HGR 018 - Buy Used Not Abused
This week Ryan discusses the things to look for when buying a used handgun to make sure you get a quality firearm.
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Week in Review:
- The Handgun Radio Listener Roundtable has been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, November 23rd. I’ll announce the time as the date gets closer. I will post the link on the Handgun Radio Facebook page when the roundtable goes live on YouTube. It will also be released as an episode of Handgun Radio.
- I spent some time out in the woods this past week with the Ruger .44 Magnum Redhawk. Didn’t see any deer yet, but I did do some distance shooting with the .44 on some steel plates. As most of you know I am usually a Smith & Wesson shooter, and I am used to shooting double-action and single action with those guns. The Ruger trigger is different. It seems harder for me to hit with the Ruger using the gun in single-action. Using the Ruger in double-action, my maximum distance with the gun was roughly 35 to 40 yards with iron sights. In single-action I had a great deal more trouble.
- Zack Carlson of The Gun Bench and a contributor to Gun Guy Radio and the Firearms Radio Network recently posted an article on his handgun hunting luck using a Glock 20SF in 10mm. He was using 220 grain Hardcast Buffalo Bore ammunition. Go check it out!
- Got some great response from the last episode of Handgun Radio. I hope the stuff that was discussed in the episode in terms of refinishing handguns will be of assistance to you all. If you have any questions about something that wasn’t covered in the episode please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Main Topic: Buy Used Not Abused
Buying a handgun does not have to be a hugely expensive experience! I know I am often floored by the MSRP of some new handguns I see offered and I can’t imagine spending that much money on a handgun unless I was rich! (I wish!) However, just because the new ones cost a lot of money sometimes, doesn’t mean you can’t get a good quality handgun. “Used” should not be a dirty word when it comes to purchasing a handgun! If you know some of the proper ways to check the handgun for aesthetics and function, then you can really find a great used handgun, often for a fraction of its original price. I am not ashamed to admit that I have NEVER purchased a factory-new handgun. All my handguns have been bought used. This topic will cover some of the ways you can check a Revolver and Semi-Auto pistol for function and to ensure you get a quality used firearm.
Checking Over the Revolver (Single & Double-Action):
- It should go without saying, but check to ensure the revolver is unloaded. The techniques discussed here may vary slightly from brand to brand, but in general can be applied to the vast majority of revolvers.
- Give the revolver a good external inspection for scratches, dents, wear and any other unusual things externally. If the gun has been visibly abused on the outside, then there stands to be a good chance the gun was not taken care of internally as well.
- Unless the work was done by an established company such as Turnbull Mfg., be wary of any refinished gun. A gun that is refinished to hide abuse or damage may also be hiding similar surprises internally.
- Another good indicator when looking at a used handgun is multiple damaged screw heads. One buggered up screw head may be a mistake or a slip of the screwdriver. Multiple damaged screw heads could be indicative of someone who did not know to use the properly fitting screwdriver for that particular screw. Most people who know how to do proper gunsmithing work will always use the proper fitting screwdriver.
- Look carefully at the sights on the gun, whether fixed or adjustable. Look at the edges on the left or right. If they are bent or damaged, the gun could have been dropped and damaged in a way you may not be able to see with the naked eye. At best, you may just need to replace the sights.
- The cylinder should only move VERY slightly fore and aft in the cylinder window. This is called cylinder endshake. Having excessive endshake can cause primer issues, headspace issues and potentially a very dangerous situation in which the cylinder is unlocked. If you are mechanically inclined, excessive endshake can be corrected using the Yoke Endshake Bearings from Brownells. These small shims can be placed inside the cylinder to correct the excessive endshake. Many instructional videos can be found on YouTube regarding this process.
- The cylinder should not hang up when opening, and the cylinder latch you push with your thumb should operate smoothly as well. Make sure the cylinder crane swings out smoothly when opened and when closing.
- Some revolvers have fixed ejector rods, others have screw-in ejector rods. Most Ruger double action revolvers use a fixed ejector rod, where the Smith & Wesson revolvers use a screw in ejector rod. Make sure you pay particular attention to the ejector rod. If it comes unscrewed, it can cause cylinder binding problems (this happened to me with my Model 66). Make sure the ejector rod operates properly by ejecting some snap caps, and make sure it returns to the forward position smoothly and under its own spring power. Place a straight edge underneath the ejector rod perpendicular to the revolver. Spin the ejector rod and check for any wobbling or runout. This can indicate a bent ejector rod, which can cause the cylinder to bind as well.
