Category Archives: Weapons Books

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Liberated Manuals

We’re going to be the soul of brevity on this one, because there’s no magic here at Liberated Manuals, it’s just one more source of public-domain military manuals.

They describe their raison d’être as follows:

This website is a comprehensive source of government manuals, in PDF format, free to copy, republish and distribute as you want. The goal of this website is to “liberate” government manuals from the dirty hands of CDROM selling mafia. All manuals are offered at no charge.

Sure, it’s an ugly and basic website, but on the gripping hand, it’s free stuff. What’s not to like?

There’s a list and a search function at the home page. Some of the manuals include (these are all .pdfs):

And one of our personal maintenance favorites:

There’s a lot more than just gun manuals, though. Go there and take a look around!

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Engineering Design Handbooks, Guns Series

We’re pretty sure we’ve called DTIC a W4 (Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week) before. The Defense Technical Information Center is kind of like the granddad’s attic of DOD information — full of cool stuff, but not remotely what you would call organized.

But today we’re going to steer you to something specific in the military’s attic — a series of engineering design documents from the 60s and 70s that will enhance your library in .pdf format, and that cost you only the time and bandwidth to download them. (If you’re American, you’ve already paid for this with your tax dollars. If you’re one of our global readers, they’re free (as in beer and speech) to you, too; if you’re so inclined, thank a Yank.

Yeah, ‘Murica. We give away more free bleeep before 0900 (well, technically, at 2200) than you’re ever going to get out of Burkina Faso or Lichtenstein.(We’re sure they’re lovely places, though, even if not at the forefront of small arms design.

The books in question are from an expansive series of Engineering Design Handbooks that were published by the US Army Materiel Command (the successor to various Ordnance headquarters that were consolidated decades ago). While there are a great many EDH’s (the Environmental one is especially good on corrosion) the ones we are interested in fall into the Guns Series.

This search finds at least some of them:

We don’t know how many there are/were (but we bet Daniel Watters does). Four volumes that turn up are:

  1. Guns Series — General. The history of guns, their classifications, and sample gun design problems). August 1964.
  2. Guns Series — Gun Tubes. Regions of the tube, thermal and pressure stresses. There’s some interesting continuity and discontinuity between small arms and artillery tubes. Ever consider the effect of rifling torque? It’s in here. February 1964.
  3. Guns Series — Muzzle Devices. If you’ve ever wondered what they were trying to do with that silly-ass cone on the M2 carbine, or wanted to know how much recoil you can reduce with a muzzle brake (a limited amount, because the brake can’t affect anything until the projectile exits the barrel, by which time most of the recoil is history already), this is your answer. May 1968.
  4. Guns Series — Automatic Weapons. Almost 350 pages of design engineering goodness from an overview of AW types to angular velocity calculations to  what makes a good belt link. February 1970.

And when you’ve learned all of that? Then, you can start looking at the “explosives series.” Heh.

Blast from the Past: “Gun Pro” Correspondence Course

(This is the latest in our promised occasional substitution of a book review for When Guns are Outlawed. Let us know if you want us to stick with this feature in the comments — Ed.).

The seller warned us that this set of booklets wasn’t in the greatest condition. But we bought it anyway, and in a week or so the 1970s-vintage Gun Pro Course from the North American School of Firearms arrived at Hog Manor. We found that the actual course volumes, each of which is a photo-reproduced, triple-punched 8½ x 11 inch booklet of anywhere from five to fifty pages, were in excellent shape; only the slipcase was really in the trashed state that the conscientious seller was so careful to describe.

