Friday, February 06, 2009

No Unbreakable Magic Swords.

So, you walk into your local indoor shooting range and gun store, and there by the end of the counter are a huddle of shooters talking. As you walk past, you notice that it's the shop's gunsmith, a local IPSC shooter with her open-class racegun dangling on her hip, and a guy you vaguely recognize from the local police department. They're talking about some esoteric part for 1911's that's supposed to be super tough or something, and so you just can't resist tossing out "Well, I shoot a Glock, so I don't have to worry about stuff like that breaking." They look at you like you've just grown a third eye and ignore you as they resume their conversation.

Hmph. Buncha old fashioned stick-in-the-muds and their nostalgia guns, right?

Actually, you made yourself look like an idiot.

The gunsmith has to maintain the range's rental guns, as well as fix customer's guns. He's seen plenty of broken ones of every make and model, including Glocks.

The IPSC shooter doesn't really shoot her Open gun all that much, but she's been running 30,000+ rounds a year through her Production Glock for the last three years straight. She's been on the phone with Smyrna a few times.

The cop is the department armorer, in charge of making sure that all their issue Glock 22's stay up and running and have the latest generation of ejector or magazine follower or whatnot. He knows what breaks on Glocks.

None of these people think you're an idiot for liking Glocks; heck, they all shoot Glocks and recommend them and carry them. They think you're an idiot for assuming that a mechanical device composed of springs and levers is unbreakable.

There are two worlds of pistols: One is composed of the ridiculous "torture tests" you see advertised in magazines and bandied about on the internet. Composed of fans and brand loyalists who haunt forums and claim that their gun has shot... umm... well it's probably at least... er... fifty thousand rounds without a malfunction! Not even a dud primer!

The other is composed of the folks who have to read service bulletins put out by manufacturers. "The old trigger bar is being replaced by the new part, part number 123-1, identifiable by its -1 marking." Who keep log books on every gun and replace slide stop springs every X-thousand rounds whether they've broken yet or not because this isn't just a hobby for them.

Face it: If your gun hasn't broken something, you're not shooting it enough. Or you're incredibly lucky. But don't kid yourself that it won't happen. Springs and extractors are wear parts. That means they wear. Which means they break. Replace them on a schedule.

(PS: 10-8 has an excellent piece up on 1911 maintenance from a department armorer perspective. Links to similar on Glocks and SIGs and stuff would be nice to have.)


Anonymous said...

However, as long as there is some rifling left in the last 1” or so of the tube, a good barrel will often continue shooting just fine.

Huh - you learn something new every day.

It'd be nice to see something like this sort of maintenance schedule for ARs, too.

Anonymous said...

What, you mean everyone doesn't have a three pound bag of 1911 spares in their range box?

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I'd love to get the "Chilton Book" for every model I own. Even the plethora of Garand and M1A books I have doesn't have Preventive Maintenance suggestions on parts swapping after so many rounds. "Get these parts and have em on hand if they break" is not the same as "Replace this spring every 4000, or you are asking for trouble."

Anonymous said...

And, I know three serious IPSC shooters who are running CCF race frame recievers on their Glocks, in stainless steel.

In fairness, the slamfire problem with the polymer recievers went away in the fall of '90, when Glock started replacing the rollpins they used as reciever stiffeners with hardened tool steel dowels.

Unless a person came across a very early weapon that had missed the recall, they're safe enough. I get the idea that people are buying the replacement recievers for controllability issues in competition. Different strokes.

Son One had to turn in his Smith 4506 and start carrying an M&P45. Nobody was annoyed with the 4506, but somebody in the department bought into the "new is better" meme.

Qual scores are down slightly, detectives have problems with the light safety wiping into the off position when drawing from the departments issue pancake holster, and magazine retention has been an occasional problem. That, typically, is the great achilles heel of all plastic guns.

I speak from personal knowledge here, having spent the better part of 6 months at Colt way back when, trying to get the molds right on the Colt .22 Auto. Bottom line, you can't withdraw the reciever from the magazine form plug unless there's a draft angle in the mag well to allow release.

