Friday, June 29, 2007

Fair and Balanced

Apparently, the average number right is only 18...

How smart are you?

Uhhhh ok, I can see getting one wrong... maybe two... but 7?

I weep for the nation.


Oh and here's the breakdown on race and gender that they provide... I wonder why they are bothering. Perhaps a social experiment, or jsut for gits and shiggles:

Male Average:19.12
Female Average:17.45

East Indian19.1
White/Caucasian18.37
Pacific Islander17.75
Asian17.45
Native American17.37
Middle Eastern17.35
Black/African Descent17.3
Other17.3
Latino/Hispanic17.08

Why is ammo so expensive?

Yesterday, I was reading the gun thing forums, and the question was asked (and I'm paraphrasing here):

"Dear everloving god .30-06 hunting ammo is expensive. I've seen .30-06 anywhere from $8.50 a box to $30 a box, what's the difference and why are they sucking m life blood away with every shot?"

Well, that's an interesting question; and like most interesting questions, it's got a long, and somewhat complicated answer.

The first thing is that the price of ammo has gone up at least 50% over the past few years (and in some cases has doubled or more). It used to be $4 a box for 5.56 55gr Mil-Ball and now (if you can get any), its between $6.50 and $9 depending on who made it, where, when etc...

This is for two reasons:
  1. The war has made demand for new ammo skyrocket all over the world (not just the U.S.). There is only so much production capacity available.

    For example, Syria took up pretty much an entire years worth of production of 7.62x39 from Russia; leaving none on the market from the major Russian producers for that entire year except what was already stocked.

    Ohlin is the primary manufacturer of 5.56 ammo and components in the world (they ARE Winchester ammunition; and they make the components for many of the other ammo companies) and most of their production capacity has been spent fulfilling orders from the US, and NATO allies.

  2. The price of the metals used in ammunition production (copper, nickel, lead, tin, antimony) have all gone through the roof as well. Over the past four years, the price of copper has quadrupled from recent lows. Copper is the main component of cases and jackets.

    This increase in demand for commodities is primarily due to increased demand from China and India; as well as a reaction to the drawdown in the mining industry in the mid 90s. The industry added too much production capacity in the late 80s (which itself was a reaction to housing booms, and computer manufacturing booms) which glutted the market with cheap copper, causing the prices to collapse. This made mining less profitable, therefore they reduced capacity to compensate, which would have naturally settled the price to a reasonable, profitable but not ridiculous level.

    Well, no-one foresaw this major upswing in demand, they reduced production capacity too far, and the cycle continues to rollercoaster. In a couple years the commodity prices should come down a bit, and stabilize; because additional production capacity will have come on line (it takes 2-6 years for mining production capacity changes to catch up to the market).
Anyway, this whole issue has made ALL ammo more expensive; but the biggest impact is on the low end; both because it's the low end where raw materials cost is the largest percentage of their production cost; and because high end ammo is already priced about as high as the market will bear (at least what it will bear today anyway).

What we're seeing in response is a reloading renaissance over the past three years. From the 60s through the mid 80s, good factory ammo was REALLY expensive (relative to income, even more so than today); and after '86 the availability of surplus ammunition was poor (rule changes in how the gov't disposed of surplus); so lots of folks handloaded/reloaded.

In the 90s the cost of ammo fell precipitously, because of the aforementioned copper glut; and because of new sources of cheap surplus ammo from abroad. In fact, a large number of ammunition manufacturers went out of business (partly form the price changes, and partly from liability costs); and many ammunition factories in the U.S. closed, because their bare production cost was higher than the retail cost of the imported ammo.

As a result, you couldn't load it yourself for less than the cost of buying the imports; and handloading became far less popular. Basically, instead of being the best way to shoot on the cheap; handloading was reduced to those for whom it was a hobby in and of itself; or an adjunct for competition shooters (who need large volumes of premium quality ammo), and shooters who shot rare chamberings (for which cheap ammo wasn't available).

Well, most of that imported ammo supply has dried up; partly because of the war, and partly because the UN and the ATF are working together (no, not a conspiracy theory, it's verifiably true) to reduce global ammo exports (and thus imports into this country).

This has resulted in the near complete removal of South African surplus ammo from the market for example. They had been our best source of good quality surplus 7.62x51 and 5.56n ammunition. Other countries have of course been effected as well; but it's the SA stuff being missing that really hurts us EBR shooters.

Now, addressing "premium" ammo specifically (by which I mean hunting and defensive ammo primarily, but premium target ammo as well), there is another set of conditions added on top of that which increase the costs.

Typically speaking, at todays prices, generic FMJ ammo is about $16 a box of 50 retail for .45acp, $13 a box of 50 retail for 9mm, and $6.50 a box of 20 retail for .223.

Those same chamberings in a premium defensive or hunting ammunition would run you about $19 a box of 20 for .45, about $17 a box of 20 for 9mm, and about $23 a box of 20 for .223... maybe a bit more or a bit less depending on which exact load you are talking about.

Thats a swing from about $0.30 a round to about $0.95 a round for .45; from $0.26 to $1.17 a round for 9mm; and from $0.33 a round to $1.15 a round for .223

Basically, you typically pay three to four times as much for "premium" ammo as you do for generic stuff... and it used to be a bigger disparity before the commodity crunch made low end ammo so much more expensive.

Ouch.

Ok, Why? Are the ammo companies just gouging?

Well, no they aren't gouging; but they are charging what the market will bear. As I said, the increase in ammo prices overall has only bumped premium ammo up between 10 and 20% while it has bumped low end ammo up 50% to 400%. Part of that is because the materials costs are a lower percentage of the total price of premium ammo (which we'll get to in a minute), and part is because the ammo companies just can't charge any more without hurting sales badly.

Ok, so they are charging as much as they can get for it; but why is premium ammo so much more expensive to make?

It comes down to the type and construction of component used; and the care taken with the construction of the round overall.
  1. Quality components are more expensive

  2. Making ANYTHING to a high degree of precision is more time consuming, requires more skill, and has a higher rejection rate; and that's even more so with ammo. Ammunition requires more precision than most other products to begin with, never mind premium ammunition (which has tolerances measured in ten thousandths of an inch and ten thousandths of an ounce).
The fact is, it takes a lot of time to make top quality ammo. In your own home you can crank out 1000 rounds per hour of medium quality ammunition in the same time it takes to make bulk ammo, using a progressive reloading machine just like the smaller premium ammo manufacturers use (the Dillon Super1050) ; just by using better quality components.

Just about every major manufacturer has a line of ammuniton that uses better quality components, and are built to a better standard. These rounds are naturally more expensive; but they aren't any more time consuming to make on standard production machinery. These are their medium priced rounds (the difference between an $8.50 box of .30-06 and a $15 box)

Making the best match grade ammunition though, it takes a lot of time. You go from 1000 rounds an hour on a progressive machine, to 20 or 30 rounds per hour on a single stage; because every step has to be carefully controlled, monitored, weighed and measured, to ensure consistency (the difference between a $15 box and a $30 box).

Of course the big ammunition manufacturers aren't loading their ammo by hand at 30 rounds per hour (though some of the smaller specialty places will, for an enormous amount of money); they've spent tens of millions of dollars on manufacturing technologies that allow them to load thousands of rounds per hour at the top quality; but that's still a lot less production capacity than the hundreds of thousands of rounds per hour they can get with bulk ammo from the same investment in machinery.

The "super premium" rounds from Federal (the gold match line), Black Hills, Norma, Dynamit Nobel, Lapua, Eley etc... are all substantially more expensive than even the "premium" rounds, because they use even higher quality components, and take a lot more care in loading to ensure consistency (which means accuracy and precision); thus use more expensive and time consuming production techniques and equipment.

As to why premium hunting and defensive COMPONENTS (bullets, cases, and primers; as opposed to the full assemblage of the rounds they are made into), theres a few reasons:
  1. Manufacturing time, technology, and tooling are expensive

  2. There is a lower volume of sales of such components to amortize the costs of said development and tooling

  3. There is a much higher level of precision, quality control, rejection rate etc… for such bullets; which both increases production time overall, and which requires even MORE expensive manufacturing technology and tooling.
All told, the bullet is generally the second most expensive component of a loaded round (the brass case is generally the most expensive, though sometimes those positions reverse); but it’s the quality control that really ups the cost.

Just to give you an example of how MUCH the quality control ups the cost vs how much the cost of components does; let's look at the costs of handloading bulk rounds vs the absolute best quality match rounds.

This isolates the differences in productions costs for the loaded rounds. Though it incorporates the cost differences in components, you'll see those are actually rather small compared to the actual manufacturing costs - labor, production line time, and quality control.

Using .223 as an example, the costs per 1000 rounds are as follows:
Bulk Ammo:
  • Primers - $22
  • Cases - $152
  • Bullets - $83
  • Powder - $35
Super Premium Match Grade:
  • Benchrest primers - $29
  • Match grade cases - $200
  • Match bullets - $133
  • Match grade powder - $43
As you can see, there is a substantial difference in cost per round for just the components of bulk ammo vs. top quality. The bulk ammo costs us $292 per 1000, or $0.29 per round; the premium $405 per thousand, or $0.41 per round.
A side note: I used the average of several different brands of match grade brass here, because the absolute top quality brass (from Lapua of Finland), is insanely expensive. In fact, even the most premium ammunition from all but a few specialty manufacturers doesn't use special benchrest brass, because it costs two to three times the price of standard bulk production brass, for a very small increase in performance over the match brass which is only 50% more expensive than bulk. Ammunition made with such brass sells for $40 per box (of 20) or more.
Compare though the price difference in those components, with the price difference in the loaded rounds:
  • Bulk component cost was $0.29 per round, bulk loaded cost was $0.33 per round. The labor, production line time, and QC component of the rounds price here was only $0.04. That's only about 13% of the cost of the loaded round.

