Category Archives: Pistols and Revolvers

The Walther PPK/S: Gun Built by Ban

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the Walther PPK. This pocket pistol, introduced in 1931, was a compact version of Walther’s excellent PP, whose initials stand for Police Pistol in its native German. Walther, which had previously made several models of high-quality but otherwise unremarkable small pocket pistols, introduced the PP in 1929. It was the first shot of a revolution; it became the model for most double-action/single-action auto pistols that would follow it, using a trigger bar that runs along the right side of the frame to activate its sear, and containing a then-patented decocking safety.

The PPK was the inevitable compact version; its German name, Polizei Pistole Kriminal, essentially means Detective’s Police Pistol. (You would not be the first student of German to laugh at the idea that regular beat cops are called a name that translates literally as Order Police, and detectives are Criminal Police, Kripo for short. We’ve known a few criminal police, too, but that’s what linguists call a “false cognate.” End of digression).

Even though both are pocket pistols by American standards, and were manufactured primarily in .32 ACP, the PP was normally carried by beat cops in a flap holster, and the PPK carried concealed. Both the PP and PPK were popular with German military officers, who until 1945 were allowed (and sometimes required) to privately purchase personal sidearms. Staff officers and aviators and others who didn’t really have a need to haul around a big 9mm horse pistol checked the pistol box with a little PPK. The Carl Walther firm in Zella-Mehlis, Thuringia (a suburb of the gunmaking center of Suhl), prospered.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip.

This is an original WWII-era PPK. Note the short grip frame and the fragile wraparound grip. It was banned from importation to the USA in 1968, despite being an extremely rare crime gun.

The PPK was the same width as the PP, but its length (and sight radius) was reduced, and its height (and magazine size) was also reduced (the PPK held six rounds, then considered perfectly adequate). This made it as small as some of the more sloppily engineered .25s of the day. Instead of a solid backstrap with grip scales, the PPK has an open backstrap that is covered with a plastic (bakelite, originally) grip. The original grips are extremely prone to cracking and many PPKs today sport replacement or reproduction grips, but they made for a lighter and more concealable gun when new.

A number of PPs and PPKs were imported into the USA before the war, where the technical advancement of the pistol and its high price compared to domestic arms or cheap Spanish imports won it a very selective user base, and relatively few sales.

After the war, the wave of captured PPs and PPKs increased their popularity, and new ones began to be imported. With Zella-Mehlis and Suhl bombed flat and, after an American withdrawal to a mutually agreed line, behind the Iron Curtain, Walther produced guns at a former licensee in Alsace (Manurhin) beginning in 1952, and at a new factory in West Germany.

(Time for another digression of sorts. You can find pistols from 1952-1985 or so production marked Walther and marked Manurhin. The Walther marked pistols received roll marks, heat treatment of the slides, and final assembly in Ulm, Germany, and were proofed and inspected there, with German marks. The Manurhin pistols were finished, proofed and inspected in Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, with French marks. Yet Alsace (Elsaß) was German from 1870-1918 and 1940-45 — maybe 1944. Because Walther and Manurhin used different heat treating methods, the slides of Walther pistols often don’t color-match the frames very well, and Manurhin ones match perfectly, usually).

As a result of this strange history and the usual churn of importers here in the USA, PP and PPK pistols are found with a very wide range of slide markings and proof marks, but except for 1940s production guns, which may have been sabotaged by slave labor, all are sure to be of high quality.

How a Gun Law Attacked the PPK

In the 1960s, Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia was the importer of the PP series and all was going swimmingly, until two political assassinations (Martin L. King and Robert F. Kennedy) led to a wave of gun-control legislation. American politics at the time was very different from politics today — gun control’s adherents were found in both parties, with opposition largely restricted to Southern Democrats and Western Republicans; and Democrats controlled, and had for years, both Houses of Congress and the White House. Two bills passed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. (So, giving bills Orwellian names is nothing new).

The new laws were supported by the NRA and American gun manufacturers, because they also gave the manufacturers something that they wanted: protectionism. It was no skin off Colt’s or Smith & Wesson’s nose if foreigners wanted to sell their cheesy little guns here, but it was a major threat to high-cost, low-quality manufacturers like Harrington & Richardson or Iver Johnson. Rather that write the transparent ban on imports the manufacturers wanted, instead imports were subjected to a Sporting Purpose test (something drawn by Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd from Nazi and Weimar gun control laws, which he had come to admire, and placed in early drafts of the bill — before Dodd was censured by the Senate for his unrelated (we think) but legendary corruption, which would end his career this same year.

The Sporting Purpose test, as it was conceived, made it an object of US law that only hunting and organized target shooting are legitimate reasons to own firearms, and by implication, defense of self, others or property explicitly is not. As originally passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, these laws banned the import of military surplus weapons of all kinds (one objective of the manufacturers), and applied a “points test” to the importation of pistols. These laws have been modified by subsequent legislation (and by ATF regulation; the ATF Office of Chief Counsel holds that the “sporting purpose” test invalidates the 2nd Amendment), but the sporting purposes test and the pistol points test survive. (The law also banned the import of Class III weapons for private sale, under the sporting purposes test. The weapons in the market called “pre-May” or “pre-86″ dealer samples were brought in between October 1968 and May 19, 1986, under provisions of this law).

ATF_Form_4590_-_Factoring_Criteria_for_WeaponsThe points test was applied by ATF Form 4590. This image is a vintage form. The current version is ATF Form 5530.5.

