Category Archives: Industry

Retro Rejoice: Colt to Reissue “Collector’s Edition” M16, XM177E2

Retro heads, rejoice: You have nothing to lose but your slavish obsession with parts gathering. Because Colt, the original maker of historic firearms like the M16A1 (Colt Model 603) and XM177E2 (Model 639), has something new in the works: the Model 603. The 639. The 602. Maybe even the 601, the 605, the 608, and all those other rarities. Here’s the first two of what is promised to be a line:

colt_retro_guns

We learned this in an excited email from Shawn of LooseRounds.com this weekend, as he shared what Colt spokesmen have told him. (And the photo, a detail of which you see above). He has two posts:

Taken together, they cover most of what Colt has let out about the new vintage reissues. Here’s our distillation of it:

  1. The showing at the NRA Annual Meeting was just a tease, the “real” product intro will come at next January’s SHOT Show.
  2. Colt will make a short run, maybe as few as 1,000 pieces, of two models of these rifles every year for the next 10 years.
  3. Colt will make every effort to accurately produce the weapons as they were produced, except,
  4. They’re all going to be Title 1 firearms — no NFA weapons.
  5. The first two up are believed to be the M16A1 and XM177E2, the two key weapons of the Vietnam War.

Personally, we think this is brilliant. Guitar makers have done it for decades — we believe the first to get on the Vintage craze was Rickenbacker, whose use by the Vietnam War’s contemporaries like the Beatles and the Byrds made them a natural for vintage reissues (but it might have been Fender). Naturally other makers like Gibson and acoustic-guitar specialist Martin joined in. Soon the drum brands followed suit, and the amplifier makers, and by the time the Beatles Anthology was released in the mid-90s, a Ringo, John, Paul, or George wannabe could equip himself with everything but the talent by swiping his credit card at Manny’s or George Gruhn’s. For the guitar makers, this opened up an entire new market — aged-out rockers who had never given up their desire to sound like, say, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, could at least buy a ringer for his 12-string. Unlike today’s starving musician, the aged out former-starving-musician-of-the-70s now has the disposable income to buy the guitar he couldn’t in his Ramen Noodles days.

Your humble blogger may resemble that fictional aged-out rocker, with vintage reissues from Fender, Gibson, and Gibson’s budget brand Epiphone sharing guitar racks with real vintage instruments. (Some of which were merely “old” when put away, but emerged from storage “vintage,” like Schrödinger’s Guitar or something).

It’s not hard to conceive Colt’s marketing move as a parallel to what the guitar makers are doing. Yes, they’re still trying to reach today’s guy but they also want the dollars of the guy inspired by yesterday’s heroes. Colt, like Rickenbacker, ought to be able to survive as a nostalgia, vintage brand, but they are hoping, perhaps, to be more like Gibson — something for everybody, including the free-spending nostalgia buff.

Colt’s representatives promise attention to detail. Another photo Shawn has shows a rep holding an unfinished aluminum buttstock, as all Vietnam “submachine guns” bore (albeit coated by being dipped in vinyl acetate — it will be interesting to see how Colt handles this).  Colt has done something very similar, already, with the Colt 1903 pocket pistol; Colt also, now, stocks parts for the pistol that work in the new reissue and the originals.

We don’t know what this new Colt line is going to be called: Historic, Vintage, Reissue, Retro, or some combination, or maybe something with the model year (M16A1 Vintage ’66?) or a famous fight or hero (“Dick Meadows CAR-15”?). And that shows other paths that open up for Colt now:

  1. They can constantly tweak and reissue the reissues (Fender does this with guitars); or,
  2. They can support a two-tiered market with a standard mass-produced vintage reissue on the entry tier and perfect replicas of a specific firearm at higher tiers. But wait! They can also:
  3. Use the parts engineered for the retro clones to make new and interesting takes on modern AR15s. They could even support mass customization / personalization. The sky’s the limit.

If we have a squawk with Colt’s plans it’s the low production numbers they envision — perhaps as few as 1000 rifles of each model. That more or less ensures that they go direct to the kind of collectors that will keep them new in the box in a climate controlled vault in a salt mine somewhere deep beneath the lair of Dr. Evil.

Because we’re totally going to buy one. Of each.

