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The Type 14 Nambu: great pistol but a lousy cartridge.

Like the Arisaka rifle, the Type 14 Nambu pistol has been the recipient of some of the most undeserved, uninformed gun bashing penned in the firearms field. Let me begin by pointing out the U.S. Ordnance Dept. tested the Nambu for accuracy following WWII and it outshot the Colt .45, the P-38 and the Tokarev.

Yes, the Nambu is rather unfamiliar looking, and it has its idiosyncrasies, but it points like an English setter, and it sports a trigger that approaches match quality.


Three distinct models of the Nambu pistol include the original and relatively rare "Papa" Nambu designed by Colonel Kijiro Nambu issued in 1904. It looks very similar to the later Type 14, but incorporates a grip safety, tangent rear sight (some had detachable shoulder stocks), single recoil spring and other less distinctive differences. It is chambered for the concurrently developed 8mm Nambu pistol round, a semi-rimless, bottleneck cartridge featuring a 102-grain FMJ bullet at 950-1,050 feet per second.

The second variation, one of the rarest of all military pistols, is the "Baby" Nambu. The Baby is a perfectly scaled down version of the "Papa" Nambu in every detail, chambered for a scaled down 7mm bottleneck cartridge launching a 56-grain FMJ at 800 fps. Little is known about the number produced or to whom it was issued other than to high ranking officers. Leithe, in his book, Japanese Hand Guns, observes that the Baby was personally selected by the Emperor to be his official presentation pistol. It was that special a design.

One of the interesting sidelights to the "Baby" Nambu story is that Bill Ruger had two in his personal collection. He copied the "Baby" concept, making two more, although both were in .22 rather than 7mm. Ruger considered his "Baby" Nambus too concealable and, before getting into the casting business, too expensive to produce by conventional methods. Nevertheless, a picture of Ruger's prototype "Baby" appears on page 48 of Wilson's Ruger & His Guns.

And, who knows, while the inspiration for the overall look of the Ruger Mark 1 Automatic is normally associated with the Luger, there are more Nambu-like qualities lurking in Ruger's design such as the barrel and barrel extension, reciprocating bolt and grooved cocking piece.

The third variation of the Nambu is the common Type 14 brought home in large quantities by returning GIs. Brian Murphy's gunshop in Tucson recently had two Type 14's in nice condition priced from $400 to $450. It is estimated that approximately 272,000 or so Nambus were produced at the Nagoya and Kokura arsenals, so they're not uncommon.

What's In A Name?

The Type 14 gets its name from a Japanese calendar system, which starts anew with the enthronement of every new Emperor. The Type 14 was officially adopted in 1925--the 14th year of Emperor Taisho's reign that began in 1911. Taisho, by the way, was the father of Hirohito. The Japanese ideograms appearing on the left rear of the receiver translate into "14 Year Type."

The Type 14 is essentially a simpler and easier to manufacture Papa Nambu. It's still a 4.7" barreled recoil operated, locked breech, semiauto pistol, holds 8 rounds, weighs approximately two pounds. The Papa's grip safety was replaced by a frame-mounted safety lever above the trigger on the left side and Papa's single recoil spring and exterior milled spring housing was replaced by two recoil springs positioned internally riding in slots milled along either side of the bolt. The cocking piece, bolt lock and firing pin spring guide were also simplified.

One common misconception is the Type 14 is crudely made. The Type 14 pictured in this article with the Japanese flag inletted into its grip was made in July, 1943. Crude it isn't. With the exception of pistols manufactured during the last year or so of WWII, the Type 14 exhibits excellent workmanship, machining, fit and finish. Most Type 14's encountered are nicely polished and rest blued. Many examples exhibit straw hardening colors on the safety lever, trigger, sear and magazine release button. The serrated wooden grips are made of either mahogany or walnut.

Date The Nambu

Determining the production date of a Nambu is easy because the month and the year are stamped on the right rear of the frame. Illustrated is the date "18.7" preceded by an ideogram. The "18" signifies the 18th year of the Showa reign that began in 1925, so you must add 25 to the 18 which adds up to the year 1943. Simple, eh? The second digit "7" is the 7th month--July in this case--July, 1943.

Two variations of the Type 14 typically encountered are distinguished by their triggerguards. The earlier variation has a small triggerguard and generally lacks a magazine safety. After Japan's combat experience in the Chinese and Manchurian winters, the triggerguard was punched out to a generous glove size in 1939 and a magazine safety was added. The other difference is internal. The locking block of the earlier model is solid and mated with a long firing pin. The later locking block is grooved through for a shorter firing pin. The parts are not interchangeable.

Another intriguing variation and design found in later pistols is a magazine spring retention and release system. In use, the magazine follower button is depressed until a lip on the follower engages an open slot at the base of the magazine. Holding the magazine horizontally, you then slide 8 rounds of 8mm into the magazine. You're not fighting any magazine spring tension at all. Inserting the magazine back in the pistol, you squeeze the exposed leaf spring at the front of the grip, which releases the compressed magazine spring and follower. Pretty neat idea. It's the ultimate thumb saver.

That same frame-mounted spring also puts pressure on the magazine body, so that if the magazine release button is accidentally punched, the magazine will not drop all the way out.