  • The premium components were $0.12 more expensive per rounds (almost 30%) at $0.41; but the loaded cost of a premium round is about $1.15. This means that production costs (labor, production line time, and QC) were $0.74 more than the component cost; 65% of the cost of the loaded round.
If premium loaded rounds were made to about the same standard as bulk ammo, as a cost percent, they would only cost about $o.53 per round; less than half their actual cost.

Of course you see the difference at the other end. A rifle that will group 5 shots into 8" at 300 yards with the bulk ammo may group into under 1" with the higher quality ammo (and in fact this happens every day).

Alright, but what if you aren't a target shooter; and you don't need that 1/4 moa grouping; or a handgun shooter where 8 MOA is generally considered pretty good shooting?

It's all about consistency of performance. With target shooting you're worried about pinpoint accuracy; but with defense and hunting you need good (though not spectacular) accuracy with the best possible terminal performance.

To achieve this, you can't significantly reduce the quality control required, and you actually have to increase the technology required.

Now as I said above, technology and quality control are also factored into the price of those premium components themselves. We've talked about QC costs already, but why, other than good quality control, are the component bullets expensive?

Simple, because a lot of technology and development went into making them perform properly for their intended role.

A lot of development? It's just a hunk of metal that weighs a half an ounce (or less), just how much development could there be?

A whole hell of a lot actually.

Premium defensive hollowpoint ammunition is designed to penetrate well, but still expand to the maximum possible extent, while retaining all of its weight and not fragmenting; across a range of pressures and velocities appropriate to the weapons it will be shot from.

That's not easy; in fact it's fantastically difficult.

The hollowpoint bullet was invented in the late 1880s, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that hollow points that would reliably feed, expand, and not disintegrate were fully developed. It was the mid 1990s before you could find a whole selection of them from various manufacturers; and we are STILL trying to figure out how to optimize the performance of such bullets; and improve their capabilities across a broader range of weapons (short barreled guns perform very differently from long barreled guns for example).

The story in hunting bullets is similar; only there are even more variables, because instead of trying to stop a relatively fragile, thin skinned human being at short range, you have to design bullets that will stop everything from tiny furry ground squirrels at short range, to huge relatively (compared to humans) thick skinned elk, ram etc... at VERY long ranges; to damn near armored hide rhinos, elephants, hippos, and other dangerous game, at medium to short ranges.

Each type of game, and type of hunt, requires different performance characteristics from the bullets. Thin skinned small game require shallow penetration and radical expansion. Thick skinned game require very deep penetration with very little expansion. Dangerous thin skinned game (mountain lions for example) require both deep penetration and expansion.

The technology of those bullets goes into managing their penetration and expansion; and developing that technology has been a long, difficult, and expensive process.

Now, if you’re just plinking or casual target shooting, there is no need to buy ammo built to this standard; and in the common calibers there are several sources of mil-surp or generic ammo available at much lower cost than the various hunting and defensive loads.
Just a note on mil-surp, and imported generic ammo. Some are corrosive, some not, and some maybe/iffy. They almost all use FMJ (though some use lower quality JHP or other designs); and are generally made to various foreign military standards. Those standards are generally pretty good, but not something to trust a match, or a trophy buck to, and certainly not something I'd trust in a defensive handgun situation.
For hunting, match use, or defensive use though; theres a pretty good reason why you want to use the best ammo you can: You only get one shot at doing it right.

Would you bet your life on a cheap bullet?

Three Questions

I have three questions for those of you who would like to ban guns (though why you would be reading this I have no idea; my website must give you seizures).

You have to answer all three, in a logical and consistent manner; without emotional justification, circular logic, evasions, appeals to the precautionary principle, appeals to authority, statistics (most of the ones you would be quoting are false anyway, and I can prove it to you if you like), appeals to motive, or any other logical fallacy:
  1. You say you feel safer knowing that guns are banned; why is that?

  2. Do you recognize that when guns are banned, the only people carrying guns will be criminals (who ignore such bans because they are criminals. no law will stop criminals from carrying guns); and as such by supporting gun control, you are saying that you're fine with criminals having guns but not law abiding citizens?

  3. Given this, do you believe that the mere possession of a gun turns a law abiding citizen into a criminal menace?

The front sight offer controversy

Welcome visitors from Ace of spades( and minx, and any other non-blocked alias), Arf.com, THR, Gunnutz, ArmedPoliteSociety, WarRifles, and everyone else who has been making up the majority of my traffic the last three days.

It seems that as the Front Sight training offer gets close to expiration (it expires tomorrow by the way), more folks are hitting my page. It also seems like I'm the main source of information on the web for the offer.

Which is kinda funny 'cuz it went out to everyone who gets the Front Sight newsletter; which is a lot of folks. Funny enough, I'm not one of them, but a friend of mine who was forwarded it to me.

Ok, well, some people have raised some questions, and some objections to the post and or its related content.

First thing, yes it is a tremendous amount of linkwhoring; and I'm usually against linkwhoring. I don't trade links with people for publicity or more traffic etc... I only link to those things that I like, and to those sites that I read or recommend.

This one is a bit iffy for me; because it is a LOT of links (40 of them in fact), and not all are strictly relevant to stuff I would read or recommend. I do like, and recommend Front Sight however, so it's not like I'm linkwhoring strictly for profit. That said, I wouldn't have put that many inks to that much stuff if I weren't getting the certificate for it.

The second thing is; it seems like I was the first major gunblog to go for it; and not a lot of other major gun blogs (a few, but not many) have followed up.

From comments on other sites, it looks like a lot of people seem to think it's a scam. It isn't. I got my certificate last week. My wife (who is also a gunblogger) should be getting hers shortly, several of my friends have already received theirs.

SO, how can it NOT be a scam?

Easy: Publicity and promotion.

What this offer does is get people in the gun world thinking and talking about Front Sight; essentially for the cost of a few instructor hours, which are a sunk cost anyway. Not only that but they get to write off the cost of every certificate they send out (whether it's redeemed or not) as a promotional expense against potential realized revenue.

Then, when the bloggers all take their free courses, they are going to write about their experiences, and give the place more publicity.

More importantly though; in the hard core gun world the gun blogs and gun forums are the opinion shapers now; and have been for the past few years.

The glossy gun mags have largely lost influence over those serious about the pursuit of arms, because they write the same crap over and over; and because it seems they are unwiling to say a bad thing about a sponsor (more on that in a minute).

Finally, every time the link list gets posted, or linked to by someone else, Front Sights google ranking goes up; without having to pay google for ad-words.

Dr. Iggy is not a dumb man, nor one to waste money.

Some folks have a concerned that you wont get the same quality of training from the free course as you would from paying for it.

When you redeem your certificate, you will get the same course that other people have paid $2000 for; and from all indications, it's a good course that's worth the money.

The only thing that some may find objectionable, is that while you are there, they are going to try and sell you more courses, and a lifetime membership. They do this to every attendee, not just to the free ones; and if you don't want to listen to the sales pitch, you don't have to.

Another point, a lot of folks don't like the founder and owner.

Dr. Ignatius Piazza... well he's a bit of a character. A lot of folks have a problem with Dr. Iggy. A lot of folks have sued Dr. Iggy in fact. Some have even won. There may be a valid principled objection to taking a course a a facility this guy owns. From what I know, and it's a fair bit though certainly not everything; I don't think so.

I've been to the Front Sight facility (which is not in Vegas BTW, which some folks seem to object to for some reason; they're in Pahrump, a fair ways a way) and it's excellent. Their instructors and course work are also excellent. I've never taken one of their courses, and I'm not going to turn down good, free, firearms instruction; even if their founder is not well liked.

As I said before, Jeff Cooper and Gabe Suarez are disliked intensely by a lot of people. I'm a Gunsite grad and I certainly have no problem with taking training from Gabe either.

Some folks just have a problem with bloggers "selling out", or in any way receiving compensation for what they are writing.

Well, what exactly is a sellout? To my mind the glossy gun rags have for the most part sold out, in that they seem to exist mostly as a vehicle for press releases and friendly product reviews for their sponsors. I've canceled all my subscriptions except to Small Arms Review; which I consider the best magazine for following developments in military small arms and the Class II world (I also recommend Gun Tests, Concealed Carry Magazine, and Shotgun News).

Bloggers linking to stuff they actually like and believe in, and receiving benefit from it... I don't think that's selling out at all.

Now, if you have a moral objection to the concept of linking for stuff; fine and dandy, that is your prerogative; but I don't think it's a problem. So long as it doesn't change the way I blog, and the subjects I blog about; and so long as I disclose what I'm getting for it; I'm good.

I was a professional writer at one point (about technology, and security; during the .bomb); and I never wrote what I was told because of sponsors then, when I was getting actual cash. I don't intend to start now.

