Tag Archives: projects

New Life for an Old Police Magnum

When we last looked at my old 870, it had been through a ringer, and I changed a few things. I got a cool magpul stock and a magazine tube extension. Class notes gave me a few more things I wanted to change.

First: the sights, which entailed a new barrel with (bonus) fresh parkerizing. Basically, I wanted some sort of rear sight. I found myself dissatisfied with a bead (and no sight rib for the bead to sit on). I settled on a barrel set up for rifle sights that came from the factory with XS Express-style rifle sights. Perfect! These sights were originally designed for quick acquisition at close ranges while threatened by dangerous game on the African Savannah, and I can’t think of something more appropriate to what I want this shotgun to do. Plus, being barrel-mounted, they require exactly no gunsmithing of the receiver. Now I have a rear reference to avoid making elevation errors at range.

I could have gone with ghost ring sights, but those end up needing gunsmithing (to drill and tap the receiver), and I didn’t feel like doing that. A red dot would also have been a good choice, but that would have cost much more, and I didn’t feel like spending the money here. It would also probably have needed a gunsmithing trip.

Sights sorted, I next wanted to deal with the problem of illumination. I’m a firm believer of defensive weapons needing a light to identify targets. There are a bunch of ways to do this, and I settled on the most turnkey: the Surefire DSF-870 forend. It replaces the factory forend, and has a light and controls for said light built right in. Controls include momentary and constant on buttons, as well as a lockout switch so your batteries don’t run down in the safe. This solution isn’t the lightest or the cheapest, but it stands up to recoil pretty well and tends not to smash hands up.

So that’s that. And my shotgun is more or less done, aside from a likely future trip for some cerakote to refinish the receiver. Let’s take a brief moment to talk about something that isn’t on the gun: ammo saddles. There’s no cuff on the stock for ammo either.

For my purpose, I question the need for ammo on the gun. I’m not a law enforcement officer. I currently have a capacity of 6+1 shells. I really can’t see myself needing more than that in a defensive encounter. Shotgun shells are pretty good at making people stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing. Given that, plus the size of recorded home defensive encounters, plus the complete lack of relevant1 encounters where people run the shotgun dry has led me to skip the bother, cost, and weight of playing around with sidesaddles.


  1. For law-abiding civilians who are non-LEO. 

Pistol dots as training aids

While telling parvusimperator how easy dry-fire practice is when you have a red dot wiggling over your point of aim1, it hit me that you can make a similar dry-fire training aid for quite a number of pistols, and you can do it for less than a lot of actual training aids.

All you need is a pistol with a Picatinny rail and an Amazon account2. With the latter, you buy two things: a Picatinny rail pistol dot mount (the cantilevered sort, which gives you rail estate atop the gun), and a little red dot. In both cases, you buy the absolute cheapest knockoff crap you can, because, remember, this is a dry-fire training aid. It doesn’t need to stand up to any impulse more severe than the striker or hammer falling.

As it turns out, I have a cheapo micro-red-dot which occasionally lives on a frame mount on my Beretta U22. I shook the Many Words Press petty cash piggy bank, replaced a tenner inside with a note saying ‘IOU $10’, and chipped in $2 more for the cheapest polymer sight mount I could find on Amazon.

Two days later, and it was in hand. It is an appalling piece of crap. This was not entirely unexpected in kind, but I certainly underestimated the magnitude. ‘Appalling piece of crap’ is going to be my Amazon review headline. Just how is it so bad? Let me count the ways.

First, it’s entirely made from polymer. Even the hardware. Even the heads of the screws. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to turn a polymer screw before, so I’ll tell you how it goes. First, you take your nice gunsmith’s screwdrivers. Then, you carefully choose one which fits the polymer screw correctly. Then, you gently turn the screwdriver. Lastly, you instantly strip the screw.

Happily, the sight mount is also too narrow for my Px4 and P-09s, so just shoving it on over the rail until the friction holds it in place works too. You can’t move the slide, but that’s fine. Thanks to hammer-fired guns, I don’t need to worry about it. So, does the sight-and-mount combo work as a training aid?

Yes and no.

On the yes side, watching the dot wiggle is a wonderful way to see in what way you’re pulling the trigger wrong. It’s extremely clear. You can see both where and how you’re moving the gun when you pull the trigger.

On the no side, I don’t think I would recommend using it all the time. The problem with a dot is that it sits higher than the ordinary sights, and the problem with this dot and mount in particular is that they’re not zeroed correctly. Both issues require you to hold the gun in a way that won’t work with iron sights. Do that too much, and you risk breaking your muscle memory.

Still, at $30 or so in total project cost, it doesn’t cost you a lot of ammo money to set up, and it’s easier to see exactly what mistakes you’re making and how to fix them than it is with dry-firing on iron sights alone. I give the idea a thumbs up with reservations.


  1. He knew already. 
  2. AliExpress works too, but I can’t imagine there are many places in the world where you’re a) practicing with handguns and b) unable to order from Amazon. 

C-Zed P-09 Carry Optics Build

Some Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals came together to make the CZ P-09 Carry Optics build previously discussed a plausible winter project, even on my reduced homeowner-with-projects budget.

Donor Gun: P-09 9mm

There were some amazing deals on 9mm P-09s over the post-Thanksgiving weekend. I scored one for $389, shipped and transferred. That would be a good price even for a much less good gun.

There’s at least one obvious difference between the C-Zed lower and this new one, and that’s the trigger. The new one has a much less aggressive curve. The trigger also feels better out of the box: parvusimperator and I agree it has much less grit and much less creep, although the trigger scale indicates that it has the same weights as the first lower did pre-tuning (4.5lb single action, above the top of the scale for ~10lb double action).

