Friday, July 13, 2018

Guns: Dan Wesson Valor review - The Goldilocks 1911


When I was a poor college student, I mistakenly bought 1911-style handguns at a price point. I didn't understand that the M1911 design came from a pre-CNC, pre-MIM era, when laborious cutting and hand-fitting was required to hew guns out of steel and wood. Most manufacturers these days simply don't bother, which probably caused the hit-and-miss reliability in the cheapo Brazilian, Chinese, and Filipino pistols I was purchasing at the time.

I have a bit more sense now (and a bit more disposable income), so I wanted to give the 1911 another chance. Enter Dan Wesson's line of 1911s. They're three times as expensive as the overseas-produced guns I shot back in the day, but the Dan Wessons have a reputation as some of the best non-custom guns you can buy. And while you can easily spend two or three times what the average Dan Wesson costs on a custom 1911, the return on that investment is questionable.

I spied a DW Valor, a classic full-size Government .45 ACP in stainless steel, and took the plunge...

Fit, Finish, and Features

Dan Wesson claims that every part on their 1911s is "hand-fit, polished and blended." It certainly felt that way with the Valor. The slide was glass-on-glass smooth, and the barrel bushing was so tight that I initially need a bushing wrench to field strip the thing (it got easier with time).

The bead blasted finish on the gun was attractive, though not as fancy as the black "Duty" finish Dan Wesson applies to some of their pistols. Every major edge was slightly dehorned, including the rear of the slide and the front of the dustcover.

The Valor was packed to the gills with pretty much every 1911 feature you would want - slightly extended safety and slide stop, slim VZ G10 grips, 25 LPI checkered front and backstraps, extended beavertail, and tritium sights (Dan Wesson's clone of the Heinie "Straight Eight" style, with Trijicon inserts). None of the controls were ambidextrous, though, so lefties might want to look elsewhere.


The Valor was extremely tight out of the box, and needed a break-in period before it ran reliably. I experienced several failures to feed in the first few hundred rounds, mostly with JHP ammo. This was expected, per Dan Wesson's instruction manual:
Generally what you will see during this break-in process is failure to go into battery and or sluggish slide operation. This is normal for tightly fitted 1911’s and will begin to work itself out during the break-in process.

Obviously, I prefer pistols that do not need to be broken in (not everyone wants to blow 100 bucks on ammo just to get a gun to function right), but it's not a deal-breaker if the gun eventually flies right.

The 10-8 Extractor Test

The Valor seemed to be running fine after the break-in, but as a precaution, I performed the 10-8 Performance extractor test and a general course of fire designed to test reliability with hollowpoint ammo.

When the gun passed that test, I started shooting groups and carrying it. For testing purposes, I pitched the Dan Wesson-branded magazines and stuck to widely available, generally well-regarded 1911 mags - Wilson 47Ds, Colt and Wilson all steel 7-rounders, and Chip McCormick Power Mags.

Range Report

I try not to review any gun here on Shangrila Towers without putting it through at least a thousand rounds, but I went overboard with the Dan Wesson. It went through a couple years' worth of testing, including a three-day pistol course with Randy Cain (review forthcoming). 

In that time, the Valor exhibited all the virtues of the 1911 design - a very crisp trigger, excellent balance and "pointability," and easily-controlled muzzle flip. The gun was also reliable; it worked regardless if I was shooting one-handed or in awkward positions. But probably the biggest change from those old .45s in college was the Valor's laser-beam like accuracy with most loads:

Federal HST 230 gr., 20 yards -

Hornady Critical Defense 185 gr., 20 yards -

Blazer Brass 230 gr., 15 yards -

Winchester White Box 230 gr., 15 yards -

and even some mystery reloads from the gun range I shot at -

Concealed Carry Impressions

A full-size steel 1911 conceals better than you might think, thanks to the gun's slimness relative to the caliber, and its tendency to cant forward (which helps conceal the long grip and muzzle). You do still need good gunleather to support the weight - I can wholeheartedly recommend the Milt Sparks Summer Special and Mean Gene Leather's "Shooters" Belt for that purpose.


The Valor is certainly the best 1911 I've ever owned, but is it the best pistol? I'm not sure - setting aside the issue of .45 ACP versus other calibers, a GLOCK 30S holds two more rounds and weighs a full pound less, while a S&W M&P45 Shield holds almost as much ammo and is nearly small enough to ride inside a pocket.

