Mad Mondays: 8. The first modern repeaters.

History, Mad Mondays

Although there were a few early attempts at creating repeating firearms, there was a huge breakthrough in 1836 with the Colt Paterson.

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This revolver was the first use of the single-action, where the firearm was cocked and the cylinder rotated and indexed automatically. This was aided by the introduction of the percussion cap, which vastly simplifies delivering an ignition charge to a main charge of powder compared to a flintlock. 

So, what did this mean for firearms? Well, all of a sudden in order to take a second shot all you had to do was lift your thumb, grab the hammer and pull it back, then squeeze the trigger. In a world where nearly every gun available to people required you to ram a powder and ball down the muzzle with some force, prime a pan and then take aim and fire, this was a massive increase in firepower. Especially as the operator of this new revolver could follow up their first two shots with another three.

Admittedly, this came at a bit of a cost. The first revolvers were perfectly good, until they broke. Unit armourers did not have the expertise, nor the parts available to repair broken Patersons. As a result once a Paterson broke, it was unserviceable. To the soldiers of the time, this gave the impression that they were fragile. Whether or not this is fair, the result was that although these were adopted for military use, they did not see widespread adoption.14554256_3

Fortunately, the Republic of Texas liked the look of Colt’s revolving firearms well enough that they bought around 400 pistols, shotguns and rifles for their Navy. Although this service didn’t last long in itself, when the Texan Navy was disbanded these revolvers were surplussed off and ended up in the hands of the Texas Rangers. With them, the Paterson saw extensive use against the Comanche during the Texas-Indian wars, finding a great deal of favour among the rangers.

 

Such was their preference for this over every other firearm available, that Zachary Taylor, Commander US-Mexico Border at the time, sent Samuel Walker (formerly of the Texas Rangers, now serving with the US Mounted Rifles) to New York to have  Samuel Colt make a few changes to the Paterson to make it more suited to battle and cavalry use in particular.

Unfortunately, Colt was out of business. Sales had not been good enough to keep his company afloat and it had closed down. However this significant military contract was lucrative enough to allow him to undertake the design work and contract Eli Whitney to manufacture the new revolvers.

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This new model was named the Walker Colt, it featured: six shots, a simpler loading system (including a built-in ramrod) and at .44 and .454 cal were big enough to fell a man or horse with one shot, important not only for combat but also dispatching wounded animals safely.

This still wasn’t perfect, with the built-in ramrod prone to deploying under recoil, preventing the efficient cycling of the gun, though many fixed this in the field with a piece of rawhide to tie it up into place! However, the firepower this offered was outstanding and a real man-killer.

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We’ve now jumped ahead by following this line, so in the next article we shall take a step back and look at the first adoptions of percussion weapons by militaries, before looking once again at the development of repeating firearms.

 

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You can find other articles on the development of firearms overall here and on historical interest pieces here.

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Mad Mondays: 7 The percussion cap and the not-quites

History, Mad Mondays

In the last post, we looked at some fantastic examples of early revolvers, such as the Collier.

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The percussion cap was not a direct development from flintlocks, fulminates were discovered by Edward Charles Howard in 1800 and were initially used as a replacement for priming powder in a similar fashion to a flintlock (mixed with some other components). As well as being more reliable to fire, there was no cloud of smoke rising from the frizzen, giving a clear view right up until the moment the bullet left the barrel.

The first patent awarded for the percussion cap was to François Prélat in 1818, though there is a great deal of controversy over who actually invented it, with Joshua Shaw claiming to have invented it in 1814 (US patented in 1822). Other claimants include: Joseph Manton, Colonel Peter Hawker and Joseph Egg.

With the invention of the percussion cap, the format of the revolver could start to take its modern form, with one action operating each cylinder independently one after another. Before we get there however, there were a few alternatives that floated about in the early days. It took about 30 years before the percussion cap came into common military use in spite of its obvious advantages, as a result there were a few interesting civilian developments first, deciding how best to use it.

