Category Archives: Industry

Keeping Your Remington .45s Straight

10x10_Remington-Logo_V01We recently read an article by Philip Schreier that corrected a bit of confusion that we didn’t even know we had about “Remington” made M1911 and 1911A1 pistols. The article was a sidebar to an article on Remington’s 200th anniversary in the current (April, 2016) American Rifleman. 

Remington is the oldest industrial firm in the Americas still making its original kind of product, which reinforces, perhaps, how important firearms manufacturing was to early American industrial development. But the company’s long and tangled history explains how three different runs of “Remington” 1911s have come to exist.  Here’s a timeline:

 

remington_history_and_1911s

Note: Timelines ending in “2017” are ongoing. Who knows where they will end… or where they will go next?

Simple, eh? All the corporate history is in the lower part of the timeline — at the top, you can see the three 1911 production events, including the two wartime production contracts. The first contract was actual for half a million .45s, but on the German surrender in 1918, the contract was canceled and only 22,000 Remington .45s had been made, making it a relatively rare GI .45. These pistols were made in Remington’s ancestral Ilion, NY plant. This rather battered example, Serial Number 2900, has retired to the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia:

Remington UMC M1911 Nº 2900. Source.

Remington UMC M1911 Nº 2900. Source.

The Bridgeport, Connecticut plant whose location was marked on this slide was one of four 1,000,000+ square foot plants constructed by the company between 1914 and 1918 (the others were small arms plants in Ilion, Eddystone, PA, and an ammo plant also in Bridgeport). Both of the Bridgeport factories were destroyed in approximately 2010-13. As the National Firearms Museum recounts, Remington-UMC did not find it easy to fulfill its contract. Prior to 1917, only Colt, Springfield Armory (in very low quantities), and the Norwegian State Armories had produced the .45 pistol, and the Norwegians didn’t expect their modified pistol to interchange with American 1911s. Colt’s technical data package was wanting:

Colt provided technical assistance in the form of sample pistols and production drawings, but problems quickly arose. In addition to numerous discrepancies, these drawings contained only nominal dimensions and no tolerances. Finding it easier to make their own blueprints based on measurements obtained from the Colt-produced sample pistols rather than reconcile more than 400 known discrepancies, Remington-U.M.C. created a set of “salvage drawings” that were later used by other contractors as well. The Army suspended its contract with Remington-U.M.C. on December 12, 1918, but allowed the company to manufacture additional examples to reduce parts inventories on hand. All told, nearly 22,000 M1911s were delivered to the government before Remington-U.M.C. shut down its production line.

In the summer of 1919, the company turned over its pistol manufacturing equipment to Springfield Armory, where it was placed in storage until the Second World War.

The problem with the data was that Colt processes in 1917 were little improved from processes in the Civil War, with drawings mediated by the tribal knowledge of skilled workmen and foremen on the shop floor. For a modern, high-throughput plant with less-skilled labor, this wasn’t going to work.

In the grand scheme of things, the trickle of pistols from Remington-UMC in 1918 was a thunderous success; other contractors failed to produce anything, produced only hand-fitted prototypes (North American Arms of Quebec), or produced only parts (Winchester and Savage, to name two). Winchester had a contract, like Remington’s, that initially called for half a million pistols; like all WWI production contracts, it was voided after the Armistice, and the parts produced went into spares bins at Springfield Armory. And for the rest of the 20th Century, Remington Arms and its gun-making successor firms would not make another .45 auto.

Remington-Rand, on the other hand, was the spinoff of the sewing-machine-and-typewriter part of the company. (It’s also the company that gave us the Remington electric shaver, not part of this version 1.1 graphic). In World War II, Remington-Rand got a contract to make M1911A1 pistols, and they definitely delivered, thanks in part to a far superior technical data package. Remington-Rand was set up not far from Ilion in the larger industrial city of Syracuse, NY. Remington-Rand was the largest single producer of WWII M1911A1s, with 900,000 produced. Here’s one of them:

Remington Rand M1911A1 Serial 091674. Source.

Remington Rand M1911A1 Serial 091674. Source.

Ergo, there are no Remington M1911A1s, and no Remington-Rand M1911s, except insofar as GI rebuilds and part shuffles have created mixmasters.

This was all pretty simple, straightforward, and easy to keep track of, until Remington, which hadn’t made pistols since the excellent Model 51, re-entered the pistol market in 2011 with a bang — from a .45 caliber 1911. These pistols, available in several models and finishes, are not GI .45s but incorporate many currently popular features, especially in “enhanced” trim. Even the base version (shown) has larger, more visible sights.

remington_1911_r1

The initial run of 1911 R1s was produced in Remington’s ancient plant in Ilion, New York.

At the insistence of the triumvirate that ran New York at the time, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-Too Big To Jail), Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-BOP Inmate Number Pending), and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-BOP Inmate Number Pending), Remington relocated 1911 production and the associated jobs to Huntsville, Alabama in 2013. The 1911 R1 remains in production there.

Sources

“JPM, Jr.” M1911A1:The Homepage for the Collector of the Model 1911A1 .45 Cal Service Pistol. Retrieved from: http://www.model1911a1.com

Remington Outdoor Company. Remington History, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www.remington.com/about-us

Schreier, Philip. Remington, Typewriters, M1911s and The Rand Co. The American Rifleman, April, 2016, p. 82.

Torres Occasio, Keila. RemGrit Buildings Set to Fall. Connecticut Post, 1 April 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/RemGrit-buildings-set-to-fall-3451511.php

Uncredited. Remington Knives. All About Pocket Knives. Retrieved from: http://www.allaboutpocketknives.com/remington_knives/  (This information was used in the timeline only).

