Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

Even Glocks Can Break

even_glocks_breakAnybody recognize this little bit? If you run a Glock you probably do.

It’s the thumb button from what people trained on 1911s or other classic firearms tend to call a “slide release” and what Glock insists on calling a “slide stop.”

Why does Glock call it a “stop” and not a “release”? You’re looking at the reason. The cheap stamped part is not designed or manufactured to take the load of being used to release the slide. Official and canonical Glock practice is that you close the slide on a fresh mag by pulling it to the rear and letting it go — like a Luger or P.38, not guns that have Browning’s handy slide release. 

Of course, the slide release of a 1911 or BHP is machined from steel billet and heat-treated appropriately. JMB Himself intended you to mash your opposable thumb down on it to close the slide, because you needed your left hand to manage the reins of your cavalry mount anyway!

This image comes from Kyle Defoor’s Instagram, where he says:

Seeing some military and LE Glock 19 Gen 4 slide stop levers breaking more than a few times. Never seen this before so often.

A lot of his commenters are… well, we’re not willing to trade commenters with him, let’s just say that. But one of them had this observation, which gibes with what we’ve heard about Glock training.

I’m a factory certified Glock armorer and at my last recert they discussed their position that the slide stop is not a slide release and using it in this fashion can, over time, lead to failures.

And couple more had the sensible comments that,

If not a slide release why the ridges on face for grip?


It seems to me that it would get more abuse from going into slide lock than slipping out of the notch to send the slide foreword again. What am I missing?

To which the Glock armorer guy replied:

[T]hat’s a valid point and an acute observation. I am remiss in failing to ask my Glock rep, who was in my office just yesterday, for clarification on this.

OK, let us offer our own opinion (note, opinion) on this.

  1. In our opinion, the “don’t use it as a slide release” is a retrospective position that was created by the Glock organization ex post facto when someone broke a slide release. But the oldest official Glock documents we have on hand (a January, 1992 armorer’s manual, and a Glock G1 exploded view dated 1991) already refer to the part as a “slide stop lever.” (The part owners often call a “takedown catch” is, officially, a “slide lock,” not to be confused with the slide stop lever).
  2. Re: “why the ridges on face for grip?” On p. 14 of the 1992 armorer’s manual, it describes how to lock the slide back, and includes a picture. “[L]ock the slide open by pushing up on the slide stop lever while pulling the slide to the rear with the non-shooting hand.” (It then tells you to “Pull back slide to release slide stop lever and close action.” But it doesn’t warn you not to use the slide stop lever to release the slide).
  3. “Why does it break?” OK, here’s a couple pictures of Glock slide stops. First, here’s an OEM slide stop, photographed from the inside. glock-oem-slide-stop-insideNow, we didn’t have a handy photo of this from the outside, but this photo of a Vickers Tactical extended slide stop (we’ve got this part on our own Glock) shows what the other side looks like. glock-vickers-slide-stop-outsideCompare this to the failed stop at the top of this post.

We now have several clues as to why the stops are failing.

  1. People continue doing something the manufacturer says not to do.
  2. The slide stop is made from a single piece of sheet metal, stamped (“pressed” for Europeans) and folded to net shape.
  3. There is a small rounded notch, adjacent to the part of the stop that folds over to the inside, right where the part Kyle photographed began to fail (see where the failure crack is kind of gray at the top? That’s the oldest part of the failure. When it weakened the slide stop enough, the rest failed all at once — that’s the shiny part of the crack). The reason for the notch is to prevent a “stress riser” from causing the part to begin failing at this point, and it obviously is not working in 100% of use conditions.
  4. And that the problem just started showing up with greater frequency, suggests that some aspect of the manufacturing of the part may have been changed recently. Manufacturers are always making small changes in parts to improve something about them (often something that matters to the manufacture, like lower cost, or increase speed of manufacture, and doesn’t matter quite as directly to customers). Manufacturers also are known for making parts in-house and outsourcing other parts to subcontractors. These subs can change at any time.
  5. Putting thumb pressure on the slide stop stresses it several different ways. It can load it in torsion (twist), for which the engineers probably didn’t do the math on this part. It will definitely bend the part laterally (per the gun’s orientation). That stresses the outboard (left) side of the slide stop in tension, and the inboard (right) side in compression. Another way to think about it is when you bend a plate or bar, the side bent convex is loaded in tension, and the side bent concave is loaded in compression. Our best guess (and based on one picture of one part, it can be no more than a guess) is that this part began to fail from tension at the upper outboard corner of the slide stop.
  6. It’s a trivial physics or engineering problem to calculate the stresses on the part, but to know whether they exceeded the design strength of the part, we’d need to know the exact materials and heat-treating condition of the part.

