"Obsolete" guns


September 14, 2003, 08:22 PM
Something I've been wondering about. When is a gun "obsolete"? I mean, a World War I Enfield will kill you just as dead today as it did in 1914. Some say that it's obsolete as a battle rifle because it's a bolt gun. But bolt action rifles are still used world wide by military forces, just for different purposes.

So what makes a gun obsolete? The easy answer is when something better comes along. But what makes one "better"? With things like jet fighters, it's kind of easy to tell. But small arms haven't changed a whole lot in the last half-century.

New advances include things like polymer frames. Is polymer really "better" than steel or aluminum? Or does it have disadvantages?

The US service rifle, the M16 family, is somewhere along the lines of 40 years old. Since then, a plethora of 5.56mm rifles have come along.

Is the M16 then "obsolete"?

Is the 1911 "obsolete" because there are newer pistols that will do exactly what it does that cost less to make, have fewer parts, and are lighter?

You know what I think it really is? In the last fifty years, it's gotten a LOT harder to shoot down a fighter aircraft. They've gone from 500 miles per hour to in excess of Mach 2; they've gone from service ceilings of 30,000 feet to over 100,000 feet (in the case of the F-15).

Yet, one well-placed bullet still kills a man, just as it did in 1953, in 1853, in 1753. Guns haven't evolved a great deal, especially in the last century, because we've already gotten them to the point where they're just about optimum for what we ask of them. A lot of what we have now might even be more than is necessary for many situations. (I mean, you're probably not going to need a thirty round magazine for home defense. It's nice to have, but a 4+1 shotgun will almost always work just as well.)

Just looking for your thoughts. I love "obsolete" guns. Garands, bolt guns, revolvers, leverguns, oh my!

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September 14, 2003, 08:27 PM
I remind people that when it comes to computers Obsolete != Useless.

I would say the same about firearms.

September 14, 2003, 08:31 PM
Well, when the ammo for the gun stops being available for one. I have a German Commission Model 1888 that is 113 years old. The original round it was chambered for is no longer produced, so I'd say the rifle is obsolete.

There is a big difference between obsolete and outdated. The primary arms of say, WW2 would be considered outdated, but not obsolete. There have been numerous advances made in firearms technology since then, but the weapons are still functional and will serve their intended purposes as long as there is ammo to feed them.

There aren't too many people who would be willing to say that a Colt 1851 Army, chambered in .44 blackpowder would make a suitable frontline weapon. However, the design still works rather well to this day, and it'll still kill a man dead. Therefore, it's outdated, but not necessarily obsolete.


Edited to remove effects of a late night, when I should have been asleep.

September 14, 2003, 08:33 PM
There are a lot of answers but one I will advance is when the cost of making the weapon is higher than it can be sold for, or something equivalent but cheaper to produce will replace it.

Look at the old surplus Mausers. All forged and machined and costing a hundred or so for a brand new rifle like the Yugo 48. Contrast that with a newly manufactured bolt action. There is no way a forged machined rifle could be made today and sold at the same price as a typical late model bolt gun. Or else they are ripping us off! :eek:

September 14, 2003, 08:43 PM
I've heard that they couldn't make guns today with the same quality and forgings that they did in the 20s and 30s, for instance, and sell them at a profit.


Manufacturing techniques have only improved since 1920, yes? So how can they have mass-produced something then (and interwar Colt government models enjoyed healthy sales, for instance) and NOT be able to do it today?

September 14, 2003, 08:51 PM
Not necessarily CAN'T produce today, but WON'T. Bean counters and Wall Street have taken over the business world rather than sole proprietors with a good name to protect. Like I said, it's a complex question with many sides.

Dave R
September 14, 2003, 08:55 PM
'Crawler, the answer to your question is--its because labor costs have risen so much. You could spend a lot of time with manual fittings, etc., when labor was cheap. No can do, now.

I agree with BrianP. Obsolete means useless. Pretty much anything that fires a cartridge you can reload for is NOT obsolete. Outdated, maybe. But some of those outdated weapons have some great virtues of their own. Swiss K-31, for example. And reloaders can form that brass from some not-quite-uncommon commercial brass.

OEF_VET, does that old German cartridge use primers that you can get commercially? If so, then I'm sure you could form brass from some other cartridge, if you wanted to bad enough and were willing to pay enough.

September 14, 2003, 10:21 PM
Dave R,

The cartridge is essentially the same as the 8mm Mauser, but the bullet itself is different, rounded as opposed to pointed. Even if I could make some rounds myself, I don't think I'd be gutsy enough to try shooting it. The barrel is full of rust and probably quite pitted. It's just kinda cool to be able to say I've got a rifle that's that old.


