Author Archives: Fishbreath

The Soapbox Plays: Little Wars (The Battle of Chopinburg House)

I got a chance to play a game of Little Wars with our very own parvusimperator last weekend, taking advantage of the slightly larger amount of floor space available at his apartment to bring out the printed scenery and the expanded armies I’ve been working on since the last game. Since it’s parvusimperator’s baptism by fire, we decided to play without any extra rules, Original Wells style. So, without further ado…

The Battle of Chopinburg House

The red and blue armies meet at the ruins of Chopinburg House, a manor on the Continent destroyed in an earlier battle, and a vital point in the local road network.

00-overview.jpg
North is to the upper right. I’m controlling the red forces; parvusimperator has the blue.

The central feature of the battlefield is Chopinburg House itself, just north of the center of the field. To the west of Chopinburg House is the orchard, and south of the orchard is the chapel. On the north and south of the house are the northern and southern fields, marked by stone walls. Southeast of the house is Chopinburg Wood, and the various remaining ruins and buildings (one represented by a book) are various outbuildings for the manor itself.

01-red-deployment.jpg

The red forces deploy in what’s becoming my traditional formation: infantry in staggered files to make a harder artillery target, cavalry striking force on the left, one unit of horse artillery and one of foot artillery.

02-blue-deployment.jpg

Parvusimperator’s deployment is ‘blob’, which is faster to set up and doesn’t make much difference beyond aesthetics. His cavalry is largely concentrated on his right, opposite my left.

My opponent, given that this is his first game, let me move first.

03-round1.jpg

One and a half rounds in, I’ve moved twice and parvusimperator has moved once. My artillery has reached the positions where it’ll spend most of the game: my horse artillery gun, on the strength of its faster movement, takes up position in Chopinburg Wood, while my infantry gun sets up in the southern fields.

04-round2a.jpg

This picture is two turns later, halfway into round 3: parvusimperator has had two turns, and I’ve had three, so my artillery has opened up. Lucky shooting on my part knocks out a number of his cavalrymen on my left, while the gun in the wood hits a few of his men in the northern fields.

05-round2b.jpg

The enemy gun on my left returned fire, clearing out a few of the cavalry massing behind the chapel. Heavy but ineffectual fire from parvusimperator’s center gun hits the stone wall sheltering my center infantry repeatedly, but there are no casualties.

In the meantime, parvusimperator moves some of his cavalry up, obscured from my guns by the shelter of the orchard.

06-round3a.jpg

Our first melee! My cavalry at the chapel, along with the detachments that pushed forward therefrom last turn, charge parvusimperator’s squadron in the orchard, eliminating it. My artillery has a poor turn, only accounting for a pair of infantry.

07-round3b.jpg

From the last photo to this one, it’s a gap of two turns again. Parvusimperator has begun to advance on my right, sheltered from my guns by the eastern outbuilding. My center gun did take some shots at the advancing blue infantry, but had little effect.

The biggest story of this round was the utter annihilation of my advance cavalry force: parvusimperator’s center gun, with a single shot, took down five horsemen, domino-style. My five remaining cavalry on the left hunker down behind the chapel, while my center infantry advance toward the manor proper, taking cover as the blue guns turn in their direction. I’ve begun to move men north of Chopinburg Wood, arraying them to meet parvusimperator’s impending attack.

08-round4a.jpg

Another melee: parvusimperator’s cavalry at the orchard and the northern wall of the ruins charge my infantry at the southern edge of the manor, after artillery fire weakens them sufficiently for the charge to succeed. On the other flank, his infantry gather behind the outbuilding at Chopinburg House, preparing to advance on my right.

09-round4b.jpg

My artillery opens the turn with a key victory: my gun in Chopinburg Wood disables the enemy gun in the orchard. My other gun chips in by taking out parvusimperator’s detachment advancing through the ruins, hitting individual infantrymen three of four times—accurate fire!

With the gun in the orchard out of action, I’m free to do two things: first, my cavalry at the chapel makes a run for it, hoping to reach and capture parvusimperator’s orchard gun. Second, my infantry sheltering in the southern outbuilding charge parvusimperator’s two remaining cavalrymen who made the attack last turn, killing them.

09-round5b.jpg

Regrettably, I missed taking a picture after parvusimperator’s turn again, so this is another two-turn gap. It’s also where we decided to end the battle by mutual agreement.

Parvusimperator’s center gun, which earned its keep many times over, hit three of my five cavalry moving on the orchard gun. Even so, he decided to withdraw: his cavalry on the gun were badly placed, far enough apart so that I could engage one without engaging the other, and sheltered from the center gun to boot. My gun in the wood, with some very careful aiming, managed to put a few shots into the infantry massed behind the eastern outbuilding, reducing their strength to the point that parvusimperator no longer felt comfortable making an attack into the teeth of the gun. We tallied the forces on the field, and I emerged the victor with a score of 67 to 35 (counting the partially-captured gun for half).

At this point, neither of us thought we could push our advantage to a decisive victory. According to Wells’ rules, I could have made him play out the retreat, giving myself the chance to reduce his forces further. This would have been deeply unsporting, however, since I realized that I never actually put ‘how to retreat’ in my rewriting of the rules. Oops.

Here are some glamor shots of the final state of the battlefield, followed by some analysis.

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Looking north from my position in Chopinburg Wood, the bastion that survived until the end of the game.

11-glamor.jpg
French soldiers shelter behind Modern English Usage, which we thought was funny.

12-glamor.jpg
The view of the field from Parvusimperator’s center gun. A commanding position, fire from which adroitly and repeatedly stymied my attempts to assault in the center and down my left.

Analysis time!

Time Limits

This is the first game I played where we reduced the turn time limits as men were killed. As it turns out, this is a critically important feature of the rules. On my turns through most of the game, I wasn’t able to use my cannons to their fullest and move all my men. Parvusimperator, a bit speedier, usually had a few tens of seconds left. The pressure is key: there simply isn’t time to get up and measure out a potential countermove, or who exactly will be in a melee. You have to rely on feel, which is a kind of randomization.