Some very early percussion guns used a frizzen-type system, with a hopper of caps that dropped one cap into the firing tray as the cylinder was rotated. However it was much more common to attach a cap to each chamber. Much simpler, much less likely to go wrong.

turrett-rifle-blog

One format was the turret rifle/pistol, this had a disk with chambers drilled around the circumference, each loaded with a charge and ball. Now, the eagle eyed among you will notice something about this.

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Each chamber is pointing in a different direction. 360 degrees of different directions, including back at the shooter. Now, with an unsealed cylinder there is a certain amount of uncontrolled flame around the chamber as you fire and there is a very small chance of a ‘chainfire’ occurring, where said fire jumps from one chamber to another, setting several other chambers off out of alignment.42cal-brass-pistol-right

So, if this unlikely event did happen, you could potentially shoot your target, followed in very quick succession by yourself. Although the design makes this occurrence incredibly unlikely, it seems that competitors to this design encouraged this urban myth to spread.

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Another option that never really caught on was the Harmonica gun. Instead of a cylinder, you had a square bar, drilled at regular intervals for chambers, with a percussion cap nipple usually located on the top, which could then be stuck by the firearm’s hammer.

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You’ll not find many of these about, those that were made as rifles aren’t too bad, but they make a pistol quite a bulky business, a bit too much so for a convenient carry piece. One famous maker (arguably the only famous maker) and the apparent designer of Harmoinca guns was Jonathan Browning. How on earth he had time to design and build guns among producing 24 children is a mystery to me, but he still managed to be the father of the John Moses Browning. 

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If you don’t know who he is, we’ll get to him much later on. He’s kind of important to modern firearms.

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You can find other articles on the development of firearms overall here and on historical interest pieces here.

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Spring SMLE: Part 3

Custom builds, Imperial Era, Inter-War (1918-1939), Lee-Enfield, Rifles, SMLE, VSR SMLE, Weapons, WWI, WWII

The last SMLE build post was a view of the rear sight on its own. It is now mounted on the rifle, awaiting the rear sight leaf.

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The foresight unit for this is experimental, 3D printed in ABS. This design isn’t perfect but it’s not a bad start!

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The ridge on the back was accidental, I considered cutting a recess for this to fit, but decided against it. I cut this off and filed it flat.

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A view of the back of the foresight, which has slumped a bit in printing. The next version will hopefully be more square.

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I cut a flat section at the end to take the nose cap insert. The back of the insert doesn’t reach the back of the nose cap, so there is a piece at the back cut to a curve to fit this part into. The hole drilled through is for the vertical  bolt that secures the nose cap.

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In future versions I hope to have wood going further forward into the cap itself, with the transverse nose cap screw going through it. This system is still pretty strong though as it still has a substantial bit of walnut at the front.

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In place, the eagle-eyed among you may notice that the top guard is different to the last picture of it. I’m making a new top guard that is a bit chunkier and rugged than the original for durability.

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There’s still a good bit of material to remove, but this will just be a couple of hours’ work.

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Then some alterations to the rear sight before sanding, oiling and finishing up!
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You can see the whole build so far here and a potted history of Lee-Enfield development here.

If you are interested in this project or have an idea of your own, drop us a line on enquiries.vintageairsoft@gmail.com to discuss. ‘Like’ our Facebook page or follow the blog to get regular updates on projects and interesting videos and articles. 

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Mad Mondays: 6. The Revolver is born

History, Mad Mondays

As discussed a few weeks ago, metal cartridges were not an option yet as precision mass-production didn’t exist. While you could make a handful of cartridges that would work in one given firearm, Making hundreds of thousands of cartridges that would work in every musket issued to your soldiers potentially all the way around the world was a manufacturing impossibility.

During the years of the Lorenzoni action, soldiers were almost universally issued paper cartridges to speed up reloading over manual powder pouring and ball loading. As a result, well-trained soldiers could fire three to five rounds per minute with a consistent load each time. As the advantage of breech loaders became clear, militaries looked at the various options for cartridges that could be loaded from the back of the gun and continue to speed up the rate of fire.