Standing Wolf
September 14, 2003, 11:41 PM
Is polymer really "better" than steel or aluminum? Or does it have disadvantages?

Other than ugly, I'm sure it's less expensive to manufacture.

September 14, 2003, 11:49 PM
Is polymer really "better" than steel or aluminum? Or does it have disadvantages?
Check out the polymer interior of a thirty year old car, and notice what happens when the volatile fractions start to finally evaporate. Cracks and brittleness. The polymers in guns are better, but they are still chemically plastics and I don't think anybody will be shooting 100 year old Glocks a century from now.

September 15, 2003, 12:12 AM
So how can they have mass-produced something then (and interwar Colt government models enjoyed healthy sales, for instance) and NOT be able to do it today?

Because the guy who hand-fitted the extractor or hand-polished the bluing on your 1922 Colt's Government Model was happy if his salary covered an apartment in Hartford, streetcar fare to and from the big dome, ice for the icebox, and food for his kids.

The guy who drives the machine that manufactures a current Kimber MIM extractor wants his salary to cover a house payment, payments on a Ford Explorer, a Honda Valkyrie, a four-wheeler or jet ski or bass boat, a timeshare in Panama City or someplace else on the redneck riviera, health insurance, disability insurance, unemployment insurance...

The world of Then and the world of Now are very different places...

September 15, 2003, 02:19 AM
Ok, this is controversial - I came up with it on my own, but I have heard at least 1 economist say it on TV.

Women entering the workforce have increased the cost of living in this country. No, I dont think they should have stayed home - but since many homes are dual income, in many places, a $250k-$400k home is considered normal and not overly luxurious. Since household incomes increased, prices of many items has risen.

Of course, many women may be happier or more fulfilled - its not my business. However, technology (and overseas manufacture) has done a good job of lowering the cost to produce many common goods to help keep pace with this.

Anyway, if you want to make money on a gun, you need to have it made with as little human contact as possible. The problem then is - if you use CNC and computer run tools, its still difficult to make products to exacting standards because of tool wear. Modern designed try to take this reality into account, but in my opinion, it shows up most when they try to use a robot to make a gun that was designed to be made by people.

Why is nobody able to make a 1911 on a CNC as precisely as Jardine or Wilson or Baer? Why is the fit on a Colt or Kimber or Springfield an atrocity when compared to the semi custom and custom makers?

Shouldnt they be able to make every part EXACTLY the same? Clearly they cant - not cost effectively. That is why the hand tuned guns will shoot rings around the factory guns. Sure, both will make a lemon here and there and they factory will make some that are just dead on - but statistically, a factory 1911 just cant hold up to a hand tuned/made 1911.

September 15, 2003, 03:15 AM
Smooth-bore long arms (such as flintlocks)

15th century firearms

Catapults (not really firearms, but y'know)

Other than that... not much

September 15, 2003, 05:19 AM
The American Heritage Dictionary defines:

ob·so·lete adj. 1. Abbr. obs. No longer in use: an obsolete word. See note at old . 2. Outmoded in design, style, or construction: an obsolete locomotive. 3. Biology: Vestigial or imperfectly developed, especially in comparison with other individuals or related species; not clearly marked or seen; indistinct. Used of an organ or other part of an animal or a plant. v. tr. ob·so·let·ed ob·so·let·ing ob·so·letes 1. To cause to become obsolete. [Latin obsol¶tus,past participle of obsol¶scereto fall into disuse; See obsolescent ] ob ”so·lete“ly adv. ob ”so·lete“ness n. ob “so·let”ism n.

IMO, one way to test for obsolescence is a 'mano y mano' scenario. For example:

A hundred troopers armed with single shot revolvers on one side, is suddenly confronted with another hundred armed with 1911's, handgun fighting distance apart. All hell broke loose... :what: :evil:

Which side do you think would have more soldiers still standing after the smoke clears? Let me re-phrase that: which side would you want to belong to? Also consider that, as in the real world, there's no such thing as a OSS.

Then you'll know which is obsolete. Of course, there are other test scenarios we could imagine to expose a weapon's obsolescence. You could even play it up such that your favorite gunmake always wins! :D:D:D

September 15, 2003, 08:05 AM
Well New_comer, I've thought a lot about just that scenario. If them old foggies with their obsolete SAs knew what they were doing, I don't think I'd want to be opposing them no matter what gun I had.

Since most of my handguns and rifles are probably older than most of the folk posting here, I'm not sure that any can really be considered obsolete. I regulary shoot handguns and rifles that are as old as I am, quite a few are older, and they still do everything anyone could want.

