Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sig P320/B&T SBR

I'm not a huge fan of the P320 as a handgun.  My first was an early Compact model in 9mm.  It was reliable and one of the easiest guns for me to shoot accurately.  There wasn't anything that made it "bad", but it bugged the crap out of me.  The grip angle was too vertical and it pointed low, in the same way factory Glocks point high.  The slide was obese.  I hate how they re-purposed the tall bore axis and chunky slide from a hammer fired design (P250).  It's inefficient compared to the slides of every other gun that was designed around a striker.  Speaking of bore axis, while muzzle flip was only slightly more pronounced, having the sights so high up meant I'd be staring at the back of the grip tang when I presented from a draw.  Old habits are hard to break after years of Glocks, M&Ps, CZs, VP9's, and PPQs.  I sold it a few years ago without a second thought.
My first P320 circa 2014
So why after all these years did I get another one?  Brugger & Thomet.  B&T announced a P320 grip module with a folding stock at SHOT Show 2018.  The ideal of a tiny PDW seemed like a neat concept.  Also, with such a short stock, the more vertical grip angle becomes a blessing.  Looking at PDW's or guns like the MP7 or TMP, they often have near vertical grips so the shooter's wrist doesn't have to crane forward.  The tall slide puts the RMR more inline with the shooter's eye.

So I found a P320 TacOps to use as a host and immediately submitted the SBR paperwork.  While waiting for my stamp, I sent the slide off to JagerWerks for RMR cut, serrations, and Cerakote.  I also tried two different triggers, the GrayGuns Curved and Apex Advanced Flat Trigger with Apex's FS Trigger Bar.
JagerWerks never disappoints.
After playing around with them, I settled on the GrayGuns curved trigger.  It was lighter, smoother, and despite a mushier reset, I shot it better.  When my stamp finally arrived, it was only then that I could pickup the B&T USW-320 grip module I had purchased months earlier.  After a quick trip to a local laser engraver, I was ready to finally get some shoulder-fired action.

P320 trigger comparisons

The module is a neat little piece of kit.  The polymer feels dense and solid.  Getting the serialized FCU in and out of the grip takes some effort.  The grip is smaller than the medium module, and the slides are flatter.  The cross section is more Glock-like in profile.  The stock locks positively in the extended position, but I'm concerned that the polymer will wear against the spring loaded metal latch.  A small spring loaded plunger sticks out the right side to push against the stock when it's locked closed.  Pushing a small nub just above the Pic rail unlocks the stock and it swings out about 30 degrees.  It's easy to flip the stock open with either hand.  The stock locks closed with a very small molded hook.  Again, I feel like repeated latching will eventually snap the tip off.  It probably won't but I don't want to take chances.  The stock closes flat on both my TLR1-HL and X300U weapon lights, although it does contact the TLR.

So how does the little rifle shoot?  It's annoying.  If you've every felt your cheek get slapped by the stock on a G3 or AK with a wire stock, this is similar.  The angle and thin diameter of the stock rest directly under my cheekbone.  I have to press hard into it to get my eye behind the RMR, so every time the gun cycles, I feel the slide impact and reverberate through my skull.  With a suppressor,  the back pressure sends hot particles right into my face, which is less than a foot behind the ejection port.  However, shots out to 100 yards and one-handed shooting are a breeze. With the stock folded, all the extra weight makes recoil feel like a staple gun.  Working indoors is much simpler due to its short length and light weight.  Unlike my rifles, I can easily dial 911, work a doorway, or scoop up one of the kids and still have the ability to shoot accurately.  So while I won't be shooting PCC or carrying the gun anytime soon, it does fill a nice role in the bedside HD safe.


CZ SP-01 Tactical Carry Optics Build

In late 2018 I decided I wanted to get into USPSA, specifically Carry Optics.  I had built a Glock 34 but didn't get a chance to shoot my first real match until early 2019.  By May, I had shot enough classifiers to find myself knocking on B class.  I realized that sporadic dry-fire and listening to podcasts wasn't going to get me into A class anytime soon.  I built a dry-fire practice range in my office and started looking into dedicated competition gear.

