Light Strikes

The hammer hits the firing pin and that hits the primer, but it doesn’t go bang. Removing that round and looking at its backside, the dent in the primer is smaller than it should be.

That’s a “light strike”.

I’ve been getting 3-4 of these per 100 in my wad gun recently and, over the last several range visits, I’ve tried various fixes.

In case you don’t know, a “wad gun” (in my case, at least) is a modified 1911. It shoots 45 ACP bullets but not the round nose, copper covered ones. Instead, it shoots a bullet that flies better, with a reduced load of powder – we say “propellant” – and, to compensate for these changes, the gun has several things that have to be adjusted. When those adjustments aren’t correct, all manner of ills can result.

In my case, it doesn’t go bang … sometimes.


This is what drives the hammer. If it’s not whacking hard enough…

Factory 1911s come with 23 lb mainsprings but I have been using a much lighter one, 19 lbs, for some time because the decreased pressure on the trigger parts make it easier to shoot. A lighter mainspring reduces the amount of pressure needed to make the trigger break. Lighter trigger = more accurate shot placement.

Is my old 19 lb spring tired and wimpy? It’s the one I put in there years ago so this is a definite possibility.

Suspecting this, I bought an assortment from Don and tried a 19, a 20 and a 21 lb mainsprings but nothing seemed to change.

That’s not it.

Nose Damage!

When a light strike occurs, I noticed that if I inspect that round, it invariably has a couple of marks on the nose of the bullet. I’m shooting moly-coated semi-wad cutters and the black moly coating over the lead interior makes this easy to see. The marks look like the nose is digging into the edge at the bottom of the barrel, where the chamber and ramp are supposed to line up. Maybe something’s out of whack?

Gotta have a gunsmith look at that – I don’t know what to look for, nor can I fix it.

But I’m at the range so what else could it be?

Recoil Spring?

The recoil spring, as the name suggests, is compressed during recoil and then it drives the slide forward to pick up the next round, shoves it into the chamber, and continues pushing forward until a gizmo called the barrel link locks everything into place.

But if the slide is not quite 100% forward, the cartridge (bullet + shell + propellant + primer) may not quite be all the way in. This can be dangerous because the brass shell, not being fully encased in the chamber, can rupture and, instead of pushing the bullet out the end of the barrel, all that energy can come out the ejection port and down the grip where there are people and body parts nearby.

But if the whack isn’t quite strong enough, instead of setting off the primer, it’ll just make a small dent and push the cartridge the rest of the way in.

My normal recoil spring is a 12 lb jobber, and that’s (again) reduced from the normal 18 lbs because, with the reduced loads I shoot, there’s much less recoil. Full strength springs resist the light recoil from my loads too much and, worst case, the empty shell of brass in the chamber isn’t ejected and a new round isn’t loaded. All it does is cock the hammer and, on the next shot, it goes “thunk”.

When the hammer goes “thunk” instead of “bang” you could just cock the hammer manually and try again. With the light strikes I’m seeing, this works. But it doesn’t help me solve the problem.

FYI: Shooters in action pistol sports are taught to “Slap, rack, bang!” at this point. Slap the bottom of the magazine to be sure it is fully seated, rack the slide to eject the previous round and load another and then, “Bang!” shoot. The danger in this procedure is if you have a squib – see below – the subsequent “Bang!” will destroy the gun and possibly damage the shooter and others nearby.

With hearing protection, it can be hard to tell the difference between “thunk” and “Pffffft” so I give it the benefit of the doubt because there are a couple of possibilities and the second is really bad if you don’t catch it in time.

  1. First, if the old empty shell may still in the chamber as can happen with a too strong recoil spring. But just seeing an empty shell isn’t proof of this. It could still be #2.
  2. Instead, it could be that the round went “Pffffft” instead of “Bang!” That would empty the shell and the “Pffffft” is enough to push the bullet into the barrel but not out the other end. This is bad. This is real bad. It’s called a “squib” and when you suspect you might have one, you definitely stop and investigate.

This is bad because, if you load and shoot another round, the new bullet goes rocketing down the inside of the barrel, collides with the bullet that’s still in there and all that energy can’t go out the end of the barrel, nor can it go back where it came from. Instead, the two bullets squish together compressing the flaming air between them and the barrel explodes.

Now you have steel fragments being thrown out with the same energy as the bullet would have had. The gun will not recover from this and it’s quite possible it will take nearby body parts with it or at least do some serious damage.

Upon inspection, however, I see my light strikes still have the bullet with them and the barrel is clear. I’m not having squibs.

But the recoil spring is suspect. Maybe the gun is not going fully into battery.

The recoil spring is, by the way, replaced more frequently in the 1911 than any other part. Every 1000 rounds is the recommendation.

So I put in a new 13 lb and then a new 15 lb recoil spring and shot enough with each to convince myself that isn’t the problem. The gun is going fully into battery with slide all the way forward and the barrel link doing its thing, and with the 15 lb recoil spring, it starts having problems feeding the next round as described above.

Back to the 12 lb recoil spring.

Limp Wrist?

The 1911, when fired, uses the recoil energy to load the next round. And it relies on the mass of the shooter to “back up” the gun so the slide will slide to the rear instead of the whole gun moving backward.

If the shooter “limp wrists” the shot, that mass isn’t there or is significantly reduced and the gun behaves much the same as if the recoil spring is too weak.

This area of grip strength, locked wrist muscles, locked elbow, getting my body directly behind everything – this is an area I’ve been working lately and trying to improve. It’s quite possible that I’m not successfully executing each step of my “shot plan” and occasionally ending up with a “limp wrist” for a couple of shots. Maybe 3-4 per hundred?

So, maybe it’s me.

The fix, obviously, is to fix the shooter. And that means practice right, practice right, and more practice right.

High Primers?

I reload my own ammunition. Although this sounds economical, what new reloaders soon discover is that you shoot as much as you load, and that you load as much as you can afford. You don’t save money but at least you do get to shoot more.

I use a Dillon 650 progressive press and, on the upstroke, a new primer is pressed into the cup-shaped space at the back end of the shell. In the past I’ve had rounds come out the other end of the process where the primer wasn’t shoved all the way in. Apparently I didn’t press all the way “up” on the upstroke.

When the firing pin hits one of these, it finishes the job I was supposed to do. It shoves the primer in the rest of the way but doesn’t set it off. Instead, the back of the primer will then show a small dent instead of a big one.

For this range visit, I visually and by touch inspected all the ammunition and pulled out any possible high primers. But when I shot the remaining “looks good to me” ammo, I still got the light strikes.

That’s not it.


The cut nose on the light strikes got me to thinking.

When the slide goes back and ejects the empty shell, the spring in the magazine is what shoves the next round up so the slide coming forward can then push it forward into the ramp and into the chamber. The ramp starts in the frame (receiver) of the gun and the bottom of the chamber is cut (ramped) to match.

But if that “match” is a touch off and the spring in one magazine is positioning the incoming round so that it smacks straight into that misalignment, that would damage the nose and leave the gun slightly out of battery as previously described. The firing pin would then finish the cycle but without activating the primer. A different spring in a different magazine might get the incoming round in a slightly different position so that the incoming bullet would bounce off the ramp in a different location, not jam into the bottom of the barrel’s slightly mis-matching ramp, and fully seat the round. Good “Bang!”

So I switched from the Wilson Combat magazines I’ve been using for the past several months – about as long as I’ve been getting the light strikes (!) – and went back to the magazines that came with this gun oh so many years ago.

At that point in my range visit, I only had about fifty rounds left. Nonetheless, shooting all of those, there were no light strikes. Not one.

Because the failure rate had been 3-4 per hundred, fifty in a row that are good is promising but not a definitive proof.

It’ll take another visit to the range and – what do you think? – two hundred flawless rounds in the old magazines and then another hundred through the Wilson Combats failing 3-4 per hundred to prove they are, indeed, the problem?

Sounds good to me.

(I’m a software engineer and I love debugging!)

But, there’s also that apparent misalignment between the receiver ramp and the ramp at the bottom of the chamber in the barrel to be checked by a gunsmith.

Where’d I put Frank’s number?

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