Category Archives: Industry

What Good is a Dirt-Cheap Pistol?

Here’s an interesting appreciation of the Jimenez J.A. NINE 9mm pistol, an el cheapo blowback 9 x 19 pistol, as sold to those self-defenders who can’t spend $200 after tax on a pistol, and as disparaged by all right-thinking pistoleros.

The Jimenez has an interesting corporate history and uses some purpose-selected manufacturing technology. The die-cast Zamak parts (the cheap pot metal used in cast toys, like Matchbox cars) are cast to near-net shape, and that keeps costs down. The simplicity of the pistol does, also. (It also means the heavy slide and stiff spring are hard for some percentage of humans to manipulate). Everywhere you look in the design, you see that simplicity and low cost were the design objectives. Aesthetics and durabilty and, really, everything else, took a back seat. For instance, look at the magazine floorplate with its clever little bend.

It’s not a Glock, but you can’t buy a Glock for the price of this. Not a used Glock. Not for the price of two Jimenezes (Jimeni?), actually. (Ugh. Vision of dual-wielded Jimenez pistols whilst leaping through the air in a Hollywood blockbuster). But it works with cheap ball ammo (which is what it will almost certainly be loaded with, the cheapest 9mm in the store), and it hits a price point that poor people can meet.

Yes, they can get better used guns for that money, if they shop around and know what the hell they’re doing. But who knows what he’s doing, when he buys his first gun, if he didn’t grow up in it? For most of the people who buy these, it’s a rational buy.

Now, two kinds of people tend to tut-tut at the Jimenez and its Jennings and Bryco ancestors. Those are gun snobs like us, and anti-gunners. We tend to dismiss the pistol as cheap junk, and the anti-gunners have named guns like this Saturday Night Specials. And it’s true: every Monday morning, there’s probably a couple of Jimenezes or their antecedents in the evidence lockers of Chicago. But many thousands of these are made — almost a quarter million in the last five years, according to official ATF production reports.

Year Report Link Production










 five-year total of Jimenez production: 229680

This sounds like a lot of guns, but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t. It’s half a year’s SIG domestic handgun production, for instance, but spread over five years. Still, it’s obvious that for all that the gun-ban groups like to call them Saturday Night Specials, and even our fellow gun culture members dismiss them as, for example, “evidence-locker stuffers,” most of these guns must not be used in crime… instead, they’re the home-defense gun of choice for the home defender who doesn’t have any of the good choices that most of us take for granted.

The history of Jimenez is interesting. It is the descendant of several companies that made small, cheap pistols in California and Nevada. The ur-founder was George Jennings, whose original product was the Raven .25,  and his son Bruce and son-in-law Jim Davis founded various similar companies making similar firearms. Their names include Raven, Jennings, Bryco, Lorcin, and some others. Jennings and Bryco were sued into nonexistence in the California courts after one clueless idjit shot another clueless idjit with one. (He didn’t know that if you take out the mag the gun still has a round in the chamber, and he pointed it at his friend and pulled the trigger. Moral of story: choose better friends. But a California jury thought that was proof that the gun was unsafe. Moral of story: choose better states).

How the same apparent operation went from Jennings to Jimenez is a tangled tale. The story in the industry is something like this: at the bankruptcy auction, the high bidder for Jennings’s assets was one Jimenez, previously a foreman at the company. The source of his half-million dollar bid is not clear. Jennings/Bryco had operated in California under some kind of questionable deal where the company’s pot-metal pistols passed the California tests that Colt and S&W and SIG flunk all the time, to the benefit, no doubt, of some state official’s off-the-books retirement fund.  That same dope deal wasn’t available to Jimenez, so he relocated to Las Vegas and later Henderson, Nevada.

Former owner Bruce Jennings sheltered some of his assets by redomiciling in Florida. Under the Florida homestead law he was able to shelter assets from the judgment by investing in an expensive home. As far as we know, while  the plaintiff’s attorneys got paid (being lawyers, they always pay themselves first), the actual plaintiffs, we believe, have gotten skunked.

That was not Jennings’s only unhappy result in a courtroom. For one thing, he had previously been convicted for busting his wife’s jaw, in 1985.

[I]n a newspaper interview in 1992, Jennings admitted that he had assaulted his wife. “I lost my cool, and I hit her,” he said. “My wife had taken all the bonds, the Rolexes, the diamonds and the gold.”

And he would subsequently be convicted for some kind of child porn or child sex offense, and is now Federal Inmate number 57403-018, who’ll get out in 2020-something, if he lives that long. That is some of the ugly backstory to this ugly gun.

It’s fair to say that this unlovely and unloved firearm is not going to evolve into a swan. That only happens in fairy tales, kids. But it does fill a market niche, and

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Serbu Videos

Today we’re not calling out a website so much as one guy’s, and one company’s, YouTube channel. Mark Serbu’s Serbu Firearms is known for its .50 rifles and other innovative products, which manage to combine shade-tree mechanics with practical engineering. But his YouTube channel is something else entirely.

For instance, he unearthed this video of a mid-2000s prototype .50 BMG semi-auto, the HyperDel, which seems to have vanished, since. It was a 5-round semi .50 with a tubular receiver and a Stoner-style direct-injection gas system. The barrel is screwed into the receiver with a racheting barrel nut à la Uzi. It looks like the trigger and hammer are AR-sourced, and the mag release resembles the M-14, Tokarev, AK style. It seems to have a cross-bolt safety on the receiver, but we might just be seeing that wrong.

The recoil-management and -measurement rig is pretty clever and straightforward. It looks like they went back to the drawing board after this video. Not only does the video have some possible gaps, the “design enhancements” suggest that the prototype had failures to fire, feed, and extract. According to Mark, this company did not advertise completed guns, only plans.

