The Kitchen Table Gunsmith
  
   
Main menu  
 

 
 

 

Improving the FEG PA63 9x18 Makarov
by Roy Seifert

Click here to purchase a CD with this and all Kitchen Table Gunsmith Articles.

Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.

Introduction


I have a concealed carry permit (CCP) for the state of North Carolina, but summers here get pretty hot and humid which precludes wearing jackets, vests, or any other long garments to cover a holster.  A convenient method for summer-time carry is a specially designed fanny pack.  They’re easy to use; I can carry my wallet, keys, spare magazines, and a gun, and are so common that they’re virtually invisible.  However, they are not designed for full-sized guns; therefore I needed to find a small, lightweight pistol suitable for carrying in a fanny pack.

I had been reading an abundance of positive information about the European Makarovs being imported into this country.  The 9x18 Makarov guns themselves are fairly inexpensive ($100 - $250) depending on where you buy.  9x18 Makarov ammo is like a .380 Auto on steroids, so I decided to search for a Makarov.  While visiting a local gun store with a friend I found a Hungarian FEG PA-63 in 9x18 Makarov caliber.  This gun is almost an exact copy of a Walther PPK and looked like it would fit my needs well.

The Military standard PA-63 version sports a two-tone polished aluminum frame with black slide, grips, trigger and hammer assembly.  To me it’s an attractive little pistol.  Although the reflective frame was unusual for military use, it was chosen due to its relative cheapness as well as quicker build time.  Problems related to the durability of the aluminum frame were resolved prior to the development of the PA-63 in 1961 with the production of the FEG R-61 Police Pistol.  The addition of 0.1% titanium to the aluminum alloy solved premature alloy frame wear problems inherent in the earlier FEG aluminum framed pistols.  This development was then applied to all aluminum framed FEG guns including the PA-63.

Initial Disassembly and Inspection
The first thing I do with a new gun is to completely disassemble it.  I followed the disassembly instructions for a Walther PP, which worked very well.  I cleaned and oiled everything and did some preliminary inspection, not only for fit, function and wear, but also for areas that could use some improvement.  This particular gun looked like it had not been fired very much.  During my initial inspection it looked like someone had clipped a few coils off the hammer spring.  One end of the spring was flattened and compressed like it comes from the factory.  The other end was unevenly flattened, but not compressed; a sure sign that someone had been working on it.

Magazine Well
The magazine well was perfectly straight and made inserting a magazine an exacting chore.  True this is not an IPSC or competition gun, but since I plan to carry it for personal defense I wanted to improve the ability to insert a magazine.  I put the frame in the machinist vice with the magazine well up and leveled.  I used the cone cutter from my high-speed rotary tool to bevel the inside of the magazine well.  Aluminum is very nice to work with, but I was careful not to cut too deeply.  After I did the rough-cut on the mill I polished the bevel with 320-grit wet/dry paper on a Popsicle stick.

Not all 9mm’s Are Alike
There are three types of 9mm ammo available for consumers.  They cannot, nor should not be used interchangeably.  They are:

  • 9x19 also called 9mm Parabellum, or 9mm Luger developed in Germany .  This is the most widely known and popular of the 9mm cartridges, and is the most widely used cartridge used by military and police.  It is also the most powerful of the three.  Most modern firearms manufacturers have at least one handgun model chambered for this cartridge.  The bullet diameter is .356.
  • 9x18 Makarov – This cartridge was designed by Nikolai Makarov after WWII for eastern bloc countries as an alternative to the 9mm Parabellum.  It was the largest cartridge that could be used in a direct blowback pistol.  The bullet diameter is .363 - .365 so standard 9mm bullets cannot be used.  It is more powerful than a .380 auto, but less powerful than a 9mm Parabellum.
  • 9x17, sometimes called 9mm short, 9mm Kurz, or better known as the .380 auto was designed by John M. Browning and was introduced in 1908 by Colt.  This is often considered the minimum caliber for self defense and is commonly used in what are sometimes referred to as “pocket pistols.”  The Walther PPK made famous by James Bond is commonly chambered in .380 auto.  The bullet diameter is also .356.

