The Factory Doesn’t Always Know What’s Best

Reader Henry Hale writes:

It’s good for firearms to be idiot-proof. The fewer ways there are to break something or screw up, the better. That said, I abhor the fact that a great many of today’s firearms are designed with the mentality that they should only be serviced by a company-ordained technician. Some gun makers ensure this by shrouding the disassembly process in secrecy, sometimes even requiring specialty tools for the process.

The Browning X-bolt, while a good bolt-action hunting rifle, is a clear example of this. The bolt can be removed from the receiver, the scope can be dismounted, and the stock may be removed, but that’s the limit to which you can easily take the gun down. That prevents the user from addressing a range of malfunctions or shortcomings on their own.

Is the ejector getting stuck? Too bad kiddo, that sounds like a job for one of the adults! This design approach runs counter to what’s been commonly done in the past and demeans the intelligence of consumer. This can leave a firearm with a weakness that only the factory can correct. Additionally, this practice hinders the ability of a shooter to squeeze optimal performance from a firearm by customizing it.

 

Some assemblies are complex, containing numerous small parts. Modern trigger assemblies for bolt action rifles ensure a good trigger squeeze for most production rifles without need for much handwork from the factory. These assemblies consist of dozens of parts and typically come in a “packet”, a sheet metal enclosure which prevents tinkering and protects against dust and dirt. The design philosophy is understandable, but these assemblies should be removable from the rifle in a simple manner.

A non-user serviceable firearm is more difficult to get repaired. To ship a firearm back to the factory, it needs to be properly packaged, fees need to be paid, and there’s always the possibility that the firearm will be lost or stolen. This is compounded if the owner lives in a rural area; possibly an hour or more away from the nearest shipping facility or dealer.

It can also be a hassle to find a good gunsmith who can work on a specific firearm. If a mechanism is complex but common, a local gunsmith might be able to help, but servicing smaller brand names can become a daunting prospect.

Take, for example, the recent Remington 700 trigger recall. Some Remington owners sent their rifles back, while others took the opportunity to upgrade their rifles with a better, safer aftermarket trigger. All these people needed to accomplish the fix was a hammer and a punch.

Lots of gun owners think, if it came out of the factory, why change it? Why fix what isn’t broken? The reason for changing out an already functional part is that what’s “perfect” for one person might be lacking for another. A firearm is a tool, and the tool that suits the situation is the best tool for the job.

Non-user serviceable firearms seriously limit the capabilities of the tool. That’s because there are fewer — or sometimes no — aftermarket parts available.

In the article “Modern Rifles: Over-Engineered and Over-Whelming” by John Barsness (Rifle Sporting Firearms Journal, November 2014), Alaskan guides recount many of the shortcomings of the rifles their clients have brought into the field. One major potential failure point for these rifles is their trigger assemblies. While the design keeps dust and dirt out, the salt in the Alaskan air makes its way into the assembly and quickly rusts the small parts. On the other hand, older rifles with simpler mechanisms tend to still function in those harsh Alaskan conditions.

Factory triggers may be sufficient for 90% of customers, but there will always be those with particular needs and wants. There’s no reason for gun companies not to accommodate that. When a firearm can only be reconfigured or repaired by the factory, it limits the owner’s options, and who might purchase it.

There’s always room in this world for firearms that are enigmatic, Rube Goldberg contraptions. Odd balls and idiosyncratic. The problem isn’t that there are complex firearms on the market; the problem is that some of these designs have been pushed outside of their niche and into the broader mainstream use. The result of this has been a lo of firearms that are “one-size fits most”. They may fit, but they don’t necessarily fit well.

comments

  1. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Business is about business, is about making money, is about driving revenue. The more the customer can manage, the less opportunity to open new revenue streams for the manufacturer. Gun manufacturers are late to the game. Auto industry refined the practice of making products difficult or expensive to alter/customize at home.

    ‘Murica.

    1. avatar Lew Tripp says:

      You got it, Sam

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        Blind squirrel, and all that.

    2. avatar Jonathan-Houston says:

      That’s grossly oversimplified. True, some companies do try to lock in future revenue streams. That’s done with complex engineering to crowd out the home enthusiast, as you mentioned. It’s also done with proprietary parts and tools, too. Still, open source–and not just in software–is a thing. A big thing.

      The market deals with proprietary products, either by rejecting the cupidinous company and their too cute by half practices or forcing them to open up. Take Sony’s NW-HD1 audio player from the mid-2000s. Sleek, slick aluminum case and 20 gig memory in a small package (for its time). Problem: No mp3s, no WAVs, and no WMAs, only accepted a proprietary ATRAC3 format. Never heard of it? Exactly.