Note that, while the ATF has taken up the cudgel of this law with great joy, the cudgel itself was crafted by the legislature, and signed into law in due course; it was upheld rapidly by 1960s liberal courts, and so only can be disposed of the same way it was spawned.

The sponsors of the law meant to come back and apply the points test to domestic production, but they never had the votes — some of the nation’s most anti-gun politicians shrank from voting to shutter factories in their home states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. (And some, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Dodd, who would be replaced by his equally crooked son after a brief interregnum, didn’t).

Now, the lip-service the gun bansters paid to just wanting to ban the bad guns would seem to have excepted the jewel-like PPK, but the little gun was caught on the horns of the points system. The points test counts: length, width, depth of the gun (larger is better); caliber (larger is better); target-shooting gingerbread like adjustable sights and thumb-rest grips; and safety mechanisms (more, and more fiddly, seems to please the Bubbas at Firearms Technology Branch better). The dimensional requirement from Form 4590 was (and on 5530.5 is):

The combined length and height must not be less than 10” with the height (right angle measurement to barrel without magazine or extension) being at least 4” and the length being at least 6”.

So the PP just barely sneaked through (especially in .380; the .32 version was borderline on points). But the PPK was hopeless as its overall dimensions were too small. The term used by the bansters at the time for a small handgun, implying a cheap and disposable nature, was
“Saturday Night Special,” but the application of the law didn’t affect any of the domestic shoddy pot-metal  .32S&W revolvers, but did catch the safe-as-houses PPK.

With Continued Demand for a Suddenly Banned Gun, What’s Next?

By this time, the James Bond books, favorites of the late John F Kennedy, and the hugely successful movies had given the PPK new cachet, so Interarms was sitting on a stack of wholesale orders for guns it couldn’t bring into the country. It had a few potential courses of action, not including smuggling the guns and everybody going to jail (that was ruled right out).

  • They could send the checks back to the wholesalers. If you ever met Sam Cummings of Interarms, you knew this was not on. Indeed, smuggling probably didn’t get dismissed as quickly as this approach.
  • They could make the PPK in the USA. Walther wasn’t keen on this COA, and Interarms would have been taking a huge risk even if they could talk their German partners into it. Because Dodd, LBJ and others have sworn to come back and extend the “Saturday Night Special” ban (which is how they thought of the silly points system) to domestic production. Interarms did produce PPKs in the late 1970s, as this image from a 1979 catalog shows, but by then it was clear that the “Saturday Night Special” ban threat had passed. The failure of the gun control acts to influence crime was already patent.


  • Or, they could modify the PPK to pass the points test, maybe.

It turned out that modifying the PPK wasn’t all that hard. It only needed about half an inch of height to pass the points test. The vast majority of Americans preferred the .380 caliber, which gave them a little headroom, although in time . (Hint: if you just want a PPK for some fun shooting, the .32’s a lot more pleasant to fire, even though the ammo’s more expensive, usually). And the half inch was easily come by: simply adapt the PP frame to the shorter PPK slide. As a side benefit, buyers of the new version would get an extra round in their mags.

A more imaginative marketer might have tried to get a Bond tie-in, or named it after Dodd, who indirectly created it, and sent the crooked ex-Senator a penny of graft for each one, in his involuntary retirement. It would have been publicity gold, but the industry was intimidated and more shy about controversy in those days, and the launch of the gun called it the PPK/Special or PPK/S. It was a US-only model of the already venerable gun (not many pocket pistols were still popular after their 35th Anniversary. Especially in a nation still in love with revolvers). The marketing materials played up the “Special” and played down the fact that this was merely a natural reaction to a dumb law.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

Typical stainless US-made PPK/S up on GunBroker right now.

At first, to a Walther fan, the PPK/s didn’t look right. The PP was familiar; the PPK was familiar; the S looked sort of deformed. Over time it grew more common. Nowadays, people have many options of smaller, lighter guns that pack a bigger punch, so the PP series has faded from actual employment as a defensive handgun. And they’ve been produced in many more variants in Germany, France and the USA, blued, stainless, and two-tone, engraved and plated, and copied even farther afield. But of all the variations, the PPK/S was the one created by a gun ban.

A Challenging Refinish Job on a Colt 1902

This comes to us from Guns and Gunsmiths, a website that primarily seems to exist to promote the video courses of the American Gunsmithing Institute. But there are also a good number of tips and tricks on the site that serve to extend the information in the courses, some of which really stand on their own as “war stories” of real-world gunsmith tasks. An example was this tale of a tough refinish job on a Colt 1902 auto pistol that was in really bad shape. Unfortunately there are no “before” pictures at the site, and the only “after” pictures are small ones, like these here.

Some smiths would not work on such a rare gun, but when it’s really trashed, customization or restoration could be a good idea. (There are shops that specialize in this work). In any event, it’s the client’s gun, and his money; only he knows what’s valuable to him.

This gun came to me looking pretty bad. Rust pitted, worn, beat up, actually. My client wanted me to restore it to as new as possible. It wasn’t possible to make it “like new” for a number of reasons, which we will go into, but it was possible to make something that looked worse than this Google photo (1) into this shown in photo 2. Actually, my client wanted it to be a little bit customized. He wanted it to be as close as possible to original color for the frame and slide, but he wanted a Peacock Blue for the screws and pins. The hammer and lanyard ring swivel was to be Color Case Hardened. That was the easiest part. He, being somewhat of a craftsman himself, was going to make custom hardwood grips for it.

