Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Cool Retro FALpower: Croc’s Retro Aussie L1

First, let’s apologize to all you Diggers who can’t own one of these. We can’t help you at this time — like us, you get the government you vote in, not the one you deserve. Sorry, mates.

Let’s have a look at the firearm in question:

Crocs L1A1

Oooh, pretty, eh? It’s an Australian L1A1 clone, made on a new-old-stock receiver by Croc’s Gun Shop. The L1A1 was the rifle our Australian allies carried in Vietnam, when rotating units from the Royal Australian Regiment operated in coastal southern South Vietnam. (For more information on Australia’s contribution to the Free World effort in Vietnam, see this official commemorative site).

Our passion is Aussie Guns and the L1A1 SLR has been a favorite our ours since the 60’s when Croc first learnt to field strip the L1A1 SLR after school.

This L1A1 SLR is Series 2 #1 of 3 that we will be releasing for Sale.

Crocs L1A1 left

The Flash Hider choices will be the Original Long style as fielded on all Aussie rifles or the more advanced F1 Flash Hider issued to the Papuan Military.

The Standard Long Flash Hider gives the traditional look to the rifle and increases the length marginally.

The F1 Flash Hider which has the short gas slots was originally developed for the Papuan Military due to the smaller stature of the indigenous people. Lithgow engineers found that this shorter Flash Hider altered the barrel harmonics of the L1A1 SLR in a positive way by reducing the muzzle jump so annoyingly common with many 7.62mm NATO powered rifles.

There are choices of barrel type, metal finish (Parkerizing or accurate Stoving Paint over park), and wood finish.

Crocs L1A1 with unfinished wood furniture.

Crocs L1A1 with unfinished wood furniture.

It comes with some correct period accessories.

Crocs L1A1 w acc

That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news: $3,725.

It’s an FAL for the love of Mike, a mass-produced service rifle; it’s not made of gold bullion.

If you’re looking for an earlier bit of Lithgow history, Croc’s can hook you up there, too, with this unusual postwar SMLE No. 1 Mark III* rifle.

Lithgow Enfield action

Here is a very rare and beautiful Aussie Lithgow .303 cal Rifle.
It is one of the few NEW rifles that Lithgow built after WWII and just prior to the change from the .303 to the newer Self Loading Rifle. These beautiful rifles were made out of new parts from war surplus and then sold off rather than being scrapped as the Small Arms Factory changed production to the SLR.
The Rifle appears to have never been fired although the bolt head has a primer ring that has been almost machined away. This leads us to believe that SAF was using a used bolt head to get the correct headspace as it was common practice to re-use good serviceable parts. This is why we say that the rifle is unfired although it will have had a test fire at the factory.

Lithgow Enfield

The metal is in pristine condition for its age and the wood still shows its factory sanding marks. The wood has had a boiled linseed oil finish applied to protect the color and to show the grain.
These rifles were imported into the USA by J. Jovin Co. in New York.

And this one? It’s perfectly OK for an Australian subject to own it. Until down-under pols change their minds, at least.

Coming at SHOT: New StG.44 Clones

One of the most interesting and influential weapons of the 20th Century was the original “assault rifle,” a name coined by no less a personage than Adolf Hitler (which might explain the term’s popularity with some of today’s wannabe totalitarians). The gun was also known as a Machine Carbine (MKb) and Machine Pistol (MP) at various times, but the definitive, or at least, final, version was the StG, Sturmgewehr, 44. The Assault Rifle of 44 was one of many late-war German weapons that proved conclusively that even technically revolutionary equipment can’t turn the tide of a losing war. (Fortunately, in this case).

Digital rendering of the HMG clone in 7.92.

Digital rendering of the forthcoming HMG clone showing the 7.92 profile mag.

What it could do was make an indelible mark on firearms history. Every subsequent service rifle design has more or less StG44 DNA in it. The AR-10 and its successors copied the concept of a select-fire rifle and copied many small details — dust cover, extractor, magazine catch — very closely. The Russian Avtomat prototypes that led to the durable AK-47 borrowed the concept more than the details from the StG44 (which itself borrowed from previous Simonov and Tokarev rifles). The first FN-FAL prototype was even chambered for the StG’s 7.92 x 33 mm cartridge.

