Luger replicas

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The Luger is probably one of the best known handguns ever made. Instantly recognisable even to people who know nothing about firearms, no wonder it has been the subject of a number of replicas over the years. Sadly, most of the available replicas up to now have had some drawbacks. But with the release of the KWC CO2 powered blowback Luger, it looks as if we may finally have a replica worthy of this incredibly iconic handgun. To celebrate the release of the KWC Luger, I thought I’d take a brief look back at some of the Luger replicas produced since World War Two and consider how they stack up as shooters and visual and functional replicas.

Real Steel background

First thing to mention is that what we’re looking at here isn’t officially called a Luger at all. It’s actually called the Pistole Parabellum 1908, or P.08. It’s known as the Luger because it was designed and patented by German engineer Georg Luger in 1898. I’ll refer to it as the Luger in this article for the sake of simplicity. Manufacture began in 1900 with German firearms company DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken). The Luger was later manufactured under license in a number of other locations in Germany, and even at one time by Vickers in the UK.

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German Navy P.08

The Luger was an early attempt to produce a self-loading pistol, a handgun which could be fired and reloaded more quickly than a revolver. Most later designs used some form of moving slide to extract the spent shell casing and load a new cartridge, but the Luger employed a unique toggle mechanism. Venting gases cause the barrel and toggle to move backward until hitting a cam, which hinges the toggle knee-joint, unlocking the breech and extracting the spent cartridge. A spring then forces the toggle closed, pushing the next round into place. It’s a neat technical solution which causes relatively little recoil, though it does have disadvantages. The toggle operates to very tight tolerances which made manufacturing costly and expensive and the mechanism is also prone to jamming if dirt, dust or debris are present. The Luger wasn’t a completely new design, being partly based on the existing Borchardt C/93 self-loading pistol, though it was a neater and much more compact design than the earlier pistol. The Luger was available in 4″, 6″ and 8″ (Artillery) form. The artillery version featured adjustable sights, a wooden holster which doubled as a stock and an optional 50 round, drum magazine.

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Well used Artillery version

The Luger used a seven round, drop-out magazine in the grip, which was more steeply angled than most pistols (145° between the barrel and grip, compared to 120° on the Colt 1911, for example). The base of the magazine on most early Lugers is made of wood, something no replica has yet attempted to recreate. Early versions were chambered for a new cartridge, the 7.65mm Parabellum (also called the .30 Luger in the US) and the Luger was adapted by Swiss armed forces in 1900. Concerns that the Luger lacked stopping power led to the design of another new cartridge, the 9 x 19mm, which became known as the 9mm Luger and has been used in a range of handguns since. The Luger was updated in 1904 to take the 9mm cartridge, and at this time a safety on the right side of the frame was added. The Luger was adopted initially by the German Navy and then by the German Army in 1908 (at which time it gained the P.08 designation). Thereafter, sales to German military forces accounted for the vast majority of Lugers produced.

Replicas

Below is a list of the Luger replicas I’m aware of, in approximate chronological order according to when they were released. I haven’t included any of the spring powered Luger replicas because they are, without exception, crap.

Schimel GP-22

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The Schimel GP-22 is a pretty good CO2 powered replica of the Luger, produced In California by brothers Orville and Clifford Schimel. Both were machinists and Orville was also a die maker. The brothers were fascinated by the Luger, and soon after the end of World War Two they set out to make an air pistol replica. Early work was done in Orville’s garage before a plant was set up in North Hollywood and manufacturing begin in 1946. The Schimel uses an 8g CO2 cartridge (commonly available in the 1940s as soda siphon bulbs) to shoot a single .22 pellet. Up to 580 fps was claimed when the pistol was first sold.