Cavalry

Cavalry still feel a little wimpy. They’re massive artillery targets, and in making their bases narrow enough so that frontal cannon fire can knock them over, I made them poorly-balanced enough so that they’re at risk of domino effect, one knocking the next over, if hit by enfilading fire. The cavalry charge rules will certainly help to some degree, although the rifle fire rules might count in opposition.

It also feels a bit strange that infantry can charge cavalry and bring them to combat. I’m not quite sure if or how to fix that organically.

Scenery

The printed terrain pieces were fantastic. The stone walls provided good cover to men in proximity without being impossible to shoot over, and the trees and ruin sections helped break up artillery sight lines without promoting quite the same amount of hiding all your men behind the largest piece of cover.

Cover being decent but not perfect was a major contributing factor to the number of melees we saw: it was much easier to get men in close in sufficient quantity than it has been in battles past.

Army Size

In rereading Little Wars before this battle, I realized that the forces we fought with are very similar to those in Wells’ example Battle of Hook’s Farm. There, two forces of 48 infantry, 25 horse, and 3 guns fought; here, the forces were 45 infantry, 24 horse, and 2 guns.

45/24/2 felt like a near-perfect ratio to me: the cavalry got into it in the early stages of the battle; infantry held positions and occasionally made attacks; the guns were important but not so much so that they overwhelmed the importance of maneuver.

Limited Ammo

If I want to do limited ammo, I think I probably need to have a stock of 25 or 30 shells per gun. It should be expensive to bring that much artillery firepower, but given the four-shots-per-turn limit, it’s entirely possible to use that many if your guns are well-placed.

We both remarked that limited ammo would have led to some extremely interesting choices: some of the shots we took were pretty low-percentage, especially early in the battle, and if we had to count shells, we might have skipped some of it, leading to more action in the mid-battle rounds.

Strategic Locations

I have strategic location variants written in the rules right now, but I’m not sure if there’s a place for them, given further thought. In Wells’ rules, the battle ends when one side retreats or is entirely eliminated. That doesn’t leave much room for divvying up victory points based on real estate held.

On the other hand, ending battles like we’ve done so far, with one side offering the other a truce, eliminates retreats from the game, and managing a fighting retreat seems like the kind of skill Little Wars ought to reward.

I wonder if there’s some way to combine the two: a two-stage battle, say. If one side holds an advantage in strategic locations for N rounds, it’s won the day, and the other side must then retreat from the field. Worth some thought.

Bigger Battlefields

The largest battle Wells mentions in his book is hundreds of soldiers on an eighteen-foot front.

Today’s battle was played on a front of about 5-6 feet, with a depth of 10-12 feet. Given furniture, a 12-foot front with 9 feet of depth is possible at my house, maybe a little more if we move things around.

The very largest room I have access to is at my mother’s house, if we move a couch and a table, and is maybe 12 by 12, given the furniture we can’t move. I’d love to play on an 18-by-12 field someday (in teams, perhaps, to keep turn times from getting too out of hand), but I can’t think of anywhere I could do that for free beyond maybe my driveway (impractical, because I wouldn’t want to pit PLA against south-facing blacktop) or the lobby at my church (not impossible, but I don’t know if I’d call it plausible).

I suppose I could also try the clubhouse at one of my shooting ranges.

Final Thoughts

Even though I spent a bunch of time just now thinking about ways to make the game better, that doesn’t mean it isn’t already good. The two people I’ve played with so far have both been nearly as enamored with it as me, and neither one said, “You know, once was enough.”

Time to get the printer working again, I guess.

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Feb. 3, 2021)

This is volume 105, an auspicious number for artillerists. I’ve been slowly working through the backlog of spam users I mentioned in last night’s post, and decided to turn off registration entirely after recaptcha failed to stop a few spam registrations last night.

Defense

Stonks

Science and Technology

Culture Wars

Grab Bag

The spammers are coming!

They found the forum, but nobody uses it anyway, so I shut it down.

Future socializing will be done in Discord. Future user registrations and logins are guarded by captcha, but again, I don’t think anybody besides parvusimperator and I use site accounts.

We now return you to our irregularly-scheduled programming.

Fishbreath Prints: the Glockblaster 3D

First, there was the Glockblaster. It’s parvusimperator’s favored carry Glock 19, with its micro red dot and its little compensator. Then came the Glockblaster 2 and Glockblaster 2.0, two USPSA project proposals parvusimperator and I both considered, then ultimately dropped1.

Now, there’s the Glockblaster 3D2.

The Glockblaster 3D is a project I’ve been wanting to tackle for some time now, and recent and upcoming stimulus checks provide the perfect excuse. I mean, the perfect reason. In short, the goal isn’t to build an everyday USPSA Open gun. The goal is to build a to build a .40 S&W3 Open gun using about as many 3D-printed parts as I can get away with4.

The obvious place to start, since the ground is well covered, is the frame. There are a number of options out there, but the best one was just released: the Defense Distributed G17.2, recently released by one Ivan the Troll, noted 3D printer gunsmith. It uses milled metal rail sections secured by pins front and rear, which helps out in a later step.

I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself, though—why a Glock in the first place, among all the printable options? Even if I’m not a Glock guy, the arguments in its favor I made in my Glockblaster 2.0 post still hold: the aftermarket isn’t there for any other option. The Glock is the de facto AR platform of the pistol world, even if the P320 has a better claim to the title given its design. Triggers, internal parts, and partial and complete uppers are all dead easy to find. Expertise is a bit harder to come by, but our very own parvusimperator happens to be a bit of a Glockhead, and is interested in seeing how this project goes5.