If memory serves, we had to go with a one and a half degree taper. We got a tight fit on the mag by running the taper from the top, which we could do as the reciever was two piece, with a stainless rail and feed section. Check out one of the new Berettas (same gun, Colt's sold the tooling) to see what I mean.

Without that steel top to provide feed alignment, the well has to be bigger at the bottom. Come a low limit magazine, and things can pendulum quite noticeably.

The problem has sometimes happened with steel frame recievers too, as broaching the mag well can cause distortion when the broach teeth are getting dull.

Rock River and Colt's are getting around it by having Continental Machine wire EDM the mag wells. They all run true within a thousanth.

I'm suprised more people don't use the two piece steel/synthetic reciever idea. It wasn't my idea by the way. I think it was Kevin Kaminsky, one of the really unsung heroes in Colt engineering.

I just did some of the scutwork, figuring out where to put the chilled brine passages and where to stick the heater coils by trial and error. Getting the thick parts and the thin parts to harden at the same time was the PB (primary bitch) of the job.

Anonymous said...

This post is Truth.

If a person is so cavalier about preparing for low probability events, what in the hell are they carrying a pistol for?

Anonymous said...

A case indeed of a closed mouth gathering no feet.

Coincidentally, yesterday I had an opportunity to do this to a bolt carrier from (something I don't recognize and won't speculate on) from 1902.


Ken said...

Good advice. It's a particularly good reminder for me, because I have to confess that -- being a revolverator guy -- I am somewhat prone to the "my gun ain't never gonna break" mindset.

Mind you, I keep my yap shut at the range, but I'm thinkin' it. ;-)

Jay G said...

"If your gun hasn't broken something, you're not shooting it enough."

True dat.

Gotta be the case for me; I can't recall any gun I've owned breaking.

Well, except the Hi-Standard H-D military. And the Underwood M1 carbine. And the extractor keeps coming loose on my Security Six...

Anonymous said...

This may not be exactly what you had in mind, but I still thought it was somewhat interesting.

A 60000+ round test of a S&W pistol

During the test there were 3 major breakages

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. Good stuff there.

shooter said...

Lesseee here...40K+ rounds through my XD-40 tactical. Stovepipes, check. Double-feed, check. Light primer strike, check. FTF, check. Cracked locking block, hell yeah. Busted trigger return spring, middle of an IDPA classifier.

My 1911 has seen less wear and tear, but has seen most of it. Even had to replace the ejector and spring after it popped out on a range session.

Guess I'm shooting them enough. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is, learn how to fix it proper, or take it to the gunsmith.

Anonymous said...

Great post and great comments.

cheers, erich martell
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Matt G said...

Comparable to cars.

I drive a beat-up old Honda Civic with almost 200k miles on it. When it got to 160k, I took it in and had the original timing belt changed on it. Hey, just twice the manufacturer's spec, right? While it was in there, I asked the mechanic to swap out the water pump on it.

"Is it giving you trouble?" he inquired.

"Nope. Not yet," I replied.

He smiled. "It's thinking like that that keeps me from making more money on replacing heads."

After almost 200k, it looks like I'm about due for a new clutch, too. (Piece of crap! Won't even run a clutch a quarter million miles.)

Now, consider friends, swapping "water pump" for "main spring." And swap "timing belt" for "ejector." Or recoil spring. Or whatever.

Anonymous said...

There's also the infamous Glock torture test.

But with gunners, it's ether love em or hate them.

Personally I hate the way the feel and prefer a High power or 1911 if given the choice. But I do admire the simplicity of design and durability og the Glocks..

Tam said...

"There's also the infamous Glock torture test."

That misses the point by a country mile.

I once shot a hojillion (actually 8k+) rounds through a personal G23 without cleaning it. That doesn't prove dick except that I shot a lot of rounds through a gun without cleaning it. What is notable is that, during that period, I carried my Astra A75 because I was unwilling to tote a gun that I was deliberately abusing.