The first problem was the frame and slide, as they were in terrible condition. The only way to get rid of the rust pits and dings on the sides was to have them surface ground by my trusty machine shop (everyone needs one of those). Further examination also showed that someone else had worked on this gun, as evidenced by the rather plain Bakelite grips and for some odd reason, the extractor pin hole at the top of the slide had been welded over. This needed to be drilled out. The extractor itself was broken. The weld had also been poorly done, leaving some pits and small sink areas in the top of the slide. To restore the contour, those areas needed to be filled in as well. The problem was the steel was porous enough that bubbles kept popping up until it was obvious that further effort would be non-productive.

via Nitre Blue Colt 1902 | Guns And Gunsmiths.

Unfortunately, after some welding repairs, he decided that he ought to punt the job to Turnbull. Turnbull does great work, but due to the welding having introduced different alloys into the metal, didn’t think they could get a blue up to their standards. Therefore, they declined to work on the 1902, and sent it back. It’s impossible to say whether they’d have taken it on in the state he began with. He was ultimately able to make an attractive pistol out of this sow’s ear, but he didn’t make money on the job, when the opportunity cost of his time is factored in. (He explains all this in depth if you Read The Whole Thing™).

Now, we’ve said this before, and don’t mean to disparage the AGI or its instructors when we say: you are not going to learn to be a gunsmith by sitting on your ass watching videos, any more than you’re going to get ready to join SF by watching John Wayne slaughter NVA extras in The Green Berets. You have to get out there and do, as this guy, Clint Hawkins, has done. And he’s done everyone a favor in describing some of the errors he made, so that you don’t repeat them on a chemical hot-bluing job. For example:

The slide at first looked like it had gotten caught in a sand pit. Thorough cleaning showed nothing wrong with the surface, although it needed to be polished again. What caused this? Aha! In my haste, I had not cleaned the steel wool. The salts didn’t want the oil but the steel did. Steel wool looks clean, but isn’t. Cutting off a fourth of a pad and rinsing it in about a pint of lacquer thinner gave a pretty brown result. Another rinse in fresh thinner gave clear and we’re good to go.

He also had some troubles with temperatures — both getting the colors indicated on the temperature-color chart, and getting the tank to the required temperature to begin with. But in the end, Clint’s client was delighted with his new-old 1902, Browning’s first locked-breech production pistol. By all means Read The Whole Thing™.

The Other End of the Beretta Market: Wilson Combat 92G

A few days ago we showed you a Beretta 92 (the 2nd major variant, the butt-end-mag-release 92S with decocking safety) available for short money (<$300). Now, here’s a Beretta that sells for well over $1,000 — but may be worth it to a serious Beretta shooter. First, the eye candy:


It’s a collaboration between Wilson Combat, who this year have expanded from their legendary 1911 platform to custom work on Berettas, and Beretta itself. Basically, this model puts just about every modification you’d want to on a Beretta 92 (except, perhaps, a threaded barrel; M9s and 92s are a natural-born great suppressor host).

Some features of the limited production Wilson Combat/Beretta 92G Tactical include steel ambidextrous decocker-only levers (G model), enhanced Brigadier slide, a modified M9A1 style checkered frame with accessory rail and rounded trigger guard. This model also features enhanced accuracy with an “Elite” style match grade stainless barrel with recessed target crown, the action features a “D” hammer spring for lighter trigger pulls, and Trijicon dovetail tritium front sight and Wilson Combat rear sight. Wilson Combat G-10 grips, Wilson Combat steel guide rod and numerous other features to enhance performance. The 92G Tactical is finished in Beretta black Bruniton and marked with the Wilson Combat logo and specially serialized to ensure its place in Beretta history.

These include a lot of pretty standard Beretta mods, like the G non-safety momentary decocker, the D hammer spring, and Trijicon tritium night sight. They also tighten slide-to-frame fit, and use a skeletonized hammer. The key components that are plastic on standard 92s are all steel on this one: decocker, trigger, magazine release, guide rod. The guide rod is a fluted stainless Wilson part.


brigadier-006The “Brigadier” slide has more beef in the locking-recesses area than the standard 92 slide.  You either need the M9A1 rail or you don’t. The barrel is recess-crowned for durable accuracy (left).

The serials of the special Berettas begin with “WC” and are then followed by digits (below).

Although the 92G Tactical has been optimized by Beretta to meet the needs of high round count tactical and competitive shooters, further customization and finish work is available through Wilson Combat.

brigadier-004That’s what the website says, but the customization at present is limited to a mag guide and action tuning.

If you already have a Beretta, and have some decent armorer’s skills, Wilson Combat can supply many of the parts they supply on their full-on custom version.

To help launch the new pistol, a quote from Bill Wilson:

Being a serious Beretta collector, I have always considered the 92G SD the best model ever produced, but almost too expensive and rare to shoot. I feel fortunate to have been able to work with the fine people at Beretta USA to produce a pistol that, in my opinion, is an improved 92G SD. Having Beretta USA build my dream 92 series pistol is awesome and I’m very happy that a lot of people will be able to enjoy this fine pistol model.

If you can’t find a Beretta you like between the two extremes we’ve covered in the last few days, you just don’t like Berettas.

