Artisanal Gunmaking, No compromises, No corners cut, EVER

Monday, January 20, 2020

A New Ejector Segment for an A&A 453

This is a common enough failure with many side-by-side ejector guns, and the part usually breaks at one of two places, either at the end of the retaining screw slot, or the point where the half-shaft meets the face of the ejector.  In a design like this, with an integral guide half-pin positioned at twelve o'clock, failure of the guide pin is less common but it does occur.  The most highly stressed point of the part is where the retaining slot impacts the retaining screw.  This is because when the part stops against the screw, inertia carries the rest of the part onward, eventually failing it at the weakest point.
When ejecting spent shells, the weight of the empty hulls does a good job of mitigating this inertia.  Letting the ejectors trip on empty chambers is another matter.  It's always a good idea when opening an empty gun to place a thumb or index finger on the ejectors before they trip, in order to slow their speed, and prolong their life.  As described above, this isn't necessary when opening the gun after actually firing a shell (or shells).  It will never be a factor to even consider if you're not obsessively compelled to "relax" the mainsprings by dropping the hammers (a practice that has been debunked elsewhere on this blog).  Onward ho.....

The new ejector was blanked from a bar of O1.  From this point on, it is all handwork, except for the retaining slot, which is done on the mill.

The half-shaft is filed up completely by hand in the following manner.
Once I cut the blank from the parent stock, I filed 45 degree (approximately) bevels, then filed the "points" off the bevels.  Once it started looking half-round, I colored the entire surface with a black marker and then ran the appropriate radius gauge down the length of the half-shaft.  That left bright marks on the spots that needed to come down.  The process is repeated until the entire length matches the gauge.
The above filing stopped about .100" short of the root so that I could create the stress relief radius there.
The radius at the root was done by eye, using small,half-round files and polished using wet/dry paper wrapped around a short length of drill rod.

Next was fitting the face into its recess in the barrels.  Once it is fitted and the chamber ID is cut, the rim cut is made using (funny enough) a rim cutter.  Then the radius at the bottom is filed up and it's ready for the machining of the retaining slot and filing up the extraction cam and hammer striking faces.

Once all of the cutting, filing, fitting and polishing is done, all sharp edges are broken in order to ( in combination with the surface finish) deny cracks a place to start.

After heat treating and repolishing, it's assembled and ready to go back into service.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Oh Yes, Even More WTF?

What can I say that hasn't been said too many times already?  Sometimes all you can do is scratch your head and laugh.

Unsurprisingly, the single trigger in this Parker Repro still didn't work, even after the work that this clearly talented gunsmiff lavished upon it. 

The double-single (not a typo) trigger in this FN SxS was apparently "fixed" by MacGyver, using a pocketknife and a paperclip.

A Dent Repair

This is a set of Parker barrels that had suffered damage in transit.  The right barrel was deeply dented on the underside, about ten inches from the muzzle.  It was quite a time-consuming repair, complicated by a lack of barrel wall thickness and having to refinish and blend the repaired area.  Due to the barrel wall thickness, I did not want to remove ANY significant amount of material from either the inside or outside of the barrel.  This meant that the barrel material had to be "moved" back into its pre-dent condition completely and very, very carefully to conserve what wall thickness was there.


Repaired and ready for refinishing


Can We Just Stop With This Shit?

