Ballistics by the inch

Get a grip. Or make one.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about finishing a Liegi Derringer kit, then doing the laser work to customize the grips. It turned out well enough, so I decided to finish and laser a second kit, to use as a door prize for a black powder workshop I’m doing at the annual meeting of the Liberal Gun Club this fall in Las Vegas.

All went well until the time came to mount the grip to the receiver. The top mounting screw went in fine, after drilling a pilot hole. But the bottom one broke loose as I was tightening it. I took the top screw back out so I could see what the problem was. This is what I saw:

Almost looks like a tiny wooden shoe from this angle, doesn’t it?

See right there in the center? That’s where the screw broke loose, knocking out the adjacent piece of wood. Just a fluke of the grain on this piece of wood.

There are several ways you can repair a problem like this. You can use a longer screw. You can fill in the broken material with a good wood epoxy, then remount the screw. You can change the hardware to relocate the screw. There are probably other good, simple solutions, but I’m not a wood-worker.

So of course I figured that I’d do the most difficult thing: carve a replacement grip out of another piece of walnut.

See, we had to take down a big walnut in our yard some years back. Most of the big pieces of good wood went to friends who are skilled wood-workers. The rest became firewood. We still have some of the firewood, so I picked out a piece and chopped it roughly to size:

That’s a funny-lookin’ grip.

Next, I spent a couple of hours with a drill, a heavy wood rasp, and a Dremel, and got the new grip down to an approximate form:

Roughed out.

Then it was a matter of more detailed carving, to get closer to the shape of the original grip, and to make room for the hardware of the receiver:

Still a little bulky …

I had decided to make this grip a little more robust than the original, since I didn’t trust my skills to not over-do it and make a fragile grip. But I didn’t want it TOO big:

Pleased to meet you.

Once I was satisfied with the shape of the grip, it was time to laser the design into the sides. To get the designs positioned properly, I used some reference tape:

I did the laser work, then stained the grip and polished it slightly. Assembly went just fine, and the mounting screws set without a problem. Here’s the finished product:

I’m pretty happy with the finished product, and hope whomever wins it will enjoy shooting it.

Jim Downey

August 4, 2022 Posted by | Anecdotes, black powder | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lookin’ Sharp(s).

As anyone who has read much of this blog probably knows, I (and the other BBTI guys) like weird guns. Anything that is innovative, or unusual, or uses a transitional technology, is likely to catch my eye.

One of those I got to try this past weekend is a reproduction Sharps Pepperbox. It was designed by Christian Sharps (of Sharps Rifle fame) in the middle 1800s , and proved to be a popular little hide-away gun in early .22. .30, and .32 rimfire cartridges.

In the 1960s Uberti produced a little .22short reproduction with a brass frame and plastic grips. Here’s one recently listed on Gunbroker which has an excellent description of both the reproduction and the original: Uberti Sharps Pepperbox 4 Barrel Derringer.

And here are some pics of the one we shot this weekend:

As you can see, the barrel assembly just slides forward to allow access to the breech. You put the hammer at half cock, then depress the button latch at the front of the gun, and it slides forward. Then you can drop four rounds of .22short into the barrels:

The assembly then just slides back into position, and locks. When you draw the hammer back, the firing pin (mounted on the hammer) rotates one-quarter of the way around, to strike each cartridge in turn.

Though a modern .22short has a surprising amount of energy, out of such a short barrel you’re looking at a modest 40-50 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Would I care to be shot by one, let alone 4? Nope. And even the original loads using black powder, which would probably generate no more than about half that M.E., such a little hide-away gun would likely give a person on the other end of the barrels pause, because the risk of disability or death from infection would be significant.

Shooting the pepperbox was easy, and had no perceived recoil. Hitting a target at more than about five or six feet was another matter. Most of us tried it at about 10′, and were lucky to get one or two rounds into a 8″ circle. You might be able to improve on that with practice, but still, this was a gun meant for up close use:

It really is a cool little design, and a fun range toy. Shoot one if you ever get the chance.

Jim Downey

July 26, 2022 Posted by | .22, Anecdotes, black powder, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

That takes balls, Part 2: rebound!

Last week I posted about a little Liegi derringer that I finished and did a laser design on. Well, over the weekend I got together with the BBTI gang and, among other things, had a chance to shoot and chrono the little gun.

Here’s a short slo-mo vid of shooting the Liegi:

As expected, shooting the Liegi was simplicity itself: pour in some black powder (FFFg) until the small chamber was filled, set a .451 ball on top, screw down the barrel, then add a #11 cap and it was ready to go.

Because I wanted to chrono the gun, we were shooting it from where we had the chrono set-up, about 15 yards from the bullet trap:

The Labradar system works well, once you get the hang of using it.

There was a fair amount of variation in the multiple shots we chrono’d, ranging from about 380fps to 600+fps, but the average was about 500fps. That gives the 139gr lead ball about 80ft-pounds of muzzle energy — not a lot, but more than I would care to be shot with.

Well, more than I would care to be shot with directly, anyway. Because one of the shots I chronographed bounced off the surrounding wall of the bullet trap, and ricocheted right back and hit me in the leg. It didn’t hurt at all, just tapped me in the thigh. I picked the bullet up off the ground where it landed. Here it is next to another fresh ball:

Note that it is darkened from the combustion, and there’s a slight indentation where it was seated down on the powder chamber of the gun. Here’s a pic that better shows the flattened profile of the bullet:

And here’s what it looks like on the side that hit the building:

And yeah, that means that I missed hitting the opening of the bullet trap (covering door is about 3×6′). I would be embarrassed about that with most handguns at 15 yards, but certainly not with this thing, which was intended to be used at bad-breath distance.

Like I said: fun little project. Now I’ll add it into my collection of black powder guns for regular use.

Jim Downey

July 25, 2022 Posted by | Anecdotes, black powder, Data | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

That takes balls.

I recently picked up a little Pedersoli Liegi Derriger kit. One of the other BBTI guys has one of these things, and I’ve always considered it a cool little piece of firearms history. Cap & ball firearms technology came along in the early part of the 1800s, supplanting flintlocks and earlier ignition systems. The Liegi design was very popular as a basic pocket/boot/muff small handgun, because it was relatively easy to load and carry, and lethal at close range.

The interesting thing about the Liegi is the loading system: you unscrew the barrel, load the powder charge in the chamber, place a round bullet on top of the powder, then screw the barrel back into place. It’s simple and fairly foolproof, and doesn’t even require a powder measure — you just fill the chamber with black powder and it’s the correct amount. Once the gun is loaded and the barrel is in place, you draw the hammer to half-cock, place a cap on the nipple, and the gun is ready. Here’s a short video showing all the steps:

In addition to doing the minor prep work on the walnut stock of the gun, I wanted to add some laser engraving on the side panels. Because it amused me, I decided to use the same basic pattern as I had used for the grips of a very modern handgun, my Customized Timberwolf G21. Here’s a pic of the finished product, and on the next page are pics of the process and comparisons to other small handguns I have:

Pages: 1 2

July 17, 2022 Posted by | .22, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, black powder, Boberg Arms | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boxed sets

Remember the post about the various large cartridges?

