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I've been watching some of 1928a1tommy's gun restoration videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaHHgjkphOY&feature=c4-overview&list=UUezdPqmlJxYOUeVjscwd39w). I was particularly struck by the difference between the WWI and the WWII slides. At minute 15:53 you'll see a stark comparison. It got me to wondering how this type of work was done prior to CNC. I was hoping that one of you Gunsmiths might be able to explain, or to point me to info on the process. I'm not so much interested in doing the work, but I'd like to understand better how precision machining was done before modern computer driven tools were used. For as long as the link lasts, here is a snapshot from the video showing the two slides side by side:
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The WWI slide is on top.
 

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JMHO As to how milling could be precisely made before CNC I would say it would be due to correctly fit drills/jigs and their operation by skilled/caring machinists with a good set of calipers.
 

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Jigs, fixtures and dedicated equipment designed to perform only one machining procedure.
 

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My dad was a machinist from WWII until the mid 70's when he retired.

I was amazed at what he could do then with what is considered outdated today..

What's CNC..didn't exist in his time..
 

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Each hole, slot, radius, or other feature was done in a step by step process on dedicated horizontal and vertical mills, planing, and shaping machines. Some machines used custom ground cutting tools and there were precision locating, holding, and checking fixtures. Some features and parts were roughed out, finished, and then fitted by hand filing.

Watch this -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh74WY_YrJk
 

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If you ever get a chance to take apart a decent M1911 or early Government Model, you'll see plenty of evidence of hand-fitting. Each gun in those days was an individual, while at the same time there was 'standardization' to a great extent, meaning you could usually assemble a working gun from parts of others, although the resulting fits might be less than optimal. During 1918, Colt made and shipped several hundred thousands of pistols - they must have been working at a frantic pace. I have one of those made in July, 1918, and although well-used, it still has the best slide/frame fit of any 1911-types I have - basically the same as a 1974 Gold Cup National Match I had once. You'll never see that level of craftsmanship in high-quantity production again. During WWII, the goal was ultimate standardization for all arms, which was more or less achieved. Pretty remarkable considering they were still making pistols the same way they did in WWI. If you want to see something amazing, look up the manufacture of M1 Carbine stocks where they had a 'copying' machine with numerous stocks whirling around being lathed at the same time using a master stock.
Now, NATO pistols require total standardization without fitting of any part, such as the CZ75 P-01. I have one of those and it's a nice, tight assembly, reflecting well on the CNC process. But new, mass-produced guns still don't have the 'mojo' of the old ones.
 

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That's a good video from 1942.
Machining is about the same really, other than the cnc is computer controlled, rather than controlled by the human hand.
You can see the machinist turning his adjustment wheels, and measuring, which depending on the machine, is done by the computer today.
It's just that the computer can more consistently make exactly the same part, faster, for a longer period of time.
And the machines are more precise, perhaps, today.
More of a mass production really, but still cutting, milling, drilling, etc.
dc

A human still has to set up the computer, too. It's not like you can tell the computer, hey, computer, make me a gun, and pooft, out comes the gun.
 

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I had a book that was basically the 1903 Springfield manufacturing plans.

The number of dedicated fixtures was almost amazing; and most of those were made by Toolmakers. Each fixture was designed to hold the same part, the same way everytime it was used. Each fixture also had to be installed properly on the machine.

Love metalcutting, probably why I am lukewarm on Polymer pistols.
 
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