Do go to Loose Rounds and read Shawn’s two posts if you’re interested in these guns.

Let’s Make CZs!

Thanks to Army-Recognition.com for putting this CZ plant video on YouTube. The guy leading the tour sometimes comes up short an English word, but he gets across what they’re doing.

CZ’s guns begin as parts, and the parts begin as wax patterns cast in a metal (looks aluminum) mold. Many identical patterns — the number depends on the size of the part — are attached to an armature, which is then coated with a sand/plaster material, which then is let to dry, has its wax melted out,and then the cavity where the wax was is filled with molten steel.

The same way a jeweler casts earrings or charms — just larger and higher temperatures.

Some other great stuff in the video, includimg a glimpse of the metrology lab.

Update

It was late, late, late when we drafted this and so there are a couple more points we should have made.

One of the silly debates that gun guys get into is “cast vs. forged”? While ceteris paribus a forging is a stronger part than a casting, in the real world ceteris isn’t paribus, and a gun doesn’t need to be stronger than every other gun in the world, like one of Colin Chapman’s cars it just needs to be strong enough. For a gun, that’s obviously more durable than a Chapman racer (if it didn’t just-barely-not-break by the finish line, he would grumble that he overbuilt it). Intelligent engineering doesn’t select materials based solely on what material has the best properties, it also takes into account the purpose of the part.

CZ is far from the only company using castings this heavily. Ruger not only makes most of its own receivers from castings, but has spun its casting shop off as a subsidiary that takes on work for other firms, including gun industry competitors as well as automotive and aerospace firms. In fact, it 3D prints some of its wax patterns (it may just be testing the technology as it has only bought a couple of industrial wax printers; that would certainly speed prototyping).

Investment casting can produce near net-shape parts at a much lower cost than machining. You can even use it to produce a machining blank for a part that gives you less machine time, tool wear, and scrap than starting from a rectangular billet. The same pattern can sometimes be used for steel and aluminum parts (you have to take account for the shrinkage of cast metal parts, depending on the alloy <1% to about 3%).

It’s an interesting combination, in the CZ version, of automation and of hand work. Note that two very critical jobs (building the armatures of part patterns, and pouring the steel) are done entirely by hand.

ArmyRecognition.com also has a related page with some explanatory language. Some of it appears to be quoting CZ press releases about the guns, not the manufacturing process, but there is this:

The excellence of Ceská zbrojovka’s products have created an image of high quality over the span of its existence both on the domestic and world markets; for this reason, the company considers its responsibility to be to ensure that the parameters of its products will be the best possible at all times.

The company’s technical development and production of military weapons, pistols, rifles, rimfire rifles, shotguns, and air guns constantly create a wide assortment of products Ceská zbrojovka invests considerable financial assets into the purchase of state – of – the art technology each year, especially in the fields of computer numerically controlled machining centers and computing techniques so as to improve their arms’ qualities and properties.

Thanks to the CAD designing of products, the company can quickly respond to the demands of the market with the development of new products with perfect qualities. For this reason comes to the market with new products every year.

We’d be astonished if they were not 3D prototyping their new products, and that explains how they can come up with such rapid model changes and some short-run versions and variants for different world markets.

It strikes us that investment casting could also be used to produce a near net shape injection mold for the polymer parts. Mold production is the tough nut to crack, in technical and financial terms, to get to the place where you can get the rates of returns manufacturers get on poly-framed pistols. A slightly undersized cast mold, with CNC touch-up, could be a real money and time saver for an injection-molding shop, and it could make previously uneconomic short-run injection molding a real possibility.

We Are FN… We’re Also a Little Over the Top

Got melodramatic? FN USA does.

But hey, there’s guns in it. Lots of guns.

They do make some good guns, FN. Always have, ever since a few small Belgian gunsmiths pooled their resources to go after the national army rifle contract, and FN was born.

Most people never think beyond the latest ad, most of the time, about the marque engraved on their firearm, but every single trademark, model name, and company logo traces back to a guy and an idea.

That means, if you have an idea…. what’s holding you back?

Now, after watching that more-“Hollywood”-than-Hollywood video,  you may laugh at the HMMWV with no more armor than a thin coat of paint provides, but that’s pretty much how we rolled in 02-03. Of course, there hadn’t been ten plus years of selective pressure for marksmanship applied to the Taliban, either; today’s team rolls into a situation that’s a hundred times more hazardous that our was back then.

