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The handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 3

1910 – 1926

FN Model 1910

When Browning offered Colt the design for what would become the FN 1910, they turned it down, presumably because it was felt to be too similar to the existing Colt 1903/1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol. Browning then offered the same design to FN who readily accepted it. Unlike the Colt Model 1903 which it resembled, the 1910 incorporated an internal striker, similar to that used in the FN 1906/Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol. Like those earlier pistols, it also had a manual safety on the left side of the frame (which could also be used to prop the slide back), a grip safety and a magazine release in the heel of the grip. The slide did not lock back when the last round was fired and no slide release was provided.

jmbg33When it was first offered for sale, this model was simply described as the New Model Browning Automatic Pistol (to distinguish it from the existing FN 1900 which became known as the Old Model), and the designation Model 1910 wasn’t introduced until the 1920s. The 1910 was initially offered in .32ACP (7.65mm) calibre though a .380ACP (9mm Short) version was added soon after. Both versions were externally identical. Several versions of the 1910 were produced. Most lacked conventional sights, being provided only with a wide groove milled in to the top of the slide, though some models produced after 1922 had small, fixed sights similar to the sights on the Colt 1903.

jmbg35Spanish Danton Pistol, very similar to the FN1910

Its small size and the lack of a hammer or sharp edges made the FN 1910 a popular concealed carry weapon and it was used by a number of European police forces in the period up to the beginning of World War Two. This pistol was also scaled up to produce the otherwise identical FN Model 1922. During the war, the FN factory was occupied by Germany and large numbers of FN 1910/Model 1922s were produced and used to equip German armed forces. Production of these models continued after the war up to 1975 and around 750,000 were produced in total. The popularity of the 1910 led to the production of a number of copies, including the Bufalo and Danton pistols in Spain, the German DWM, the Bayard and Melior in Belgium and the Praga in Czechoslovakia.

jmbg37FN Model 1922, basically a scaled-up FN Model 1910

This pistol became famous (or perhaps infamous is a better word) when a young Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip, used a .380ACP FN 1910 to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One month later, this event led directly to the outbreak of World War One. The FN 1910 was also used in the fatal shooting of French President Paul Doumer in 1932 and was said to have been involved in the killing of US Presidential hopeful and Governor of Louisiana Huey Long in 1935.

Replicas

There is, as far as I am aware, only one shooting replica of the FN1910 and that’s the spring powered, 6mm Smart K17. Not a great replica, but not terrible either despite having a conventional sights and a pivoted rather than a sliding trigger.

jmbg32Smart K17 review

Colt Model 1911

Classic. Seminal. Iconic. Choose your superlative – you won’t be wrong. Browning’s Colt Model 1911 was so clearly right in every way that it had a huge influence on subsequent semi-automatic handgun design and virtually every semi-auto that followed was no more than a variation on this original theme. But, here’s the thing: If you have been following this series of articles, you’ll realise that this design wasn’t the result a single flash of inspirational genius, it was a logical progression from Browning’s earlier designs and a direct response to the rejection by the US Military of the Colt Models 1900 and 1902.

jmbg38World War Two poster features a GI with a Colt 1911

The purpose of the new design was to win trials at which the US Army would be choosing a new sidearm, so it was targeted very specifically at meeting army requirements. The army had felt that the Models 1900 and 1902 were underpowered, so the new pistol would be chambered for the more powerful .45” ACP round. The army had felt that the 1900 and 1902 were clumsy, heavy and unbalanced, so the new pistol would be smaller and better balanced. The army had felt that both earlier models were too prone to accidental discharge, so the new pistol would be provided with a manual safety. The army had insisted on the Model 1902 Military having a mechanism that locked slide back on empty and a slide release, so the new pistol would have both of these features. The army approved of pistols that could be stripped without tools, so the new pistol would have the removable barrel bushing from the Model 1902 Sporting Model.

jmbg39An early M1911

The US Army also had a significant number of cavalry units (as did virtually every other contemporary army) and this raised further requirements. A cavalry trooper must be able to use a pistol with one hand, so all the controls on the new pistol had to be operable while holding the pistol in the right hand. A manual safety high on the left side of the frame had been used on several previous Browning pistols and this can readily be operated by the thumb of the right hand, so that would be used on the new pistol. Cavalry pistols also needed to be drop-safe, even with the safety disengaged, so the new pistol would incorporate the grip safety first seen on the Model 1903 Hammerless.

jmbg310A later M1911A1

The requirement for one-handed use also led to the only really new feature of the Colt 1911, the button style magazine release on the left side of the frame. All previous Browning designs had used a magazine release in the heel of the grip which required the use of two hands but the new style of release could be operated with just the thumb of the right hand. This wasn’t something completely new – the Parabellum P08 (Luger) pistol already had a similar arrangement, but it was a first on a Browning pistol. So, you can see that the Colt Model 1911 wasn’t so much something entirely new as a synthesis of the best features of previous Browning designs. However, it was the first time all these things had come together in a single pistol and the result revolutionised semi-automatic handgun design.

jmbg34US soldiers in World War One proudly display their Colt 1911s

A great deal has been written about the success of the 1911, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. It was adopted by the US Army and remained the principal sidearm of that organisation for seventy-five years. It became very popular in civilian hands too (at least in the US) it it’s still possible to buy something very like the original 1911 now. The reasons for its success are easy to understand: the 1911 was easy to use, simple, rugged, powerful, its slim grip suited a range of hand sizes and it was relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Was it perfect? Of course not. The magazine could hold just seven of the fat .45” ACP rounds, some people found the stretch to the trigger to be too long, the sights were rather small and hammer bite was an occasional issue for unwary shooters. However, all of these things (with the exception of limited magazine capacity) were addressed in the refinements seen in the M1911A1 introduced in 1927.

jmbg36Something a little different – one of the few photographs of the planned FN Grand Browning, a scaled-down version of the Colt 1911

The Model 1911 didn’t make John Moses Browning famous. He was already famous when this pistol was released. But it did assure him of a place in the pantheon of truly great designers. And it made Colt a very great deal of money. Oddly, the 1911 didn’t sell particularly well outside America, probably because the .45” ACP round just wasn’t so popular elsewhere. FN had plans to introduce a pistol called the FN Grand Browning, basically a 7/8th size copy of the 1911 chambered for a new 9.65mm round. However, production was limited to a few prototypes and plans to introduce this pistol were abandoned completely during World War One.

Replicas

jmbg311Unlike all the other pistols discussed in this series of articles, there are simply so many versions of the Colt 1911 available as replicas that it’s impossible to list them all. You can have a CO2 powered pellet shooting version (The Umarex Colt Government 1911A1), many gas and CO2 versions in 6 and 4.5mm, with and without blowback and even spring powered versions. Virtually every model of the 1911 from the original M1911 to modern railed versions are available as replicas. You’ll find links below to 1911 replica reviews on this site.

Umarex Colt Government 1911A1 review

Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness review

ASG STI Duty One review

Tokyo Marui Colt 1911A1 review

Marushin Kimber Gold Match review

Vintage air pistol review: The Marksman Repeater

Vintage air pistol review: The Crosman 451

Colt Woodsman

The Colt 1911 was the final semi-auto pistol designed wholly by John Moses Browning. However, before he died he was responsible for the initial design work on two more pistols which would achieve lasting fame.

jmbg312Colt advertising from early 1915 drawing attention to the release of a new model.

Even as the Colt 1911 was being accepted by the US Army, Browning was working on a quite different design, this time for a .22” semi-auto target pistol using rimfire LR cartridges. Up to this time, no-one had been able to make a semi-auto which reliably fed the tiny .22 rounds. The problem was that these rounds had a pronounced rim and, when they were stacked in a magazine, the rims tended to interleave, catching on one another as the top round was fed to the breech. Like all the really great ideas, Browning’s solution to this problem was so simple and obviously right that it seems incredible that no-one else had thought of it before. All Browning did was to design a magazine that was slanted at an angle of around 25°. This meant that the rim of each round was slightly in front of the rim of the round stacked below, allowing reliable feeding.

jmbg313Early Sport Model

Browning sold the design for this pistol to Colt in 1911. His initial design was then refined by two Colt Engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, and the new pistol went into production in 1915 as the Colt Automatic Pistol Caliber .22 Target Model (the name Woodsman wasn’t applied to this model until 1927). The pistol was single action only, had a grip slanted to match the ten round magazine, a short slide which ended above the trigger, a manual safety on the left side of the frame and a magazine catch in the heel of the grip. Both front and rear sights were adjustable. This wasn’t a hammerless design – like the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol, a hammer was hidden inside the rear of the slide. The new pistol was sold in three variants: the Sport Model had a 4½” barrel, the Target Model had a 6” or 6½” barrel and the top-of-the-line Match Target Model had a much heavier, flat-sided 6” or 6½” barrel.

jmbg31Series 2 Target Model

The new pistol was an immediate commercial success for Colt who went on to produce three distinct series, each incorporating minor improvements (the second series, for example, made from 1947 – 1955, had a slide release and a button style magazine release on the left of the frame) until production finally ended in 1977. Around 700,000 examples of the Colt Woodsman were produced in total. The majority were civilian sales though during World War Two examples were used by the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) who were to experimenting with the use of sound suppressors.

Replicas

jmbg314Healthways Plainsman

As far as I know, there are no current gas or CO2 powered replicas of the Colt Woodsman of any kind. A great pity because this is another of those Browning designs which I’d love to see as a fully-functional blowback replica. If you like vintage air pistols, there was the Plainsman, a BB shooting, CO2 powered pistol manufactured from 1969 – 1980 by US Company Healthways which was (sort of) a replica of the Woodsman. In the 1980s a Japanese company called Falcon Toy made a 6mm, metal, spring powered, shell ejecting 6mm replica of the Woodsman Series 3 Match Target Model, but very few of these are still around today.

Vintage air pistol review: the Healthways Plainsman

I have also seen photographs of what I think is a current Chinese, spring powered Woodsman Series 2 or 3 Sport Model replica, but I have never actually handled one of these and I know nothing about this replica at all.

jmbg315A Chinese, spring powered Colt Woodsman replica. Probably.

However, there is a neglected and, in my opinion, undervalued replica which comes close. This is the Umarex Buck Mark URX, a pellet shooting, single shot, break barrel springer. It’s a replica of the Browning Buck Mark target pistol which is itself a .22” LR development of Browning’s original design for the Woodsman. The Umarex URX isn’t especially powerful (295fps is claimed) but it is very accurate and satisfying to shoot. Until something better comes along, this is as close as replicas shooters can currently get to the Woodsman experience.

jmbg316The Umarex Buck Mark URX

Browning Hi Power

By 1926, seventy-one year old Browning was tired. That was unsurprising. He was travelling regularly from Utah to Liege in Belgium. Nowadays, that might take a day or so, but back in the 1920s the return journey by land and sea could take anything up to twenty days. Browning made this gruelling trip 61 times between 1900 and 1925, spending the equivalent of almost three years of his life travelling between Europe and the US. On November 26th, 1926 Browning was working at his desk in the design office in the Herstal factory. He had been complaining of chest pains for several hours and when he started to feel faint, he went and lay on a couch in a nearby office being used by his son Val. “Son, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am dying”, he said. Tragically he was right and within minutes John Moses Browning was dead.

jmbg317An early Browning Hi Power

Before he died, Browning had presented FN with two prototypes of a new pistol design he was working on. This was an attempt to produce a military sidearm chambered for the 9mm round which would overcome one of the main drawbacks of the 1911 – its limited magazine capacity. After his death, these designs were worked on by Dieudonné Saive (Browning’s assistant who later went on to become Chief Designer for FN) and developed into the Browning Hi Power in 1935. I won’t go into too much detail here about that pistol because I have already written a separate article on the development of the Hi Power – you’ll find a link below. It’s probably enough to say that the Hi Power was developed over the years to remove some early problems and went on to become a very widely used military sidearm which is still in production today.

Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

Replicas

jmbg318Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III

There are a few Hi Power replicas available. Tanaka and WE produce gas powered, blowback 6mm versions and Umarex and Turkish EKOL produce CO2 powered 4.5mm, non-blowback versions. However, none of these are without issues and given the vast range of 1911 replicas, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power.

WE Browning Hi Power review

Conclusion

A reciprocating slide incorporating an ejector and an ejection port which locks back when the last shot is fired. Field stripping without the need for tools. Double column magazines. These are just some of the things that we now take for granted in the design of semi-automatic pistols but they can all be traced back to the work of John Moses Browning and most were produced during a burst of creative energy that spanned a twelve year period at the end of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth.

jmbg319John Moses Browning (and Mr Burton of Winchester) examine a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in 1921

Three of Browning’s pistol designs (The Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless) are still in production and still being used today. Genius is a grossly overused term nowadays, but I don’t anyone could object if you called Browning both a genius and the person single-handedly responsible for the way that modern semi-auto pistols look and function.

One of the things that writing this series of articles prompted me to think about is the range of currently available replicas. There are certainly far more shooting replicas now than there were, say, ten years ago. But these, and especially blowback replicas, seem to focus on variants of a relatively few models (mainly the Colt 1911, Beretta 92, Sig P226 and Glock) and there are still notable gaps. I think many replica collectors and shooters would welcome new replicas and especially replicas of historic pistols – just look at the popularity of existing replicas of historic pistols such as the Colt SAA, Makarov and Luger for example. Let’s hope that in the future, replica manufacturers start to look beyond the 1911 and the Hi Power to give us replicas of some of John Moses Browning’s other classic semi-auto pistol designs. A blowback Colt Model 1903 Hammerless? Or a Colt Model 1900? Or an FN Model 1910? Or a blowback Colt Woodsman? Hell yes!

