Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Misfires and Hangfires and Squibs, oh my!

While working on a segment for Assorted Calibers Podcast, I realized that it's likely not all of our listeners there, or our readers here, would be familiar with the three main ammunition failures and how to safely resolve them.

There are overlapping potential causes of these issues, so it's not a simple linear list. For example, ammunition contaminated with a liquid (water, oil, solvent, etc.) can result in any of the three malfunctions, so I'm not going to focus on root causes.

The basic definitions of these ammunition failures are:

  1. Misfire: the round doesn’t fire, resulting in a click but no bang. This could be due to (among other things) a bad primer, no primer, or a light firing pin strike.
  2. Hangfire: a perceptible delay between pulling the trigger and firing. This usually results from contaminated gunpowder or primers, which causes the powder to ignite slowly.
  3. Squib: the round is underpowered and the bullet gets stuck in the barrel. This could be due to a more advanced contamination issue as with a hangfire, or an improper load with little or no powder.

The squib is the most dangerous of the three ammunition malfunctions due to the possibility of firing a following round into a blocked barrel. However, it is fairly easy to detect a squib if the shooter is paying attention: due to the reduced pressure, recoil will be softer, muzzle blast will be quieter, and (if fired in low light) muzzle flash will be minimal if it's even visible at all.

The nose of a squib is just visible in this barrel

For all three situations, the immediate action is the same: Stop! After that, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, finger off the trigger, and remove the magazine (if appropriate).
  • For a misfire, wait 30 seconds to make sure it's really not going to go off, then eject the round, being careful to keep fleshy bits like hands away from the ejection port. 
  • If a hangfire occurred, check to make sure the empty case ejected and the barrel is clear. In both cases, assuming everything looks fine, reload and continue shooting.
  • With a squib, the gun is out of service until the blockage is removed from the barrel.

There are several processes that can be used to remove the stuck bullet. What follows is mine:

  1. Remove the barrel from the gun.
  2. Secure the barrel, muzzle down, in a vice with soft jaws.
  3. A couple of drops of penetrating oil in the barrel can help.
  4. Place a brass rod just smaller than bore diameter in the barrel.
  5. Only an inch or two of the rod should protrude from the chamber.
  6. Using a rubber, rawhide, or dead blow mallet, tap the rod to get the bullet moving.
  7. Once the rod is nearly flush with the end of the barrel, replace it with a longer one.
  8. Repeat until the bullet is clear.
  9. Clean the barrel, then check it inside and out for any damage.
  10. If everything looks good, reassemble the firearm and test fire.

If the barrel can't easily be removed, such as with revolvers, secure the barrel muzzle up and follow the same steps. Be extra careful not to mar the barrel crown, as this will likely negatively affect accuracy.

Stay safe and keep your ammunition dry

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Seasonal Allergies

While it's not yet officially spring where I live, the impending season is visible on the horizon. One of the more unfortunate aspects of this time of year is the blossoming of a particularly unpleasant, invasive plant species: the Bradford Pear tree.

The Pyrus calleryana (or Callery Pear) is native to China, introduced to the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture in the mid-1960s as ornamental trees. It was widely planted by landscapers and was even promoted by Lady Bird Johnson while she was First Lady.

My neighbors have a series of Bradford Pear trees lining their driveway and last week they started to blossom. To my misfortune, my usually mild allergic reaction to them was much more aggressive this year.

My neighbor's trees as seen from my driveway

While I do have a reasonable supply of over-the-counter antihistamines such as Fexofenadine (generic for Allegra) and Loratadine (generic for Claritin) on hand, this might not be sufficient in a longer term supply chain disruption. So what can those prone to seasonal allergies do without access to a pharmacy?

None of what follows is medical advice. Before undertaking any alternative treatment, please check with a doctor and/or pharmacist.
  • One of the better long term options may be (bee?) a locally produced honey. Clinical studies have been inconclusive on whether this actually helps with allergy symptoms, but anecdotal evidence is plentiful.
  • Vitamin C has long been known as a powerful antioxidant, and there's some scientific proof it can help with allergies. In addition to pills, tablets, chewables, and gummies, Vitamin C can also be found in many common foods such as bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, and tomatoes. 
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is another folk remedy with a long history. It's taken orally for allergies, usually in a tea or tincture, though supplements are available at health food stores.
  • One of the least pleasant, though simplest, home allergy treatments is nasal irrigation, also called nasal lavage. This is the process of flowing sterile saltwater through the nasal passages in order to clear them of mucus, pollen, and other contaminants.
Depending on climate and region, allergy season will vary in start date and duration. Regardless of these factors it's generally unpleasant, and all most of us can do is bear it as best we can and wait for winter.

Good luck and clear breathing.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Gear Stowage

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

No, not storage; stowage, as in "stow your gear". The arrangement of containers, as it were. 

Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag
I've talked about my EDC hip pouch and shown all the things I can fit in it, but one of the problems I had with it was being unable to get to items quickly because they invariably fell to the bottom. Not only was this inconvenient, it could also be life-threatening if I couldn't get to my tourniquet in time. 

Enter the Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag, presumably so named because it resembles a bag of microwave popcorn.