So, Glock it is. What do I want to get out of the project? As I alluded to earlier, what I don’t need it to be is a daily-driver competition gun6. I’m happy in Revolver, and plan to shoot it to the near-exclusion of all other divisions for some time to come. So, the Glockblaster 3D doesn’t have to be especially reliable, or especially good at its job. It’s a 3D printing technology demonstrator on the one hand, and a silly range toy I can take to matches for the afternoon shoot on the other, and if it jams up or disassembles itself, so be it.

Unlike a lot of my projects, this one isn’t as simple as buying a bunch of parts and putting them together. I see seven steps between where I am now and a completed Glockblaster 3D.

Step 1: finish a frame in PLA

PLA is easy to print with, and durable enough to make a frame that’ll stand up to both 9mm and, eventually, .40.

So, to get my feet beneath me in the field of making Glocks from nothing, I’m going to to start here. I’ll print a frame in PLA, buy the rails and parts kits I need, and get to a working frame.

Step 2: finish functional 9mm build

Parvusimperator has a Glock 17 upper I can slap on to see if everything fits, and perhaps even if everything works live.

I don’t know if I want a 9mm upper myself, at least at first. It depends in part on what kind of money the US government decides to send me. Given the parameters of the project (‘build a .40 Open Glock with 3D-printed parts’), spending money on a 9mm upper seems like a distraction. On the other hand, if I build a 9mm upper using a .40->9mm conversion barrel, I’m only out the cost of a barrel, and then I have something to shoot between this step and the end of the project. Plus, I can modify the rail units as required for a .40 slide without having to worry about 9mm function later.

So, I guess we’ll see.

Step 3: set up the printer for nylon

For something with long-term durability, I’m going to want a better material. In the past, PLA’s strength has surprised me, and its mechanical properties are sufficient for printing firearms, but nylon has two advantages.

First: it’s slipperier than PLA, which is good for parts that interface with metal. A slide whipping back and forth on top of nylon will do less damage to the nylon over time than it will to PLA. Second, and more importantly: nylon has much better performance at high temperatures than PLA, and will easily stand up to a match on a hot day, or being left in a hot car.

To print in nylon, I’ll need a hotend for the 3D printer that can push filament at about 270C, or 30-40C hotter than is wise to push the current hotend can7. I may also need an enclosure for the printer, which keeps the print area hotter to limit warming, and will definitely need some filament drying supplies: a box with some spools in and a layer of silica gel on the bottom, to keep dry filament dry, and a food dehydrator to turn wet filament into dry filament. (And also, perhaps, to make beef into match jerky, although I’ll have to look into whether it’s safe to use the same food dehydrator for both items.) I think I’d probably want to invest in an air purifier for the printer room, too, not for nylon specifically but just because it’s good for our indoor air quality to suck up all those VOCs and microparticles.

All of that makes for a fairly expensive and fairly involved process, so that brings me to step 4, which I can work on at the same time.

Step 4: make a sight mount for the DD/FMDA Glock

SJC makes perfectly serviceable Glock sight mounts that don’t occupy the accessory rail and don’t block the ejection port, but they require drilling into the frame to make a second pin hole. The FMDA Glock, on the other hand, has a pin forward of the trigger guard, for the front rail unit, that can be used as a second anchor point (along with one of the locking block pins).

That front pin is featureless and thus easy to replace with a longer one. Both pins above the trigger guard, however, have additional features: the locking block pin is slightly dumbbell-shaped, with wider ends and a narrower middle, while the trigger pin has cuts into which the slide release fits to help retain it.

I am not a Glock guy, so I don’t know if those cuts are function-critical. My hope is that the locking block pin can be replaced with a featureless, non-dumbbelled one, which makes the task of designing a sight mount super-easy. (Although I may still have to have it printed by some manner of print house, so I can have it glass- or carbon-fiber-reinforced for stiffness.)

If the locking block pin can’t be so replaced, then it’s on to hooking into the trigger pin. I’m pretty sure, based on how the SJC sight mount is attached, that the cuts on the trigger pin are purely for anti-walk, and for a technology demonstrator like this, I can either omit them entirely and just push the pin back into place when it starts moving, or cut them in myself with a dremel.

Step 5: build a .40 upper

Now we’re getting into the home stretch.

A .40 upper requires a slight tweak to the lower: I’ll have to modify the front rail unit to allow the slide to fully cycle. Happily, it’s not a hard modification—just need to shave a bit off of the front so that the slide doesn’t crash into the rails, and a light chamfer with a file or a dremel is not hard to achieve.

I haven’t decided yet if I want to do the Glock 22-length slide or the Glock 35-length slide. On the one hand, the latter adds weight (good!) and gives me a bit more room to hang a weight under the front of the gun without getting in the way of the eventual DAA holster block (also good!; saves me money on a different holster).

On the other, the Glock 22-length is actually tested, and parts availability is a bit better.

I think I probably lean slightly toward the 35-length, because I like giant handguns.

Step 6: compensator, spring tuning, etc.

SJC sells the benchmark Glock compensator, an 11-port number that seems to work fairly well even in its .40 version8. Not much more to say about it. This is one part I clearly can’t 3D print, not that it isn’t tempting to try with a prototype and a laser-sintered version.

Spring tuning includes both recoil spring (to get the gun to run well with the compensator) and trigger work. Since I shoot Revolver in USPSA by day, I think I want a Walther-style ‘rolling break’, emulating the wheelgun’s double action pull. That’s easier to achieve than glass-rod break on partially-cocked striker-fired guns anyway.

Step 7: random Open accoutrements

USPSA Open lets you do just about anything you want. I have a few ideas that go from normal to silly.

Normal idea 1: a slide racker in place of the rear sight. Because the sight mount covers some of the slide, there aren’t as many ways to get your hands on it. A slide racker gives you a knob or handle of some kind to grab, resolving the problem altogether.

Normal idea 2: frame weight and brass magazine well. A magwell is a traditional Open gun feature. Making it out of brass adds a bunch of weight, which is good on lightweight guns like Glocks. SJC makes one, although I’ll have to modify the frame to attach it.