A question on the Instagram page about whether this is happening primarily in high round-count guns isn’t answered, but round count doesn’t necessarily load the slide stop. A lot of cop guns are seldom fired, but are loaded and cleared at least once every shift. If they’re thumbing the slide stop a lot, they can bust their slide stop without even firing a shot.

One last thing: the failure of this actuating button end of the slide stop makes it impossible (or very difficult, requiring tools) to lock the slide back without an empty mag in the pistol. However, without the end of the stop, it looks to us like the basic running of the gun would still be OK, until you needed the slide stop to handle a malfunction. So in combat terms, this failure of the slide stop is fail safe.

Out of the Depths, a Glock 27

What is the story on this firearm? Hint: it’s not a mash-up between the World of Glock and the Southern California “rat rod” phenomenon. The “rat Glock” is a 27 and was fished up by a fisherman in an unknown location. He sent the photo in to the the maker of his lure, SlabZone in Oakland, which has a “what have you caught on our lures” feature on social media.


There are a number of reasons a compact Glock might come to reside in the drink. People actually do lose guns in boating accidents — it isn’t just a running joke. (Your Humble Blogger lost a wallet in a diving/boating mishap, containing a lot of junk paper and cards, a few bucks, a Group coin and his original gold-plated metal SF Association life membership card, but no Glocks yet).

Three questions come up:

  1. Would it still work?
  2. Was it used in a crime? Would it have evidentiary value?, and,
  3. How come I never catch anything like that?

Okay, that’s really four questions… but we’ll answer ’em, or try to.

Our guess is that the answer to 1. is a qualified “yes.” Qualified in that it may need to soak in lubricant for a while for the slide to be moved.

The answer to both parts of 2.? “It’s complicated.” Guns are valuable things, especially to criminals, and despite the risk that a criminal exposes himself to by retaining a crime gun, most of them still do. The exceptions are, or at least include, such professional criminals as organized crime gunmen. Street punks are more likely to sell, trade or even give a hot-as-in-got-a-body-on-it Glock to some other street criminal.

Apart from the boating-mishap scenario, we’ve known more than one guy who’s lost a firearm to an angry wife of girlfriend. “You love that Glock more than me! So I threw it off the Tappan Zee!”

LE could quickly check NCIC to see if it has been reported stolen, and local LE could call ATF to do a trace. Traces aren’t magical, they take a while, and experience says that it’s most likely that the ATF’s trace dead-ends at the gun’s first retail sale.

Then, assuming that the gun can be made to fire, it could be fired for ballistics and the result entered in NIBIN, but it’s likely that there’s corrosion inside the barrel, and to the firing pin, extractor, ejector, and breech face on the slide, so a match would probably be difficult (and could be challenged by a defense expert). The chance of tying this gun to an open case is very small, and if the case is closed, the ballistic evidence may no longer be active in NIBIN.

It would be worth trying the forensics approach just to see if anything usable could be recovered. It would make an interesting paper!

And as far as Question 3 goes, we’re happy enough to catch a fish. We’ve been known to get skunked even on that. 

Hat tip, Chris Eger at




The Strange Times of the “Suicide Specials”

“The poor,” the Bible advises us, “have always been with us.” And they have always had as much right to life, and as much right to protect theirs, as the rich — and perhaps,, more need to protect themselves, given that the poor workingman is economically sorted into the same neighborhood with the criminal class, crime paying rather poorly at levels below that of elective office.

A Hood Arms "Robin Hood" in .22. Not safe with modern ammunition!

A Hood Arms “Robin Hood” in .22. This is better than average condition for a Suicide Special — they are very prone to nickel flaking and rust. Not safe with modern ammunition!