Dry-fire Range.  Nerf for the kiddos...and me.
I showed up to my next match with a Shooter's Connection double belt, Double Alpha Academy mag pouches, and a Blade-Tech G34 holster on a BOSS hanger.  Unfortunately, all my shiny gear couldn't save me from a lot of mental errors.  In one stage, I had a stovepipe, skipped a reload, and ran dry in the middle of an array.  More dry-fire and Steve Anderson's "match mode" practice was in order.  On the equipment side, my 21-round Magpul magazines had become unreliable.  I was getting multiple stovepipes per match, and having two fewer rounds than the CZ guys was occasionally handicapping my stage plans.  I remember looking longingly at the Shadow2s and 2011s of my fellow competitors.

Now, my unofficial motto is "why practice when you can just buy new gear?"  I needed to replace my Magpul mags with OEM 17-rounders and EGW +5 extensions.  But spending $300 on five magazines meant it was time to clean out the safe and free up some cash.  When I took my seldom shot P-07 to my LGS to ship it off to its new owner, I spotted an SP-01 Tactical in the display case.  The clerk told me it was a used SP-01 Tactical coming off the range rental program for $350.  It looked like it had hardly been shot (why would anyone rent this when there's a Shadow2 hanging next to it?) and I figured I could get some go-fast parts from Cajun Gun Works with the money I saved.  Worse case, it would be a fun experiment.  One 4473 later and the SP-01 was heading home.  Right off the bat I bought two more mags and 140mm extensions from CZC.  From Cajun Gun Works, I ordered their Pro trigger kit, 10X bushing, stainless guide rod, Shadow2 mag release, and an assortment of recoil and hammer springs.  I needed a holster, so one from RedHill fit the bill.  Last, I ordered a set of LOK grips and a G10 mag button to finish it out.  This may have been an experiment, but I wanted to give it the best chance to succeed.  There would be no half-measures taken.

Coming home.

After a lot of stoning, wet sanding, and polishing of the internals, I got the DA slicked down to just under 6lbs and the SA trigger to 2lbs 10oz.  Unlike a striker-fired gun, getting eveything flat and smooth was a lot more tedious.  The rage inducing "D" sear cage assembly took quite a few online tutorials to figure out.  But the biggest problem was getting an optic mounted.  My first choice was the Trijicon RMR.  But the wide mounting hole spacing meant an adapter plate would be needed.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any place that would mill one low enough for my liking.  My plan was to start with the RMR, then switch to an SRO when they were released.  I wanted the optic mounted as low as possible since the SRO's window sits higher than the RMR.  I could've made my life easier by going with a DeltaPoint Pro, but I wanted the robust electronics of the Trijicon offerings.  To tide me over, I picked up a Springer Precision dovetail mount and hit the range.

Carry Optics guns.  LOK CZ-75 Palmswell Grips.
The shot beautifully...for the first magazine.  Then the groups started opening up.  Even from a rest I couldn't keep my shots in the black from seven yards.  I was confused because I had fired it with the iron sights and had no accuracy problems.  When I got home, I tore into the pistol.  As it turns out, the mount was loose.  Even though it had required several taps from a nylon hammer to get installed, the aluminum mount was loose in the rear dovetail despite only shooting minor PF loads.  The tiny setscrews just didn't have enough bite to keep the mount steady.  I also didn't like how high the optic sat, and I didn't want to have to re-learn my draw and index to accommodate a plate that looks like an afterthought.  Most companies required a Trijicon 1911 adapter plate for RMR mounting.  Not only did this add $200 to the cost of an already $300 job, but the plate has tritium rear sights and the optic sits nearly level with the top of the slide.  Both were a no go for me.  CZC has a custom plate setup that sits pretty low, but I wanted a gap free mount.  I realized that the only way I was going to be happy would be to do it myself.  First I took a bunch of slide measurements, then drew up a quick diagram.  After a lot of math, I realized I could cut slightly into the FP retainer pin channel since I'd swapped the roll pin for a CGW slotted pin.   Then I made a mock slide and milled a pocket to test my CNC programming skills.
2nd of 5 revisions.

Confident my design was sound, I bought a Trijicon gunsmith RMR mount.  But before I could start milling, I had to make a jig that mirrored the mounting screws and recoil lugs.  Otherwise, there was no way to hold the plate in the vise as I thinned it.  With the plate firmly bolted to the jig, I milled the steel block to 0.110", just thick enough to give the RMR mounting screws the minimum three full turns of thread engagement.  Using the CNC, I located the four mounting screw holes and countersunk them for M3 screws.

