Seen at the Gunsmithing Shop: A Remington Built to Last

Rem1

Oh, look, it’s your grandpa’s rusty old shotgun. Ho hum. Not very tactical, is it? Its kinda heavy too. It wasn’t especially pretty to look at when it was new, and there’s not much original bluing left now. Who cares about an old Remington Model 11?

I do. Folks, allow me to show you a gun built to last. Before the invention of metal injection molding. Before the invention of plastic, for crying out loud. Before the idea of planned obsolescence. This semi-automatic 12 gauge is nearly 100 years old and still functions flawlessly using all its original springs. How did they do that?

Rem6

Lets pull the fire control group and take a look at it. First, it is super simple. Compare this to the Mossberg 500 fire control group, which is a mess of tiny springs, levers and detents all encased in a giant plastic tub. This fire control group is a marvel of simplicity. Second, it is built completely from milled steel components. Even the trigger guard itself started as a solid hunk of hard steel which had to be machined down to its final shape. There was no computer aided manufacturing machine. Somebody at Remington sat down behind a manually controlled mill and cut each of these parts with impeccable precision. Note the tiny roller installed in the rear of the hammer, which rests on the huge leaf spring running the length of the assembly. That spring has plenty of tension left, I bet it will set off primers for another hundred years. As a result of attention to details like this, the trigger still functions perfectly with a pull of 2 pounds 10 ounces. A new Mossberg 500 trigger measures almost 9 pounds on the same digital gauge.

Rem4

Speaking of milled components, check out the quality of the bolt/carrier group and the shell lifter. These days the shell lifter would be made from a stamped sheet of flat metal, and the bolt carrier would be finished roughly and then bead-blasted to hide the tooling marks (I have seen this even on top of the line Winchester SX-3 shotguns that sell for over a thousand dollars). There is some pitting on these parts from surface rust forming over the years, but you can still see how nicely polished they originally were. More importantly, they are still functioning perfectly with very little wear showing after all these years. I don’t think they will ever wear out.

Rem5

The Remington 11 is basically a copy of the iconic Browning Auto 5, and was the first semi-automatic shotgun produced in the United States. It functions using the long recoil principle, meaning that the whole barrel actually moves to the rear each time it fires, pushing the bolt along with it for a distance longer than the actual shell being fired (about two and a half inches). That’s it. No gas system, no O-rings to wear out, no little pistons to clog up and get stuck.The barrel must then return to its original position before the bolt returns to battery with a fresh shell. This must require a pretty beefy recoil spring, right? How about this one:

Rem3

It is difficult to describe how strong this spring is. I can’t find its specified weight anywhere, but I got some good laughs passing it around and asking various guys at the shop to try to squeeze it with their hands. I reckon that around 50 pounds of pressure would fully compress it. When will it wear out and need replacing? Ever?

There is one last old school quirk I want to show you. The action spring that returns the bolt and carrier to battery resides in a metal tube passing through the length of the stock. In that tube you will find a short spring guide that keeps the spring from binding as it is compressed. Nowadays, this would be made of plastic or perhaps delrin. But when this gun was built, plastic hadn’t been invented yet. Yup, it’s a wooden spring guide. And still working.

Rem2

Old guns are underrated guns. If I proposed in 2013 that Remington make a new edition of the Model 11, they certainly would have the manufacturing techniques to do so. But how much would it cost now to make a shotgun with no plastic at all, with no castings, with even the trigger guard and magazine tube cap milled from solid hunks of hardened steel? What would such a gun retail for? $1,500? $2,000? Yet somehow I see Remington 11s in good working order selling on Gunbroker.com for less than $300. See what I mean? They aren’t new. They aren’t tactical. But they were built to last.

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  • Matt

    I remember I read on a magazine many years ago about turning an Browning Auto 5 into a combat shotgun, magazine extension, a torch, combat sights

    • mikewest007

      Mmm, just my kind of insanity.