Whether the course was worth the money… depends. We think the used course, once the property of one Ralph D. Davis, by his ink marks in a couple of volumes, was worth the $20 or so we paid (we don’t remember the exact amount), but in its heyday it cost a lot more. It probably wasn’t worth that.

gun_pro_ad_field_and_stream_1977It was one of a variety of correspondence courses sold out of the back pages of magazines. Both small display ads and even smaller text-only classified ads promoted these courses. An example of the display ad is seen to the right; it came from Page 90 of the July, 1977 issue of Field and Stream. Similar display ads promoted the North American School of Conservation (Page 18) which offered you “the Badge of the Future,” although we doubt anyone ever got hired as a conservation or game officer after taking this mail course, and the North American school of Animal Sciences, which asked you to “Be a Veterinary Assistant!” with a picture of a big-eyed spaniel. These ads all invited responses to the same address, which would get you an “Info Pack” or “Career Kit” — a come-on to buy the course. This would have been larded with the usual direct-mail bullshit: grandiose boasts, empty promises, probably bogus testimonials with no real names: “Bill W., Akron, Ohio.” If you bought the course, it came to you in dribbles.  We’re sure people who took this course got jobs, but we doubt anyone, ever, got hired because he or she took one of these courses.

The core promise: “Make Big Money on Guns — Be a Gun Pro!” of the ad? How can we say this politely? Manure. Yeah, we like that word. That promise was manure.

The North American Correspondence Schools had addresses in Newport Beach, California and Scranton, Pennsylvania and at some time before the Event Horizon of the Internet, they completely vanished. It is possible that they were absorbed into an existing correspondence course marketing mill, Penn-Foster. That outfit also calls Scranton home, we believe.

The general consensus online is that the course was not very good. Here’s a sample of comments:

  • On The High Road, 6 March 2010: “I took both the North American School of Firearms and NRI correspondence courses 20+ years ago. TOTAL CRAP.”
  • On, 16 May 2010: “I have taken 3 gunsmithing courses. The first one was in 1975. The school was the North American School of Firearms, Newport Beach, CA (correspondence course). This course was mentioned in the NRA Gunsmithing Guide – Updated. I found it to be geared more towards the shooter than the gunsmith. The school is no longer in existence. Last year I took a “quickie” course from Phoenix State Univ. I got what I paid for.”
  • On, 11 June 2010: “I’ve taken 3 correspondence/online gunsmithing courses. 1. North American School of Firearms, Newport Beach, CA (mentioned in NRA Gunsmithing Guide), Phoenix State University Gunsmith Certificate program and Ashworth College School of Gunsmithing, Norcross, GA. Best by far (in my opinion) is Ashworth College and North American School of Firearms is no longer in existence (took that course in 1975) but by far the best way to learn is thru an established shop or by going to one of the accredited schools.” (We’ll come back to that last thought in a bit. This does seem to be the same guy who left the comment above -Ed.)
  • On The Firing Line, 13 July 2011:  “I took the Penn course and the North American School of Firearms course (no longer in business). They are garbage.”

We didn’t think they were that bad. The materials are certainly biased towards the complete novice… towards Bubba the Gunsmite, if he could only read. There is an overview of the history of firearms, good enough up to 1970 or so. And some of the instruction for hands-on work is useful, at least in terms of reducing the odds you will acquire the nickname “Bubba” working on your own firearms.

For example, the booklets on repairing single- and double-action revolvers, hands-on repair of which pretty much terra incognita to us, gave a useful explanation of what the parts of a revolver mechanism do, and some explicit instructions, with illustrations, for how to replace internals to restore a revolver to a proper lock-up. It’s given us enough confidence to bid on some gunsmith specials — if they come to us broken already, we have nowhere to go but up.

Of course, the booklets are full of 1970s values: there are descriptions of how to sporterize a military rifle or customize an original Colt SAA that will make a collector from now, 40 years later, cringe. And there’s absolutely nothing about the modern sporting rifle — in 1975, your choices were Colt SP1, Ruger Mini-14, or if you hunted long and hard, maybe a Valmet M62S or an FN-FAL. Those weren’t just representative modern rifles available then — that was almost all the modern rifles available then. They were also considered a bit out there by the Fudd culture of most gun magazines — they’d get reviewed in the then-new publication Soldier of Fortune, not in Guns and Ammo or Shooting Times so much. (The American Rifleman, NRA’s only membership magazine then, and Guns magazine seemed to take more interest in military-style firearms than the other mainstream gun magazines). So this class comes from an era when a gunsmith worked predominantly on revolvers and on bolt and lever action rifles, and slide and double-barrel shotguns.

