Category Archives: Industry

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.



Ultra Rarities: Dardick 1100 and 1500 Pistols

In the history of firearms, one of the obscure yesterday’s “weapons of tomorrow” whose morrow never dawned was the Dardick “tround” (triangular round) system. The idea was for the weapon to use special trounds, or tround adapters that took a round of conventional fixed ammunition — .38 Special, for the standard Dardick, although an attempt was made at a .50 Dardick gun for aircraft usage. There was also a triplex tround.


The ammunition’s unusual sectional shape made it easy, at least in theory, to design feeding mechanisms.

Dardick never successfully commercialized his product, instead surviving for some years on R&D money from the military.

A seller at GunBroker has not one, but two, of these for sale in a single auction: a Model 1500, the most common Dardick (although “common” in Dardick terms means there may have been three dozen made), and a rarer Model 1100.


I don’t think it gets much more obscure than this! Up for auction are my two Dardick pistols and small collection of Trounds, pamphlets, etc. Both are original and complete.

The more scarce of these two is the Model 1100. It is said that only 40-50 firearms total were ever produced by the Dardick Corporation and only a small handful of those were the Model 1100, one of which was presented to JFK by David Dardick. This 1100 has not been test fired with live ammo but functions/cycles flawlessly in both double and single action.


The Model 1500 is complete but will need some work to get it running smoothly. As it sits, the cylinder and other components rub on the frame and do not rotate/cycle without assistance.


Both pistols have the complete adjustable sights and fully functional firing pin selector/adjustment features in-tact. These pistols have NOT been refinished and the factory etched/white information is clear and not painted over on the barrel and receiver of each.

Included in the collection are a selection of several live Trounds (one .38 HiVAP, Two Well Busters, a .50 caliber and a standard Tround with what appears to be a smaller projectile than the usual .38 projectile, possibly a .32?). Also included are an original box for the Model 1500 and several original/old stock pamphlets and booklets.

via Dardick 1100 and 1500 Pistols : Other Collectible Guns at


The initial bid requested on the auction is $5,000. There are two ways of looking at this. It’s a lot of money for a couple of guns you’ll likely never have ammo to fire, that’s one way. And then there’s the other way: two guns from a remarkable dead-end lineage of firearms history, guns which personify 1960s Space Age firearms design, for about the price of one relatively common WWII rarity like a Johnson or a modern replica like Ohio Arms Works BAR.

Only you know if it’s worth $5k to you. We regret we can’t buy every firearm we feature in these pages. (Hmmm… how long till we qualify for a reverse mortage, we could monetize the Manor….?)

“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.

Great Research, Weak Conclusions on Defective Small-Arms Parts

We do a lot of posts based on tips commenters send us, but this one was tipped at least three times:

And yes, the article is worth reading in full (don’t neglect the sidebars and the documents). That said, we’ll have some critical comments after a short synopsis for  those of you disinclined to click the link.

The story is a remarkable body of research by Damian Spleeters of Spleeters has conducted interviews, sent in (and pursued) FOIA requests, and all-around done the sort of job of shoe-leather reporting one seldom sees any more. His subject: the Defense Logistics Agency and the Army’s near-criminal failure to trace defective firearm parts, and (and this bit should sound familiar to readers) their apparent lack of interest in holding anyone responsible.

Again, we’re astonished and pleased at the hard work Spleeters put into the story, work which clearly took him months to do and aroused his passions. We strongly recommend that you read the story, the sidebars, and especially the documents.

But as he isn’t familiar with the Army, with guns in general, or with the two for which he found trails of bad parts (the M2HB .50 Caliber and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon), he tends to ride wildly off in all directions, following not the evidence but The Narrative™ — in this case, Narrative, Greedy Corporation edition.

The most extreme example of this may be the case of Northside Machine Company (NMC) or Duggar, IN, which had a contract to run off 482 M2 backplates in 180 days, delivered, for $56,380.36, or $116.93 each. (The backplate houses the trigger, bolt latch releases lock, buffer tube sleeve, and Left and right spade grips).

buttplate removal

That’s an aggressive contract for a complex part with dozens of machining operations involved (We’re not clear whether they started from billet or from a forging. If a forging, the timeline was extremely tight). The parts were ordered in March, 2007 and delivered a little behind the 180-day schedule in November and December. In the interests of speed, the government waived the First Article Test (an in-depth test of a first run off the line, to ensure that the vendor is on the right track). The parts passed routine acceptance testing and were taken into inventory.

Browning_50_Cal_M2_HB_Back_Plate_1944_850In anticipation of further orders, NMC had run off some extra backplates. They decided to conduct random checks on these against the drawings, and made an unpleasant, but hardly unprecedented, discovery. One dimension on the plate was wrong, and it probably wouldn’t fit on a gun. (They didn’t have a gun at NMC to check it with). They checked another plate, and another. All 40 plates in their inventory were bad.

They quickly determined what had happened. A machinist had set up his machine wrong. The production operator didn’t catch the error, and the quality manager missed the bad dimension in his inspections. They figured out how to prevent this error in the future, and contacted their Contracting Officer (CO) and Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR) immediately, explaining the error and taking full responsibility.