      • Max Popenker

        British used some A5 during their Malay operations in 1950s for jungle warfare

        There also were special, factory “combat (before tacticool)” versions of the A5 with extended, 8-round mags and relatively short barrels (about 20-22″)

        • Micki Mahoney

          Another little-known use for the A5s in British service was on the “Wheelbarrow” bomb-disposal robots. The shotgun was used for disrupting bomb mechanisms, blowing off locks and smashing windows.

    • P161911

      Choate made magazine extensions.

  • Harald Hansen

    I enjoyed this look at some old metal. Please have more of these if you have interesting guns passing through your hands!

  • Skeptic

    But they kick like a horse! Geoff Who has fired a Model 11 and been kicked by a horse.

    • P161911

      Compared to what?! A .223 AR, A .410? My Auto 5 is one of the softest shooting 12 gauges I have fired. My Remington 1100 kicks a little harder, and is much slower to reload.

      • Skeptic

        No, compared to an 870 or an 1100, in my opinion, but recoil sensation is an individual feeling. Now R.Lee Ermey, not a 3-gun wunderkind did a show on the shotgun including the Browning A-5 and found the recoil operation slower than an 870 pump. Geoff Who tries to shoot everything, damn I miss the charity sample run at a club back in Ohio, which doesn’t exist anymore. (Urban Sprawl)

        • P161911

          It is probably possible to shoot a pump (870) faster than a recoil operated shotgun, but 99.9% of the people will shoot the recoil operated gun faster. This is along the same lines that Jerry Miculek can shoot a DA revolver faster than the cycle times of most automatics. I don’t shoot my 870 for fun anymore, it kick much harder to me than any semi-auto. Maybe the 20″ barrel has something to do with it.

          • Cymond

            I saw that show. The Auto-5 they gave him kicked so hard that it ruined his shot recovery and shooting speed. I *suspect* that the Auto-5 he was shooting was tuned for light loads but loaded with full power loads.

            Jerry Miculek’s original world record was 8 shots in 1.00 second on 1 target. In another run, he did 8 shots on 4 targets in 1.06 seconds. That’s pretty fast, but it’s not faster than the mechanical cyclic rate of a semi-auto pistol. In fact, Miculek shot 10 rounds from a 1911 in 1 second, which proves that even Miculek is faster with an pistol than a revolver.

  • big daddy

    That’s beautiful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Fishahollik Wade Joseph

    First off let me say I had one of these tht was given to me by my father who got it from his father who got it from his father the original purchaser. I handed it down to my son who is the 5th generation to use it, the serial number on it indicates it was one of the first thousand. I would also like to add that your story has a slight error when you say its a “copy” of the A5.

    “John Browning presented his design (which he called his best achievement) to Winchester, where he had sold most of his previous designs. When Winchester refused his terms, Browning went to Remington. Tragically, the president of Remington died of a heart attack as
    Browning waited to offer them the gun. This forced Browning to look
    overseas to produce the shotgun. It was manufactured by FN
    (a company that had already produced Browning-designed pistols)
    starting in 1902. Browning would later license the design to Remington,
    who produced it as their Model 11 (1905–1948). The Remington Model 11
    was the first auto-loading shotgun made in the USA.”

  • Guest

    I’d be more impressed if the author was capable of discerning the difference between manufacturing techniques and quality control. There is nothing wrong with polymer components, CNC milled parts, stamped sheet metal, any of that, and thinking that there must be something wrong with those, because you’re comparing cheap guns nowadays to one of the few guns that survived the ravages of time is ridiculous.

    Quality control, which is entirely separate from construction techniques, has dropped because the market is willing to tolerate it and the pursuit of profit demands that all costs which do not result in increased sales be eliminated. Most people don’t NEED an investment gun that will last for decades with few to no replacement parts, even in the military. If you want to pay the prices that fully trained and experience gunsmiths are going to charge for the same quality of workmanship that’s seen here, you have to get used to being a niche market and paying the prices that a niche market pays.