      Other times the market embraces it, as with Glock. First thing people ask about any PCC is “Does it accept Glock magazines?” Hell, I even made a joke a few weeks back by asking that in a comment for a revolver review.

      Really the bottom line is that, yes, people will try to get away with what they can. Sometimes, in an $800-1,000 rifle like this Browning, the market expects it to be something of a best in class already, with no customization required or even desired. Browning is cool with that.

      In the AR market, that’s a no-go. “Barbie doll for men” is a saying for a reason. Open source works when the business model anticipates a wide and long lasting installed base of a somewhat basic, all-purpose product, with numerous aftermarket options becoming an attractive complement to the product. Think Internet browsers and ARs.

      Where proprietary makes more sense, in general, is when the product has a more solitary purpose. Think Skype, iTunes, and TrackingPoint and CornerShot rifles. Allowing too much end-user fiddling around will compromise the product’s integrity and thwart its effectiveness. People will blame the product, not themselves, so that’s why they get engineered out of the picture from the beginning. It’s also why such changes will void your warranty and license and forfeit your right to sue.

  2. avatar daveinwyo says:

    former USASF weapons specialist. HATE guns I cant strip down to frame. rifles especially. pistols either work or don’t. the old all metal pistols were able to be striped to the frame. ie 1911 or similar. the new plastic ones {I have several} are almost throw-away . yes, especially gastons crap. if you want a throw-away why pay over $350-375?

    1. avatar Prudiikal says:

      the only “plastic” guns i like are the fn fnx 45, fn 509, and fn 5.7. and the first 2 are only plastic lowers with everything else metal (some more plastic on the 509 then the fnx, but not by much)

      1. avatar daveinwyo says:

        love me some sig226 otherwise its ruger. reliable, easy to use and not priced like glock. if glock is so “perfect” why do they keep making new gens? in the same calibers?

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          ” if glock is so “perfect” why do they keep making new gens? in the same calibers?”

          *sigh*

          Never seen “New! Improved!” on a box of laundry soap?

          Were you aware there is for all practical purposes just a *tiny* difference between it and old laundry soap’s chemical ‘formula’.?

          Ever wonder why?

          Human nature is to want something newer, for no reason other than the fact it’s newer.

          Manufacturers are happy to sell them something newer.

          As for Glock specifically, they have been known to listen to customer feedback on how their pistols can be improved, in their determination…

    2. avatar Michael in AK says:

      That is Funny! A Glock is easy to strip and work on. A 1911 is harder and holds so few rounds you might as well carry a revolver. Top quality 1911s are silly expensive for something archaic, heavy and carrying far too few rounds….

      Model Ts where absolutely the best vehicle of their time…so were 1911 when Patton was a pup!
      Guess that’s why we have choices.

      1. avatar Gutshot says:

        Good lord. Another one doesn’t get it. Timex or Rolex?

        1. avatar Big Bill says:

          Timex or Rolex? Are you serious?
          For he vast majority, if those are the two choices, then it is Timex.
          Why? Because most of us want a thing that tells time, reasonably accurately. While both do that, the price is vastly different between the two.
          For the price of a few Timexes over my life, I can get the time, while not spending the money to get one Rolex that will, probably last my lifetime, but at the cost of several (a lot?) of lifetimes of Timexes.
          What does that Rolex get me that the Timex doesn’t? While some offer things the Timex doesn’t, and, let’s be honest, most people certainly don’t need, the main thing Rolex offers is recognition of status. And that’s something the vast majority really don’t care about. Obviously, a lot do (we know that because Rolex and similar brands are still in business), but not the vast majority.
          For that majority, Timex is just fine.

      2. avatar ironicatbest says:

        By golly , I’d trade my beloved 1911 for a running Model T anyday except apocalypse.

        1. avatar John in AK says:

          You’d probably be sorry. The Model T was an absolute BEAST, a deathtrap that burned gas like it was free, spewed oil from every pore, had a weird pedal-controlled 2-speed transmission and no electric starter, regular-glass windshield and the gas tank under the seats.
          Think of one as a 1911 that would break your arm if you pulled the trigger incorrectly, occasionally wouldn’t fire at all, and would kill you at its first opportunity.
          Bad trade. . .

  3. avatar I said stop staring a me! says:

    OK, now you’ve done it you got me started on a rant.
    Take servicing a transmission, most MFG’s state “sealed for life” or require you go to the dealer because the vehicle doesn’t have a dipstick.
    Not to mention EVERY F’ING car manufacturer has their own super special proprietary tranny fluid (at least 12 types) and if you use Dexron/mercon III your tranny will blow up.

