Communion Of Dreams

Spinning wheel got to go round.*

I was surprised when one of the other BBTI guys said that he had found a reproduction wheellock on Gunbroker recently, and that it wasn’t even horribly expensive. This one:


Wheellock with Diablo double-barrel pistol.

I was surprised, because there aren’t many reproduction wheellocks out there that I was aware of. It’s a quirky firearm design from the 16th century (Ian from Forgotten Weapons has an excellent primer on Wheellock history and operation in this video), which was superseded by reliable & cheaper flintlocks, and not too many people are familiar with them. But it seems that a firm by the name of Mendi was producing them in Spain in the 1980s. This one is stamped along the top of the barrel “Jacobi Iserlohn”, which is a firm selling historical firearms in Iserlohn, Germany. You might be able to make out the stamp in this image:


Jacobi Iserlohn.

We didn’t know much about the gun beyond what was stamped on it — it came with no paperwork or anything (which, being black powder, it didn’t need).  As you can see in the image above, it says that it is “CAL 45”, and a normal .451 lead ball seemed to fit, so …

So we figured we’d try and figure it out and shoot it, of course. The first thing was to check the bore, see if the mechanism worked, etc. Most things checked out fine, though it looked like someone had substituted welding rods clamped between a piece of thick lead sheet for the historical pyrite used to generate sparks. See for yourself:


Welding rod?

Which would clamp in this (called the ‘dog’):


We adjusted the rods so they were equal length and extended far enough to engage the spinning wheel of the mechanism when the dog was lowered. So far, so good.

Next was to test the wheel mechanism. The way a wheellock works is that there’s a spring inside the stock, attached to the inside of the wheel usually by a chain or strap. Using a suitable crank (we didn’t have one that came with the gun, so we used a simple adjustable wrench), you crank the wheel until a ratchet inside locks it into place. We discovered that this gun only needed to be cranked about half a turn before the ratchet clicked. When you pull the trigger the ratchet is released, and the wheel spins.

We tried that, and it seemed to work.

OK, time to load the thing. We elected to start with a mild load typical for other black powder handguns we have in .44/.45 — 30gr of fffg. The lead ball seemed to fit tightly enough into the bore that we went without a patch. All of that went smoothly.

Last was to put some powder in the pan and see if we could shoot it. First, we cranked the wheel into place. Then we put some powder beside where the wheel was, next to the touch-hole. And gave it a try:

Remember, we had no idea what to expect.

At least we got sparks. Just sparks. The powder in the pan failed to ignite. We considered the matter, and decided that we had been too stingy with the powder, that it needed to more or less fill the pan all around where the wheel protruded.

The result:

Excellent! It fired! It hit the target! It didn’t blow up and kill us! Yay!

So each of us had a go:


That last one’s me. And let me share what it felt like.

Mostly, like shooting any similarly sized/powerful black powder handgun, with the gentle push of black powder. But when you pulled the trigger, you could feel a little bit of torque as the wheel released and spun for a moment. It was different than either a flintlock or cap & ball handgun, in that regard. And the delay between pulling the trigger and ignition was about what it’s like with a flintlock, perhaps a little longer.

All in all, it was pretty cool. And it wasn’t something I expected to ever have a chance to actually try, since most of the wheellocks I was aware of were either 300+ year antiques or fairly high-end (and rare) custom reproductions. Needless to say, if you do get a chance to try one of these things, definitely do it.

Jim Downey

* of course.

(Cross posted to my ballistics blog.)

The Fightin’ Swedes/Swiss.
September 4, 2020, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, tech | Tags: , , , ,

[For some reason, Facebook is having problems with my ballistics blog being considered “spam”. Until I get it resolved, I’m going to post partial info about new blog posts over there, here, so people can link it off FB. Please just ignore if ballistics isn’t of interest.]

Two last battle rifles today: the Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55 and the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle.

Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55

Swedish Ag 3

Swedish Automatgevär m/42

We should have done our homework on this.

Why? Because we had no idea about how to operate it. I’ll save you the several videos of us fumbling with it, trying to figure out what the hell made the thing work. Instead, go watch this video of how the mechanism works, if you’re interested.

At least none of us mashed our thumbs, which even Ian at Forgotten Weapons was nervous about (watch his second video there).

[The entire post can be found here.]


Review: S333 Thunderstruck.
September 1, 2020, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, RKBA, tech | Tags: , , , ,

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This is the Standard Manufacturing S333 Thunderstruck revolver:

Thunder 1

It’s an innovative, 8-round revolver which fires two rounds of .22WMR (.22mag) with one pull of the trigger.

OK, if you like this not-so-little handgun, you might not want to read this review. Just move along and save yourself some time.

No, really.

[The entire post can be found here.]

Two Classic Battle Rifles.
August 31, 2020, 4:29 pm
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You can probably guess which ones I mean. Yeah, that’s how big of an impact they had on history.