When it first appeared, the L.A. Police department tried unsuccessfully to have the Schimel banned, claiming it looked too much like the real firearm. However, despite its visual appeal, power and claims of extreme accuracy, the Schimel didn’t sell particularly well. There were a number of good reasons for this. The materials used in the Schimel weren’t always sensibly utilised – die cast, pot metal parts were used in stressed areas and were prone to cracking, a steel barrel was press-fitted into a die-cast outer shell, and electrolysis quickly welded the barrel in place. The O rings were made of gas-permeable material, and were prone to expand up to 50% in use, causing the pistol to leak catastrophically. The grips were made of an early form of plastic which shrank on exposure to UV light – some owners claim shrinkage of up to ½”, which makes the grips impossible to remove. The cocking and charging procedure is complicated and parts break if the pistol is roughly handled. Finally, the paint tended to quickly flake off the die-cast body. No surprise then that within ten years, manufacture of the Schimel ceased and the company went bust. Despite this, a good Schimel is still a powerful, accurate and loud replica. The problem is finding a good one. Schimels regularly turn up on gun auction sites, though they tend to be rather expensive and are now even more fragile than they were sixty years ago.

American Luger

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The manufacturing plant from the bankrupt Schimel company was bought up by Californian engineering works A.C. Swanson in 1956. Swanson developed the Schimel design and produced the American Luger from 1956 – 1958. This is generally similar to the Schimel, but it’s an eight shot repeater which shoots .22 lead balls. Sadly, the American Luger was just as fragile as the Schimel, and sales were never particularly strong. Production ended when Stoeger, the US firearms company which became the owner of the “Luger” trademark, threatened legal action. Relatively small numbers of American Lugers were produced, and these command even higher prices than Schimels when they do appear for sale.

Wham-O Kruger

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In the late 1950s yet another Californian company, this time toymaker Wham-O, produced the Kruger 98, a replica of the Luger which used a similar sounding name, presumably to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit from Stoeger. The Kruger 98 wasn’t really an air pistol at all – it used the explosive power of a standard “cap” to propel a .12 birdshot. As can be imagined, there isn’t actually much power in a cap intended for toy guns, and despite advertising claims for extreme accuracy, the .12 lead shot barely achieved enough power to leave the end of the barrel. A later version which fired standard .177 BBs was even less powerful, though Wham-O advertising gleefully claimed that the Kruger could also shoot “peas, beans and even tapioca!“. The Kruger was produced in large numbers and these regularly turn up for sale, but unless you have a particular desire to use tapioca as ammo, there really doesn’t seem much reason to own one.

Tanaka Luger

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Japanese manufacturer Tanaka Works were the first to produce a fully functional Luger replica. Their green gas powered, 6mm, blowback Luger features an operational toggle, full size drop-out magazine, working safety catch and is available in 4″, 6″ and 8″ versions. Tanaka also produced a wooden stock/holster, wood grips and a drum magazine for this replica. This is a very nice, well made replica which field strips accurately and is marred only by the fact that it’s entirely made of plastic (even the “heavyweight” version is rather light). Like many Tanaka pistols, it’s also not especially powerful (250 – 300 fps) or accurate and the firing pin is a little fragile – pushing the magazine in with the firing pin extended or even repeated dry firing can cause the pin to snap. This apart, the Tanaka Luger is a nice replica and well engineered, but like all Tanaka products it’s very expensive. However, for me, the main problem is that it’s plastic – I don’t feel that a plastic replica can ever provide convincing weight and heft.

WE Luger

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WE Luger, 6″

Taiwanese manufacturer WE were next to produce a 6mm , green-gas powered blowback Luger, and functionally this is almost identical to the Tanaka version. However, the WE Luger is all metal, and does feel much more convincing. The WE version is available in black or polished metal finish and in 4″, 6″ and 8″ form, and WE also offer a 50 round drum magazine. Overall, the WE Luger is a very nice replica, though it doesn’t have a great reputation for longevity. On many older WE Lugers, the trigger sear wears until pulling the trigger causes the pistol to fire on full auto until all the gas in the magazine is exhausted. Which is sort of exciting if you’re not expecting it. Accuracy and power are similar to the Tanaka Luger. Overall, the WE Luger is a pretty reasonable replica and like most WE pistols, it’s fairly low cost. Just don’t expect it to last forever.

Umarex “Legends” Luger

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In 2013 Umarex announced the addition of a P.08 Luger to the growing “Legends” collection. This is a .177 BB shooting, CO2 powered, non-blowback replica and appears to be identical to the KWC non-blowback Luger (KMB-41DHN) and the ASG P.08. It’s all metal and has good weight, but is only available in 4″ form and the lack of blowback is an issue – the trigger operates only in double action and the pull is long and heavy. The drop-out magazine is reduced size and although the pistol has good power (at around 400fps), the heavy trigger pull affects accuracy. A nice looking, well made, low cost metal replica with good weight and a fair shooter, but without the toggle mechanism that is the defining characteristic of the Luger. You can find a link to a review of the Umarex P.08 at the end of this article.

Gletcher P.08

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Gletcher is the trademark of the New York based Sport Manufacturing Group, Inc. The Gletcher P.08 is a CO2 powered, 4″, .177 BB shooting, blowback Luger replica. CO2 is stored inside the grip and the drop-out magazine is reduced size. The appearance of this replica is somewhat spoiled by prominent white “Gletcher” markings and trademarks, though otherwise it’s a good visual replica of the Luger. Despite having blowback, early reports suggest that it has a very heavy trigger action and an appetite for CO2 (some owners report no more than 35-40 shots per CO2). Accuracy and power are also reported as no more than average. This is getting closer, but the lack of a full sized magazine and the reportedly heavy trigger mean that this still isn’t the perfect Luger replica. It’s also expensive in comparison to other Luger replicas.

KWC Luger

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At last! A CO2 powered, blowback Luger with a full sized drop-out magazine. Taiwanese manufacturer KWC have recently released a full metal, blowback Luger and even better, they have somehow managed to shoehorn a CO2 cartridge into the slim magazine. KWC make some pretty good replicas (they are the OEM manufacturer for, amongst others, the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness and some Umarex replicas) so I’m very hopeful about this one. It’s available only as a 4″ version but in both 4.5mm (KMB-41DHN) and 6mm (KCB-41DHN) form and KWC claim “incredible accuracy“. Don’t know about that, but if it’s as good as some of the KWC 1911s, this could finally be a decent Luger replica.

Related pages

Umarex Legends P08 review

Best replica Part 2

Refurbishing and repairing a Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker

44peaceI recently acquired a slightly weary Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker.  That’s the .22 calibre successor to the Crosman SA-6 and a replica of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army (SAA).  Produced between 1970 and 1981, the 44 Peacemaker is a pellet only gun (the .177 36 Peacemaker shoots both BBs and pellets).  I have always fancied one of these Crosman guns, but the prices for working models seem to be very high.   So, when I was offered a leaky and in need of refurbishment Model 44 at a reasonable price, I was happy to go along with it.  However, buying a non-working older gun is always a gamble – you never know quite what you’re getting, and spares can be fiendishly hard to find.

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Here is the Crosman, as received  and pretty much as described by the seller.  Paint is flaking off the metal cylinder, the finish has rubbed off the hammer and trigger and there are a few areas where the paint on the body has chipped and discoloured.  However, the gun cocked and dry fired well with a nice positive action and the cylinder appeared to index correctly (though only shooting a pellet will show if this is actually true).  The plastic CO2 cover is missing, though I knew that when I agreed to buy.

Putting in a CO2 cartridge revealed a bad leak.  CO2 was venting continuously through the barrel, which suggested a failed main seal.  However, in the short time that it held CO2, it did seem to cock and fire properly (though I didn’t try it with a pellet).  My plan was to fix the leak and to do a general cosmetic refurbishment of the pistol.

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First step was to strip down the 44 Peacemaker and try to find the cause of the leak.  Very few tools are needed – a couple of good quality screwdrivers will be used for dismantling and a pair of needle nosed pliers are useful for removing tiny springs without having them spring into the middle distance.  First the plastic grips were removed by releasing the slotted screw on the left grip.

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Just four slotted screws hold the two halves of the 44 together.  Once these are removed from the right side, the upper (right) half is lifted clear.  Nothing pinged off – hurrah!  At a first glance, everything seemed to be there (even the tiny detent spring and ball bearing) and nothing looked broken.  I took lots of pictures for reference before doing anything else.

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Next I removed the cylinder, complete with valve assembly (which just slides out of the front of the cylinder when this is removed).  This was followed by the barrel, CO2 tightening screw, main leaf spring and the hammer, trigger, trigger return spring, safety bar and indexing pawl.  All simply lift out when the halves are separated.  Finally the tiny détente spring and ball bearing were removed.

The only problem I immediately saw was that the hammer has clearly been rubbing on the inside of the frame – some sort of spacer may be required here.

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Bright area (arrowed) where hammer has been rubbing

With the valve assembly out of the cylinder, I could see that one or two of the O-rings have nicks and marks (I’ll be replacing them all anyway), but there are no obvious problems.  Given that the leak is coming from the barrel, I suspect that the problem is the main seal.  This is accessed by unscrewing the top of the valve assembly.

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Not much in there really.  Next step was to try to remove the main seal from the firing/piercing pin to see if I could fabricate a replacement for the nitrile seal.  This looked simple – just drift the seal and brass carrier off the pin.  What could possibly go wrong?

448And here’s the answer – overenthusiastic drifting led to a broken firing pin and the severe startling of my cat due to a sudden storm of expletives.  Few things are more irritating than a problem you have caused entirely by yourself.  And this was purely down to me.  The brass carrier was very tightly drifted on to the pin, and I should have been more careful.  Now, fabricating a new firing pin is beyond my meagre capabilities, but fortunately I know a man who can.  Nick at Magic 9 Design is a talented gunsmith who specialises in airguns (see link at bottom of this article).  Nick responded to my panicked e-mails with reassurance that he’d make me a new firing pin.  I posted off the broken parts of the pin and started working on the cosmetic refurb.

I had better say right here that I am not an expert on old air pistols.  However I have been restoring old motorcycles and sports cars for more than 25 years, so I do know something about making sad old bits of metal look shiny again.

First step was to re-paint the 44.  I know folk have lots of different views about this – some people think that repainting spoils the originality of a gun.  I go along with this to a degree, but I believe that the original paint on this 44 was so chipped and flaked that there wasn’t any alternative.  If you are going to paint a gun, the first thing to look at is the original finish – is it matt, semi-matt (sometimes called satin) or gloss?  On the 44 it’s a semi-matt finish for the body of the gun and the cylinder, with a matt finish on the hammer and trigger.  The first job on the 44 was to paint the cylinder.  This is fairly straightforward as it’s a metal cylinder on the 44 (the cylinder is plastic on the 36 Peacemaker). 449

Cylinder stripped and ready for paint

If you are painting a pistol, I’d strongly recommend spray rather than brush paint and you need the right colour and finish, obviously, but you also want something that’s resistant to chipping and which won’t dissolve if it’s exposed to solvents or oils.  There are lots of good paints out there, but over the years I have used the Hammerite range of spray paints with good results.  These paints seem to bond well with metal (they’re used without primer), they last well and they’re readily available at home improvement and car accessory outlets.

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Left side, partly stripped.

Preparing the surface for painting is critical.  You need to get all traces of the old paint off.  If you use a good quality paint stripper, this isn’t too difficult, but you do need some patience to get into all the nooks and crannies.  If you find stubborn bits of paint which won’t come off easily, don’t scrape at them with anything metal (like a screwdriver blade), you’ll just mark the metal.  Instead, use a wooden spatula – an old ice lolly stick is ideal or a large kitchen style matchstick will do at a push.  Do check what you’re trying to get the old paint off – some aggressive paint strippers will dissolve plastic just as happily as paint, so check what it says on the tin before using paint stripper on plastic components.

When all the old paint is off, clean the item in warm water with some washing-up liquid in it.  This will help to get all the grease from years of use and your sticky finger marks off the metal.  Once the piece is clean, rinse it carefully with clean, warm water and don’t handle before it’s painted.

OK, now you’re ready to paint.  Almost.  Before you start, warm the paint.  Stand the aerosol can of paint in warm water for about 15 minutes before you start to spray.  This helps the paint to flow better, and gives a much better finish.  When you’re spraying, use light, even coats.  Don’t be tempted to try to put on lots of paint in one go.  I find that 2 – 3 light coats, with at least 30 minutes between coats works well.

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Frame halves and cylinder painted.

