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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reality Check* Number TWO- the ‘500 Round Break In’

The 500-round break-in story is a very recent development, and one propagated by firearms manufacturers. I see internet posts from guys having problem after problem with brand-spanking new 1911s, and being told by the manufacturers that the need to run 500 rounds of Brand X ball through them before they send the gun back. This is a dodge to avoid or postpone a service issue.

I'd also say that 85% of those problems are directly attributable to poor extractors, glued-in ejectors that work loose, undersized 'match' chambers that were cut with a dull reamer; and lots of other stuff that wouldn't happen if folks were building them per the Ordnance Department specs, or Kuhnhausen's manual. Shooting such a gun for another 500-1000 rounds is a frustrating waste of time and ammunition. Folks in large numbers have been sold the 'break-in' line, and bought it. Folks in even greater numbers have repeated it as The Gospel Truth. They fail to understand that the 1911 design is no more complicated than a Briggs & Stratton engine. You take good-quality parts, assemble them correctly, and check things as you go. The finished product works. If you've got gas and spark in the proper amounts and in the right places, at the right times- it just can't help but run.

Hard-fit match 1911s are another story, but not entirely. Builders of match 1911s do most of the finishing touches by careful fitting and hand-cycling the heavily-oiled parts until they run smoothly. The first 150 rounds of ball should seat the parts and finish the process.

I find it interesting that for the first 85 years of the 1911’s life, we never heard of this critical '500 round break in'. This includes the National Match and Gold Cup Colts, and a host of similar guns built by AMU smiths and those who followed in their footsteps. Honest, ‘2” at 50 yards’ target 1911s. Match shooters weren’t buying these ‘softball’ guns and shooting a case of ‘hardball’ through them before taking them on the circuits. They were expected to work and shoot like a house afire when new; if they didn’t, they went back to the bench for correction. The government would never have adopted the design, if there were any truth to the notion that you can expect malfunctions for the first 500 rounds of the gun’s service life. If you build them right and feed them in-spec ammo- they will run.

This all applies to autos & revolvers equally. Revolvers are thought to be essentially immune to ammo-related reliability problems, and when they’re right- they just about are immune to them. I still am inclined to believe than an awful lot of revolver problems are owner-induced. One of the commonest revolver problems we read about is ‘misfires’ and about 9 times out of 10 the culprit is insufficient mainspring tension. Some folks just can’t leave well enough alone, and they swap out springs that were engineered to work under any conditions, with springs designed to give the perception of professional action work, where none was done. They fiddle around with something that 'can't help but run' and in their quest for a six-pound DA pull, they create a $500.00 doorstop. Seems to me that it would be a whole lot more sensible to just invest in ammunition, and learn to shoot the gun the way it came from the factory. The gun will smooth up significantly from use, and every round of ammo fired goes toward proving it- absolutely knowing that it will work for you when the chips are down.

The manufacturers have QC issues with revolvers, too. I have read numerous posts in the past two years where someone's new SP101 binds up on them at the range. I used to recommend the SP without reservation, because 3” model we had 5 years ago was perfect. The 2” SP we have now is just as good as the first one, and after a little judicious polishing it is even smoother. But Ruger seems to have let a number out that weren't properly assembled, and I just about have withdrawn that recommendation. If you get a good one, they're fine. If you don't get a good one, you'd be better off with a Kel-Tec 9mm.

A lot of factors can dictate whether a particular handgun is reliable or not and experience has taught me that 'auto or revolver' is way down on that list of deciding factors. Just like the Briggs & Stratton engine mentioned earlier, if they’re put together right- they will run. If they’re put together wrong however, you can pull on the rope until your eyeballs fall out- and while you might create some interesting expletives, you ain’t gonna fix the problem that's keeping it from running.

Any defense or hunting gun needs to be proven, which is something entirely different than this imaginary ‘break-in period’ to get them to run. If your new, unaltered handgun don’t work, press the issue with the manufacturer until they FIX it. Tell them that hand-feeding a case of ammo through a ‘broke’ gun, one or two rounds at a time, ain’t gonna fix a dang thing. That dog won’t hunt. Tell ‘em Sarge said so.

Anybody with common sense ought to know that. They’re just hoping you don’t have any.

*In 'Reality Checks' we will address some articles of pure fertilizer that have been unloaded onto the gun-buying public by gun manufacturers in recent years. Unfortunately they have found strong allies in certain gun writers, gun magazines, and purveyors of "Internet Wisdom'. I'm going to try to turn out about one of these a week, for the next 4-5 weeks.
Some old-school thinking is definitely called for here.

Most of you (I'm finding out) simply don't know any better, and if you believe what you read on most Internet Firearms Forums (and apparently you DO) you're never going to get a feel for what gun ownersip was was like under the tutelage of patriarchs like Keith, Skelton, Askins & Cooper. While I won't pretend to be worthy of changing their typewriter ribbons, I'm going to do my best to pass on the practical, reality-based thought processes they brought to bear on the firearms topics of their time. This is going to be fun.-Sarge


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sound wisdom. Buy it and it should shoot, right out of the box.

I used to build engines for fun. It took years of "improving" engines to realize that the engineers employed by the car manufacturers knew more about their product than a pass-through writer at Go Faster magazine. I learned to build it as it was and it worked and lasted a long time. If I wanted more power, I did as the manufacturers did, I installed an engine with bigger holes.

I am always astounded at how well cars and trucks work right off the assembly line - especially considering all of the people who buy and drive them. A Model 1911 pistol is less complicated than an fuel pump, which is only one component of an engine. It should work right off the line, every time, or it should be fixed by the outfit that let it out the door.

Thanks for the article and wise advice.

Friday, November 16, 2007 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meow meow meow meow!

Sunday, May 11, 2008 7:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earlier this month I showed up at a training class with the wrong pistol box. Jim Garthwaite (2004 American Pistolsmith Guild Pistolsmith of the Year) graciously loaned me a pistol he had just completed. Jim had fired exactly one magazine's worth of ball through it.

That custom pistol ran without a hiccup for three hundred rounds in four hours. It fed and fired any time.

I hope he lets me buy it.

I imagine that some manufacturers hope that before you get to 1000 rounds you'll forget why you're "breaking it in."



Friday, June 20, 2008 6:48:00 AM  

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