Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Holland And Holland

There are guns, and then there are Holland and Holland guns. The difference between the two of these is as great as the English Channel. I could spend a few paragraphs waxing poetic about their history, what they make, and all that jazz, but really this is one of those rare times where I don't feel compelled to make pretty words. The guns do a fine enough job of telling their own story.

In a collaboration that seems impossible, H&H is actually majority owned by the French fashion brand Chanel.

Responsible for .357 H&H, .300 H&H, .600 Nitro Express, and the monstrous .700 Nitro Express, they are as innovative as they are timeless.

They are one of the few gun companies to truly thrive and succeed in Britain's gun climate, and the only gun maker to hold a Royal Warrant (A supply to the British Crown).

Suffice it to say the H&H is still a very active gun maker, and still the best of the best.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Old 1911

In late November of 2010, I was at the range with a buddy. We were shooting my Colt Series 80 side by side with his new Kimber Custom 2. I was giving him some razz on buying a Kimber, since I've never really cared for the brand or the guns. I challenged him to shoot 50 rounds with each and decide which he liked, and dont you know it, he started leaning towards the Colt! At this point I felt pretty full of it, and after a couple great groups I was simply lording it over him.

That is until I dipped into my box for a magazine of my reloads for a fresh magazine. "BANG, BANG, pop". I was confused at what I assumed was just an old 3.5gr loading that wasn't able to cycle the slide, so I foolishly cycled the slide and shot again. The slide instantly locked and froze up. I ejected and checked the gun and saw there was only an empty casing in it. At the time I thought it was a double charge that had blown the slide back and smashed up the slide and barrel lugs. Either way, I was pretty scared.

We both were a little shook up by the incident, so we went back into the shop portion and talked it over with some of the staff. A very nice old gentlemen behind the counter actually offered his help, and managed to unfreeze the slide and get it all apart to survey the damage. At that point we found out what happened: a squib in the barrel, followed by a live round. The barrel was ringed and bulged. He was pretty helpful in making me feel better, claiming that he had done this before and so had other shooters, and at the very least I can look forward to getting a match grade barrel fitted.

So I did! I picked up a stainless Ed Brown Match Barrel and Bushing combo for about $140 at Midway, dropped it off with my Smith, and after a whole two months of glacially slow service, I finally was able to pick it up yesterday, the day of the Gun show! I think it looks nice with the stainless bushing. Its pretty stiff engaging at the point, but I'm sure it will loosen after a hundred rounds or so. It just goes to show you that a bad experience can lead to improvement and a learning lesson in the end.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gyrojet Love

Yankee Gun Nuts has a piece up on the Gyrojet. Really neat to see that a basic zinc alloy gun and its ammo could command such a huge price premium in today's market. Also amazing to see how dirt simple this thing was.

Some News

I've taken a contract writing position with Guns.com, so between that and school pressures expect sparse contributions through the spring. I still hope to give you guys some nice gun pictures and articles here and there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

S&W Governor Pricing

With the S&W Governor priced to move with an MSRP of $599, a question has come up. How is S&W pricing this Scandium Revolver so cheap, especially in comparison to it's other similar offerings, like my much desired 325NG?

My guess is that its just a drastic price cut in order to compete with the Judge. But we can only wait until more word gets out on its lock work and production methods.

The Kel Tec Debate

Kel Tec itself has been around since 1991, with George Kellgren at the helm. Hes done work for Intratec, Grendel, Husqvarna, and Kel Tec has become the 3rd biggest arms maker in America. With the Kel-Tec KSG making such a stir in the market, all the talk of Kel Tec and how they run their business has come back up to the light.

Don't get me wrong here. There is something I want to clear the air with right away: Kel Tec follows designs and inspirations in a way that nobody else does. They actively try and innovate and succeed in a market based on traditional designs. Their guns have had a big impact. The PLR series is a fun, low cost .223 Auto. Their small frame automatics have been a big impact on the carry gun market. The RFB could have been something awesome.