Another difference, on close inspection, is that the extractor pin appears to be stainless on the new slide. On the old slide, it shared the same finish as the slide itself. The markings are also different, but that’s to be expected. (The old gun’s serial number starts with B; the new one starts with C. I expect that accounts for many of the differences.)

It came with two magazines, so I have another two handy. I could technically shoot it in Production now that I have six magazines in total, but I would have to shoot .40 (the only slide I have with irons) and put the original baseplates back on the magazines (so the gun fits in the Production box). Competitive in three divisions is about the most you can get out of any one gun without using Limited 10 as a cheat, so I’m happy with that.

The CZ Custom followers work just as well with 9mm as they do with .40, and the fully-kitted 140mm magazines hold 23 rounds, which is again competitive with the best in the division.

If I want to shoot Limited and Carry Optics in the same day, I have to change two things about the gun: swap the safety for the decocker, since Carry Optics prohibits cocked-and-locked starts, and remove the magazine funnel, which is not permitted in Carry Optics. Both are easy enough to do at the safe table, although the safety-to-decocker swap omits the decocker return spring. (It isn’t a required part, as it turns out, and is extremely fiddly to get into position without a workbench, a decent light, a vise, and a selection of screwdrivers for prodding.)

Sight: Vortex Venom

Mounting Solutions Plus had free shipping and a 15% off deal on the Vortex Venom sight. It ran me $196.

The Venom occupies the same budget class as the Vortex Viper and the Burris FastFire, all of which come in at about the same cost. Parvusimperator recommended Vortex for their warranty, which amounts to, “If it ever breaks, we’ll fix it.” That’s a good thing to have on your competition pistol, where the sight will likely see thousands of rounds on a much faster schedule than your average carry gun.

The Venom also has a top-loading battery, which means I don’t have to remove the sight to replace the battery, which means less re-zeroing, which is good. Unfortunately, it uses CR1632 batteries, which means I’m now stocking 2032, 1620, and 1632 for the various sights on my guns. Happily, little coin cells are cheap.

There are plenty of cheaper micro-dots available, but slide-mounted sights have to take a lot of punishment, and this is a case where my usual budget-mindedness goes by the wayside.

One problem is that, at my minimum-advisable-cost $200 budget, there aren’t many options for sight window size. The Burris FastFire is the smallest of the bunch at 21mm by 15mm. The Viper is the tallest by a bit more than a millimeter at 24mm by 17.5mm. The Venom is the widest, at 26.3mm by 16.3mm. Forum posters suggest that it’s very hard to notice a difference of a few millimeters.

I found a forum post with a list of sights and window sizes, which is reproduced here, along with a street price column a column indicating millimeters of window height per hundred dollars. (The width is less important; given a good grip, it’s easy to bring a pistol onto target side-to-side, and less easy to get the elevation just right.)

For the area column, the sights are assumed to be rectangular (except for the C-More SlideRide, which is circular), which is an invalid assumption, but you get what you pay for.

Sight NameWidth (mm)Height (mm)Area (mm2)Street Pricemm height/$100
C-More SlideRide29.029.0660.52 (circle)$300 (aluminum)9.667
Vortex Viper24.017.5420.00$2307.608
Vortex Venom26.316.3428.69$2307.087
Burris FastFire III21.015.0315.00$2306.522
JP JPoint21.515.0322.50$2855.263
Sig Romeo 325.021.0525.00$4005.250
C-More RTS225.022.0550.00$4205.238
Sig Romeo 130.016.0480.00$3254.923
Leupold DeltaPoint Pro25.717.5449.75$3704.730
Vortex Razor27.817.4483.72$4004.350
Trijicon RMR22.016.0352.00$5003.200

Except for a few outliers, like the big C-More and the tall micro-dots (the Romeo 3 and RTS2), it’s pretty much a list in order of increasing price. The RMR comes out looking bad, but it’s built for durability as much as anything else, and obviously that isn’t factored in here.

Mount: Springer Precision Dovetail Mount

I could have sent the slide off to Cajun Gun Works to be milled to accept a sight, but that’s a big expense, not just in terms of gunsmith time but also in terms of shipping. Much better to try a dovetail mount first. Springer Precision makes one. It cost $51 including shipping.

It seems to me to be a pretty good product. It’s held in place by four set screws, two in the dovetail and two nylon-tipped jobbers pressing against the top of the slide. We’ll see how it holds up in practice.

Notably, dovetail mounts position the sight much higher above the slide than milled mounts. A milled mount by necessity puts the base of the sight below the top of the slide, while a dovetail mount by necessity puts the base of the sight above the top of the slide. It doesn’t make the zeroing process very much more interesting. The sight rides about 1.15 inches above the bore, and a 25-yard zero is just as good as always for 9mm.

Slide Parts

A Cajun Gun Works extended firing pin, firing pin retaining roll pin, and firing pin plunger spring come to $43. The first two are required parts for the low-power springs in the C-Zed’s frame. The third is a trigger enhancement.

In Sum

I spent $679 on parts to turn the C-Zed into a convertible two-division gun. I probably could have done it cheaper if it weren’t for the inability to buy CZ slides on their own.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the balance of the gun is better now. Without the sight, an empty P-09 is nose-heavy. With it, the balance point is right at the back of the trigger guard.

Without any range time to back me up, I’m happy with the result. I’ll have more to say once I’ve burned some powder and, perhaps, shot a match or two in the spring.

