Sunday, July 27, 2014

My S&W Model 36 Project

A while back I ran across a feller selling a 3" Model 36 Smith and Wesson Revolver for a very reasonable price.  During our communications across the interwebz he sent me some very poor quality pictures and declared that the pistol had some "...honest holster wear."  As I acquire guns to shoot, asthetics were not nearly as important to me as mechanical reliability.  So we agreed to meet.

As a future note to myself, I'll regard anything declared as "honest holster wear" with suspicion.  The gun looked like it had been stored in the bottom of a salt water tackle box.  There was severe pitting on the barrel, frame, trigger guard and cylinder.  I almost walked on the deal until I went through the motions of function testing the pistol.  Surprisingly, it appeared to be in almost perfect condition mechanically.  The price was low enough that after consideration I felt like I couldn't go wrong with the purchase.  The three inchers are a bit difficult to find and it was in my preferred Round Butt configuration.

Pitting on the cylinder:

Pitting on the barrel:

I put the Model 36 away for a couple of days and was having a pretty good case of Buyer's Remorse every time I though of it.  I finally took the time to run a few rounds through it to at least see if it would hit a target.  Accuracy was good with my pet load of a 158 grain LSWC over 4.6 grains of W231.  That particular load has produced good accuracy in most every S&W revolver I have shot it through.  Feeling somewhat mollified I decided to open the gun up and see what the innards looked like.

Upon removing the sideplate I was pleasantly surprised to see that things looked pretty good.  There was a little bit of surface rust and most of the grease one finds was gummed up.  Taking another look at the cylinder showed only the faintest of turn rings, leading me to believe that this particular pistol had be shot very little.

Anatomy of a S&W J Frame:

I had been looking for a Model 586 or 581 that was cosmetically challenged to commit that most heinous of acts to, customize a pre-lock S&W revolver to my specifications and tastes.  While I'm still on the hunt for the right L Frame to butcher, I decided that this revolver would be the perfect test subject, especially as I had no emotional attachment to the gun.  With that thought in mind I contacted my friend Claude Werner and got his thoughts on the matter.  For those that don't know, Claude is a well respected firearms trainer who specializes in snub-nose revolvers.  If you carry or own a J Frame or similar for the purposes of self defense or if you want training that doesn't resemble a scene from an action movie, you'd do yourself a favor by taking a look at Claude for training.

Claude was good enough to come up to my house and brave enough to enter my basement lair.  We decided that initially the Model 36 would get a bobbed hammer, rounded trigger and the cylinders chamfered.  Claude also took the time to inspect the individual cylinders to see of they needed any polishing.  We disassembled the pistol and started to work...rather Claude started to work and I drank a lot of coffee and watched him work.

Bobbing The Hammer:

The evil and very uncomfortable flat, serrated trigger:

A little TLC from a moto-tool and a sanding drum:

Now the true fun begins:

A word of caution to those with moto-tools and a can-do attitude.  I firmly believe that every person has the God Given Right to own a gun.  I just as firmly believe that moto-tools should be heavily regulated and all prospective owners required to attend a 40 hour training class before being allowed to touch anything but a scrap piece of wood with one.  Especially with guns.  The vast majority of the work was accomplished with a fine grit plumbing sandpaper, a liberal amount of elbow grease and a vast amount of patience.

The mostly finished hammer:

The chamfered cylinder:

The nearly finished trigger in all it's rounded glory:

Here's a view of the Model 36 after it had been reassembled.  I was quite proud of the fact that there were no spare parts and it functioned and fired as it was intended.

I finally had the opportunity to shoot the mostly completed project in a local IDPA "Carry Gun Only" match. It performed quite well.  Accuracy was acceptable given that I had to use something other than my preferred load for the purposes of the match, the range does not allow lead so I had to scrounge around and dig up enough jacketed ammo to shoot.  Eventually as time and motivation permit I intend to cut the Baughman Ramp front sight to something approaching a patridge style with a slight, 11-15 degree slope on the back side.  I also have plans to recrown the muzzle and maybe one day to bead blast and refinish the entire gun, perhaps with a Cerakote style product.  For now, I have what is essentially an ugly carry/truck/pack gun chambered in .38 Special.  As Claude told me when we were discussing the project and I brought up the subject of refinishing; "Everyone needs at least one ugly gun."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DPx H.E.S.T. Pass Around And Review

