Saturday, April 05, 2014

Thoughts on Pistol Caliber Carbines

One topic among shooters that generates a lot of disagreement is the pros and cons of pistol caliber carbines (PCCs). I previously owned a Marlin Camp Carbine in .45 ACP, have a couple of leverguns in handgun cartridges, and I recently picked up a TNW Firearms M-31SA Suomi in 9x19 and a Beretta CX-4 Storm 9x19, so this is something I’ve been pondering.

TNW M-31SA Suomi

For the purposes of this article, I’ll mainly discuss PCCs chambered for 9x19, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum. Certainly there are other PCC rounds like .45 Colt, but they are less common. Also, it is a mistake to class the M1 Carbine as a PCC. The .30 Carbine round was developed for the Carbine. Handguns chambered for it became available decades later.

I’d like to look at the con first, and in my opinion there really is only one.

PCCs have the bulk, length, and weight of a rifle, but fire handgun cartridges. If you’re toting a rifle sized package, why not have rifle ballistics? This isn’t an idle concern. True rifle cartridges offer better terminal ballistics against game and people, and rounds like .308 or 7.62x39 offer greatly improved penetration against cover.

On the other hand, PCCs have several potential pros for modern American shooters:

  • Ammunition that can be shared with your handgun, simplifying logistics.
  • Depending on the model, magazines that can be shared with your pistol. E.g., Kel-Tec makes a Sub 2000 which takes Glock magazines, and the Beretta Storm takes Beretta pistol magazines.
  • With autopistol cartridges, PCCs offer slightly improved performance, along with much reduced noise and blast, and low recoil. This is a big deal with inexperienced shooters, IMHO.
  • With magnum revolver cartridges, PCCs offer significantly increased performance, again with reduced noise and blast. The recoil of a .357 Magnum carbine isn’t bad, but the .44 Magnum still has significant recoil from a carbine.
  • Many indoor ranges allow shooting PCCs but forbid shooting rifle cartridges. This makes PCCs more valuable to shooters who don’t have access to an outdoor range. This is increasingly common among urban and suburban shooters.
  • Semiauto PCCs chambered for autopistol cartridges typically employ a straight blowback design, which is very simple and easy to maintain. Lever actions chambered for magnum revolver rounds are more complex, however.
  • Some of the semiatuo PCCs have very innovative, useful designs. For example, the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 folds in half, while the TNW Aero Survival Rifle easily takes down. Either can be carried and stowed in something like an old laptop briefcase.
  • Despite the ballistic advantages of true rifle caliber carbines, PCCs are plenty effective for self- defense, as demonstrated by this case of a Detroit mother who defended her home and family with a Hi Point PCC. And let’s face it, this kind of use is going to be a lot more common than any SHTF scenario.

Some of the PCCs currently on the US market include:

  • Beretta CX-4 Storm
  • Kel-Tec Sub 2000
  • TNW Aero Survival Rifle
  • Just Right Carbine
  • Rossi Model 92 lever actions
  • Marlin 1894 lever actions
  • Hi Point 995, 4095, and 4595
  • Thureon Defense AR-like carbines

There have also been a number of PCCs which are semiauto-only clones of submachineguns, such as the TNW M-31SA Suomi, Sterlings, Uzis, AR-15s, and HK-94s.

Historically, one draw of carbines and handguns taking the same cartridge was simplified logistics when you were away from easy resupply. In the 21st Century this is less of a consideration. On the other hand, I can see the value of having to grab only one type of ammo if you’re in a bugout situation. Likewise, a carbine and a pistol that can share magazines simplifies logistics.

In my opinion, PCCs are worthy of consideration by preppers looking to add a rifle to their arsenal.

Monday, March 10, 2014

German Flecktarn Parka / Smock

Last week I ordered an unissued German flecktarn camoflage parka from Centerfire Systems and it arrived today. I thought I'd share some pics.

First, the outside and inside.

Pocket inside the left breast. If it's not obvious from the picture, it closes at the top with Velcro.

Manufacturer's label, showing the size and fabric makeup of 80/20 cotton/polyester.

Pit zip.

Left sleeve pocket. I am assuming that what looks like a button hole is really so you can dummy cord a compass to it.

And finally, the importer's sticker.

Initial impressions:

It's well made of good quality fabric. The sewing is neat without a bunch of excess threads. This was sold by CFS as an "XL" and that seems pretty true to size although the bigger guys may find the sleeves too short. I wear a 34" sleeve in dress shirts and they are just right for me, however. There is room for layering a fleece or sweater under the smock. I am 5'6" tall and the bottom hem of the smock falls right above my knees, so it'll provide good coverage. The hood is sized so it'll fit comfortably over a cap, without being huge. There are two chest pockets which snap shut and two lower pockets closed with zippers. The left chest pocket has pencil/pen loops sewn into it.

