One Orbit Closer

I received my Arrow antenna today. It is trivial to assemble and seems really well designed and built.

Knowing I would be using two radios to achieve duplex operation, I ordered it without a duplexer. However, I failed to order any BNC cabling with it and I don’t have any BNC connectors to make the necessary cabling, so, I packed it down into it’s handy portable bag, ordered what I will need and began the next stage of waiting.

And Sputnik Was His Name-O

I received my MFJ-1866 discone antenna. Assembly was trivial, basically screw all the elements into the right holes, short ones on top, long ones on bottom. It looks as much like Goddard’s early work as an antenna.

I mused that it looked like Sputnik and my wife has already called it Sputnik (as in, “Are you going to move Sputnik out of the bedroom?”

Sputnik it is.

I did screw up my order, though. I had toyed back and forth with what coax I was ordering and ended up with the unintended product in my cart in the end. I ordered a 50′ jumper of 400MAX, which is awesome cable, but it’s 1/2″ diameter stuff and I had intended to get much thinner RG-8X as there will be a 6-8 foot bit of it showing… INSIDE THE HOUSE! It’s not like I’ll never have a use for the 400MAX, so I’m conflicted on whether to jump through the returns hoops, but delays delays delays. I *may* have some RG-58 laying about already, leftovers from a trapped dipole antenna project I started at the old house. There is a box in the storage container that says “ANT TRAPS” that has been misinterpreted by more than one person.

I did connect the discone with a short cable to the SDRdx. Even sitting on the floor in the spare bedroom, it improved reception over the Comet SMA ducky that was used before and I was able to pick up a few 70cm repeaters. Receiving on 2M was a problem, though.

SDRuno

Note the terrible birdies. The receiver and antenna are just a few cubits from my LAN gear, most notably a Cisco PoE switch powering a few Polycom phones. As that is my day job and I work from home, they must remain. However, my personal laptop kinda lives in that room for now and it was the easiest (read: least nanny state) to install the software on. All this will get better when it is moved away from that cluster.

Fun fact, the screen capture above is from my phone, running the Android version of Microsoft’s Remote Desktop, connected to the laptop running SDRuno. Mouse operations are a little weird, but it otherwise works just fine.

Long term, I’m thinking the discone may go into the attic, with the *thin* coax coming down into the kitchen; we have a DirecTV coax coming down in an unobtrusive corner. Then I can kinda shoehorn a little VHF/UHF/SWL station in that corner where we have a PC or two, using the SDR and my FTM-100DR with an antenna switch. RDP lets me work it from largely anywhere else. I can also play with putting the FTM-100 on WIRES-X at that time. The trouble with evil plans is that they just keep comin’.

My Arrow antenna has not shipped yet. The order confirmation said “Your order is estimated to ship within five business days. Orders usually ship within two business days.” Today is the evening of 7th business day, not even counting the day I ordred, so it’s late, but probably not late enough for me to reasonably complain. :/

Sat On A Light

There have been amateur radio satellites in orbit for literally my entire life. Hams were in space only four years behind the Russians, less than a year before I was born. It also was the first satellite deployed as a secondary payload from a primary launch… ejected using a spring purchased from Sears. Remember, it doesn’t *have* to be expensive to work, but if *my* life is in the balance, I’d rather it was. It should at least be a McMaster-Carr spring…

The first time I heard of amateur radio satellites, I presumed that was an exotic part of the hobby that only the ham elite (read: rich hams) would ever have access to. I think a big part of that was the math needed to predict orbits and the presumption that exceptional precision would be needed. Turns out that it’s not particularly difficult, but neither is it trivial. Johannes Kepler figured it out on paper by candlelight. With the advent of personal computers in general and the ubiquitous smart phone in particular, much of that number crunching is a few finger swipes away. Now working satellites seems to be reduced to learning the idiosyncrasies introduced by chasing a slowly tumbling 1/2 watt transceiver 300 miles away while it flies by at 17,000 miles per hour. Piece o’ cake.

I exaggerate the difficulty, though not the conditions. As rough as that sounds, it can be done with as little as a handheld antenna and a dual band HT, assisted by some tracking software.

Armed with some basic tips obtained from various YouTube sources (which I will detail below) and an Android app, I was able to pick up the beacon on a couple of satellite passes with only my existing base station gear, an Icom IC-7100 and a Diamond X-300A. This is a fixed base station antenna optimized for transmitting and receiving towards the horizon.

Undocumented Satellite Beacon Pass

Note that I am chasing the Doppler frequency shift, which is one of the two biggest idiosyncrasies. Satellites are moving fast enough for Doppler frequency shift to matter. Most satellites operate crossband, with an uplink that is either 2M or 70cm and a downlink that is the other band. Obviously both are affected by Doppler shift, but as it is a percentage effect, the higher the frequency, the larger the effect, so 70cm is more affected that 2M.