I took part in a knife pass-around that started about six months ago.  I was the 14th and final person on the list.  The knife was a DPx H.E.S.T.   DPx stands for Dangerous Places Extreme.  The company owner is Robert Young Pelton who has traveled to many of the most dangerous places on earth and has even written books about his experiences.  If you'd like to see more about his products and experiences you can find his website at

Here's the description straight from the website:

The DPx H•E•S•T or Hostile Environment Survival Tool™ is the knife that started it all...the original, brutal-use everyday carry fixed survival blade. Made in America, used worldwide. DPx is now returning the knife to its original manufacturer, Shon Rowen and Micro Tool. 
The DPx H•E•S•T Original changed the way professionals think of a survival blade. It had to be to be useful and it couldn’t fail when deployed. The H•E•S•T concept was created by adventurer and DPx Gear founder Robert Young Pelton who applied his time in three dozen conflicts and adventures through more than 120 countries to come up with the perfect balance of concealability, utility and fail-safe operation in an innovative blade.
The H•E•S•T features a 0.19” (5mm) blade crafted from high carbon 1095 spring steel with the famous Rowen heat treatment that results in a 57-58 Rockwell hardness. You will find every aspect of the H•E•S•T Original thought out: the balance, lashing points, thumb control, wire breaker and even the ability to remove the hollow, Micarta® handles for use as a neck knife or field expedient tool.
The H•E•S•T comes with a KYDEX® sheath, paracord and cord lock, belt clip kit*, and handle removal washer. 
  • Black textured powder coating 
  • Blade is high carbon 1095 hardened and tempered steel with Rockwell hardness of 57-58
  • Brass hardware 
  • Pry bar, lashing points, wire breaker, bottle opener/lifter/thumb control point 
  • Green canvas Micarta scales with storage area 
  • Designed to be used as a neck knife by removing scales
  • Black kydex sheath with optional belt clip*
  • Designed by Robert Young Pelton 
  • Made in America by Shon Rowen in Idaho Falls, ID
  • Lifetime warranty
*All runs of this knife manufactured prior to 2014 came with optional MOLLE clips (shown below), all runs made in 2014 on come with the belt clip kit.

I received the DPx H.E.S.T. about two weeks ago and was surprised at how good of shape it was in considering the pass around.  I have intentionally not read all the other reviews as I did not want to shade my judgement of the knife.  Here's a couple of pictures of the knife as I received it.

As seen in the first picture, the Micarta scales are showing signs of use from handling.  The knife still handles well and I have not had any issues with it slipping in my hands during use.

The following picture shows a bit of rust at the DPx logo on the blade.  The parkerizing does not appear to have any thin spots and I was not able to find any rust spots on the blade or under the scales where there was parkerizing.  The coating is even across the entire knife.  It does have a satin texture to it which I do not care for, more on that later.

The sheath is kydex with Blade Tech brand MOLLE webbing locks attached.  It is sturdy, with painted brass Chicago Screws attaching the MOLLE locks to the sheath.  They will not work for a horizontal attachment without modification.  I suspect different attachment points setup for a belt can be added without too much trouble.  Retention is very secure according to my shake test but I'd think twice before trusting it to any form of inverted carry.  There is a drain hole in the bottom of the sheath that allows water to drain.  As shown in the pictures it is Coyote Brown on one side and black on the other.  I flipped the attachments over to convert it to left-handed carry.  The MOLLE locks did fit over one of my leather 'gun' belts (essentially a thick pants belt) providing a very secure attachment to the waist.

The knife has several innovative features.  My personal favorite is the storage compartment in the handle. One accesses the storage by removing two brass Chicago Screws and then removing one of the Micarta scales.  I removed and reinstalled the screws using a tapered flat point screwdriver, a dime, penny, the rim of a .38 Special case, the rim of a 5.56 case and a flat point gunsmithing screwdriver.  I did have issues removing the scales unless I removed both parts of the Chicago Screws.  Both scales have a hollowed out section creating a very small compartment for storage.  If you're planning on using this for a survival kit don't plan on carrying much.  I was able to fit ten .22 LR cartridges in with a bit of careful placement, or twelve foot of masons, line, or a folded $20 bill and there is room for two if folded carefully and so forth.  As the knife has lashing points I felt like the mason's line along with a couple of fish hooks made the most sense.