This thread on the Home Gunsmith forum suggests that Hyperdel (Hyper Delivery Systems) was selling the plans before they ever built the rifle, which seems a bit ass-backwards to us. A look at yielded these claims from 2006:

The Patented hyperDEL semiautomatic big bore rifle, chambered in either 50 BMG or 50 DTC Euro calibers, is now undergoing the second of four, live-fire, test phases. See News for more information.

Caliber: 50 BMG or 50 DTC Euro
Dual Caliber Rifle, Barrel Assy Interchangeability

Patented hyperDEL Gas Reciprocating Action
ON/OFF Gas Toggle for Bolt-Action-Like Touch-Offs
hyperBUFFER Adjustable Damping System
Free Floating 29 in. Kreiger Barrel, Chromed Chmbr
Dry Weight: 30 lb. (no scope, no ammo)
Overall Length: 60.1 in.
Four Lug Bolt and Barrel Extension
Alloy Steel Barrel/Action Construction
Aircraft Aluminum Receiver
Patented hyperTAME Recoil Brake
Patent Pending hyperTIGHT Group Size Reducer
Fixed Head Space
“AR15” Fire Control

Pistol Grip for Man-Sized Hands
hyperLIGHT Trigger Break
Patent Pending hyperPOD Bipod
Two 10 rnd., Dual-Stack, Parkerized Steel Mags
Ambidextrous Magazine Release
Magazine Accommodates Both Calibers

Finishes: Hardcoat, Parkerizing, DuraCoat®
Easily Breaks Down into Receiver & Barrel Assys

Field Strips w/o Tools
Rotatable Butt Pad To Fit Any Shoulder Pocket
Sorbothane II Shock Dissipating Butt Pad
MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny Rail, 50 MOA Declination
Closed-OFF Ejection Port While Bolt in Battery

By 2010, the site was occupied by domain squatters, cheating advertising networks with bogus searches and hits. It last resolved in DNS at all in 2015.

Recently, Mark has been engaging with the much reviled experimenting kid, Rick, whose YouTube persona is Royal Nonesuch… helping both to educate the boy and keep him from killing himself. We suspect that Mark sees in the tinkering youth a shade of his own young self, and his own tinkering keeps him young at heart.

Of greatest interest to readers, perhaps, is his series Gun Design 101 in which Mark originally intended to talk about conceptual and detail design (like some of the books on our Gun Design Books page linked at the top of but has wound up, instead, talking design of simple, almost improvised, firearms. So watch these three videos, and be Ready for Hillary.

December 2014: “The Making of the $7 12-Gauge Zip Gun Shotgun”

He calls it the ZG-12 for “Zip Gun 12,” heh, and doesn’t give dimensions directly as a “barrier to entry” — if you can’t figure it out, he says, you’re a “punk.” It’s not a terribly practical gun, but it exists “as a testament to what can be done,” with minimum costs, materials, and time.

The video is actually a good “Design 101” because it shows the conceptual design and engineering substantiation of the firearm, as well as its production. If you’ve been listening to Dyspeptic Gunsmith about the power of a file, you’ll be nodding along when Mark applies the unexpected combination of a massive industrial CNC turning center and a hand-held file together on the same operation!

Firing the gun lets him check his calculations.

Even in oppressive environments where guns are outlawed, the last ammunition to become unavailable is birdshot.

The next video in Gun Design 101 makes a slam-fire .22 pistol.

May 2016: Apocalypse Hardware Store Gun Build!

“We’re not talking a complete apocalypse, where you’re running around in a loincloth in the woods.” And “We used some pretty expensive equipment, but we didn’t have to.”

And the latest (and possibly ultimate?) version: the GB-22. The “22” in the name is obvious… the “GB” stands for “Gun Buyback,” which is one suitable deployment for such a firearm… used to convert doo-gooders’ cash into money to buy that Serbu .50 you’ve had your eye on.

October 2016: World’s simplest homemade pistol…the GB-22! Gun Buybacks beware!

“16 years ago I came up with the idea for this really simple gun to turn in on a buyback.”

World’s simplest homemade pistol…the GB-22! Gun Buybacks beware!Skills displayed here include making and heat treating a spring with improvised tools, including a toaster oven as a heat-treating oven (including a temperature botch that didn’t produce the desired temper)


Ghost Gunner Tips and Tricks #1

We have found a few tips to pass on to you. Mostly by a griefsome cycle of trial and error:

  1. As far as we can tell, the Windows and Mac apps work identically, with the exception noted immediately below in #2.ddcut00 As die-hard FOSS fans, they’d like to have a *n*x version and open-source it, but as you’ve probably noted, they’re up to their alligators in lawsuits, and the State Department’s gun control squad is trying to ban the dissemination of technical information. But right now, you can name your poison, so long as it’s Apple or Microsoft.
  2. We have had an inexplicable hang with the Mac version. It just reached one line of code and sat there stupidly spinning the spindle, not connected to anything. We waited ten minutes, it kept on spinning. We took the dog for a half hour walk, which wound up being a 20 minute walk because he wanted to run the leg back, and stooged around on Gun Broker not buying stuff for a few minutes, and the thing had been spinning for 45 minutes at least. We wound up having to nuke both the GG and the Mac (hard reset).

    Most of the time, it just made chips, happily.

    Most of the time, it just made chips, happily.