A Racy Rifle

I’m getting a desire to plan a new AR-15 build. I haven’t done one in a while. And I can do literally nothing to hurry the gunsmith building my fancy open 2011 along. So, let’s think about a new rifle.

It’s going to be a competition rifle. No compromises for other things. I have other rifles for that. Plus, I’d love to bring it to one of Ian and Karl’s practical two gun matches. That would be fun.

Compensator: Coda Evolution Fury
I like the M4-72, but it’s a little annoying to be behind. The Coda is designed for maximum flatness of the rifle, which is more important than recoil management, since we’re shooting 5.56. Let’s keep it flat, keep it simple. Plus the compensator is titanium, and that will help keep weight down. Oh, and we’re going to get it flame anodized, because it looks cool.

Barrel: Stretch 16, fluted
This barrel is the new hotness among 3-gun shooters. It’s got an intermediate-length gas system, which is somewhere in between midlength and rifle length. This feels about as soft as an 18″ barrel with a rifle length gas system. But, as you might have guessed from the name, it’s 16″ so it handles faster. It’s a high quality barrel with a medium profile. Not as light as we’d like, but it’s still not super heavy. Flutes will help with the weight a bit. Plus, we can get the Stretch 16 in cool colors. We’re gonna go with red, because it looks cool.

Note that because the gas system is nonstandard, the Stretch 16 comes with an appropriately sized gas tube.

Handguard: Coda Evolution Lightning 15″
When I was looking at handguards, I wanted something lightweight. I wanted something with as little fixed rail space as possible. I wanted free floated (duh!). I wanted a barrel mounting method that did not require any timing, because timing is annoying. And, preferably I wanted a design that wouldn’t require a whole bunch of extra panels to keep my hands from getting hot. It needs to protect my hands from heat as-is. Coda delivers with a really nice carbon fiber handguard. It’s got Mlok slots, doesn’t require timing for the install, and should be good at keeping heat away from my hands. The 15″ model chosen weighs under half a pound. And it looks cool.

Gas block: SLR Rifleworks Sentry 7 Adjustable
An adjustable gas block is mandatory on a good competition rifle. We’re using the SLR rifleworks model, appropriately sized for our barrel. It’s a high quality gas block, easily adjustable, with an extra set screw to prevent the adjustment screw from backing out. Plus, it’s titanium. It’s great. It’s under a handguard though, so we don’t have to worry about if it looks cool.

Upper: Odin Works Bilet
This one might change if I find a deal. I want a pretty standard upper, but it needs to not have the stupid forward assist. I hate that dumb part, and it’s time to start building rifles without it. I do also want capability for a dust cover and a brass deflector. Done.

Bolt Carrier: Whiskey Arms LBC
Part two of reducing recoil is a low mass bolt carrier. We’re going as low as we can here with an aluminum bolt carrier. ALUMINUM! How very space age. Note that it does need lots of lubrication, and it has a somewhat finite service life. Manufacturers say they usually expect about 10,000 rounds out of one. That’s not a concern. If wear proves to be a problem, we can always switch to a lightened steel bolt carrier and readjust the gas system. Note that lightened steel bolt carriers are about twice the weight of an aluminum carrier like this one.

Buffer Spring: JP Captive
And now, part three of our recoil reduction system. The JP Captive spring system is a part I’ve been meaning to try, mostly because I can. It’s adjustable for weight, and comes with a spring kit. And everyone who tries them loves them.

Primary Optic: Vortex Razor HD Gen II-E 1-6x
It’s the Vortex Razor! It’s four ounces lighter! It’s got a giant eyebox, which I really like. It’s got super bright reticle illumination, which I really like. It’s the most popular optic by far on the three gun circuit for good reason. It does everything you want well. It’s at a reasonable price point. Oh, and this version cuts a quarter pounder with cheese off the weight of the original. Plus it looks cool.

Secondary Optic: 45-degree offset Leupold Deltapoint Pro
I like to shoot open for reasons of pistols with dot sights and compensators. Open is a lot less useful for rifles, but it still lets you put two optics on, so we might as well, right? The offset red dot can be useful occasionally for needing to do fewer power changes with your primary optic. You can also use it to avoid having to switch shoulders to shoot around a weak-hand side barricade.

Stock: TBD
Of course this rifle needs a stock. But something that’s important to me is balance, and so I’ll test-fit my upper to various lowers and see what sort of stock would balance the rifle best. So this will be covered in the future.

Lower: Doesn’t Matter
Really it doesn’t. From a functionality perspective, a lower is a lower. Some have ambi controls, but I’m right handed, and having played with those, it’s not a big deal to not have them. Even if I wanted, say, a right-side bolt release, there are a whole bunch of billet lower manufacturers who will oblige.

Shopping List: Fishy USPSA Revolvers

These lists, unlike the earlier Carry Optics list, are shorter and simpler. There are no optics to mount or, indeed, new sights to buy; nor is there compatibility with pre-existing tuning to worry about. So, I decided to write up all of my options, to lengthen the article a bit.

For All Three

We’ll call it $200 for the two items below, to cover shipping and other expenses.

Moon Clips ($30)

No competitive revolver shooters use speedloaders; they’re an extra step and not worth the time. Moon-clipped revolvers are faster, and moon clips are cheaper than speedloaders. So much the better.

Belt Rack ($150)

Moon clip holders which can carry eight clips can be found for about $150 from a number of retailers. Even with my expressed preference for six-guns, I don’t think I’d need more than 8. My usual preference is to have about 60 rounds on my belt for a 32-round stage. 48 in the holders and 6 in my pocket is close enough.

