I am not one of those who criticize the younger generation. Primarily, because I have seen too many in my training classes and in service who are on top of things. However, I also see a lack of appreciation for quality maintenance (personal gunsmithing). Perhaps the popular press and gun store commandos are responsible in part. Some shooters come to class with a pistol that is not of appropriate quality for personal defense. I don’t frequent the firearms chat rooms often, but I recently visited a fanboy website in search of answers to the malfunctions one student experienced with his personal rifle.
The website was filled with souls who loved their firearms so much they were evidently willing to give the maker a pass on serious problems. Teething problems were common, and others mentioned that sometimes the firearms were not reliable but the company always got it right the second time at the shop. One shooter remarked that after more development, the rifle in question would be first class. I didn’t agree.
There are particular firearms that are popular with the paintball class but not the professional. If you disagree, load up your personal rifle and take it to the National Matches. Compete. Let’s go to church together. The situation is probably worse with handguns because many shooters do not train properly with the handgun. I have seen malfunctions in class that never should have happened. When you go to a class to learn, do not burden the instructor with time spent working with an unreliable handgun. Proof the piece before you come to class. However, I’ll admit that even some of the most reliable handguns in the world will break. This is part of what we are going to cover today.
During a recent instructors’ class, I witnessed one of the few Glock pistol malfunctions I have seen. The pistol in question occasionally locked to the rear during a firing string. The shooter commented that it was one of the first .40-caliber Glocks and had many thousands of rounds through it. It had started this malfunction a few weeks before.
A simple spring change would have cured it, but he was suffering through the class instead of getting the job done beforehand. I do not travel without a spare tire. Likewise, I keep on hand a few spare parts for my handguns. There is always the exceptional malfunction that cannot be explained. Keeping a few parts in the range bag as a basis for procedure has saved me quite a bit of frustration from time to time.
These malfunctions on the range run the course from loose sights to loose grips or the loss of a recoil-spring guide. A failed magazine spring is common. Maintaining a modest supply of the likely parts you may need is essential, along with a few tools.
The ability to replace these parts is essential. You do not have to be a pistolsmith or an armorer, but you need to be able to replace common parts. When it comes to a single shortcoming among students, it is a lack of basic gun-handling skills. I can teach marksmanship, but the rest you must master on your own. Drop-in parts are not a great challenge, although fitted parts such as the 1911 extractor should be pre-fitted to the individual handgun.
It is predictable from experience as to what point magazines, springs, and parts will fail. The eccentric incident that defies explanation cannot be predicted, but we can be prepared. A simple repair kit with spare parts will keep things sane when this occurs. I am not suggesting that you will perform a fieldstrip and fix the pistol under fire—far from it. However, if the malfunction occurs during an assignment, on the range, or far from home without an armorer, you will be thankful you had the foresight to bring a ready kit to the location in a range bag.
On cross-country trips, I have stopped at friendly ranges and met good folks. My experience in meeting these folks and interviewing them shows that the most experienced shooters often keep a range bag with a few parts at ready. While a spare handgun is always a good idea, the range kit is another good idea. You must have a working knowledge not only of fieldstripping but also of maintenance and disassembly beforehand. You are probably not a gunsmith, but a number of reference guides will aid you in disassembling the pistol and putting it back together. A good serviceable handgun such as the Springfield 1911, Glock, or CZ 75 is a place to start. A space-age finish such as NP3 is another aid to longevity.
Over a decade ago, I was involved in an incident that left me with serious injuries. During the course of this action, I fell into slick mud with two assailants pounding me. I suffered a break in the radial bone in my arm and another injury in my lower extremities. My Colt Government Model with Bear Coat finish was enclosed in a thumbreak duty holster. The piece was covered in soupy mud, with the hammer, grip safety, and even the slidestop caked in mud at a later examination.