At a local gun show I purchased 500 rounds of Brown Bear 9x18 Makarov jacketed hollow-point ammo manufactured in Russia .  This ammo is loaded a little hotter than standard Makarov ammo and I intended to use this ammo for defense.  My first trip to the range exposed some problems with the PA-63 and the Brown Bear ammo:

  • The gun kicked like a mule!  The felt recoil was pretty serious.  This was due in part to the lighter aluminum alloy frame and the heavier load.
  • The double-action trigger pull was very heavy and stiff.  This makes that first shot very inaccurate.  A friend once offered to sell me a real Walther PPK but I decided not to purchase it because of the very stiff trigger.
  • The sharp edges on the rear of the slide cut the web of my thumb after only five rounds.  Ouch!
  • The sights were very difficult to pick up and use.
  • The bullets of the Brown Bear ammo were not all seated to the same depth which caused feeding problems!

All of these problems can be fixed; can you say “project gun?”

Ammunition
First I addressed the bullet seating problem.  With my calipers and a box of ammo I found most of the rounds were seated to the same depth.  A few rounds were seated out too far which caused the feeding problems. 

I purchased a set of Lee 9x18 Makarov reloading dies and set the seating die to the shortest round.  I ran all of the remaining 500 rounds through this seating die to ensure they were all at the same overall length.  This took care of the feeding problems, and should result in better accuracy since consistent bullet seating gives more consistent ignition.

Parts
There are a couple of resources for parts for this little pistol.  Springs are available from MidwayUSA or Brownells.  I purchased Makarov recoil springs and Walther PP hammer springs.  Wolff makes a recoil spring set for the Makarov with 15#, 17# (factory), 19# and 21# springs.  They also make a hammer spring set for the Walther with 16#, 17#, 18#, and 19# low power springs. 

Gun Parts Corp. does not have specific parts for the FEG PA63, however, they do carry parts for the Kassnar PMK-.380 which appears to be the same pistol.  Reports indicate that most of the parts will work in the PA63.  I purchased a spare firing pin, firing pin spring, and ejector/slide lock for my spares kit.

Double-Action Trigger Pull
Trigger pull can often be improved simply by replacing springs.  As mentioned before MidwayUSA sells a Walther hammer spring pack made by Wolff.  It comes with four springs; 16#, 17#, 18#, and 19# weights.  When installing lighter springs, I always test reliability of ignition with an empty case primed with a CCI primer.  CCI primers are somewhat harder than other primers; if the gun will ignite a CCI primer every time, it will pretty much ignite any other type of primer.

I had to disassemble the frame to replace the hammer spring.  I followed the NRA takedown guide for the Walther PP.  I found the 16# spring wouldn’t even dent the primer at all, even with multiple strikes!  The 17# spring took 4 or 5 strikes to fire the primer.  The 18# spring was erratic; it sometimes took 1, sometimes 2 strikes to fire the primer, but the 19# spring fired the primer every time.  So, I left the 19# hammer spring installed, and found the double-action trigger pull was significantly lighter.  Unfortunately, my trigger pull gauge doesn’t go high enough to measure the pull weight, so this was strictly subjective on my part.  However, at a recent range session, a guy in the bay next to me also had a PA-63 in .380 auto, and after trying my pistol, he wanted to know what I did to lighten the trigger pull!

Felt Recoil
This gun has a basic blowback action exactly like the original Walther.  Although the 9x18 Makarov is weaker than the 9mm, the pressure is still pretty high for a straight blowback action.  To improve reliability, reduce wear and tear on the gun, and reduce felt recoil, I installed a heavier, Wolff 21# Makarov recoil spring also available from MidwayUSA. 

Installing the spring was a simple matter of removing the slide, sliding the original recoil spring off of the barrel, sliding the new spring onto the barrel, and reinstalling the slide.  Using the Brown Bear ammo, the gun cycled and fed reliably and felt recoil is somewhat reduced.  It required a little more muscle to pull back the slide and charge the first round, but this was an acceptable trade-off to controllable, comfortable shooting.

Rounding the Rear Sharp Edges of the Slide 
(or How to Prevent Needing First Aid to the Web of My Hand!)