M2HB backplate assy

Mike Smith of Northside Machine, who wasn’t making a fortune on these parts to begin with, then volunteered to redo every backplate at no cost to the government, including shipping both ways. Here’s what Smith wrote in a later, follow-up letter:

We have found a dimensional issue on the Back Plate, P/N 6535475 (NSN: 1005-00-918-
2618). There is a slot dimension (0.10 + 0.01) found in zones A-61A-7 on the back side
of the Back Plate that will cause an interference issue when it is assembled to the end
of the .50-cal machine gun. We noticed this issue during the week of 12/10/07 while
performing a random inspection before stocking our spare parts to inventory. Upon
finding this mistake, we notified Robert Heavrin and Cheryl Middleton on 12/18/07 via
email requesting a return of all the parts for repair.

We are willing to incur all costs for this return and repair. This error was entirely our
fault and we take full responsibility for any actions needed to correct this issue. After
receiving the Back Plates, we should be able to repair and be ready to re-ship within
two weeks time. We currently have 40 Back Plates in inventory that we have pulled for
repair. We would be able to repair these parts within two weeks.

M2HB backplate assy2

The reason behind the mistake is a failure to interpret the drawing during machine setup
by the setup machinist, production operation by our operator, and inspection by our
quality manager. We have initiated an in-house corrective action in order to eliminate
this problem from future shipments. We also completed a corrective action for Tom
Smith, QAR DCMA Indianapolis.

With the assistance of NSWC Crane, three Back Plates were tried on a .50-cal machine
gun this morning. There was an interference problem. This action was witnessed by
Robert Heavrin, QAR DCMA Indianapolis.

After that, the original documents collapse into a chaotic set of government employees in various stovepiped logistic activities asking the same questions that had already been answered:

  1. M2HB backplate assy completeWas the problem a safety one? (No, the mistaken plates won’t go on the gun at all).
  2. Was the contractor willing to fix them (Yeah, he’s said so from Day One).
  3. Can we lay hands on the parts? Do we know the contractor’s “CAGE1 Code” ID, which is marked on every part? (Yes).

Then the whole thing would move to a new stovepipe and the questions begin anew, either because no one clued in the Army in general that the questions had been answered already.

By now, months later, many of the bad plates had been distributed in repair-parts kits. Any time they tried one on a gun, they discovered it wouldn’t go.

This is the story that Spleeters tells as a dull and pedestrian “greedy contractors gouging the .gov” tale. Despite their error, it’s hard to see the contractor in this case as anything other than a good guy, doing his best to correct the error. What’s depressing is the military in general’s poor leadership on this score. and what appears to be the extreme difficulty of something simple, getting everyone who has an M2 or spare parts thereof, to check the CAGE Code on the parts and send them back to Northside in the event of error.

That, to us, is the scandal. Not that a contractor made an error, but that when it stepped up to correct the error, the Army couldn’t be shifted to look for the defective parts.


  1. CAGE code stands for Commercial And Government Entity, and is used in various ways in the logistics system.

Ghost Gunner Update x 3

Today, we have not one, but three, Ghost Gunner updates for you. The first is from the website, and brief; the second is a longer, official one, from Cody R. Wilson of Defense Distributed. The third is our own, and it is unfortunately briefer, as we have received the unit but haven’t had time to put it into production. We had a post half-drafted with some complaints, but as Cody, if not exactly answering, does explain why we have those complaints, we thought we’d let him go first.

Website Update

Here’s what went on the website on 15 November. It differs slightly from the longer email sent to owners, and includes more detail on the improved power supply.

The GG team spent the summer upgrading our machine and creating new business relationships. All Ghost Gunners will now ship with a 160w power supply and upgraded cutting tool, to take better advantage of our higher speed settings and address the latent power issues we’ve had time to observe with some machines in the field. These new machines make a distinctively different species of chip.


If you look at that picture (we changed the orientation 90º clockwise) you san just see the spindle working in the trigger pocket. The characteristic plastic 3D Printed hold-downs are one of the innovations in the Ghost Gunner technology. Before anyone asks, no, the GG is not configured to work with coolant or cutting fluid.

The GG and the software that comes with it works with milspec-dimensioned forged and some billet lowers (as you can see in the image, where a billet lower is in process).  Back to the update:

In early October we celebrated shipping our last order from 2014, and we’ve been working to take hundreds of backers off our wait list since May.

I’ve thought for months now that we’d start selling GG through distributors, but there is a large appetite for the product from simple word of mouth, and we have committed to making another 250-350 units for Q1 of this year and still more if the demand is there. As well, we’ve made the decision to offer custom lower receivers for sale.

There’s often confusion about what lowers to use with our machine, even though we try to make consistent recommendations. So from now on, we’ll begin offering billet 7075 80% lowers that were vetted for use with the GG. We’ve got quite a few in stock now.

The other images on the web update are the same as the ones below in the email update.

Wilson’s GG Update

Verbatim as Received, only bold subheadings added for clarity’s sake.


We spent the summer months overcoming our banking and payments issues to forge strong relationships with many providers in our industry. As well, we’ve been able to keep maturing the Ghost Gunner itself after shipping over 700 and watching them in the field. All GG’s now ship with upgraded cutting tools and power supplies, as well as improved cutting and operating code.

Celebration-last 2014 backorder

After we celebrated taking care of all orders from 2014 to early January, we’ve been taking backers off of our wait list by the hundreds. Please check your spam folders since I know many of our wait list invitations have been lost and many of you have waited a long time for your chance to get your machine.

Before we get to still other news, I’m please to announce that we are now selling Ghost Gunner 80% lowers directly. For now, just 7075 billet lowers, but we’ll add forged lowers and the AR-10 as time goes on. Our lowers are specifically manufactured for use in our machine, to clear up all the confusion we’ve seen over the months about how to best use our jigs or just what is or isn’t a mil-spec piece.

