Thursday, December 01, 2011

They don't make 'em like they used to...

So I'm looking at this FN 1922, which was originally ginned up as a service pistol for the newly-formed Yugoslavian army. It's basically an FN 1910 (a pistol of momentous significance in Balkan history) with the barrel and grip stretched so that it wouldn't get lost on a soldier's belt, although it's still a ludicrously tiny-looking military sidearm to American eyes.

It is hefty for its original .380 chambering, and in .32 it seems ludicrously overbuilt by modern standards, but in those days there was simply no other way to make a firearm other than taking a block of steel and whittling away everything that didn't look like a gun. This results in weapons that are beautiful examples of the machinist's craft, but hardly the most efficient way to supply hundreds of thousands of troops.

If you look at infantry rifles from before the Great War, and compare them to their descendants in the closing days of WWII, you will see the effect of mass production really being seriously applied to arms, and I'm not referring to the last-ditch examples turned out in the bombed-out arsenals of the Axis countries, either. Look at an early Springfield M1903 and compare it to a late M1903A3: Stampings have replaced intricately-machined parts and function just as well, and a fairly simple rear peep sight works even better in the real world than the elaborate barrel-mounted Camp Perry slide rule it replaced.

Meanwhile, stamped-and-welded tube guns like the Sten and the PPS were churned out by the jillion and worked just fine for their intended purpose of arming conscripts in job lots so they could kill other conscripts in job lots. By the latter part of the century, welded stampings and castings and injection-moldings had almost completely replaced machined forgings and dead trees as firearm components.

So, anyway, like I said, I'm looking at this FN 1922, which is a nine-shot .32 that weighs as much unloaded as my full-size M&P 9, which is a superior weapon in every way that matters...

...except I wonder if someone will be looking at that disposable plastic pistol in 2100 the way I am the FN right now? Somehow I don't think so, and it's kind of sad in a way. The modern manufacturing techniques can produce just about anything better except an heirloom.


Pakkinpoppa said...

I have both the actual Walther PP .32 my Uncle brought back from WWII and 2 postwar Manhurin clones. They both are slimmer and a tad bit shorter than the Glock 26L I tote on a typical basis.

They do exude so much more class though, and should I run them empty I think the blocks of steel weigh more and would do better as clubs.

Tango said...

re: the slide rule. The reason they don't just guestimate the difference and just adjust with the normal sight is because Marines are very specific with their marksmanship training. You simply do not guess. You adjust your sights proper. "Well aimed shots" not "Well guessed shots". Using 'Kentucky Windage' (even if it's elevation) will get your ass sorely kicked.

Pakkinpoppa said...

Look forward to a review of that FN on a secondary link you had... I can't call it a time waster because there were so many intricately made pieces of steel on there, and I like the old time .32's also, I just don't have the coin to purchase for fun at the moment.

Tam said...


...and while KD ranges and slinging up and formal position shooting do develop basic marksmanship skills, the Army realized a long time ago that the real world is not a KD range.

Boat Guy said...

"the real world is not a KD range"
If you're really good you can get your enemy to form squads right on a football field, can't you?
It will be a sad commentary on the state of things if in 2100 a plastic pistol elicits any sort of wonder. 'Course the way things are going a kitchen match might elicit wonder in AD 2100

karrde said...

I suspect that, due to their design, current-vintage revolvers will last as long.

But you're right, when it comes to making durable items, modern manufacturing isn't the king.

Boat Guy said...

Now there is ONE tactical situation that does call for slinging up and assuming a good solid cross-legged sitting position; when you ahve routed the enemy and he is retreating. Punching the folks center 'o back while they're running away damages their morale...

The Jack said...

And thus the love the 1911, Mustang, CZ's, Seacamp, and other metal, mostly older designs get.

Though depending on how arms develop in the next hundred years.... What material advances? What's left for cartridge design? What's next?

I suppose if someone had a fabbed to order coil-gun a factory-built powder burner could be seen in a similar.
Though what that says about the longevity and design of the hypothetical weapon...

Comrade Misfit said...