The Safe Option(s)

A Ruger GP100 10mm ($800)

Ruger recently released a GP100 Match Champion in 10mm/.40, which fits my desire to use existing stocks of competition ammo. There aren’t a lot of gunsmiths who work on Rugers, but some polishing compound and some spring work should serve to get the trigger pull down to acceptable levels.

Or, A Ruger Redhawk .357/.38 ($800)

Ruger also has an 8-round Redhawk model in .357 which accepts moon clips. (They are, however, expensive moon clips.) This would let me play with the big boys in USPSA Revolver, and eliminates one of my objections to eight-round revolvers. 9mm is a wimpy semi-automatic caliber, not suited for a manly gun like a revolver, and 8-round 9mm revolvers are an abomination unto God. .357 (and yes, also wimpy .38 like I’d actually be shooting) are true revolver calibers.

It eliminates another one of my objections, too; a Ruger in .38 Special is undoubtedly hipster in the modern revolver competition world. I’d be able to shoot Limited in ICORE, if Western PA ever ends up with a club which runs ICORE matches.

Of course, there are some downsides. If there are few gunsmiths who work on Match Champion revolvers, there are fewer gunsmiths who work on Redhawks. The sights might not be very much good for competition, although they are at least replaceable.

All in all, a compelling option: the Redhawk gets me to the 95% competitive bracket really easily, with no esoteric stage-planning requirements.

Kydex Holster ($100)

Given that these are the cheap options and not especially long-barreled, a Kydex competition holster is probably the way to go. $100 is a bit of an overestimate here, but $800 is a bit of an underestimate for the guns, so it’s a wash.

Some quick Googling suggests that a Kydex holster for the Redhawk might be hard to come by. In that case, I would have to go leather, which is delightfully old-fashioned.

The Weird Option

A Chiappa Rhino .40 ($900)

A what? Yes, Italian pizza-gun manufacturer Chiappa, who you might know better for their replica old-time firearms in the finest spaghetti western tradition, also makes a six-gun which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Blade Runner. The bottom cylinder fires rather than the top one, and so the barrel is mounted low in the frame. The recoil impulse is nearly straight back. People say it’s nice. The Rhino can be had in .40 with a range of barrel lengths; I’d probably want the 6″ barrel because, in my opinion, it’s the coolest-looking1.

On that note, as I intimated in the first post in this series, the Chiappa’s major advantage is that it’s cool, and beyond that, that it’s uber-hipster. Nobody shoots Major in USPSA Revolver; of those who do, nobody shoots .40; of those who do, absolutely nobody shoots a Chiappa Rhino. That does have value to me; I like the attention I get when I’m shooting something offbeat.

A Guga Ribas Holster ($200)

Unfortunately, nobody makes holsters for Rhinos either, and a six-inch barrel makes for an unwieldy draw. I’d have to look into a Guga Ribas holster, sufficiently adjustable to grip the trigger guard of just about anything. That adds some expense.

The Boring Option

A S&W 929 ($1100)

I could also go the boring way, buying what everyone else has, a 9mm S&W Model 929.

Not only is it the most expensive option, it’s also the most popular one, and if you know me at all, you know how very unlikely that is.

A Guga Ribas or Other Adjustable Race Holster ($200)

If I were going to take leave of my senses and buy the boring race gun everyone shoots, I could hardly cheap out on the holster.

Conclusions

So, I’ve laid out four options. Every revolver option costs at least $200 for a belt rack and moon clips. Both Ruger options add $900 or so to the total, for $1100 to get in the door—slightly less than the Limited P-09. If I added another $100 or $150 to the total, to bring the price up to the P-09’s all-in price, I could get an adjustable race holster.

The Rhino adds another few hundred bucks of cool for about $1300. Unlike the Redhawk, it wouldn’t be competitive, but I would at least look cool while shooting slowly.

The Smith and Wesson option, at $1500, is probably out of my price range, in addition to being prevalent and therefore boring.

Okay, But You Actually Have To Make a Decision

You can’t make me. Not yet, anyway. More on that in a second. The way I see it, it comes down to P-09 Carry Optics, which is cool in a modern technological way, and the Ruger Redhawk, which is cool in an old-time lawman way.

What about the Rhino? For me, it comes down to competitiveness. I’m not shooting USPSA to become a better shooter, although that’s a pleasant side-effect. I’m shooting USPSA to compete in USPSA. The point of the game is the game. For the same reason I wouldn’t go to a fencing tournament with a left-handed foil, I’m not going to intentionally buy equipment which is well below par. As classic as the Ruger six-gun is, and as cool as the Rhino is, competing with them is, in a word, uncompetitive2.

So what’s it going to be? A Carry Optics P-09 or an 8-round Ruger Redhawk? I said I don’t have to answer yet, and I’m sticking by that. 2018, and in all likelihood 2019, are for improving with the guns I already have. Revolver requires a whole new level of planning, and a whole new level of shooting perfection, over Limited and Production. I have a pair of plenty-competitive guns I can easily shoot two seasons with.

In two seasons, the story might be different. Carry Optics rules are a moving target right now, and I don’t want to commit too early. On the flip side, in two years, Revolver might not be a USPSA division anymore, or Chiappa might come up with an 8-round Rhino. The point is, choosing now would be silly. I have time. It doesn’t matter how I lean now; it matters how the landscape looks in two years. I’ll let you know what I’m doing then.