    • Tim Pearce

      Many people think that the Pre-64 Winchester Model 70 was better because they switched to cheaper manufacturing processes at that point. Do you know what made it cheaper? Fewer steps done by machinists. Each of those steps introduces a possibility of error. If you go from 20 steps, each with 1% chance of error, to 5 steps, each with 1% chance of error, you’re going from a production where 20% of your guns have to be reworked because something’s wrong, to 5%. That’s an increase in quality.
      And, heck, when you can pay less to get something better, what in the world is wrong with that?

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Manufactoring techniques can contribute to quality control issues. While there is nothing at all wrong with todays techniques there is something appealing about a fine gun that’s finished by a gunsmith that has decades of experience. The new way is sometimes not as appealing as older methods.
      We must all remember that we all have our opinions which does not equate to “ridiculous”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Epstein/667480221 Paul Epstein

        The Auto-Five you’re talking about is probably the best possible example of the manufacturing techniques you’re lauding, but those same techniques also produced mountains of utter garbage that we’re certainly not bothering to remember, let alone fondly. Guns that explode, that have no accuracy, have terrible triggers- there are examples of all of them produced by less talented people with less quality control but the exact same tools and materials as the guns you happen to be thinking of.

        It’s not that your opinion is ridiculous, it’s that if you aren’t comparing apples to apples, the best of one era to the best of the current one, it’s not accurate and it’s a disservice to the reader.

  • Bryan .

    Ive got a sportsman 48, built on the same action. Runs like a top, heavy as hell, will probably stick around for a few years to take out more clays.

    Just a thing to note. Just because it was worked by a machine 100 years ago, does not mean it was not automated. We had forms of automation back then, while not doing as many steps, it allowed for less skilled machinists to get more work done and pump out more product.

    No too long after this thing, you could find punch card driven mechanical mills… not computer driven… mechanical punch card driven.

  • Gregory Morris

    I don’t always buy into the old, “it is handmade, therefore better” philosophy. Likewise, I doubt a stamped AK is going to wear out in the next 100 years. However, there is definitely beauty in quality parts, and old-school “over-built” machines. One of the reasons I like old military rifles is that they are simple, elegant, and can take a beating that would put many modern bolt-action rifles to shame. This is just one of those “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” articles, which is fine by me. I have tons of perfectly good modern firearms, but I love my old ones the best. In an age where you can drop a block of metal into a CNC machine, then push a few buttons to get any design you can imagine, old-school craftsmanship is something to admire. It is fine art.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Well said—

  • Sean Gilday

    Remington Model 11 Riot guns saw some use in the Pacific as combat shotguns

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Yes they were as were some of the old model 97′s.

  • Greg

    I have one of these. Given to me by my father, some 40 years ago. It probably belonged to his dad at one point. I tell you how many dove and quail I took with it as a young lad, but it’s a lot. My two sons both enjoy shooting it, and it will be passed to one of them when the time comes. Thanks for the review.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      There’s a lot to be said for the old guns that have been passed down through several generations.

  • WPZ

    I have a 1952 Belgian-made Auto-5 that was given to me by a grateful estate lawyer on a job. With a mag extension, I actually did use it in the earlier multigun competition of ten years ago.
    Heavy, indeed, and the magazine release button might not be as efficient as could be, but it’s certainly the most reliable autoloading shotgun I’ve ever handled.
    It shoots anything that can be gotten into the chamber and has never stuck on me, even using some of my antique reloads from the mid-’70s.
    But it does indeed kick like hell, and so I replaced it with an unreliable 11-87 for competition.

    • P161911

      I too shot 3-gun with a Auto-5 for a while. I loved the fact you could shoot it empty and just start shoving shells in the magazine and it would automatically chamber the first shell. No modifications or fiddling required like on my 1100.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hank.gullion Hank Gullion

    had one as a young man

  • G. Calvin

    As an expert on this classic, simple, durable, and beautiful John Browning design, I will say that if you don’t find these to be the smoothest-running, lowest-recoil autoloaders of their day, then you’ve got it set up wrong. I own six Auto-5 shotguns and have worked on a hundred others. If the friction rings are missing or incorrectly installed, you’re going to have a gun that “kicks like a horse.” If your magazine tube has too much lube on it (reducing the friction between the friction ring and the mag tube), you’re going to have a gun that “kicks like a horse.”