The frame weight is also a traditional Glock item, adding weight to the gun and also reducing muzzle flip. In this case, I think I’ll have to roll my own: the existing options don’t play nice with the DAA holster I have for the revolver, and I don’t feel like buying a new holster for this goof-off gun.

Silly idea 1: a Radetec RISC bullet counter. I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t do any detection of reloads, and since I wouldn’t expect to be shooting to slide lock very often, it’ll be wrong after I drop the first magazine. That said, given the constraints of USPSA, I don’t really care. It’s 75% about looking cool anyway.

Silly idea 2: a tuned mass damper in place of a frame weight. A moving mass on a spring, damped by either liquid or a near-airtight fit, seems like it might help? It worked for the Renault F1 team in the early 2000s, anyway, and a gun moving back and forth shooting doubles is kind of like a stiff suspension moving under load.

This, I think, is the most silly of my ideas, but it’s an indication of a greater truth: 3D printing makes prototyping a silly tuned mass damper for a pistol a matter of a few hours of CAD work and a few dollars of filament. I can explore random things like this with effectively zero cost.

Conclusion

Well, that’s my plan. I’m not expecting to get it done anytime especially soon. I’m about midway through Step 1 now, and there are a number of demands on my finances I consider more important than this.

As I make progress, I’ll be sure to keep you up to date.


  1. He decided to get a real Open gun rather than putz about with trying to turn a Glock into one. I was fine with the putzing around, but decided I’d rather shoot Revolver, so neither Glockblaster 2 nor 2.0 ever existed beyond our imaginations. 
  2. It’s supposed to sound like a bad 80s movie, in the vein of parvusimperator’s Glockblaster 2: Glockblast Harder post. 
  3. I think I’ve gone into ‘why .40’ in the past, so I won’t relitigate that issue here, beyond to remark that it’s still because the project parameters don’t require me to have 30-round magazines. 
  4. I say ‘about’ to leave myself wiggle room if I decide that prudence should dictate I buy a part instead of making it. 
  5. Possibly interested in the same way as people who watch videos of Nurburgring crashes or that one can-opener bridge, but I haven’t asked and don’t intend to. 
  6. If it turns out that it’s that reliable, I won’t complain. Ignore the sound in your head; that’s parvusimperator’s muffled laughter. 
  7. The standard Ender 3 hotend has a PTFE tube that runs all the way down to the nozzle. This is good, because PTFE is low-friction; this is bad, because PTFE offgasses neurotoxins at temperatures above about 250C, and I don’t want to sniff (if you will) that temperature. 
  8. Received wisdom in USPSA is that compensators work best with light bullets going fast, because a light bullet going fast enough to make power factor requires more pressure, which means more gas coming out the end of the barrel, which means more power to the compensator. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jan. 27, 2021)

As parvusimperator settles into his new work digs, he’s been a bit more free with the article-sharing. Maybe we’ll get back onto a once-a-week routine, instead of this recent every-two-weeks one.

Discord Shout-Outs

  • Our readers on the Discord (link’s in the sidebar) have come through with some fascinating stuff lately.
  • boomerang-pigeon shares some archival documents from Bovington, on British tank development in the early Chieftain era.
  • Kilo Sierra shows off some pretty woodworking.
  • NATO/OTAN translates some R&D budget line items for the PLAN’s Type 076 LHD.
  • It’s cool stuff. If you like what you read here, you should come on by.
  • I have a few things in mind for alternate chat systems, if Discord ever decides to clamp down on tiny defense-affairs communities.

Defense

Science and Technology

gestures The World and Such

  • Everything is Broken – COVID has convinced me of nothing so thoroughly as the utter decay of Western institutions generally.
  • The Michael Scott Theory of Social Class – “The first major speech pattern between the characters is Posturetalk. Posturetalk is everything said by Michael, Dwight and Andy, to anyone: the staff, the execs, or each other. Everything they say is some form or another of meaningless, performative babbling. This is the language of living inside a construct; where your entire world lives within arbitrarily drawn boxes, and you have nothing concrete to attach to. It’s the only language that Michael knows how to speak.”
  • In happier news, Redditors are screwing over hedge funds with a short squeeze on Gamestop – Are there any good guys in this story? Well, maybe the Redditors doing it for the lulz, but that’s about it, and even they aren’t the most sympathetic characters. Here’s a Twitter thread on the same topic.
  • The new national American elite – Used to be that regional elites competed for national leadership. Now there’s an elite monoculture, and like most monopolies, it’s led to corruption and decrepitude.

Grab Bag

  • A classic of the filk music genre – Filk: what happens when musically-inclined fans get together at science fiction conventions. This one could be a folk anthem for the Imperium of Mankind.
  • A joke from Russia, badly translated: “The police reported a few hundred protestors on Sunday, and a few thousand were arrested.”
  • A remark from a Russian wag, recounted third-hand: “In every joke, there’s a little bit of joke.”

Notes from the USPSA Offseason: A Fishy Winter Break

I don’t know if I mentioned it anywhere else, but I ended up taking a deliberate offseason from USPSA competition this winter. From about November 15 to the end of this week, I haven’t (won’t have) done any live-fire practice or any deliberate dry-fire practice. Beyond that, I’ve barely even touched my competition gun.

Why an Offseason?

Partially to give myself time for other big projects, partially to break myself of bad habits. The benefit to taking time entirely off from shooting pursuits is the brief period, upon returning, where previously unconscious things take conscious thought, and thus are malleable in a way they aren’t midseason.

In particular, it’s a good time to change equipment, and to make any tweaks to gun handling skills you want to make. And, having gotten a season of Revolver experience under my belt, there were some things I wanted to change.

Grips

The Ruger Super GP100 I shoot in competition came with Hogue hardwood monogrips. They have that Miculek-approved, sharply vertical grip angle, and look so stunning on the gun that grown men have cried1.