  1. I actually emailed Chiappa asking if they had plans for an 8-round, 9mm version. (They already have a 9mm version in all the barrel lengths, as well as a competition-focused 9mm version.) Alas, the guy who answered my email said, ‘No, not at this time.’ And why am I okay with a 9mm revolver in this case? Because it’s the opposite of classic-looking, and so can use a non-classic cartridge without my scorn. 
  2. “What about that time you shot a two-gun match with British WW2 gear, though?” That’s entirely different. For one, I wasn’t shooting in nationally-organized three-gun with classifiers and ratings. For another, it was a for-fun match with gear I already had. 

Shopping List: CZ P-09 Carry Optics

In my previous USPSA what comes next post, I mentioned two possibilities for my next division, likely for the 2020 season. In this short post, we’ll take a look at what I would need for Carry Optics.

A Cajunified Lower (free)

Or, at least, free if you’re following the same path I am—starting with a Limited-spec P-09 and expanding your horizons. In that case, the Cajunified bits come gratis.

If you’re starting from zero, the Cajun bits will cost you about $600, including the magazines, 140mm base plates, and followers. (You save about $100 by skipping the verboten-in-Carry-Optics magazine funnel.)

A Donor Gun ($475)

At a bare minimum, I need a new barrel for 9mm. Realistically, I need a slide; I’m going to be knocking out the rear sight and putting in a sight mounting plate, and I don’t want to have to change back and forth between a dot and the Limited rear sight.

Of course, nobody sells a P-09 slide without a frame, so the only thing to do is buy a second whole P-09 and toss the frame in a box for later use. $475 takes a little bit of deal-hunting, but not much; you could probably find one for less with a little patience.

Cajun Upper Parts ($50)

The lower uses reduced-power springs, so the Carry Optics slide needs an extended firing pin, reduced-power firing pin spring, and reduced-power firing pin plunger spring to match the Limited slide.

Happily, with the exception of the firing pin retaining pin (a roll pin), none of those parts are all that annoying to install.

An Optic Plate ($50)

Springer Precision makes a Fastfire/Venom/Viper-compatible mounting plate which sits in the rear sight dovetails. It also has polymer-tipped set screws, so you can crank it down onto the slide for better stability—important for a competition gun with no possibility of back-up sights. The last thing you want to do is lose your zero during a match.

An Optic ($225)

Although Springer makes mounting plates for other, more expensive pistol dots, the Burris FastFire III and the Vortex Venom/Viper are the obvious victors from a value perspective. Both run about $200-$225. Parvusimperator says Vortex has better warranties, so they get the nod.

Conclusions

Enhancing the P-09 with Carry Optics compatibility would cost, therefore, about $800. Switching from Limited to Carry Optics isn’t the sort of thing I could do at a match; not only do I have to swap the slide, but I also have to put the decocker in (or accept a subpar Limited start condition by leaving the decocker in). It isn’t that much work, though; five or ten minutes on the old workbench, even with the fiddly spring you may remember from the last post.

The nice thing is that I don’t need to buy any extra gear. The gun still fits in my existing holster, the magazines fit in my existing carriers, and everything fits on the belt I already have. For the revolver option laid out in a forthcoming article, the initial purchases are just that: initial. For the Carry Optics option presented here, there’s nothing left to buy.

Too, it’s a 100% competitive option. If I’m shooting at a disadvantage to others in the division, it’s much smaller than the disadvantage (or advantage) I end up with from being a worse (or, in some rare cases, better) shooter. For all my fondness for strange and oldtimey things, I’m ultimately shooting USPSA to compete. Even with the coolest, most hipster gear in the coolest, most hipster division, if I’m giving up effectiveness based on my equipment, I can’t be 100% happy.

Gravity, Graviton, Pendulum: a wireless hydrometer for homebrewing

I’ve been working hard on this project over the past week or two, and I put another week or two into it at the end of last year. Finally, though, it’s just about ready to show.

Gravity, Graviton, and Pendulum are the three components of an end-to-end wireless hydrometer system for homebrewers.

Graviton is a Golang server which manages batches and hydrometers. Gravity is a vue.js front end for Graviton. Pendulum is an ESP8266-based floating tilt hydrometer, with built-in calibration and automatic temperature compensation. Put them all together, and you get something a little like this:

dataflow

For each batch you have in progress, you get a dashboard with a chart showing measured gravity and temperature over time, along with apparent attenuation and current calculated alcohol by volume: everything you need to know about a batch of beer in progress.

Backstory

Obviously, I homebrew, or else I wouldn’t have started on this project at all. I homebrew with a friend, however, which means that wherever we brew, at least one of us is going to be remote. The ability to check on a beer remotely is therefore valuable to us.

There are other existing systems: the open-source iSpindle, which inspired this project; Tilt, a commercial floating hydrometer of the same sort as Pendulum and iSpindle; and BrewBuddy, a commercial product which solves the long-term power issue by replacing your carboy bung and dangling a sensor-only torpedo into the wort.

The commercial products are out because we homebrew in part because it’s cheaper than buying good beer, and a do-it-yourself solution is way cheaper (if you, like me, value your labor at near-zero). Why not an iSpindle, then? Because we brew in glass carboys, whose necks are a mere 29.5mm across at their narrowest points, and iSpindle uses an enclosing cylinder which won’t fit.

So, because no product out there fits our needs, and because Go, vue.js, and some very light electrical engineering are all useful skills, I decided to roll my own.

How it Works

Like all tilt hydrometers, Pendulum uses the interrelation between density and buoyancy to figure out the density of the medium it’s floating in. A cylinder with a weight at the bottom naturally floats at an angle. If the liquid is denser, the angle between the hydrometer and the vertical increases. If it’s less dense, it decreases.

