his cartridge wizardry, Ackley was a gunsmith, barrel maker, and a writer with a prodigious capacity for work.

in a new book by Fred Zeglin, this career is explored and evaluated, and Zeglin actually emulates some of Ackley’s famous experiments, including these on Bolt Thrust that are excerpted at GunDigest.com.

Since the post-WWII years, if not before, there has been an ongoing argument concerning whether breech thrust (bolt thrust) is reduced by the improved case design. P.O. Ackley has certainly influenced the argument. The definition of an improved case is pretty simple. The case body is blown out to minimum body taper, which is described by Ackley as 0.0075 per inch taper. Shoulder angles between 28 and 45 degrees are normally considered to be improved, although it could be argued that any shoulder sharper than the original parent case is improved. Finally, an improved design allows the firing of a factory cartridge in order to fireform the brass for the new design.

…a method of recording breech trust was necessary in order to go beyond the somewhat subjective experiments that P.O. Ackley wrote about in Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders Vol. I. There Ackley used a Model 94 Winchester because, as he stated, “We often hear that the Winchester Model 1894 action was designed for low pressures and is an action which could be described as ‘weak.’” The purpose of his experiment with the ‘94 was to prove that the improved case design minimized bolt thrust; that the brass will support and contain some pressure; that oily chambers increase bolt thrust; and finally, the notion that actions are designed for specific pressure ranges is a fallacy.

Zeglin conducted a high-tech version of Ackley’s tests, using a test fixture he developed, “a .30 caliber barrel with a universal breech plug to allow for adjustable headspace, and to accommodate the strain gauge utilized by the Pressure Trace.” He developed loads beyond the SAAMI pressure limit for the .30-30 Improved, and discovered that even with excess headspace, the Improved case stayed in place, extruding the primer instead of shearing its head off. Conclusions:

[W]as Ackley right about his findings?
Yes, but he may have missed a point or two.

Since .30-30 brass is thick and pressures are low relative to brass strength and case capacity, with most appropriate powders pressure is not a big problem. To be fair, we did find some powders that will develop pressure far beyond SAAMI levels for the .30-30 AI case. Because the brass is so thick, it actually cannot stretch and cause head separations due to excess headspace. In that respect the .30-30 is not a good choice for Ackley to prove that improved designs handle pressure better.

However, Ackley used the .30-30 because the ‘94 Winchester action had been labeled weak. In this respect, Ackley did prove that the ‘94 can handle anything the .30-30 or .30-30 AI can dish out, without any question.

Bear in mind that the action of the Winchester ’94 was labeled weak by Winchester, who wanted to upsell customers to stronger rifles, like the ’95, which could handle the big-game and service cartridges of the early 20th Century with no problems.

There’s quite bit more to it, so Read The Whole Thing™. In other things in the book there is something that made us order it: Ackley’s own, previously unpublished, description of his own home-made cut rifling machine. (See the Table of Contents left).

Like any highly specialized book, it’s expensive, and has potential to go out of print at some time in the future. That’s just life in specialty book markets.

How expensive? The list price for hardcover or eBook is $60, although at this writing Gun Digest is sweetening the deal with $10 off the hardcover edition, and free shipping. (Pity they don’t offer a deal on both. We prefer hardcover books, but you can take a Kindle or iPad into the shop without worrying about getting cutting fluid on an irreplaceable heirloom). For what it’s worth, we just ordered the hardcover.

While this book rates the full price (to us at least), Gun Digest publishing does find itself overstocked from time to time, and if you’re into gun books and willing to let price be your guide, they have Under $30 and Under $15 pages, too. Free shipping if you can run the tab to $50 — we bet you can. (Dunno what the shipping is to those of you dwelling in foreign lands).

Brace for Auction!

Rock Island is up this weekend with Online Auction #2013, one day only 23 March 17. And more auctions will be following, from all the major gun-auction houses. We’ll just cover the most immediate ones here.

RIA Online #2013:  23 Mar 17

There are 683 lots currently in the auction, 243 of them containing C&R firearms and 68 antiques. Most of the offerings are common firearms with moderate collector interest, and they are expected to draw relatively reasonable prices. There are many Smith & Wesson revolvers.