  3. Keep the work area clear at all times. In addition to the Lord-knows-why system hang described above, at one point, a book fell upon our keyboard, causing DDcut to hang in mid-operation. We waited for ten minutes while it sat there, spindle spinning. Then, we found that the Emergency Stop button did not work. (Pulling the USB cable produced an emergency stop).. In this case, we didn’t have to reset the Mac.
  4. If it does shut down, the workpiece can usually be saved, at some cost in time. One hopes you will never need the rest of Instruction #4, but just in case, here’s what you have to do:
    1. Depower the unit. There’s no switch; just pull the plug.
    2. Remove the workpiece. (This is a good chance to deal with the collected aluminum chips. A tiny cube of 7075 forging becomes a spectacular volume of chips). You may have to ease the workpiece carefully off the tool.
    3. Loosen the collet cap and remove the tool. You have to do this or you will crash the tool into the base when the machine goes to find zero early in the .dd, before the tool is supposed to be installed. You do not have to remove the collet, because you’ll be returning to the same tool that the system hung on last time. (Two collets are provided because the drill and end mill have different shaft diameters).
    4. Restart the whole operation on DDCut from the beginning. Let DDCut walk you through the reinstallation of the part and tool. Don’t worry about the workpiece going back to the exact same place — the mill will automagically touch off again to locate it. Although you have to start from the beginning, and although DDCut will process every line of code again, it will not take as long to get to where things went sideways last time, because on the parts that are already cut, nothing will slow down the tool. On each cut, DDCut waits for the machine to tell it it has completed the movement before it sends the next line of code (you can see these OKs pass in the code window).
  5. Before you get to any possible shut down, of course, you have to run DDCut for the first time. At first, it’s not very obvious what to do when the application window opens. You have to have the GG plugged in to power and to your computer via USB. It will announce itself cryptically, based on the Arduino board inside it. ddcut01It’s probably a good idea to have a minimum amount of weird stuff plugged into your computer at this point.
  6. Next, you have to pick a file. When you’ve selected the GG and the file, the screen looks like the image above, and you can click, “next.” The files include a GG2 version of the AR lower, an original GG version, and a version that drills the holes. Two setups are needed: one for the milling, and one for the holes.
  7. As far as we can tell, it doesn’t matter whether you mill first or drill first, as each operation’s file and process is self-contained. However, you must follow the process through to the end and remove the last process’s tool and collet.
  8. While the provided open-end wrenches work, tool changing would be faster if we had a ratcheting box wrench that fits the 17mm collet cap. Our set of ratcheting box wrenches skips from 15mm to 18mm, but maybe you have the right one.
  9. A narrow- or small-diameter magnetic wand is a great thing to have when (not if) you drop a small fastener inside the rig. Since the bottom is open, it’s always easy to get the dropped washer or screw out, but it’s easier if you have magnetism on your side. Same goes for tools and collets.
  10. The furnished molded plastic jig really doesn’t want to go on a mil spec-forged lower. A healthy thwack with a rubber mallet resolves this.ghost03
  11. Note the takedown pin well has been pre-milled on that lower above. That’s the only kind of lower that works. Nothing like the lowers shown below will work with the factory jig and setup (raw forging, early-AR retro w/o takedown pin well, HK416 w/o well). The documentation warns of this.ghost05
  12. It was difficult to tie down the jig with the provided M4-45 bolts in all positions, especially after we buggered the very tip of one of the threads.We wound up running out to Fastenal for extra M4-45s and some M4-50s, and a whacking great bag of M4 washers. (If you look closely at the top photo with chips flying, you might be able to see that the lower left tie-down bolt is an M4-50 with a 4mm stack of washers!) Also, a generic  AR-15/M16 grip screw is required, but not provided. Most AR builders have them kicking around, but if you don’t, the part you want at Fastenal is: 1/4-28×1″. These are available with various heads. Original Stoner design used a flathead screw. We recommend a socket head cap screw, just because a socket head is always easier to remove and replace (and less likely to screw up) than a flathead. The factory AR screw needs a really big flathead blade, the very biggest blade in a Wheeler gunsmithing kit fits. The benefit of the flathead is that it’s always easier to find any size flathead screwdriver than a hex driver, and you can, albeit at the expense of the screw, use a somewhat undersized flathead driver in it, if you haven’t got the right one.
  13. Lining up the t-slot nuts can be a challenge. Another small wand, this one with a mirror, helped, but we also found the a long 3mm Allen key worked OK as an alignment pin.
  14. You’ll want more tie-down hardware, even before you start designing your own operations and jigs.
  15. Never skip a step in setup. Be sure! Some steps, you can back out of with a Previous button, and some steps you can’t.
  16. Take the directions as literally as an Aspie. When they say tighten something as much as you can, do that. When they say don’t over-tighten, do that. When they say put the screw in finger-tight, don’t decide that you can go ahead and tighten it the rest of the way — at one time, they tell you to finger right the jig screws down, and after that is done, clicking “next” tells you to slide the whole jig-and-lower assembly in the tracks, which you can’t do if it’s tightened down. Like most of these tips, don’t ask how we learned this.
  17. It wants you to adjust the jig and lower, on installation, so that the end mill (which is inside the mag well) is 1-3mm from contact with the after surface of the maxwell. This is a good time to remember that the Allen key you used to tighten the M4-45 (or -50, with extra washers) bolts is 3mm across the flats. It makes a serviceable feeler gage. (Precision doesn’t count that much here. The mill will touch off against the receiver automagically to locate the part in all three axes).
  18. It’s pretty loud when roughing (60-80 dB by uncalibrated measurement). Not hearing-threatening, and you can converse over it without shouting, but not pleasant. So you might want to think about where you put it, and step out while it’s graunching away. If you’ve got to have it in an office or a quiet shop, you’ll need a silencing enclosure as are sometimes used for server farms.
  19. It keeps its chips pretty contained and is easily tidied up. A Dustbuster lets you collect all the little shavings (fireworks, thermite, anyone?)ghost07
  20. If you multitask while you work, don’t come back into the application and click the Emergency Stop button. On the other hand, the Emergency Stop button works when the system’s not hanging.
  21. If you Emergency Stop, or head crash, the tool might be left in a place where it can’t be removed by the two-wrenches technique that you used to install it, because the collet is behind the face plate. Don’t despair. Unplug the unit for safety, flip it on its left side, and go in through the bottom.
  22. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, have a few extra 80% lowers, any time you’re experimenting with the unit. Don’t decide to learn it on the one you already had engraved….

ghost01And finally, don’t take the above the wrong way: the thing is a blast to use and learn.