Per the website:
The Popcorn Bag weighs nothing, packs down to nothing, and keeps that essential equipment easily accessible in cavernous rucksacks. Our Bag compresses your gear into an easy-to-pack shape, and a pull loop on the Popcorn Bag makes it easy to retrieve from a tightly packed backpack.

I have found this to be true. The Popcorn bag fits easily inside my Ghost Racing Drop Leg Bag and stows a surprising amount of trauma gear. 

I use the flashlight as a pull grip.

First layer

Second layer

All contents unloaded.

I've had to relocate my wallet, multi-tool and booboo kit, but that's a small price to pay for quick and handy access to lifesaving tools. 

You can purchase the Cole-Tac Popcorn Bag on Amazon in black, brown, red, green, and gray for $24, or in camouflage for $25. 

USMC Issue Speed Reload Pouches
For a while now I've had a dilemma: I wanted to be able to use my ballistic vest for both home defense and civil unrest, but the weapons I plan to use for those situations are quite different: the first is a 9mm carbine, and the second is a rifle in 5.56mm. These use very different magazines, and while I have pouches for both types, I didn't like the idea of having to unthread the MOLLE straps of one type before I could mount the other. 

My ideal was a magazine holder which could carry both rifle and pistol magazines, but outside of a very expensive (and bulky) solution involving pistol pouches attached to rifle pouches, I wasn't able to find anything I liked... that is, until I took at second look at these rifle pouches, which were given to me by a friend who runs Old Grouch's Military Surplus.

A 9mm double-stack Glock magazine fits inside the pouch without any problem, and the rubberized liner keeps the magazine from moving around despite not occupying the entire space, yet I have no problem pulling it out for reloading drills. I can't secure the Glock magazines with the Velcro retention straps, but since I don't expect to do a lot of running around in a home defense situation, that's a non-issue for me. 

These pouches are available for $14.95 each at Old Grouch's. You might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere, but I'm only linking to OG so that I can help a friend who once helped me. 

What clever gear stowage solutions have you found?

Friday, March 3, 2023

Homemade Soap

Keeping clean is an essential part of maintaining both physical and mental health. I've taken enough bloodborne pathogen and hazmat classes that not being able to wash my hands regularly makes me actively uncomfortable. Any of our readers who have been on an extended camping trip (whether personal or under government contract) know the challenges involved in maintaining an acceptable level of personal hygiene.

There are a number of potential issues in keeping ourselves clean, such as access to a water source, ambient temperature, and privacy. While there's not much we can do about those issues, the one we can address is soap. While readily available in stores and online, making soap at home doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, and is another self-sufficiency skill to be considered.

Soap making uses lye, a caustic chemical that can cause severe burns. Use all appropriate personal protective equipment,  including but not limited to eye protection, long sleeves, and gloves.

Just over a year ago I posted an article on candle making, and some of that same equipment can be repurposed for making soap, specifically a double boiler or crock pot to melt the ingredients safely and a mold to form the soap.

A friend of mine who makes soap uses Pringles cans as one-use molds, with the resulting tube of soap then cut into disks. Any of the variety of silicone baking molds available on the market can be used as well.

A variety of home-made soaps from the author's collection

Make sure that any equipment and utensils used in the soap-making process are never again used for food preparation! Some of the chemical residue isn't good to imbibe, and it will give your food a nasty taste. 

Secondhand stores and yard sales are a very economical source for the necessary equipment.

A basic soap can be made with just three ingredients:

  1. Oil or another fat (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
  2. Lye (sodium hydroxide for bar soap, potassium hydroxide for liquid soap)
  3. Water (preferably distilled) or other liquids, such as goat's milk

Optional ingredients include essential oils, colorants, and dried herbs or flowers. 

The type and quantity of oil will affect the amount of lye needed for a recipe. This is a link to a handy lye calculator.

Never use aluminum containers or utensils when working with lye, it can cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

This is the traditional hot process method for making soap. There is also a cold process method that takes longer, but doesn't require constant heat.

  1. Set the mixing vessel to low heat.
  2. Add the oil and cover.
  3. In a separate container, slowly add the lye to the water
    (don't add water to lye, it can splatter).
  4. Gently stir the solution while adding the lye.
  5. Put aside and let the lye solution cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Check the temperature of the oil(s) using a candy thermometer.
  7. Once they reach 120 to 130F gently pour in the lye to avoid splashing.
  8. Stir slowly (a stick blender on low can also be used).
  9. Continue blending and stirring for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the soap has thickened and looks like pudding.
  10. Cover and cook on low heat for 50 minutes, stirring gently if bubbles form.
  11. Let cool until the mixture drops below 180° F.
  12. If desired, add essential oils and/or colorants and mix well.
  13. Pour the mixture into a mold.
  14. Gently tap the mold to eliminate air bubbles.
  15. If using an open mold, smooth the top with a spatula.
  16. Let sit for at least 24 hours at room temperature.
  17. After cutting, allow the soap to dry for another week.

Soap making, if done responsibly, can be safe and isn't very complicated. It's also good clean fun.


The Fine Print

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