I have a `98 Krag; the elevation portion of the sights are better than the M1903. You can leave the Camp Perry ladder down and you have sort-of usable notch sights adjustable between 100 yards and 600 yards. Windage isn't as easy to adjust, though.

(Neither hold a candle to the more usable peeps on a M1917 or a M1.)

Tam said...

The Jack,

The metallic cartridge firearm is a very mature technology; there haven't been any real innovations in function to hit the market in the last fifty or sixty years, only in materials and manufacturing processes.

Anonymous said...

Ditto cars. Somehow, I don't think that people in dacades to come will pine for a "classic" '93 Taurus or '04 Corolla the way they do a '65 Mustang, '57 Chevy, etc.

And, oddly enough, saw a related article about (of all things) vacuum cleaners:

Vacuum Two lasts a year. At this point, Mr. Cee is slowly coming to realize that today’s plastic vacuum cleaners have nothing in common with his grandmother’s indestructible Electrolux model—a.k.a. “the tank”—which was made of a miracle substance called “metal.”*

Not to say that a plastic firearm like, say, a Glock 19 won't last like a 1911, or an M-16 won't last like a Garand, but they DO lack the cache.



via AoSHQ

The Jack said...

Yeah, especially when you look at the swell of inovation that happened roughly a hundred years ago.

Wilson's Textbook of Automatic Pistols still holds up (which I think you recommended a ways back). As there's very few innovations (baring mtls and mfg) that cannot be found in that book despite it being pre-WW2.

Anonymous said...

"the elaborate barrel-mounted Camp Perry slide rule"

I'd be happy if I could fine a quality slide rule at a decent price. Unlike these new-fangled electronic calculating machines, slide rules were a great way to teach the limits of precision -- a concept the kids on my lawn today don't understand ("you say the earth is warming 0.1 degree? and you believe the measurements were that accurate?")

Nowadays, when I can find a slide rule, it's cheap plastic, with the markings being on stickers that peel off over time.

Anonymous said...

I read an account of the Island Hopping phase of WWII. U.S. troops were being bothered by Japanese snipers. Two marines Sgts came up complete with smoky bear hats, shooting mats, and Springfields.
They set up with one shooting and once scoping, and the Japanese snipers soon ceased to have any interest in the battle.

I wish I had the source handy. It may have been a Bill Jordan story.

Anonymous said...

Zombie Attack Barbie will treasure your despised "plastic pistol".

Mike James

DaveFla said...

A very simple prediction: in 2100, someone will look at all my firearms and wonder why someone else is willing to pay as much for one as they would for a new Smith&Wossname in a comparable chambering but with state-of-the-art design, metals, coatings, finish, etc. At least one such "other person" will comment that weapons were better back when a human programmed a CNC machine, rather than 'showing' a 3D prototype to the fully automated manufactory's cameras...

I'm certain of this much: my S&W Model of 1905, 4th change, is damned near useless today, while my 610-2 will be a decent shooter in 2100 even if it eventually sees as many rounds as did the 1905. Assuming that 10mm Auto is still around, of course!

Joseph said...

I marvel at the old guns I've taken apart, the ingenious or flat out crazy ways the designers got cartridges to go into chambers, or reset the sear or hold tension on the ejector. Marvelous stuff, but when I want to defend myself, I find nothing wrong with and as the years have passed, start to prefer the plastic fantastic. Don't get me wrong, if its .45 caliber, it is still a steel 1911 pattern gun, but that's more because I hate recoil more than I love the steel 1911.

Anonymous said...

I did that incorrectly. Take two:

Zombie Attack Barbie will treasure your despised "plastic pistol". Even while she weeps, shooting Zombie Ken in the head.

Zombie Mike James

global village idiot said...

Going back to the "slide rule" post and the "volley fire" post of even earlier vintage, everyone seems to be forgetting one thing:


In the late 19th Century, cavalry was kept on and still considered a worthwhile military arm (cavalry troops even did some good in various theaters in WWI).