    If you run it right, this is a sweet autoloader. I’ve handed my Light 12′s to recoil-shy women to shoot, ALL of whom have said, “I want this gun. I can shoot this.”

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      I’ve owned an Auto5 for a very long time. I thought it was a beauty then and still do. I found the recoil to be mild.

  • Edward Franklin

    I have a Remington Autoloading Shotgun dating from 1909, same gun as the Model 11 and mine is still functioning just fine after 104 years of service. Only last year did I finally retire my 1905 Remington Autoloader and that was simply because it had been rode hard and put away wet for over a 100 years before I came into possession of it. The old Model 11, Auto-5, and Savage 750 are overbuilt and hard to kill, traits to be admired in any firearm.

  • Rick

    the difference is idiot proofing, lawsuits and “safety regulations”. You would not be able to manufacture a new remington like that and get approval to sell it in most states. First idiot who figured out a way to mishandle the weapon would sue your company into the ground because you *didn’t* put in all the little springs and balls that make up all the required safety, loaded chamber, and whatever systems in the fire control. Where you did manage to sell it, the complaints over the trigger compared to modern designs would earn universally bad press. Old weapons are excellent like old cars, but like us old men, these times have no use for the designs of old for many reasons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zius-Patagus/747170900 Zius Patagus

    I have the Savage made version of Browning A5. Mine was made in 1942. Still an excellent shotgun.

  • n0truscotsman

    I love my 40s era Model 11 alongside my Auto 5. Beautiful works of art.

  • Giolli Joker

    Great gun and craftmanship!
    Milled steel can hardly be beaten by cheaper processes and materials…
    BTW:

    “Nowadays, this would be made of plastic or perhaps delrin. But when this
    gun was built, plastic hadn’t been invented yet.”
    Bakelite, 1907.

  • Stanislao

    As a metallurgical engineering student, I have to give my standard metal injection molding rant now. Metal injection molding involves mixing fine metal powder with a binder. The binder/metal mixture is then run through standard injection molding equipment.

    The following steps are often not mentioned in online “reviews” of metal injection molding.
    1: Binder is melted or burnt off, the powder can hold itself together.
    2: Heat, possibly under pressure, causing the grains of powder to weld themselves together in a process known as sintering.
    3: Final machining, if needed.

    Sintering, if done correctly, produces a solid piece of metal, mechanically identical to a machined block.

    I would like to remind you that Ruger has used investment casting to similar ends for decades now. They even make pistol barrels using investment casting.

  • Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    I don’t know why old guns are under-rated. Many older guns evidence workmanship that isn’t found anymore in any mass produced US-made gun. You can find no mass-produced shotgun that shows the workmanship of a Parker, Fox or Lefever at either their field or their higher grades. You can’t find a modern US-made double made as strong as a Winchester Model 21, or a pump that is as nice as a Winchester Model 12 – much less the Model 12 Pigeon Grade.

    The Model 11 was Browning’s A-5 design, in “inch pattern,” where the Belgian A-5′s were “metric pattern.” The Model 11 had a little recoil pad at the back of the receiver that should be checked for existence. Numrich has replacements if your Model 11′s pad is cracked, frayed or missing. It was held in with a rivet, which can also be replaced. The A5 did not have this recoil pad at the back of the receiver.

    How did they make guns that last 100 years? Simple. They used real metal (ie, alloy steel) and they used enough of it and they heat-treated it properly. This isn’t rocket surgery. This is pretty basic stuff.

    As for a Model 11 or A5 that “kicks” hard – you probably have the friction washers that surround the recoil spring installed incorrectly for the load you’re using. When set up correctly, the Model 11/A5 is a very easy recoiling shotgun.