What shit is that you may wonder?  The wholly inappropriate use of welding to "repair" lockwork parts.  Regardless of how good an idea you may think it is, notwithstanding that "everybody" does it and, regardless of who says it's okay to do, WELDING ON HIGH-CARBON, OIL-HARDENING parts is NOT a good idea!
Just because these parts are steel does not mean that they are suitable for welding!  All steels are NOT necessarily weldable!  The higher a steel's carbon content, the less suitable it is for welding, at least the type of welding that is practiced by most "practitioners of the gunsmithing arts" (IE, hacks) in the business today.  Steels with a carbon content above about 40 points (that's 4/10ths of 1 percent) require special procedures for welding successfully.  Some of those special procedures include pre-heat, post-heat, VERY specific filler materials (some materials can only be successfully welded using the same alloy as the parent material), specific heating and cooling rates, etc.  Most of the lockwork parts in these old guns are made of oil-hardening, plain steels like 1075 or 1095 that contain anywhere between 6/10ths and a bit over a full percent of carbon.  This makes them, for all practical purposes, unweldable by the typical gunsmiff with a TIG welder that he barely knows how to turn on.  Oh sure, you CAN weld the parts and they might even look good.  Hell, they might even hold up for a hundred or maybe even two hundred cycles but, THEY WILL FAIL.  I can't tell you how many failed hammer notches, sear noses, bolts, tumblers and even springs I've seen that were "repaired" by welding.  They all fail in exactly the same way, with the weld portion cleanly separating from the parent metal, right along the weld seam.  Here's a good rule of thumb, if it's a through-hardened part, don't weld it.  Here's another, if it's a case-hardened part, ANNEAL the !@#$%ing thing before you weld it.  And NO, you can't anneal it in your kitchen oven.  The ONLY correct way to repair a part of this type is to replace it.  If no replacement is available, then you make one.  If you can't do that, don't call yourself a gunsmith because you're not.  Owning a TIG welder doesn't make you a weldor any more than having a Brownell's catalog makes you a gunsmith.  The very least you can do is attempt to know the materials with which you're working and act accordingly.  The client is paying for your knowledge, you should at least make an attempt at having some.  Welding is a career/science unto itself that, like any other complex endeavor, can take a lifetime to master.  If you think that welding up half a dozen or so parts a year makes you a weldor, you might want to rethink that.  Welding is also a very valuable component of gunmaking, when properly executed and where it is appropriate.
If, by some chance this is seen by any of the vandals that committed the acts shown below and you are offended: GOOD. 

A mainspring that had been welded, along with its replacement

Cracked weld "repair" of Fox sear nose

An Ithaca Knick sear nose with failed weld "repair"

Birdshit welded tumbler

Here's some truly vile work

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Something Really Completely Different

It's not gun related but it is an interesting piece of automotive and industrial history.  What it is, specifically, is the original patent model made to illustrate the function of the catalytic converter, invented in the early 1950s by one Eugene Houdry.  Mr. Houdry was apparently a pretty sharp fellow where chemistry was concerned and has some very interesting accomplishments to his credit, a few of which are outlined here:

What the heck is it doing here, on a gunsmithing blog (you may wonder)?  I'll explain.  One of my clients is a serious "car guy" and his wife happens to be a granddaughter of Eugene Houdry and she had "inherited" the model when her parents passed away.  My client found out about it when he discovered it (and a bag of broken pieces) in a pile of stuff that was to be discarded.  Recognizing what it was (and its historical significance), he rescued it from the discard pile.  Knowing that I'm a fellow "gearhead" and former professional modelmaker, he thought that I'd be interested in restoring the model.  Of course I agreed to do the job.  

The model was apparently originally made using some sort of plaster castings for the rod elements of the catalyst bed.  These are very brittle and easily broken by careless handling and, unsurprisingly, a number of them were broken into multiple pieces.  These rods have a teardrop cross section and are arranged in staggered rows between the endplates.  Unfortunately, many of the broken pieces that were saved had been rendered to dust from bouncing against each other in the bag in which they were stored, so simply reassembling the pieces was not an option.  What I did was to take some of the larger fragments, squared their ends and glued them together, making one piece that was slightly longer than it needed to be.  After leveling the glue joints and sanding the entire surface smooth, I had a plug from which to make a silicone mold.  Once the mold was made, I cast enough copies in urethane to replace all of the missing pieces.  The original was made by trapping the rods in pockets in the endplates.  Since I dared not attempt disassembling the entire model to install the replacement rods, I had to decide how the new parts would be installed.  I could have cut each one to length and simply epoxied them in place or, I could make good use of the urethane's flexibility when heated.  I chose the latter.  After cleaning out all of the debris from the pockets that located the now missing rods, I cut the replacement parts slightly over length, then heated them enough to "flex" them into place.  Prior to installing them, I'd primered and painted them because it would be impossible to access some areas after assembly.  Once in place, I straightened them and quick blast of compressed air cooled the part, leaving it trapped in place and straight again.  This process was repeated for all of the missing pieces.  Once that was done, the replacement parts were touched up with paint.  The final step was to "weather" the new parts to match the aged appearance of the original parts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A "Smython" Unlike Any Other