  4. avatar RCC says:

    Fully agree –
    I have a 30 year old German bolt action .22 from I made replacement magazine catch for in less than 30 minutes over 10 years ago.

    Could take apart FN FAL battle rifle designed in the 1950’s without tools for most things and one screw driver for the rest.

    My latest modern rifle bought last year says don’t touch aside from basic cleaning.

  5. avatar Captain says:

    CZ for the win. The metal-framed hammer-fired pistols can be easily disassembled with only a few punches. With Cajun Gun Works and CZ Custom providing quality parts these guns are a dream to upgrade or service.

    1. avatar Manse Jolly says:

      Thats where I sent my CZ. I recommend 100%. Cajun Gun

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      I believe that CZ makes some of the best bang:buck firearms left in the market that aren’t injection-molded crap.

    3. avatar Timothy says:

      That’s another recommendation for CZ and Cajun Gun Works from me. I sent them a Canik clone of the CZ compact and it’s trigger is now as smooth as most revolvers and fine tuned for my preferences. It’s my EDC and I won’t give it up. I’m about to send Cajun a CZ 75 Pre-B for an overhaul and refinishing.

  6. avatar Flinch says:

    Wow, what a bunch of whiny babies. Serviceable parts are one thing but limiting design and performance due to user-replaceable parts is another. People freaked when Apple locked down the innards of their laptops. The crybabies wanted to upgrade them later. Apple wanted to solder everything into the motherboard. Now look at laptops. Most are all solid state and tiny, and reliable, and have great battery life, and light as snot.

    I’ve been shooting an x-bolt for years, and an a-bolt before that. I’d take that Browning design over a 700 any day. Just because I cannot pull it apart with a pocket knife in the field does not mean anything. In fact the performance and reliability of the x-bolt demands that the design and engineering work towards the point of the gun, not the barbie nature of a gun owner who cut his teeth on a tinker toy AR.

    If you want a clunky pull apart gun to play with on your dining room table, there are many options. But if you want to actually shoot an accurate and precision machine, then that’s a different route. Unless you want a franken gun with modularity bolted onto every corner.

    1. avatar Stereodude says:

      And competing non-Apple laptops are just as small and light if not smaller and lighter and still have some user upgradeable parts.

  7. avatar Mark N. says:

    I have a modern Winchester 1892, mostly John Brwoning’s design but with the addition of two “safety” features: a “rebounding” hammer to prevent drop fires and a wrist mounted safety switch. There ARE NO instructions for doing anything but cleaning the barrel and dumping oil in all the right places. There is a specific instruction to the owner to NOT try to do further disassembly, and therefore there is no way to disassemble, clean and lube the inner levers. Heck, I can’t even find a good diagram of the inner workings of this model, only of the original. I would love to dismantle the safety so that I could mount a rear peephole sight, but I dare not. Maybe one day I’ll send it down to Doug Turnbull, who, among other services, has a retrofit to remove the safety. And maybe he can improve the heavy, stiff trigger pull too.

  8. avatar Quasimofo says:

    The X-bolt isn’t the only Browning firearm with this issue. In my experience, Browning doesn’t want users stripping down the BPS, BLR, or BAR beyond cleaning the barrel. Having looked at the guts of the BLR and BAR, I can understand why they want Average Joe to stay out – the designers clearly didn’t consider end user serviceability. Try finding a gunsmith who’s confident enough to do a trigger job on a BLR…they’re out there, but it takes some searching.

  9. avatar Mark says:

    I’ve bought both homes and cars that have been “upgraded “ by previous owners & those were universally disappointing – so much so that even used guns with no signs of “upgrades” have little value & anything that has obviously been tinkered with in any way has $0 value to me.

    I’ll gladly take a sealed gun & might even buy a used one.

  10. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    ‘…a great many of today’s fi rearms are designed with the mentality that they should only be serviced by a company-ordained technician.’

    You c an thank the trial lawyers for that. Companies don’t like having to fork over millions of $$$ for somebody else’s sc rew up. About the only thing you c an do about it is to vote Republican because next to unions the trial lawyers are the Demonkkkrats biggest donors. Which is why the one thing they didn’t dare touch with Obamacare was tort reform, even though that’s the single biggest factor in rising health care costs.

  11. avatar Southern Cross says:

    Looking at an old school trigger mechanism such as the 96 and 98 model Mausers and Lee-Enfield compared to a modern gun, the recent offerings look like they were made by a watch maker who didn’t want anyone to tinker with their perfection.

