I have some interesting projects walk into the shop. Many of them would make your average smith run, but I’m not your average gunsmith, I’m always looking for new stories. In this case, we have a surplus Beretta M1951 pistol that walked through the door.
The gun failed to open after the owner fired a round. So the gun was safe to handle but locked shut. Gentle tapping with a nylon mallet wasn’t making the gun unlock, neither was using a tool to raise the locking lugs and pull the slide off. The slide would move back and forth maybe half an inch, but that was it.
Fresh out of ideas, the owner and I decided to try to cut it off. First, I’d remove the take down lever. If that didn’t free anything up, I’d cut out the barrel and locking block. Surely one of these things would allow us to know what happened and whether or not the pistol was salvageable.
Before we get to the work, please take a look at the following disclaimer:
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Any modifications made to a firearm should be made by a licensed gunsmith. Failure to do so may void warranties and result in an unsafe firearm and may cause injury or death.
Modifications to a firearm may result in personal injury or death, cause the firearm to not function properly, or malfunction, and cause the firearm to become unsafe.
It is absolutely critical to ensure that a firearm, with the breech locked into position, is unloaded. If a live cartridge is chambered, a serious safety issues exists. I’ve found the best way to do this is to probe the distance from the muzzle to the breech face with a thin piece of wood. If the probe touches the breechface a loaded cartridge isn’t present.
The gun arrived as shown above. It is unloaded, however a spent case is stuck in the chamber. The slide is stiff and will only move back and forth about 3/8″ on the frame. It can’t be cleared and won’t unlock.
After a lengthy discussion with the owner, we decided the first course of action would be to cut out the slide stop lever. I held the pistol in the milling machine’s vise and used a solid carbide two-flute end mill to plunge cut through the center of the take down lever. I prefer two flute to four flute end mills to plunge cut steel. I find the design clears chips far better.
I was pleased with how the slide stop was cut out. The end mill was just slightly smaller than the pin on the stop and the material that was removed was fairly thin. Unfortunately, with the slide stop removed, the slide still wouldn’t travel along the frame.
After speaking to the pistol’s owner again, we decided the best course of action would be to cut the barrel and breech block out. Again, I grabbed the slide of the M1951 in the milling machine’s vise and made a series of cuts to remove the rear of the barrel.
With the barrel cut out, I was able to remove the slide! Success! But what was the issue?
It turns out the locking block began to deform the two ramps on the side rails. I assume this was the result of excessive use and or an over-pressure round. Once these ramps that engage the locking block were deformed, the slide had no where to go.
The left side of the frame was far worse that the right side. While this could theoretically be repaired by adding on some new material with the TIG welder and then shaping the frame rails back to the way they were, I do not feel that this repair would be safe or cost effective.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it would be to inspect the rear end of the frame rails on a M1951 or an M9 (similar design) to ensure this area isn’t deformed prior to buying one.