Gunsmith Training: Pistolsmithing – Week Two, by R2

Last week was primarily learning about the Colt 1911, as much of the the design and function aspect of it can be found in nearly every gun designed. This week, I finished up the 1911 with tips for solving common problems and issues with it. With the 1911 being one of the most popular handguns in America, they are always there to work on (and fix problems caused by others as well.)

Browning Hi-Power

Immediately after the 1911 section, AGI covered another one of Browning’s masterpieces. While not completely of Browning’s design, since Dieudonne Saive, Browning’s apprentice had to finish the design due to Browning’s death, the Browning Hi-Power is one of the finest firearms in existence. Though many here in America believe the 1911 is the most popular handgun, the Hi-Power has actually held that position for a long time, when you consider the rest of the world. I’m saddened that Browning (Fabrique Nationale) has retired it. However, copies continue to be made in other factories.

Browning’s Improvements to the Basic 1911 Design

Bob covered the improvements that Browning had made to the basic 1911 design, such as using a cam-lock rather than a link-lock system and moving the trigger linkage into the slide rather than straight back, like the 1911’s trigger bow. Bob also pointed out that as firearms design becomes more advanced, most firearms actually get much simpler in their design. That is definitely seen in the progression that the AGI videos show from the 1911 to the Browning.

Variations Between Versions

Only the 9mm version was physically profiled in the video, but Bob did talk about the variations between the Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 versions as well as the .40S&W version. I own several Hi-Powers, and I dissassembled and reassembled them all to get familiar with them, just as I had done with the 1911s. I was able to note the similarities and the differences rather well, though I still have trouble remembering the official names of some parts. The .40S&W versions have an extra locking lug and a bit more meat on the slide, necessitating some other changes, but they are basically the same.

Beretta Brigadier

AGI then covered the locking block system used in Berettas and the Walther PPK. Most interesting in this design was how sensitive the guns were to “loose breach”. While Browning’s designs will tolerate a moderate amount of loose breach, the locking block system will not tolerate any. Bob covered how to remove loose breach in all of the firearms, but interestingly enough, that operation often has a cascading effect. Fixing one problem often induces several other problems, and you have to work through all of the problems in the proper order. Not adhering to the proper order of fixing them means that you will often have to repeat some procedure more than once.

Understanding Design and Function to Think Through Problems

The Beretta also has a two-piece barrel ramp that can be problematic, especially when you start messing around with the loose breach problem. Bob takes time to explain what his design recommendations are and why it should be done that way. This is obviously where the AGI videos excel. Understanding the design and function means that you can think through the logical problems presented and understand why the firearms operate the way they do, why certain problems occur, and know how to fix them. By focusing on understanding how the firearm works, you have the foundation to think through any problem that presents itself rather than just being a parts swapper.

Double Action Semi-Autos

The course then moved into double action semi-autos, starting with Smith & Wesson. I’m not all that familiar with double actions, because I tend to prefer the single action 1911 and Hi-Power. So, this was new territory for me. Bob covered the workings in great detail in the standard pattern: Disassembly, reassembly, then taking it back apart and detailing the individual parts, and profiling how they were designed and what their function was as well as things that can go wrong with them. I found myself having to rewind the DVD many times to understand what he was talking about. The two hour commitment per day quickly became more, as I covered two hours of DVD time but then had to go back and watch parts of it again and again.

The Power of DVD Instruction

I really think this is the power of having DVD instruction. It gives you the ability to rewind and rewatch as many times as necessary to grasp the workings of the mechanism. This capability to repeat the instructionis very helpful when covering a firearm that you know nothing about.

The only difficulty I had was when I borrowed a friend’s S&W firearm to work with and it didn’t match the one on the DVD. Bob was covering the model 459, and he did mention that his was the third generation while pointing out some differences from earlier versions. I was still struggling thinking that I was working on an earlier 459. Due to the course’s emphasis on understanding the design and function of the firearm, I was able to disassemble and reassemble the firearm well. However, it took me nearly an hour the first time.

It became clearn why a clean bench is so important now too. In taking the safety apart, I didn’t cover the hole with my thumb, as Bob instructed me to do, and the detent plunger fell to the workbench and rolled up against my Brownell’s Magna-Tip screwdriver. That seemed strange to me, as it was obviously attracted to the magnetic tip but was stainless steel. I picked up the screwdriver. The tip came with it but wiggled loosely and then fell to the floor. I guess it wasn’t as magnetic as I thought either.

Live and Learn

It was with a sinking heart that I looked at the floor. It’s a concrete floor painted with epoxy paint and covered in the speckled muli-colored paint chips. I couldn’t see the part anywhere. All I could see were spots. I did the gunsmith crawl for nearly 30 minutes, looking for that plunger, but I never found it. Thankfully, I had some stainless steel rod that was the right size. I ended up cutting and filing a new detent plunger. That’s an hour making the plunger and thirty minutes looking for the old one, all because I didn’t keep my thumb over the hole. Live and learn.

Only after I found a copy of The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly – Part 1: Automatic Pistols did I realize that it wasn’t a model 459 I was working on. I had a model 59. It’s similar but different.