And I had to give them up. You see, the Hogue grips, unlike Mr. Miculek’s, are opinionated. That is to say, there are contours and swells on the grip that push your hands in certain directions, and they push my hands places I don’t want them to go. Namely, they swell about midway up, then narrow, then swell again at the top. That means you can’t get an extra-high grip without the wood digging into your hand and bashing your palm in recoil.

I replaced them with a set of Altamont grips. They’re more along traditional lines of revolver grip design in two ways. One, they’re simply shaped. They’re slightly fatter at the base, and taper to a narrower profile at the top, which lets me get my strong hand high while leaving plenty of real estate at the bottom. Two, they’re a rubber center core with grip panels. The grip panels are, alas, not gorgeous, lustrous, almost luminous hardwood. They’re fairly pedestrian walnut-dyed birch laminate. I did at least hold out for a little fleur-de-lis pattern on the grips.

To really belabor the point, they aren’t as pretty as the Hogue grips, but my suspicion is that they’ll be substantially better competition grip. A bit of shock absorption from the rubber, combined with minor power factor loads out of a 45oz gun, means they should sting my hands an awful lot less than wood grips which punish holding the gun how I want to. They have a bit of texture, too, and put my thumb closer to the controls, which opens up some interesting possibilities.

Holster

We’ll get to those later, though. The next item on the list is the holster.

To get started quickly and at relatively low cost, I bought the SpeedBeez Kydex holster. At the time, it was the only one in stock which I could guarantee would fit the GP100. It was perfectly serviceable, and cut down low enough in the front so it didn’t interfere with fast draws. It probably wasn’t holding me back in any way, and I still think it’s a good product, which is why I’m keeping it in my box-o-shooting-stuff.

But Revolver is a race division in USPSA, so I’m allowed whatever kind of crazy holster I want, as long as it covers the trigger guard and holds the gun so that it points less than three feet away from my feet. It just so happens that our very own parvusimperator was looking to ditch his Double Alpha Alpha-X2, and let it go at a very reasonable price. I sold the the Phoenix Trinity insert block he bought it with, got a Smith and Wesson N-frame block (the DAA website now lists the GP100 as compatible with that one), and added the muzzle rest kit for good measure, along with a 3D-printed muzzle support adapter.

The holster works well. Parvusimperator’s quarrel with it is that it can lock up on the gun if it’s pulled at a bad angle, which can happen under stress. The muzzle rest, which I got mostly because guns with round trigger guards, like my revolver, can rotate forward and back slightly in the holster, ended up solving the problem. Since the muzzle sits on a little peg, the muzzle rest constrains the angles at which you can pull the gun free, preventing it from binding before the insert block lets go. Plus, the muzzle rest gives me a target to aim at when reholstering, saving me the embarrassment of fishing around for the right angle after a stage.

Is it faster? Maybe incrementally. The best draw I’ve ever put on the dry fire timer is 0.78s, shooting at a target at a scale distance of about two yards, which is about a tenth faster than I could manage with the SpeedBeez holster. Drawing to a shot that poses even the slightest challenge, I’m up around between 1.0 and 1.2 depending on the shot and the draw, which is exactly where I was with the SpeedBeez one.

The Triple Alpha X, as one of those trigger-guard-only holsters, has nothing around the cylinder or non-trigger controls. This freed me to tackle another project that’s been on my mind.

Cylinder Release

Either I have short thumbs, or the people who design magazine and cylinder catches have extra-long ones. I don’t think I’ve owned a single handgun where I can reliably hit the ‘add more ammo’ button without breaking my grip in some way.

You’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, given my preferred revolver reload technique, which involves letting go with my strong hand altogether. We’ll circle back to that. I still wanted a big fat paddle cylinder release.

Nobody makes one. I mean, certain gunsmiths do (David Olhasso, out in eastern PA, will do one for you, if you can get the gun out to him), but there’s no drop-in replacement, which was tremendously vexing. Or it was, before I bought a 3D printer. After that purchase, the lack of a part I could buy ceased to be a vexation and became instead an item of unfinished business.

A few hours with calipers and CAD led to my banging out in a weekend what Hogue, Ruger, et al. haven’t managed to do in a few decades: a functioning extended cylinder release for GP100s3. The one in my gun right now is printed in pretty bog-standard PLA+, and surprisingly, that’s proven enough to stand up to relatively intense dry fire. It took a dozen and a half prototypes, but I finally have one which is both functional and ergonomic.

There’s a lot that went into the design, which might get a post of its own, but on ergonomics, suffice it to say that I can hit the cylinder release with my strong thumb without moving my hand at all. This is obviously a vast improvement.

On function, I’ll leave it at this: I think a plastic part, though it might seem a bit chintzy, is actually going to be sufficiently strong to stand up to real use. The only thing that touches the cylinder release during the firing cycle is the spring-loaded pin that runs through the cylinder to unlock the front latch. All it has to do is bear that impact, from endshake, with a spring to help out. PLA might have heat problems, and it might be a bit too brittle around the pivot, depending on how hard the cylinder hits it. All that being said, I think some kind of engineering nylon will probably be perfectly adequate, and I have a sample or two on the way soon, hopefully.

Reloads (technique)

Earlier, I hinted at some changes to reloading technique, and here we are.

I have hitherto been an advocate of the strong hand reload, favored by one Miculek, as well as about half of the top 20 on the USPSA Revolver leaderboard4 and the current champ. Let’s assume you’re right-handed for the rest of this section, so I don’t get my strong and weak hands confused.

The strong hand reload starts with moving your left hand up to the cylinder, while your right hand hits the cylinder release. Your left fingers push the cylinder open into your left palm, and your left thumb hits the cylinder release. Meanwhile, your right hand goes to get a new moon clip. Your left hand brings the gun down to your belt, your right hand drops the clip in, and you rebuild your grip on the way up.