Having now heard such a birdie tone intentionally, I am reasonably sure that I have accidentally heard them before and perhaps just didn’t realize it was a satellite! How simple must it be if I can do it accidentally?

I have tried a couple times since then to hear QSOs and I can *just* tell there *might* be something there, maybe the tiniest bit of a beat tone tuning the range, but not enough to pull out of the noise.

To give myself the best chance of success, I ordered an Arrow 146/437-10WBP antenna. This is a 3 element 2M and a 7 element 70cm on a shared boom. The BP suffix is the split boom (back pack) version which breaks down easily for transport, so I also got the carrying bag for it. At this writing, it has not yet arrived. Being a handheld antenna, it helps with the other major idiosyncrasy, polarization fading. As the satellite tumbles in microgravity, the antennae are changing orientation and being able to rapidly change polarization is one strategy for coping with that. Antennas built with circular polarization is another.

My plan to start is to try FM using two handhelds. I have 2 each Baofeng UV-5Rs, RD-5Rs and an Icom ID-51, so I can mix and match as necessary.

I also used this as an excuse to picked up an SDRPlay receiver, the SDRdx model. I have nearly purchased an SDRPlay receiver a few times over the last few years, but never pulled the trigger. I’m not sure if it will actually be used for satellites or not, but I imagine I will at least experiment with it. Plus, everything else you can do with an SDR 🙂 Not necessarily only for satellite use, but for very wideband SDR reception, I got an MFJ-1866 discone antenna. This will be my first experience with a discone. This model can do double duty as a 200W transmit antenna for 2M to 23cm as well. It might become the first antenna mounted on the house, as opposed to the workshop.

I’ma Call It Finished

I decided that if I waited until it was perfect, it would never be declared as “finished”.

I managed to put some deep scratches in there that were proving difficult to remove.

This picture was taken with the light at an angle to highlight the scratches, so in the hand, it doesn’t look quite as bad 🙂

The handle is mesquite, sanded to 600 and finished with Danish oil. It has a very nice feel.

Next, I tear into the other blank, though I may fabricate a bevel grinding jig of some sort first.

Three Years? Really?

I guess it has been.

I have done a few things ham related in the last three years, but I haven’t really been very active on the air. Bad ham!

In February of 2017, I installed the FTM-100DR in my new Kia Sportage. I did not want to drill the roof for the antenna, so I used a magnetic mount, but I found a clever way to route the cable into the car.

There are rubber plugs on the rear gate.

And a cable passthrough from the gate to the body of the car to fish the cable through…

From there, I don’t have any good pictures of it, but I fished the coax from there down to the spare tire well.

By then, the end of the coax was reached and I had to add a connector and more coax to make it reach the front of the car. From there, it’s a pretty normal tuck under the floor mats to the driver side console.

About a year later, I ran the wire to remote mount the control head on the windshield. Sorry about the focus. 🙂

Among the things I enjoyed with the FTM-100DR was playing with APRS. The FTM-100DR can do APRS or something else, but not really both. It can sort of receive APRS messages while being set up to transmit voice, but if it is beaconing APRS data, it’s beaconing data. This was only one factor driving my desire to upgrade, so it was natural to choose the FTM-400XDR. As a side benefit, it was a drop in replacement in the car. Same mounting bracket and power cable for the main unit, same remote cable and suction cup for the control head. And now, APRS is a fully supported feature that can be turned on and off at will with almost no effect on voice operations.

My IC-706MkIIg had been a great rig, but had developed an intermittent transmit problem. Since I generally use it with RemoteRig, I can’t do anything physical to the radio when this issue comes up. I don’t operate often enough to want to deal with a troublesome rig, so I bit the bullet on getting another. I didn’t want a used rig, so I shopped around a bit. I was looking for another rig with with a detachable head for use with RemoteRig; I like that paradigm. I did not have any particular bias for Icom, but I did like the control head for the IC-7100. It seemed well suited to remote operation on a desktop.

Ironically, when I was ready to connect it to the RemoteRig, I found that the radio end unit was non-functional. It had been a while since I’d used it, so I don’t know if it was a storm or long term heat out in the shop that killed it. Long story short, it had no signs of life and the voltage regulator on the board ran super hot, not enough to melt anything, but definitely not right. I contacted Microbit and after a couple of emails and tests back and forth, it was determined to be unrepairable. They sold me a replacement board at a discount price, which was fine with me. It was relatively trivial to get the IC-7100 working over RemoteRig.