Dirt Cheap Beretta 92’s — but there’s a catch (or two)

Palmetto State Armory has some very attractively priced Beretta 92s, but there’s a catch — the magazine catch. These are the transitional 92S: the magazine catch is in the classic bottom of the mag position, like a P.38, but it is a Browning/Luger type push button. The pictures tell the story.

92s police tradein

This picture shows both controls (including the 92S mag release) and the generally worn condition of the deal guns.

This mag release makes the 92S a dog on the market, and you can find a used one for $400-500 in great shape. But these well-thrashed cop turn-ins are marked down from $399.99 for $289.99, which is a pretty low cash hurdle to get you into a decent large-cap service pistol. Like the same-size M9, it’s not an EDC piece unless you are Owen Z. Pitt’s size, live in Frostbite Falls where no-one questions your parka, or take the “Printing? DILLIGAFF  about printing?” attitude. But plenty of people do carry them.

Some of them seem to be in nicer condition, but it's the luck of the draw -- expect a trashed one.

Some of them seem to be in nicer condition, but it’s the luck of the draw — expect a trashed one.

Our first Beretta, when SOF units were just fooling with them, was a 92S and we were perfectly happy with it; it was the model that moved from a frame-mounted safety to a slide-mounted decocking safety, like the P.38 from which Beretta copied the locking system (decades earlier, for the 1951). As we normally release mags with the left hand rather than shift grip on an M9 to use the right hand thumb. We did carry it every day three seasons, until we changed to M9 and later CZ. Summertimes we had to go to backup gun as primary, as there’s no way to hide this thing in shorts and a t-shirt.

We’re not sure if the 92S mag release is “ambidextrous” or actually reversible like the one on the M9 — we think not, we’d have to check the book. The safety is not ambi, it’s RH only.

Beretta Model 92S, Used Italian Police Trade In’s.
All pistols are functional. Condition varies with the luck of the draw. Most show holster wear, some have scratches and cosmetic blemishes. Has the older European style magazine release, located at the bottom of the left side of the grip. These will also work with current production Beretta 92FS factory magazines (unknown if aftermarket magazines will work).

via Beretta 92S Italian Police Trade In’s 9mm.

Aftermarket magazines may not have the cut for the 92 and S mag catch. GI M9 magazines do not. Making the cut is trivial, but Beretta magazines are not outrageously priced or hard to find. We have heard that Taurus mags do, and do not, fit, but have never tried them (we believe Taurus has discontinued all its Model 92 clones).

These early 92s have much stronger, machined locking blocks than the investment-cast and MIM ones in most M9s and later 92s. The US Army and Beretta both redesigned the locking block several times after the failures started happening with the cast blocks, and they both claim to have licked the problem.

The 92S was replaced by the 92SB and then the 92F which is functionally the M9.

But $289.99? We knew we were keeping that set of Pachmayr 92S grips for something. 

Hat tip, /r/gundeals.

Empties back in pocket in gunfight? Urban Legend?

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965.

This is one of those stories that will never die, because every instructor (us, too, they said sheepishly) has found it useful as a way to hammer home the importance of training as you will fight. (We’ll quibble with some parts of that on another day: for instance, nobody should do 100% of range fires with hemmet and bodammoor, and any military unit that requires that is commanded by Simple Jack). Here’s the story, as recounted by one of our mo’ entertaining commenters:

But at a certain point, too much bad practice will get you killed.
There were always field reports of cops back in the day trained to shoot on square ranges, found dead after a gunfight as they were trying to put their ejected brass in their pockets, just like the penny-pinching departments had drilled into them at the range year after year.

It’s such a great story, that everybody who doesn’t know where it came from thinks it’s an urban legend. Massad Ayoob thought it came from cop talk about the Newhall Incident (multiple CHP killed in the 1970s). In this link Caleb mentions self-promoting assclown Dave Grossman, who is an Old Faithful of bad information, and Caleb, being a smart guy, discounts Grossman’s typically unsourced bullshit. Then, though, he paraphrases Mas citing Bill Jordan as a possible source of what he calls “anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties”.

In his Handgunner article, Ayoob mentions that former Border Patrol officer Bill Jordan wrote in the 1960s of officers finding spent brass in their pockets after a gunfight with no recollection of picking it up. Unfortunately, that information is anecdotal at best, and as we’ve seen with the Newhall incident, anecdotal evidence from 2nd and 3rd hand parties isn’t reliable.

Apparently Caleb hasn’t checked the reference, which is easy enough to do. Jordan does indeed include the story in his book, No Second Place Winner, but it’s not, as Caleb seems to think, an apocryphal story. Jordan names a name and refers to a single, specific incident. So for Urban Legend hunters everywhere, here’s your chance to bag that trophy. I give you, Bill Jordan, US Border Patrol, circa 1965. We have added some paragraph breaks to introduce some desperately needed white space:

A question often asked of themselves by young officers is, “How will I comport myself in the face of fire? Will I stand up or will I break?” On the surface this would appear to be a question which can be answered only if it becomes an actuality. As a matter of fact the answer can be given with very little chance of error. Almost invariably a man, provided he does not have too much time to think, will automatically do what he has been trained to do. Again provided that his training has been thorough and intensive.

An example in support of this statement comes to my mind: A few years back a Border Patrol team became involved in a discussion with some contrabandistas in which they were considerably embarrassed by one of the smugglers holed up in some brush about 200 yards away. His presence unduly complicated the proceedings in that he was armed with a .30-30 rifle with which he was enthusiastically underscoring points in the argument made by the main group of his compatriots. The Border Patrolmen were armed only with .38 Special revolvers which put them at somewhat of a disadvantage under the circumstances. However, two of the three men applied themselves to the task of routing the nearby enemy while the senior officer, Sam McKone, took up the question of the rifleman in the brush.

