Author Archives: tinker1066

Post Modern Muzzle-Loader

OK, I’m told my last post was entirely too sensible, and that I need to write something ridiculous before people started thinking I’d hired a ghost-writer or been replaced by an alien pod. You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, we’re not getting straight to the point.

The S&W #1 revolver, the first real commercial cartridge revolver

In 1859 Smith & Wesson introduced the first of their cartridge revolvers. It’s mechanism was a bit awkward and it was only fast to reload compared to percussion revolvers. It was chambered in .22 Rim Fire (what we now call .22 Short) and was far from a power-house… but it caught on because reloading was faster and easier than previous front-loaders.

S&W .32 Army revolver, a scaled-up version of the #1 revolver, and quite an improvement in power.

The lack of power was addressed, uh, sort of, with the introduction of the #2 Army revolver, which naturally was never adopted by any army anywhere, chambered in .32 Rim Fire. Still not awfully powerful but worlds better than .22 RF. This cartridge is where our story begins.

Once S&Ws monopoly patent on the bored-through cylinder expired every Tom, Dick and Harry jumped on the band wagon and started making small revolvers, and many of them chambered .32 RF or .32 Short RF. Rimfire cartridges have their limitations, and they were supplanted by center-fire cartridges pretty quickly, but there are still a lot of .32 RF revolvers and ‘Squirrel Guns’ around from it’s very brief heyday.

Some of these guns are quite interesting, like the Remington ring-trigger pocket revolver, but I have avoided them. I like to shoot my guns, and production of .32 Rimfire ammo had almost entirely ceased by the time I was born. Short runs and special production runs have occurred but for the most part it simply can’t be had.

The I saw that someone had figured out a way…

These Dixie Gunworks shells are made to be used in .32 RF guns.

Several makers created cartridge cases that are bored to accept a .22 Blank, mostly set off-center so that when placed in the breech or cylinder correctly the firing pin will strike the edge of the rimfire blank and fire it. You can load a blank, add some black powder and a ball or heel-base bullet up front and fire your gun to your hearts content. Of course if the cartridge isn’t aligned correctly the firing pin won’t hit the blank. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt, but it’s doable. Not inexpensive , either.

The next refinement I saw was the same idea, but instead of a .22 Crimp Blank with black powder you use a nail-gun Powder Actuator, which is really just a powerful .22 rimfire blank. You don’t deal with powder at all; the blank is sufficient to propel a bullet at useful velocity. OK, it’s easier but it’s still expensive, so I won’t be rushing out to buy me a .32 RF any time soon… but it got me thinking. In this day of ammunition and primer shortages could you adapt this to a more modern firearm?

In short- yes. but it would need to be a revolver and it would still probably be more trouble than it was worth… but what about a single-shot pistol? You know a nail-gun blank will propel a .32 bullet at useful velocity from the modified .32 RF cartridges. Why not in a muzzle-loader? It would be useful for small game, and Nail-Gun blanks are not in particularly short supply, and making a single-shot pistol is something I know how to do…

Yeah, I did it. Some sawing, a bit of grinding, some silver-soldering and threading and… OK, it should be simple enough. Of course what should be and what actually happens, in the immortal words of Jane Cobb, ‘…ain’t never but similar.’

The mechanism could hardly be simpler… *JAWS theme plays in the background*

This is well-travelled territory for me, so it went surprisingly quickly… until it didn’t. Where it didn’t was achieving the right balance of springs and firing-pin location and shape to reliably detonate the blank. That took all bloody day and then some. Finally it was firing the blank, fist-time, every time. *whew!*

The functional (but very much unfinished) muzzle-loading .32,
Bullet in one end, Powder Actuator in the other. Easy Peasy.

So, to load one stuffs a bullet in the muzzle and uses a ramrod to force it as deep as it will go. Since this bore is .320 rather than the typical .312 used in .32’s this is not exceptionally difficult; it’s tight, but you needn’t hammer it in.

Once this is done you cock the pistol t the first notch, release the catch on the side and tilt the barrel up. Put the Powder Actuator in the breech, close and latch it and you are ready to go. Simply cock the hammer, aim and fire.

The blanks come in strengths from 1-5, and i started right in the middle with number 3s. I have to confess I had my doubts, but it worked a treat! It went bang like a gun, recoiled like a gun and put a bullet into ordinance gel like a gun. Success! It works just as it should.

So how powerful it it? Well, the #3 blank propelled a 100gr LSWC at sufficient speed to penetrate 10.5 inches, and a 60gr, bullet 13-1/2″ deep. Reasonable and comparable to factory .32 S&W Long ammunition. Later I’ll break out the chronograph and see what’s what, and perhaps try it with a #4 blank.