Pile of Lowers
Quite a few in the shop now.

What’s the Holdup With More Options?

As for further software options or jigs for sale, I’ll explain the delay this way. Our expectation when launching the product last year was that we’d be able to have a user’s forum where those who purchased the machine (and the public) would be able to quickly iterate on our work and drive some of the necessary improvements that would lead to the implementation of better cutting code and support for other kind of gun components or projects. What we got instead was a hostile US State Department literally threatening us and our attorneys over the suggestion of our forum in our user’s manual. To date our forum is not active because the federal government takes the insane and asinine position that a public Ghost Gunner forum would violate their invented definition of a defense technology export.

So since last year our team has been doing all the software and hardware development it can while we support and manufacture the machine. The money is often thing because of our ongoing lawsuit against the State Department; our fight to make sure that the Internet is recognized as the public domain and that all people have the right to speak about and share information related to their Second Amendment.

Updates to that case can currently be found on our parent website. And the last I’ll say about it is that we expect some success when we are before the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans in the month of March.

We’ll interject here to add the link to the court case files:

Looking Forward

Looking forward, we’re committed to producing at least another 300 machines for Q1 of the upcoming year, and more as demand permits. We’ve been courted by distributors for months, but as word of mouth and public interest stays where it is, I don’t see the need to go there yet. I want to make the machine as cheaply and quickly as possible to show our commitment to the cause rather than to profit. To that end, we’re adding another shift at our shop and hoping to double our capacity by the end of the year.

For now, the only way to get in line for a Ghost Gunner remains to join our waitlist at

I’ll announce improvements in software and fixturing as they become available.

A Final Thanks

Lastly, I’d like to thank Alan Gottlieb and the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear arms for recognizing the work of Defense Distributed through our lawsuit and our Ghost Gunner project at the most recent Run Rights Policy Conference in Phoenix, AZ. I’m more proud of this recognition than anything else, and it really helps us keep going over here.
Thank you all for your patience and, as ever, if you have questions, need support, or have an address change or other important update, please email us at

While we’re excited about the GhostGunner for its technological promise, Wilson is motivated by something completely different: the disruption he’s seeking is political, small-l libertarian, even small-a anarchistic. Well, maybe not completely different; different, perhaps, in degree. We doubt we would meet his standards for ideological purity. But the fates put us shoulder to shoulder in this pass, with the horde of national socialist persian government lawyers advancing, threatening to blot out the sun. So the least we can do is pick up the sword.

We believe you have the right to give your friend in a foreign country a copy of Stuart Otteson’s The Bolt Action Rifle, or to put the dimensions of a 7.62mm NATO chamber reamer on the web for any and all to see. The national socialist lawyers believe you do not. And all the judges come from their ranks, not ours.

Still think the Thermopylae reference was over the top?

Our GG Unit Update

Our Ghost Gunner was received finally in September and is sitting in a corner of the office, partially unpacked. It can’t go into the shop because that space is full of an airplane stabilator, half a fuselage, and two in-process wings at the moment. A bit hard to swing a cat in there. In adddition, we’re busy with work and life and a little blogging, so it’s been a bit hard to fit it in. (It’s not the only machine that is sitting idle. So is our 3D printer).

In order to ship it to us, they had to run our name and SSAN by a prohibited persons list maintained by the Department of State. As far as we know, this is simply an attempt by the national socialists at State to maintain a registry of these devices in hopes of receiving authority to confiscate them later.

The Ghost Gunner was very well packed and arrived complete. It is heavy and well made. There are a couple of parts that we’d have deburred a little more thoroughly and/or radiused a little more before sending them out for finishing, but that’s us… we don’t care for sharp edges on stuff. Most of the parts do not have this issue, and the overall impression is of a quality device from an experienced company, even though we know it is a debut product from a bunch of Texan revolutionaries. It doesn’t have Apple level industrial design, but neither does the stuff from post-Jobs Apple, whose business model seems to deliver twice the sanctimony but without the technical superiority and innovation that made even the old levels of Silicon Valley sanctimony bearable.

We’re pretty cynical about revolutions around here — they usually end with the survivors worse off, and damnably few survivors — but we bear Wilson’s revolutionary rhetoric, in part because we agree with him, and in part because the device promised technical superiority and innovation, and we’re suckers for that.

We don’t know if we got the improved cutting tools and power supply. We don’t know how to tell, or whether it makes a difference. We have asked DD, and if we get an answer we’ll append it here as an update, unless it merits a post of its own.

The documentation is still the 1.0 version that is available (mirabile dictu, seeing the way they’ve been attacked by partisan hacks at the Department of State) on the website, and it is somewhat inadequate if you want to really understand things, and develop new fixtures and new G-Code. So the machine is, at present, a bit of a black box for grinding out AR lowers, which is not what we want. (Although it’s a useful capability).

One thing we’d really like to have is the ability to engrave lowers with ATF-legal marks; this would let us mark our lowers for our retro collection and maybe open the door to doing some Form 1 SBRs in house. We can’t believe we’re the only ones looking at a GhostGunner and trying to figure this out. We’d have to fixture the lower differently, and two ways if we also want to engrave on the right side.

If anybody knows of a good g-code tutorial in pixel or print, kindly clue us in.

The lack of the planned forum really crimps the utility of the GhostGunner, and is part of why we haven’t set ours up and run it off yet. That is, of course, why the anti-gun politicians at the State Department have suppressed the forum to date.