They tell of a western epitaph which reads, “Here lies Tom Jones. Committed suicide by betting his pistol against a rifle at 200 yards.” This could be a normal result of such a contest, but Sam McKone is not one of the Jones boys. Among his other marksmanship awards is a gold medal declaring him to be a Distinguished Pistol Shot.

Additionally, being shot at was not a matter to distress Sam unduly, since it was not exactly a novel occurrence in his life. To make a long story short, by applying a little Kentucky windage and an educated trigger squeeze, Sam scored three hits which made the rifle shooter lose all interest in the fate of his companions and start thinking solely of his own welfare, here and hereafter.

What has all this to do with the statement that a man will do unconsciously as he was trained, provided the training was thorough and extensive? Well, after the fight someone noted that McKone’s pocket was bulging and politely inquired as to what might be spoiling the drape of his trousers. Puzzled, Sam thrust in an exploring hand. The pocket was full of fired cases. During the fight, without realizing he was doing so, McKone, an old reloader, had saved every empty!

And there you have it — the probable ur-instance of the story of the guy who saved his brass in a gunfight. And no, he didn’t wind up dead. Jordan’s book was a huge success for a shooting book, and generations of shooters have read it, and, as you can see by the excerpt, it’s entertaining to read. A lot of his ideas on revolvers and leather have fallen obsolete in the last 50 years, but a great deal of good info is in there, and it’s one of the classic books of pistol shooting.

You can find it online here, and download it in .epub (iBooks), .mobi (Kindle), or scanned, OCR’d .pdf file and a handful of other formats. The scan is of the 1977 printing of the 1965 original. It’s a very worthwhile book, even back in the seventies when we bought it for the first time.

Incidentally, in the Massad Ayoob article referenced by Caleb in the quote above, he references a “forthcoming book” on the Newhall murders by Mike Wood, which did indeed come forth, in 2013. The book is called Newhall Shooting – A Tactical Analysis: Survival Lessons from One of Law Enforcement’s Deadliest Shootings, and despite the cringe-inducing “tactical” in the title, it’s a fantastic book — and germane to this discussion.

On pages 56 and 57 of that book there is an extensive footnote about the facts of Officer Pence’s brass (which he ejected onto the ground, it was not in his pocket) and some informed speculation about how the brass-in-pocket story got started: at the same time as many Newhall-driven changes in training, CHP also changed training to eject empties onto the ground, not to save them. Here’s a tiny excerpt of a very long footnote:

In the wake of Newhall, the CHP made an intensive study of training practices and made many corrections to ensure that bad habits that would jeopardize officer safety on the street were not taught during training. One of these corrections was a requirement to eject brass onto the ground during training and to clean it up later, rather than eject it neatly into the hand and drop it into a can or a bucket, as has been the practice before. It is believed that instructors and cadets of the era may have mistakenly believed that this change in policy was due to a specific error made by Officer Pence during the fight. The myth began, and it was innocently perpetuated throughout generations of officers in the CHP and allied agencies.

Wood’s book, like Jordan’s, is outstanding, but we can’t give you a link to a free one — you’ll have to buy it like we did.

Don’t Take Our Word on Dry Fire. Take Keith’s.

Keith Sanderson, a reformed Marine, is a pretty good shot. Good enough to go to the Olympics. He doesn’t have any of the hooah tabs we got. He doesn’t have the hooah tab we haven’t got (Sapper). He’s got the tab that’s not so hooah, but that’s king of them all: the President’s Hundred tab. In these videos he doesn’t so much show you what he does, as he coaches you on how he got to be ranked #1 in the world, with minimal live fire (350-400 rounds total) in the 6 months prior to the two back-to-back World Cups he won.

There’s some good advice here. Do you know what you can get from dry-firing with your eyes closed? The first video will explain.

Shooting Practice at Home

This was shot on the range with a bunch of Marksmanship Unit students, so there’s a little wind noise, and an interruption when he busts a guy’s chops for having his cell phone out.

“I’m going to give you two drills that are the most important things youre ever going to do. One is dry fire…” The other is holding drills: one minute on, two minutes off, eight times a day, for seven days. (This cures the shakes from tiring holding up the pistol).

“Accept nothing but perfection.”

“Be intensely critical during dry fire; accept nothing but perfection. When you put bullets in your gun, you’re not critical any more: you’re just trying to do it as best you can.”

Dry Fire Practice

“Two types of drills I do for live fire: dry fire and holding drills.”

“My ratio of dry fire to live fire is 100 to 1. I cannot overemphasize the importance of dry fire.”

“You can never dry fire too much.”

“Never underestimate it. Never think that you’ve trained too much dry fire. And never think that you need to go out and shoot live rounds to get better. Because you don’t.”

Like we said, there’s a ton of wisdom here, and your tax dollars already paid for it (except for our overseas readers; our tax dollars paid for it, so you can have double the enjoyment).

A 3D Lower we Missed: Vz61 Škorpion

Here’s one we missed in this morning’s roundup: Czech Vz.61 Škorpion. Less than a minute of 3D revolution for you:

The Škorpion (the symbol on the “Š” makes it an “Sh” sound, so it sounds like “Shkorpion” in its native tongue) was a personal defense weapon designed by CZ, then a “Narodni Podnik” or “National Enterprise” in the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1958-59 and adopted in 1961. (The Vz. stands for “vzor,” meaning “model.” Silly Czechs, they have a different word for everything!)

