Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Friday, November 27, 2015

What Knife Does One Bring To Thanksgiving?

Let's continue our theme of 'appropriate knives for social occasions' and discuss what should be carried at an informal Thanksgiving celebration. It needs to be big enough to handle minor carving tasks yet not so big that it scares the hostess, small children or liberals.

This year's choice - the Southern Grind Bad Monkey!

The choice was easy. Southern Grind knives are manufactured locally in Peachtree City, Georgia and are extremely high quality. The knife sports a large 4" blade that is perfectly suited to smaller slicing jobs. Plus, every knife purchased helps support Zac Brown's Camp Southern Ground charity located here in Fayette County, Georgia.

A great knife, a great charity, a great meal. What more can you ask for?

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Monday, November 23, 2015

What Knife Does One Bring To A Wedding?

Fashion dilemma. What knife does one bring to one's daughter's wedding? Something classy and befitting the occasion, certainly.

After much research (be forewarned, Emily Post is silent on this matter) and deliberation it was decided - a nice stag handled Case medium stockman in stainless steel.

One must select fashion accessories with an eye to the occasion

Simple, elegant, classy. It was a great wedding!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Adam-12, One Adam-12, End Of Watch

Rest in Peace Officer Malloy.

Word went out yesterday that Martin Milner passed away at the age of 83. Milner was the star of one of my all-time favorite shows, Adam-12. As a kid in the mid-1960's I caught every episode (in glorious black & white). At the time Adam-12 was as close to reality TV as we could get, and the producer Jack Webb's claim that the stories were lifted right out of the LAPD case files made things even more believable to this impressionable teenager.

Milner was already a seasoned acting professional before taking on the role of Officer Pete Malloy. His career started in 1947 in the movie Life With Father, playing the teenage son of William Powell and Irene Dunne. He went on to star in a number of highly regarded movies such as Sands of Iwo Jima, Operation Pacific, Gunfight At The OK CorralDial M for Murder, Mister Roberts and Sweet Smell of Success. Milner's first TV role was in a 1950 episode of The Lone Ranger. Looking at his filmography it's clear he had one heck of a work ethic and was never idle for very long.

Milner's breakout role was as co-star of the iconic TV series Route 66, running from 1960 - 1964. Three years later producer/director Jack Webb of Dragnet fame picked Milner for the starring role in his reality-based TV show about the LAPD.

By all reports Milner was a hard working, stand-up guy who who defied Hollywood convention, enjoyed family life and remained married to his wife for 58 years. That alone is one hell of an achievement!

Here's a montage from the first episode of Adam-12, where Pete Malloy is straightening out his new rookie partner, Officer Jim Reed. Nothing like starting off on the right foot.

Rest in Peace Martin, you've earned it.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Beretta M9 Is A Great Service Pistol, So Get Over It

I recently traded into a Beretta 92FS pistol. This is the commercial version of the pistol that 30 years ago became the US military's M9 service pistol. It has been almost 15 years since I handled or shot a Beretta 92/M9 and I figured I needed to reacquaint myself with the platform.

Beretta 92FS, the precursor to the M9 service pistol

I had the good fortune to be on active duty in the mid-80's when we traded in our M1911A1 pistols for the M9. In fact, by the time our units at Fort Lewis, WA received the first issue of M9 pistols around 1987 I'd had almost a decade of experience shooting the military issue M1911A1. I feel I'm in a perfect position to compare and contrast the two pistols

Let's start with the M1911A1, or the 'yankee fist' as many refered to it. I won't drag the readers down the well worn path that is the history of the M1911. We'll just cover the basics: 

  • Invented by John M. Browning and considered by many to be his best handgun design
  • Adopted by the US military in 1911 (hence the military desigination 'M1911') to replace the venerable (but badly out-dated) Colt SAA revolver 
  • First saw wide battlefield service with US forces in WWI
  • The design was modified in the 1920's based on input from Soldiers who used it during the Great War. The resultant pistol was dubbed the M1911A1 and it remained the standard US service pistol right up into the 1980's
  • During WWII over 1 million M1911A1's were produced by Colt, Remington Rand, Ithica, Union Signal and Switch and Singer
  • At the close of WWII the War Department decided it had more than enough M1911A1s to meet service demand and closed down the military production lines. The pistols produced during the war years continued to serve as the US standard service pistol through the Korean and Vietnam wars
  • The M1911A1 was officially replaced as the US military's standard service pistol in 1985 when the Beretta M9 was adopted

M1911A1 in WWII factory packaging

I believe the M1911A1 was the best semi-auto service pistol in use anywhere in the world right up through the 1960's and the Vietnam War. No other service pistol could match it for reliability and knock-down power. But by the early 1970's it's design had been surpassed by a host of improvements in handgun technology. In addition the US Military's stock of general issue M1911's were simply worn out. After almost 30 years of service and three wars (WWII, Korea and Vietnam) the pistols were old, rattly and unreliable. Nobody shot them well. The sights were awful and the triggers even worse. By 1980 the venerable old warhorse was serving way past its retirement date and it was time for something new and improved.

Next let's look at the Beretta M9 pistol:

  • Based on the Beretta 92, designed in 1975
  • Saw initial but limited use with the US military in the hands of Navy SEALS starting in the late 1970's
  • The Beretta 92 won the 1979 Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) competition, beating out a number of competitors from Colt, S&W, SIG, H&K, Browning and a few others. The USAF ran the JSSAP competition and the Army griped about the outcome (they really didn't want to buy an Italian pistol) so the results were shelved
  • In 1983 Congress put the Army in charge of a new selection program and told them to try again. Both the Beretta 92 and the SIG 226 beat all other competitors (including the M1911A1) and tied for the lead. Beretta submitted a much lower contract bid and won, fair and square
  • Both S&W and Ruger bitched about the outcome of the 1983 trials so in 1989 Congress ordered a new trial. Once again the Beretta 92 (now designated the M9) came out the clear winner
  • The M9 platform has seen almost continuous combat from 2003 to today, racking up an impressive combat record in the hands of all branches of the US Military

The Beretta M9 as adopted by the US Military in 1985 and still serving today

So in three separate trials the Beretta 92/M9 beat all comers, including the beloved M1911A1. The DoD specified a minimum 8,000 round service life in the 1984 trials, yet in tests the M9 has shown to have a service life in excess of 30,000 rounds. The M1911A1 'control' pistols used by the DoD during the trials failed long before that point, most not even making it to the minimum 8,000 rounds. Yet folks in the shooting community and legions of Gunstore Commandos - and a good number of our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors - bitch constantly about how the Beretta is in some way substandard.

