June 12, 2009

By Roni Toldanes

Boyd Asworth is a unique craftsman with a knack for translating bizarre-looking materials into works of art. Just look at the photos.

Asworth forged 320 layers of 5160 steel to produce this Damascus blade. He used 51 layers for his Mokume bolster, using iron and nickel. For the unlocking mechanism, he installed a rosette made from carved 01 steel.

Asworth forged 320 layers of 5160 steel to produce this Damascus blade. He used 51 layers for his Mokume bolster, using iron and nickel. For the unlocking mechanism, he installed a rosette made from carved 01 steel.

Asworth, 38, is a Journeyman Smith in the American Bladesmith Society. He hopes to present this knife, together with four more of his best knives, to elevate his status this year to that of Master Smith.

Last year, Asworth received a portion of a mule deer’s antler from a hunter in Idaho. It took him about a month to figure out how to create a jaw-dropping knife from the grotesque antler.

“It looked so weird I couldn’t decide how I wanted to carve it,” Asworth recalls, shaking his head. “But I wanted to leave it as natural as possible, so I decided to split it and make a folding knife.”

After many sleepless nights, Asworth decided to carve the dragon’s face in the antler. He engraved nostrils in the handle and embellished it with emerald inlays to create the dragon’s eyes. Then he picked up a small piece of scrap iron from his shop, forging it into shape as the dragon’s tongue, which can be moved up and down with a slight pull.

When Asworth’s wife, Holley, saw the handle, she was appalled.

But as soon as he blended his finished blade into the deformed antler, his wife glowed at the idea. It’s like a mother learning to love her ugly child.

This handle’s close-up photo shows the unique features of the deformed antler that Ashworth sculpted to create the dragon’s face. The Georgia-based knife maker also embellished the handle with emeralds.

This handle’s close-up photo shows the unique features of the deformed antler that Ashworth sculpted to create the dragon’s face. The Georgia-based knife maker also embellished the handle with emeralds.

“She didn’t like it at first, but it grew on her,” Asworth says. “Once I put it all together, she said she liked it.”
The final product, as Asworth describes it, “was so mean and cruel-looking that we thought of calling it a one-armed bandit.”

The knife comes with a display stand made of amboyna, a mottled curly-grained wood of a leguminous tree often seen in southeastern Asia.

For more information, you may contact custom knife maker Boyd Ashworth at (770) 943-4963.



June 12, 2009


DAVID ANDERS will never forget that first day when, about 10 years ago, he found a copy of a cutlery maga­zine at a newsstand. Like a kid in a candy store, Anders was thrilled as he leafed through the pages. And by his own admis­sion, from the moment he picked up that publication, he was hooked.

DavidAnders1Undoubtedly, that day ignited his desire to produce cutting-edge knives that cannot be duplicated in exact detail by any other knife smith. Trouble was, while Anders already knew how to make ordinary knives, he didn’t have sufficient technical knowledge to create the type of knives he saw in the magazine.

“I was amazed to learn that some peo­ple can actually make those kind of knives,” Anders said with emphasis. “I was intrigued with finding out how they were made.”

There was not much reading material on the subject available in those days. Anders, however, learned about the exis­tence of the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) and its courses conducted periodi­cally at the Texarkana College School of Bladesmithing.

He enrolled in one of the courses held in Washington, Arkansas, where James Black, the famed creator of knives for the legendary Jim Bowie, had his forge over a century ago.

On his first day at school, Anders said, students were required to bring out some of the knives they had made before attending the course.

“It was a show and tell, where everybody looks at every­body else’s work,” he said. Anders brought two knives with him, proudly laid them on the table, but quickly took them back after seeing the other knives.

“I was intimidated and quite embar­rassed,” he said, “so I decided to keep my knives.”

After that day, Anders said he promised himself that he would someday become a master blade smith.Davidanders2

Like most custom knife makers, Anders was making knives only part-time. He dri­ves a truck for Wal-Mart, leaving home in Arkansas on Sundays and returning on Fridays.

But despite his busy work sched­ule, Anders continuously searched to sat­isfy his hunger for knowledge. He sought to learn more about improved steel and tempering techniques.

But it wasn’t until 1992 that Anders became a Journeyman Smith.

In general, ABS guidelines state that the overall quality for a Journeyman rating is in the range of “very good” to “excellent.” Yet, Anders didn’t think his knowledge was enough.

With practice, Anders believed, almost anybody with rudimentary manual skills can produce a knife. But building custom knives is another story. Through the years, David Anders struggled to perfect his craft, building more than 300 custom knives, many of them Bowie knives.

Jim Bowie’s life story has always fascinated Anders. “He’s my hero,” Anders admits. And it was a Bowie knife that gave Anders one of his most important awards, the “Best Bowie Knife” in Las Vegas two years ago. A year earlier, one of his creations was also declared “Best Art Knife” at the Little Rock knife show in Arkansas.

davidanders3Five years after receiving his Journeyman Smith rating, Anders achieved the highest title for a blade smith. He finally passed what he described as a strenuous test and received his Master rating, formally get­ting recognition that the quality of his knives range from “excellent” to “superlative.”

His growth has been spurred on by learning from the mas­ters, those who’ve proven themselves by creating works of art using steel as their canvas. And his impressive work has catapulted him to his dream-that of becoming a Master Smith.

Anders is meticulous on picking his materials for building knives. He prefers making Damascus blades for his knives, and as you’re aware, Damascus steel is produced when layers of steel are heat­ed, hammered, folded, heated again, hammered and folded again, perhaps hundreds of times. The process is slow, tedious and often requires great skill and strength on the part of the smith. To compensate for all that work, most good Damascus knives are quite expensive. That is why some knives made by David Anders have been sold for up to $2,500.