There’s a great deal of noise about the Škorpion having been designed for Czechoslovak special operations forces or espionage agents, which can best be classified as bullshit. The weapon was for officers, radio operators, support troops and others whose primary mission reduced both their requirement for and ability to carry a regular sized rifle. In other words, it was a conceptual successor to the M1/M2 carbine; the Poles developed a weapon that fit this same niche at about this same time.

At the same time as the Škorpion’s development, the Czechoslovak military was converting from a traditional semi-auto battle rifle in intermediate cartridges, the Vz. 52 and Vz.52/57, to a modern assault rifle in an intermediate cartridge. (The Czechoslovak engineers developed a short-lived 7.62 x 45mm cartridge, which was replaced by the Warsaw Pact standard 7.62 x 39 for interoperability’s sake). The Vz. 58 assault rifle that came out of these efforts resembles an AK in profile, but is a completely different weapon, with different magazines, operating system and manual of arms.

The folding-stock variant of the Vz. 58  is reasonably compact and eliminates some of the justification for the Škorp. So it gradually became sidelined in Czechoslovak forces; many years later, after the fall of Communism and the peaceful and orderly separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia into separate states, most of the Škorpions were removed from service and sold; many of them wound up in the USA as parts kits, and more were rebuilt as semiautos with new lower receivers and other modifications. The semi Škorps are available on the market as pistols, or as Short Barreled Rifles under the provisions of the National Firearms Act.

Returning to the printed lower for this gun, the usual plastics from low-end printers using the fused filament fabrication (FFF) process, ABS and PLA, are unlikely to be durable enough in the long term. Of course, the .stl files can be used to print many more types of material also, or to operate subtractive machinery like a CNC mill. And more durable plastics, such as Nylon 618, are already available; a $6k carbon-fiber printer is on the market, and carbon-fiber-reinforced filament for lower-cost printers is also on the way.

Exercise caution before printing the file and assembling a parts kit on to it, as you run the risk of violating several paragraphs of 18 USC §922. To make a legal SBR, it must be registered in advance on a Form 1. To make a legal semi, it must not accept full-auto parts that would make a conversion possible, and must fire from a closed bolt. To make a legal machine gun, you must have a manufacturer’s license and a demo letter, and have an approved Form 1 in advance. We don’t know how the video maker handled the legalities. Bear in mind the ATF is watching this area closely and, as an institution, prefers to pursue licensing or other paperwork violations, which are slam-dunk easy-to-prove felonies, over cases against violent criminal organizations, which may require long investigation and expensive, risky techniques.

What’s this 1911-based frame… whatchamacallit?

Every once in a while, something comes along that does a pretty good Stump the Monkey on is. This is one of those. Collector/Dealer Bob Adams thinks it might have been some kind of a test fixture.

Unknown device or test fixture possibly made from a ca. 1918 Colt 1911 frame. Fitted with what appears to be a large threaded ring. Equipped with two vertical uprights at the top of the ring and a hole on the left side. The grip safety has been replaced with a solid backstrap/mainspring housing. The non-functional half slide is not original to the device. There is no longer any provision for a breech locking mechanism, nor any way to secure a slide on the rails, so it could not function as a firearm. This appears to have been an unfinished or scrap frame extensively remanufactured into some unknown device or test fixture and is not a firearm. It may have been a fixture for testing hammer fall impact, or firing pin spring strength, firing pin protusion, or ???? Any ideas?

1911 whatsit 01

via Adams Guns.

We’re not so sure about that. It looks to us like those big threads were meant to receive a big barrel, and the two blocks — rear sights? suggest it might have been a long barrel. We also note the one piece backstrap (replacing the stock 1911’s mainspring housing and grip safety) doesn’t fit entirely well:

1911 whatsit 02

Could those gaps have to do with a removable stock? Perhaps the gun was meant to have some sort of single-shot action and a Marble Game Getter style stock that clipped on here. But we think it is more likely to have been a firearm than a fixture. Bob disagrees.

What do you think?

The Issue with Gun Publications

shootingtimes The issue with gun publications, whether they’re the paper kind or the online kind, is that they’re generally so dependent on the goodwill of manufacturers that they tend to puff everything. We’re going to pick on one article at Shooting Times, from earlier this year: a comparo of seven budget ($400-900) 1911 clones. The guns were from an array of mainstream handgun makers: Magnum ResearchAmerican Tactical Imports,  Auto-OrdnanceRugerParaSpringfield, and Taurus.


First, a disclaimer: there’s nothing especially bad about this article, and the author, Paul Scarlata, is a real gun expert who generally knows what he’s writing about. So we want you to understand that while we did single this article out, it was not because there’s anything specially wrong with it. Quite the contrary: we singled it out as typical of the optimistic evaluations gun writers tend to give to the hardware that the nice guys at the gun companies lend them to test.

First, let’s have a thought experiment. What would your requirements for a 1911 be? What features or performance would be mandatory (“must haves”) and what would be positive, but not mandatory, “should have” characteristics?