Let's look at the gripes:

  1. The Beretta family and/or the Italian government bribed Congress to adopt the pistol. This silly rumor has been kicking around since the mid-1980s and it's been investigated to death. While I don't discount the willingness of an occasional Congresscritter to take cash under the table to do a deal (Dan Rostenkowski, anyone?) this specific claim has been proven baseless. The pistol won the competition on its merits (and low bid price), not because Italians were delivering bags full of lira to the Congressional office buildings
  2. The SIG P226 really won the competition but got undercut at the last minute when their best and final bid price was leaked to Beretta. Again, no basis in fact. SIG's US representative, SACO, blew the bid process by refusing to lower contract prices on things like magazines and spare parts, making their bid significantly higher than Beretta's
  3. It's a 9mm. Yes it is, but don't blame Beretta. The DoD specified before the competition started that any pistol selected would be in the 9mm caliber. Beretta would have been happy to build pistols in 50 Action Express if that's what the competition requirements called for
  4. It's got a weird trigger.  Really? What's weird about it? From the late 1970s through the 1990's the DA/SA trigger design was all the rage, and was considered a far better and far safer design than the M1911A1's single action design. S&W, Colt, Ruger, SIG, H&K, Walther, and a host of other manufacturers made millions of pistols using the DA/SA design, and EVERYBODY wanted one. The Beretta trigger happens to be one of the best DA/SA designs ever brought to market. It was only after Glock came along with the trigger with the little thingey in the middle that folks began to change
  5. It's got a weird safety. The biggest gripe the 1911 partisans and Internet Commandos have about the M9 safety is that it's nothing like the M1911A1. Well OK, I agree - the M9 safety is nothing like the 1911's. That's because the M9's safety is better. There, I said it. As early as the late 1950's (when the Army started making noises about looking for a new pistol) it was recognized that the M1911A1 safety design was outdated and dangerous. That's why the Army mandated carrying the pistol hammer down but without a round in the chamber. Plus the safety lever was set up for right handed shooters only. The Beretta's ambidextrous decocker system provides an absolutely safe method of lowering the hammer on a loaded chamber and permitting perfectly safe carry with a round in the chamber. Far better than the M1911A1
  6. It's got an open slide. The Beretta's open slide design was touted as an advantage over the competitor's fully enclosed slides. I remember sitting in on meetings where we were briefed on the benefits of the new pistol and the open slide design was praised for it's improved barrel cooling and resistance to crud build-up inside the slide. The resistance to getting clogged with sand was particularly emphasized. OK, in retrospect there may not be any real benefit other than reduced weight, but reports from the sandbox are that as long as you do routine maintenance on the pistol, to include removing any sand or grit that may have slipped through the slide and down into the dust cover, the pistols are as reliable and run just fine
  7. It's got a fat grip. Yes it does, but it's not that fat. In fact, compared to something like the Glock 17 the grip is actually quite comfortable and manageable. I have medium-large hands and I find the grip quite comfortable. The real issue with the grip is the long reach to the DA trigger for those with medium or small hands. This can be alleviated by carrying the pistol with the safety off and the hammer cocked to the first notch, which brings the trigger back further in the trigger guard. Of course the Army frowns on this practice but if you are a civilian it's a perfectly safe way to carry the pistol.   
  8. The slides break, killing people. Early in the service life of the pistol the Navy SEALS experienced precisely three (3) broken slides. On two occasions the slides broke completely into two pieces, with the rear section smacking the shooters in the face. One high speed-low drag operator suffered a broken tooth. That's the full extent of the human devastation caused by broken slides. Investigation revealed these were high round count pistols that were shooting waaaaaay out of spec high pressure ammo. When the Army heard about the incident they took three civilian spec 92SB pistols they had been testing and shot them until the slides failed. One pistol's slide let go at just over 20,000 rounds and the other two let go at over 30,000 rounds. Analysis of the broken slides revealed all had heat treatment problems. Beretta beefed up the slides around the locking block area and improved QC on the heat treating. This was back in 1988. Since then there have been zero instances of slides cracking or breaking on any M9 pistol. It simply hasn't been an issue for over 25 years of production and service. Time to drive a stake through the heart of this idiotic rumor
  9. It wears out too fast. A pistol is a mechanical device that wears out with use, and it wears out faster if not maintained properly and even faster when used in environments where dust and sand is prevalent - like the Middle East. General issue weapons in the DoD inventory get minimal care and maintenance. Yes they get cleaned but they don't get maintained as well as they should. This means many of the M9 pistols that have seen up to 30 years of service, including 15 years of continuous wartime service in the hands of hundreds of service members, have been shot a lot but received minimal maintenance. As you would and should expect, they are worn out. Again, don't blame Beretta or the pistol's design. Blame a military that has seen an extraordinarily high OPTEMPO for the past 15 years in an environment that's known to accelerate wear on all mechanical devices, coupled with a reluctance to pull marginally serviceable weapons from the inventory
  10. It's unreliable. Another Gunstore Commando rumor that refuses to die. Remember, in three separate reliability tests the Beretta tied for first place in one and beat all comers in the other two. Well, there was a point during the GWOT where the Beretta pistols the Army owned were exhibiting a surprisingly high number of malfunctions, But again it wasn't Beretta's fault or the fault of the pistol. It was magazines. Specifically, non-manufacturer spec magazines that were built to a badly flawed Army contract specification. After years of active combat the Army was running out of M9 magazines. The Beretta-produced magazines were of excellent quality, but they were wearing out at an alarming rate with years of service in a very sandy/dusty environment. The Army needed a lot of replacement magazines, and needed them fast. To save a few bucks they awarded a contract to a third party (but very reputable) US-based magazine manufacturer named Check-Mate. In an effort to try to extend the service life of the magazines the Army contract stipulated that both the outside and the inside of the magazine bodies were to receive a phosphate coating. When Beretta and Check-Mate read the contract requirement they both notified the Army that the coating on the interior of the magazine body would cause ammunition feeding problems. The Army refused to budge and told Check-Mate that either they comply with the contract as written or it would be taken from them and given to one of their competitors. Check-Mate complied, delivered the magazines and things started to go south from there. Army Soldiers in combat started to report multiple malfunctions, mainly failure to feed issues. Of course they blamed the M9 in general as being unreliable, but the issue was very quickly traced to the phosphate coating on the inside of the magazines. In fact, both Beretta and Check-Mate had told the Army to expect this to happen. The rough textured coating on the inside of the magazine body was trapping sand and grit, which interfered with the smooth operation of the magazine follower causing malfunctions. This problem triggered a nationwide shortage of Beretta factory magazines for the 92-series pistols as friends and family members of Soldiers snapped up every available magazine to send to their loved ones fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army quickly realized its mistake and revised the contract spec to require a dry lube coating on the inside of the magazine. Once all of the phosphate coated Check-Mate magazines were pulled from service the reliability problems went away. It should be noted that the USMC, fighting in many of the same regions and often right alongside Army units, continued to use Beretta-manufactured magazines and continued to enjoy excellent reliability out of the M9
  11. It's not a 1911. This is the zinger of last resort that any Gunstore Commando will throw down when losing an argument about service pistols. It's usually delivered with a dismissive wave of the hand as they walk away from the argument, firm in the belief that their logic is unassailable. Sort of like a liberal shouting "you're raaaaacist!" when you bring up the black-on-black murder rate in Chicago. No Virginia, the M9 is not the M1911A1. It's actually better. Now remember, we can't compare the M9 to your Ed Brown Classic Series 1911. We have to compare service pistol to service pistol, and the M9 proved in three separate DoD tests that it handily beats the WWII-era M1911A1 in every evaluation category. A lot of 1911 partisans argue that if - just if - an updated 1911 design had been included in the trials it would have wiped the floor with all the pretenders to the throne. Maybe, Maybe not. We'll never know. You can't run an Indy race against a car that doesn't show up at the starting line
For more information on the procurement controversy go read the Government Accounting Office's 1986 report 'Allegations on Army Selection of Beretta 9-mm as DoD Standard Sidearm'


Does the M9 have some flaws? Of course it does, but the 'flaws' are not shortcomings in the pistol's basic design but shortcomings that have cropped up as firearms and accessory technology has progressed over the past 30 years.

