Wednesday, July 16, 2014

FDE Kydex Mag Carriers

A new batch will be for sale very soon in a couple shades of FDE and a couple digital for fun. I think I have mastered the tight press technique on this batch, as you can see they are very clean and I think will represent a new generation, with a few new design features this time around for more carry options.

mag pouches, kydex magazine holders, kydex magazine ar-15 pmag carriers 5.56

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Final Thoughts on CO2 Air Pistols for Training and Recreation - Not Reccommended

KWC Blackwater 1911 CO2 .177 steel BB gun
Nearly one year ago to the day I wrote my first post on the subject titled, Airguns as Viable Recreational or Training Trigger Time Alternatives?
In the time since then I've done a fair amount of shooting and fiddling, writing more blog posts, and sending them in for replacement. There are 4 other posts on the subject which sort of follow along with my testing.
Part 2
More Testing
The Sig X-Five
Sig X-Five Return

The original post has continued to be one of my most viewed posts all throughout the year and I have finally run both guns enough to find their failures in that time. To get new readers caught up, we're dealing with the Cyber Gun or KWC 1911 and the Sig X-Five, CO2 powered airguns in .177. The concept behind this whole project was to see if these guns could go beyond backyard plinking and overlap into competitive or action shooting and even firearms training. You will recall from the very first post that I asked a simple question at the beginning - will these guns make that overlap? The answers were no, no and yes mostly. Pictured in that post are an Umarex PX4 .177 and the G&G Xtreme 45 airsoft pistol, along with the Blackwater 1911. My answer has changed since then to a firm no on all accounts. I had built a list of requirements which airguns needed to meet in order to be considered for real trigger time.
-External accuracy to the firearm equivalent.
-External controls identical to the firearm equivalent.
-Magazine dimensions as close to identical as possible.
-Blowback (last round hold open firstly AND some kind of inertia which moves the gun and forces user to realign sights, however minimal)
-Weight similar to that of a firearm.
-Wouldn't hurt if it was at least relatively well made.
-I prefer steel BBs.

There is one requirement I got wrong; relatively well made. It's vital and should be requirement number one, that we get our money's worth from these products. And I don't think it is possible to do that with these guns. I think one glaring factor that I overlooked when starting this project was the cost relative to .22 caliber firearm equivalents. I did compare the cost, and with steel BBs, it is still lower. But I recently spent $15.00 on 500 .177 RWS pellets, and a 550 round brick of .22LR USED to be about the same price. Now let's pretend someone designed and manufactured an air pistol that didn't suck and ran pellets rather than BBs. Chances are, the price would come up to .22 levels in both ammunition and gun pricing. That said, .22 ammunition is difficult to even find and the price is unstable at this time. Furthermore, I was seeing .22 pistols priced much higher than they're worth recently.

So let's talk about what needs to happen for this to work before I get to strictly bashing the KWC/Cyber Gun products. First on the list should have been; quality product. These guns are poorly designed and they will always fail because of the design weaknesses. That's unacceptable. As long as these guns stayed under .22 firearm and ammo prices, while offering significantly more variety (brands, makes, models), then I think consumers would be willing to spend another $50 or even $100 on an air pistol that lasts.

*External accuracy to the firearm replicated. This means the airgun needs to feel like the firearm. It does not have to be absolutely identical down to the last detail. It needs to feel the same and it would be nice if it fit in the same holster. This is not to say that a completely fictional gun would be unacceptable. 

*Identical external controls. This is an area where things have to be right. Slide release, safeties, mag release - all the controls have to be identical in order for there to be any training value. It would be nice if the trigger was the same but I can accept that this is probably an unrealistic expectation. With that said, the triggers on these airguns were perfectly acceptable so accuracy in this department isn't necessarily out of the question. I want to also point out that I am specifically talking about external controls. Internally and functionally, I would much rather have a quality, functioning airgun that doesn't sacrifice performance for realism. These guns function very similarly to their firearm counterparts and I think often this carries a performance penalty.

*Magazine dimensions. They have to be very similar. Reloads are an obvious training benefit that ariguns could provide especially when packaged with other benefits. Mag carrier compatibility here is likely another unrealistic expectation. Furthermore, much of the function of the airgun is really in the magazine. Again, I'd rather have a good airgun over an accurate replica in this department. The magazines are expensive and I had some minor leaking issues with mine. They should be user serviceable, and internally and functionally universal. They should also design all of them with a shock absorbing base pad.

*Blowback. Firstly, it's fun, let's face it. We're looking for recreation and action shooting here. More importantly this feature provides last round hold open which facilitates reload practice.