Any other questions?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The one crack that doesn't mean a dead gun

A few weeks ago in "When not to buy a pistol" I wrote:
Oh, and a note for someone who isn't averse to a little gun smithing work, or a good bargain; there is one specific, common, very small crack that doesn't ruin a 1911:

If there is a small crack in the bridge of metal over the slide stop notch (not the pin hole, the notch in front of the plunger tube), and that crack doesn't extend beyond the corners of the notch; the metal can be machined out, and the frame saved.
Yesterday, I wrote about rebuilding Kommanders pistol... well... funnily enough, I now have a perfect example of the problem I mentioned above:


Before we go any further, let me just make a note about the pictures here. I've deliberately blown out the contrast and sharpness on these pics to highlight the problems; the metal in no way looks this roughly machined, pitted etc... The photographic enhancement I've done kida makes it look like the surface of the moon, when in actuality its no worse a final machines surface than any other gun. Also, sorry for the focus issues. They all looked properly focused to the eye, but I didn't use the right depth of field. I don't have a very good short lens, and should have shot these with aperture priority and manual focus.
Anyway, what you see here is a classic example of the "slide stop notch bridge rail" crack (yes, seriously, the little piece is called the "slide stop notch bridge rail").

That one little spot is the weakest point on a 1911 frame; and it's a load bearing part. Not only that, but it just happens to be the point of greatest torsion and flexion in the frame... and to top it all off, they take a big bit out of the supporting structure below it, making a natural stress rise...

Let's just say it's not surprising to see a crack here. In fact it's so common, that many 1911 manufacturers and custom gunsmiths simply modify the frame to remove that section of the rail by default.

In the case of this 1911, the crack has probably been there for a while, but it was never noticed before. These cracks generally start small and thin; and they aren't always apparent with a basic field strip under the lube and light dirt (even a clean gun still has some grease, lube, particulate etc...). Often, you need to clean the gun off thoroughly and view the rails under a bright white or green (higher contrast) light to even see the crack; and if you don't know what your looking for, you might not even notice it.

In this case, the process of refinishing (heating the gun up to 200, degreasing it, repeating that; then heating the gun up to 350 degrees to cure the epoxy) probably very slightly widened the crack; then shooting it chipped the coating off, highlighting the crack perfectly as you see above.

That's why I call it a perfect example.

Now... repairing it. Aye, there's the rub.

I mentioned in that same piece that one of the most critical factors in accuracy in a 1911 is the rail fit and geometry. Well, we're about to chop a section of rail out here; it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that in doing so, we don't change the fit of the rails, the geometry, or the surface hardness.

If you cut or grind too hard or too fast on the rails, you are going to differentially heat them, which will induce torsional warping, as well as de-temper the areas around the cut. It could reduce the hardness of the rails is some areas, increase it in others; and can cause both inaccuracy, and the premature failure of the frame.

The way you avoid that is to work quickly, at as low speed as possible, while maintaining a good clean cut that doesn't bind or bog down. As the part heats up (before it gets too hot to touch) you stop, move off the work piece, and come back to it after letting it cool.

Before we continue, let me make my standard disclaimer:

If you bugger up your gun based on any advice or information I give you; you are an idiot and you deserve whatever you get. I wash my hands of it.

...Now, what tools to use?

You could do this job very quickly with a number of different tools. A bench grinder would do it, a band saw, a die grinder; even an angle grinder; but I find that they all are lacking in fine and precise control; and they don't fit into the angles I want to get into (reader Mark also points out that the proper tool for the job is an end mill. Yes Mark, it is; but I don't have a mill... yet...)

Also, I think that a conventional die grinder, or a bench grinder would heat the work piece too much too fast.

I have a die grinder, but really a micro die grinder is what I think is called for here. Unfortunately I don't have one of those (I DO have all the other tools I mentioned above, just not a micro die grinder). What I do have, is a couple of different Dremel tools.

For this job I used a Dremel XPR (variable speed moto-tool) with a flex shaft, and a reinforced abrasive cutoff wheel:



These particular pieces are the favorites of gun butchers everywhere; but if you are careful, slow, and deliberate, you can do a very good job with them. Professional gunsmiths almost all use Foredoms flex shaft grinders (or the Chinese copies thereof) for their heavy duty work; but I don't know a single gunsmith that doesn't have a few Dremel tools around.

As I said above, the proper technique is to have the work piece properly braced, and your hands and tools properly braced in relation to it. Then go as slow as you can while maintaining a good cut; without getting too much heating of the piece, and at as low an rpm as possible.

If you see any more sparking than this, you're going to fast:



For any heavier work you'll generally want to clamp the frame in a padded vise; but in this case you aren't removing a lot of metal, and you're going to need to reposition a lot, and get into some tight spaces and angles; so I'm risking life and limb, and bracing the frame on my thigh and knee (with a flame resistant leather pad under it) with a solid hand grip.

Obviously you can't see here, but I am wearing safety glasses. Any time you're using power tools you should wear safety glasses; but this is especially true when you're cutting or grinding metal, and doubly so again when you're using a tool that's spinning at high speed. Those cutoff wheels throw off tiny bits of abrasive at very high speed, and they sometimes shatter catastrophically; believe me you want to be wearing safety glasses for that.

You might want to wear gloves for something like this.. it's probably a good idea; but I think you lose too much feel for fine metal work if you wear gloves. Also, my hands are so scarred up, burned, and calloused anyway (cooking, welding, shooting, knife and sword work, unarmed martial arts, and playing guitar)... I'm not too concerned about it.

What you want to do is to cut out the entire portion of the rail above the frame opening; and then cut the rails back a bit at a slight angle on both sides. You're probably going to want to take the cut in a couple passes, one to create a larger hole to work the cutoff wheel in (which reduces the heating) and then a final cut on both sides. Here it is after the first rough cut before finish grinding:



I'm showing the rough cuts here, because the final finished ground and polished surfaces don't photograph well.

What you're trying to do is eliminate and prevent any stress risers; which means no sharp corners. Heres a couple views from above showing the first steps in chamfering the ends of the rails:









From these rough cuts, what you do is refine the angles and surface grinds, using a hard rubber or compounded abrasive impregnated stone like this:



You don't want to be using a carbide, carborundum, or silica type stone here; they are too hard and abrasive, and they will heat the piece too much, as well as removing too much material.

What I did with this stone, is bevel the notch back to a shallow keyhole shape; and then I put a bevel on each of the sides of the rail (you can see the start of the bevel above). I broke and relieved all the edges, lightly radiused the square corners, then wire brushed and polished the edges.

Oh, and while I was at it, I also chamfered all the edges of the mag well, top and bottom (as you can see in the first overhead pic above), and just for the heck of it, I did a full ramp and throat job for him. His stock ramp and throat were pretty rough, and I had the Dremel out already so...

When you do a throat job, unless the angles are really bad, you don't want to mess with them. In this case, I didn't change the geometry at all, I just used a soft polishing stone to properly smoothly radius the whole thing, 'til a fingernail wouldn't catch on the feed path. I usually finish up with a fiber polishing swab and compoundl but this one was so smooth I didn't bother:



When it's done properly this repair doesn't compromise the strength of the gun at all, and actually INCREASES reliability; so not only is the gun fixed, it's better than it was before.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The best discussion of the high forward grip I've ever seen on the web

I saw this over at the Heartless Libertarian this morning:

Breaking down the "Combat" or "Straight Thumb" grip.

Of course it SHOULD be the best discussion about it; it's with Brian Enos, one of the guys who "invented" it. I've actually spoken with Brian about this a bit, read his book, seen a couple videos etc...

The straight thumb grip is one of the variants of the high, forward, thumb over thumb grip; as opposed to the "Gunsite grip", or the "low thumb over thumb" where the support hand thumb is actually curled on top of the dominant hand thumb (I only recommend this grip for shooting revolvers, were it works very well).

I've mentioned this grip before; and that I had for years generally used the gas pedal grip (a variant of this where the dominant thumb rides the safety and the support thumb indexes on the slide stop pin) on my 1911s, and just whatever grip worked for my other guns.

A couple years ago I switched to the Plaxco grip (a variant of the above where your support hand index finger wraps around the trigger guard), because the Plaxco grip works for guns where the straight thumb grip doesn't (a lot of guns other than the 1911); because it rotates the support thumb out and down a bit, away from the slide stop (some guns, like the BHP, can have an accidental stoppage under recoil if your thumb is in the wrong spot). I prefer using the same grip on all my guns if possible, and I shoot guns other than a 1911 on occasion.

Honestly, in my testing out of various grips, the Plaxco grip hadnt been any slower or less accurate than the way I was doing the straight thumb grip. Maybe a bit less, but the advantage of not having to change grips for different guns outweighed that for me.

When I was in Texas though, Len Baxley showed me a little change on the way I was shooting straight thumb, literally a quarter inch move in one direction and a quarter inch in another, that shrunk my rapid fire group sizes with my 10mm in half.

It didn't make as much difference with the .45s; but it was still better.

Unfortunately that still leaves me with two different grips for my different guns; but I think I can train around the problem; especially since I now have an ultra compact 1911 to use as my small concealment gun.

It probably means I won't shoot my other guns quite as well as I shoot my 1911s, but honestly, I'm good enough for defensive purposes with my other guns whatever grip I use (well, assuming it's a proper grip anyway.. not shooting gangsta or anything); and if I'm concerned about my best possible shooting, I'm shooting a 1911 anyway.