 

So You Wanna Import from the EU…

atf-2014-processing-times

ATF delays as of December 2013. These seem to be understated (we had a Form 4 go nearly 15 months around this time, for a jeezly 14.5″ SBR).

You wanna import from the EU to the US, do you? Or maybe you’re one of those new, EU Euro-peons, and want to export from there to here?

Armor yourself with patience (and perhaps a little cynicism) for a long and frustrating wait. Here’s a forum post by the North American area manager of Grand Power, which has the distinction of being the only firearms manufacturer we know of in Slovakia (whether that ancient region be reckoned as an Austro-Hungarian province, a province of Czechoslovakia, or now, an independent nation).

grand_power_pistolThe Grand Power pistols and their manufacturer deserve some discussion here, because they’re very interesting guns in their own right. They’re ambidextrous and locked by a rotating barrel like the Obregon/CZ 24/Beretta PX4 pistols, and have been used by Russian teams in world competition (considering the variety and quality of 9mm pistols now made in Russia, that’s quite an endorsement). But for now let’s just focus on the absurdities of trying to export sporting and self-defense arms on an industrial basis from one presumably civilized nation in the death-grip of continental bureaucracy to another presumably civilized one with a highly-developed bureaucracy of its own.

Then, we can ask, and answer, the question: whose bureaucracy is the bigger impediment to trade?

Americans regularly ask about the delays in bringing new models to the US.

Let me describe the steps….

1) Importer sends application to ATF for a sample permit. 7-30 days
2) Grand Power recieves the sample permit, purchase order and end user cert, then applies for an export permit. 60-90 days.
3) Grand Power applies for a transport permit to allow shipping of the sample. 15 days
4) The samples are shipped direct to ATF for inspection. 120 days.
5) If approved, ATF issue the bulk permit
6) The importer submits the bulk permit, purchase order, end user cert to the manufacturer.
7) Grand Power applies for an export permit. 60-90 days.
8) Grand Power applies for a transport permit. 15 days.

If everything flows seamlessly, it’s still at least 9 months.
In practice, it’s more like a year.
If it’s just a caliber change, it can sometimes be approved and ready to ship in 3-4 months, but we never know until we get the approved permit from ATF.

Now, it’s not like anybody here doesn’t know his steps in this Kabuki dance. Grand Power in particular is an export hero to the nation of Slovakia, as they export ninety-nine percent of their product: to other European nations, to Russia, and to the Americas.

"Im... im... im... Imports Branch. Can I h.. h... h...." "Help?" "...h..." "Help!" "...help you?"

“Im… im… im… Imports Branch. Can I h.. h… h….”

As you can see, the biggest single delay is caused by the ATF’s Imports  Branch, which was recently portrayed in the film Zootopia. (Just kidding. About the film portrayal). Hey, USA is still Number One in something. But why does it have to be red tape?

Now, consider the way John Browning worked seamlessly with Colt and FN while those giants divided up the world market. It made a certain amount of sense, because of the four issues that made separating the continents’ gun markets “work” a century ago:

  1. Browning playing off the two against each other, for the best deal;
  2. the two companies’ actual cartel agreement to divide the world and non-compete, which might be illegal today;
  3. the cost and expense of international shipping;
  4. actual tariffs which punished imports.

Is that how it’s going to have to be going forward? Not just because of EU bureaucracy, which we know is hell on earth1, but because the ATF bureaucracy moves like an arthritic glacier with end-stage emphysema.

And, in partial defense of the ATF, they didn’t make the laws they have to follow: Congress did.  And that’s what leads to confusing import instructions like this and especially this. In addition to the ATF, the extremely anti-gun import control bureaucracy at the Department of State (which classifies everything except what it imagines are “sporting shotguns” as “weapons of war,” without respect to purpose or collector interest) gets a whack at the import application, too, their time coming out of ATF’s slice.

It’s pretty sad that the US import bureaucracy is a bigger impediment to free and fair trade than the notorious slugs of Brussels.

In the end, it’s nothing short of amazing that Grand Power can get their pistols to American customers at all, and it does seem that import to Canada is not just different, but qualitatively easier.

Notes

  1. Old joke:
    Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
    Hell is where the police are German, the lovers Swiss, the mechanics French, the chefs British, and it is all organized by the Italians.

New joke:

Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where the police are from Brussels, the lovers from Brussels, the mechanics from Brussels, the chefs from Brussels, and it is all organized by Brussels.

Cool, Your Jets

Well, actually, anybody’s jets are cool. There’s a great post on the history of the jet engine at The Arts Mechanical, including this ~45 minute History TV video.

The video is a great overview of early jet development. (Our favorite bit is Irv Culver’s practical approach to prototyping, as recounted by a junior engineer. You’ll see what we mean). The video oversimplifies the MiG-15/F-86 performance comparison, but it’s good.

Rare video of Heinkel and Caproni-Campini experimental jets is shown. (No reference to Coanda’s 1911 experiments, but you can’t have everything in 44 minutes).

The whole post, though, is a treasure trove of more information on jet development. Check out all the videos and links!

Towards the end of his post, he wonders why GE was chosen to develop the Whittle in their (now, largely abandoned) Lynn, Massachusetts plant. That question we can answer: GE was the major maker of turbosuperchargers, which we now call turbochargers, for American aircraft use. (The video addresses the turbo ancestry of jet engines, a little). Turbos were used to boost power at all altitudes, but also to “normalize” an engine, allowing the engine to produce its rated horsepower even in thin stratospheric air. (There would still be losses to the low air density, because the propeller would move fewer air molecules. Can’t supercharge that). And turbochargers require the same kind of precision manufacture of turbine wheels, bearings and ducts, and the same kind of high-temperature materials, required by turbojets. Turbocharger ancestry is particularly evident in early, centrifugal-flow turbojets.