I am aware of course that I haven’t actually accomplished anything particularly useful; neither I nor anyone else needs such a contraption. But then it’s not always about ‘need,’ is it? It’s fun, and that’s all it needs to be.

Now that I have proven the concept I’ll finish the gun nicely, add some sights and grip panels. There’s no hurry of course; I’ve got blog-posts starting to back up… anyway, rest assured I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 22 February 2021

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House-Clearing for the Armed Civilian

I just saw an ad(not current) for a course in House Clearing for the Armed Civilian, and holy hoppin’ jalapenos it was expensive! So, I am going to save you a fortune, travel expense and 3-5 days of your precious time and explain it in this blog for absolutely free. Furthermore this course will contain all of the information and techniques 95% of you will need! I am completely confident that after reading this you will be able to perform this task in an expert fashion.

Scenario 1: An Unhappy Homecoming

So, you come home and there are signs that your house has been entered in your absence. First attempt to determine if the intrusion is unfriendly. If a car belonging to a friend or family member isn’t parked conspicuously nearby, odds are the intruder is hostile.

  1. Get some distance from the house and maintain situational awareness.
  2. Get out your phone and dial 9-1-1
  3. Wait for the police
  4. Watch the police search your house.
  5. Enter only when instructed to after it is determined that there is no threat or a suspect is under the police’s control.

Scenario 2: Not business as Usual

So, you arrive at your place of business and there are signs that the premises has been entered in your absence. First attempt to determine if the intrusion is unfriendly. If a car belonging to a co-worker isn’t parked conspicuously nearby, odds are the intruder is hostile.

  1. Get some distance from the premises and maintain situational awareness.
  2. Get out your phone and dial 9-1-1
  3. Wait for the police
  4. Watch the police search the premises.
  5. Enter only when instructed to after it is determined that there is no threat or a suspect is under the police’s control.

Scenario 3: A Bump in the Night

So, your are in bed asleep when wake suddenly and there are signs that your house has been entered as you slept. First attempt to determine if the intrusion is unfriendly. If a car belonging to a friend or family member isn’t parked conspicuously nearby, odds are the intruder is hostile.

  1. Stay where you are and if necessary gather family members present to the same room. Maintain situational awareness.
  2. Get out your phone and dial 9-1-1
  3. Wait for the police and continue to talk to the dispatcher.
  4. Listen to the police search your house.
  5. Exit the room and speak to the police only when instructed to after it is determined that there is no threat or a suspect is under the police’s control.

The more perceptive among you may have detected a common thread here…

Critical Equipment

I’ve already specified you are an armed civilian, so we’ll assume a handgun or other suitable weapon. You also need a cell phone, and it may be prudent to carry a compact supplemental charger to make sure it operates.

It doesn’t need to be a Sig Sauer and an iPhone, just your EDC and whatever phone you have.

You will also need a brain and common sense.

In Conclusion

OK, this article is obviously a little tongue-in-cheek, but I’m making a real point here. Most of us live in urban or sub-urban areas with lots of neighbors and a not-crazy police response time. Your taxes pay for those police; use them. It’s what they’re for.

I did a lot of building searches back in the day. Doing it with a partner is difficult and nerve-racking. Doing it by yourself was viewed as just plain dumb. I came off shift one night and arrived at my apartment to discover that there seemed to be someone in there. What did I, a trained, armed police officer do? Cell phones not yet being a thing I went to a neighbor’s and called the police. Fortunately the burglar went out a back window when they arrived and no one was hurt. My neighbors may have thought I was a coward, about which I give not one single shit. It was late, I was exhausted and, most tellingly, I was alone. My training told me that doing a search alone was dumb, and I was not about to risk dying for pride and to save face… because that would be dumb.

Look, 99% of us are just folks. We know our way around our gear and how to handle it safely. Hopefully we also know how, and more importantly when, to shoot. We’re not trained for this stuff, and trying to DIY it on the fly is liable to get someone killed. Unfortunately it won’t necessarily be the bad guy. The likelihood that we will need to do this is remote enough that it probably doesn’t justify the cost of a SWAT-type course… which if it’s any good at all will train you to not try to do this alone anyway.

The police are trained; in fact it’s their job. They will bring the right gear and enough people to do the job properly. Don’t worry that it might be nothing; it’s their job and they’d probably rather it was, in fact, a false alarm.

Note: I know some of you may live in situations where this advice is impractical for one reason or another, so obviously this doesn’t apply to you. You’ll have to make your own assessment of the risk and your needs and prepare appropriately.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 21 February 2021

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Guns that also ‘won the West.’