Since the IC-7100 has a built in USB soundcard for digital modes, I wanted to look into that. The connectivity with RemoteRig and the USB port is complicated, so I also looked into Icom’s RS-BA1 remote software. To operate *that* remotely, I needed a PC that was local to the radio and it seemed like a tiny fanless PC would suit the purpose.

It worked mostly, but I had a lot of trouble getting it to stay awake long term, no matter what BIOS settings I use. It would be fine for a couple of days then it would go to sleep. I would have go out there and touch it to wake it up. Within a few months, it went belly up as well. I have not revisited it as yet.

Some time back, I bought a new Icom ID-51 handheld. After a couple of years, I decided to sell it because I just had no real use for one out here in the country. Then around January 2018, I decided to get another for access to D-Star. Shrug. Make up my mind!

Speaking of handhelds, inspired largely by Radioddity review and tutorial videos from Dave Casler, I got interested in DMR. Of course, no DMR repeaters in handheld range out here, but Radioddity BaoFeng radios are cheap enough to get two and set them up for simplex operation between the two. It works pretty well, so whenever I do find some DMR repeaters somewhere, I should be able to join in. Plus, there’s always the DMR hotspot angle. Pay no attention to whatever that frequency is there. It was in the radio when I turned it on.

I have never been truly active enough to *justify* QSL cards, at least not in my mind, but I still wanted some. I finally had an epiphany and figured out what would be the best QSL card for me. I found a caricature artist service online and had them produce a portrait suitable for QSL cards.

Flying Dog Forge

It may seem that forging is a new hobby for me, but it’s not, really. I just haven’t had enough activity to justify it’s own blog.

A million years ago, I started a dagger using a friend’s well equipped shop. Somewhere I have some pictures of that happening. Somewhere, I have that partly completed blade.

Quite a few years ago, my wife gifted me with a Harbor Freight anvil. For a brief period, they carried a Russian made 110 pound (50 kg, really) anvil that is really decent steel, not the usual anvil shaped objects that are largely much softer cast iron generally available from the Usual Suspects. It rings. Maybe an amount of ring that needs addressing hehehe.

This anvil has been used for all kinds of almost-but-not-quite forging operations over the years. One always needs a heavy chunk of steel for straightening the support rod on your chronograph when it gets shot.

But it had not done proper forging.

In March 2019, I ordered a Majestic Knifemaker propane forge, but it would be mid June 2020 before it would finally be lit.

Leading up to the fire, the anvil had suffered some degree of use and abuse, even serving briefly as extra weight on the front of our tractor when we had to unload some extra heavy round bales.

Even before serving emergency ballast duty, it needed some TLC.

Using mostly flap discs in the angle grinder and a flat stone that was WAY more effort that it seems to have been worth, the light coat of rust and the rough machine marks yielded. I followed up with some masking tape, black paint and finally a coat of CorrosionX.

The mottled coloration is from the difference in finish between the flap disc and the flat stone. It is all smooth to the touch.

As is often the case, the first thing to make was tongs. My farrier loaned me a couple pair of tongs for the purpose of making tongs, as well as gifting me with a decent stack of discarded rasps.

I chose to start with the Rapid Flat Jaw Tongs from Ken’s Custom Iron, available as an affordable bundle of five pairs. These tongs were among several reviewed and recommended by John at Black Bear Forge.

These start as CNC plasma cut blanks of 5/16 plate steel. You draw out the reins first.

Then turn and shape the jaws

Drill, rivet and fine tune. Somewhere in there, I applied my touchmark. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.

The next major tool needed/wanted was a 2×72 belt grinder. Like almost everything else, there are two basic ways to do these, build or buy. Building is obviously the cheapest. Buying is the fastest. The trick is deciding what your time is worth, how much is too much to pay for someone else to build it for you.

I knew that my welding skills are good *enough* to build one if it comes in a kit form. I’m not really comfortable enough with my fabrication skills to build one straight from scratch. By the time I gather all the right parts, cut, weld, grind, etc., it would have to be really cheap to offset the advantages of unboxing it, plugging it in and turning it on.

I shopped quite a lot. For the most part, bare bones grinders tend to start, in 2020 at least, at about $1800 and generally, that is without a motor, speed control, etc. So, when I found Origin Blade Maker and a package that had a turnkey ready to grind package for $1800, it got my attention. This package has the grinder frame, a 2 horsepower motor with VFD, platen with idler wheels, 10 inch contact wheel and set of small wheels with small wheel holder. Many of the grinders I found are $1800 for just the grinder frame and platen and everything else is extra.

I ordered that package and a few accessories so that in total, I have all that plus 4 inch and 2 inch contact wheels, three tool rests and enough tooling arms for all of them to be quick change.