Glock, Sig, & Beretta 92

After the S&W, the course covered the Glock, Sig, and Beretta 92 series of pistols. Most notable in these was Sig’s barrel cramming system that allows such fine accuracy out-of-the-box on these pistols. I’m beginning to understand why so many people like the Sig pistols. This is the system that Bob explained how to incorporate the operation of back in the 1911 series to improve its accuracy. It’s more work, but the repeatability and accuracy is well worth the effort if you are willing to put in the work.

Straight Blow-Back

Finally, this week’s course work covered a series of straight blow-back firearms, like the High Standard Duramatic, Browning Buckmark, Smith & Wesson 422, along with several others. The videos did their usual complete job of disassembly, reassembly, and parts functioning. With the exception of the Browning Buckmark, these were also unfamiliar to me. However, they were much simpler to understand, and I had no problems in this section.

Updated AGI DVD

I should note that one of my general concerns was how AGI kept the DVD series updated. This section showed that. After the original firearms were covered, there was an added section, obviously much newer, that covered the Ruger Standard Auto MK-3 and .22/45. This is a popular firearm that has some differences from earlier firearms and need the coverage. I’m glad to know that AGI keeps up on these updates.

Tools & Resources

As already mentioned, I found a copy of The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly – Part 1: Automatic Pistols. While it was used and obviously old, it was very useful in dealing with the S&W Model 59. The glue is giving out on the binding, and the pages are starting to fall out, so I think I’ll convert it to a three ring binder or spiral binder.

The Foredom TX flex-shaft tool and bits came in this week as well. It is much smoother operating that the Dremel that I had. So, the Dremel has been retired with its sanding drums to my wife’s dog pedicure box.


With the new Foredom in hand, the Hi-Power barrel came off the shelf, and I worked it over. The right tool for the job sure makes a difference. I was not only able to fit it to the slide in about 10 minutes, but I was able to grind out and buff all of the ugly marks that the Dremel left in last week’s heart breaking experience. I had to work over the entire chamber exterior though, because the original factory finish didn’t look as nice as the sanded finish from the Foredom.

An 80 grit sanding drum was used to bring the barrel into tolerance, then a 180 grit sanding disk to remove the drum sanding marks. The accessory kit also came with some rubberized silicon polishing bits that I used to bring the surface to a satin finish. I chose not to buff it, since no other part of the gun has a mirror finish. The lettering on the barrel is still sharp and crisp as well. I think I love this tool!

Ed’s Red Solvent and Lube

I’m running low on my favorite gun solvent, Ed’s Red. It’s been a couple of years since I made any. So this week I made a trip to the hardware/automotive store for the ingredients. I use the formula based on Fr. Frog’s web page:



  1. Obtain your one-gallon metal can and clearly mark or label it. (I use an old one-gallon Coleman White Gas metal can as both the mixing can and the storage can. However, I’ve painted the can green, so I don’t get it mixed up. With this paint process, I know it is my Ed’s Red Solvent in the green cans. (Later, I will tell you about Ed Red’s Lubricant in the blue can.)
  2. Spoon the lanolin into the bottom of a cake decorating plastic bag, snip the tip of the bag, twist the top closed, and use the bag to squeeze the lanolin into the narrow mouth of the can. (You can spoon directly into the can, but using the bag is the best way I’ve found to keep from getting the lanolin all over everything.)
  3. Add the acetone and mineral spirits to the can, close the can up, and shake vigorously to help dissolve the lanolin in the solvents. (It will probably not dissolve completely right away, but you can get it about 75% there in about five minutes.)
  4. Add the kerosene and ATF.
  5. Cap it, shake well for a few minutes, and then let it sit over night to finish dissolving the lanolin.

While Fr. Frog recommends adding the ATF first, I add it last because it is a lubricant. The other items are the cleaning agents, and the one pound of lanolin may make it so that you can’t fit the entire four quarts of liquid in the gas can. A bit of missing ATF or kerosene won’t make that much difference.

The kerosene generally comes in one gallon containers here, so I usually buy two quarts of ATF. One is used for the solvent/cleaner “recipe” above and the other for the lubricant. For the lube, you can simply mix one part kerosene and one part ATF to get a compatible lubricant that works well from -65ºF to nearly 600ºF.

Using Ed’s Red

For actual use of Ed’s Red cleaner and lubricant formulas, I keep old empty cans of Goof Off. (We use Goof Off to clean up magic marker labeling from the mason jars as part of our canning.) I paint one of the cans the same color as the Coleman Gas can to use for solvent (green for now) and one a different color (blue for now) to use for the lubricant. The colors aren’t important. These are just what I had on hand and have become used to. You should be consistent though, so you don’t grab the wrong can by mistake.

See Also:

The American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is a DVD/distance learning educational source that specializes in gunsmithing. They offer programs in professional and practical gunsmithing, welding, machine shop including instruction on the lathe, vertical mill and general machine shop. In addition to the complete gunsmithing course, they also offer informational DVDs on specific firearms and armor’s courses for some popular firearms. If you are interested in taking any of the courses or just learning about them, you can request information online or just call them at 1-800-997-9404.


