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Part 1: a scratch-made dummy M1919: it's one thing to make a dummy gun from a parts kit. It's another to make one from raw steel pieces. Matthews shows how in this two-part series.


In recent years I have written several articles for SGN on building dummy versions of famous military full-auto firearms. Display guns offer a low cost way of owning representations of your favorite machine guns without the cost, paperwork and responsibilities of owning registered full-auto firearms.

Whether you own the real versions or not, non-functional display guns are the responsible way of displaying ordnance. Compared to real guns, display guns are very inexpensive. While commercially-made display guns can be pretty pricey, home-built versions can cost a fraction of the price of manufactured display guns.

I have eight dummies guns hanging on my wall that if real would represent tens of thousands of dollars spent. I have less than $500 in the whole lot. I usually purchase a surplus parts set and use a dummy receiver to build the project. On many hand-held guns this is usually very inexpensive.

The problem is that when you move up to belt-fed guns, the cost can really escalate. An example of this the Czech ZB-37 heavy machine gun I wrote about in 9/20/08 and 10/20/08. Parts kits for this rare gun can easily exceed $1000, and a tripod will drive the cost up even more. The only way I got to do this project was that I scored a parts set for an incredibly low price.

I recently decided that I needed a display version of the Browning 1919A4 belt-fed machine gun. Since I have a semi-auto version of this historic gun, I thought a display version would be a nice complement to the real one. I also wanted to do an article on the build process. Deciding I wanted one and making it a financial possibility are two different things! I'm sure that in these tough economic times there are many readers in the same situation.

The usual method of buying a surplus parts set (about $450) and a dummy sideplate (about $125) would be too costly on my restricted budget. I needed to find a less expensive option if I was going to have a 1919A4 hanging on my wall.

My semi auto 1919 was self-built from a Ohio Ordnance Works semi auto kit, plus I had built a NFA-registered full auto many years ago, so I was familiar with the gun. I had my semi-auto sitting on the work bench trying to figure out how to build an inexpensive display gun when I noticed something.

In its most basic form a Browning 1919A4 is simply a rectangular box with a round extension extending out the front. To this basic rectangle several sub-assemblies are attached. These sub-assemblies are also very basic shapes and would not be too difficult to roughly replicate in the home workshop.


I also figured that materials to make these parts would be inexpensive. A quick trip to the local steel retailer/recycling center confirmed that material cost to replicate these parts would be less than $30. This $30 figure included both new and recycled steel. All new steel would push the cost up to about $50, but that would still be a bargain.

With such a low cost for the gun I got to thinking that a replica M2 tripod might be nice, too. I had previously written an article for SGN on building a functional replica of the M2 Tripod for less than $50. Since I was familiar with the construction of a functioning tripod I figured I could simplify that design into a display version.




By using lighter materials and deleting functional features, I figured a display version could be made for less than $20 worth of materials. The low cost of the gun and tripod projects convinced me to start the project. In fact I built three versions, one for me and a couple for other friends.

Total time to build one 1919A4 replica was about 15 hours and one M2 tripod took about 10 hours. 25 hours of your time can result in your having a nice display gun and tripod.

Before we get into the building of this project, I want to address a couple issues. These two projects will only be rough replicas, not exact copies. Only the exterior features will be duplicated. No internal parts will be made and no real gun parts will be used. Exact copies could be hand made but the work would run into hundreds of hours.

If you want an extremely detailed replica, then spend the $600 and buy a parts set and dummy sideplate. This article and project are intended for those who want a reasonable approximation of a Browning 1919A4 and M2 tripod with a minimal amount of time and money expended.

This project is not dimensionally precise. Many dimensions were altered from the original gun and tripod to ease the build process and allow common materials to be used. Also please note this story does not contain all the information you need to complete the project. You will have to supplement the information here with you own fabricating skills and knowledge.