When I mentioned doing a review on a different forum a point was brought up that the brass screws were a design flaw and they should be replaced with steel as the slots will start to strip out with repeated use.  I totally disagree with that suggestion.  Steel will rust and even stainless steel will oxidize and gall the threads together.  Brass is much more resistant to that particular issue.  As far as repeated use, I don’t feel as if tiny storage compartment was designed for easy and repeated access.

Turning the screw with a 5.56 case.

The other major tools are a bottle opener, pry bar and wire breaker.  The bottle opener works after a fashion.  My son and I both opened a bottled soda at the same time, me with the H.E.S.T 4 and he with a Swiss Army Knife bottle opener.  His was off with a flick of the wrist but I had to make three attempts to get my cap off.  The spine of the H.E.S.T. 4 is so thick that it just won’t fit under a bottle cap properly.  It did however, work.

The pry bar strikes me as a trip to the E.R. waiting to happen.  The knife’s design places it on the back of the rear bolster.  To properly pry one has to use the handle which does not provide a lot of leverage.  The tendency is to increase the length of the lever by grasping the edge of the blade.  Even with the sheath over the blade excessive force could cause the sheath to slip up the blade and create a nasty cut.  Once again something to be aware of, especially if one is in an environment as this knife was purportedly designed for.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of the wire breaker.  I understand the theory, I just can’t figure it’s place on a knife.  I could not get it to break a piece of copper electrical wire.  I have speculated that one might be able to use the blade to pry open a gap in a strand of barbed wire and work the knife back and forth and eventually break a strand.  As I didn’t have access to a fence of that type I was unable to test the theory.

The very first tests I performed was the put the knife in the hands of my `14 year old son and have him open some bags of top soil.  During this process I had my first issue with the knife, cleaning the blade.

Before cleaning.

After the second trip to the sink, liberal use of dish soap and a dish rag.

I have concerns for using this knife to process game.  If I can't fully clean a little bit of dirt from the blade with two trips to the kitchen sink, dish soap and use of a dish rag how am I going to clean blood from the blade?  Especially in the field or in the extreme conditions the knife is supposed to be designed for.  In my opinion the Parkerizing creates a potential health issue that one needs to be aware of and hopefully prepared for.

At the risk of insulting some of the previous testers, the edge of the blade was in rough shape.  It had no less than three different bevels down the length on both sides.  I put the knife on my Lansky and cleaned the edge up to my satisfaction.  I don’t have it razor sharp but it does have a decent working edge on it.  It totally failed feathering a piece of cedar until I spent a couple of hours reworking the edge.  I can’t comment on how a new, unused knife would perform at this.

I’ve kept the knife in a vehicle quite a bit.  I ran tap water over the blade and placed it in the sheath and left it in my van for a couple of days to see how the heat and humidity would affect the Parkerizing.  I could find no spots of rust other than the aforementioned spots on the logo.  The Parkerizing is even across the entire knife.

Any survival type knife should be able to open a can.  The H.E.S.T. 4 performed this task extremely well.  There was some scuff marks on the Parkerizing but the finish was otherwise undamaged.

I really like the placement of the bottle opener and the curved section behind the ricasso.  They are perfectly located to allow one to grip the knife and perform fine work with the tip and belly of the blade.  As the clip point is especially well suited for skinning medium to large game I find this feature to be especially well thought out.

Being a creative sort of feller, I did find a perfectly good, alternative use for the bottle opener, wire breaker and even the pry bar.

The ability to lift a pot off a fire without burning my hands is a bonus in my book.
In conclusion, I rate this knife at a four out of five .22 Long Rifle cartridges.  I’m not all that impressed with some of the features or perhaps a better term would be gimmicks however, I am impressed with the overall quality of the knife and would not hesitate to trust my life with one in the field as long as I were prepared for what I feel are limitations.