Cavalry need a lot of room to move around, particularly when in squadron formation (something often attempted but less often achieved). A deliberate charge takes a long time to develop from walk to trot to canter to gallop. It was against this threat that the 19th Century boltie was ranged.

A regiment of infantry armed with .30cal rifles ranged to 1200meters/yards/arshins works pretty well, if not shooting the rider, then certainly unhorsing him which is the same thing really.

We must also remember that there were fronts other than the Western in WWI. The Arab Revolt, to name just one, was largely fought with blocks of dynamite, but it was pretty "maneuver friendly" and the boltie ranged out to "OMG" was a pretty fair weapon for the ground-pounder or Bedouin alike.

A recreation of the tactics of the time can be seen in the movie "The Lighthorsemen," which depicts the final charge of the Australian Light Horse against the Turks at Beersheeba. In it, you can see a Turk (or German, I forget) observer with an optical rangefinder, calling out ranges to the Turkish riflemen and light artillerymen. If the Turks had used their rifles correctly, this charge would have been cut to pieces.

Tam said...


I'm not referring to the range markings on the sights, but the fussiness of the adjustment, the overcomplexity of the multiple notches and peeps, and the tiny size of the apertures.

These are fine things to have at Bisley or Camp Perry, but if you can look me in the eye and tell me that Pvt. Snuffy is going to have the time or inclination to fuss with that stuff when a squadron of cavalry is coming right at him an' the bullets are "kickin' dust spots on the green", I'm going to have to remain skeptical.

I still maintain that the weapons of the late-19th and early-20th Centuries were designed by ordnance departments that had plugged their ears and went "LALALALALALA!" at the lessons of Gettysburg and Cold Harbor, Sedan and Magersfontein and Port Arthur. The ability to shoot the rifle at long range is fine, but not at the expense of usability.

A sliding tangent is one thing, but by the time you get a Buffington-type ladder dialed in, whatever you were going to shoot at probably isn't there anymore.

staghounds said...

I hope no one looks at your pistol in 2100 and wonders that 90 years ago just about anyone could own one...

The Jack said...

Staghounds: See a modern Brit reading Wilson's book

Anonymous said...

Actually, they do make them like they used to: feebly. I came across this in a 1910 annual War Dep't Report by Black Jack Pershing, from the Philippines commenting, inter alia, on the poor performance of he now beloved 1903 Springfield. (Incidentally, notice the beloved 1911 .45 Browning never did get used against the Moros - the .45 revolver was a fine substitute for the .38)

Another section of the report from the Luzon Province said the '03 was OK only if you took good care of it a,d kept the mud out - shades of the M16.

Dept' of Mindanao (Black Jack Pershing)
"Revolvers.—The substitution of the caliber .45 Colt's revolver for the caliber .38 is a distinct improvement. The kind of gun more than compensates for the extra weight.
Rifle, U. S. magazine, model 1903.—Some of the faults of the rifle are: The front sight seems to become loose, and in many cases is lost from the rifle. The barrel of the rifle does not seem to be strong enough to withstand pressure of the 1906 ammunition. In a few cases the barrel has been known to burst at the muzzle when fired. The strikers are entirely too weak and are continually breaking. At one post In this department it has been reported that over 150 were broken within six months. The windage screw spring, the firing-pin sleeve, the head of the firing pin and the locking shoulder of the firing pin all appear to be too weak and often break. The cord of the thong is not sufficiently strong. The blueing of certain spare parts in the breech mechanism of the rifle Is considered a good improvement."


global village idiot said...


I'd only ever experienced shooting a Buffington sight once - our Lodge's former Chaplain (a WWII CSM in the Marines) had a refurbished '03 which he let me take to the range one day.

You're exactly right - it's like Chinese algebra.

The point I was attempting to make re: the Lighthorsemen was that fiddling with sights was contemplated in their design, and to this end your comment on the sliding tangent is spot-on (the Turks were, after all, shooting Mausers or Commissions).

The Buffington sight is pointlessly complicated. But it was an outlier - most of the armies of the world had sensibly used tangents or ladders.

global village idiot said...

