The White Letter Chronicles

The White Letter Chronicles

History of white lettering on handguns

By Dennis Adler

Oh those pesky white letters. Sometimes they’re OK, like the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five or the Umarex S&W M&P40, they’re not correct but they’re not unattractive. Then there are manufacturers who feel compelled to fill the slide with their name, but white lettering isn’t exclusive to CO2 air pistols!

We all hate that white lettering on CO2 pistols. Nothing says air pistol like white lettering…or does it? White lettering on centerfire pistols has actually been used for almost a century. It is much less common today but there are some very noteworthy historical precedents for seeing white!

This Bergmann Model 1910 dates back to the early 1920s. You often see examples of this model, and later versions also built under license in Belgium, with white lettering to embellish the name.

White lettering is most often seen on German firearms and among the oldest examples is the Bergmann Model 1910/21 semiautomatic pistol. Theodore Bergmann introduced his first autoloader a year after Paul Mauser patented his design for the Broomhandle in 1895. In 1897 Bergmann and arms designer Louis Schmeisser introduced a new pistol using a removable box magazine; the basic pistol configuration that would become characteristic of all future Bergmann designs. An improved version was developed after the turn of the century, and rather than manufacturing them in Germany, Bergmann moved production to Herstal, Belgium, under license to Societe Anonyme Anciens Establissments Pieper. That is the name you see stamped into the barrel extension on the 1910 Model pictured above. Mauser used white lettering as well, often to highlight the manufacturer’s name stamped into the frame. White lettering was also used for export models to denote the retailer, such as Von Lengerke & Detmold in New York, which began selling Broomhandle Mauser pistols in 1897. read more


Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 4

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 4 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

Sliding into home, almost…

By Dennis Adler

 “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

– Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story

One little problem

Birchwood Casey Perma Blue works on most alloy components as shown with the frame. But…the slide on the Swiss Arms 1911A1 is a different alloy composition than the frame and the Perma Blue won’t color it. Now, I have not had this happen with other alloy slides going back to the Gletcher Makarov TT-33, which turned out perfectly. But whatever alloy combination Swiss Arms uses for the slide doesn’t work with Perma Blue, it just beads up into little blue droplets and does nothing. read more


Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 3

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

Antique or battlefield worn finish

By Dennis Adler

When we ended Part 2 the frame, slide and small parts had all been polished out. It is not a perfectly polished finish like a nickel gun; it is a gun in the white, a canvas upon which you can paint a picture of a much older and battle worn 1911A1.

Everyone says that you cannot use cold blue on aluminum alloy. And you can’t if you want a like-new blued finish. But if you want a worn, almost grey finish with blue tones, and some high edge wear, or a faded look, then you can use cold blue and a little gun oil to create a weathered finish. It works on steel, and it will work on a polished out zinc alloy air pistol.

Birchwood Casey Perma Blue worked perfectly on the polished alloy parts of the frame. I tested it on the grip safety first, and this is after one application and a light coating of gun oil to set the color.

The mix and the application

I used Birchwood Casey Perma Blue cold blue and gun oil on the polished grip safety as my test area to see what the finish would look like. If this finish remains consistent for the entire grip frame, then this combination will work as expected. Using cloth patches I applied the cold blue to the grip safety and watched it turn dark blue black and then haze to a dark grey, at which point I applied another patch with gun oil that set a rather well aged grey tone to the piece. It also left a little gloss. After rubbing it out with a clean patch I had a variegated blue grey part that looked old and faded. At this point I was satisfied with the look and completely disassembled the gun again to work on the individual parts. read more


Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 2

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 2 Part 1 Part 3 Part 4

Taking off the matte finish, detailing small parts and cleanup

By Dennis Adler

Well it is a dirty job when you’re sanding off the matte black finish on the Swiss Arms 1911A1. I used a variety of sanding medium but mainly the 3M O11K Fine emory paper and 0000 steel wool, in that order. Here I am working off the finish on the grip frame.

