Bringing the Nambu Back to Life

Bringing the Nambu Back to Life

Of all the firearms I own, one has generated more comments and cautious advice than all of the rest of them put together. In itself, it might not have surprised me that one model drew such criticism, but the fact that all of that criticism has been concentrated into a two month period indicates that there is real concern about the old warhorse. The pistol in question? The Nambu Type 14.

You’ve all heard (or maybe even said) the following:  “Cases won’t eject.”  “The firing pin breaks.”  “You can fire it by putting it in a holster.”  “I can’t find ammunition for it.”  “It is a suicide machine.”  On and on, the complaints continue.  Every now and then, someone offers some useful criticism, and a few folks have even expressed satisfaction and even admiration for the old firearms, but the majority of the feedback I’ve seen has been markedly negative.  So, you can imagine that it was not with a lot of enthusiasm that I purchased this Nambu.

Before I took the Nambu plunge, I did do a little bit of research.  Generally, the Nambu

Nambu Type 14 produced in 1930 at Tokyo Arsenal

series of pistols dates back to 1902, when Lieutenant General Kijiro Nambu introduced the Type A, followed in 1909 by the Type B (the Baby Nambu).  The Type 14, on which this article focuses, was introduced in 1925, and adopted by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1927.  The Type 14 utilized an 8x22mm cartridge.  The 102gr bullet left the muzzle at around 950 feet per second, making it a weaker round than the 9mm Parabellum and somewhat equal to the 7.65 Browning Short (.32 ACP) rounds.  Using a recoil spring action, the Nambu operated very differently than the P-08 Luger, to which it is often mistakenly linked.  While outwardly the Nambu and the Luger appear similar, they are quite different designs.  Over the course of its production, approximately 400,000 Type 14 pistols were manufactured between 1925 and 1945.

Beyond some of the historical background, one of the first things I learned is that the Nambu Type 14 is not the dangerous and awkward pistol many claim it to be.  The Type 94, produced later, featured an exposed sear on the port side that, if pressed with enough pressure, can cause the pistol to fire unexpectedly.  The Type 14, however, would need a little more intricate pressure on the rear of the trigger bar to cause an unexpected discharge.  I also learned that the “exploding Nambu” is largely a myth.  As with any firearm, there are almost sure to be some mishaps–especially in hurriedly-produced pieces such as those produced by Japan in the later stages of the war and especially when

The Nambu Type 14 with the magazine empty and bolt open.

individuals unfamiliar with the operation of the firearm find themselves using it.  The Nambu Type 14, however, does not have a track record of catastrophic failure, especially if handled appropriately and when using correct ammunition.  Ammunition, of course, is a common theme among those who have chosen to own a Nambu.  Finding ammunition, in itself, is a challenge.  Finding the right bullet weight and combining it with the right propellant seems to have been a challenge for modern commercial ammunition makers and for reloaders alike.  My understanding is that the Japanese military ammunition used a 102gr bullet–something that is not widely available to reloaders.  One company, however, offers 8x22mm Nambu with a 100gr bullet, and several individuals who have used that ammunition have reported success.  Not so with the small variety of 83gr bullets that are available.  I would note, however, that just last week, Steinel Ammunition Co. (@steinel_ammo on Instagram) introduced a new version of the 8x22mm Nambu with an 83gr bullet that reportedly performs as well as the 100gr bullet.

My research also left me with the understanding that original springs on most Nambus have weakened over time and use.  Replacing the recoil springs with some modern springs has proven to be helpful to many Nambu owners.  Another helpful hint was that a light coating of gun oil on the magazine feed lips helps alleviate some of the feeding issues that many have experienced.

Historically, I learned that–like many Japanese weapons–the pre-war and early-war Nambu pistols were generally of a higher quality than their mid-war and late-war brethren.  The war took a particularly heavy toll on Japanese industry, and both production materials and quality control suffered as a result of bombings and resource shortages.

