Jim Boland – The Master Gunsmith

Jim Boland
Genius Gunsmith and Great Friend

And yes, he was a little crazy, and sometimes rude, but what genius isn’t.

I need a new gunsmith:
I think it was 1980 when I first met Jim Boland. It was after the First Steel Challenge match. This was a speed shooting match which included contestants from all over the world. Having placed in the top fourteen, I made it to the shoot-offs. Me and another shooter went up against Mike Dalton and someone else. Both of us lost every run against the other 2 shooters except one.  The only run we won was the one in which my gun didn’t jam. Afterwards, my gunsmith who had witnessed the event, said with a smile, that it was normal for a gun to jam every hundred rounds or so. That remark is what motivated me to find another gunsmith.

I had heard about Jim Boland.  Most people knew him as the “mad scientist”. He looked and acted like one, and, of course, being the genius he was, he also  sounded like one.  It turned out that he was the find of a lifetime.

First meeting with Jim Boland:
Finding Jim, though, was somewhat hard to do, because nobody seemed to know where he actually worked.  It took a few weeks, but I finally tracked him down to a little gun store where he worked in the back room.   I’ll never forget that day.  I asked the clerk behind the counter if he had a gunsmith named Jim Boland. The clerk gave me a funny look and then yelled through a doorway to a back room, “Jim someone wants to talk to you.  Fifteen minutes later, Jim finally comes out front.  Having gone through a few gunsmiths already, I was thinking I needed to do something to determine if this guy is any good.  So I told him my right thumb was riding against the slide whenever I shot my 1911 45. And I wanted a shield of some kind between my thumb and the slide.

After telling Jim basically what I wanted, Jim asked me if I had my gun with me, which I had, and I gave to him. Without saying another word he took the gun and disappeared into his back room for nearly thirty minutes. Jim then reappeared with my gun in hand with a beautifully made thumb guard.

After other shooters saw my custom made thumb guard, Jim was busy crafting guards for them as well.

That was the beginning of a wonderful and long-term relationship. He was crazy I admit it, but he was a good friend and I miss him dearly.

Olympic Shooter Don Nygord:
Before I met Jim Boland,  I had asked Don Nygord, an Olympic shooter/gunsmith to make me something like Jim’s thumb guard, but it never worked properly.  And it took me two months to get, what I called a Thumb Guard.

Side story on Don Nygord. I made a deal with Don, before I knew Jim Boland. He wanted me to help him with my mental conditioning process in order for him to improve his Olympic shooting techniques. After a few months he was bragging about how much better he was doing. His scores were much better and he felt so much more relaxed. A few months later he said he wanted to stop working with me because the psychologists who were working with the US Olympic team said their process was better. This was shortly before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. So I went to see Don  compete where he took, if I remember correctly, 34th Place. He didn’t know I was there, and I never mentioned it.  What a waste, he had a chance at Olympic gold.

Jim Boland – Unique in more ways than one:
I remember one day I walked into Jim’s new shop when he was just finishing the construction of a safe room. That thing was incredible, thick walls of reinforced concrete with a big steel safe door as an entrance. I was there to have him build a new gun for me.  He happened to be wearing shorts that day, and for the first time, I noticed a hole in his leg. He said at one time he had surgery on his broken leg and when the doctor replaced a piece of bone, they put it in upside down and it never healed properly.  I took a close look and sure enough I could see the bone in his leg. What I find interesting in remembering that situation, was that it didn’t really seem that unusual at the time, knowing Jim.  On my next visit, he asked me to bring him a six pack of Heineken. I asked him why Heineken, and he said it was the best thing to take away the pain in his leg.   I never arrived empty handed after that.

What I really loved about Jim was how well-crafted his guns were. No matter how strange looking, no matter what the principal he said was behind the design, they worked.

My FK GUN, Specially built by Jim Boland:
(to see an article on the FK Gun/Super 9mm Major, click here.)

The following story should convince you, that Jim Boland was the best.

In the early 1980s I was always telling Jim that I wanted a better type of concealment gun. I wanted something with higher ammo capacity along with great knockdown power for uses in combat.   But I told Jim it was for IPSC . That’s why they used the .45 in the World Wars.  Now they use a 9mm made in another country, because our military thinks having more rounds of ammo in a weapon is somehow better than making sure a soldier knows how to hit a target.