Anders Damascus often contains more than 300 layers, and sometimes he uses 13 different bars of steel to produce his blades. While he makes hunters and fighters, besides Bowies, his creations tend to end up as collectors’ items rather than “using” knives.

This 52-year-old master believes his blades can perform the task they were created for, but his wicked designs make it impossible for anyone to think about using his hunters for hunting, or his fight­ers for fighting. It is true that the shape and uses of knives is limited only by the minds of those producing and using them, but it is also true that art is art, no matter the form.

In an interview, David Anders stam­mered as he recalled the first day he read a copy of his favorite cutlery magazine. “That day, I told myself that a picture of my knives would someday be published in that magazine,” he said in a soft voice, without any tinge of braggadocio. “That would be the highlight of my life.”

Now, 10 years later, he was being interviewed by the same publication that gave him a different perspective on knife making.

Readers may get in touch with David Anders during the weekends at: 157 Barnes Drive, Center Ridge, AR 72027; (501) 893-2294.


June 10, 2009



Drag’on (drag-ɘn) n. [Latin dracon, draco]: A huge serpent; a mythical animal usually represented as a monstrous winged and scaly reptile breathing out fire.

dragongunThe definition above is from Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the accepted authority on the language of English. Now, here is a definition from accepted authorities in shooting:

dragon (drag-ɘn) n. [Latin dracon, draco]: A gorgeous animal represented by smooth lines and expansion chambers; breathing out fire and spewing full metal jackets.

To the layman this may be a confusing definition, but it’s the only way we can describe this gun cre­ated by Marc Krebs. Incredible pistol­smithing artistry has made Krebs one of the country’s most popular gunsmiths.

This gun reflects the absolute latest in handgun tech­nology, but we won’t tell you right away what com­ponents were utilized. In order to appreciate this masterpiece, we have to understand the creator and what inspired him to build this fire-breathing steel sculpture.


Marc Krebs, 40, came from a family of artists. That explains why most of his customers consider his custom guns as works of art. “I’m a combination of 60% gun­smith, 30% machinist and 10% artist,” he says.

Krebs was born in Seattle, Washington but grew up in Northern California. He admits to having been the “bad kid” on the block. The early chapter of his teenage story, he says, “wasn’t something parents would be totally proud of.”

But despite his early failures in life, Krebs pursued his dreams. “Early in my childhood, I was totally fascinated with dinosaurs and then later on with knights in armor,” he says. “Then I started liking guns.”

Krebs attended a gunsmithing course at Lassen Col­lege in Susanville, California, where he exhibited excep­tional gunsmithing aptitudes. One day, Krebs surprised his teacher with an unusual 9mm semi-auto carbine that he built “from scratch.”

Designed to perform like the famous Israeli-made UZI, the gun was all-original, except for the barrel. “I was thrilled,” he says, “because I thought it was really something that would take the country by storm.”

Krebs lightened the slide for a flawless function even with super-light steel loads. This was accomplished without compromising the slide’s structural integrity. Krebs sliced off nearly an inch of the frontal area to expose the Schuemann hybrid barrel. He then carved the “dragon eyes” on both sides of the slide. Photos by Y.Sued

Krebs lightened the slide for a flawless function even with super-light steel loads. This was accomplished without compromising the slide’s structural integrity. Krebs sliced off nearly an inch of the frontal area to expose the Schuemann hybrid barrel. He then carved the “dragon eyes” on both sides of the slide. Photos by Y.Sued

Like a bubble, however, Krebs’s dream of mass-pro­ducing the carbine burst. He failed to get any financier to fund his ideas, but he didn’t fail his gunsmithing class either. Instead, he received high grades for his ingenuity. And his gun became a portfolio that he presented when applying for work.

Krebs became a gunsmith for a gun store in Illinois until he decided it was time to build his own name. Backed by a $50,000 bank loan, Krebs established his custom gun shop in 1984 with the help of his wife, Virginia. And in just a few years, he was able to build a solid reputation. Like Ferrari sports cars, guns churned out by the Marc Krebs Custom Shop in Vernon Hills, Illinois are not only aerodynamically-designed, but are also reliable speedsters.

We’ve heard so many astonishing stories about Marc Krebs, that one we challenged him to design a special gun. We requested a piece that would allow Krebs to showcase not only his technical grasp of the latest in firearms technol­ogy and fabrication techniques, but also his flair for the artistic and the daring.

Krebs accepted the challenge. He vowed to build a no-holds-barred, to-hell-with-the-cost super steel gun. It had to be a gun the best shooters could confidently use to win world steel-shooting championships. And it had to be different.

“It’s going to be wild, man. Totally extreme,” Krebs promised.


True enough, the Krebs creation is a marvelous sculpture that could only be produced by the most meticulous of arti­sans. A centerfold gun that reflects the finest components in handgun technology as only a master gunsmith could render.

Krebs scalloped the aluminum STI extended-dust-cover frame to form sharp fangs, transforming the dust cover’s front­end into the menacing lower jaw of a carnivorous reptile. What a beast!

Krebs also chopped a sizeable chunk off the top of the STI slide where he machined the dragon’s mouth and engraved the upper teeth with a small chisel. This exposed a portion of the Schuemann hybrid barrel, its top ports resembling dor­sal fins on the head of a mythical creature.

A small pin threads its way under the mouth and pro­ceeds downward into the dustcover’s front-end, where Krebs created a small track. While in battery, the barrel presses down and tracks on the dust cover – an aesthetic design that also enhances accuracy.dragon3

The gunsmith’s exquisite attention to detail is very evi­dent. He engraved the eyes on the slide and punched nos­trils into the hybrid barrel without harming its grooves.

This design tames recoil by working this way: As the pro­jectile exits the barrel, the muzzle-blast gas expands and initially exits from the Schuemann Hybrid’s upper ports before finally jetting out through the left and right nostrils.