So, armed with all of this information, I set out to find the perfect Nambu.  During my search for the Nambu, I focused on just a few key elements:  1) it had to be of pre-war manufacture to ensure quality materials were used and production standards were high, 2) it had to be all-matching to minimize the chance that parts would not work together, and 3) the appearance of the pistol had to be acceptable and not indicate overuse.  Price, while certainly a factor, was not a driving concern.

In February, I found this Nambu.  It was produced in 1930 at the Tokyo Arsenal.  It bears all matching serial numbers, and while there is some wear, it is in very good condition for an eighty-nine year old pistol.  With the pistol in hand, I ordered a set (two) of recoil

Nambu Type 14

springs and a replacement firing pin.  While there is nothing wrong with the original firing pin, I did not want to take a chance on breaking it, especially as I would be firing it for the first time and I have heard many complaints about broken firing pins.  Springs and the firing pin were readily available from the good folks at Numrich Gun Parts (@numrichgunparts). I did have to grind the firing pin guide a bit to allow it to slide freely in the bolt body, but once smoothed out with some 000 steel wool and lightly oiled, it operated fine.

With new springs and a substitute firing pin in place, it was time to look for ammunition.  Fortunately, I have been following @forestfirearms on Instagram for some time, and he has been on a quest to bring his old Nambu to life.  I watched each of his videos and noted the challenges he faced.  I also noted his successes–namely the better performance of the 100gr bullets versus the 83gr.  So, I ordered up a small supply of 100gr ammunition.  When it arrived, I disassembled the Nambu and slipped a few rounds into the chamber and drove them home with the bolt by hand to check the extractor and ejector. Both seemed to be working just fine. While it was disassembled, I also gave it a very good cleaning from end to end and from top to bottom.  While the pistol appeared to be in pretty good shape, this exercise revealed some debris that might have dated back to the Sino-Japanese War.  Reassembly was relatively easy (you might want to keep a pair of tweezers and a watchmaker’s screwdriver handy), despite many of the accounts I’ve read.

Disassembled and ready for cleaning.  The Type 14 is not as difficult to reassemble as many believe.

So, with a clean and shiny Nambu and a degree of hope, but still with expectations of disappointment, I headed off to the range with fifty rounds to see if there was life in this old pistol.

Across the internet, I’ve seen videos and read accounts of Nambu owners experiencing all kinds of feed, cycle, and ejection problems with their pistols.  When someone was able to fire four or five shots in a row without incident, they mostly claimed victory.  I was hoping to get that kind of performance, but expecting problems.  Applying a very small amount of gun oil to the feed lips, and loading five rounds in the magazine, I chambered the first round and held my breath.  Bang!  I glanced at the top of the pistol.  It had fully cycled and chambered another round.  I repeated this four more times.  On

The first twenty shots with the Nambu Type 14 and 100gr ammunition.

the ejection of the last shot, the bolt remained open, just as it was supposed to.  I loaded five more shots and ran through them without incident…then five more…and five more.  I checked the target, hoping that at seven yards, I at least managed to hit the paper.  Not only were all shots on the paper, they were in a reasonably tight group for a first outing.  After fifty shots without any malfunctions, I contacted @forestfirearms to report my success.  I also relayed some information to the good folks at Steinel Ammunition hoping that it would help in development of their new 83gr rounds.

I am hopeful that my experiences, coupled with the input that @forestfirearms and others are providing to the Steinel Ammunition folks will result in a high-quality and reliable cartridge.  Used in a Type 14 that has sufficiently-strong springs and is otherwise in good working order, it is my hope that these cartridges will give Nambu owners good reason to look forward to taking their old pistol to the range.  If you have been inspired to pull that old Nambu out and take it to the range, let us know how it goes.  There is a small, but growing group of us who are rethinking our opinions of the Nambu, and finding that our appreciation for their simplicity is growing.  So, what do you think?