But the bottom line is this: gunsmithing is a craft, and as such you can’t learn it from books. Period, full stop. Your shelves can groan with gunsmithing volumes, but if you can’t drive a set of files like you’re the Lord of All Metals, they might as well be written in Sanskrit. You can’t learn it from DVDs, either — sorry about that, AGI. It astonishes us that people who dutifully took Driver’s Ed when they were 16 before getting their driver’s license think nothing of taking machine tools to their firearms based on some time logged on YouTube. You can do that — it’s a free country — but don’t expect professional results first time out.

Any craft can only be learned by doing, or by hands-on instruction from a master craftsman. Hands-on instruction takes a lot of the painful trial and error out of learning, but rare is the master craftsman who has the patience to instruct a novice.

At $20 or $30 on the used markets, this is a good buy. More than that and you might want to let it go. And if you really want to be a gunsmith, start talking to the local guys… maybe someone will trade instruction for some help. Good old-fashioned apprenticeship is never out of style, when your objective is master craftsmanship.

Please Note New Page: Gun Design Books

Please note the new page, Gun Design Books and Resources. It went live at 0600 this morning, but because it’s a permanent Page rather than an ephemeral Post, it doesn’t post to the main page. (We’re probably missing some obvious way to make it do this).

You can access it from the margin of the site, above, or by simply clicking the link in this sentence.

It is our intent to provide a comprehensive listing of books for the would-be gun designer or design engineer. We’re aware that we’re a long way from comprehensive as it stands, and we even have some sections that are unpopulated, apart from headings. But we believe that we have listed the key resources available, both online and in hard copy, with a bias towards currently in-print or available sources.

We’re also very, very interested in your suggestions for additions.

We hope you find the page enjoyable and informative.

Timeless Advice on Point Shooting

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen.

The original Remington Model 51 designed by Pedersen. Hatcher considered it an archetypically well-designed pistol for instinctive shooting.

Sometimes the age of a document shows. But the underlying principles may actually be timeless. Take, for instance, this brief excerpt from p. 487 of Julian Hatcher’s 1935 Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers, a bonus bound in a single volume with his Firearms Investigation, Identification and Evidence, a wide-ranging book whose title does not truly do it justice. The subject Major Hatcher is discussing is one of great interest here — shooting without sights, and whether the ergonomics of some weapons (he is specifically talking pistols) enable this more than others. Here’s what Hatcher said:

While I fully agree with the ideas of Mr. McGivern about the necessity of sights, I consider it important for the practical pistol shot to know how to get fairly good results without using the sights at all, but rather, pointing the gun entirely by instinct, as the finger is pointed in indicating an object. This is really very important, because any shooting that may be done at night will have to be this kind. Also pistol shooting on the battle field or in holdups is more likely to be at night than it any other time.

Ed McGivern, who passed away some 20 years after Thatcher’s book hit the shelves, was already all but retired, due to rheumatoid arthritis. McGivern is less famous now than he was when Hatcher penned those words, but he was a legendary trick shooter capable of prodigious feats of shooting speed and accuracy. How good was McGivern? Watch the NRA’s National Firearms Museum’s senior curator Phil Schreier wax rhapsodic about him:

And in 1935, night shooting meant blind shooting. Night vision equipment was unimaginably futuristic at the time, and even the laser was decades in the future as a laboratory device, and decades more before anyone could do anything practical with one.

And it’s understood it when Hatcher speaks about holdups, he’s talking more about interrupting or resisting them, than he is dispensing advice on how to  commit them. (One hopes).

The sort of instinctive shooting Hatcher is talking about here, the sort made famous by McGivern, is even more out of favor these days. Modern instructors teach you to acquire and use the sights at all but the shortest — contact! — ranges. But the fact is, in 1935 as well as today, you can engage targets at quite a considerable distance without using the sights at all. The Major continues:

You will find that if you will suddenly extend your arm and point your finger at any object near you, the finger is pointing pretty closely in the direction of the object in question. In the same way a pistol or revolver can be pointed without looking at the sights. One thing that makes it hard, however, is the fact that pistols and revolvers are of so many different shapes and that most of them do not point in the same direction that the finger would — without considerable practice.

