Monthly Archives: November 2021

Meet the Tokarev. It’s Kind of Brilliant.

This is not so much a review, but more of a ‘getting acquainted’ session. Let’s get on with it.

Not quite a T33, this Tokarev was made by Norinco in China. US import regulations mandated the addition of a safety. BAH! Puny, effete western dogs!

In the 1890’s the Russians realized they needed a standardized service pistol. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in those meetings. A fly that spoke Russian, I mean.

“Our S&W .44s are getting a bit long-in the tooth and knocking them off is expensive. We need a new standard service revolver. Preferably something obsolete.”

“The Germans…”

“Dear Lord, not that obsolete! Badly designed too. Besides, we don’t like the Germans.”

“Let’s get a Nagant revolver. It’s a bit obsolete, but that means it will be cheap. We can make them in a really anemic caliber so we can use our crappy steel. While we’re at it lets make it a gas-seal gun. It’s completely unnecessary and the trigger pull will be horrible!”

“Perfect! This will make the gun worse and more expensive without offering any benefit! What could be a greater glory to the Empire than adopting a terrible, obsolete revolver in a weak cartridge!”

OK, it probably didn’t go exactly like that; I’m sure there were bribes and nepotism involved too. Thus for decades the Imperials, and then the Soviets that followed them, had what was arguably the worst service pistol of the era.

Around 1930 IQs rose sharply and they realized they needed a viable modern pistol. The Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle’ was popular, but the Soviet New Man saw no need to adopt another obsolete, complicated and expensive service arm. PROGRESS! That cartridge though…

The 1911 was doing rather well, and the Soviets thought they could do it chea… uh, better. They swiped the essentials of the design- tilting barrel with locking lugs, pivot-link, single-action operation, sliding trigger etc. But they did not, uh, slavishly copy the 1911. They made it less expensive to produce and one might argue better. OK, let me ditch this mob with pitchforks and torches and I’ll be right back.

This Norinco Tokarev is pretty nicely finished, but cosmetic grinds are a bit… whimsical.

The cartridge they selected for the new pistol was 7.62 x 25mm, a bottlenecked .30-caliber cartridge that isn’t .30 Mauser. No, really! I mean it! OK, you can use them interchangeably, but they are totally not the same. *nods earnestly*

Since the New Soviet Man had evolved beyond the need for safeties the only safety is the half-cock notch on the hammer. Troops were supposed to carry the weapon without a round in the chamber not seen as an issue. Besides, when they inevitably and sensibly ignored this policy in battle it was easy to just thumb-cock the gun.

Machining of the barrel lugs was simplified, the retention of the bushing was simplified, the machining of the frame was simplified, the grips were simplified; the design was really pared down to it’s essentials. Honestly it wasn’t so much that the Soviets were cheapskates; they were trying to drag a huge, largely medieval nation into the 20th C. and they had seen the writing on the wall; they were going to need a modern military fast. Designs needed to be simple, robust, easy to produce and inexpensive.

The Tokarev deconstructed.

There was one area where innovation trumped inexpensive in a way- the fire-control group. The hammer, sear etc. are placed in a removable unit. Not like ‘Chassis’ of many modern pistols; simply field-strip the gun and it lifts right out. From a manufacturing and military perspective this makes a great deal of sense. It makes manufacturing the guns easier, simplifies machining on the frame and if it goes wrong in the field you just drop in another unit and repair the old one at your leisure. In theory at least. It also makes it easier to clean and maintain, which is nice.

Use of a high-velocity small-bore cartridge was well-conceived. The ammunition was slightly less resource intensive to manufacture, flat-shooting with excellent penetration through heavy cold-weather clothing and soft body armors of the time. Firing a 90-gr. FMC bullets at around 1350 fps. it had plenty power at around 360 ft./lbs at the muzzle, easily comparable to other service cartridges of its day. With its flat-shooting nature it was felt it would allow soldiers to engage effectively at longer ranges.

While the sights are sub-par in modern terms they were among the best and most usable on a service pistol in their time.

The Tokarev served well and I’m told it was much loved by the soldiers. Really though? They were over-thinking this a bit. A pistol is literally the least important weapon on the battlefield, and after WW2 they decided that a less complex, easier to manufacture and less powerful weapon would do. This thinking resulted in the Makarov, but that’s a whole different story.