Pendulum is calibrated by preparing a series of sugar-water solutions of known density, recording its measured tilts in those solutions, recording specific gravity readings from a calibrated hydrometer, and providing tilt-gravity pairs to Pendulum’s configuration interface. It does the required calculations internally.

calibration

Technical Details

Pendulum uses an ESP8266 microcontroller, a GY521 MPU6050 accelerometer/gyroscope breakout board, and a lithium-ion 18650 battery. Which precise ESP8266 board depends on how it fits in roughly 27mm tubes; I have several coming which will help me answer that question. The board I’m using for development has some nice features, like built-in USB battery charging and discharge protection, and if possible I’d like to stick with it.

As far as cylinders go, I have two options: a 27mm outside diameter jobber with a narrower screw cap, which will have to be hacksawed off, and a 27mm inside diameter tube used to hold collectible coins. The former may be too small on the inside, unless I detach the battery caddy from the development board, and the latter may be too big on the outside to fit into our carboy.

To-Do

In addition to the hardware task above, I have some work to do on the software side, too; some fixes to hopefully make the ESP8266 wifi connection slightly more reliable, and some changes and improvements to the web app and back end to allow for management of users and permissions.

Most of the hard work is already done. It’ll take about a month for the various enclosures to arrive from China, a week or two to work out the remaining hardware issues and perhaps add a transistor to the voltage measurement circuit, so it can be fully turned off. By mid- to late summer, I should have something release-ready, with enough documentation and photography so that anyone handy with a soldering iron should be able to assemble their own Pendulum. Until then!

USPSA: What Comes Next?

In the near term, the answer to the title question is, “Get better in Limited through 2019.” Between live fire practice, living room drills, and matches, I hope to make a run at B (at least) by the end of next season.

That isn’t great fodder for an article, though, given that I’ve already answered the question and we’re not even one hundred words in. In 2020, though, I think I want to pick up a new division, and that’s more fertile ground for discussion. I have a few options.

Ghetto Open

Ghetto Open, like parvusimperator’s kit from last year, is any Open setup which doesn’t fit the traditional frame-mounted optic, 170mm magazine, hot .38-caliber with compensator mold. This appeals to me on several levels: bubblegum-and-shoestrings bodging, shoot-something-different hipsterism, and play-for-cheap budget-mindedness.

Or at least, it appeals to me until I sit down and start to make a list of what I’d need to do. Take, for instance, the CZ. At a minimum, I would need an optic of some kind. Call it $130 for one of the Primary Arms micro-tubes, and $100 for the only picatinny rail universal mount which doesn’t lose its zero according to Internet reviewers.

Of course, that hardly gets me to ‘competitive’. I would need a compensator, and that’s where things start getting hairy. As far as I know, there aren’t any threaded barrels for .40 P-09s, so I’d have to either have one entirely custom-made (not exactly cheap) or have one of the 9mm threaded barrels bored out and rechambered for .40. (Also not cheap.) I’d then have to buy a compensator.

That gets me a little closer, but then I’d want longer magazines. There are 170mm extensions for the Tac Sport series, but those mags don’t fit P-09s. Some of the EAA/Tanfoglio magazines do, but those are on the order of $100 to $150 each. Iffy. The best I could hope for, as far as capacity, is probably 25 or 26, several shy of the widebody 1911s.

The list is even longer for a Beretta, and probably involves buying a whole new gun as the base, so that’s definitely out. Based on what I’d have to do to the CZ, so is Ghetto Open altogether.

Less Ghetto Open

My remaining options for Open play a little closer to the norm. I could buy a used CZ Czechmate, along with a supply of spare slide stops. That way, I could stay in the CZ ecosystem.

I could try one of the competition-ready 2011 clones from Eagle Importers’ SPS or MAC brands, both of which tip the money-scale at right about $2000 if I include an optic, with affordable magazines relative to other 2011s.

Either way, though, I’d be looking at $2500 or $3000 to go from today to shooting-ready. Although that’s cheap by Not At All Ghetto Open standards, it’s still a lot of money, especially with children likely to be in the picture by that time, and double-especially for a division I’m not even all that interested in.

Less Ghetto Open is out.

Carry Optics

Carry Optics is an interesting division. According to USPSA classifier stats, it’s very slightly faster than Limited—maybe 10%—despite using minor scoring. I could use my equipment pretty much as-is; all I would have to do is come up with some way to mount an optic.

The thing is, that changes the rear dovetail, and I’m happy with my sights on the Limited gun. I’d want a second slide, and that means I’d need a second gun plus the Cajun firing pin and springs, on top of an optic and a slide cut. The gun for the slide comes to about $420. Springer Precision makes a multi-optic mount compatible with the budget Burris and Vortex options, which retails for $45. A Burris FastFire III or a Vortex Viper or Venom can be had for $200.

My existing magazines, carriers, holsters, and belt are legal, although I’d have to pull the magwell off for Carry Optics competition. That makes the cost of entry roughly $700 to $750, counting shipping and transfer fees.

Frankly, when I started this section, I was expecting to write off Carry Optics altogether. Now, it’s one of the front-runners. Low cost of entry, cheap ammunition, and equipment commonality go a long way in my book.

Let me invent a few reasons to bring it down a peg. First, it’s trendy. I hate trendy. Second, I’d want to put the decocker back into my P-09, and there’s a fiddly little spring to deal with. Third, optics are still kind of cheating, even if it’s cool cheating I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at.