The Lynn plant may be slowly decaying, but GE is still at the top of the turbine game. This article at MIT Technology Review describes a novel, more efficient, pressurized turbo-generator.

Some 3D Printed Firearms Updates

It’s been a long time since we did one of these updates, so here are a few things we’ve picked up here and there.

Print Now, Rest Later

Here’s a practical print task: a 3D printable cheek rest for an AR-15 pistol. (Well, to the extent that an AR pistol is practical). As we understand it, if you shoulder the weapon (say, with a SIG brace) you are violating the SBR laws, but if you’re cheek-resting you’re all tickety-boo. This image is a rendering; a final print will have some striations to it, from most printers using the most common 3DP technologies.

3D Printable AR pistol cheek rest

Checked as of last night, the files are here: https://www.sendspace.com/file/386tvq

Happy printing & shooting.

About those striated parts

One of the problems with 3D printing, especially the Fused Filament Fabrication / Fused Deposition Molding type that is common, is that the parts often display layering, striations, and other artifacts that add up to a lousy surface finish. There are several ways to smooth 3D prints.

These include:

  • Mechanical Smoothing — this can be sanding or particle blasting; each has its pros and cons. Sanding is limited in how small a part you can do, bead blasting in how large. Bead blasting always produces a matte finish, although the coarseness or fineness of the finish depends on the blasting media. On a part large enough to be practically sanded, sanding can produce a finish limited primarily by time and the cost of skilled labor.
  • Chemical Solvent Smoothing — this involves exposing the part to solvent vapor. For example, for ABS, acetone vapor either cold or hot (hot vapor has definite safety limitations and concerns, but can produce a superior finish). Acetone doesn’t work with PLA as it’s not acetone-soluble. Acetone also reduces the strength of the part: its stiffness is reduced, and it fails under a lower load.
  • Finish Coating — for a cosmetic finish, a thick paint can be used to fill layer striations. This will, often enough, loop you back to sanding. This is cosmetic only and subject to wear.
  • Epoxy Coating — this does require some skill to pull off, but both fills and reinforces the part. This can be important with some liquid-based and powder-based laser 3D printers whose parts tend to be brittle; coating them with epoxy can make the printed part, in effect, a shear web and form inside a tough, flexible epoxy shell. This is good when the part needs to be employed as is, and not so good if the part is intended to be, say, a sacrificial casting pattern. (In that case, for lost-PLA casting for example, use one of the other procedures). Smooth-on sells an epoxy that’s optimized for this type of use and has several how-to and application videos on the web page.

For more information:

  1. Lindsey Frick in Machine Design on “How to Smooth 3D-Printed Parts.”
  2. Smooth-on’s gaudy page on their XTC-3D 3D Print Coating has lots of examples and tutorials.
  3. Here’s Make Magazine and Instructables with a pair of acetone-vapor tutorials.
  4. And here’s the story of a guy who went whole hog and built an ultrasonic vapor fogging chamber in hopes it would increase the strength of his prints (it actually weakened them). There’s a link in that article to an Instructable on building his fogger, too.

100 Rounds from a 3DP Pistol

Remember the original Liberator (well, the original 3D Printed Liberator, not the original original Liberator)? It was only good for a few shots. (Unless you were the New South Wales Police, and printed it without reading the instructions, in which case it blew up first shot). What use was it? But as Franklin said on being asked that of the invention of the French aeronauts, the Montgolfier brothers, “What use is a newborn baby?”

Well, here’s a 3D Printed pistol that has fired 100 rounds and is still going. 3D printed AR lowers long ago beat that number, but here’s a pistol that’s all 3D printed on consumer equipment, except for the mandatory weight and firing pin.

100-round-songbirdWe’re not sure whether this colorful print of this James R. Patrick design wants to be a toy, or whether it wants to be a Glock when it grows up.

A Practical Print for Almost Everyone

What’s this? It’s an AR Hammer Block. Use it when you want to function-check that lower you just monkeyed with, without running aground on the Scylla of letting the hammer slam into your expensive piece of aluminum (very expensive if it comes with a stamp), and the Charybdis of using your delicate pink (brown, whatever) thumb to intercept the falling hammer.

printed AR hammer block

A great, practical print. (The website it’s advertising is for a training device to use with your SIRT, not available to the general public yet). Hmmm… the “files” link at PrintedFirearm.com, went to a malware site: adf.ly! And downloaded a malware .exe! We’re not giving you that link.

OK, here’s another one instead, by Charles Lacey:

AR trigger pull test block

Files here, Grabcad is not a malware site: https://grabcad.com/library/ar-15-trigger-pull-test-block-all-set-for-3d-printing-1 (You do have to join Grabcad to download files, though).

Lacey also has a chamber flag, or as he calls it, a bore flag, on Grabcad, and a couple of Magpul mag floor plates, including a whimsical Flying Tigers version. We leave finding those as an exercise for the reader.

Large Format Printed Pistol Now Speaks Glock

shuty mp-1 pistolWe’ve showed the Shuty MP-1 before, a 3D printed pistol inspired by the designs of Luty. The pistol made a splash in the media some time ago, with the usual alarums and excursions, dogs and cats lying down together, and all the usual drivel you usually only hear in an election year. (This happened twice, actually — in February 2015 with the original Shuty, and in February 2016 with the improved MP-1).

Less publicized has been the Gluty — as you can see from the image below, it’s a Shuty reengineered for Glock mags. The image tells us it’s been printed but we’re not aware of how successfully it has been test fired — unlike the Shuty.

Gluty 3DP pistol

One of the biggest limitations of the Shuty is its magazine. Adapting to commodity Glock magazines is the easiest way to increase the magazine capacity of  this novel firearm. At the same time, the original files, with their included magazine files, allow the creation of a firearm where even the mags are unobtainable.