There’s probably a post in that: the trade-off inherent in armor. It’s almost like one of those gamer character creation things. Do you want to be able to go fast, or take hits? You can be fast, strong, or stealthy, but things start coming unglued when you try to do two of those at once, and if you try to do all three you’re probably going to fall short in all three axes. That’s failure, eh.

One last thing: we’ve seen some movies that seemed to really nail Afghanistan and even Iraq, and we wondered where they found such great locations, especially for low budget films. A friend in the business tells us that they use rock quarries and sand pits, and then zoom in close. Figures. If there’s ever a world shortage of rock, dirt, or feces, Afghanistan has the potential to the Saudia Arabia of any of these resources.

(We had plans to have a long technical post this morning, and, well, we didn’t. But that means you’re going to get the post at some future date, when it’s actually, you know, done).

Another Month, Another Record

In the month just ended, there seems to have been another all-time monthly year-over-year record for firearms sales.

NICS Checks. Source: FBI NICS [.pdf]

fbi_nics_not_adjusted_2016_04As we head into the spring-summer doldrums, April saw 2,145,865 NICS checks reported by FBI. That’s not an all-time record, although it is an April record. The next closest April was 2014, with only 1.7 million checks.

Last month’s total represents a growth of approximately 26% over April 2015, which was a hair lower than the April 2014 number.

A total of 9.8 million checks have been completed this year, roughly one million more than at the end of April in any previous year.

These checks are generally understood to be an imperfect measure at best, because they do not measure gun sales one for one. A buyer may purchase several firearms at the same time on a single NICS check. In 25 states, some type of state gun permit exempts holders from the NICS check; these two factors cause checks to be understated.

NICS checks, though, don’t discriminate between checks on factory-new firearms and previously owned ones. This causes checks to be overstated as a measure of new gun sales.

Conversely, some states use run a check to determine whether to issue a pistol permit, and one runs a check on every permit holder every month. Taken all together, these confounding factors make NICS checks run high relative to sales, especially to sales of new guns.

NSSF Adjusted Checks

nssf_adjusted_nics_2016_04To adjust for the confounding factors in the raw data issued by FBI, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the actual “gun lobby” for manufacturers, retailers, and other supply-chain businesses), issues adjusted background check data. In depth and detail, this data is available only to members, but they usually issue a press release with the basic figures.

In April 2016, NSSF’s adjusted NICS figure was 1,130,238. This represents a 14.4 percent from last April’s NSSF-adjusted NICS figure, 987,698. Like the FBI checks, the NSSF adjusted checks have been up over same-month-previous-year for at least the last 12 months.

Other Measurement Techniques

nssf_firearms_excise_tax_chartThere are other direct and indirect measurement techniques. While NICS and Adjusted NICS are proxies (with the imperfections noted above) for unit sales, Pitman-Robertson excise tax revenues are a serviceable marker for dollar sales. However, their reporting lags by months. The Department of the Interior has just reported its results for Q4 2015, and NSSF has recorded the manufacturer numbers. Not surprisingly, there are signs of steady growth.

Compared to Q4 in 2014, Q4 2015 saw:

  • Excise taxes up 32% for pistols and revolvers;
  • Excise taxes up 23% for long guns and miscellaneous firearms; and,
  • Excise taxes up 9% for ammunition.

These excise taxes are straight percentages of dollar sales, so it’s possible to estimate the topline of the US firearms market:

  • $589 million on pistols and revolvers;
  • $557 million on long guns, etc; and,
  • $626 million on ammunition.

That’s a quarterly market, then, of just under $1.8 billion. (If there was no seasonality, that would make ~$7.1B a year, but of course the seasonality in firearms and ammunition sales is profound, and Q4 is probably the highest-scoring quarter).

Note that government users are exempt from these taxes, and these are the manufacturers’ taxes only. (Of course, like all taxes, they are paid by individuals… in this case, the individuals who buy the marked-up products. The manufacturers merely collect the taxes for the .gov).

Finally, the ATF does get production and importation reports, direct from manufacturers and importers, but it seems to take them a very long time to process and release the data. We don’t have any timely mfg/import figures to massage at this time.