One of the idiosyncrasies of the Type 14 is the magazine follower. It is the only mechanism holding the bolt open when the pistol is empty. Withdrawing the magazine allows the bolt to slam shut. I assume this design is a safety feature to insure that the chamber is left empty until the bolt is purposely manipulated after loading a fresh clip.

Sights And Such

The sights of the Type 14 offer a unique and interesting sight picture. The front sight is an inverted "V" dovetailed into an integral base at the muzzle and is adjustable for windage. The fixed rear sight is milled integral with the rear of the frame. The notch is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. The resulting sight picture is a bit odd, but it works. Very late in the war, the rear sight was changed to a simple square notch, and the magazine safety dispensed with.

The barrel and the barrel extension housing the bolt run inside the Nambu frame. The bolt is locked to the barrel extension by a swinging locking block attached to the underside of the barrel extension seated in place by a cam and spring arrangement. Upon firing, the barrel and barrel extension recoil slightly to the rear unlocking the block and permitting the bolt to continue rearward, ejecting the fired case and cocking the firing pin. The twin recoil springs on either side of the bolt return the bolt to battery, stripping off a fresh round into the chamber.


Here's the rub. Like the German P-38, the Nambu can be assembled and fired without the locking block in place. Unless you love living dangerously, it's a bad and potentially dangerous thing to do. Like all surplus arms, the Nambu should be fieldstripped and inspected before taking it to the range. In the case of the Type 14, you can also check visually for the locking block by shining a flashlight into the rectangular slot just below the lanyard ring on the back of the frame. Ah, but if you've never seen a Nambu locking block before, how do you know what you're looking at? You don't. Fieldstrip it to be safe.

The Type 14 is an easy and pleasant pistol to shoot. The grip-to-frame angle makes it a natural pointer. In spite of its rather light barrel, the Nambu balances well because the mass of the gun is centered at the grip. The Nambu trigger is a joy, with a pull running about 3.5 pounds. It's by far the best trigger on any surplus military pistol I've ever shot. As you might expect, the recoil generated by a cartridge pushing a 102-grain bullet at 950 fps is exceedingly mild.

The only awkward mechanical feature of the Type 14 is the safety is rotated off-and-on a full 180 degrees with your non-shooting hand. "OFF," by the way, is with the safety lever pointing toward the muzzle.

Stoking The Nambu

As far as I know, the Old Western Scrounger and Buffalo Arms are the only current sources of fresh 8mm Nambu ammunition. The Old Western Scrounger currently offers load with a 106-grain plated lead bullet at $42.95 per 50 rounds and Buffalo Arms, an 85-grain plated bullet at $49.50 per 50 rounds.

New 8mm Nambu brass and the proper .320" Nambu bullets are available from Graf & Sons, Huntington, Old Western Scrounger and Buffalo Arms. Another source for beautifully cast .321" Nambu bullets in 80- and 102-grains is Liberty Shooting Supplies. In fact, check out Liberty for any cast bullet need. They routinely stock many of those hard-to-find, odd-ball calibers. The best deal in reloading dies ($68) are the CH/4D dies carried by the Old Western Scrounger and Buffalo Arms.


I have never reloaded the Nambu, but Charles Petty, our handloading editor has. He recommends keeping velocity under 1,000 fps with both the plated lead and plain cast bullets. The cast 102-grain 8mm Nambu bullet from Liberty driven at 900-950 fps produced the best accuracy of 2" or less at 25 yards. Petty's data shows that velocity range being achieved with 3.0 grains of Bullseye; 3.5 grains of W-W 231; or 3.5 grains of Unique. His most accurate 106-grain plated lead bullet load consists of 3.6 grains of W-W 231. Loaded overall length with the 102- or 106-grain bullets is 1.25" to 1.30".

Accuracy? I found that the plated lead bullet loaded by the Old Western Scrounger at 1.015 fps not especially accurate, averaging 3" to 4" at 25 yards. That is the only load I have ever shot in my Type 14, which is in mint condition. It should be capable of better groups than that. I suspect that carefully tailored handloads would cut the groups in half.

So get those old Type 14 Nambus out, appreciate their design and workmanship in a new light, check for those locking blocks, and head for the range!

RELATED ARTICLE: Disassembly of Nambu Type 14.

Due to its excellent design and economy of parts, field stripping the Type 14 is simple and can be accomplished without tools. While you have it apart, I would suggest replacing the twin recoil springs and the striker spring with new springs from the W.C. Wolff Co.

1) Ensure the chamber and magazine is empty, the gun cocked, the safety off, and the magazine removed, push in on the striker spring guide (pin in the center of the cocking piece) and unscrew the cocking piece. Reassembly comment: Note the tear shaped stud on the shaft of the striker spring guide and the tear shaped hole in the cocking piece. They must be mated when screwing the cocking piece back on. 2) Shake out the striker spring guide, striker spring and striker. 3) Remove both grip panels by removing the retaining screw and lifting up from the bottom of the panel to free it from under the frame. Push in the magazine release button when removing the left panel. 4) Place the muzzle down against a solid surface and push the barrel assembly back until it stops. Push in on the magazine release button and pull down on the trigger guard assembly until it's free of the frame. 5) Pull the barrel assembly forward and lift it up and off the frame. 6) Remove the bolt, locking block, and twin recoil springs from the barrel extension. 7) Reassemble in reverse order.


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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER
Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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