Monthly Archives: October 2009

Gear Fixation vs. Practical Considerations

I’ve covered similar topics before, but wanted to address this again.

I saw this quite often when I was working in a gun store, but I also encounter such people at the range.

Sometimes they’re fairly well off, but it really pains me to see someone on an extreme budget do this.

What I’m talking about is the notion that spending more money on a firearm – beyond the point of diminishing returns – will be more beneficial than training with that firearm. A lot of times, this is fueled by the guy behind the counter, who wants to sell you his favorite gun, rather than the weapon that fits your needs.

Sometimes, it’s an HK. Sometimes it’s Sig, and other times, various high end 1911s.

Well, buying a BMW M3 doesn’t make someone a race car driver, buying a brand new Cirrus doesn’t make someone a safe and experienced pilot (but it’s got a parachute!), and buying a $1000 handgun doesn’t make you a good shooter.

A reliable, major caliber handgun with a trigger this side of horrible and visible sights is more than sufficient for defensive purposes. While we all have our preferences, the reality is that practice is far more important than a logo or brand name. Not any kind of practice, mind you – randomly blasting at a target at short range is detrimental to proper defensive shooting. Get some good training from a good instructor, then keep up those skills on your own time.

A quality $500 handgun and $500 worth of ammunition and training will go much farther than a $1000 handgun and enough ammunition to fill the 2 magazines it comes with. If you can easily afford the expensive handgun, don’t let me stop you – but the training rule applies to you, too.

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Osprey Defense…A New Level of Something

If you’ve read my Osprey Defense scuba “test” article, you probably picked up that I’m a little suspicious of the methods this company uses to market their products.

Well, they’ve put out a half dozen or so videos since then, so I thought I’d address a few of them as well. Don’t take me not addressing a particular video as a sign that it’s a good test – I just don’t have the time to wade through that much crap.

First, their “sandblast” test. They start out by having a guy cut through a thin concrete block with his big sandblaster.

The block is sloppily attached to a small wooden table with bungie cords, and almost falls off once. Our backdrop is an old shipping container upon which they later sandblast “OPS-416”. Yes, they’re maintaining the high production values witnessed in the scuba video.

But first, we see them shoot the carbine on semi and full auto while spraying lots of sand at the op-rod. During the video, we don’t really see any sand get in or near the action. I’m sure it does get a little dirty, but a much more impressive test would have been to spray sand into the ejection port.

Furthermore, most of the sand they do spray is at the handguards. I’m sorry, is this a test of handguards, or a test of the conversion? Am I supposed to be impressed that $20 handguards lasted 20 seconds vs. the 40 seconds it took to cut the block? What, exactly, is the point here? Other than showcasing a total lack of advertising ability and/or professionalism, I’m not getting it.

Another “test” they put forth is a helicopter drop test. In this video, the Osprey folks load up in an old Hughes helicopter along with their carbine in what appears to be a poorly constructed wooden box. The carbine’s barrel has been covered with what might be saran wrap and blue contractor’s tape. Once the helicopter gets to 500ft, they toss the box out.

It shatters on impact, and some guy runs out to grab the rifle. First, he rips off the barrel cover, and showcases his weapon handling skills by fumbling a magazine.

Then, he rips through a mag on full auto. Afterwards, the commentator gives us what is apparently their new slogan, “Osprey Defense: A New Level of Reliability”. Well, it’s a new level of something, alright.

What I don’t understand is why the weapon needs to be in a crate to absorb impact, and have a “barrel shroud”, for lack of a better term, in order to survive this test.

After watching their promotional videos, it seems that if you want to do any OTB operations or heliborne insertions with your OPS-416 equipped Bushmaster (against enemies with sandblasters), you’d better bring duct tape, contractors tape, saran wrap, a wooden crate painted orange, and a few spare sets of plastic handguards if you want your weapon to function properly.

Because if the guys who are selling it don’t have the confidence to use the weapon without those items, why should you?

