Monthly Archives: April 2010

Of What Caliber (or Calibre) are You?

One descriptor that has always puzzled me is the terminology for firearms.  What exactly does a “twenty-two” mean?  Although I think I know the meaning of the “9mm” for my Glock 19, why is a “thirty-aught-six” a common deer rifle?  How about a “12-gauge” shotgun?  This bothered me enough to require further exploration.

Rifled Barrels

Caliber (or Calibre if you reside across the pond) originated in reference to the approximate diameter of the bullet used.  Therefore a .22 (“twenty-two”) is approximately .22 inches in diameter.  A Colt .45 has a bullet .45 inches in diameter (or a popular malt liquor beverage).  Caliber can also be expressed in millimeters, for example, my Glock 19 has a bullet 9mm in diameter.

What about a .30-30?  Or .30-06?  .30-30 is still a commonly used cartridge and actually refers to the caliber (.30 inches) followed by the standard black powder charge in grains (30gr) in the days of early black-powder era cartridges when the convention was adopted.  Modern .30-30 Winchester cartridge charge may differ from the original.  “Thirty-aught-six” (.30-06) refers to caliber (.30 inches) with a modifier as to the year introduced (1906).

What about Shotguns?

For shotguns, ballistics are measured in a term related to caliber called gauge.  Gauge refers to how many spheres of a given bore (inside diameter of the shotgun barrel) it would take to equal one pound.  Therefore for a twelve-gauge shotgun it would take 12 spheres the size of its barrel’s bore to equal one pound.  A “twenty-gauge” would take 20 spheres, reflecting its narrower bore.  Interestingly, a .410 shotgun measurement is a caliber measurement.  For shotshells, the size of the shot becomes a little more confusing in its naming convention.  “Birdshot” are shells with pellets “poured” into the shell.  “Buckshot” are much larger, such that may be used to hunt bigger game, hence the name.  They are more carefully placed into the shotshell and packed with sawdust or tiny plastic pellets between them in order to control the spread as the shot strikes its target.

I measure roughly 46cm at my widest point (thankfully, my shoulders), so it would take at least a 460mm cannon to fire me.

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Posted by on April 12, 2010 in Brilliance, Random


Dead as a Doornail

I have used this phrase countless times either in the above iteration or as “deader than a doornail”.  But one day it crossed my mind as strange.  All nails are dead, inanimate objects, why should doornails be any more so?  Is the intention referring to death by doornail?  A little research has revealed, no.


This is quite an old term, actually.  It is referenced in print as early as 1350, and Shakespeare used the term in King Henry VI, Part 2, 1592:

Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was broached, and beard thee too.  Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

A "dead nail" with its tip clenched back into the wood, a common way to fasten door hinges to keep them from working loose.

I learned from the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association that in the day of forged or cut nails, manufacture was quite labor-intensive.  Therefore nails were reused when possible.  The tips of the large-headed nails used in hingeing doors (remember, this is before the usage of wood screws, for which a satisfactory lathe to manufacture was not invented until the late 1700’s) were turned back into the wood as shown in the rendering at the left, a procedure called “clenching”.  Nails were so scarce and expensive in pre-1850 America that people would burn down dilapidated structures just to sift the ashes to recover nails.  Clenched nails like the one shown above, however, were too bent to be reused, and were christened “dead nails” by the construction industry.  Hence the term, “dead as a doornail”.  This research led me to another question.  Why is the term “penny” used to describe the size of a nail?  It is its weight in pennies or some equivalent?  Again, no:


The term “penny” is still used when referring to a nail’s size.  In the 1600’s when it is believed this term came into use, the English monetary unit was the Pound Sterling (£) which was divided into shillings and pence.  The cost of 100 nails in 1600’s pence is how nail sizes are described to this day.  For example, 100 small nails, selling for 4 pence were called 4d nails (4d is the abbreviation for 4 pence and is still used to describe a 4-penny nail).  100 larger nails sold for 10 pence are 10d nails, and so on.  The price of nails was apparently near constant for a long period of time, and thus led to standard sizes.  Nail recovery has been all but eliminated with the use of modern wire nails.

Wire vs. Cut

Forged nails are square, each side being tapered to the tip.  Cut nails were quicker to manufacture, and were characterized by two tapered sides and two parallel sides, where they were sheared from steel plate.  A second machine forms the head of a cut nail.  Wire nails are round.  Steel wire of varying sizes is fed through a machine that grips the wire, cuts it, chisels the point, and forms the head all in one operation, churning out thousands of nails per minute.  Wire nails are cheaper to produce, but the cut nail has about four times the holding power of its round cousin.  You now know more about nails than you ever cared to. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on April 5, 2010 in Brilliance, Cliche, Sayings


The Kris Blade

The “Kris” blade has always been, in my mind, the most sinister and fearful of double-edged blades.  Originating from Indonesia and used primarily on short swords, these wavy blades typically have 13 undulations contributing to their sinister legend (Kris-bladed knives like the one shown here have less).  They are considered not only to be weapons but to spiritual items, possessing good or bad luck.  Only the bad guys carry them.  Incredible care and skill must go into fashioning a blade in this manner.   But why?  Is there any real benefit to wielding a Kris blade as opposed to a straight stiletto?

Scary. Menacing. Good guys use these.

Good Guys Use These.


Prof. Roland Philip makes the claim that when used for stabbing, a straight blade may get lodged in bone.  But a curved blade is more likely to deflect when striking a rib and penetrate deeper.  Pleasant.  Other stories mention that when twisted, this type of blade will prevent a would from closing.  Also, for a given length blade, the undulations yield a longer cutting surface compared to the same length straight blade.  Prof. Philip also argues that Kris shape effectively makes a wider blade, but not heavier.  Wider blade=wider wound.  In use as a sword, a wide blade is less wieldy, thus a Kris bladed sword offers more quick, and precise handling with a wider effective edge.  If a blade has a wavy edge, but the median ridge does not undulate with the edge, this type of blade is called a “flame blade”.  More BS that you never knew you wanted to know (and may still not).

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Posted by on April 2, 2010 in Random