Well, I made a display box. Actually, I made three — one for each of the BBTI team members. And now that I’ve given the other two guys theirs, I can share pics:

20200811_154649

That’s all three boxes. They’re simple plywood exterior, with the interior of acrylic. All of it cut using my Glowforge laser. Here’s a detail shot:

detail

The boxes were designed so that the cartridges can be easily removed so that people can actually handle them.

open mostly full

And they close up for safe storage.

clasp

Just thought I would share these.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

August 24, 2020 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So, you think .44 magnum is powerful?

Yesterday I got a box of cartridges. Now, even with the shortages these days, that isn’t that unusual.

But take a look at the contents:

Box

OK, for scale: that’s a full-sized .44 magnum cartridge on the right, outside the box.

What the Hell???

This was a box of, um, BIG cartridges put together for me by one of the other BBTI guys, just for fun.  Yeah, we have odd senses of humor.

Now, I’ll admit, most of these I didn’t even recognize. But I spent some time with my copy of Cartridges of the World by Frank C Barnes, and poking around online. And I thought I’d share the results. For simplicity in putting this blog post together, descriptions of each cartridge is from Wikipedia and in blue text. Other info is probably from Cartridges of the World.

Here are the cartridges, lined up for better display:

Standing

You can make note of your guesses for each one, if you’d like, then test to see whether you’re right.

Ready?

OK, from left to right … (with ruler and full-size .44 mag for scale):

950JDJ

.950 JDJ.950 JDJ cases are approximately 70 mm in length, and are based on a 20×110mm case shortened and necked up to accept the .950 in (24.1 mm) bullet. Projectiles are custom-made and most commonly weigh 3,600 grains (230 g) which is 8.2 ounces or over half a pound. The cartridge is derived from a 20mm Vulcan cannon cartridge.

 

12.7 x 108

12.7 x 108mm. The 12.7×108mm cartridge is a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and anti-materiel rifle cartridge used by the former Soviet Union, the former Warsaw Pact, modern Russia, China and other countries. It was invented in 1934 to create a cartridge like the German 13.2mm TuF anti-tank rifle round and the American .50 Browning Machine Gun round.

 

12.7 x 99

14.5 JDJ. It uses the .50 BMG case with the neck opened up to accept a .585 in (14.9 mm) bullet. Barnes notes that this proprietary cartridge is capable of sub-MOA groups at 1,000 yards out of a SSK Industries rifle, with almost 15,000 ft/lbs of energy.

 

50 BMG

.50 BMG. The .50 Browning Machine Gun (.50 BMG, 12.7×99mm NATO and designated as the 50 Browning by the C.I.P.[1]) is a cartridge developed for the Browning .50 caliber machine gun in the late 1910s, entering official service in 1921. Under STANAG 4383, it is a standard cartridge for NATO forces as well as many non-NATO countries. * * * The .50 BMG cartridge is also used in long-range target and anti-materiel rifles, as well as other .50-caliber machine guns.

 

700 Nitro Express

.700 Nitro Express. The .700 Nitro Express (17.8×89mmR) is a big game rifle cartridge made by Holland & Holland, London, England. It was developed in 1988 by Jim Bell and William Feldstein and built by H&H.

 

600 Nitro Express

.600 Nitro Express. The .600 Nitro Express is a large bore Nitro Express rifle cartridge developed by W.J. Jeffery & Co for the purpose of hunting large game such as elephant.

 

500 Nitro Express

.500 Nitro Express. The .500 Nitro Express is a rifle cartridge designed for hunting large and dangerous game animals in Africa and India.

 

500 Jeffery

.500 JefferyThe .500 Jeffery is a big-game rifle cartridge that first appeared around 1920, and was originally introduced by the August Schuler Company, a German firm, under the European designation “12.7×70mm Schuler” or “.500 Schuler”. When offered by the famed British outfitter W.J. Jeffery & Co, it was renamed the .500 Jeffery so as to be more palatable to British hunters and sportsmen following World War One.

 

50 Alaskan

.50 Alaskan. The .50 Alaskan is a wildcat cartridge developed by Harold Johnson and Harold Fuller of the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska in the 1950s. Johnson based the cartridge on the .348 Winchester in order to create a rifle capable of handling the large bears in Alaska.

 

50-110

.50-110 Winchester. The .50-110 WCF (also known as the .50-100-450 WCF , with different loadings) in modern 1886 Winchesters with modern steel barrels is the most powerful lever-action cartridge, with up to 6,000 foot pounds of energy.

 

11 x 59 R Gras

11 x 59mm R Gras. The 11×59mmR Gras, also known as the 11mm Vickers, is an obsolete rifle cartridge. France’s first modern military cartridge, the 11×59mmR Gras was introduced in 1874 and continued in service in various roles and with various users until after World War II.

 

458 Win Mag

.458 Win Mag. The .458 Winchester Magnum is a belted, straight-taper cased, Big five game rifle cartridge. It was introduced commercially in 1956 by Winchester and first chambered in the Winchester Model 70 African rifle.[2] It was designed to compete against the .450 Nitro Express and the .470 Nitro Express cartridges used in big bore British double rifles. The .458 Winchester Magnum remains one of the most popular game cartridges, and most major ammunition manufacturers offer a selection of .458 ammunition.

 

500 S&W Mag R

.500 S&W Magnum. The .500 S&W Magnum (12.7×41mmSR) is a fifty-caliber semi-rimmed handgun cartridge developed by Cor-Bon in partnership with the Smith & Wesson “X-Gun” engineering team for use in the Smith & Wesson Model 500 X-frame revolver and introduced in February 2003 at the SHOT show.[5] It has two primary design purposes: as a hunting handgun cartridge capable of taking all North American game species, and to be the most powerful production handgun cartridge to date.

And there you have it.

How did you do at identifying the cartridges? As noted, a lot of these I could not ID just by looking at them, though most of them I recognized once I examined the cartridge base for headstamp info. Two I was unfamiliar with (the .500 Jeffery and the .50 Alaskan), and one I had to break out my calipers in order to figure it out: the 14.5 JDJ. Because it’s headstamped as a 12.7 x 99mm, or BMG, cartridge. Once I realized the projectile was larger, then I guessed what it must be.

And no, we’re *not* going to be testing these or anything. It was just something fun to share.

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2020 Posted by | .44 Magnum, Discussion., Links, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Cunningham Speed Strip

Anyone who has considered a revolver as a self-defense option has confronted the question of whether, and how, to carry spare ammunition for it. Loose cartridges are just a pain to deal with, and take forever to reload. Speedloaders are great, but more than a little bulky. Commercial ‘speed strips’ are less bulky, are commonly available at a reasonable price, and are a big improvement over fumbling with loose rounds, but can still be awkward for reloading quickly. That’s because while they hold six cartridges, they’re difficult to position such that you can load an empty cylinder quickly — the close-packed cartridges actually get in the way. One common trick for using a speed strip is to only put two pairs of cartridges in it, with a gap between the two sets and the last position empty — that way, you can always quickly load two sets of two adjacent chambers in the cylinder of your revolver. This technique is perhaps best known due to defensive revolver guru Grant Cunningham.