This gun is not only functional but also visually appeal­ing.

When the slide is racked back, the front-end provides the appearance of a dragon with its grisly mouth wide open.

For rapid acquisition of targets, Krebs mounted a C-­More red-dot sight, enhancing the gun’s high-tech appeal. The entire gun weighs less than 1.75 pounds and, when held in hand, feels lighter than a coffee cup. The secret to this brew was Kreb’s recipe of light but sturdy materials.

The Caspian grip safety is aluminum, along with the magazine well, which was attached over the existing mag well’s open­ing to increase support for the palm heel. Even the guide rod was fabricated from featherweight Teflon with Shok-buffs on both ends.

To reduce lock-time, Krebs used a Heinie titanium hammer. This material ensures positive ignition, even with the use of old primers. And since the frame rails are also made of aluminum, our featured gunsmith asked Krieger’s Acc­u-Rails to install their system, which ensures a consistent and tight slide-to-frame fit – a necessity to maintaining accu­racy in competition guns with red-dot sights.

The barrel tracks on the extended dust cover, instead of the front of the slide. When the barrel moves back during cycling, it slides with the tooth assembly that is attached to the rail below the dust cover. Photos by Y.Sued

The barrel tracks on the extended dust cover, instead of the front of the slide. When the barrel moves back during cycling, it slides with the tooth assembly that is attached to the rail below the dust cover. Photos by Y.Sued

Krebs lightened the rear portion of the slide with ser­rations cut at a 20-degree angle. This does not affect the overall capacity of the gun to handle steel loads. Trigger pull is light and very crisp, and does not sacrifice the igni­tion reliability of each hammer strike. The entire gun was finished in super-hard, super-durable Metaloy plating for long-lasting protection.

As a superb finishing touch, Krebs wedged a small piece of metal under the dust cover, making this dragon appear to be sticking our his two-pronged tongue.

This steel gun is very accurate and can hold “groups of under an inch at 25 yards,” Krebs assures us. It’s the kind of gun that doesn’t only offer you the racer’s edge, it also gives you a hyper degree of excitement.

You’ll be overcome by a burning desire to show this rare breed of steel animal to your friends at the range. They might even say that this beauty is the product of a man with a fertile imagination. And it’s true.

As a child, Marc Krebs played with plastic dinosaurs. As a grown man, he plays with steel dragons – fire-spew­ing steel dragons.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


940 Forest Edge Drive, Vernon Hills, IL 60061

(847) 821-7763

Poetry in Cold Steel

June 10, 2009


By Roni Toldanes

RND-rifleLloyd De Santis watched as a shooter lifted the rifle from the display table during a recent gun show.

“I’ve heard many good things about this .223,” said the shooter, gently rubbing his left hand on the colorful and smooth receiver of the new rifle called The Edge. “So when is the new .308 version coming out?”

De Santis flashed a smile and replied, “You’re holding it.”

As owner of the Colorado-based RND Manufacturing, De Santis is accustomed to this reaction toward his race rifles. For several years his company has established a reputation for churning out high-quality .223 rifles. They are the kind of rifles that top shooters use in 3-Gun action shooting tournaments.

Competition shooters are known to be a picky bunch. They buy factory-produced rifles only to bring them to a custom riflesmith for a complete re-work and installation of aftermarket race parts. RND guns are designed just for that meticulous clientele. Each part that must be replaced and every “accurizing” necessary for improved performance have already been blended into the rifle before it leaves the factory.

In 1995, IPSC Grandmaster Benny Hill won the rifle champi­onship at the USPSA 3-Gun Nationals with a .223-chambered The Edge. A year later, top shooter Michael Voigt won the overall national championship also using an RND rifle. At the 1996 Masters’ Long Range Rifle event, The Edge was again the victorious gun in the capable hands of Team Caspian’s Bruce Piatt.

Most 3-Gun action shooters prefer the .223 caliber because its lighter recoil allows them to fire faster shots during timed events. But for high-power rifle competitions, the .223 is not the ideal caliber. So De Santis faced the challenge of building another rifle capable of handling bigger ammo similar to the .308 but with proven features like its .223 predecessor. He went back to the drawing board and, after a few months, finally produced his .308 version.

“We actually started from zero,” says De Santis. “The only things that we didn’t manufacture were the trigger group and the barrel.”

Produced by the Oregon-based Pac-nor, the barrel features button rifling, the method of choice in the accuracy arena. Unlike the three other methods of making barrels (broach, cut and ham­mer forged), button rifling produces a mirror-like internal finish that gives the bullet a smooth travel area. This results in consis­tent and accurate hits.

Pac-nor handlapped the massive 20-inch barrel to produce an outstanding surface finish and uniform groove dimensions prior to shipping it to the RND plant, where it was then cham­bered and throated.

The huge tube originally measured one-inch at the muzzle end. De Santis fluted the barrel to reduce weight, improve cooling and maintain rigidity. And because the .308 barrel is heavier than its .223 counterpart, De Santis designed a stronger hexag­onal receiver.

The RND rifle’s upper and lower receivers were machined from a solid piece of aluminum to achieve tight tolerances. The two parts underwent handfitting, preventing unwanted movement that might distract the shooter when the rifle is fired.

Internally, De Santis attacked the trigger assembly by setting it at 3-pounds. While top shooters prefer a light two-pound trigger, he chose a slightly heavier pull to prevent any acci­dental discharge. Despite this setting, the trigger breaks without take-up or over-travel.

Externally, the .308 version is almost identical to its .223 coun­terpart. This offers the multi-gun shooter a unique advantage. He can shoot the .223 rifle and the .308 rifle at different shoot­ing events using the same shooting style and stance. While other shooters would have to learn how to shoot a .223 AR-15 and a .308 bolt-action rifle, RND gun owners don’t have to because their two guns have almost identical dimensions.