MG5 Contract Document Translation

We’ve referred before to the MG5 contract document, which Nathanial F. of The Firearm Blog found and posted. This document comprises some two dozen or so questions from German parliamentarians (Bundestagabgeordnete) to the armed forces (Bundeswehr) about the MG5 contract (and a few about the G27 contract). We did a hasty translation of the first part of the document for Nathaniel, and sent it off to him, but we continued to work on the sucker and it is attached to this post.

Because any post on a gun should include pictures, here’s one showing that the MG5 is available in basic black, for those who may be diffident about the RAL 8000 earth tone color.


Can’t decide between black and baby stool brown uh, RAL 8000 earth tone? If you’re a big enough army, H&K will make you one in fashionable two-tone. (If you’re a civilian, fuggedaboudit. HK. Because you suck. And we hate you.)


The color matters, apparently, as the Bundeswehr asked the Oberndorf manufacture if they could change the color… after getting a hearty “Jawohl!” the service did a most un-Germanic dither1 and decided to leave the color as it was.


Don’t take our word for it. Here’s our translation of the whole document (which does, we suppose, make you take our word for it, literally). Further, nobody’s paying for this translation so we’re not going to guarantee it.In fact, we’re sure there’s an error or three in there somewhere, but it’s a far more accurate gist that you’ll get from a robotranslation.



  1. Come on, when Shakespeare wrote a play about a guy who dithered, did he make him a German? He did not. The Bard knew just how far he could stretch reality!

Why It’s Harder for an Army to Buy Guns, than for You

Developing a NATO weapon? There are a lot of nations to please, too.

Developing a NATO weapon? There are a lot of nations to please, too.

Buying a rifle seems pretty straightforward, to most of our readers. After all, most of us have bought more than one rifle, and it’s never been too dramatic. (Unless we did it with the rent money and didn’t tell Herself). But militaries have a lot of requirements to meet.

How many? This is a list of almost three dozen minimum requirements for a notional future NATO rifle, from a DTIC-hosted NDIA presentation by NATO’s Barton Halpern from this past April.

How many of these can your favorite rifle meet? How many can you document that it can meet?

  1. Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO according to STANAG 4172.
  2. Magazine: 30 rounds according to draft STANAG 4179.
  3. Barrel length: 260, 350 and 508 mm, free floating.
  4. Mass: <3.5 kg unloaded w/o sight.
  5. Length: <1.0 m with 350 mm barrel.
  6. Life expectancy: >10 000 rounds according to D/14.
  7. Accuracy: Must be able to shoot 10 rounds within 0.6 mils at 100 meters with NATO reference ball ammunition.
  8. Rate of fire: <750 rpm.
  9. Adjustable butt stock, adjustable in length approx. 80 mm, with adjustable cheek rest.
  10. Ambidextrous controls.
  11. Rails according to STANAG 4694, on top of the upper receiver, and preferable around hand guard at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock.
  12. An option of powered rail according to STANAG 4740.
  13. Flash hider: TBD.
  14. Muzzle thread: M15 x 1 RH.
  15. All weapons controls must be able to be manipulated with gloved hands.
  16. Ambidextrous three point sling positions.
  17. Automatic bolt catch.
  18. Being able to withstand NBC decontamination agents.
  19. Safe ejection for both right and left hand shooters.
  20. Compatible with sound suppressors.
  21. Able to use training ammunition.
  22. Iron sights must be able to be adjusted without special tools.
  23. Screws that the user needs to manipulate shall be metric and use the same tool.
  24. Internal parts should not need lubrication.
  25. Minimal movement at firing.
  26. Easy dismantling and reassembly.
  27. It shall not be possible to reassemble incorrectly.
  28. No small parts that can be lost during cleaning.
  29. It shall be possible to install an electronic shot counter.
  30. No degradation of accuracy and/or point of impact for hot weapon.
  31. It shall be possible to mount a grenade launcher and fire rifle grenades.
  32. It shall be possible to mount a bayonet.
  33. No degradation of function with devices (sight etc.) with a total weight of 3 kg.
  34. Parts shall be interchangeable according D/14.
  35. The weapon shall be safe for the operator according to D/14.

Now you see a little more of what a contemporary designer (or, really, a design team) is up against. Things the average individual never thinks about, like insensitivity to highly caustic decontaminant agents (#18), are potential sales killers for a military firearm. Then there’s the standards you have to meet: four STANAGS and the 1977-vintage “Evaluation Procedures for Future NATO Weapon Systems: Individual Weapons; Support Weapons; Area Fire Weapons,” published by NATO’s AC/225 Panel III, and the same panel’s 1975 “Operational Requirement for Individual Weapon.”

As a rule of thumb, different sub-teams work on the design of the actual weapon, and on shepherding its specifications and test results through chutes and ladders of the bureaucracy.

Now do you think you’re ready to design the Next Big Thing?


German MG5 Accuracy Issue was Barrel Changes — Updated

Bear with us a bit as we’re still sick as the proverbial dog, and translating a long document, courtesy of Nathaniel F of The Firearm Blog. Along with a couple of interesting series on oddball magazines and the mid-20th-Century Light Rifle concept (which yielded the NATO rifles of the second half of the century, until the resurgent intermediate assault rifle concept and the 5.56 cartridge replaced them), he’s also stayed on the Bundeswehr’s small arms scandals.

The base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It's mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG.