Clandestine Gunmaking in the Phillipines

In 1997, the Filipino government decided to take a novel approach to stamping out the underground armories in Danao City, Cebu Province: they would bring the underground gunsmiths in from the cold, by establishing new gun factories in Danao. They licensed two manufacturers — who had no problem finding skilled workers.

That was then, this is now: the guerrilla gunsmiths of Danao still flourish, underground; they work in remote jungle workshops to stay off the authorities’ radar, so as not to have to pay stiff bail (or bribes) to get or stay out of prison.

AR-15 Lower: How a Midsize Manufacturer Does It

Most manufacturers guard their manufacturing processes about the way KFC guards Colonel Sanders’s 11 Herbs and Spices Coca-Cola guards the Coke recipe. They would no more show you a video of lower receiver machining than they would give you the product. Indeed, some mnufacturers not only won’t let us tour their plants, they won’t give us still photos, talk about processes, or even let their own workers bring smartphones or cameras in certain areas.

A time- and money-saving way to do a standard process can be that big of a competitive advantage.

But here’s midsize manufacturer Palmetto State Defense using a 5-axis machine to take AR-15 lower receiver forgings to 80%.

To us, it was interesting to watch how they rough milled the magazine well to approximate shape, and then CNC broached it to final shape (the rasp of the broach is unmistakeable). The end mill removes lots of metal fast, but the broach gets net shape and surface finish up to standard.

Note how much coolant/cutting fluid is used on these operations!

The link at the YouTube page no longer takes you to a buy page; PSD no longer sells the 80% lowers, apparently. They do make some attractive finished rifles, and one thing they’re selling is 200 rifles that were, supposedly, used in the Range 15 movie. (At press time, they still have 92 5.56 and 95 .300 Blackout rifles in stock). See ’em here.

The First Czechoslovak Service Pistols. Nº2: the vz. 22

The first Czechoslovak service pistol, the Praga, was developed by private industry. The first Czech-developed service pistol from the national arsenals, on the other hand, wasn’t really all that Czech-developed. It was designed by Josef Nickl of Mauser-Werke, and, in his honor, was often called the “N” pistol during its long and fraught development. A version very similar to the one that would become a Czech service pistol was put forward in Oberndorf in 1916 as a single-action 9mm Parabellum auto pistol.

Nickl Mauser 9mm Prototype, auctioned by RIA in 2016.

Nickl Mauser 9mm Prototype Serial Nº 26, auctioned by RIA in 2016. (Rock Island Auctions photo, used by permission).

This hand-crafted, tool-room prototype is, apart from its 9 mm chambering and size, a ringer for the Czechoslovak vz. 22 in many details, as we’ll see. In 1916 and subsequently, Mauser never put his pistol into production, but they let him pitch it to the Czechoslovak military while he was helping set up a production line for Mauser 98 rifles (which would be, confusingly, the vz. 22 and vz. 24 also!). The Czechoslovak Army tested both 9mm and, at their own insistence, scaled-down 9 mm Short (.380) versions. (This development was taking place, according to Col. Dr. Milan Šada, contemporaneously with the procurement of the Praga pistol in 7.65 mm).

The initial accepted version was the vz. (vzor, model) 22 for the cartridge vz. 22 (the 9mm Browning Short or .380 ACP, for all intents and purposes), and from the very beginning, the Czechoslovak Army had trouble with it. In time, they developed an improved version as the vz. 24. That in turn was developed into a 7.65mm pistol for police and export, the straight-blowback vz. 27. (We’ll use the Czech and Slovak word vzor, the official abbreviation vz., and the English word “model” interchangeably in this article. They all mean exactly the same thing and identify the model by year of adoption. Note that, unlike many nations where, say, Model 24s start appearing in 1925 or 26, Czechoslovak practice often had the guns in production before the year of adoption marked on them!)

CZ 22. This is a late one accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1925.

CZ 22. This is a late one accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1925.

One nice thing about Czech and Czechoslovak firearms (inherited from their Austro-Hungarian imperial masters) is that most of the firearms are dated with a proof date (civil weapons) or MOD acceptance date (military ones). Some weapons bear multiple dates, if they were (for instance) accepted by the military, and later proofed for surplus sale.

Model 24s are relatively uncommon, compared to the Model 27 which the Germans kept in high production after the occupation, but the Model 22 is more uncommon yet. Production numbers are estimated at: vz, 27 (and German Pistole Mod. 27), 590,000 (all but about 30,000 of them under the Nazis); vz. 24, 190,000 from 1923-37, possibly -39; vz. 22, about 19,000.

Several common strains in Nickl’s Mauser designs were united in this firearm: a single-action auto pistol with a breech locked by rotating barrel, like an Obregon or some Steyr pistols; and the unusual safety arrangement from the Mauser Model 1910, 1914 and (later) 1934 “pocket” pistols in 6.35 and 7.65mm. The safety has two buttons: One is activated with a sweep of the thumb to put the weapon on safe; the other instantly releases it with a press. Described like that, it sounds awkward, but is quickly learned and intuitive to use.

Left side of the same CZ 22. Note marking "9 mm N" and the second line, which translates to "Czechoslovak State Factory for Arms, Brno."