The bottom rear corners of the slide where the vertical back edge meets the bottom rails were left very sharp.  Because this gun doesn’t have much of a beavertail, recoil would cause the gun to flip up, causing the rear of the gun to depress deeper into the web of my hand so when the slide came back these sharp corners would cut open my hand.

I removed the slide from the gun and placed it upside down in a padded vise.  Using a high-speed rotary tool with a fine sanding drum I carefully rounded the two sharp corners at the bottom rear of the slide.  I then used a Craytex bit to polish the newly rounded edges, then cold-blued the exposed metal.  After running 50 rounds through the gun my hand survived with no cuts, scratches, or gouges.

Better Sights
Up to this point modifications have been just replacing parts, and performing some minor contouring to reduce the sharp edges.  Now it’s time to do some real milling.  I purchased a set of white-dot fixed sights from Makarov.com.  Unfortunately, they no longer sell parts, but similar sights can be purchased directly from Novak Sights.  Novak sells fixed sights that fit a Colt Mustang or .380 auto which work great on the PA-63.  They also sell a number of front sights with different heights; the height I purchased was .180.

Installing Front Sight
The dovetail of the front sight was 65 degrees x .330 x .05.  Using my dovetail calculator I determined that I should use a 0.25 square end bit to mill the pilot slot. 

I removed the slide from the frame, put painters tape on the sides, and squared it in the machinist’s vise on my mill.  Using a dial indicator I positioned the center of the bit 0.325” back from the front edge of the slide and 0.05” down from the top and made a pass through the slide.  The original front sight was cast into the slide, so I just milled it off.  This cut the pilot slot for the dovetail cutter.  This pilot slot prevents the dovetail cutter from loading up and possibly breaking.

After cutting the pilot slot, I removed the square end bit and installed a 65 degree x .330 high speed steel dovetail cutter available from Brownells.  I positioned the quill of the mill so the bottom of the cutter was resting on the bottom of the pilot slot.  I set the RPM to 540, and using a lot of cutting oil, and moving the cross slide very slowly, I cut the dovetail.

I removed the slide from the machinist’s vise and put it in my bench vise.  I used a 65 degree dovetail file to carefully open up the dovetail just until the front sight would start in the slot.  I cleaned the bottom of the sight and the dovetail slot with acetone, then applied a drop of Loctite 609.  I used a nylon-tipped punch to drift the sight into the dovetail until it was centered.  The sight came with a roll pin to anchor it in place, but since the sight fit tightly in the dovetail, and I used the Loctite 609, the sight was not going to move so I didn’t use the roll pin.

Installing Rear Sight
The dovetail for the fixed rear sight was 65 degrees x .300 and fit in a Novak-style cut.  I again squared the slide in the machinist’s vise.  I used a .25” square end bit to mill the rear of the slide down to the bottom of the original sight dovetail.  Although the original rear sight was supposed to be drift-adjustable for windage, I couldn’t get it to move, so I just milled it off.  I moved the center of the bit 0.70” in from the rear edge of the slide, and down to a depth of 0.075” below the flat I just milled.  I again made one pass through the slide; this cut the pilot slot for the dovetail cutter.

Again, after cutting the pilot slot, I removed the square end bit and installed a 65 degree x .300 high speed steel dovetail cutter available from Brownells and cut the rear dovetail as before.  I then used the 65-degree dovetail file to final-fit the rear sight.  I took the gun to the range and discovered that it was shooting left, but elevation was right on.  I drifted the rear sight a bit to the right and tightened the set screw, now it shoots to point of aim.

Summary
This little gun is now a pleasure to shoot.  The sights are easy to pick up, trigger pull is smooth and much lighter, recoil is less noticeable, and it doesn’t cut my hand during recoil.  Because of the fixed barrel, this gun is also fairly accurate, and even with fixed sights, shoots to point of aim with the Brown Bear ammo.  Someday, if I can find a set of adjustable sights I may install them, but since the gun is hitting to point of aim, I may just leave everything as is.

I recently found an article on Makarov.com regarding how to further improve the trigger of the PA-63.  This will probably be a forthcoming article.

 
   © Copyright 2010 Roy Seifert.