Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MArooned Product Review: Handgonne!

When Spear first contacted me about the handcannon, I didn't think he was serious. We've got a running gag on the Gunblogger Conspiracy chatroom - I call him "Fudd", he calls me IIIPer - and I thought he was pulling my chain. Me? Use a black powder cannon? Once I realized he was serious, it completely and utterly peaked my interest. I had only fired one black powder firearm previously - JD brought a Hawken rifle to one of the Northeast Bloggershoots and let me touch it off.

This is about as far from a percussion cap rifle as a Colt Walker Dragoon is from a Smith & Wesson M&P. They're both handguns, but that's about all they have in common. The handgonne is a black powder firearm, and that's about all it has in common with a Hawken rifle... The concept appealed to me, though - this is about as raw and pure in the firearm world as you can get. The more I researched the concept of the "handgonne", I found that it dates back pretty much to the dawn of firearms. Strapping a small cannon on the end of a stick is the start of the modern handgun.

Spear sent me pictures along the way, and I in turn puzzled you all with them. Before I got the first picture, though, I had no idea that this was a medieval "snubbie from hell" - I had no idea it had a ~ 3" barrel. Once he sent the first picture, and I realized what he was aiming for, I thought it was a great idea - ye olde Snubbie from Hell. I still didn't know anything about black powder, but talking to folks in the know, I was comfortable enough to give it a try.

The first time I touched it off, I honestly didn't know what to expect. I had, literally, an explosion on a stick that was going to launch a .50" projectile downrange. I had no idea what the recoil would be, whether it would try to wrench itself out of my hand, or be gentle. I used an approximation of what Spear thought the powder charge should be, and prepared to light it off.

No sights. No grip. No problem.

The procedure is quite simple to prepare the handgonne for firing:

Step 1: Measure powder. Mopar was kind enough to donate powder to the cause, and employing his measure three times gave just enough kick without being overpowering. For my 11 year old goddaughter, we used a double charge rather than triple.

Step 2: Pour powder into barrel. The triple charge filled the barrel about halfway. I suspect that if we had filled the barrel completely and then crushed the ball on top of it, it still would have worked fine.

Step 3: Place ~ 1" square cloth patch (round works better, but square's what I had) over muzzle.

Step 4: Drop ball into cloth.

Step 5: Pack ball and cloth into barrel (I made my own ramrod by cutting a ½" dowel to ~ 8" and polishing the end with extra fine sandpaper and 0000 steel wool).

Step 6: Insert ~ 1" of cannon fuse.

Step 7: Light fuse and point down range.

Step 8: BOOOM.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the handgonne in use at the Fifth Annual Northeast Bloggershoot - it was simply in too much demand to stand still long enough for a picture. But I did get video of it in action:

Yeah. It's just that much fun.

I think we fired this a good couple dozen times. I know I fired it three or four times; SCI-FI set it off once or twice, and at one point we had a line of folks waiting to have their turn lighting off the little cannon. I got pretty good at trimming cloth patches and fuse to length, and even at pouring in the correct powder charge. I suspect that, if I needed to do this for real, I could get even faster.

We fired the cannon for probably close to an hour. It took its place on the firing line next to ARs, polymer wundernines, pediem's graceful family heirloom Winchester 20 gauge, and many military surplus bolt action rifles. While it was one of the newer arms present - it was manufacturer this year - it was certainly the oldest design. By several centuries.

I was trying to put my finger on the handgonne's appeal. It is by all accounts a very simple device: a metal cylinder, open on one end, with a handle and a touch hole. Precisely zero moving parts. It's about as far from the scandium revolvers and polymer autochuckers as you can get - not only do you have to manually fire it, but you have to actually use fire to fire it.

But I think that's part of the appeal. Handing someone something with a fuse sticking out it it, well that's just plain cool. What comes with a fuse? Fireworks. Fourth of July. M-80s. Fun stuff. There's that 2-3 seconds of pure, unadulterated anticipation once you light that fuse - and it ends in a giant (but not unpleasant) boom, and a lot of smoke (side benefit - no mosquitoes!). 