Happy shooting

The handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 2

1902 – 1908

Colt Model 1902

The Colt Automatic Pistol achieved some sales but nothing to equal the success of the FN M1900 in Europe and Colt continued to refine and improve the basic design. This resulted in the Colt Model 1902. Now, this wasn’t really a new pistol, it was just a development of the original Colt Automatic Pistol but it did introduce new features which make it worth looking at in detail. The Model 1900 was produced in two versions; The Sporting and the Military Models which I’ll discuss separately.

Colt M1902 Sporting Model

The Colt M1902 Sporting Model was overall very similar to the original Colt Automatic Pistol (many of the same jigs and dies were used in manufacturing). It was chambered for the same .38” ACP round but the M1902 did introduce a number of small improvements and refinements. The sight safety was removed though it wasn’t replaced – neither version of the Model 1902 had any form of manual safety. The only way to safely carry a 1902 when a round had been chambered was to manually lower the hammer to a half-cock position, something that led to all too many accidental discharges. Slide serrations were now deeper and at the front of the slide and many 1902s had a smaller, rounded hammer following criticism that the hammer on the Colt Automatic Pistol was so large that it obscured the sights. All Sporting Models were finished using Colt’s charcoal blueing process which involved placing the parts to be blued in a large coal-fired oven and both wood and black hard rubber grips were used.

jmbg22Colt Model 1902 Sporting

However, the single most significant change was the introduction of a spring-loaded plug in the end of the recoil-spring housing to allow for field stripping without tools. We now take it for granted that the slide on any semi-auto pistol can be removed without using tools, but this was the first John Moses Browning design (and one of the first semi-auto pistol designs) where this was possible. Almost 7,000 M1902 Sporting Models were produced up to July 1907.

Colt M1902 Military Model

The Colt M1902 Military Model was very similar to the Sporting Model but it did incorporate additional changes suggested following US Army trials of the Colt Automatic Pistol. These included a longer grip incorporating a lanyard ring (the longer grip also allowed a larger eight round .38” ACP magazine). However, the most important change was in response to a military request that the slide should remain back when the magazine was empty to make reloading simpler. Browning designed a simple mechanism that would hold the slide back after the last shot was fired and added a small slide release catch to the left side of the frame. This is another of the features that we now take for granted in a semi-automatic pistol. It seem so self-evidently a good idea that it’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t a feature of all these early pistols, but the M1902 Military Model was the first time that this was seen.

jmbg21Colt Model 1902 Military

Colt were very confident that the US Army would be impressed by the new pistol and two hundred examples of the M 1902 Military were supplied for testing in 1902. These were distributed to a number of cavalry and other units for evaluation. It took almost a year for the army to say what it thought of this pistol and the results were a crushing disappointment to Colt. The army considered the 1902 to be insufficiently powerful, liable to accidental discharge, hard to use one-handed, unbalanced, heavy, clumsy, unsafe and possibly even dangerous. The conclusion was that the M1902 was fundamentally unsuited for military issue. Colt were stunned and for the next few years their semi-automatic handgun production would focus on “pocket pistols” for the civilian market.

jmbg23Mexican revolutionaries around 1912. The lady on the left is packing a Colt M1902 Military Model.

Remarkably, given the US military lack of enthusiasm, Colt sold around 18,000 Model 1902 Military versions until production ended in 1928. Although this pistol was never officially adopted by any military unit, it became widely used in both the Mexican and Chilean revolutionary and armed forces in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Further development of this pistol led to the Colt Model 1905 (the first Colt semi-auto to be designed for the new, more powerful .45” ACP round) but this was simply a further refinement of the M1902 and had little involvement from Browning so it won’t be covered in this article.

Replicas

Nope, nothing at all. Sigh!

Colt 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless Pistol

Following the rejection of the Model 1902 by the US Army, Colt decided that it might be best to focus on the civilian market for semi-auto pistols. The Models 1900 and 1902 both sold reasonably well to the civilian market, but what was wanted was a small, light semi-automatic pocket pistol which could be carried in a pocket, handbag or concealed holster and drawn quickly without fear of snagging. Sometime in 1901, Browning offered Colt the design for a new design based around the .32 ACP round which FN had used in the M1899/M1900. Colt readily accepted and in August 1902 released the new gun as the Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol.

jmbg24Despite the name, the Model 1903 wasn’t hammerless at all – the hammer was concealed inside the rear of the slide. Mechanically, it was a relatively simple and reliable straight blowback design with a single action trigger and a fixed barrel. A manual safety was included on the left side of the frame (the safety could also be used to prop the slide open) and it incorporated a grip safety in the rear of the grip – the first time that this feature was seen on a Browning designed pistol. Unlike the Model 1902 Military, the slide on the 1903 did not lock back after the last shot was fired. The release for the magazine was a serrated catch on the heel of the grip, a great improvement over the fiddly catch on previous Browning pistols. Weighing just 1.5 pounds and seven inches long overall, the 1903 Hammerless was a compact, easily concealed weapon which stood out from the bulky handguns generally available when it was released.

jmbg215General Officers Pocket Pistol, a version of the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless issued to senior officers in the US Army up to the 1970s

In contrast to the Models 1900 and 1902, the Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was an immediate and spectacular commercial success for Colt. More than half a million were made between 1903 and the end of production in 1946. In 1908, Colt added the Model 1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol to their range, which is essentially the same pistol chambered for the .380 ACP round (a slightly less powerful cartridge than the .38” ACP used in the Model 1902). In addition to being popular with private owners, the Colt Models 1903 and 1908 were adopted by a number of Police departments in the USA (Including New York City Police) and were issued as a sidearm to General Officers in the US Army until the 1970s (Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall and Patton all carried this model during World War Two). It was also issued as an officer’s sidearm to Republican Chinese forces in the 1920s and 1930s and was adopted by Shanghai Municipal Police at the same time. Interest in the 1903 remains so high that, in early 2015, Colt announced that they would resume limited production of this pistol.

Replicas

Finally, we have a replica to discuss! Given how popular the cartridge firing version was, it’s actually surprising that there only seems to be one replica of the Colt 1903 Hammerless, and that’s a Chinese made, 6mm, spring powered all-metal version. I have seen this sold as both the Smart K-28 and the XueLang Smite 32. Overall, it’s not a bad replica given its limitations, but wouldn’t you love a blowback version of the Colt 1903 Hammerless? I know I would!

033Smart K-28. Stupid grips, but otherwise not actually a bad replica of the Colt 1903 Hammerless.

Smart K-28 review

FN Model 1903

FN also purchased Browning’s design for the same pistol, but FN enlarged it in size by around 15% to produce the very first semi-automatic pistol chambered for a 9mm round (the 9x20mm SR Browning long cartridge) – the Parabellum P08 (Luger) and the Mauser C96 pistols were still chambered for the 7.65mm round at this time. The FN Model 1903 was mechanically very similar to the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, but it was notably bigger (the overall length increased from seven to eight inches and the barrel on the FN version was 5” long compared to 4” on the Colt). FN sold this pistol in Europe and elsewhere as the Browning Modèle de Guerre (Browning War Model) and Browning Grand Modèle (Browning Large Model) though it is now generally known as the FN Model 1903. Customers could specify whether they wanted the standard seven round magazine or an extended ten round version which also allowed the fitting of a shoulder stock.

jmbg25The FN M1903 became a popular military sidearm and was adopted by several armies including those of Belgium, Holland, Germany, Turkey and Estonia as well as being used by the Imperial Russian police. A version of this model was also manufactured under license by Husqvarna Vapenfabriks from 1917 until 1942 as the M/1907 which was used by the Swedish Armed Forces. FN sold around 60,000 examples of the Model 1903 and Husqvarna manufactured over 94,000 examples of the M/1907.

jmbg213FN Model 1903 with extended ten round magazine and shoulder stock

Replicas

As far as I am aware, there are no shooting replicas of this, the very first 9mm semi auto pistol. And, just like the lack of replicas of the Colt 1903 Hammerless, that’s a great pity.

Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer

In keeping with their decision to focus on civilian pistols, in late 1903 Colt released a compact version of the Model 1902 Sporting, the Model 1903 Pocket Hammer. This was designed by Browning and in almost all respects was simply a cut-down version of the earlier pistol. Like the Model 1902, it was chambered for the .38” ACP round and the magazine held seven rounds. The barrel was reduced to 4½” inches in length and the overall length to just over 7½”. Again like the Model 1902, no manual safety was fitted, though the hammer could be dropped to a half-cock position. The slide did not lock back on empty, there was no manual means of locking it back and the magazine release was a small catch in the heel of the grip.

jmbg26In addition to the shorter barrel and slide, the main differences between this and the larger pistol are that the slide serrations were moved to the rear of the slide and that two links were used to retain the barrel (rather than the single link on the Model 1902). The drawback to this design was the need to use a cross-wedge in the slide near the muzzle to retain the slide. If the slide cracked or the wedge became loose, the slide could be shot to the rear when the pistol was fired, potentially injuring the shooter. This design also limited the power of the cartridge which could safely be used in this pistol and all subsequent Browning pistols reverted to using a single barrel link.

Although it was initially popular, sales of the Model 1903 Pocket Hammer fell dramatically when newer models such as the Colt 1911 were introduced. Around 30,000 of this model were produced by Colt between 1903 and 1920 when production ended. Just like the Model 1902, many 1903 Pocket Hammers ended up in Mexico during the period of the revolution there and a small number were purchased for use by the Philippine Constabulary.

Replicas

As far as I’m aware, there are no shooting replicas of the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammer.

FN 1906/Colt 1908

In 1902, Browning had completely ended his association with Winchester and had begun to work increasingly with FN. This came about after Winchester proved difficult when Browning offered to sell them the design for one of his most ambitious designs to date, the Auto-5 shotgun, in 1900. To his growing irritation, Winchester refused to say yes or no to the new design, and by 1902, Browning had had enough. In a stormy meeting with Winchester chief T.G. Bennett he gave an ultimatum – either buy the new design or release it so that another manufacturer could. Bennett refused to give a clear answer and Browning simply picked up the design for the Auto-5 and got on a ship for Europe. Although his visit was completely unannounced, he (and his new shotgun design) were welcomed with open arms in Herstal.

jmbg214Browning with an Auto-5 Shotgun

By 1905 Browning had become known as “Le Maître” (the Master) in Herstal and was making frequent trips to Belgium. He had both a permanent design office at the Herstal plant and a very able young assistant called Dieudonné Saive. Working at Herstal, Browning began refining the design for a true pocket pistol. The story goes that Browning, who certainly looks very dapper in most photographs, wanted a pistol for personal protection which was small enough to be carried in a pocket without spoiling the cut of a jacket. The design began with a new cartridge: Browning had asked William Morgan Thomas of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (U.M.C.) to develop a small caliber cartridge suitable for a blowback operated pocket pistol. In June 1904, the first batch of the new ammunition was delivered to Browning for use in his new prototype. He demonstrated the new pistol to Colt who decided that they weren’t interested. He then took it to Belgium and showed it to FN who immediately decided to go ahead with manufacture of the new round (the “6.35mm Browning”) and the new pistol, the FN Browning Model 1906, also known as the Modèle de Poche (Pocket Model) or Baby Browning.

jmbg27The new FN pistol was an immediate commercial success. It was a hammerless, striker fired design which had no conventional manual safety (though this was added on later models). Instead, it had a grip safety similar to that used on the Colt Model 1903/FN Model 1903. The tiny magazine held just six, 6.35mm rounds and rudimentary sights were cast into a groove on top of the slide. At under 4.5” in length and weighing just 13 ounces, the Modèle de Poche was small, compact and easy to conceal while also being comfortable to hold and shoot. To further cement his relationship with FN, browning gave the company exclusive rights to use his name as a trademark. That meant that only FN produced guns could use the revered Browning name. In much of Europe (and beyond), the term “Browning Pistol” became a synonym for any semi-automatic pistol.

jmbg28Noting the success of the FN pistol, Colt quickly realized their mistake and took out an option to sell the same gun in 1906. In 1909 they launched the Colt Model 1908 Hammerless (also known as the Vest Pocket Pistol) which was similar, but not identical to the FN version. The most notable difference was that the Colt 1908 included a manual safety lever on the left side of the frame which could also be used to hold the slide open (there was no way to hold the slide open on the original FN version). The 6.35mm cartridge was re-branded as the Colt .25 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round. A few years later a third safety was added to the Colt Model 1908 in the form of a magazine disconnect which led Colt to proudly claim that “Accidental Discharge is Absolutely Impossible with the Colt Automatic Pistol.” The Model 1908 certainly proved to be popular: it remained in production for over forty years and Colt sold more than 400,000 of these tiny but effective and reliable pistols.

