Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reviews of my book, Blood on My Hands

Writing a book can be a parlous activity:  alone on uncharted waters, trying to ignore self-doubt, discovering that what you thought you knew when you began to write has evaporated like the morning fog,  it's easy to begin thinking about giving it all up.  And when you actually have the book in hand, the silence is all but deafening.  You ask yourself, Was it really worth it?  That's when a positive review can lift your spirits.

Here is the link to one by Steve Bodio (who also wrote a blurb for the book) on his blog Querenciahttp://stephenbodio.blogspot.com, November 23, 2014.

And here is the link to the ones on Amazon, so far all five star reviews: 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Remodeling a BRNO Mauser, Part 6

I've made some progress since my last post.  I've swapped out the military two stage trigger for a Timney, which necessitated some inletting for the larger trigger mechanism.  I have added a Talley barrel band for a sling swivel.  I happily paid $15 to get it professionally blued (it was sent as part of a batch from a local gunsmith and was back in a week), so it's a much better match with the bluing on the barrel than a cold blued band would be.

I've also substituted an "Extended Floorplate Release" for the military one.  It's available from Midway.  This is simple to do:  just drive out the pin visible below in the upper left corner.  There's a spring in there, so guard against its flying across the shop.  I had to file a bit to get the release to fit properly.  If you also cut a coil off the release spring, it makes it easier to release or replace the floorplate.

A new-in-the-box Lyman 18C front sight ramp came from E-bay ($10); it's a screw-on sight, but for a different size screw than the holes already tapped in the barrel, so I glued it to the barrel with Black Max (be advised, this sets up fast).  After doing some math, I ordered a front sight insert from Lyman.  A bit of filing with a triangular file on the insert (not on the ramp) resulted in a fine fit.  In a departure from tradition, I chose a fiber optic green bead.  Granted, the woods where I hunt whitetails are filled with hemlocks and white pine, but deer in late fall are a grayish brown, so the green should show up well.  More on that later.

Stockwork:  First came sanding and whiskering (wetting the wood with hot water to raise the grain, drying it, then sanding the whiskers off against the grain) through 320 grit.  I used sanding blocks whenever possible.  The difference between a first-class finishing job and a sloppy one lies in the sanding. Then came dyeing with a 2-2-1 mixture of dark walnut, red mahogany, and antique cherry dyes. (Let me emphasize the use of dyes, not stains which obscure the grain; they can be purchased at any decent woodworking supply house in powdered form, which you mix with water.  One source is Woodcraft.)  Try to be pleased when that first application of dye reveals blemishes you hadn't noticed.  After all, it's better to see them now rather than later.  Sand and whisker again, and then dye once more.  Repeat as necessary.

Given that the dye is water based, this may mean that you will have to do a final whiskering after dyeing the stock--I typically cut the whiskers off with the next finer grade of sandpaper, which in this case was 400 grit, going against the grain.  If you're going to checker the stock, make sure you've saved some of the dye to color the checkering.  I then applied two coats of  alkanet oil (if you want to make your own, see my post alkanet oil).  The alkanet oil should be applied sparingly, well rubbed in, and let dry for several days.  It's additive, so if you want it a bit darker, add another coat.  Make sure that no surplus remains on the surface of the stock.

Filling the Pores and Finishing:  When I can no longer smell the alkanet oil on the wood, the stock is ready for finishing.  I first applied two coats of marine spar varnish as a sealer (not that wood can ever be thoroughly sealed).  The first coat was thinned with mineral spirits.  Then I rubbed down lightly with 0000 steel wool.  Any hardware store will have some, but I prefer the extra fine oil-free steel wool sold by Lee Valley.  If the wood has really large pores, you may want to use a filler.  I've used Herter's French Red filler in the past, and it works.  Now, unless the pores are crater-like, I fill the pores by sanding in the finish. 

