You might be surprised to learn that, while living in Southern Arizona, I sweat a little bit in the summer.
I've had problems with many carry guns rusting. At first, I thought it was just inadequate finishes. My Kimber 1911 with its blued finish quickly rusted in a leather holster, and even a switch to a kydex holster didn't help. I bought stainless firearms - Sigs, Kimbers, and Smith & Wesson revolvers. They developed rust as well. I even had a Smith & Wesson M&P - stainless steel with a Melonite finish - rust. I've also caused Glocks to rust, as you can see from the following photos. All of this happened on the very first day that I carried the firearm, and all were properly wiped down with CLP before carry.
You can see here how nasty my Kimber looked after several years of carry and hard use.
Obviously, I could have had any of my firearms refinished by Robar in their NP3 finish, but with several carry guns, I would have spent close to $1000 doing so, and would have been without my firearms for several months. I was about to give up and just live with the rust, when I found the Caswell Plating website. They offer many different do-it-yourself finish kits, and I finally settled on their electroless nickel plating kit. I ordered the "standard" kit, which was about $125 after shipping costs were added in.
Here are the contents of the kit. They also include an excellent manual which is a great reference for all kinds of refinishing, and a 2.5 gallon bucket suitable for firearms refinishing. You have to mix the chemicals according to a very simple formula. Basic math here.
The first step is removing the old finish. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is with a 5% muriatic acid and water solution. The bottle was $3 at Ace Hardware.
The finish literally slid off the slide, without any scrubbing. Thank you, Kimber, for putting out a product with such a high quality finish...I'm rolling my eyes right now.
I've done several more firearms since, and have decided to use blasting media to remove the finish from anything that I plate. This is better for getting the last little bit of finish out of a crack or pin hole. It's also faster and less hazardous/smelly, but if you don't have access to a blasting cabinet, you might want to stick with the muriatic acid solution.
One other benefit to blasting, I'm told, is that the finish is more likely to "stick".
Once you've stripped the finish, you need to degrease the part. I've found that the "industrial degreaser" concentrate sold in a purple gallon jug at Home Depot works very well for this. I try not to touch the items after I blast them, and I use a hooked dental pick to "swish" them around in the degreaser solution for about 15-20 seconds.
After the part is degreased, thoroughly spray it down with distilled water. If there is any oil or grease still on the part, the water will bead up. If not, the water will sheet off evenly. This is called the "water break test", and it's very important. Don't plate something that has oil or grease on it anywhere; the nickel won't plate there.
I should say that I start to heat up the solution before I degrease the part and spray it down, or in the hour or so it takes for the solution to reach 185 degrees, the part might rust. You can fix this, but it's simpler to avoid it in the first place.
So, once the solution is at least 180, and preferably 185-195 (but NO HIGHER than 195!), I place the parts in the bucket. Those balls are "mist control balls", designed to limit evaporation. You can keep adding distilled water to bring it up to the original water mark, by the way.
At this point, you just wait. Sometimes I flip parts upside down or on their sides at regular intervals, because the portions touching the bucket might not plate at the same rate. I do this with a clean dental pick, no hands in the bucket, gloved or not.
The parts plate at a rate of 1 mil per hour. 1 mil is 1/1000 of an inch. Robar apparently does 2 mils when they do NP3 and Electroless Nickel. Caswell says .5 mil for firearms, but this is not enough for me, as I've caused rust on firearms with .5mil of electroless nickel. I had to redo the process and ended up with 1.5mil as "good enough" - a balance between corrosion resistance and fit.
After the hour or so, I pull the parts out and put them in a small bucket of distilled water.
They're going to be hot, in case you didn't know.
That's pretty much it. It's a simple process, but the prep work is the most important and determines your success or failure. And the methods - blasting, scrubbing, polishing - determine what the finish looks like after you're done. I prefer the frosted, matte finish that comes from blasting. This is most evident on the two Glocks below.
Here are some of the items I've plated.
Oh, and that ugly 1911?
I like 1911 style handguns. I have owned several exceptionally reliable and accurate examples of the breed. However, I don't think 1911s are for everyone.
Why? And why do I make a distinction between a "1911" and a "1911 style handgun?"