In a fascinating commentary on the changing common meaning of words, in early marketing the Colt Model 1908 was often described as an ideal “muff pistol”, in other words a pistol which could be easily concealed within a lady’s muff. Just in case you’re not certain, a muff was a common item of ladies apparel in the early 1900s in which both hands could be placed to keep them warm. As the word “muff’ began to be commonly used to mean something quite different in the early 1900s, the advertising provoked a degree of sniggering and was hastily amended to note instead that the tiny Model 1908 was ideally suited to concealment within a lady’s handbag.

jmbg291909 advertising for the Vest Pocket Pistol notes that it “Just fits in a man’s vest, or can be carried in a lady’s muff…” Hmm…

Replicas

jmbg211C.1 Airgun

There are two different Chinese, spring-powered, metal 6mm replicas of the Colt Model 1908 available. One is the C.1 airgun (also branded as the Galaxy G.1 in some markets). It’s a reasonable replica, but it’s about 20% larger than the original and it has notch and post sights, which is wrong. The other is the Smart K-18. This is a much better replica – it’s accurately sized and has sights within a groove on the top of the frame. Unfortunately, the Smart K-18 does not seem to be widely available in many parts of the world.

jmbg210Smart K-18

Smart K-18 review

Galaxy G.1 review

Cybergun also offer a spring powered, 6mm replica of the Model 1908. In some ways this is better than either of the Chinese versions in that it has a working manual safety and magazine release and accurate markings on the slide and grips. However, while early versions were metal, the current iteration is manufactured in the Philippines out of chocolate brown and black plastic and it doesn’t handle at all well. There used to be a Taiwanese gas powered (non-blowback) version of the Model 1908 too, but is no longer available. A blow-back gas powered version of the tiny Model 1908 would certainly be a very wonderful thing, but I guess that the pistol and magazine are just so tiny that this would be technically very difficult. So, for the moment we’re stuck with these spring powered replicas.

jmbg212Cybergun Model 1908

Next time on the Pistol Place…

I hope you enjoyed this article. In the final part of this series we’ll be looking at John Moses Browning pistols from the period 1910 onwards including the Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and Colt Woodsman. And there will be more replicas than you can shake a stick at!

Happy Shooting

The Handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 1

1899 – 1900

jmbg5It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call John Moses Browning the most influential and prolific firearms designer of the 20th Century despite the fact that he died in 1926. He designed a whole list of immensely popular and long-lived rifles, shotguns, machine guns and even an automatic rifle. However, it is his pistol designs that I want to look at in this series of articles. If you look at virtually any current semi-automatic weapon you will see a method of operation and features that were all originally designed by Browning.

Browning also designed a single revolver, the Colt M1905 New Marine, but it’s his semi-automatic pistols that I’ll be looking at in these articles. Browning’s pistol designs developed incrementally until the Colt 1911 by which time he had introduced all the features which would be used in almost every later semi-automatic pistol. For this reason I will look at Browning’s pistol designs chronologically including highlighting developments and mentioning any currently available replicas. I’ll also provide some brief background on the life and times of this very private man. There’s a lot to cover here, so there will be three separate parts to this article:

Part 1: 1899 – 1900

Part 2: 1902 – 1908

Part 3: 1910 onwards

Early life

John Moses Browning was born in 1855 in Ogden, Utah as one of his Mormon father’s 22 children. At an early age Browning helped out in his father’s gunshop in Ogden and by the time that he was fourteen he was designing and building his own firearms. When his father died in 1873, Browning and three of his brothers started their own gunshop where they sold many guns designed by John. However, Browning quickly became frustrated that his long hours in the gunshop left little time for what he enjoyed most – designing new weapons.

jmbg1A young John Moses Browning

Then, in the early 1880s, a salesman for the Winchester Firearms company visited the shop in Ogden and bought a single-shot rifle designed by Browning. He was so impressed by the rifle that he sent it back to the Winchester home office in Connecticut and recommended that they take a close look at it. The engineers at Winchester agreed and in 1883 offered Browning $8,000 (equivalent to around $200,000 today) for the manufacturing rights for the rifle. Browning used the money to set up his own design shop and over the next twenty years he would design a number of very successful rifles and shotguns which were sold by Winchester.

jmbg2Browning in his twenties

However, the relationship between Browning and Winchester wasn’t all good news. On a couple of occasions, Winchester purchased designs from Browning but did not produce them. This made good commercial sense to Winchester – it stopped potential competitors from getting their hands on Browning’s designs, but it infuriated the designer. This was compounded when Browning began to design semi-automatic weapons (or self-loading guns as they were then known) around 1893. It is said that Browning became interested in the concept of designing a self loading mechanism in 1890 when out hunting with friends. He noticed that, when a rifle was fired, the grass in front of the muzzle bent and he began to wonder whether this wasted muzzle energy could be used to load the next round for firing? Browning went on to use these ideas to design a machine gun (the Colt M1895) and in 1896 he sold the designs for four self-loading pistols to Colt. However, by 1897 none of these designs showed any signs of going into production. Colt claimed that there simply wasn’t a ready market in America for this type of pistol, but Browning was concerned that they were trying to suppress his designs in order to protect sales of Colt revolvers.

By this time Browning was also unhappy with the commercial relationship he had with Winchester and other American manufacturers. Browning was generally paid a flat fee for the purchase of manufacturing rights for a particular design, regardless of how many guns were subsequently sold by the manufacturer. And in the case of very successful Browning designed models like the Winchester 1895 lever action rifle, that might amount to a million or more. What Browning wanted was a royalty deal where, in addition to a fee for selling manufacturing rights he would also receive a small payment for every gun sold.

The FN Story

In 1886, when John Moses Browning was still tinkering with self-loading pistols designs in the US, a group of firearm manufacturing companies in the Liege Region of Belgium formed an association called Les Fabricants d’Armes Reunis (United Arms Manufacturers). The area around the town of Herstal had long been a centre for the production of guns and increasing orders from around Europe made it sensible for local companies to stop working against each other and begin to work together. In 1887 the Belgian Government decided that it wanted to replace 150,000 of its military rifles with more modern equipment. The prospect of winning this huge order attracted other companies to join Les Fabricants d’Armes Reunis and to form a new group, Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN).

jmbg3The FN manufacturing plant at Herstal was truly vast. This re-touched publicity photograph is from around 1910.

FN won the order for new Belgian army rifles and the association built a state-of-the-art production facility in Herstal. The Belgian order was completed by 1891, and for a short time things looked good for the new factory. But then, in 1894, FN were sued by Mauser who claimed that the rifles supplied by FN to the Belgian Army infringed the patent of the Spanish Mauser rifle. After protracted and expensive legal action, FN lost the suit and as part of the outcome, found themselves under German control. The Germans who ran the FN factory began to re-direct orders to German arms manufacturers and by 1897, very little arms manufacturing was being done at Herstal. In desperation, FN began to look for other products which they could manufacture in the virtually empty factory. One of the first options they considered was the bicycle, then enjoying huge popularity in Europe.

jmbg4Inside the FN factory complex, around 1908

To research the possibilities for bicycle manufacture, FN sent their Director of External Affairs, the American-born Hart O. Berg, to America to study bicycle manufacturing techniques. On arriving in the US Berg went first to his home town of Hartford in Connecticut. Now, it happens that Hartford is also the location of the Colt factory and, seemingly entirely by chance, Berg met John Moses Browning who was on one of his frequent visits to Colt. The meeting couldn’t have been more fortuitous for both. Browning was frustrated in his dealings with US manufacturers and FN was desperate for something they could manufacture in their idle Herstal plant. ‘Think of it!’, Browning later told his brother Matthew, ‘a new gun factory with nothing to make! I’ll give them something that will set their wheels in motion.

FN Pistolete Browning/Model 1899

jmbg6Drawing from the original 1897patent application for Le Pistolete Browning

What Browning gave to Berg in June 1897 was the prototype of a small, .32” ACP calibre self-loading pistol. FN tested the prototype and were delighted to find that it was not only relatively simple, it was also extremely reliable, in contrast to most other self-loading pistols of the period. In initial tests, 500 rounds were fired without any failure to feed or eject. Despite the fact that they had never manufactured a pistol before, FN were so keen to get their hands on the new design that they agreed to pay Browning not just $2,000 for the manufacturing rights but also a royalty equivalent to around 7% of the cost of every pistol sold. Browning was delighted – this was just what he had been refused by US manufacturers. However, the terms of the contract forbade FN from selling these guns in the US or Canada because of Browning’s previous sale of pistol designs to Colt.

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The first version of the new pistol went on sale in Europe in January 1899 as Le Pistolete Browning (The Browning Pistol). Looking back at it from the twenty-first Century, Le Pistolete Browning looks pretty basic. It’s a single action, striker-fired design where the barrel is fixed to the frame and the slide moves under blowback to eject the spent cartridge via an ejection port on the right side of the frame above the grip. Up to seven .32” ACP rounds were held in a drop-out magazine and the not particularly easy to use release catch was a small lever located in the heel of the grip. A manual safety on the left side of the frame blocked the sear and locked the trigger. There was no provision for locking the slide back either for cleaning or when the magazine was empty. Finish was blued steel with black rubber grips though a nickel plated option was also offered and reinforcing plates were added to either side of the frame, just above the trigger. This pistol was fairly small, with an overall length of just over six inches and a four inch barrel.

All this probably sounds pretty conventional but you have to put it in context and remember that this was not only the first John Moses Browning pistol to make it into production, it was also the first production handgun to feature a moving slide rather than a moving bolt or breech block. If you were so inclined, you could probably make a good argument that modern handgun design started with Le Pistolete Browning.

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This pistol was in production for less than three years as it was quickly superceded by the FN Model 1900. However, the heavy slide on Le Pistolete Browning meant that felt recoil was minimal and accuracy was very good and as a result it became immediately popular and more than 15,000 were sold before production ended at the end of 1901. After the release of the FN Model 1900, this pistol became commonly known as the FN Model 1899, though this name wasn’t officially used.

Replicas

As far as I am aware, there are no shooting replicas of the Le Pistolete Browning/FN 1899 of any type in any calibre. Which is probably understandable because this is an odd looking, dumpy and (compared to later Browning designs) ugly little pistol, but it’s a pity because the Pistolete Browning is historically very important.

FN Model 1900

In 1899 the Belgian Army were looking for a self-loading pistol to replace existing service revolvers. One of the options they considered was Le Pistolete Browning. They reviewed this pistol in 1899 and delivered their verdict to FN – with a number of fairly minor modifications, the Pistolete Browning would be suitable for adoption by the Belgian Army. The changes required were that the manual safety was modified so that pushing it up would lock the slide to the rear (though the slide still didn’t lock back automatically when the magazine was empty). A cocking indicator was added in the form of a bar which projected from the top of the slide and blocked the sight view when the pistol was not cocked. Grip plates were thicker, a lanyard ring was added at the base of the grip, ‘Sur’ and ‘Feu’ (Safe and Fire) markings were added for the manual safety and the frame sideplates were enlarged.

jmbg9The resulting pistol was adopted by the Belgian Army in 1900 and sold commercially by FN as the FN Model 1900. Originally, FN planned to retain Le Pistolete Browning in their range as a civilian model and sell the Model 1900 as the military model, but the differences between the two were so minimal that they decided that a single version would be sufficient. Le Pistolete Browning was phased out in 1901 and subsequent production concentrated on the Model 1900. The new model proved to be hugely popular and almost three-quarters of a million Model 1900s were sold between 1900 and 1914 when production ended.

jmbg10Strangely, the FN M1900 is often claimed to be Browning’s first self-loading pistol, which clearly it wasn’t. This is simply a development of Le Pistolete Browning, the first of his designs to go into production, and his earliest designs for pistols of this type were those which he sold to Colt in 1896. Incidentally, it was also claimed for many years that an FN Model 1900 was used in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, an event which precipitated World War One. This is incorrect – the pistol used in the assassination was an FN Model 1910, another John Moses Browning design which we’ll look at later.

Replicas

Zip. Nada. Nothing. Just like Le Pistolete Browning, the FN Model 1900 has been comprehensively ignored by replica manufacturers. Which is a great pity. I would certainly be delighted to see a replica of either of these pistols and I believe anyone with an interest in the development of the modern handgun would probably feel the same way.

The Colt Automatic Pistol

Back in the US, Colt watched FN’s commercial success with the Model 1899 and began to wonder whether perhaps there was a potential American market for a self-loading pistol? They had been tinkering with the designs they purchased from Browning in 1896 (including producing a full auto version of one of his pistols which proved impossible to control). In November 1898 a prototype of one of these pistols was submitted to the United States Army Ordnance Department where it was examined and tested along with four other automatic pistols.  However, the testers weren’t impressed, reporting that; “The Board is of the opinion, based upon a careful examination of the Borchardt, the Mannlicher, the Mauser, the Colt, and the Bergmann repeating weapons, that the development of this type of pistol has not yet reached such a stage as to justify its adoption in the place of the revolver for service use…

jmbg12Undeterred and encouraged by FN’s European success, Colt continued to refine the new pistol and Browning worked on a new rimless cartridge, the .38” ACP, which it would use. In 1900 the Ordnance Department purchased 100 examples of the new version for additional testing (though Colt were unhappy to discover that at the same time, an order was placed for 1000, 7.65mm Luger pistols). Colt were also interested in pursuing the possibilities of commercial sales and in early 1900 one of the new pistols was also sent to the very popular Shooting and Fishing magazine. The resulting review was generally positive but the author did note that; “…the term automatic pistol does not seem to be the proper term to use in connection with the arm; semi-automatic seems to be correct.” Which, as far as I can tell, is the first use in print of the modern term “semi-automatic” to describe what had previously been known as self-loading pistols. From this point on, any pistol which used a reciprocating slide became generally known as a semi-automatic.

jmbg11The Colt Automatic Pistol shared many of the design features of the FN 1899/1900, but it did provide some entirely new ideas. This was a much larger pistol at over nine inches in length and it had a six inch barrel. Unlike the FN it had a conventional hammer rather than an internal striker though it was still single action only. In another change to the FN design the barrel on the Colt was not fixed to the frame – it was mounted in slots in the frame and moved a short distance to the rear as the slide retracted and the ejection port was in the top right of the slide, not the frame. The manual safety was also interesting – engaging the safety involved depressing the rear section of the slide, including the rear sight. This meant that it was immediately apparent that the safety was engaged (because the rear sight wasn’t visible) but it was found to be very difficult to disengage the safety while gripping the pistol with one hand. Initial versions had serrations on the rear of the slide, but it was just too easy to inadvertently disengage the sight safety while gripping the slide at the rear and the serrations were quickly moved to the front. The sight safety was discontinued about three-quarters of the way through production of this pistol. There was no way of locking back the slide on this pistol and despite its large size, the drop-out magazine held just seven .38” ACP rounds and the release catch was still a small, awkward to use lever in the base of the grip.

jmbg13The rear sight had to be pressed down to engage the manual safety

A little over four thousand of these pistols were produced between February1900 and May 1902 when production ended. Two hundred were sold to the US Army and 250 to the US Navy. The remainder were almost all civilian sales. This pistol has come to be known as the Colt Model 1900 but it was simply known as the Colt Automatic Pistol while it was in production.