Given it's a very small tradeoff on the other guns for a big improvement with the 1911, it makes sense to me to shoot the best that I can with my primary defensive pistols, rather than try and generalize to all my pistols.

The good news is that the straight thumb grip works fine with my USP compact (actually the accessory rail groove makes a great indexing point), which is my other primary carry that isn't a 1911; but on the Hi-Power it just doesn't work at all, because the support hand thumb will tend to kick the slide stop on.

What I do with the Hi-Power is I keep everything else in the same position, and curl my thumb around the trigger guard (I have huge hands, and thumbs like Hendrix. I can just about fret the high E string on a strat' with my thumb). This works for revolvers as well; and pretty much for the rest of my guns, with some slight variations.

With the minimal change, I don't think that having two different grips for my guns is going to throw me off so much.

Mels comment on Rachael Ray

"Oh god no; kill it. I can't STAND her. She's 'Stepford Wives' perky"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rebuilding a Springfield Mil-Spec 1911

My friend Kommander bought his first 1911 about three years ago; a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911; and since then he's put at least 10,000 rounds through the thing.

It's a perfectly good gun. It's always been reliable, but it was never very accurate, and it just wasn't quite "right". He did use it as his primary carry gun for much of that three year period, but he was never quite satisfied with it. I did a trigger job, and installed a new extended safety for him last year, and that helped a bit; but it still wasn't where he wanted it to be.

Well, a couple months back for his new gig as an armored car driver and guard, he picked up a new carry gun. His employer required that he have a DA/SA in 9mm or .40; so he bought himself a Sig P229 (on my recommendation as well as the recommendation of almost everyone else he talked to) ; and man, he was just blown away by it.

He like the feel in the hand, the ergonomics, the ease of recoil control; and mostly he really liked the accuracy. He was used to 4" rapid fire groups at 10 yards with his 1911, and he went down to under 2" groups at 10 yards with the SIG. He never really could get a good doubletap with the 1911, and the holes were touching with the SIG.

Well, we figured out a while back that part of the problem he had shooting the 1911 was his grip; he was holding the gun way too low, and without proper weak hand support. We've been working on correcting that, and he knows HOW to do it, but it's still not natural to him.

The other part of the problem though is the gun itself. Let me illustrate first with a stock Springfield Mil-Spec (which isn't actually a GI.45 - they have a model that is pretty close to the original actually called the GI - it's just their lowest end stripped down 1911 model)



Firstly, the grip thing.

Because of its grip shape, the SIG pretty much cannot be gripped improperly, while still keeping control of the weapon. The shape of the backstrap just kinda naturally puts your hand in the right place. The Mil-Spec 1911 on the other hand has an extended but not deep or flat grip safety tang, and it's quite uncomfortable for him to get a proper high and deep hold on the gun.

This isn't quite the original 1911 or 1911-a1 grip safety, it's a bit longer; but it's similar; and like millions of shooters before him, he cant get the proper high and forward grip established easily, and when he does the grip safety tang abrades his hand.

The Mil-Spec also has a conventional spur hammer, and with the high forward hold, again as millions before him; he gets hammerbite.

Finally, like most springers; the Mil-Spec has a curved serrated mainspring housing with an integrated lock that Springfield calls the ILS (integrated locking system). The serrated mainspring housing doesn't give very good grip (though he prefers the arched housing to the flat that most shooters prefer - as do I actually); and just on principle he doesn't like lawyer locks.

Oh, and after three years of daily carry, the original Parkerized finish was more than a little bit worn; in fact in some places there wasn't really any finish left at all.

Thankfully, we're talking about a 1911; and the wonderful marketplace has provided solutions for all of these problems. A few hours worth of work, and a $150 order from Brownells later; this is what he's got:



Step one - the refinish job:

Visually speaking, the biggest change was certainly the refinish job. It was also by far the most work, and the most difficult thing for a novice to do at home.

First, he completely stripped the pistol to the bare frame and slide (well... he left the sights on), then baked the pistol in the oven at 200 degrees for 45 minutes before completely degreasing the pistol. The heat makes the accumulated grease, oils, and crud leech out to the surface. Then after the pistol had completely cooled, he did the whole thing one more time just to make sure.

Before you refinish any part it must be COMPLETELY free of any and all oils or contaminants, including those from your bare skin; so use a good de-greaser, and wear gloves.

Next step, lightly hit the frame and slide with 000 (or finer) steel wool, and scrub every bit of both with de-greaser and a wire brush.

Are you getting the point that the gun has to be absolutely clean?

Next, fashion a heat resistant means of suspending the frame and slide (and any other parts you're going to re-finish) that doesn't mask out any area that you want to paint (most people use wire coat hangars or something similar); and deliberately mask out any areas you DON'T want to paint with a residue free masking product (blue painters tape is close enough).

It is important to note here that even if a coating product states you can use it on all internal parts, and that it goes on very thin etc... that it's still not a good idea to coat your barrel, the inside of your bushing, the locking lugs inside the top of the slide etc...

Basically, unless you plan on cleaning and polishing them off later, you should mask off any metal bearing surfaces. If your gun isn't TOO tight, you can probably get away with coating the lugs and rails, and then just shoot the gun (and be prepared for it to jam up a bunch of times) until the coating wears off; but I'd really prefer not to do that on the barrel lugs or feed ramp.

When I say "mask off any bearing surface", what I mean by that is any surface that has a metal to metal contact, and takes pressure and friction. Just any surface with metal to metal contact is different. The area under your thumb safety has metal to metal contact, and you want to coat that for example.

Make a clean, breeze free and dust free (but properly ventilated) area where you can spray the parts. They sell cheap portable spray boxes for doing this, but you can make one yourself from cardboard or plywood, and plastic sheeting.

There are several different coating technologies and products out there for the home user; the same basic prep steps I've described above apply to almost all of them (though some require more prep work); but you should follow manufacturers directions.

Kommander chose a rattlecan GunKote from Brownells (it also comes in a version for airbrushing) because it's relatively cheap, and very easy to apply without special tools. You can get a better finish by applying with an airbrush, but I think the rattlecan version does a good enough job for a carry gun.

One nice thing about GunKote; Brownells has free videos up about how to apply it (and their other spray on finished by the way), so you know what you're getting into before you buy it:

Intro
Metal prep
GunKote application

Those are flash videos hosted on youtube by the way; so if you can't get youtube or flash, sorry about that. They also sell a DVD with the instructions for a nominal fee.

The basic prep process for GunKote is pretty simple. Clean the part, then sandblast it with aluminum oxide. Gunkote should really be applied over sandblasted surfaces; but if your frame was media blased then parkerized, as the Mil-SPec was, then you should get decent results without re-blasting. Finally clean and degrease it again, and heat the parts up to between 100 and 120 degrees to prep for coating.

To coat, you want to go ahead and spray a light tack coat (just a light but uniform dusting of finish) over the whole piece, then hit it with a heat gun on low or a hair dryer on high to get the coating to flash over (when the surface gets a skin of lightly cured finish over it). Then repeat for a second tack coat, and hit the heat gun again.

What this does is effectively act like a primer for the finish coats. The finish coat sticks to the just barely there and just slightly dried coating much better than it does to bare metal. This helps give you a more uniform finish, and to avoid drips and runs.

Apply a third, full coat; and be careful to coat only as heavy as you have to, to avoid runs or drips; and again hit with the heat gun. Finally, apply a fourth finish skim coat (meaning the lightest coat possible that fully covers the piece), again being careful about drips; and hang it up to dry for about a half hour.

Once you've let the piece dry a bit, you place it into a preheated oven a 350 degrees for an hour; and then shut off the oven and let it cool.

DO NOT DO THIS IN YOUR HOME OVEN.

Seriously, this coating is going to outgas very nasty stuff as it cures; and it gets onto the metal permanently. You wouldn't want to eat food that had been sprayed with it; you don't want to use your food oven to cure it.

Kommander did, but the last time he used his oven was several months ago, and he accidentally set it on fire so...

You can make your own curing oven using a metal box, firebricks and/or kaowool, a store bought( or junk yard bought, or pawn shop bought) heating element, a thermostat, and a power supply. You can get most of those things from a salvaged toaster oven or radiant heater.

Hell, if you've got a spare 220 outlet, you can go buy a cheap old oven from the paper or craigslist or summat. You probably won't even pay $50 for it.

This was Kommanders first try at coating a gun, so it's a bit uneven. He got a couple runs, and had to sand them out and re-spray; so the slide and frame aren't quite uniform. When he's sure he's completely done messing with the gun, he's going to re-sand and re-coat the gun one more time just to even things out.

That said, I think it looks pretty good. Certainly a heck of a lot better than worn off Parkerizing (those shiny spots and streaks are lubricant, not problems with the finish).

He topped off the new finish with a set of Phillipine Mahogany double diamond checkered grips, that I'd say also look pretty darn good.



Step two - Mechanical Accuracy:

So, finishing addressed, we move on to accuracy (and the ergonomics of the gun, which have been adversely effecting it; but that's next section).

The Mil-Spec springer isn't an inaccurate by any means; but it is Springfields lowest end production gun. As such, the manufacturing tolerances are a bit looser, and the standards are just a bit lower.