I then milled the pocket into the slide, and drilled and tapped the mounting screw threads.  I chose M3 screws because they were small enough to stay well clear of the internal channels in the slide, and the fine threads would resist vibration.  With four of them holding the slide, plus the tight fit of the pocket, I'd have a rock-solid mount for my optic.  One issue I had was with the FP block.  I couldn't disable it and be USPSA legal, so I extended the tunnel into the mounting plate, and used the bottom of the optic to contain the spring.  The end result was an RMR mounted to the same depth as my milled Glocks.

LOK Shadow2 Palmswell Grips
The last step was to mill cocking serrations into the plate.  The front serrations were too short, too shallow, and too far to the rear to use reliably for unloaded starts.  I prefer not to use the optic body as a slide racker, so milling rear serrations was the best choice.  I chose to use the same depth and spacing as my Glocks.  Then I shipped the slide and plate to Mac Defense for Cerakote and started figuring out my grips.  Originally I ordered LOK CZ-75 Palmwells, but I didn't like how wide they were at the top.  I contacted LOK, and they recommended Shadow 2 Palmswells.  They made it easy to exchange my grips, but I still wasn't 100% happy with them.  The fit and finish were excellent, but the upper portion of the grip was meant for models with a thumb safety and didn't extend very far up the slide of the gun, so my support palm was landing in the smooth space between the slide release and grip panel.  Again, I contacted LOK and asked if I could get a custom panel made.  They told me I could just order Shadow2 grips with "high top" written in the order comments.  They even let me exchange my grips again!  By the time my 3rd set of grips arrived, my slide and plate were back from MAC Defense.
LOK Shadow2 Palmswells with "High Top"
While reassembling the slide and fitting the 10X bushing, I installed a Dawson fiber optic front sight, not really as a backup, but to keep the bushing retaining pin in place.  Plus, occasionally a stage will call for not only weak-hand shooting, but weak-hand from an odd shooting position, like a low port or awkward lean.  I sometimes lose the dot while getting into these positions, so having a front sight I can use like a shotgun bead helps me orient my gun.  With target focused shooting, the front sight is out of focus, and the green rod could never be confused for the optic's much brighter red dot.

Fiber Optic Front Sight, 10X Bushing, and SS Guide Rod
With everything squared away and lubed, I hit the range.  Compared to the G34, this feels like cheating.  The DA pull will take some getting used to, but having a sub 3-pound trigger means I barely have time to think "shoot" in my mind before the gun fires.  One thing I have to learn is prepping the trigger.  In DA I'm allowed to shoot from half-cock since I have a decocking lever, but it's very easy to blow past the trigger and touch off a round early.  In SA, I have to be careful taking up the slack, especially when moving into an array.  Take-up is about 2lbs due to the FP safety lifter, so it's a challenge to not apply more than 12oz when I feel the wall.  A few times I've blown past the wall and fired a Delta before the dot was centered in the A zone.  I need to unlearn some habits after shooting striker guns all these years.

Much better.

Update: I shot my SP-01 in one match before my SRO arrived. Compared to my Glock 34, I saw a slight increase in transition times.  This was to be expected since the steel framed CZ weighs over a pound more than the Glock, but the extra weight didn't really help my splits.  Also, I was still getting the occasional stove pipe or failure to chamber.  Rounds ejected 6-8 feet away to exactly 3 o'clock and the dot was tracking true, so it wasn't a springing or ejector/extractor issue.  As it turns out, CZ cuts the barrel for European CIP instead of SAAMI specs, so the leade is cut shorter.  My 147gr 1.130" OAL loads weren't passing the plunk test.  I gave the barrel a few turns with a throating reamer, until even 1.140" rounds would chamber freely. I shot the next 3 matches with the SRO installer, and made it into B class.  But despite the gun shooting well, a few things still bug me.  The magwell opening is a bit narrow, and there isn't much material to open it up like on a Tanfo.  I caught the feed lips and case rim on the edges of the opening a few times.  The Glock seemed to swallow even the most panicked reloads.  Also, the trigger reach is still pretty short for my hands.  I installed the thicker #5 trigger from CGW, but I still feel like I have to curl my trigger finger at an unnatural angle to run the gun fast.  But the biggest thing is the weight.  It just feels slow moving target to target, and transitions are where a lot of time can be saved, even more so than splits.  I'm just nitpicking of course.  All these things can be mitigated with practice, but I'm the type of person who is never satisfied with my gear.  Still, I've increased my dry-fire to three weekly sessions and I'm starting to see a lot of my work come together.  My progress is such that the Glock 34 is with a new owner now...if only to make room for a P10F.