Previous Clone Attempts

It was the first mass-produced and widely issued service shoulder weapon that fired an intermediate cartridge using a locked breech and a select-fire fire control system. Couple that to its Nazi heritage — everything Nazi seems to be collectible — and the mere handful that were ever registered under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and it’s a natural for copying. You’d think someone would have built a semi-automatic Title I firearm version at some time over the years.


The only give-away that this is a .22 at this distance are the ATI and “Schmeisser” markings in white. Also, the rear sight and mag are plastic. Per this thread at

Several attempts to clone the complicated firearm over the years have all come a cropper, although a .22 LR imitation first shipped in 2012 is still available from American Tactical Imports.  (ATI also makes a .22LR MP40). Prior to that there was at least one reverse-engineered 7.92 x 33 version produced in Germany, by Sport-Systeme Dittrich (SSD) and HZA-Kulmbach (SSD’s marketing arm), and some of the SSD guns — very few, 200, of which at least 2 have been parted out to try to make others work — were imported to the USA by PTR as the PTR-44. Attempts to import them subsequently have come to naught, and the HZA firm appears to have been liquidated some years ago.

These reverse-engineered German guns have had a bad reputation, due to inconsistent functioning (some work, some don’t) and high prices. (SSD’s last price list in 2011 quoted about €2800 for the bare gun; Doug Johnson of Alaska reported on that he paid some $4300 for his PTR import, seen below, in 2009). But they retain considerable collector interest given their close visual replication of the original (the PTR/SSD gun even includes reproduced Waffenamts, per Johnson), and the rarity, cost and regulatory burden of the few transferable original firearms.


Doug Johnson’s PTR-44.

Even the people who had a chance during that brief PTR window to acquire a StG/MP44 clone didn’t always jump at it, because of the rarity and cost of ammunition and magazines (original magazines are expensive items, cost driven high by Nazi collectors; repro magazines have quality issues, as few if any of the reproducers have the means to function test them). That, then, is the current state of the market: there is pent-up demand among collectors for a Title 1 firearm centerfire reproduction, and that demand is bifurcated between collector snobs (uh, like us) that want a 7.92 x 33 mm clone and economy-minded shooters

As everyone who has tried (and failed) to bring a centerfire repro to market sustainably knows, this demand curve shows considerable price effect. Currently, the tiny supply of satisfactory firearms, combined with high demand, has driven prices to a level where only the least-price-sensitive buyers are still playing. An increase in supply will probably soften prices, but that remains to be seen.

The New Clone from Hill & Mac Gunworks (HMG)

Enters a new vendor with a new clone, to be formally introduced at the SHOT Show. For now, it’s  available for pre-order at a reasonable $1800 at HMG’s website. The pre-order period ends on 19 January 2016 when the show begins. HMG’s intent is to ship beginning in April, 2016; it may be longer than that, as not everything is under their direct control.

But the HMG clone is not, really, a clone. You can call it an update, an interpretation,  “stand-off scale,” or a cosmetic imitation, but it’s not a clone. Its engineering departs from the original in several place.

This lets HMG lower prices, and lets them do something that fence-sitting buyers have long asked for: offer the StG in calibers other than the historical footnote 7.92. It probably also reduces the arm’s appeal to one market where the older German clones have been in great demand, WWII reenactors, who like all reenactors have quirky and firm ideas about authenticity that would bemuse the original troops they’re obsessively portraying. Fortunately for HMG, reenactors are a tiny market.

The offered calibers include 5.56, .300 BLK, 7.62 x 39, and 7.92 x 33, mostly using STANAG (i.e. M16) magazines.


STG-N rendering with STANAG magazine.

The best way to understand both what an StG is like under the hood, and to see where HMG’s Mac Steil departed from the original in his redesign of the StG, is view the two videos on this page at Forgotten Weapons. (We’d embed the videos, but you really need to watch both, and embedding two videos, a half-hour long each, that make up the bulk of the page is making a bit too free with FW’s content for us). Also, Ian and Karl promise a Part 3 video showing the variations HMG plans to introduce, and you don’t want to miss that when they post it, do you? (It will probably show up at first). It’s important to watch the videos in order as the second assumes you have the in-depth StG/MP knowledge of the first — and it’s cool having that knowledge anyway.

