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FAILURES TO FIRE (FTF) OR “MIS-FIRES”
All too often, when pulling the trigger, the firing pin strikes and a deafening click emerges from your firearm. Few sounds are louder than hearing a “click” when you should have heard a boom/blast and felt recoil. After working with firearms all my adult life (40+ years at this writing) and being in the firearms industry, making millions of rounds of ammunition per year for the public, one of the most prevalent and misunderstood occurrences among the shooting public, are the actual causes of FTF’s.
Most shooters believe that when ammo fails to go bang, it is the fault of the ammo, after all, it was the ammo that failed to go bang and that very same gun has always gone bang before, so now that it made a click sound instead of a bang, ammo must be the culprit. Seems obvious, no? Well, the facts just are not so!
In relation to the above paragraph, let’s discuss firing mechanisms, better known as guns/firearms. Firearms have several moving parts that all have to be within a certain tolerance, working together, in a split second, to give a reliable firing pin/primer strike. Some firing systems are simple and others are complex, but all firing mechanisms are far more complex than ammo which consists of a stationary primer, seated into stationary brass, with stationary powder and a stationary bullet, seated within. Ammunition has no moving parts, unless it ignites. The ammunition is relying on the much more complex firing mechanism to ignite it.
After spending decades researching and learning the intricacies of FTF’s, I’ve discovered that although the ammo did not go bang, and it appears to be the fault of the ammo, in 98% of the cases, (98% is not an exaggeration) that is simply not true. The much more complex firing mechanism is normally the culprit….or a combination of factors involving the ammo and the firearm, combine to cause the problem.
Let’s look at some current and very commonly flawed firing systems.
This is probably the most prevalently flawed firing system and generator of FTF’s currently on the market. All iterations of the Redhawk or Super Redhawk have the same hammer to frame to transfer bar problem. Anytime a transfer bar is being utilized, all other aspects of the firing mechanism must work very well to overcome the difficulties imposed by the transfer bar. The Redhawk is plagued with hammer to frame to transfer bar tolerance problems. While most Red hawks will fire most brands of primers most of the time, many Redhawks will FTF with at least one brand of primer, once in a while. Well, “once in a while” with one or two brands of commercial primers is a disaster waiting to happen, especially when the buyer of factory ammo, has no idea what brand of primer has been used to manufacture said ammo. Normally, when a Redhawk FTF’s, the hammer contacts the frame prematurely and thus insufficient energy impacts the transfer bar, because that energy went into the frame via the hammer to frame tolerance, or lack thereof. The simple solution is to remove enough (normally .020 inch) from the hammer face, where it contacts the frame. This allows the portion of the hammer that contacts the transfer bar, to hit the transfer bar more fully before contacting the frame, thus providing more strike energy to the firing pin, through the transfer bar. A story best illustrates how common this problem is with Red hawks. About five years ago, I purchased a new 4 inch Redhawk chambered in 44 mag. On rare occasion it would FTF with CCI # 350 primers, when I fired it in single action mode, but in double action mode, it would FTF much more often. (The CCI # 350 primer is made within industry standards, so don’t go blaming the primer) I took it to a local Missoula gun smith named Matt Brainard. (406-549-3249) When I walked into his shop with the new Redhawk in hand, Matt looked at it and with no input from me, said “having ignition problems”? That’s right; FTF’s are common enough with Redhawks, that Matt had a good idea why I brought the revolver in before I said anything. Matt machined roughly .020 inch from the hammer face, where it contacts the frame, allowing the hammer to impact the transfer bar with more force and that Redhawk has never had another FTF.
As if all the above tolerance problems with the Redhawks firing mechanism aren’t enough, Redhawks chambered in 454 Casull suffer from yet one more malady. 454 Casull ammo is made utilizing a small rifle primer. Yet Ruger makes the 454 versions of their Redhawk with the same diameter firing pin as the 44mag. and 45 colt chambered versions and 44 mag. and 45 colt ammo utilizes a large pistol primer. Small rifle primers, by design, require more strike energy or at least a more focused area of pin impact, than large pistol primers. So, when Ruger chose to use the larger diameter firing pin, to ignite the small rifle primer utilized in 454 Casull ammo, they handicapped the firing mechanism yet further. The larger diameter firing pin tends to cover too much surface area of the small primer and this big foot print spreads the pin-strike-energy outward too much, instead of inward, into the primer. The result is FTF’s with some brands of small rifle primers. Generally, the above discussed cure will solve this problem, but not always and enterprising and knowledgeable gunsmiths like Hamilton Bowen, sell a longer firing pin and heavier main spring for the Redhawk, which truly solves the problem. Gee, why would Hamilton Bowen have designed a longer firing pin and stronger main spring, if there was not a problem with the firing mechanism in the Redhawk?
Remember, we are discussing only the firing mechanism of all Redhawk iterations. Aside from problems with the Redhawks firing design, I love the Redhawk revolvers and I own several of them, including one standard Redhawk that was converted to 500 Linebaugh by Dave Clements, which also required modifications to the firing mechanism to be 100% reliable in double action mode.
