Improvised weapons, most notably firearms, have gained great popularity in the rural areas of the world. The residents of such areas are generally poor, and cannot afford to buy commercially produced firearms. There is not much access to commercial firearms in these areas anyway.
Presented in this book are improvised firearm designs as developed and hand-built by rural gunsmiths in the Philippines. Neighboring countries such as Bornea, Sumatra, and Malaysia have their own versions of these weapons. They may vary slightly in materials, style, and size. Rural gunsmiths in Pakistan and India also produce variants of these designs, many being of relatively good quality.
Most of the firearms built by villagers in the Philippines are completely handmade. The gun parts are individually cut and formed to shape with hand tools. Screws, rivets, and brazing hold the parts together. Some customers special order their firearms, and provide high quality materials for the gunsmith to work with. Most of the jungle gunsmiths make their living by hand-building firearms, and are accomplished in their work. When given high quality materials to use, as with a special order, they can fabricate firearms of surprising quality.
Consider the source of these weapons. It will often be a small hut furnished with a simple workbench, anvil, vise and blacksmith's furnace. The gunsmith's tools are files, hacksaws, punches, and hammers. Such a basic workshop greatly resembles the blacksmith's shops found in the rural Philippines. No wonder, then, the village blacksmith often builds and sells his own improvised firearms where there is no farm equipment to repair.
In urban areas of the Philippines, better equipped improvised gunsmiths also operate. Here they have access to better quality materials, and electricity. Such illegal gunshops are not only found in relatively poor countries, but can be found in any modern nation that restricts the private ownership of firearms.
Many of the Philippino gunsmiths have produced copies of Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers, and even Colt .45's. The barrels of these handguns are rifled in a crude manner, using improvised techniques. External configurations are well copied, as are barrel and receiver markings. A closer examination will show brazing marks on every joint, especially on the receiver of a revolver. The barrel, and sometimes a ventilated rib, are also brazed in place to the receiver.
An internal examination of a Philippino revolver copy will reveal an entirely simple double-action lockwork. The use of this action precludes the need for internal machining of the receiver. The lockwork resembles that found in Colt revolvers. However, the improvised model has no rebounding hammer; the hammer always rests against the firing pin. This system is very dangerous, and demands that the cylinder be positioned so that the firing pin points between the chambers of the cylinder when not in use.
Some special-order Smith & Wesson copies are copied almost exactly, externally and internally. These show internal machining and a rebounding hammer as found in the originals. But brazing marks are still noticeable when closely examined.
Because of the high costs involved, most Philippino improvised firearms are not special ordered. A villager will often settle for any firearm that works. It is a common saying in the remote areas of the Philippines that a discharge from a hand-made firearm cannot be distinguished from a commercial model, especially at night.
The production of these modern improvised firearms began in the Philippines when WW II ended. At that time, bandits and cattle rustlers plagued the rural areas of the island chain. The closest police authorities to these areas were three or more days distant. Most of the outlaws had been guerrilla fighters against the Japanese during WW II, and did not recognize the independent government arranged during the American occupation after the war. The majority of the Philippino citizens recognized the new government, however, and stopped supporting the guerrilla movement.
In turn, the outlaws fled to the mountains, where they began the systematic terrorization of the rural villagers. After stealing anything of value, the outlaw gangs would burn entire villages and their surrounding crop lands. They would finish by stealing the villagers' cattle and water buffalo, upon which the peasant farmers depended for food, and for power to cultivate their land.
This situation led the villagers to begin improvising their own weapons. Jungle workshops began appearing, particularly in the central and northern sectors of Luzon, one of the islands in the Philippine chain.
Villagers first improvised a weapon popularly called "The Flying Icepick." It was simply a sling-shot designed to fire a sharpened length of wire fletched with fine feathers. The missile's head was flattened, sharpened, and notched. When firing, the notches were engaged with a wire catch, found in place of the pouch normally associated with slingshots. Firing was then achieved in the same manner as with a normal sling-shot. To make the missile more lethal, villagers sometimes dipped the wire point in snake venom.
Along with the bow and arrow, the "Flying Icepick" provided the remote villager with their only means of defense against the outlaw gangs for some years. Their weapons were most effective at night, when they could silently strike at the bandits, killing some of them and unnerving the remainder. But the bandits soon altered their tactics. They began attacking villages by day, taking a great toll among the primitively armed peasants.
Villagers in turn began improvising their own firearms in earnest. Jungle gunsmiths in Ilocos province began making a firearm called the "Paltic". It soon became popular in other areas of the Philippines. Due to scarce supply of ammunition, the most common home-made gun was and still is the shotgun. Many of these are of the "Slam Bang" design, being made entirely from water pipe. The most common improvised shotgun is single shot, utilizing a break open action, and with a very long barrel. Its hammer is exposed and is single action. A separate piece is made and carried to manually eject spent shells from the shotgun's chamber. Cutdown versions of these weapons have also appeared, and are known as shotgun pistols.
To increase firepower, the village gunsmiths have made bolt action, magazine fed shotguns. These are copied from commercial rifles. The magazines' capacities range from four rounds in 12 gauge, to ten rounds in .410 gauge. Brazing and riveting are used extensively in improvising the receivers and magazines of these weapons, with great success.
Muslim gunsmiths in southern Mindinao have produced the most unusual version of the improvised shotgun to appear lately. These are revolving cylinder shotguns with a five or six round capacity. Some of these weapons have been confiscated, and are found to be well-built and fairly sophisticated. Most of these are manually operated, though some .410 models use the double-action lockwork found in modern revolvers. The Muslim gunsmiths also rely heavily on brazing when fabricating their firearms.
The popularity of improvised firearms among Philippino gangs reached its peak during the early 1960's. Many of the gangsters at this time were ex-convicts who had learned improvised gunsmithing while in prison. Once released from jail, the convicts would build their own weapons, since Philippine law forbids them ownership of weapons. Stricter police control has since subdued these gangs' activities.
A word of caution here. Any firearm improvised from cheap materials of unknown analysis, especially those crudely made, are dangerous. Philippine authorities have on record many instances where Slam Bang shotguns have blown-up in the face of the operator. Similarly, revolver copies have exploded like fragmentation grenades while being fired. This is due to an excessive gap between cylinder and barrel, allowing propellant gasses to escape there, and causing lead to stack in the revolver barrel.
Improvised firearms, then, have caused innumerable accidents. But the poor farmer or villager has no choice but to rely on home-made weapons for self-defense. He has a family and property to protect against well-armed terrorist-bandits. More often than not, his protection takes form as a simple firearm built from salvaged materials in a jungle workshop. For him, it is foolish to go unarmed any longer, for he has lived through the hard times of the past. And he knows that harder times may still come in the future.
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