I have tried a variety of finishes and have settled on TruOil.  As with any finish, apply thin coats. I applied two coats of TruOil and then sanded in the third.  Typically, I use 320 or 400 grit. I wet a small portion of the stock with TruOil and then rubbed the sandpaper gently with the grain until the finish was almost dry.  Then, on to the next area.   A day later, I rubbed down the stock with 0000 steel wool.  I got rid of the steel wool particles by burning them off over my kitchen's gas stove (I have, fortunately, an understanding wife).  The pores were shallower but still visible, so I built up two more coats of TruOil and sanded in the following coat.  That filled the pores.  Another rubdown with 0000 steel wool and another coat of TruOil resulted in a finish you could see your face in.

I personally don't care for that high gloss, so I rubbed down the finish.  Tradition calls for using pumice or rottenstone, but I've found that auto rubbing compound works well and is cheap and readily available.  Just follow the directions, and as ever, use a light touch.  (If that finish isn't shiny enough for your taste, rub it down with--ready for this?--auto polishing compound.)  Wipe it down carefully and let it sit overnight.

At this point, either I apply two thin coats of furniture wax and buff it by hand, or a coat of alkanet oil, well rubbed in with the palm of your hand.  

The next post will deal with ways I've found to make checkering less error-prone.

Lee Valley

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Lure of the Falcon, by Gerald Summers

The Lure of the Falcon (Simon and Schuster, 1972) is a memoir in which Gerald Summers moves from his love for nature as a boy in pre-World War II England to an account of his experiences in battle in North Africa, his being wounded and captured by the Germans, flown to a POW camp in Sicily, his escape with four others and their recapture, and then his subsequent experiences in other Italian and then German POW camps until he is liberated by the Americans. 

Such a bald account does little to describe what can only be called an extraordinary book.  In the first place, it is imbued with a love for nature.  Although he never mentions the guidebooks he must have begun memorizing as a boy, he apparently could instantly identify any moth, bird, or butterfly that crossed his path.  And many of these he brought home with him.  He also acquires an wonderful bitch, Bracken, that goes with him everywhere and eventually finds the injured female kestrel he nurses back to health and names Cressida.

So far, this is the sort of book someone like Gerald Durrell could have written.  What makes The Lure of the Falcon unique is that Summers enlists in the British Army's Sherwood Foresters, the 4th Regiment of Foot, and calmly takes both Bracken and Cressida with him to basic training.  He then leaves Bracken with his mother, but he stuffs Cressida in his battle jacket and off they go to war.  Cressida becomes a kind of talisman, in fact, for the Foresters.

And there are indeed grounds for thinking that Cressida brings him luck. Wounded in a German assault first by a bullet and then by the explosion of a rifle grenade, he is captured and forced to remove his jacket so his multiple wounds can be attended to.  And there, "with her great lambent eyes scrutinizing the foe, sat Cressida."  Summers fully expects Nemesis to strike, but the German medical officer is staring at Cressida with an expression of rapture.  At last he breaks the complete silence, "Ah," says he, "ein Turmfalke," and all the Germans immediately relax.  It turns out that the German doctor had been a practicing falconer, and he even pulls out a photo of his goshawk to prove it.  And when Summers is shipped out, the MO brings him a tin with three mice in it so he can feed Cressida en route.

On another occasion, following his recapture in Sicily after an escape attempt, he is thrust at bayonet point into an interrogation with an officer of the Gestapo.  His interrogator stops barking questions at him when he spots a suspicious bulge in Summers' jacket.  He grabs Summers and thrusts his hand into his jacket, presumably thinking he will find a pocket radio.  The Gestapo officer yelps and quickly withdraws his hand, dripping with blood.  Summers then pulls Cressida out of his jacket:  she is mantling, her eyes glowing like red coals.  The Gestapo officer retreats.  Nobody says a word, but when Summers dares to look at the other Germans, all of them are trying to suppress their laughter.

Summers has to endure much as a POW, but he does endure.  After Cressida and he finally are liberated by the American troops, he can keep the promise he made to her when they embarked for North Africa:  he brings her safely home, back to a reunion with Bracken and his mother.  Such an ending could easily be sentimental, but Summers's understated prose instead makes us rejoice with him at their newfound freedom.