Mike Voigt, winner of the 1996 USPSA 3-Gun Nationals, says that among the potpourri of features in this rifle are the handguard vents that allow the barrel’s heat to dissipate under the gun. The vents, Voigt says, reduce the possibility of having a “mirage effect” that may irk the shooter while peeping through his scope, thereby producing inaccurate hits.

Voigt singled out the straight line movement of the RND’s semi-auto bolt as the ideal configuration for high-power shoot­ing. Unlike other .308 rifles such as the M1A and the M-14, the RND rifle produces less muzzle flip because the gun recoils in a straight line directly towards the shoulder.

“Because this gun doesn’t kick as hard, you can spend more time ‘reading the wind’ and trying to achieve better shots,” Voigt says. “And since you don’t have to work the bolt, you can shoot the gun faster when wind conditions are most favorable.”

De Santis knows that a good part of the equation to achieve an accurate rifle is selecting an appropriate handle, or stock, that fits the shooter. He installed an adjustable butt stock, allowing shoot­ers with long arms to extend the butt by an inch and a half. With a perfect fit, the user gets better hits. There’s no pulling of the shoulders that can cause muscle tension and inaccurate shots.

The butt plate comes with a Pachmayr rubber stock to help cush­ion recoil. It was installed on a dovetail that allows it to be moved up and down. It’s a great advantage for shooters who intend to use the rifle for both offhand and prone shooting. The camber is also adjustable to accommodate both the southpaws and right­handed shooters. And for additional comfort, De Santis installed a polyurethane rubber grip from Stock Options.

De Santis manufactured a higher and thicker charging handle to give the shooter a full-knuckle finger grip. He also created a flat-top Weaver mount, which he elevated, making it eas­ier for the shooter to position his eye relative to the eyepiece. Extractor and ejector parts have been polished and fitted, as are all other contact surfaces. And an RND titanium firing pin was installed to provide more reliable ignition and a slight edge in lock-time

De Santis lightened the hammer for faster travel. He created several slots on the handguard, allowing the shooter to install a bipod without any restriction on the adjustment level.

Another excellent feature was the removal of the roll pin that holds both ends of the lever and the bolt catch release. It was replaced with a set screw that permits the user to remove the bolt without “beating up” the gun.

After the internal modifications were completed, De Santis gave the gun a racy external look with different colors, mainly “to get away from the nasty assault rifle look.”

Bruce Piatt, the 1996 Masters Long Range Rifle champion, says RND rifles “function flawlessly every time” during the heat of competition. “And they look like high-tech mountain bikes.”

You can clearly see the blue, black and silver colors so you probably think this rifle was painted, right? Wrong. Those col­orful parts, made of hard aluminum, were subjected to a process called “oxidalic plating.”

“The colors were grown from the metal through oxidation,” says Piers Wiggett of PK Selective Metal Plating in Santa Clara, California. “The colors have become part of the metal so you can’t rub ’em off.”

“I call this my urban camouflage,” De Santis says with an imp­ish smile. “When it’s inside a car, no one will think it’s a real gun.”

This handsome rifle, indeed, is poetry in cold steel.

De Santis dreams of the day when someone will eventually conquer Camp Perry, the world’s most prestigious long-range rifle tournament, using The Edge rifle.

The .223 version has proven itself as a successful rifle in the world’s toughest action shooting events. And most of the country’s top shooters agree that it’s only a matter of time before the .308 starts winning at major long-range rifle shooting tournaments.

Champion rifle shooter Benny Hill compares his experience of shooting other high-power rifles to the severe torture one gets from driving a dilapidated Volkswagen Beetle that failed to pass the California emission tests. “But shooting an RND rifle is like cruising around the city on board a sleek Mercedes Benz,” Hill says with a grin.

We must agree. Like a luxury car, this RND race rifle delivers unparalleled performance, comfort and reliability in one neat package – straight from the factory.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)

An Old West Stunner

June 10, 2009



A true artist is not bound by his materials. Someone with gen­uine artistic talent can make something exquisite using lack­luster pieces, but he can also take something that’s beauti­ful to start with and turn it into an even more breathtaking piece of art.

That is especially true with those artists who dabble in steel. Bill Oglesby is one of those artists. He builds single-action guns that would make every Old West aficionado proud.

Oglesby’s thoroughbreds take life as inexpensive fac­tory guns.

Under Oglesby’s hands, single-actions are cus­tom-tuned and transformed into pistols that are indeed fun to show off to friends or for shooting in Cowboy Action tournaments.

When we commissioned Oglesby to build a centerfold gun, he picked the popular Ruger Vaquero. Sin­gle-actions bearing the Ruger brand are great for cowboy shooting because of their inherent safety features, includ­ing the company’s patented transfer bar mechanism that prevents accidental discharge.

The single-action’s mys­tique is such that it brings to mind images of cattle drives, gamblers wearing Stetson hats, and gunslingers on Main Street.

oglesbyfinalMore than a century after its invention, the revolv­ing pistol’s appeal remains an enigma. Experts say this appeal lies in its extreme sim­plicity, its appearance and its nice feel in the hand.

As legend has it, Samuel Colt designed his first sin­gle-action revolver as a mid­shipman aboard the brig Corvo, which set sail for Cal­cutta, India, from Boston in August of 1830. During the long voyage home, the 17­year-old boy noticed the ship’s wheel and windlass. In the operation of both devices, movement is sometimes halted and the equipment secured by special locking devices. Colt realized that these revolving and locking features could be adapted to a revolving-cylinder firearm with a single, fixed barrel.