*Weight and steel BBs. The weight is not vital but it's important that you're training your body to move an object that weights about what a pistol weighs. Relatively speaking, there is a fair spread in weights from something like a Glock to an all steel 1911. If I could, I'd own 20 guns, probably across the weight gamut, so weight only needs to be about "like a gun". Running steel BBs is also a flexible requirement. Less surface area, more density, better outdoor performance than other options. You might be thinking this is pretty important if it's not important, because there are about a thousand airsoft guns and some of them might just be pretty good. Yeah maybe, and I might give that a shot one day. In a perfect world I would move up from steel BBs to lead pellets, stacked in the magazine just like firearm cartridges. Moreover the important factor here is that BBs and CO2 are readily available and very inexpensive.

Slide release in up and down positions.
So how did these guns fair on the requirements list? First and foremost they are poorly designed and both failed prematurely. Externally they are both very good replicas, though most likely they sacrifice air gun performance for realism. They both fail on external controls. The controls are correct, and feel right, they just don't work. The 1911 will not disengage the slide lock using a slingshot reload technique. The reason for this is a simple design flaw where the notch in the slide does not bump the slide catch when the slide is pulled fully to the rear - the notch is simply located in the wrong place. The Sig fails in the same category because slide lock is not consistent. Furthermore the slide catch is able to remain up by friction which causes it not to drop with gravity, so sling shot reloads are hit and miss. The 1911 magazines have no base pad, but overall the magazines are ok.

The fatal flaw in the KWC Sig X-Five is the method used to secure the mechanism which controls the CO2 delivery. It's retained by two screws (green arrow). These screws have coarse threads, are poor quality, and insufficient for the task. Because there is very little material to thread into, they extend up into the rear sight. Coarse threads are a poor choice given the softness of the metal the entire gun is made of and it takes little or no effort to strip these screws, and unlike a properly used machine screw, they naturally want to back out even with threadlocker applied. Once the screws are loose the entire unit (highlighted in green) falls out. This whole area is taking a lot of the forces involved in this gun and once the whole thing starts to drop down the gun jams. I returned the first one for this problem, but the problem is not one gun, it is the entire design. This mechanism should be pinned in rather than screwed in, or in some other way secured. This same part on the 1911 is secured slightly differently, but not much better and suffers from the same problem.

In this picture the green arrow points to a failure I didn't really expect. The tube seen in the picture seats the BB in the chamber and delivers the CO2. Directly below that is a small tab which strips the top BB from the magazine and guides it to the feed ramp. This part is made from a single piece of plastic. You will notice there is a small gap between the tube and the small tab.

This is a picture of the same part from the bottom - it is identical in both guns. The small tab meant to strip BBs from the magazine bent slightly upward. The plastic is soft and weak, and I theorize that this occurred when the entire mechanism became loose and dropped down slightly. This tiny difference causes it to jam on every single shot. This tiny failure itself makes the gun completely unusable.

This is a picture of the barrel and feed ramp. You will notice a hole above the feed ramp (green arrow), and below the barrel. The mechanism from the previous two images fits here and is the reason for the gap between the tube which seats the BB and the tab that strips the BB from the magazine. The gap has to be there, but at the same time creates a serious weak point. All of these guns work in exactly this same way. Once things start to get loose, then the internal parts of the system start to move out of place and the gun is done. Nothing breaks necessarily, although I can see no way to repair the bent portion, it's just a chain reaction of parts failing and it all comes back to two little screws.

How close did we come? Well pretty close. Poor design is the biggest problem. I could have overlooked some of the flaws if I had a solid product, but I absolutely cannot recommend these KWC Cyber Gun pistols. However, we got close simply because these things had a big number of the features necessary to generate some interest. My guess is that a lot of owners of these guns have non-functioning replicas sitting around and thought, oh well, it was fun for a minute. As a short term solution, the system that handles CO2 delivery needs to be made from better materials and properly secured in the slide. But for me it's more than someone making an air pistol that happens to be useful for more than plinking. I want to see air guns designed specifically for a new market. In fact, I have to ask myself what the goal really is for companies making replica air guns and I think they should ask themselves as well. I think the answer right now is, because they are cool, and that's it. In my original post I talked about what I think are the four aspects of shooting. First, is the romance of the firearm. Second, are the fundamentals of shooting. Third, is the challenge of the game. And fourth is practical firearm training. We've touched on a couple of these aspects here. If replica air guns are made because they are cool, that's really addressing the romance of the firearm. It gives people a different kind of access to something very similar to a real firearm but really only needs to fulfill the cool factor. Virtually all air guns address the basic fundamentals of shooting - sight alignment, trigger control - though perhaps not all of them in many cases. In my mind, these two aspects aren't nearly enough and I think it's clear that the interest is fairly low, even within the shooting community. The interest isn't gone however. There are a number of factors driving shooters to look for different avenues while at the same time a large expanded interest in shooting sports, action shooting, and practical firearm training. I also think that programs like NRA's 3 Gun Experience which includes rimfire and airsoft guns, indicate that there is some movement toward different shooting experiences.