I don't care if some guy on the internets shot a million jillion bazillion rounds through the same brand, make, and model as the pistol on my hip and then threw it out of a plane into a volcanic caldera before running it over with a tank: I'm still going to perform preventative maintenance on the gun I carry because I'm not an interweb fangirl. I am by god not going to be found on a mortuary slab with some guy saying "Wow, her pistol went 249,999 rounds without an extractor failure..."

Anonymous said...

While reading this, it struck me.
I wanna see one guy do 60,000 rds out of a Cap and Ball pistol.
Now thats a torture test, nevermind what the gun is goin through.

Anonymous said...

I once purchased a used Ruger 22LR Mark II very cheaply, because it kept jamming, failing to eject rounds (according to the used-gun counter salesperson). A close inspection and comparison with another Mark II revealed the ejector was just about flat, when it needed a nice sharp "grabber" on its exposed end. The counter guy was not interested, so I bought it cheap.

As you can tell, I am not an armorer or a gunsmith or a well-educated gun lover, just a plinker. But I bought a replacement ejector (and spring set - what the heck, it was only a few bucks) from Brownells, installed the parts, and the gun has run like a thoroughbred ever since.

So you can also benefit from the maintenance that others have failed to perform, if you are willing to try.

VS= thsoing, the noise a 22LR casing makes leaving a Mark II.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Bob can verify, but in the time you've been gone we've broken the S&W 66, the P22 snapped several slides, the M635 has eaten itself, the buckmark is suffering from some odd as yet undiagnosed issue, I was told that one of the sigs doubled and was yanked, the XD9 broke... I'm trying to recall them all but that's only what I've *seen*. Hell, the M635 doubled on semi with me behind the trigger.

Capcha: damat. Perfect :)

Anonymous said...

Mikee - true, except I was both the sucker and the winner.
I bought an early Kahr P45.
Had a failure to feed, so I tapped the back of the slide.
The slide went into battery, I fired, and then had a failure to eject.
Pieces of metal fell out of the gun.

I chalked it up to early production (not my actions) and set it aside to return under warranty.

Years passed. Shipping costs money, I had other guns to shoot, etc. Early this year I remembered the broken pistol in the drawer. I pulled it out, looked at the parts list on the web, and realized what I'd done. I ordered a few new parts (extractor, spring, and two pins), practiced tearing down the slide, and waited for the mail.

When I got the new parts I installed them, took the gun to the range, shot it a bunch.

It works great. Sometimes things get broken during break in. Still don't carry it, but heck, it's been sitting this long, it can sit a little longer.

Sendarius said...

Dr. Strangegun:

In light of US vs Olofson, is that "double" something you should be telling the world about?

Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

so according to the 10-8 post on the 1911 regarding maintenance, you can expect the following spare parts to keep you shooting over a lifespan of 50K rounds:

50 synthetic buffers
30 firing pin springs
30 recoil springs
10 to 30 slide stop plungers
10 to 30 slide stop springs
20 extractors
5 firing pin stops
5 barrel bushings
1 barrel

That seems high to me, but I just did the simple-minded math. Maybe these are worst-case figures?

Now, who wants to come up with a recommended list of spares for an AR?

Tam said...


"In light of US vs Olofson, is that "double" something you should be telling the world about?"

Hell, not only would it double on "semi" but if you moved the selector over one more, you could empty the mag with one trigger pull.

(The M635 is a Colt 9mm SMG.)

Anonymous said...

Provided the M635 didn't break an extractor, fail to extract, and stovepipe....

I used to fix cop cars (mostly, just shook out that way, I was Mr Crown Victoria) for a living at a Ford shop.

Rules were : "drive the hell out of it and then drive it harder, cos if anything's gonna break we may as well break it and fix it before it goes on patrol again."

Had to re-shoot a CHL qualifier course because I stupidly used not very well tested new factory mags assuming they'd be fine. Lost an IDPA/IPSC/Pin match because of a 1911 breaking "insert many parts here on various occasions". Etc.

Seen a Ruger SA transfer bar decide not to at one pin match.

Everything breaks. It's just a matter of time.