Variants of the Tokarev remained in production and use by China and many countries in the eastern block long after the soviets had given them up. With their emphasis on function over form trumping attention to detail in the exterior machining and finishing these are often regarded as junk in the west, but in reality they were a well-designed answer to the need and did their job admirably.

The ‘Norincorev’

I expressed a casual interest in trying out a Tokarev online, and my friend Steve surprised me by showing up with a Chinese-made Norinco and a box of surplus Chinese ammunition.

The Chinese Type 51 is a straight-up copy of the Tok, and it and its follow-on guns remained in service there for decades. The import versions, whether from China or eastern European countries, must be fitted with a safety to come into the US. The Norinco’s safety is not the worst of these retrofits, but it’s not particularly good either. It is well-made and positive in use, and while slightly awkward one could get used to it if they had to. this safety is the biggest difference between Soviet T33s and this Chinese version.

The other controls will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the 1911, as will the take-down procedure. It’s a little different, most notably in the use of a spring-clip on the side of the gun to retain the slide-release.

To remove the slide-release you pry this spring-clip to the rear. this is simpler to manufacture, and while it seems odd these days it works well.

The grip is on the small side for many of us, and between that and the grooved grip-panels it doesn’t feel really secure in the hand. It’s actually plenty secure, it just doesn’t feel like it to me. The single-stack magazine holds eight rounds. The gun is thinner and more svelte than the 1911, and rather lighter at 30.7 oz. unloaded. Overall the gun is well-finished, but some of the cosmetic lines that should be straight aren’t. This has no effect on function, of course, and that was the main emphasis on these pistols.

My only real issue is that the magazine release is too short. I don’t mean to reach it, I mean it’s very difficult to push it in far enough for the magazine to drop free; you have to physically pull it from the gun. With my off-hand I can just manage to get the mag to drop. With my shooting hand? Forget it.

My memory of Norincos from back in the day was an overall impression of cheapness and unimpressive, crunchy triggers. This guns trigger is actually decent; a well-fitted 1911 has nothing to fear, but it’s isn’t bad at all. These are an inexpensive service-type pistol, and as such it’s not reasonable to expect beauty-queen looks and a target trigger.

Shooting the Beast

The first shot, as expected, immediately took a bite out if the web between thumb and fore-finger. I expected this, shrugged and shifted my grip. The recoil impulse is similar to 9mm, but it’s loud. More velocity from a smaller hole means a louder, sharper muzzle report. It’s not obnoxious but it startles at first. The gun rapid-fires nicely, but double-taps… not so much. The second round of each string is 9-12″ low at seven yards. I checked myself, made sure I had a good grip and tried again. Same result. Oh well.

Fired briskly at seven yards the Tokarev proved it had the goods.

4-5″ groups at twenty-five yards required no particular effort, and once I had satiated it’s lust for blood the pistol was pleasant to shoot. Over the fifty rounds I had there was no hint of an issue; the gun functioned flawlessly.

Summing it up…

…the Tokarev is a fine mid-20th. Century service pistol. A bit no-frills by western standards, but they work and do the job, which is what really matters. Were I to acquire one I’d need to do something about that hammer-bite and would like a better (or no) safety. I think the Model 57 variant from eastern Europe would suite me better with it’s longer handle. They also come with an extra round; not a great difference but in no way a bad thing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 November 2021

Air Power: Pellet Shoot-Off!

Being the owner of an air rifle now, it seemed like time to check out ammunition. Thanks to my Patreon supporters six tins of pellets arrived today, and I wasted no time putting them to the test. Accuracy testing will happen, but to do that right will require a trip to the range.

Hatsan Airtac .22. Yes, I know the picture is sideways.

The test gun is, of course, the only air-rifle I currently possess- The Hatsan Airtac .22. You can read a review f the rifle here. I mostly like the gun, but was somewhat underwhelmed with it’s velocity with the Gamo Rocket pellets. Fair enough; time to try it with some others.