In those lands and times when the crown does not forbid to the working man firearms, a large and legitimate demand arises for cheap firearms, and features of styling and gimmick are often applied that either imitate higher-quality firearms, or are flashy and appeal to people who know little about guns. In today’s environment, you have Hi-Points, Jimenezes, and to some extent Taurus firearms. Before 1968, you had cheap Spanish and other imported .25s and .32s. But in the period from approximately 1870 to 1890, you had suicide specials.

suicide-specials-websterThe term itself was coined, sources agree, by Duncan McConnell almost 70 years ago, when firearms collecting was, as always, centered on high-end guns. McConnell wrote about these guns and was the first to apply the term Suicide Specials; ten years later, in 1958, Donald B. Webster, Jr., of Bangor, Maine, published a book about them with Stackpole. Webster’s book was, he writes:

[A] culmination of over three years’ work. Most of the material has been compiled… from personal information, or information supplied by other collectors. Almost no documentary material was available, and what little there was was often found to be incorrect.

Suicide Specials are such a complex subject that this work is only an introduction…. a great deal is still unknown. Thee are a great number of problems left to confront the student of Suicide Specials, and the field is wide open.

Nowadays, of course, we have documentary evidence… even if it’s Webster, a secondary source. Webster notes that there was good reason for collectors to neglect these guns for many years: they simply weren’t that important.

A Lee Arms "Red Jacket." in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers -- it was cheapest!

A Lee Arms “Red Jacket.” in .22. By far the most popular caliber for these rimfire revolvers — it was cheapest! Engraving is common on some makes and never seen at all on others.

For one thing,Suicide Specials are unique in that they have almost no historical significance.They never won any battles, neither had they any part in the winning of any frontier, with the exception of an occasional brawl. Their only purpose was to provide a gun-toting era with concealable armament at the least possible cost.

A couple years after that, Rywell’s short pamphlet (which we just picked up for 30¢) was published. Rywell’s pamphlet is a somewhat disorganized history of Suicide Specials (which made us pull out Webster, and write this post), and a detailed history of one manufacturer, the Norwich Arms Co. of Connecticut.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

This Bacon Governor was also made in Norwich.

After you’ve seen one or two of them, like pornography, “You’ll know ’em when you see ’em,” but the primary characteristics of a Suicide Special are:

  1. Single action revolver
  2. Solid frame, pull cylinder pin to reload. The cylinder pin is your ejector.
  3. Spur trigger
  4. Rimfire (in descending order of frequency found: .22, .32, .38, .41, .30).
  5. Nickel plated

They are often found without a maker’s name, sometimes with a brand or trade name. (The same manufacturer would sell retailers and retail chains an “exclusive” brand name, so that they needn’t fear the hardware store down the street underselling them by a penny or a dime). The brand names often are somewhat threatening, and a little optimistic, given the quality of the guns: Arbiter, Avenger, Defender, Excelsior, Faultless, Old Reliable, Penetrator, Protector, Rattler, even Terror. Everyone who has written about these at length has tried to compile a list of these fanciful brand names, and, some of them, to match names to manufacturers; and every one of them has given up. The purpose of the name, of course, was to sell the gun. (That’s unchanged. How many modern equivalents of Suicide Special customers bought a Taurus Judge?)

The other side of the "Robin Hood" shown above. There's a grand name for you.

The other side of the “Robin Hood” shown above. There’s a grand name for you.

They also tend to be cheaply made, of inferior metals and workmanship. They were made in various small factories, mostly in the Gun Valley, and these factories didn’t pay as well as Colt in Hartford, or Smith & Wesson or the national Armory in Springfield. (If the Armory had orders; if not, it laid men off and they found work in the other factories, at lower wages). Buyers of these guns were extremely price-sensitive.

Not all of them were junk: Forehand and Wadsworth of Worcester, the sons-in-law of Ethan Allen, whose production of Suicide Specials was small, made high-quality ones that Webster compares favorably to Colt pocket revolvers. The company was sold to Hopkins & Allen, which in turn sold to Marlin-Rockwell.

It is no accident that Suicide Specials appeared on the market in 1870. There were a few attempts before, but Rollin White had sold his 1855 patent on the bored-through cylinder to Smith & Wesson, which produced revolvers resembling the Suicide Special (but of higher quality) from 1858 on. Other Gun Valley makers were quick to try to imitate the Smith .22 Nº 1 and .32 Nº 2, only to learn that S&W intended to defend their patent in court. After the first couple infringers lost, the remainder settled quickly, or at least, responded positively to a Cease and Desist letter from Smith’s lawyers. But White’s basic patent expired in 1869. (That patent, by the way, is why Union cavalrymen had breechloading and even repeating cartridge carbines by 1865, but not cartridge revolvers). Thus, the explosion of Smith-alikes from 1870 onward.

White continued to contest other patents until his death in 1892. As Rywell records, it “kept him agitated.”