Well, after recently taking a class with Grant, and learning this technique, I set out to make a more functional speed strip which would completely and quickly reload any revolver. One that almost anyone can make on their own, with minimal tools and expense, and customized to their revolver, whatever cartridge it shoots and whatever the capacity of the cylinder. I jokingly call it the Cunningham Perfect & Adaptable Speed Strip for Any Revolver regardless of Caliber or Capacity.  More seriously, I’ll refer to it as the Cunningham Speed Strip, (CSS for short.)

Here some pics of what it can look like:

Bianci Speed Strip and custom homemade CSS (for a J-frame).

 

6 rounds of .38sp.

 

5 rounds of .38sp and 6 rounds of .44mag.

 

And this is how you make it.

 

YOU’LL NEED:

Tools

  • A pair of common pliers
  • A hammer of almost any type
  • A pair of scissors or utility knife

You’ll also need

  • A Heat Source (just about anything from a hair dryer to a blowtorch will do — you’ll see)
  • An empty cartridge case for your revolver
  • A pen or pencil
  • A sheet of paper (really, just a scrap)
  • A scrap piece of heavy cardboard or wood
  • Suitable piece of inexpensive common vinyl (more on this to come)

 

PROCEDURE:

Select your vinyl. A wide variety of commonly available types of vinyl will work. If you look at the examples above you’ll see a piece from a 1/2″ ID vinyl tube, a piece of vinyl floor runner, and a piece of vinyl sheet used to cover food for microwaving. In other words, a wide variety of vinyl materials are likely to work.

So experiment a little. What you want is to find a vinyl which is flexible (not rigid/brittle) and sufficiently thick to hold cartridges in position, but will easily pull away when you have the cartridges in the chambers of the cylinder. The vinyl tubing is the one I like the most, and is 1/16″ thick. It has a slight tackiness to the surface I like because it makes it easier to use. The vinyl sheet is about one-third that thick, and the vinyl floor runner is somewhere between the two (though a little too flexible for my tastes).

Now, realize that it’s likely that any of these materials will tear after repeated use. These aren’t meant to last forever … but each of my prototypes have held up to at least a dozen uses so far. The idea is that they’re cheap and easy to make and replace.

 

Cut the vinyl to rough size. You want a working piece that you can trim later. Here’s what the tubing looks like when cutting:

About a 6″ piece of tubing.

 

Slit along the sides.

 

Flat section cut out.

 

Make a paper template. It’s difficult to mark most kinds of vinyl. So the easy thing to do is to make a paper template of what you want. For a J-frame, you want two sets of paired cartridges and one solo, with gaps in between the sets (as shown). For other guns, you may want a different arrangement. But in each case you want to use your empty cartridge case to draw the position of the circles on the paper.  Like so:

Paper template.

 

Also note that I have a couple of marks showing the approximate ends of the strip. You want a bit of a tab on either end, to make it easy to grab and use the strip. But the final amount (and whether square or rounded off) is entirely up to your preference.

 

Position the template and vinyl for punching.  Here I recommend that you use either a piece of dense cardboard or a scrap piece of wood. You can tape down the template if you want. But position the template, then lay the strip of vinyl on top of it in alignment with the template.

Position the template.

 

Heat up the case and/or strip. Again, the source of the heat really won’t matter. It can be a heat gun. Or a warm brick. Or a hair dryer. Whatever you have handy. Now, this may not be necessary. With some vinyls, you don’t need to really heat them up. But I have found that it makes things easier if you do, as the vinyl becomes softer and more pliable. And you can see in the image above that I have a .38sp case positioned in front of a heat gun, to make it even easier.

 

Position the case and strike with a hammer. If you have heated up the case, or if you’re worried about smacking your fingers with the hammer, the easy thing to do is to pick up the case with a common pair of pliers and then hold it in position. Put the mouth of the case over the vinyl/template in the correct position, then hit the case with the hammer.

How hard to hit, or how many times, will depend. But ideally, you want to have the case punch through the vinyl in a clean and complete way, so you have a small disk of removed vinyl left. This is the advantage of using the case instead of trying to cut the vinyl with a knife or drill bit: you wind up with a good clean cut the *exact* size of the cartridge.

 

Clean through!

 

Repeat as many times as necessary. Until you have all the holes punched out.

 

J-frame layout.

 

Anaconda layout.

 

Then trim the strip as desired. Once done, insert loaded cartridges and it’s ready to use.

5 rounds of .38sp and 6 rounds of .44mag.

 

That’s it!

I thought about patenting this idea, or seeing if I could sell it to some manufacturer. But it seemed like a good thing to just share as an ‘open source’ idea with the firearms/self-defense community so it could be used widely. If you found this instructional post useful in making your own customized speed strips, and would like to contribute a couple of bucks, just send a PayPal donation here: jimd@ballisticsbytheinch.com  Proceeds will be shared with Grant Cunningham, who inspired this design.

 

Jim Downey

 

December 29, 2019 Posted by | .22, .22WMR, .32 H&R, .327 Federal Magnum, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, Revolver | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A couple of centenarians … in .32 ACP

Happy Anniversary/Birthday! By tradition, BBTI is 11 years old today!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I recently got to shoot a couple of very nice little pistols in .32 ACP … which date back to before WWI.

The first was a Sauer & Sohn Model 1913:

The second was a Mauser Model 1914:

I’m not going to try and do an in-depth review of either gun. I didn’t shoot either one enough to really develop a strong opinion, and the two links above go into the history and context of the pistols is detail.

But I am going to say that I was honestly surprised at just how accurate and easy to shoot both of them were. Each one gave me about a 6″ group at 10 yards the first time I shot it, and I was sure that a little practice with either gun would have improved upon that quickly.  They both felt comfortable & solid in the hand, easy to hold, easy to shoot.

And, surprisingly, both “spoke with authority”. What do I mean by that? Well, I must admit that I don’t care for the .32 ACP round much, and consider it sub-optimal for self-defense purposes. Out of barrels about this size, you’re only going to get about 125 ft/lbs of energy. Just stepping up to .380 ACP out of a similar sized gun will give you about half again the power … or more.

But when I thought about it, I realized that most of the .32 ACP guns I’ve shot were smaller than these … they were what we would call “mouse guns”, and never felt very solid in my large hands. Neither of these two pistols are “large” — both are about the same size as a PPK — but they really felt like ‘real’ guns. That physical size difference made a big psychological difference for me. Just knowing that I could reliably  put rounds where needed matters.