The strong hand reload has a major advantage amidst all the gun-tossing between hands: both hands are pretty much always occupied. There’s no dead time. It’s also relatively easy to do (though sometimes in compromised fashion) no matter which direction you’re moving.

I have more or less decided to switch to a weak hand reload, favored by the other half of the top 20, for this season. First, a description; then, my reasoning.

The way I’m doing it, the weak hand reload starts the same as the strong hand: my left hand moves forward to the cylinder. At the same time, my right thumb hits the cylinder release, but my right hand otherwise stays put. My left fingers pop the cylinder out while I tilt the muzzle slightly upward, and my left thumb hits the cylinder release while my right hand starts to bring the gun down. My left hand leaves the gun and goes for a moon clip. By the time I have the moon clip in hand, the gun is directly in front of it, and the cylinder is at the same height. My left hand lifts the moon clip off the peg, moves it forward a hair, and drops it directly into the cylinder. On the way back up, my left thumb closes the cylinder, and my left hand rejoins my right on the grip. Here’s an example.

This method has one serious downside. Watch the example closely, and you’ll see that the gun is stationary for an instant, waiting for the moon clip. There’s only so much I can do about that.

Is it really such a serious downside, though? By my reckoning, the split time in the video above is about 2.5 seconds, and it’s not the fastest I can go. I’ve hit 2.0 a few times already, which is pretty sporty by wheelgun standards, and certainly unlikely to hold me back.

Suppose you aren’t convinced. There are some positives, too. First: it’s a very simple set of motions. Unlike the strong hand reload, there’s very little gun dancing to it. Gun tilts, gun comes down, gun goes up. Parvusimperator remarked to me that he doesn’t think about going fast, he thinks about doing things efficiently and with urgency. (It’s not his formulation, but I forget who he got it from. Scott someone? Steve someone? Ah, there it is. Scott Jedlinski.)

Second: access to the cylinder is clearer. The strong hand reload puts the grip in the way. Sometimes that causes trouble getting the ammunition in, and the path from the moon clip rack to the cylinder is necessarily a bit more twisty.

Third: I just seem to do it better. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Clearer access to the cylinder helps make the worst case bobble not so bad. My left hand has direct access to the cylinder, and can more easily solve problems there. Another contributing factor is probably the cylinder chamfer job I had done5. The mechanics of the reload, with the moon clip being so close to the cylinder, probably help too. My moon clips are relatively wobbly, which means they have the potential to flop as they drop from above the cylinder, and the weak hand reload drops them from closer. It’s also easier to see the positions of the chambers and align the moon clip correctly, since there’s no gun in between my sight line and the cylinder.

Or maybe I find the motions easier to pull off under pressure. The strong hand reload involves a lot of delicate manipulation of the gun, for the payoff that the strong hand gets to do the final positioning of the moon clip. The weak hand reload involves two or three big, simple movements, and one small one (the actual loading) that’s only moderately difficult. Whatever it is, I like this reload more, and so I think I’ll stick with it.

Reloads (ammunition)

Thanks to the fine gentlemen at the r/reloading subreddit’s Discord server, I came by a stock of 6,000 small pistol primers, which ought to be enough to get me through the 2021 season.

With components being scarce, I decided to get my bullets in bulk. A kind soul from the Brian Enos revolver forum sent me a little sample pack of Ibejiheads 160-grain coated numbers, and the Ruger likes them just fine. This was, I should note, back in October, and they’ve only just arrived. Components are, like I said, scarce.

Anyway, there are a few nice things about these particular bullets, but the most important one is that they’re the most tapered 160gr bullets I’ve been able to find, which makes them easy-loading. I’m fond of the ultra-heavy bullets: they only need to go about 800 feet per second to make minor power factor, which takes just a hair over three grains of Alliant Bullseye.

They’re still going in the same Starline .38 Short Colt cases, which I expect to last me years, and the load generally (heavy bullet, low velocity) has been my preference for the admittedly short time I’ve been competing with a revolver. The selection of the Ibejiheads bullets is just finalizing things. In the future, I might investigate a non-Bullseye powder—I’ve heard good things about Alliant Sport Pistol, especially with coated bullets.

Attitude

There are two components to this. The first is a change I’m trying to train. The second is an observation.

The change is this: I need to be looser when I shoot. It’s very easy for me to get tense, which leads to jerky motions, which means my reloads fall apart. I’ve been listening to a few podcasts on practical shooting of late, and one of them (the Shoot Fast Podcast, with Cody Axon and Joel Park) goes after the ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ saying. I’m convinced that the saying is correct in some domains, but for shooting, I like the one the Shoot Fast guys allude to without ever outright saying: fast is smooth and smooth is fast.

I’ve verified this the only way I know how: experiments with the timer. The more I tell myself that a drill doesn’t matter, that I don’t care about the time, the better the time generally is, as long as I’m doing it at pace. With those results in mind, I invented a drill to try and burn the low-tension6 sensation into my shooting. I have my timer give me a start beep and do something fast (a draw, a reload, a double on a dry fire target). After I do the thing, I freeze, inspect my posture, and consciously relax and adjust how I’m standing or gripping, if needed, repeating until I’m relaxed while doing the thing.

Surprisingly, timed and regimented drills to enhance relaxation seem to be working, and fairly quickly. In combination with that, I decided to skip the par timer unless I’m actively working on speed. I still use a timer and still compare my times to the par times, I just have it set to shot-timing mode, to prevent getting in front of my skis while trying to beat the beeps.

And now for the observation, a closing thought for these almost-3000 words. Spend much time in practical shooting circles, and you’ll find a lot of big egos, and a lot of people correspondingly easily shaken by bad performances. At least, that’s what I take away from practical shooting podcasts. The ones I listen to put a lot of emphasis on the mental aspect of the game. I suppose that’s one of the advantages to being even-keeled by nature, and actively adhering to a faith that treats humility as just about the highest virtue. Those episodes are always slightly alien to me, which is to my advantage. It’s much easier to practice the shooting than it is to practice the mind games.