The small revolvers are found with five, six and seven-shot cylinders, with the lower count common in the larger calibers like .41, and the seven-shot common in .22s.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith.

This unfortunately cut-off picture is a .32 rimfire Otis A. Smith. As you can see, it’s a five-shot gun.

By 1890, the Suicide Special was too far behind the public taste, and, many municipalities and states were trying to outlaw gun-carrying. While this often was masked as a “good government” or “taming the frontier” measure, what really drove it was animus to the sort of people who bought these guns: immigrants, especially Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans in the North, and blacks and “white trash” in the South. Most cops would not dream of enforcing local gun laws against a local, say, banker or landlord; but those guys could buy the Smith or Colt.

And this one is a "Dog," that is also marked, "Cast Steel." Or maybe that's the instruction book? If it doesn't fire, "cast" it at your assailant....

And this one is a “Dog,” that is also marked, “Cast Steel.” Or maybe that’s the instruction manual? If it doesn’t fire, “cast” it at your assailant…. The engraving and shape of the side plate mark it as a bit upscale (and is the grip ivory?). The cheapest Suicide Specials had a circular sideplate with a slot — because it doubled as the hammer screw! Here, they’re two separate parts.

And, technology had marched on. By 1890 “revolver” implied double action, and the more rapid reload of a swing-out cylinder, break-action revolver (in the small, Suicide Special follow-on type, they were called “Bulldogs”), or at the bare minumum a loading port and ejection rod arrangement like Colt’s single- and double-action revolvers of the day. In addition, foreign competitors began importing very inexpensive firearms into the USA, taking advantage of lower skilled labor costs in Europe than in Gun Valley.

While the Suicide Specials died a cold market death, a couple of the makers survived well into the 20th Century, notably Iver Johnson and Harrington & Richardson. They continued making small, cheap revolvers (and nickeling many of them) but followed the market away from the pull-pin solid frame single action. (H&R, at least, did make some pull pin revolvers into the 1970s, if not beyond). Unlike the Suicide Specials, an Iver Johnson or H&R from the 20th Century smokeless powder era is safe to shoot. (Do not be beguiled by a modern .22 fitting in a 19th-Century Suicide Special. Those two things were not made to go together).

One thing that continues to puzzle us is this: why were they all nickeled? (There are exceptions, but they are rarer than nickel guns in current production). Because the market demanded it? Because the buyers were easily gulled by shiny surfaces? Because the nickel finish would take, at least initially, more handling than traditional bluing? Because it cost less? Because it could be done with unskilled labor? Because the process was new, and created a fad? None of the sources we have read can really answer this question.

(Thanks for bearing with us on images. They’re in place now. -Ed).


Buffaloe, Ed. “Suicide Specials.” The Unblinking Eye. Retrieved from:

Rywell, Martin. The American Nickel-Plated Revolver 1870-1890: A History of and a Guide for This Classification for the Firearms Student or Collector. Harriman, Tennessee: Pioneer Press, 1960.

Uncredited. “Suicide Specials. Retrieved from:

Webster, Donald B. Suicide Specials. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1960: Stackpole.


A Historic Revolver Hangs in a Museum

In England, guns are really outlawed, and have been for twenty years (all handguns) or longer (semi rifles). Sure, whatever remains of the upper class can still shoot grouse with a £50,000 shotgun if they’re so inclined. But even historic and heirloom firearms were destroyed as part of the UK’s failed attempt to heal human hearts by taking guns out of human hands.


One firearm that was spared from the smelter was this .455 Mark VI Webley, the service revolver of one of George V’s subalterns who would survive the slaughterhouse of the Somme as a signal officer, and go on to such distinction in the literary world that every reader of this knows of his concepts and characters, and most if not all of you have read his books or seen movies made from them.



While this article in The Grauniad is three years old, we just saw it mentioned over at Ian’s place, JRR Tolkien’s heirs surrendered the pistol during the final British firearms amnesty.

The Webley Mk VI was the standard issue gun for British servicemen at the outbreak of the war. In 1996, Tolkien’s family gave the gun to the Imperial War Museum during a firearms amnesty in the UK, following the Dunblane school massacre, in which 16 children and one adult were killed. As a signalman, Tolkien took charge of communications for his battalion; it is not known if he used the weapon in battle.