The hardest part of this defarbing project with the Swiss Arms 1911A1 is the frame which takes the most time and effort to work around small corners, edges, and parts that are attached to the frame, such as the thumb safety. Once you have cleared this hurdle there remains only a few small separate parts to strip the finish from, and then it is time to do a thorough cleaning of all polished out parts, before removing the blue tape and cleaning out any debris that may have gotten past the tape and into moving parts. read more


Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1

Defarbing a Swiss Arms 1911A1 Part 1 Part 2

Creating your own battlefield finish

By Dennis Adler

I picked the Swiss Arms 1911A1 because like several other blowback action models it is very close to the design of the c.1926 Model 1911A1, which still had the small thumb safety and original small military sights and spur hammer. The big change was a smaller trigger, checkered raised mainspring housing and longer grip safety spur. WWII models also were built with brown plastic grips, so the checkered plastic Swiss Arms grips are good. It is also a very affordable blowback action pistol at around $80.

Battlefield or weathered finishes are not nearly as desirable on collectible firearms as they have become on CO2 pistols copying vintage firearms. In fact, it would be safe to say that if every 19th or early 20th century based CO2 pistol was offered with a weathered finish, they would all be top selling airguns. Alas, only a few select models get the ageing process and the rest are produced in like new (or matte) finishes that seldom look like the originals except for nickel plated models. Defarbing is a term used for removing all modern markings from a reproduction black powder gun and replacing them with the correct period marks (and often ageing or applying a custom finish). Manufacturer’s markings are also removed so all that remains are the serial numbers required by law. Over the years I have antiqued my share of black powder guns (and a few cartridge models) for articles in Guns of the Old West. The same process on a CO2 pistol is actually a little more difficult because even the best air pistols are made from cast alloy parts, which are a softer metal. This is great for engraving (as evidenced by the series of Colt Peacemaker and Schofield models engraved by Adams & Adams for Pyramyd Air over the last couple of years), but polishing out and refinishing an alloy pistol is a dirty job. And bluing a zinc alloy gun is no simple task, either. read more


A Boring Topic

A Boring Topic

When you can and can’t shoot a .177 caliber lead BB 

By Dennis Adler

The caliber conundrum, when is a .177 caliber not 0.177 inches? When it is a steel BB (far left) which actually has a diameter of 0.173 inches (average) or 4.3mm, compared to a lead round pellet (center) which is just slightly larger at 4.5mm, or a wadcutter pellet (right). The difference in diameter is what keeps you from loading a lead ball into a .177 caliber, magazine-fed blowback action pistol designed for steel BBs. This is the same whether it is a stick magazine or a self-contained CO2 BB magazine; that .2mm difference is a lot with an air pistol.

The operative word in Airgun Experience is experience, and the way you get experience is by doing things and often doing them wrong. Failure is the best teacher, and hopefully it isn’t always costly, just educational. One of the early mistakes I made was trying to shoot .177 caliber lead BBs from a semi-auto pistol chambered for .177 caliber steel BBs. Lead BBs don’t fit. An air pistol that shoots steel BBs and is marked .177 caliber (4.5mm) does not actually shoot a .177 caliber diameter BB. Now, if it is a pellet-firing rifled barrel pistol it can, because the bore on a .177 caliber BB pistol and a 4.5mm pellet pistol are not exactly the same. A steel BB will drop right through the barrel on a smoothbore blowback action BB pistol. A 4.5mm pellet won’t even fit if you try to insert it, whereas with a pellet firing pistol you can actually push the pellet into the barrel. read more


Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream

If we had our way

By Dennis Adler

You can do the same thing with a Colt licensed CO2-powered Peacemaker as was done with the original guns in the Old West; in other words, make them more than the sum of their parts through engraving. The real 3rd generation Colt Nimschke New York engraved model at top, engraved by Adams & Adams, was the inspiration for the current hand engraved CO2 model (bottom) available from Pyramyd Air.

If we were to interpret the meaning of this line from Hamlet in the context of “to have versus to want,” then the question is, “is it better to give up than face the troubles?” Not our troubles, but those of airgun manufacturers with a global market. A lot of us are expecting a renaissance in airgun design for the American market, but the Renaissance took place in Europe the first time, and that is where it is happening again, at least for airguns that have the greatest appeal to readers of the Airgun Experience. We covet what we cannot have, it is human nature, and more so the nature of collectors and enthusiasts. What many of us envision as the “next logical step” is, in fact, logical, but it is not always practical, “…ay, there’s the rub.” read more