Left side of the same CZ 22. Note marking “9 mm N” and the second line, which translates to “Czechoslovak State Factory for Arms, Brno.” Is the N for Nickl (some of his Mauser prototypes are so marked), or does in just mean “Cartridge,” abbreviated? The Czech word for “cartridge” is “naboj,” pronounced NA-boy.

The overall size, shape and form of the vz. 22 and later CZ 24 and 27 pistols is very reminiscent of the 7.65mm Mausers, also. The side plate is similar. The frame rails are similar; the slide is similarly offset to the right, from the shooter’s perspective (although the barrel is centered on the frame), which is a peculiarity of the Mausers as well. The grips are similar.

Where the Nickl pistol departs from the earlier Mausers (in which the relative contributions of Nickl, the Feederle brothers, and other Mauser engineers are not entirely clear) is that the Mausers are striker-fired, and the CZs are hammer guns.

Prototypes of the Pistole N (for Nickl) were made in 9×19 mm as well as 9×17. The Czechoslovaks preferred the smaller cartridge (also adopted by other European nations, including but not limited to Italy and Hungary) and that was adopted as Naboj vz. 22. 

The vz. 22 was manufactured at the Czechoslovak State Arsenal, Brno, and it is a rare Czech pistol to bear Brno markings on its slide. (Production of subsequent models would take place in a satellite factory in Strakonice, and after 1936 in Uhersky Brod, and many later pistols, regardless of where they were made, would be marked as if they had been produced in Prague, the corporate seat).

Changes from the Model 22 to the Model 24 were aimed at increasing reliability, increasing interchangeability of parts, and increasing production speed and lowering production costs. The Czechoslovak Army was bedeviled with reliability issues, and the extensive hand-fitting that makes them fit together beautifully makes them hard to replace parts in.

As mentioned above, the Model 22 is a rare pistol that is actually marked as having been made in Brno. Interwar Czechoslovak leaders had a touching faith in the power of central planning, and tried to run their arms industry on such a basis, reorganizing it several times during the short life of the Republic. They decided that Zbrojovjka Brno specialize in rifles (and, when it picked up Vaclav Holek’s MG design from Praga, light MGs); pistols would be made by Česká Zbrojovka’s factory in Strakonice (although they would often be marked “Praha” or Prague, the locaction of ČZ HQ), and over the years other plants would specialize in other weapons. After World War II some pistols would be marked with ZB trademarks (notably the ex-Dušek Duo pistol, the “Aut. Pistole ‘Z’,” but none of them would actually be made by Zbrojovka Brno.

The vz. 22 wasn’t the greatest pistol ever, but it was an important building block in the nascent Czech arms industry. Survivors, fairly plentiful, are prized today. It’s interesting to speculate what its position in auto pistol history might have been, had it been produced as Nickl originally intended, in the 9×19 mm service cartridge.


(to be added).



Why are Rock Island Auction Catalogs so Expensive?

It’s a lot of money for an auction catalog: one costs $60 in the USA and $75 overseas, and it’s $165 or $210 respectively for a subscription for three Premiere Auctions (which also gets the Regional Auction catalogs, containing pieces without such nosebleed prices as the one-of-a-kinds that fill the Premiere auctions). What chump would pay those prices, and why?

We do, and we’ll tell you. First, there’s getting a package that weighs something like 8 pounds, and that makes you take out your letter opener.


Then, there’s what you see when you pop the lid.


This catalog, for the Premiere Auction taking place from 09-11 September 2016, is actually three glossy, beautifully printed volumes. They are spiral bound to lie flat, and inside there are hundreds and hundreds of heirloom  and investment-quality guns. The photographs are made with a technician’s craft and an artist’s eye, and the page layout rivals the best work in coffee-table books. And it’s an auction catalog, for crying out loud!

The catalog cover above is a row of historic early semi-auto prototypes, of which any one could b the centerpiece of a million-dollar collection. They have enough of these that reading the catalog is an education in early semi-auto blind alleys and also rans.

Rare Walthers? This is one of two AP prototypes, more or less identical and consecutively marked, that are being offered individually and as a pair. Each is likely to

bring a six-figure sum.


There are more rare and historic Colts and Winchesters than you can shake a peace pipe at:rock_island_catalog04

And Lugers. See what we mean about the photography and layout?


Here’s a Luger to conjure with — marked with The Man’s own monogram, (GL), it’s an experimental designed to work with heavier loads. The toggle is “reversed,” with the finger-grip cocking pieces normally attached to the rear link of the toggle attached to the front one instead.

rock_island_catalog07 rock_island_catalog06

Rock Island’s interest in getting the greatest possible amount for these firearms means they go all out to photograph them well and document their unique features and provenance.

There are a few lots in this auction that ran our Czech firearms gong. Along with a couple of ZH29s, an interwar semi rifle designed by the great Vaclav Holek and built in very small quantities for tests (including in England and  the USA), there were some great Czech and Bohemian pistols.

We’ve featured this very Bittner repeating pistol, built by the ethnic-German gunsmith Gustav Bittner in Weipert (Vejprty), Bohemia Province of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the late 19th Century. At the time (if we recall rightly) it was offered for sale by Horst Held. This strange early pistol fit into the same sort of niche as the Volcanic pistol, in the interstices between single-shot and semi-automatic pistols. The trigger ring worked like a lever-action’s lever to reload from a Mannlicher-style en bloc clip. These pistols in any condition are rare; this is the nicest one we’ve seen.


Several Weipert gunsmiths worked on similar ideas. This next is a lesser-know Czechoslovak-related pistol:


In the period between the wars, the Czechoslovak Republic required a difficult-to-get permit for small pistols, defined by barrel length. This produced a quantity of domestic and imported guns with longer barrels. Most of the interwar long-barreled pistols, whether of Czechoslovak, German, Austrian, Spanish or other manufacture, tend to sport Czech proof marks.  There’s no mention of whether this Walther Model 1 has the Czech proofs, but we’d bet the guys at Rock Island a beer that it does.