Replicas

Guess what? That’s right, there aren’t any shooting replicas of the Model 1900 of any type in any caliber. And again, that’s a great pity. The Colt Automatic Pistol was the first semi-automatic pistol to be widely used in the US and that alone makes it interesting. Writing about this pistol in 1920, noted firearms commentator Captain H.B. Pollard said: “The adoption of the automatic pistol by a firm of the eminence of the Colt Company practically established the principle.  People no longer looked upon automatics as dangerous experimental toys, but recognized that the principle was a success…” IMHO, and in addition to its historic significance, this is a great looking pistol, the hefty slide would provide strong blowback, the quirky sight safety would be an interesting feature to see on a replica and the six inch barrel should provide plenty of power and accuracy. So please, someone give us a replica of this pistol. Pretty please?

Next time on the Pistol Place…

I hope you enjoyed this article. In the next part we’ll be looking at more John Moses Browning pistols, this time from the period 1902 – 1908. And don’t worry, in that article there will actually be some replicas to discuss!

Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

hi4Introduction

The Browning Hi Power pistol has been in continuous production for more than eighty years. During that time it has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in more than eighty countries and by both sides in World War Two, various Arab- Israeli wars, the Falklands War and the First Gulf War. No-one is certain precisely how many have been produced (especially if you include clones and copies) but there must certainly be an awful lot of Hi Powers out there. By any measure, this is a classic handgun.

What’s in a name?

Before we start talking about the Hi Power, I do want to quickly clarify what it’s actually called. Some people seem certain that it’s “Hi Power” while others are equally vehement that it’s “High Power”. In fact, both are correct. When this pistol was first offered by FN in 1935, it was sold as the “High Power”. When it was first imported into the US in 1954, it carried “Browning Arms Company” markings and was sold as the “Hi Power” (to avoid confusion with the “High-Power” hunting rifle also sold in the US with BAC markings during this period). Since that time this pistol has been generally known as the “Hi Power” and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. Though it has also known by a bewildering array of other names: versions of the Hi Power have been identified as the P35, HP-35, FN Model 1935, GP35, Pistole 640(b), BAP (Browning Automatic Pistol) and L9A1 depending on which country they were being used by.

Development

hi5John Moses Browning with another of his creations: the M1917 machine gun

Prolific US gun designer John Moses Browning began work on the design of what would become the Hi Power in the early 1920s. This work was undertaken in response to a French military requirement for a new service pistol, the Grand Rendement (“High Yield”) or Grande Puissance (“High Power”) pistol. This referred not to the shooting ability of the pistol but to its magazine capacity – the French requirement specified a pistol with a magazine capacity of at least ten rounds of 9mm ammunition, a higher capacity than offered by any contemporary semi-automatic pistol. Browning’s intention was to design a full-size military sidearm that would replicate the rugged reliability of the Colt 1911 whilst addressing that pistol’s most serious shortcoming – a magazine capacity of only seven rounds. Browning died in 1926 before completing the design, but a US patent for the new pistol was applied for in 1923 and registered in 1927. The rights to the design were quickly acquired by the state-owned Belgian firearms manufacturer FN Herstal who used their Chief Designer Dieudonné Saive to refine and complete Browning’s initial work.

hi6Dieudonné Saive with one of his later creations: the FN-FAL Battle Rifle

The first prototype of the new pistol featured a locked-breech recoil system and a double column, sixteen round magazine. Saive continued to work on the design in the early 1930s, paying particular attention to making the grip as slim as possible. By 1931 the revised design incorporated a thirteen round magazine and a trigger mechanism which ran up into the slide area in order to avoid increasing the width of the grip. Ironically, the pistol was not adopted by the French Army whose requirement had first inspired the new design but in 1935, when it was finally complete, the pistol was adopted as the principal sidearm of the Belgian Army as the FN Model 1935 Pistol.

hi8An early Hi Power with tangent rear sight

The first production model of the Hi Power had a 4.65” barrel, weighed 35 ounces, was 7.75 inches in overall length and had a magazine capacity of 13, 9mm rounds. A small manual thumb safety was provided on the left side of the frame and a lightweight ring hammer was fitted. The pistol was single-action only and there was no grip safety as seen on the 1911, but there was a magazine disconnect safety – the pistol could not be fired if the magazine was removed. Grips were checkered wood and the rear of the frame was slotted to accept a detachable wooden shoulder stock. The front sight was a standard blade but the rear was an adjustable tangent type with graduations to allow shooting to a range of 500 meters (the very first models had graduations to 1000metres!). Many Hi Powers were produced with a distinctive glossy black corrosion-resistant finish which involved applying black enamel paint over a phosphate base finish.

hi7Early Hi Power tangent sight graduated to 500 metres. I don’t know about you, but I can barely see a target at 500 metres, let alone hit one with a handgun.

For a pistol which has proved so popular over the years, the original version of the Hi Power had a number of serious flaws. First, the trigger action: due partly to the magazine disconnect safety, the trigger was nasty. It was heavy, the release point was indistinct and there were pronounced stages to the pull. The magazine disconnect safety also meant that on many Hi Power pistols the magazine would not drop free cleanly when the release was pressed. Reliability wasn’t great either. Until 1962, the Hi Power was produced with a tiny internal cartridge extractor which was prone to breakage. In fact, when subjected to the pressures of military grade ammunition, both the slide and frame of early Hi Powers were prone to cracking. The thirteen round magazine was one of the selling main points for the Hi Power, but users quickly came to realise that fully loading the magazine could lead to jamming and that it was actually better to load just twelve rounds.

hi15Hi Power with shoulder stock

Add to this a hammer that was so light that it had difficulty in firing some military cartridge types, a short tang which could lead to hammer bite, a small, imprecise and difficult to operate manual safety and fixed sights which were small and difficult to read and you may be wondering why this design lasted as long as it did? There are probably two main answers to this. The first is obvious: magazine capacity. Compare the thirteen rounds available in a Hi Power magazine to other World War Two era service pistols. You got just six rounds in the British Webley Revolver, seven in the US Colt 1911A1 and eight in the Russian Tokarev TT-33, the German P-08 (Luger), its replacement the Walther P-38 and the Japanese Nambu. That gave the Hi Power a distinct firepower advantage over most comparable service pistols in the 1930s and 1940s and it wasn’t until the 1970s/80s that other semi-automatic pistols began to catch up in terms of magazine capacity.

The other reason that the original Hi Power proved so popular is a little more difficult to define: Feel. The word “ergonomics” hadn’t been invented when John Moses Browning was designing handguns, but he and Dieudonné Saive certainly understood what it meant. Pick up a Hi Power (or a decent replica) and I think you’ll see what I mean. It feels perfectly balanced and the grip will comfortably fit almost anyone who has hands in the average range. Because of this, the Hi Power is generally recognised as one of the easiest to control semi-automatic 9mm pistols. It’s also one of the only true single action 9mm semi automatic pistols available and field stripping and re-assembly are as simple as they are on the 1911.

hi11Hi Power Mark III

Despite its shortcomings, production of the original Hi Power continued up the early 1980s. However, there were numerous minor changes during that time – the ridiculous tangent rear sight and the slot in the frame to take a shoulder stock were dropped as standard fitment immediately after World War Two (though Hi Powers with tangent rear sights were still available up to the 1980s). From 1962 the fragile internal extractor was replaced with a more robust external unit and from around 1965 the ring hammer was replaced by a heavier, conventional spur hammer. In the early 80s the Mark II version appeared which had polymer grips, a larger, ambidextrous manual safety and easier to read three-dot sights. In 1988 the Mark III was released which had a distinctive glossy black, epoxy finish and a firing pin safety.

hi16Something a little different – a Hi Power Renaissance, hand engraved in the FN Factory

There have been a number of variations on the basic Hi Power design over the years including the HP-DA which shoots in double as well as single action, versions chambered for .30” Luger and .40” S&W rounds and a lightweight version with an aluminum alloy frame. However, only the standard steel framed Mark III in 9mm is still being manufactured and continues to sell more than eighty years after this pistol was first introduced.

Production

Initial production of the Hi Power was done at the FN factory in Herstal from 1935 and around 35,000 were produced by the time World War Two began in September 1939. In 1940, Belgium was over-run by German forces and more than 300,000 Hi Powers were manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control.

hi10An Inglis Hi Power with fixed sights – note the hump-backed slide

In 1940 licensed production of the Hi Power began in Canada at the John Inglis and Company plant in Toronto. Inglis produced two versions of the Hi Power, one with the tangent rear sight and shoulder stock mounting (mainly for a contract to supply Nationalist Chinese forces) and one with more conventional rear sights and without the shoulder stock slot. The latter version of the Inglis Hi Power incorporated a distinctive (and ugly) hump-backed slide, the only version of the Hi Power to have this feature. More than 150,000 Hi Powers were produced by Inglis in 1944 and 1945.

hi9Assembly of Hi Powers at the Inglis plant

After the end of World War Two, production continued at the FN works in Herstal in addition to licensed production in Argentina and unlicensed copies were produced in a number of countries including Hungary, Israel and Indonesia. No- one is quite certain how many have been manufactured over the years – most estimates suggest the FN factory alone produced over 1.5 million Hi Powers with unknown numbers of copies and clones being produced elsewhere.

hi12An FEG Model PJK-9HP, a Hungarian copy of the original Hi Power

The Hi Power is still being manufactured and sold by Browning in the US. Three versions are currently available: the Mark III with black epoxy finish and plastic grips and the Standard with a polished blued finish and walnut grips. The Standard is available with either fixed sights or that 500m tangent sight.

Use

hi13Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers in 1944. The soldier second from the right is holding a Pistole 640(b)

The first use of the Hi Power as a military sidearm was by the Belgian Army in 1935. German airborne and Waffen-SS forces used Hi Powers manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control as the Pistole 640(b) during World War Two (though it was also known in German service as the P35). British airborne forces used Inglis Hi Powers in 1944/1945 as did special forces units such as the British SAS and the American OSS. In 1954 the Hi Power was adopted as the standard sidearm of the British Army (as the L9A1) and by the army of the Republic of Ireland (as the BAP). Many more countries began to adopt the Hi Power during the 50s until it became virtually the standard sidearm of European NATO forces. By the sixties it was easier to highlight armies which didn’t use the Hi Power – more than eighty (some sources say ninety) countries officially adopted this pistol during this time.

hi14A soldier of the Parachute Regiment holding an L9A1 around 1960

It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that use of the Hi Power began to decline as newer semi-automatic pistol designs finally began to adopt high capacity, double column magazines as standard. Even then, the Hi Power remained in use in some parts of the world, as it still does.

Hi Power replicas

hi1WE 6mm Inglis Hi Power

Given how popular the cartridge firing version is, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power. WE make a 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of an Inglis Hi Power, complete with 500 yard tangent sight, imitation wood grips and a frame slotted to take a shoulder stock. This does seem to be a surprising subject for a replica – Inglis Hi Powers with tangent sights and shoulder stock slots were produced in limited numbers and mainly for China. If you’re going to the time and trouble to produce a Hi Power replica, why not go for one of the far more common later FN versions? The WE Hi Power is a functionally and visually faithful replica, but it has been around for some time now and it isn’t as accurate a shooter or as reliable as more modern WE replicas. I owned a WE Hi Power and it didn’t shoot particularly well and was prone to both leaking and jamming (you can find a link to a full review of the WE Hi Power by another Pistol Place contributor at the end of this article).

hi2Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III. Looks superb and is a great functional replica but not such a good shooter.

I also owned a beautiful Tanaka 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of a Mark III Hi Power which was visually and functionally spot-on, but shot with little power and indifferent accuracy (the same as most of the Tanaka replicas I have owned in fact). Given Tanaka’s somewhat haphazard approach to production, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s also very difficult to find one of their Hi Power replicas. Tanaka also produce a blowback replica of an original Hi Power complete with tangent sights and imitation wood grips, but I have never actually seen one of these so I can’t say if it’s any better as a shooter.

hi3Umarex Hi Power Mark III. A powerful and accurate shooter but it’s mainly plastic, the slide is fixed and that CO2 loading tab is pretty ugly

If you fancy a 4.5mm Hi Power the most popular option is the CO2 powered Umarex Hi Power Mark III. This has pros and cons. It’s a licensed replica which includes Browning Arms Company markings, it’s a decent visual replica and the ambidextrous manual safety works as per the original. It’s also fairly powerful (over 400fps is claimed) and very accurate for a BB shooter. However, construction is mainly plastic so it’s rather light, the slide does not move and the slide release is moulded in place and has no function. The look of this replica is also spoiled somewhat by the large plastic CO2 loading tab in the base of the grip.

hi18Chrome version of the EKOL ES66

If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you may be able to find an EKOL ES66. This is (or was – I don’t know if these are still made) a Turkish manufactured, CO2 powered replica which shoots 4.5mm steel BBs and looks a little like the Hi Power, though it’s not a precise replica and like the Umarex version it has a visible CO2 loading tab in the base of the magazine. The ES66 is available in chrome and black finishes, is of mainly metal construction and has good weight and balance. The slide moves (though only with the magazine removed) but this isn’t a blowback replica and the slide release catch is non-functional. Another notable feature of the ES66 is that it doesn’t have a manual safety – what looks like an ambidextrous safety is actually just a de-cocker. And as a shooter, it isn’t very nice at all. Claimed power is around 350fps but accuracy is truly awful – groups of 10”and over at 6m are not unknown and at this range the point of impact can be anything up to one foot from the point of aim.