There are also some oddities, like Lot 84, this “Getsem” brand trap gun. Not a recommended home security solution in 2017, and don’t even think about using it to take wildlife — the game wardens will sling you so far back in county jail the turnkeys will have to feed you with a slingshot.

Remember the mystery revolver one of our readers had, which was identified by our commenters as a Bacon revolver? Here’s Lot #165, a Bacon in considerably nicer condition.

You might want something newer, or longer (plenty of long guns), or more Teutonic (a few Lugers and Walthers)… or…. just plain weird, like Lot 479: a percussion cane gun with two Japanese-style el cheapo swords.

If you want to participate in this online-only auction, Thursday is the day, starting at 0900 Central Time. If you’re inclined to participate, we recommend that you mess around on the website, learn what the total costs will be, set your limit early, and then bid and forget it until you hear if you won.

And, here are brief blurbs on some of the other upcoming auctions, the nearest (temporally) first:

Amoskeag Auction Nº 113 : 25-26 Mar 17

These two auctions are coming right up, too. We’ve already featured some of the highlights of this auction. Bids for the Silent Auction can be received as late as Sunday 26 March. If you plan to participate, register now. Silent Auction catalog (.pdf). Live Auction catalog (.html).

James Julia “Spectacular” Auction: 11-12 Apr 17

RIA Premier Auction #70: 5-7 May 17

Unlike the utilitarian and fundamental collector pieces in the Online auction this weekend, RIA’s Premier Auctions are where the fancy stuff is, like Elvis Presley’s revolvers.

The full catalog isn’t up yet.

There are more auctions coming up… but these will have to hold you for the moment.

 

 

For the Man who has Everything: 60MM mortar M224

When you see a 60mm mortar for sale, it’s usually the old vintage M2 or M19 that was the United States infantry’s go-to enemy grunt-whomper for decades, from the 1920s through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and various smaller wars.

Rare picture! A TF Smith mortar crew in action 11 Jul 50. Half of the mortars in B Co had just been condemned by ordnance inspectors in Japan. They fought with them anyway [Signal Corps Photo #FEC-50-4100]

Mortars rule the battlefield; they are short-range, high-angle artillery in the hands of infantry commanders and their THOONK is one of the most reassuring, or terrifying, things you can hear on the battlefield. They are prodigious casualty-producers in the defense, but can also be (and are) carried on the offense or even on patrol. They can be fired in direct or indirect mode. “Direct” doesn’t mean straight at the target, like a rifle, given a mortar’s high trajectory. It means the gunner can see and aim at the target. In “indirect” fire the gunner is firing from behind terrain, and does not have line of sight on the target — he aims at a stake in the ground and adjusts from that position using corrections fed to him by the fire direction controller, who uses a whiz wheel or calculator that’s built of pure trigonometry. (You can do FDC doing the trig “by hand” but man, does it ever slow things down).

Mortars are generally smooth-bored and so their projectiles are generally fin-stabilized. Do not mistake this for “inaccurate”; an experienced mortar crew is capable of first-round direct fire hits anywhere in range.

There is nothing wrong with an M2 or M19. These licensed-built versions of the French Brandt-Stokes mortar differ only in that the early one has a trigger (which is good for aimed direct fire), and the later a fixed firing pin (better suited to fire for effect). They use the same ammo and the same firing tables, are simple as a hammer (although indirect fire with forward observers not in the gun-target line, and fire direction control for mortar batteries, can get complicated), and persisted for decades because they were hard to beat at their job.

But it is rare to see an M224, the widowmaker, life-taker and morale-breaker that replaced the M2/M19, on the civilian market. Here’s one:

When the USA replaced its 1950s vintage 81mm mortar with a new and better one, it seemed logical to apply that same technology to the 1920s-tech light mortar, which produced the M224, a mortar that is as easily patrolled with as the old 60 but which has the firepower, range and terminal effect of the old 81. The fixed-pin-or-trigger debate was solved by providing both and making the feature operator-selectable, so you can squeeze off single rounds in direct fire or to meet an exact  Time On Target, or you can have your well-trained crew deliver a steel rain of shells on your foes. In trigger mode, that hinged bar inside the carrying handle is your trigger… and no, Wolff does not make a spring for reduced trigger pull. Sorry ’bout that.

Even the Marines like this mortar, although they have grumbled about the lack of a thermonuclear round, and absence of a bayonet lug. (Maybe they can get HK to copy it and add the lug. Not sure if turning Oberndorf loose on nuclear physics is a good idea).