Other factors to consider in understanding these guns in context: when they were made, and for what purpose. At the turn of the 20th century, people were smaller, hence the need for less penetration than is generally considered to be the case today. Medical treatment was both less developed and less available, and there were no antibiotics. This means that even a non-incapacitating wound had a very real chance of being lethal within hours or days — making getting shot something you wanted to very much avoid. While both of these guns did go on to see military service, they weren’t really designed as weapons of war. Rather, they were intended for police and private use, and by all accounts served in these roles admirably.

Given that both guns were over 100 years old, they were remarkably reliable. Between myself and my shooting companions, we put about a box of ammo through each. I don’t recall the S&S having any issues whatsoever, and the Mauser only had a couple of glitches with failure to cycle completely. Since we didn’t take the guns apart for a detail cleaning (though we did a quick inspection to make sure they looked to be in good condition), that could have just been due to build-up of dirt or weak recoil spring. At 61 myself, I sympathize.

Fun guns. If you get a chance, handle and shoot either one. You might be surprised at how much you like it.

 

Jim Downey

 

November 28, 2019 Posted by | .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m not wild about Wildey …

When you see this tag on a pistol, you know things may get interesting:

Can’t read it? Here’s the text:

CAUTION

This gun is unique in many
ways. Do not handle and/or
fire it without having read
the instruction manual.
If there is anything you don’t
understand, seek advice
from someone qualified in
safe handling of firearms.

 

Of course, we didn’t have the instruction manual. Details, details.

Here’s the tag in context:

Yeah, that’s a new production Wildey Survivor with a 10″ barrel, in .45 Winchester Magnum. Bit of a brute. Here are some other pics of the one we shot:

The Wildey is one of those interesting experimental guns dating back to the 1970s. It uses a gas-operated system at fairly high pressures to fling a substantial slug at high velocity: the .45 WinMag version we shot is supposed to move a 230gr bullet at about 1,600fps, for about 1,300 ft/labs of energy. Now, that’s about 40% more power than the .45 Super or .460 Rowland cartridges out of a similar length barrel, so it is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Even more interesting, the Wildey has a collar behind the barrel which allows you to adjust the gas pressure for different loads or to manage recoil while minimizing malfunctions. Well, at least in theory.

Why do I say “in theory”? Well, because in practice the thing was very finicky. Which certainly could have just been a matter of it being a brand-new gun in the hands of inexperienced shooters (well, inexperienced in shooting a Wildey … the three of us shooting it were the BBTI team, and I think it’s fair to say we have more than the typical amount of handgun shooting experience). But check out this video of Ian from Forgotten Weapons putting a Wildey Survivor through its paces and you’ll see what I mean:

He has all kinds of problems with it, rarely getting off two or three shots before experiencing a malfunction. That was exactly our experience with the gun.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I hated the gun. I don’t have enough experience with it to have that much of an opinion, having only run a couple of mags through it myself. But all three of us had major problems with the gun, even after we consulted online resources to get tips on managing the malfunctions and tweaking the gas adjustment.

It is a cool, innovative design. It’s very well made. You pick it up, and you know you are holding something high quality. And hey, it was even a movie star. How can you not like that?

But at 4 pounds+ weight, and a substantial grip size, it is, as I said, a bit of a brute. And interestingly, as Ian notes at the end of the video above, the thing is all sharp edges just asking for a blood sacrifice. In fact, the BBTI member who took it home to clean it sliced up his hands while doing so.

An interesting gun. I’m glad I got the chance to shoot it. But I wouldn’t want to own one.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 

November 22, 2019 Posted by | .45 Super, .460 Rowland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sig P365 SAS review.

Last weekend, I got to try one of these:

Yup, it’s the latest iteration of the popular Sig P365, the SAS (“Sig Anti-Snag”), designed to be the ‘ultimate concealed-carry gun’.

Well, is it?

Take a look at this pic:

That’s the first time I shot the gun. Draw from a low ready position, intuitive point and shoot as fast as I could, at about 5 yards. I didn’t even try to use the proprietary sighting system.

Which doesn’t mean that it is the ultimate CCW. But does mean that at least in my hands it was more than adequate for the job, right out of the box.

But what did I actually think of the gun?

I agree with most of the reviews I’ve read of the P365 generally: very small, well designed and well made (at least in the later guns, after Sig resolved some minor but real issues). Surprisingly comfortable even in my very large hands. 10+1 rounds of 9mm +P is damned nice to have in such a small package. Quite good trigger, somewhat lighter than I expected. And clearly the point & click ergonomics are very good.

I’m not at all troubled by the lack of a manual safety, though that has been an issue for other people. If it’s a deal-breaker for you, then get something other than the SAS (Sig offers a version of the P365 with a manual safety, or you can just go with another brand.)

I don’t like the ported barrel. Our research has shown that it effectively makes the ballistic performance that of a barrel the length before the ports. And stepping down from about a 3″ barrel to about a 2″ one isn’t a good idea, if you want all the power the gun could deliver. Whether it actually helps with control/muzzle flip, well, you’d have to compare head-to-head with a non-ported barrel to see. I suspect it would help some, but that probably wouldn’t matter that much for people who aren’t recoil sensitive.

And while the proprietary sight is … interesting … I don’t think that it was that great. The idea behind it is that having a single long recessed fiber optic tube (with a tritium capsule at the far end) keeps the slide completely smooth while allowing a natural sort of parallax — basically, if you can see the green dot, then that means the gun is lined up correctly. That does work, and for very close-up defensive work it is sufficient. But for very close-up defensive work not using sights at all is sufficient, as generations of very small guns has demonstrated. I found that in bright light coming down from above the FO was bright, but in most other conditions it was weak. And the tritium capsule does work under dark conditions, but again really isn’t sufficient for anything other than very close defensive work. So personally I’d probably mostly ignore the sighting system in practical use.

Overall, I think it’s a hell of a little gun. Take a look at one if you get a chance.

 

Jim Downey

November 17, 2019 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The BEST way ever! Just like last time …

Recently I had the opportunity to take some defensive firearms use classes from some highly-respected pros in that field (no, I’m not going to say who). This was the first formal training I’ve had in a while, and it was a great weekend of experience which taught me a lot, and reminded me of a number of other things. Seriously, if you have firearms for any kind of self/home-defense, you owe it to yourself to occasionally get such training.

But in discussing the classes with friends later, I made a comment which surprised them: that while I found the classes both insightful and useful, I was going to continue to do one thing in particular the way I had previously, not the way that the instructor taught.

Why? Why would I take the time and pay the money to take a class and then not follow the lessons taught? That seems … foolish, at best.

So let’s talk about that.

First, I want to be clear on something: while I was taking the class(es), I did all that I could to follow the techniques and philosophy of the instructor(s) to the best of my ability. That started with using their preferred/recommended style of gun and extended to such things as proper grip on that gun, stance, carry style, aiming technique, reloading, etc. Because, yeah, I did indeed sign up for a class from those instructors and wanted to learn what they had to offer. It would have been foolish to take their class and not do my best to learn from them. Not only foolish, it would have been a waste of both money and time (mine & theirs) to do so.

And, as I said, I did learn a number of things, which I will be putting into my regular shooting practice going forward. Things I will share with others, as appropriate.