Of course, not all good stuff is Czech! There’s also a good offering of Class III firearms.


Clockwise from upper left: Japanese aircraft MG; MP-40; German MG tripod; Madsen LMG with tripod and on bipod. There are actually a couple of MP-40s, including a DLO tube gun.

Yes, the catalog will make you lust after guns you can’t afford. C’est la guerre, Legionnaire! But as a wish book and reference it stands alone.

Why Were Little Cartridges Ever Good Enough?

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious. Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious (Both are Browning designs). Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Today the defensive caliber argument seems to have devolved into two warring camps: those who like a small .380 or 9mm, and those who sniff at anything whose Imperial measurement does not begin at .4. So the older pocket pistols of the 20th Century, and even the police revolvers and some military pistols of the early 20th, seem inexplicable to a modern shooter.

Sure, they’re small, but so is a Seecamp .380 or a Micro Desert Eagle (both of which, completely off topic, have Czech antecedents. We’ll get back on topic, now). And the standing joke, which we believe may have originated with .45 aficionado and 10mm impresario Jeff Cooper, is, “Never shoot a man with a .32. It might make him angry, and then he’ll want to fight.”

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century. Why?

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century, mostly for defense. Why?

Yet, who ever thought it was okay for cops to walk the mean streets of New York and Chicago with a .32 Police Positive, Official Police, or M&P? Why did European cops cling to the .32 ACP well into the 1980s? Why did the Wehrmacht, of all things, reopen a conscientious objector’s closed factory so that his product, a tiny .25, could be produced — 117,000 of them — for sale to German officials?

More generally, why were micro .25s and compact .32s made and sold in the tens of millions worldwide?

First, the small size of these firearms (and their ammunition) is not just a disadvantage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a boon: you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it. In this nation of 330 million citizens and probably 3 million legitimately armed law officers and everyday concealed carriers, there are almost certainly under 300 police officers and Federal Agents who have fired their guns at suspects in more than one situation. (There wouldn’t be that many, if not for the emergence of tactical teams). The civilian who’s been involved in two defensive shootings is rare enough that we can’t think of an example — maybe you can.

Second, a small gun encourages carry. A gun that’s small and light inclines you to include it in your pocket litter or slip its holster onto your belt or waistband. Remember the first rule of gunfights: bring a gun. A small gun is, ceteris paribus, more likely to “get brung” than a big hogleg.

Third, for ex officio gun carriers, if not constrained by regulations, any gun will do. That’s why the Germans wanted all those .25s and .32s. Most cops were never going to shoot anybody, but the pistol in its flap holster was a mark of authority, like the badge. While that’s true for the National Railway Police riding the trains under Hitler, it’s also true for the large amount of American and worldwide cops who have a house-mouse assignment or are promoted to management rank.

Likewise, an officer of the vaunted German General Staff was supposed to have a pistol, but he had no serious plans to go down guns blazing like a Karl May hero, in front of a Red Army assault. The gun was a badge of office. It’s possible more officers killed themselves with their small pistols than killed a Russian, Brit or American enemy.

Fourth, there was historical precedent for small guns. As far back as a before the Civil War, Colt made its revolvers available in small and large caliber (.36 and .45). Others made .32s at this time. When Colt came out with its cartridge .32 in the 1890s, it had actually made a small, spur-trigger .22 some 20 years before that. Some people wanted a big gun, some wanted to trade off that gun’s advantages for the advantages of a small gun, and the market responded.

Fifth, the small guns were thought adequate at the time. The advent of the much more powerful smokeless powders in the late 19th Century made it possible to pack more power into a smaller gun. The NYPD did not adopt the Colt .32 at the behest of some berk ignorant of guns: Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, a lifelong gun enthusiast, drove the 1896 adoption of the New Police, a longer-barreled and square-butt version of the 1893 New Pocket revolver chambered for the .32 Colt. (Later, an improved version became the .32 Police Positive, chambered for the slightly less awful .32 S&W Long, which Colt called “.32 Police” because they wouldn’t say the two initials of their despised competitor upriver).

Colt New Pocket 32Why was a .32 adequate in 1896 but not by 1996? Certainly there have been many improvements in firearms since those beautiful little Colts left Hartford 120 years ago. Some of it may just be that more powerful handguns are available.

But another possibility is that human beings have changed. Anyone who has observed collections, for instance, of WWII uniforms notes that, compared to modern soldiers, midcentury guys were small. They were shorter and much leaner. Statistics bear this out.

The Union Army in the Civil War:

The average height of the Federal soldier was put at 5 feet, 8¼ inches.  …  Incomplete records indicate the average weight was 143¼ pounds.

That’s definitely a lot leaner (and a little shorter) than today’s median GI.

And here’s a table showing the gradual but real growth of the American soldier to 1984. (The Civil War numbers here are better supported than those in the link above). We submit that this growth has accelerated since (and note the small of the 1984 study suggests it may produce a less reliable mean than the earlier ones). Also, the Civil War measurements were taken clothed, WWI and up naked, so the differences were probably greater. Source.