In my eyes the current M9 design has two major shortcomings. First is the lack of an adjustable/replacable front sight. The second is the lack of an accessory rail (also referred to as a 'Picatinny' rail). Remember, the standard M9 reflects a design that was locked in-place in 1985, before the advent of Tritium night sights and small, powerful weapons lights.

While the rear sight on the M9 is 'drift adjustable' (that's gunsmith speak for the need to smack the thing with a hammer and drift punch to adjust the point of aim), the front sight is actually an integral part of the slide and is neither replaceable or adjustable. That was OK in 1985 when we were just thankful to be moving away from the awful sights found on the M1911A1, but today that design simply isn't good enough. In my opinion every pistol issued to an American Soldier should have replaceable Tritium night sights. You simply can't provide that with the current design of the M9.

Next, the accessory rail. In 1985 nobody had even heard of a thing called a weapon light. If you needed to light up a target at night you usually used a hand held flashlight. Then in the 1990s companies like SureFire and Streamlight started developing small, lightweight high intensity lights that could be mounted below the barrel on the dust cover. This first resulted in a bunch of goofy clip-on rail systems but then swiftly led to manufacturers incorporating a standard accessory rail into their pistol designs. Today it's almost impossible to buy a newly manufactured pistol that does not have an accessory rail built in, but the M9 design is still stuck in 1985.

Enter the Marine Corps. While the US Army developed only a grudging respect for the M9, the USMC seems to have fallen in love with it. The average Marine spends far more time than the average Soldier on the range and is therefore more familiar with, and in tune with, his or her duty weapon. I'm told the USMC also pays much more attention to weapons maintenance than the Army does, and is more aggressive in replacing worn parts like recoil springs. As a result the USMC has gotten better service out of their M9s. But they too recognized the ageing design of the pistol. In 2010 the USMC contracted directly with Beretta for a redesigned M9 that incorporated an accessory rail, a re-configured trigger guard, three-dot sights, some polymer parts to save weight and improved 'sand resistant' magazines. Designated the M9A1, it is scheduled to replace all standard M9 pistols in the Marine Corps inventory. Surprisingly, the M9A1 still retains the integral front sight, so good luck trying to fit Tritium sights.


The M9A1 is a logical upgrade to the 1985-era M9 but no other branch of service has shown interest in it. The reason for this lack of interest is called the Modular Handgun System (MHS) competition.

Around 2008 the Army and Air Force decided that the M9 design had reached the end of its service life and it was time to look for a new service pistol. Since 1985 handgun technology has undergone a number of key improvements. The most visible change has been the emergence of the polymer framed, striker fired designs like the Glock. Pistols like the Glock 17 and the Smith & Wesson M&P line absolutely dominate the American law enforcement market, from local police agencies all the way up to the FBI and have even found strong acceptance in limited roles within the US military.

So the two services are keenly interested in adopting a standard service pistol that is striker fired, has a polymer frame, improved safeties and offers easier maintenance. After several fits and starts, in 2014 the DoD announced the kick-off of the selection program for what they call a Modular Handgun System (MHS). Beretta quickly figured out that any re-configuration of the M9 design would not meet 100% of the MHS minimum criteria. So Beretta tried an end-around move to bypass the MHS competition and offered the Army a radically re-designed model of the M9 called the M9A3.

Beretta M9A3

Beretta got smart with this redesign and takes the original 92-based platform as far as it can go. The M9A3 incorporates a true M1913 'Picatinny' accessory rail, Tritium front and rear sights, a supressor-ready barrel, minor changes to the decocker safety and a recontoured grip. The frame of the pistol is still aluminum alloy, but Beretta re-engineered it to accept different sized grips and backstraps. At first Beretta tried to sell the M9A3 to the Army under the existing M9 contract, claiming the changes were allowed under the 'minor engineering changes' clause. The Army said no, deciding that the changes were too radical to be considered 'minor'.

But Beretta's not giving up, and apparently has a plan that just might work. As the MHS tests move forward Beretta is putting the M9A3 into limited production for civilian sales. Even limited production proves that the company can ramp up to volume production if the orders pour in. Next, Beretta is willing to play a watch and wait game. Even though the MHS program will eventually pick a winner Beretta knows the US military is in the draw down mode and money may not be available to field the selected pistol. This puts Beretta in a good position to step forward and tell Congress that it has a ready replacement for the M9 that meets 85% of the MHS requirements and offers near 100% compatibility with existing DoD service pistol support systems (training materials, spare parts, holsters, maintenance tools, etc.). Who knows, Beretta may just pull it off!


So 30 years on two things are clear. First, the M9 has received limited respect from those who carry it. To be honest I think the pistol was somewhat doomed from the beginning simply because it was replacing the venerable and beloved M1911A1. NO pistol other than an updated 1911 could have overcome that hurdle. The rumored failures I outlined above gained so much traction that they are impossible to control or squelch. When a Soldier going in to combat is handed a perfectly serviceable M9 all he/she has heard are the barracks rumors fueled by all the drivel out on the internet. What he/she doesn't hear is the truth.

The second thing that's clear to me is that the M9 was the best pistol selected in the 1985 trials and has proven to be an outstanding service pistol. It's real failures are few and dozens - perhaps hundreds - of service men and women are alive today thanks to the M9's ruggedness and reliability in some of the worst combat conditions imaginable. It's a pistol I'd unhesitatingly carry in to combat if I had to go today.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Friday, June 26, 2015

2015 Blade Show

Well I'm a few weeks late in reporting, but it's been busy both at work and on the home front.

Earlier in the month the annual Blade Show came to town. This year I was accompanied by my friend Doug who had very little background in knives, but a lot of curiosity. This is my fifth Blade Show visit and its become something of an annual ritual. I reserve the show date on my calendar and warn friends and relatives not to burden me with any responsibilities on show day. To me the show is like a second Christmas, and my family knows enough to not spoil it for me.

This year I didn't have an agenda - I wasn't on the hunt for the newest interpretation of the Bowie knife, or the best bushcraft blade, or the latest offering from Buck/Cold Steel/A.G. Russell/etc. This year was more about wandering around with Doug, introducing him to the finer points of knife design and execution and admiring the work of many of the individual makers. Doug is smart and showed a lively interest not just in knife design and manufacturing, but he also got interested in what I'll call the psychology of knife collecting.

So let's hit some of the highlights.

The show was packed. This was easily the largest crowd I've seen at a Blade Show. Our first clue as to the size of the crowd came when we were looking for a parking spot. The show venue, the Cobb Galleria, has plenty of parking, so when it took us 20 minutes to find a spot I knew it was going to be packed. The second clue came when we entered the arena. The place was jammed! Just a few years back vendors were complaining about low show attendance. The poor economy and a general malaise seemed to have kept folks home. This year things seemed much improved and it was great (though sometimes annoying) to see the displays and tables packed two and three deep

Buck's presence at the show was much subdued. They had a smaller than normal booth, weren't doing any sales and didn't seem to be drawing the crowds. I don't know if this was a reaction to the recent passing of Chuck Buck or just a general business decision to reduce their presence at the show. It was sort of sad to see. I did check out their new Selkirk fixed blade. This is a Chinese produced (something the Buck rep seemed a little defensive about) fixed blade made out of 420 steel. Overall I was impressed. It's an excellent design with a one piece blade and integral hilt and pommel and a very comfortable grip made of what seems to be Micarta. The street price is also well below $100.

Buck Selkirk

Folks gripe about Chinese made knives, but producers like A.G. Russell proved long ago that if proper quality control is applied the Chinese can turn out excellent blades at astonishingly low prices.