The essential changes were intended to make the gun more reliable and durable than the original, and more practical for modern manufacturing and shooting. “A rivet-for-rivet, cut-for-cut, reproduction of the original…” Mac tells Ian and Karl, rolling his eyes, “would end up costing…five thousand, four thousand dollars.” And that’s cost, not what he’d have to sell it for to keep the lights on and buy baby new shoes. The market, as anyone who didn’t sleep through Econ 101 should recall, expands as the price drops, and shrinks as it rises.

There are definite benefits to an updated approach. Manufacturing technology hasn’t been sleeping since 1945. A small shop like HMG can make short runs of parts more effectively by extruding to near-net profile and then finish machining than by the 1940s process, forging. And HMG’s materials are more tightly controlled, with critical machined parts (bolt, carrier, trunnion, extractor, etc.) made of 8620 and 9310 steels.

But there were design as well as material departures. The StG/MP44 bolt carrier was substantially altered from the simpler, shorter one used in the earlier MKB 42 (H), and HMG’s STG-N reverts to the earlier version. This moves the recoil spring from one lobe of the bolt carrier to the other lobe, eliminating potential interference with the hammer that required the original MP43 designers to extend the bolt carrier to the rear. HMG also replaces the originals pinned and riveted gas piston with one that threads into place, a la MKb 42 (H) — that makes it field-replaceable and interchangeable, and also enables the manufacture of a pistol version with a spring relocated forward.

HMG pistol clone

HMG pistol conversion of the Sturmgewehr, available for pre-order at the same price and in the same calibers as the rifle version.

The original MP/StG 44 trigger pack is quite complicated, and HMG substitutes — internally — the simpler, modular and widely-available H&K trigger group, contained in an exterior housing that is dimensionally identical to the original (to the point where original housings will snap into place on the HMG, but will not function). Any H&K compatible semi trigger group will work, but a registered auto-sear group will not.

The biggest single change, though, is the abandonment of the original magazine and magazine well, for custom HMG mags that externally resemble the originals but in the part that fits in the mag well comport to the standard NATO 5.56 magazine shape. This means that if you acquire a 5.56 or .300 Blackout firearm, existing STANAG magazines should work just fine. The HMG 7.62 x 39 and 7.92 x 33 mags will differ internally from STANAG in order to feed these cartridges.

The next biggest change is the availability of conversion kits to allow caliber changes. This is enabled by changing from the rough and ready headspacing approach of the original, optimized for wartime assembly of parts of dubious adherence to the drawings, coming in from small contractors and cottage industry, to a modern castle nut. This is not a three-times-a-day QD or field conversion kit; it requires the castle nut to be torqued to a specific value to properly headspace the barrel. In addition to barrel and magazine, the bolt must be changed if the case head diameter changes, but not between calibers that have the same case head dimensions.

The effect of these changes, of course, is to increase the STG-N’s appeal to shooters, as well as to enable economical manufacturing of the firearm.

GunLab was involved in the development of this reproduction, as we recounted here a while ago. In that post, and in the GunLab post linked in it, Chuck is sorting out the reverse engineering and machining of an MP/StG trunnion, a complex and critical part.

If you pre-order an HMG STG-N, your payment will be collected on order, so you’re assuming some risk, namely, that HMG will not become another set of bleached bones in the firearms manufacturing and importing Death Valley that marks the passage of earlier cloners.

The potential upside, if you’re willing to take that risk and wait patiently for shipment, is that you’re one of the first to get what’s going to be one of the splash guns of SHOT 2016.

Finally, do watch the Forgotten Weapons videos, and in order. One of the best payoffs in the whole thing isn’t even one of the many technical points about StGs old and new; it’s Ian’s insight about Digital Rights Management in other industries compared to the modularity and customization trend in ours.


This post has been corrected. Mac’s last name was incorrect at first. We regret the error. Note that Part 3 of Ian’s and Karl’s video with Mac is now on the net on youtube. (See Ian’s comment below for the link. Do I have to do everything around here? -Ed.)

Rock Island Auction Ho! Here are a few of our Favorite Lots

The RIA Premiere Auction kicks off soon, at 0900 Central Time today. RIA’s online auctions are where we occasionally find a good deal. The Premiere Auctions are where really awesome stuff shows up — stuff that, despite what seem to be reasonable auction estimates, we almost certainly can’t afford.

