Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Revenant Rifle

With the new movie, The Revenant, about to open, we found on the Contemporary Makers blog a fascinating story by Ron Luckenbill about the two identical rifles he built for the movie — in less than 60 days for both.

Revenant Rifle

Ron is justly proud of the work he’s done here.

Luckenbill Revenant 01

This is the gun that I built for Leonardo DiCaprio to use in his portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant movie.  The movie will be released to the general public on Jan 8, 2016.  I have been getting a number of  request for photos of the gun, but was restricted from posting them until the movie release.


I was contacted in July of 2014 by the prop master for the movie relative to building two guns exactly alike.  They were initially interested in an Angstadt rifle that I had on my web site, but I just sold the gun and it was no longer available.  After discussion other possible guns they decided to go with this Bucks Co gun that I had in stock.  I then built an exact duplicate and had both guns in British Columbia by the end of August.  It was exciting to be involved in a project like this.  I like many others am waiting to see the gun in the movie.  I hope it helps to raise awareness of the sport of muzzleloading.


Luckenbill Revenant 06

via Contemporary Makers.

Ron LuckenbillRon builds hand-crafted rifles in the 18th and early 19th Century Pennsylvania tradition. He has made a third copy, which he’s going to be offering for sale at the 18th Century Artisan Show this year. He also has a number of other fine rifles and fowling pieces, reproductions and originals, on his own website, where he shares further details of the Revenant rifle.

The gun was built on a moderately figured piece of curly maple in the classic Bucks County style.

Luckenbill Revenant 11

(Look at those stripes! If that’s moderately figured, we’d like to see what Ron calls fancy maple).

The build is based on an original which was handled and photographed by the builder. The hardware is copied from an original John Shuler, Sr. rifle. The barrel is a 44″ Colerain B weight 50 cal. While many original Bucks Co. rifles had English import locks, the original had somewhat larger than normal Germanic lock.

Luckenbill Revenant 03

I found that a Jim Chambers Golden age lock was a near match for the original. The carving of this rifle is somewhat atypical for a Bucks Co. gun in that it is a blend of both raised and incised carving, showing a decided Lehigh Co. influence.


Luckenbill Revenant 04

We don’t presume to be able to ID classic frontier rifles by state, let alone county. But we sure can admire this kind of work.

Luckenbill Revenant 09

We double-dog dare you to go to Ron’s website and not come away with a jones for these classic guns, a uniquely American extension of a German gunsmithing tradition (which is why they’re Pennsylvania rifles, and not New York or Massachusetts rifles; early German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and points west). You can spend a lot on one of Ron’s creations, or one of the higher-end originals he has for sale. But he also has some reasonably priced original rifles and fowling-pieces, especially the later, percussion firearms.

He does make a very good point: given the antiquity of these guns, if you want a shooter, you’re probably better served by a replica than by an original. And given the current prices of the better mass-produced replicas, having a smith like Ron make you your own heirloom might not command the premium that it really deserves.

Poor Man’s Rapid-Fire, New and Old Methods

What do you do when you have the need for speed — for cyclic-rate ammo-to-noise-combversion speed — and your daughters aren’t worth enough at an ISIL slave auction to cover a pre-’86 transferable AR lower? Here’s Military Arms Channel with the latest voodoo AR trigger. This Franklin Armory Binary Firing System trigger fires once on trigger pull, and once on release. As far as the ATF is concerned, that’s two separate actions, and therefore it’s a perfectly legal semi-auto trigger.

You may recall we’ve been here before, with the Tac-Con 3MR trigger. We’ll look at that in a moment, but first, here’s the Franklin Armory trigger in action.

We’d have liked to know a little more about the details of how it works, but that’s not forthcoming in this video. For instance, if you have fired a shot, and then a range officer calls cease-fire, do you have to hold the trigger back while you clear your firearm, or does the safety render the weapon safe enough to clear, while pointed downrange? We don’t know, and he probably didn’t, at the time he made the video. We suppose we’ll have to buy one to try it out.

(Update: The safety works to hold the second round, you just have to hold the trigger and not let it reset while you put the safety on with your off hand. Franklin Armory has posted a video showing this).

The trigger has some training issues or perhaps teething problems. One of the ones that renders this absolutely a range toy vs. a working firearm is that it doesn’t always go bang. Really, the only reason a weapon has a safety-selector system on it is to ensure it goes bang every time the operator wants, and only every time the operator wants. The didn’t go bang happens in at least two cases: intermittently, on first trigger pull, no go bang; and frequently, when an operator’s (meaning rifle operator, not 7th dan ninja) trigger-pullin’ outruns the hardware, the hammer follows the bolt carrier down, and no go bang. 

There’s also a mag stovepipe he blames on the (Surefire) mag he’s using, but we do recall that one thing that was very strongly correlated with failure to feed, fire, and extract in the early days of the M16 was a higher-than-designed cyclic rate of fire.

He seemed to think you could train that away, which is interesting, because at the beginning of the video he suggests that this, unlike the Tac-Con, can be used by anybody with little training (and does demonstrate with his cameraman as gun test dummy).

There are two other interesting gadgets in the video, the new Magpul 60-round drum is shown briefly, and there’s a trick QD mount for the Aimpoint PRO made by Kinetic.

For consistency’s sake, here’s MAC’s review of the Tac-Con — you can see he struggles with it, in part because he’s freezing. After that, we’ll have another video of somebody else firing it… who does a little better.

OK, here’s Jerry Miculek firing it. Jerry sounds like he’s firing full-auto even when he’s shooting a Ruger No.1, so he’s pretty quick on this.

Now, the thing is, you can get (or if you’re Jerry, you already are) just about as fast with a good competition trigger, like a Geissele or maybe a Hiperfire. Here’s a comparison of splits on double-taps with the Tac-Con 3MR and the Geissele SuperDynamic 3 Gun, and with an M16 lower, all on the same upper. The results? MG, 0.10 seconds between splits. Tac-Con 0.14 , and Geissele SD3 splits the difference at 0.12.