A lot of firearms have claimed the title of ‘The Gun That Won the West;’ the Colt Peacemaker, the Winchester rifle, even the one I consider the rightful holder of that title, the single or double-barrel shotgun.

The Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver- an Icon of the Old West.

While all of these weapons played their roles and we can argue their claims until we’re blue in the face, these were not weapons carried on a day to day basis by average citizens. They were carried mostly by outdoorsmen; cowboys, prospectors, Army scouts and lawmen. But most people were not of that ilk; shopkeepers, bankers, blacksmiths and all the myriad folks that make a society work would have looked mighty out of place with a full-sized belt pistol.

This is not to say they went unarmed, though many of them did. Those that did were simply more discreet about it. Derringers abounded, most having a single or double barrel, and there were a few 4-shooters as well. But the market seems to have been dominated by compact small-caliber revolvers. Colt’s first proper cartridge-revolver was in fact a pocket gun, and as soon as the Rollin White patent on bored through cylinders expired the market for such guns boomed.

Colt Pocket revolvers in .22 and .32 rimfire.

Colt, Remington and others offered quite a few variations on the theme, and these were for the most part solid-frame , single-action revolvers that either loaded via a gate (like the Peacemaker) or by removing the cylinder; in either case reloading was a somewhat awkward process, and not generally a fast one.

S&W had a different solution- they introduced their top-break, auto-ejecting #3 revolver, and by the mid 1870s introduced pocket versions of these guns in .32 and .38 S&W.

S&W .38 Single Action revolver. it and it’s little brother in .32 caliber were first of the auto-ejecting top-break pocket revolvers.

Like their Schofield revolver these compact guns ejected their shells automatically when the mechanism was opened, and thus could be reloaded much, much faster than solid-frame gate-loading guns. While it is true that top-breaks are weapons are weaker than solid-frame guns this did not prevent them from being chambered in potent calibers like .44-40, and many of these guns work as well today as they did 150 years ago, so ‘weak’ is a relative term.

Shortly thereafter S&W introduced top-break double-action revolvers, and then hammerless variants of those. Other companies quickly jumped on that bandwagon, though none in my opinion equaled the quality of the S&W guns. Between the cheap solid-frames and top-breaks pretty much anyone could afford a pocket-revolver that would work at least long enough to save their life (provided they could shoot.)

Below are photos of some of these guns from a variety of makers. Solid-frame guns are sadly under-represented. I’ll need to work on that…

‘British Bulldog’ style revolvers, whether actually made in Britain, or in Belgium, Spain of even the US, were quite popular. The Webley Royal Irish Constabulary revolver was also a popular choice, and it is rumored that General custer was carrying a pair of these guns when he fell at the Little Bighorn. Top-left: a US-made Forehand & Wadsworth in .38 S&W. These guns were also available as a 7-shooter in .32 S&W, or as a five-shooter in .44 Webley. Top-right: A Webley model 1883 RIC in .450 Adams. Bottom: A folding-trigger bulldog made by Antione Bertrand of Leige, Belgium in .380 Revolver.
.32 was a very popular caliber for small guns for concealed-carry, starting with .32 Rimfire. .32 S&W was the most popular choice, but .32 Short Colt and .32 Long Colt were also in the mix. Top-left and top-center: Iver Johnson .32 Automatic safety hammerless (1st Model) in ,32 S&W. Top-right: Hopkins & Allen .32 Safety Police in .32 S&W. Bottom Left: Colt New Pocket in .32 Long Colt Bottom right: Harrington & Richardson Automatic Ejector (large frame) in .32 S&W
>38 S&W was a very popular caliber for concealed carry. Top Left: Harrington & Richardson .38 Safety Hammerless, Top Right: S&W Model 2 .38 Single Action. Bottom Left: Harrington & Richardson Automatic Ejector (Large frame) in .38 S&W. Bottom Center: Iver Johnson Automatic Safety Hammerless .38. Bottom Right: S&W .38 Double Action (2nd Change)

From the 1870s through the end of the century there were no shortage of concealed-carry revolvers, and they while their larger siblings grabbed all the glory these were the guns of everyday folk.

There are a great many still out there, and since such guns were carried (or sat in a night-stand drawer) far more than they were taken out and fired many of them are still in good, useable condition. Most are not too expensive, though prices are rising as better-known guns increase in value; a case of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ You should of course have any such firearm carefully examined by an expert before firing them, and you should fire them if it’s safe; they’re a lot of fun to master. Of course you’ll probably want to reload your own ammunition; these old calibers can be hard to find and expensive when you do.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 February 2021

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