But we can dream, hey?

First up, two rare US martial target-shooting rifles: A Springfield ’03 National Match….

Springfield 1903 NM RIAOf which Rock Island says:

Springfield NM shipping documentAccording to the included pair of shipping tickets, this rifle was sold from the inventory of Springfield Armory in 1936 by the authority of the Department of Civilian Marksmanship. The rifle is noted by serial number, along with the description “U.S. Rifle, Cal. .30, 1903A1,/National Match, 1936, with Target/and Star Gauge Record Card” (NOTE: target and record card not included). Blade front and folding ladder rear sight with a star gauge stamp on the muzzle, protective hood on the front sight and “SA/(bomb)/3-36” on top of the barrel. The “F” and “NS” marked nickel steel bolt has been hand-numbered on top to match the receiver. Fitted with a smooth pistol grip stock, stamped “P” on the wrist and “S.A./S.P.G.” on the left side with a deeply checkered buttplate and a brown leather sling marked “H&P.1918/WEH”.
Condition: Excellent, with 90% plus of the correct mixed blue and parkerized finish showing some areas of brown patina and mild wear overall. The bolt body has been polished. Stock is also excellent with a few light dings and scratches. Mild scuffing and verdigris is present on the sling. Mechanically excellent.

… and an M1 National Match on, as usual, a Springfield receiver. Complete with provenance and documentation, this late NM (1963) may have been made even as the M14 project was winding down. It looks like it may have been a 1988 DCM sale, but we honestly just skimmed the two documents that are posted (partially redacted) on the Rock Island site.

M1 Springfield NM - RIA




Naturally the images embiggen with a click, and there are more images on the site.

Both guns are in startling condition for a guy with a safe full of rack grade rifles. The 1903 is particularly gorgeous — a collector would be hard pressed to upgrade this fine collector rifle.

As usual, the estimates ($2,500 – $3,750 for the ’03 and $2,250-3,500 for the M1) are on crack. The guns will sell higher, unless everybody has spent everything on ARs this week.

The US Martial Long Arms category includes only cartridge long arms but it has some real winners — a rod bayonet ’03, a remanufactured Infrared Sniperscope M1 Carbine, a Remington 720 that was bestowed as a Navy/Marine shooting trophy and comes with the presentation information, including the name of the Marine NCO who won it. There are sniper rifles (including a bogus one) and rare prototypes and trials rifles.

Maybe it’s not US cartridge military rifles you collect. Mausers? Winchesters? Colt pistols? Class III? Maybe Rock Island’s list of Categories can help you find something to spend the rent money on:

Search our catalog Now! Click here.
Or view our auction categories.  Simply click to view!

If there’s nothing there you want, check the URL you’re reading this at, and then take your pulse. You’re either in the wrong blog… or you’re dead.


OK, one more that’s right in the left and right limits of this blog: a Colt .32 Hammerless Pocket Automatic. One of 543 from a particular shipment in 1944. It’s not just a really nice condition, Colt, it’s also documented to that particular shipment…

OSS Colt

…to the property officer of the OSS in the Fowler Building, Rosslyn, Virginia. You know you want it.

Let’s Build AKs

Here are two great photo tutorials on AK building.

The first walks you through building a receiver from a flat. (It’s an RPK receover in the example, but trust us, that’s the exact same thing in terms of how it goes together).

building an rpk receiver

The second describes how to press the barrel into place and check headspace.

How to build an AK part 2: barrel population

Part 3 is promised a some future date (there were months between Parts 1 and 2, and Part 2 just was published this week). Part 3 will cover riveting, an essential part of assembling an AK; there is riveting (& welding) in Part 1 but not the essentially riveting of trunnions into the receiver.

These posts come from the AK builders at Spivey Arms in Texas, another one of those awesome small shop manufacturers that are building a customer base one gun at a time.

Where RPDs are Reborn as Semis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

ruger savage 99 prototype left

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

ruger savage 99 prototype right

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

ruger savage 99 prototype charging handle

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

ruger savage 99 prototype top view

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

You might have heard of Bill… Bill Ruger.