After years of experimentation, Colt received his first patent on February 25,1836. He then enlisted investors and formed a man­ufacturing company in Paterson, New Jersey. About one year after Colt’s company began operations, Paterson models hit the market. From that day on, single-actions have always been carried with five rounds loaded, with the hammer resting on an empty chamber.

The world of single-actions began to change in 1973 when Sturm, Ruger & Co., Colt’s major competitor in the U.S., introduced its Blackhawk models, which were equipped with transfer bars. Previously, all Rugers operated the same as the Colt Single Action. The Ruger transfer bar mechanism made it safe to carry a single-action with a full complement of six rounds in the cylinders.

The Vaquero shown here was also based on the mech­anism of the Ruger New Model Blackhawk. Oglesby enhanced this Vaquero’s per­formance by lightening its trigger to provide a 2.5­-lb. trigger pull. Smooth as only a fine single-action can be hand-fitted.

Oglesby adjusted the loading gate, hand-polished the cylinder stop leads, lapped the barrel and installed an extra-power cylinder stop spring.

Oglesby hand-lapped and sized the pistol’s chambers. He replaced the Ruger fac­tory leaf-type springs with his own variable rate springs. With the factory hammer and bolt springs replaced, cocking the hammer suddenly felt as smooth as slicing butter with a sharp knife.

Those custom improve­ments are included in the Los Vaqueros Package offered by the Oglesby shop in Spring­field, Illinois. Oglesby makes three sets of modifications on the stock Ruger Vaquero.

You can go up to the elegant Signature Grade Package, which includes check­erings on the ejector rod and the pistol’s loading gate. The top-of-­the-line package comes with a custom cryo-accurized barrel.

The principle behind the mechanism of a revolver is quite sim­ple. Multiple chambers turn around an axis and are aligned with the barrel.

Early revolvers were generally rotated and locked by hand, but virtually all revolvers since the Colt Paterson design operate in the following fashion: While the hammer is being pulled back — either manually or by compression on the trigger — a hand or pawl extends from the frame and makes contact with a ratchet-like star at the rear of the cylin­der.

This turns the cylinder to align the next chamber with the barrel. With most fac­tory single-actions, however, perfect and consistent align­ment between each of the several chambers and the barrel is almost impossible to achieve.

That’s why Oglesby’s cus­tom improvements, includ­ing the lapping work on cylinders, make single-actions much more reliable. Oglesby fitted and hardened and cus­tom-timed the cylinder stop of this centerfold Vaquero to ensure consistent align­ment between each of the chambers and the barrel.

Oglesby, a well-known exhibition shooter, also offers several custom parts for the Ruger Vaquero, including a competition-grade strut assembly, adjustable over­travel on the hammer and on the trigger, and a speed bolt.

Straight from the factory, this Ruger Vaquero came in stainless steel. The Vaquero’s stainless model has the appearance of a classic nickel­-plated pistol. Early versions were sort of satiny, instead of showing a nickel-plated fin­ish. The only difference you can tell between a nickel fin­ish and Ruger’s new stain­less is a slight nuance of color; one is more silvery than the other. But the only time you can see the difference is by putting them side by side.

With Ruger’s new polish, there’s no problem of flaking, a distinct weakness with nickel plating. Ruger Vaqueros pass the strict rules imposed in Cowboy Action Shooting.

Vaquero revolvers have been equipped with a rounded blade front sight with no ramp and a fixed notch rear sight in a groove on the top strap. The Vaquero is available in two classic calibers – .44-40 Win. and .45 Long Colt – but is also offered in .44 Magnum caliber.

The .44-Magnum was Oglesby’s caliber of choice as it provides an option for the shooter to load the gun with the lighter-kicking .44-Special ammunition.

To complete his custom work, Oglesby replaced the factory rosewood grips with stag horn grips, which blended well with the shiny stainless finish.

Oglesby assigned Larry Hopewell of Taos, New Mex­ico, to transform the revolver into a museum-quality pis­tol. Hopewell, 60, has been an engraver for 28 years and has also done engraving work for knife collectors. Hopewell recently weaved his masterful artwork on a new model Colt, which went on the auction block at the Golden Boot Awards in Hol­lywood for $11,400.

While most people would not consider a rifle, shotgun, or pistol a piece of art, when these items pass through the hands of master engravers they become more than the sum of their parts. With engraving, guns can be admired, not for what they are fundamentally, but rather for having risen above their intended purpose.

Hopewell engraved this gun with half-coverage classic Colt Single Action design. The engraving wrapped half of the 7 ½-inch barrel, includ­ing its muzzle end. This embellishment gave justice to the pistol’s accuracy.

Bill Oglesby’s custom Ruger Vaquero consistently fires groups of within an inch at 50 yards. It’s a quick-shootin’ single-action that’s not only utterly gorgeous. It’s “the gun that would have won the West.”

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


June 10, 2009

Performance Center’s Model 627 8-shot .357-Magnum


When people at cock­tail parties discuss alco­holic beverages and mention the word Mag­num, they mean a very large wine bottle. But when they talk about guns and drop the same word, they usually mean the big-bore wheelgun with a thundering blast.

That’s the stereotyped image of the .357-Magnum, a reputation that could have been brought about in recent years by the “Dirty Harry” go-­ahead-make-my-day movies.

Smith&WessonfinalAnd this reputation isn’t entirely without basis.

Smith & Wesson developed the .357-Magnum in 1935. Its first pro­duction revolver for the cartridge was given to J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The manu­facturer promoted the .357-Magnum then as “the most important hand­gun caliber developed in the 20th century … because it introduced the higher power that were unknown before in handguns.”

During the past 60 years, .357-Magnum revolvers ranked among the top choices for home defense and were mainly carried by law enforcement officers who disliked semi-autos. Since then, the gun’s design and features have virtually remained the same.