Now, the Mil-Spec uses the same frame and slide forgings as Springfields' higher end loaded line; but on the Loaded line, they do fine final machining and surface prep in Illinois, on the Mil-Spec, they are done at IMBEL in Brazil, to a slightly lower standard (Kimber and Colt do the same thing by the way, so don't think it's just Springfield).

The same goes for the barrel and bushing. Springfield loaded guns use a Nowlin designed and specced barrel and bushing; and they finish them to Nowlins standards, in the US. The early loaded line guns actually had a Nowlin branded match barrel in them in fact. On the Mil-Spec and GI, the barrel and bushing are lower specced units, made in Brazil to a looser standard.

All of this is just fine for reliability; they are still good quality well made parts; but to save on cost, they aren't very closely fitted. They also aren't timed for optimum performance.

The single biggest determinant of the inherent accuracy of a semi-auto pistol is how consistent it's barrel lockup is. In a 1911 the barrel locks up in the rear at the lugs, and in the front at the bushing. The tightness of the lockup is determined by barrel to bushing fit, the fit of the barrel lugs into the slide lugs, and the fit of the slide rails to the frame rails. The timing of the lockup is determined by the tilting link. Both of the above are effected by the geometry of the rails, lugs, and bushings mechanical mating.

In a well fitted pistol, there should be very little play in between the barrel and bushing; and when the barrel is dry fitted into the slide lugs, there should be no more than about 1/64th" of motion from front to rear. The rails should slide freely and smoothly with no biding, and allow for a very little side to side play; but there should be no (or a very tiny amount at worst) vertical play.

In all three cases, a little play is necessary or the weapon wont lockup properly, unlock, or cycle when dirty; but as little as play possible while maintaining reliability is the goal.

On Kommanders gun, lockup was good, but a bit loose. The frame and slide rails had decent fit; but there was a lot of play between the barrel and bushing; and a bit more play in the lugs than I like to see. Also, although the gun was timed well enough to be safe and reliable; the link was a bit shorter than I would have liked for optimum lockup.

They sell matched "drop-in" match grade barrel and bushing sets, and link timing kits (which have three or four different length links); and I recommended he pick up one of each. He decided to get a new drop in bushing and the link kit, but to save money and time (drop in barrels are never really drop in, they always need some degree of fitting; unless they are made way too loose in the first place, in which case why bother?) he wanted to try and keep his existing barrel. I told him he would see some improvement, but that his barrel lugs just weren't a good enough fit (the slide lugs seem well cut and finished) to get any real accuracy out of the gun.

So, he put in his new bushing, went out and shot a bit; and it definitely made a difference, but not enough of one.

I'm gracious enough not to mention the obvious.

His next step is going to be to order a new match barrel (probably an Ed Brown as well)... and really he should just order the matched set, and I'll fit them for him. Barrel fitting of high quality parts (and Ed Brown certainly qualifies) really isn't that big a deal if you have the right tools and experience.

...I'm not going to hand lapp the lugs and bushing for him though; if he wants to do that he's welcome to spend the couple hours of mind numbing sloppy work it takes on his own.

It's good for the soul.

Step three - Ergonomics:

Now for the other changes you can see, and he can feel; the ergos. The fact is, if a gun isn't comfortable you wont shoot it well, it won't be accurate, and you want want to carry it (or shoot it for that matter).

First step hammer and trigger. I put a good quality (Ed Brown) sear, disconnector, and extractor in the gun when I did the trigger job on it a few months back; but Kommander wanted to keep the original hammer because he thought the rowel or skeleton hammers looked silly without a beavertail. I also changed him out to a longer solid Ed Brown trigger with overtravel adjustment (the original trigger was the super short 1911-A1 spec as pictured in the Springfield pic above); and a WIlson extended safety.

Unfortunately, with the new trigger and sear, the old MIM factory hammer was just not up to the job. The wear surfaces of the old MIM hammer wore in a bit too much against the harder sear, and the edges of the hammer hooks were starting to round. Combined with the heavier long, solid trigger, the pistol was occasionally getting trigger bounce (this is where the inertia of the trigger in recoil recovery, or when you drop the slide, makes it bounce against the sear and trip it).

So, to fix this, and to help with the hammer bite problem mentioned above, he did a full Wolff spring replacement (for the trigger bounce problem you only need to replace the sear spring, but the recoil spring was wearing out anyway) and put in a new Ed Brown speed hammer. This has the added benefit of reducing lock time, which improves accuracy.




The geometry of the hammer is good; and with the new parts in place, but with no additional fitting; the trigger pull is actually very crisp, with no creep, slop, stacking, or grit. The only issue is that it's a bit heavy at just about six pounds, but he says hes' fine with that, so we aren't going to mess with it.

Next step, reshaping the backstrap for better grip.

With some guns, reshaping the grip is a major chore, but in a 1911 it's a matter of two parts: the mainspring housing, and the grip safety.

Kommander wanted a checkered mainspring housing, and to add a beavertail; so he ordered a Wilson zero fit drop-in beavertail grip safety, and a Smith and Alexander arched checkered mainspring housing (I have the same housing on a couple of my guns) from Brownells:



Here's a better pic of the grip safety:




The only problem with those drop in grip safeties, is that in order to really be zero fitting needed; they need to leave a very large clearance for the grip frame; because different manufacturers have used different lengths and shapes of grip safety, and have shaped the rear of the frame slightly differently over the years; as you can see here:



They do make drop in models that will fit close for specific manufacturers models, but they still leave a fair bit of a gap. What he didn't realize was that the Springfield Mil-Spec you can fit a beavertail from a Springfield Loaded pistol with minimal machine work; because the frames are machined on the same fixtures (there are also several manufacturers that sell beavertails cut to that radius).

All you need to do is radius the horn (any die grinder or bench grinder with a fine wheel will do, for less than 1/8" material removed. Theres a jig from Brownells if you dont want to freehand it), then a little bit of final fitting, and it will fit quite nicely without that big gap (since he was doing a bake on anyway).

That big gap by the way chews up your hand; because the edges are crisp and sharp, unless of course you relieve the edges of the so called "drop-in" grip safety anyway... so there's really no point to the zero fit stuff for this gun (other guns may be different).

Now, the only thing it's missing to be 100% for him are night sights ( and unfortunately they are going to need a trip to the gun smith to mill a couple dovetails), and the new, better, barrel.

So Kommander is generally quite happy with the rebuild job. It's got a BIT more tweaking to do, but he's still spent a fair bit less than a brand new Loaded would have cost him, and now he's got a gun fitted and finished to his specifications; and the pride of having done it himself.

Once he's completely done it will have cost him just about the same as a Loaded (or maybe a bit more); but then he'll have a better gun, because he will have replaced all the factory hard parts with hand fitted premium components (no marshmallow immitating metal). Oh and none of those evil forward grip serrations.

Not bad I'd say.

Thankfully my reading list...

... is about 8 feet high and climbing:


Monday, June 25, 2007

Damn... truck tires are 'spensive

Four new Michelin X-Radial LTs $585 (mounted, balanced, old tires disposed of) from Costco mind you... and those are the DISCOUNT Michelins (also sold as the LTX in other stores. It's the same tire).

Retail on them is even more ridiculous. $185 each, plus mounting, balancing, tax, and fees. Works out to about $820 plus tax.

Thankfully Costco had a $60 discount coupon, which cut it down to $525... but still, damn.

If I'd wanted to actually go with "high end" tires, retail would have been over $1200...

When exactly did truck tires get so damn expensive?

A moment of surreality

I was just watching Jon Bon Jovi do a completely un-ironic unplugged "lounge" version of "You give love a bad name"...

truly surreal

It's not even a parody by "Me first and the gimme gimmes" or something (who I highly recommend by the way), it's actually JBJ doing his own music as lounge..

He's deliberately doing it as a tribute to Frank Sinatra (Jersey boys 4 life I guess)

Ummm...

Ok, now he's redeeming himself by following it up with "It's my life" as a country ballad;
which, perhaps unsurprisingly, works really well. John has been doing country shows on a regular basis for the last couple years.

... and then he ruins it by mangling Leonard Cohens amazing "Hallelujah".

Now, for those of you who don't know; when JBJ really wants to, instead of just breathing funny, he can actually sing; pretty damn well actually. The guy has been doing this for almost 30 years now (which is a scary thought in and of itself), he knows a bit about doing it. The problem is, most of the time he "stylizes" everything he's doing, and it doesn't show through.

Listen to the unplugged version of "Blaze of Glory" from about 15 years ago, and you'll see what I mean. The vocal power he shows there is just plain great.

...Or for that matter, any version of "BLaze of GLory". To my mind, it's the best thing he's ever done...

At the end of Hallelujah, he starts singing it straight, and the emotion and strength there is amazing; but for the rest of the song he breathe/growls it, with that stupid diphthong thing he does (thats where you "curl" or "bend" the shapes of sounds up, down, and around with the shape of your mouth while you're singing).

Just sing it straight John, you've got the chops for it...

Honestly, he does the breathe/singing for a reason; the (now early middle aged) women who are his primary fan base love it, because it makes them feel like he's sexin'em up... but seriously dude, you're 45 years old, you've been married to the same woman for 18 years (which is almost a miracle in Rock and Roll), you can sing it straight now, you aren't trying to compete in the tight leather pants market anymore.

A Fundametal Truth of Modern Life



I'm waiting for three boxes from the BBTOH* right now actually...