- Check the barrel forcing cone, making sure there are no cracks or splits or damage there. The forcing cone is one of the highest-wear areas on a revolver. Damage here can affect accuracy greatly.
- Check the cylinder stop in the bottom of the cylinder window. It should be undamaged and have sharp,defined edges. Push it down with a small punch and it should spring back up under its own power.
- Look at the condition of the hand in the back of the cylinder window. It should move upward smoothly and should have sharp, defined edges. Also look at the ratchet notches on the back of the cylinder, ensuring that they are not excessively worn.
- Look at the firing pin hole, ensuring that it is not peened in any way from excessive dry firing without snap caps. Ensure that the hole is properly sized and has defined edges.
- Check the muzzle crown and ensure it is not damaged, and that the edges are sharp and defined. A damaged muzzle crown can SEVERELY affect accuracy.
- Finally, load the revolver with snap caps, and check the single-action and double-action timing. You do this by slowly cocking the revolver six times, ensuring that the cylinder stop snaps up into the corresponding notch in the cylinder just BEFORE the hammer reaches full cock. To check the double-action timing, pull the trigger slowly through the double-action stroke. The cylinder stop should snap up into the notch just BEFORE the hammer falls.
- Finally, check the barrel cylinder gap. You can do this using a set of Feeler Gauges. These are strips of metal of varying incremental thicknesses. Using these gauges, you can check the minimum and maximum barrel-cylinder gap and compare these measurements to specifications from the manufacturer to ensure they are within accepted tolerances. Having excessive barrel-cylinder gap can cause excessive lead spitting, particulate gases escaping on firing and many other unpleasant things. Having too little barrel-cylinder gap can cause the revolver to bind up after just a few shots.
In terms of semi-auto pistols, you can use most of the techniques discussed above in the revolver section to examine the aesthetics of the handgun. This section will cover mostly mechanical checks to ensure the handgun will function properly and safely.
- Ensure all the external controls are in their proper place and they function positively. Check whatever safety features and controls are on the gun, and ensure they work & do what they are intended. (Ensure the gun is unloaded, as always.)
- With the slide closed, press down on the top of the chamber hood (The portion of the barrel that is exposed in the ejection port. With the slide completely closed, the barrel hood should NOT move at all. If it doesn’t move, the barrel is locked up properly. As you slowly retract the slide, the barrel should remain locked and move with the slide for a VERY short distance, and it should then start to drop down and unlock from the slide. Note that this technique will not work on straight blowback pistols because the barrel is affixed to the frame and does not operate in the same manner as the tilt-locking Browning mechanism.
- If possible, disassemble the gun so you can inspect the barrel and chamber. Ensure there is no rust in the chamber and that the bore is bright and shiny and the rifling looks clear-cut and well defined. Any imperfections inside the chamber can cause cases to get stuck upon firing.
- Examine the slide for cracks or any other small imperfections. The slide on a semi-auto can be a very high stress part and some cheaper firearms may not have had their slides properly heat-treated.
- One thing that is often overlooked is ensuring the gun has a magazine with it. Some older, more obscure guns can have very hard to find or expensive magazines. Magazines for my Colt 1903 can run into the $100 range. Make sure the magazine functions positively and smoothly. A worn magazine can be the cause of many functioning issues.
If the handgun passes these tests, then it should be a fairly safe used buy. Follow your gut though. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Cross-check online prices for used guns similar to the one you’re looking at to make sure the price you’re paying is in the right ballpark. Inspect the gun carefully, and if possible test fire it! Many private sellers will let you test-fire the handgun if you just ask (and you seem like you’re ready to close the deal and all you need to do is test-fire it.) Even if you cannot test fire the gun, if it passes the inspection outlined above, you can feel pretty confident the gun will work well for you.
- Looking forward to the upcoming listener roundtable! I can’t wait to interact with some of you!!!
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Until next week, thanks for listening and SAFE SHOOTING!!!!