That’s the equivalent of a cyclic rate of 600 RPM for the MG, 500 for the Geissele, and 430 or so for the Tac-Con. It would be interesting to see if (1) Jerry’s splits were much faster, and (2) how the Franklin Armory BFS stacks up next to these other rapid-fire solutions.

And just because somebody had to do it, here’s a guy who combined the Tac-Con 3MR and a a Slide-Fire bumpfire stock. If you want to hear his opinion of it, there’s about nine minutes of that to the left of where we start you in the video — at the range.

As is usual with these rapid fire gimmicks, there’s a learning curve, but he gets better with practice. At the end, he seems to dump a whole thirty rounds without any snags.

If you want his opinions at length, and a description of how he set it up, just move the video slider back to the beginning.

It isn’t — none of these speed trigger tricks is — something you’d like to use for self-defense, but it’s a great range toy. We’d reiterate that none of these gimmicks is a good idea in a defense gun or officer’s patrol carbine — not even the Geissele SD3, which is a race trigger for competition. Instead, get a Geissele service trigger like the SSA, or its equivalent in another brand you like. You’ll have almost as much speed with more safety and positive control.

Back From Bubba’s Brink on a Budget

Here is an AK as prepared by Bubba the Gunsmite. It has been given a good gun smiting, both in its tacticool appendages, and in its horkworthy finish. That paint job — is Bubba actually blind from a bad batch of white lightning?


It was posted to Arfcom by a guy wondering what it was, and whether he got a good deal swapping a police trade-in Glock worth maybe $350 for it (and a bunch of low-quality mags). The AK is a Bulgarian kit with its original barrel, built up on a high-quality Nodak Spud LLC receiver. (Yes, their AK stuff is just as outstanding as their AR stuff). Apart from the sprayed on crapkote finish, front rail with a questionable VFG, and love-it-or-hate-it Hogue grip, the 5.49mm rifle has a homemade bumpfire stock, on a cheap plastic (polyethylene?) “buffer” tube held on with (we are not making this up) a wood screw. The new owner wanted a “tactical” AK with rails and all, but didn’t want an eyesore. 

As bad as the gun looks in overview it’s worse close up:

Bubbas AK-74 action

You could call that the “Been there, done that, got tagged by a Bronx graffiti ‘artist'” look. But as bad as the outside of this Bubba job was, the inside was worse yet:

Bubbas AK-74 internals

The collective wisdom of the Arfcom thread was to strip and refinish it — or have a pro do it — and install Magpul Zhukov furniture in a Bulgarian-like plum finish. The Zhukov allows the use of a top rail only.

AK-47 (not 74, obviously) with Magpul Zhukov furniture in black. Magpul photo.

AK-47 (not 74, obviously) with Magpul Zhukov furniture in black. Magpul photo.

But the guy was on a tight, tight budget. He couldn’t swing the Magpul stuff ($200 plus shipping)

Can you heal a sick AK in a tiny home workshop, on a rock-bottom budget?

Here’s what Adam decided to do:

  1. Strip the old finish;
  2. Refinish with a modern coating. He chose Norell’s MolyResin in semi-gloss black;
  3. Replace the Bubba-built bumpfire rig with a conventional stock, perhaps a Magpul CTR in due course;
  4. And do it all himself.

Skip ahead to Results

Here it is “afterward,” still well endowed with tactical gingerbread, but at least not so badly finished as to make Mikhail TImofeyovich weep:
De-bubbad AK74

Although, not exactly well finished either:

De-bubbad 74 2

But still, let’s compare that to the status quo ante: 

Bubbas AK-74 action 2

Not so bad in that light, eh? Really, this thing started out looking like all five of the Lee Sisters — Ug, Home, Ghast, Beast and Gnar. Indeed, the finish was so bad it made the underlying metalwork look bad (which it wasn’t): for example, the rear trunnion rivets look like they’ve got a “smiley” on them (a common result of using an undersized set tool) but it’s just an optical illusion produced by the paint and wear.

The bare metal pins were an oversight, but — that’s the way they are on a factory AK-74, either bare metal or blued.

The finish was done with Norell’s MolyResin ceramic-metallic coating, and the orange peel can caused by a variety of things, including too much paint to quickly, not preheating the work to 100ºF or so, and not properly preparing the work. For any spray-on coating, metal needs to be prepared a little differently than it is for a soak-in coating like Parkerizing. Norell highly recommends abrasive blasting. (Or, if you’re equipped to do it, you can simply parkerize the bare-metal firearm — but you need to remove the old finish first).

Here’s how Adam did it. The longest journey begins with a single step, disassembly. Fortunately, the gun-disassembly tricks and tips that were gunsmith secrets a generation ago, are now available to anyone with a computer. Of course, this has just made more work for gunsmiths as guys (sorry ladies, it’s always a guy) who can’t follow instructions or a video, take short cuts, break things, or can’t reassemble them continue to bring them in — in a basket, or a brown paper bag. If you see a guy in Market Basket tonight answer the checkout question with “paper,” he’s probably bringing us his Glock in the morning.

Bubbas AK-74 disassembly 2

Here he is using the Tipton Gun Vise in the one role for which it’s really suited, a photo stand.

When we see the tight spaces guys like Adam work in, we are more grateful for our second-class (at least) workshop, which we don’t have to share with a water heater. (Or an F150, or lawnmower, snowblower, washer and dryer, or any of those other things we see guys working around). Having lived in small apartments and government quarters we will say that when you have to work in a small space, it helps a lot to keep it picked up and organized — that makes it seem bigger even though it takes a lot of time to be constantly shuffling things in and out of “put away.” We believe that in the end, organization saves more time than it costs.

Here’s another view of the AK at about the same stage of dismantling.

Bubbas AK-74 disassembly

And here it is further along, after most of the weird paint job has been stripped. It clings grimly to the trigger guard and internal parts, but you can see the factory blued finish on the Bulgarian barrel and trunnions, and the Parkerizing on the Nodak receiver. It looks like it took a little scrubbing (note how shiny the rivet heads are).