Todays firearms are pretty close to perfect. If you look at them, things seemed to peak for the handgun around 1935. Since then, except for a few changes in metalurgy, a few production changes like the advent of modern polymer materials, little has changed. Rifle technology seemed to peak around the Vietnam war period. Again, since then not much has changed.

Eventually any give technology reaches a place where there is little that can be improved. Once there, all you see are small refinements until there is some major breakthrough, some fundamental change. IMHO, firearms are there.

One day something will come along that is not based on chemically driving a small piece of lead from a rifled barrel. When that happens, I think we will be able to say that todays firearms are obsolete. But until then...

September 15, 2003, 08:20 AM
Plasma rifle, 40 watt range. /arnold :D

September 15, 2003, 08:24 AM
New_comer: I like your analogy except for one thing....

If we're talking about 100 soldiers from the Old West w/ SA Colts--during a time where marksmanship was taught at an early age--versus 100 modern-day soldiers w/ 1911's--taught at the temple of "spray & pray", then I'm putting my money on the Buffalo Soldiers...:D

...and just what is a "single shot revolver"? :scrutiny:

I think "obsolescence" is more a factor of popular acceptance than any great technological advancement. For example, how many "obsolete" 1911's and M-14's are being requisitioned for use in Iraq & Afghanistan? And how much of an "advantage" is a 12-shot .40 over a 6-shot .357?

If you want to talk about "obsolescence", think about the history of the knife...:cool:

September 15, 2003, 09:05 AM
...and just what is a "single shot revolver"?


Dern... you beat me to it... actually your whole post pretty much took the words right out of my mouth.

September 15, 2003, 10:00 AM

You got me there!:D

My mind was outgunning my typing...

Too much imaginating :D:D:D

Old Fuff
September 15, 2003, 10:11 AM

Using the Colt 1911/Government Model as an example:

Numerous manufacturers make this pistol, or clones of it today. Since it remains in production I wouldn’t call it obsolete. Are they any better then the ones Colt made during the 1920's? Well yes and no.

Generally speaking the steels and heat-treating used now are much better, and in some cases some parts may be machined to closer tolerances. But when it comes to polish and hand fitting - the many things that make something "quality" the older guns comes out ahead. Could we make guns with today's materials and yesteryears handwork? Certainly we could, but most people can't afford a handgun with a price tag hovering around $2,000.00 - and that's what it would be for a basic model.

Is this 1911 style pistol obsolete? I'd say no, not as long as people use it for its intended purpose. When it's no longer made and relegated to museums and collections then it will be obsolete - not before.

September 15, 2003, 10:40 AM
My Gryrojet is pretty much obsolete because of the ammo situation. Of coure, it may have been obsolete when it was new! :D

September 15, 2003, 11:01 AM
I read somewhere that when the RUssians invaded Afghanistan the Afghans used British Brown Bess's against them to great effect. Many people would consider the Brown Bess obsolete but when it's all you've got it looks a lot less obsolete.

Joe Demko
September 15, 2003, 11:17 AM
If we're talking about 100 soldiers from the Old West w/ SA Colts--during a time where marksmanship was taught at an early age--

For the most part, that time never existed. The idea that this was once a nation of marksmen is a charming notion, but not one based in fact. If you check original source documents, you will find that American soldiers as a group were never terribly good marksmen. I have read letters and other documents from the Civil War on up that bemoaned the total unfamiliarity with firearms displayed by the typical recruit. I've also read accounts of units that had been in combat displaying laughably bad riflery skills. There were, and are, talented marksmen in the service. As much as we might like to think so, however, there was never a time in America when every boy grew up learning how to shoot.

Bullet Bob
September 15, 2003, 11:21 AM

September 15, 2003, 02:07 PM
Few firearms manufactured in the last 100 years are "obsolete". There are some poor designs out there, but those guns were junk when they were new.

There are manufacturing shortcuts like polymers that have been foisted on the public as something "new and improved", but of course this is just a way for companies to increase their profit margin at the expense of the gullible. A steel (or even aluminum) framed Glock would serve just as well and be far more durable - but the profit margin would be less...

Look at a Browning HP - a high-cap nine that is as ergonomic as anything made today, and dammit; it looks better!

Check out a Bergman MP18 (manufactured in 1918) - what a piece of work! A 9mm submachine gun that rivals anything made today.

I could probably go on at length naming great guns from the early 20th century. Guns that fill every niche you can imagine - guns that are just as reliable and accurate as anything made today.

The designs are the same. All the "new" stuff is based on patents from 75 or 80 years ago. The only difference is in manufacturing techniques.


September 15, 2003, 02:24 PM
A steel (or even aluminum) framed Glock would serve just as well and be far more durable - but the profit margin would be less...