As the shooting circuit matured through the years, custom-made revolvers that looked like space guns began appearing at major tour­naments. Custom gunsmiths took advantage of the absence of factory-­produced competition revolvers and began crafting their own wheelgun designs based on stock revolvers.

This formed the groundwork for a new project by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. They aimed to produce a modern version of the revolver that would finally quench the thirst of competition shooters. It needed to have more than six rounds in the cylinder.

The result is the Model 627, the hottest competition revolver to ever come out of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.

The Model 627 is a .357-Magnum based on the venerable N-frame. It comes in two models: An “Open” version that includes a built­-in compensator and red-dot optics and a “Limited” version for those who want to race without all the bells and whistles. In car racing they would be the Formula One and the Stock Car versions.

Competition shooters discovered many years ago that the .357-Mag­num revolver, when loaded with .38 Special ammunition, was ideal for action shooting tournaments.

But why .38 Special? Well, because it offers the speed shooter the ability to perform a faster reload in the heat of competition. Other loads such as the .38-Super jiggle when mounted on moonclips, while .38 Special ammo fit rigidly. Without this undesirable jiggling, the shooter can line up his ammunition into the charge holes faster when he per­forms his speed reloads. And this is where the Model 627 becomes really handy.

The 627 accepts moonclips, an indispensable equipment for competitive shooters who appreciate the significance of saving precious microseconds during speed reloads.

Competition shooters also realize that while the .357 Magnum is a great load for self-defense, it is way too powerful for the ballistic require­ments of sports shooting. The .38 Special’s case is more than adequate to handle the elevated pressure requirements necessary to drive the hottest revolver compensators in the shooting circuit today.smith&wesson8bb

Since the Model 627 was built to withstand sizzling Magnum loads, it should have no problem firing even the hottest high-performance .38 Special reloads.

But it is the 627’s eight-shot configuration that makes many revolver action shooters salivate. Eight shots provide the extra fire­power they need to be competitive in action shooting tournaments.

In matches organized by the International Practical Shooting Con­federation (IPSC), where courses of fire are traditionally designed with 8-round strings per shooting location, an eight-shot revolver sets the wheelgunner on almost equal footing with competitors who use semi-autos.

Gone are the days of time-consuming standing reloads. Just like his semi-auto competitors, the revolver shooter can now perform his reloads as he moves from one shooting box to another instead of performing it while in a fixed position.

In Steel Challenge competition, where revolver shooters shoot at five steel targets per run, the Model 627 allows the shooter to recover his misses with three extra rounds in the cylinder. This definitely lev­els the playing field between revolver and semi-auto steel shooters.

The Performance Center knows that the shooting sports arena is the racetrack of future street guns. This is where radical firearms concepts are designed and tested before they reach the blueprint stage of the manufacturing process. So when the Performance Cen­ter decided to build this gun, they consulted several people, includ­ing World Revolver Speed Shooting Champion Jerry Miculek and Ken Jorgensen, S & W’s public relations manager.

Jorgensen is an active revolver shooter and he hangs around with the world’s fastest wheel­gunners. He understands the meaning of cutting-edge technology in the revolver world.

The three-man team involved in the Performance Center’s pro­ject to build the Model 627 were chief designer Paul Liebenberg, project coordinator Jimmy Ray and engineer Dick Mochak.

Liebenberg, an immigrant from South Africa, became one of the country’s most popular gunsmiths when he opened his Pistol Dynam­ics custom shop in Southern California in the late 1970s. is radical yet tasteful designs have been featured in various gun magazines around the world. He was the natural choice to head the design aspect when Smith & Wesson decided to open its Performance Center in 1990 to cater to custom needs of its distributors and select clientele.

When Liebenberg began working on this new project, he veered away from the traditional method of the manufacturing process. Usually, the blueprint is made before the gun parts are produced. This time, Liebenberg did the opposite.

“We started cutting metal even without the blueprint,” says Jimmy Ray, who has been with Smith & Wesson for 25 years. “We did it by feel.”

Ray said the most challenging part of the building process was the creation of the 8-shot cylinder. To design this cylinder they had to spread out the charge holes and make space for eight rounds of a big caliber. By spreading the charge holes, they had to change the cylinder-to-barrel alignment. No problem. The Performance Center team simply raised the barrel lineup by 0.035 of an inch compared to the standard configuration. The position of the firing pin was also adjusted to conform with the new centerline.

The charge holes in the cylinder were also chamfered and beveled to enhance the speed of loading and extracting spent shells. This cuts the reloading time, much like the function of an enlarged magwell in semi-auto pistols.

The cylinder latch thumb piece was ergonomically designed to give the shooter quick access, allowing him to open the cylinder faster. That design has recently been adopted by Smith & Wesson for all their revolvers.

The people at Smith & Wesson know that revolvers haven’t changed much over the last fifty years. The challenge was to pro­duce a gun with a distinctive look while maintaining the traditional appeal.

It should have a perfect blend of the old world charm and the functional beauty of modern technology. And it should not have the appearance of a funny-looking space gun.

Liebenberg’s aesthetic influence is evident in the flowing lines and angles this model.

The team initially worked on the major parts, such as the barrel. For a faster draw from the holster, they lightened the barrel by flat­tening both sides, making it look like a slide for semi-autos. It was also swept up at the bottom to further reduce its weight, “without affecting the barrel’s overall strength,” Ray says.

The downside to a .357 magnum is that recoil can be pretty nasty.

This is not true if you have an effective compensator, like in the case of the Open category revolver: Two trapezoidal ports on each side of the 6-inch revolver are said to be much more effective at reduc­ing recoil without sacrificing velocity. The Limited category gun does­n’t have the ports and features a shorter 5-inch barrel. The Open gun has been tapped and drilled to accept Weaver-type scope mounts. Besides these differences, the two stainless steel guns are identical.