Of course, that still leaves the barrel as a tough nut to crack. Shuty and Gluty use the standard pistol barrels.

Printed AR Lower

This FOSSCAD JT Vanguard has been around for a while. This recent print, in ABS thermoplastic, shows some of the strengths of the design, and how the venerable AR form factor has had to change to adapt to these new materials and new processes. First shot shows it with an upper in the white. The grip and magazine are also printed.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS

The grip is also ABS. We’re not sure about the materials of the mag, and wonder if the buttstock is printed also. This next picture shows you just a few of the changes, including the bulkier pivot area, the much beefier buffer tower, and the thick reinforcements along the receiver outboard of the trigger group.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT ABS CloseThis picture shows the trigger group in place. The reinforcement is clearly visible.

FOSSCAD Vanguard JT internal

There have been experiments with printed trigger-group components, but so far, they haven’t been very impressive. Materials and processes need further improvements.

Exotic Lower-stock Bipod Combination

This is the Atlas AR-15 lower, by WarFairy CAD. It has a certain FN P90 vibe to it. It’s meant to be used with a free-floating barrel and suitable handguard/rails system.

WarFairy Atlas

When one looks at some of these designs, one is reminded of Donald Sutherland’s character in The Dirty Dozen, impersonating a general. “Pretty, but can it fight?”

Atlas Files: https://www.sendspace.com/file/6f0cfo

Finally — MakerBot Hates You

MakerBot continues its extreme antigun position. How extreme? A design for a powder knob for a Dillon progressive reloader was banished to 404.

Funny, their 404 page says, “There is nothing awesome here… yet.” Well, there was before they deleted it!

MakerBot does not want our business? Transmission received.

Consider Ultimaker. Ultimaker advertises on PrintedFirearm.com, which is an interesting site to check from time to time. Beware of any of their links to adf.ly. Two we observed were both delivering malware yesterday, and probably still are.

Burst Selector: An Idea Whose Time has Come and Gone

Burst selector. In this case, on an FNC.

Burst selector. In this case, a 4-position (S/1/3/A) on an FNC.

A couple of years ago, the Army gave the lousy three-round-burst selector switch that was used on the M16A2 and successors, and the original M4, two in the chest and one in the head. There are still firearms with the bad trigger mechanism kicking around the services, but this decision was the beginning of the end of a gadget that was beloved of ordnance officers and log dogs, but utterly loathed by the guys who actually had occasion to launch those bursts in the direction of an armed enemy.

Burst mode has been experimented with almost as long as automatic firearms have existed; for example, some sources claim the 1890-1900 Italian Cei-Rigotti carbine was so fitted, although the best Cei-Rigotti source on the net, this page at Forgotten Weapons, doesn’t mention it.

Ultimately, this bit of 1960s technology was adopted in the 80s by the US Army and USMC, and had about a 30-year run in service, but it’s on the way out, with many powers opting to arm their men with a conventionally select-fire assault rifle, with safe, semi, and full-auto settings.

This is primarily because a burst selector solves a problem that doesn’t really exist with trained troops: troops firing rifles and carbines as if they were great-grandad’s water-cooled Maxims. Anyone can be trained and led to fire short, effective bursts, and anyone who’s been well trained uses an assault rifle in semi mode well over 90% of the time.

The New Zealand MARS-L is typical of current assault rifles: conventionally configured, AR based, and lacking a burst switch.

The New Zealand MARS-L is typical of current assault rifles: conventionally configured, AR based, highly modular, and lacking a burst option.

Where the burst-selector option is ordered, as it was by the mid-1980s USMC and Army, it’s often because logisticians and ordnance guys are having fantasies about all the money they can save in training, and a reduced logistics burden in combat, by taking the Talk To A Crowd® setting off their Joes’ automatic rifles.

They always seem to reach this blinding beacon of brilliance without much interface with combat guys, who are comforted by the security blanket of a Crowd Control switch, even if they’ve never needed or used it. Because when you do need it, you need it urgently.

There have been a wide range of burst selectors proposed over the years. Colt seems to have cataloged, at one time or another, at least one of each!

The most common burst selectors, though, have three or four positions.

  1. The three-position selector is usually configured Safe/Semi/Burst, with the burst usually being 3 rounds, sometimes 2 or 4. We use this form of shorthand: S/1/3.
  2. A second variation, seldom seen, is Safe/Burst/Auto. S/3/∞.
  3. The four-position selector is usually configured Safe/Semi/Burst/Auto. S/1/3/∞.
  4. It’s not, by definition, a “burst” selector, but the widespread safe/semi/auto selector we render as S/1/∞.

It’s also possible that a design separates the safety and fire-control selector. Weapons that did that included the M1918 BAR, the M2 Carbine, and various German select-fire weapons, like the MP.44 and FG.42. It was only postwar, with the HK/CETME system, the AK, and the AR-10 and successors that the idea of a combined safety/selector became the global standard.

Recent purchases have tended not to include a burst selector.