Bubbas AK-74 semi stripped

At this point, if you want to strip the finish, you have no options but bead blasting and/or chemical warfare. Adam went all chemical. He made a solvent trough out of a section of steel gutter from the hardware store, two end caps, and epoxy to hold them in place (in fact, he used leftover Brownell’s glass bedding compound. It worked fine). He lay the AK barreled receiver, with the barrel plugged at both ends, in there, and added a gallon of acetone. Almost immediately an black chemical began to swirl away from the barrel, like an octopus squirting ink. As the acetone evaporated away, the remaining chemical turned purple with the “octopus ink” that’s the old bluing salts leaving the barrel.

If you look real closely, there's an AK in there.

If you look real closely, there’s an AK in there.

With the old finish off, he resprayed it with MolyResin black semigloss, and baked the finish on, with the results you’ve already seen. In a few days’ part-time work he’s removed an unwanted personalization from a Bubba’d gun and made one that is not only more to his own tastes, but also more readily sold to the next owner, and certainly worth more than the $350 value of the Glock plus the ~$150 value of the materials he bought for the project (some of which, like the stripping solvent trough, are reusable).

Some suggestions, if he ever does it again:

  1. Using a more reliable thermometer than the one built into any non-industrial oven. They’re built to a price, not to a quality level, and the difference between 300º and 325º F matters a lot more to a MolyResin job than it does to a pork roast.
  2. More cycles of stripping and baking the firearm. It’s amazing how much gunk hides in the little interstices of a
  3. Completely stripping the firearm, until there are no vestiges of earlier paints, bluing, or parkerizing.
  4. Thoroughly removing all the finish solvent. This usually suggests another round of baking.
  5. Metal-preparation in accordance with the intended finishing medium. For bluing, you want a high gloss. Norell’s makes very specific recommendations for media-blasting pre-MolyResin. Those are based on many years of experience — it’s a lot faster to learn from their experience than from your own.
  6. Pre-heating the gun before application of MolyResin. (This depends on the specific MR product and degree of gloss you’re shooting for).
  7. Using an airbrush instead of an HVLP sprayer (although Norell’s recommends either).
  8. Very thin coats, not trying to get the thing to finish color in one application.

Still and all, the post-refinish AK is considerably better than the original Bubbafied state. And one has the impression that the owner will not be content with this stage of affairs, but will further improve the firearm.

Don’t Forget Forgotten Weapons…

… although, it could be called “Remembered Weapons,” because Ian remembers all the stuff that everybody else has forgotten. True, we haven’t flagged you to his site in, what, two whole days? But when he’s posting stuff like this, you need to be over there, not here. We’ll still be here posting several times a day, but trust us, you want to see these two posts, and you want to point your RSS reader at FW so you never miss stuff like this.

Item: The Grandpappy of all MGs

Every gun begins with the prototype — no, wait… Every gun begins with an idea, but it has to pass through the stage of prototype if it’s ever going to be made concrete and marketed, adopted, and/or produced. And Forgotten Weapons is starting a new series on the Maxim, the grandpappy of all machine guns, with a great post on the prototype, which is, naturally, the granddaddy of all Maxims.


One of the best parts of that post is a video Ian scared up which shows the ur-Maxim’s inner cuckoo clock. It’s ingenious, but it’s fair to say that the highly developed Maxim of the First World War was vastly simplified and improved over this design.


That, of course, just makes the engineering dead ends of the prototype even more interesting. There’s a little bit of similarity to the much later aerial weapon, the Mauser revolver cannon, in that a rotary sprocket is used to lift the cartridges after they are withdrawn by an extractor from the ammunition belt.

Item: Small Arms Development, 1945-65: the Soviet View

Victory Day parade. Rather than rest on their laurels, the Soviets overhauled their weapons after World War II, and by 1965 they'd done it a second time.

Victory Day parade. Rather than rest on their laurels, the Soviets overhauled their weapons after World War II, sending these Mosins to the warehouse, and by 1965 they’d done it a second time.

Ian got hold of a fascinating primary source document: a CIA translation of a classified Soviet analysis of small arms development after World War II. Both the intent of Soviet development and the differences between Soviet and NATO small arms doctrine and development objectives are laid bare in this document (available at the link).

Our long-held thesis that Soviet developments were primarily focused on putting automatic fire in the hands of their riflemen, whereas Western forces primarily focused on aimed semi-auto fire, is borne out from the horse’s mouth, as it were. The authors of the piece, two senior Soviet officers, see, from their point of view, 1965 NATO as making a serious error in not giving their riflemen weapons that can be effective in automatic fire at close range. Of the US Army:

[E]xperience in the operation of the M14 rifle has shown that it has extremely unsatisfactory grouping capability during automatic firing, as a result of which it is assigned to US troops only in the semiautomatic variant.

…in recent years the American army has renovated nearly all of its small arms. However, it should be pointed out that with the NATO cartridge as a basis, the USA has failed to solve the problem of developing a mobile and effective automatic individual weapon that satisfies the requirements of modern combat. For this reason the Americans have taken measures to modernize the M14 rifle, to explore other rifle designs, to develop a new 5.6-mm cartridge with reduced power, and to develop a rifle that will use this cartridge.

Ivan also prized light weight in his weaponry.

With allowance made for [the Soviets not being sure what NATO armies carried as a basic load of ammunition -Ed.] the average weight load (weapon plus unit of fire of cartridges being carried) per man amounts to: in the Soviet Army — 7.2 kilograms, in the US Army — 9.3 kilograms, in the West German Army — 10.9 kilograms, and in the French Army — 8.5 kilograms,

(This is referring to the M14 version of the US Army, the one that faced Russian occupation armies in Eastern Europe directly at the time. Elsewhere in the report, they note the emergence of the M16 as something to be watched).

Judged on the basis of these data, the weaponry of the Soviet Army is the lightest. This has been achieved by the use in our army of the 7,62-mm Model 1943 cartridge and the development for it of an automatic rifle and a light machinegun, which have made it possible to substantially lighten the weight of both the individual weapon itself and also the unit of fire carried with it.