The 224s very seldom come up for sale in the civilian Destructive Device market. With the price being asked for this, it’s more likely to go to a well-heeled collector than a casual shooter. It’s a nearly complete mortar with the sight, bipod, T&E, and tube, but it doesn’t seem to have the smaller “patrol” baseplate, just the big one that changes it from an instantly-firing one-man carry to a 30-seconds-to-TOT two-man carry.

Whether those thirty seconds are a long time or not, depends entirely on whether someone is shooting at you (and who). Incoming aimed fire does weird things to time.

The seller, who’s in Oklahoma (relax, New Yorkers and San Franciscans, you’re out of mortar range), says:

This is a live 60mm M224 mortar and this a registered destructive device and will need to be transferred to an NFA dealer. Very nice overall shape and highly unusual to see this trigger fired mortar available for sale.

Ammo is also restricted by the National Firearms Act — if it’s explosive rounds. Training/practice and homegrown non-warhead rounds are fine. You can also roll your own, as the current owner says he does.

It functions well and can be shot with practice rounds or I have been using aluminum beer bottles full of plaster with 12 gauge blanks for engines.

via 60MM mortar M224 : Destructive Devices at GunBroker.com.

And then there’s the other target market — the ones who want to be ready when THEY come.

Because, really, who doesn’t want to be ready when THEY come? THOONK!

This Fokker Needs Your Help

There are not many Fokker Dr.I Triplanes left in the world.

How few are they? Well, actually, there are zero survivors of the thousands made. There are, however, replicas of varying quality, some of them, like this one, built from original plans and therefore quite good.

But it has a problem. Maintenance has been deferred for several years while museum management kept the once-flying bird inside on static display, and now that a new generation of managers want it back in the air, it needs a ton of work.

Which needs a ton of money ($90k). And with barely over a week to go, the plane’s owner, the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum at the Rockland County Airport in Maine is tens of thousands short of their goal on Kickstarter…


Moreover, this is the kind of Kickstarter campaign that is funded all-or-nothing — if the Kickstarter clock runs down and the Fokker isn’t Fokking funded, then  the curators get zero for the project (and those who put up money get it back).

Here’s some of what they say about their fund-raiser.

We’re in the middle of the centennial of World War I, and the Owls Head Transportation Museum is embarking on a mission to return the Red Baron to the skies with its full-scale, flying 1917 Fokker Dr.I reproduction. This aircraft is one of the most iconic aircraft in history, and none are better known than those flown by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. Even 100 years after his death, people of all ages still recognize his name and can conjure the enduring images it provokes.

Since the doors opened in 1976, the Owls Head Transportation Museum has been a bastion of transportation technology in its truest form. As an operational museum, virtually every vehicle in the museum’s collection runs, flies, or drives. As one of our original pieces, the Dr.I was built in the 1970s by founding Trustee Kenneth Cianchette and has been seen flying over the skies of Owls Head, thrilling and teaching audiences for decades. That is, until recently.

In 2014, it was discovered that the Dr.I was in need of considerable repair and maintenance. From new fabric to cover the wooden wings and body, to repairs to the intricate and delicate wooden structures, and a complete engine overhaul, this airplane requires total restoration. Because there are no original examples in existence—and artifacts are few and far between—getting this aircraft running and back in the sky is especially important. This flying example is one of only a few in the world, and it is the duty of Owls Head to preserve its historical significance by returning it to airworthiness.

In telling the story of the infamous flying ace, the Owls Head Transportation Museum brings visitors face-to-face with the technologies that fueled the early 20th Century and teaches younger generations about why those technologies are still significant today. Once completed, our Dr.I will enlighten, entertain, and educate our visitors through first-hand interaction with the plane. Please help us return this piece of history to the skies as we honor the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.

What is it worth to you to see the Red Baron back in the skies of the Western Front mid-coastal Maine? Perhaps nothing, if you live far away. That’s OK; as always, when we plug some charity here, we have donated or intend to, even though we don’t always get out there to see it.

(We used to fly into this airport a lot, and so we had a membership at the museum. But that was over ten years ago).

Your Ghost Gunner Results: Good, Bad or Mixed?