Well, they require a little more upkeep than some of the pistols available today. While they generally last a very long time, when certain parts do need to be replaced, they need to be properly fitted to the other parts in the pistol. Also, many 1911s manufactured today are not made to the same high standards that 1911s made during World War I and World War II were made to. Today, any company can produce a pistol that looks and feels like a 1911, but is a far cry from the original in terms of materials quality and build quality. A Colt 1911A1 produced to wartime standards is a far better combat handgun than a "modern" 1911 manufactured in a third world country with subpar materials and workmanship.
Even a quality example, made in the US and commanding a premium, might not be perfect. Many calibers have been stuffed into the pistol, and many changes have been made in the name of accuracy or "fit". Smaller versions have been manufactured for concealed carry. None of these will be as reliable as a Government Model-pattern 1911 in .45 caliber, although many may be very reliable. The problem is that they are hit and miss.
Unless you have the tools, knowledge, and parts required to identify and repair problems that might arise with a 1911 type handgun, you should plan on spending money having the weapon fixed by a competent gunsmith. If you're not willing to do either, this is probably not the firearm for you.
My luck with 1911s has been mixed. I've had a few that ran great for thousands of rounds. This Kimber .45, for example, wasn't cleaned for several thousand rounds, and during that time, I experienced no issues with either FMJ or JHP bullet designs. My only motivation to clean it was that my hands would become filthy just from picking it up.
Another reason the 1911 and its clones aren't viable for most people is cost. $650-700 1911s are really hit or miss, and while you might get lucky like me, you might also get one that requires a little work to run. Once they do run, they run very well, and the trigger allows even newcomers to shoot with very good accuracy. Experienced shooters also benefit from these same attributes, and this is why you'll see a lot of 1911s used in competitions and also in the hands of some very proficient military and law enforcement folks. These guys have armorers to ensure that everything is in proper working order, though. You're not likely to have that same advantage.
Unless you're willing to dive headfirst into learning about the design and function of your handgun, a 1911 probably isn't the best choice.
If you've been in a gun store at least once, you've probably heard an opinion about a firearm, good or bad. You've probably also heard some outlandish stories, too. I tried working in a gun store, and I could only take it for about six months. There's an incredible amount of misinformation out there, and if you're new to the world of shooting, it's going to be next to impossible for you to sort through the bad and find the good.
I wouldn't dream of trying to put every bit of information I could think of in one article, mainly because I don't have all the answers, and I'm not intending this to be some sort of reference for any particular firearm. I might mention brand or model names as being a good choice for one particular situation, but please, do more research before making a purchase.
Whether I'm in a gun store, at the range, or browsing forums online, I invariably find someone who's willing to explain to me how I've made the wrong choice in firearms, for a variety of reasons. I'll hear things such as, "Oh, that rifle isn't reliable," or "This is what (insert name of special operations unit here) uses, so I bought it." I'll also hear interesting observations on tactics from people who've never heard a shot fired in anger, such as "If you use a light at night, you'll get shot," or "You can just rack the action of the shotgun, and the bad guys will run away." We also hear that "All you need is one round of .40".
Well, reality begs to differ. For the most part, any quality name brand weapon is going to be reliable. This includes, but is not limited to, Beretta, Colt, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Remington, Sig Sauer, Springfield, etc. That doesn't mean you should blindly trust something out of the box - fire it thoroughly to ensure proper function. However, if a gun store employee tries to tell you that a Beretta 92FS is unreliable and will get you killed, or that AR-15s don't work unless they're clean enough to eat off of, just smile and nod.
- The Beretta 92FS is one of the most accurate service pistols available today. Its undeservedly negative reputation comes from poor maintenance and bad magazines supplied to the US Military. Out of the box, it's an exceptionally reliable firearm.
We also hear about who uses what, but generally without the why, where, and when. Yes, US Navy SEALs use M4s with 10.3" barrels, among other rifles. They have the HK Mk 23 handgun, which doubles as a boat anchor. They use a lot of different weapons systems, but they have specific needs for those weapons. SEALs have many missions, one of which is called VBSS, Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure. This relates to merchant ships, warships, pirate vessels, etc. These are very confined spaces, requiring short rifles for maneuverability. In other words, unless you live on an oil tanker, maybe having the same rifle that the SEALs do isn't going to do you much good.