Interesting to us that no credit at all is given to the Germans for inventing the intermediate cartridge and assault rifle concept. While the CETME rifle is mentioned as the source of the German G-3, there’s no mention that the CETME itself is an adaptation of the StG.45. (That fact may have been unknown to the Russian authors).

The authors were extremely satisfied with the state of Soviet weapons, and considered their weapons superior both individually to their counterparts, and on a unit vs. unit basis.

Rare Simonov AVS-36 Sold for $5k — as Parts

We were watching this on GB, and the price just ran away from what we wanted to pay. But we wanted the gun, as longtime students of rare Soviet weapons. We’ve mentioned it before; in May, 2012, we noted that by coincidence the US and USSR both adopted semi-auto rifles in 1938, the M1 and the AVS-36. Although the AVS was not a semi-auto, but a selective-fire rifle. Built as lightly as possible, they were problematic in service, and soon supplanted by the Tokarev selective fire (AVT) and semi-auto (SVT) rifles of 1938 and 1940. The Tokarevs were practically kissing cousins of the Simonov, being the same caliber, same size in every dimension, using similar magazines and the same gas tappet system of operation with a tilting bolt locking system (a similar locking system to the BAR, SAFN-49, and FAL).

This is the kit as all laid out

This is the kit as all laid out

This particular kit is so rare — we cannot recall ever having seen another AVS for sale in the USA, period. Here’s what the seller says:

This auction is for a complete parts assembly for an extremely rare pre WWII-early WWII Soviet Russian Simonov AVS-36 rifle. This parts assembly is all complete including the torch cut receiver and original magazine. The assembly is all matching except for the magazine and the parts that are supposed to be serialized are all matching #Y4287. The parts including the stock and handguard remain in nice condition and have never been repaired or modified. Bore is fine and bright with strong rifling with a pin in the chamber area that can be removed. These rare rifles were only manufactured circa 1936-1938. The first saw actual combat use in the Battles of Khalkin Gol in 1939, also in the Finnish Winter War 1939-1940, and in limited numbers during the early days of WWII. These rifles for any reasons proved unsatisfactory in combat and were quickly superseded by the Model SVT 1938/1940 Tokarev rifles. The AVS-36 Simonov Rifles and any original parts are rarely found anywhere in the world and are extremely desirable in this country. This would be a very rare opportunity for a collector to reweld or have a dummy receiver made for a static display. If you are lucky enough to have a complete registered rifle you would have some great parts which you would never be able to find anywhere.

The Tokarev, too, would be abandoned to return to the 19th Century Mosin-Nagant, for reasons of reliability, training base, and especially, speed of manufacture, once the USSR found itself at war with a peer competitor, Nazi Germany.

Simonov’s team continued designing firearms on the same system. Scaled up, the AVS-36 action became the mighty 14.5 x 115 mm PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle. Scaled down, it became (using some of the innovations from the PTRS, like the fixed magazine), the SKS-45 carbine that is still carried with pride by Russian honor guards. CORRECTION: see UPDATE below.

The prewar Soviet semi-automatic and select-fire rifles were an attempt to increase the Soviet infantryman’s firepower based on the same intensive study of the stalemates of World War I that produced Soviet innovations in tank and airborne forces. (The Red Army was doing tank and airborne maneuvers all through the 1930s… the US Army didn’t create airborne units and tank units capable of operating independently until the 1940s, and Armor (tanks) was not a basic branch in the US Army until 1950!)

Two things strangled the Soviet rifle development. One was, as mentioned, the poor performance of the AVS in practice, especially considering its cost of manufacture (including opportunity costs). The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze; a prefect semi was better in theory than the old Mosin, but the AVS (and AVT/SVT) were demanding and troubled guns (as was the M1 on introduction), and say what you will of the 50-year-old (then) Mosin, it was thoroughly debugged. The other thing that slew semi-auto development in the late thirties was the Great Terror, during which Stalin purged all of the power centers of the Communist Party and the Soviet State, including the Red Army. The brilliant Marshal Tukhachevskiy was shot, as were most of the men he’d mentored. Essentially all of the marshals and higher generals, and most of the lower grades of general officer and colonels, were shot or stripped of rank and thrown in the Gulag, more or less contemporaneously with the short service life of the AVS-36. The men who took the reins — it was not unusual for a division or corps commander to be a lieutenant colonel — were shaken enough that they weren’t going to make waves. The M1891 was just fine for granddad’s regiment, they’d make it work in the 1940s. (And they did).

As a result, relatively few Tokarev and very few Simonov rifles were made in the first place, and the Simonovs were captured in great stands during fighting with the Japanese at Khalkin Gol on the Mongolian border, and in the Winter War with Finland (1939-40). This particular rifle is a Winter War capture. We’ve written before about Finnish captured AVS rifles (and again here); this one might even be in one of those pictures!

Due to the ATF’s interpretation of the Gun Control Act of 1968, even a rarity like this cannot be imported, under the borrowed-from-the-Nazis “sporting purpose” test. Because it has “no sporting purpose,” (and really, no interest except to a rarefied echelon of collectors) its receiver was torch cut. Fortunately, it was imported before the ATF changed their interpretation to require the destruction of barrels as well as receivers of “non-sporting” collector guns.

(Incidentally, there was a budget amendment liberating the importation of curio and relic firearms from the Nazi “sporting” test that passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin. Why didn’t it pass? Because like all the other pro-gun language in the House budget, it was stripped out by the inexplicably NRA A-rated Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Good thing you didn’t vote for a Democrat, eh, you might have gotten an anti-gun Speaker… oh, wait).

Looking at this parts kit, we can determine a few things. It is a Finnish capture. That can be determined because it has the Finnish Army property Mark, “SA,” applied to it in various places. The seller also gets the serial number wrong, because he doesn’t know the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

Simonov AVS-36 bolt Ch Ts 287

The two Cyrillic letters in the serial number, here in the bolt carrier handle, are Ch and Ts. So the real number is Ch Ts 287.

Here’s a view of the bolt carrier and bolt. SKS owners will see things are fairly familiar.