A Tasco PDP3, one of the most popular red-dot scopes on the cir­cuit today, crowns the Open revolver. With this optical set-up, the gun is ready to battle with the fastest blasters on the speed shooting circuit.

Hogue rubber grips were used for the Limited centerfold gun and wood grips for the Open, but Ray said the final productions guns for both models will come with exotic wood grips.

Both guns will leave the factory with 3.5 to 4 lbs. of trigger pull when in the single action mode and 9 lbs when used in double action. Does that ring a bell in your brain? It should, if you’re used to shoot­ing custom semi-autos with very light triggers.

As a company policy, Smith & Wesson revolvers come with “generic” factory triggers.

If you live in the United States, you should understand why. Americans actively exercise their right to bear arms and their freedom to call their attorneys. For the Performance Cen­ter, the trigger pull is a delicate liability issue. So the standard factory triggers were meant to avoid accidental discharges – and lawsuits.

Lighter, custom trigger pulls, however, can be arranged from the S&W Performance Center as an after-market job. They know the needs of competition shooters and, Ray said, they would be more than happy to accommodate experienced action shooters who desire very light and crisp trigger pulls.

With almost a century and a half of experience making revolvers, the people at Smith & Wesson should know how to make a pretty good one by now. The Model 627 triggers no disappointment. Fit­ting and metalwork is very well executed.

Before each Model 627 leaves the factory, it will be manually pol­ished by hand using Arkansas polishing stones to take out the machin­ing marks and provide a smooth transition among metal parts, said Ray, the project coordinator.

Ray said Lew Horton Distributing Co., would market the Lim­ited guns while the Open revolvers would be available through the Per­formance Center. The retail prices on these guns have not been set, but we hear it will be priced lower than the most popular custom revolvers in the circuit today. If you don’t have the budget to buy both ver­sions, it’s going to be very difficult to decide which one to bring home.

Both guns are impeccably engineered to perform their required tasks. But if you decide to get the Limited gun, check the iron sights. It should have an adjustable black blade sight and a front sight which Smith & Wesson calls McGivern gold bead. It was named after Ed McGivern, who was considered the fastest shooter alive in 1955 after he put five shots into a half dollar-sized group in less than 9/20 of a second using a Smith & Wesson revolver. He did it without any help from the purveyors of race guns – the Smith & Wesson Perfor­mance Center.

Imagine how fast McGivern could have fired those five shots if he had the S&W Model 627.

He could have even fired eight shots.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


June 10, 2009


It was love at first sight. Literally.

Kim Stroud built a high-capacity pistol with a red-dot sight several years ago, shot her first Practical Shooting tournament and felt her heart melt. By her own account, that began her love affair with shooting – and guns.

“It’s addicting,” Stroud says, “because it’s a very competitive sport ‘that requires a combination of speed and accuracy. It’s really very challenging.”

kimstroudStroud, 34, began shooting action pistol tournaments only in 1992, but she started building guns in 1988. She was the first woman accepted into the American Pistolsmith Guild (APG), the most prestigious associa­tion of gunsmiths in the United States. She’s also a member of the American Handgunner Club 100, considered “a roster of the best and the brightest in the pistolsmithing profession.” Those honors help her quickly eradicate doubts about her ability.

When she became a full-time gunsmith at Gun Craft eight years ago, Stroud initially received mixed reactions from her customers. Even now, new customers roll their eyes as soon as she intro­duces herself as the gunsmith who would be working on their guns. “They come up and ask you so many questions,” Stroud recalls. “They want to find out if you know what you are talking about.” After firing off a staccato burst of technical questions, the loquacious customers get impressive answers and discover that Stroud is one heckuva gunsmith. “When they realize you have the answer for everything,” she says, “they relax. They are actually tickled by the fact that their guns would be built by a woman.”

Stroud says that building guns was not one of her original goals in life. She was working for a precision med­ical supply company when her father, Ben Jones, who owns Gun Craft, prodded her to give pistolsmithing a try.

Stroud’s father didn’t encounter much difficulty convincing her, even though she jokingly says “my dad chained me to the bench” to force her to work on guns.

She was work­ing for what she called “a dead­-end company” and she knew it would be the height of silli­ness for someone not to consider other professional avenues.

Guided by her fellow gunsmith Dave Smith, Stroud joined Gun Craft in 1989 and started out with the basics – cleaning and assem­bling pistols. She began her shoot­ing career when her father and Smith pointed out that joining tour­naments would help her better understand what her customers needed. In 1993, she joined the USPSA Open Nationals as a B-Class shooter.

Despite several penalties for not following the course descrip­tion, she says she had fun.

A year later, she bagged the Top Lady trophy at the Florida Invita­tional Pistol Tournament (FIPT) and today, she is “just about a half-­inch away” from being classified as a Master Class shooter.

Then Stroud joined the Bianchi Cup for the second time and took third place in the Ladies division.

When Stroud talks about shoot­ing, her voice backfires with excite­ment. She says her dedication paid off.

Her consistent shooting per­formance has attracted several spon­sors, including Vihta Vuori, STI, Rndolph Engineering, which man­ufacturers shooting glasses; and “mom and dad,” her biggest fans and sponsors.

Stroud’s insatiable appetite to learn and her exemplary ways of dealing with her customers formed part of the basis for her acceptance into the APG in April 1992.

The quality of her work, of course, was the main reason. Each pistol pro­duced by Kim Stroud evinces a gun­smith’s artistry. Her custom pistols are functional, yet they show no exaggerated design.

“We try our absolute best to make the appear­ance of the gun as exceptional as its ability,” Stroud says in a quiet voice. “The finished product reflects your craftsmanship. You have to take pride in what you do.”

Kim Stroud’s refined taste shows even in a firearm equipped with the latest technological gizmos. She builds guns that look extraordi­nary but not bizarre.