Throating the barrel with a deeper leade.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

1-Hour Online Consultation with Scott "Jedi" Jedlinski of Modern Samurai Project - AAR

Modern Samurai Project

For the longest time I didn’t own a shot timer.  I “felt good enough” but I didn’t have a concrete metric to chart improvement or where my skills stood as a defensive minded shooter.  That changed when I started competing in USPSA’s Carry Optics division.  My score is a direct reflection of my performance and gives me honest data about where I need to improve.  One of those areas is my draw and first shot in the A-zone.  I hit my plateau at 1.3 seconds.  Despite pouring over hours of YouTube videos, blogs, and forum articles on the subject, I couldn’t get consistently under 1.3 seconds.  Sure a few times I’d get lucky and shave off a quarter, but I couldn’t tell you why or how I got there.  It was time to call in a professional.

Scott "Jedi" Jedlinski
A while back, some guy on the internet called “Jedi” kept popping up whenever people discussed red-dot optics on pistols.  Today, Scott “Jedi” Jedlinski is known as the “red-dot guy” from Modern Samurai Project.  He’s been travelling around the country teaching shooters how to use a red-dot with accuracy and speed.  While not former military or a law enforcement member, Scott is a Master class shooter in USPSA Carry Optics, holds F.A.S.T. Coin #15, and is a life-long martial artist.  His background in Jiu Jitsu has given him a unique ability to breakdown inefficiencies in body mechanics that most of us don’t notice.  He comes highly recommended by respected members of the firearms training community, and after listening to him speak in podcasts and on his YouTube channel, it became evidently clear that Scott genuinely loves passing knowledge to others and helping them “get better”.  I knew I needed to train with him if I wanted to expand my performance envelope.

While my schedule wouldn’t allow me to personally attend one of his classes for a while, Jedi offers online consultations in 60-minute blocks via streaming services like Skye, Google Hangout, or Facetime.  The only other requirements are a gun, holster, and shot timer.  This would be my first online firearms lesson, and despite positive reviews, I still wasn’t sure how much could be gleaned through my cellphone camera compared to in-person.  Still, I figured some training would be better than nothing, so I purchased one hour to see how things would go.
After a few emails to schedule a time, Jedi rang me up on my iPhone via Google Hangout.  Wanting to make the most of our limited time, I setup a tripod in a brightly lit room with good wifi.  Within 30 seconds we were off and running.  I told him I wanted to work on my first-shot draw from my competition holster.  Then aiwb draws if we had time.  After watching me draw a few times to get a baseline, Scott began breaking it down into micro-skills.  This is not like the traditional “5-step draw” I learned in fundamental classes.  Jedi explained simple ways to work with my body’s natural range of motion to shave off inefficiencies.  He used simple demonstrations to highlight where and why my techniques were costing me time.  He also showed me natural index points that helped me accurately locate my gear.  It quickly became apparent why DOH holsters were so popular, and how the right gear setup would work naturally with my body mechanics instead of against it.

My USPSA blaster in a CJP holster with Tek-Lok

A specific example of this was helping me quickly achieve a high grip on the handgun after the buzzer.  By utilizing natural index points on my holster, gun, arm, and hands along with a combination of the “sweep” and “pluck” techniques, I could get a consistent high tang grip before the end of the “P” in the timer’s “beep”.  Just going from “shooter ready” to grabbing my gun in the holster was one of the micro-skills he drilled me on.  From there we moved on to drawing the gun, marrying the grip, presentation, seeing the dot, etc.  Each micro-skill bled into the next, until I was thinking of it was one smooth technique, instead of distinct steps.