  12. avatar BLAMMO says:

    This is why the AR pattern rifle is the state-of-the-art of the modern rifle. It’s easy to clean, maintain, diagnose and repair. It’s easy to build and easy to customize for the user, by the user.

  13. avatar Joshua Prather says:

    I absolutely understand where the writer is coming from. However, as a gunsmith and armoror I see far too many bubbas who cant be botherd to buy the correct tool try to work on high end guns, (or heck, lets face it, even low end guns) screw something up, expect me to fix it right then and there, and complain about the the cost and time it takes me to do it. Then say something along the lines of “well i coulda done that if i had that tool, why should I pay you for that?”. So I honestly can appreciate why a company like Browning would rather you call them with an issue rather than warranty fix something someone bubba’d up. Just my 2 cents.

    1. avatar William S says:

      This in its entirety. Proprietary gun parts can be a pain no doubt, having to grind custom screwdrivers and such to properly strip the gun. But seeing some of things Bubba has done I don’t blame gun companies too much. For examples:

      1. JB welding a scope to a piece of sheet metal, which was JB welded to the action. Complained that it wasn’t holding zero and didn’t want to spend $40 on decent rings (rimfire).

      2. Break action single barrel shotgun with a cracked reciever. Wanted to go shoot it, we had at the time of drop off informed the customer we would do cosmetic work but the gun would not be shot – we informed them that if they intended to shoot it it wasn’t going back to them after we touched it because we’d be on the hook when it blew up.

      3. Revolver with six bullets stacked in the barrel – wondered why the cylinder was jammed up (last bullet was across the barrel/cylinder gap).

      4. Homebuilt ARs, with gun show parts. Jesus they’re bad.

      5. Complaining that installing a Timney in a surplus rifle, original stock, requires opening the stock up. Sorry, I can’t control how Timney makes their triggers.

      6. Rifle with action rusted shut, wanted us to get it running for less than $50. Now when I say rusted shut, it took us 45 minutes of work and a lot of heat and Kroil just to open the action much less make it functional.

      7. “Adjust the sights for me, it’s hitting low and left”. No, that’s probably just you.

    2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Most of the modern firearms manufactures are using manufacturing technologies that will eventually make guns disposable – because it will be cheaper to buy a replacement than to pay a competent gunsmith to work on it.

      Bubbas: Don’t get me started on a rant. I tell people the test of whether someone is a gunsmith or not is whether they will make or buy the correct tool for the job, starting with screwdrivers and punches. If someone can’t be bothered to get the correct screwdriver for the screwhead in question, they’re not a gunsmith. One of the first things I teach my students is how to select the proper screwdriver, why you pay up (in money or time) to get the correct screwdriver on a gun, how to make your own screwdrivers from (eg) O-1 drill rod, etc.

      There are lots of jobs where I have to make tools. At some point with the modern design methodologies, it makes a decreasing amount of economic sense/return to bother working on new firearms with these “factory only” designs, where the factory’s usual MO is replacement of a module rather than working on it at all.

      1. avatar Joshua Prather says:

        A bit off topic but It’s always nice to commiserate with people who understand your language! I once had to build a custom breech plug wrench for a customer who brought me a weird old generic inline black powder gun. Knowing it was going to be a one-off i didn’t waste the customers time and money locating good steel and setting up to machine it, instead found an old screwdriver of the right size and ground out where needed with a thin grinding wheel. Probably saved him 100 dollars or so, but still took me 3/4 of an hour. (keep in mind the gun was a loss already, with powder and ball in the chamber for God knows how long and the breech had deep pits from it. Once i got it apart the the remains of the patch were unrecognizable for being so rotted.) But he wanted to save his grandfathers antique ram rod he had gotten stuck trying to dislodge the load. He complained endlessly that the tool didn’t look professional enough for him, and that I was charging far to much for “a dirt simple job that should’ve taken a competent gunsmith 15 minutes” He not only refused to pay me (until i told he he wouldn’t get the ram rod back until he did), but got his wife to give me a hard time about the extra hours labor on their bill. This business wouldn’t be worth it except for how much It’s worth it!

  14. avatar ACP_arms says:

    “the salt in the Alaskan air makes its way into the assembly and quickly rusts the small parts. On the other hand, older rifles with simpler mechanisms tend to still function in those harsh Alaskan conditions.”

    I will admit first off that I have no experience with salty climates and firearms. How is it having your rifle in salty Alaska air for a week or two going to rust up on you and make the gun inoperable? It sounds more like a lack of overall care for the gun then being in Alaska.