The real thing to analyze here, however, in their design execution. The KSG is an awesome idea, but everyone has reserves about these products. They never seem to have a stellar takedown, reliability, or really any place in the market beyond a gimmick aspect. Their videos also did not inspire confidence: the pump action looked pretty imprecise, gritty, and rough. They intend to be marketing this not just to civilians, but to Cops as well. Do you really expect the average police force to adopt this shotgun over a proven 870,590, or Benelli?

There is always room in the market for design improvement and innovation, and I admire Kel Tec's enthusiasm for this, but when it comes in an unreliable and unappealing package, it gets relegated to the gimmick bin. Lets take the uses in stride here: is it going to be an LEO gun? Probably not. Tactical weapon/Competition? No way, 930's and more conventional, cheaper guns have that market cornered. Hunting shotgun? Nope. Sporting? No as well. Defense gun? Would you want to suddenly have to switch tubes using that clunky switch?

It basically comes down to it being a glorified range toy. I cant object to that use, as that's a perfectly justifiable use for lots of guns. But I won't try and overstep my bounds here or try and create a new use for the gun. This is a tangent, but this same logic applies to the Taurus Judge and the S&W Governor. They are range toys, not defensive guns. A part of me wants to both thank and reprimand Kel Tec at the same time, but at this point I can only see them as the inspired but ineffectual innovators of the gun market.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Joys of 1911s, Pt1

Cant rag on guns all the time. Sometimes you have to celebrate whats good. Yes I included a 1903. I LOVE that Clark Long slide.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tally Ho! The Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver

I have a weakness. A large, fatal weakness that strikes me every month or so, when I am sitting in the doldrums with nothing to do, and I've known about this weakness for years. You see, I love Film Noir. Sideways rain, the harsh glare of a streetlight, dirty cities, trench coats, and crooked dames: these movies lovingly explored a dirty underbelly of American culture and crime. And in particular, I love Humphrey Bogart. So one day about a year ago when I was watching The Maltese Falcon, I took note of the appearance of a Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver! I've always vaguely known about these oddjob numbers, but it was pretty specifically mentioned and called out in the movie's script. (The Webley-Fosbery was also featured in the Sci-Fi masterpiece "Zardoz". We will not speak of this ever again). I've been kind of swimming around in the history of early semi-automatic handguns, so it's only fair that I do my best to share what I learned.

The Webley-Fosbery in The Maltese Falcon

Colonel George Vincent Fosbery, a Victoria Cross awardee (The Equivalent of the Medal of Honor. The highest award a British Military Subject can be awarded) patented and created the idea of a redesigned Webley Revolver, harnessing its backwards recoil to automatically cock the hammer back and revolve the cylinder. Fosbery's idea was to use a zig-zag pattern cut into the cylinder, with a fixed stud at the bottom. Upon recoil, the cylinder would both turn, and the upper part of the revolver rode on rails, to push the hammer backwards. He first experimented with backward energy cocking a hammer by implementing these ideas with a Colt Single Action Army*. This idea was only really conceived and prototyped in 1894, so the time line here is fairly important. At this point in time, workable semi-auto designs were still in their very early infancy. A few Steyr designs, an embryonic C96 and Borchardt in the works, and that's pretty much it. So really when you are looking back at this design from today's perspective, you might see it with a jaded eye. Instead try and consider what there was available at the time. A bridge between the accepted revolver and the new automatic was a phenomenal idea, and could have been very successful.

The Fosbery finally went into production, it's final design being adopted and produced by Webley & Scott Revolver and Arms Co, and guns started rolling off the line in 1901, but it's prototype made appearances at the Bisley Shooting Matches of 1900. Chambered first in .455 Webley, the standard service pistol caliber of the British Military, it was eventually also made in .38 ACP, with that version holding 8 rounds. Fosbery intended it to be used by the Cavalry, who never adopted it. Instead, it saw action in both the Boer War, African Colonies, and WW1, but it was never an issued service pistol, or even very common. Mostly it was bought by field officers who wanted a pistol that shared issued ammunition. The C96 was a great prestige item, but it had to be fed a non-standard cartridge. The pistol was not a great field piece: it was sensitive to dirt and grit getting into its cylinder zig-zags and rails. It is sometimes claimed that "Holding the pistol in a loose grip wouldn't allow it to cycle", but this is untrue. There is no feed ramp or really any gravity effect at all, limp wristing wouldn't have any impact on it's cycling.