Just as Jedi preaches efficiency of motion, his teaching style is equally efficient.  He drills down to the minutiae of each technique, using simple references to make the concept perfectly clear in a few seconds.  It was a near constant stream of “Ah-Ha” moments.  Scott is also refreshingly free of ego.  He doesn’t toot his own horn and doesn’t pass off advice and techniques from others as his own.  He freely credits other instructors and competitors.  He never talks about “His way” or “The way” to do things, but simply “A way” to try things.  45 minutes in, I was clearing the holster, seeing my dot in the A-zone, and pressing the trigger in nearly 0.9 seconds.  With the remaining time, Jedi helped me get my AIWB draw down from 1.5 to just under 1.0 second.  With such limited time, I couldn’t break 0.9 seconds and he found it amusing that I was frustrated with my 1.0 second draw despite a 1/2 second improvement in under 15 minutes.  I realized later that my perspective had shifted, from simply “happy with 1 second” to “I want to get better”.  I was ready to purchase another hour to extend our session, but Scott was scheduled to do a podcast immediately after.

Prior to my hour with Jedi, I didn’t consider .15 splits and .65 second draws to be realistic goals for myself.  I was being lazy and not setting ambitious goals so I wouldn’t have to worry about failing to meet them.  I would mindlessly practice draws and dry-fire, or punch holes in paper at the range.  Now I’m filming myself, analyzing myself in slow motion, reading actual books, and spending a lot more time deliberately practicing. 

Practice Lazer Gun

Three days after my consult, I attended an informal IDPA/USPSA practice night at my local range.  While my overall shooting didn’t change much, my draws were clean and consistently at 1 second.  Jedi’s technique to help me clear my mind, and the confidence in my draw, set a better tone to start stages with than my usual nervous energy.  Stages simply flowed more smoothly.  His advice on exploiting “binding” in the body helped me get a 19 Alpha, 1 Charlie stage by the end of the night.  It probably would’ve been 20 Alphas if I hadn’t slipped on that damn piece of brass and rushed a shot. 
One hour of Jedi’s time is easily worth the few boxes of ammo and range fee it costs.  $1/minute seems expensive, until factoring in that my magazines hold $4 worth of ammo and I can burn through them in few seconds while learning nothing in return.  One piece of advice I’ll offer is to write down everything you learned immediately after the session.  Practicing a few hours later, I found myself glancing at the notes and seeing things I had already forgotten about.  Without a way to record the session, if I hadn’t written everything down while it was fresh in my mind, I probably wouldn’t have remembered to properly index my support hand for example.

Practice Night

In a few months I’ll be attending Jedi’s class at the 2019 Shooter’s Symposium.  In the meantime, I’ll continue practicing to “get better”, and I will definitely be booking more online sessions with Modern Samurai Project.

Carry Optics G34

Friday, November 30, 2018

Racing up my Uberti 1873 Trapper 18.5" Lever Action Rifle .357

New guns, old fashioned

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with the Old West.  The idea of rugged people, striking off into untamed wilderness has always resonated with me. 

A few years ago, I purchased a stainless Ruger New Vaquero in .357 magnum.  Out of the box, cocking the hammer felt gritty and the trigger wasn’t nearly as crisp as my 1911s.  With the help of forums, Youtube, and my own limited engineering abilities, I slowly began to understand the inner workings of the action, and what needed filing, stoning, or smoothing.  Today, the action is buttery smooth with a trigger pulling just under 3 pounds.  The modern “Peacemaker” satisfied my cowboy fantasies (phrasing!) until I handled a friend’s lever action .22.  Hearing and feeling the metal parts interact as I worked the lever was supremely satisfying, like changing gears in a manual transmission Porsche, or snapping together brand new Lego bricks.  I knew I had to have one.