(*= Big Brown Truck of Happiness)

A small note, for people who might not know.

A friend of mine has been asking for advice on boots; a rather critical subject if you've ever spent any time walking around with heavy weights strapped to your back.

To my mind, there is only one relevant piece of information on the subject:

When people whos lives depend on being able to hike 25 miles a day, day after day, buy boots; they buy Danners.

'Nuff said.

Take care of your feet; god only issued you one pair, and there's no spares available.

A couple of sad truths

A few weeks ago, Larry The Bastidge asked me in passing:
"Why do so many advocates of freedom and liberty insist on shooting themselves in the foot so often"
My response was:
"An unfortunate number of liberty oriented people are that way; not because freedom is the best way; but simply because they are horses asses, misanthropes, insane, or contrarian."
I was pleased with the profundity of the statement; I thought it both amusing and accurate. Then, I was relating this conversation to Kommander tonight, and he completely blew me away with:
"how bad do things have to be, when it's the contrarians who are advocating liberty..."
Indeed.

This is not racist at all

I in no way mean to say that bi-racial Canadian soft rock singer-songwriters are cavemen... but....
Separated at birth?


I'm just sayin...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Moral Superiority of Self Defense

So I've been having a hard time with something for the past week. I've been struggling with a bunch of factors which combined to relieve me of even more of my innocence, most of which I won´t go into. I've had to admit to myself that I don´t understand how some people think, and that there is more evil in the world than I thought before, and that people will do ANYTHING to other people, immoral and wrong or not.

However, I still hadn't made that leap from understanding that the world sucks to mentally preparing for what could happen if crime and inhumanity came right to my front door and I had to fight back. I HAVE the knowledge, and I HAVE the training, but I didn't have the will to use it in my own defense. I didn't have the will to protect myself (and only myself, the kids I've always been capable) from mortal danger.

So today (and just today) I discovered what had been holding me back. I had not yet resigned myself to the fact that, although my education taught me otherwise, pacifism is not actually the moral high ground. Pacifism is actually a fine-tuned, well-concealed form of selfishness and cowardice.

Pacifism (in the current Liberal definition, not the classical pacifism of Shakers, Quakers, Mennonites, etc.) teaches that there is a moral superiority in not fighting back, that if we do not resist the enemy will just see how much ¨better¨ we are and be so simultaneously cowed and shamed that they will just ¨see our point of view.¨ This is folly in the best of times; deadly and destructive in times of war.

As many have said before me, the real reason GFWs hate the idea of everyone being armed for their own self-defense, or being allowed to own firearms is simple: somewhere along the line these GFWs got the idea that just because they can´t be trusted to use these obviously inanimate tools of self-defense (excuse me, mass destruction), no one else can.

Somewhere along the line they got the idea that thought is action, and just because they (like everyone else) occasionally think violent or destructive thoughts that they are incapable of self-control and will act on those thoughts.

They assume that because they fear their own capability for violence, and distrust their own ability to restrain it; that everyone else has the same trouble (except for police officers, soldiers, etc who obviously have this ability mysteriously trained into them). Then, rather than restrain themselves; they try to control the beast within by removing all opportunity for temptation to mayhem; and assume that everyone else has to as well.

Itś this basic logical fallacy (what psychiatrists call projection) that convinces liberals, that since they can be convinced to not commit violence out of fear of consequences AND lack of opportunity, those with malicious intent can be similarly convinced.

Thus convinced of their own rectitude and moral superiority, they will try to convince the malicious that a.) they understand what theyŕe going through, they've thought about destroying lives too, b.) they will take away EVERYONES ability across the board so NO ONE will be tempted, and c.) they will punish those who are capable of self-restraint, those who are ¨different¨, by making up for those differences with restrictions on the capable, and handouts, equalizations, etc etc for those who are not.

...And of course, the more violent you are and ¨misunderstood¨ you are, the more equalization is needed.

This idea of being able to reason with the malicious is based on a false premise. Shrouded in this ideal is a very basic mis-understanding of human nature: that people who have shown malice and a lack of respect for the rights and lives of others can be reasoned with; and their "better nature' can be appealed to. If they had enough reason, or better nature (or for that matter any shame at all) to begin with, talking them out of violence would be unnecessary, as they wouldn't be inclined to commit predatory violence in the first place.

So why is this the cowardly and lazy way out? Because instead of requiring that everyone be brought up to a high standard of self-control and responsibility (formerly referred to as ¨adulthood¨) the intent is instead to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator; the person who needs to be controlled by someone else, preferably the not-plagued-by-human-error-yet-run-by-humans state. Which of course should be run by the oh-so-enlightened Liberals who came up with these ideas in the first place.

Those of us in favor of self-defense and personal responsibility know better.

We know that someone with malicious intent is not a downtrodden, misunderstood, helpless human being who just needs to be convinced and coddled. We know that someone with malicious intent either a.) knows exactly what they are doing, exactly how wrong it is, and exactly what the consequences are; and chooses to commit evil anyway, or b.) is incapable of understanding and/or self-restraint. Both should be removed (imprisoned or committed) from the general population as both present a continual danger and the latter is also IN continual danger themselves.

So what happens when those with the Liberal doctrine of pacifism outnumber those of us with a doctrine of personal responsibility, in most positions of power, influence, and policy-making? The doctrine of ¨equalization¨ becomes public policy, and the ¨victims¨ become protected classes.

Their whole philosophy can be summed up as ¨these people made you feel bad for not acting like an adult. We will make them pay.¨

...And pay we do.

We pay for counseling for criminals, welfare for those unwilling to grow up and be responsible adults, court settlements for bogus discrimination, and don´t even get me started on how much those poor boys at Duke had to pay for the crime of looking at a "stripper".

All of these "equalizations" to try to make up for the fact that those of us who value personal responsibility work harder, behave better, and are as a whole more trustworthy.

Self-defense and responsibility advocates look at things a bit differently. Oh, we're guilty of projection too: We think that since we are capable of reason and self-restraint, others are too.We tend to see people the same way we see ourselves, as worth trusting unless they indicate otherwise.

For example, AZ is an open-carry state. What that means is that anyone who legally owns a firearm can carry that firearm openly on their person anywhere not prohibited by law.

This includes many places people go every day, from parks to grocery stores and just strolling down the street. Every now and then I see someone who is obviously armed and not uniformed, and it doesn't bother me. However I've heard exclamations of fear from others, as if the presence of a firearm is an automatic threat.

And don't assume such reactions are limited only to the gun fearing general public. A well known blogger was recently harassed and physically assaulted by a police officer, when said
ignorant police officer (and there an unfortunate number of them) caught a glimpse of the bloggers gun, that flashed while he was reaching for some groceries.

Since I trust myself to carry a firearm and not commit murder (as the EEEEEEVIL semi-automatic death machine is obviously whispering me to do) I can trust another adult to carry a firearm and never have it leave the holster. Unless the situation indicates otherwise, I know that a person who is openly carrying a firearm a.) has passed the background check that indicates whether or not they've displayed lack of self-restraint in the past, and b.) is carrying that firearm as a precaution, just as I do.

What that means to me is that the adult carrying the firearms understands that there are people with malicious intent in the world and is prepared to protects themselves and others from the violent actions of those people. Honestly, the sight of another armed person (generally) doesn't alarm me, and sometimes is comforting.

As a sidenote here, this is something that gun-control activists don´t understand. Grouping serious gun owners together with criminals who buy guns, is like saying the responsible Rottweiler owners who give their dogs proper training and care are comparable to the irresponsible... never mind, they think that too.

Okay, Iĺl try again. It's like saying that someone who spent months of their free time rebuilding a classic automobile will use it in a drive-by shooting so it can get the crap shot out of it and possibly seized by the police.

Someone who has sunk tons of time into finding the right firearm, practicing with it, becoming proficient with it, etc... does NOT want that firearm used in a crime and seized by police (just as after spending months getting my Llama working I don't want to have to hand it over to our boys in blue).

Serious gun owners who are serious about self-defense DON'T want their firearms used in criminal acts, and don´t deserve to be treated like theyŕe criminals who will use a firearm in a crime and ditch it later. They are two completely different mindsets and should be treated differently.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand...

This is very indicative of how personal responsibility advocates think. We think a person should not be judged by their impulses, thoughts, or upbringing, but how they ACT upon those factors.

For example we applaud those who escape poverty and work hard to improve their lives and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

We tend to think of every adult as capable of improving themselves and supporting themselves, and handling the consequences of their actions; but we also donate more per capita to charities that help those who, for whatever reason, need help to survive and become self-sufficient. We WANT everyone to be responsible and self-sufficient, and trust that adults have self-restraint.

Liberals think they have the moral high ground here; that pacifism is more moral because it results in less bloodshed; and that in their attempt to ¨help¨ the perpetrators of predatory violence, they are doing good.

Except they don't, it isn't, and they aren't.

Usually pacifism ends in more bloodshed, as the criminals are free (after probation and free counseling) to commit more malicious acts on more innocent victims.

So what do the Liberals try to do? They try to take away the tools of violence, as if taking away the temptation will take away the act. They don´t allow for the fact that criminals aren't quite as lazy as they are, and WILL find other avenues to obtain tools of violence. Money and a lack of scruples can accomplish anything except world peace.