The Pistol may have been a military failure, but it was popular with civilian target shooters. The pistol's weight and soft recoil allowed very fast followup shots. It was able to deliver a five shot string in 1.27 seconds. The trigger not being traditionally connected to revolving the cylinder ensured both a smooth and easy double action and single action pull. Althought somewhat popular, the Fosbery never became truly successful. Webley made 4750 of them and ceased production in 1915.

Oh yeah, this movie

Interestingly, the pistol could be special ordered with Metford Rifling: basically an older version of polygonal rifling. If you are familiar at all with British Military Rifles, you might be aware of the earlier Lee Metford, a rifle which featured this type of rifling and quickly was replaced with the Lee-Enfield: The Lee Action with Enfield Rifling (conventional twist).

Another interesting sideline: the Prideaux Speedloader. These were made for all Webley revolvers, and totally fascinating.

Prideaux Speedloaders, Commercial and Military

* A small side note: The Colt SAA can already be self cocking and fully automatic without any modifications at all. This is a story thats been floating around for years. Some person apparently did a poor tuning job on his SAA, cutting down his hammer spring. Upon firing, the force of discharge pulled the hammer right back again, with the trigger still being depressed, it discharged 3 extra rounds. I'd love to confirm this story, but at this point it stays in the "Maybe" pile.

Some links:
Vince Lewis: The Webley Fosbery
Wikipedia: The Webley Fosbery

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wadcutter's Delight: The S&W 52

In postwar America, Target shooting was, too many people, a way of life. It was a wildly popular hobby, as common as bowling, running, or biking, and equally accepted. After all, pistol shooting is an especially difficult art to master. It was in this climate that most real serious shooters preferred K frame S&W rimfires or Colt Officer Match revolvers. In fact one of the most popular revolvers of the time was actually the .32 Colt Police Positive and its derivatives, however .32 was officially banned from many matches for consistently out shooting the more common .38 Specials and .38 S&Ws. More people owned the .38s for duty and protection guns as well, this ban was more of a level playing field. This also served to set a sort of standard cartridge, the .38 Mid Range Wadcutter, as one of the most accepted target calibers.

Not everyone desired a Revolver, however. The hard fact was that if you preferred an automatic, you were more or less stuck with the Colt 1911 National Match, not a bad gun at any stretch, but still pretty much your lone choice. Beginning around 1946, S&W began work on designing a new double action automatic, meant for 9mm and built to fulfill the needs of police, military, and civilians. The "X-46" as it's prototype was designated, featured a Browning style tilting barrel lockup, as well as what was essentially a hammer transfer bar, preventing accidental discharges (Think Ruger Single Actions). This was one of the first pistols you could truly and safely carry with the hammer down. The Army loved it, but had no intentions of kicking their 1911's out the door so soon. Lots of people read into this as a 9mm vs 45ACP argument: it wasn't. In postwar times we were sitting on enormous stocks of 1911's, so why should they have been tempted by a gun switch and a caliber change? After being turned down by the Army, the X-46 was eventually released on the civilian markets as the Smith and Wesson Model 39 Pistol.

S&W was extremely proud of their Model 39, and saw much potential for it. It was a hugely successful pistol and platform, serving as the genesis for hundreds of derivatives and other models. The Army may have turned it down as a service pistol, but they knew a home run when they saw it. The Army Marksmanship Training Unit expressed a big interest in the 39 as a target gun, and eventually requested that the company produce a special model chambered in their proprietary round, the .38 AMU, a sort of semi-rimmed and hotter loaded .38 Special Wadcutter. S&W complied, delivering just 90 of these S&W 52A pistols to the team.