Goals

I wrote some about my goals in a previous post, and I can give updates on two of my 2021 goals already.

Short-term goal #3: end 2020 with a one-year stockpile of reloading supplies. I mostly did this. I have or can make about 3200 rounds of competition ammo, with the limiting factors being powder and bullets. Those are among the easier reloading supplies to find, so I’m not too concerned about my ability to use the primers that I have.

Short-term goal #4: work and shoot two majors. I’m on the list for Battle for the North Coast already, and may aim for the Buckeye Blast in June (if I want an earlier one) or the Virginia state championship in October.

And that’s about where things stand. I’m looking forward to getting this year rolling.


  1. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but people have commented on how good they look. 
  2. Triple Alpha X? Triple Alpha X. 
  3. I’ve pretty much made up my mind to sell them, once I work out some manufacturing errata. Unfortunately for my profit margins and the metallicity of the likely final parts, I can’t buy them from a Chinese factory and ship them here, because that would make me an international arms dealer according to ITAR, and just reading about the paperwork for that gave me a headache. 
  4. Well, the ones I could find footage of, anyway, which was about ten. 
  5. Oops, forgot to mention that one. I sent the gun off to Mr. Olhasso, who ground a chamfer into the non-business end of each chamber, so to make bullets drop more readily. 
  6. Or maybe focused tension is a better way of putting it. I want a tight grip on the gun, but I don’t want that tension to spread all the way through my arms and torso. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Jan. 13, 2021)

Happy New Year! 2021 is already off to a flying start, but you’re not here for commentary on that, presumably.

Miscellaneous Entertainments

  • I had cannily planned to hold off on watching The Mandalorian until all the episodes had released, then binge it during the free trial, only to discover that there is no longer a free trial deal. Oops. Well, season 2 has been good so far. No spoilers.
  • Also, since we had to subscribe to Disney+ to see The Mandalorian, and we get as many blocks of one month subscription as it takes us to finish it, I also got to see The Rise of Skywalker, which is the only thing worse than irredeemable crap: redeemable crap. I’ll be turning a conversation I had with parvusimperator into a review in the coming days.
  • On the PC games front, I’ve been playing From the Depths, a block-based vehicle building. Think Minecraft meets Waterworld meets Friedman’s U.S. Battleships. A pretty good buoyancy simulation and some well-designed, if not entirely realistic, ballistics and armor math makes for interesting shipbuilding, and the presence of several game modes with actual beginnings, middles, and ends (as opposed to the standard block-builder ‘survive and build’ mode) gives you something to do with your ludicrously large naval guns. Weighing against it is the jankiness in the UI.

The ‘Rona

  • The lab leak hypothesis gets its moment in New York Magazine – Republicans are out of power, so now media lefties are allowed to say obvious things without risk of being associated with wrongthink.
  • Kind of a shame we used up our collective capacity for tolerating restrictions over the summer, when it was not bad, instead of now, when it is.

Defense

History

  • A tour of R-100 – The old British zeppelin. It’s a little on the cozy side, but! A zeppelin! Also, and this is why I’m not a zeppelin designer in real life, arranging the cabins so that they can get natural light from the windows despite being inboard of the promenades and balconies is delightfully clever.

Science and Technology

  • American media continues Russophobic attacks – Blaming the (Czech-developed, though by Russians with ties to Russia) JetBrains tool suite for hacks in the US. JetBrains, of course, denies it, and nothing further has come of it.

Guns

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Dec. 30, 2020)

I’ve been trying to sell a light horror story on and off for a year or two, and have had nibbles but no luck. It’s one of my best, and I want to get on to writing more in the same universe. I’m thinking about serializing it over at Many Words Main instead, and going for a once-per-week update schedule again. Thoughts?

Defense

The ‘Rona

Science and Technology

Guns

Grab Bag

Fishbreath Plays: Little Wars

I wrote about Little Wars briefly in my last post, and thanks to a family get-together on Christmas Eve, I was able to play a small game for the very first time. I present to you the First Battle of Adam’s Ridge.

On the western edge of the field, my men, the blue army (French models).

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Infantry in staggered ranks to make them a harder artillery target, with cavalry concentrated on my left.

On the eastern edge of the field, my brother, with the red (British) army:

[PXL-20201224-192212609-MP.jpg

He decided to concentrate his forces in the center, perhaps to respond more quickly to any moves I made to the flanks.

And now, the field, looking from east to west:

PXL-20201224-192218779-MP.jpg

The central feature of this battlefield is Butterfly Hill. To its northeast and southwest runs the eponymous Adam’s Ridge, with the warehouse (the eSun filament box) at the northeastern end and the factory (the Hatchbox filament box) at the southwest end.

Due north of Butterfly Hill, to the right of the photo, is the fairground, and due south is the toy shop.

My brother won the toss and deferred, so I went first, advancing my cavalry force toward the fairground and moving my infantry in the direction of shelter under Butterfly Hill. I kept my right gun back by the factory, where it would remain for the whole battle, while the left gun moved forward with the cavalry.

Because the field was a bit small end-to-end, we decided to let the guns open fire after the first round, instead of after the second.

That brings us to about here, which is the end of the second round.

PXL-20201224-193942550.jpg

I’ve continued my advance toward the fairgrounds, and have reached cover from red’s guns, although they lost two of their number along the way. My men advancing on Butterfly Hill have lost several of their number to artillery fire, but my guns have done a respectable job in reply, dramatically thinning out the bunched forces in red’s center.

Bonus action shot, mid-round 2, as my brother aims a gun toward my artillery crew by the factory.

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On to round 3!

PXL-20201224-194445138.jpg

I’m concentrating my cavalry at the fairgrounds, in the hopes of making a rush at red’s gun by the warehouse, and have moved my left gun up to Butterfly Hill, which is a dire threat to red’s center. Even long-range artillery can pretty quickly dismantle forces out of cover. This close, it’s easy.