Simonov AVS-36 bolt and carrier top

Here is the Finnish Army property mark, in this case, on the side of the magazine. AVS-36 magazines held 10 rounds of 7.62 x 57R mm ammunition.

Simonov AVS-36 SA capture mark

Here’s another view of the parts:

Simonov AVS-26 parts

And here they are, loosely assembled.


Simonov AVS-36 assembledThe kit does not seem to be complete. It is missing some internals, such as the hammer. One could probably adapt SKS parts, or use SKS parts as models to scale up, to make a safe, legal semi-automatic fire control group for a rebuilt rifle.

Having a receiver machined would cost in the four figures, is our best guess. And that’s after you’ve done the reverse-engineering and made the drawings. The parts of the cut receiver are some help, but they’re clearly distorted by the torch. You might be able to get a museum that has one to let you measure theirs, at least the gross external measurements. Despite the seller’s suggestion, I do not think this cut receiver is susceptible to being rewelded — better to start over from billet.

The torch cuts on the receiver parts are ugly, and look like they're through pin locations, locking areas, etc.

The torch cuts on the receiver parts are ugly, and look like they’re through pin locations, locking areas, etc.

The GB Auction page is going to stay live for a while. When it goes away, let us know, as we archived the page this time.


Max Popenker points out in the comments that our description of the locking system as analagous to the SKS and PTRS is not correct. Reexamination of available AVS photos shows he’s quite right, but what is the locking system of the early Simonov?

Forgotten Weapons had a February, 2014 post on the AVS, and identifies the locking method as a block that slides vertically up and down. FW linked to this forum thread at Guns.Ru that shows detail photography of a disassembled AVS, one that appears to have been deactivated in the British style, by torching the bolt head off at an angle. From this incomplete example, it looks to uslike the AVS bolt locked with two wedges emerging from the bolt, roughly similar to the locking flaps of a Degtyaryev machine gun. Is this a locking wedge? Or a safety device preventing out of battery firing?



Demilled AVS bolt, left side. Is that a locking wedge at center? Bolt carrier at top. Bolt carrier handle on opposite side, you can see its shadow; there’s another possible “locking wedge” on the other side below the handle. Bolt face, torched off at an angle, at 9 o’clock; firing pin at 3 o’clock. Firing pin retaining pin visible just to left of pin, it runs in the slot milled in the pin).  

The thread is also useful for images of the trigger mechanism (much of which is missing from the auction rifle) and for showing the safety, which is very similar to that of the SKS.

Mass Armory Theft Investigation Continues

A third suspect has been charged in he theft of 16 firearms, including six burst-capable M4 carbines, from a US Army Reserve Armory in Worcester, Massachusetts. According to the FBI, Tyrone James of Dorchester, MA (a Boston suburb/neighborhood) was involved in burglar James W. Morales’s attempts to sell off the weapons.

One of the stolen weapons, an M4 burst-capable carbine, that has been recovered.

One of the stolen weapons, an M4 burst-capable carbine, that has been recovered.

Former (and, surprisingly, honorably-discharged) reservist Morales and friend Ashley Bigsbee have already been charged in the case: Morales with the thefts, which were done by cutting into a vault whose alarm had been turned off, and Bigsbee with possession of stolen firearms and lying to Federal investigators.

Tyrone James, 28, Dorchester is facing charges of lying to federal investigators and being a felon in possession of a firearm in U.S. District Court. He is expected to appear in federal court in Worcester on Monday. [21 Dec 15 — Ed.]

Authorities investigating the theft of six M-4 rifles and 10 M-11 pistols from the Lincoln Stoddard U.S. Army Reserve Center last month searched an apartment in Dorchester as part of their investigation.

The man accused of stealing the weapons, former U.S. Army reservist James Walker Morales, allegedly went to the apartment the day after the robbery, according to authorities.

Morales allegedly met with Ashley Bigsbee and James at the apartment. Bigsbee is facing charges of unlawful possession of a stolen firearm and lying to federal investigators in connection to the weapons theft.

Morales told investigators Bigsbee introduced him to James, who arranged the sale of five of the stolen guns to some men, according to records on file in federal court. James was allegedly given one of the pistols and one of the rifles for helping, authorities said.

Ah yeah, that’s the limit of cooperation they’re getting:

“Who bought the guns you were selling?”

“We dunno, just Sumdood.”

Yeah, riiiiight.

James, who has armed robbery and assault convictions on his record, allegedly told FBI agents that he did not help Morales.

“Tyrone repeatedly denied assisting Morales or anyone else with selling guns,” FBI agents wrote in federal records. “Tyrone further claimed that he did not know why Morales would tell law enforcement that Tyrone facilitated the sale of guns for Morales.”

Investigators did not find any communications between James and Morales on James’ cellphone. He told authorities if there were any messages to Morales, it was because Bigsbee used his phone.

James allegedly had messages on his phone where he appears to ask people if they are looking to buy guns, records said.

“Bro hit me if u know anyone lookin for any blicks,” one message read. Another message read, “Bro hit me if u no anyone lookin for hammers.” Both messages are contained in a federal affidavit.

via Third person faces charges in connection to theft of weapons from U.S. Army Reserve armory |

Blicks? Hammers? Who did this knucklehead think he was, Home Depot?

ashley_bigsbeeMeanwhile, because it is Massachusetts, Ashley Bigsbee, the women busted in the case, has been released with conditions including an ankle bracelet.

Those are the same conditions Morales was supposed to be under at the time of the burglary. He was out on parole or probation at that time.

Bigsbee (left) had photos of the stolen guns on her cell phone when arrested in November.


Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Civil War Arsenal

(Yes, we’re nearly a day behind. Can’t be helped. Right now, just call us … an aspiring wrapper. We’ll be catching up throughout the day, and expect to make only one brief post tomorrow. Saturday we return to the normal schedule. -Ed).

