Book Review: Sporting Firearms: A Designers Notebook by Richard Florer

soorting-firearms-a-designers-notebookWe found this on Amazon and scanned the part of it that was visible online. We didn’t think it was valuable, lacking the sheet music (equations and other engineering data) of standard texts like Balleisen’s Principles of Firearms and the Rheinmetall Handbook, but then we thought — “If it’s no good, we should put a heads up on the Gun Design Books and Resources page.” And then we thought, “It would not be fair to write a critical review without reading the actual book. So we had better order it, and see.”

We’re very glad we did, because Sporting Firearms: A Designers Notebook is a good and useful book. Our mistake was in expecting it to be a mechanical engineer’s text book, like the indispensable Balleisen. But it is just what the title says: a designer’s notebook, full of the designer’s tips and tricks, and descriptive of his experiences in designing specific firearms.

The case studies in this book stem from Florer’s double-barreled capabilities: he’s a mechanical engineer and has worked as one in the industry (rising to chief engineer), but he’s also a practical gunsmith at home with the lathe and milling machine (not to mention a set of files).

One of the most interesting projects here is a redesign of the Weatherby Vanguard short-action mechanism (the same as the Howa mechanism, not the Weatherby Mark V) to take extra-long cartridges. Why would a designer want to do that? Bear in mind that these are hunting rifles, chambered for typical short-action cartridges like the .308 or 7mm-08. The SAAMI spec for cartridge overall length of the .308 is what has defined the length of the short action, so that you’re forever limited to bullets that are no longer than the 1951 descendant of World War vintage M2 ball that was loaded in the GI 7.62. But modern hunting bullets are longer, for both aerodynamic and penetrative reasons.

They must either be loaded deeper in the casing, robbing powder volume, or loaded only in long-action guns. But Florer devised a modification that lets one load 180 grain bullets in a .308 with the base of the cartridge seated exactly where it is on a 150 grain soft point. The modifications allow the loading of a cartridge with an overall length of around three inches, even a hair more, compared to the SAAMI spec of 2.81″ for the .308.

The modification requires increasing the bolt travel, and lengthening the magazine box 0.200″, both of which are practical on the Vanguard action. (The resulting rifle can accommodate longer handloads, but still works with factory loads. The chamber and headspace are untouched and unchanged).

sporting_firearms_contentsWe won’t, and most readers of this book won’t, ever hack a Vanguard for longer, heavier bullets, but the value of the book is in what it teaches about the thought processes that go into developing such a modification safely.

Another set of case studies involve development of unique necked .22 caliber wildcats, one for a rifle and one for a revolver.

A case that may be more broadly beneficial is a walk-through of the collaborative specifications development process for an unnamed firm’s new bolt-action hunting rifle. This is the framing device for Part I of the book (see contents at right), while Part II covers various specific projects..

Finally, there’s some ingenious mechanisms in here, including an adjustable tension (for accuracy) barrel forend bedding device, and several variations of set triggers, but, unfortunately, the technical details on these are sparse.

As sophisticated as firearm design is these days, publicly available information about it is still scant and scattered. Sporting Firearms: A Designer’s Handbook is a worthwhile addition to the canon.

Amazon link

Book publication press release (3 Jan 2013).

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Sporting Firearms: A Designers Notebook by Richard Florer

  1. Dwight Brown

    “…development of unique necked .22 caliber wildcats, one for a rifle and one for a revolver.”

    Okay, that got my attention.

    For some reason, I’m fascinated by weird ,22 chamberings in revolvers. I plan to pick up a S&W chambered in .22 Jet at some point. I’m even tempted to get a Taurus Raging Bee.

    And I have this fantasy of being so filthy rich that I can afford to have the Performance Center build a custom revolver for me chambered in .221 Remington Fireball. (I haven’t sat down and completely figured out all the math on that yet. I think it’d have to be an X-frame, as I believe the N-frame is just a little too short for the .221.)


    “A worthwhile addition to the canon”. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. Nice choice of words as always Hognose. :-)

    1. Hognose Post author

      Those things always take longer and cost more than expected. The Blogbrother was going to hold Thanksgiving in his new addition. Now Christmas is looking iffy. He’s not real happy (because Herself is fit to be tied).

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