As always, the Ka-Bar booth was hopping and Uncle Ethan Becker was in attendance, dispensing wisdom and friendly jabs in equal measure. This year nothing at the booth grabbed my attention but Doug showed a lot of interest in the USMC Combat Knife. Ka-Bar does an outstanding job with these blades, easily the best examples available from any knife manufacturer. Ontario, Case and a few others make their own versions of the USMC Combat Knife, but Ka-Bar's is by far the best interpretation available on the market today. The stacked leather handle models are extremely well done and gorgeous.

Ethan Becker (right) holding court at the Ka-Bar booth

While at the Ka-Bar booth I mentioned to Doug that besides being a knife designer, Ethan is also a professional chef. Doug walked right over to Ethan and asked, "In your opinion, who makes the best kitchen knives?"  Without hesitating Ethan shot right back, "Al Mar, but don't tell them I said that!"  Classic Ethan.

The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming! I don't think I've ever seen this many Italian manufacturers at the show. Perhaps it was because their wares never really caught my eye, but this time I found something to like. The folks at the Maserin booth were showing off their wares and one of their locking folders caught my eye

Maserin Knives

Maserin's little 'Birdland' folder seemed extremely well done. I'll admit that it was the orange handle scales that caught my attention, but once I got to handle the knife I realized what a great little package it is. Slim, a very nice blade profile, it locks up tight, has a good 'walk and talk' and the blade is well centered in the blade well. This is the first Italian-produced knife I ever considered worth putting money down for.

Maserin Birdland

About this time I lost track of Doug and eventually found him bugging the Browning Knife guys...

Doug, on the left, peppering the Browning guys with questions

A new (to me) maker that caught my eye was White River Knife & Tool from Coopersville, Michigan up near Grand Rapids. What got my attention were the examples they had on-hand from their Classic Series. These blades are extremely well done using profiles that hearken back to the classic upper midwest hunting blade designs from Rudy Ruana and Bill Scagel. But two things really set White River's designs apart. First, their generous handle sizes. There's a prevailing line of thought in knife design that says little blades need little handles. This often translates into small fixed blade knives with handles too small for the average adult male to get a good purchase on. White River makes sure even their smallest fixed blades sport generous handles. The handles are slim but well proportioned and provide enough real-estate for a good purchase. Next is blade thickness. Another prevailing trend in outdoor knives is thicker is better - the sharpened pry-bar approach to knife making. This trend has resulted in a generation of blades that are simply far too thick for their intended (or likely) use. White River uses blade stock of the proper thickness for its intended use. This results in larger fixed blades that are light, handy and easy to maneuver.

White River Classic Series - very nicely done

Here's a gratuitous shot of one of the Case knife displays. I've freely admitted to my Case knife addiction in the past, and Case's show displays don't help with the problem. It's like a drunk walking into a liquor store that's offering free samples. All I'll say is that it's a damned good thing that Case doesn't do sales at the Blade Show.

Case knives. Crack cocaine. What's the difference?

As Doug and I were making our way around the show floor we ended up in the collector's corner where the Buck Collector's Club, the Randall collectors and other similar groups were set up. Doug became fascinated by the George Herron knife collection owned by R. Duncan out of South Carolina. This is where Doug got into the psychology of knife collecting. He peppered Mr. Duncan for over 20 minutes with questions about knife value, perceptions, motivations and what keeps a collector going. I think Duncan only put up with Doug's line of questioning because Doug told him he was a Citadel grad. Doug came away with a far better understanding of what drives knife collecting, and I think something clicked (more on that in a bit).

Doug peppering George Herron knife collector R. Duncan with endless questions

Some of the exquisite Herron-made blades in Duncan's collection. This whole
collecting thing absolutely fascinated Doug

So after learning all about knife collecting, and having admired some of the custom work on display on the tables of individual makers Doug wandered over to the Buck Collectors Club display area. The Buck Collectors Club displays are always the 'mac-daddy' of knife collection displays at the Blade Show. It's row upon row of collections of all the various blades and styles made by the Buck family since the mid-20th century. Buck collectors are extraordinarily devoted to the brand and the club gets a lot of support from the company and the Buck family. Doug was clearly impressed by the vast array of Buck products. Before this all he knew about Buck came from the few products he'd seen for sale in the PX. Then we made the mistake of wandering by the Collector's Club information table in the display area. Doug intermediately spotted a Model 110 for sale as a fund raiser that had been re-worked by David Yellowhorse - resplendent in sliver and turquoise handle inlays and delicate file work on the blade. Doug went back to the table two or three times, each time getting closer to pulling out his wallet. Finally he asked me to lead him away and to never let him go back by the table while we were still at the show.

He's hooked.

- Brian

Monday, May 18, 2015

Vietnam Birddog Memoir: My First Mission

Hey, look who's got a blog!

My good friend Bill, the guy who got me addicted to fly fishing, has decided to fire up his own blog to highlight his time as a Birddog pilot in Vietnam. Hop over to Bill's blog, have a read and leave him some feedback.


Vietnam Birddog Memoir: My First Mission: "Headhunter One-Four, cleared for takeoff.". The radio call from the control tower at Camp Holloway airfield was the authorization...

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Airweight Chronicles II

Beware weepy eyed nostalgia.

In the first installment of this saga I hinted that earlier incarnations of the S&W Airweights are better simply because they are older. Everybody knows older is better when it comes to revolvers (and knives, cars, airplanes, cameras, cowboy westerns and women, especially women).

A couple of days ago Bill and I went to the range to compare his venerable old Model 37 Airweight against my current production 642. I stepped up to the firing line absolutely convinced that Bill's Airweight would prove to be the much better shooter. After all, it was made back in the 70's when S&W still lavished lots of attention on these fine little revolvers.

A pair of Airweights: S&W Model 37 on the left, S&W Model 642 on the right

Boy was I wrong.

The 642 Airweight was a much better shooter. There really was no comparison. While both revolvers exhibited the same accuracy the 642 was much easier to manage and much more pleasant to shoot. This is only partly due to the trigger job I did on the 642. What surprised me was that the trigger on the much older Model 37 was just as heavy and stiff as the original trigger on my 642. But two other factors combine to make the Model 37 unpleasant to shoot. First is the trigger itself. The Model 37 sports a wide, serrated trigger. Combined with the stiff, heavy trigger pull this serrated trigger digs painfully into the trigger finger. By comparison the 642 trigger is narrower and has a smooth, rounded face that is much easier on the finger.

The next issue are the grips. I admit, the classic old checkered wooden grips on the Model 37 just look better. They look the way revolver grips should look. But while this style works well on larger (and heavier) revolvers, under the sharp recoil of this light little snubbie the checkering digs painfully into the palm of the hand. Combine the grips and the wide, serrated trigger and the overall shooting experience is one of pain. The Model 37 is simply too uncomfortable to shoot beyond one or two cylinders full of weak range loads. By comparison the 642's fat rubber grips provide a better purchase on the revolver, making it much more comfortable to hold on to under recoil. Weak range ammo is fun to shoot and stout self defense loads, while not exactly pleasurable, are manageable and don't tear up your shooting hand.

S&W's Airweights have only gotten better with age. My favorite snubbie with my favorite coffee mug!

But the news is not all bad. Many of the Model 37's issues are easily addressed. Bill already has some Uncle Mike's boot grips on the way to replace the factory wooden stocks. The obscenely heavy trigger pull can be easily overcome with a simple trigger job. The trigger itself can be switched out, but the additional cost may not be worth it; with the new grips and trigger job Bill's little revolver should be much better behaved.