Conclusion

Once again, we have a popular and influential handgun which is very poorly represented in terms of replicas. All of the Hi Power replicas mentioned above have issues and we lack any good, blowback replicas of the later versions of this pistol. Given how many replicas there are of various iterations of the 1911 and Beretta 92, it seems very surprising that there aren’t more Hi Power replicas around.

hi17Another view of the Tanaka Mark III – a Hi Power replica as good as this that also shot well would do very nicely, thank you.

So, come on someone (KWC, I’m looking at you!), what about giving us a decent, blowback replica of this popular and long-lived handgun. I know I’d want one!

Related pages

WE Hi Power review    

Classic handguns – The Walther PPK

What’s it all for?

what3I seem to have been getting more than the usual number of emails from people who are a little confused about what this site is for, so I wanted to post this quick note on what the Pistol Place is about (and what it’s not about).

I am often asked: Do you sell replica guns? Will you repair my replica? And occasionally “Will u send a gun to Rio” (true). Just in case you’re not sure, the answers respectively are No, No and Absolutely Not. I don’t sell replica guns. None. Not even one. Ever. And the only repairs I undertake are those which I carry out on my own replicas. There are lots of competent, reliable people out there who will sell you a replica and fix yours if it stops working. But not me.

what5A nice, shiny replica

I don’t sell replicas for two reasons. First, the legal situation around the world regarding the sale and transit replica guns is hideously complicated and I simply don’t want to get involved in something that might involve me inadvertently breaking the law. Second, the whole point of this site is that it provides unbiased, objective reviews of replicas. If I think a replica is worth the money, I’ll tell you that. If I think it’s horrible and a waste of time, I’ll tell you that too. If I was trying to sell you that replica, I don’t see how I could retain the same level of objectivity.

what2Not at all shiny, but still a nice replica.

Telling it like it is

Most of the other on-line sites providing reviews of replicas are run by companies which also sell replicas. Even sites and magazines which don’t directly sell anything themselves are often supported by advertising from the people who do. If a particular replica is a shoddy, inaccurate pile of junk, they aren’t going to tell you that. Because then you won’t buy it and advertisers and sellers won’t make any money. That’s not deceitful or immoral, it’s simply how the commercial world works. If someone is trying sell you something, they’re inevitably going to emphasize its positive features and minimize the negative. Because I don’t sell anything at all and I’m not supported by advertising, I’m not constrained in the same way. I pay for the maintenance of this site myself because I enjoy replica guns and I like writing about them. Which means that what you get here is always my honest opinion.

what4An utterly crap replica.

However, I am often asked for advice on where to have repairs and upgrades done on replicas. And so I’m thinking of adding a “Services” section to this site. This would be a place where I can provide brief details of any individuals or companies who provide services related to replicas including sales, servicing and repairs. Unless I have used that service myself I won’t be able to personally vouch for these, but at least it might be a starting point if you’re looking for something.

You can help

And you, dear Pistol Place reader, can help. Have you received good (or bad) service from a seller or air gunsmith? Would you like to share that with other visitors to this site? Do you run a business repairing, upgrading or selling replica air guns? Then send me the details and I’d be happy to post them up here. For each entry I’ll include the ability to post comments so that you can share your experiences of any of the services listed. There have now been well over half a million visitors to this site since I started it so anything listed in the Services section will be read by lots of people.

what1A gunsmith relaxes between fixing replica pistols. Probably.

And of course I’m still happy to provide any advice that I can on replica guns or just to chat about them as long as you accept that I’m not a gunsmith or an expert on anything in particular. And if you have something you want to say about a particular replica, let me know. It doesn’t have to a full review – send me a few words and pictures and I’ll post them up.

E-mail: stevemac357@gmail.com

Happy Shooting

Springfield Ultra Compact Operator (C.9 Airsoft Gun)

sp1 Exceeding expectations

It’s irritating when a replica fails to live up to your expectations either because of how it’s made, how it looks or how it shoots. It has happened to me more than once (I’m looking at you and your inability to shoot straight, Tanfoglio Witness!). Conversely, it’s great when something delivers more than you expect. That happened to me recently when I bought a Chinese C.9 replica. I wasn’t even sure what it was a replica of and I didn’t expect too much in the way of shooting ability. What I got was way better than I anticipated.

As is often the case when I buy a Chinese replica, the first thing I had to do was to try and work out what this is supposed to be a replica of. In my experience, Chinese manufacturers seem to be pretty good and making accurate visual replicas of firearms. But they’re notably coy about explaining which firearm a particular replica is based on. This one is obviously some kind of compact 1911 and my first thought was that it was a replica of the Colt Defender. But there never was a railed version of the Defender so that didn’t quite seem right. After some head scratching, I decided that it’s almost certainly a replica of the Springfield Armory Ultra Compact Operator, a modern railed mini-1911. And it’s actually pretty good.

Real steel background

The Springfield Armory in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts was the centre for the production of US military weapons from 1777 until it closed in 1968 (the building is now a museum dedicated to US military weapons). In 1974 an Illinois-based firearms manufacturer adopted the name “Springfield Armory Inc.” claiming to be “The oldest name in American Firearms”, though there was no connection between the original armory and the new company. Springfield Armory Inc. is currently one of the largest US arms manufacturers.

sp8Springfield Armory Ultra Compact

In addition to producing a number of rifles, the company also offer several pistols based on venerable the 1911 design. In the early 2000s the company introduced the Micro Compact, a lightweight, single-action, short-butt version of the 1911 with a 3” barrel. The Micro Compact was chambered for the .45 ACP round and the magazine held up to six rounds. A similar Ultra Compact model was introduced later with a 3½” barrel. Versions of both the Micro and Ultra Compact with a short accessory rail under the barrel were marketed as the Operator. Production of the Ultra and Micro Compact ended in 2013 when this pistol was replaced by the similar Springfield EMP which is chambered for 9mm rounds.

sp7Springfield Armory Micro Compact Operator

The C.9

There is nothing on the packaging or the gun itself to say who makes this replica. On the box, it’s identified only as a “C.9 Airsoft Gun”. The words “Super Power” are also printed prominently on the box, but whether this is a manufacturer’s name or an attribute, I have no idea. This is almost certainly Chinese in origin, but apart from that, I really can’t tell you anything about who makes it.

sp3Construction is mainly metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger, hammer and grips which are all plastic. The ambidextrous manual safety, grip safety and slide release are moulded in place and have no function. The hammer cocks and falls when you pull the trigger but it plays no part in shooting the pistol.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal outer barrel. There is no manual safety and once cocked, this replica cannot be de-cocked other than by firing. The frame incorporates a short under-barrel accessory rail.

sp19Packaging and presentation (2/5)

sp12The C.9 is supplied with a single magazine in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert. It comes with a small bag of unbranded, unidentified yellow 6mm BBs. And that’s it. No manual, nothing else.

sp13Visual accuracy 6/10

sp17C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact Operator, right.

There are a bewildering number of different variations of the Micro and Ultra Compact pistol, but this generally seems as if it’s fairly close to the appearance of the original. The slide frame and grips are all a good replication and small details like the shape and style of the rear sight and manual safety and the even small half-moon cut-out on the right side of the slide behind the ejection port are all well done. The only notable differences are that the C.9 has a pivoting trigger rather than the sliding trigger found on the original and the grip safety tang on the replica is shorter and less curved.

sp18C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact, right.

Initially I was puzzled by the markings on the slide of the C.9. The large, white text reads “OPS-M.R.P CAL.45”. It took me a while to work out that these are actually identical to the markings on another pistol. But not a firearm: these are copied from a Tokyo Marui blowback 1911. That makes the markings meaningless and a bit silly. Is this supposed to be a replica of a replica? I’m guessing that some Chinese stencil maker saw a photograph of the TM 1911, assumed it was a firearm and decided to copy the markings. Or something like that.

sp10Functional accuracy 7/15

As you’d expect of a spring pistol, functional realism is not particularly good. The manual safety, the grip safety and the slide release are all moulded in place and have no function. The hammer works but it plays no part in firing this replica. The slide must be retracted to cock, but there is no way of locking it open. The magazine is full-size and drop-out with a large butt-plate and is released using the button on the left side of the frame.

sp14Shooting 34/40

Preparing the C.9 for shooting is simple. Load up to ten 6mm BBs in the magazine, insert the magazine which locks positively and then rack and release the slide to cock the pistol. Racking does require a fair amount of effort but the shape and size of the slide allows you to get a good grip.

sp9The C.9 sights, with the addition of a little silver paint to make them more readable

I found the non-adjustable notch and post sights very difficult to read against anything but a white background. Happily, some silver paint on both back and front sights improved things greatly. And it’s worth getting a good sight picture on the C.9 because it shoots way better than it should. At 6m from a semi-rested position, I get groups of around 1 – 1½”. Even at just over 9m (the maximum range at which I can shoot indoors) groups are around 1½” – 2” and at this range I can still put all my shots inside the 3” centre ring on the target. Shots hit at about 1 – 1½” high at 6m and around ½” right of the point of aim. I don’t have a choronograph so I can’t tell what the power is, but it’s certainly more powerful than the other spring pistols I have tested – I’d guess somewhere in the region of 250 – 300 fps.

sp15A full magazine of ten shots shot from 6m, semi-rested using ASG 0.25G BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is 1.25”. Main group is within 1”.

I have an unoffical test that I use with my BB replicas. If I can’t reliably hit a target the size of a coke can at 6m, then shooting isn’t going to be much fun. A surprising number of BB shooters fail this test (the Baikal MP-654, original Umarex Walther PPK/S and Umarex Ruger Superhawk for example). The C.9 can hit a coke can sized target 5 out of 6 times at 9m range. I have no idea why. Internal construction seems very similar to the other Chinese springers I have reviewed and it has a very short plastic inner barrel, but this one just shoots much better and with more power. One thing that’s notable about the C.9 is that it seems to work best with 0.25g BBs. Most springers are low powered and are best suited to 0.2g or even 0.12g BBs, but not this one – it gives much better accuracy with the heavier BBs while still providing good power.

sp16Six shots from just over 9m, semi-rested and using the same BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is under 1”.

Like most springers, the C.9 is fun to shoot. However, it’s also powerful and accurate enough that you need to start thinking about things like stance and breathing. That’s not particularly common for any BB shooter and certainly not for a low-cost springer. The lack of recoil and the need to re-cock for every shot is a little irritating compared to a blowback replica, but then not having to bother with CO2 or gas is great.

Quality and reliability 12/15

Construction of the C.9 is very simple. The slide is cast in two halves which are secured by two crosshead screws. Removing the slide halves reveals the main spring, slide return spring, barrel and the plastic loading nozzle. The short, plastic inner barrel is retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chrome metal outer barrel is screwed. The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame. The lower frame is also cast in two halves retained by crosshead screws and houses the trigger and hammer assembly and magazine release. All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal. The plastic grips clip in place – what appear to be hex-headed retaining screws are moulded plastic.

sp11The sharpness and quality of castings and mouldings is very good

One thing that’s notable about this replica is the quality of the castings. These are very sharp indeed and every detail is nicely done. The slide release and manual safety are part of the frame casting, but you can’t easily tell that by looking at it. This looks and handles like a quality replica despite its miniscule price tag. There’s a lot of plastic inside the C.9, but so far nothing has broken or is showing signs of wear. I haven’t suffered a single mis-feed or failure to fire with the C.9.

sp4The black finish is evenly applied and seems to be reasonably hard wearing. It certainly seems to be thicker and more wear resistant than the coatings used on many much more expensive replicas. The white markings haven’t shown any tendency to rub off yet, something that happens on a number of Chinese-made replicas.

Overall impression 13/15

The C.9 has good weight, which always helps to make a replica feel convincing. It’s a good size too – compact, but not so small that it’s difficult to find a good grip. There is no play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement. When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise. The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little movement.

sp2Despite its small size, low price and very simple internal construction, this actually looks and handles fairly well. It shoots with a subdued crack rather than a bang, but it doesn’t feel as cheap and nasty as some other spring pistols I have tried. What really makes this replica stand out is that it’s such a great shooter – I have paid ten and even twenty times as much for replicas that didn’t shoot as well as this. Because of that it’s easy to ignore its other shortcomings.

Conclusion

sp6I used to be fairly dismissive about spring powered replicas. Frankly, I thought they were all cheap and nasty. Some are (see the review of the ZP-6 Revolver, for example), but this one isn’t and it shoots better than it has any right to. It’s a pity that there hasn’t been some attempt to replicate a 1911 style sliding trigger and the markings are just silly. But I have been having so much fun shooting with the C.9 that I haven’t even thought about these issues.

sp5I paid the equivalent of $6 (about £4) for my C.9 here in SE Asia but even in other parts of the world these don’t sell for much money. Add to that that the fact that you don’t need to buy CO2 or gas and replica shooting doesn’t come much cheaper or simpler than this. If you’re not sure about springers, see if you can find one of these. It won’t cost you much and you may just find that it changes your mind.

Happy shooting

Total score: 74/100

Related pages

ZP-6 Revolver review

Umarex Ruger Superhawk review

Pistol shooting stance

st7Japanese police officer adopts a one-handed stance for pistol practice, circa 1960

One of the most important factors that determines how accurately you shoot a pistol is your stance, the way that you stand while shooting. This applies just as much to shooting air pistols and replicas as it does to firearms. In this article, I’m going to be looking at pistol shooting stances and how these can be used when shooting replicas. I’ll look at both the one-handed stance used in traditional air pistol target shooting and at some popular two-handed stances which are more suited to for multi-shot, action shooting.

st3

Police pistol training, circa 1950. Note static, one-handed stance. Ideal for target shooting, but not much else.