As I said, I think we are seeing the very tip of an emerging market and there is only one way it's going to continue to grow - the air guns have to fit all four of the shooting aspects. It is not until I put my hands on an airgun that makes me want to go out, set up some targets, and run drills and isn't falling apart after 5,000 BBs or 10,000 BBs that we will have a new shooting experience that's worth while. I believe the guns from KWC / Cyber Gun could easily be made to last without significant changes, and that in itself is a shame. It's disheartening to have something that's so close, but just can't deliver because of a few design flaws.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rehanging Another Old Axe

rehanging and old axe
Well I managed to go seven months without purchasing a new axe to work on. Seven months ago I wrote a blog entry detailing the last axe I worked on and how I felt the addiction take hold. I had rehung an axe before that, but it was just a tool to me then. I didn't know anything about axes or picking a good handle and didn't really care either. It split wood just fine and lived outside. It's always interesting to look at the way your perceptions change and for me I can't always figure out exactly what factors came together to facilitate the change. Somehow I came to the realization that the standard 36 inch handle was too long for me. We had actually hung a 36 inch handle on a boys-size axe head. I didn't know. That was the handle the hardware store hand so that's the handle it got. Needless to say it took a LOT of fitting to make it work given the eye size difference. I am always watching outdoor kinds of youtube videos and I have always understood the value of the axe, I just hadn't made the deeper connection with the value they once had for people who did all manner of work with one. It was a necessity. It built houses, provided warmth and even income for many. There are many kinds of axes for special jobs, but just one axe has more potential uses than virtually any other tool, rivaled only by a knife. For a long time I've understood the intrigue of popular survival tools - little things that fit into tins, survival this, survival that. However, I've always been conflicted about them as well. Watching craftsman or any skilled person work with the tools of their trade has always been one of my favorite ways to learn. When you watch people who live and breath by their tools, you don't see them using any kind of nifty little survival gadgetry. Whether it's an axe, knife, or large jungle blade like the parang or e-nep, they are well rounded tools capable of a variety of daily living tasks and are combined with skills, not gimmicks.

And so my perceptions of the axe changed. I rehung that Wards axe in November, about the time we started burning wood for the year and it did a lot of splitting over the winter. Not only are axes always going to be useful for their intended purpose, there are tons (literally and figuratively) of them out there rotting away. To me that's unfortunate so there is the fun factor of finding a gem, saving it, and bringing it back to life.

Lately, my home town seems to be haunted by oppressive humidity which significantly hinders my micarta making process which in turn slows down my whole wallet project. Add in some rain, and cabin fever gets to me quick. I had to get out of the house so I swung by a local antique mall where I ran into a friend who was suffering from the same ailment and had a handful of old tools already picked out when I showed up. I had a 28 inch handle sitting around and what good is something like that without a head? Low and behold there it was, this Gambles Artisan axe with the smaller eye, in great shape. The internet can't tell me much about it and so I don't even know how old it is but I do know that Gambles was pretty much dead by the 80s as a company. Chances are it's pretty good. My file pretty much skittered across the bit without really digging in, so I feel good about the cutting edge. Overall, with a few splotches of blue paint that I suspect was its original color, the fact that the bit doesn't seem to have any extra rounding from years of sharpening, and the lack of abuse to the pole, I can conclude that this axe had very little use. It rested in one place for at least some period of time because one side has some minor pitting where it may have laid and it had been rehung. I suppose these are indications that it could be 30 or 40 years old, older if it was used very little throughout its life and kept in a dry place. 

Here it is in the condition I got it in. Very little rust and a scary grinding for a cutting edge. The line under the head on the handle is where I had already begun to drive the handle out. You can see that the previous owner used a file to fit the handle.

The grain on the old handle wasn't great but I liked the overall shape so I wanted to salvage it just in case.

Here is a better shot of the original condition.

Here are some of the markings - and you can see only minor pole abuse.