As for weapon mounted lights, that's a topic for another day, but suffice it to say that I know of no one who kills bad guys for a living that doesn't use a white light when appropriate. I know I just contradicted myself, with the discussion of "don't pay attention to what the cool guys use", but when everyone who does it agrees on one point...the importance of a light becomes obvious. It's as important for you as it is for them, or you'll end up like this guy and kill your fiancée because you didn't identify your target. Learn from this man's tragic mistake - don't shoot at dark shapes.
Shotguns can be very effective weapons, but with the increasing prevalence of home invaders wearing body armor, the shotgun has to take a backseat to the rifle or carbine. Many people fall into the trap of the shotgun being an easy to use, easy to hit with weapon that requires no training. You just pick up a shotgun and rack the action, causing the bad guys to poop themselves, then you fire in their general direction and a 12" hole appears in their chest, causing them to fly backwards through the nearest window, right? Unfortunately, this is just one of many cases where the movie industry has not done folks in the firearms training world any favors. In the right hands, a shotgun is a very effective weapon, with certain limitations. In the wrong hands, it's far from effective, as this wonderful video from the good folks at Adco Firearms shows. Just ignore the comments below the video - those people have spent too much time at gun stores.
Your first priority in the defensive use of a firearm has to be ensuring that you are justified in using deadly force against a potential threat. Next, you need to put rounds in the right place on that threat until it stops being a threat. Everything else is secondary. As Officer Soulis and Officer Borders discovered, having a .40 or .45 caliber handgun is by itself not sufficient to stop a threat. 9mm, despite being vilified mostly by folks who have little knowledge of terminal ballistics, is very effective when the proper load is selected. I was once informed by a gun store employee that 9mm was a bad choice for self defense because it would over penetrate the target. 10 minutes later, he was telling me how a Carhartt jacket "stopped a 9mm bullet fired at point blank range." If that was true, I'd buy more Carhartt jackets. As it was, I simply smiled and nodded.
The discussions between handgun, carbine and shotgun have been going on for a while, and will probably continue to go on for decades, or until the introduction of the phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range. While handguns are easily concealed or, more importantly, kept out of reach of children, shotguns are more effective from a terminal ballistics standpoint. Handguns are more easily fired with one hand than a rifle, which might be important if one was trying to keep a panicked child out of the line of fire, but rifles and carbines are faster and more accurate at close range.
Each weapon has benefits and drawbacks, but the most important aspect of a weapon, in my opinion, is your willingness to practice with it. If you have an 8 gauge shotgun by your bed that you've only fired once because it dislocated your shoulder, you probably won't stand a chance against three or four determined home invaders who, despite popular belief,regularly train with their weapons. You need to be proficient with your firearm, or you might be found liable in either criminal or civil court should you miss your target - and that's if you survive the armed encounter. As many folks like to say, there's a lawyer attached to every round you fire.
Recently, a news story broke about US weapon malfunctions during firefights in Afghanistan.
For many, this was a chance to renew their attack on the supposedly faulty Colt M4s in use by our troops overseas. For others - mostly, the troops who had been overseas with the weapons - this was something to scratch their heads about.
My experiences with issued Colt M4s, M16A2s and FN M16A4s were nothing short of stellar. Despite claims - mostly by the uninformed - of constant maintenance requirements, I only cleaned mine when the outside turned brown. I properly lubricated my issued rifle, and I was also lucky to have a good armorer who made sure that my rifles had parts replaced when necessary. I made sure I had good, working magazines. As a result, I was rewarded with exceptional performance from my M4. I had similar results with my M249 SAW - though I spent far more time maintaining that weapon.
So I'm always a little suspicious when I see claims of M4s going down in combat.
One of the biggest problems is when Soldiers and Marines try to use their rifle in a manner other than that which was originally intended. As I was taught by an 0331 (Marine machine gunner) during a crew served weapon course, "You are there because the rifles have failed." In other words, machine guns lay down suppressive fire, enabling the rifles to take precision shots, or at least aimed fire at the enemy. When this doctrine breaks down and everyone goes cyclic - that is, firing as many rounds as they can, as fast as they can - either everyone is going to run out of ammunition, or machine gun barrels are going to overheat and warp, or rifle barrels are going to literally split. When things get really hairy, rifles and machine guns are going to be disabled due to enemy rifle, machine gun and RPG fire, as well as indirect fire from mortars and rockets.