Yet I am going to stick with several of my previous techniques.

Is it fair to pick and choose like that?

Yup.

If you have enough experience, it’s not only fair, it’s smart. And expected. At least it is expected by almost any decent instructor I’ve ever known.

That’s because with something as dynamic as any serious martial art (and defensive firearm use is definitely a martial art), there are so many complex factors that are involved that it is impossible to reduce the skills used to one simple equation that works for everyone. And there are just too many variables in physical ability/limitation, reaction time, opportunity for practice, and so forth. This is obvious, but sometimes gets forgotten by people who become enamored of the “one true way” — whether that’s the “perfect” gun, or stance, or grip, or whatever.

And besides, I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen a LOT of fads come and go. Each time, there’s some set of true believers who think that their way is the objectively BEST way … until the next fad comes along to knock it off the pedestal.

So, what’s the “best” way? The way that works for you, when you need it. And really, only you can make that decision.

But make it intelligently. And I mean by exposing yourself to a lot of different possibilities, from different sources. And testing those possibilities with honest, conscientious practice.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

November 3, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

From Gatling Guns to Laser Pistols.

Again, it’s been a while. Partial explanation towards the end of this post.

So, the BBTI team finally got together to do something we’ve been wanting to do for several years now: shoot a Gatling Gun. Yep, a real, honest-to-gawd Gatling Gun. Well, not an original, but a faithful reproduction of the original 1862 patent version, in .45 Colt. This one:

Keith checking the gavity-fed magazine.

It’s such an iconic weapon, having been used around the world for about 50 years (from the American Civil War until World War One). And almost anyone who has seen Westerns has probably seen one depicted on the screen. So when the opportunity presented itself to get a fine reproduction one at a reasonable cost, we jumped on it. And last weekend we were finally able to coordinate our schedules to get out to shoot the thing.

But first we had to assemble it, because it breaks down into several components for ease of transport and use. Overall, the whole thing weighs more than 300 pounds. The main element is the barrel & mechanism assembly:

Barrels & mechanism.

We’ve got a nice tripod to mount and shoot the gun. Here we are assembling that:

Tripod base.

On top of the tripod is a pivoting mount, so you can rotate the gun from side to side. Into that goes a yoke mount, to which the gun is secured. Elevation is controlled by an adjustable wheel screw at the back.

The way the gun works (the Wikipedia entry is pretty good, as well) is that you put the cartridges into machined sections of heavy steel tube called a ‘chamber’ (essentially, a section of barrel), and those are placed in a magazine. The magazine goes into the top of the gun, upside down. Each chamber drops into position behind a barrel, then is pressed forward and locked in place as it rotates to the next position. The barrel then rotates again into the firing position, a firing pin ignites the cartridge, and the bullet fires. As the barrel rotates again, the chamber is released, and falls free out the bottom of the gun. This process is repeated for each barrel in turn as long as you turn the crank and there are chambers in the magazine.

Here you can see a test run with empty chambers to make sure everything feeds and falls properly:

 

Success!

Next, we wanted to make sure that the firing pins were working properly:

After that, it was time to load ammo and give it a try.

I’d loaded 1000 rounds of .45 Colt, using 200gr lead bullets and 6.1gr of Titegroup powder. This is a mild handgun load, but we weren’t looking for a lot of power, just a lot of fun. Still, out of the 30″ barrels we were probably getting about 1,000fps and roughly 450ft-lbs of muzzle energy — a respectable amount of power.

Here’s Keith of the BBTI team giving the Gatling Gun its first live-fire trial;

Yay! It worked!

Soon, I got my turn:

Dude, that’s way cool.

OK, several things we discovered in shooting the Gatling Gun …

One, you quickly realize that once you start turning the crank, you find there’s an optimal speed where it feels easy and consistent. I got there at the end of the video above.

Two, you can go through the 44 rounds that our magazines hold in about 20 seconds when you know what you’re doing.

Three, it helps to have someone actually hold the magazine in position, rather than relying on the small set-screw to hold it.

Four, the gun is surprisingly accurate and consistent. Once we got the hang of it, at 20 yards (the effective distance we had to shoot it), we were all getting paper-plate sized groups. Like this:

The first target. All the rest were this good or better.

Seriously, I was very surprised by this. I expected something more like “minute of cow”. I look forward to shooting it sometime at longer ranges to see just how good you can get with such a gun.

After we all had fun shooting the modern ammo, it was time to try the gun with black powder cartridges. Specifically, 30gr of Goex FFg and the same 200gr lead bullet. I shoot a fair amount of black powder, and know that it can be messy … but man, it was an incredible mess in the Gatling Gun. But it sure was spectacular. Check out the long tongues of flame from this sucker:

And just think about what a battlefield with a bunch of those cranking out rounds would have been like. Blimey.

Now that we’ve finally had a chance to get together for an inaugural shoot of the Gatling, it’s something that each of us is going to take for a while, and share with friends. Look for more coverage of it in the future.

So, what was that about Laser Pistols, and why have I been so absent/quiet here for so long?

Well, about a year and a half ago I got a Glowforge laser cutter, which I mentioned in passing in my post last November. I kinda fell into a deep hole playing with it since then. But it’s all good, because one of the things I have been doing with it is making a whole bunch of handgun display models/art, like this:

Springfield XDM

That’s one of the 42 contemporary designs I’ve done.  I’ve also done a bunch of historical firearms, such as the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver:

Colt Navy Revolver

And even favorites from various Science Fiction franchises …

Farscape Pulse Pistol

The whole thing can be found here:  Art of the Gun and I invite you to stop in, check it out, see the many different designs I’ve come up with so far.  I’ve just launched the site, but already it is starting to get some positive feedback — so maybe you’ll find something you like there as well.

One last thing: we’re not done with the BBTI project. Something else we did this past weekend was to start talking about future projects related to our ongoing research. It’s too early to say too much, but rest assured that we have more work yet to do, more data yet to gather and share.

Thanks for coming by, and for your ongoing support.

Jim Downey

 

August 21, 2019 Posted by | .45 Colt | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EMP4 can’t handle the pressure.

Earlier this month I took my EMP4 out to the range, and ran into problems documented in this post. My conclusion:

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

With one thing and another, it’s been a busy month, and I didn’t have a chance to get back out until this morning to test my conclusion. But first I did a thorough cleaning of the gun, pulled the firing pin and examined it closely. One possible problem could have been the firing pin having sharp shoulders, which could have led to it punching too hard into the primer metal. But upon close examination the firing pin looked perfectly normal and very much like every other firing pin I’ve ever seen.

In preparation for going out to the range today, I picked up some additional good self-defense ammo and grabbed a box of standard factory target ammo:

Starting on the top left (all 9mm Luger ammo, of course):

I started with the Remington, and ran a couple of mags through the gun, examining it closely between reloads. No problems.

Then I switched over and shot each type of ammo, a full mag (9 rounds), again checking the gun between reloads. It ran absolutely flawlessly with each and every kind. I checked some of the spent cases of each type, and all of them showed a perfectly normal primer strike.