Smith and Wesson saw the opportunity. .38 Wadcutter was the target caliber, after all. And they wanted to prove the capability of their platform, seeing it as the true future of target pistols. In 1961 they released the Smith and Wesson 52. It sported some new features: a single action only trigger, with the DA being blocked by a set screw. It was chambered in .38 Special Wadcutter. It had an enlarged magazine release. High, adjustable target sights. Most fascinating of all is the barrel: trumpeted at the muzzle and tapering rearwards, and locked into the front via a big knurled bushing, and held with a spring loaded plunger. These guns were carefully made and fitted, mostly by hand. In order to leave the factory, each unit had to shoot a minimum 2" group at rest from 50 yards. If that doesn't demonstrate how eerily accurate these are, nothing will.

S&W continued with the 52 line, introducing the 52-1, featuring a new, true SA trigger, a new hammer, and a steel frame. This was the most common civilian variant seen today. In 1963 the 52-2 arrived, featuring a coil spring extractor. These variants made the pistol a hugely popular success, with S&W hitting the mark with an insanely accurate gun. If there was a singular pistol that helped steer us away from the .38 Revolver as the dominant target gun, it was the 52.

But enough of history: this is a gun that I have shot. A shooting friend with a rather large S&W collection brought it to one of our range trips last year, and I was allowed the first magazine's worth of rounds. I was already a big 39 fan, but at the time I was pretty hung up on the 52 and this whacky idea of it's wadcutter ammo. To myself at the time, I almost regarded it as a gimmick. I couldn't help admiring the gun: it was obviously worn, with bluing wear at the grips and muzzle as well as under the slide, and the worn checkering of the grips feeling smooth under my hands. It struck me as very comfortably worn in, like an old leather couch. The grip was fairly difficult to get used to, with the permanent curved rear jutting into your palm it probably suits a GI 1911 shooter more than me, who is used to the smooth inline feel of a flat 1911 MSH. Still, it fills your hand wonderfully. The sights are excellent and crisp, a far cry from the huge combat sights we favor today, but easily shot at distances greater than 25 yards.

The 52 I had range time with. Note the Wadcutter Ammo.

The mag slid in easily, the slide pulled back without any effort. I noted that pretty much all the springs in the gun were light and easy to work, and when I brought it up and fired my shot I realized why. The recoil of the .38 Wadcutter is a soft, gentle push, possibly the smoothest recoil of any centerfire pistol I've fired. I did not concentrate too hard on my grip or stance through the first magazine, instead just settling in and getting comfortable, my target being 25 yards away (my friend's idea of a good starting distance). I finished up and reeled it in and was amazed at the group I produced. I am not a target shooter, but the group spoke otherwise. I was pretty damn happy with myself until I tightened up and took a few more magazines, my groups opening up and peppering the paper erratically. I learned this much: the 52 doesn't feel it, or look it, but it is a completely unforgiving gun. If you are tensed up, improperly gripping, standing incorrectly, or squeezing incorrectly, the gun will tell you right away. I managed to shoot a few more good groups, but nothing approaching the quality of my initial magazine.

The S&W 52 deserves a spot of recognition in American Firearms history. It served as a pivotal bridge between the world of Revolvers and Automatics, and won many a bullseye competition. It also deserves to keep being shot, so if you see one at the shop or know a friend with one, take it for a spin.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Just In a Case

For some reason, Pistols and Rifles put in a case, packed with accessories always held huge appeal. Its just like getting the whole package all at once. The later back you go, the more ornate these cases became, with walnut and velvet linings. I really tried to find a Sharps Rifle case, as well as some drilling and safari rifles, but couldn't find anything, sadly. Please accept this smattering of Colts and German guns instead. If I find a resource for more fancy gun cases I'll put them up.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Savage Tendencies

What if I were to tell you that there was a new pocket pistol on the market that featured a loaded chamber indicator built to run your hand over in low light, marketed for self defense, had a partially hidden hammer, ambidextrous mag release, ten round double stack magazine, and was built for easy take down? You probably would assume that its a Kahr or something modern, right? I'm actually talking about a 1905 design, from Savage. This is a remarkable pistol in regards to its intent, marketing, and design. It's basically just a pocket pistol, but its place in the market and its intended use was far, far ahead of its time.