Self-defense and responsibility advocates KNOW that criminals don´t give a damn about the law or the consequences of their actions; if they did they wouldn't be criminals. There is the occasional case of someone who wants to leave the gang life or otherwise comes to their senses (occasionally 20 years in prison will change a man for the better... very occasionally), and we help them as much as possible; but for the truly malicious there is no help.

The very basis of self-defense is very simple: the life of the person being attacked (usually an innocent) is more important than what the attacker wants. (This is of course assuming a civilian situation; militaries and war zones have their own very specific sets of agreed to terms.) This is one of the few times that life really is a zero-sum game; in that either the criminal gets what they want and the innocent must live with what the criminal metes out, or the innocent successfully defends themself.

Now here's where self-defense advocates and Liberals differ. A Liberal will tell you that you can't assume the criminal will hurt you in order to get what they want. This is assuming that someone who has shown a distinct lack of respect for law, morals, or fundamental standards of human behavior, has a discernible stopping point, or a moral code of their own that you can depend on. Self-defense advocates will (rightfully) assume that if a person is willing to commit one crime, they are willing to commit another.

Thankfully, the state of Arizona agrees with us on that point.

As of 2006, Arizona has a doctrine of presumed justification. This means that it is presumed that one is justified in using lethal force (or the threat of lethal force), if one is presented with a situation where a reasonable person would believe they were threatened with immediate, present, physical force; or that it was necessary to defend others being threatened with immediate, present, physical force.
Unless prosecutors can explicitly prove that you were NOT justified in doing so; they are not even allowed to file charges.

In this state, there is no duty to retreat; and we explicitly allow that ones home, vehicle, and place of business are specially protected; and that any person threatening or trespassing on those areas, is by that very act presenting a credible threat of force.

Additionally, Arizona has a list of crimes which any citizen would be justified in using deadly force or threat of deadly force in order to prevent. They specifically include (but are not necessarily limited to):
  • Aggravated trespass (trespass with the use or threat of force)
  • Aggravated theft (theft with the use or threat of force)
  • Arson of an occupied structure
  • Burglary in the second or first degree
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • First or second degree murder
  • Sexual conduct with a minor
  • Sexual assault
  • Child molestation
  • Armed robbery
  • Aggravated assault
Arizona assumes that if a person is willing to commit one of the crimes above that they are willing to take it to the next level and take another personś life. Often kidnapping and rape do become murders; and quite often rather than be stopped a criminal will take the life of an innocent who has the bad luck of getting in their way.

Our state legislature assumes that criminals are without scruples, why can't Liberals?

...Because they identify with the criminals.

Liberals can see themselves doing the same things in the same circumstances. They want to pretend that a person is only a product of their social status and upbringing; and that "if only they'd had the same education and opportunity I had", that the criminal would magically have been a good person.

Of course his way, when they aren't willing to go through the hard work of being self-sufficient or take responsibility for their actions, they have someone to blame.

A lot of times it's guns; quite often it's successful businesspeople (who won´t share), religious conservatives (who don´t believe in hedonism), or any other figure who insists that they work hard for what they want. You see, it's not the criminal's fault, it's life's fault... really it is.

But anyway...

Self-defense is the moral high-ground. There are two sides to this conflict, one is right, and one is wrong. One, the criminal, wants whatever they want, whether it be valuables or power or whatever; without regard to the law, or the rights of others. The innocent just wants to survive with as little harm as possible, and if others are involved without anyone else coming to harm. The criminal is WRONG, and the innocent is not.

In the Liberal world, the innocent would hand whatever it is over and possibly survive, possibly be raped, or possibly be killed. However since it leads to only one death, the death of the victim and not the poor, innocent criminal, thatś the better end in their eyes. However this leaves a criminal on the loose who is more than capable of murder, and will most likely do so again.

(no, seriously, they believe that. It sounds insane, but one thing you'll always hear from victim disarmament advocates is "Well, if I had a gun, maybe we'd both end up dead. At least if I don't have a gun, only one person has to die, and maybe he won't kill me". It's absolutely mind boggling)

In our world, the innocent would fight back, maybe bare-handed, preferably with something that gives them parity, or superiority in the conflict, like a firearm of their own. In our perfect world the criminal would be the one in a world of pain or hurt with the innocent unharmed.

Unfortauntely, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes the victim still gets killed; but our hope (and what we train for) is for the criminal to be stopped either by injury or death. The aim is always for the innocent to survive; and when they don't, the next aim is for the criminal to be stopped, therefore ending the train of victims.

And thatś where the moral superiority of self-defense comes in.

In a world of self-defense we have people who believe it their responsibility to not let evil go about its business. In a world of self-defense we have a military that protects us from those who want to kill us, police to take care of minor criminals before they progress to violent crimes, stiff penalties for those who abuse the rights of others, no matter their upbringing or ïnequities¨, and people who stop violence when they see it. All of these factors combine to make everyone more safe and secure, as those with malicious intent are removed from society and therefore unable to victimize more people, and those who care about others enough to prevent greater harm are left alive and well.

That is the moral superiority of protective violence: leaving a world with more people who protect others than people who harm others. More servicemen than ruthless dictators, more self-sufficient people than subjects. That is truly leaving a better world for our kids, which is the most morally superior action of all.

So now I get it. Now I understand why defending myself is the most important thing of all. I previously didn't understand why my life was worth the pain and the trouble, or the consequences of defending myself.

Now I do.

By saving my life, I save much more than that. I save my kids' mother; I save the children I am going to have; I save my family from the pain of losing me; And I save myself, a moral upright person who wouldn't unnecessarily bring harm to anyone else. I save myself from a beast who, after they are done with me, will go on to another innocent victim. I stop one evil person, and that one person stopped is worth it. It is, after all, the most moral thing to do.

Mel

Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Totaling up the costs for red vs. blue

So, in my previous posts about the Lock-n-Load press, I'd noted that the reason I bought the thing instead of the Dillon XL650 I'd been planning on, was the price. I got it for something like a 30% discount off list at purchase, plus an additional $180 rebate.

I figured I'd share the numbers here to give y'all a better idea of what a complete progressive setup costs; and the true cost comparison between red and blue.

First, my costs for the Lock-n-Load press, including all the accoutrement (except dies, which I already have) necessary to load all my major chamberings (and if anyone knows how to make blogger not screw up table rendering, I'd love to know):













Itemqty. List
Price (ea)
Lock-n-load press 1$437.19$319.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder 1$326.84$264.99
Lock-n-Load bushing, 10pk 2$43.67$31.92
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - small pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - small rifle 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large rifle 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #1 (.45acp, .308, .30-06) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #6 (.38/.357, 7.62x39) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #8 (9mm) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #10 (.40S&W, 10MM) 1$37.65$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #16 (.380acp, .223) 1$37.65$25.99
Hornady "Get Loaded" rebate 00($180)
Total 13$1180.48
$702.73
That's a lot of money. Any way you slice it; that's a lot. Even after what is effectively a $480 discount; it's about 2200 rounds of Winchester white box.45acp for one thing; or 300 rounds and a new Glock 21 to fire them in (or more to my liking, a used SIG P220, or 1911 - in fact I just bought a used 1911 for $699 a few weeks ago).

But... you're getting a lot too. For my money, I've added the capability to load, at a minimum, 650 rounds per hour of 10 different chamberings. In fact, to load for all of the major chamberings I shoot (of the chamberings I shoot currently I'm only missing .303 british and 7.62x54r, neither of which I have dies for).

Presuming I save 60% of the price of each round by reloading (which is typical of my reloading. A box of 50 wwb .45acp is $13 to $16 these days depending on market fluctuations; and it costs me less than $5 to reload. The savings are greater on rifle, and greater still on my match loads, which typically save me 75% or more over commercial pricing) and my average price for round of commercial ammo is $0.35 (which is pretty close depending on what deals I get at a given time); I'm saving about $0.22 a round.

Thing is.. for me 2700 rounds of .45 is between 5 and 10 days shooting.... even less if I get back into IDPA and USPSA (which I've been thinking about). In a good year, thats about six weeks; in a bad year it's 3 months; so I'm doing that much between 4 and 8 times a year.

In 2006, Mel and I together, shot just about 15,000 rounds of ammo of every chambering; (including just 1000 rounds of.22 which is a record low for me). By far the greatest proporition of that was .45acp (about 40%); and almost none of it reloaded, because my bench wasn't set up for most of the year. Another fairly large amount went into .380 (because Mel and I both have .380 pocket guns), and .38 or .357 (because Mels main revolver, and lever gun are both .357).

Very little of what we shot last year was (much more expensive) rifle ammo, because my .308 and 5.56 rifles were stolen last March, so I'd only been able to put about 2500 rounds through them in the year; along with about 500 rounds of .30-06, and a random few hundred rounds of other rifle and shotgun.

We did save some money make some large bulk buys on ammo at the gun shows. All in all, we figure that in an average month we spend between $200 and $400 on ammunition; and last year we spent $3411.42 total on ammo; but that doesn't include the cost of the ammo we'd bought the previous year and shot last year (which was a fair bit).

15,000 rounds, $3400, at a 60% (or more) savings... that $2040 right there.

So, it can't be disputed; given the amount I shoot, although $700 seems like a lot of money; it's actually a relative bargain.

Of course I could have just kept using the press I was already using, and not have sunk that $700. I've mentioned before, I've got about $400 into my loading setup; a fair bit of difference between the turret and progressive presses. The problem there is time.