Then I loaded up a mag of the Underwood 124gr +P+ I had shot previously. The first couple of rounds were OK, though I checked the spent cases and saw that the primers were completely flattened — the firing pin strike was still visible, but it was no longer an indentation. That’s a sign of too much pressure in reloads, and something you always check when you’re working up a powerful load. The next shot was similar, but there was a missing disk of metal on the primer, which was stuck on the firing pin of my gun. I popped it off, shot the next round. Same thing happened.

I unloaded the gun and the magazine, put the rest of the Underwood ammo aside. Then I loaded it with the Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo. Basically, the exact same thing happened, though I think I made it through three rounds before the first punched-through primer. Again, I unloaded the gun and the magazine, and set the rest of the Buffalo Bore ammo aside. Again, I checked the gun thoroughly to make sure everything looked right. It did.

Then I went back and tried each of the lower-pressure ammos again. Each again ran flawlessly.

I could do more testing, but I’m convinced: the problem is that the +P+ ammo is just too damned hot for the EMP4. Now, my other 9mm guns do shoot it fine (even the little Boberg, which is really picky about ammo), so I guess I could say that the EMP4 is somehow flawed in design or construction. And if you want to hold that against the EMP4, then go right ahead.

But I’m happy enough with the gun otherwise, and there are plenty of types of good self-defense ammo available which are just a little less powerful. Works for me.

 

Jim Downey

 

August 30, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The curious case of the gun that wouldn’t bark.

Popped out to the range for a brief bit of testing this morning. And found something interesting.

Last time I was out, I ran into a problem with my Springfield EMP4 (9mm, 1911 platform), which I got earlier this year. After a couple of rounds of good Self Defense ammo, I started getting light primer strikes and FTF. When I got home and checked it, I found a small disk of metal stuck to the end of the firing pin, which was preventing getting good strikes. I removed it, cleaned the gun (including the firing pin assembly), tested it with a case which had only a primer in it, and everything looked fine. But of course I didn’t want to trust the gun for carry until I had proven that it was working fine at the range. Hence today’s trip.

Started with my reloads, and everything was fine. Switched to Buffalo Bore 124gr +P+ SD ammo (my preferred carry ammo for most of my 9mms), and the first few shots were perfect. Then I had another FTF. I cleared the gun, checked, and sure enough, there was a small disk of metal on the firing pin again.

Knowing what to expect, I just popped the disk off with a knife, reloaded, and went back to shooting. It happened again after three or four shots.

This time I cleared the gun, popped off the disk with my knife, and switched ammo. I went to Underwood 124gr +P+ ammo, and … yup, happened again. Here’s the gun:

You can see the disk of material stuck to the firing pin.

And I found the brass from that shot and one of the previous ones:

Underwood on the left, Buffalo Bore on the right. You can clearly see the punch through the base of the primer.

Curious.

Since I haven’t had any problems with my standard-pressure reloads, I’m assuming that it’s the over-pressure which is causing this problem. Both the Underwood and the BB ammo are *really* hot. But I wanted to check everything out again before shooting the gun any more. If everything looks good, then I’ll start with standard pressure loads and then slowly step up to hotter loads. I expect that will resolve the issue, and I don’t mind carrying SD ammo which is a little less powerful — shot placement is more important than power.

And ammo that works consistently is the most important thing of all.

Jim Downey

August 8, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Anecdotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Handgun caliber and lethality.

This post is NOT about gun control, even though the article which it references specifically is. I don’t want to get into that discussion here, and will delete any comments which attempt to discuss it.

Rather, I want to look at the article in order to better understand ‘real world’ handgun effectiveness, in terms of the article’s conclusions. Specifically, as relates to the correlation between handgun power (what they call ‘caliber’) and lethality.

First, I want to note that the article assumes that there is a direct relationship between caliber and power, but the terminology used to distinguish between small, medium, and large caliber firearms is imprecise and potentially misleading. Here are the classifications from the beginning of the article:

These 367 cases were divided into 3 groups by caliber: small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

And then again later:

In all analyses, caliber was coded as either small (.22, .25, and .32), medium (.38, .380, and 9 mm), or large (.357 magnum, .40, .44 magnum, .45, 10 mm, and 7.62 × 39 mm).

OK, obviously, what they actually mean are cartridges, not calibers. That’s because while there is a real difference in average power between .38 Special, .380 ACP, 9mm, and .357 Magnum cartridges, all four are nominally the same caliber (.355 – .357). The case dimensions, and the amount/type of gunpowder in it, makes a very big difference in the amount of power (muzzle energy) generated.

So suppose that what they actually mean is that the amount of power generated by a given cartridge correlates to the lethality of the handgun in practical use. Because otherwise, you’d have to include the .357 Magnum data with the “medium” calibers. Does that make sense?

Well, intuitively, it does. I think most experienced firearms users would agree that in general, a more powerful gun is more effective for self defense (or for offense, which this study is about). Other things being equal (ability to shoot either cartridge well and accurately, concealability, etc), most of us would rather have a .38 Sp/9mm over a .22. But when you start looking at the range of what they call “medium” and “large” calibers, things aren’t nearly so clear. To borrow from a previous post, this graph shows that the muzzle energies between 9mm+P, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are almost identical in our testing:

MEgraph

 

Note that 10mm (and .357 Sig) are another step up in power, and that .357 Mag out of a longer barrel outperforms all of them. This graph doesn’t show it, but .38 Sp is very similar to 9mm, .45 Super is as good as or better than .357 Mag, and .44 Magnum beats everything.

So, what to make of all this? This claim:

Relative to shootings involving small-caliber firearms (reference category), the odds of death if the gun was large caliber were 4.5 times higher (OR, 4.54; 95% CI, 2.37-8.70; P < .001) and, if medium caliber, 2.3 times higher (OR, 2.25; 95% CI, 1.37-3.70; P = .001).

certainly seems to carry a lot of import, but I’m just not sure how much to trust it. My statistical skills are not up to critiquing their analysis or offering my own assessment using their data in any rigorous way. Perhaps someone else can do so.

I suspect that what we actually see here is that there is a continuum over a range of different handgun powers and lethality which includes a number of different factors, but which the study tried to simplify using artificial distinctions for their own purposes.

Which basically takes us back to what gun owners have known and argued about for decades: there are just too many factors to say that a given cartridge/caliber is better than another in some ideal sense, and that each person has to find the right balance which makes sense for themselves in a given context. For some situations, you want a bigger bullet. For other situations, you want a smaller gun. And for most situations, you want what you prefer.

 

Jim Downey

 

July 29, 2018 Posted by | .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .38 Special, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, .45 Super, 10mm, 9mm Luger (9x19), Data, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Review: AMT Lightning — the Ruger Mk II Clone

I recently had a chance to shoot an AMT Lightning — it’s a clone of the Ruger Mark II .22lr pistol, but in stainless steel. Here it is:

That’s a 10″ factory barrel, which was one of the options available when these guns were being produced back in the 80’s/90’s.