    1. avatar John in AK says:

      Yeah, I’m unaware of any particularly ‘salty’ air in Alaska except near the ocean or in certain bars that I am not brave enough to patronize.
      Maybe the fellow meant ‘silt.’ There ARE a lot of glaciers, and where there are glaciers, there is ‘silt.’ But, no ‘salt.’
      In any event, my rifles, shotguns, and handguns do not seem to be turning into rustcicles internally, and I live within 2 miles of salt water. Maybe it’s because the water is so cold, it doesn’t evaporate and take the salt with it inland. Or something. Because science.
      Or maybe he means that one shouldn’t take a rifle into the Salty Dog Saloon in Homer, where the language can be a little coarse at times. . .

  15. avatar Mike Smith says:

    I believe a lot of the lack of access to internals and reduced information in owners manuals is due to product liability concerns. Companies are always looking at ways to limit their liability exposure, now that anyone can sue anyone else for anything. An ejector is under spring tension. If Jethro tries to free his stuck ejector himself and winds up with an ejector plunger in his eye, it’s going to get expensive real quick. Even though Jethro did not follow instructions (wear eye protection when working on your firearm), a jury is going to be very sympathetic to him, sitting on the witness stand with his eye patch.

    I write users manuals for the firearms industry. The first two or three pages of any manuals these days is nothing but big red warnings. A lack of personal responsibility and a litigious society have lead us to where we are now.

  16. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    And now you see why I’m such a fan of the pre-64 Winchester Model 70 and Mauser 98 rifles. You can work on anything and everything on these rifles, and aside from a few screwdrivers and punches, you need few tools. The Mauser 98 needs very few tools to be able to tear it down to the smallest parts in the entire rifle.

    The first rifle design where the user needed to start consulting a gunsmith or the factory was the Remington 700. As soon as you started having trouble with Remington’s idiotic extractor in the 700’s bolt, most people were out of their level of expertise and tooling. Then the aftermarket decided that the Rem700 extractor was a piece of crap, and they decided to retrofit the Sako extractor, and then the AR-15’s extractor.

    The worst part about these modular triggers will be that it will cost the gun owner more to replace it on a modular basis rather than adjust or stone a trigger group to attain a better trigger pull. Classic rifle designs (The M70, M98, etc) had such simple trigger designs that were so easily adjustable, and an hour in the hands of a competent gunsmith could yield just about any reasonable trigger pull. Since the Rem700 fiasco, now the industry trend is a modular trigger. Want a different trigger pull, or a crisper pull? Take the module out, throw it away, put in an aftermarket trigger module, which also cannot be stoned. eg, Timney triggers are OK, but the older units which could be taken apart could be stoned to make them better.

    At the rate the industry is going, there will be an entire generation of rifles where it won’t be worth putting on a new barrel when the factory barrel is shot out. It will be more economic to just toss the rifle in the scrap heap and buy a new one. The cost of a quality rifle barrel is almost what the rifle costs, and the cost of the new barrel plus the expense of having it chambered, screwed in and headspaced will easily exceed the cost of a new rifle.

  17. avatar ironicatbest says:

    I’m no gun smith but I’ve fixed s lot of guns, just like cars the old ones are easier for me to fix. The last firearm I worked on was a HiPoint, not really hard to work on but they is some Mickey Mouse parts in them for sure. I’m guessing most new guns are proprietary parts and company gunsmithsing are the liabilities involved

  18. avatar ColdNorth says:

    This is especially important for non-American gun owners. In Canada, for example, warranty service is difficult at best. Many importers skimp on providing it, and waiting on special parts takes a long time. On the other side, a simple design like the Mauser 98, with readily available parts is something a local gunsmith can sort out in short order. It costs a bit more initially (if buying new), but the payoff is longer service- which is important around here.

    In fairness to Browning, at least that isn’t at Winchester Model 88 level of complexity.

  19. avatar Bob says:

    Excellent perspective, Dan…the epitome of this is the automotive industry – want/need to fix your vehicle? Don’t go to Pep Boys or AutoZone – take it to your friendly neighborhood HonToyChrysFordolet dealer, and they will take care of it – for $125/hour.

  20. avatar Don from CT says:

    The extractor came apart on my Smith and Wesson M&P 15-22. I called S&W and spoke to the nice man. He wanted me to ship the ENTIRE RIFLE back to him.

    I said all I needed was a pin and a spring, since those were lost when it came apart. No he said.

    So I asked for a new bolt. Nope.

    Instead, S&W emailed me a shipping label and sent me an empty box. Which I used to send back to S&W, on their dime. I was a happy customer. But still left shaking my head at the stupidity.

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