The WeaponsMan Ghost Gunner, early in its testing, hogs one of the gunsmithing benches with a Mac and a PC (we were checking that a connection problem was not emulation-related. It wasn’t, it was a driver issue).

John Crump has an interview with Cody Wilson at AmmoLand.com. It brings us up to date, but if you’ve been following Wilson and Defense Distributed it doesn’t really break any new ground. But what interested us was the colloquy on the Ghost Gunner. In the interview, John said this about the CNC mill, a device we know and have used a little.

John Crump: Why did Defense Distributed decide to make the CNC machine, The Ghost Gunner (GG)?

Cody Wilson: We needed to make a product we could sell to raise the money to sue the State Department over Liberator. I’m being totally serious. GG came from ideas given to us through the course of Wiki Weapon and the success of DEFCAD. People often suggested we should make a CNC and stop being silly with the printables.

John Crump: The Ghost Gunner 2 is truly revolutionary. Why do you think the NSSF decided not to give membership to Defense Distributed which basically banned DD from shot show?

Come and Take It: by Cody Wilson
Come and Take It: by Cody Wilson

Cody Wilson: Honestly I think it’s the simple trouble of the association. We are suing the DDTC, a bureau in the State Department that enforces export controls and is a group the NSSF has to make very nice with so they can pretend to continue to influence policy directions. Nevermind that they have humiliated themselves with DDTC’s most recent guidance on gunsmithing, not to mention the outright disaster that the last six year of “export control reform” have been. Great work NSSF!

Cody Wilson is probably right about why NSSF wants to keep him at arm’s length: he has no interest in playing nice with others; his Spirit Diplomat is Gavrilo Princip.

But John Crump’s positive description of the GG produced this response in the comments to the article:

I bought and received a GG machine in March 2016. I read all the instructions several times and sent several emails with questions and then began to mill out a lower AR.

The machine milled it out well until about 5 minutes into the job and then the bit became stuck in the aluminum block and the milling program shut down after the bit broke free.

I contacted GG in Texas and I told them I do not understand why the machine did whet it did nor did I know how to correct the problem as I am {{{ NOT }}} a mechanical engineer nor am I a computer programmer . I told them I only have a 10th grade education and asked if the machine was idiot proof, they said it was….. I felt safe!

In Feb of this year, GG sent me a email telling me I had to order a new second generation spindle as the old part did not work very well (as I learned). It is now one year after I first received my GG machine. I still have 9 unmilled lowers and one damaged unfinished lower and a GG machine that is locked up and won’t work. Basically I have given up on it all!

A year has passed and I have not yet milled out my first lower AR15 lower! ……….. PERFECT!

We have to say that our experience with the GG was different than what Ben describes, too, but it was not without glitches. We have successfully milled out lowers with both the Windows and Mac versions of the software. We had some difficulty with setup, early on, and Defense Distributed’s Ben Denio was extremely helpful in getting things sorted out and in production.

We’ve also had one head-crash, trying to cheat a little and use a lower without a 100% milled out takedown pin pocket. In our case, the head crash did no permanent damage, but did cause an overload indicator to light up and we had to reset the whole machine (instructions are included in the manual, but they’re hardly crystal clear).

The manual is difficult to follow and we suspect that it would truly be a nightmare for a less computer-savvy person.

One final problem that we’ve had is that we get fine lines between each depth of the trigger pocket cut. We believe that that is due solely to our GG being on a wheeled cart, and moreover, set on a thin rubber mat on top. The axes of the machine move with considerable vigor, and it is not heavy enough to hold itself down. We suspect that these lines will resolve, giving us an appropriate surface finish, if we lock the GG down better.

File Photo of a GG.

The GG community, such as it is, really feels the lack of the forum originally envisioned for open-source solutions sharing. It didn’t happen, not by any fault of Cody’s, Ben’s, or anybody’s at Defense Distributed, but because the State Department took it in its Deep State head to ban anyone talking about making guns. (Rifle-caliber small arms need to come off ITAR, but that’s a whole other issue).

We seem to recall that several WeaponsMan readers have also bought a GhostGunner, and also have had mixed, but mostly positive, results with them. Perhaps we can share some solutions here, and troubleshoot the woes of Ben Miles and anyone else experiencing technical problems.

