The Expert Rifleman’s Instant Gun Library: The Unexpected

Back in Part 1, remember I said you may be surprised at a couple of my picks for your instant library? Well here you go: while ostensibly intended as marketing vehicles, a firearms related catalog can also be a great information resource.  Here is part three, detailing some of the more unexpected piece’s of literature that are crucial on your journey to calling yourself a rifle expert.

Numrich Gun Parts Corporation catalog

Remember reaching into your Christmas stocking as a kid and pulling out all kinds of interesting and yummy surprises? The Numrich catalog is like that.

Ostensibly a catalog of gun parts for sale, this 1,152-page monster goes above & beyond the call of duty to sell you internal workings for old guns. You gotta know the name of the part, right? Telling the salesman, “I need the little thingy that goes under the piece that holds the thing that pushes the cartridges” isn’t going to cut it. To help everyone out with ID-ing parts, the Numrich catalog has an “exploded view” for every gun you can name and a few score you never heard of. That alone is worth the cost of the catalog, but there are more goodies inside, so keep looking.

Some of the more obscure guns get a paragraph of interesting information. For example, in addition to parts for your Webley revolver, pages 960-961 include a brief history of the company and the operating sequence of the Webley 6.35 caliber automatic pistol.

Pages 772-773 are dedicated to S&W model designation information, where you’ll get answers to your questions, “What’s the difference between the Models 39-1 and 52-A?” (answer: Nothing) and “Is this guy trying to sell me a  fake Model 69/75?” (answer: Yep).

Numrich sells other stuff, too, including some milsurp like dummy munitions, gas masks, helmets and such. Much of it is at the back, but accessories for specific guns appear with the exploded views, and the pages are sprinkled with sundries such as targets, cleaning gear, tools, slings and whatnot.

And, of course, there are gun parts. Need an original safety detent spring for your Ljungman AG42B? Got it. A sear pin for an L.C. Smith New Model Hammerless? Page 341.  An ejector stop for, I kid you not, a Boyes anti-tank rifle? $3.65.

There aren’t too many catalogs out there that double as decent references for the bookshelf. This is one, and it isn’t necessary to buy a new $20 catalog every year to stay current. Full disclosure time: all the above info is from my year 2000 Numrich catalog (the 2010 edition is on my gunsmithing bench). The prices are undoubtedly inaccurate today, but all the juicy information is timeless.

Brownell’s Gunsmithing Catalog

Yes, another catalog. Why? Because this one is a free education in gunsmithing.

Brownells has been publishing catalogs of gunsmithing tools and gun parts since 1947, and I’ve been reading them since the 1980s. The Brownells catalog doesn’t just list a few kinds of gun blue; no, it goes way past that. Where eight words describing a bluing product might do for most catalogs, Brownells provides detailed how-to-use-it and then gives space to 600 words about why you should blue guns. And this goes on and on for 500 pages of products and tools, hundreds of words describing the manufacture of a rifle sling, how to make a chamber cast, glass bed a rifle, use tung oil and weld a bolt handle.

So, you think a gunsmith ripped off your buddy for $40 to check his rifle’s headspace. Guess what? It’s a fair price, and you know this because in the center of the Brownells catalog is a full page devoted to a survey of what gunsmiths around the country are charging for their services. According to Brownells, gunsmiths are getting $35 to $70 for checking headspace. Now that is some useful information.

The NRA Guide to Firearms Assembly

While the Numrich catalog is superior for its sheer number of firearm “exploded views,” it doesn’t tell you how to disassemble a particular gun. There is no single book or even set of books out there that can tell you how to take apart all guns – this subject requires an additional library to itself and you still won’t have it all – but there’s one book that covers a good number of the most common rifles, pistols and shotguns, The NRA Guide to Firearms Assembly. Face it – if you can’t disassemble a Winchester Model 94 or Remington Model 700, you are no rifle expert. An expert doesn’t have to know every gun off the top of his head, but when your buddy brings you his M1 Garand and asks, “How does the accelerator go back in?” you should be able to say, “Leave it with me and I’ll get to it tomorrow,” and then you can look it up when he’s gone.

Firearm disassembly is the toughest part of expertdom because every gun is a three-dimensional puzzle, and many designs make a Rubik’s Cube look as simple as tic-tac-toe. And complicating the fact that some disassembly instructions simply don’t exist in print (trust me on this one), those that do invariably conclude with, “Reassembly is in reverse order,” which is sometimes a lie and may also require the use of three hands, which they don’t tell you.

This is one firearms subject where, as they say, there is no substitute for experience.

American Rifleman magazine

I’m talking about old magazines, not the one you get in the mail today. For many years, up into the late 1980s or early 1990s, every month American Rifleman published a full-page exploded view and disassembly procedure for a selected firearm. They also published data on some fairly esoteric cartridges, data not found anywhere else. And back in the first four decades of the 20th century they published lengthy letters from men like Newton, Donaldson and Ackley describing their ongoing work with cartridge development. That essentially makes those old American Rifleman magazines historical documents. Snap ‘em up when you find them at yard sales and auctions because they’re scattered with gold nuggets of information for experts.

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