I remember these guns, or more accurately the lawsuit about them, from when they were being produced. Ruger didn’t take kindly to AMT using their designs (AMT also had a version of the 10/22), and took them to court over it. Ruger won the suit, as I recall (though there isn’t much readily available online to document that) and a few years later AMT went belly-up. Whether that was a result of the lawsuit or poor sales is still a subject of some debate.

Anyway, these guns are still kicking around, and every so often you can see one in a local gun shop or on your favorite auction site. My buddy picked one up, and we shot it last weekend.

In checking online, it seems that the quality control on the AMT guns varied widely — from year to year, specific model guns could range from great and reliable to a major nightmare. Evidently the biggest problem was with the hardness of the stainless steel used.

Only time will tell, but the one we had seemed fine. The fit & finish were OK, with no obvious problems. It shot just fine, and didn’t feel much different than any Mark II I’ve ever shot, though the trigger seemed a little rougher.  Without doing a head-to-head comparison, I can’t really say much more than that. Accuracy was as good as I could expect, limited more by my ability shooting it standing than by any issues with the gun. The long barrel certainly made it soft to shoot in terms of recoil.

So I wouldn’t call it a collector’s item, or comparable in quality to a real Ruger. But if you come across one at an attractive price, and it looks to be in decent shape, don’t be afraid to take a risk.

 

Jim Downey

April 8, 2018 Posted by | .22 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Springfield 1911 EMP® 4” Concealed Carry Contour Model

Earlier this year I added this note to my reprise review of the Springfield EMP:

One thing additional to note: recently Springfield came out with a slightly different version of the gun called the “EMP® 4” Lightweight Champion™ with Concealed Carry Contour“.  Here it is:

See that cut-off angle on the bottom of the grip? That’s Ed Brown’s “Bobtail” from his Kobra Carry. I haven’t shot the new Springfield version yet, but I really liked how that felt on the Kobra Carry. A friend of mine got one of the new guns, and I look forward to trying it. I could see trading-up from my original EMP for one of those.

Well, last weekend I had a chance to shoot my friend’s gun, and … yeah, baby, I likes it!

OK, first thing: pretty much everything I’ve said about the EMP previously applies to the new 4″ barrel model. Yup: great gun, extremely reliable for me, minimal recoil, fit & finish is fantastic, and I loved shooting it. If you want details, go read that review.

What else to add? Well, here’s the actual gun I shot:

You’ll note that it still has the tag on it — my buddy hadn’t had a chance to shoot it yet, either. So this is straight out of the box, without doing anything other than running a boresnake down the barrel and then taking it to the range.

Unsurprisingly, it shot flawlessly. And dead-on accurate.

The extra 1″ of barrel does help the sight radius some, though I never had any problems hitting my target with my 3″ barrel EMP. And it probably helps tame recoil a bit more with that extra 3.5 ounces of additional weight, though again that wasn’t a problem with the slightly smaller gun.

But what I really like is that Bobtail cut, as I thought I would. Because it meant that the relatively short grip fits my large hand better, without the extra corner digging into the bottom of my palm. Shooting my EMP was never a problem, but this is a whole lot better. It’s like the first time you put on new prescription glasses: suddenly things are better than you thought possible. For someone with smaller hands, it’s probably less noticeable, but for me it was surprising.

The other notable difference between the EMP and this EMP4 is the grips: on the new gun, they’re not as aggressively textured. I thought that it wasn’t *that* big a difference, but it might matter to some folks.

Something to think about. I’m certainly giving serious consideration to trading up from my old EMP to the new one. If I was going to rely on one or the other for concealed carry, I’d probably just keep the 3″ EMP. But for my needs, the new model is probably the right choice.

Gee, it sounds like I’ve talked myself into it …

Jim Downey

April 6, 2018 Posted by | 9mm Luger (9x19), Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Browning 1911-380

Over the weekend I had a chance to try one of the relatively new Browning 1911-380 models.  It was one of the basic models, with a 4.25″ barrel:

I like a nice 1911, and have owned several over the years. I even like a ‘reduced’ 1911, such as the Springfield EMP (a gun I still own and love), and I have previously shot the Browning 1911-22 , which I liked quite a lot more than I expected. So I was excited to give the new .380 ACP version a try.

What did I think? Well, I liked it. About as much as I liked the .22 version, though of course the guns are intended for two very different things. I see the 1911-22 as being a great gun for learning the mechanics of the platform, and building up your skill set with less expensive ammo. It’s also a lot of fun just for plinking, as are many .22 pistols.

But the 1911-380 is very much intended as a self-defense gun, and that is how it is marketed and has generally been reviewed. From the Browning website:

Conceals better. It is easily concealed with its smaller size and single-stack magazine that offer a compact, flat profile that fits easily inside the waistband and keeps the grip narrow for shooters with smaller hands.

They also tout modern .380 ACP ammo for self-defense. Which I will agree with, but not enthusiastically — even out of a longer barrel, I consider it sufficient, but only that.

Still, the extra sight radius and weight of the 1911-380 does make it a better self-defense gun than sub-compact and micro .380s, and plenty of people are happy to rely on those. Though those advantages come with a cost: this is NOT a pocket pistol. Still, anyone who may be recoil shy but still wants an adequate self-defense round should check out the 1911-380. It is small enough to conceal well, and follow-up shots are very quick and easy to control.

One thing I really didn’t like were the sights. The matte black sights on the matte black slide were almost impossible for my old eyes to find and use quickly.  Seriously, look at this image from the Browning site:

Sights

And that makes it look better than it did out at the range. Even just a white dot/white outline would have been a great improvement, and I’m honestly surprised that Browning seems to have made no effort at all to make them more effective. If I got one of these guns, the very first thing I would do would be to upgrade the sights, even if that meant just adding a dab of paint.

So there ya go: if you’re in the market for a low-recoil, quality made, 1911 platform self-defense gun, check out the Browning 1911-380. But if you get one, do something with the sights on the damned thing.

More complete reviews can be found all over the web. This one is fairly typical in having positive things to say.

 

Jim Downey

 

April 4, 2018 Posted by | .22, .380 ACP, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Sterling PPL .380 ACP

Sometimes it’s a good thing to look back at failed experiments, to better understand how we got to where we are today. It can be instructive, as well as cautionary — what we think of as innovative and brilliant now might well look a hell of a lot different in 30 or 40 years.

Such is the case with the Sterling PPL, a small self-defense handgun built and sold for just a couple of years in the early 1970s. Here it is:

A fairly complete story of the Sterling can be found here. There’s not a lot to tell, though it does give a nice description of the gun:

It is a blow back operated, semi-automatic pistol that is chambered for the .380 ACP(Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. This pistol incorporates a blade type front sight and a V notch rear sight, both of which are not adjustable. It is fed by an 8 round detachable box magazine. On the pistol’s butt there is a European style heel magazine release. The push button manual safety is located toward the front and directly above the trigger guard. In the photograph on the right, this push button safety is shown in the fire position. The plastic grip panels are secured to the frame by two hex or Allen key screws with a hexagonal socket in the head. The left grip panel will need to be removed in order to disassemble the pistol. This pistol has a one inch barrel and a total length of 5.38 inches and an unloaded weight of 22.5 ounces.