Future Firearms Prototyping Enabled by 3D Printing

We’ve been on to the 3D Printing thing for years now. In fact, we have mentioned it in a staggering 165 posts, going back five years. In a post on 8 March 2012, we wrote:

Several new manufacturing technologies are creating an “Army of Davids” effect on arms manufacture. These are partly driven by computing technology and Moore’s Law, which makes uneconomical manual process suddenly automated — computer controlled machining and manufacturing, and partly driven by materials and manufacturing technology advances, like high-strength composites and 3D printing.

These technologies have the potential for great societal and economic benefit, but at the cost of making governments lose control of arms and ammunition manufacture. As we’ve seen with drugs, failure of a prohibition policy seems to lead to wider and more annoying (to the non-criminal majority) prohibitions.

In addition, traditional manufacturing technology including casting and machining have become more available to the general public recently, due to increased performance, smaller size, and vastly lowered cost of the tools required.

The half-decade since has seen an increase in all these trends. For 3D printers, most of whom are restricted to low-strength plastics like ABS (styrene) and PLA, and the edge cases are 3D printing nylon with fiber reinforcement, being able to print metal has been the Holy Grail, a seemingly unattainable, but highly desirable, object. Our own blog has contained the words “3D” “print” and “metal” in 52 posts in that same period, almost a third of all 3DP references.

So where are we today, in the first quarter of 2017? We can report that the technology to print 3D metal directly and indirectly is still industrial-priced, but it remains the subject of much effort, and the industrial price is a fraction of what it was five years ago. In particular, we’ll look at three ways to print and produce metal parts — one we mentioned before which didn’t pan out, and two new ones, one which has been commercialized and one which is freshly invented.

Sinterhard Filament: Failed Kickstarter.

You can’t win them all, but this was a big disappointment. The idea was simple: new filaments would contain a plastic binding agent as a substrate, and carry a payload of powder metal. The plastic could then be burned out and the net-shape powder metal part sintered to solidity in an industrial oven, Unfortunately, the project appears to have failed.

The sintering part of the process was never in doubt; it’s been used for automotive and firearms parts for a very long time. But if you can’t feed the material to print the parts, you have to fall back on the sort of mold technology that sintering has long relied upon.

But there were technical problems. For example, loading enough metal into the plastic for the sintering to work had a tendency to make the plastic too brittle to be rolled onto a feeder spool. There were also issues with nozzle wear.

The technical problems may have been overcome. It was other business problems, including the anti-business stance of the local community (Sinterhard came from Massachusetts) that appear to have knocked Sinterhard off any probability of early success.

The principals do continue research, they say, but it’s hard to imagine this project succeeding.

MarkForged Metal X

We’ve been as remiss in writing about last year’s Mark X as we’ve been in using our original Mark One or upgrading it to the Mark Two. But if the nylon with fiber reinforcement (Kevlar, carbon fiber, fiberglass) of the earlier Marks was something, this year’s Mark X is the defense and aerospace prototyper’s dream machine (<2 min video):

It’s an industrial machine that has industrial costs (budget $100k) and requirements (480v three-phase power; a floor that will support a 2500 lb. machine). But it does produce metal parts… by a sintering process remarkably similar to what Sinterhard tried, and failed, to achieve. The MarkForged process, though, appears to be entirely encased in the machine — not requiring the separate 3D printing and part sintering workflows that Sinterhard envisioned.

The materials currently available and shipping are stainless steel 17-4 and 303; materials in beta test include 6061 and 7075 aluminum, titanium 6-4, and tool steels A2, D2 and M2, and for all you turbine and rocket designers out there, Inconel 625. (Make the GyroJet great again!)

MarkForged calls their process ADAM — Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing.

Speed time from design to strong metal parts with this accessible and compact process. ADAM prints your part using a bound metal powder rod that transforms into a dense metal part in one easy step. Bulk sintering provides crystal growth through all axes giving your parts excellent mechanical properties in all directions.

ADAM also enables the creation of unique geometries such as closed-cell honeycomb infill. Parts can be printed like the structure of bones – a closed cell inner core encased in a solid outer shell. This geometry is not possible using traditional subtractive manufacturing processes or DMLS.

The brake handle above illustrates (top complete, bottom cutaway) this type of construction which is, as they say, not possible to make using milling or powder-based Laser Sintering processes.

Comprehensive information on the MarkForged website.