Kimber Model 84:
This is another rifle that I own several of. Its small CRF action is a thing of beauty, but (there has to be a “but”) the main spring is light enough that it will not reliably fire Winchester large rifle primers. My model 84 chambered in 308 Win. is a favorite. After owning it for a couple years and firing several hundred rounds of Buffalo Bore ammunition through it, (which utilizes a CCI # 200 primer) along with some of my hand-loads utilizing a Federal # 210 primer, I had never had an FTF. I was discussing that model 84 with my friend Ashley Emerson one day. Ashley pointed out that the several model 84’s he had tested would experience misfires with Winchester large rifle primers. He also said that he and Rich Lucibella had numerous FTF’s with Hornady Light Magnum and Federal High Energy ammo in his model 84 and a couple other 84’s. I told him I had never had an FTF with my 84’s, but only used CCI #200’s and
Federal # 210’s. Ashley told me to load some ammo with Winchester primers and try it. Ashley was right, in the first 20 rounds fired; I had three FTF’s in a rifle that had never had an FTF in several hundred rounds previously fired. Now, you cannot blame the Winchester primer for this. The Winchester primer is made within industry standards, so it is not at fault. The weak mainspring of the model 84 is at fault, which raises the ugly question of just how close is that under-powered mainspring to not igniting the primers I am using? This is a good question as how many of us want an ignition/firing system that is border-line?
S&W Model 629:
Around 2006 S&W made several runs of their model 629 (44 mag.) iterations with too short a firing pin. Because of customer complaints, S&W soon realized the error and corrected it and replaced the firing pin in any revolver thus plagued, if the customer sent it in. However, you would not believe the sleep I lost with emails and phone calls about how my “crappy” Buffalo Bore Ammunition was causing FTF’s in some person’s brand new model 629. A lot of folks would say to me; “you must have gotten a bad batch of primers” or “my gun is brand new, so it can’t be a problem with my new gun”. Again, if the ammo does not go off, it must be the fault of the ammo………….
I long ago lost count of the hundreds of emails or phone calls I’ve received over the years complaining about an FTF with my (Buffalo Bore) ammo. My first question is normally, “has your gun had a trigger or action job” or “are you shooting a Redahwk”? I am usually told something to the effect of, “well yeah, but what does that have to do with it” or “I bought it used, so I don’t know if it has an action job”. Folks, the most common and fastest way for a gunsmith to lighten your action or trigger pull is by reducing your mainspring strength and you’d be surprised just how often this will make your revolver “primer specific”, meaning your revolver will now fire some brands of primers reliably, but on other brands, you’ll get an occasional FTF. All US made primers are currently made within industry tolerances, so when you gun won’t fire one, guess what that means about your particular gun? I understand the need for a light and crisp trigger pull, but the trade-off of accomplishing that by lightening your main spring, is a marginal or unreliable pin strike….still, this may be OK if all your shooting is with a known primer. It may be OK if you are shooting competitions under a known set of conditions, with known ammunition/primers, but to carry such a gun for defense and trust it with the life/limb of your oved ones, is too risky a trade-off for me.
This firing mechanism has a two piece firing pin that is normally very operational, but can be problematic without some judicious polishing in the bolt groove.
Early Styer Scout Models:
The early production Styer scouts became known for ignition problems with some primers. I understand Styer has remedied the problems.
Extremely cold weather, combined with certain lubricants, combined with tolerance issues inside the firing mechanism, can also cause FTF problems. Some solvents and lubricants become thick and sticky in very cold weather and if anything is sufficiently dragging on your firing pin, you can and will experience FTF’s.
The above are just a sample of the most current ignition/firing systems that have issues, but when the ammo does not go bang, it is the fault of the ammo, right?
Dirty or partially plugged firing mechanisms cause numerous FTF’s.
After much use, tolerances can change inside a firing mechanism. Broken firing pins, weakening main springs, etc. can occur and effect what used to be a reliable gun.
It would only be fair to discuss some FTF issues that are ammo related. I’ve seen commercially produced ammo that had no gun powder in the case. I’ve seen primers that were contaminated with oils from loading machines, while going through the loading process. Both of those situations obviously lead to FTF’s. It would be extremely rare for an American made primer to be dysfunctional from the factory, but I suppose that is possible too, although I’ve not seen it in tens of millions of primers that have gone through my factory.
KILLING A PRIMER
Another email I’ve gotten too often will go something like this………………..”I pulled the trigger and the ammo failed to ignite, so I tried that same cartridge again and yet again and it still did not fire, so I know the primer is bad”. Friends, if a primer receives too light a strike to ignite it, but yet is dented sufficiently, you may have just killed it and it will never ignite…….if you strike it insufficiently two or three times, I guarantee you killed it. If your strike was sufficient to dent the primer and displace some of the internals of the primer, but was not sufficient to ignite it, (marginal strike) the primer will become internally damaged and will simply never ignite via a pin strike. This is not the fault of the primer, but is being caused by an insufficient strike.
The most common cause of ammo related FTF’s, in my experience, is from modern penetrating oils or solvents being left in the guns firing mechanism after a thorough cleaning. Those solvents, that have been designed expressly to penetrate, if left to excess inside the firing mechanism of a loaded firearm, can get into the primer pocket and contaminate the primer. I’ve had folks make fun of me for doing this, but after I thoroughly clean any of my guns, I fire them some, just to work all excess fluids out of the firing mechanism and to make sure the gun actually works (imagine that) after it was taken apart and reassembled. More “failures to function”, of various causes, happen on the first shot fired after a firearm has been taken apart and reassembled!
We could cover more issues regarding FTF’s but my main purpose is not to write a comprehensive book on the subject, but rather to give the shooter an idea of the myriad of circumstances that cause FTF’s, most of which are derived from the firing mechanism. Second to the firing mechanism, would be primer contamination by oils or solvents used in firearm cleaning, which while being ammo related, is really a user error. The dynamics involved in shooting may be more than we thought and when things don’t work, we begin to realize that there are a multitude of subtleties involved in firing modern firearms and ammo. Hopefully this little essay will be of some help to our customers and friends.
Good shooting and God bless,