Although manufacturing had come a long way since Henry VIII’s carbine, a universal metal cartridge wasn’t a realistic possibility yet, however if designers could find a way to make a series of cartridges that were somehow locked to the gun…

This is how the revolver was born. Early revolvers were made as rifles and pistols and in wheellock and flintlock versions, clearly developments from earlier rotating-barrel designs, some were even made by the same manufacturers.large_di_2013_0644

They were quite different to the revolvers of today, cylinders were loaded from the front with loose powder, wadding and ball much like miniature musket barrels. After each shot the cylinder had to be rotated and indexed by hand. In the first models, the pan had to be re-primed as well, though self-priming pans did really start to make sense for these pieces.

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This genre of firearms was short-lived, the percussion cap changed the way that firearms were able to be used and designed overnight. As a result they are not well-known today compared to their descendants of only 20 years later.

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One of the few to gain any attention is the Collier system, which by modern standards was a flop with only 150-450 produced. But for hand-made, cutting edge armaments this wasn’t doing too badly for the day. This had a hand-turned cylinder and a self-priming pan, which refilled as you cocked the hammer.

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Some have suggested that Samuel Colt may have been inspired to create his revolver by one of these designs, apparently coming across them during his travels in India.

However it is interesting to note that this late Collier revolving carbine in the Royal Armouries collection has either an unusually complex indexing system or something which looks awfully like a slot for a hand in the back plate and arms on the back of the cylinder…

This guy got SO close to completely revolutionising firearms. It was just within reach to create the single-action revolver 16 years ahead of Colt. As it was, the gas-seal for these would have made it impossible but it could have been remedied for the loss of a little velocity.

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You can see Ian’s AWESOME video on these at Forgotten Weapons.

 

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Links:

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-15216.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-40772.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-35751.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-10494.html

 

 

Mad Mondays: 5. The Ferguson Rifle

History, Imperial Era, Mad Mondays

The disadvantages of a muzzle-loading firearm at this point were quite clear. They were slow to load, inaccurate and could not be easily re-loaded on horseback. 

The solution would be to switch over to a breech-loading option. This allows for faster re-loading, the ball does not have to be squashed down the barrel or patched (for accuracy) or loose fitting for speed of loading.

The trick was finding a suitable system that could be batch produced. Interestingly, for a time when thread standardisation was a major difficulty in manufacturing, a tapered, 11-thread screw provided a possible solution.

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The inventor was Major Patrick Ferguson, modified from an earlier design by Issac de la Chaumette. Ferguson acquired a patent in 1776 and was permitted to take an Experimental Corps of Riflemen to fight in the rebellion going on in the American Colonies.

The only actions these rifles saw that can be seriously verified are the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Brandywine, in which Ferguson was wounded and while recovering, his Corps was disbanded.

 

So, how did this work?

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At the back of the chamber, there is a brass plug. This has a tapered thread. The tapering was important, as once it had been fired fouling would build up on these threads, the tapering would allow free movement of the action once the initial break was made.

The 11 parallel threads meant that instead of a number of revolutions, the breech could be opened in one fluid movement.3388773_02_ferguson_breech_loading_rifle__640

You can then insert the ball into the breech (remember, you’re loading from the breech, not the  muzzle now!), followed by your powder charge. Screw the action closed, clear loose powder off the barrel and prime the pan.

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Although this sounds like an involved process to modern readers, it is significantly faster than reloading a musket correctly, as demonstrated by the rate of fire being 6-10 rounds per minute. Even a very well trained infantryman may only manage 3-4 shots per minute with a muzzle loader.

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The Ferguson is widely recognised as being the first breech-loading rifle ever adopted by a military. Although it only saw limited service, it paved the way for other breechloaders to be tried and used. In the US, the M1819 Hall Rifle was adopted and used in the American Civil War, though the first military to adopt a breech-loading rifle as the standard arm for infantry was Norway (the Kammerlader).

Kammerlander

The Kammerlader

 

You can watch a great video on the Ferguson over at Forgotten Weapons here.