Recent (2015-16) Infantry Rifle Purchases and Competitions1 (not comprehensive)

Nation Model Caliber Fire Control Replaced/-ing?
US M4A1 5.56 S/1/∞ M4 and M16 with burst.
France AIF (competitors include HK 416 SCAR-L, ARX160A3, SIG 550/553, HS Produkt VHS-2) 5.56 S/1/∞ (not 100% certain. But the COTS rifles France has considered are all S/1/∞). FAMAS w/ S/1/3/∞. One selector selects safe/semi/auto, a second control makes auto 3 shots or full-auto
India Excalibur MIR (improved INSAS) 5.56 S/1/∞ INSAS w/burst/FAL/AK
Czech Republic CZ 806 Bren2 5.56 S/1/∞ CZ805 Bren w/ S/1/2 burst
UAE Caracal CAR 816 (AR-15/HK416 knockoff) 5.56 S/1/∞ Chinese Nationalist T91 w/ S/1/3/∞ and others
Finland SCAR-L 5.56 S/1/∞ SOF only.
Australia Thales EF88/F90 5.56 S/1/∞ F88 (Thales-built AUG) w/ S/1/∞
New Zealand MARS-L (LM&T CGB16) 5.56 S/1/∞ Steyr AUG A1 w/ S/1/∞
Turkey MPT-76 (HK417 derivative) 7.62 x 51 mm S/1/∞ G-3 with S/1/∞
Italy Beretta ARX-200 7.62 x 51 mm S/1/∞ Limited buy as DMR rifle
UK L129A1 (LMT LM308) 7.62 x 51 mm S/1 Limited buy as DMR rifle

There is one burst device which has potential, and that is a very high rate of fire burst, as configured in the never-deployed HK G11 caseless-ammunition rifle, and the Russian AN-94. In that type of mechanism, a slow, highly controllable rate of fire is used for full-automatic, user-controlled firing, but if “burst” is selected it’s delivered at a much, much higher rate of fire. The purpose is to use a small, dispersed burst to “correct” for aiming error by the shooter. As you might expect, even this burst device, which is potentially more practical than the usual type which cycles at the usual cyclic rate, is more of a mathematician’s delight than an infantryman’s.

Along with the definite decline of burst selectors, we also note that bullpups are also losing market and mind share. The Australians have gone with a new version of their bullpup, and France is considering replacing their bullpup FAMAS F1 and G1 with another bullpup (the Croatian VHS-2), but all the other candidates for the new AIF rifle are conventionally laid out.

Notes

  1. Source: Valpolini, Paolo. Small Arms. European Defense Review, Nº. 26., March/April 2016. pp. 19-26.

 

A New Record Year for Gun Sales?

fbi_nics_annual_through_2015_finalAs we’ve discussed many times before, there is no one solid metric for gun sales in the United States, but one that’s widely used because it’s readily accessible1 is the number of National Instant Check System checks run in the period of interest.

If sales were to continue at the present pace, 2016 will not only be a record year for NICS checks, but a huge record of over 30 million NICS checks (for comparison, 2015’s all-time record was 23 million) But that’s a big “if”. There’s a great deal of seasonality in gun sales: sales go up in the fall (hunting season and preparation for such) and just before Christmas; there’s a bubble of sales after the SHOT Show, too, if the vendors have the products they introduce ready to sell.

But usually a strong early winter is one of two things: a hangover of guns ordered and undeliverable in a crazily high-demand end-of-year spurt, or a sign of a banner year. It can be both, too. Anecdotally, we’ve heard signs of both: “The Christmas gift my wife bought me finally came in!” and, “I’m probably going to buy six guns this year!”

The raw numbers for January and February are both all-time records month-over-previous-years. January:  2,545,802 and February:  2,613,074. The previous records were both set in 2013:  2,495,440 and 2,309,393 respectively. (Not the difference in trend).

In 2013, we were coming off the record year of 2012, which had over 19.5 million NICS. So some of the Jan-Feb peaklet was probably delayed Christmas transfers and their handmaiden, post-Christmas sales and “consolation prizes”.  2013 went on to set a new annual all-time record of over 21 million NICS, even though only March and December exceeded 2 million.

There was never a 2 million NICS month until November, 2012; then there were five straight 2 mil months. At the moment, there have been a matching four straight 2 mil plus months (one, December 2015, 3 mil plus), and not only have all these NICS check counts been month-over-all-previous-years records, checks have set month records all the way back to May of last year. Last April was the first month, going back, that wasn’t higher than all previous Aprils (it was just close). This suggests a positive outlook for 2016 sales.

nssf_adjusted_nics_annual_totalsThe National Shooting Sports Foundation also maintains its own set of adjusted NICS figures2. Access to these is a benefit of membership, which we strongly urge for anyone who qualifies. (NSSF is the actual gun-maker’s and -seller’s lobby, to the confusion of gun control advocates and the press — pardon the redundancy — who seem to think the manufacturers run the NRA. That’s not the only thing they’re confused about, is it? Actually, Beltway insiders and direct-mail racketeers run the NRA, but that’s another story).

nssf_12moyoyNSSF Adjusted Data figures for January: 1,362,847, and for February: 1,487,871, are much lower than the unadjusted NICS figures, but they’re still much higher (29.5% and 16.2%) than the NSSF Adjusted figures for the same months last year.

Thus, these data too are indicative of market growth, although, as you can see, January and February weren’t all-time records by this measure:

nssfadjustednicschartsforjan16

nssfadjustednicschartsforfeb16

By NSSF Adjusted Data measure, then, we’re not as likely to see a record 2016 than we are by FBI data alone. But the year is still young.

(There are a few small glitches in the data. NSSF is working with a February unadjusted figure of 2,604,667, not the 2,613,074 we pulled from the FBI website. Not a material difference, perhaps, but curious how it occurs).

When we analyze industry sales, we usually use every metric we can get, which includes FBI NICS and NSSF Adjusted NICS and ATF manufacturing, importation and exportation data (which unfortunately lag by two years), all of which address unit volume, Pitman-Robertson excise taxes, which address the all-important sales dollar volume (and let us analyze average unit values), and the reporting of the handful of publicly-held and/or SEC-regulated companies. From this we’ve found that raw NICS are useful as a snapshot and as a longitudinal measure of sales volume over time. The numbers generated by the other metrics are different, but the slope of the growth curve is about the same. The single largest remaining confounder is probably that NICS always includes all dealer transfers (and in some States, all transfers) involving used firearms as well as new. Well, it’s always news to the new owner, right?

