Monday, October 31, 2011

DIY Firearms

Did you know that it's perfectly legal to make your own modern, cartridge firing firearms? Here's what the BATF has to say about it, from their FAQ page:
With certain exceptions a firearm may be made by a non-licensee provided it is not for sale and the maker is not prohibited from possessing firearms. However, a person is prohibited from assembling a non-sporting semi-automatic rifle or non-sporting shotgun from imported parts. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and approval by ATF. An application to make a machine gun will not be approved unless documentation is submitted showing that the firearm is being made for a Federal or State agency.
Some thirty or more years ago there were a series of small ads in the classified sections of Popular Mechanics and similar magazines offering plans for the home gunsmith from an outfit that went by the acronym JACO. Most were simple, single shot pistols, like the one displayed above, and the sellers stated that all could be made with no more tools than a hacksaw, files, and a drill. Today, I see that a number of websites have resurrected these plans, and at least one enterprising soul has been selling them on eBay!

To make it even easier, JACO also sold plans for a filing fixture that was clamped over the workpiece, and used hardened steel rollers to guide a file. The claim was that with this fixture it was possible to get the kind of accuracy you'd otherwise need a milling machine to obtain- although of course it would take longer with the fixture. I don't doubt it. Such fixtures were more common in earlier centuries, and I seem to recall that Guy Lautard had a design for one in one of his Machinist's Bedside Reader books.

While the Federal laws on constructing firearms are no hindrance to this sort of project, state laws may be. Here in Michigan, handguns must be registered with the state, and only a gun already registered to a licensed dealer or another individual may be transferred. I'm not sure how this affects home made guns, though I'm tempted to drop a line to the State Police for clarification.  If your state laws do permit this sort of thing, it does look like a great hobby project for the shooter with patience and an aptitude for craft.

UPDATE: Here's a complete PDF, with instructions, of the JACO mini pistol plans. (link fixed!)

UPDATE: Some creative Google searching indicates a number of patent applications- but no patents granted- to a John Kasselman and Albert Blatter (hence the name JACO) for a filing fixture, three pistol designs, and a method for bluing steel.

Two more Jaco pistols: the JACO Western Pistol and the JACO Derringer.

Even more: The JACO Childs Campers Pistol and The JACO Horse Pistol

Ambitious home gunsmiths can find a wealth of info and a clever design in The Handgun. Home gunsmiths with access to a lathe and the willingness to navigate the complex applications needed to legally make automatic weapons will find The Do-it-Yourself Submachine Gun both interesting and useful.

(Less well equipped hobbyists looking for fun projects will find Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices a great source of entertainment.)

Find this useful?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Rossi Tuffy

Back when traveling by automobile was an adventure, a number of companies marketed guns especially for use by travelers, much as they had marketed bicycle pistols for early cyclists to defend themselves against wild dogs. These automobile guns were typically short barreled shotguns like the Ithaca "Auto & Burglar Gun." The Ithaca, like most similar guns, was nothing more than a short (12.2") barreled variant of a standard Ithaca 20 gauge double, with a pistol grip replacing the shoulder stock. But in 1934 the National Firearms Act made the transfer of such guns subject to a $200 transfer tax- about $3143 in 2011 dollars- and Ithaca, realizing that it would be impossible to sell a $30 guns with a $200 tax, quit making the Auto & Burglar.

The idea of a short shotgun has hung on, as it's a very useful arm, and not just for the Prohibition-era gangsters targeted by the NFA. As Ithaca noted, it's a good choice for home protection, being easier to maneuver indoors than a full length gun, and the shot from an unchoked barrel is far less likely to penetrate a wall than a slug from a 9mm pistol. The compact size means they can make good survival guns, too. H&R used to make a short stocked single shot shotgun called the "Snake Charmer" and variations of it have been made off and on by H&R's successor, NEF. These guns are really more like long barreled pistols with a stub of a stock added to bring them to a legal length. Often they're marketed as youth guns, but their real market is as defensive and survival guns.

The most recent entry in this market is a clone, in .410, of these H&R guns from Rossi. It's called the Tuffy, and it's a tiny, light, and apparently well made gun. I was handling one over at Gander Mountain the other day, and when I saw the price- $149- I was sorely tempted to buy it then and there.  I've been looking,, casually, for a single barrel .410 for use as a squirrel or rabbit gun, and it occurred to me that the Tuffy might be a handy gun for just that purpose. Then I found an interesting video on YouTube of a fellow who says he lives in the woods, and who modified his by attaching a stock extension with Gorilla tape:

Might just have to go back to Gander and buy one.

More on the guns of James Bond

Previously I wrote about my personal 007 guns- the .22 Beretta (okay, Bond carried a .25) and the Walther PPK. Here's an interesting excerpt from a BBC documentary in which very proper English firearms expert gives his opinions on Bond's choice in pistols:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Charter Arms Explorer II Pistol

At one point during the time  Charter Arms was making the AR-7 survival rifle they introduced a pistol version called the Explorer II. A lot of hobbyists and collectors- myself included- bought one, based on the Mauser Broomhandle-like appearance and the inexpensive price. It came with a 4", 6", or 10" barrel, though I seem to recall that mine came with two barrels.

The receiver wasn't identical to that of the rifle version in that you couldn't attach a shoulder stock, and the alignment lug for the barrel was different from that of the rifle version. This was to prevent someone from intentionally or accidentally mounting a shoulder stock on the pistol or attaching a short barrel to the pistol, either of which would have resulted in a violation of the National Firearms Act (and not incidentally the commission of a Federal felony.)

What many owners discovered was that the Explorer II pistol had all the faults of the AR-7 rifle, like problems with feeding and mediocre accuracy. In addition, it would fail to cycle reliably if you limp-wristed it. Still, it's a pretty neat pistol, and I can't help but wonder if it might sell well if Henry, who now make the AR-7, came out with an improved model. I'd sure buy one.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The AR-7 Explorer

Just about every shooting sports hobbyist I've ever known has owned one of these at one time or another; I've owned three, at various times. It was designed by Eugene Stoner at Armalite for the civilian market as a semi-automatic .22 version of the bolt-action AR-5, a .22 Hornet survival rifle that Stoner designed for the USAF. Armalite sold the tooling and rights to Charter Arms, who made most of the guns that are out there now. Charter Arms had a reputation for uneven quality back then and the AR-7 was certainly no exception. The guns were often fussy about ammunition,  magazine feed lips often needed tweaking, and owners reported numerous jams. As a survival weapon it had questionable value, as the sights were crude and the waterproof stock, which was designed to hold the disassembled rifle, often leaked. I sold my last Charter Arms gun, complete with original box, for around $125.

The rights to the design passed to Survival Arms in 1990, who I don't think made very many. In 1997 Henry Repeating Arms, who do have a reputation for quality,  picked it up, and improved it, using a new ABS material for the stock, and supplying new guns with two magazines. The gun itself is Teflon coated for better moisture resistance, and the receiver is grooved for a scope. The barrel is steel, covered with a synthetic coating. All of this makes for a much more practical and reliable rifle that you might actually consider packing for a backwoods trip. For me, personally, my preferred survival gun is my customized Ruger Mk-III hunter. It's more rugged, and more accurate- but it did cost almost three times as much as a new Henry AR-7.