There's a lot of pontificating on the internet about how the earlier Airweights were much better pistols than the ones currently being manufactured. In particular, a lot of folks sing the praises of the 'pre-lock' models (the revolvers made before S&W incorporated the silly safety lock into the side of the frame) over the current series. Well, based on my limited sample set I have to say that the pontificators are full of bull. In my opinion the current production Airweights are better pistols. They have stronger +P-rated frames, they come with a better trigger and grips and the fit and finish is outstanding. Yes the trigger pull on the current Airweights is unacceptably heavy, but so are the trigger pulls on the vintage Airweights.

You gain no real advantage buying an older Airweight; the current production models are simply better.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Friday, May 1, 2015

Keeping Time

Let's wander off the reservation a bit and talk about watches.

I'm a traditionalist. I like my guns to have cylinders that rotate. I like my knives to be made of steel and leather. And I like my time pieces to be all mechanical.

Now, I'm no Luddite. The folding knife in my pocket has synthetic handle scales, I own a lot of Glocks (the original 'Tactical Tupperware'), and the watch I wear most often has a quartz movement.

But show me a traditional Colt Single Action Army, or a Randall Model 1 with a stacked leather handle or an Omega Speedmaster and my heart will skip a beat or two. But alas, I can't afford a Colt Single Action, the wait time for a Randall likely exceeds the time I have left on this earth and my wife would kill me if she spotted a Speedmaster on my wrist. So I make do the best I can. Ruger Blackhawks, some nice Ka-Bars, and for wrist watches a Seiko diver or two.

Today we'll talk about Seiko Divers, and in particular the rugged, almost bomb-proof Model SKX009.

Seiko SKX009

I've owned several Seiko dive watches down through the years. The first one, a gift from my wife back around 1985, was Seiko's earlier 6309 model. She bought it for me from the Post Exchange in Frankfurt, Germany when I was assigned to the US V Corps HQ. I was thrilled. I had my 'high end' diver. At a time when you could pick up a plain-jane Rolex Oyster through the PX system for about $700 this Seiko was a bit pricey at something like $200. Two hundred bucks was a lot of money to us in those days (particularly with a new baby) and I really appreciated her gift.

Seiko 6309 circa 1980

The 6309 became my daily wear piece. I doubt I took it off even to shower. It got banged up in the normal course of my military duties, the original band ended up being replaced several times over and then one day about five years after Roberta gave it to me it just stopped running. I had a local watch repair shop take a look at it and they reported the bad news - one of the seals had failed, water had leaked into the movement and rusted everything up. The cost of repair exceeded the value of the watch so I just tossed it and moved on.

For a few years I got pulled over to the dark side, aka, Casio G-Shocks. The G-Shock line came out at about the same time my Seiko died. The military fell in love with the G-Shocks. They were inexpensive, rugged and as accurate as a Swiss chronometer. In fact, I've been told that the Air Force began issuing them to their flight crews and para-rescue personnel. The best part was (from a budget perspective) that they were so cheap they were considered expendable. When they stopped working (usually because the battery died) you just threw them away and issued a replacement.

I own a number of Casio G-Shocks. They are all wonderfully accurate (particularly the ones that sync with the atomic time signal from Fort Collins, Colorado). But they are machines without a soul - overly complex, often difficult to read, gimmicky and difficult to use. When the manufacturer has to provide a 20 page instruction manual that's your clue that the gimmicks have overwhelmed the basic functionality.

I need a watch to do two things - display accurate time in a format that is intuitive and easy to read under all conditions and provide a tool for simple timing tasks, like tracking how long the steaks have been on the grill. With its rotating timing bezel the Seiko diver watch accomplishes these tasks with a healthy dose of manly panache.

Let's keep it simple. I like guns with cylinders that rotate, knives with wooden handles and watches
with mechanical guts

But I'm under no allusions; the Seiko SKX009 is no Swiss chronometer, or even close to it. While the quality of materials and construction is very high the movement that Seiko puts into these watches offers only middling accuracy and limited features. The Seiko 7s26 movement is a watch movement born of compromise, designed for ease of automated production, ease of service and ruggedness. These movements can be accurate, and I've got watches that use this movement that can hold to less than 20 seconds/day, but I've got other watches using the same movement that struggle to hold to a minute a day. By comparison I have a watch that sells in the same price range as the Seiko SBX009 that uses an analogue quartz movement and it holds to 15 seconds per month.

The 7s26 movement with the winding rotor removed.
Seiko manufactures these by the tens of thousands each year,
Keep in mind that the movement is less than 1 1/2 inches in diameter
and most of the production is done by robots!

The 7s26 is a 21-jewel automatic movement, meaning it is self winding, but it lacks the ability to hand wind the mainspring and it lacks a hacking feature. Hacking is when you pull out the main (winding) stem and the second hand stops. This feature is extremely useful when you want to synchronize your watch with another time piece to gauge its accuracy.

So, it's a 'good enough' movement. How about the rest of the watch? Well this is really where Seiko shines. Seiko is rightfully proud of its SKX-series of watches and that shows in the overall quality of construction of these time pieces. Polished stainless steel cases, screw-down case backs and crowns with waterproof seals, extremely bright luminescent paint on the watch dial, high quality stainless steel or rubber watch bands and ISO certified water resistance down to 200 feet. These watches are rugged and slick looking little beasts.

It's been beaten up, beaten on and neglected. And it's still ready to go!

Seiko knows it has a winner on its hands and dresses its Diver line up in a wide variety of dial, hand, bezel and strap combinations. This drives collectors mad, but that's the whole idea. There is an incredibly strong collector market for modern and vintage Seiko diver models that spans the globe, fueled by folks who are captivated by the concept of a relatively inexpensive, rugged and good looking diving watch that offers outstanding service and value.

I think that describes me...

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Aw Snap - An Update

I've been remiss in posting this, but it's been a busy two months.

I put up a blog post back on 28 February lamenting how I broke my Leatherman Blast and had to send it back to Leatherman for repair or replacement.

I put the tool in the mail the next day and two weeks later almost to the day the UPS man dropped a small box off in my car port.

Inside was a letter of apology from Leatherman letting me know the Blast was no longer in production but they substituted a newer model as a replacement (I guess it wasn't worth it to them to try to replace the broken screwdriver blade).

What I got was a Leatherman Rebar.  Now, I don't collect Leatherman tools - I just accumulate them and abuse them - so I didn't know anything about this particular model. It turns out the Rebar doesn't match the Blast tool-for-tool; there's a few things missing from the Rebar like scissors (which I actually used fairly often). However, the Rebar offers a few things the Blast didn't, like a dedicated serrated rope cutting blade. an awl (for those of you still into leather crafts) and replaceable wire cutter blades.

Leatherman Rebar

The Rebar is also a smaller overall package that incorporates a very nice feature - Leatherman 'rolls' the exposed edges of the handle sections, making it very comfortable to grip without having to use the plastic liners found on the Blast.

Notice the rolled grip edges - makes for a very comfortable grip without adding to the overall width of the tool

Overall I'm very pleased with the replacement tool. The Rebar is well thought out and well executed and seems to be an overall improvement over the Blast.

Thanks Leatherman - both for standing behind your warranty and producing excellent products!

Stay sharp.

- Brian

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Feel That?

The earth just shifted on its axis.