Now, it may seem like overkill to talk about stance when all you’re doing is shooting pellets or 6mm BBs at a target, but actually all the lessons that come from the shooting of firearms also apply to shooting replicas. Happily, you aren’t ever going to be using your replica in combat (unless you’re an airsoft skirmisher), but you can’t shoot any pistol accurately and consistently if you aren’t balanced correctly. These stances help to ensure that and help to counteract the simulated recoil that is provided by blowback replicas.

st4

Contemporary police pistol training. Officers are now training to use a two-handed stance and to shoot while moving.

Getting your stance right is a fundamental part of shooting and yet it’s something that very few replica shooters bother about. Good stance isn’t complicated or difficult to learn and for each stance I’ll describe what’s involved and explain the advantages and disadvantages so that you can choose which suits you best. This article is short on words but long on pictures. Describing the elements of a stance in words is difficult and can sound complicated. In practice it’s very easy – If in doubt, just look at the pictures.

Obviously, stance isn’t the only thing that determines whether or not you hit the target. Grip, aiming technique, breathing and focus all play a role. However, this article is just going to look at stance.

The evolution of the pistol shooting stance

Back in the day, everyone shot a pistol one-handed. Look at any picture of police or military handgun training up to and including the Second World War and you’ll see the pistol gripped in the dominant hand with the other hand held loosely at the side or anchored by being placed in a trouser pocket. This dates back to the first use of muzzle-loading, single shot pistols. This stance allowed a single, aimed shot and provided a measure of protection to the shooter – placing the body side-on to a potential attacker provided a smaller target and the extended arm and pistol provided some protection for the head and upper chest. For a right-handed shooter, this also placed the most vulnerable organ, the heart, as far from a potential incoming shot as possible.

st8

Seventeenth Century duelist demonstrates the advantages of the single hand stance.

However, as pistols developed and became capable of firing more than one shot, the single handed stance was retained. This wasn’t so good – If you want to control a pistol over a series of shots without being unbalanced by recoil, using two hands to support the pistol is much better.

st1

A US Army soldier demonstrates one-handed shooting to French Army spectators in 1918.

In 1942, British soldier and Shanghai Municipal Police officer William “Dangerous Dan” Fairbairn published an influential book; Shooting to Live With the One-Hand Gun. Despite the title, this book used Fairbairn’s military and police experience to explain that the conventional one-handed target stance was inappropriate for pistol shooting in combat, not just because it was less accurate over a number of shots, but also because it involved turning the body away from a threat, something that we are psychologically conditioned not to do. Instead, Fairbairn suggested a stance that kept the torso directly facing towards the target while gripping the pistol with one or two hands. The two-handed stance which comes from these ideas of Fairbairn is generally known as the “Isosceles Stance” though it is occasionally also referred to as the “Fairbairn Stance”.

st2

A different World War, but these young recruits in 1939 are still using a one-handed stance.

This was followed in 1943 by the publication of another very influential book: “Kill or Get Killed” by US Army officer Colonel Rex Applegate. In addition to conventional shooting stances, both Fairbairn and Applegate discussed what they called “point shooting” – shooting a pistol without using the sights. This technique, now generally referred to as TFS (Threat Focused Shooting), is used when responding rapidly to an unexpected threat. It wasn’t accurate – it was intended solely as a way of getting shots off in the general direction of a threat as quickly as possible.

st9

Illustration from Kill or Get Killed shows technique for point shooting from the hip. Suit and tie not essential.

In the late 1950s US Marine John Dean “Jeff” Cooper began to promote what has been come to be known as the “modern technique” of handgun shooting. This took many of the ideas first promoted by Fairbairn and Applegate and codified them into a scheme of training that became widely adopted by police and military in the US. Amongst other things, Cooper advocated what became known as the “Weaver Stance”, a slightly different two-handed stance first used by Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver during target shooting pistol competitions during the mid-late 1950s.

st5

John Dean “Jeff” Cooper

In the 1960s another California policeman and well-known competition shooter, Ray Chapman of the Los Alamitos Police Department , developed a modified version of the Weaver Stance which became known as the “Modified Weaver” or “Chapman Stance”.

st6

Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver

These three two-handed stances, the Isosceles, the Weaver and the Chapman are still used by most competitive target shooters in multi-shot competitions today and are widely taught to police and military pistol users.

st11

The One-Handed Stance

The one-handed target shooting stance is about as simple as it gets. Hopefully you won’t have to worry about incoming shots while you’re shooting your replica, so there is no need to turn your body completely side-on to the target. Most people find it more comfortable to stand with the torso, hips and feet at about 45° to the target, with the dominant side facing towards the target. Your feet should be about the same distance apart as the width of your shoulders.

st12

One-handed stance. Body at an angle to the target, feet apart, pistol in the dominant hand and free hand in a pocket or belt loop.

To find the ideal angle for your one-handed stance, stand in front of the target at the range you intend to shoot, adopt the stance then close your eyes and point your finger. Don’t try to guess where the target is and point to it, just point in what feels like the most natural direction. Now open your eyes and look where you are pointing. Adjust the angle at which you are facing the target until doing this leads to your finger pointing in the direction of the target. Note the angle you’re standing at and use this when you are shooting. Fine-tune your stance by doing the same thing while holding the pistol. Close your eyes, raise the pistol and open your eyes. If the sights aren’t pointing at the target, adjust your stance some more. It’s also worth remembering that if your non-dominant hand is allowed to swing free when you’re using a one-handed stance, this can act like a pendulum and cause your aim to waver. To avoid this, put the free hand in a pocket or hook your thumb over your belt.

For shooting single, carefully aimed shots, the one-handed stance is just fine, though it can be very challenging to get consistent results. I tend to use this stance when I’m shooting very accurate single-shot replicas like the Smith & Wesson 78G or the Predom Łucznik Wz.1970. However, when I’m shooting a multi-shot replica, I more often use one of the two-handed stances described below.

The Isosceles Stance

The Isosceles is probably the most natural stance when holding a pistol with two hands. If you ask someone who has never held a handgun before to grip and aim a pistol using two hands, they’ll probably unconsciously adopt a stance very like this. The earliest version of this stance (sometimes referred to as the “Fairbairn Isosceles”) involves the pistol held in two hands with elbows locked and arms straight (so that the arms and torso form an isosceles triangle). The torso and hips are directly facing towards the target, shoulders slightly forward, legs slightly bent and feet widely spread and an equal distance from the target.

st13

Original Fairbairn Isosceles Stance. Both arms extended with elbows locked, body facing the target, feet an equal distance from the target.

The Fairburn Isosceles is easy to use and feels entirely natural. It’s also good for cross-dominant shooters as it’s easy to align the right or left eye with the sights. However, it doesn’t provide good front-to-rear balance. Used with a firearm with powerful recoil, the Fairburn Isosceles can lead to successive shots climbing and even to the shooter being rocked back on their heels. This is less of a problem when shooting replicas, though this stance still doesn’t provide ideal balance.

More recent thinking has led to a slight modification of the Fairburn Isosceles, where the foot on the non-dominant side is placed forward and the other back with the knees slightly bent. This is sometimes called the “Power Isosceles Stance”. The forward foot should be about the distance of a normal step ahead of the rear foot. Using this version of the Isosceles, the head and torso still face directly towards the target, but the placement of the feet provides better fore-and-aft balance.

st14

Power Isosceles Stance. Both arms extended with elbows locked, body facing the target, foot on the non-dominant side closer to the target.

Overall the Isosceles Stance is easy to learn whether you’re using the Fairbairn or Power version and it feels natural to most people. This is certainly the stance I use most often when I’m shooting replica pistols. However, anyone with an elbow injury or problems with elbow joints may find it difficult to hold this position and it does lead to the pistol sights being some distance from your eyes.

The Weaver Stance

The Weaver Stance is very different. This involves standing with the torso and hips bladed at an angle of approximately 45° to the target, feet splayed but level with the non-dominant foot closest to the target. Both elbows are bent and the pistol is secured in an isometric grip achieved by pushing with the dominant hand while pulling with the non-dominant hand. The support elbow is low while the dominant elbow is high.

st16

The Weaver Stance. Body bladed towards the target, both arms with elbows bent. Elbow on the dominant side is high, elbow on the support side is low. Bending the elbows like this brings the sights much closer to the shooter’s eyes.

To most people the Weaver Stance just doesn’t feel as natural as the Isosceles Stance and it takes some practice. However, there are a number of advantages to using this stance. It brings the pistol sights nearer to your eyes, a boon for those of us whose eyesight isn’t what it was, and for the same reason tracking from target to target for action shooting is faster. It’s also better for those who have elbow problems but it generally doesn’t work as well for cross-dominant shooters. The Weaver Stance can be modified to suit the individual shooter – the arms can be only slightly bent with the pistol almost the same distance from the eye as when using the Isosceles Stance or they can be more deeply bent, bringing the pistol sights much closer to the eye.

st15

The Weaver Stance with elbows less deeply bent

While writing this article I did some shooting using all the stances mentioned here. Although I have tried it before, I was surprised at how effective I found the Weaver Stance. It looks a little odd, but it actually feels good and it’s especially useful for bringing the sights closer to your eyes. The only thing you have to be careful of is that you don’t bend the elbow of your dominant arm so much that you unlock your wrist. This is an aggressive stance which places your weight naturally forward, on the balls of your feet. Holding this stance for an extended period is much more tiring than when using the more relaxed Isosceles Stance. Maintaining the isometric pressure on the pistol is used to counter the effect of recoil on a firearm. Keeping up this pressure can also be tiring after a time, certainly more so than when using the Isosceles Stance. However, when shooting a replica using this stance (even one with blowback) the pressure needed is much less than when using a firearm and shouldn’t cause problems even if you don’t have especially strong arms.

The Chapman Stance

The Chapmen (or Modified Weaver) Stance is identical to the Weaver, other than that the dominant arm is straight with the elbow locked. The non-dominant hand still pulls against the dominant hand to provide isometric pressure.

st17

The Chapman Stance. Body bladed towards the target, dominant arm straight with elbow locked, support arm bent.

The Chapman Stance offers the same advantages and disadvantages as the Weaver though it can be problematic for those who have problems locking the elbow on their dominant side. Of the three stances described here, this is my least favourite. The combination of locked dominant arm and applying isometric pressure with the non-dominant hand feels awkward to me and I shoot less consistently using this stance.

Conclusion

These aren’t the only possible stances for shooting a pistol, but they’re probably the most appropriate for shooting replicas. For example, I haven’t covered stances for point shooting, mainly because this is intended as a self-defence technique of last resort and I can’t imagine any circumstances in which you’d want to use it when shooting at a target with a replica. If you want to know more about shooting from the hip, watch any Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson movie. There are also a number of other two-handed stances out there, but most of them are simply variations of those described here.

st18

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) can hit the target every time using this stance but I don’t know anyone who can do it in real life. Hey, maybe you do need to wear a suit and tie to make point shooting work?

Try all these stances and see what suits you best. All you need to do is to find a stance you’re comfortable with and that provides consistent results.

Happy shooting.

Related Pages

Cross-dominance and air pistol shooting

Smith & Wesson 78G review

Predom Łucznik Wz.1970 review

Links

Because it’s now out of copyright, you can download Shooting To Live With the One Hand Gun by William Fairbairn for free at Project Gutenberg here. Fairbairn was a fascinating character and this book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the development of combat pistol shooting.

And the same thing applies to Kill or Get Killed by Rex Applegate which you can find here.

Polishing a metal replica

Shiny things are good. I think most of us would agree with that. A black painted replica is a pleasing thing, but a shiny, polished replica is even better. Now, there are lots of people who provide professional polishing or electro-plating services and if you hand them a wad of cash, they’ll turn your replica into a thing of great beauty. However, what I want to look at in this article is whether it’s possible to achieve reasonable results yourself by using commonly available supplies and without spending too much cash.

shine1

All of this is going to involve completely dismantling the replica and then putting it back together afterwards as well as working with some potentially hazardous stuff. If you’re not confident to do these things, don’t try this with one of your replicas, OK? You have been warned! If you attempt something like this and end up with a box of bits that you can’t re-assemble into a working replica or if your wife won’t speak to you because you have stripped the varnish off her prized dining table, it’s no use complaining to me.

That said, none of what I’m about to describe requires anything more than basic mechanical knowledge, simple tools and the kind of stuff you can buy in a good hardware store. OK, are you ready? Then let’s give it a try.

The Project

I have a replica FN Model 1906. And it’s pretty good (you’ll find a link to the review at the end of this article) except that it’s marked as an FN but the grips it’s supplied with are much closer to those provided with the very similar Colt Model 1908. So, here’s what I have got at the moment:

2527

While I was researching this replica I came across this picture of a beautiful nickel finish Colt Model 1908 with black hard rubber grips:

shine2It helps to have a final result in mind before you start making changes to a replica. In this case my plan is pretty simple – I want to make FN 1906 replica look as much like that that nickel plated Colt 1908 as possible. The main change I need to make is that the zinc alloy frame and slide of my replica need to have their black paint removed and to be polished. I also need to paint the magazine, trigger and magazine release and while I’m working on this replica, I also intend to reduce slightly the length of the inner barrel so that it’s level with the front of the slide to make it look more like the original. Easy, eh? I mean, what could possibly go wrong. (If you really want to know what can go wrong, read the account of my refurbishing of a Crosman Peacemaker – you’ll find a link at the end of this article).