HK’s base MG5 replaces the MG3 in Bundeswehr service. It’s mostly a scale-up of the MG4, a successful 5.56 mm LMG. It has a close resemblance to the Mk,48, a scale-up of the Mk.46 US version of the Minimi which the MG4 resembles, in design and ergonomics.

These scandals have tested the tight relationship between the Bund’s ordies and their major supplier of shootin’ irons, Heckler & Koch. The Oberndorf firm has been rocked by various accusations of a too-tight relationship with the service, which has resulted in undertested weapons that fell short of some sensible expectations, particularly in sustained accuracy with a hot gun (where the G36 rifle flags) and holding point of impact after a barrel change (where the specs were altered to meet what the 7.62mm MG5 could practically do.

It's most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock.

The HK MG5 is most commonly seen in this version with a comfortable inline collapsible stock. Any NATO optic can be attached, like the EOTech seen here..

Note that this is not a problem of precisionThe new barrel puts the bullets in as tight a group as the old one did. It is a problem of accuracy — the new group is in a new position. This is fairly normal with an MG barrel change (it’s why some MGs incorporate adjustable foresights on the barrels, so both barrels in a typical GPMG’s suite of two can be zeroed to the same point of impact). The initial specification called for a very tight 5 centimeter — two inch — shift in mean point of impact after a barrel change in semi-auto fire, and 10 cm (four inches, 4.16 if you want to be pedantic, and we do, don’t we?) in automatic fire. In the end, these numbers were not achievable, which shouldn’t shock anyone who’s ever worked with the design, maintenance, or operation of machine guns. You’re not going to get that out of anything you change barrels on without insane amounts of hand fitting, at least, for a production service firearm. You can’t get that consistency out of a Minimi/249, a 240, a PK, or a 60 or 1919 for you Old School guys.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. All images courtesy HK.

HK MG5 in a vehicle mounted version. The German service is all in for this gun. All images courtesy HK.

They changed the mean-POI-shift spec, by agreement between the ordnance officers and H&K, to 10 and 15 cm respectively — still pretty impressive numbers.

This document relates to those specs and that change. It is a series of increasingly suspicious questions put by the Bundestag, Germany’s unicameral Parliament, to the Ministry of Defense. Indeed, the suspicion towards the end of the questionnaire devolves into nearly-paranoid badgering.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

HK MG5 in a solenoid-operated version for aircraft, armor, CROWS, etc.

We have already shared the translation of the first parts of with Nathaniel (it was only fair, as his source Axel brought him the original document), and shortly we’ll post a couple excerpts of it to this post, and attach a .pdf. Meanwhile, Nathaniel went live with a robotranslated version.


In our bozosity we looked at the sentence several times, sure we had something wrong, and sure enough published with accuracy and precision starring in a swapped places farce, like the Prisoner of Zenda. Honest, Germany only sometimes resembles Ruritania, and we only sometimes confuse the two.


This post has been updated. Some small typos have been corrected. Our original intent was to post the document here, but it will be posted later this week (there’s a lot of it to translate).


Let’s Peruse Pending Pistol Purchases

Shall we? Music, Maestro, please! Welcome to the occasional WeaponsMan recap of pistol purchases pending in the Fed, and what people are saying about ’em. Taken as a whole, these three projects illustrate nothing so much as the United States Government’s ability to mess up a junkyard. It would be hand to make this mess any bigger if you were trying. (Lord, please don’t let these agencies take this as a challenge, because they probably could). In retrospect, the early 20th Century pistol trials make you wonder where those 20 points on the procurement wallahs’ IQs have gone in a century. Nobody expects the next 1911 to come out of this.

US Army Modular Pistol Contract

Army LogoEverybody hates this doorstop of a solicitation that’s the size and weight of a Russian novel, but doesn’t even specify what caliber the Army wants. “Surprise us!”

No $#!+, surprise us. Could they have thought up any way to signal more forcefully that they have no idea what they’re doing?

Former SecDef Bob Gates said, “This is absurd… it’s a handgun, for God’s sake.” But the Army requirements document is longer than the D-Day base op order… by about 50 times.

John McCain threw a wobbler about the contract last week, as has been widely reported. Here’s Soldier of Fortune magazine on his complaint, just because we’ve seldom linked to SOF mag before. (Huh, they just reused a Shooting Illusrated story. Well, they got one link out of us).  Better yet, here’s McCain’s own press release on it at his official site, and best of all, here’s the actual McCain document that everybody’s writing about, but nobody has read. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with about half of it. Sample:

[P]erhaps that’s the whole point, and the Army already has a preferred outcome in mind and is just going through the motions with this “competition”. By purchasing both handguns and ammunition from a single vendor on a single contract, the total value of which could exceed $1.2B, the Army’s selection process favors larger companies over smaller ones and increases the risk that the Army will not select the best performing weapon, ammunition, silencer, holster and training system components available. In fact, with this contract structure, the Army will assuredly be forced to field one or more inferior components of the handgun system to the troops because there will be no way to pick and choose the best of each component received from various bidders without causing protests and legal actions from the losing bidders.

Another serious flaw with the Army’s selection process for its new handgun is that there are currently too many opportunities for vendors to be disqualified for paperwork or technical reasons before our soldiers get a vote. The Army plans to conduct early handgun tests without actual human shooters (using fixed mechanical platforms) to narrow the selections to only three weapons before front line soldiers get to provide any feedback whatsoever. This means that back-office bureaucrats will have more say in selecting the next handgun than our front line troops.