The Remington Model 51 automatic was carefully designed after months of study, with the object of having it point just where the finger would point if it were not on the trigger. Many other pocket automatics point the same way, and the Colt Woodsman and the Luger are among the best in this respect. The .45 Government Model Automatic also closely approaches this ideal, especially with the improved mainspring housing adopted about 10 years ago.

Now that’s dated. The “improved mainspring housing” he’s referring to is the arched housing, introduced as part of the M1911A1 upgrade in 1926. Even with that, we never found a 1911 pointed as well as a Luger or another gun with a similarly raked grip, like the Woodsman Hatcher mentions or the High Standards that he doesn’t, because they weren’t designed yet. That said, some prefer the 1911 grip, which is why High Standard diversified from its traditional grip (that was exactly the same rake angle as the Woodsman’s) and later added the Military product line with a grip angle that was an exact match for the Government Model .45.

Celebrate Diversity! we always say.

Hatcher goes on to describe how to develop the art of pointing a gun, like a revolver, that may not point as naturally as some of those early-20th-Century self-loaders.

If you use one type of revolver and stick to it, you can easily learn to point the barrel accurately without using the sights.

He suggested a five-step program to master point shooting:

  1. Select some distant object as a target, and then close your eyes and point the gun. Open your eyes. How near are you pointing to your target? With practice, you’ll get better at it.
  2. Standing about 10 feet from a mirror, point the pistol at your own eyes. The reflection should tell you how close you are. Again, the more you do this, the better you get at it.
  3. Once you’re “accurate” enough just drawing and pointing, it’s time to add dry-fire: snap the gun when you present it. What happens to the muzzle when you do this? Practice, again, is the key to muzzle control.
  4. Move to live-fire, working on shooting without the sights. This requires a range that’s safe enough; back in the twenties, Hatcher had used the ocean off a then-undeveloped Florida.
  5. Optionally, continue at night, with white targets. You’ll be sble to see the target, but not your sights, forcing  you to shoot by instinct.

In the end, Hatcher promises that such a program will lead you to success:

Such practice as this, especially if you will stick to one particular gun, will rapidly train the subconscious mind so that the hand will always hold and point the gun so as to send the bullet into the right place.

It is surprising how soon you get so that you can simply extend the gun toward the object in question, at the same time smoothly contracting all the muscles that do the trigger pulling, and strike just about at the mark.

We have mentioned several times, both in this chapter and elsewhere, that the best way to aim is to extend the revolver straight out the object you are going to shoot, and not swing it from the shoulder in the old western style. This gesture had a reason in those early western days and was necessary. The reason was that the muzzle-loading or cap-and-ball revolvers were used, and when a cap was exploded it split in fragments which were liable to get into the revolver mechanism and clog the works. Swinging the gun with the muscle vertical when cocking allow these pieces to fall off the nipple and drop to the ground.

We can confirm that practicing instinctive shooting, which the Army once taught as “quick kill,” does rather rapidly show up as improvement in your instinctive fire results. But we didn’t know that percussion Colt trick before reading of it here.

Hatcher continues (p. 489 and following) with a discussion of the pros, cons, and methods of instruction for “hip shooting,”  which he considers “spectacular and interesting,” but more or less completely lacking “practical value.” There is no royal road to Ed McGivern level skills, Hatcher explains: “Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in hip shooting.”

You could substitute any other modifier for “hip” in there. Or leave it out entirely. Lots of practice is what really counts in acquiring ability in shooting.

Of course, it has to be focused, disciplined practice with concrete objectives, but that’s a post for another day.

Quick Consumer Tip: LOSD book, 25% off

Law of Self Defense Andrew BrancaWe have this book and we paid full freight for it, and it was worth every damn penny. You can get it for 25% off, if you act now.

Did we mention that we liked and recommend the book?