To make it a little easier to move the gun to Butterfly Hill, my gun at the factory engaged the soldiers manning red’s gun opposite. If you look closely, you’ll notice it only has three men nearby, which means it’s out of action. I took that opportunity to send the infantry from Butterfly Hill on a march toward the warehouse: I don’t have enough cavalry there to charge the guns and win.

Round 4:

PXL-20201224-195136862-MP.jpg

My guns did indeed exact a heavy toll on red’s center, but my force marching for the warehouse is now substantially smaller too. I think he had eleven men with his right gun (the one on my left), and I had eight cavalry behind the fairground at this point.

Red is attempting to get some cavalry around my right, behind the toy shop and the factory.

Notice also that red’s southern gun is out of action again. You only need four men near a gun, but having more seems to make artillery a lot more durable. Too, I think I probably failed to explain how guns work (four men within six inches, put two behind the wheels at the back of the trail after firing) to my brother, which led to his artillerymen being awfully exposed most of the time.

He has, however, moved his gun by the warehouse to the other side, where it can fire on my gun at Butterfly Hill.

Round 5:

PXL-20201224-195921441.jpg

Both of red’s guns are back in action again, and a fair number of my infantry made it to the warehouse alive—I have a slight edge in numbers there, but am handicapped by the fact that it’s a combined arms attack. The infantry are still two turns away, or at least most of them are. I think. Looking at the photo, I might have been able to drive home a successful, if costly, attack by looping the infantry around the south end of the warehouse, while the cavalry took the northern route.

In the south, the gun at the factory brought down two of the four attacking cavalry. The other two are slightly out of frame to the south.

Round 6:

PXL-20201224-200735272.jpg

I didn’t see the potential for a multi-pronged attack in the moment, however. My brother played it smart and moved his northern gun back a bit, so that it wouldn’t be put out of action in a melee around the factory, and would be in perfect situation to blast any cavalry who engaged.

At which point I looked at the field, felt relatively confident in my advantage, and decided to fall back, which may go down in history as a McClellan-esque bit of caution. We ended the battle by mutual agreement at this point: I didn’t feel like I had a sufficient force advantage to press an attack successfully, and he felt the same way.

Having both started with 68 points of troops, I finished with 50 to his 37.5, for a victory for me. By the objective we’d chosen, I think it would have been most appropriate for us to split the 100 victory points, which would have brought the tally to 100 to 87.5.

Now, on to reactions!

To start with, the rules seem to work very well. Wells obviously played a fair bit of this before he put his rules to paper, given how few the rough edges are and how well they generate something that looks like a real battle.

Notably, we didn’t get to try out the close combat rules: gunnery proved a bit too effective. We’ll probably play next game with one gun per side. Wells recommended one gun per 40 or 50 men. A slightly higher ridge probably would have helped too: it didn’t end up being an obstacle to artillery, whereas if we’d used a few more layers of magazines to build it, it might have, or at least provided some partial cover.

It may be a little too easy to silence guns, but that could also be my brother’s imperfect grasp of the artillery rules. The guns performed well, firing with plenty of power to bring down soldiers and cavalry alike. I think the best shell of the game took down four? I might experiment with a slightly thinner spring, even—I need to order a batch of boxes anyway, since the filament boxes don’t quite fit the taller sorts of soldier, and I could always add spring steel to a McMaster-Carr order. One downside is that the late prototype guns (the ones printed in white plastic) don’t have quite the right tolerances, so their wheels were frequently falling off. Less than ideal. Too, gray is a very bad color for the shells. The next batch I do will probably be in white or red—something to stand out against your average carpet.

In spite of some initial doubt, we ended up playing with the prescribed three-minute time limit. It did its job perfectly: we didn’t have a ton of time to sight in guns, and when we did to ensure we got hits we needed to, we were short on time to do other things. I had to skip moving men once or twice, and made some bad movement decisions a few times because of the clock. A brief aside: Wells wrote about having to find a big clock with a second hand, or wrangle a visitor with a stopwatch into refereeing, which speaks to a timekeeping problem ubiquitous cell phones have relegated to history.

Even though we didn’t get to exercise the close combat/isolation/surrender rules, I was thinking about them as the game was ongoing, and they made a lot of sense: most of the melees that might have happened involved unsupported forces, and would have yielded some prisoner-taking. Given the situations we encountered, it seems like they’d work substantially better than I would have guessed.

Finally, we forgot or misapplied a few rules, but I don’t think it had a serious effect on the outcome of the game. Neither of us were playing the tryhard, but if someone were to do so, I think insisting on rules-following would make it relatively resistant to munchkinry.

All told, an extremely successful first battle, and I suspect we’re going to have a second one today.

Fishbreath Fabricates: Britains 4.7″ naval gun toy

Are you familiar with Little Wars? In 1913, novelist H. G. Wells published it, the first set of rules for miniatures wargaming available to the public. Toy soldiers careen across carpeted (or cork-floored, in the original conception, but I don’t have a cork-floored playroom) countryside, under fire from spring-loaded toy cannon as they charge home for glory.

“Sounds great! Where do I start?” I said. Well, toy soldiers aren’t too hard to find, but I decided that I can print better ones, or perhaps eventually cast them in resin from silicone molds around 3D-printed masters.

The mighty artillery, however, is the sticking point. Nobody makes toy cannons of the right power anymore, and the early-20th-century originals from Britains Ltd. run about $50 a piece. Not exactly cheap, and especially not when a Little Wars game of moderate size might call for six or ten guns. I have in my possession, however, a 3D printer and a copy of FreeCAD, and armed with these tools, I set about fixing this availability problem, with the help of my Thanksgiving vacation.

That holiday at my in-laws being a pretty sedate affair—an awful lot of movies1 and television—I had ample time to Google my way to a minimum understanding of how to CAD, or at least how to use one of several alternative (or redundant, uncharitably) workflows in FreeCAD. Et voila!

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