Spear does impressive work. He was concerned about the way the cannon itself was mounted to the handle, but he needn't have been - it was rock-solid. After a couple dozen shots it was just as sturdy as the first, and I have no doubt that it will be providing chuckles, giggles, and amazement to folks long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil. I suspect that I could use it as a serviceable bludgeon or hammer and still have it function properly (as early pistols were actually designed - look at the heavy metal end caps on some of the early flintlocks - if you missed and couldn't reload in time, you could cave in your opponent's skull).

A 3" barrel handgonne is of questionable utility, for those interested in those sorts of things, but boy, is that thing fun. You want to put a smile on people's faces? Hand them an honest-to-goodness cannon - complete with fuse sticking out - and let them light it off. There's a few seconds of bewilderment - the "Am I *REALLY* about to set off a cannon IN MY HAND" - and then the BOOOOOM! And the grins.

Recoil with a triple charge of powder (Mopar's measure was designed for a .44 caliber black powder handgun, and he used a charge-and-a-half for that) was on a par with a light .38 Special load out of a 6" barrel revolver. Very manageable with one hand. Using a double charge was barely up to a .22LR out of a 4" barrel revolver. I suspect we could have used a quadruple charge and still only had mild .357 Magnum-like recoil. And more than a quad charge would have had powder spilling out of the barrel...

Thanks again for the opportunity to shoot the cannon, Spear. It's an absolute joy to shoot and a metric sh*tload of fun. I have a feeling I'll be investing in some powder and an appropriate measure and shooting it quite a bit more often - and I might have to take Wally up on his offer to start casting lead balls for it...

And yes, all my fingers are still attached...

That is all.


Farm.Dad said...

Never , Ever let Ambulance Driver within arms reach when loading the handgunne .. just sayin LOL

Angus McThag said...

I am certain some of the appeal is in connecting with the history of the gun.

The handgonne was the original personally used firearm.

Dirk said...

Not quite the same thing, but I got a chance to shoot a black-powder muzzle-loader at scout camp a couple months ago. I was walked through the loading and priming process, which was simpler than I expected. I had no idea what to expect, recoil-wise, so I had it held very tightly to my shoulder. And then BOOM! I actually hit what I was aiming at. I was able to fire it about 8 more times before I had to hand it off to the line that formed behind me...

And it was about an hour before the big grin on my face finally faded a little. That was just plain fun.

Dave H said...

There's something appealing about using technology that pretty much anyone could understand. The concept of a gun is pretty simple - it's just a more effective way to throw rocks. But give most people a look at the inner workings of an AR-15 or a Glock and their eyes will glaze over.

This, anybody can understand. It's simple, but it gives them power they didn't have before. What's not to like?

Smile on!

Mopar said...

I think Cher got some pics of it being fired, expect they will find their way into the video if they came out. Also, for record, the measure has been set for a light target load for my 1858 Remington .44 revolver. I'm about 95% certain it throws 20gr of powder, so we were loading the handgonne with about 60gr, which is also what I was loading my modern .50 caliber hand cannon at(a muzzleloading Traditions Vortek pistol with a 13" barrel).

Mopar said...

Oh and while being able to cast your own bullets is a useful skill, if you shop around you should be able to buy .50 lead balls for about 12-13 cents each. If you have to buy the lead they will end up costing you 2-4 cents each to make, but you will probably spend at least $100-200 on mold, handles, lead furnace, ladle, etc. You'll need to cast a few thousand balls just to break even. Not trying to talk you out of it by any means, if anything I welcome you to the insanity. :P Just keeping things in perspective.

DaddyBear said...

I want a picture of the smile that met at the back of the shooter's head.

Glenn B said...

I have been wondering about the origin of the name Hand Gonne - all I can come up with is the obvious - someone fired one and his hand was gone after it exploded (obvious to my warped rationale anyway). Thus the addition of the wooden handle. Just saying, not knowing, but figured it was worth mentioning for a chuckle...

It was fun watching folks shoot it. Really a fun looking gun. Do you know, are they commercially available?

All the best,
Glenn B

Jay G said...

Glenn (and anyone else),

They most certainly are commercially available. Shoot me an e-mail and I'll get you in touch with Spear...

Ken O said...

I am curious- just how many grains of powder were you throwing? FFG or FFFG?

Mopar said...

Ken, for the most part we were loading 60 grains of FFFg. The first time Jay fired it, we loaded 40 grains. We also reduced the charge to 40 grains when Jay's 11yr old god-daughter shot it.