Here is the Gambles ARTISAN logo on the opposite side
So I managed to get the old handle off in one piece and here is my new House Handle. I got it from a local hardware store and it's not great. It may be hard to see but it kind of had this huge bulbous end and had lacquer on it. The nice part though is that I was able to reshape it to my liking and you can see my pencil lines in the picture basically where I cut the new profile. On my last handle they got stingy with the swell so I couldn't really change it, but in this case I had material to work with.
Here is the new shape. It's different and I like it.
The end grain here is nice and straight - a little wood burning going on too.
But toward the head it takes a turn. I've only used 2 House Handles but they seem to leave very little extra material for fitting and here you can see I had to drive in some filler pieces at the rear of the eye. I didn't get a picture but that gap was really only toward the top. From the bottom is fits very tight all the way around and I'm satisfied with that.
Something odd I didn't notice until I started grinding was these dips near the bit. I could see them being a functional feature, but they are only on one side and it makes me wonder if it's not just half-assed craftsmanship. If you look closely I was able to clear out almost all of the grinder marks except from these two low spots. The other side came out nicely which you can see in the picture at the very top. Here you also see a little streak of heartwood but nothing terrible. Overall it's a user, not a beauty queen and should work out fine.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Design Progression of My Micarta Wallets

I wanted that finishing touch feature for my wallets and I was thinking that I could maybe even make them a little lighter weight, but I couldn't quite figure it out. I made a couple with aluminum tubing and yes, that tiny bit of aluminum weighs nothing, although really a couple screws and the spacer I was using for the floor of my wallets before probably wasn't all that heavy - and necessary for a clip. The postman told me my shipping weight was 4oz, which suggests to me that the wallet must only weigh about 3oz or so. But then I tried out a piece of brass. Yes, it weighs more than the aluminum tubing and it costs more, but it does add that little something extra that a couple screws in the bottom just didn't do. I really like it and it gave me yet another idea that will be seen very soon. I've got plans.

Now, I'd like to get some feedback (so post some comments if you wanna) but I am really looking to phase out the clips. I've got 10 of them ... or 9 .... I've got a handful of them in stock and I'm not looking to get more. I think the "idea" of them is nice. People have to put cash somewhere. It's like a value adder I guess. But I think it's clunky and I just stuff money inside the wallet and call it good. I pay with a credit card 99 times out of 100 anyway. I have talked about pricing multiple times in these posts but the bottom line is, the complexity, extra steps and cost of including the clips is going to force the price up. OK if you love the idea of the clip so much that you are cool with more money, leave a comment. I will make them. But have no fear, I am working on a different way to secure your currency and possibly the modularity to choose whether you want it or not.

So here are some shots of the new designs and as of this writing there are some available in my Etsy Store.

minimalist wallet front pocket wallet

An awesome new color combo that I am really happy with!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thrunite T10 Series In For Testing

high value edc flashlights
Thrunite T10s and T10.
When I originally saw the Thrunite T10s I guess I wasn't thrilled. I honestly can't fully say why except it seemed to me at the time that making it from stainless steel didn't do much beyond increase the price and the weight. I can even recall commenting on this in one forum thread or another and it went to the back of my mind to be forgotten. I don't know the exact order they came in but eventually the line expanded to a titanium version and finally an aluminum version. Somewhere in there I stumbled across them again and at $30 the aluminum version, with everything that's included, easily falls into the good value category for EDC flashlights. The major highlights are the pocket clip, size and form factor, mode spacing, and the steel switch cover and bezel. You also get a few goodies in the nice little tin it's packaged in, including a diffuser. Another member of the OS crew was looking for a new light and so, the deal was struck. I guess it's evidence of how our perceptions change over time, although it has to be said that the Thrunite T10 checks all the boxes for my EDC flashlight requirements nearly without exception. I see the benefits of various features of flashlights and so I don't think I have a perfect light - each one has its place - but somehow the T10s went from not thrilling, to essentially my "grail" light if you will. I say it that way because it costs a little more than I would typically want to spend, and it's a little nicer than I find absolutely necessary, so rather than grail, I am inclined to say that for me, if I wanted to step up to a little nicer light that I think is probably pretty high quality, this one is it. There is a series of youtube videos in which they abuse the T10s and are proof enough to me that it is a tank. So even the stainless "s" version strikes me as a good value at $40. But this isn't really a review so much as an introduction. There aren't a lot of reviews out there yet, and even though the one I mentioned is very compelling and thorough, I feel like a fair amount of testing is in order before I can write one. With two T10 models now in rotation, and having a couple weeks of use already done, I should be able to put some useful thoughts out there in another few weeks.
Thrunite T10s review
Here you are seeing the aluminum T10 (black), the T10s (center), and the Solarforce Z2 (gray).

Thrunite Saber 2014
The Solarforce Z2 is a spectacular value and excellent product. To the left of the image you are seeing the Thrunite Saber 2014 which comes with two tubes, one for AA and one for CR123.
EDC rotation budget EDC
So this is my current EDC rotation with the T10s, my customized Boker Magnum Slicer, and of course an O'Dell Studios Micarta Card Wallet.

Even with all the modifications and new parts, the Slicer costs less than the T10s.