We disagree that the Army has a single preferred pistol in mind, but we think the lack of a caliber spec is a somewhat inept signal that the Army wants to be sold the 9mm again. (Or, God help us, a multicaliber-interchangeable-Man-From-UNCLE gun). But the way the MHS run-off is set up, you can get bounced from the competition if one of your documents has the wrong size margins, but not if your gun doesn’t work.

There’s something deeply pathological about that.

Industry powers and industry little guys are still planning to submit. Along with great theropods like SIG and S&W, Kriss USA is going to enter the competition, according to Bearing Arms — with a steel DA/SA CZ75 clone. In an age of safetyless striker-fired plastic, some stand athwart fashion, yelling “quality!” They won’t win, but neither did Travis at the Alamo.

FBI Pistol Contract

500px-US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgThe FBI pistol contract is for a new 9mm pistol for the Bureau and other DOJ (mostly) agencies. Aaron at Blue Sheepdog thinks the fix is in:

The truth is revealed! The FBI RFP seems to be blatantly tailored to fit one particular firearm, the Sig Sauer P320. There is no doubt that government agencies often write tight standards when a RFP goes out, having specific requirements and needs for the product to be purchased. However, this RFP appears to be so specific that only the Sig Sauer P320 would fit all the FBI requirements. Let’s examine the RFP and show how many fine handguns are eliminated by the FBI requirements.

SIG’s definitely in the running, but the contract is not in the bag for them. For one thing, some of the requirements in the FBI document — which McCain holds out as a model of brevity, but is actually 150 pages long itself — are matters of personal preference, which makes them bogus from a contractual point of view. Any contract that hinges on such a flimsy pin is guaranteed to be disputed by excluded bidders, and the bidders may win in arbitration or in court, throwing the whole procurement into chaos. Then Congress can’t help sticking its air-is-free nose in, and can you think of a single example of a weapon improved by Congressional micromanagement? (See the Montague v. Capulet history of the USAF tanker replacement buy for numerous examples of both arbitration overturns and Congressional thumbs on the scale).

An example of the bogus requirements is the requirement that the grip not have finger grooves. These are very much a matter of personal preference; we have seen Glock shooters who had theirs removed because they weren’t in the right place. But Aaron sees these being the cause, or partial cause, of the removal of six competitors pre-testing:

Glock 17 & 19 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame
Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm – DISQUALIFIED – Trigger pull is 6.5 lbs.; Barrel Length is 4.25″
Smith & Wesson M&P 9c – DISQUALIFIED – Barrel length is 3.5″; Capacity is only 12.
Heckler & Koch VP9 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves; Lever magazine release; Barrel length is 4.09″
Heckler & Koch P30 – DISQUALIFIED – Capacity only 15; DA/SA action; Finger grooves on frame
Ruger SR9 – DISQUALIFIED – Barrel length is 4.1″; No compact model or adjustable frame sizes
Springfield XD9 – DISQUALIFIED – Grip safety; Barrel length is 4.0″
Springfield XDm – DISQUALIFIED – Grip safety
Walther PPX – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame; Trigger pull is 6.5 lbs.
Walther PPQ M2 – DISQUALIFIED – Capacity only 15; Finger grooves on frame
Walther P99 – DISQUALIFIED – Finger grooves on frame; Lever magazine release; Capacity only 15
FNS 9 – DISQUALIFIED – Trigger pull up to 7.7 lbs.; Barrel length is 4.0″; No size changes for frame
FNX 9 – DISQUALIFIED – Decocking lever; Barrel length is 4.0″; No size changes for frame
Beretta M9 – DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; Capacity only 15; External manual safety
Beretta Px4 – DISQUALIFIED – External manual safety; Barrel length is 4.0″; DA/SA action
CZ75 SP-01- DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; External manual safety
CZ P09 – DISQUALIFIED – DA/SA action; External manual safety-decocker

The finger groove requirement will not withstand a challenge by Glock, HK or Walther. We are not procurement lawyers, but we’d bet a new Glock, HK or Walther that those companies’ counsel have already told them that (just as SIGs has told them not to count on finger grooves eliminating their competition).

Other requirements, such as mag capacity or barrel length, are trivially modified and don’t be shocked if these “excluded” companies introduce new models that meet the requirements of the FBI and Army contracts at January’s SHOT Show.

The ICE/DHS Handgun Buy

ICE badgeHere, they vehemently deny tailoring the requirements document to the 320 or any specific pistol. ICE firearms managers have insisted that nobody has a thumb on their scales, and that, while the 320 meets their needs, so do a lot of other pistols.

One thing they’re not apologetic about is excluding Glock. While it’s not the only brand excluded by this rule, the ban on trigger manipulation during disassembly was targeted square on the Glock 17/19/26 series of 9mm pistols. While the ICE handgun instructors tend to personally prefer Glocks, they’re much less confident in the ability of the general run of agents — whom, after all, they see at the range — to get the sequence “clear, then disassemble” right ten times out of ten. Police and investigative agencies have always had gun-cleaning accidents, going back to the days of DA revolvers with wagon-train double-action pulls, but no one can deny that agencies that go Glock have more of them.

The problem isn’t the pistol, it’s complacency with the pistol; PA State Police had an instructor shoot and kill a guy while demonstrating the new SIG 227s they were changing to, because they had too many NDs with Glocks.