Even further (sorry for double posting), the error doesn't lie merely with the ordnance department wonks writing the specifications.

I have in my possession a copy of the United States Army's Field Service Regulations of 1913, which state quite explicitly that this was in fact the way battles were expected to be fought.

Another document I have is a repro "Schiessbuch," a record of an Imperial German Landser's qualification and zero. It has images of targets - both bulls and human figures - out to 600 meters. The 600 meter target is an image of five soldiers in close-order formation.

Old-timers like to slag modern marksmanship as being nowhere near the standards of days gone by. Soldiers were expected to engage targets beyond a quarter mile; what everyone forgets is the size of the targets!


Tam said...

I think probably the most telling example of theory meeting reality is that, once the shooting had started in earnest, it was realized most ricky-tick that the SMLE could get along fine without volley sights, windage adjustments, and a magazine cutoff.

Cincinnatus said...

The problem if military equipment and tactics either matching the last war or badly missing the actual tactics and operations of the next war is not limited to small arms.

Consider the silliness that was the US Army anti-tank doctrine of WWII. The US Army created a doctrine and trained large numbers of "anti-tank" units to carry it out - but the doctrine made no sense at all and the equipment hodge-podge to match it was worse.

Anonymous said...

In some segments of the gun market, yes, the manufacturing is scraping the bottom of the barrel in taste, quality and collectable "value."

But there are bright spots on the horizon: in the manufacturing world, MIM has replaced a lot of stamping, and many MIM parts look almost as good (if not in some cases better) than machined parts. Stamping was the early 20th century way to crank out bazillions of parts cheaply, but like MIM, it had a high overhead in the setup.

Before the early 60's, there wasn't even "NC" control on machines, much less CNC. Today, no gun maker turning out more than a few dozen examples per year does it on manual machines. CNC has taken over machine shops. With today's CAD/CAM/CAE programs, coupled with five+ axis mills and live-tooling turning centers, you can crank out the same level of quality in minutes that took guys standing at a manual mill or lathe 100 years ago a day or more to get done.

If you're ever in Rapid City, SD, call Dakota Arms and ask for a tour. You'll see CNC machines by the barnful, and about the only thing they don't do is heat treat, deep hole drill and then die-sink their receivers. They get their receivers as a round bar of steel with a "winged" hole through it, and they buy their barrels from a well known barrel outfit. They can crank out bolt guns of a quality that puts to shame anything made 100 years ago, and they can do it *fast*, with likely less than 25% of the labor or machines used 100 years ago. Look at the quality in a Kimber 1911 or Wilson - and tell me that those heaters won't be passed down.

Bubblehead Les. said...

What's sad is that what we consider today as Cheap Knock Offs of other fine guns, were, back in the Day, very Nice Pieces of Work. Case in point, my Spanish Baby Browning Clone called a "Libia." Still shoots just fine. Matter of fact, a friend of mine handed me his Sporterized Mauser 33/40 to take to West By God and zero in a new scope he mounted on it. Very Pretty!

og said...

This is why we collect.

And why it is important that someone is still making "Real" guns.

Jon H said...

"The modern manufacturing techniques can produce just about anything better except an heirloom."

That's A material right there boys. We should pay for wordsmithing like this. Thanks Tam.

Anonymous said...

re: appliances, i know of 2 1953 sunbeam toasters that are still cranking out perfect slices every day with no end is sight...
the one has been in place for so long that divots have worn in the counter top from the force of the toast popping up...

Matthew said...


I'd bet no one wanted to fess up to having plugged their muzzle with Mindanao mud prior to complaining to the General that, "The barrel of the rifle does not seem to be strong enough to withstand pressure of the 1906 ammunition. In a few cases the barrel has been known to burst at the muzzle when fired."

MV: bulneers - When one increases one pace across the pasture.

Cincinnatus said...

Matthew, perhaps although some early Springfields had bad barrels although most of those were WWI production.

Tam said...

Anon 2:45,

"Look at the quality in a Kimber 1911..."

I'm looking, but I don't see it.