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

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

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

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

Perp Locked Up, Guns Remain At Large, in the Case of the Filched Firearms

500px-US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgBecause the newspaper reporter missed it, we have to drag it out of her story for you. The Worcester, MA, Telegram: 

James Walter Morales of Cambridge was arrested without incident Wednesday night in New York by the FBI and the Nassau County Police Department, authorities said.
According to an affidavit filed in connection with the case, Mr. Morales was at the Army Reserve facility on North Lake Avenue on or about Nov. 12 to obtain copies of his discharge papers.

Want to bet it was bad, or borderline, paper?

A surveillance video from a nearby building depicts Mr. Morales spending about six hours, from 6:43 p.m. until shortly after midnight, going back and forth from his car to the armory with duffel bags. The FBI declined to comment when asked if the six M-4 rifles and 10 Sig Sauer M11 9 mm pistols that were stolen have been recovered. According to the affidavit, the M-4 rifles are capable of firing a single shot, or a three-round burst for each single pull of the trigger.

That’s the indicator that they haven’t recovered the firearms. If they had, they’d be crowing about it. Ever known the FBI to be reticent about a success? We neither. If the Bureau is being reticent, the success didn’t happen.

At the time of the theft, Mr. Morales was wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, according to the affidavit. Investigators said he cut off the device at 8:48 a.m. Monday.

We’re getting a vibe here that he’s not one of nature’s noblemen, and when the postman comes, he’s not bringing the monthly MENSA chapter newsletter.

Authorities said Mr. Morales got into the building by breaking a window of a kitchen located near the drill room. They were able to identify the suspect through a DNA analysis of blood the thief left after he used a power saw and pry tool to cut a hole into the roof to access the gun vault.

FYI, a “drill room” or “drill hall” is a large, gymnasium-like concrete-floor area in an Army Reserve or National Guard building. It normally has a big door so large trucks can be loaded inside, and its wide floor is used as a place to hold formations during monthly training “drills.” Off the drill hall, smaller rooms are used as offices, supply rooms, and armories. The Arms Room is usually accessed through the supply room’s outer door, and is strongly vaulted and equipped with a moderately sophisticated alarm system, which regulations require to be in use at all times.

This drill hall had a de facto waiver for the alarm system during ongoing construction, which someone must have told Morales was the case. Not real bright, that.

Morales was ID’d by DNA. For decades, the military has taken a DNA swab of all personnel. The claim was that it was for battlefield ID, but the real reason was to build the FBI’s DNA database. (The same mechanism used to build a national fingerprint file). As veterans commit fewer crimes than their non-vet cohort, this tool has been limited for crimefighting, but the FBI is also attracted to its potential for population control, as they keep getting greater and greater domestic warrantless surveillance powers.

In this case, though, the DNA swab they took from Morales paid off in a crime solution — or part of one. The guns are still out there.

Investigators were able to obtain Mr. Morales’ phone number from his Facebook page. They located a second phone number for him from the Probation Department at Middlesex Superior Court. Authorities executed a search warrant to track the phone to Mr. Morales, according to the affidavit.

Is that how they got the warrant, or simply the “parallel construction”? As always in cases with Federal agencies tapped into NSA’s universal domestic surveillance, you’ll never know — even if you’re Morales’s defense attorney. (Probably a Designated Diver from the Public Defender’s Office, anyway).

It’s not like Morales is a sterling character. He’s enough of a perv that even Massachusetts has laws against him, although note they kindly enabled this crime wave by dropping his bail:

Mr. Morales was indicted by a Middlesex grand jury on May 19, on charges of aggravated rape of a child, forcible rape of a child, and indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 (two counts). His bail was later reduced from $25,000 to $5,000. A condition of his release was that he wear an electronic monitoring device. A warrant was issued for his arrest on Nov. 16, after the Probation Department notified the Middlesex District Attorney’s office that he was not being monitored by GPS. Mr. Morales was scheduled to appear at a previously-scheduled pretrial hearing on Nov. 17.

Well, that was the day after he cut off his GPS anklet and burglarized the armory, so at least they caught the dead bracelet quickly.