We’re Not the Only Ones Who Expect the Army Contract to Crater

A little paragraph in the FBI contract is… interesting. It mentions that, if it’s pistol is approved, other departments and agencies can buy using the FBI contract if they like.

Including DOD.

Now, they may have intended that only for the military’s criminal investigators (who currently carry SIGs). But the ingredients are there, assuming that the FBI in the end does buy a pistol through this vehicle, for either the Army or Congress to say “screw it” when, not if, the modular handgun project implodes in a welter of squandered dollars and ill-planned requirements, and just buys what’s on the FBI’s contract already.

That would be a sad commentary on the Army’s inability to manage contracts, but the number of people who think the Army’s “just flat got this,” is a small number indeed, and they all seem to be located in the relevant contract office.

Considering that it’s a weapon that’s not what you pick up when you’re expecting a gunfight, a whole lot of cerebral clock cycles are being wasted on these pistol buys. Every agency — especially the Army, which has blown tens of millions on its loopy proposal already — ought to sink the money into training instead. But training doesn’t give a Congressman a press opportunity, and for all 535 of those self-serving, corrupt hosers that press release is worth more than the lives of any of the people that will carry these pistols.

The Twilight of Bronze Cannon

This Bronze 1857 "Napoleon" is a Steen reproduction. They didn't shine like this in field use!

This Bronze 1857 “Napoleon” is a Steen reproduction. They didn’t shine like this in field use!

Bronze was a very, very early weapons material, being used for swords and spears millennia before the birth of Christ. It came to be replaced in those roles by wrought (forged) iron, but would have a renaissance after the advent of gunpowder.

Why? Because until the development of steel had reached a point were cannon barrels could be made consistently of steel, bronze remained a nearly ideal cannon-barrel material, suitable to be cast and machined, and fairly durable.

As late as 1860, the metals available to the cannon foundry were cast iron, wrought (forged) iron, some primitive steel, and bronze.

Cast iron was the cheapest of these metals, and it could be used to make very large muzzle-loading cannon, if weight was not an issue. That’s because the designer could always add more thickness of iron to beef up his cannon — if it could be used. This meant that cast iron was less than ideal for field artillery, which had to be transported (usually by horse team) and emplaced in the field.

Peacemaker explosionWrought, which today we would call Forged, iron,  was a superior metal — in theory. In practice, it was hard to make. Two early forged cannon were made for USS Princeton in 1843. One, called Orator, was found to be deficient due to cracks, and was reinforced with welded-on bands for greater strength. The other, Peacemaker, was not as thoroughly tested, and during a demonstration for dignitaries on 28 Feb 1843, its breech shattered, killing a variety of people from the personal slave of President John Tyler to the Secretaries of State and the Navy. In the freak accident, the gun crew and gunnery officers of the ship (who were hands-on in service of the gun in front of the VIPs) were not seriously injured, while the fatalities were among the watching VIPs. The captain of the ship, Robert F. Stockton (who had supervised the design of the ship and the guns) was standing with the VIPs, and survived with severe injuries.

The officers and men of the Princeton were examined by a board of inquiry, and cleared. But a Congressional Committee was of the opinion that large wrought iron guns were “an unusual species of armament, attended with danger.”

Simpson reported that a scientific analysis was made of the shattered gun Peacemaker by an eminent committee from the Franklin Institute:

[The] committee reported the iron had decreased very much in strength from the long exposure to the intense heat necessary in making a gun of that size, while it was impossible to restore the fibre by hammering, the strength before and after welding being about as 6 to 5.

Looking forward in 1862, Simpson continued that paragraph:

Some guns of smaller size have been made, however, and with such success, as to render it probable that wrought iron or steel will be extensively used, especially for rifled field cannon. Pieces of this material may be made very light, but their carriages will be strained accordingly.

In fact, forging iron at that size was bleeding-edge tech in 1843, and even by the early years of the civil war, the full promise of forged and welded cannon barrels had yet to be fulfilled. (Civil War practice would become to reinforce cast cannon with welded bands). The Princeton investigation discovered that many European experiments in forged cannon had likewise failed. To complicate matters, wrought iron cannons were over six times as expensive as cast-iron.

Steel, at that time, an alloy formed by iron with certain low percentages of carbon evenly diffused throughout the alloy, was the promising “material of the future”. Simpson’s comparison noted that:

Refined steel, therefore, which has about one per cent. of carbon, is a metal that both forges and melts. Cast iron, with five per cent. of carbon, only melts, and wrought-iron, having no carbon, only forges.

Production of steel was difficult and required a cementation process with high heat in which iron took up carbon from charcoal in the absence of oxygen.  Only low quantities could be produced and not enough for mid-19th-Century martial purposes such as ship armor (called “ship cuirasses” by Simpson!) or, for our purposes, cannon. Thus, steel was not practical at the outbreak of the Civil War. That left bronze.

Bronze is copper alloyed with tin — there are now many numbered alloys, but about 10% tin was the early rule of thumb. And in many ways bronze was an ideal cannon material. The tin increased the hardness of the copper without negatively impacting its “tenacity”, in the terms of the time. Yet it was practical to cast; by happy accident, normal casting procedures produced a gun stronger in the breech than the muzzle end. And it was comparatively light in weight, making it suitable for light horse and even hand-emplaced artillery, and light guns on small vessels.

Like cast, and unlike wrought, iron, bronze could be and was recycled in the mid-19th Century cannon foundry; a failed casting was a waste of time (as we will see, quite a lot of time) and labor, but not material, as the botched casting could be readily sawn apart and remelted. .