Revolver

If you know me at all, you shouldn’t be too surprised that revolver is the second front-runner. It’s the ultimate hipster division. Revolver shooting is very nearly a different game altogether, much more focused on shooting perfectly. (Every missed shot means more reloading, which is slow.)

I like the idea of revolver division, because it features a whole new set of technical skills and emphasizes shooting mastery much more than the semi-auto divisions. Your loading has to be perfect, and your shooting should be; otherwise, you’re going to be up a creek.

Because I’m old-fashioned and find eight-round revolvers to be an abomination unto Colt, I’d be looking at a major power factor gun with a six-round cylinder. The newly-released Ruger GP100 Match Champion in 10mm/.40 seems like an obvious choice—I already stock .40 competition ammo.

Of course, the current state of the art in USPSA Revolver is eight-round guns, because the USPSA rules require that no single shooting position should require more than eight shots. An eight-round revolver fits perfectly, provided you don’t miss. A six-round revolver will require some standing reloads on some stages. Major scoring, unfortunately, isn’t enough to make up the difference.

It would be about $1000 to get into it: a $750 revolver, a $100 holster, a $150 moon clip belt rack, and a few bucks’ worth of moon clips. Any tuning would be extra.

One last thing to note is that revolver is a very infrequently-shot division. At most matches, I wouldn’t have anyone to measure myself against.

A Weird Revolver

Ordinary revolvers are cool, sure, but what about a weird, sci-fi revolver, like the Chiappa Rhino? That comes in .40 S&W, and has a range of barrel length options besides. I could go up to six inches, which gives me enough sight radius to really make those difficult distance shots. It would cost about $200 more than the Ruger option. The revolver is $100 to $150 more expensive, and I would need one of those trigger-guard-grab holsters, at a price of about $150 ($50 more than the Kydex jobber for the Ruger). Given that it’s basically a functioning Firefly prop, however, the Rhino has a dramatically higher cool factor, and the recent Chiappas have better triggers out of the box.

Conclusions

If you read through the 2017-2018 race gun shootout, the 2019-2020 shootout should sound a little familiar. I have a cooler option I started off with (the wheelgun), and a cheaper, more competitive option I hadn’t considered until I did the comparison. Revolver is nearer to my heart, but Carry Optics is nearer to competitive with the top dogs, and if last year’s project showed me anything, it’s that competitiveness is important to me.

At the same time, last year’s choice was between two raced-up semi-auto pistols. The Beretta is cooler than the CZ, but neither holds a candle to a revolver. The question before me is this: is a GP100 $200 cooler than a CZ with a dot? Is a Rhino $500 cooler?

I don’t think the GP100 is. The Rhino, however, just might be.

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 USPSA Limited Match No. 2

At the end of April, I shot a second match with the Limited CZ P-09 project gun.

How did it go?

It went pretty well, all in all. I shot a good classifier, which is one of my primary goals at every match. (Gotta get that C-for-competent classification!)

As an aside, I thought the structure of the match was excellent. Like most club matches, the round count was about 150, but unlike most matches, they spread out that count into seven stages (rather than five or six). Stages averaged between about 24 and 28 rounds each, which is a good number: it lets the Open pay-to-win types feel superior because they don’t have to reload, while still presenting interesting problems for the rest of us. Do I trust myself to make every shot for the first 20 rounds on the stage, which don’t take much moving, then load moving to the last array? Do I make a standing or semi-standing reload earlier on? Seven stages also leaves you a little more room to have a bad stage without blowing the match altogether.

At the match, someone had a camera on a gimbal rig and happened to record a full stage of mine, which you can watch here1.

How was the gear?

Still solid. I adjusted the holster a bit more, for even less positive retention, and I think it improves my draw time. The belt remains perfectly functional. I had the brilliant idea of moving things around so that the outer belt overlaps itself in the rear rather than the front, where the ends aren’t interfering with equipment hanging on the belt. This is notably easier to put on than the previous setup.

How was the gun?

Also still solid. I find myself liking the skinny fiber optic front sight and blacked-out wide-notch rear sight more the more I use it. It’s very fast to acquire, and can be just as accurate with a little attention paid to alignment. The more trigger time I get on it, the better I think the trigger is.

That said, there were two reliability problems which cropped up: failures to feed and, a little more concerning, hammer follow (where the hammer chases the slide forward). I suspected that the slide might be coming forward too quickly, not leaving the sear time to reset or the magazine time to get the next round into place, so I swapped the stock 20lb recoil spring for the 18lb Cajun Gun Works spring, plus a stainless steel guide rod.

75 rounds of practice calculated to reproduce the problems didn’t yield any new cases, so I’m willing to call it settled for now. At the range, I re-learned the lesson that consistency in grip is important, and that when picking the gun up off the table, I need to get my main hand further around to the strong side. If I don’t, when I tighten my grip, the muzzle swings around to the left, and so do all my shots.

Next steps?

I’m taking May off from matches to work on draw, movement, and transition technique. Also because I’m cheap, and I can do most of those things without live ammo. In late June, I plan to attend two matches—the next at what I consider my home club, and a local all-classifier match to see if I can get my Limited letter.

In July, parvusimperator and I will be using me as a test case for frame weights; we have some drills in mind which we can use to assess the importance of extra weight under the barrel for polymer pistols.

We will, of course, report on those when they happen.


  1. After the video ended, the RO made a crack about how I was shooting extra to get my money’s worth. My rejoinder: “I can’t afford to shoot this many extra!” 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W ‘C-Zed’ Race Gun Build

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember my two race gun proposal posts from last year, in which I justified my desire to build a USPSA Limited gun on the cheap.