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Filed under Lies, Errors, and Omissions

The Fallacy of Fit and Finish

All too often, I hear someone describe an AR-15 as being high quality because the upper and lower fit together tightly, and the finish on the receivers matches perfectly. Often, much attention is lavished on the rich, deep black anodizing of the receivers (Strangely, these same people are perfectly okay with dremeling feed ramps through that same perfect black anodizing. But I digress). Unfortunately, much of this comes from magazines such as Guns & Ammo. I just skimmed a few recent AR-15 articles, where fit and finish was mentioned before function, and more prominently as well. Disappointing, but not surprising.

But am I saying that the popular definition of  “fit and finish” is detrimental to performance? Yes. Well, partially. While some who never really use their rifles may prefer an incredibly tight upper and lower fit, I find that being required to use a hammer and punch to drive out the takedown and pivot pins is a real pain, and may be an impossibility on the range. I’ve also encountered upper receivers that were so “tight” that they would not accept a bolt carrier. I’d rather have a rifle that was easy to disassemble and will accept all properly sized components. To me, a little slop is a good thing.

As for finish, most people seem to forget that the primary function of a finish on a firearm is to protect it from the elements. While a perfectly black, glossy finish might look pretty, it’s no more protective than a flat gray anodize on the upper and a flat black anodize on the lower. If the weapon is to be actually used for its intended purpose, then the finish will wear, and the metal itself might get dings. The AR-15 I own with the highest round count – which has had over 3000 rounds fired through it in one week, with no malfunctions – has mismatched receiver finishes and rattles a little bit. Many would reject it immediately without pausing to consider its more important attributes. Others might recoil in horror at another AR-15 I own, which has been “refinished” with four different colors of Krylon. In summary, while an attractive, even finish is nice to look at initially, it has no relation to the quality of the rifle underneath, and won’t be pretty for long if you don’t baby the weapon.

What an ugly rifle!

If the weapon is not going to be used in a harsh environment, if the only thing at stake is a Saturday afternoon at the range once a month and propping up the wall of the gun safe the rest of the time, then function is welcome to take a backseat to fit and finish. Just don’t confuse fit and finish with quality or reliability.

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Adams Arms “Sand Test”

There aren’t any lies in this video. The guys clearly show what they did with the weapon. No shenanigans, unlike the Osprey scuba video. However, the omission made is that a standard AR-15 would do just as well during this test, as you can see in this video, which I made recently. Essentially, the Adams Arms rifle was laid ejection port down in some sand, shaken around a bit, and fired. The sand on top wouldn’t have much of an effect.

If the Adams guys want to market their system to serious buyers, they need to a) stop flagging the cameraman, as in the ice video, and b) focus on the real strong point of an op-rod conversion, which is the suppressed, SBR, full auto, high round count market. From what I’ve seen, it’s a well designed kit. They just aren’t marketing it properly, in my opinion.

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The Perfect Flashlight for Every Day Carry

I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to flashlights. I have way too many of the things.

I learned the utility of small flashlights that were easy to carry yet very bright when I was in Iraq. There are times when night vision is useful, and times when a flashlight is more handy.

Today, I always have a flashlight on me. I use it probably a dozen times a day, for everything from working inside a computer, to trying to figure out what else has broken inside my Jeep, to identifying things at night. It’s like a pocketknife: you would never realize how useful it is until you start to carry one with you.

I’ve tried many different brands, but keep coming back to one. Surefire flashlights are made in the US and are the world standard for, as they call it, “illumination tools”. Many other companies – most of which are made in China – claim to have higher output or higher runtime, and sometimes they are correct. Most of the time, however, they exaggerate output, and base runtime off expensive batteries that you won’t find anywhere in town. Oh, sure, many of these lights are very, very bright, and many of them can survive a good amount of abuse, but on the whole they aren’t as well made as Surefire lights. To me, knowing that the light will work when you want it to is more important than having a light that is slightly brighter.