Uberti 1873 Trapper .357 18.5"
I decided on .357 to match my Vaquero, and I wanted a loading gate, but those were the only easy decisions.  I was new to lever actions.  1866, 1873, 1892, 1894?  I spent a few weeks popping in to area gun and pawn shops looking for examples of pistol caliber lever actions to try, but they are rare as hen’s teeth around me.  After exhaustive research I settled on an 1873.  At the end of the day, the 1873 is the definitive “gun that won the west”, and thousands of top SASS shooters swear by them.  Aftermarket support is plentiful as are spare parts.  Unlike modern guns, 19th century designs contain a lot of pieces that will wear out under moderate use.  They were engineered during a time when people actually maintained their equipment, instead of throwing them out like cellphones and TVs.  Knowing that I’d have to put some work into the gun, I decided to buy an 18.5” Uberti Trapper.  I wanted the easy handling of the shorter barrel, but the weight of the octagonal barrel to stabilize the rifle as I work the lever.  The pistol grip stock is heavier than the straight stock, shifting the balance slightly to the rear, and the factory checkering on the grip and forend are a plus.  Its 10 round capacity makes it usable in SASS if I ever get the urge, and go-fast parts are available and well documented.  I also debated on the new Winchester reproductions.  While they’re better made, many of the parts aren’t compatible with the original 1873.

It has that new rifle smell.
I stopped in at a smaller gun store near my work, Poppie’s in Salisbury NC, and placed an order to their distributor.  Four days later I got the call to pick up my rifle.  I pulled the gleaming steel from the box, admired the (faux) color case finish, and worked the lever.  Ugh.  It was gritty, heavy, long, and clunky throughout the stroke. When I measured the trigger at home, it broke at over 7 pounds.  Fortunately, I knew all of this was normal for the Italian copies.  The first thing I did at home was completely disassemble the rifle and thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of leftover machining oil, metal shavings, and other debris.  I also thoroughly cleaned out the magazine tube and ran a boresnake down the barrel.  While my magazine spring was fine, many have reported rusty mag springs because Uberti sometimes doesn’t wash the parts after bluing, leaving bluing salts behind to rust any bare steel.  At long last, I finally got to see the inner workings of the toggle-link action myself.  The idea is simple, but the interactions of all the parts is complex.  Changing one dimension can effect several parts down the line and throw off the timing.  After a few hours, I had a clear picture of how the mechanism worked, lightly lubed everything but the brass carrier with Slip2K, and reassembled the gun.  I then installed a Palo Verde leather lever wrap.  Unfortunately, I broke the provided synthetic lacing trying to get it tight with pliers so I substituted some synthetic waxed sinew from a crafts store. 

These are spare parts now.
That weekend, I grabbed a box of 158gr .38 special and hit the range.  I loaded a single round and worked the still stiff lever.  The round reluctantly chambered but ejected cleanly after firing.  After a few rounds at 25 yards, I was rewarded with a nice clover leaf.  Satisfied, I loaded up the magazine to full capacity.  The last 2 rounds fought me as I tried to slip them past the loading gate, but I managed to stuff 10 rounds into the tube.  I fought the urge to shoot fast and deliberately worked the lever between shots.  While I could’ve shot more than 50 rounds, I wanted to start preventative maintenance as soon as possible.  The heavy springs and rough internals create a lot of wear so the sooner I addressed them the better.  Nearly every surface, part, and pin had a rough spot or sharp edge that needed to be taken care of.

First, I broke out a 600 grit diamond file and began taking down every burr inside the frame.  I lightly stoned the flats to reduce but not eliminate the tooling marks, careful not to change any dimensions or angles.  I hand/finger sanded a few areas like the bolt channel.  I taped a piece of 800 grit sandpaper to a dowel, wet it down with oil, and chucked it into my cordless drill.  I then very lightly sanded the burrs out of the firing pin extension channel.  I smoothed off the corners of the trigger spring and gave it a light polish with liquid Flitz and a felt drum in my 20 year old Dremel.  Every pin received a light sanding with wet 800 grit sandpaper and hand polishing with more Flitz.  I cleaned up the tool marks on the insides of the cover plates with wet 600 grit paper on a marble tile sample.  Then I broke into my assortment of parts.

Cleaning up the interior with a #600 diamond file
Even before I had the rifle in my hands, I had ordered several go-fast parts.  I chose to purchase aftermarket parts to reduce the time I’d have to spend tuning and to have factory spares.  For the trigger, I swapped in a reduced hammer and lever safety spring.  I cleaned up the sides of the sear with wet 800 grit, and dressed the nose of the sear with an x-fine ceramic stone.  A 10x jewelers loupe and good lighting ensured I didn’t alter the sear geometry.  I used the same stone to square up the hammer hooks.  I also flattened out the curve of the trigger spring to reduce the pull weight and polished the sides and tip where it rests on the sear.  Reassembled and lubed, the trigger broke at a pleasant 3 lbs with zero grittiness while thumbing the hammer.