Garth [John Garth, author of Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth,2003] continued: “An Oxford-educated man, he went to war alongside labourers and miners, like Bilbo among the dwarves. He saw and probably experienced war trauma – and Frodo’s psychological journey is remarkably like the ones described by war writers such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tolkien witnessed pitiable waste of life in the mud, which shaped his famous Dead Marshes scene, where bodies of warriors appear like ghosts in the marsh pools. His passions were medieval, but his work was a response to indelible experience.”

“He also said that Sam Gamgee, in The Lord of the Rings, was ‘a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself’.”

One thing that draws readers to Tolkien’s fantasies a century after he faced the horrors of the trenches — no, a signal lieutenant in a combat arms battalion is not in a safe position — is his accuracy in depicting, not the fanciful world of orcs and elves and mages, but the very real world of men’s hearts in combat with mortal enemies and eternal temptations. In Tolkien’s world, as in ours, weapons are tools that may be forged to serve good masters or ill, and men themselves have a choice as to which master they serve, at least spiritually.


Most people, perhaps, see this pistol only as an artifact that connects a dusty war museum with the popular culture. (Indeed, it was placed in the museum on a schedule timed to exploit a movie release). But look a little deeper and in its honest forged British steel you might see a symbol of the eternal battle of good and evil, which takes place in the hearts of all mankind.



Surplus City “Holiday” Sale

Surplus City, in Feasterville Trevose, Pennsylvania, is the go-to dealer in the Keystone State for police turn-ins. Surplus City sends:

Holiday Sale starts tomorrow Tuesday Nov 15th at 11am. Some items are very limited so get in early and grab up these specials!

“Holiday” is one of those things that puts our teeth on edge, as our nation has a number of specific holidays that honor very specific people and things. But some businesses feel like they have to operate under the heavy weight of state atheism as established religion.

Here’s their newspaper ad. Note that they have the Ruger LCP-II for $269.95but the $210 price in their ad seems to be for leftover LCPs (which we guess are retroactively renamed LCP-I.


If the Star and Beretta pistols are really Excellent and VG Condition respectively, they’re a good deal. (Note that they used the wrong picture for a Beretta 92S. The 92S has a push-button magazine release, but it’s at the bottom rear of the grip, not the back of the trigger-guard bow). If the SIGs are German, they’re a hell of a deal. But the Smith revolvers are probaly the best deal going, especially the Model 15s and 64s.

And is two hunge a great deal for a 12-gauge 870, or what? Even a beater ex-cop 870.

Along with the stuff in the ad, they also have some Bushmaster fixed-carrying-handle LE trade-ins (like a Colt 727), which are good guns if they pass inspection, and two specials that didn’t make it into the ad:

  1. Anderson AM-15 optic ready carbines. Brand new only $565; and,
  2. USED Taurus stainless .38 cal. Model 82 revolvers. Good condition only $175.

“Optic Ready” is a marketeer’s way to say. “iron sights not included.” But at that price, that’s okay, and most buyers will want a red dot or other optic anyway. The Tauruses… well, all we’ll say about them is this, that their products often are priced as if they were disposable. Make of that what you will.

Civil War Era DA Revolver: Cooper Pocket Model

The Cooper Pocket Model is an interesting and rare revolver, and this high condition example displays the generally attractive lines of the firearm. It adopts much Colt design language, but introduces a large trigger guard and double-action trigger.


It’s rare in any condition. This one is in incredible condition. It’s for sale by James Cohen & Son Antiques, on Royal Street in New Orleans, and is only one of very many high-condition rare antique firearms in their inventory. (We mean to write about the shop more generally soon).cooper-pocket-model

Cohen’s web site does not do their inventory justice, but several of the firearms that struck us were on it, including this Cooper. They post minimal information about the gun; our references tell us that most of these Coopers were made in the second half of the 1860s. Collectors distinguish among variations.

Cooper Pocket Model
.36 caliber double action, five shot
Manufactured circa 1864
Serial No. 2081
British proof-marked on barrel and cylinder
Original blue finish

The British proof marks suggest it was exported to England or somewhere in the Empire, but it was made in Frankford, a Philadelphia suburb.


While the pistol is rare and, as an early American double-action revolver, a historic curiosity, it’s not as generally sought-after as more common Colts or Remingtons of similar vintage. That said, condition is everything to collectors. Cohen is asking an eye-watering $5,500 for this pistol, and another dealer sold one that was intact but rattly, with all bluing long gone, and faded to gray-brown overall, for $650.