It looks like Glock is set to announce a single-stack sub-compact 9mm pistol at the NRA Convention in Nashville in April. Here's an early picture (not sure which magazine it is from):

The soon-to-be released Glock 43 in 9mm

Of course this could just be a cruel head fake by Glock or other internet pranksters, but there's enough buzz out on the internet right now that leads me to believe it's coming.

Glock fans (me included) have been griping about Glock's introduction of the small .380 caliber Glock 42 since it was introduced two years ago. It was the right size, just the wrong caliber. 

Of course it will take about a year for supply to catch up with demand and prices to settle out (and I'm really interested in seeing what the Blue Label pricing will be), but this could be the little pistol that pulls me away from my beloved Beretta Nano.

Or it could all be a cruel hoax. Either way we'll know by tax time.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Airweight Chronicles

One of my particular interests is small pistols designed for discreet, or concealed, carry. The State of Georgia has some of the least restrictive concealed carry firearms laws in the nation. (Yet there's no rivers of blood running in the streets from western-style 'shoot 'em ups' as the anti-gun liberals would have you believe. Georgia's concealed carry permit holders are a remarkably law abiding bunch, with criminal activity rates well below even that of sworn police officers.) This means trying out different small pistols for their 'carry-ability' can become an interesting pastime. Over the past 10 years I've tested a wide variety of pistols under concealed carry conditions, from miniature little .380 pocket guns to compact 9mm's to full size 45 ACP pistols that made a mockery of the very concept of 'concealable'. But the one style of pistol I haven't tried to carry concealed is the revolver.


Well, in the past 15 years or so the firearms manufacturers have flooded the market with new small handgun designs, virtually all of them semi-auto pistols.  Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Springfield, Beretta, Kel-Tec, Kimber, Kahr, Sig, Taurus, Glock and several others have each put out at least one, some several, new designs in compact semi-auto pistols in calibers ranging from .32 ACP to 40 S&W. There was a lot to choose from and I spent virtually all of my small pistol time and money investigating a number of these little 'krunchentickers' (as the venerable Jeff Cooper used to call them). Did I have any interest in revolvers?  Well yes, but it tended towards the large frame single action models from Ruger. Whenever I looked at a double action revolver my thought was, "that's nice, but it really really doesn't fit any of my needs and besides, it's too 'fat' to adopt as a concealed carry weapon." I have always appreciated the aesthetics of a fine revolver but never thought of one as suitable for concealed carry.

A few months ago my friend Bill showed up for a range session with an early model Smith & Wesson Airweight. This little revolver had belonged to his late father-in-law and Bill wanted to see how well it shot. Although I have a lot of experience with handguns I could honestly say that I had never pulled the trigger on a loaded Airweight revolver, so I didn't know what to expect. I was intrigued by the light weight of the little gun but expected a harsh recoil experience even with the low power range loads we were shooting. I was pleasantly surprised to find the recoil was not bad at all but the stiff trigger had me printing all over the paper (I wasn't so much as 'grouping' my shots as I was 'clustering' them). I was only mildly intrigued. I had other small handguns with better triggers that I knew I could shoot better so I moved on.

The pistol we were shooting was a Centennial model. This is S&W's aluminum framed snubnosed revolver first introduced in 1952. It is based on S&W's small J-frame design and sports a five-shot cylinder, a stubby little 1.75" barrel, shortened grip and simplified sights consisting of a fixed front sight blade and a sight channel cut into the frame's top strap. S&W identifies all of their aluminum framed revolvers as part of the 'Airweight' line, and that's how they have come to be referred to in American gun culture. When you say "I'm toting an Airweight" to another gun aficionado he knows immediately what you are talking about.

S&W Centennial Airweight in .38 Special (Model 642).
This is a 'hammerless' design that can only be fired double action.
The current production pistols are rated for +P ammunition

Bill was interested in using this revolver as a home defense and concealed carry piece, so it came up often in our discussions. My opinion was that its a perfectly suitable little gun but it would need some trigger work. That started a bit of an odyssey into the inner workings of the J-frame trigger via the internet and discussions with a well known local gunsmith.

It quickly became evident that nobody likes the stock Airweight trigger, and I mean nobody. Even the shills that write for the gun rags and are paid to like S&W products will reluctantly admit that the Airweight triggers suck. While the stock double action trigger is relatively short and smooth, it is extremely heavy. I found this surprising since these little pistols are specifically marketed to women who generally have smaller hands and a weaker grip. Yet S&W must be doing something right because they sell these little guns by the truckload, and as recently as 2006 the Airweight Centennial was S&W's #1 selling firearm.

The internet also reveals the storied history of the Airweight series and it's obvious that there was a time when the triggers on these little snubbies didn't suck. For the first 20 years or so of production S&W put a lot of effort into making sure it's J-frame pistols, including the Airweights, left the factory with good triggers. Most of these little revolvers were going straight into the holsters of police officers around the country as back-up weapons. S&W made sure the triggers were good enough to satisfy that very demanding customer base.

The little snub nosed revolver carried nicely in ankle holsters worn by many police officers

But times change and in the 1980's police forces started a mass migration away from the revolver as a duty weapon. This had an impact on the market for back-up guns. A young officer issued a shiny new Glock or Sig doesn't want to be seen carrying a back-up gun based on 19th Century technology.  He wants something that operates in the same manner as his duty weapon. The market for small frame revolvers slowly dried up and at one point S&W considered stopping production of the little guns. Then something remarkable happened. In the late 1980's, beginning with Florida, states began to liberalize their concealed carry laws that applied to the common citizen. Thousands of law abiding citizens lined up to get the permits that previously were available only to the rich, the famous, the privileged and the connected. Shoppers clutching their new concealed carry permits flooded the gun stores looking for something small, light and easy to carry. Gun shop sales weasels and gun writers began touting the small five-shot revolver as the perfect concealed carry gun. It was easy to check to see if it was loaded or unloaded and had a very simple manual of arms - just point and shoot.  No safeties or little switches or levers to manipulate. No slides to rack, no hammers to cock, no magazines to insert. The simple, reliable little snub nosed revolver found a new home in the purses, pockets and pants waists of hundreds of thousands of newly minted concealed carry permit holders.

S&W couldn't produce their aluminum framed Airweights fast enough. Literally. Demand outstripped supply for a few years, and any J-frame snubbie was a rare sight in a dealer's gun case. The little aluminum framed revolvers hit a sweet spot. The were well made, light weight, fired a 'real' cartridge (.38 Special), relatively small and were offered at a very good price point. But to meet the price point something had to give.  What S&W dropped was the labor intensive hand fitting that used to be applied to the guts of these little guns to give them a smooth and reasonably light trigger pull. In the 1990's S&W began to introduce MIM-produced parts on its firearms as a way to save production costs and improve parts consistency. Since MIM parts can be manufactured to tighter dimensional tolerances than forged or cast parts the need for final hand fitting on the internals of a revolver was virtually eliminated. But those same human hands, trained in the fitting and mating of intricate fire control components in the guts of a revolver, would also take the time to make sure all the mating surfaces were smoothed and that the trigger pull was at least reasonable. Labor is any company's #1 expense, so to meet the expected price point I'm sure S&W decided that the Airweights didn't need any hand fitting beyond what was necessary to ensure the little things were assembled correctly and would go bang when the hammer falls on a live round.

Virtually all of the interior parts of the S&W J-Frame revolvers are manufactured
using metal injection molding (MIM) processes

Sign of the times I guess.

