Monthly Archives: July 2013

Shoddy Manufacturing Made the AK-47 Durable


Image via NYT, this fully functional AK-47 is as old as my parents (made in 1954) and discovered in a Taliban gun locker in Afghanistan. Photograph by famed AK-47 expert C.J. Chivers

While researching a piece for Works That Work magazine on the endurance of the AK-47, I came across a very surprising little nugget of insight. You see, the AK-47 is like the living-dead of automatice rifles– you can abuse it, never clean it, throw it in a lake for a few weeks, bury it for a couple of decades. And then, just a little digging and minimal dirt removal later and pop! pop!! pop! pop! pop!! the AK will still spew bullets like water through a hose.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the clip below in which an AK-47 that has been buried for 18 years in the dirt of South Africa is excavated and fired.

Okay. Okay. So we all know that AK-47s are durable and all. But what I recently discovered is the reason.

Apparently in the mid-20th century gun manufacturers were concerned about making high quality parts with perfectly fitting components. Gun makers (especially in the US) would use precision machine tools to mill parts with exacting tolerances and little room for imperfection.

But Russian arms makers didn’t have the luxury of such machines. They had to work with relatively primitive assembly plants and a potentially inebriated workforce. So the automatic rifle that came off of the assembly line would rattle if the return spring was removed and tension between the parts was released. But this mediocre construction is the secret to the AK’s success!

From the NYT:

The very fact that its parts were “loose fitting, rather than snug” meant that it was “less likely to jam when dirty, inadequately lubricated or clogged with carbon from heavy firing.” “It was so reliable,” Chivers writes, that even when it was “soaked in bog water and coated with sand” its Soviet testers “had trouble making it jam.”

mind = blown

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Selling Fear: Gun Advertising Aimed At Women


Yesterday afternoon I popped over to Quad Cinema on 13th Street and watched A Girl And A Gun, Cathryne Czubek’s recently released documentary on female gun owners in America. It is an excellent cross section of stories from a variety of women whose lives have been touched by firearms: from the Tai Chi instructor who purchased a handgun for protection against an ex-boyfriend to the mother and victim’s right’s advocate whose daughter was paralyzed by a stray bullet.

But the film churned up a whole host of contradictory feelings: pride in the women who have mastered gun use as a sport and tool for empowerment, anxiety and moral disdain at the fact that guns make it easier for us to kill one another, internal debate about whether women using guns was an appropriation of male patriarchy and oppression or an assertion of independence. I’m not sure that I’ll ever reconcile all of these reactions. But I am very clear on my feelings about one section of the film: fear-based gun advertisements aimed at women.

Scotsdale Gun Club Ad

For decades, firearms companies have told women that we need guns for protection and safety. And I hate this. I feel it is an acceptance of male violence — that it is energy and effort misdirected to treat a symptom instead of addressing the real problem and finding a solution. These advertisements seem to assume that the danger comes from outside of the home. And that it is the woman’s job to stop instead of society’s job to prevent.

And even firearms instructors buy into the idea that women need guns in order to not be murdered or raped. The very nice gentleman who taught me how to shoot two years ago talked about how I needed to carry a gun in my car in case it broke down in a rural part of the state and I was left alone on the side of the road. “Don’t be a victim,” he told me. A male instructor shown in A Girl And A Gun says “I absolutely guarantee to you that nobody ever raped Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Wesson.”

The World Health Organization recently reported:

Physical or sexual violence is a public health problem that affects more than one third of all women globally… intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.

ladies home companion

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“Making Guns”: pistol forms as tools for creation


Designer James Shaw’s Plastic Extruding Gun, photograph taken by Paul Plews, via

Ah, those critical UKers! First Tony Dunne on the need for a designers’ Hippocratic oath, then Francis North’s Comfort Gun. And now I’ve found recent RCA grad James Shaw and his Making Guns, three gun-shaped tools for additive creation. Rather than spewing out speeding bullets, Shaw’s three homemade gadgets respectively shoot out papier mache, pewter, and blobs of recycled plastic.

But what’s really fascinating about these funky object-makers is what the use of the pistol form can reveal about human impulses and the desire for control. These guns don’t kill or explode or rend. They don’t make holes in anything. They’re objects used for creation rather than destruction. Yet, as Shaw acknowledged in a piece last week on

We have nail guns, spray guns, and handheld drills, Shaw points out, something he attributes to “our desire to dominate and master materials and our environment.”

Is the form of the gun–regardless of its purpose or design–an inherently agressive object? One that necessarily connotes control? I suppose the same question could be asked of any tool used to shape the world, from shovels to iPhones. But it made me wonder if the form of the pistol at its most basic and abstract could ever fully escape its associations with violence and human agression.

Shaw’s closing quote from the Wired piece also struck me:

“The exciting thing about making new types of tools is that they will necessarily allow new forms and types of objects.”

New tools also allow new forms of social interaction and understanding of human capability. It’s interesting to think back to an era in which firearms themselves were new tools, newly shaping the people and relationships that surrounded them. The material creations of these guns help make one think of the immaterial changes wrought by conventional firearms.

For more images of Shaw’s Making Guns and their odd creations, visit his website:


Designer James Shaw takes aim with his Pewter Squirting Gun, photograph taken by Paul Plews, via

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