I’ve had Chinese flashlights malfunction out of the box, or work fine for a while until I really needed them – like the time my motorcycle headlight went out, and my “very bright” Jetbeam flashlight only lasted 4 minutes before overheating and frying its internal circuitry, leaving me in the dark as I navigated traffic with a tiny keychain light. None of the Chinese lights I bought were on the cheap side, either – Fenix, Jetbeam, Quark, and Nitecore are among the best that China has to offer.

Surefire lights suitable for pocket carry come in many flavors. I prefer flashlights with durable pocket clips and click on/off tailcaps. I’ve also found that aggressively “crenellated” flashlights for defense tear up my pants pockets rather quickly. Also, flashlights that have two batteries are brighter and last longer, but they’re also longer and may interfere with items in your pocket. In my opinion, the ideal flashlight for carry is the Surefire E1B; it’s exceptionally tough, far brighter than its rating suggests, and also offers a “low” setting for extended runtime when a lot of light isn’t necessary. Its pocket clip will allow you to carry it bezel up or down. Bezel down is the better option for absolutely ensuring that the light won’t come out of your pocket when you don’t want it to.

I’ve had several E1Bs, and the only reason I’ve had more than one is because friends and family seem to be able to talk me out of them. I don’t believe that I’ll ever need to buy another model of flashlight. Of the dozens of Surefires I’ve owned over the past 5 years, the many countries I’ve abused them in, I’ve never had one malfunction. I did send one back after it had a negative encounter with a sandblaster. It still worked, but the light it put out was very scattered. They fixed it and had it back to me in just over a week, no charge. Surefire’s customer service is second to none.

These lights are more expensive than the competition, but in my opinion, they’re well worth the asking price.

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Electroless Nickel Plating for Firearms

You might be surprised to learn that, while living in Southern Arizona, I sweat a little bit in the summer.

I’ve had problems with many carry guns rusting. At first, I thought it was just inadequate finishes. My Kimber 1911 with its blued finish quickly rusted in a leather holster, and even a switch to a kydex holster didn’t help. I bought stainless firearms – Sigs, Kimbers, and Smith & Wesson revolvers. They developed rust as well. I even had a Smith & Wesson M&P – stainless steel with a Melonite finish – rust. I’ve also caused Glocks to rust, as you can see from the following photos. All of this happened on the very first day that I carried the firearm, and all were properly wiped down with CLP before carry.

You can see here how nasty my Kimber looked after several years of carry and hard use.

Obviously, I could have had any of my firearms refinished by Robar in their NP3 finish, but with several carry guns, I would have spent close to $1000 doing so, and would have been without my firearms for several months. I was about to give up and just live with the rust, when I found the Caswell Plating website. They offer many different do-it-yourself finish kits, and I finally settled on their electroless nickel plating kit. I ordered the “standard” kit, which was about $125 after shipping costs were added in.

Here are the contents of the kit. They also include an excellent manual which is a great reference for all kinds of refinishing, and a 2.5 gallon bucket suitable for firearms refinishing. You have to mix the chemicals according to a very simple formula. Basic math here.

The first step is removing the old finish. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is with a 5% muriatic acid and water solution. The bottle was $3 at Ace Hardware.

The finish literally slid off the slide, without any scrubbing. Thank you, Kimber, for putting out a product with such a high quality finish…I’m rolling my eyes right now.

I’ve done several more firearms since, and have decided to use blasting media to remove the finish from anything that I plate. This is better for getting the last little bit of finish out of a crack or pin hole. It’s also faster and less hazardous/smelly, but if you don’t have access to a blasting cabinet, you might want to stick with the muriatic acid solution.

One other benefit to blasting, I’m told, is that the finish is more likely to “stick”.

Once you’ve stripped the finish, you need to degrease the part. I’ve found that the “industrial degreaser” concentrate sold in a purple gallon jug at Home Depot works very well for this. I try not to touch the items after I blast them, and I use a hooked dental pick to “swish” them around in the degreaser solution for about 15-20 seconds.