1863 Richmond Arsenal Carbine (copy of a '53 Enfield).

1863 Richmond Arsenal Carbine (copy of a ’53 Enfield).

The Civil War is often thought of being boring from a standpoint of small arms development. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the war;s outbreak, many second-line and state militia outfits were armed with smoothbore percussion muzzleloaders, despite the Army’s adoption of a Minie-ball rifle-musket five years earlier. Some of those smoothbore muskets were .69 caliber converted flintlocks. Even at Gettysburg, whole regiments in both armies were firing round balls from smoothbores. By war’s end, the metallic fixed cartridge breechloader had proven its superiority and adaptability, and thanks to this new technology, new repeaters and machine guns were entering service, and something like a recoiling carriage was developed for artillery (it would take decades more for hydraulics to enable a truly practical version, however).

These developments were closely watched by European and Asian officers detailed as observers to the American armies and so they spread worldwide with great rapidity.

In addition, some of the Europeans’ small arms got a combat test, because neither the industry-poor Confederacy nor the industry-rich Union could produce enough modern firearms fast enough to arm new regiments and to reconstitute after losses. (The Austrian Lorenz, an equivalent to the M1855 or M1861 from the ill-fated Harper’s Ferry and surviving Springfield arsenals, was probably the most widely issued of these).

Confederate Dickson-Nelson Rifle.

Confederate Dickson-Nelson Rifle.

And the same logistics problem that made the Americans of both nations willing to scour the arsenals, factories and arms bazaars of Europe, meany that every small shop that could perhaps produce muskets, parts or bayonets was rapidly reorganized for that purpose. This was especially true in the South, where both manufacturing capacity and raw materials feedstocks were critically low.

Enter the website Civil War Arsenal, one man’s blog about the CW weapons that he, descended from Revolutionary and Confederate soldiers, collects. There is a heavy emphasis on Confederate weapons, a field of collecting beset by confusion and fakes.

This page is Gene West’s personal contribution to the memory of his ancestors, but it’s also a fine resource for anyone interested in Civil War arms, especially Rebel ones.

If you’re needing a little more Civil War wisdom, here are some more links:

Those links are all good stuff. But today, the tile of Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week belongs to Gene West’s Civil War Armory.

A Spencer That’s Not Just a Spencer, and Connects to Two Famous Men

Here’s a nice little rifle, for sale by Ancestry Guns. It’s a Spencer Model 1865 cavalry carbine, possibly issued to Union cavalry during the Civil War or shortly thereafter. This particular example is for sale at Ancestry Guns. Spencers aren’t terribly rare — tens of thousands were made, and many survive — but they’re historic guns. It was the Spencer that was brought in for Abe Lincoln to take some shots with, and the President quickly became an advocate of the repeater. An apocryphal story has a Confederate calling it, “The Damn Yankee gun you can load on Sunday and shoot all week.” Indeed, Spencers put seven rapid shots in a horse soldiers hands, giving him about the firing cadence of his revolver but in a more accurate shoulder weapon. Light and handy, they were popular with the troops.


Most of the Union cavalry were equipped with breechloaders relatively early in the war — by Gettysburg in 1863, for example, most cavalry were armed with a chaotic mix of breechloading carbines while the infantry were mostly armed with muzzle-loading rifle-muskets, and among the exceptions on the infantry side, smoothbores, which were still preferred by some regimental colonels, were more common than repeaters, which were at the cutting edge of technology. The two major repeaters used by the Union were the Henry, which was an intermediate stage of evolution between the Volcanic and the familiar Winchester lever-action rifles, and the Spencer, which had a number of interesting and unique features. By war’s end, Henrys and Spencers were already replacing a previous generation of single-shot breechloaders. (After the war, the Army would revert to single-shot Allin-patent Springfield breechloaders, and not issue a repeater widely again until the short-lived .30-40 Krag in the 1890s).

56-56_SpencerWhat made the Spencer carbine go bang was a unique cartridge with a unique label: the .56-56 Spencer. In this photograph, with nothing to give it scale, it looks like a .22 short. It is, like the .22, a rimfire cartridge. Even though a lot of internally-primed balloon-head centerfire cartridges of the era had the smooth base we now think of as characteristic of a rimfire, this one really is rimfire. And, based on usual blackpowder nomenclature, you might expect a .56-56 was a .56 bullet propelled by 56 grains of black powder. You’d be wrong. Christopher Spencer’s company didn’t label its proprietary cartridges with standard nomenclature: a .56-56 was a case with a .56 caliber at the mouth and a .56 caliber at the base (forward of the rim) , in other words, an untapered, straight case. Other Spencer cartridges, like the .52-56, were tapered (all had a .56 base). The most common by far, and the GI caliber, was .56-56.

Civil War era cases were copper, not brass, and less durable than subsequent cases. Like all non-.22 19th Century rimfires, ammunition ceased being produced early in the 20th Century.


Like familiar Winchester and Marlin rifles, a lever that formed the trigger guard operated the Spencer’s action, although the Spencer lever lacked a finger loop. Closed, the action was smooth and looked much like a conventional muzzle-loaded carbine, apart from a protuberance for the lever hinge on the ventral surface of a receiver — the new concept of a receiver, a unit frame or body for the firearm, replaced the separate barrel, breech and lockplate of the muzzle-loading era.

Unlike the Henry, Marlin, and Winchester form factor of firearm, the Spencer’s magazine is in its buttstock. There are pros and cons to each layout: the mag in the stock is better protected, but it weakens the stock; the mag under the barrel can hold more rounds than one in the stock, except in the case of very short barrels. These days, with any tubular magazine, jacketed and spitzer bullets are not recommended; in the Spencer it didn’t matter because (1) it was not centerfire and (2) jacketed and spitzer bullets were yet to be invented. All bullets, in 1865, were made of lead.

The saddle ring is a characteristic of a cavalry arm. Three things that greatly concerned cavalry arms buyers were firearm retention, positive safety, and, now that breechloaders had enabled it, reloading whilst mounted, especially on the move. A special set of loading tubes — sort of a speedloader for tubular magazines — was developed for Union Army cavalrymen armed with Spencers.