I will say this: Dan Wesson makes a great gun for the money. If you're in the market for a well-made 1911 that hits the sweet spot between bargain barrel rattletrap and high-dollar custom, they should be at the top of your list.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Independence Day

"He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."

One thing I do every July 4th is re-read the Declaration of Independence, specifically the long list of complaints against the Crown and Parliament embedded within. The separation announced by the Declaration of Independence was not done lightly; recall that it took over a year of open war with Great Britain before the Declaration was even drafted.

There's a lot of loose talk in this country nowadays about secession and civil war, but until President Trump starts sending mercenaries into California to round up Mexicans, or Maxine Waters stages an armed insurrection against ICE, I'm not worried that any of it will happen. If someone likes or doesn't like the current government, the next election is always around the corner...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Movies: Justice League Double Feature ("DC Universe Animated Original Movies")

DC's cinematic universe famously lags Marvel when it comes to putting out decent movies, but DC's animated features have always been good. Here are a couple of cartoon Justice League movies that work a lot better than last year's live action film:

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

This entertaining story pits the Justice League you know and love against their evil twins from an alternate Earth, the "Crime Syndicate." There are plenty of cool superpowered fights, but the final battle between Batman and his twisted counterpart, Owlman, is my favorite, because it shows what would happen if the Caped Crusader fought himself.

Rating: 8/10

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

This is another alternate universe take on the Justice League, featuring violent, dark, but still "good" versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Benjamin Bratt does a great job as "Superman," who in this reality was raised by a Mexican migrant family. The plot is mostly an origin story/whodunit (a la "Watchmen"), but the running time is short enough that it didn't bother me.

Rating: 7/10

Music: Streaming Services Smackdown

In 2018, most any song you can think of is a click away, thanks to music streaming services like Spotify. But which one is the best? I thought it might be educational to compare three of the services I've used recently, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Tidal, in terms of the only criterion that matters to me: song selection.

The comparison will list albums I've been jamming to, and let you know which service(s) have them. Note that Amazon Music requires a subscription to access many songs, which Spotify and Tidal insert annoying ads if you aren't a subscriber.

Halloween Motion Picture Soundtrack (John Carpenter) - They just released the trailer for the Blumhouse sequel/reboot (which John Carpenter is scoring), so it's a good time to fire up the original soundtrack - still the most influential horror movie OST ever made.

Spotify - Yes
Amazon Music - Yes
Tidal - No

On (Altın Gün) - Do you like Turkish psychedelic folk-rock? Of course you do. Try out the deliriously catchy "Cemalim," a danceable version of the Turkish folk song made famous by Erkin Koray.

Spotify - Yes
Amazon Music - Yes
Tidal - Yes

All Grown Up (The Hillbilly Moon Explosion) - Let's up the difficulty - a ten year old album from a Swiss rockabilly band that most people have never heard of...

Spotify - No
Amazon Music - Yes
Tidal - No

Baby Driver - After seeing this enjoyable musical heist film, I immediately looked up the soundtrack. None of the services have all the songs in the album, but Spotify comes closest.

Spotify - Mostly Yes
Amazon Music - No
Tidal - Mostly No


As you can see, no one streaming service has all the albums in this test, which isn't surprising given the labyrinthine world of music licensing. If I had to pick one, I'd probably go with Spotify, since it has the cleanest interface and best search engine, but you're probably best served using a combination and then directly supporting the artists you like.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Guns: The Tacticool Remington 870 Wingmaster, Part 1 - The Barrel

Remington's recent quality control woes have been well-chronicled, but they don't diminish the many decades of fine gunmaking that have come before. Hopefully things will be better after the company's Chapter 11. In any case, there are still many millions of pre-Cerberus Remington firearms out there, ready for a good home. For my part, I picked up an old 870 Wingmaster some years back, and I thought it'd be fun to convert it into a full-blown home defense shotgun.

The first thing I decided to change was the barrel. Originally, my Wingmaster came with a 30" tube, in a modified choke. That arrangement is perfect for hunting upland game or breaking clays at the trap field, but it's suboptimal for repelling boarders in the dark of the night.

So, I ordered an 18-1/2" improved cylinder barrel from MidwayUSA. The blued finish matches up pretty well with my decades-old 870 receiver, and lopping almost a foot off the barrel makes the gun a lot handier indoors. The improved cylinder choke may or may not have an effect on the 00 buckshot pattern, but it's a moot point since tight chokes are hard to find in 18" barrels.

Upgrades still to come - stock and foreend, weaponlight, magazine tube and sidesaddle, sling...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

TV: Into the Badlands

It's rare for a TV show to find its feet right out of the gate. For every series with a stellar first episode and first season, like "Breaking Bad," there are twenty that need awhile to get going.