What the Hell is a "Smython", you ask?  Well, that's an interesting story that has its roots in a form of competition known as PPC, which stood for "Police Pistol Combat".  In a nutshell, this was a form of pistol competition where members of police departments (at least the members that didn't see their sidearm as simply two more pounds of crap to carry) competed against each other and other departments using service-type sidearms.  For much of its existence, this competition was dominated by revolvers, since police departments had issued revolvers exclusively until a couple of decades ago.
The two revolver makes that came to dominate were those from Smith & Wesson (their K and N frame models) and Colt's E and I frame models.  Both brands produced well-made revolvers but when Colt introduced the Python around 1955 (don't quote me on the year, I'm not an historian), things changed in the game.  In the hands of a good shooter, the Python was capable of slightly better accuracy than any previous design.  This was NOT because of the gunrag writers' fevered fantasies about the Python being the "World's Greatest Revolver" (it wasn't and isn't) or its being "hand built" (it was no more or less hand built than any other revolver) but I'm sure the vent rib and full underlug certainly made many a gunwriter weak in the knees.  It was solely because of Colt's use of a tapered or "choke" bore, wherein the bore actually tightened toward the muzzle by about .001".  That, combined with the 1 in 10 twist rate made for a supposedly tack-driving revolver.  That is, if you could deal with the way the Colt's action would "stack" during the double-action pull, which it certainly does, due to the Colt design using a single V-spring to power the entire action (it drove the trigger and the hammer).  This is where the Smith & Wesson was far superior to the Colt.  The S&W powered the hammer and trigger with separate springs, the mainspring being a single leaf and the trigger spring being a coil type.  Due to the S&W's lockwork geometry, neither spring needs to be particularly powerful for reliable function and, most importantly, the double action pull is a consistent weight.
This led naturally to someone wondering why they couldn't put the Python barrel on the Smith frame and have the best of both, which is exactly what a number of pistolsmiths did during  the fifties and sixties.  Make no mistake, this was no simple procedure, barrel threads and diameters were different, bore centerline to cylinder axis dimensions were different (and would be until the advent of the L frame Smith) and the Colt had no provision for a front bolt, as the Smith did.  The pistolsmiths of the day found a way to deal with each of these obstacles.  Some of these conversions from that time period were very nicely done, while some others were a bit more "utilitarian".  I imagine that this practice made neither factory very happy but, there you go.  At some point, Colt stopped choke-boring the Python (which apparently had no effect on the gun's "legendary" status among those who don't know any better), no doubt a cost-cutting measure, and the practice of building "Smythons" or "Smolts" fell out of favor because there was really no need to do it any more.  Now, most who want one of these combinations built simply like the "look" of the Python's barrel with its distinctive vent rib and underlug.  In the early eighties, Smith & Wesson released their L frame revolvers, which shared the Python's dimension between the bore centerline and cylinder axis and also had the full-length underlug, which in the L frame was solid, adding much welcome weight forward.  The early Python's underlug was hollow, contributing little more than a distinctive profile.

 All of this brings us to the subject at hand, which technically I guess, can't really be called a "Smython", since not a single Colt part was used in its creation.