And on that note, there’s a package in at our friendly local FFL….

Notes

  1. There’s always a risk to going with “the use of the available measurement” versus “taking the measurement you <i>need</i>, however difficult”. The illustrative example is the drunk who is looking for his keys under the streetlight at 59 Mill Street. He actually dropped his keys at 54 Mill Street, but there’s no streetlight there. It lacks a one-to-one relationship to gun sales due to several known non-alignments of NICS to actual sales — mostly, these:
    1. it includes many extra checks for pistol-permit purposes;
    2. includes used gun sales at dealers;
    3. does not account for multiple sales; and,
    4. does not include sales in states where a pistol permit is a Brady law “alternate means of compliance”.
  2. The NSSF tries to eliminate the excess checks caused by pistol-permit issuance in many states (including CT, IL, & UT), and by the monthly NICS checks of all permit holders in one state (Kentucky), that skew the data high. They do not address the multiple-sale and excepted-sale missing checks, that skew the data low; we all agree that the effects of the low-skewing imperfections in this data are much smaller in the aggregate than the effects of the high-skewing imperfections, though. This makes the NSSF data a generally better standard. Either works, though, compared to its own past data, to establish trendlines, and the trendlines (“the slope of the growth curve” mentioned in the post) are parallel.

Sources

Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Check System. Overview at: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics.  Data Retrieved from: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/reports/nics_firearm_checks_-_month_year.pdf

National Shooting Sports Foundation. http://nssf.org/

 

Making G3s in Oberndorf, circa 1970.

This 1970 Bundeswehr informational film shows the creation of G-3 rifles from raw steel to test fire and crating for delivery. It’s been making the rounds since the BW rereleased it last month, so you may have seen it at another site, but (to tell God’s own truth) our post for this morning wasn’t coming together well enough, so we substituted this.

It came with the following short blurb:

Das Gewehr G3 wurde in der Bundeswehr als Nachfolgemodell für das G1 ab 1959 eingeführt. Aus wie vielen Teilen das G3 besteht und wie es zusammengebaut wird, zeigt dieser Beitrag von 1970.

Our translation:

The G3 rifle was introduced in the Bundeswehr as a successor to the G1 beginning in 1959. This report from 1970 shows how many parts the G3 is made of and how it’s assembled.

Some high points of the video:

  • First two minutes: a rapid montage set to 1966 hip-cat music.
  • about 1:53: a still that shows the steps in forming the “abzugskasten,” or trigger group housing.
  • 1:57: the same for the magazine.
  • 2:02: the injection molding machine that produces the plastic parts: shoulder stock, hand grip, handguard.
  • 2:07: “This complicated machine forms the follower spring of the magazine.”
  • 2:20: “From such steel bars, rifle barrels is formed by four complicated processes.”
  • 3:00: inspecting barrels for straightness.
  • 3:08 and beyond: cold hammer forging
  • 3:30 inspections and QC of parts.
  • 4:00 these skilled lady workers do the assembly
  • 4:08: “There are 35 various parts in a completed shoulder stock assembly.”
  • 4:38 welding receiver components together.
  • 5:00 chemical finishing
  • 5:15 final assembly.

Enjoy. Any questions about any of the processes, we’ll try to answer.

Another American Anti-Tank Rifle — Wait, Two of Them!

No sooner had we written that the T1E1 Anti-Tank Rifle of 1940-44 was “the only US AT Rifle” when we saw another AT Rifle mentioned in passing in a very interesting Bruce Canfield article on Winchester’s Light Rifle. (Hat tip, TFB). We got the notion to look it up and found this AT Rifle… but, while it’s a Winchester Anti-Tank rifle not the one Bruce mentioned. He referred to a WWII rifle that was a scaled up version of David M. Williams’s short-stroke gas-piston action.  This is a WWI bolt gun, and a strange one it is.

The Winchester Pugsley .50 AT Rifle

pugsleys__50_winchester_at_rifle

The gun in the photo (which comes from Houze’s Winchester Repeating Arms Company, where this oddball is briefly covered on pp. 189-192) is clearly not a finished work, but a development mule.

Edwin Pugsley. Detail of photo in Houze, p. 223.

Edwin Pugsley. Detail of photo in Houze, p. 223.

The firearm was designed by Edwin Pugsley, an important designer for Winchester in the first half of the 20th Century. Pugsley did not have the celebrity profile of Williams; he seems to have been quietly productive, a kind man with a mischievous personality. He rose over the years into engineering management; Winchester’s success shows he was a good selection, even if he’ll never have a biopic, a Bureau of Prisons history, or anecdotes about threatening co-workers’ lives over professional disagreements. He did have some remarkable friends, incuding Carl Swebelius of High Standard (Winchester’s toolroom wound up making several prototypes for Swebelius on the strength of this friendship) and cartoonist Charles Addams, who modeled a recurring character in his “Addams Family” strip (which ran in the New Yorker) on his friend.

pugsley

Returning to the rifle itself, its appearance is more redolent of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, than anything you’d expect to see from Winchester. The bare finish and exposed mechanicals show that it’s a long way from being ready to go to the Western Front, and it appears to have been put away when war’s end froze it in this state of arrested development. It’s clearly meant to have a bipod or tripod. What looks like it might be cooling fins actually appears to  be a spring, associated with the gun mount, and acting to moderate recoil. Assuming the .50 round intended here was the .50 BMG, the weapon appears to have a 10-round magazine and be approximately the same size as a modern Barrett.