Tools required for the project are basic home workshop tools, however the more tools you have, the easier the project will be. An arc welder is absolutely required for this project, with the MIG type preferred over a stick welder. Power tools such as bench mounted disc sander, band saw, drill press, and small hand held angle grinder will greatly ease the build but are not absolutely required.

The receiver of the Browning 1919A4 is a rectangle. I used a 14-inch piece of 2x4x1/8" wall rectangular tubing. I would have preferred thinner wall material but that was all that was available where I bought it. Thinner wall tubing will have a sharper corners, which would look better.

To this basic rectangle all subassemblies will be attached and from it some cutouts will be made. These assemblies will include the barrel and shroud, front and rear sights, top cover, spade grips, charging handle, top cover latch, and several small frame components. The builder can choose the build order he prefers; the order described here is what worked for me.

Once the 2x4-inch tubing was squarely cut and deburred, I decided to make the cutouts. A slot for the charging handle needs to be cut in the right side of the receiver. This slot is 1/2" wide and 4 1/2 inches long. It is located 5 1/2 inches back from the front and 1 1/2 inches down (to the center of the slot) from the top.



The ends should be left round. This slot can be cut out by drilling a 1/2" hole at both ends, then cutting the remainder out with a cutoff wheel in a hand-held grinder. Cut slightly under size and file the remainder flat to finish size. An opening for the amino belt and cartridges also needs to be made.

You have two options here. The standard 1919A4 features left-hand feeding and has an opening on the left side large enough to allow the loaded cartridge belts to pass though.

On the right side, the opening is only large enough to allow the empty belt (or metallic links) to exit the gun. There is however a variation known as the M37 that features right and left feed options and features a large opening on both sides.

I choose to use the dual-feed M37 pattern on my project to allow the belt to extend out of either side, depending on how the gun was displayed. I sized the openings 17/32" wide by 3% inches long. These openings were 1 inch back from the front and 1/2" down from the top and were cut out with the same method as the handle slot, but the ends were filed square.

Once these openings were cut, I could see into the receiver and the project looked hollow. To give the appearance of a bolt in the receiver, I welded a piece of 3/16x1-inch flat stock behind the handle slot. I added a piece of steel on the inside between the openings in the receiver for the cartridge belt. This gives the appearance of the feed tray on the front trunnion.

One of the most distinctive features of the M1919 is its riveted construction. The 1919 featured two sideplates connected by upper and lower frame components. These parts, as well as other internal parts, were connected with exposed head rivets. All these exposed rivet heads (about 24) give the gun a very distinctive and solid "old time" appearance.



For a reasonable replica, these rivet heads need to be duplicated. While riveting is a very easy process, it seems to intimidate novice builders. With that in mind, I used a procedure that will give the appearance of rivets without actually having to rivet.

All the small 3/16" shank (about 3/8" head) rivets were actually 10-32 screws with the heads ground partially off to simulate rivet heads. The rivet holes were drilled and tapped, the screws installed and then the heads were partially removed. Quick, easy and they looked like rivets!

The first parts to be "riveted" on were the lower frame components. On original guns this is a large single-piece casting that connects the two sideplates at the bottom rear. This part would be very hard to duplicate. To easily duplicate its outward appearance, I attached a 7-inch piece of 3/4"x1/8" angle iron to each side.

The angle was drilled with seven 3/16" holes centered on the angle. Once the holes were drilled, the angle was clamped to the receiver and tack welded to hold it in place.

I drilled tap holes (#25 drill) through the existing holes and into the receiver wall. The holes were then tapped and the screws installed. The slots in the screw heads were then ground off. Be sure when selecting your screws that you get screws that have some head remaining under the slots so that you have enough head left to give the appearance of a rivet head. Phillips screws cannot be used since the slots are too deep.

With the angles installed, you can fabricate and install the tabs on the bottom that secure the gun to the T+E assembly. These tabs were made from 1x1x1/4-inch flat stock. A hole was drilled near the bottom and the bottom end was rounded off before they were welded to the angle. These tabs were located about 2 1/2 inches from the rear of the receiver.