The book, The Law of Self Defense, is by the nation’s leading self-defense legal expert, Andrew Branca, a Massachusetts (of all places!) lawyer. And now you can get it for 25% off, and you can give credit to the CSGV, which is some anti-gun group. (They don’t have much of a real-world presence, they’re just more Bloomberg astroturf, which is why we forget how the acronym breaks out, but it’s something along the lines of Criminals Shooting Guns Viciously, or something like that).

You can get the book here, and put the following code in to save 25%: @CSGV.

Heh. As Andrew said in his Tweet announcing the price break, “No joke.”

So why did he give credit to his readers, in the name of the notorious anti-gun group? It’s like this: they’ve been trying to get him disinvited from the various universities where he’s been speaking on his summer lecture tour this year. They’ve been trying to shut him up. (Lotsa luck with that, kiddies).

Of course, they haven’t had any success; but that’s to be expected. Crazy Uncle Mikey Bloomberg’s money buys more persistence than it does competence.

Plus, he’s selling more books and getting more people at the seminars he’s been holding thanks to the attack. (Hmm. If a cyber attack can come from something we define as a Advanced Persistent Threat, is this inept and backfiring approach to silencing Branca more of a Retarded Persistent Threat? Could be. As he put it in his blog,  “Anyway, I certainly hope they keep it up–I couldn’t possibly afford to pay for this kind of advertising…. Indeed, I’m going to get both those tweets blown up and hung on my office wall, like animal trophies. :-)”

So what is best on a book tour? We don’t expect to hear from Andrew about that until he, and his motorcycle, are back in New England, but we would guess it sounds something like: “To crush your enemies. And hear the lamentations of their women.”

And, don’t forget you’ll be hearing the lamentations of their girly-men, too. So amble on over to the LOSD store, and get yourself (and maybe your pistol-packin’ pals; they need it too) a copy of this excellent book.

Hat tip, the estimable John Richardson at No Lawyers.

The Past is Another Country: The Fire Book, 1584 A.D.

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 11.22.03 PMWe’ve explored a few old sources here, under our The Past is Another Country category, but we don’t think we’ve gone this far back before. Through the good graces of the University of Pennsylvania — egads! We’re saying good things about one of the gormless-DOD-suit-producing Ivies — we have the Feüer Büech, an Old or Middle German version of the 1970s hippie mischief manual, the Anarchist’s Cookbook.

It’s one of the treasures of the Penn library, and is considered “Manuscript Codex 109.” They have a photographic, full-color facsimile of every page online. The default of the image is 1/8 normal size, but you can blow them up to full size if you like.

The library site also provides vital meta-information about the book. It is a handwritten, German cursive script document with about 22 lines per text page. There are 235 pages and 34 illustrations, two of which seem to have been cut out of another book and pasted in (remember, in all history before Gutenberg, books were handcrafted, expensive, and rare treasures. It’s surprising there isn’t more such recycling in evidence). The Feuer Buech may be related in some way to another Fireworks Book that’s held by the State Library in Berlin, and that one may date to 1420.

(Given the impermanence of things made by the hand of man, and what’s happened to Berlin over the past century, it’s astounding that this older book has survived).

Lavishly illuminated with what appear to be watercolors, it’s what a book was when they were ultra-valuable, one-off, hand-copied items. And this one is right up our alley: it’s the medieval equivalent of a demo and pyro manual!

The accessibility of the material is somewhat limited, unfortunately: it’s written in a medieval version of fraktur script, and in an archaic version of German. So at first it’s hard to figure out what letters spell out the words, and then once you think you have succeeded in that, you may have a word that is not a cognate of its modern German analogue.  Decoding such a text is rather a tough bit of work. Fortunately, there are illiustrations.

Occasionally, a heading is clear enough. For example, the one on Page 16 r. promises that the text below will explain “Das Ziel der büch,” the objective of the book, but we’re not at all sure we’re breaking out the sub-head clearly: “To explain, how a halberdier develops a knowledge of fire and learns how to test that fire out.”  (Probably every single detail of that is wrong).