After the part is degreased, thoroughly spray it down with distilled water. If there is any oil or grease still on the part, the water will bead up. If not, the water will sheet off evenly. This is called the “water break test”, and it’s very important. Don’t plate something that has oil or grease on it anywhere; the nickel won’t plate there.

I should say that I start to heat up the solution before I degrease the part and spray it down, or in the hour or so it takes for the solution to reach 185 degrees, the part might rust. You can fix this, but it’s simpler to avoid it in the first place.

So, once the solution is at least 180, and preferably 185-195 (but NO HIGHER than 195!), I place the parts in the bucket. Those balls are “mist control balls”, designed to limit evaporation. You can keep adding distilled water to bring it up to the original water mark, by the way.

At this point, you just wait. Sometimes I flip parts upside down or on their sides at regular intervals, because the portions touching the bucket might not plate at the same rate. I do this with a clean dental pick, no hands in the bucket, gloved or not.

The parts plate at a rate of 1 mil per hour. 1 mil is 1/1000 of an inch. Robar apparently does 2 mils when they do NP3 and Electroless Nickel. Caswell says .5 mil for firearms, but this is not enough for me, as I’ve caused rust on firearms with .5mil of electroless nickel. I had to redo the process and ended up with 1.5mil as “good enough” – a balance between corrosion resistance and fit.

After the hour or so, I pull the parts out and put them in a small bucket of distilled water.

They’re going to be hot, in case you didn’t know.

That’s pretty much it. It’s a simple process, but the prep work is the most important and determines your success or failure. And the methods – blasting, scrubbing, polishing – determine what the finish looks like after you’re done. I prefer the frosted, matte finish that comes from blasting. This is most evident on the two Glocks below.

Here are some of the items I’ve plated.

Oh, and that ugly 1911?

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The 1911

I like 1911 style handguns. I have owned several exceptionally reliable and accurate examples of the breed. However, I don’t think 1911s are for everyone.

Why? And why do I make a distinction between a “1911” and a “1911 style handgun?”

Well, they require a little more upkeep than some of the pistols available today. While they generally last a very long time, when certain parts do need to be replaced, they need to be properly fitted to the other parts in the pistol. Also, many 1911s manufactured today are not made to the same high standards that 1911s made during World War I and World War II were made to. Today, any company can produce a pistol that looks and feels like a 1911, but is a far cry from the original in terms of materials quality and build quality. A Colt 1911A1 produced to wartime standards is a far better combat handgun than a “modern” 1911 manufactured in a third world country with subpar materials and workmanship.

Even a quality example, made in the US and commanding a premium, might not be perfect. Many calibers have been stuffed into the pistol, and many changes have been made in the name of accuracy or “fit”. Smaller versions have been manufactured for concealed carry. None of these will be as reliable as a Government Model-pattern 1911 in .45 caliber, although many may be very reliable. The problem is that they are hit and miss.

Unless you have the tools, knowledge, and parts required to identify and repair problems that might arise with a 1911 type handgun, you should plan on spending money having the weapon fixed by a competent gunsmith. If you’re not willing to do either, this is probably not the firearm for you.

My luck with 1911s has been mixed. I’ve had a few that ran great for thousands of rounds. This Kimber .45, for example, wasn’t cleaned for several thousand rounds, and during that time, I experienced no issues with either FMJ or JHP bullet designs. My only motivation to clean it was that my hands would become filthy just from picking it up.

Another reason the 1911 and its clones aren’t viable for most people is cost. $650-700 1911s are really hit or miss, and while you might get lucky like me, you might also get one that requires a little work to run. Once they do run, they run very well, and the trigger allows even newcomers to shoot with very good accuracy. Experienced shooters also benefit from these same attributes, and this is why you’ll see a lot of 1911s used in competitions and also in the hands of some very proficient military and law enforcement folks. These guys have armorers to ensure that everything is in proper working order, though. You’re not likely to have that same advantage.

Unless you’re willing to dive headfirst into learning about the design and function of your handgun, a 1911 probably isn’t the best choice.

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