This parka is a German equivalent to the British windproof or SAS smocks, but priced far less, at $25 + shipping. The camouflage pattern works very well in the woods of the northeastern US. I'm looking forward to getting a lot of use out of this jacket.

Friday, March 07, 2014

TNW Suomi Carbine

Over on Blog O'Stuff, I have a review of the TNW Firearms M-31SA Suomi carbine. I didn't buy this as a prep item, just as an historical curio. That said, it appears to be reliable, and 9mm gains 200 to 300 FPS from a carbine barrel compared with a pistol barrel, so it could be a useful defensive carbine, even if it's heavy enough to break down a brick shithouse.

Go take a gander.

Making a Wool Blanket Capote - Part 4

I've been otherwise occupied for the past couple of weeks and had not made any more progress on the capote. Last night I sat down and ripped the seams holding on the sleeves and redid them to eliminate the hole's I'd left in the armpits when I screwed up attaching them the first time.

Remaining work to be done:

  • Attach the pockets and cut slits through the coat so they can be used.
  • Make and attach flaps for the pockets.
  • Add a storm flap.
  • Remove some material from the hood so I don't look like a reject from a Ronnie James Dio video with it up.
More pics to come as I make more progress.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Making a Wool Blanket Capote–Part 3

In Part 3 I add buttons, holes, a hang loop, and start on the pockets.

When sewing the body together I used black button and carpet thread. This is stronger than regular sewing thread. To sew the buttons on I used artificial sinew from Track of the Wolf (I actually have another spool of this stuff around here somewhere but I’ve misplaced it, so I ordered one along with the buttons).

The buttons are 1.5” in diameter, which is on the large size, but appropriate for this kind of coat. They should also be easier to use with gloves or mitts on than smaller buttons.

Yeah, they’re shiny. I’m either going to let them tarnish or use something to dull them to a patina.

Also shown in the pic above are the pockets I made from the legs of jeans I made into cut off shorts a couple years ago. While looking around for some suitable fabric I ran across these in my closet. Waste not, want not. The pockets will be sewn to the inside of the coat and accessed through slits cut in the outside. I’m also planning to add flaps cut from some leftover blanket material.

To wrap up this post, here’s the hang loop that I made from a short piece of gutted 550 cord. I like all of my coats to have hang loops.

One thing this exercise has done is made me appreciate the value of a sewing machine. I’m entirely hand stitching this capote together, mostly with a blanket stich. Not only is this time consuming but it’s hell on my left thumb (I’m a southpaw). But, it’s good practice.

In Part 4, I’ll get the pockets sewn in and flaps on.

Making a Wool Blanket Capote – Part 2

In Part 2 I’ll show how I cut the blanket and how the capote looked after my first round of sewing.

First, I cut/tore the blanket to make the body. I'm going to use buttons to fasten the front rather than a wrap, so I narrowed the blanket by a few inches. If doing this again I'd leave it full width for more overlap, but this will be OK. I made it with a 40" length, which brings the bottom hem to the back of my knees (I am 5'6" tall).

Note that one blanket came with the stripes while the other did not. IMO, the stripes add a nice detail to a coat.

Next, I folded the body in half and made the slits for the arms. The inquiry.net instructions say to make them ~7", to be lengthened later. IMO, you could make them 9" right from the get go.

Next, I cut out the sleeves. Here is one laid out on part of the blanket. I would normally use chalk to mark the lines but didn't have any handy, so I grabbed a bar of soap.

I then used this as a pattern to trace around for the second sleeve. I forgot to take a pic of the hood before cutting it out or sewing it onto the body.

And here's how the capote looked after a lot of hand stitching:

The instructions for the inquiry.net pattern aren't the greatest when it came to attaching the hood but I eventually figured it out. Also, I changed the sleeve design a bit to omit the fringe, but I now have holes in each armpit that I need to fill with a gusset.
To sew the pieces together I used black carpet and button thread. I'd planned to use artificial sinew but couldn't find my roll. The black thread is inconspicuous from more than a foot away so it's probably a better choice, anyway. I used a blanket stitch for all seams.

Here’s a detail shot of the hood after I sewed down the triangular flaps.

I went to the local Joann Fabrics to look for buttons but didn't see any I liked. So, I ordered some copper capote buttons from Track of the Wolf.

Work remaining includes:

  • Add a couple slash pockets,
  • Sew on the buttons and make button holes, and
  • I may add a storm flap to the right side from the front opening. The instructions I followed said to cut/tear the blanket to the width that I did, but I’m thinking I want more overlap. So, I can take some leftover material and sew it to the right side (as worn) going from the collar down to the bottom of the stripe. This should keep drafts out.