The pistol grip, which is styled like that of an M1911 service pistol, also serves as the operating handle: it has a 90º counterclockwise throw, then the gunner slides it back and the top-mounted magazine presents the next round. Here’s an image from the patent for this unusual feature.

pugsleys_at_rifle_patent

The tubular receiver is billet steel. The strange pistol-grip/bolt has two forward locking lugs, and aft, has two widened bearing areas that slide on the inside of the tubular receiver. The extractor seems to be modeled on Mauser practice, and the ejector appears to be welded or otherwise secured inside the left side of the receiver to eject spent casings (or unfired cartridges) out the right-side ejection port.

The quantity built cannot be many, and it does not seem to have been ready for field trials at the time development was called off. Houze’s verdict was that “The anti-tank rifle, designed in 1918 by Edwin Pugsley, is of note more for its outlandish appearance than its mechanics.”1

But wait! That leaves the Williams gun still hanging out there, and we can’t have that.

The Winchester Williams .50 AT Rifle

Williams was an interesting character, an ex-con who became a firearms designer (couldn’t happen under today’s laws; ATF would yank one’s 07 FFL for hiring him) and had his own biopic (with Jimmy Stewrt, no less). The biopic is great fun but rather disconnected from real life, and definitely all wet about Williams’s design efforts — he did not design the M1 Carbine, and was not on the team that developed it. The Carbine only uses his patented gas system. What he did design, though, was a semi- and full-automatic action that scaled rather readily from .30 carbine to .30-06 to .50 BMG, and that was ultimately developed in four versions (with few cross-version interchangeable parts, but complete commonality of design and mechanical principles).

The four versions were carbine, rifle, automatic rifle (a BAR competitor that probably deserves its own post), and anti-tank rifle, the one that concerns us today. The principal virtues of the Williams design were light weight and simplicity compared to its competitors — even its carbine version was lighter and simpler than the light, simple M1 designed by another team at Winchester, using Williams’s patented gas piston. The Winchester Automatic Rifle was pounds lighter than the BAR, and the semi-auto service rifle version lighter than the Garand. A side benefit of this light weight was reduced material requirements, perhaps not a big deal when you’re making one rifle but of national significance when you’re making millions. (World War II German and Soviet weapons-selection documents also show that those nations took material use and machine time into account when downselection options for manufacture).

So of course, we had to keep looking, and in the same book we did find the 1940 Winchester Williams Anti-Tank rifle, just as Canfield told us.

winchester_williams_at_rifle

Houze describes it as one of…

…a series of arms based upon David M. Williams’ design. While the carbine he had developed, as an alternative to the M1 carbine, was not completed until December1941, it was viewed as “unquestionably an advance on the one that was accepted.”

One of the advantages of the Williams’ design (Plates 294 and 295) was that it allowed the action to be stripped for cleaning or replacing broken parts simply by removing a bolt housing that was secured to the receiver by an interrupted thread locking ring. Williams also employed a superior lockwork than that used in either the M1 carbine or M1 rifle. Plate293
In acknowledgment of the design’s advantages, samples were made in .30carbine, .30-60 and .50 caliber.

Though Ordnance Department tests of the .30-06 rifle version demonstrated its marked superiority over the standard M1 rifle, it was to be the light machine gun and anti-tank versions that aroused the most interest. Both of the latter incorporated an ingenious device to dampen recoil. By placing two strong coil springs on either side of the barrel breech that were attached to a recoiling lug on the barrel, Williams was able to transfer a considerable amount of the recoil forces into the springs, thereby absorbing its energy. The effect of this was to reduce the general recoil of both the light machine gun and the anti-tank rifle to the point that they were essentially recoilless. This meant that both arms could be used by infantrymen without undue stress being placed upon them during firing, a major benefit from the standpoint of accuracy as well as use. However, by the time these designs were selected for any serious testing, the war was almost over.2

One of the curiosities that surfaced during this investigation was the Winchester Tank Killer.

Curiously, it was during the testing of the .50 caliber Williams anti-tank rifle that the Winchester company seriously considered entering the automotive business for the second time in its history. On this occasion, however, unlike in 1909, the company toyed with the idea of manufacturing a light armored vehicle in which the anti-tank rifle could be mounted. Based upon a surviving photograph of the Winchester “Tank Killer,” it had an overall length of approximately twelve feet and a height of four feet. The forward section of the vehicle had sloping armor, and the tracks were powered by a 1939 Chrysler Imperial engine. No record exists as to its width or crew capacity, though the size would probably have only allowed two. Other than the one built in December 1944, it is doubtful whether any others were made.3

Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a photograph of the Winchester Tank Killer. Houze notes (p. 285) that the late Lt.Col. WilliamS.Brophy had “an 8×10-inch black-and-white print of this photograph with manuscript notations of the vehicle’s specifications,” but the current whereabouts of this image is unknown. We are also still in the dark as to how many of the AT rifles were made, and when, if ever, they were tested. It seems unlikely it would have had a chance, having less power than the .60 calibre (15.2 x 114) T1E1, although certainly being lighter and more easily handled.

Notes

  1. Houze, p. 189.
  2. Houze, pp. 276-278.
  3. Houze, p. 278.

Sources

Houze, Herbert. Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Iota, WI: Krause Publications, 2004.