I logged on to Pyramid Air to see what was what. A dizzying array of different pellets of all weights and designs was what was what. The rifle’s packaging claims up to 1000 fps. and 21 ft./lbs. of energy. I suspect if this is at all accurate it is with a very light hybrid pellet like the H&N Excite Prometheus 9gr. pellet, but sadly these are out of stock. I’ll be notified when they become available and will grab some to test. In the meantime…

Testing was accomplished at approximately ten feet. Velocities were measured with a Caldwell Chronograph, and are the average of three shots each. Pellets are little, so they very sensitive to placement over the device. I kept firing until I had three results to establish the average velocity and extreme spread. Energy was calculated based on the average of those three shots. Temperature was 56 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shots were fired into Clear ballistics 10% Ordinance Gel. Penetration is based on the length of the wound-track, not the resting place of the pellet; projectiles sometimes bounce back in the wound track in this media.

None of the recovered pellets showed any expansion. The pellets are listed in order of weight, starting with-

Benjamin Discovery 14.3 gr.

632 fps. 13 ft./lbs ES: 10 fps. Price: $14.99/500 Per shot: $0.03

Average penetration was 4-5/16 Inches.

H&N Barracuda 15.89gr.

600 fps. 13 ft./lbs ES: 7 fps. Price: $7.99/200 Per shot: $0.04

Average penetration was 4-7/16″

Crossman Powershot 16.7gr

565 fps. 12 ft./lbs ES: 18 fps. Price: $13.59/100 Per shot: $0.14

Average penetration 4-1/4″

Note: These are the most expensive per shot, but they are lead-free. This could be an advantage in certain areas.

H&N Silver Point 17.13gr

555 fps. 12 ft./lbs ES: 11 fps. Price: $7.99/200 Per shot: $0.04

Average penetration 3-11/16″

H&N Barracuda Hunter 18.21gr

517 fps. 13 ft./lbs ES: 11 fps. Price: $9.99/200 Per shot: $0.05

Average penetration 3″

H&N Slug Hollow-Point 27gr

363 fps. 8 ft./lbs ES: 7 fps. Price: $15.99/200 Per shot: $0.08

Average penetration was 2-1/8″


It would seem from these results that speed is power; lighter pellets go faster (duh) and yielded the best penetration and most energy. The Extreme Spreads of four of the six pellets were very good, and the other two weren’t actually bad. It will be interesting to see how the ultra-light 9gr lead-free hybrid pellets perform in terms of penetration; at some point there is probably a point of diminishing returns where the light weight causes the pellet to shed energy quickly enough offer reduced penetration. We’ll see where the ultra-light pellets fall on the spectrum.

Money is also no determiner of performance either; the least expensive pellet was the second best performer, and that was by a narrow margin. The Crosman Powershot was far and away the most expensive and was the third best performer. Unless lead ammunition is prohibited where you are hunting I can’t see any reason to pay 3-4 times as much for them.

Based on power and penetration alone any of these pellets would do the job on small game or pests with good shot placement. This was of course a measure of power; accuracy is at least as important, and I’ll be testing that in a future article.

One other conclusion is perfectly clear; compared to even a .22 rimfire air-rifles are dirt cheap to shoot, and with the ability to humanely take game as large as rabbits even an inexpensive air rifle could be a valuable tool.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 10 November 2021

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Custom S&W Model 1917… Sort Of.

British S&W Model 17, originally chambered in .445 Eley.

The model 1917 is the Military designation for these revolvers, and they were made by both Colt and S&W for WW1, then more were made for Brazil. In Britain they ordered these in their service caliber, .455 Eley. Technically these guns are 2nd Model Hand-Ejectors, but they are still commonly referred to as Model 1917s.

The Military Model 1917s were a second-standard gun for the US Military to make up shortfalls in the available numbers of 1911s at the beginning of our involvement in WW1. They were chambered in the new service cartridge, .45 ACP. Since this was a rimless cartridge and would not eject from a standard revolver the ammunition was packaged in a flat, 3-round spring-steel clips and the cylinder was cut to accommodate these. The clips also insured positive ejection of spent rounds and made it faster to reload. The S&W version was based on their .44 Hand Ejector, and Colt based theirs on the New Service revolver. These weapons served through WW2.