I mounted it on a dedicated table and mounted ubolts on the edges of the table to hold the tooling arms.

There are similar rings on the other side of the table as well.

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but it bears detailing here as well. In mid November, I slipped and fell HARD on my left side, breaking my shoulder. Specifically, “comminuted fracture of the humeral head and a fracture of the humeral neck” which basically means that not only was the ball joint broken off, but it was split in half as well. I saw an orthopedic surgeon the following week. The surgeon didn’t even need his own imagery; the ER xrays were good enough for him to say, “we’re replacing that.”

This is my left arm, so at least its not my hammering arm, but even so, no forging was going on through the end of 2020. My recovery is marching ahead nicely and I hope to be back at it soon.

Meanwhile, I have not let it completely stop me and I chose to make a material removal chef’s knife, based on an existing knife we have. Obviously, the grinder figures heavily in that.

I cut a blank out of 1/8″ 80CRV2.

I ground a distal taper into the blank. I didn’t measure the actual taper, but it’s slightly visible here as I am marking the edge.

I marked the edge with this edge scribing tool, one of the extra accessories I picked up from Origin Blade Maker. It is set to bisect the tip.

It makes the distal taper especially obvious. The heel is about 50% thicker than the tip.

As I was approaching this point in the grinding, it occurred to me that I had ground too far. The edge was going to be too thin for heat treatment!

It was too late anyway, so I drilled the tang and prepared to heat treat in a day or two.

I didn’t get enough pictures of the early parts of the heat treatment process. First, I heated the blade up enough to apply my touchmark. Then I heated to an even orange heat and checked with an IR thermometer for 1600F. I let it soak at that color for about 5 minutes then quenched it in cheap 30W motor oil. Why, yes, that does smell perfectly yummy.

And, as predicted, the really thin edge of the blade came out not just warped but completely wavy.

There’s always a slim chance it might relax some in the temper, so I put it in the toaster oven for a two 60 minute cycles at 450F, cooling to room temperature between.

There was no perceptible reduction in the warping.

The tempering cycles took the evening and overnight, so I immediately started on another blank that I would not make *that* particular mistake on. This time, I would heat treat the tapered and drilled blank, before grinding the bevels.

Here’s that one, after tempering, ready to grind.

As for the first blade, I just scribed a line describing it as a narrower blade, less a chef’s knife and more a carving knife.

I ground the new profile, reground the bevels and hand sanded it.

I put mesquite scales on it. It is perilously close to finished.

Late for My Semi-Annual…

I started this post September 2020…. I’m typing this sentence January 2021. It was February 2019 when I posted last.

It’s been a busy couple years since my last confession post.

Using a method that has worked for me before, I browsed through the pix from my phone for reminders of significant events in since the last update.

I decided long ago that I don’t particularly like the common and inexpensive CED shot timers. They work well enough and are quite compact, but my old-guy eyes have trouble reading the display. So, I wanted something with a bigger display and decided to get a Competition Electronics Pocket Pro II. I found one on Amazon and I was kind of expecting it to not be super cheap, so I purchased the one with a short shipping time and went about my life.

The next day, I was going to share the link to the factory website with someone and noticed that it was available for about half the price directly from Competition Electronics. I quickly ordered one from there and only then realized that I had bought the Amazon one, not from Amazon, but from a third party seller. I requested cancellation, but the timer arrived before I heard back from the seller, who then said “Sorry, but we only offer the present deal.” I did not trust them to not make it worse in the return process, so I decided to keep it and chalk it up to an expensive lesson learned. Also by then, the order from Competion Electronics had arrived. I decided that having two timers was a good idea and just put it out of my mind that I had way overspent on half of them. Hey, they are nice timers. Can you tell which one has the gold circuitry?

I started carrying my Glock 19 more often, mostly because I like the idea of having more ammo if needed. I know that statistically, I am astronomically unlikely to become involved in a firearm altercation at all, and if I do, it is also unlikely to need more than a couple of rounds to resolve it.

But what if I’m in that situation where I am the only armed person around and it does take more than a couple rounds to protect those around me?

Ammunition is kind of necessarily heavy. It’s how the physics works. You need something heavy or something fast and with handguns, fast (actually fast) is almost never a realistic option. There are a couple of fringe exceptions, but generally, big heavy slow is how pistols go.

Heavy ammo can add up if you want to carry more of it. One of the arguments for the adoption of 5.56mm back in the late 50’s was that a soldier could carry about 3 times the number of rounds in the equivalent volume for the same weight of 30.06. In my case, a Gen 3 Glock 19 with an empty magazine weighs 23.63 oz. 15 rounds of Hornady Critcal Defense adds 6.8 oz, for a pistol carry of 30.48 oz. A second 15 round magazine is another 9.32 oz to carry.