 

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Mad Mondays: 4. Lorenzonis

History, Mad Mondays, Weapons

Sadly with the missed opportunity of the early reusable cartridge, designers went down more complicated routes to achieve multi-shot solutions.

 

One option mechanised the reloading procedure from the back of the gun. One type, the so-called ‘Lorenzoni’ system from the 1680s used a rotating lever to rotate the breech past hoppers that would fill it with a ball, then a measured charge of powder. The example pictured also primes the pan, so after each shot all you need to do is drop the pistol, pointed down; half cock, close the frizzen and turn the handle 360 degrees.large_di_2013_0319_web_

This is by far the best system for auto-reloading loose powder, due to the angles of the cylinder a flashback into the powder reservoir is unlikely, if not impossible. The complexity and limitations of the use of this meant there was no military adoption, though at this time most militaries did not issue pistols as they were privately purchased by officers anyway.

large_di_2013_0320_web_And so, the search for repeating firearms keeps going…

The pistols featured here are part of the Royal Armouries Collection:
https://collections.royalarmouries.org/…/rac-object-15211.h…

You can see more over at Forgotten Weapons here:
http://www.forgottenweapons.com/lorenzoni/

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The Webley review

Customer Reviews, Imperial Era, pistol, Weapons, webley, WWI, WWII

I thought it was about time that I took a look at the new Well Webley. Having owned a Wingun for some time and having seen the incredibly low price point of the Well I had to see what it was like.

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First impressions:

Side by side, these two guns look very similar in shape. It’s clear that the Well is a plain clone of the Wingun, differing in a few small details, other than the obvious differing finish. Although the Wingun is available in a black finish, I’ve never had one to compare to this.

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The Well finish is thick, when you first get it it needs breaking in a bit to make the action smooth both in the hammer, trigger and break-action.

The Well lacks the detail of trademarks, but in use these are not things you will realistically notice. It does however have some seamlines which would need filing off for the optimal aesthetics.

Weight-wise they are very similar, with similar heft and balance. On the scales, there is only 10g between them. It is quite clear that the Well is a direct clone on the basis of this. Aside from the finish and trades, the only clear identifier of the Well is the screw that controls the cylinder lock. This is a Phillips head rather than a flat head. I have no idea why they chose to do this as they use flat head screws elsewhere.

 

The shells appear to be interchangeable (however see below for more detail on this), I can drop Wingun and Well shells into each revolver with both cycling absolutely fine. The Wingun shells are better fitted and finished, with the heads of the Well shells being a little more rough and a little softer. The Wingun shells also have ‘Webley .455’ written on the back, which may seem to make them more authentic at first glance, this is disregarding the diameter of the shells being .38.

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In terms of feel, both are pretty much identical. The Wingun is perhaps a little smoother, but to be fair it has seen heavy use ever since I bought it, meaning any rough edges have long since worn off. The break action is slightly easier on the Wingun, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I have had this revolver open on me in the field: resulting in either spilt shells or a delay while I close it in order to fire. The Well appears to have a little nodule on the action lock which gives a slightly more positive lock-up.

The Well, on first opening the revolver, had a very loose fitting cylinder. The cylinder lock does not work like the original (which is very well replicated on the Wingun), but appears to be entirely reliant on the two screws that hold the locking piece itself. These were initially far too loose, meaning that the locking piece did not grip the cylinder. On tightening, the cylinder no longer fell out, however it became unreliable to cycle in double action. Loosening the cylinder lock slightly allowed the cylinder to remain locked in place and cycle fairly reliably.

The auto eject works well on both guns. The Well is perhaps a little heavier, but again this could be due to wear on the older Wingun. The barrels, on all airsoft revolvers I have experience of, move forwards and backwards with an attachment that interfaces with the cylinder to provide a seal and reduce gas loss. On the Wingun, this is aluminium. On the Well it is some kind of rubber. I’m yet to see if it actually makes any difference in wear over time but it does seem to make single action use slightly heavier for the Well. Not so much that you would notice in anything other than a precision shooting environment, which these replicas are really not designed for.