I recently purchased a Brazilain-Contract S&W 1917 to use as a model for making custom N-frame grips. Ever since I stumbled into an Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum in the late 1980’s I’ve had a thing for big-bore snubbies and there was a great temptation to modify the Model 1917. I resisted manfully, but when it turned out a friend had one he was not committed to, well…

The Gun

It’s a British-proofed gun that was chambered for .455, but when it was re-imported they polished the bejeezus out of it, refinished it and bored the chambers for .45 Colt, in the thought that this would sell better in the US. My friend replaced the badly corroded side-plate and the missing lanyard ring. He also fitted it with a set of reproduction grips. The gun had a nice double-action trigger, but was very difficult to cock for single-action firing. I had something he fancied that I was willing to part with and the trade was made.

Oh Baby That’s What I Like!

When it comes to revolvers I have well-established preferences for a carry gun. I like a 3″ barrel, I normally bob the hammer, replace the grips, smooth the trigger-face if needed and relieve the right side of the trigger-guard so my trigger-finger can get from the safe position on the frame under the cylinder to the trigger without hanging up on the guard.

OK then, make it so.

First thing was to remove the side-plate and see what was up with the single-action. I dismantled the action and found… Nothing. I cleaned the interior and parts thoroughly, did a bit of stoning on contact surfaces in the action and reassembled the gun. The single-action worked fine now. No idea what did the trick, but OK then.

I cut the barrel at 3″ and re-crowned it. Then I looked it over and decided, for esthetic reasons, to take off another 1/8″. I used the belt-grinder for this, re-crowned it again and polished the muzzle. 2-7/8″ is close enough.

Next I used sanding drums in the Dremel at low speed to cut and polish the side of the trigger-guard, then touched it up with Oxpho blue.

For the front sight I snagged a piece of 0.10″ mild steel and cut a small rectangular piece to form the sight. I ground the sides to 240 grit. I put a cutting wheel in the Foredom tool (a kind of industrial-quality Dremel with the handpiece on a flex-shaft) and made a slot in the blade to accept the base of the sight. I indexed this on the stamped printing on the top of the blade; this seems to always be well-centered. I soldered the sight in place using low-temperature silver solder so as not to overly soften the barrel. I cleaned that up with files and sandpaper, cut the sight to the profile I wanted then cleaned up the sight and barrel with 1500-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper.

I used a 40 pli. checkering file to cut serrations across the sight. I finished the barrel and sight with oxpho blue, then painted the serrations with orange enamel. I decided not to bob the hammer; again, an esthetic decision.

The final touch was a set of Goncalo-Alves-wood grips precisely fitted to my hand. It’s contoured to provide a firm three-finger grip.

The Result

OK, How’s It Shoot?

Well. The double-action trigger pull went from good to very good, and the single-action is also very good. That’s just a nice bonus; the Theory of Use for a gun like this mandates double-action fire only.

The loads I used were a 200gr. LRNFP bullet over 9.0gr. of Unique and a 185gr. XTP JHP also over 9.0gr. of Unique. Both used Winchester WLP primers. Neither of these is a maximum-pressure load but they are fairly stout, with posted velocities a bit over 1050 fps. from a standard-length gun. Recoil was moderately stout from both loads, but the 200gr. bullets kicked noticeably harder.

Results were acceptable for the first time out.

DA at 7-yards, Fired with a six-o’clock hold on the black bullseye.
Rapid-fire at 7-yards.
Now it gets a little weird. This is also rapid-fire at 7-yards, but this group is well-centered on the point of aim. OK then.

Wrapping It Up

I like it. Shoots well, looks good. Mission accomplished. But…

The thing is, how practical is it, really? The modern understanding is that with all of the variables in a gunfight caliber is one of the least important considerations; the most important thing is to be able to fire a round with enough penetration to interrupt vital structures rapidly and accurately. My 3″ K-frames, my Detonics Combat Master and other guns will do this faster than this gun will. The recoil is not extreme, but I can shoot those other guns faster because of it.

All things being equal the 45 Colt might provide some advantage over the .38s, but all things are never equal; given an adequate caliber skill and training are more likely to be the determining factor in a self-defense shooting.

I’ll practice with this gun, not least because it’s fun, and shoot an ASI match or two. It might be that in absolute terms something else would serve me better, or the difference might be so small as to have no practical effect.

Whatever. I’ve finally got my big-bore snubby, and I love it!

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 7 November 2021