The client wanted the look of a Python with the action of a Smith & Wesson (his actual instructions were "I want a Python with Smith guts", which entails a bit more than just installing the vent rib), so the natural place to start is with an L frame model (a 686 in this case).  The L frame already has the proper dimensions and the full lug, so replacing the barrel with a Python item made little sense, especially considering that the L frame is capable of better accuracy than most shooters can exploit.  The Smith's rib is quite a bit different than that of the Colt though.  It also lacks sufficient material to simply modify it to the new configuration, so the original rib was machined off, leaving a lengthwise dovetail.  This dovetail would locate the new Python-esque rib, which was created from scratch.  The dovetail ends before the rear of the barrel, capturing the rib against the frame (although the interference-fit of the dovetail actually locks the rib in place).  This isn't a simple as it may seem, machining the material (post heat-treat) is nothing less than a bastard of a job.

Since the rib is a non-structural item, I used 18-8 so that I could actually machine it without thinking of suicide as an acceptable alternative.  Part of the original rib was left in place for use as a reference plane until the new rib was almost complete.  With the new rib material in place, shaping could begin.

This was as good a time as any to replicate the Python's distinctive muzzle.

The slot for the front sight blade is cut and the cross pin hole drilled.

The rough shaped rib and still stock frame

Where the "Colt" contours meet the Smith frame is an area that needs to be addressed.  The Smith frame is simply flat at the front, whereas the Colt has flutes cut into the frame that more gracefully handle the transition from topstrap to rib.  Two other issues are the insufficient length of the standard Smith sight leaf, which would leave a gap between it and the rib, and the topstrap contours, which are less than perfect as they left the factory.  All are now corrected: the frame contours by filing, while the sight leaf was "stretched" and the serrations recut.

A shop-made cutter is used to cut the serrations.  Yes, I did unintentionally make the cutter backwards.  Luckily, my mill also runs in reverse.

The barrel rib was also serrated to match.

Now everybody is playing nicely together.

Since we're on the frame, I took the opportunity to clean up all of the areas that the factory left "good enough" because good enough simply isn't.

Notice how not flat the frame is.  Not quite as bad a Ruger but not good enough.

The frame sides, as they should be.  The screws and their holes are done in watchmaker style, flattened heads with beveled edges.

The cylinder yoke to frame fit was addressed as well.

The backstrap was also reshaped to more closely mimic the Colt.  This necessitated recutting the serrations, which in this case were done by hand (due to the curvature of the frame) after laying them out on the surface plate.

I made a new pair of stocks from a piece of English walnut, along with the screw and brass escutcheons.  This was done concurrent with the backstrap reshaping and before the frame sides.

Another element of the Python "look" is the beveled forward edge of the cylinder.

 There was one last item that was absolutely necessary to complete the Python profile, the distinctive hammer spur.  Were this a blued gun, I would have annealed the hammer (they are case-hardened low-carbon steel in a blued gun), removed the spur and welded new material in place to shape into the new spur.  Stainless Smiths however, use hammers and triggers that are made of a through-hardening steel that is then hard-chrome plated, so welding was not an option.  So I made a new hammer from O1.  This gave me the opportunity to fit the hammer perfectly, with zero side clearance in the frame (after squaring both bearing bosses) so that it only makes contact at the bosses and nowhere else.  After preliminary fitting to the frame and lockwork, and checkering of the spur, I heat treated it to 57-60 Rc and then performed final fitting and polishing.  The trigger was also externally recontoured at this time.

 During final assembly, after verifying frame alignment, correcting the misaligned cylinder yoke and setting the yoke and cylinder endshake at zero, the action was tuned for a perfectly smooth 7 pound double action pull.  No aftermarket springs are used and the strain screw is never shortened.  Light springs are not what makes a smooth action. 

The last items were to make and black the front sight blade, reblack the rear sight leaf and grain the surfaces of the rib (it's not bead blasting, it's done by hand), the periphery of the thumblatch and the exposed yoke pivot, then some anglage (bevelling) and then final assembly.

Now, the glamour shots,