As you can see, preparing a follow-up shot in the Spencer was a two-stage action. You cycled the lever (ejecting the old cartridge case, if any, and loading the new). Then you had to manually cock the hammer before discharging the firearm again. When Spencer was designing the rifle, end users had asked for that as a safety feature.

The Spencer was considerably trickier to manufacture (as was its ammunition) compared to conventional firearms of the day. The Rebels, then, had no real hope of copying the rifle in any kind of quantity manufacture. A close-up of the mechanism exposed when the lever is opened gives a hint of why.


Endorsed by no less a figure than President Lincoln, the demand for cavalry Spencers soon outstripped the ability of Spencer’s Boston factory to produce them. Which brings us to this particular carbine, one of some 30,000 made under Spencer’s license by the Burnside Rifle Company in Providence, Rhode Island. Here are its markings:


And for comparison’s sake, here is another Model 1865, this one made in Christopher Spencer’s factory in Boston:


This image came from the site that will be this week’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week. So if you recognize the shot, you may already know the site.

The above pictures also let us know a little bit about the degree to which rifle manufacture in 1865 involved hand work as well as state of the art, for the year, automation. Note that on both the Spencer- and the Burnside-made carbines, the areas that blend the flat top and upper-left and upper-right surfaces of the receiver are a little uneven. These were probably rounded or radiused by hand on a belt-driven grinding wheel, and the craftsman’s concern would have been more with eliminating sharp edges than with making the carbines uniform or beautiful.

Peak Burnside in a Matthew Brady photo. Yes, sideburns are named for him. (The English word for them was previously "sideboards.")

Peak Burnside in a Matthew Brady photo. Yes, sideburns are named for him. (The English word for them was previously “sideboards.”)

The Burnside company was founded by Providence entrepreneur, failed politician (as a Democrat) and Rhode Island militia officer Ambrose Burnside. During the war he ascended from colonel of a state militia regiment to commanding general of Union armies, and after being sacked from that job was left without portfolio after a meeting in Washington with the men who ordered him relieved, Lincoln and Secretary of War Edward Stanton.

Burnside was by all accounts a nice guy, personable and friendly, honest, and admired and beloved by his men. A modest man, he had doubts that he had the ability for high command, and his course as commander of the Army of the Potomac indicates that the doubts were well-placed. If an error can be made, he probably made it, and then followed up with the opposite error in the next battle. (He is a rare general who has been pilloried as too cautious and too aggressive in the same book or article). He is usually listed on any list of Civil War or all-time worst generals; he has a chapter to himself in Norman Dixon’s On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, an honor, if honor it is, that extends to no other officer.

burnside-statue-late-19cAfter the war, he tried politics again, as a Republican this time, and served as Governor and one of the Senators for his home state of Rhode Island. To the astonishment of the good burghers of Rhode Island, his tenure in these positions was unmarked by corruption or scandal, which hardly ever happens. In Providence, where he lived before and after the war, and died of a heart attack, he remained well-regarded; there’s always talk about restoring his once-palatial corner townhome, which has been converted to apartments. He and his wife had no children, and he made bequests of land and money that are today memorialized in Burnside Park. In the 1880s an equestrian statue was erected to his memory in a downtown traffic circle; it was later moved to a new plinth in Burnside Park.


The Burnside Rifle Company made Burnside’s own breechloader, one of the single-shot breechloading carbines widely used by Union cavalry. There was no conflict of interest; Burnside had lost his interest in a pre-war reorganization. But they also stepped up to manufacture the Spencer on demand, and made 30,503 of them. (Spencer made 45,733 carbines and about 11,671 rifles).

As a rule of thumb, a Spencer-made Spencer and a Burnside-made Spencer are about equivalent in value. However, the Burnsides were mostly made too late to participate in the Civil War themselves. Over 19,000 of them were made a device called the “Stabler cut-off” which was also added to about 11,000 Spencer-made Spencer carbines post-war. This carbine is, according to the seller, one of the early, pre-cut-off Burnsides, and you can see that the cut-off is absent in the photos. It is the rectangular switch visible forward of the trigger in this picture of another Spencer (the same Spencer-made one we’ve already seen one picture of).


The cut-off was an ingenious way to address the brass’s belief that giving Private Joe Tentpeg a repeating rifle simply encouraged him to squander ammunition, for instance by firing it at the enemy. (This belief has arisen every time in history a technological advance has improved the infantryman’s rate of fire, and it always manifests in ways to force the new, more rapid-fire technology to perform more like the old technology it has just made obsolete). Stabler’s switch, located forward of the trigger, prevented the lever from reaching full stroke, ejecting the fired casing and allowing single shots to be loaded without calling on the rounds in the buttstock tubular magazine.


Turned 90º, it allowed the action to fully stroke and pick up a new cartridge. Thus a cavalryman could go in the flick of a switch from firing an economical single-shot to firing seven rounds of rimfire mischief, as fast as he could cycle the lever and cock the hammer.


(The otherwise inexplicable adoption of the .30-40 Krag is explained in part by the Krag’s excellent and easy-to-use magazine cut-off; the 3-round-burst device used on the obsolete M16A2 and M4 was a more recent attempt to impose forced ammo economy on Joe)).

Again, as a rule of thumb, Spencers without the Stabler switch are worth a little more than those without, as the former are more likely to be postwar guns and the latter original Civil War firearms.

Ancestry Guns is asking $2,750 for the Burnside Spencer, and says this about it:

Spencer is one of the great names in arms manufacturing during the American Civil War. After a private audience with President Abraham Lincoln, Christian Spencer’s invention was contracted for the Union troops to their great advantage.

This model was manufactured under contract by the Burnside Rifle Company and has 3 groove rifling instead of Spencer’s six. One of only 34,000 it remains in its original configuration without the Stabler cutoff, making it all the more desirable.

Model and Patent are stamped on the top of the receiver.

Serial Number: 4301

Caliber: .52 (56-56 is what it was known by in the 1860s)

Bore is in nice condition and all parts mechanically functional.

Overall condition as seen in photos.