Several more false rivets need to be installed on each side of the receiver. The right side has four more of these small rivets. One each is installed on the front and rear corners, which are located about 1/2" in and down from the edges. One is installed about 3/4" below the receiver top and 5/8" behind the cartridge opening. The last small one is installed 4 7/8 inches from the rear of the receiver and 1/2" down from the top.

One large "trunnion" rivet needs to be installed in both sides of the receiver. This one is 2 inches back from the front and 2 1/2 inches down from the top. This rivet head is made from the head of a 1/4" carriage bolt. A hole is just drilled in the receiver and the rivet is set in place followed by spot welding from the back side. Be sure it is tight and flush before welding.

Six of the small rivets need to be installed in the left side of the receiver. The left side gets one in each corner just like the other side and the one that is 4 7/8 inches from the back also needs installed at the top just like the right side. Two are installed 3/4" down from the top at 6 and 8 inches from the rear of the receiver. The last one is installed 1 1/4 inches down and 9 inches from the rear.

The Browning 1919A4 features brackets or protrusions around the lower portion of the openings for the cartridge belt. This bracket houses the belt holding pawl and is also an attachment point for an optional feed chute. Since this bracket doesn't function on a display gun and features a lot of notches that would be hard to duplicate without a milling machine, it will only be roughly copied.

I fabricated a bracket from a piece of 1x1/4-inch flat steel. I just cut out a piece 4 1/4 inches long and cut a notch in it the size of the cartridge belt opening. Since my project featured right or left feeding, I made one for each side. It was secured to the receiver with small 8-32 screws using the same fake riveting method as before.

The next assembly to be made was the rear sight. The 1919A4 features a large ladder type sight. It is attached to receiver with a heavy cast angle bracket which extends over the top of the receiver. This original part would be hard to duplicate, so I found an improvised solution in the form of a shaped angle iron bracket.



Material is 2 1/2 x 3/16-inch angle iron that is 2 3/8 inches long. One leg (the top portion) of the angle is narrowed to 1 3/4 inches. The side leg is shaped by angling the lower sides inward to create a tapered profile. This taper begins about halfway down the side and is rounded on the end.

To attach the bracket to the receiver, two holes were drilled in the side for plug welds. This bracket should be located 3/4" in from the rear of the receiver and a 5/8"-314" gap should be left between the top of the receiver and the bottom of the bracket.

Weld the bracket on, then grind the welds smooth. The original sight featured protective sides cast right into the base/ bracket. To duplicate this feature, weld a 2 3/8" long section of 11/4 x 1/8-inch square tube to the top of the bracket. This piece of material should be 9/16" tall.

The square tube section is welded to the bracket and then all welds are ground smooth so that the sides look to be one piece with the base. Between these protective sides a ladder type sight was installed. Original 1919A4 sights can be pretty pricey, so I just picked up a military surplus bolt action rifle sight at a gun show that looked very similar for $5.

I installed it by drilling a hole through the sides of the sight base and installing a pivot pin so it could be flipped up or down. After the ladder sight was installed a 1/2" long piece of 1/2" rod was soldered to the side to simulate the looks of a sight adjustment knob.

The next assembly to be made was the top cover latch. The original 1919A4 latch is a single piece casting. To duplicate the looks of this part I welded three pieces of flat stock and shaped the weldment to resemble a latch.

The first piece was a 1x3/8-inch flat 5 inches long. I welded a piece of 1x1/4x l 3/4-inch flat to the top of it. Right behind this piece a section of 1/4" x l/2" stock 2" long was welded on to form a handle. This handle part was beveled to resemble the original handle shape.

Once all the pieces were welded together, the assembly was contoured to duplicate roughly the original top cover latch. To attach this latch to the receiver without any noticeable welds, I drilled 1/4" holes in each end of the latch. I then located the latch on the receiver top so it was about 1/4" from the rear of the receiver and marked two hole locations on the receiver top.