As Bill and I continued our conversation about his particular Airweight my other friend and fellow gun nut Jim chimed in with his opinion about snub nosed revolvers. In his mind it was borderline criminal that I didn't have at least one example of this classic design in my collection. Like Jim, I'm a big believer in history and tradition. Heck, my gun safe is full of history and tradition in the form of classic old lever action rifles and single action revolvers. Jim knew just where to poke. I started to think that my collection did need at least one classic snub nosed revolver. But which snubbie should it be?

Now, I may be a spendthrift, but I'm a cheap one. I do have a budget and these days it's a zero sum gain - sell a gun to buy a gun. I'm also not afraid to get into the guts of a gun and tinker. My light gunsmithing skills are pretty good and I have most of the tools to do the job right. I very quickly concluded that a S&W Airweight Centennial in stainless steel was the right starting point. The Centennial (Model 642) is a 'hammerless' design. That's not entirely true - the revolver does have a hammer but it's completely enclosed in the frame of the gun, which means it can only be fired double action. I also knew the trigger would need work, but the necessary parts and instructions were readily available on the internet.

I visited a few local gun stores and quickly found a Centennial at the price point I was willing to pay. I hurried off the the range to test fire it and my fears were confirmed.  While the trigger pull may seem stiff but manageable at the gun counter, on the range it was all but unmanageable if your goal is any semblance of accuracy at 7 yards. And the lousy sights don't help, especially if you are a 58 year old astigmatic who wears bifocals.  But all of this was known and expected, and viewed as challenges to be addressed and overcome.

The trigger was first. The damned thing was so heavy I couldn't measure it on my trigger pull gauge (which tops out at 10 lbs). I'm guessing it's 13 or more pounds as it came from the factory. I ordered a J-frame spring kit from Wilson Combat. The kit includes an 8 lb. hammer spring and trigger rebound springs in 13, 14 and 15 lb. weights. It's generally accepted that the trigger rebound spring is the #1 culprit in the heavy trigger pull issue so I decided to start with the lightest spring - the 13 lb.

Next, I studied the work being done by Terry Gardner, the gunsmith in this video.  There's several videos on YouTube showing how to work on a S&W J-frame, but Terry offers solid, adult-level advice on what you can, and can't, do with a S&W trigger (you just have to get past the usual 'Nutnfancy' nonsense and shaky camera work, but I do commend him for getting permission to film Terry at work and putting the video together).

It was time to get to work! Last Friday I had some free time so I assembled all the parts and tools and went at it.

The first thing that struck me is how complex the internals of a revolver are. and all the things that are going on when the trigger is pulled. With a semi-auto pistol like a Glock all the trigger does is release the striker to ignite the primer in the cartridge.  The recoil impulse petty much takes care of everything else - it extracts and ejects the spent casing, strips and loads a new round from the magazine and resets the striker and trigger for the next shot. A double action revolver is fundamentally different.  Everything happens while the trigger is being pulled, and it all happens simultaneously - the hammer is pulled back against the hammer spring, the trigger rebound spring is compressed, the cylinder stop is dropped and the cylinder is rotated so a new round is brought into alignment with the barrel. This is all dependent on the mechanical force applied against the trigger. S&W has been building revolvers for over 150 years and they got their trigger designs figured out long ago. Where the modern J-frame trigger stumbles is the fact that the internal parts are not as smooth as they could be and the springs are too stiff.

The guts of my Centennial. The factory springs are sitting below the revolver, having been replaced with
lighter versions from Wilson Combat

The inside of the Centennial is very clean and crisp. The machining is all well executed and there's no metal chips, flakes or other residue left over from the milling process. The parts are well molded, the edges are sharp and well formed. Everything is as clean as a whistle and lightly lubed. The fit of the major components is also excellent. Because it is so precisely fitted the side plate can be tough to get off and when back on the seam between the plate and the frame is almost indistinguishable. Overall I'm impressed.

Out came the major components - the hammer, trigger rebound slide and trigger assembly - and most of the engagement surfaces got a light stoning using ceramic polishing stones. I'm here to tell you, the MIM parts are as tough as woodpecker lips and I'm certain I didn't stone them as thoroughly as I could have. Everything was cleaned up and reassembled along with the new Wilson Combat springs and given a light lube with Break Free. Next it was off to the range!

So here's the interesting part. Solving one issue just served to highlight another. The trigger is a good bit smoother and about 2 lbs lighter with the new springs, hovering just a bit over 10 lbs. on my trigger gauge. It is much easier to manage and is no longer the huge distraction it used to be. The big issue now is the sights, or rather the lack of them. At 7 yards I was consistently shooting high, way high. In danger of hitting the target frame high. After about 15 rounds I finally figured out that the point of aim with this little revolver is with the very top of the front sight blade precisely aligned horizontally with the top of the trough engraved in the top strap (aka, the 'rear sight'). Misjudge just a smidge and you'll be shooting over your intended target's head. The problem is, both the front and rear sight are all but indistinguishable from each other. Because they are the same color - silver - they meld into an almost indistinguishable blob at arm's length. I tried to improve things with a quick swipe of White-Out from a bottle I carry in my range bag, but that didn't make much difference. Next I tried running alternating white and red stripes down the back of the sight blade. That may help, but I won't know until my next range visit. I may have to finally admit I've found a pistol where Crimson Trace laser grips are absolutely necessary.

Alternating red and white stripes may help.
Or I'll just take the nuclear option and get some laser grips.
(For all you safety nazis out there hyperventilating over what looks
like live rounds in the cylinder, relax. They are inert snap caps)

So, a lousy stock trigger, lousy sights, only five rounds. Just what does the Airweight offer that makes it so compelling for concealed carry? Here's your answer:

Just over a pound, loaded.

And how does the competition compare? How's about a perennial concealed carry favorite, the Glock 26 with a 10 round magazine at 26.2 ounces:

Or even my current 9mm carry favorite, the Beretta Nano sporting a 6 round magazine at 23 ounces:

It's clear the 'Airweight' term isn't just marketing hype. I carry the pistol in a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster and it's so light it all but disappears into my pocket.

But still, the lousy sights. The lousy stock trigger. The limited capacity. Aren't those strong enough reasons to pass the Centennial by in favor of more user friendly handguns? Well yes, I actually agree with that argument. Based on my limited experience with this little revolver I feel it is absolutely the wrong gun to put into the hands of a new shooter who is looking for their first concealed carry pistol. You would be doing them a potentially grave disservice by recommending this particular gun.

But I'm not a new shooter and I find this little wheelgun compelling in an odd way. It is quirky and full of compromises, but I've seen enough of it to know that it has a lot of potential. Remember my comments (above) about finding the correct sight alignment? Well once I got that figured out I was able to produce 3-shot strings averaging about 4" at 7 yards. That proves that if I do my job this little snubbie has a lot of accuracy potential.

I guess that's where I'm going with this post. I haven't had to put this much work into a firearm to uncover its potential since I bought a Dan Wesson Model 15 revolver back in the early 80's. I knew there was a lot of accuracy in that quirky revolver, I just had to find ways to squeeze it out. I eventually did, and that Dan Wesson remains the most accurate 38/357 revolver I've ever shot. I feel much the same way about this little Airweight. It is worth the effort to work with it to see just how well it can shoot, and perhaps learn some lessons along the way.

So welcome to the Airweight Chronicles.  And stay tuned.

- Brian

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Aw Snap

I was using my venerable Leatherman Blast the other day to loosen up some screws on a scope mount and things went south.  I ended up snapping off a section of the tip of one of the flat screwdriver blades.