That dealer, The Horse Soldier, also has an interesting site, and like Cohen, sells other Civil War memorabilia like documents and currency as well as antique firearms (neither sells modern firearms; “antique” a term of art in American law meaning pre-1898 arms, or exact reproductions of pre-1898 muzzle loaders). The Horse Soldier posted a little more Cooper history and detail, which we’ll shamelessly crib from him:

Presented here is a Civil War secondary martial sidearm produced by the J. M. Cooper Company of Pittsburgh, PA. Known as a Second Model Pocket Revolver, this specimen was one of the handguns produced by the company’s Philadelphia facility between 1864 and 1869 and it closely resembles the Colt Model 1849 Pocket. In very good overall condition with even wear, this Cooper sidearm is a double-action, .31 caliber model with a three-screw frame and a 5-shot rebated cylinder matched to a 4” long, octagonal barrel. Cylinder is plain with no engraving but has the five rectangular safety notches. Revolver retains just scant traces of original bluing in protected areas. Serial number “1135”marked on the brass butt strap, cylinder, barrel, loading lever, and frame. A large, brass trigger guard fits the frame.

The revolver’s grips are one-piece unvarnished walnut in good condition with minor chipping at the butt edge and at the frame point. Shows smooth even wear. Barrel address marking of “COOPER FIREARMS MFG CO FRANKFORD PHILA, PA. / PAT. JAN 7, 1851 APR 25, 1854 SEP 4, 1860 / SEP 1, 1863 SEP 22, 1863”. Mechanics loose. Revolver wears a dark gray patina overall. Exterior metal surfaces show just scattered light pitting and consistent wear. All screws are in good condition, not buggered. This Cooper .31 caliber Pocket Model DA revolver is priced right, and would add to any military sidearm collection.

Examples of this gun are out there. The Horse Soldier sold another, nicer condition example (SN 13532; they say Cooper made a total of about 11,000 revolvers) for $1,375. Dixie Gun Works has one in stock, in about the same condition as The Horse Soldier’s $1,375 example, asking $1450. Gunderson Militaria has a worn and broken (mainspring) example, SN 380, for $950.

The clean lines and attractive condition of the Cohen example caught our eye. It’s a really attractive old gun. Do we want it? Sure, but not enough to drop five-and-a-half large on it. Gun blogging doesn’t pay that well… we should have taken up rap or something.

We jus’ rap ’cause we can’ sing
We can’ hole a job or anyfing
We jus’ hangin’ out ’cause we don’ care
That wiffout a doubt, our momma on weffare….

OK, maybe not rap.


A Very Unusual Cottage Industry Gun

It’s a .410 pepperbox. Made from a staple gun.

From Clinton Westwood (odds on that being a pseudonym?) of CCW “Clinton’s Cheap Workshop”. Here’s his Yoot Oob channel:

And here’s a photographic build log:

He has since done several other builds, all showing a blend of creativity and improvisation, and perhaps a taste of laughter.

Rifling Technology Videos

In keeping with our recent discussion of Rifling Methods, we thought we’d show you some variants of production rifling machines.

First, here’s how a modern small-to-medium sized-business does it — Krieger Barrels, which uses cut rifling, in a high tech way:

And now for old school, as in a century ago, cut rifling. Here’s a Pratt & Whitney sine bar hook-cutter cut rifling machine, restored. (Krieger, as you’ve just seen, also uses a similar P&W machie). This represents an example of World War I vintage technology, but can still produce accurate barrels. The single-point hook cutter was not replaced because the newer tech (in this case, mostly, broaching, a WWII vintage technology) could make barrels better. It could make barrels faster, an important benefit in wartime production.

The big oval structure above the bed of the machine is a marker of the Pratt and its foreign clones. The owner of this one comments:

This Sine bar hook cut rifling machine was originally owned by “old man Savage”. It then was bought from him by an Arizona gunsmith named Bill Sucalie. The diamond rifler, gundrill and gun barrel reamer was bought by Bill from Old man Savage all at the same time. Bob Blake my grandfather purchased Bill’s Gunsmith buisness in 1966 to where Bob and my father Dave Blake ran a Barrel Making shop for about 5 Years. We had kept the equipment all of these years and have remained gundrill speacialist ever since. We have now restored the rifling machine and here is the first barrel it has cut in over 40 years.

Rifling: A Gross History of a Technology

Prominent rifling in a 19th-Century Henry Deringer rifle.