You may also recall the shootout post, in which I decided that the gun to buy, between the Beretta 96 and the CZ P-09, was the CZ.

Lastly, you may recall the CZ P-09 .40 review from last summer, in which I reviewed the base model gun.

We’re now nearly to the end of the series. In this post, we’ll explore what I did to the P-09 and what supporting equipment I bought, and, at the end, come up with a cost.

Requirements

Beyond the requirements imposed by the USPSA Limited rules, there are a few requirements I gave myself, too.

  1. A decent competition holster, preferably something with drop, offset, and adjustable retention.
  2. At least 60 rounds of ammunition on the belt. That was my setup with the M9, and I didn’t want to go any lower.
  3. A sturdy belt to hold everything.

Internals

The C-Zed’s guts are all Cajun Gun Works all the way. I bought their hammer, with different spur geometry for reduced single-action trigger pull, the short reset kit, which included an extended firing pin, and a number of springs: a main spring, a reduced-strength trigger return spring, reduced springs for the firing pin plunger, and an increased-strength sear spring.

The increased-strength sear spring sounds like it’s the wrong tool for lightening a trigger, pull, doesn’t it? You would be correct. Cajun Gun Works sells them as a tool for adding weight to a dangerously light trigger. I didn’t expect to need it and didn’t use it in the end, but figured that, at $10, it was worth the money just in case.

The other items on the list all work together. The hammer reduces single-action pull, the main spring reduces the work the trigger has to do, the reduced trigger return and firing pin plunger springs reduce the spring weight you’re pulling against. The extended firing pin is necessary for the lighter main springs, because the reduced hammer impulse can cause light strikes.

I haven’t had any trouble with cheap Magtech ammo, though, with the full setup. All my primers are well-punched; none are punctured.

Everything was relatively easy to install except the trigger spring. It’s a coil spring with offset legs. The trigger has two ears and a space in the middle, and a hole for one leg of the trigger spring. You have to get one end of the spring in the hole, one end on a shelf, and the trigger ears and spring coil lined up with the holes in the frame for the pin, all while pushing the pin in. It was a four-handed job at Soapbox World HQ.

In the end, the combination of modifications resulted in a smoother 7lb double-action trigger pull, and a very crisp 2.5lb single-action trigger pull (albeit with the expected double-action takeup). Those are significant improvements over the stock 10lb double-action pull, and the stock 4.5lb single-action pull. There were also improvements in crispness, creep, and reset, thanks to the Cajun parts.

Sights

Cajun Gun Works sells Dawson Precision-made sights in traditional competition configuration: blacked-out rear sights, fiber-optic front. It comes with green and red bits of fiber, so you can pick which one you want.

These were the most annoying parts to install. The Dawson rear sight was tremendously oversized, and took about half an hour of filing before I could punch it into place. The CZ factory front sight had been glued in. Try as I might, I couldn’t even begin to loosen it. I ended up stopping by the Friendly Local Gun Shop, which has a much better heat gun; they got it in a few minutes.

Not to be outdone, the front sight from Dawson took some filing to get installed, too. Precision is not an accurate descriptor of the sights’ fit into the dovetails.

Magazines

Cajun Gun Works’ part in things completed, I turned to CZ Custom for magazines and magazine wells. The C-Zed now mounts the large CZ Custom magazine well, which makes a big difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The P-09’s magazines, with the CZ Custom 140mm base plates and spring-and-follower kits, have a claimed capacity of 21. Parvusimperator suggested I take that with a grain of salt, so I assumed 20. I decided I wanted four magazines rather than just three to give me more flexibility on reloads; at the same time, I was looking to keep the total cost of the project down. I settled on four magazines with the 140mm baseplate, but only three with the spring-and-follower kit.

The end result is three magazines which hold 20 rounds of .40 S&W, and one magazine which holds 17. The latter can be used to get a round into the chamber before loading one of the 20-rounders to start a stage, and serves as my backup.

Belt Etc.

Midway USA makes a cheap two-part belt. I’m not looking for anything super-fancy, but the two-part setup is nice. I can mount all my gear on the outer belt and just velcro it onto the inner belt come match time, without having to undo any buckles. It holds my gear just fine. (That’s 1lb, 14oz of gun for those of you keeping track, plus 77 rounds of .40 and four magazines.)

Cook’s Holsters makes a decent Kydex competition holster starting at $47.95, or $67.95 if they install the TekLok and drop/offset rig for you. I had them do so. The holster is low-cut in the front, and has adjustable retention by means of a pair of screws running through springy rubber washers. The drop and offset are nice, making the draw a good bit easier.

I’ll continue to use my ten-dollar MOLLE-strap canvas Amazon-bought triple pistol mag pouches for magazine carriage. They do the job just fine; the retention straps fold out of the way easily, and on the Midway USA belt, they’re pinned in place by the inner belt.

In Sum

Here’s what I spent.

  • $506: CZ P-09 .40, night sights, 3 magazines
  • $294.60: Cajun Gun Works internals
  • $303.20: CZ Custom magazine well and magazine parts
  • $46.53: Fourth magazine
  • $104.27: Holster and belt

In total, the cost of this race gun project was $1224.60. (Or $1254.60, if you’re buying the magazine pouches too.) Even counting a trigger scale I bought and a case of test ammunition, the project tips the scales at under $1500. Has it reached the magical point of ‘good enough’? Only match experience will tell. Check back toward the end of April for some thoughts with that in mind.