Go-fast goodies.
Sear nose trued and trigger spring polished.

Squaring the hammer hooks
Next I moved on to the brass carrier.  After studying the part, I worked out areas that I could safely lighten.  I used a radiused endmill to cut 0.080” deep pockets in the sides, and cut slots in the lifter tunnel.  I could’ve removed more but I didn't want any modifications to be visible from outside the gun.  I then milled a radius into the forward portion of the carrier in preparation for the C&I short stroke kit.  By the end, I got the 3.9 oz carrier down to 3 oz even.  I decided on a 3rd gen kit because it didn’t require an aluminum carrier.  I’m not out to win any speed records so I don’t need the shortest stroke, and the slippery nature of brass is less likely to get hung up by fowling or wear out as quickly as aluminum.  I finished off the carrier by wet sanding the flats with 800 grit on my marble tile. 

Milled carrier - right

Milled carrier - left

Radiused corners for short stroke kit
The short stroke kit took the most time, mainly filing the pad on the lifter to set the timing.  But first I had to address the lobe on the lever.  Uberti cuts the lobe at an angle, so only the outside edge contacts the lever spring.  This wears a groove in the spring and isn’t as efficient or smooth as a wider area.  With my Dremel and a stone, I ground the lobe perpendicular to the lever face, careful to follow the existing contours.  I polished the lobe with a felt wheel and installed the “Whipser” springs.  Unlike the factory flat springs which are stiff enough to use in the suspension on a stagecoach, the Whisper springs use rounded spring steel rods.  Unlike Slix springs, they are captured in a groove under the spring carrier.  Since they are sandwiched between the carrier and frame, they can't accidentally slip out.  They arrived pre-bent and the tips were already polished smooth. 

Factory lug not cut square

Lug after reshaping and polishing.  Whisper spring leg rests flat.

Whisper Springs

Next I had to bend the lever until the tip of the lever touched the frame just as the carrier bottomed out flush with the receiver.  I mounted the lever in my vise and after a few cycles of bending and testing, got the lever dialed in.  Then came the tedious part.  I had to file the pad on the lifter to set the timing.  This is a critical step.  It ensures the bolt is clear before the carrier raises the next cartridge into position.  There is a very small margin of error.  If you don’t file enough, the rim will snap the thin tab off the bolt.  Too much and the lever will reach its limit of travel before the carrier is fully up.  I knew I’d have to remove at least 3/16” of material so I started with a Dremel, grinding off the pad up to the 1/8” mark.  Then I leveled the surface with a bastard file before switching to a #2 swiss file with a safe edge.  The tricky part is keeping the surface both flat and inline with the pivot pin.  It was slow going, taking nearly 2 hours.  Everytime I wanted to check the fit, I had to reinstall the lifter and lever springs.  Eventually I gouged up the soft lifter/lever screws even with properly fitting gunsmith bits.  Fortunately, I thought ahead, and had a hardened pair ready for when I was done.  When I was satisfied, I polished the flat to provide a square surface for the lever lug to hit, and to look nice since it’s visible from the outside. 

Bending the lever

Fitting the timing pad

Looks good
Short throw kit reduced throw by 25%
Reassembled, I worked the action.  The difference was dramatic.  I could work the lever with one finger, and the reduced throw felt like the Henry .22 that inspired me.  There was still some grittyness somewhere in there though, so I went back to work.  I dressed every sharp edge on the bolt, and polished the wearing points.  I replaced the firing pin extension with a lightweight version.  The lighter weight ensures that the now lightened hammer can still transfer enough energy to pop the primer.  The rear where it contacts the hammer is rounded for easier cocking and was polished.  I had trouble getting the retaining piece in though.  As it turns out, the retainer needs to be modified, but no instructions were provided.  Happily, the manufacturer had instructions posted on their website.  I few minutes with a Dremel and file was all it needed.

Smoothing the rough edges on the bolt
Rounded edges reduce cocking effort
Modified retainer
 Next, the King’s loading gate need some tweaking.  I adjusted the arm to reduce the tension slightly, then filed a relief cut in the receiver where the rounds were hanging up when inserted.  I also smoothed a portion of the frame where the gate was snagging and filed a relief cut where the rim of the round would sometimes catch.