Prominent rifling in a 19th-Century Henry Deringer rifle.

Nobody knows who invented rifling, or when. Long before anyone rifled a barrel, men knew that spin would help stabilize a projectile. The fletching of arrows and crossbow bolts to impart spin, to increase inflight stability and terminal accuracy, was known a very long time back — even in preliterate, neolithic cultures.

Rifling was one of those technologies (another example is wheellock) that was used on sporting arms, but not widely adopted for military arms. Sporting arms could tolerate reduced reliability and rate of fire, and increased cost; military arms had to be cheap, robust and rapid fire; early rifles required the lead slug to be hammered down the barrel, not something practical when Vikings, Huns, Hussites or what have you are bearing down on you. In the decades around 1770-1810 most world powers at least experimented with rifles, with many of them retaining it as a specialist weapon for individuals or small units. This state of affairs persisted until the invention of hollow-based, self-sealing bullets like the famous Minié ball allowed a rifle, finally, to be fired as rapidly as a musket. (Even as late as the Civil War, some old-fashioned commanders insisted on having their regiments equipped with smoothbores, in pursuit of a reloading-speed benefit that no longer existed).

How rifling has made, like how everything else in a firearm is made, has changed a lot over the years. Machines and technologies have come and gone. But in low-rate production, a skilled and experienced barrel maker can still make an extremely accurate barrel using the most primitive technology, much like the gunsmiths of 1780 did.

Many superstitions and myths have grown up about rifling rates and designs — which can be optimized for any given weight of bullet and caliber. But the benefits of unusual rifling designs appear to be, in the real world, illusory.

This image is a first rough shot at a taxonomy of rifling methods, based on a first read of Clifford F. LaBounty’s Rifling Machines and Methods, a book that will be added to the book page in due course. We have been thinking of designs for a rifle machine, whereby the design can be propagated in order to support clandestine gunsmithing. We thought of something like John Browning’s hardwood rifling machine, updated, but it seems wiser to first undertake a survey of available and historic technologies.


Historically, low-budget small-run, small-shop and independent prototype rifling has usually been done with a single-point scrape cutter, as it is the most readily improvised tool. Some technologies have power budgets and capital demands that put them out of the reach of the home and shop barrel maker.

Corrections and extensions of the chart are most definitely requested. Again, this is a first rough attempt.


LaBounty, Clifford F. Rifling Machines and Methods. Maple Falls, WA: LaBounty Precision Reboring, 2011.


Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Horst Held

horst_heldWhy would we make a single dealer the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week? Well, Horst Held is not just any dealer. Not when you take into consideration the historic significance and quality of the collector pieces Horst is selling. Even if some of them are priced in the nosebleed range, his collection is broad enough, deep enough, historic enough, and packed enough with odd curiosities — like the flintlock revolver currently on the front page — to be an education in itself.

We first came across his site while trying to decode the mysteries of the repeating pistols of Weipert (Vejprty), Bohemia. For example, he has two Gustav Bittners in stock. Given the prices he has placed on them, all we can do is look, but he has characteristically included numerous photographs of these peculiar and historic “missing links” between the first single-shot and double-barrel cartridge pistols, and the true semi-automatic service pistol which came along in a few years and rendered the repeaters, operated lever-action (usually by action of the trigger guard), obsolete.

Bittner Repeating Pistol, (7.7mm?) cased with tools, ammo and en-bloc clips, from Forgotten Weapons. We believe this pistol to be in the personal collection of Horst Held.

Bittner Repeating Pistol, (7.7mm?) cased with tools, ammo and en-bloc clips, from Forgotten Weapons. We believe this pistol to be in the personal collection of Horst Held.

He also has a page on those strange hybrid weapons that incorporate a pistol or revolver and some kind of knife or sword blade, with an awful lot of examples, not including the rare Elgin Sword Pistol. The Elgin may be rare in absolute terms, but it’s common compared to his examples, like this Dumonthier revolver with a folding bayonet!


And then there’s a Dreyse needle-fire — but it’s not the celebrated Prussian rifle of 1870, but a double-action needle-fire revolver.

But there’s far more here than just that. If you can look at this site and not learn anything, we’ll be very surprised — “By the heathen gods that made ye, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

And if you look at the site, you’ll almost certainly be entertained. You may not want to spend thousands on exotic antiques, but you’ll marvel at the ingenuity that went into some of these artistic creations, even as you wonder at the thought processes of the designer who thought it might be practical.