Gun smithing, contrary to the belief of some it’s just another activity involving machinery. Not some crazy voodoo practiced by mad magicians of metal. Working on a gun is really not all that much different than a car, it’s just smaller, more reliable and perhaps a little less dangerous. Though both are incredibly dangerous if you are incompetent, or sloppy. Unfortunately knowledge of car repair seems to be more and more occulted lately, but I digress. I have been studying gun smithing on and off for the past few years and have picked up a few tricks. Unfortunately I am a visual learner, you can give me a book and I can read it a dozen times and not quite get it. Especially if the it in question is a mechanical subject. But, you hand me an instruction manual and the device it’s for. In a couple hours I will have it running like a top.
I first heard about Paul Liebenberg in the excellent book, Bren Ten, the heir apparent by Ronald A Carrillo. I have an inscribed copy, an absolute must read for anyone wanting to get into the gun business, or an automatic pistol fan. Liebenberg was credited as one of the inventors of the 40 S&W cartridge. The book also lies down that there was a great deal of work that went into creating this round. Quite contrary to the popular belief that some enterprising engineer at Smith & Wesson simply saw a 10MM round and hacked off a few millimeters of length.
What really got my attention about Liebenberg though was the excerpts of his comments on the 10MM cartridge and pistol design in general. There is a persistent belief that the ten is a murderously overpowered round which requires an absurdly heavy slide or preferably a 6 inch long-slide to absorb its energy or else the frame of the pistol will crack.
This is a half truth, the real problem is that many 10MMs are redone 45s and many 40 S&Ws are reconfigured 9MMs. They are configured for the feed cycle of those cartridges which are of a different size and lesser power. After reading this I sought out Liebenberg and asked more about this. Now, this was a long time ago, but I remember he said that when you are building a 10MM you need to redesign a locked breech pistol to hold together as long as possible. To absorb it’s greater energy, the gun also needs a stronger mainspring. But you don’t need to hang an extra pound of weight on your pistol to make it work. So when you want to buy a 10MM or 40 S&W pull the slide back slowly and see how long the barrel and slide travel together before they separate as part of the feed cycle.
I quickly found out that the slide and barrel of my EAA Witness Elite Match in 10MM held together for quite a distance. Almost a full centimeter if memory serves. Also that my 40 caliber Stoeger (formerly Beretta) Cougar. Though a spinning barrel design, held together significantly longer than a 9MM model I compared it too. Man, I really miss both those guns.
Later on I pawed around with various pistols in shops and found that Kimber 10MM pistols don’t hold together long enough. Dan Wesson 10MMs do, I don’t remember if Colt Delta Elites do, haven’t seen one in years that wasn’t zip tied together at a gun show. But the old Delta Elites were infamous for cracking with overpowered 10MM ammo. The one Wilson combat 10MM I handled not only prematurely unlocked but was driven by a mainspring so strong I could barely pull the slide back. A shocking twist for such a beautiful weapon from such a notable builder. I haven’t been able to get my hands on an STI 10MM. The new Rock Island 10MM 1911 looks like it holds together nicely. But I only had it in my hands for about three minutes. Of course the tiny handful of 10MM and 40 S&W revolvers have no such concerns.
I had a look at Liebenberg’s Pistol Dynamics website and I was rather impressed with his products. Then I forgot about all this until I read an article about some of the 100 year commemorative 1911 pistols made a couple years ago, one of which was made by Pistol Dynamics. Ooh it was beautiful, I really really wanted it. Though I would have had to have robbed a bank, probably two of the ghetto, cracker box banks around my home to pay for it. If I could have acquired the money honestly I would have gotten it.
A little while later I heard that Liebenberg had made a DVD on gun smithing 1911 pistols. Figuring that this was the only product he made I could ever afford I wanted to buy it, but then I completely forgot about all this, yet again.
Then there was a recent article about Pistol Dynamics in some gun magazine. I jammed over to Amazon.
And picked up the DVD. Then I had to wait and wait and wait to watch the thing. Then people kept interrupting me throughout the whole bloody thing!
Disclaimer, it is quite long, spread over 2 discs. Bizarrely it doesn’t say how long the feature is on the box, but I would guess six hours. Also most of it is going to simply be watching one guy work with files, milling machines and whatnot. If you are looking for lots of explosions, moronic drama and not all that much actual gun smithing try Sons of Guns. But if you have an appreciation for clear, quantifiable knowledge, such as what was seen in Firearms Training and the Nonaggression Principle, read on.
Finally last night I finished watching it. It was incredible, first off this is advanced knowledge. There are disclaimers throughout to say that attempting to do this sort of thing could void the warranty of the pistol being worked on. It is exceedingly long, detailed and gets into stuff far beyond the purview of the shade-tree gunsmith. Especially the stuff utilizing a Bridgeport milling machine. The video starts with an introduction to the instructor and a bone stock 45 caliber stainless steel Colt 1911. Then most of the parts get switched out, and a whole lot of metal is whittled off the thing. I would guess that Liebenberg cuts off at least an ounce of metal.
Liebenberg is an excellent instructor, though his South African accent and some of the more specialized technical jargon requires rewinding at points. But his technique of gun building and modification is based on hard science, careful measurements repeatability and reliability. Making components blend together better and with better functionality. Not the kind of random bolting shit together or filing things down that one sees entirely too often. Although his work clearly reflects a consciousness towards ascetic concerns it comes across that for decades he has made guns for competitive shooters to send tens of thousands of rounds downrange, or if need be. To shoot villains in the face on what will probably be the worst day of your life.
At the end of the DVD Liebenberg leaves the viewer with a very Feensesque message. Essentially the message is, “now that you know how to do all this stuff go and do it yourself. You can do this as a hobby, or you can make a business out of it. You will probably make mistakes, but it’s a lot of fun, and there is a market for this sort of ability.”
Many feens will probably not seek out or appreciate such information. It is mighty specialized, it’s also a bit expensive at around $40. Though trust me when I say it is worth it. I am the only person who has reviewed this DVD so far on Amazon. Most of the gun enthusiasts who read this blog are probably Glock, XD or some other plastic gun, user. That’s just fine, it has been said, by the Gun Dudes podcast and at least one nationally respected trainer, Larry Vickers I think? That 1911 pistols are a lifestyle. That they are something you have to take care of, they are not just an un ergonomic bit of metal and polymer that always goes bang unless you throw it in a wood chipper. It is a 100+ year old design after all. How many people who regularly carry guns trust their lives to 70 or 50 year old designs? To my knowledge there is the Walther PPK, perhaps the 1911 derived Tokarev and that’s about it.
But if you are interested in the 1911 pistol, are thinking about getting into gun smithing. Or you know that a properly built, tuned and maintained 1911 is a superb pistol then I think you will enjoy this presentation. I rate it a solid 5/5.