Rotating parts get oil. Sliding parts get grease.

I wrapped everything up by quickly polishing the inside of the toggle tracks and adding a dab of Slip2K grease on the sliding bits.  Now it’s incredibly smooth.  Despite all of the pieces moving about, it feels like it has fewer moving parts than a bolt action, and the front sight moves substantially less when working the lever from my shoulder. 

Speaking of shoulders, I knew the crescent stock would have to go as soon as it poked mine.  The curved buttplate is designed to rest against the outside of the shoulder, near the bicep.  The shooter stands upright with an Olympic style grip, bladed to the target, with the strong arm “chicken winged” out to the side.  This is stable and pretty comfortable but not ideal when you want to sling lead.  Ideally, the buttstock rests inside the shoulder pocket close to the pectoral muscle.  This way, as your arm moves to work the lever, the outer shoulder isn’t moving the gun around.  But the bottom point of the aggressive curve digs into the shoulder.  While this is great when butt-striking a cattle rustler in the face, it sucks for shooting at speed.  At first I wanted to buy a carbine stock and add a leather cover, but I’d have to purchase a straight tang to replace the curved one for the pistol grip as well.  I’d also have to buy a matching forend and fit and refinish both.  In the end, I decided to just chop the stock and add a recoil pad.  I decided to cut the stock square with the top of the comb, just far back enough to clear the curve of the buttplate with a bandsaw.  Then I removed the curved potion of the metal buttplate on a scroll saw.  I reinstalled the remaining top corner of the buttplate, and leveled everything out on a belt sander. 

Buttstock chopped
For the recoil pad, I chose a ½” thick Pachmayr RP-200. It’s harder rubber than sorbothane pads, but the recoil from a .38 special is a hamster fart.  After chopping the stock, it would be about 4 ½” tall and less than 1.4” wide so I went with the smallest size.  The pad doesn’t have a metal insert which in most cases, is wider than the 1873 stock.  Chopping the stock removed about ¾” from the length, so the ½” Pachmayr pad would get most of that back.  I wanted it shorter so I could add a leather cover down the road.  The top of the comb is narrow and a bit low, so a leather cover would make for a more comfortable cheek weld, and it’s less likely to hang up on my clothes when mounting.  The hole spacing was far enough apart that I had to shorten the top screw to not hit the screw that holds on the remains of the old buttplate.  I also picked up a Wheeler recoil pad jig.  While most people would be happy just covering the stock with a leather wrap and calling it a day, it would bug me if I knew I was hiding a hackjob underneath.  I used the belt sander up to the scribe line, then hand sanded with 220 grit and furniture polish.  Considering I'd never fitted a recoil pad before, I think it turned out pretty well.

Shotgun style buttstock

The only thing I haven’t done is purchase a magazine tube liner or “alignment kit”.  Uberti uses the same tube on their .357 rifles as the .44 and .45LC models.  The oversized tube allows the .38/.357 rounds line up crooked inside the tube which can cause a hitch when feeding the first few rounds.  I haven’t noticed a hitch or any appreciable speed difference from first to last round that isn’t a just a result of the spring pressure in the magazine tube.  However, if my rifle had come from the factory with a rusty spring, I'd have gotten one since alignment tubes include a stainless steel spring and follower.

Now all that was left to do was practice.  I cued up a few westerns on Netflix, and started dry firing.  I picked up a lightened firing pin and spring, and use the factory firing pin for dryfire only. 

So what did all this effort get me?  Can I complete a “Nevada Sweep” in under 2.5 seconds with sub .20 splts?  Of course not but maybe someday.  I didn’t build a “race gun” to compete, at least not yet.  But I wanted to have the best example of a lever gun I could while staying somewhat true to the original.  My goal was to build something I could have fun with.  Part of that fun is the build itself.  I did a ton of research, learned a lot, and met some nice people along the way.  I also have a greater appreciation for the people who managed to design and build such a beautiful rifle 150 years ago.  They engineered by oil lamp, not an LCD screen.  They learned by doing, not a Google search.  They built rifles for people who would forge their own path through the frontier.  The fact that the rifle lives on today is a testament to those people and the spirit of the American West.