Unfortunately, it does not seem that there’s an online transcription of this work easily discoverable. Since we can hardly be the first ones interested in this ancient codex, and odds are some of our predecessors have a better knowledge of old German script and language than ours (which is functionally nil), then there has to be scholarship on this document out there in the medievalist community. Yes?

Fire arrow

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 11.04.13 PMOne of the many interesting illustrations is this fire arrow, on a page hand-numbered 83. A conical base of the arrow serves in place of fins, to move the center of pressure aft and provide stability. The arrow appears to have been made of all metal (which makes a certain amount of sense, as it’s supposed to be a host and delivery means for flaming stuff), and we’ll also say it does not appear to be the sort of arrow one would nock and fire from a longbow.

The incendiary material is tightly bound high and low to the arrow, and fluffs out in the middle. Our best guess is that this was meant to be fired from some kind of arquebus, in the sense of that word indicating a crew-served, large crossbow. As most of these weapons were constructed from wood and rope or rawhide, firing flaming stuff from them must have been interesting.

The cannoneer

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 11.48.14 PMThe last illustration is a man loading a cannon: a hint of things to come. It’s hard to deduce too much from the illutration, which falls far below the aesthetic and proportional standards of classical antiquity’s art, but it’s possible that it represents a brass or bronze barrel with iron bands, mounted on a surprisingly modern-looking field carriage. Powder kegs, cannon balls, and loading and swabbing tools would have been familiar to any gunner from the age of muzzle-loading cannon, all the way to the second half of the 19th Century. It’s hard to tell if a curious structure on the dorsal aspect of the breech of the cannon represents a touch hole, or something else.

Several illustrations of men like this one show them carrying sticks with primitive cannon fuse on the end, and having what appear to be cloth “matches” hanging on their clothing.

The medieval era was not, as is commonly supposed, bereft of thought and common sense. In fact, a great many social institutions that still shape our society (for instance, the university) began then. Middle-ages mobile and siege warfare, far from being a pale imitation of classical antiquity, was highly developed and sophisticated.

Fire Book - cat bombHat tip, the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, who warns us:  Do Not Try to Recreate This 16th-Century German Cat Bomb at Home. The cat-incendiary is similar to fire-animals noted in a number of period manuscripts, creatures that would sometimes be released by hand and sometimes actually catapulted over walls with siege engines.

Good ideas never die, but that’s probably because bad ideas never do, either. The Russians cooked up a weirdly analogous weapon in what they called the Great Patriotic War: the dog mine. It was hard on the dogs, of course, and had other unintended consequences — but that’s another story.

200 Rounds?

We’re reading the excellent Sua Sponte by the excellent Dick Couch, one of the most accurate and honest chroniclers of the training and operations of our Special Operations Forces. In case you didn’t know already, Sua Sponte, a repurposed legal term, is the motto of the Ranger Regiment. In this book, Couch documents the selection and training of Rangers as has never been done.

Couch, a decorated Vietnam SEAL officer, has written extensively about the SEALS and SF, and what he’s written has been excellent. The SOF units like him because he tells the truth and observes OPSEC when he writes about him. The JSOC guys like Dick because he’s willing not to write about them, which is how they like it.

This immediate post comes about because of something one of the young privates in RASP (an important phase of Ranger selection) told Couch: of his OSUT (basic and advanced infantry training) class, at least a half dozen guys were already in Afghanistan, with no more prep than the rounds they’d fired on the flat and pop-up ranges in OSUT.

Per the private: under 200 rounds. “That’s scary,” he told Couch.

Yeah, it is.

When you load up for patrol, you carry more ammo than that.

The Rangers have always been, especially since the Battalions stood up in 1974, Light Infantry Done Right. Going to combat with only a couple hundreds of rounds, shot on flat ranges against unrealistic stationary pop-up targets, is infantry done all wrong. But before someone suggests we simply raise all infantry to the Ranger standard, all we can say is, not that simple. Read Dick’s book.

