This is the first of hopefully many gun and gunsmithing related entries on this site.
The issue under consideration is the sight picture on my daily pocket carry pistol, a Kel-Tek P-3AT. This weapon is a wonder of technology, weighing, loaded, what a loaded magazine for my Glock might weigh. It fits in the inside pocket of my light wool suit coat and doesn’t pull the coat down. It is also less than an inch thick, so it doesn’t print through the fine material. I slip it into a blue jeans pocket and it prints as “something in a guy’s pocket with stuff in all his other pockets” and you’d be hard-pressed to tell I’m packing a half-dozen marginally effective hollowpoint solutions to the most severe of interpersonal problems.
The front and rear sights on a P-3AT are intentionally shallow, not extending even as far down as the top of the slide, to prevent snagging during a draw. The problem: they also prevent acquiring a sight picture for aimed fire. There is a slight dovetail to the rear sight as it came from the factory, but it isn’t much help if you are focusing on the front sight (which bears a matching slight dovetailed profile). In addition to being small, the sights are blued just like the rest of the slide. The effect when aiming a stock P-3AT is making sure the top of the slide is round all the way across. The front blade is wide enough to fill the rear slot, and this makes it that much more difficult to aim, without much of a gap on either side when completing the sight picture.
A longish time ago, someone gave me a Bryco/Jennings Model 59 9mm that he didn’t trust. It had the typical 20-50% failure rate and an horrible trigger and bad ergonomics. I said I’d improve it or cut it in half and recycle the steel. Several hours of metalwork and polishing later, it had a failure rate of 2% last time I took it out. One FTF due to an ammunition problem and one FTE due to the weapon. That’s ok for a plinking gun anyhow. Then, of course, the cast “metal” firing pin broke. And the steel replacement from Numrich was enough out of tolerance to kill the firing pin spring. So that’s sitting until I can get a proper pin turned out.
Anyhow, one of the improvements on the Bryco was that I painted the sights. The front is orange and the rear is light green. I had heard that this was a dramatic improvement for any handgun. I figured, it wouldn’t cost me anything if I didn’t like the result. The result was amazing and is on its way to being applied to all of my handguns’ sights. The orange/green contrast is miles better than the black/black shape-only contrast during shooting if there is enough ambient light to show the colors of the sights. If you haven’t tried it, you should.
Back to the P-3AT. I got this from a brother at my church who literally couldn’t keep it on paper at 7 yards, nevermind on target, due to his inability to see the sights. I had it grouping about 3″ at 5yds and told him I’d take it. MadOgre, Uncle and others have mentioned that this is NOT a pleasant gun to shoot, but that is not the point.
For ergonomics, I found it important enough enough to actually do the work to remove some of the flash at the joints on the plastic frame. I also knocked down the excessively sharp checkering on the grip after it took a chunk out of my hand with the sharp points on the checkering during shooting. The ergonomics thus slightly improved, I set out to improve the sights as much as possible without spending any hard-earned cash.
So, I ended up shaving the side flanges of the front sight straight down to the frame so the sight is sticking up all by itself, then applied a bit of orange to the sight to add contrast and a bit of blacking (M-NU for Marines’ boot lace eyes) to the raw metal by the sights where the metal was removed. On the rear sight, I dug the channel down that last millimeter or so to the top of the slide and blacked the bare metal. I also added the green paint to complete the contrasting sight picture.
It went from “is this on target?” to HEY there’s the FRONT SIGHT and it’s bracketed in the REAR SIGHT! I have yet to take it out shooting after this work was done, but Draw-and-aim drills are much improved.
Tools used were a pair of small files and a dremel. Highly recommended optional equipment is a roll of masking tape for the slide and the teeth of the file you are not currently using. When using the edge of the file, tape the flats, and tape the edges when using the flats, to preserve the metal you want to leave. If you are going to undertake to do this yourself, beware to put some masking tape on top of the slide also, to prevent the fine scratches mine now has, imparted by the file’s tip before I taped the slide. The tape on the slide also serves as a guide to tell you when you are getting close to the slide. The tape starts to be abraded away as the file gets closer to the base of the sight. As the image of the bare front sight shows, be gentle and go easy if you decide to use a dremel to remove large amounts of metal. Oops. I also rounded the nose ever so little, removing what little sharpness that corner had.
If you are willing to risk your weapon, do it yourself or have somebody hand do it for you; it will be worth it. If you’re in central Texas, drop me a line if you want somebody to do it for you who already has. 😉