Jim said he was working on my high-capacity gun, with great knockdown power, a special gun, built on a 1911 frame and slide.

The result is what Jim coined the Super 9. He reversed the rails on the slide and widened the grip so that it could take H&K M13 magazines. And he told me that I could load 9 mm cases with a longer and heavier bullet. So I ended up choosing, I think it was, a Hornady 170 grain bullet with an overall length much greater than a standard 9 mm which the new M 13 magazines would allow. So many shooters were using 185 grain to 200 grain bullets. So this bullet wasn’t too far off regarding the weight. So I simply loaded it a little hotter which made the bullet come out 1,200 to 1,500 FPS.

I couldn’t believe how beautifully this gun shot. Now this gun was not made for concealment.  It was an experiment. Later Jim made me a Colt Shorty for concealment so I could use the same type of ammunition.

My FK Gun was something else altogether. I used it in the Northwest championships and won First Place overall. And then I took it to the 1984 IPSC National Championships in Arizona where all the top shooters wanted to test fire it. I remember Bill Wilson, Rob Leatham and others were given the chance. I think Robbie, at the time, was the world champion and was on to a very successful career winning many national championships also.

So I went with all the guys over to a test firing range next to the course and gave everybody a chance to shoot my one-of-a-kind FK Gun.

Robbie and the others loved how the gun felt and how accurate it was.   I don’t remember who it was, but one of the other top shooters had an A/D, (accidental discharge) as he brought the gun up to fire it. He said he wasn’t prepared for such a light trigger pull.  The other shooters agreed that the trigger pull was extremely light.  I didn’t know what they were talking about, since I never had a problem with it and had shot thousands of rounds through it in practice and matches. But I was curious to know how light a trigger it really had. Generally, for a combat gun I would have a trigger pull of about 4 pounds max, normally around 3.5. I think the normal trigger pull out of the box is 6 to 8 pounds. For a competition gun I like a trigger no more than a 2.5 pounds pull.

Hold on to your hats.  When I got back Jim tested the trigger pull and it turned out to be 1 pound. I couldn’t believe it.  It had never followed and never jammed, not once.

Out of all the times that I had to use my weapons in combat, I had never had a problem with a jam, accuracy, or reliability.  Boland’s work was impeccable.

The FK GUN – More than just a name, a memory:
Many people over the years have asked me what the “FK stood for. I had the FK engraved on the side of the gun to honor 2 good friends who had died.

Now for the back story.  As a young boy I always had a Siamese cat. And yes I had a dog at one time, who changed my whole outlook on dogs. But that’s another story for another time. I felt at many times of my life that my cat friends kept me sane as the world around me, at times, seemed otherwise. Two cats of mine had died shortly before the FK Gun was built. So Jim thought it would be nice to name the gun because it was so unique.  What did I want to call it, he asked.  I told him that I wanted it called the “FK Gun, as each letter represented the first name of my beloved friends.  At the time, the only people who knew the true story behind the name of this gun were, Michael Harries, Jeff Cooper, Chauncey Holt, Jim Boland and me.

I’m doing a little promotion for Jim.

Competition Gun:
The reason I was in competition was because of Michael Harries my coach, strategist, and good friend who was teaching me about weapons.  He wanted me to compete in order to drill myself in the handling of weapons, which of course included safe gun handling, speed, accuracy and tactics among many other things.  in other words, he wanted me to be able to bring my A-game before any bad guys tried to eliminate me or one of my partners.  A friend of Michael’s was putting on a shooting match in Bakersfield,  California.  One of the stages was designed so that 2 shooters would stand at a firing line with a steel target for each shooter downrange at 25 yards. The targets were the size of a man’s torso including the head made out of steel on a 4 foot post. The exercise was to have the shooters hands in the surrender position. So the hands were approximately on the side of the shooters head at the start. When the whistle blew, the men had 2 seconds to draw their weapons, handguns in this situation, and fire one shot at the target.  There would only be a winner if both shooters didn’t hit his target.   After each stage both shooters moved back 10 yards. We kept repeating this until we were 140 yards from the targets. At 140 yards I hit my target; my opponent didn’t.

By the way I didn’t use the FK Gun for this match. I used a standard Colt 45 1911, reworked by Jim Boland, with a Bar-Sto match barrel.

That’s how good Jim Boland was. One of the greatest gunsmiths ever. I am so glad to have been able to call him a good friend.