Ranger only works with a voluntary troop base, and most of them fall by the wayside. Doing it right is incredibly costly by any measure of cost, and we can’t do it for many thousands. But we can surely give an infantryman more trigger time on his primary weapon, and thorough familiarity — not just a few familiarization rounds, and no mechanical training, the current standard —  with the several other weapons in the infantry platoon and company arms room.

And to those who say women are ready for infantry and ranger training (we’re lookin’ at you, GEN Odierno and your combat-shy simulacrum of a SMA), Read Dick’s book.


Determining Gun Values: Three Resources, Eight Lessons

If you’re a gun guy (or gal), sooner or later someone will ask you, “what is my XYZ worth?” or the ever-popular variant, “This was my relative’s… what is it, and what’s it worth?”

In our experience, the non-gun person who comes into a gun either (1) asks whoever he or she knows in the gun culture, or (2) takes it to a dealer, who delivers the wholesale value of the gun, or a screwing, depending on the dealer’s character.

If somebody comes to you with a gun and a question like that, how can you answer?

We’re experts in some guns and their values, mostly 20th and 21st-Century military arms. But from time to time someone does ask us the value of a gun that makes us puzzled. Civil War revolvers (turned out to be worth quite a lot). An snaphaunce with a broken mainspring (which meant, first, answering the question “what is a snaphaunce?” The owner thought it a flintlock). A collection of Spanish .25s (which turned out to be worth a lot less than the 19th-century wheelguns, but there are collectors specializing in them). A Browning Superposed shotgun with heavy engraving. A Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special. A German drilling (a three-barrel sporting gun with two shotgun barrels side-by-side and a rifle barrel below.

Expertise is by definition deep but somewhat narrow, and anybody who fired off appraisals on that array of guns simply on he strength of his memory is going to get one or more drastically wrong.

Lesson 1: Beware the snap, single-source appraisal, especially for an idiosyncratic collection of guns.

There’s a danger in asking a dealer for an appraisal of guns you plan to sell. That danger is obvious: the dealer has a conflict of interest. On the other hand, many “certified firearms appraisers” are essentially in the business of providing inflated appraisals that are used to protect gun owners vis-a-vis insurance companies.

Lesson 2: Beware the “agency problem.” Make sure the appraiser’s interests are aligned with yours.

There are a number of ways to get DIY pricing information of various levels of depth and accuracy. Here’s a quick table:

Blue Book of Gun Values Find it here: pretty accurate. Fairly comprehensive. Easy and fast to use. Book is portable but 2500 pp. Website is The Gold Standard.Con: Costs money.(Book, about $31 at WalMart or Amazon. Website, $35-50/year).
Gun Trader’s Guide Find it here:Pro: Widely available (Amazon, WalMart, etc). Portable (600 pp).Con: Costs money ($23-30). Falls behind rapidly moving values. Weak on surplus and semi-auto weapons. Less comprehensive than Blue Book.
GunBroker Price Comparison Find it here: go to  and select “advanced search” then search for completed auctions.Pro: these are real clearing prices, not estimates like the books. Even extremely rare guns are covered here.Cons: a bit fiddly to do. Depends on you matching guns accurately. Vulnerable to variability in prices in the rarest guns.
Others? The three above are the valuation aids we use. We’d be interested to hear of any others you are using.

As you see, we like the idea of using GunBroker sold values. This also lets you plot short-term trends. The values books don’t have trend information, but are very handy for common, mass-produced guns. Even Gunbroker won’t let you properly appraise a unique gun, or a gun with a unique selling proposition, such as celebrity provenance or documented use or capture by a specific person. To keep an eye on those kinds of values, you need to watch the more rarefied collectors’ auctions that tend to draw the finest (and most valuable) pieces.

A single-source information supply is better than nothing.

Lesson 3: Ceteris paribus, information corroborated by multiple sources and methods is more trustworthy than information from a single source.

Lesson 4: It’s a lot easier, and more resources are available to help you, to appraise common, mass-produced, modern firearms.

Lesson 5: Before you go appraising guns have all these sources on hand. You can actually develop a statistical measure of confidence that takes into account your number of data points.