Inceptor is a polymer copper projectile ammunition. I’ve discussed it before, handloaded the projectiles and even won a 5th place trophy shooting it. It is lead free, and is good for all the reasons lead free ammo is good, plus it’s lightweight. The individual 9mm projectiles are 65 grains, compared to 115 for the Hornady. They get the muzzle energy from smokin’em out of the barrel at 1600+ fps. They are frangible, so they don’t overpenetrate and the use a clever shape and that velocity to make terminal performance in soft, wet targets.

From a carry ammo point of view, the 9mm Inceptor ARX ammo is lighter. Still has a brass case, but the bullet is only 55% as heavy. That works out to 4.47 oz less per 15 round magazine or 9 oz less for the whole rig.

The Glock loaded with Inceptor ARX is not necessarily my*every* day rig, but it is definitely the most days rig.

The 2019 Gulf Coast Championship was a fun match. The weather was a little chilly and threatening, but it never really rained on us.

As always, they put together a fun and challenging match. One of the fun stages (that I also happened to have done pretty well on) was also caught on video. I didn’t place, but I won a MantisX in the raffle! I already had one and I was able to sell one of them to a coworker. 🙂

I built a slider target. I completely stole the idea, but my victim advised, so it’s probably ok. I streamlined some of the design elements by having a custom bend done on some metal. I actually made this thing back in October of 2018 and I’ll probably document that separately, but we finally tested it

The CoolFire training system is an awesome way to “dry” fire that’s not really dry firing. You get some recoil, some realistic action and you are using *your* pistol to train with. If I were to make one complaint, it would be that it would cool if there was a way to make it lock the slide back after some arbitrary number of shots for the most realistic simulation possible. All I have to do as actually use it on occasion. Once I had it, I ordered a laser module for it. Being less than careful, I ordered to wrong one. I happened to take the unit to IDPA World Championship (more on that later) and the CoolFire rep there swapped my module fwithout question. I’ve heard a couple of similar stories of high quality customer service from them.

Defender Outdoors added a Glock 18 to their fleet of rental guns. When it first arrived, they gave members an opportunity to reserve an appointment to shoot it before it went into normal rental rotation and I definitely had to do that. It was not uncontrollable by any means, but it was definitely a handful. 5 stars, would do again 🙂

I have been handloading since the 1980’s, though back then, 100 rounds was a major project. Now 100 rounds is what I need for a local match. In all that time, I’d never had a primer detonation. Note the past tense.

I’ve been using the Dillon RF-100 to fill primer tubes for a while now. Also, I’ve been loading 9mm almost exclusively for a couple of years. Consequently, the trap I set for myself had been dormant for a long time. I was working on some metalworking project that involved using a handheld angle grinder at my bench vise. I had been grinding on and off for an hour or two when something went off, POW! Obviously, I stopped immediately. My first thought was that somehow, sparks from the grinder had set off a cartridge, as unlikely as I considered that to be. As I began looking around and saw where the damage was centered, it dawned on me what had happened.

Before I filled them one at a time with the RF-100, I kept a stock of filled primer tubes in a bin above the workbench, coincidentally directly behind the vise. Sparks had apparently gotten into the one and only tube of larger primers that was in that bin, left from the last batch of 45 Auto I had loaded. When the one primer on the end set off, it set off the rest of the tube.

Note the tube still in the bin is bent. All the empty tubes in that bin were bent to some degree and are now aluminum scrap.

Note also the little circle visible in the upper lefthand corner of the bin.

The tube launched through the back of the bin, through the pegboard, the sheetrock, the insulation….

… and tried it’s best to continue outside.

Inside, there were spent primers everywhere, including peppering my arm.

The spot marked in green would turn out to be most interesting a couple days later as the primer anvil that was lodged in there finally revealed itself. It hurt but didn’t really feel like anything was in there at first, but eventually, I saw a glint of brass and worked it out.

Primary lesson reinforced: Turns out primers shouldn’t be stored near sparks or flame. Who’da thunk it?

I got to attend and/or work my first IDPA Nationals and it was a special one, World Championship and Nationals combined *and* innaugural PCC Nationals. So, by submitting and having accepted my application to work that match, it was basically a two week long match at the Civilian Marksmanship Program range near Talldega, AL.

For the pistol match, the first day it seemed I could not hit ANYTHING. The morning of the 2nd day, I noticed that the rear sight on my pistol was WAY off to the right. It was loose. I used some improvised tools (a tent stake as a hammer, for example) and set it straight, but it was far too late to place. Since it was two matches, I got to run over 400 shooters during the entire event. I got pretty good at it.