Kimber is a prime symptom, selling sizzle rather than steak, an exemplar of the problem since their glory days of the late '90s.

Jim said...

Tam said...
Anon 2:45,

"Look at the quality in a Kimber 1911..."

I'm looking, but I don't see it.

Kimber is a prime symptom, selling sizzle rather than steak, an exemplar of the problem since their glory days of the late '90s.

8:55 PM, December 01, 2011

Expanding on this a bit, Kimber offers features that appeal to a great many people, and delivers them with popular finishes such as two-tone, polished flats, etc.

That they don't necessariy execute the more critical features, such as dimensional accuracy, fit and function, with quite the same aplomb as their cosmetic and marketing efforts is actually saddening. They're (usually) gorgeous guns, feel good in the hand and most of them shoot well enough for the average, low-round-count, three times a year shooter.

If they had the steak match the sizzle though, they'd be on more winner's podium with a much greater frequency than they're doing these days.

Kimber is at that juxtaposition of price point and expected performance, where they just don't quite deliver what's promised. In their chosen market, they should outshoot and be more reliable than their less expensive rivals, and keeping pace with peers such as Springfield Armory, S&W and others.

And that's the problem. It's not that they're not "good guns", but that they're not as good as their price point, or hype, promises.

That's my $0.02, anyway.

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Gewehr98 said...

I'm still ok with the Buffington rear sight on my 1903. I am a Camp Perry veteran, and my eyes can still focus on that wafer-thin front blade. Give it a few years, and I may be forced to favor the Garand, M14NM, or No5Mk1 Jungle Carbine.

I'm not blind to the fact, however, that warfare passed up the doctrine that produced the 1903 ladder sight and tactics to go with it. That's the natural progression of things, and we were always "fighting the last war" even when I was a lifer in the DoD until 2006.

It wouldn't surprise me if the current house-to-house mode of fighting using M4 carbines bristling with lasers, phasers, and wind speed indicators eventually falls by the wayside. Granted, they may not be phased plasma rifles in the 40Kw range, but eventually we're gonna field something better at knocking the souls outta the enemy combatants.

In the meantime, it sure was fun stealing trophies at the John C. Garand matches with my 1903 (Until I was asked not to do so any more by the match director for the sake of the attending Garand owners' morale)

WV: Crootti - "I'm gonna kick that guy in the crootti if he competes with his 1903 Springfield again!"

the pawnbroker said...

Like all collectibles, "heirlooms" produced as such never are.

True, that silky 1903 .32 of yours qualifies, but that wasn't the plan, and that's the point.

History will judge what qualifies in 2100, but for the sake of my great great great grandchildren , I just hope it won't be because Staghounds' cryptic inference comes true.

Tam said...


"I'm still ok with the Buffington rear sight on my 1903. I am a Camp Perry veteran..."

I am in no way disparaging your skill with a rifle, which far outweighs mine, but would you not agree that the Buffington rear sight is best for those situations where your target will politely hold still and maintain a constant range?

Firehand said...

The Buffington works great. On the range. I'd NOT want it to be the sight on a rifle I had to use in combat. Hell, my eye's aren't friggin' horrible, but I got a spare slider and bored out the aperture just to make it easier to use, and it's still a pretty small hole.

I'll give you another good one: the Finn M39. Big post, big notch, simple adjustments; one of my favorite shooters for just that reason. Now if I can find a M28 I can afford...

Firehand said...

Thought brought on by this discussion: someday it may be like the Slammers powerguns: you change the barrel as it burns out, and it's the receiver that you might consider the important part

Gewehr98 said...

Not having been trained as a doughboy or Devil Dog circa 1914, I'd have to withhold analysis, Tam.

That's not taking the easy way out, just that the weapons and tactics of that era may have called for a different approach than what we see today in 2011. I note that the rear sight of my 1898 Krag rifle isn't much different than the one on my 1903 Springfield, again, ostensibly for target use vs. moving adversaries.