I've done a lot of measurement of the time it takes me to load; and including ALL steps and processes and hitches and starts etc... When I'm really cranking smoothly, everything goes fine, and I've got everything easy to hand, I can pull 250 rounds per hour; but I average 170 rounds per hour through my turret press.

Actually, that's pretty darn good. Most folks don't get quite that much.

On the Lock-n-Load, on my very first try, I managed 450 rounds per hour without using a case feeder, with no bullet tray (I'm going to have to make one), and without even having established a rhythm or having become used to the press. I'm sure and certain that I can make it to 650 rounds per hour (I'm pretty sure it'll be a lot more), once I get the case feeder in place, and my process down.

At 170 rounds per hour, it would take me 90 hours of loading to hit that 15,000 mark. At 650 rounds per hour it would take me just 23 hours.

67 hours is a lot of time... time that I'd rather be spending with my family; and time that is quite frankly, valuable to me financially as well.

My deepest discounted "shop rate" is $75 an hour (long term W2 contract for an established customer, no travel or out of pocket expenses required). Presuming I value my time at $75 an hour minus taxes etc... (it works out to about $52 an hour net after all deductions and expenses are taken into account), that 67 hours is worth about $3500 to me in cash value, nevermind the intangibles.

Honestly, the time it takes is the main reason most high volume shooters who aren't reloaders (and there's a suprising number); aren't reloaders.

As far as I'm concerned, that $700 purchase is giving me a $2800 return on investment, and that's just this year; it should last for decades.

Of course I've already been through the numbers between progressive and non; and reloaded vs. commercial before... a lot.... So, enough evangelizing about reloading; let's assume you've already decided to make the plunge; or you're already in the game and looking to upgrade.

If you're like me, you've probably been planning on buying a Dillon. Probably either the RL550 or XL650 depending on how far up the chain you're looking to go. HOnestly, they're great presses, with the best warranty and service in the business, and you can't go wrong choosing a Dillon.

There's only one thing that holds most folks back from the purchase: They are EXPENSIVE. Not just in purchase price, but also in the caliber change costs (actually calibers changes will probably cost you more than the machine).

I say flat out; you aren't getting any more capability with an XL650 than with the Hornady Lock-n-Load, except MAYBE an additional 100 rounds per hour in theoretical speed. What you're getting is Dillons customer service (Hornadys is excellent, but Dillons is just plain the best); and their massive product line of supporting items and accessories (as well as third party accessories).

So, you're paying a premium price for a premium product... and that's OK; I don't know very many Dillon owners who are unsatisfied with that bargain; but just how much of a premium are you paying?

Let's do a comparison of all three presses; first for just the press, case feeder, and materials necessary to load one chambering (.45acp - the most commonly reloaded round on the planet, and the driving force for most people who go progressive), and then the costs to load all the chamberings above, as I've put together for my press.

First the Hornady:







Itemqty. List
Price (ea)
Lock-n-load press 1$437.19$319.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder 1$326.84$264.99
Lock-n-Load case feeder plate - large pistol 1$35.21$25.99
Lock-n-Load shell plate #1 (.45acp, .308, .30-06) 1$37.65$25.99
Hornady "Get Loaded" rebate 0$0($180)
Total 13$836.89
$456.96
Now, it's not exactly fair comparing full retail to a rebated price; so you can take the rebate out of the picture if you like (for a total of $636.96); but is what I actually got for my money, and so will you; at least until the end of this year when the rebate offer expires. Take it out or leave it in as you like it.

Next we'll do the Dillon RL550 (with the case feeder option and strong mount, but no roller handle or bullet tray - to keep it comparable):








Itemqty.Price (ea)
Dillon RL550B press w/ .45acp kit
1$379.95
RL550b case feeder, large pistol
1$229.95
Auto eject system
1
$27.95
Strong mount
1$39.95
Case feeder caliber kit for .45acp 1$19.95
Total 5
$697.75
Huh... even with the rebate taken out of the picture, the Dillon is $60 more expensive...

Now, there really is no point in picking up the RL550 with the case feeder. You can see it increases the cost of the press by a huge amount; and since the 550 isn't auto indexing, doesn't do a lot for your speed. If you need a case feeder you should be going for the XL650; however the case feeder makes it more comparable to the Hornady in terms of capability. This is also why I included the auto eject kit (which requires the strong mount).

If you take the case feeders out of play for both presses, that brings the Dillon to $450 ready to go cost, and the Hornady to $345.98 without the rebate; and $165.98 with it. Now the difference is $105 (or $285).

Now, you'll note that I include both a list price, and an actual price for the Hornady, but not for the Dillon. That's because Dillon only sells for list from authorized retailers. The only way you'll get it for less is used, or MAYBE on eBay.

If we were comparing list prices, this would put the Hornadys ready to go price as $135 more than the RL550, or if both are bought without the case feeder etc... about $75 more than the RL550; but the Hornady streets for far less than list, while the Dillon does not.

As I said though; the RL550 really isn't comparable to the Lock-n-Load. The better comparison is with the XL650 (with the strong mount; which is required for the case catcher):






Itemqty.Price (ea)
Dillon XL650 press w/ .45acp kit 1$489.95
XL650 case feeder, large pistol 1$194.95
Strong mount 1$39.95
Total 3
$724.85
Once again, even without the rebate in play, the Hornady is significantly cheaper; though again it is a matter of list price vs. actual sale price. The Hornady (at $440) lists for just a bit under the XL650; plus the case feeder is over $130 more expensive list; and requires a feeder plate and shell plate at $35 list each, whereas the 650 comes with one of each.

If bought entirely at retail list price, with no rebate; the Hornady fully kitted out for one caliber, would run just about $840, to the Dillons $725. Unfortunately for the Dillon, the actual sale price of the Hornady parts is about $200 under list price.... and of course there's that rebate.

You'll also note, the XL650 with the case feeder and necessaries, is actually only $30 more than the 550 with the case feeder and necessary accessories. This is because the 550 was designed to be a manual indexing press with no casefeeder. The case feeder it was grafted on later (MUCH later actually) as an add on; and as such it requires more complexity, and more expense.

Of course the 650s caliber change kits are more expensive; but that is offset by the fact that the 550 case feeder requires its own caliber change kits at $20 each; making them almost as expensive as the change kits for an XL650.. and that it only supports pistol rounds (and only a few selected chamberings at that).

Now, here's the kicker... the change kits. This is where the math really hurts the Dillons. Honestly I didn't believe myself until I ran the numbers; just how much more expensive the Dillons can be with all the caliber change costs.

Let's start with the RL550, with case feeder:

Each Dillon case feeder comes with one feeder plate; and there are three more you need to buy to match the kitted out Hornadu; at $36.95 each for a total of $110.85.

Each rl550 caliber change, to reach the same capability as the L-n-L requires
  • Caliber change kit - $39.96
  • Toolhead - $16.95
  • Powder die - $8.95
  • Casefeed conversion - $19.94
For a total of $85.80 per chambering. Excluding the one chambering that comes with the press as purchased, that's 9 caliber change sets; plus the three feeder plates for a grand total of $883.05... welll... actually, it would be less; because the RL case feeder doesn't support rifle calibers; so it would actually be $80 less (four rifle calbers times $20 less in parts); or $803.

that's on top of the cost of the press, case feeder etc... As I mentioned above, the caliber change kits combined actually total more than the press and all other accessories combined... and that's not even including dies.

Again, taking the case feeder out of the question reduces the costs significantly, from $8o3.05 to $512.74....; but it also reduces the Hornadys caliber conversion costs to $233.91

Just so we're clear; the cost for all of the caliber kits, plus the press and other accessories necessary to match the L-n-L with a Dillion RL550 is $1500.80. Even taking the case feed out of the picture entirely, we are still talking about $1042.74 for the Dillon setup.

The cost of the Hornady Lock-n-load and all the same necessaries, is $880... and then there's that $180 rebate. Without the case feeder the Hornady is only $580... and again, there's that $180 rebate.

For the XL650, the picture is just as bad. The 650 still has the $111 for the case feed plates, but now each caliber kit is $70 (though they do have the case feed adapter parts in them already).

Nine times 70 is $630, plus the $111 for $741... Actually significantly LESS expensive than the 550s conversion kits.

Combined with the price of the press, you're looking at $1465 for the XL650 and caliber kits ($35 less than for th RL550 similarly configured).

This is exactly the math that moved me to buy the L-n-L over the Dillon in the first place by the way. It wasn't about the cost of the machine itself, it was the cost of all the STUFF you need to make it do what you want.

The bottom line is, an XL650 is going to cost you $1465 to do the same things that a Lock-n-Load will do for $880 (without the rebate). That's a $585 price difference, for a marginal (if any) increase in performance; and every chambering you add to the mix increases that disparity by $35.

XL650 caliber changes cost $70 and Lock-n-Load caliber changes cost $35 (including bushings); and if you load more than a few calibers, that makes a HUGE difference. In fact; because of the cost of the caliber kits, the XL650 is actually more expensive than the Lock-n-load even at list price.

I still like the XL650. I think it's an excellent product, and I still recommend it if you don't mind the extra money; but honestly, I'd rather buy the L-n-L and a few thousand rounds worth of components.

... as a matter of fact, that's exactly what I did... how 'bout that.