Being as it was the World Championship, there were several teams from various countries. Our stage was sponsored by IDPA China and we got a great picture with the whole team.

I love my Dillon RL550B. It was my first Dillon press. I bought it from someone, who in turn had bought it used from someone else. Between the (at least) three of us, it has loaded probably several hundred thousand rounds. I had a part break on it and experienced the legendary Dillon customer service for that repair and refurbishment.

I was not *looking* for an upgrade, but a deal on a 650 came to me and I grabbed it.

I don’t care for the primer system. It works flawlessly, but it does not tolerate interruptions in production. It works exceptionally well, but it delivers primers with every stroke of the handle, whether you need a primer just then or not. Same for the case feeder. Sometimes, a case will feed upside down and when it gets to the plate, it jams things up. It generally takes a couple of strokes to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, a couple more unneeded primers have been fed…

All that having been said, I can loaded about 50% faster on the 650 than the 550, basically a couple hundred rounds per hour. A match worth of ammo takes about 30 minutes.

Sometimes, the case jam up can result in a partial or double powder drop. Most of the time, it’s easy to catch, but at least once, I missed it. I had my one and only kaboom.

So, the rule is: If you are going to have a double charge, at least it should be a double light load in an all-steel gun.

Neither me nor the pistol suffered any permanent damage. The event was merely days before Gulf Coast Championship and I was sweating bullets about it until a fellow CZ shooter offered his almost identical pistol for me to use in the match.

Gulf Coast Championship is always a blast and 2020 was no different, although timing-wise, it was kinda the last match most of us got to go to for a long time.

My own experience was unique in a couple of ways. Remember my kaboom and my concerns about my pistol. Turns out, all that worry was misplaced. I should have been worrying about having not practiced PCC, since *that* was what I had signed up to shoot at GCC. It was my 2nd major match shooting PCC (first was Nationals, so there’s that) and my otherwise solid performing PCC had a mechanical failure partway through. It was not my week.

See if you can tell from points down which stage it was…

The issue was that the firing pin retaining pin, a known issue on this firearm, had finally failed. Now. Of course. I was able to borrow a PCC from a fellow Rudy Project Team member to complete the match.

Here’s the funny bit. Even with that, I was 4th in my class and division and without that 62 down, I would have come in 2nd.

It was about now that COVID-19 really started having a big impact on gatherings, the daily commute, shopping… pretty much everything. From the end of GCC 2020 on March 14, I did an absolute TON of stuff, just almost none of it was shooting related until August 28, where I managed to place 4th ESP Sharpshooter at TRUGLO 2020 Texas State IDPA Championship. Considering the dearth of practice opportunities, I was really pleased with that.

Finding primers is still a challenge for everyone. A friend pointed me to a deal of sorts for some surplus Fiocchi small rifle primers. They were not exactly free, but considering their condition and that it was 12000 to a box, they were reasonable. The seller revealed that they had been stored near a vent or some such and thus had some humidity related damage, but that in their testing, they had not had any failures.

Here is a closeup of these and some other primers.

The top two are the Fiocchi primers. One is an example of a pretty bad one, one pretty clean. The rest of the primers are new primers, a mix of pistol and rifle primers.

My own testing concurs with the seller’s. Regardless of their ugly duckling status, they tend to always fire, so long as they are hit hard enough. They *are* rifle primers, so the thicker cup needs a harder whack. If you have tweaked your trigger, you probably are striking your primers lighter than stock and even stock might be lighter than needed for rifle primers.

There is an issue, though. I sometimes have trouble getting them to seat all the way and *that* can cause them to fire going into battery. No, not good.

Speaking of COVID delays, I was accepted as a member of Dallas Pistol Club in April. I had to cancel my first new member orientation not directly because of COVID, but because I ended up working all that Saturday setting up remote users for my company. A couple more opportunities arose, including one the same Saturday as the TRUGLO match. Finally, October 18, I got to get my gate code and keys!

Also around October or November, we got back to doing limited indoor matches at Texas Gun Experience. In particular, on November 16, I had a match with a DNF. It’s hard to finish with a broken shoulder. I slipped and fell HARD on my left side. Ouch. Ambulance. Xrays. “Comminuted fracture of the humeral head and a fracture of the humeral neck” which basically means that not only was the ball joint broken off, but it was split in half as well. I saw an orthopedic surgeon the following week. The surgeon didn’t even need his own imagery; the ER xrays were good enough for him to say, “we’re replacing that.”

I’m well into the Physical Therapy phase of my recovery. I’m nowhere near 100%, but I think I’ll be able to safely attempt a pistol match in the next 30 days or so.