Case in point: I watched the first episode of AMC's "Into the Badlands" back when it debuted in 2015, and I liked it okay, but I didn't keep watching at the time. Since then, it's turned into a pretty darn good action series:

The show is one part "Mad Max" and one part wuxia, and follows the exploits of a "Clipper" named Sunny (Daniel Wu, also executive producer). Clippers like Sunny are the warrior/bodyguards of a group of feudal Barons in a post-apocalyptic United States. For whatever reason, the Barons have banished guns from their domain, and the Clippers fight exclusively using Hong Kong wire fu and melodrama. Sunny's life changes forever when he meets a boy named M.K., who might have the key to finding a mythical utopia called Azra.

It's a bonkers premise, even for a network whose two most popular shows have "Walking Dead" in their titles, but it's gotten a lot better since that first episode. Season two introduced much-needed comic relief in the form of Nick Frost's Bajie. More importantly, the show's young actors, Aramis Knight and Ally Ioannides, have gotten much better at their craft, and the plots have moved on from the first season's boring political intrigues. The show is now almost a pure martial arts fantasy, and well worth a second look.

Books: The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds graphic novel)

Author/illustrator Gareth Hinds has adapted several classic works of literature into graphic novels, but my favorite is his sprawling rendition of "The Odyssey." In 250 oversize color pages, Hinds transforms the millennia-old poem (which many people dreaded reading in high school) into a set of panels that feel as fresh and vital as any modern Marvel superhero tale.

Unlike a lot of adaptations, which lean too heavily on their artwork, Hinds matches beautiful watercolor painting with equally evocative text. He borrows from and gives credit to the most beloved translations of Homer's work, including those by Robert Fagles and Robert Fitzgerald. The result is a comic that blends the strengths of both media: striking images that transport the reader back to ancient Greece, and dialogue and descriptions that convey what a picture cannot.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Miscellany: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe review - Taking the "sport" out of SUV

It took the body shop a solid five days to repair my BMW 328i's bumper, so I had quite a bit of time with my rental car, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe.

This is the last model year of this generation of the Santa Fe; Hyundai is sending a redesigned model to the U.S. later this year. That might lead to some enticing dealer offers to get rid of the old inventory, so here's what I liked and didn't like about this common three-row SUV:


Interior Space: In the dollars-per-cubic feet metric, the Santa Fe does pretty well. I thought the driver, passenger, and second row seats all had plenty of leg and head room. The third row isn't terribly comfortable, but it's usable, and with the seats folded the cargo room balloons to 80 cubes.

Ride: In 2018, you don't have to spend Mercedes-level money to get a cushy ride. There's an expansion joint on my way home from work that I use to gauge how compliant a suspension is - the Santa Fe handled it like a champ.

Infotainment: My rental car annoyingly defaulted to its expired Sirius radio for some reason, but otherwise the car's Bluetooth streaming system and touch screen interface were quick and responsive. The physical controls for climate, volume, and tuning were simple and easy to use.


Performance: The good news is that every Santa Fe comes with a 3.3-liter V6 that makes nearly 300 horsepower.  The bad news is that the V6 is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that shifts sluggishly and, like many Korean cars, provides lower-than-average fuel economy for the class.

Interior: The Santa Fe is a no-frills experience. Even thought I kinda liked the cobra-hood design of the central console, I'll admit to wishing for comfier chairs and nicer trim. While it was solid for what it was, I was happy to get back to my car when all was said and done.

Guns: Two is one, one is none...

I was shooting my first flight of trap at Markham Park the other day, and an odd thing happened to one of my 870 Wingmasters. It went something like this:

"Pull!"...*click*... (point in safe direction, shuck shell out of chamber)... "Pull! ... *click*...(point in safe direction, shuck shell into hand, examine unblemished primer)...

As I suspected, it turned out my 30-year-old 870's firing pin broke in two, such that the hammer's impact was not making it to the primer.

My day would have been a total waste, had I not brought an extra shotgun with me. It was a good reminder - even something as ostensibly reliable as a wood-and-steel pump shotgun can become a paperweight if a $10 part breaks inside it. Methinks I'll be carrying my backup gun more often...

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Politics: "I am the majority"

See Mark Robinson's stirring speech on the Second Amendment at a Greensboro city council meeting:

...and comment on ATF's proposed bump stock ban - comments close on June 27, 2018.

Site Meter