Table 3-1Comparison of Some Anthropometric Characteristics of Male Soldiers in 1864, 1919, 1946, and 1984
Year of Study (n)*
Anthropometric Characteristic 1864 (23,624) 1919 (99,449) 1946 (85,000) 1984 (869)
Height (inches) 67.2 67.7 68.4 68.6
Weight (pounds) 141.4 144.9 154.8 166.8
Age (years) 25.7 24.9 24.3 26.3
Neck girth (inches) 13.6 14.2 14.5 14.5
Chest girth (inches) 34.5 34.9 36.4† 35.5
Waist girth (inches) 31.5 31.4‡ 31.3‡ 32.7
Estimated body fat (percent) 16.9 15.7 14.4 17.3
Fat-free mass (pounds) 117 122 133 138

Source: Table 3-1 at

As you see, not only the overall mass of the soldier had increased by over 25 lbs, but also, over 20 of that was fat-free mass — presumably, stronger bones and thicker muscle. A 15% or more increase in musculature on the average young man makes him harder to stop and to kill, once again all other things being equal. Scientists ascribe this in part to improved nutrition as civilization’s benefits came to include refrigeration, rail transport and industrial-scale farming.

The people police may engage with, criminals, are also likely to be obese, unlike soldiers.

In Conclusion

In the last 120 years, more powerful cartridges (and more of them) have been a trend in pistols. We identify several possible reasons for this trend. But when you break it down, they basically fall into two categories:

  1. More powerful pistols are possible now, given technology’s advances in powder chemistry, metallurgy, etc.
  2. More powerful pistols are necessary now, given the increased robustness of the mean and median human target.

In addition, there’s a third factor that may outweigh these two practicalities: fashion. We won’t raise it with reference to the present time — we’ll just point out that Roosevelt’s adoption of the .32 New Police for his New York coppers in 1896 set off a preference cascade that led many big cities to .32 Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers within 10-20 years.

No sooner had the .32s graced police holsters than clamor for more powerful cartridges would set in. This led to a step up to .38, until S&W were finally convinced they had put the police firepower issue to rest for all time with the new .38 S&W Special cartridge.

But that’s another story.

Amateur turned Pro: The Amazing Owen Machine Carbine

One of the most remarkable weapons of World War II (and the two or three decades beyond) was the 9mm Owen Machine Carbine, an Australian weapon that bridged the gap between cottage industry and professional production rather neatly. Designed by an amateur, it remains to this day the first and most successful Australian-designed weapon to be standard in the Australian Forces. (The follow-on F1 was a modified British Patchett/Stirling, with the magazine placed as per Owen). It was also the only weapon to come from the factory in bands of green and yellow paint.

Owen SMG

The colorized picture below from New Britain shows two Owens in their native habitat: the artist who did the colorization missed the guns’ camouflage coats! The gun is simple, reliable, and almost ideal for jungle warfare: the lack of long-range targets eliminates the cartridge’s weakness at range, and the vertically-arrayed magazine, that you think would snag on everything, is actually much more easily maneuvered than a bottom-side magazine, let alone the left-side mag of the Sten or Lanchester.

wwii colourised owens

Owens were used as late as the Vietnam War, in which the Aussies were one of only two US allies that took combat missions (the other being South Korea).

“Machine Carbine” was the British term of art for any shoulder-fired, pistol-caliber weapon, what the Yanks called a “Submachine Gun.” (Many European languages use the equivalent of “machine pistol” and “machine rifle” for pistol- and rifle-caliber automatic weapons). But the Sten and Lanchester were both known by the then-standard term,”Machine Carbine.”

The designer of the Owen was one Evelyn Owen. In his early 20s, he designed an experimental .22LR submachine gun — and then put it away, and essentially forgot about it. It was a neighbor, Vincent Wardell, who was a manager for Lysaght Newcastle Works in Port Kembla, Australia who first figured out that Owen’s prewar .22 design had some potential for a military submachine gun.


Owen Precursors, Prototypes and Trials Guns 1939-41. Australian War Museum, via Forgotten Weapons.

The story of the prototype evolution of the Owen is weird, wonderful, and well told already by Ian at Forgotten Weapons, but ultimately Wardell, his brother, Owen, and some other Lysaght workers overcame obstacles from the Army (they wanted prototypes in .32 ACP, .38/200 (.38 S&W), and .45 ACP as well as 9mm) and developed a simple and highly reliable submachine gun. In fact, it was more reliable than the weapon the British urged their Australian cousins to make, the Sten.

The secret to this reliability isn’t just simplicity — a Sten is just about as simple as an Owen is, really. But the vertical arrangement of the magazine provided two great benefits: the magazine didn’t have to fight gravity, and, with the ejection port on the bottom, gravity tended to clear the chamber area out of any malejected casing or debris. You would think that the bottom-facing ejection port would be inimical to reliability, but if it had any tendency to collect jungle goop, such a tendency was offset by the breech area’s self-cleaning nature.

The magazines were made of heavier-gauge steel than Sten or MP40 magazines, in part because the ejector is simply a raised part of the rear of the magazine. But this also helps reliability.  There were two distinct Marks (Mark I and Mark I*) and many small running changes during the gun’s production run of about 45,000.

By 1942, Australia was still waiting for a Sten data package, but the Owen was crushing the Sten in trials. About this time, someone decided that each one would be painted in a disruptive green and yellow camouflage, and the first gun off the line was squirreled away for the Australian War Memorial:

owen job one

Yes, that’s the paint job they came with. On the ones that didn’t go direct to a cushy museum, the paint gets scarred and scraped very easily (as you can see starting to show in places, even on this museum queen). Note that the grips are a hard, Bakelite-like plastic, and are not painted; the buttstock is made of wood, and it is painted.

Evelyn Owen did not have the long career of his submachine gun. Sources seem unanimous that, mustered out of Australian service at war’s end, he drank himself to death in 1949. The Owen would soon after that be called on to address human-wave attacks in Korea, where it acquitted itself well.

A uniquely Australian firearm, and a rare example of an amateur-designed weapon that outperformed its professionally-designed peers.

How Do You Get Around a Patented Design?