Let us propose one absolute requirement: it would have to work. That is, function: go bang and load the next round when the bang button is bumped, hit the target, that sort of thing. Ideally, it would have to work with a wide range of common ammo, and it would have to work almost all the time — an issue 1911 wasn’t terribly accurate, but it approached the quality control Holy Grail of six-sigma reliability with issue 230-grain hardball. None of the tested budget 1911s was a GI, milspec gun; most of them had all kinds of add-on features: extended triggers, skeletonized hammers, beavertail grip safeties, beveled mag wells. Most of this junk is marketing box-checking on a mass-produced gun. Most of the guns also used industrial processes that saved time, some of them doing it at the expense of quality, interchangeability (which was not tested) or reliability.

We learned through lots of gunsmithing that most of the things you did to a 1911 to make it more accurate had a deleterious effect on reliability. Adding target or tactical competition features to a low-cost mass produced .45 almost guarantees problems. And Shooting Times found the problems — and glossed over them.

First, two of the guns had key-activated locks. These feel-good gadgets add complexity without adding safety.

But the reliability of the guns was really the shocker. Each gun didn’t have to do a 6,000 round torture test; it had to make it through a mere two staged drills, the first comprising 2 13-round runs through a field course, and the second, 3 9-round runs against plates. So each pistol had to function (for each of five shooters) for 53 rounds, or a total of 265 rounds per pistol.

After that, there is a subjective rating score with thirty possible points, five each for “reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, recoil control, trigger, and sights.”

The test was not begun until Scarlata had fired-in each gun with three brands of ammunition. Here the looming problem was foreshadowed:

I experienced several failures to feed or go into battery with the JHP ammo.

Afterwards each pistol was disassembled, cleaned, and lubed, which would be the only maintenance they would receive. If any of them choked during the shootout, we would attempt to clear the problem at the range and keep shooting.

When the test begins, we find the writer making excuses for the shaky guns. They were new; they weren’t shot-in yet. They seemed to be getting better in the second round. It was just some failures to feed and premature lockbacks… nothing big. (Huh?)

And from there, we see that the factory mags were supplemented, for the rest of testing, with premium magazines from well-known vendors.

The first to fall was the Auto Ordnance 1911, a Kahr product.

On the last run of the field course, Dick Jones experienced the first problem of the day when the rear sight of the Auto-Ordnance Thompson 1911 fell off. When we attempted to reinstall it, we discovered that the setscrew was cross threaded and could not be loosened or tightened. It had apparently been tightened just enough at the factory to hold the sight in place, but firing several hundreds of rounds jarred it loose. Because of that the Auto-Ordnance pistol was retired, and none of us were able to shoot it during the plate rack stage.

And then there were six left, moving on to the plate stage. More excuses (“…thanks to temperatures hovering in the mid-90s and the fact that there was no shade, they all got quite hot…”), and then the next one bites the dust:

…the ejector on the ATI FX45 sheared off, preventing me from completing the third rack of plates and one other shooter from using it at all.

And then there were five. Only five guns completed the course, two went down with hardware failures. But these guys applied tee-ball grading standards; the sightless AutoOrdnance (which was also noted for FTFs with JHPs) was given 13 out of 20 on “reliability.” And the ATI, down hard with a failed ejector? They gave that 12 out of 20.

Other guns that were singled out as failures to feed included the MRI Desert Eagle 1911G, and Taurus PT-1911, but none of the contenders were reliable enough to score 20 out of 20 points for “reliability.” But they were all 60% or more of the way there — including the two clunkers that fell apart during the test.

And that says something unkind about today’s commercial firearms market. Out of a sample of 7 guns, 2 of them (28.6%) failed in a very brief and mild round of testing. That’s a pretty lousy result.

Two Interesting Pistol Jams

Tam at A View from the Porch, who, thank a merciful God, is back posting (albeit with comments muzzled, which in her circumstances is understandable), earlier this month finally experienced some jams with her well-shot (and thoroughly documented) 9mm Walther PPX. Two jams in one session, actually, and both of them have some lessons for us, even though all our Walthers are so old they were made when lots of people still thought Hitler had some good ideas.

It confused us a bit because she listed the second, more interesting, jam first. We’re going to turn her order around and list them in chronological order, which is also the way they appear if you go to her blog and scroll down (way down, now, as these were posted 7 Sep 14). Our main points are: what are the causes, how do you ID and reduce the stoppage when it occurs, and what preventive methods are possible.

Jam #1: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. She notes that:

[One round in the mag] had enough friction with the side of the magazine that it bound up, and the spring and follower tried to force the bottom round past it, They were wedged tight enough that they needed to be poked out with some vigor.

ppx mag malf 2

She notes that she’s also seen a similar jam in a S&W M&P. We’ve seen this jam in a lot of double-stack mags, mostly but not all pistol mags, mostly but not all double-stack, single-feed mags. We’ve seen this a lot with M9 mags, especially el cheapo no-name aftermarket mags, but also with some issue mags. (We have not had trouble with Mec-Gar or Beretta factory mags, which we think are also Italian Mec-Gar mags produced for Beretta).

How do you recognize it?

It shows up, from behind the gun, as a stovepipe or as slide closed on an empty chamber. (Tam’s pistol stovepiped, and it was immediately obvious to her).

ppx mag malf 1As you can see, a couple of rounds have jammed in her mag, and all the rounds above that are not being fed. The “slide closed on an empty chamber” variant is particularly insidious; it’s a rare shooter who’s so attuned to the gun as to pick up a loaded chamber indicator’s failure to, well, indicate a loaded chamber. So you get click when you expect boom; an irritant at the range, but more serious if you, in the immortal phrase of unfortunately mortal, late Paul Poole, “dry fire in a firefight, mwah-hah-HAH!”