Let the piece dry thoroughly before handling.  Most paints take at least 24 hours to cure properly.  Don’t panic if the finish doesn’t look right immediately.  Some paints take time to achieve their final finish – for example, the Hammerite paint looks gloss when it’s first sprayed, and it doesn’t turn semi-gloss for about 12 – 18 hours after application.

Initially I was happy with the finish on the 44 – it looked just about the right tone of semi-matt.  However, after leaving it to cure for a couple of days, I noticed some bubbling of the paint in small areas (circled, below).

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It was obvious that I hadn’t removed all the old paint, and that these tiny traces of original paint had reacted with the new paint to cause the bubbling.  Unfortunately, when this happens, the only solution is to rub off all the new paint and start again, being especially careful to remove every trace of the old paint.

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Stripped and ready for painting.  Again.

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Painted, again.  No bubbling this time.

I also decided to repaint the hammer and trigger at this time.  I cleaned all traces of the finish off both, and painted using a matt-finish black.  You can see the result below (the wire is used to hang the piece during painting and drying).  The paint has reacted with something on the metal to cause bubbling and a gloss finish. The trigger was the same.   Beginning to wish I had never started the whole repainting job, I removed all the new paint and started again.

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I tried using two different types of paint, and the result was the same both times.  There is clearly something impregnated into the hammer and trigger which no amount of cleaning will remove, and which reacts with paint.  I finally ordered a small bottle of Birchwood Casey Aluminium Black from Amazon.  This is supposed to provide cold blueing of light alloys, such as those in air pistols.

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And… it worked!  After half a dozen applications, I ended up with a durable looking matt, very dark grey finish on the hammer and trigger.  Which is pretty much what I was hoping for.  I also tidied up the grip and frame screws.  The heads were badly marked.   The easiest way to do this is to stick them in the chuck of an electric drill, and use fine grade wet and dry paper on them as they rotate.  I could have tried to source new screws, but I imagine that finding identical fasteners for a gun of this age would be very difficult.  I also prefer to re-use original components wherever possible.  Poking the screws through holes in a piece of card gives good support for re-painting.

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I also ran a wire brush over the CO2 tightening wheel to clean it up, and that finished the cosmetic side of the refurb.

4418At around this time the firing pin was returned from Magic 9 Design.  Nick had made, tempered and hardened a new firing pin to replace the one that I broke, and installed a new 90 Shore Hardness polyurethane stem seal.  And very nice it looked too.   The new stem seal should fix the leak.

4419All O-rings were replaced and all internal components were cleaned, checked and lubricated with appropriate oil and grease.  Reassembly is fairly straightforward as long as you notice that there is a locating pin on the frame (arrowed) which must fit into a hole on the cap of the valve assembly (arrowed, inset), or the frame halves won’t join properly.

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The only really fiddly bit is installing the tiny detent ball and spring (arrowed below).  This isn’t a job to try if you have had more than your allotted daily ration of caffine!

4420With  the pistol back in one piece, it was time to try the action.  Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that the new paint on the front of the cylinder was causing the cylinder to bind.  So, I dismantled again, and sanded the new paint off the front of the cylinder before reassembling.

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After second reassembly, the action was very good indeed – smooth, light, precise and creamy.  Interestingly, the hammer was no longer rubbing on the frame, even though I hadn’t installed a spacer.  One less thing to worry about.  Time to try CO2 in the pistol.  This 44 didn’t come with the plastic CO2 cover, so when spraying the pistol, I also sprayed a few CO2 cartridges, just to make them look a little less obtrusive.

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Time for the moment of truth – I inserted an new CO2 and…

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No leak!  Even better, it shoots very nicely indeed.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a full review sometime soon.

Final thoughts?  It was much harder to get a decent finish on this pistol than I had expected.  Breaking the firing pin was stupid and entirely my fault – some care is required when working on this part.  Internally, the metal parts of the gun showed no signs of wear at all, despite the pistol being more than 30 years old. Internally the 44 Peacemaker is pretty simple and requires no special tools to disassemble.

Before…

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After…

4425The Crosman Wild West revolvers are featured in my book, Classic American Air Pistols, avaiable on Amazon:

Books

Related posts:

Classic Handguns – the Colt Single Action Army revolver

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver

Links:

Magic 9 Design