The M1903 Springfield and the Lee-Enfield (specifically, the SMLE No.1 Mk III). Both bolt-action guns (actually, both derived from the G98 Mauser design). Both shooting powerful .30 caliber cartridges with an effective aimed range in excess of 500 yards. And both having played an important role in World War I and World War II.

Of course, there are some real differences between these cousins. Let’s talk about that after a brief look at each one:

[The entire post can be found here.]

1898 Krag-Jørgensen Rifle
August 30, 2020, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, tech | Tags: , , , ,

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Man, I’m happy that I took a lot of images last weekend when we shot these rifles.

OK, as I’ve noted, I’m not really a “rifle guy”. And especially not a “historic rifle guy”. Oh, I can generally ID most of the major designs in history, but damned if I would be able to identify the dozens of minor variations and such.

Which is why I’m writing these blog posts: I’m learning a lot. And like I said, I’m glad that I took a lot of images, because it’s allowed me to determine specific details key to figuring out what a given gun actually is. Like the “1898” stamped on the side of the receiver of this Krag-Jørgensen Rifle:

[The entire post can be found here.]

4 Nice Reproduction Rifles
August 29, 2020, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, tech | Tags: , , , ,

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As part of our historical rifle weekend, we shot 4 different reproduction rifles all dating to the latter part of the 19th century. In rough chronological order, these were the Spencer Repeating Rifle, the Remington Rolling Block Rifle, the Springfield Model 1873, and the Winchester Model 1885 (High Wall version). Here are our four reproductions:

[The entire post can be found here.]

‘Watch the skies, everywhere!”

That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.

It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.

So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?

Here’s the first:

First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

And here’s the second:

Welcome to the World, Drone-Killing Laser Cannon

Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.

The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.

* * *

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.


I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.

“Watch the skies!”, indeed.


Jim Downey

*As good an explanation as any.

Matter of perspective.

This will probably come across as a little brag-y. Sorry about that. Not my intention.

The other day I got a phone call. For Legacy Art. The gallery we closed May 31, 2004. Yeah, more than ten years ago.

And after I got through abusing the telemarketer over this point, I got to thinking about the many changes in the last decade.

First thing I should say up front: I’m at a low point in my bipolar cycle, as I’ve noted recently. That means that my self-image isn’t all that great. This isn’t a debilitating depressive episode or anything — I’ve managed to continue to work steadily, as well as enjoy the usual aspects of life. So not horrid. But it is sometimes difficult to not focus on the things which haven’t gone well, and my own failings which are often a component of that. And one of those failings is a sense of not accomplishing much, of being lazy, of wasting my time and the time of others.

Anyway. I got to thinking about the changes in the last decade. And surprisingly, more positive things came to mind than negative ones. That fed on itself, and I found myself making a mental list of the accomplishments.

In no particular order or ranking: wrote two books (one of them as co-author). Most of the way done with another. Visited Wales. And Argentina. And New Zealand. And Italy. Wrote several thousand blog posts. Became something of an authority on small caliber ballistics. Wrote several hundred articles and columns for publication. Was the full-time caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s. Have done conservation work on something more than a thousand (that’s just a guess … may be closer to two thousand) books and documents. Made some great hot sauces. Raised, loved, and then said farewell to a great dog. Tried to be a good friend, and husband. Tried to help others when I could.

We all fail. We all have things we’ve done that haunt us in one way or another. Sometimes, those fears and demons overwhelm. Me, at least.

I may or may not be at a turning point in my bipolar cycle. But I’m glad that at least I can think of things I have accomplished. That helps.

Back to work on St. Cybi’s Well.


Jim Downey


For those who don’t know, one of my other interests is handgun ballistics research. Specifically, in regards to how barrel length effects bullet velocity for different cartridges and loadings. Even if you don’t like guns, the physics behind ballistic performance can be very interesting.

And here’s a wonderfully graphic image showing those physical forces:

Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum

Text from the source to go with this image (site is Finnish, and English is not the author’s first language):

Let’s talk a bit about .44 Magnum cartridge. Despite of being very close to diameter of .45ACP the .44Mag is totally different beast. Average .45ACP round generates ~650J of hit energy while .44Mag makes easily 1600J and can be pushed much more beyond that. This specific gun however cannot utilize all potential of .44 Magnum cartridge because of very short barrel. It simply cannot burn all powder. As you can see there is huge cone shaped spray of unburnt stuff flying in the air. With longer barrel show would be different.

Ok, you may have noticed the flames. They are something we haven’t seen before. Especially when you look picture below and huge left side flame in it. Interesting thing is that major amount of the flame is escaping between cylinder and barrel. That short barrel seems to puff bullet our so fast that powder mass just flies out unignited.