Many things influence gun prices over time, but the ultimate rigidity of the supply and demand equation holds. A popular World War II film increases the demand for World War II guns, for instance. The rise of cowboy action shooting increased the values of both original and new reproduction single-action revolvers, by increasing people’s interest in those particular firearms. Weapons from uninteresting places and time, or perhaps we should say unpopular places and times, because nothing is uninteresting if you examine it in the right frame of mind, are underpriced — and likely to stay that way. Things that have been produced in the hundreds of thousands and are still being produced are likely to have little collector appeal.

As a rule of thumb, original guns appreciate and reproductions or modified guns don’t, at least, not at a rate above inflation. Also as a rule of thumb, the highest-value weapons will appreciate the most, even percentage-wise, in a rising market (“them that has, gets”) and will also fall the hardest in a falling market. In MBA terms their prices show more variability.

A highly customized gun is like a highly customized car: it suits the taste of the man for whom it was made, and unless he was a trend-setter of impeccable taste, a seller has to find a buyer who has the exact same preferences. The gun is worth more than a box-stock gun to the right buyer: to everyone else, it is worth less. An example that made us smile a couple of years back was a semi-auto M16A1 clone that had been powder-coated from flash hider to buttplate. An exotic finish is one of those customization things: the next guy may be less impressed with your rattle-can “urban camouflage” than you. In this case, the powder-coat job, professionally applied at great expense and with some kind of matching paint on the nonconductive parts, was shocking pink. The market for girly-girls (and, presumably, girly-men) who want a pink M16 is rather constrained. The ultimate buyer got it at a steep discount over a standard gun (so the seller did not recover the sunk cost of the fancy refinish job). That’s something to think about before you have your M4gery decorated with currently trendy zombie graphics. In 20 years when you (or your heirs) go to sell it,  will it still be cutting-edge cool or will it be as much of a period piece as a 1960s paisley-print psychedelic poster?

But, wait! Before we go congratulating the guy who bought the pink rifle for less than the cost of a black one, we need to follow his story to its sad end. And what happened was this: it cost him more to remove the pink finish and reapply an original one than he had imagined, and in the end he would have been better off with buying a black one for a few dollars more in the first place.

Lesson 6: Don’t customize your gun beyond the point of no return, unless you don’t expect or need to recover the money you put into it.

Lesson 7: Buy the exact gun you want. In most cases buying something close and customizing to suit will cost more, and take longer, than patiently waiting for the right one to come along.

Things made with the idea that they would be sold to collectors, though, such as limited editions of common pistols and “War Commemorative Edition” guns with gaudy machine etching and inlay, often disappoint people expecting them to appreciate. The initial editions are usually large, the initial prices high relative to quality (obviously some firms’ custom-shop commemoratives are quite good guns), and the entire edition, or nearly all of it, will be retained in perpetuity in an unfired state. “Collecting” these things is a chump’s game.

Lesson 8 : Collect real rarities, not manufactured artificial ones.

Last thought on these lessons: if someone has “less on,” how does that make him a “more on”? And if you give enough “less ons” to a “more on,” so that he ceases to be a moron, what is he? Or is the English language just a profoundly strange amalgam of Nordic, Germanic, Latin and French that continues to steal shamelessly from the other languages of the world, thus increasing its growth and success? Nothing to do with guns, just food for thought.

Question: Are these any good?

Law Professor Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) reports that these two items by Rory Miller showed up in his mail.

IN THE MAIL: From Rory Miller, Force Decisions: A Citizen’s Guide – Understanding How Police Determine Appropriate Use of Force and Facing Violence DVD.

Engagement dynamics is a long-time interest here, and we’ve received and taught a wide-ranging collection of classes on the subject from and to an even-wider-ranging set of people.

So the question we put to you is: given that interest, and given that we’re a small blog in a big pond, and don’t receive review copies of things in the mail, and given that we don’t know Miller, is his book and/or DVD worth buying? (Answer in the comments… let us know if you want your comment kept private).

(Note: if you use those links, by buying you’ll make a small donation to Glenn, which helps him offset his costs).