Sunday, April 10, 2011

Positive Externalities

Hilton Yam over at 10-8 performance has just set himself up for the 1911 based flaming of a lifetime, possibly without knowing it (though he probably does), in saying this:
"Almost every modern service pistol design features a spring loaded external extractor design. The 1911 still gets by using a spring tempered hook machined out of a straight piece of steel that is bent to achieve tension. It does surprisingly well with this, but it is certainly not the 21st century answer."
Of course, I have made this same argument, many, many times, in person and online...

Every single time, the logic and reasoning of the argument is utterly ignored, and I am roundly excoriated as both an idiot and a heretic to the church of the holy St. John Moses Browning.

In fact, just by posting this, I guarantee you that within the next day or two (it would be today, but I'm posting this on a Sunday, and almost no-one reads blogs on a Sunday) I will get comments saying exactly that... possibly entire threads on THR, TFL, and dedicated to the concept that I am an idiot (since Hilton posted his a few hours ago, there may already be such a thread calling HIM an idiot).

The internal extractor fanatics always insist that (and it is almost always all five of these arguments... they seem to be speaking out of the same hymnal):

  1. The design is utterly perfect as it is (false), and if it should have had an external extractor, John Browning would have designed it that way (ignoring the fact that initially, he did, but changed his mind later).
  2. You give up controlled round feed with an external extractor (false... plus most of them have no idea what CRF is or how it works)
  3. The internal extractor is far more reliable (false), so long as it is fitted and tuned by a REAL gunsmith (vs the external which requires little skill or precision. Why SHOULD you need a very good gunsmith just for proper functioning?)
  4. No external extractor was ever reliable (false), because everyone who has tried it in a 1911 has failed (false)
  5. It's worked for 100 years, why change it (fallacious if not false)

The fact that each point is provably false or fallacious, frequently with a cursory look at their own guns (if not an external extractor then a hand tuned Ed Brown hardcore or Wilson bulletproof, a lowered and flared ejection port, a trigger job, an extended ejector, beavertail, a beveled magwell etc...); doesn't seem to penetrate.

  • Nor does the fact that Browning himself put an external extractor on almost all of his designs (including the 1903, 1906, 1908)
  • Nor does the fact that the BHP itself had its internal extractor replaced with an external because the internal was unreliable, fragile, and difficult to manufacture and fit (they usually claim it was Dieudonne Saive who must have completed the design wrong... if they know who he is).
  • Nor does the fact that almost all other semi-automatic pistols have external extractors (in fact, that seems to reinforce their feeling of self righteousness), including ones that are provable more reliable than the 1911 (though in practical terms, I generally agree, the difference between going 25,000 rounds without a failure to extract vs. 100,000 rounds is moot. At some point, it's "reliable enough").  

The fact is, the single greatest point of unreliability in a properly manufactured and maintained 1911 (other than springs and magazines, which are an issue for all semi-automatic weapons, not specific to the 1911) is the internal tension spring extractor. It is the only part on a 1911 (again other than springs) that regularly requires re-tuning or replacement; and frequently it's the first (sometimes only) part (other than springs) that gets replaced by a knowledgable shooter when they buy a factory gun.

Yes, there are guns that go 25,000 rounds, and guns that are now 95 years old, that have never had their extractors tuned or replaced; but those guns are rare, especially with the garbage metallurgy and heat treating you sometimes see on factory small parts these days.

Everyone knowledgable about the 1911 knows this... but for some reason when the superiority of the internal extractor is challenged, this knowledge somehow disappears, or for some reason doesn't fit into their mental model of argument.

The only disadvantage you can logically argue about an external extractor, is that an external spring and lever design provides less controlled feed and extraction than the internal tension spring design.

This can be true to a degree, but that superiority is primarily theorietical. As a practical application in the real world, I don't think the argument stands up.

On the feed side, the geometry and tension of the external extractor can be designed such that it has identical feed geometry and tension to the internal extractor. There is no need to design an external extractor that in normal feeding operation snaps over the rim on lockup as in a push feed rifle. An external extractor can accept rounds from the magazine and slot them into proper feed position just as well as an internal extractor.

This would provide identical function, excepting in a situation that would jam the internal extractor anyway (a deformed or out of spec rim for example, or a cartridge presented at a radical angle), where the external extractor might ride up and over the problem, or deflect enough then rebound, so that the problem is compensated for.

That could be an advantage or a disadvantage, in that the casing might fail to extract on that cycle; but at least the round would have fed and fired instead of jamming up on feed, and I can always rip-rack-rack to try to clear the failed extraction, without damaging my extractor (unlike an internal tension spring extractor, which can be damaged by snapping it over the rim; or which may jam the cartridge worse).

Some would rather clear the misfeed rather than the failure to extract; but I say there's a 50/50 it's going to extract anyway, and I'd rather have that round shot down the barrel at a bad guy and THEN clear a malf, than have to clear the malf then fire.

On the extraction side, the internal extractor in theory prevents doublefeeds and provides more positive extraction... but that's in theory.

The 1911 internal extractor is NOT the claw on a Mauser 98 or a pre-'64 model 70. It is strong, but it's not THAT strong, and anyone making that analogy should know better. 

The 1911s extractor will slip off rims, and it will also snap over rims, something that a CRF winchester won't do (in fact it will tear the rim off of most brass before it slips off).

In practical terms, if the hook is going to pull off the rim on a properly designed and tensioned external extractor, it's probably going to pull off with the internal extractor as well (and any experienced shooter of 1911s and other designs has probably seen plenty of both). Again, it's a matter of correct geometry and spring tension.

I've seen plenty of internal extractors slip off rims, or worse, tear off rims (either of which can damage or detension the extractor); though at least most of the time when that happens, they don't have the energy to doublefeed.

Yes, the external extractor is somewhat more likely to slip off a rim (though not much more if properly designed and manufactured), but I've never seen an external extractor tear a rim off unless the case was already defective; and I'd rather have an extractor I can snap over the rim and try again without damage.

So at best, it's a wash; and I really think that argument comes out favoring the external extractor.
A side note: I feel the same way for semi-automatic rifles as well. Having an extractor that provides or aids in controlled round feeding, while still allowing it to snap over the rim, is an advantage (a CRPF design); just because it compensates better for the foibles of semiautomatics. I say make your design a CRPF and get all the advantages; but if I have to choose, in a semi or full auto, I'll take the push feed over the controlled round feed, because it's generally going to cycle better; even though it won't cycle properly upside down etc...
For bolt action rifles, I see a marginal advantage to a full CRF design; but I also think that the hybrid CRPF designs work as well, and have their advantages. Either are marginally superior to a plain PF design.
...And remember, all this is coming from a dedicated and experienced 1911 shooter and armorer.

I've owned a number of Glocks, SIGs, HKs etc... and I keep selling them off. I've never sold a 1911 (though I have given a couple away, and had a couple stolen). In fact, right now, the only handguns I own are 1911s, and revolvers (oh and a little Kel-Tec, but thats mostly my wifes. I replaced it with a 340pd).

...But, as an engineer (by education), a shooter, and an armorer; I recognize that there is no real disadvantage to a properly designed and manufactured external extractor.

The external extractor is stronger, provides equal or superior functionality (if properly designed and manufactured), is easier to manufacture, is less prone to breakage or wear, is easier to repair when it does break or wear, and is far easier to fit, requiring less skill and time.

So... why is this even an argument?

Oh... ok... there is ONE argument I will concede the validity of:

The internal extractor is prettier than the external extractor.