Yeah, I bet a steel framed Glock would be nice and light, too... :rolleyes:

There are manufacturing shortcuts like polymers that have been foisted on the public as something "new and improved", but of course this is just a way for companies to increase their profit margin at the expense of the gullible.

Yeah, I bet that there's absolutely NO advantage to these materials... we should make EVERYTHING out of metal... :rolleyes:

September 15, 2003, 02:30 PM
Obsolete - is a hard term to apply to guns.

Guns are an almost unique form of technology in that they have survived basically unchanged except as to mfg methods for about a century plus or minus. If we had advanced in heavier than air flight like we have advanced in shoulder fired projectile launchers, the Wright Bros would still be somewhere in the future. :eek: Automobiles would still be steam powered. Travel to Europe would be by steamship. In short, there is a lot of room for improvement in guns, it's just going to take somebody to find the next breakthru because as it is, we are basically stuck back at the turn of the 20th century when smokeless powder became the norm and John Browning made all his breakthrus.

September 15, 2003, 03:11 PM
That is why the hand tuned guns will shoot rings around the factory guns. Conjuring up a target in my mind's eye, I visualize it the other way 'round... :D

most people can't afford a handgun with a price tag hovering around $2,000.00 I think most of us can, if we want to. It's a question of priorities. We live in an age where "most people" think quantity is the same as quality, that more is better. Most people simply prefer to buy three $600-700 guns instead of buying one $2000 gun, and most people are happy with "good enough". At least we are reasonably happy, and prefer to complain about the quality not being what it used to be instead of coughing up the cash to buy a quality product. The manufacturers simply supply what they think their customers demand.

And it's not as if they didn't make cheap and crappy guns a hundred years ago. They made loads of cheap break-top rimfire revolvers, .25 and .32 acp pistols by the million. These are not the guns we think of when we look at an S&W triple-lock or a pre WWI Mauser rifle.

BigG, automoblies haven't really evolved that much over the last hundred years, have they? We still use the same internal combustion engine, air filled rubber tyres etc. Everything is a bit better now than then, but not revolutionary different. Heavier than air flight is still a question of moving a wing through air in such a way as to create lift. The jet engine, you say? The first successful gas turbine/jet engine was tested in June 1903, six months before Orville and Wilbur got off the ground.

September 15, 2003, 03:54 PM
I'd say a firearm is obsolete whenever one can't obtain ammunition or replacement parts in a reasonable manner.

Sure, one can make casings for oddball calibers, like 8mm Commission or the 8x56R Siamese Mauser, but the ammo isn't "readily obtainable". The big problem is parts. Can one reasonably get another sight blade, or extractor, or hand or even grips for the doodad in question?

Up untill last year, I had a 1966 Lincoln Continental. But it's just impossible to get replacement electrical system components anymore. The alternators have all been rebuilt several times and they just don't go anymore. Same with brake system components and fuel pumps and such. I just could not maintain the old beast anymore.

Same with guns. Oddly, one can still get parts for Winchester '92s and '94s; Savage 99s, Springfield '03s and the like. The useable stuff is still around. The 1911 is still used by many as a defense gun, not to mention a target pistol. But I'd have to have to find a firing pin for a Bergman-Simplex.

September 15, 2003, 04:16 PM
M67 - I would not derail the thread, but I believe APPLIED automotive technology has evolved W-A-A-Y more than APPLIED firearms technology. There are hydraulics and electronics that Henry Ford would be totally flummoxed by. On the other hand, in the area of current firearms, there is little that would be unintelligible to John Browning were he alive to see it.

Powered flight, first realized in 1903 by the Wrights, has evolved to manned roundtrip voyages to the MOON. Yet the autoloading pistol system most copied today first saw light in 1897 and was improved up thru 1905 - 7. Yes, I think there is lots of room for a breakthru in firearms, just who will do it???

September 15, 2003, 07:15 PM
BigG - I have no wish to derail the thread either, just a short comment.

I'm not saying automobiles haven't evolved quite a bit. But I'm not sure Henry Ford would have been totally flummoxed. Electronics would have been alien to him but I think he would have grasped the concept of a "machine" controlling things like fuel injection. Maybe the same way J.M.B. would have recognized a Glock immediately, but without any knowledge of the chemical processes involved in making the polymer.

Automobiles have changed more than guns, but I think both Ford and Browning would have been surprised they haven't changed more.

September 15, 2003, 08:13 PM
Yes, I know revolvers can have failures too, but I hear a lot more complaints about FTF/FTE with the semi autos....

Anyone says revolvers in general are obsolete gonna get a punch in the nose (just kidding). :D

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