The Bullshooter

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

FAS Semi Autos

I recently had a request from a friend in NY for some guidance in making a FAS Rapid Fire pistol function reliably. I thought this would be a good opportunity to detail tricks of the trade for all of the FAS and Domino semis, as they each have their little quirks.

There are relatively few FAS pistols being used on a regular basis in the States. Those who know them, generally love them, but they do have reliability problems. Much like an expensive Italian sports car, when they go, they really go. When they decide to be hateful, they can be infuriating.

Domino was the original company, starting production in the 70s, and they changed their name to FAS (Fabrica Armi Sportive from memory, but my Italian is not that great) in the mid-80s. They are based in Milan, Italy. Various companies have imported them over the years, but their reliability in both function and for spare parts supply was sporadic, so importers did not last very long. Nobody has acted as their agent for almost 10 years now.

The basic design of their semis has not changed drastically since the first model was introduced. It features a top-loaded magazine that allows more rake angle in the grip without losing barrel length like the forward-mounted mag pistols (Walther GSP, Pardini, Benelli, Hammerli 280 and SP20, etc). Companies like Britarms, Unique (with the DES96U) and now Walther (with its SSP) have tried to emulate this format, with varying success. Trigger is designed to have a long rolling release, with either two or three stages. This is excellent for sustained or rapid fire, especially since the pistols point so well. The late Donald Hamilton apparently loved his 603 Center Fire pistol, and recent Olympian John McNally used a 601 Rapid Fire for many years.

I'll start by listing specific traits of each model, and end with problems common to all models.

Domino and FAS 601 22 Short Rapid Fire

Choice of ammunition is probably the biggest factor. The 601 does not like a lot of brands of 22 Short ammo. Obviously you should stick with target or standard velocity, as high velocity could lead to damaging the slide. Fiocchi ammo is most reliable, followed by RWS. CCI Standard and Winchester Rapid Fire Black (may not be available here in the States) can work okay, but here's the twist. It needs lubrication.

Contrary to all that is accepted in shooting, it seems that some Rapid Fire pistols function more reliably with oiled ammo. Many top shooters (when 22 Short was still used for Rapid Fire) would load their magazine, then take an oil bottle and put a drop on the middle of the top round before inserting the mag into the pistol. Obviously with the top-loading FAS you could do so after it was inserted, just before letting the slide forward. This extra lubrication seemed to allow the rounds to more reliably seat in the chamber. This fixes a bunch of FAS symptoms; the misfeeding, failure to properly eject, and most commonly the light strike (see below for more on that).

Also, some ammo comes with a hard, gummy lube. This can gum up the action and cause all manner of feeding problems. The drop of oil may not be enough to overcome this. It may be necessary to clean the bulk of the lube off the outside of the ammo before use. Dumping the packet into an old tea towel and a light spray of WD40, followed by a quick towel rub generally fixes the problem.

Domino 602, FAS 602 and FAS 607 22LR Sport/Standard Pistol

No surprise that the 22LR version is also very ammunition sensitive. Many people still maintain FAS stands for Fussy As S**t. In general it does not like American ammo. I have had most success with SK, Lapua, RWS, Eley, PMC and Aguila. CCI does give problems, and it seems to have a lot to do with the overall length of the bullet. The longer ammo rubs its lubricated nose against the inside of the mag body, leaving a buildup that slows down the upward movement. Obviously this results in mis-feeds.

For late model 602 and all 607 guns, the factory came out with a modified follower, that had a pin protruding out front to run up the inside of the mag body. This stopped the follower from fouling on the bullet lube buildup.

FAS 603 Center Fire 32 S&W Long Wadcutter

The most reliable of all the FAS autos, the only advice I have specific to this model is related to the reloads you may develop. In my experience it is a waste of time trying to get a decent group out of a solid base wadcutter. It seems hollow based are the best option for accuracy.

There is a tendency for the 32 to loosen screws. Something in the vibration under recoil, always double check grip screws and the front sight screw before a match.

All Models

Make sure you hold your hand over the mag when pressing the mag release button. It can easily ping out and hit the floor, possibly damaging the feed lips.