Then I drilled holes and installed short pieces of 1/4" bolts from underneath to act as studs. Once everything was aligned and clamped in place, the holes in the top where the studs where located were welded shut and ground smooth. The heads on the inside of the receiver were also spot welded so they were tight.

The next part to be duplicated was the top cover. The original top cover and associated machining would be very hard for the hobbyist to duplicate, so the top cover featured here can be best described as a "representatation" of the top cover. This was made from 1/16" flat steel sheet.

My cover was made from a piece 8 1/4 inches long and 3 inches wide, but yours may vary depending on your specific build dimensions. I bent 1/2" sides on the material so that I had a channel that had a 2-inch inside width. To this piece a 1/2"x1/2" stub was attached to appear to be a feed lever pivot.

It was located 3 1/2 inches from the rear and 5/8" from the right side. A piece of 3/4" x 3/4" x 1/8" flat stock was attached to the rear center to look like a catch for the top cover latch. Both were plug welded from the underside of the cover so no welds showed.

Two 3/8" holes were drilled in the sheet metal top cover to allow it to be plug welded to the top of the receiver. After welding in place, I ground these welds smooth so there were no obvious welds showing.

The original 1919 top cover featured a pivot pin at the front with a spring between the head and the top cover. To duplicate this feature, I installed a 1/4" carriage bolt with a spring under the head. The bolt was installed through a drilled hole and the bolt was tack welded on the inside of the receiver.

The open end at the rear of the receiver can now be filled in. To replicate the 1919 backplate and buffer assembly, I cut a filler plate from a piece of 1/8" flat stock. For the buffer I chose to use a representation of the short buffer assembly, which looks better with spade grips.

This was made with a piece of 1 1/4-inch diameter rod 1 1/2 inches long.

This rod was contoured by forming a step at about the halfway point. The rod was attached to the backplate by plug welding it from the rear of the plate. It was centered and about 1 3/4 inches down from the top. Once the buffer was welded to the backplate, the assembly was welded to the rear of the receiver tube.

While original Browning 1919A4s featured a single pistol grip, aftermarket spade grips are a popular option for 1919 shooters. While not original equipment, spade grips do look more "machine gunny" and are more user-friendly. This style of grip is also very easy to make for a display gun, since it doesn't need to function.

Simple grip brackets are made from 1/8" flat stock. These brackets look like a large "C". To make the brackets, cut out a piece of flat stock that is 4 1/2 x 3 inches and remove the center of the "C". I made the width of the "C" portion 7/8" wide.


Once the "C" parts were cut out, I rounded the ends. These "C" pieces had holes drilled in the ends for 1/4" carriage bolts that will extend though the wooden grips. These two "C" pieces were then welded to the rear of the receiver at a 3 7/8-inch spacing. To maintain this spacing and the better to hold the brackets, I used carriage bolts and nuts to secure the parts in the right location.

After the "C" brackets were installed, grips were made from 3 7/8--inch sections of 1 1/8-inch hardwood dowel.

Since this is a non-functional item, the thumb trigger of the spade grips was replicated with 3/4" flat stock and welded to the top bracket. Locate it to your preference. This doesn't look original, but then you don't have to replicate all the complicated linkage found on functional spade grips.

One more thing needs done to the receiver before moving on to the shroud construction. The filler plate that was welded in behind the handle slot needs to have a 1/2"-13 hole drilled and tapped at the front for the cocking handle. A handle can be made from a short 1/2" bolt. Length of the handle can be to your preference. I rounded the head so that it didn't look like a bolt head and had about 1 inch of unthreaded shank extending out of the receiver.

Next month (12/20 issue) building the barrel and tripod.
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Title Annotation:Browning 1919A4
Author:Matthews, Steven
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 20, 2009
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