Despite this, when the time came the pistol sounded loud and clear, and had there been a need, it would have fired again. After the requisite interview and paperwork and finally a visit to the hospital, I set the pistol aside. The next day, I knew I needed to clean the Colt. Disassembly was not difficult, and the slide and frame cleaned up well, as did the barrel, which fortunately had been protected by a closed-bottom holster. However, the springs were another matter.
The recoil spring was rusted, and the leaf spring had turned color from corrosion. The mainspring housing was removed, and the mainspring had picked up some corrosion. The Wilson Combat magazine was fine and appeared as issued. The firing-pin channel was relatively clear, but the firing-pin spring was replaced as a precaution. I had these parts on hand due to a healthy respect for my firearms and their maintenance as well as my own longevity.
Had I had to order these parts, it would have been the usual good service from K-Var, but waiting for the parts was downtime. Having along a few choice parts for the pistol that you deploy is simply a good idea. Consider it insurance. If you use a self-loading pistol, the springs will need replacement often, while the revolver is less desirous of replacement springs, but just the same the parts are a good investment.
Some parts are horribly difficult to find until you realize you need them. Recently, someone had put a plastic stock on a Remington 870 and wished to return it to the original configuration. They had lost the original stock bolt. It was almost $15 by the time I located one, including shipping. Keep up with parts!
I took the advice of several experienced gunsmiths and alloyed this with my own counsel. I also remember the words of well-known writers Jeff Cooper and Skeeter Skelton, who often wrote of the usual problems encountered with the 1911 and Smith & Wesson revolvers, respectively. Here is what I came up with. You can go too far. For example, I do not usually keep a spare barrel in my range bag. For the 1911, a complete spring set including the recoil spring, hammer spring, firing-pin spring, and leaf spring is recommended. Don’t go cheap, and don’t go GI.
Add a sear and disconnect and a firing-pin stop. Cooper told us that the firing-pin stop sometimes takes flight, and peening the part was SOP in GI pistols that have seen hard use. Add a firing pin and firing-pin spring to keep things safe. An extractor is also needed. A word to the wise: Series 70 and drop-in fit or not, some parts will need to be fitted. This means fitting beforehand for the specific pistol. These parts include the firing-pin stop and extractor.
The HK P7M8 is famously reliable but requires the occasional striker spring, recoil spring, and magazine spring to maintain this famous endurance. Be certain you have the striker removal tool in your kit or you will not be able to properly maintain this pistol. The Glock is the simplest of the autoloaders to maintain. The requisite recoil spring is first, but an extractor is a good idea. The trigger return spring has given up the ghost at high round counts. Most of us will keep more magazines in the range bag than we need. They should be marked and numbered to keep up with function.
When it comes to revolvers, many of us deploy the revolver as a backup or house gun and like to keep our hand in with the type. Quite a few very experienced shooters feel the revolver has many advantages, but the revolver is not immune to malfunctions. Some, such as a loose ejector rod, are easily cured on the spot. Others, such as mainspring failure, demand a spare parts set.
When you put together a spare parts kit, be certain they are of the appropriate generation for your particular handgun. Smith & Wesson revolvers are models of reliability, but there are a couple of items that sometimes work out and go missing. The cylinder latch screw sometimes works loose. The result is a lost screw and sometimes the latch as well. That is why you sometimes see police trade-in revolvers with a blue-steel cylinder latch on a nickel gun or a stainless latch on a blue gun and so forth.
Sideplate screws sometimes work loose as well, primarily on .357 Magnum revolvers. A spare set of screws is a good ideal. If you continue to deploy a handgun that has been out of production for some time, be certain you have spare parts or consider retiring the piece.
The Beretta 92 will need a locking wedge as often as every 5,000 rounds if used with +P or NATO loads. The Browning Hi Power needs recoil springs every 4,000 rounds, and the Witness pistols need extractor replacement at 8,000 rounds or so per my experience with competitors’ handguns. Keep the kit on hand, and save yourself time and trouble.
Do you keep a spare parts kit for your guns? Which items do you consider “must haves” for your commando gunsmithing? Share your answers in the comment section.
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