  1. I lived in Susanville, Ca., home of Lassen College Gunsmithing and Bob Dunlap, for many years, I had a shop there, and met Dunlap through it. He brought in a generator from one of his many old cars, it was in many pieces. I looked at it and asked who the monkey was that took it apart. He turned red, then purple, said it was him. I remarked, and at this stage I had never met him, just knew who he was, that he should stick to fixing guns and leave generator work to me. I thought he was going to have a stroke…..I then added that I should also stick to cars and leave gunsmithing to him, because I was never going to get my HK4 working again………He said “Are you possibly suggesting a trade? I sure am!” We became fast friends, to the point of having him over for dinner in later years! He admired my mechanical skills and his gunsmith abilities were beyond belief! I did my best to throw him a curve by asking questions on some odd ball gun or cartridge, ballistics, etc., and it was impossible to fool him, literally impossible! I went so far as to find stupid stuff in books, and I would call his shop, disguise my voice and quiz him, no soap! I watched him solve a problem on my Dads custom .25-06 built on a Mod 722 action. It would not eject a spent case. Three “gunsmiths” had worked on it to no avail. He saw the gun sitting in my shop, asked about the problem, and said “I can fix this gun in 10 seconds….wait, make it, five, no three.” I mentioned the three prior ‘smiths, he said they were ‘wannabe’s. I had learned not to argue with him, so I said go for it. He turned around, asked for an empty case, and proceeded to eject it across the shop. He did this several times, even used a full case. He then handed me the cover on the scope adjustment, with the bottom all covered with brass………At Lassen College where he was the head gunsmith instructor, there was a large sign in the Gunsmith shop which read “First there was John Browning, then there was Bob Dunlap” Dunlap would delight in walking by a bench where a student was working on some weapon, had it totally disassembled, and he would take a part or piece from another bench and add it in……..just testing students knowledge……..Many people didn’t like him because he was “too harsh,” when I asked him about this, he said he didn’t have the patience to deal with sluggards and fools. He was pretty outspoken! Additionally, he was nationally and internationally known and recognized as an unparalleled expert in the field of firearms. I was and am proud to call him my friend. I now live in Idaho and he in Oregon, and we still converse. I have his home phone number on speed dial, and can still call him for advice or conversation! Great, one of a kind guy!

    1. The acetone and mineral spirits, along with a good portion of the kerosene, evaporate out when you are done with the cleaning job. The ATF and a portion of the kerosene are what provide the lubrication. The lanolin gives it a more viscous film while helping with the lubrication.

      I especially like it because with a normal lubricant, fingerprints are an issue. With the lanolin present, that pretty much goes away. When I’m cleaning someone else’s gun and I return it to them, the fact that they can handle it and not leave massive apparent fingerprints that show up is a definite plus.

      The ATF is an adequate lube and the lanolin is not strictly necessary for lubrication.

    1. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was because America was into the 1911 in .45ACP. The rest of the world wanted 9mm. The Browning wasn’t all that popular in the U.S. compared to the 1911. It’s a better gun, but a tough market to crack.

      I had a Hi-Power that I converted to .41AE back in the late 80’s but the frame and barrel lockup couldn’t handle the higher pressures. The lugs on the frame had a tendency to roll back. I shot it a couple of times and then converted it back to 9mm before the gun was destroyed.

      The .41AE was killed by the .40S&W and most manufacturers just put it on the 9mm platforms where it didn’t perform very well. If the gun used JMB style locking lugs, they had a tendency to roll back creating head-space. Guns that used the SIG style locking system did better. Browning did right in holding off until they redesigned the locking system with the extra lug and the heavier slide, but that caused them to miss the peak of the sales in .40S&W. I think it’s still the best .40S&W single action out there. While the locking system would easily handle the .45ACP now, there isn’t enough meat in the barrels to open it up to .45ACP. You would have to enlarge the barrel which would then force you to enlarge the slide again. That’s a major redesign for a firearm that would compete directly against the entrenched 1911 for the American market. The rest of the world would not represent enough market in .45ACP as they like their .380ACP and 9mm. I don’t think there was a good enough business case for the expense, though it would have been a better gun than the 1911.

  2. I was just wondering. I’m in the market for a Foredom’s tool myself. What I was curious to know was what made you decide to go with the TX as opposed to the SR? According to their site the SR should suffice but maybe you are using it for more rugged things outside of gunsmithing.
    BTW. Thanks for doing this. I’m in the same spot in the course exactly where you are so it’s s huge help to know I’m doing things right.

    1. My wife says I have a little bit of “Tim the Tool Man” in me. She’s probably right on there. The SR is more than enough for gunsmithing work. I just have a few more things in mind for projects that may require the heavier tool. It uses the same handpiece and flex shaft so there is no real difference.
      I guess I was just so disgusted by the lightweight Dremel that I didn’t want to have to deal with that again. I think the SR would be fine and you can get a good price on them through AGI if you are a student.

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