We’re not sure whether Ancestry Guns’ price for the Burnside-made Spencer is reasonable; it depends on how you’d class the gun’s condition. We are sure it’s an opportunity to acquire a firearm that lets you tell a story of Abraham Lincoln and one of Ambrose Burnside at the same time.

Bubba Customizes a Mo-Nag

About the only thing Bubba the Gunsmite missed on this one is that he seems to have chosen a fairly uncommon Dragoon Rifle, instead of, say, a Finnish Mosin as his playground. But that’s OK, because he did go full Bubba sporterizing this one.

The donor rifle was made 1920 at the Tula Armory. He also began, as you can see, with a fairly rusty, pitted abomination of a rifle — perhaps ex-VC or ex-Chicom; a lot of them seem to have dwelt among the tubers for some time. This rust was probably, also, the reason for the gun’s other problem, which we’ll get to after Bubba’s depredations have all been examined. Bubba Mosin 03Here’s an overview of the victim.

Bubba Mosin 02Let’s run a quick checklist.

  • Cheesy ATI plastic sporter stock? √
  • Front sight that doesn’t seem to be the same height as the riser-mounted rear tangent sight? √
  • Made on Amateur Night Picatinny or Weaver Rail, bolted haphazardly onto receiver (and disabling stripper loading)? √
  • And what in tarnation is that bolt handle? √ √ √ !

Let’s get another look at that beast, and the rail:

Bubba Mosin 01

And here’s the other side of the rail, just begging to have a $19 Chinese TASCO (These Are Simply Crappy Optics) or Barska scope wrenched on. Note that the pitting extends all over the metal of the firearm, which is innocent of any trace of the original factory blue — after 95 years, so it’s not really a lick on the factory.

Bubba Mosin 04Which brings us to the other problem with this rifle, besides the Bubbafied, crude, irreversible cosmetics. The owner, quite honestly, described it like this on a for-sale forum:

Here’s the bad news. It shoots really bad. I think the barrel is corroded out. It’s very inaccurate and it keyholes past 25yds.
This might make a fun re-barrel project for someone. I’d like to get $100 for it.

The eyesore, crude bolt modification turns out to be from ATI, “Advanced Technology International” (“What’s advanced about making a century-old bolt gun worse?” we thought aloud), the same Bubba-enablers who produced the plastic stock. Here’s a YouTube video that;s supposed to be some other Bubba installing one, but is actually Bubba talking about how he installed it, afterward, while the camera is pointed at the bolt but focused on something else. Best part: Bubba complaining how the part doesn’t fit his visibly crooked cut.

It says that there is something universal in Bubbahood that his whole video is out of focus.

Returning to the original rifle, it was put up for sale on Reddit in the /r/gunsforsale subreddit that Reddit managers, in the national socialist tradition of Chairman Pao, are trying to shut down. A year ago. Still unsold at $100.

Perhaps what it is missing is the Krylonkote rattle can camo job that these things usually get?

Or perhaps there just isn’t much market for a mangled, pitted receiver, a scrap barrel, a gelded bolt and a bunch of other Bubba’s Tacticool Shop aftermarket parts. Note well that the original seller didn’t do this to this poor firearm, he took it in trade. (For what, we surely can’t imagine, but we hope it was really rusty).




Brown Bess: Guest Post by Rudyard Kipling

Brown Bess

The Army Musket–1700-1815

Brown Bess -- a Pedersoli reproduction.

Brown Bess — a Pedersoli reproduction.

In the days of lace-ruffles, perukes and brocade
Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise–
An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes–
At Blenheim and Ramillies fops would confess
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

Though her sight was not long and her weight was not small,
Yet her actions were winning, her language was clear;
And everyone bowed as she opened the ball
On the arm of some high-gaitered, grim grenadier.
Half Europe admitted the striking success
Of the dances and routs that were given by Brown Bess.

In the days of perukes (powdered wigs), Grenadiers of the 29th Foot fired their Brown Besses at a Bostonian mob, although they look more joyous than grim in this Colonial propaganda sheet.

In the days of perukes (powdered wigs), Grenadiers of the 29th Foot fired their Brown Besses at a Bostonian mob, and “opened the ball” of the American War of Independence. Grenadiers were selected for height and strength and were an elite force in the British Army of their day — although these Tommies look more joyous than grim in this Colonial propaganda sheet. (It embiggens).

When ruffles were turned into stiff leather stocks,
And people wore pigtails instead of perukes,
Brown Bess never altered her iron-grey locks.
She knew she was valued for more than her looks.
“Oh, powder and patches was always my dress,
And I think am killing enough,” said Brown Bess.

"Her iron-gray locks" -- a 1743 example auctioned some time ago by Rock Island Auctions.

“Her iron-gray locks” — a 1743 original auctioned some time ago by Rock Island Auctions. “The flint in her teeth.”

So she followed her red-coats, whatever they did,
From the heights of Quebec to the plains of Assaye,
From Gibraltar to Acre, Cape Town and Madrid,
And nothing about her was changed on the way;
(But most of the Empire which now we possess
Was won through those years by old-fashioned Brown Bess.)

In stubborn retreat or in stately advance,
From the Portugal coast to the cork-woods of Spain,
She had puzzled some excellent Marshals of France
Till none of them wanted to meet her again:
But later, near Brussels, Napoleon–no less–
Arranged for a Waterloo ball with Brown Bess.

She had danced till the dawn of that terrible day–
She danced till the dusk of more terrible night,
And before her linked squares his battalions gave way,
And her long fierce quadrilles put his lancers to flight:
And when his gilt carriage drove off in the press,
“I have danced my last dance for the world!” said Brown Bess.

28th Regiment forms square at Quatre Bras during the battle of Waterloo -- the "last dance" of Brown Bess.

28th Regiment forms square at Quatre Bras during the battle of Waterloo — the “last dance” of Brown Bess.

If you go to Museums–there’s one in Whitehall–
Where old weapons are shown with their names writ beneath,
You will find her, upstanding, her back to the wall,
As stiff as a ramrod, the flint in her teeth.
And if ever we English had reason to bless
Any arm save our mothers’, that arm is Brown Bess!