It wasn't much earlier in the history of warfare that massed units were supposed to march line abreast into the enemy position. I'd wager it took some time for the brass to "unlearn" that particular tactic, yet they still wanted Tommy to go over the top into the Maxim gun's cone of fire armed with a whistle, .38-200 revolver, or at best an SMLE.

I'm not the bookworm that the owner of this establishment is, but I have seen Army and USMC manuals of arms dictating how those super-precise sights are to be employed. I consider it a sign o' the times, kinda quaint, not unlike the now-officially-obsolete bayonet drill.

To my way of 2011 thinking, you'd have to be shit hot to pick off advancing enemy troops at 547 yards or further with the 1903 and 1903A1. Then again, marksmanship played a huge role in garrison training back then, perhaps to the detriment of fieldcraft and buddy care/field medicine/triage.

If USMC Private Joe Blow was adept at using the rifle over the fireplace to put squirrels into the stew pot in Kentucky prior to enlisting, then I don't imagine it would be much of a stretch for him to centerpunch a stalhelm poking up from the opposite trench a few hundred yards away using his newly-issued Springfield target rifle. That would almost seem like a shooting gallery ripe for the plinking. He would've trained with that skinny front sight and complex rear ladder system (with graduated windage vernier, no less!) until the guys with the campaign hats in Uncle Sam's Misguided Children told him he was ready to go Over There.

I dunno if those guys did the moving target simulation much in garrison, nor do I know what "tricks" they taught to keep that skinny front sight anchored on a moving target at the time. It definitely begs the question, but I won't go on record to say that our boys didn't somehow manage out there with an inferior battle sight system compared to the Brits, since they obviously did. Could they have done better? Certainly, and those improvements came during the next war, as always. Hell, my 1903A4 would've been the bee's knees during the Somme, and an M203 mounted under an M4 would've been downright handy for a trench raiding party, assuming some jerk with a time machine didn't arm the enemy with a bunch of Kalashnikovs... ;-)

Cincinnatus said...

Volley fire would be done by massed units, firing at ranges called out by their platoon leaders, with targets being the entire enemy unit rather than a single soldier. In WWI, machine guns were even used in indirect fire modes.

staghounds said...

I don't believe that rifle type made much of a difference in 1914-18. I'm not aware that it took more Germans per trench mile in Flanders against the British than in Picrady against the French, or Poland against the Russians.

Anonymous said...


Well, maybe the Kimber QC issue you reference is one I haven't seen on mine. The two Kimbers I have are from about '00 and another from early '07. The latter was one of their "Match" products I won at a raffle.

Both of these exhibited better fit and finish than the war produced 1911's, IMO. When you really start tearing into older firearms, you find that they were doing quite well to maintain tolerances of +/- 0.002. That was true of most everything back then, BTW. As a guy who spends quite a bit of his time on both manual and CNC machines, I'm impressed by how well the 1914 to 1945 wartime weapons held tolerances at the same time they were cranking 'em out by the thousands per month. It's easy to hold tight specs if you have all the time in the world. It's a whole 'nuther thing when you have production quotas to meet.

I've seen reports that Kimber's quality has slipped of recent, and I don't know what to make of this, since I cannot seem to gain access to an example that I can take apart to examine closely. Gun shops tend to not like it when a guy comes in and does a detailed strip on their counter.

I don't dispute that there are some firearms of modern vintage that are unmitigated crap. Remington products come to mind, for an example.

ProudHillbilly said...

I'm very fond of my (Dad's) 1922. It feels nice and substantial, but fits my small hands well. Drives me crazy to reassemble after cleaning, though. And I need to pursue it's history more - FN says the serial number puts it at 1956, but it's got German stamps on every part.

lelnet said...

Heirlooms come from history. The gun grampa brought back from $war is a treasured heirloom even if -- on all technical merits -- it's a PoS.

As weapons, modern guns are superior to older guns of the same level of contemporary quality. To make them heirlooms, though, we need to give them comparable history. Or else they're just metal, and in 2100 they'll be just scrap. As a whole lot of early-20th-century guns would be today, if we hadn't gone around the world attaching war stories to them.