In Part 3, I’ll get the buttons sewn on, button holes made, and the pocket linings sewn.

Making a Wool Blanket Capote - Part 1

One of article of clothing which was developed in the 18th or 19th Century and which is still useful today is the wool blanket capote. It’s simply a coat made from a wool blanket or blanket material. Natural fabrics such as wool have some advantages over synthetics, specifically they are much safer around a fire and they are quieter when moving through the bush. Additionally, if you make your own capote from a surplus blanket, you can have a nice, warm winter coat for under $40.

If you do some searching you’ll come across several sites which sell completed capotes, capote kits, and sewing patterns. This thread on BCUSA has a good list of capote patterns and info. The Sportsman’s Guide sells a capote that’s received good reviews on BCUSA, and I considered buying one but really wanted to make my own. I decided to use the pattern found  at The Inquiry Net for a Hudson Bay Capote, with some modifications.

For my raw material I’m using a Bulgarian military surplus 100% wool blanket that I got from keepshooting.com. They were on sale for $14.95 each plus shipping, so I got two for a total of about $40.

Like many milsurp wool blankets the Bulgarian blankets smelled strongly of mothballs. They reeked. The best way to deodorize them is to hang them in the sun for as much as a week to air them out. As I understand it, the UV light in sunlight helps to break down the napthalene. I haven’t tried it but I’ve also read that napthalene is soluble in alcohol, so you can use a spray of diluted vodka to help along the process. (Finally, a productive use for cheap booze.) If you have experience with this please post a comment.

Anyway, sunlight has been in short supply around here this winter so I decided to throw my blankets in the washer. The one which I’m making the capote from went through three times. Twice on cold and once on hot. I dried it in the gentle cycle after each of the two cold washes and then on hot after the hot wash. Make sure you clean out the lint trap!

Now, generally it’s advised to not put 100% wool into a washing machine, much less the drier, but I seriously doubt the Bulgarian Army had a dry cleaning service for their blankets. Also, I wanted to tighten the weave and preshrink it, to make the material more windproof and warmer. Shrinkage was minimal. This is how wool felt is made, by the way.

Note that if you run a mothball soaked blanket through the wash, it’s gonna stink really bad. My laundry room smelled like you stepped into a box of mothballs.

In Part 2, we’ll start cutting the blanket and sewing it up.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bulgarian Surplus Wool Blankets

Last week I ran across a link to Bulgarian military surplus wool blankets on Keepshooting.com for the low price of $14.95 each, plus S&H. Wanting to add a couple more wool blankets to my stash, I ordered two. They arrived Saturday while I was out on my last camping trip.

Keepshooting.com packed them well in a big box. Upon opening the box I was met with a very strong mothball smell, which intensified when I pulled one out to look at it. Aside from the odor both appeared to be brand new. The description on their web page is accurate.

Tonight I washed one of the two that I got. I used cold water and Dreft in the washing machine, set it to delicate, and extended & second rinse. I then dried it in the dryer for 70 minutes on delicate with a dryer sheet. It came out fine and there is just the barest hint of a mothball smell remaining. I laid it out flat on the floor and measured it -- no noticeable shrinkage. It seems a little fluffier. I'll probably wash the other one tomorrow.

You can of course use Woolite instead of Dreft (which is what I had on hand). I've also read of guys using shampoo. Wool is hair, after all.

I'm seriously considering using one as the raw material for a bushcraft hoodie. One of these would be perfect for keeping in your car for emergencies, or for camping.

For ~$40 for two of them shipped, this was a great deal.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Winter Overnighter

Last night I did an overnighter with a friend and his daughter, outside of Pottstown, in SE PA.

We dragged our gear up to the camp using kid's sleds.

On the sled is my Ridge Rest foam mat, East German combat pack containing long johns, socks, and my PCU Level 5 soft shell pants, Swiss poncho, my USGI MSS, a folding camp chair, axe, H&R 20 gauge shotgun, and hunting vest. We wound up not doing any hunting, and I didn't need the extra clothes, but it was still better to have them just in case.

We built a long fire although we didn't use it to heat our shelters. It still made a nice fire to sit in front of and gave off a lot of warmth. You can see the pot and lid from my Swedish mess kit in the lower right. I used it to melt snow so we had warm water for cleaning dishes, etc.

Dinner was beans and franks cooked in a dutch oven my friend dragged up, and some hot dogs grilled on a Biolite stove belonging to another friend who couldn't sleep over. I didn't get any good pics of these.

Here's the hootch I slept in. It's a USMC field tarp over my MSS. Under the MSS I had a Big Agnes insulated air matress, Ridge Rest foam pad, a USGI casualty evacuation blanket, and snow. :) The air mattress, foam pad, and casevac blanket provided plenty of insulation from the cold ground. I used the sled to partially block off the side of the shelter near my head.