The 1907 actually began mostly as a response to the overwhelming popularity of the Colt 1903, Colt's famous hammerless pocket pistol. This would foreshadow a long competitive relationship between Savage and Colt that would eventually play out in very high circles. In fact it's very design, which is billed as "Delayed Blowback" is actually nothing of the sort: they merely rifled the barrel, and claimed that the bullet engaging the rifling delayed the blowback function. Of course this is a ridiculous claim right now, but it most be noted that someone had already came along and patented the notion of a blowback action with a slide and breechblock made in one piece; a Mister John Browning. This is a large reason why many of these early Remington, S&W, and H&R automatics use such clumsy recoil control systems. Unfortunately for the actual internal design, this kind of leads most modern gun collectors and enthusiasts with the idea that this early into the lifetime of semi automatic pistols was only resulting in archaic and half formed designs. I'll contest this; most of these designs HAD to adhere to simple blowback procedures in order to avoid lawsuits. People were not stupid, they saw that Browning tended to create the most useful designs and anything approaching his works would be shot down in court.

Double Stack Magazine

The Savage 1907, "Delayed Blowback" and caliber aside, is a thoroughly modern handgun. It was also one of the very first firearms that was touted for the early pistol tests when the US Army announced its desire for a 45 caliber Semi-Auto handgun. Luger, Bergmann, White-Merrill, Knoble, Colt, Savage, and others entered the race. There were many entries to the tests, just like later military tests, many companies dropped out suddenly, were disqualified, failed, or their companies simply didn't want to keep sending free pistols for an unknown result. In any case, the race narrowed out and left two standing contestants and already very familiar rivals: Savage, with their 1907, and Colt, with what would become the Model 1911 pistol. The Savage entry was a simpler and bigger version of their popular 1907: it featured no flat springs or screws whatsoever. The rear sight doubled as the extractor. The hammer was connected directly to the firing pin, itself housed within the mainspring. Interestingly, this one actually featured a true delayed blowback: a rotating barrel with a lug at the top engaged a channel cut into the slide. This really only helped a little: it was still a violent and fast action, with Browning's design being much gentler.

The Savage actually passed all tests, and went into field testing with Cavalary units. It was not a perfect pistol, and the Army realized it, but still made the claim that it "Warranted additional testing". Unfortunately Savage suffered a string of production issues and further defect issues that served to sour the Army on the firm and the pistol. The newer pistols were ordered with wood grips and a grip safety. Savage never bothered to mark "Safe" and "Fire" on the safety; another complaint. Captain James A. Cole of the 6th Cavalry stated that the Savage pistol "has a splendid grip, is easily and rapidly pointed, has tremendous powers and is very accurate." However he also included that he was "convinced that this Savage model is unsuited for issue in the military service." Savage was persistent: they kept resubmitting designs and eventually in 1910 gave over their finalized, complete model. It suffered from numerous jams, failure to feeds, failure to ejects, and broken components. The Colt offering performed without any failures. It was a clear choice (and a correct one).

Savage's pistol, it should be noted, actually became a military pistol eventually. France had bought 20,000 examples for officer issue purposes, these models only real difference being a kind of awkward lanyard loop addition. These were bought for WW1 service, between 1914 and 1917. It became a sort of triumphal exit for Savage, however. It never really became an outdated and doting pistol, it simply marked Savage's bold entry, and wartime exit, of a pistol ahead of it's time. In particular it's large advertising campaign, with the pistol being squarely aimed at Police and Home defense concerns. These ads are really interesting to compare to many current self defense firearm ads: the vernacular may be different, but the theme is pretty much the same.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a quick, condensed writeup on this neat little gun. It's actually used by Jude Law in Road To Perdition, which is where I first saw it and wondered what it was. I hope to do more of these write ups in the future.

French Contract 1907

NRA Museum: The Savage 1907

The Vintage Pistol: Savage 1907