Visualizing World Arms Exports: 1926-1936

So, whilst working on the Czech firearms book project, we came across a table of world arms exports by percentage in an old Czech book and thought of some ways to visualize the data. First, here’s the table. We reordered the nations in order of their 1926 rank order in share of world arms sales:

Percent of Global Arms Trade (Exports) 1926-1936
Nation 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936
Britain 27.9 31.9 33.7 33.6 30.5 38.2 29.1 27 20.6 22.3 19.5
USA 20.1 19.6 18.1 16.6 11.6 11.2 8.7 8.6 9.0 7.9 8.6
Czechoslovakia 15.0 7.9 3.6 4.9 9.4 11.2 4.1 8.5 21.1 24.5 15.4
France 11.6 9.6 14.1 14.5 12.8 7.8 27.7 22.8 19.4 15.3 21.2
Sweden 4.1 6.1 4.6 4.6 7.7 10.6 10.7 9.1 9.0 7.7 5.8
Italy 2.8 1.1 5.5 5.7 6.7 6.4 1.7 3.9 3.9 1.6 1.4
Belgium 2.3 4.0 2.8 4.7 4.4 4.3 4.4 3.7 5.0 5.8 4.8
Denmark 1.3 3.3 3.9 2.4 1.9 1.5 0.2 1.7 1.0 0.7 2.0
Germany 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 5.7 10.6
All others 14.9 16.5 13.7 13.0 15.0 8.8 13.4 14.7 11.0 8.5 10.7
© 2016 WeaponsMan.com

Remember, these aren’t absolute numbers, so they say nothing about the growth (or shrinkage) of the market in the interwar period, or the effects of the depression, etc. They are simply who gets what share of the market, without addressing the dynamic size of the market. So let’s express this data as a stacked area chart, with the nations ordered, again, in their 1926 market-share order, and the “all others” catch-all added at the top to bring us up to 100%.

world_arms_sales_1926-1936-2It might seem drily numeric, but there are some interesting facts here. One of the world’s largest gun exporters after World War II isn’t even on the chart; if the Soviet Union was exporting weapons, they weren’t showing up in this data. (Indeed, that might be why they chose to use a cut-off of 1936, just before the Soviets flushed the Spanish Republican (Loyalist) forces with weapons to offset the weaponry cornucopia that Hitler and Mussolini extended to Franco’s Nationalist (Fascist) armies. Another is that Germany is not on the chart until Hitler shook of the restraints of the Treaty of Versailles, then it’s suddenly seizing a share of the market (at, mostly, England’s expense).

Well, since we’re talking market share, why not use a pie chart. That kind of chart, for all its failings, is explicitly designed to show shares of things, after all. Better still, let;s use a time series of pie charts to show who’s who in selling modern arms in the 1926-36 era. To begin with, here’s 1926.

percent_of_global_arms_trade_1926

Fast forward five years, and we have some new numbers.

percent_of_global_arms_trade_1931

And finally, the 1936 numbers look like this:

percent_of_global_arms_trade_1936

Tracking Point. .300 BLK. Night Capable. $6995.

They’re positioning the new Tracking Point NightHawk as a Homestead Defense gun, but we’re seeing the king of all hog harvesters.

night hawk

This latest iteration of TP tech is supposed to list at a that’s-what-my-truck-cost $15.5k or so, but they’re jump-starting sales by selling the first 100 for $6995. Tracking Point writes:

The… NightHawk .300 Blackout. Designed for homestead defense, NightHawk has a fully integrated night vision capability and is offered at an introductory price of $6995 for the first 100 purchases – the lowest price ever offered for a Precision-Guided Firearm.

To us, the NightHawk seems like a slightly-decontented .300 version of their 5.56 M600 SR service rifle. Unlike the M600,  the NightHawk is limited to engaging targets at speeds of 7 mph.

A follow-up email had more on the special offer:

The TrackingPoint team would like to thank everyone for a tremendous response to our NightHawk product launch. We were overwhelmed by the genuine interest in our night vision system designed for homestead defense. The NightHawks have literally been soaring off the shelves!

“Literally soaring?” What, it’s a drone, too? Or is Vice President Biden, the National Mangler of “Literally,” writing TrackingPoint’s ad copy these days?

This is a notification that we have a limited supply of the first 100 NightHawks for the exclusive offer price of $6,995*. Place your order today to guarantee this discounted price and receive the most advanced Precision-Guided Firearm to date for the lowest price ever offered.

To place an order, please call (512) 354-2114

*MSRP $15,490

Tracking Point also offers financing now, which may make some of their pricy firearms more accessible to regular Joes. $7k is a lot for an AR, but considering that the scope and night vision are included, the delta between NightHawk and a build-it-yourself day/night rig is not as big as it seems at first.

Technically, the night vision is an add-on to the TrackingPoint system that uses an infrared illuminator (as in early active night-vision products, like the M3 Carbine and Infrared Snooperscope, or the infrared driving light on a 1960s Russian tank), but they claim it gives Generation II equivalent performance. The night vision capability is available as an option (including as a retrofit) for the rest of the TrackingPoint line. Here’s what they say about it:

NightHawk includes fully integrated Night Vision Kit which enables CMOS sensor technology to deliver Gen2-like night vision performance. After dark you are able to acquire and track targets just as you would in daylight. Nighthawk also includes a rail-mounted IR Illuminator.

Also, in a first as far as we know, the NightHawk has programs for TrackingPoint branded ammunition but also off-the-shelf ammunition using the Barnes 110 bullet. Previous TrackingPoint precision guided firearms have required TrackingPoint ammunition for predictable ballistic performance.

Other new capabilities (or perhaps, new description of an old capability) include a mode making the “tag” on a target automatically seek center of mass on that target, and using the TrackingPoint precision-guided system to enable image-stabilized shots from offhand to provide “firing supported” levels of precision and accuracy. The tagging system and guided trigger also increases hit probability on moving targets or on shot at stationary targets while shooting on the move.

The one question still open in our mind is this: how does it fare with a suppressor? Seems to be leaving a signature capability of 300 BLK behind, if it’s not suppressor-ready and can’t account for the point-of-impact shift that comes with most suppressors.

More information on the NightHawk is available on TrackingPoint’s website.