The site is filled with a bunch of great high-speed camera images of guns being fired. And it also has something else which is new to me: ‘natural stereoscopic’ images of guns being fired. Like this one:

Now, what do I mean ‘natural stereoscopic’ images? Well, this is pretty cool itself. Here’s a reference link & explanation from the Kuulapaa site:

Help: How to Free-View the Stereo Pairs

Each stereo view consists of two images, one for each eye. Free viewing is the technique that will allow you to direct each of these images separately and simultaneously into each eye. Once that happens, you are said to have “fused” the pair of images into a stereo view.

At the bottom of this page a stereo pair of images is loading with which you can practice. All the stereo pairs shown on this site are in the “cross-eyed” format (my apologies to all the “wall-eyed” people). That means that the first (leftmost) image is for your right eye and the right image is for your left eye.

There are then a series of practice image to show what he means and give you a chance to develop this viewing skill. It works fairly well for me, but does tire my eye muscles fairly quickly. Give it a try and see how you do.

Jim Downey

*Couldn’t resist. Lyrics here.

Cross posted to the BBTI blog.

Sometimes the future is cool …

… and sometimes it is just chilling.

First, meet Seth’s grandpa:

Watson is a cognitive capability that resides in the computing cloud — just like Google and Facebook and Twitter. This new capability is designed to help people penetrate complexity so they can make better decisions and live and work more successfully. Eventually, a host of cognitive services will be delivered to people at any time and anywhere through a wide variety of handy devices. Laptops. Tablets. Smart phones. You name it.

In other words, you won’t need to be a TV producer or a giant corporation to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities. Everybody will have Watson — or a relative of the Watson technologies — at his or her fingertips.

Indeed, Watson represents the first wave in a new era of technology: the era of cognitive computing. This new generation of technology has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as today’s programmable computers did so over the past 60+ years. Cognitive systems will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information, by learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural for us.

Next, consider the implications of this idea:

Now think of another way of doing this. Think of a website that is a repository of all these IDs, and is government-owned or certified. Why can’t I just visit a police station once, pay a fee (so the government doesn’t lose money on this), show all my documentation, have the government scan and upload everything so that all policemen and pertinent authorities can have access. Then my car insurance company, my health insurance company, the car registration agency can all notify this government repository if I stop paying, or if my insurance policy is not valid anymore.

Imagine a world in which the police has tablets or smartphones that show nice big pictures of you, in which whatever they currently do secretly with NSA-type agencies they do openly instead. If they find you without an ID they ask, “who are you?”, and once you give your name, they can see your photo and a ton of information about you. It would be so hard for anyone to impersonate you. I find it paradoxical that while some government agencies spy on you and know all about you, others pretend to know nothing until you show them a piece of plastic that if you lose, somebody else can impersonate you with. We need to evolve from this. We need to evolve into a system in which we have no wallets and a safer world!

Yeah, safer

TrackingPoint, the biggest name in “smart” scope technology today, is rolling out their next big project. Not too surprising, it is a military endeavor. Called the “Future of War,” TrackingPoint is gearing up for a new market.

The company has been getting a lot of attention with their high-end big-bore hunting rifles that are designed to track targets up to 1,000 yards away. The “smart” aspect of the scope technology is a host of rangefinders and sensors that, combined with optical image recognition software, calculate the ballistics of the shot and compensate for it automatically.

TrackingPoint’s hasn’t exactly concealed their intentions to develop arms for the military market. That was always a possibility and something they all but confirmed when they began talking about their second-generation precision guided rifle systems that, chambered for .50 BMG, are expected to be effective well over 3,000 yards. The cartridge, .50 BMG, is a devastating long-range anti-personnel and anti-material round.

From TrackingPoint’s website:

Target handoff can be achieved by leader touching a smart rifle icon and map location at which point the designated user will see an arrow in his scope directing him to look at handoff location. Whether from shooter to shooter, leader to shooter, drone to leader to shooter, shooter to leader to drone, handoff is a simple touch interface via a mobile device and mobile apps augmented by the appropriate a la carte communications gear.

Emphasis added, because:

The MADSS is one mean robot. Developed by defense industry leader Northrop Grumman and currently being showcased at the Fort Benning, Ga. “Robotics Rodeo,” the MADSS is a 1 1/2-ton unmanned ground vehicle designed to provide soldiers with covering fire while cutting down targets.

Make no mistake, it’s an automatic shooting machine, But it requires people to operate it and set targets. The MADSS — Mobile Armed Dismount Support System — tracks and fires on targets only once it gets the green light. It won’t shoot unless a soldier is directing it.

It’s half killer robot, half killer giant remote-control car.

But you know, not all cars need someone in control of them these days:

In Silberg’s estimation, the reason is that Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz drivers are “already accustomed to high-tech bells and whistles, so adding a ‘self-driving package’ is just another option.” Throw in the possibility of a special lane on highways for autonomous vehicles and the ability to turn the system on and off at will, and premium buyers were sold on the option full-stop.

Considering that Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz all plan to have some kind of semi-autonomous, traffic jam assistance feature either on the market or coming in the next few years, and it’s obvious that luxury brands are well aware of what their buyers want.

Draw your own conclusions.


Jim Downey