Orbital ATK Gets a Big Ammo Order

Ammo StockpileThis week brought forth two releases from Orbital ATK, the defense giant that spun off its commercial ammo business as Vista Outdoors two years ago to focus entirely on the  government market.

The first release, the one we’re interested in, is about ammo contracts, and it’s good news for OA, if not unexpected. The company will be making over $200 million worth of small arms ammunition for the US Army — enough, perhaps, to relieve shortages of training ammunition, and even enough to get all the combat service support folks qualified without resort to the M1 pencil. We’ll elaborate on the contract in a bit.

OA Today

NYSE: OA on 5 May (sometimes there’s a benefit in a post not being on time at 1100, isn’t there?)

The second one was the quarterly earning call with financial analysts. That one was more of a mixed result; immediately after the 9AM call, OA stock took a header, but it rebounded in the afternoon, and after what looks like a little profit-taking, was actually up by day’s end.

These conference calls are a relative proposition: how well did the company make its number, not absolutely, but in the light of the Wall Street analysts’ average expectations? The good in the call came from the company meeting earnings per share (profits) estimates exactly at $1.31 per share. But even though Orbital ATK revenues were up nearly 10% over last year to $1.06 billion, the analysts had been looking for almost $100 million more, and OA missed that $1.14B target. But that wasn’t all the bad, the CEO dropped a bad-news bit that suggests that the company hasn’t met “synergy targets,” from the ATK-Orbital merger, and says he’s still looking for $30 million a year in cost savings — not good news if you’re an employee there, because that’s a target on your back.

OA is a complex company that does everything from launch a few colossally expensive satellites every year, to manufacturing billions of 5.56 rounds   for the US Armed Forces and America’s Foreign Military Sales customers.

The ammo contract press release says:

Orbital ATK, Inc. (OA)… announced today that it has received orders totaling $210 million to produce small caliber ammunition for the U.S. Army. Orders were placed for .50 caliber, 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition under Orbital ATK’s supply contract to produce a variety of small caliber ammunition for the U.S. government at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (Lake City) in Independence, Missouri.

“This latest order continues a long history of supplying only the best ammunition to our warfighters,” said Kent Holiday, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Small Caliber Systems division of the Defense Systems Group. “Every round is produced with the highest quality because we know that those defending freedom depend upon the good work of our employees.”

Orbital ATK has operated Lake City for the U.S. Army since 2000, during which approximately 15 billion rounds of small caliber ammunition has been produced to support U.S. and allied warfighters around the globe. During the past several months, Orbital ATK and the U.S. Army have been making upgrades and investing in state-of-the-art, high-volume technology to enhance the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the facility.

As the press release suggests, the Army owns the plant, but Orbital ATK (and its predecessor, ATK) operate the plant under contract to the Army.

One annoying detail: the contract contains a 2005-vintage clause[.pdf] that requires Orbital ATK to destroy any leftover ammunition, parts, components rather than sell them to the public.

There’s a rumor going around that the new contracts are specifying steel rather than brass cases. That seems unlikely; from what I’ve seen of these contracts, they’re just refills of the same old ammo.

Steel cases promote action and barrel wear, which has been demonstrated in tests. We doubt that it is due to a single mechanism, but we expect it was principally because of poor obturation. The guy that invents something that gives better obturation than good old brass is going to create a revolution in ammunition — assuming that it has other properties that beat the old golden stuff.

Some Days, You Eat the Bear

Some Days, The Bear Eats You. It was a good weekend for Mr. Bruin around here:

some_days_the_bear_eats_you

Shorter RIA: So long, and thanks for playing!

Well, we can still read the catalog pages through our tears. So there is that. Don’t win your bids, you still wind up with a beautiful catalog full of stunning firearms, and some usually accurate historical information.

We bid on several Czech or Czechoslovak firearms that would be worth photographing and writing up for the book, and thought we bid well but wisely. It will be interesting to see just how spectacularly others outbid us on these.

The good news is, we now no longer need to hold the money we were keeping in reserve in case we won our stretch goals, and that may be good news for a local guy and a gunbroker seller or two.

This week is a week of heavy analog activity. Expect the digital domain, including this blog, to suffer a bit, accordingly.

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.