Over the years, this and that has been patented, in the world of guns. Given that patent law is the province of lawyers and therefore glacially slow and mired in massive transaction costs, patents don’t often benefit the poor throg filing the patent: by the time he has approval, his competitors have walked all over him and any advantage the patent might have conferred is long gone.

Original FN Browning 1900, right side, showing the ejection port. On this pistol, the barrel is below the recoil spring.

One illustration from US Patent 621747.

One illustration from US Patent 621747.

John Browning’s automatic pistol patents, for the pistol known as the FN Browning Model 1900, were filed in 1896 and 1897 (US Patents Nos.  and ) and secured, among other things, a solid patent on the idea of combining a breech bolt and other features into a “slide,” something lacking in other period auto-pistol designs (compare Borchardt, Mannlicher, Schwarzlose, and many others). The wording on these claims was a variant of this, the first specific claim of the 1896 patent:

In a firearm, the combination with a frame and a barrel carried by said frame, of a sliding breech-bolt and and a forward extension or arm attached to said breech-bolt, and extending forward alongside the frame and barrel, said extension or arm having a sleeve surrounding the barrel, whereby the movement of said extension and breech-bolt is guided by the barrel, and is limited rearwardly by contact of the rear end of said sleeve with the front of the frame.

The other illustration from 621747, showing the slide.

The other illustration from 621747, showing the slide.

Now, that claim alone might not have been a bulletproof securing of the monopoly on a pistol slide, but taken with the other Browning claims in these two patents, which were granted by 1899, meant that nobody was going to make a slide-bearing pistol without recognizing Browning’s patent, probably by giving Browning money. But his patents were part of why FN and Colt paid Browning for pistol designs, so would be copiers of the pistol were locked out until approximately 1913 — time that Browning did not spend idle.

And Browning’s Model 1900 was revolutionary, so revolutionary that “a Browning” became a European synonym for an automatic pistol.

So, if you were a would-be competitor, you could take a number of approaches, much as other pistol makers did to the similarly disruptive rise of Glock in the late 1970s and 1980s. You could, as a former Smith & Wesson CEO commanded, “just copy the mother[is only hald a word]!” which produced both the Sigma pistol line and, unsurprisingly, a lawsuit from Glock (which Glock essentially won, slaying the Sigma and sending Smith back to the drawing board). That’s the hazard of the “copy the mother!” approach, but you could use it if you were based somewhere beyond the reach of intellectual property law. In 2016 as well as a century ago, one of those lawless places is, and was, China. Not surprisingly, Chinese craftsmen didn’t feel constrained by patent law, and copied the living daylights out of the M1900. Some of them were quite close:

Browning 1900 Chinese Copy FW Browning 1900 Chinese Copy FW L

This one’s a little less close a copy:

Browning 1900 Chinese Copy

Some of the departures in the Chinese copy above include the palm-swell shape of the grip, the crudely hand-cut ejection port, the thyroid-case magazine catch, and the classically Chinese-copy sights, which often manage to have more parts than the original, but nothing that can actually be used to aim the firearm. The magazine also lacks the witness holes which were, by 1900, standard on auto-pistols worldwide.

But the slide does work like JMB’s, and if it was made before 1913 or so, it violates his patents. In China you could get away with that. In the Kingdom of Belgium, home of the factory making the authorized Browning 1900, and a nation that prides itself on rule of law, you couldn’t. So what’s a Belgian copycat to do?

“Copy the mother!”, but, cosmetically only. Meet the Mélior, whose name means “better,” and which is a shameless knock-off of the 1900 — cleverly arranged so as not to bust Browning’s patents. At a glance, it looks like another copy.



In fact, the pistol, a pre-WWI Mélior (also seen as a “Jieffeco”) incorporates some ingenious ideas of its own, and it has its own patent (that’s a British patent number, even though it is a Belgian gun). It was designed about 1906=07 by one H. Rosier, of whom little else is known.

There are a few little “tells” that this is not a direct knock-off of the 1900, such as the shape of the bustle or tang above the backstrap. Some more of these tells include:

  1. Serrations machined in, not on a screwed-on part;melior_browning_1900_copy_-_6
  2. The mid-trigger screw that attaches the trigger bar (and, of course, the different monogram, JF&C for Janssen Fils et Compagnie; see here for some Mélior history);melior_browning_1900_copy_-_9
  3. Trigger bar travels in a large, unsightly cut in the right-side grip frame, that has to have a large gap because the bar’s travel is nonlinear (upper right corner of above picture);
  4. The rear sight, completely different from the 1900’s;
  5. The shape of the ejection port: rounded-rectangle front and rear (compare to the 1900, which has a rounded-rectangle corner after and a square one front);
  6. Magazine release (of which, more below); and,
  7. The pistol doesn’t have a slide!

And of course, there are different markings.

The word Mélior, by the way, implies “better” by sound (“meilleur”) and Latin etymology.

Look Ma, no slide!

Instead of a slide, the pistol has a moving breechblock. There is no moving part around the barrel. This is the biggest single difference between this design and its cosmetic cousin, the FN Browning 1900.


The pistol seemed to have worked well enough, but after the war, the Robar & Cie firm that controlled the Mélior name commissioned a new design, one that looked more like Browning’s own Model 1910.

Pray for Release

Well, you can if you expect God to take the empty magazine out of this pistol, but the rest of us will shift for ourselves and use a rare feature: a push-button, base-of-the-gip magazine release, a lot like some early models of the Beretta 92 had.


So there you have it. A gun whose design impetus was, essentially:

  1. Copy the FN Browning 1900 as closely as possible; but,
  2. Not so closely that we get sued for patent infringement.

There are no indicators that FN and Robar et cie. ever wound up in court, so apparently this approach worked!