In over 20 years of using Leatherman tools in some pretty ugly ways this is the first time I've had any of their tools fail.

Looks like I'll be testing out their 25 year guarantee.  Stay tuned, and stay sharp!

- Brian

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chuck Buck

I got word today that Chuck Buck, the Chairman of Buck Knives and grandson of the founder, passed away in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on February 6th.

I had the very good fortune to meet and briefly talk to Chuck twice at trade and outdoor shows, and he was an extremely personable fellow and a fine gentleman.

Perhaps Chuck's greatest contribution to the American knife culture was his introduction of the Buck Folding Hunter (Model 110) in the 1965. It was a design the company's board members didn't think would sell, and at the time even Chuck thought it would have a limited market, selling just to hunters and outdoorsmen. Both were wrong, but in a very good way. The folding hunter went on to be perhaps the best selling folding knife design ever brought to market and is one of the most copied knife designs in the history of cutlery manufacturing.

Vaya con Dios, Chuck.  You will be missed but you left us with a great legacy.

Stay sharp!

- Brian

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The M-16, Part II

Last week in Part I of this series I outlined the whys and hows of the M-16's tortured acceptance by the US military. All of what I wrote is public knowledge, well documented and easy to find.

This second part, however, will outline my personal experience with the M-16 platform that constitutes more of a personal journey of realization and acceptance.

When I joined ROTC in 1974 I didn't like the M-16. I was a child of the 1950s and 60s. All of the adult males in my life - my father, my uncles, our neighbors, my Boy Scout leaders - all served in the US military during WWII or Korea and for them the M-1 Garand was the weapon of choice. Their experience deeply influenced me and I viewed the Garand (and the newer M-14) as the only acceptable choice for a Soldier. At the same time we were seeing the M-16 almost nightly on the evening news and in magazines like Time and Life. While the M-16 was cool looking I had the vague sense that it didn't offer enough 'punch' and that the Army and Marines were going to go back to the good old hard hitting M-14 once all this Vietnam silliness was over. I also remember hearing the reports about the unreliability of the M-16 and I'm sure that colored my perceptions.

Real men carried big heavy rifles... or so I was told

In ROTC all we used were M-14s. We learned to field strip them, clean them, maintain them and march with them. Our armory only had one or two M-16s for familiarization, and those got pulled out only for the cadets who were headed off to ROTC Summer Camp.

My first real introduction to the M-16 came in 1977 at ROTC Summer Camp at Fort Lewis. There wasn't an M-14 in sight. We were issued M-16's on day one and we lived with those rifles for the next six weeks. Our platoon sergeant, SFC Louis B. Pincock, hammered rifle cleaning and maintenance into us with a 5 lb sledge hammer. He was hell on any cadet with a dirty rifle. In part because that's just the way NCOs are, but also because, as a Vietnam vet with three combat tours, he understood firsthand the necessity of keeping your weapon clean.

Truth be told, we over-cleaned the damned things. It's what Soldiers do. Attention to detail, cleanliness, good order and discipline, all that stuff, A sparkling clean rifle goes right along with a sparkling clean latrine and a mirror polish on Corcoran jump boots. It makes a good NCO happy. But it's unnecessary (the sparkling clean rifle part - I'm all for sparkling clean latrines and a mirror polish on the toe caps of a pair of Corcoran jump boots is a thing to behold).

SFC Pincock also let us know that he thought the M-16 was a fine rifle for killing Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars. The Special Forces combat patch on his right shoulder clearly indicated that he'd spent a lot of time looking down the sights of an M-16 so his opinion carried a lot of weight with a bunch of no-nothing cadets.

In late 1979 I went on active duty. The very first M-16 I was issued, at Fort Bragg, was so old it was stamped 'Colt AR-15/XM-16E1'. It rattled like hell but shot just fine.  On my first trip to the range with the rifle I shot Sharpshooter, and that's more a testament to the rifle's shooting ability than mine.

No, not my rifle, but the one I was issued at Fort Bragg in
1980 was marked the same way. And it was a fine shooter

Twenty three years later when I put in my retirement papers my assigned weapon was an M-16A2 manufactured by FN out of South Carolina. It too shot just fine. In the intervening years I carried dozens of M-16s (A1 and A2 models) in combat zones or places where the natives were pissed enough at us to start popping off rounds. I've also shot dozens more under range conditions and as a platoon leader and small unit commander in Germany, Fort Bragg, Panama and Fort Hood I've been responsible for the maintenance of over 100 more rifles in places like the jungles of Panama and the deserts of Kuwait.

I can count the number of malfunctions that were the fault of the rifle on the fingers of one hand, and have digits left over.  In fact, I can only recall three issues that could be traced directly back to a mechanical problem with the rifle - one was a damaged gas tube, another was a bent barrel (yes, a bent barrel) and the last one was with a very early issue M-16 (by serial number) that, in the words of our armorer, was "just worn out and too tired to run".

All of the remaining reliability issues I experienced or observed were the fault of the magazines. Well into the mid-1980's the Army continued to issue 20 round magazines, many of which dated to the Vietnam era. Finding magazines with weak springs or damaged feed lips was common. If we had an issue on the range the standard practice was to just swap out magazines and the problem would go away. Later, when new production 30 round magazines were introduced the reliability issues all but disappeared.

New production mil-spec 30 round magazines tend to cure most M-16
reliability problems. But when they don't work any more don't try to fix them.
Toss them and get replacements!

I quickly developed a deep respect for the M-16 platform and that respect continues right up to this day.

Perhaps the real test is the question, "If you had to choose a rifle to carry into battle today would you unhesitatingly select the M-16?" My answer is an unflinching "Yes!"

Now let's consider another question: "Can the M-16 platform be improved?" Anyone who says "No" is a fool. The M-16 is a tool, a mechanical device, and like any mechanical device can be improved upon. As experience with any tool increases the user finds ways to make it more reliable. effective and easy to use. So it is with the M-16. Since the 1960s the M-16 has undergone a number of product improvements to increase reliability, shootability and service life; chrome lined barrel, better sights, different rifling twists, improved flash hider, improved stock and hand guards, reinforced lower receiver, and more. Perhaps the biggest improvement has been the successful shortening of the M-16 by Colt to produce the M-4 Carbine. Shortened versions of the M-16 had been tried since the rifle was first fielded in Vietnam, but reliability was always an issue. In the late 1980's Colt did extensive development and testing to produce the reliable and accurate M-4 Carbine. It was so successful that it became the rifle that has taken the US military through the Global War on Terror on battlefields across the globe.

The M-4 Carbine kitted out with an Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight - a deadly combination

While my personal experience is all with the full-sized M-16 I've had the chance to talk with perhaps a dozen Soldiers about their opinions of the M-4. One was an senior Engineer NCO with multiple deployments to Iraq, one was an SF Medic with multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan the the Horn of Africa and the rest were Soldiers in Kuwait, fresh out of the fight in Iraq. To a man they either praised the M-4 or expressed grudging respect for it. The Engineer NCO in particular felt the M-4 was the best battle rifle he ever carried. He praised it as being, "very handy, easy to maneuver inside of vehicles, reliable and deadly accurate inside of 100 meters."

I tend to believe my own experience and that of people who have actually used the rifle in combat vs. those that glean all their expertise from the internet or other second hand sources. The M-16 and M-4 are two of the best battle rifles available today.

But is the M-16 the best? Are there better designs and better calibers that would make for a better battle rifle? Aaaah, that's a topic for another time!

- Brian