Vader Systems MagnetoJet Technology

Vader Systems is not named after the fictional character, but after the principals of the company, inventor Zachary Vader and his father Scott Vader. They have invented an entirely novel 3D metal process that is best suited (at present) for aluminum alloys and others that liquefy in a similar temperature range. A magnetic field is used to deposit droplets of the molten metal, where it bonds to the adjacent droplets to make a solid part.

Here’s the how it works:

And here’s an overview of the advantages of this system, with Zach and Scott explaining the particular advantages of their system over other metal additive technologies.

It can be fast: this video shows the manufacture of a small cylinder in real time (with, later, an inset of the droplet production shot with a high-speed camera). The part is only near net shape, but it’s sufficiently solid to be brought to final net shape with traditional subtractive methods. Of course, just as the resolution of inkjet 2-D printers improved rapidly, the same process is likely to take place with metal 3-D printing, bringing the manufactured part closer to the golden ideal of print-to-true-net-shape.

Vader is finalizing the design of a printer which is planned to ship in 2018  — it will not be consumer priced, though (probably $250,000), and is a forerunner for future systems that would use a gang or array of nozzles to produce much higher metal throughput.

Aurora Labs S-Titanium Pro

It’s only fair to mention that Australia’s Aurora Labs claims to be shipping their S-Titanium Pro, a multimode printer that sells for $50k (FOB Down Under, net of GST), runs on open-source software, and can reportedly use a wide range of powdered metals. The company website is a bit confusing but a .pdf brochure is somewhat clearer as to what Aurora offers.

Your Class III Wishbook for the May Rock Island Premiere Auction

You want one. Admit it. With the slipping of the Hughes Amendment into law on a questionable voice vote in 1986 — no Congressman, apart from Hughes (D-NJ), put his name to it — all of the explosion in Class III weapons quantities on the registry has been in short-barreled weapons and suppressors. With quantities of machine guns frozen in perpetuity, values have exploded. That means that for most of us, these gorgeous pictures are as close as we will get to some of  these wonderful collector pieces.

Fortunately, Rock Island photographs them so well that we can truly enjoy the pictures. These photos are part of a much larger set they’re using to tease Premier Auction #70 in two months (5-7 May, 2017). We’ll just show you some of the machine gunny stuff.

To start with, here’s the model of Johnson we have not got. Yet.

Fun fact about the Johnson LMG: the receiver’s pretty much exactly the same as the less rare rifle. While the rifles were famously used by the Marine Raiders and Paramarines in the early years of World War II, the LMGs were used mostly by the First Special Service Force and to a lesser extent by the OSS, which was a catch-all for oddball weapons that the major services didn’t want. The magazine is a very unusual, long, single-stack curved mag. It works okay, but the LMG is strangely unbalanced laterally, i.e. around the longitudinal axis. It wants to bank left on you, although we’re told with experience you can learn to judge when it’s about time to change the mag by the decreasing left wing-heaviness.

Possibly the ugliest LMG ever was the Danish Madsen. It was very reliable, and was pressed into second-line service by the Third Reich. One of those is in the sale, and will sell for far less than this, possibly the most atrractive LMG ever (well, rifle/LMG/all-purpose bullet propulsion device), the German Fallschirmjägergewehr 42. Two variations of FG-42s were made; this is the first second (thanks to Max Popenker and John McGill in comments, and Josey Wales by email). It was packed with innovations, and American postwar ordnance officers were obsessed with it and copied many of its features into the M60 general purpose machine gun — including its operating rod and bolt design, which itself was copied from the Lewis gun, haughtily rejected 40 years earlier by the ordnance officers’ predecessors.

This will be bid to a very high number, assuming that it is a transferable firearm.  Many of us may have less equity in our homes than the price this will go to. Still, we can dream, no?

And if you already have your Johnson and FG-42? Bet you haven’t got one of these:

Paparazzi would definitely change their plans for taking drone pictures of your sunbathing daughter if you gave her this for her Sweet 16 party. 20mm Oerlikon.

(For those who may be diffident about a poolside 20mm AA mount, they also have a .50, or dual .30s).

By the way, all these pictures do embiggen with a click.

More pictures and captions after the jump. And all these fine firearms are for sale in the May Premiere Auction, the catalog for which has not been posted (nor the paper shipped to subscribers). We will surely tell you when that day comes.

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