So, that catches us up, shootin-wise. You’ll have to check out the other blogs, including the new one, to see what *else* I’ve been up to.

See It All

I like my Burris Fast Fire III on my Glock 20. It is a very nice electronic dot sight.

In my opinion, however, there are three specific issues that most, or really all, red dot sights suffer from.

First, they require power, which means a battery. Batteries run down and I have also seen that, fairly often, the battery seems to be prone to part company the sight under recoil. I have recovered the cover and battery from my Burris and just last night, a shooter in a local IDPA match lost his, maybe 5-6 shots into the last stage of the night. I am certain there is some degree of user error involved; there certainly was with mine. Design plays a role, driven by the need for a battery to be there at all as well as needing to be replaceable.

Tied closely to needing a battery is needing a power switch. You have to turn it on to use it and remember to turn it off when you’re done, or it needs to have added complexity to try to do this for you automatically. If the system uses some sort of sensor, then even when “off”, the unit likely draws some miniscule amount of power from the battery.

Finally, they tend to be kinda clunky, even the sleek ones. Even if a pistol is designed for one, function follows form and they necessarily need to sit on the top of the pistol like a frog on a log. Even if you like this look, and I kinda do, the extension of this issue is that the visual axis is farther offset from the bore axis than with plain ol’ open sights on the same pistol and even more so if the pistol was not specifically designed or modified to have such a sight installed.

Since it really isn’t the sight’s fault, the Honorable Mention green ribbon goes to the double edged sword issue of the user’s own eyesight. If, like me, you are fairly profoundly nearsighted, one of the common prescriptions for corrective lenses is to split the corrective powers so that each eye can specialize on near or distant vision. Typically, your dominant eye is elected to see nearby where details are important and the dot, which is optically at infinity, is thus rendered as a blur. In my particular case, it is not only a blur that also appears larger than the entire target, but it’s also not even a nice regular blurry spot but a jagged starburst. It looks as much like fireworks as anything else.

Ironically, this prescription arrangement works well for open sights because the all-critical front sight is in focus and the non-dominant eye can see downrange. This is at least an addressable issue for me and IDPA/USPSA competition because I can just swap contact lenses and thus roles, letting my dominant eye see in the distance where the dot is. I have the same sort of issue with my Vortex rifle sights and really pretty much any optical sight, camera viewfinder, etc, though the illuminated dot is the worst.

Enter the SeeAll sight.

The SeeAll sights eliminate the power and/or switching requirements. The compact design also helps with the offset between the visual and bore axes. It does nothing specifically for my nearsighted visual issues, but the problem arguably less severe since the reticle not a tiny illuminated point.

The sight works very simply, really more of an optical interpretation of open sights. Align the reticle with the target just like putting the front sight and rear notch or the red dot on the target and shoot.

When I decided to get one, it was right after SeeAll started a Facebook advertising blitz. I don’t know if that was the cause, but when I wanted to order, the pistol models were all backordered. The $99 standard version was backordered two months until March 1st and the $199 tritium backlight version was only backordered only one month, until February 1st. Even though I will use this primarily for competition and essentially always in reasonably good lighting, I was kinda forced to buy the the more expensive version in order to have it in hand sooner. I chose the triangle reticle assuming that would be easier for my compromised vision to find. They also make it with a crosshair reticle.

True to their word, is was shipped promptly when expected, actually a couple of days earlier. It arrived in simple but well made packaging and I had it installed in minutes.

It works very simply. There is a tiny printed reticle on the top of the sight and a lens at the back that magnifies the image of the reticle. You can also just see the tritium tube inside the white cutout area behind the triangle.

In my personal opinion, the tritium light is not bright enough to be seen except in conditions that are dark enough that you probably can’t see what you are aiming at. To me, the difference is not worth really the doubled price. Your mileage and use case may vary.

The next day, I took it to the range for for sighting in. For the first time *ever*, I had a new sight that needed no sighting in. It was dead on point of aim as it. I still have not touched it.

I have an installation caveat that might just be something that would happen only to me. The night after the range trip, I was cleaning and oiling the pistol for a match the next day, the SeeAll’s first trip to a match. I noted that around the screw that attaches the sight to the dovetail, there was a film of liquid, presumed to be oil. It’s tight in there, so I elected to just use air to blow it out. After that, I noticed that the oil was all over the lens and thought, “Ah, next time dig out a swab.” and cleaned the lens. Well, attempted to clean the lens. Turns out that the fluid was green Loctite that had not set in OVER 24 HOURS. It set wonderfully once it was all over the lens. It was a mess, like looking through a dirty windshield. After much hand wringing, I found that denatured alcohol cleaned it well enough to return it to functional status.