This past weekend I had the chance to shoot this gun. It was an original, but was “New, Old Stock” — while it was indeed made back in ’72 or ’73, it had never been fired and was still in pristine condition.

It’s a solidly made little thing, and while it was clearly not intended to be a fancy, high-finish gun it wasn’t bad in terms of fit & finish. All the parts were tight, well machined, and worked together well. The plastic grips were fitted well to the frame, and the checkering and emblem were clean, sharp lines — not the cheap sort of injection-mold grips which were common on many small guns of that era. The sights were milled into the top of the slide & barrel, and were reasonably clean and low-profile while still functional. The one magazine we tried fit flush into the gun, with no slop. The trigger was better than I expected, though like most of the gun would probably improve with some use. All in all, it really didn’t feel bad in the hand, and the ergonomics were better than I expected, particularly given the small size of the gun and my large hands.

Shooting it felt more natural than I expected, with the fairly high weight taming recoil — remember, this thing weighs more than twice as much as most micro-.380s do today. In fact, it felt a lot like shooting my Boberg XR-9 9mm, which isn’t surprising: compare how the guns look side by side:

And when I laid one gun on top of the other, they were nearly identical.

But the Sterling PPL isn’t the 70’s version of the Boberg. Note that the barrel in front of the cartridge is just 1″ whereas the barrel on the Boberg is almost 3″ in front of the cartridge. That means that the BEST you could hope for out of .380 ACP ammo would be under 200 ft-lbs of energy, while the Boberg (or the current Bond Arms version) would give you more than twice that.

And that extremely short barrel on the Sterling led to another problem: keyholing. That is where the bullet doesn’t have enough time to stabilize (which is the function of rifling in a barrel), and so tumbles. You can clearly see that in four of the first five shots we fired, in this target:

All five of the next shots also keyholed. And that means that the bullets would hit the target in such a way as to minimize penetration, rendering them much less effective in terms of ability to incapacitate. Which is very much not what you want in a defensive handgun.

So it’s not too surprising that this design didn’t succeed, even though it was a very compact little gun. But I do wonder whether if they had extended the barrel another inch or so, would it have survived?

Speculating a little more … what do you think the chances are that the design of the Sterling might have somehow inspired the Boberg? The size, shape, and appearance of the guns are surprisingly similar. Hmmm …

 

Jim Downey

April 2, 2018 Posted by | .380 ACP, 9mm Luger (9x19), Boberg Arms, Discussion. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reprise: the *other* perfect concealed carry revolver(s).

Prompted by my friends over at the Liberal Gun Club, this is another in an occasional series of revisiting some of my old articles which had been published elsewhere over the years, perhaps lightly edited or updated with my current thoughts on the topic discussed. This is an article I wrote for Guns.com, and it originally ran 11/26/2011.  Some additional observations at the end.

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The Smith & Wesson models 442 and 642 revolvers have their roots back more than 60 years ago. Needless to say there have been any number of variations on the J-frame theme over time (there are currently 49 versions offered on the S&W website), but perhaps the most popular has been the Airweight 642 (in stainless steel or brushed aluminum, and a variety of grips). The 642 certainly has been a very good seller, and has been at or near the top of S&W’s sales for most of the last decade. The 442 and 642 models are identical in every way except finish (the 442 is blued), but the 642 is more popular.

Why is this gun so popular? Well, it does everything right, at least as far as being a self-defense tool. It’s small, lightweight, hides well in a pocket or purse, is intuitively easy to shoot, and it handles the dependably potent .38 Special cartridge.

But let me expand on those points.

The first three are all tied together. For anyone who is looking for a gun to carry concealed, the J-frame size has a lot going for it. The 642’s barrel is one- and 7/8-inches. Overall length is just a bit more than six inches. Though the cylinder is wider than most semi-autos, the overall organic shape of the gun seems to make it hide better in a pocket or behind clothing. The Airweight 642 weighs just 15 ounces unloaded, and not a lot more loaded. For most people, this is lightweight enough to carry in a pocket or purse without really noticing it. Put it in a belt holster and you’ll not even know it is there.

Easy to shoot? Well, yeah, though it takes a lot of work to be really accurate with one at more than close self-defense distances. The 642 is Double Action Only (DAO), which means that the hammer is cocked and then fired all with one pull of the trigger – nothing else needs to be done. There’s no safety to fumble with. Just point and click. Almost anyone can be taught to use it with adequate accuracy at self-defense distances (say seven yards) in a single trip to the range.

The modern .38 Special +P cartridge is more than adequate for “social work”. From my 642 we tested five different premium defensive loads and four of the five were between 900 and 1000 fps. Tests from Brassfetcher have shown that these cartridges both penetrate and expand well, too.

One more thing – the design of the Centennial models, with the internal hammer, means that they are snag-free. You don’t have to worry about some part of the gun catching on clothing or other items when drawing it from concealment. This can save your life.

With all the good being said, I do have two criticisms. The first one is minor, and easily fixed: the trigger. Oh, it’s good, but it could be a little bit smoother right out of the box (like Ruger’s LCR). The good news is that this can usually be worked out with just some dry-firing exercises.

The second is the front site. S&W is still offering the guns with just a simple ramp sight. They should switch over to some variety of tritium sight or fiber-optic (or combination), as they have done with many of their other J-frame models. This is one change which would help in low-light conditions.

So, there ya go. Want the nearly perfect pocket pistol? You’d be hard pressed to do better than a 642 or 442.

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There’s not a lot I would change in the seven years since I first wrote this, which in itself says a hell of a lot about the popularity of the 442/642 models. They’re still ubiquitous, high quality, and effective self-defense guns.

After that was written we did another large BBTI test which included the .38 Special cartridge, which confirmed what I already knew: that while there are indeed some better and some worse performing brands of ammo available for the snubbie, for the most part all decent ‘self-defense’ ammo performs adequately. While my friend Grant Cunningham recommends the Speer 135gr JHP Short-barrel ammo (which I used to carry and still like), I now prefer Buffalo Bore’s 158gr LSWCHP +P for my M&P 360 — I’ve repeatedly tested that ammo at 1050fps out of my gun, which gives me a muzzle energy of 386 ft-lbs. But it’s not for the recoil-shy, particularly out of a 11.4oz gun. As always, YMMV.

While S&W hasn’t changed the sight offerings on the 442/642, there are lasers available for the guns, which some people like. Personally, at the range which these guns are likely to be used, I don’t see the benefit. But if you like a laser, go for it.

Bottom line, the 442/642, like the Ruger LCR, are nearly perfect revolvers for concealed carry in either a pocket or a belt holster.

 

Jim Downey

March 11, 2018 Posted by | .38 Special | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment