Quality control

It would be nice to have some. Of the guns I worked with this year, perhaps 40% either arrived non-functional or partly functional, or failed within fifty rounds. While that’s skewed by the high percentage of prototypes I encounter, enough of the production guns are unusable to make me wonder. I am becoming a big fan of bayonet mounts for rifles and backup pistols.

On the plus side, certain companies consistently make guns that work. I suspect their QC process is organized to work on numerous stages and not just at the test firing before shipping. Conversely, I don’t see how some guns ever made it out of the door — they couldn’t even be loaded, much less fired! With the cost of each transaction in time and money, sending things back and forth isn’t the answer. And breakage during a defensive situation would be even more of a problem.

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21 Responses to Quality control

  1. John Davies says:

    While I understand that you get these guns gratis for testing and photographing, it would certainly be beneficial to your readers for you to name the good ones and the bad ones…..

    John E Davies
    Spokane WA USA

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Usually, functional guns get reviewed and non-functional are just sent back. A lot of what I get are pre-production guns for prop use, so it’s not reasonable to complain. Others are the result of very bad QC (and sometimes equally bad followup). One review of a rather non-functional pistol is coming up in print in January with all the details.

      I will note some examples:

      All vz58 variants I’ve used work. Same for all Vepr rifles and shotguns. And all Glocks.

      But I recently had a .22 revolver which fired only six of its nine chambers due to mis-cut star on the back of the cylinder. How did that ever get through the QC process?

  2. David E says:

    I would have to agree.

  3. Erin Palette says:

    And this is one reason why I like guns with bayonets, despite exhortations that they’re silly and outmoded.

  4. Jim R says:

    I am in QC, though not in the firearms industry. Let me simply say that it is a thankless task, not unlike being a cop in a bad neighborhood: everybody hates you. Our job, fundamentally, is to say “no”: “No, it doesn’t pass and no, you can’t ship it.”

    Obviously, this is not a popular word with folks in production who make it, the salespeople who have promised to ship it, and management who have already counted the money from selling it. As a consequence, there’s usually a lot of pressure to… um… not say “no”.

    My boss in a previous job, who was the secretary of his local chapter of ASQ (American Society for Quality) once told me, when I wanted to stop a shipment that didn’t meet specs, that, “The customer has to understand that he won’t always get good material.” I was floored, but I’ve seen this sort of attitude in many places where I’ve worked. The general idea is something like:

    1. There will ALWAYS be failures (this is true)
    2. Some failures will get past even the most rigorous inspection (also true)
    3. The customer probably won’t notice*
    4. If he does, he probably won’t complain (I believe that, statistically nine out of ten dissatisfied customers never complain; they simply don’t buy the product again)
    5. If he does, we can blame him for misusing the product
    6. Even if he can prove that he didn’t, it’s cheaper to repair / replace than to take the trouble to make it right the first time (and try getting production people to admit that they DON’T)
    7. We’ve got to have the cash flow

    It’s all very discouraging.


    (*) I’d guess that this is particularly true of firearms as the vast majority get very little actual use. If a gat can survive firing a thousand rounds, that’s likely more than enough for the average shooter.

    • Stuart the Viking says:

      “4. If he does, he probably won’t complain (I believe that, statistically nine out of ten dissatisfied customers never complain; they simply don’t buy the product again)”

      In business they used to teach the calculation for the total dollar value of a customer. I don’t remember it all now, but it had to do with estimating the income from the repeat business of a happy customer. Once a customer is no longer a happy customer, that value goes WAY down (approaching $0 in many cases).

      The main reason given for keeping this estimate in mind is the one you quoted. “9 out of 10 dissatisfied customers never complain, they just don’t buy the product again”. Good QA is all about reducing the number of dissatisfied customers to make that 9 out of 10 the smallest number possible.

      Sadly, the firearms business isn’t so much about repeat customers. It’s about selling to as many people as possible. The “average” gun owner doesn’t really own a large number of firearms (many never purchase more than one), and those that do own more than one quite often don’t own multiple firearms from the same manufacturer. This dilutes the total value of a customer, which reduces the impetus on the manufacturer to have every gun shipped be perfect.

      Sad but true.


  5. staghounds says:

    Passing quality control to the consumer is almost a default, it saves so much cost.

  6. Chris Meissen says:

    Several years ago I purchased a NIB Smith & Wesson 2214 pistol as a birthday present for my then minor daughter. The fouled barrel indicated it had been test fired at the factory but when I got it home and tried to clean it a .22 cleaning rod would not fit down the barrel. I had to use pipe cleaners to see that the rifling was buggered. Returned it to S&W and the barrel was replaced with the explanation that it looked as though the original rifling button had broken.

    The flat top of the new barrel on which the slide rides was roughly ridged like a bastard mill file. I called Smith &Wesson and was told that they broach that portion and to send it back. I sent it back, they returned it supposedly with a new barrel but looking the same and short-stroking the same. I stoned it lightly to round off the ridges and remove the friction and cured the short stroking. But now it failed to extract the spent shell about once very second or third shot. Back to S&W.

    It came back with the repair ticket saying “replaced extractor.” My daughter (by now a bit older) left for college and took it with her before I had a chance to test fire it again. When I thought to ask her about it she told me that it jams (fails to extract) about every second or third shot. She’s married now and on her own so I’ll let her deal with Smith and Wesson over it. As for me, it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I buy another S&W firearm. I don’t think it’s my place to serve as QC for their production and gunsmithing staff.

    • Sigivald says:

      Especially not at Smith prices!

      I expect better than that from, oh, a Turkish gun, let alone the vaunted allegedly superior Smith and Wesson.

      (This just makes me think I should always buy the Taurus version; they won’t be any worse at fixing it, if it’s broke, and it’ll be a few hundred dollars cheaper.

      And I’ve always been very happy with my pre-Taurus-buyout Rossi, and as far as I know they haven’t really changed.)

  7. You want perfect QC? Buy a J Allen stock for you M1A or Rem 700. They are perfect, the price you will pay is time and money. Being a dealer and ordering 3 stocks at a time the cost is more than some paid for the gun the stock will go on, which is fine, you get what you pay for. The wait though, 2 years 6 months and 21 days, not many are prepared for the wait. But they did arrive perfect.

  8. TerriLiGunn says:

    Wow, of all the weapons I have handled and used I haven’t had that bad of issues as some are describing. Had a hollow guide rod on a sig 226 bend slightly, replaced by sig with a solid one for free. A Davis 380 the firing pin catch spring snapped into pieces, replaced that for .50 cents. I had a Grendel P-12 set of magazines wear out….feed lips on one, and crack on the other, and both springs plain worn out. That’s over 25 years of firearms. Just recently I bought a used Mossberg 702 that a guy had mangled the recoil spring, Mossberg sent out a free one despite me telling them I was the second owner.
    As to the VZ58, now I want one. I had been on the fence but now after hearing Oleg say all of the ones he has used have worked….time to get one.

    Although I admit I am a bit of a Sig-Sauer fan boy, what is your experience with recent Sigs Oleg?

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Sigs have been good for me. I’ve had very positive experiences with P238 (best .380 for my taste), P210, 550 and even the front-heavy but reliable 556. I did get to watch a P238 rust in a single day inside a belly band. I’ve not had any Sigs not function for me. That includes 226,229,228,220 (super accurate, too) or their rifles.

      I have two 7.62 and one .223 vz58 rifles. I really, really enjoy using them. They aren’t built for heavy sustained fire but they work great for what they are, rifle-caliber replacements for submachine guns. And I enjoy knowing that they will work when I need them to work. Keltec SU16s are much like that as well.

      • I’ve seen several people try unsuccessfully to run Kel-Tec SU-16’s in Commiefornia at 3-Gun matches. At the end of 30 to 40 rounds of fast, sustained fire thay started to puke. Failing to extract, smoke pouring everywhere, the smell of burnt plastic.
        10 rounds here and there they were fine, it was under sustained fire they seemed to have an issue. But I’m pretty sure they were not built as “battle rifles”, more like “backpack” rifles.