If you ever take a shot without the mag inserted, remember that the empty will now be sitting in the base of the mag well. The ejector is part of the mag. So the next time you try to insert a mag, it won't go in, and you will look like a goose when the range office comes over and finally works out what the problem is. Speaking from prior experience...

Getting light strikes does not mean the hammer spring must be replaced. This happens very rarely. In most cases the slide is not going forward completely, so when the hammer hits it pushes the round the last little bit into the chamber. Of course then the strike looks light. But the problem can be caused by a partial misfeed (which can also be in turn caused by the mag problem mentioned above) or a weak slide spring. If neither of these fixes the problem, the feed ramp may need to be polished, or in some cases filed to a more gradual angle so the nose of the bullet does not push up too quickly and foul on the top lip of the chamber.

If one mag is not reliable, you may compare the feed lips to see if one has been bent out of shape.

When adjusting the trigger it is possible to have too little first stage, or takeup movement. If you shorten this movement too much, the trigger transfer bar does not have room to reset itself, and the trigger will simply not engage.

When the gun gets a lot of fouling, there could be a problem with the trigger not re-setting itself. If you squeeze the trigger and there is nothing there (no stages, and nothing happens), chances are if you release and pull, release and pull a few times, it will eventually fire. When this happens, the slot that the trigger transfer bar slides along will have a buildup of possibly carbon and gun oil, creating a sticky paste. This paste prevents the bar from springing upwards to re-set and come into contact with the sear pin. It is simply a matter of stripping the pistol and cleaning the slot inside the frame. Of course, if you let it get to that stage, you may have a costly alibi in a match. It pays not to use too thick a gun oil; a light coating of a light oil is best.

I hope this brief guide is helpful. For more info on sight and trigger adjustments for all FAS pistols, see the Pilkguns TenP Files.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Where Do All the Juniors Go?

Apart from sounding like a new verse to an old Bob Dillon song, I'm sure this rings true for many of the shooting disciplines.

There are thousands of junior rifle programs all over the US, which lead to numerous National Championships for both precision and sporter rifle shooting, leading to NCAA rifle shooting in college, from which a lot of America's best shooters of today have emerged.

Pistol has less framework, but USA Shooting and NRA both are fostering the growth of junior programs. The Junior Olympics are gaining momentum (as is the pistol section of the NRA Airgun Nationals), and of course pistol is a collegiate sport sponsored by the NRA.

Out of all the thousands of kids who participate in these programs, how many of them stay with the sport? Should we not be knee deep in twentysomethings at our clubs? Why does it seem every year that our active shooters are getting older? Is all the time and money poured into junior programs a complete waste of time?

A long time ago I was one of those juniors. Actually, that's not entirely true. In New Zealand at that time I was pretty much a lonely junior. From age 11 to 15 I was active at club level, then until age 20 I was active in any major competition within 500 miles, as well as a few Internationals. In junior ranks I was a big fish, and amongst adult shooters I could pretty much hold my own, but was no threat to the big players. On turning 21 I fell victim to the myriad of life changes that come with coming of age. Having to pay my own way in the big world. Trying to find direction and stability in the workplace. Discovering that there are not so many hours in the day when you don't have a live-in cook and laundry service. Trying to fathom the greatest of all mysteries, the female psyche. On top of that, after years of winning matches, becoming an also-ran.

Luckily for me I stayed licensed, and shot for fun occasionally at my local range. I also stayed close to the sport after I started working in the gun trade. But it was to be ten years later that I regained my competitive edge and started competing again in earnest.

Maybe it's true that attrition due to coming of age is a natural thing. When lifestyle and circumstances change, many of them may come back to our sport. But even if they don't, all is not lost.

Even if not one of them ever fire another shot down range, they will have been educated about the true nature of target shooting. They will be well-versed in firearm safety, and will be a positive influence on everybody they come into contact with in this regard. One day they too will be parents. Every one of them is a walking and talking advocate for the positive side of gun ownership, and their cumulative value in neutralizing media hysteria on this issue is priceless.