Mr. Morales is expected to make an appearance Friday in U.S. District Court on Long Island and then to be taken to Worcester to face charges in U.S. District Court. He is charged with unlawful possession of a machine gun, unlawful possession of stolen firearms (two counts), and theft of government property.

via Arrest made in theft of weapons from Worcester armory – News – – Worcester, MA.

Note that the criminal-friendly MA prosecutors are already dealing him some wild cards. He stole sixteen firearms, but they’re not piling on with 16 counts. He isn’t even in court yet, and he’s already had 13 felony charges go away.

keep-calm-and-carry-a-fbi-badgeAnd he has something the FBI really wants: knowledge of where the 16 missing Army guns went.


We’ve seen the FBI’s warrant affidavit, and this story tracks it closely. We did note that the FBI agent, Colgan Norman, apparently can’t spell “hangar,”  and it made us wonder if he was one of these FBI agents (YouTube link).

Ceremonial Stoners

Here’s a picture of some men with some rifles. Want to ID the men? And the rifles? We’ll give you a hint: the rifles are Stoners, as in, one of the guns Eugene Stoner designed and/of progeny thereof. The men probably are not stoners.


The picture definitely embiggens enough for you to ID the rifles (although not quite enough to read the rollmarks). Answers after the jump.

Continue reading

Randy Shughart Memorial M14

From the M14 Forum comes this story of one man’s attempt to replicate the firearm of the man who inspired him to serve — US Army special operations soldier Randy Shughart, MOH. Shughart and his team leader Gary Gordon committed themselves to defend a helicopter crash site in Mogadishu in October, 1993, in the certain knowledge that those at the crash scene were doomed without them — and that the imbalance in forces was so great that they were likely only adding themselves to the death toll.

Shughart Memorial Plaque

The Delta snipers’ sacrifice, as depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, not only inspired this man to serve himself, but made him want a replica of Shughart’s M14.

Shughart Memorial M14

He didn’t start with the rifle you see here. He began with something more or less out of the box that approximated the Shughart rifle, but its approximate nature quickly came to grate on him.

I thought it was close enough to the movie prop, but as I learned more
I realized how much I missed. The scope mount is an ARMS 18 split
rail instead of a full rail, the barrel should have been a full length
22”, and I had never paid any attention to the M1907 leather sling.
Now, most people wouldn’t care about the small details. If you take
any M14 and add a red dot, it instantly becomes cool and pretty
accurate. Not much more to be done after that. But for me, this was
the rifle of choice for a childhood hero.

I wanted to honor him, and I wanted to do it by recreating the rifle
he used on his final mission. I had no idea how much time,
money, and effort this project would demand.

via NEW OP Replicating SFC Randall Shughart’s M14 – M14 Forum.

He didn’t spare the time, money and effort, even deciding that he wanted all Winchester parts for his build (complicating it and making it more expensive). He even used a rare James River Armory receiver with a rewelded Winchester heel from the M14 Forum Group Buy. We dunno what the armorers, who were building the original guns, were using but we’d guess they were either using generic GI parts, National Match where possible, or TRW parts which have a reputation of being more perfectly in-spec than Winchester or Springfield Armory parts. The fact is, the US Army has or had records of what rifle Shughart had when he and Gordon stepped off the helicopter into legend, but those records are classified and will probably be destroyed if they have not been destroyed already.

One of the most interesting parts of the journey was tracking down the correct optic. Absent the emergence of actual documentation, it seems certain that the optic Randall Shughart had on his M14 was an Aimpoint 5000.

Consequently, this rifle is as close to Shughart’s firearm as an ordinary mortal is likely to get, except perhaps for the scumbag Somali somewhere who’s trying to trade the original for a bag of khat.

Shughart Plaque 2

The rifle will be displayed in a case with the two illustrated plaques, a private tribute to a man whose sacrifice was the highest display of public virtue.

Perhaps this would be a more appropriate post on Memorial Day, than on Veterans’ Day, but the guy just finished the rifle… and yes, he will be taking it to the range.

The Fracas over Finger Grooves is Not New

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hands Come in Different Sizes

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

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

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

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

Finger Grooves, 1980s

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

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

Finger Grooves, 1920s

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

STL Police Thompsons

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

Finger Grooves, 1780s

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

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

French 1777_11

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

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

Springfield deleted the finger grooves.


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