We keep trying to get TTAG commentator Dyspeptic Gunsmith to write for us. He insists he doesn’t have the time…and then posts articulate, insightful material in the comments section. Go figure. So here’s DP’s take on the genius of John Moses Browning . . .
What most people fail to appreciate about JMB’s design output is this: not every gun was a “clean sheet.” John Moses Browning (insert Mormon Tabernacle Choir giving a rousing chorus of Handel’s Messiah here) was a consummately smart man – meaning, he “stole” features from his previous guns that solved problems in firearms design and used those ideas in later guns.
Take apart the lever-operated rifles. Lay them out, side-by-side. You see the evolution happening there.
Take apart the 1903, 1908 and then the 1911. You can see the evolution happening in there.
Take apart the 1911. Look at the sear/trigger spring. Take apart a 1918 BAR. Look at the sear/trigger spring. Very similar.
Take apart the A5. Look at the way it recoils to throw the breech block back and get hooked, then released. Now see how the M2’s barrel recoils and throws the breech block back… same sort of idea.
Browning was one of the few gun designers to realize that ALL firearms need to solve four problems:
1. Firing the cartridge.
2. Extract the spent case, dump it overboard.
3. Re-set the lockwork to enable the trigger/firing pin to set off the next cartridge.
4. Grab a new cartridge, load it into the chamber, locking the chamber shut.
That’s it. That’s what all guns have to do when operating, regardless of whether they’re falling block, bolt action, short recoil, long recoil, blowback, gas operated, etc. All guns have to do the same things.
Now, the difference between various actions is “how much human intervention happens between steps 1, 2, 3 and 4.” For example, on the Browning Superposed, the cartridges are fired, then the gun has to be broken open and the hinging action of opening the action actuates the ejectors, kicking out the spent shells. The lockwork is reset when the action is hinged open. Now a human has to stuff new cartridges into the chambers and re-close the action.
A 1911, 1903, 1908 have similar ideas of how to do this, and the 1919, 1918 BAR and M2 have different ideas of how to do this, all with much more automation.
Browning was a guy who realized this demarcation of operations inside a gun and, once having solved one of these steps in a previous design, he’d sometimes lift ideas and solutions to the issues of any one of these steps into a new design.
Most other firearms designers come up with a whole new design for everything in their gun, and then fail to think of how they can adapt what they’ve already done in one gun into a new gun. Eugene Stoner was a modern exception to this rule.