Stroud’s broad list of customers – doctors, lawyers, rock stars, among others – doesn’t purvey a concrete clue about her reputation.

Several years ago, however, she was commissioned to build a custom Para rdnance pistol that was pre­sented to the President of Austria. Now that’s what even the most deft of hands in the gunsmithing pro­fession would call prestige.

Usually, two simple but very sig­nificant words – reliability and accu­racy – sum up the leitmotiv of praises heaped on Stroud by her satisfied customers.

This Bianchi Cup gun explains why.

We asked Stroud to build a work­ing gun. When you look closely at the pictures of this gun, you will notice scratches, smudges and even powder residue. That’s because we specifically asked for the type of gun that shooters use in competition.

In fact, Stroud went to battle with this gun at the Sports­man’s Team Challenge, in which her team won the Ladies division; and the Bianchi Cup, where she placed third overall in her category.

Stroud created this centerfold gem using a single-stack frame and slide from Caspian Arms of Hard­wick, Vermont. While other shoot­ing events offer a plethora of advan­tages for shooters with high-capacity guns, single-stack pistols are pre­ferred by top shooters at the Bianchi Cup, where courses of fire require only six rounds. More ammo in the magazine increases the risk of receiv­ing penalties for firing extra rounds.

The Caspian frame’s slim grip makes it easier to control during recoil, but Stroud further improved the grip surface with her hand-check­ering, creating 20-lines-per-inch of diamonds on the gun’s front strap.

Trigger poundage ticks the 2­-something level, but the actual felt trigger pull for this centerfold gun is around 1 ½ pounds. The trigger action, compared to standard 1911 pistols, allows the shooter to “swing” his finger instead of letting it “slide.” This is because of Gun Craft’s pro­prietary pivoting trigger system.

The increased mechanical lever­age provided by this trigger system lightens the felt poundage without the need for super-thin hammer hooks. The separate, lightweight, one-piece bow has an oversize pad and was fitted for the exact length of travel and minimum take-up.

With the pivoting trigger sys­tem, the gunsmith can produce a super-light trigger pull without worrying about hammer follow, which, for the benefit of gun owners with­out sufficient technical knowledge, simply means that there’s no pos­sibility for this gun to accidentally go into full-auto mode.

Stroud expounds on the virtue of having a smooth trigger job set to the shooter’s preference. “I don’t like a super-light trigger pull,” she says. “For me, around 2 pounds is preferable so I don’t have to worry about an accidental discharge.”

From what looked like an ordi­nary pistol, Stroud gave the Caspian gun a sweeping transformation by topping it with a Bushnell HoloSight and a Gilmore shroud, a vital acces­sory for Bianchi competitors who prefer propping their pistol against the barricade in the Barricade Event.

The shroud completely encases the frontal area of the slide. The “wings” on both sides of the shroud allow the shooter to press the gun against the barricade, steadying each shot for pinpoint accuracy.

This gun also features the HoloSight’s “Tombstone” reticle pattern. It was designed for Bushnell by Bruce Piatt, who won the Bianchi Cup using the same reticle. The electronic sight uses holographic technology. The shooter simply looks through the heads-up display window to see a bright red image of a reticle pat­tern projected onto the target plane.

The “Tombstone” reticle, which retails for around $79.00, comes with an outline of a tombstone­-shaped target as a sighting system. Three dots are positioned in a hor­izontal line in the center.

At 25 yards, the reticle’s tombstone pat­tern fits perfectly on the outer edges of the tombstone-shaped brown paper target. The middle dot is used when aiming at stationary targets, much like an ordinary red-dot scope. The right and left dots are used to estimate leads when shooting moving targets at the Bianchi Cup’s nerve-wracking Mover stage.

Stroud says guns for Bianchi competition require utmost accu­racy. “The important thing,” she says, “is to have reliable sights, a smooth trigger job and outstanding barrel fit.”

Our featured gunsmith certainly knows what she’s talking about. Having shot it in practice and at the Bianchi Cup, she proudly claims that this  gun, when fed with light .38-Super loads, holds consistent shot groups of 0.75 of an inch at 50 yards.

She achieved that amazing accuracy using the new Sierra 125-grain bul­lets, VihtaVuori powder, Winches­ter brass and Federal primers.

Stroud built a gun that’s heavier than pistols used in steel shooting tournaments because the extra weight is necessary at the Bianchi Cup.

There are four events in Bianchi tournaments; Mover, Plates, Prac­tical and Barricade. Except for the Plates event, where a lighter gun is advantageous for faster target-to-­target swing, all the other events would require a heavier and more stable gun.

“But you have to find a happy medium,” Stroud explains. “You don’t want something that’s too heavy or too light because you’re not allowed to change guns at the Bianchi Cup.”

Asked if she’s not intimidated when her works are compared to her male counterparts, Stroud’s reply exudes the confidence of a maestro: She says her colleagues look up to her with respect because of the quality of her work and her ethics towards her customers. Impressive guns are based on those standards, not gender, she declares.

Stroud welcomes the idea of hav­ing more women joining her profes­sion. It might be an impossible task for others but, waxing a little bit philosophical, she says women should think of the case of the bumblebee.

“Based on its weight, its wingspan, its energy capacity, and its strength, according to the laws of aerody­namics, the bumblebee is incapable of flying,” she explains. “But you see, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, and so it flies anyhow.” That’s Stroud’s favorite way of thinking about the problems facing anyone who goes off into the impossible.

Men who’ve doubted a woman’s ability to succeed in the macho world of shooting and gunsmithing should look at Kim Stroud, a woman who likes to face spectacular challenges.

“Until you try, you will never know that you can always do more – much more – than you think you can. Never say you can’t. Just do it.”

Just like the bumblebee.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)