June 3, 2012 (log)
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Irony hates me.
Last night(ish) I stumbitted a writeup on what it means to dry fire a firearm, and (more importantly) why not to do that.
Shortly before that, I had written a node on the Winchester Model 74, with reference to the one I had gotten from Dad that I was going to try to resurrect. In that node, I mentioned that several years ago, this gun had been dry fired and taken damage; that was the reason (I was pretty sure) it wouldn't feed right, or at least was related.
Yesterday, I had taken the Model 74 down to pieces-parts and dunked all of them that would fit into a bucket of Hoppes No. 9. Today, I strained all the parts out of the solvent (gotta use a fine strainer; there were retaining pins in there) and laid all the parts out. The bolt retaining rod spring still wouldn't come off the base of the bolt retaining rod, which in turn was rusted solidly into the bolt stop. After worrying at it carefully with a dental pick for a bit, Gun Mentor stated that it was possible the spring would break due to the fact that it was rust damaged if I tried too hard to remove it. We agreed that since it seemed to be working fine, I should just reassemble the gun and see if I could get everything to work.
We didn't have procedures for the gun - just the exploded parts diagram and key from the Numrich catalog - but that seemed a fair challenge. While Gun Mentor and a buddy worked on Gun Mentor's '60s muscle car in the other part of the basement, I set about learning to reassemble the Model 74. I managed to do it without losing any parts or having any left over - and would have fully assembled the gun had Gun Mentor not pointed out that I'd put the firing pin spring on the wrong end of the firing pin. Herp derp. So I took the bolt assembly apart again and fixed that. I noted that the two components of the firing pin were attached but rotated freely, and decided that was so the pin could rotate in the action of the gun. I put the spring on the correct end and reassembled the bolt, still without losing any parts or having extras. Got the gun together, and in the course of doing so managed to cock the action (you have to shove the bolt and bolt stopper into the receiver, and in so doing it's difficult to avoid compressing them together and thus cocking it).
I couldn't introduce ammo into the action without the safety on (I was in the basement, for one thing) and I didn't want to reach into the receiver to fully seat the bolt assembly with the firing pin cocked. So I cast about for a few seconds for some fired .22 Long Rifle brass, but Gun Mentor doesn't collect that because it isn't reloadable.
So I shrugged, and dry fired the gun. Once. It worked fine. I cycled the bolt several times (no problem) and finally we introduced two rounds into the magazine.
It jammed without loading the first round.
Gun Mentor grinned and handed it back to me and said "The round never made it to battery, so don't worry, gun's safe. Figure it out."
I went back into the basement and commenced to do just that.
Took the bolt assembly out of the receiver again after managing to unjam it enough to turn the safety to 'Fire' (necessary to slide the bolt assembly out), and found that the cartridge had a dent in the side and a shiny patch - obviously a hard scrape - on the bullet. Not good. So I removed the action from the stock, put a single round into the loading gate and held the magazine follower behind it to give it a push as if it was assembled, and then cycled the bolt.
It jammed immediately.
After a second of pulling the cartridge out, I decided to try doing what I had been doing last time I shot the gun a decade or so ago and just loading the cartridge manually.
It wouldn't go into the chamber.
That's when my stomach started getting that queasy feeling. You know, the one you get when you know you done wrong.
I pulled the gun completely apart, and there (there on the other side) - actually, on the chamber edge - there was a burr of metal projecting into the chamber, punched there by what was obviously a firing pin strike.
Horrorstruck, I looked at the bolt assembly carefully. The firing pin at present was extended (uncocked) as if it had just fired. As was proper, it projected just past its channel but its point was not past the front surface of the bolt - so I wasn't sure how it could have punched the side of the chamber.
To my sagging sense of failure, though, I found that the pin, when the action was dry fired (it was OK to do that, because the bolt assembly wasn't in the chamber of the gun - nothing to hit) seemed to rotate slightly, and the next time I looked at it, it was sideways - presenting the 'shoulder' of the flat end of the pin to the chamber. In that position, rather than being limited to the area covered by the cartridge, the edge of the now-sideways pin would certainly have hit the chamber wall.
Right where the burr was.
It is a definite possibility that after that wonderfully cautioning lecture in dry fire that I immediately went out and caused the maximal amount of damage possible to a firearm by doing exactly that - and worse, to the very firearm whose susceptibility to this damage impelled me to write dry fire in the first place.
There is a strong possibility, I must say, that it wasn't that last dry fire that did it. When I did that, there was a gentle click, familiar to me of the gun cycling, and the gun didn't vibrate. Neither of these would likely have been true had I hit the chamber edge just then. It is much more likely that the reason the gun was jamming and not loading in the first place is that at some point those ten or so years ago, when I'd just managed to get the action to cycle but didn't really know what I was doing (not that I do now, obviously) I or someone with me dry fired it and damaged the chamber. Because I couldn't turn the barrel off the receiver this time around (and wasn't really interested in doing so) I never got a really good look at the chamber (although I cleaned it pretty carefully, there wasn't a lot of light in there). So it's possible I just missed this damage during this whole teardown, when I was somewhat convinced the cartridge acceptor was to blame for the misfeeds.
But that doesn't really matter. Because the firing pin is set up wrong. It didrotate - possibly just like it did years ago, and maybe that's what was wrong originally, the firing pin either broke or wasn't set properly and I didn't know. And I did dry fire the gun, with no empty brass in the way to soften it.
So as I said, I deserve what I got.
At this point, the only thing I can think of doing is to find a vise and a bunch of Break-Free and see if I can get the barrel to turn off the receiver, at which point I should be able to directly address the chamber with a fine file. Given how narrow the damage is, if I can just remove the burrs leaving the surfaces flat around the depression, the depression itself shouldn't really harm anything, and I can probably get the gun to operate (although I'm not at all sure accuracy won't be permanently compromised). But I wasn't restoring this gun to shoot for extreme accuracy anyhow.
And as Gun Mentor said when I showed him what I'd (probably) done - "Grasshopper, this sucks, but there is a silver lining. What is it?"
So I said, glumly, "I learned what I did wrong. The hard way."
"Yep. So next time you won't do that. Don't worry, we can probably get this thing to work."
So - that's the next project.
I offer this as a cautionary tale.