On the note of precision, the Well has a feature the Wingun is seriously lacking. The Well comes with a fixed hop pre-installed in the barrel. Although it is not a majorly difficult feat to install a fixed hop using either the o-ring method or a flat hop, it is nice to be saved a job, especially given it would not have been a difficult thing for the original manufacturers to do.

Testing

Conditions of testing:

Chronoing and accuracy testing will be with .25g BBs. The Wingun is not in stock configuration, it has had an o-ring hop added. The temperature outside hovered around 1 degree Centigrade. It was probably colder in the workshop.

 

Time for the fun bit. Firstly, I loaded a new CO2 cartridge into each gun, fired off 12 shots from each to take the edge off (good practice when you are shooting at people!) and loaded the shells. I started with the manufacturer provided shells, then shot some of the Vintage Airsoft single and shot shells

The results were… interesting and somewhat unexpected. To the point where I will probably retest at a later date. It was VERY cold in the workshop which will account for some of the results but not the inconsistency.

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After firing off a couple of batches of shells it felt like the Well was low on power, so I put it aside to run the same tests on the Wingun. When I finished two Wingun tests, I picked the Well up to continue testing and it was back up to strength. Interestingly it seems like the Well suffered from cooldown much more than the Wingun, which considering their build is near-identical is surprising.

Accuracy:


Accuracy tested at 5m, obviously you will generally be further than this. I may come back and do further testing on this at a later date.

On these Huns head targets, the bull is 30mm, the second ring is 70mm.

The Well:

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The Wingun:

wingun

In this test, the Wingun produced a significantly smaller group. In fact the first Well group was largely not on the paper. Further testing is definitely required.

Notes on use:

The extractor of the Wingun is a a bit more positive. The Well sometimes fits the shells and sometimes does not. It seems random as to when it does or does not, I presume this is due to cylinder movement as described in the first part of this review.
It is hard to see the spacing issue with the VA shells due to their being white, in the picture below you can see that the rims sit proud of the cylinder. It’s no more than a millimetre but it prevents rotation and even lockup.

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How it should look:

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Also, when loading the CO2, the Well grip panel did not click back into place easily. I had to bend the spring clip a few times to try and get the correct angle for it to fit into the lock and hold the grip in place properly.

Another issue I had with the Well was that it did not always cycle reliably, the hand would push the cylinder but not push it all the way around somehow.

 

After using the Well for a bit, this happened:

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The extractor snapped. Hence having to come back later.

Summary

In summary… if these revolver were the same price, from my experience of these two samples, I would say the Wingun edges it. It is more consistently reliable and hasn’t broken in my extensive use of it whereas the Well example I have broke in the testing phase.

The Well does have a more positive lockup, which is nice. Also the ready-fitted hop is a good thing, though when firing the shot shells it appeared to have very similarly tight groupings to the Wingun with its o-ring hop.

So the difficult bit is that they are not the same price point. The Well is, at the time of writing, 1/3rd of the price of the Wingun (on a good day). It is hard to say that you should spend so much more even when out of the box reliability is such an issue.

 

I am sure that the Well could be made reliable, but it will require time and effort. The Wingun is a pick up and play gun with minimal maintenance required to keep it going.

 

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Done in 2016/New for 2017! Part 1

Weapons

This article will look at two things, what Vintage Airsoft has done in 2016 and what I’m releasing and doing in 2017!

In 2016 I have:

Made rifles!

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GaSMLE

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G98

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G43

Modified some pistols…

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CO2 KWC P04 Luger

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Nagant spindle replacement/repair

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Webley Buttstock

Not to mention of course producing those extremely popular single shot and shotgun shells for Webley and Dan Wesson revolvers:


I have started making some very popular Sten MKII conversions to other classic SMGs.

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MP28

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Sten MkI

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Sten MkV

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T100 SMG

And begun production of the surprisingly popular Tank Crew Spatter Masks.

