The Worst Pistol Ever: Type 94 Nambu

Alex C.
by Alex C.

What if one of your friends came up to you with a grin on his face and told you that he went out and intentionally bought the worst pistol ever produced? Well, I happened to be that guy in this instance. I was watching one of my old favorite shows the other day called Tales of the Gun from back when the History channel actually had some history on it and the episode was about Japanese firearms before and during World War II. The Japanese produced some really stellar firearms (like the ludicrously strong Arisaka rifles) along with some really, really awful ones. When the program got to the segment on pistols, I was reminded of a gun I had long been quasi familiar with, but never really given much thought. That gun is the Type 94 pistol designed by Kijiro Nambu chambered in 8mm Nambu. Tales of the Gun said that the Type 94 is a collectible “not to shoot, but to ridicule” and with that I knew I had to have one.

A few days later I went to a gun shop close to me that specializes in antiquities and collectible arms and they had not one, but three Type 94 Nambu pistols. Believe it or not, the firearm pictured above was not the worst one of the three! They had a “last ditch” gun that actually looked worse, and an early pre-war gun that looked very nice, but I settled for the mid-grade gun that was made just before the point when “last ditch” guns started being produced:

Isn’t she a beauty? Ok, so that is pretty much the ugliest firearm I have ever seen as it looks like it was made by a man with a grinder and a file. I stretched the title by saying that the Type 94 is the worst pistol ever, but I can probably declare without much criticism that the Type 94 is the worst service pistol ever adopted. Even the late gun writer Ian V. Hogg had nothing positive to say about it, noting that it was one of the world’s worst automatic pistols. Regardless, I was really excited to shoot this thing. The problem however is that 8mm Nambu is an extinct and obsolete cartridge, but I did manage to find a company online that produces it by resizing .40 S&W brass:

Oddly enough the round looks a lot like .357 Sig but delivers only as much energy as .380 ACP. This makes the 8mm Nambu cartridge significantly weaker than other service pistol calibers of the day, such as the 9mm Luger, .45 ACP, or 7.62×25 Tokarev. Regardless the 8mm Nambu served the Imperial Japanese armed forces for 41 years.

After I sourced a box of this expensive ammunition I was ready to see how this thing performed. I dragged my friend Chris to the range and we set up a paper target at about 10 yards or so.

Here I am shooting the Type 94:

Let me say that I spent many a weekend in college shooting pistols competitively, so I am not a terrible shot with a handgun. At this distance I would expect a group of about two or three inches max with any off the shelf automatic pistol, but the Nambu did not do so well. I shot two groups, one in the center and one in the top right:

All in all the pistol did work and poke holes in paper, and it did as well as could be expected from what people consider the worst pistol ever made. Aside from its appearance, what makes this thing so bad? The fatal flaw is that this gun has an exposed sear… that when pressed fires the gun. That’s right, if you press the side of the gun it will fire. I got this on camera too …

This gun could, in theory, go off when holstered, handling it, handing it off to someone, etc. There are stories of Japanese officers handing the pistol over when “surrendering” and then pressing the sear bar to get off one last suicide shot. I have not been able to confirm any of these stories or find anything official, but it is very possible. Here I demonstrate on video how it works:

Scary stuff isn’t it? But that isn’t the only place where the Type 94 falls short. The gun has only a 6 round capacity and the grip is incredibly small. The slide does lock back after the last shot is fired, but a tab on the rear of the magazine follower is responsible, so when you remove the magazine the slide slams forward! The pistol has a magazine disconnect that just raises a small bar to prevent the trigger from moving backwards, but with a little practice you can just depress the lever with one finger and pull the trigger with the other. The gun also is a real pain to clean, almost to the point where three hands are required to take it apart! The sights are very crude as well and are a milled portion of the gun so no adjustment is possible. Lastly I had about five failures with this thing as it failed to reset the sear if I pressed the trigger too hard. All in all I do not imagine I will be using this thing for an IDPA match anytime soon, although that would be pretty damn funny.

I dumped the rest of the rounds into the center and made a nice pie plate sized group:

It is not nearly as accurate as, well, pretty much every other pistol I have ever wielded, but it can still throw lethal lead in the desired direction at the desired target. Shooting the Type 94 was exciting, especially by pressing the sear bar. I proudly show the gun off to my buddies when they swing by the shop but the Type 94 is little more than a curio.

I do my bullet points for every gun I review so I might as well do them for this one:

The Good:

The Bad:

The Ugly:

  • Worst pistol you can buy
  • Underpowered and anemic cartridge
  • Ugly as sin
  • Dangerous as can be
  • Tiny grip
  • Finding ammo is a problem
  • Incredibly difficult to take apart for cleaning

Regardless of the above bullet points, the Type 94 is a unique collectible pistol. But that is all it is. It now rests on my display rack of collectible hand guns and long guns as a monument to how bad a gun can be.

Alex C.
Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.

More by Alex C.

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  • Joshua Madoc Joshua Madoc on Apr 21, 2014

    Have you looked into recent Japanese firearms? I may be remembering it wrong, but I seem to recall 2 of their handguns that seemed to be good, but have little information on - one being the Sugiura pistol, and the other being what seemed to be a Type 94 that was given a modern treatment, and the result being a gun with the bottom of a Type 94, and the top of an M1911. The latter may have been a fictional gun, as there were so little information about it even to this day, that the one I saw in a Japanese book on how to draw guns may as well have been fictional.

  • Matthew Matthew on Aug 09, 2014

    nice article, i love history of guns. i have some guns handed down in the family, one is a c.j hamilton and sons model 39. the other is a type 99 arisaka late version. my grandfather picked it up during his pacific theater service, during the battle for the Aleutians. i keep well maintained, im trying to find some ammo for it too see how well it fires. should be fun

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