What you’ll need

shine3

  • Paint remover.
  • Abrasive metal polish (I used Brasso, but any abrasive polish such as Autosol Sovol will do).
  • Enough tools to completely disassemble and reassemble your replica.
  • You may also need paint and thinner/brush cleaner.

Step 1 – Take it apart

If you’re going to work on changing the finish of any replica, you’re going to have to disassemble it completely. I’m not talking about field stripping here: I mean you’ll have to remove every internal component until you end up with a bare slide and frame. If you plan on being able to put it all back together again afterwards, a digital camera is a very useful tool. Take lots of pictures before and during disassembly to make it easier to put everything back the same way it was.

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A picture showing the trigger and transfer bar and the magazine release in-situ in the left frame half. There’s enough detail here to remind me how everything goes back together.

shine5

Everything disassembled. In a fairly simple springer like this, there just aren’t too many parts to worry about.

Step 2: Remove the existing finish

Once you have your replica in bits, the first step is to remove the existing finish. Generally, the finish on most replicas is a thin layer of paint, so removal isn’t too difficult or time consuming. You can remove the finish by abrasion, using, for example, wet and dry paper or wire wool, but I don’t think that’s the best way. The zinc alloy used for the castings of replicas is fairly soft and scratches very easily. It’s also just too easy to find that you have not just rubbed away the paint but also some of the detail and the sharp edges of the castings. For this reason, I’ll be using paint remover.

Paint remover is, as the name suggests, very good at removing paint. However, it’s also pretty good at removing the skin off your fingertips, the finish on some kitchen worktops and the varnish off your parquet flooring and it will dissolve nitrile seals. It’s also capable of leaving an interesting pattern of tiny holes in your jeans if you’re particularly exuberant when you’re applying it and if you get any in your eyes, you will be very, very sorry. So, a degree of caution is required. If possible, wear those thin rubber gloves that you can buy for working on cars and motorcycles to protect your hands, use eye protection, spread out plenty of old newspaper on your work surface and be careful how you dispose of the newspaper when you’re finished.

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Working the paint remover in with a brush. The paint comes off very easily.

All you have to do is apply the paint remover using a brush and then wash the resulting gunk off with water. You may find that a small, stiff brush is needed to work the paint remover into awkward areas such as slide serrations – an old toothbrush works well for this. Given that the layer of paint is very thin, this won’t take long though you may need two or more applications of paint remover to get rid of all of the existing finish.

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The left slide half after paint removal. The circled area shows slight surface defects – not unusual on a zinc-alloy casting.

When you remove the paint, you may be a little depressed about how all that zinc alloy looks. It’ll be mottled, dull grey rather than shiny silver and it’s likely to have patches of different colour. That’s normal at this stage and don’t worry, most of this surface discolouration will polish out.

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The frame halves after paint removal – lots of discolouration and mottling can be seen on the surface of the alloy here though happily it’s free from major defects.

Step 3: Polishing

OK, now that the paint is off, take a good look at the alloy. Sadly, there are sometimes serious defects and blemishes in zinc alloy castings. These are usually hidden by the paint but when this is stripped off, they may become apparent. Where these are just surface marks, they can usually be polished out. Where they are deeper, I’m afraid there’s not a great deal you can do. You’ll either have to accept that your replica won’t have a perfect finish or consider applying a new coat of paint to cover them up. On this FN 1906, all the castings seem to be of reasonable quality without any major problems though there are some small pits, scratches and minor defects which were previously covered by the paint.

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One frame half after polishing, the other is as it was after paint removal. The difference that a little polishing makes is quite dramatic.

Polishing takes time. Lots of time. Sit yourself down, stick on your favourite TV or radio show and just let your mind wander as you polish and re-polish. It’s oddly therapeutic but it is going to take time. Keep going until you have a consistent finish that’s as shiny as you want. There will inevitably be bits that need more polishing to achieve the finish you want – just keep going back and re-doing these until you’re happy. Of course, if you have access to a polishing wheel or some form of powered polishing mop, that can speed things a great deal. However, on this replica I’m going for a hand-o-matic finish. Incidentally, if you’re lucky enough to have real wood grips on your replica, keep these well away from any abrasive polish. Liquid polish like Brasso will permanently stain wood.

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The polished slide halves. Most of the minor defects from the previous picture are now barely visible on the left half and the overall finish is good. You’ll also note that I have left the original black paint on the ejection port and round the extractor, just to provide a bit of visual contrast.

Step 4: The details

If you’re changing the finish of a replica, you also have to consider the details. If you’re starting with a black replica and polishing it, you need to consider what you’re going to do about the other black bits and pieces like the slide release, safety, trigger, magazine and magazine release? And what about any retaining screws? Are you going to leave these black? That kind of contrast can work well to highlight a polished slide and frame but it can also look kind of odd – it’s your choice.

On the FN 1906 replica, I will have to deal with the trigger, magazine release and magazine. These are all black plastic so I don’t have the option of stripping paint off and polishing them. This leaves just two options: leave them black or paint them. I’m trying to end up with something that’s as close as possible to the nickel finish Colt 1908 pictured earlier so I’m going to use paint.

I’ll be using enamel paint applied with a brush. I like enamel paint because it sticks well to plastic and it gives a fairly hard and durable finish. However, you do need to give it plenty of time to cure before handling. I’d suggest that you leave any parts painted with enamel to dry for at least 24 hours before handling and 48 hours if possible. You can also use acrylic aerosol paint if you want, though this will give a much thinner coat of paint and it may take several attempts until you get a decent finish.

Wash any parts you intend to paint in warm water with a little detergent added to remove any oil or grease and then handle the parts as little as possible before applying the paint. To get the best finish, make sure the paint isn’t too cold before you start – sitting the pot or aerosol can in warm water for five minutes before you start painting helps to ensure this. You’ll probably want at least two coats – it’s best to apply thin coats of enamel paint. Keep the paint off parts like the trigger pivot and anything else that moves. The finish using brush painting is never going to be perfect – you have to decide whether it’s good enough for you.

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Starting to put it all together – the painted trigger and magazine release are inside the frame halves.

I have also used paint remover on the five retaining screws and given the heads of each a quick polish so they’ll match the new frame and slide finish. I also want to shorten the outer barrel extension on this replica, to bring it back level with the front of the slide. This won’t affect shooting, but hopefully will make it look a little more like the original.

Step 5: Putting it all back together

Right so, now that you’ve done all the hard work, it’s time to put it all back together. However, because you took photos before you disassembled (you did take those photos, didn’t you?) that isn’t too difficult – just make sure everything goes back the way it was (and take this opportunity to lubricate everything that moves). Do remember to test everything carefully before you shoot any re-assembled replica. I had a couple of minor issues when re-assembling this replica. The first was that, although everything seemed to be properly assembled, the frame halves wouldn’t join properly at the rear. It took some head scratching to discover the internal weight had a tiny flat ground in to it that had to align with an internal frame web in order for everything to fit. Finally, the magazine release didn’t latch properly. This was due to some of the enamel paint on the shoulder of the release, preventing it moving fully to the left and latching. Once I cleaned off the paint, it worked as it should.

Once it’s all back together, it’s time to step back and admire what you have achieved.

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Overall I’m happy with how this turned out. For next to no money my $5 springer now looks much more like the Colt 1908 I wanted to replicate. Of course it isn’t perfect: the finish is reasonable but there are a couple of small marks, like all polished guns it is going to show fingermarks when I handle it and it no longer has any markings. But I feel that I have now got something that is better than what I started with, and that’s always the final test of any project like this. What do you think?

shine14shine13So, do you feel inspired? Isn’t it time you took that sad old replica with the chipped and faded paint and turned into a thing of joy and beauty? If you’re willing to put in a bit of time and take some care you can do what I did to any metal replica. If you do, send me your before and after pictures and I’ll share them here.

Links

FN 1906 review

Refurbishing a Crosman Peacemaker

ZP-6 Revolver

zp2Cheap but not cheerful

A spring powered airsoft revolver with removable shells? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled…

The quality of modern airsoft pistols is generally much better than it used to be. Even the cheap n’ cheerful Chinese springers I have been testing recently aren’t too bad (actually that’s unfair, some of them are pretty good). So it’s a shock to come across something as dismally awful as this spring powered airsoft revolver. I’m having a problem mustering enough enthusiasm to do a full review, but I’ll do my best just in case anyone might be foolish enough to think about buying one of these.

The Revolver ZP-6

I don’t know who makes this because the box gives no clues. I’m not surprised – If I had been involved in making something this terrible I wouldn’t want my name on it either. It does look very similar to a range of spring powered airsoft revolvers marketed in many parts of the world under the brand name HFC. Now, HFC make some decent replicas so I don’t want to accuse them unfairly of this piece of nonsense, but if you are thinking about buying an HFC spring powered revolver, check it very, very carefully first. And if it turns out to be same as this, buy something else instead.

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The ZP-6 is a replica of a full size revolver with a rotating, swing-out cylinder and removable shells. The two halves of the main frame and the hammer, trigger and cylinder spindle are metal but just about everything else including the cylinder, grips, barrel shroud, shell casings and inner barrel are plastic. And not the high quality polymer you get on many other current replicas – no, this is like the squishy soft plastic that was used to make the big bags of luridly coloured toy soldiers sold in Woolworths and other quality stores many years ago. You know, the ones that looked like they were partly melted before you even started playing with them? This feels cheap and nasty mainly because it is cheap and nasty.

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Packaging and presentation (2/5)

zp3The ZP-6 is supplied in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert. It comes with six spare shell casings but no manual or anything else. All the text on the box is in Chinese so I can’t tell you what it says. But I’d guess it translates as; “Ha, stupid foreigner! We have your money! And you don’t even know who we are so you can’t badmouth us on Facebook…” Or something like that.

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Visual accuracy 6/10

The ZP-6 is a sort of generic replica of a Smith & Wesson revolver rather than a replica of a specific model. Overall, it does look fairly like a cartridge firing revolver, though the effect is somewhat spoiled by the very obvious plastic grips and barrel shroud. There are no markings on the ZP-6.

Functional accuracy 7/10

Functional accuracy is actually quite good. The cylinder is full size and swings out on a loading crane and pushing the ejector rod lifts the shell casings out of the cylinder. The cylinder release is located behind the cylinder on the left side of the frame. BBs are loaded into shell casings which are then placed in the cylinder. The only lack of functionality is in that the ZP-6 has a single-action only trigger. The main spring is moderately powerful, requiring a fair amount of effort to cock the hammer. I suspect that trying to do this by using the trigger in double action would be beyond the ability of most index fingers and might also stress the trigger and other internal components too far.

Shooting 5/40

Loading the ZP-6 is simple – you just push a BB in to each shell casing. Unlike most BB shooting revolvers I have tried, the BB is inserted in the base of the casing rather than the nose. There is a rubberized section in the base of the casing which holds the BB in place. Removing the shell casings from the cylinder isn’t easy – the ejector does work but the plastic shells seem to get wedged into the plastic cylinder. The easiest way to load is to swing the cylinder out on the crane and simply push the BBs in to the shell casings while they’re in the cylinder. You then swing the cylinder back in until it locks and you’re good to go – there is no manual safety here.

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If it used decent materials and was made to tighter tolerances, the ZP-6 might be fun to shoot.

The design of the ZP-6 is actually kind of interesting. The piston and air reservoir are located vertically inside the grip. Cocking the hammer compresses the main spring which then locks the piston down and ready to fire. When you pull the trigger the burst of air from the piston assembly travels via a short plastic tube to an outlet nozzle which, as the hammer is drawn back, is pressed forward to seal against the rear end of one of the shell casings. Inside the plastic barrel shroud is a sprung inner barrel (also plastic) which presses against the front of one of the shell casings. As you pull the hammer back it rotates the cylinder to bring a new shell casing in line with the valve. If it was well executed, I believe that this mechanism could make an interesting and fun airsoft replica. The key phrase there is “well executed”. Most of the internal parts of the ZP-6 are made from some sort of plastic. Now, there is probably a special technical term for plastic of this type, but I don’t know what it is. So, I’ll settle for calling it “wibbly”.

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BBs are loaded into the base of the removable shell casings

The barrel shroud and inner barrel wobble around on the end of the metal frame. The plastic cylinder has a fair amount of play even when it’s locked. The shell casings are made from very soft plastic and you can see that they are not all precisely the same size or shape. If you separate the alloy frame halves and cock the hammer you can actually see some of the complex internal arrangement of levers and catches flexing as they move. The surprising thing is that it actually works, at least to the extent that a BB comes out of the barrel. How does it shoot? How do you think?

The non-adjustable sights are easy to read – big, chunky and simple to line up with the target. This is single action only, so the hammer must be manually cocked for each shot. The action of the hammer is imprecise – it doesn’t reach a point where you can feel it lock, you just pull it back as far as it will go and it stops. The single action only trigger is fairly heavy and the release point is mushy. That might be a problem on some replicas, but not here. Because the sights and trigger action are simply irrelevant given how badly this shoots. You’ll notice that there isn’t a target picture here. That’s because I couldn’t reliably hit a 6” square target at 6m. I’d guess that, out of every ten shots fired at that range, perhaps one would actually hit the target. The other shots flew randomly to the right, to the left and skywards. A few even fell out of the barrel and bounced sadly on to the ground long before they had covered 6m. To put all six shots within 6” I had to hold the muzzle of this replica around five feet away. And even then my shots were scattered around the target and the occasional misfire simply dribbled out of the barrel and fell on to the floor.