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I have also started on anti-tank and heavy weapons due to popular demand, staring with the LAWncher:

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And followed up by the SMBL2″ Mortar.

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And of course introduced the pre-production prototype of the FG42.

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This has been one heck of a year: VA has moved to South Wales, which it turns out is a great place to do airsoft! Orders have gone through the roof and there’s now a good range of ready-designed and made products on the Etsy store

 

In Part Two, I’ll outline what will be coming in 2017!

Done in 2016/New for 2017! Part 2

Weapons

In the last piece, I looked at some of the new things done in 2016. Now, it’s time to look ahead to what 2017 has in store!

One of the first jobs is to finish the first example of the FG42 Type 2 production version. Once a few of these have sold I may also look into producing a Type 1 FG42 if there is some interest.

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Work has already begun building an HPA Browning M2 heavy machine gun. I hope to be doing more work on heavy weapons, expanding on work and lessons learned in 2016.

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I have been modifying this 3rd-party replica knee-mortar to fire MOSCARTS and TAG rounds. This and other models of mortar will become central projects this year.
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Anyone who has a Webley loves it. There’s not much you can do to make these more awesome, but adding a bayonet may actually do it. Vintage Airsoft is working on an airsoft-safe replica and hopes to release it by March.

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Those of you who follow the Facebook page will know I am playing with new materials for the revolver shells, as well as shells for new revolvers: The Colt SAA and the Mosin-Nagant.

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Flintsoft is getting slowly more popular, and I can see why. I’ve been wanting an excuse to start making muzzle-loaders for a while and at last a client has given me the excuse I needed, asking for an 1861 Pattern Springfield rifle. I hope to have this completed by May at the latest and produce a range of other muskets over the rest of the year.
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Of course, I hope to produce a good few more bolt-action rifles! Rifles I have my sights on include the L42A1 (pictured), T99 and T38 Arisakas once I have completed the current SMLEs.

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Everyone loves the Ares L1A1 SLR. I do too, but the price is a bit higher than I would like to pay for an AEG. I hope to have, by the end of the year, a Gas Blow-back SLR. Although this won’t be a perfect replica, it will have the kinetic feedback of GBBRs.
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The BC-41 has proven popular of late, so I have made some improvements to the mould to add some detailing on the back side.

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And at last have a rubber Fairbairn-Sykes to offer you! Like my other rubber knives, this has been stiffened to hold their shape better than most rubber knives, which flop about rather unthreateningly, while still being safe to use on someone. It is the Second Pattern F-S, and I believe it is the only one of its kind.

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I’ll also be selling targets for various guns, including airsoft. Some more traditional, shapes, some more modern._dsf8225

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Last but not least, this beautiful beastie has taken up residence in the office. This year I intend to start a range of custom pouches and sheaths where replicas are not readily available.
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If you are interested in the projects shown above or have an idea of your own, don’t forget to drop us a line on enquiries.vintageairsoft@gmail.com to discuss. ‘Like’ our Facebook page or follow the blog to get regular updates on projects and interesting videos and articles. 

Don’t forget you can buy our complete products through Etsy.

Mad Mondays: 3. Henry VIII Carbine

History, Mad Mondays, Weapons

Many of you will have looked at the last Mad Monday post and thought… How did it take someone so long to invent the cartridge? Surely it would have made faster to reload/repeating firearms advance massively.

Well, somebody did. Someone at least as early as 1537. Henry VIII of England possessed this ‘carbine’ in his collection, which is breech loading using a re-fillable steel shell. In fact the breech of this is very similar to Georgian and Victorian early cartridge guns and musket breech-loading conversions of that era.

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Sadly this seems not to have been caught on by industrial designers for about another two hundred years. A similar system was used in some canon, but no-one seemed to click that much the same technique could be used for individual firearms.

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One can only suppose that the fairly close tolerances required to make a gun like this work would make them cost-prohibitive to produce on the large scale required for military issue, not to mention the impossibility of interchangeable or standardised parts when made by hand.

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You can see this piece in the Royal Armouries Collection here.

 

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