In use, I find the SeeAll to be at least as fast to acquire as a red dot and easy to shoot. In the first match out with it, I shot reasonably well and where I didn’t, it wasn’t the sight’s fault. As it was an outdoor match, the green and black reticle was brilliantly visible. In the first indoor local IDPA match I used it, I was only 3 down in 4 stages. I was perhaps not as fast as I may have been otherwise, but I’m not really super fast. Not yet anyway.

There were a couple of slightly dimmer areas in the indoor range that made it slightly little more difficult to locate the reticle. Active lighting is not all bad.

The one major detraction is that it has some sharp edges on it.

This edge, really a corner, is placed so that you are likely to scrape across it while operating the slide, especially in a rapid manner such as clearing a malfunction. It was harsh on the range trip to sight it in and it drew blood the first time out for a (non-IDPA) match. I went directly to the workshop when I got home and filed the most dangerous edges down.

This is somewhat better, though in the aforementioned IDPA match with it, this softer edge caused a blood blister in the same as-yet-not-fully-healed spot where the previous outing had cut my thumb. In a match last night, I kept all my blood and skin. Once the initial injury fully healed and after filing the edges, it may not be a big deal.

I note also that some of the SeeAll sights are not made exactly like this one. They may yet be experimenting with details and for the short term, the edge might be a side effect of another improvement.

So, is it a really cheap optical sight, in the same vein as a Burris or Vortex red dot, or is it just a funky new design for open sights? Should that matter? It was fun to studiously avoid the advice of a helpful SO who reminded me to be sure the optic was switched on for the first stage.

In any case, the proof may lay in how I classify with it at an upcoming classifier match in a couple of weeks and again how I place in a special IDPA Tier 3 CO/PCC match my club is hosting in June 2019.

I will measure the offset between open sights, SeeAll and Burris at some point, probably utilizing another slide I have because I don’t want to remove the SeeAll to do so.

How To Make A Lot Of Bags

In the post about making a lot of pens, I mentioned that making the custom drawstring bags for those pens deserved its own post.

I started by deconstructing a commercially available velvet pen bag to develop a pattern. These are pretty simple bags, made from a single piece of fabric about 3 x 7 inches, with strategically placed slits cut into one edge. The top edge is turned and stitched down, leaving a tube for the drawstrings, and then the fabric is folded right sides together and stitched down one side and across the bottom. The resulting bag is turned right side out, the drawstrings threaded in through the slits and tied, and you have a bag.

We decided on an arguably easier way for us to stitch them, though it did require stitching both sides.

We made a couple of prototypes to nail down the dimensions. The final dimensions to cut for one bag was 2-1/4 x 15 inches. I determined where to mark the fabric to simplify embroidering the logo onto the fabric, it was best to hoop one 6-3/4 x 15 panel, enough fabric for 3 bags.

I f you look closely, you can see my fabric marker lines. The solid lines are the 2-1/4″ marks to line up for later cutting the strips apart. There is a center fold line at 7-1/2″, which I never actually used for folding. The dashed line is the center of the strip and together with a crossing line 5″ from the center, was used to line up the embroidery.

After removing the stabilizer, trimming the threads, and serge stitching the short edges, the panel is ready to cut into strips. I fine tuned the dimensions so that I didn’t have any waste strips like this one had.

Now comes marking the ends. Experimentally, I arrived at dimensions that were just easier to measure off with a metric scale.

At 20mm from the end is the fold line. 30mm from the end and 15mm from each side are intersecting lines that mark where an eyelet will be sewn and cut.

I then folded the two ends wrong sides together using the 20mm fold lines and stitched it along the serging. Finally, I folded the whole thing right sides together and stitched the two long sides.

I trimmed the fray, and any sewing thread ends, and turned the bags right side out.

Lastly, I threaded the drawstrings through the eyelets, one from each side of the bag.

The finished bags look pretty good, if I say so myself.

Logistically, I cut all the fabric I had and was a little short for 120 bags. Since it took 6 minutes for the embroidery machine to do each logo, I used that time to do all the other steps as far as I could until time to change the panel out for another in the machine. I thus stayed busy very nearly 100% of the time while I was in the sewing room and I made pretty good time. At first I had a dozen completed bags, then I had various other numbers of pieces in varying stages of completion. I would inventory as I finished each night.

For the last dozen, once I had more fabric in hand, I made them in much the same way. I couldn’t get quite as far ahead of the embroidery machine, though.

On the morning of delivery, I had a few bags left that still needed drawstrings, but Toni and the LGA crew finished those few as they distributed the pens into the swag bags with the rest of the goodies.

Here they are in the car, about to head to the club. I was happy to see them go!