Now, the issues here go beyond weapons. The Soldiers were forced to defend themselves against a much larger force that was attempting to suppress the main group of Americans in order to (presumably) capture a few at an observation post. They had no air or arty support, and their leaders apparently didn't make friends with the local populace - this resulted in the deaths of 9 American Soldiers. Their actions that day in the face of an overwhelming force were heroic, and their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
Unfortunately, an incorrect thought process persists among many officers and senior enlisted - that the rifles should be scrubbed clean as often as possible, and that oil should not be added to the weapon, for it will "attract dust and dirt". Soldiers and Marines have been dying because of this absolute garbage since the introduction of the Garand in combat operations in the Pacific during WWII. Proper lubrication is vital for any semiautomatic or automatic weapon. I learned that lesson today with my Glock 26 pistol, which had some dirt inadvertently thrown on it during the following test. It malfunctioned 6 times in one magazine before I disassembled it and properly oiled it, as I had been negligent in keeping it lubricated. After that, it functioned perfectly.
Now, with that discussion out of the way - if I were to redeploy to Iraq, or deploy to Afghanistan, I'd feel very well equipped with a Colt M4.
To demonstrate why, I made a short video today while I was at the range with a friend. The rifle in this video is composed of a Smith & Wesson M&P15R upper in 5.45x39 caliber on a cheap forged lower. The upper receiver assembly has been modified from stock - the bolt and bolt carrier, as well as the muzzle device, have been electroless nickel plated for corrosion resistance. The lower receiver, as well, has had its internal parts electroless nickel plated. I use a Spike's Tactical ST-T2 buffer, as the surplus Russian ammunition used in the test is fairly hot. The rifle was properly lubricated with FP-10.
CProducts, LLC, makes the only 5.45 AR-15 magazines. Unfortunately, they are poorly designed and manufactured, and I modified another magazine follower to work in them - although capacity is reduced to 28 rounds, they now function flawlessly. The followers I used in this test were actually my rejects or seconds, and that is why the bolt was not held open after the last shot in each mag.
112 rounds were fired in almost exactly 1 minute, with no malfunctions.
I would have felt confident repeating the test and would expect similar results, but the weapon was getting very hot - the vertical grip was hot to the touch, the receivers were almost too hot to touch, and the barrel was blistering hot. This test was not a realistic demonstration of how a rifle should be used in combat, but rather a demonstration of what the rifle is capable of when stressed to the limit.
After a comparison test I did between the American Defense and LaRue Tactical Aimpoint mounts, I was offered a free Bobro T&E mount by Primary Arms, a Bobro dealer.
When I pulled the mount out of the box, I first noticed that the mount seemed exceptionally well machined, although the design initially appeared to be overly complex. There are a lot more screws and springs on this mount than either the ADM or LaRue, and in my experience, while such designs may initially appear to work well in the lab, field testing normally goes awry.
The method for installing the Aimpoint itself is, in my opinion, preferable to the vertical split rings of the ADM and LaRue. The top half of the ring has studs, to which you attach 12pt nuts. This is very secure and hard to screw up. From an end-user standpoint, this is actually the simplest of the three mounts.
As I spent more and more time with the mount in actual use, I became more and more impressed with it. The reason the mechanism is complicated is that it is self-adjusting. While the LaRue is adjustable, you need a wrench (though needlenose pliers found in a multitool will work in a pinch), and when it's properly adjusted, it's supposed to be difficult to remove. The ADM mount is adjustable for a wider range of rails, and this adjustment can be done by hand, but the Bobro is truly unique in that it adjusts itself.
The mechanism, while complex, doesn't seem to be weak, fragile or otherwise unsuited for hard use. It's easy to remove and install with one hand on a variety of rails - in fact, when removing the mount, the arm will swing out with enthusiasm, and I recommend not having any fingers in the way. That said, you have to disengage the "lock", so it's not coming off on its own. Here's a close up view of what I'm talking about. The lever is gray, the lock is black. Installation and removal on a rail is a very simple process.
I've tested and tested this mount, and it has yet to disappoint. It doesn't lose zero and you can attach it to any rail, even one covered in dirt. It's pricey, but I've learned that in the world of firearms, you get what you pay for. This is, in my opinion, the best Aimpoint mount available today.