I have shot a great many replicas. Some have been good, some not so good. But nothing I have tried has come close to shooting the horrible ZP-6. I imagine that you could spit a BB with more power and accuracy than this shoots. The trigger and hammer actions are imprecise and unsatisfying. As a shooter, I can’t think of anything good to say about it at all. And the score of 5 is given just because this badly made, Heath-Robinson arrangement somehow manages to get a BB to leave the barrel in most cases.

Quality and reliability 5/15

The finish on the black paint alloy frame halves seems reasonable though after very little use mine has a couple of chips and is starting wear off on the hammer. Otherwise, quality is rather poor. The plastic barrel shroud is ill-fitting, wobbly and looks like what it is – cheap, nasty plastic. The fit and action of the cylinder is imprecise. The plastic shell casings are flimsy and stick in the cylinder. The grips are also made from rather flimsy plastic and the trigger and hammer action are both imprecise and mushy. Overall, the impression is of rather of shoddy construction using low quality materials. I haven’t used the ZP-6 much, but given the poor quality of materials used, I can’t imagine that it’s likely to last long.

Overall impression 4/15

zp7Not good. As soon as you pick it up it’s clear that the ZP-6 is not a quality item. The plastic parts look and feel like cheap plastic, the fit and interface of moving parts is imprecise. The only positive thing I can find to say about the ZP-6 is that using it makes you appreciate how much better your other replicas are.

Conclusion

I like the idea of a spring powered airsoft revolver. It could be fun, it could be a reasonable shooter. However, the ZP-6 is neither of these things. Overall my advice is: Just don’t, OK? No matter how cheaply you can buy one of these, it’s overpriced. Spend your money on something more useful, like…, well, just about anything really. If you bought a small rock it would probably provide more entertainment value than this. I can think of no good reason you’d want one of these. I can’t even think of a bad reason. As a wise man once said, “This no fun, no fun at all.”*

Total Score 29/100

Pros

It’s a spring powered airsoft revolver

Cons

Everything else

* It was Johnny Rotten

FN Browning Model 1906 (Smart K18A)

2523Five more bucks of fun

What is it with Chinese airsoft manufacturers and replicas of early 20th Century handguns? Every time I go into my local airsoft shop, there seems to be another replica of an old pistol to grab my attention. Not that I’m complaining mind – I like replicas of old guns. I had seen the Smart replica of the FN Model 1906 before, but I hadn’t looked too closely at it, assuming that it was a re-branded version of the Galaxy C.1 which I reviewed some time ago. However, when I looked more closely at it, I realized that this is actually a completely different replica and a much closer match to the original so I decided that it is worth a review to itself.

Real steel background

I have already covered the background to the Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol in the review of the Galaxy C.1 and most of that also applies to the FN Model 1906 (the two pistols are essentially identical other than markings) so I won’t repeat all that stuff here. Basically, back in the days when real men carried revolvers so large that they could be used to club a rampaging buffalo to the ground, if you were the sort of sneaky chap who wanted a concealed carry gun you packed something like a Remington Double Derringer. And jolly nice they were too. Except for the obvious problem that they provided only two shots.

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Remington Double Derringer

Back then, it is said that gun designer John Moses was doing a lot of travelling and he wanted a semi-auto pistol that he could use to shoot coyotes and suchlike and which could be carried without spoiling the cut of his suit. Something that would fit in the pocket of his vest in fact. (Note to non-American readers: An American vest is called a waistcoat in most other parts of the world. And in many places a vest is an undershirt, which doesn’t have any pockets. Confusing, isn’t it?) The outcome was the FN Model 1906 “Modèle de Poche” (pocket model) which was later also produced in the US as the Colt Model 1908 and generally known as the Vest Pocket Pistol. The FN Model 1906 was designed around the tiny 6.35mm Browning round (which became the .25” ACP round in the US).

The design is generally similar to the earlier Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol, also designed by Browning. However, the FN Model 1906 really is hammerless – it is one of the earliest striker fired designs whereas the Model 1903 has a conventional hammer which is concealed within the slide.

The most notable thing about the Model 1906 is its size – it really is tiny. It makes the Walther PPK look like a Desert Eagle. Loaded with six .25” rounds it weighs just over 350g (about 12½ oz. – not much heavier than a full 15 round magazine for a Beretta 92!) and it’s just 4½” long. Carry doesn’t get much more easily concealed than this.

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Even girls appreciate how cute the Model 1906 is. Here Dominique La Rue (Jasmine Guy) gives Quick (Eddie Murphy) a demonstration in Harlem Nights (1989).

The Smart K18A

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The Smart K18 is constructed mainly of metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger and grips which are all plastic. The box claims that this is an “alloy upgraded version” so this replica may perhaps also be available in plastic. The manual safety, grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function. The actual magazine release is a button on the left side of the frame.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal outer barrel. Once cocked, this replica cannot be de-cocked other than by firing. A fixed rubber hop-up is provided within the plastic inner barrel.

2529This particular model is packaged as the Smart K18A, which presumably refers to the inclusion of a mock silencer which can be screwed into the outer barrel. The silencer is of mainly plastic external construction with some metal parts inside. The silencer has no effect on the performance of the K18 and does not extend the inner barrel.

25217Packaging and presentation (2/5)

25211Don’t worry, it isn’t a really gun…

The Smart K18 is supplied in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert. It comes with a mock silencer which screws into a threaded section of the outer barrel. No manual is provided but the back of the box provides instructions on loading and firing complete with the usual crop of Chinglish including “Pull the cocking handle until a click sound is heart” and “Do not shooting at any human”.

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Visual accuracy 8/10

The general look of the K18 is very close to the original FN Model 1906. The overall appearance and dimensions are also close to those of the original. Sights on this replica consist of a wide groove on the top of the slide with narrowed sections at the front and rear, very similar to the sights on the original.

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Apart from the grips, it’s a pretty close visual replica

The only notable visual differences from the original are the grips, which lack any logos and look similar to the squared-off grips fitted to the Colt Model 1908 rather than the rounded black rubber grips fitted to the FN Model 1906, and the magazine release on the left side of the frame (the magazine release on the original is on the base of the grip). The markings are white painted text on the left side of the slide which are just about correct though they do incorporate a couple of spelling mistakes (“D’ARMIES DE GUNRRE” rather than the correct “D’ARMES de GUERRE”).

Functional accuracy 7/15

As you’d expect of a spring pistol, functional realism is not particularly good. The manual safety, the grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function. There is a working magazine release, but it’s a button on the left side of the frame. The slide can be retracted, but there is no way of locking it open (on the original, the manual safety can be used to lock the slide back). The magazine is full-size and drop-out and holds six rounds, just like the original. Although the trigger looks like the Model 1906 sliding trigger, it’s actually a conventional pivoting trigger.

Shooting 26/40

If you have read my review of the Galaxy C.1 (a spring powered airsoft replica of the almost identical Colt Model 1908), you’ll know that I rather liked it. However, although it’s very small, the Galaxy C.1 is a little larger than the original. This is most notable in the length of the grip and the size and length of the slide. The C.1 also has conventional notch and post sights, which the FN Model 1906 and the Colt Model 1908 don’t have (they simply have a groove in the top of the slide rather than normal sights). However, as soon as I picked up the Smart K18, I realized that it is not only much closer to the size of the original, it has the right type of grooved sight too. Measuring the K18 shows that it has precisely the same overall dimensions as the original and it compares very closely to photographs of the FN Model 1906. Top marks to Smart. Perhaps that’s why the box proudly states: “Simulating the true styles and making carefully!

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When you put them together, it’s obvious that the Galaxy C.1 (top) is around 15% bigger than the Smart K18 even though they’re both supposed to be replicas of the same pistol. The K18 is much closer to the size of the original.

I had assumed that the oversize slide on the Galaxy C.1 was because of the difficulty of fitting a workable spring mechanism inside the tiny slide area. However, Smart seem to have managed this. The result of all this is that the Smart K18 is very small indeed. If the Galaxy C.1 was amusingly small, this is hilariously tiny. The grip projects just 1” below the trigger guard and it’s only possible to get one finger round it. This is the same overall size as the grip on the original, and I wonder just how difficult it is to compress the grip safety with the pressure of just one finger? (The grip safety doesn’t function on this replica so that isn’t a problem here.) If you’re used to larger replicas (which means just about any other replica you have ever tried) it takes a little time to find a satisfactory grip on this one.

25210

Only room for one finger round the grip here

Once you have loaded six BBs into the magazine and racked the slide to load a BB into the breech and cock the firing mechanism, you’re ready to shoot (no manual safety is provided on the Smart K18). The first thing you’ll notice is that the sights are surprisingly good. Unlike (for example) the groove sight on the Colt SAA, this has a narrowed section at front and rear so that it’s simple to line up the target. That said, this was never designed to be a target pistol so don’t expect pinpoint accuracy.

25214

The single action only trigger has short travel and releases cleanly and consistently and with fairly light weight. The Smart K18 fires with a subdued crack and of course there’s virtually no felt recoil. I have not seen a claimed power figure for this replica, but I’d assume that it’s shooting at somewhere around 150 fps or even a little less. I normally use card targets, but when using the Smart K18 around half the BBs were bouncing off so instead I reverted to a paper target. Not a great deal of power then, but that’s probably to be expected from such a tiny springer. Not only is the barrel very short, the air reservoir and piston are also tiny. Shooting at a range of 6m there is a distinct gap between the sound of the pistol firing and the BB hitting the target, which usually indicates a BB travelling at a fairly leisurely pace. However, it’s notable that the BBs do follow a very flat trajectory, which suggests that the hop-up is working as it’s supposed to.

25213

Six shots, six metres, 0.2g BBs

Accuracy, if that really matters on something like this, was better than I expected. Shooting with 0.2g BBs at 6m I was typically seeing a horizontal spread of 2 – 2½” and a vertical spread of around 1½”. Shots were hitting the target 2 – 3” below the point of aim but centered horizontally. I’m fairly certain that this replica would be better suited to lighter 0.12g BBs but unfortunately I don’t have any at the moment so I couldn’t check that. One of the advantages of a spring powered replica is shot-to-shot consistency. If you use CO2 or gas, there is cooldown between shots which means that power drops as you shoot, affecting impact point. On a springer, every shot should be the same but I did notice that shooting with the Smart K18 there were occasional flyers which hit anything up to 6” from the point of aim.

Quality and reliability 11/15

Construction of the Smart K18 is simple and very similar to the Galaxy C.1. The slide and frame are some form of zinc alloy cast in two halves and secured by two crosshead screws. Removing the slide halves reveals the main spring, slide return spring, barrel and the plastic loading nozzle (the part that moves when you cock the pistol). The very short plastic inner barrel is retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chromed metal outer barrel is screwed. The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame. The frame houses the trigger assembly and the magazine catch. All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal. The plastic grips clip in place – what appear to be slotted retaining screws are moulded in place.

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Overall, everything fits together well with no gaps or wobbles. The slide racks cleanly and positively (though it does take more effort than on the Galaxy C.1) without much side-to-side play. Although the alloy castings used for the slide and frame aren’t especially heavy-duty, the Smart K18 feels robust when everything is screwed together. Finish is black and seems to be fairly thick and chip resistant. On a couple of occasions racking the slide has failed to load the BB properly, leaving it rattling around inside the slide. However, removing the magazine and shaking the pistol caused the stray BB to drop out when this did happen. Other than that, my Smart K18 has worked without issues.

Overall impression 12/15

Due to its mainly metal construction the Smart K18 is relatively heavy, which always helps to make a replica feel convincing. There is no play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement. When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise. The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little effort.

25216

Its small size can make it difficult to get a satisfactory grip on the Smart K18, but then that’s all part of the fun of shooting something this tiny. Despite being very cheap and having a simple internal construction, this actually looks and handles fairly well. It shoots with a subdued crack rather than a bang, but it certainly doesn’t feel as cheap and nasty as some spring pistols I have tried. Power is low due to the very short barrel and small piston but the Smart K18 has just about enough power to be enjoyable at 6m. I’m not sure how well it would perform at longer ranges, but then that’s not really what it’s for.

Conclusion

If you want an FN Model 1906 in your collection, this is currently the only option that I’m aware of. However, if you ignore the markings, it’s actually also a very good replica of the Colt Model 1908 (the grips are certainly a closer match for the Colt than the FN). Now obviously, most of us would rather have a gas powered, blow back replica, but that’s not really feasible here. Fitting CO2 into the grip wouldn’t be possible due to its size and the tiny magazine would only hold a gnats’ fart worth of gas so a gas powered version probably wouldn’t work too well either. So, for the moment we’re stuck with this spring powered version.

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It’s lucky then that this isn’t actually too bad as a replica. It’s mostly metal (the only current alternative, the spring powered Cybergun Colt Model 1908, is plastic) with good weight and the fit and finish are reasonable. As a shooter it’s more fun than fearsome but it does at least give some idea of what shooting the tiny original must be like. I also like the idea that 6mm BBs are only a whisker smaller than the actual 6.35mm rounds used in the original and, from what I have been able to discover about shooting the original, accuracy is also similar at 6m.

And of course, being a Chinese springer, it’s silly cheap (i.e., probably less than the cost of a bottle of imported beer). Overall, I like the Smart K18 and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in historic handguns. I prefer it to the Galaxy C.1 if only because it’s closer to the size and feel of the original. Though I can’t help but think that it could easily be worked on to produce an acceptable replica of the nickel finish version of the Colt Model 1908. Now, where did I put that polishing kit…

Total score 66/100

Cons

Not a great deal of power

Wrong grips

Pros

Fairly accurate visual replica

Reasonable finish

Good weight

Cheap as chips

Related pages

Galaxy C.1 Review

Smart K17 (FN Model 1910 replica) review

Smart K28 (Colt Model 1903 replica) review

Independent, objective and unbiased replica pistol reviews