To hang the shelter I used 550 cord tied through the bungee loops that come with the USMC field tarp. This allows the tarp to give a bit if there is a gust, although I didn't have to worry about that last night. When prepping for the trip I cut a half dozen 3' pieces of 550 cord especially for this purpose. I used plastic tent stakes through bungees to secure the back of the lean-to.

Since I'm in my 40s I had to get up in the middle of the night. ;) I noticed that the underside of the tarp had a lot of condensation on it. In the morning the top side had a good coating of frost, too. It got down to about 25*F but I was warm in this setup. We didn't have much wind and it mostly came from the direction in back of the tarp.

My friend and his kid slept in this 3 season Coleman tent. Even though it's extremely well ventilated it too had a lot of condensation in the morning.

I told my friend's daughter to look like she was enjoying the zombie apocalypse this morning.

Finally, I got to try out my Kovea Spider stove under field conditions. The temp was around freezing when I took this pic.

We also used the stove to boil water for oatmeal in my friend's Kelly Kettle. To do so we had to fold the legs slightly so that the KK would fit over it, but it worked great. We'd normally use twigs like the KK is designed for, but all the wood was wet, so this made it a lot easier.

It was a fun night out and a good gear test. The USMC field tarp isn't as light as some civilian tarps, but it is very rugged. It's a good size for sheltering one person and has snaps, so you can attach more than one if you need to make a larger shelter. This was my first time trying the MSS in an open shelter and it also worked great. I wouldn't want to carry it far due to its weight but if you don't need to hump it, it's probably one of the best deals available in rugged outdoor gear.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Some Cold Weather Clothing Reviews

With Winter upon us, I wanted to post a quick review of a few pieces of cold weather clothing that I’ve been using.

Duluth Fire Hose Pants.  Strictly speaking these aren’t cold weather pants, but they are heavy enough that I wouldn’t want to wear them in the Summer. I have two pairs of these, one of which I’ve owned for over a year. They don’t get a lot of use but one thing I like them for is cool/cold weather practical rifle matches. They allow very good freedom of movement, have well designed, deep pockets, and the fabric is bombproof. On my last trip to Tioga County, PA my friends and I did some grouse hunting, which involved going through some nasty thickets. The Duluth Fire Hose pants shrugged off briars like they were nothing. The pants are pretty wind resistant as well, and snow doesn’t wet them through quickly. Highly recommended.

German surplus wool pants. Wool milsurp clothes are becoming increasingly harder to find as militaries the world over have gone to synthetics in the past couple of decades. I wanted some wool pants for cold weather woodsbumming, camping, and hunting, and found these German surplus pants in my size at  armynavysales.com. There are a few features that I don’t care for. Most annoying, the top button faces inward. I had that replaced with a hook and clasp. I don’t care for the flaps on the front pockets, and I dislike the button fly (something which you’ll find in a lot of older surplus). That said, they are extremely well made and warm. I plan to get a set of suspenders to use with them because they are a little long and feel like they are falling down, due to my lack of a behind.

Alpha Industries N-3B Parka. If  like me you were a boy in the 1970s you probably had a snorkel parka. They were based on the USAF N-3B parka adopted in 1958.  I’ve been wanting a heavy Winter coat for sub-freezing temps that I could just throw on without putting on multiple layers, and decided to go retro. This coat meets that need in spades. Design-wise, it’s a bit dated when compared with stuff you see at REI. For example, the number and size of pockets, and the buttons used for securing the wind flap.  However, it is probably the warmest coat I’ve ever owned. The night I bought it I took walk in 23*F (-5*C) weather with just a t-shirt and a cotton button down shirt underneath and was perfectly warm. I spent a fair amount of time today outside wearing the N-3B, clearing snow, and taking my kids sledding, all in temps under 20*F (-7*C), and stayed warm and dry the whole time. Tonight I went out for a walk while it was 9*F (-13*C). I wore a cotton t-shirt, a light cotton flannel shirt, a light polar fleece jacket, and the Alpha N3B parka. I started getting hot at the end of the walk.

The Alpha N-3B currently sold on the American civilian market has some differences from the USGI parkas, most notably the material used for the shell. Functionally, though, I think it’s as good as the original. There are some other brands of N-3Bs but you’re probably best of sticking with the Alpha. This is one of my favorite recent purchases. I bought mine at I. Goldberg’s in Philly, because I wanted to try it on first. The XL seems true to size, so if you don’t have a local source you can probably buy it online without too much worry about the size being off. Amazon carries it, here.

Swiss Surplus Wool Sweater. I wrote about this last month, so here’s the link in case you missed it. To update my original post on it, I’ve worn it several times, including during a party when we hung out by a fire pit in mid-30s weather for a few hours. It gets two thumbs up from me.