If you shoot enough to see this failure, you will come to recognize it with a glance in the magwell (neither rounds nor follower showing up between the mag’s feed lips is a dead giveaway). Note that while this exact problem is, by definition, restricted to double-stack mags, single-stack mags can have a similar problem when a round tilts “just right” and jams inside the magazine.

A loaded or partly loaded magazine in which the top round is not retained by friction, and just falls out, is also an indicator of this problem. The rounds above the jam can be easily shaken out of the mag; the rounds below are trapped behind the jam.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide doesn’t help, as the mag is not feeding rounds. Sometimes the jam will respond to a sharp blow on the mag base or pistol butt, but the sure-fire (no pun intended) immediate-action drill is to dump the jammed mag, check the gun is clear of loose rounds, and load a fresh mag.


The causes can be: oversized rounds, mung (especially gritty mung) in the magazine, and bad mags. Mis-sized ammo and mung are normally hadmaidens of bottom-feeding at the ammo counter, but not always (as we’ll see).

Magazines themselves have lots of failure modes. Mags can have dents or deformities that you can’t see with the naked eye but that can be measured — and that can cause this problem. They can also have surface issues: rust and pitting on the inside of the mag can create enough friction to encourage rounds to hang up. There are things you can do to repair mags, although most smiths don’t have the tools on hand.

With magazine issues, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action,” as our hero Auric Goldfinger amiably pointed out to his guest. For the average trigger-and-hammer-applicator, the right thing is to expend the mag as a target (so that no one can ever rely on it) and replace it with a new one, if it has done this to you three times. Untold mischief is caused in military units and police departments (especially academies or other training facilities) from bad mags that are turned back in to supply and keep circulating. Supply hates to face the fact that mags are an expendable item; every dollar spent on mags from the supply account is one that can’t be spent on other equipment. But don’t let their economy leave you with the dreaded “Dry fire in a firefight!” Poole is laughing, wherever he is, but that ain’t funny.

The feed system is a very critical part of any autoloading or automatic firearm and the best preventive measures are (1) to clean and maintain your magazines, (2) to use only high-quality mags, and (3) to weed out ruthlessly all substandard mags.

Jam #2: Magazine Jam-Up

Here’s Tam’s post. And here’s what she says about it (at somewhat greater length):

The second one was the more interesting because in the middle of a rapid-fire string, I got a dead trigger.

The slide was too far out of battery to fire, fortunately. A smart rap on the rear of the slide only succeeded in getting the case stuck further. With the assistance of an RO, the round was extracted and a quick examination of the breechface, extractor claw, feed ramp, and chamber mouth showed nothing obviously out of the ordinary.

As she quickly figured out, being a sensible and systematic troubleshooter, the trouble wasn’t the gun. Here’s what it was:

overlength_winchester_9mmSing with us, kiddies: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong….”

The culprit is the round on the right, with a random exemplar round from the same box on the left. Now I need a good caliper to measure it. It appears almost to be roll-crimped rather than taper-crimped.

I can’t count this malfunction against the PPX, since the round was subsequently tested in my Gen 3 Glock 19 and one of my M&Ps and wouldn’t fully chamber in either.

We can’t judge it with the Mark I eyeball on that photo, although we could probably use the photogrammetry tools in photoshop or GIMP to have a hack at it. But several dimensional failures could have caused this: bad taper on the case, case length too long, bullet badly seated. Most pistol rounds headspace on the case mouth, including the 9 x 19, so odds are the case length was too long or the taper insufficient (probably the former, given the thing imitating a no-go gage in three different brands of 9mm pistol).

As a side note, this malfunction tied the gun up hard; if somebody had been shooting at me, I’d have been hosed.

This wasn’t with Acme imported-from-Bufugliland steelcase crap; it was economy bulk Winchester, but still, Winchester ammo. Name brand ammo has fewer brand rounds than budget stuff, but not zero. An occasional bad round is kind of inevitable when you produce ammo in great bulk: you can’t measure every case and every round, so you rely on statistical quality control. SQC is great stuff, but just because you have got your standard quality out to four nines to the right of the decimal point, your error rate is still nonzero. Somebody’s going to get the turkey round, and this time, it was Tam. 

How do you recognize it?

It shows up as a failure to chamber. Trying to force the slide or bolt home will either succeed in chambering the round (in effect, the gun becomes a resizing tool) or, more likely, lock the gun up tighter than the action’s ever been. (This is part of why the forward assist on the M16A1 and its successors was always a bad idea.

Immediate Action?

Recycling the slide or bolt is the only possibility, but it might require force and/or tools, especially if the gun has been forced towards battery. Take great care to prevent a negligent discharge when clearing the gun. (Be cognizant of the rules if you’re at a range, and make sure the RO knows you’re having a problem. They may have a policy you need to follow). Save the stuck round for examination. Note the lot number of the failed ammo (if it’s available) and contact the ammo manufacturer.


This is pretty much a bad ammo thing. Relegate that lot of ammo to training only. It probably does not make sense to change ammo brands, unless your brand is “Uncle Bubba’s no-name mixed-brass reloads). Preventive measures include careful ammo selection, and, if you’re seriously expecting combat, ammo inspection (World War I fighter pilots used to do this to prevent jams of their MGs due to slapdash ammo quality). We should probably do a post on bench and field-expedient ammo inspection sometime.