  9. Paul Koning says:

    I understand what Jim R is saying. Not all companies work that way. I work at one (helped to found it) where we expected to build things that work, and deliver things that work. Our beta units were as good as our competitors’ production units (our beta testers told us that). It became a matter of pride to work to that level, and still is.
    “It’s cheaper to repair it than to build it right the first time” is in fact nonsense, and people who say this are ignorant fools working hard to run their companies into the ground.

    • Jim R says:

      Wish more companies were like the one you describe. I’d wager that the vast majority of CEO’s THINK that THEIR companies are that way and that only other companies cut corners, take shortcuts, etc.

      And, as you say, they blissfully run their companies into the ground.

      I think Stuart the Viking hits at the reason: companies don’t calculate the cost of unhappy customers. Indeed, I’m not sure how such a thing could be done. Too bad.

      • Paul Koning says:

        One thing we did from the start is ask our customers (more precisely, have an independent survey outfit ask) “would you recommend our products to others”. When 98% said yes, we concluded we must be doing something right. (My current employer formalizes that notion, measures it regularly, and adjusts senior management bonuses based on that number.)
        I remember an old rule of thumb that people who have a bad experience tell maybe 5x as many people as people who had a good experience. That certainly is one way to estimate the cost of unhappy customers.

  10. Rivrdog says:

    I’ve had two QC issues with as many new firearms. The first was when Kel-Tec sent me a new P3AT to replace one that kaboomed on me (likely a double-charged round). When I got it, it had been test fired, and the firing pin was jammed in the out position. Had I loaded this gun and had it fired, I would have had the entire magazine go full-auto. It might have gone off while charging it. The firing pin had to be persuaded back into the slide with a brass drift and hammer. After thorough dismantling of the slide and cleaning, there was no doubt that the firing pin was just too wide for the hole in the boltface. I machined a few thousanths off, and the gun is fine now.

    The other one was the now-infamous Remington R-51. I ordered mine on 02 January, got it in April, and it quit during the first range session, the result of another jammed firing pin, this time jammed inside the bolt. The failure was due to milling detritus in the firing pin channel. It is very difficulat (and not a user-maintenance item), but I stripped down the bolt, cleaned it and re-assembled it. The pistol runs fine now, but has been recalled for replacement anyway. I will wait until the New Year to send it back because the way I see it, every one the factory builds gets better, as does their QC.

    A few years ago, I had a friend proudly bring out her new Ladysmith 38 and ask me to improve her tactical handling of it. WE COULDN’T EVEN LOAD IT! The clearance from the rear of the cylinder to the frame was insufficient to allow the cylinder to close with cartridges loaded. The dealer (Sporty’s in Clatskanie, OR) replaced that gun without a qualm.

    I attribute the whole QC thing to the bean counters, and that’s just immoral. As a commenter above pointed out, if you are going to buy just one gun, it has to be right, expecially since you are probably going to stake your life on it operating properly. To cut out quality control/inspection steps to save a few bucks is not only a bad management decision, it is MORALLY wrong.

  11. LarryArnold says:

    All of the above is, of course, why you really need to put a couple of hundred rounds through a gun before you trust it for self-defense.

  12. Firehand says:

    This is why I’m NEVER one of the first to buy a new whatever anymore. After chasing Sig over a Trailside that the slide lock wouldn’t reliably function on(after some mutterings about ‘that’s one of the things we found’ they replaced it; the replacement had a problem but I wasn’t willing to deal with the time and expense again and managed to fix it myself), and my experience with a Smith 15-22(FOUR times back to the factory and they finally replaced it), don’t want to go through that again.

  13. Linoge says:

    Speaking of, you would not have any contact information for anyone… useful… at Remington Arms, would you? I just realized that they have had my rifle for longer than I have since I purchased it, and it is probably time to see about filing for a refund for it…

  14. Y. says:

    I’ve heard people say this is what happens to well established brands that are publicly traded or have been bought by private equity companies.

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