16th Century bronze cannon foundry, Italy. Guns are not yet cast vertical. Buti, Lodovico (1550/60-1611); Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

16th Century bronze cannon foundry, Italy. Guns are not yet cast vertical. Buti, Lodovico (1550/60-1611); Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Simpson was not blind to the mystery of using such an ancient material on what was then high-technology weaponry:

It is a singular fact, that the ancient composition of bronze has remained almost unchanged to the present day, and the metal from cannon is found to be almost identical in the proportions of copper and tin with the rude weapons of Scandinavian, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek and Roman warfare. The amount of tin in bronze varies in different countries from 9 to 12.5 parts to 100 of copper: 12.5 parts are used in this country; and in France, 11 parts is fixed by law as the proper amount.

The alloy was never uniform throughout the gun.

As with many other metallic alloys, the combination between the two metals in bronze is so imperfect, that very slight forces are sufficient to cause its separation into two or more different alloys, which, on cooling, are found to occupy different portions of the mass. In casting a gun, for example, the outside, which cools first, has a constitution different from that assigned by the proportions of the metals, as fixed for fusion. The interior, which cools last, has another, different from both, and always richer in tin. On being examined after cooling, portions at different heights are found to differ from each other; and this difference varies along the exterior and interior portions, so that no two adjacent portions have strictly the same chemical constitution; the maximum of copper being found in the exterior and breech of the gun, making these portions less flexible, and the maximum tin in the interior and higher parts.

This shows a hollow-cast iron Rodman gun, but shows the vertical orientation of period foundries' casting pits

This shows a hollow-cast iron Rodman gun, but shows the vertical orientation of period foundries’ casting pits

This metal distribution in the cast gun could produce a gun optimally strong in the right places:

Specimens taken from the top and bottom of the casting, show also a very great difference in density and tenacity, the density at the breech being much greater, and the tenacity, in one instance cited, more than double. The sinking head (which is the additional length cast on the muzzle of a gun) is, in consequence of these facts, made much longer in casting bronze guns than is otherwise necessary.

As you might imagine, a gun cast muzzle-down would, conversely, be weak where it needed to be strong. Cannon founders had worked this out empirically, long before the samples Simpson writes about were ever analyzed.

Once the gun had been cast, significant amounts of effort went into post-casting machining processes, regardless of whether the cannon was made of iron or bronze.


The Downsides of Bronze

Bronze was not without problems. It was harder to find than iron, and by the Civil War it cost as much to make a bronze field piece as it did to roll the dice on a wrought iron one — over six times the cost of cast iron. And bronze guns were life-limited. Simpson noted:

The fusibility of tin is such also as to render it liable to melt by slow degrees during the heat of a brisk cannonade, and thus bronze pieces sometimes become soft and spongy about the bore. The gases produced by the combustion of gunpowder, also produce an injurious effect upon this kind of piece by acting chemically on the bronze.

Casting a bronze piece was difficult and time consuming. The copper was melted first, which could take seven hours, and at the exact right point the tin had to be added. Too late and you had inclusions rather than a uniform-ish alloy; too soon and the tin burned off as scoria, or scale. To maintain the uniformity of the alloy, the molten bronze had to be constantly agitated, which workers did with sacrificial wooden poles (while another foundry worker skimmed the scoria and ash resulting from the poles’ combustion).

Other materials were considered for cannon manufacture in the mid-19th Century. Copper alloys with zinc were perhaps better than bronze, copper’s alloy with tin, but Simpson wrote that, “the difficulty of making this alloy, has caused its use in the manufacture of cannon to be abandoned.”

In the end, ingenuity would finally produce a working forged iron gun, the US 3-inch Ordnance Rifle of 1864. Its production was a brutal combination of fire & iron, worked by muscle, as modern reproducer of vintage artillery, Steen Cannons, notes:

[N]ew forging and welding methods brought new promise for wrought iron. A pile of wrought iron rods 7/8″ X 7/8″ X 4-1/2 feet were welded together to form a mandrel. A long bar 3/4″ X 4-1/2′ was wound spirally around this by revolving the lathe, three successive layers were thus applied to the mandrel, each layer spiraling in a direction opposite of the previous one. A thin layer of staves was applied to the outside, and a plug driven to form the breech. Welding heat was then attained and the mass was rolled out to the length of seven feet. Trunnions were welded on and the gun was bored and rifled from the solid. The 3-inch Ordnance Rifle was the second most common rifled field gun found in the Union and Confederate armies.

(Steen’s reproduction isn’t made that arduous way — they cast iron around a rifled liner!). The other common answer to the metallurgical problem was the Parrott approach, to wrap a wrought-iron band or bands around the breech of a cast iron gun for strength,

The 19th Century would see a revolution in metallurgy, rendering the state-of-the-art bronze field piece of 1860, by the 1870s, a quaint, obsolete artifact suitable only for guarding a courthouse or a village green. (Simpson probably didn’t envision either the short life of his textbook at the Academy, or its long tail of utility to us historians). But for the first half to nearly two-thirds of the century, the Bronze Age hung on in warfare.


Parmenter, William, et al. Accident on Steam-Ship “Princeton”  Report Nº 479 of the Committee on Naval Affairs, 28th Congress. Washington, 1844: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from:

Simpson, Lt. Edward. A Treatise on Ordnance and Naval Gunnery: Compiled and Arranged as a Text Book for the US Naval Academy. Second Edition. New York, 1862: Van Nostrand. Retrieved from: