FN Browning Model 1906 (Smart K18A)

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What can you buy for under five dollars?  A cup of coffee and a croissant?  A beer?  Maybe. A glass of wine?  Probably not. What about a replica pistol then?  That last one sounds kind of unlikely, doesn’t it?  Well, after over a year of being based in Italy (wonderful coffee, lovely people, but everything is so expensive!) I’m back in SE Asia.  And while wandering at a local street market recently, I saw a small pile of boxes containing airsoft pistols.  After rummaging through them, these turned out to be Chinese made, spring powered 6mm replicas of a number of historic pistols.  The first one that caught my eye was a replica of the FN Model 1906.  I like the Model 1906 and the very similar Colt Model 1908 very much, but previously I have seen only lightweight plastic replicas.  This version was metal, felt heavy and solid and when I asked the gentleman running the stall what the price was, he mentioned a figure that was equivalent to just over four US dollars.  Now, I don’t normally bother with spring powered replicas, but this one felt good and at that price, I just had to find out what it was like…

Real steel background

Back in the days when real men carried revolvers so large that they could be used to club a rampaging buffalo to the ground, if you were the sort of sneaky chap who wanted a concealed carry gun you packed something like a Remington Double Derringer. And jolly nice they were too. Except for the obvious problem that they provided only two shots.

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Remington Double Derringer

At that time, it is said that gun designer John Moses was doing a lot of travelling and he wanted a semi-auto pistol that he could use to shoot coyotes and suchlike and which could be carried without spoiling the cut of his suit. Something that would fit in the pocket of his vest in fact. (Note to non-American readers: An American vest is called a waistcoat in most other parts of the world. And in many places a vest is an undershirt, which doesn’t have any pockets. Confusing, isn’t it?) The outcome was the FN Model 1906 “Modèle de Poche” (pocket model) which was later also produced in the US as the Colt Model 1908 and generally known as the Vest Pocket Pistol. The FN Model 1906 was designed around the tiny 6.35mm Browning round (which became the .25” ACP round in the US).

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The design is generally similar to the earlier Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol, also designed by Browning. However, the FN Model 1906 really is hammerless – it is one of the earliest striker fired designs whereas the Model 1903 has a conventional hammer which is concealed within the slide.

The most notable thing about the Model 1906 is its size – it really is tiny. It makes the Walther PPK look like a Desert Eagle. Loaded with six .25” rounds it weighs just over 350g (about 12½ oz. – not much heavier than a full 15 round magazine for a Beretta 92!) and it’s just 4½” long. Carry doesn’t get much more easily concealed than this.

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Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) explains the advantages of the Pocket Pistol to Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Smart K18A

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The Smart K18 is constructed mainly of metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger and grips which are all plastic. The box claims that this is an “alloy upgraded version” so this replica may perhaps also be available in plastic. The manual safety, grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function.  The actual magazine release is a button on the left side of the frame.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal outer barrel.  Once cocked, this replica cannot be de-cocked other than by firing. A fixed rubber hop-up is provided within the plastic inner barrel.

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This particular model is packaged as the Smart K18A, which presumably refers to the inclusion of a mock silencer which can be screwed into the outer barrel. The silencer is of mainly plastic external construction with some metal parts inside. The silencer has no effect on the performance of the K18 and does not extend the inner barrel. There is no reference on any of the packaging to tell you that this is intended as a replica of the FN Model 1906.

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Packaging and presentation (2/5)

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Don’t worry, it isn’t a really gun…

The Smart K18 is supplied in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert.  It comes with a mock silencer which screws into a threaded section of the outer barrel. No manual is provided but the back of the box provides instructions on loading and firing complete with the usual crop of Chinglish including “Pull the cocking handle until a click sound is heart” and “Do not shooting at any human”.

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Visual accuracy 8/10

The general look of the K18 is very close to the original FN Model 1906. The overall appearance and dimensions are also close to those of the original and it has appropriate markings in white on the left side of the slide. Sights on this replica consist of a wide groove on the top of the slide with narrowed sections at the front and rear, very similar to the sights on the original.

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Apart from the grips, it’s a pretty close visual replica

The only notable visual differences from the original are the grips, which lack any logos and look similar to the squared-off grips fitted to the Colt Model 1908 rather than the rounded black rubber grips fitted to the FN Model 1906, and the magazine release on the left side of the frame (the magazine release on the original is on the base of the grip). The markings are white painted text on the left side of the slide which are just about correct though they do incorporate a couple of spelling mistakes (“D’ARMIES DE GUNRRE” rather than the correct “D’ARMES de GUERRE”).

Functional accuracy 7/15

As you’d expect of a spring pistol, functional realism is not particularly good.  The manual safety, the grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function.  There is a working magazine release, but it’s a button on the left side of the frame.  The slide can be retracted, but there is no way of locking it open (on the original, the manual safety can be used to lock the slide back).  The magazine is full-size and drop-out and holds six rounds, just like the original.  Although the trigger looks like the Model 1906 sliding trigger, it’s actually a conventional pivoting trigger.

Shooting 26/40

The Smart K18 is a close match to the size and shape of the original and it has the right type of grooved sight too. Measuring the K18 shows that it has precisely the same overall dimensions as the original and it compares very closely to photographs of the FN Model 1906. Top marks to Smart. Perhaps that’s why the box proudly states: “Simulating the true styles and making carefully!

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Comparison to another Chinese springer, the Galaxy C.1 (top). The Galaxy is around 15% bigger than the Smart K18 even though they’re both supposed to be replicas of the same pistol. The K18 is much closer to the size of the original.

I have owned some amusingly small replicas, but this is just hilariously tiny. The grip projects just 1” below the trigger guard and it’s only possible to get one finger round it. This is the same overall size as the grip on the original and I wonder just how difficult it is to compress the grip safety with the pressure of just one finger? (The grip safety doesn’t function on this replica so that isn’t a problem here.) If you’re used to larger replicas (which means just about any other replica you have ever tried) it takes a little time to find a satisfactory grip on this one.

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Only room for one finger round the grip here

Once you have loaded six BBs into the magazine and racked the slide to load a BB into the breech and cock the firing mechanism, you’re ready to shoot (no manual safety is provided on the Smart K18). The first thing you’ll notice is that the sights are surprisingly good. Unlike (for example) the groove sight on the Colt SAA, this has a narrowed section at front and rear so that it’s simple to line up the target. That said, this was never designed to be a target pistol so don’t expect pinpoint accuracy.

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The single action only trigger has short travel and releases cleanly and consistently and with fairly light weight.  The Smart K18 fires with a subdued crack and of course there’s virtually no felt recoil.  I have not seen a claimed power figure for this replica, but I’d assume that it’s shooting at somewhere around 150 fps or even a little less. I normally use card targets, but when using the Smart K18 around half the BBs were bouncing off so instead I reverted to a paper target. Not a great deal of power then, but that’s probably to be expected from such a tiny springer. Not only is the barrel very short, the air reservoir and piston are also tiny. Shooting at a range of 6m there is a distinct gap between the sound of the pistol firing and the BB hitting the target, which usually indicates a BB travelling at a fairly leisurely pace.  However, it’s notable that the BBs do follow a very flat trajectory, which suggests that the fixed hop-up is working as it’s supposed to.

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Six shots, six metres, 0.2g BBs

Accuracy, if that really matters on something like this, was better than I expected. Shooting with 0.2g BBs at 6m I was typically seeing a horizontal spread of 2 – 2½” and a vertical spread of around 1½”. Shots were hitting the target 2 – 3” below the point of aim but centered horizontally. I’m fairly certain that this replica would be better suited to lighter 0.12g BBs but unfortunately I don’t have any at the moment so I couldn’t check that. One of the advantages of a spring powered replica is shot-to-shot consistency. If you use CO2 or gas, there is cooldown between shots which means that power drops as you shoot, affecting impact point. On a springer, every shot should be the same but I did notice that shooting with the Smart K18 there were occasional flyers which hit anything up to 6” from the point of aim.

Quality and reliability 11/15

Construction of the Smart K18 is very simple.  The slide and frame are some form of zinc alloy cast in two halves and secured by crosshead screws.  Removing the slide halves reveals the main spring, slide return spring, barrel and the plastic loading nozzle (the part that moves when you cock the pistol).  The very short plastic inner barrel is retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chromed metal outer barrel is screwed.  The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame.  The frame houses the trigger assembly and the magazine catch.  All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal.  The plastic grips clip in place – what appear to be slotted retaining screws are moulded in place.

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Overall, everything fits together well with no gaps or wobbles. The slide racks cleanly and positively and without much side-to-side play. Although the alloy castings used for the slide and frame aren’t especially heavy-duty, the Smart K18 feels robust when everything is screwed together. Finish is black and seems to be fairly thick and chip resistant. On a couple of occasions racking the slide has failed to load the BB properly, leaving it rattling around inside the slide. However, removing the magazine and shaking the pistol caused the stray BB to drop out when this did happen. Other than that, my Smart K18 has worked without issues.

Overall impression 12/15

Due to its mainly metal construction the Smart K18 is relatively heavy, which always helps to make a replica feel convincing.  There is no play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement.  When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise.  The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little effort.

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Its small size can make it difficult to get a satisfactory grip on the Smart K18, but then that’s all part of the fun of shooting something this tiny. Despite being very cheap and having a simple internal construction, this actually looks and handles fairly well.  It shoots with a subdued crack rather than a bang, but it certainly doesn’t feel as cheap and nasty as some spring pistols I have tried. Power is low due to the very short barrel and small piston but the Smart K18 has just about enough power to be enjoyable at 6m. I’m not sure how well it would perform at longer ranges, but then that’s not really what it’s for.

Conclusion

If you want an FN Model 1906 in your collection, this is currently the only option that I’m aware of. However, if you ignore the markings, it’s actually also a very good replica of the Colt Model 1908 (the grips are certainly a closer match for the Colt than the FN). Now obviously, most of us would rather have a gas powered, blow back replica, but that’s not really feasible here. Fitting CO2 into the grip wouldn’t be possible due to its size and the tiny magazine would only hold a gnats’ fart worth of gas so a gas powered version probably wouldn’t work too well either. So, for the moment we’re stuck with this spring powered version.

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It’s lucky then that this isn’t actually too bad as a replica. It’s mostly metal (the only current alternative, the spring powered Cybergun Colt Model 1908, is plastic) with good weight and the fit and finish are reasonable. As a shooter it’s more fun than fearsome but it does at least give some idea of what shooting the tiny original must be like. I also like the idea that 6mm BBs are only a whisker smaller than the actual 6.35mm rounds used in the original and, from what I have been able to discover about shooting the original, accuracy is also similar at 6m.

And of course, being a Chinese springer, it’s silly cheap (i.e., probably less than the cost of a bottle of beer). Overall, I rather like the Smart K18 and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in replicas of historic handguns. Though I can’t help but think that it could easily be worked on to produce an acceptable replica of the nickel finish version of the Colt Model 1908. Now, where did I put that polishing kit…

Total score 66/100

Cons

  • Not a great deal of power
  • Wrong grips

Pros

  • Fairly accurate visual replica
  • Reasonable finish
  • Good weight
  • Cheap as chips

Related pages

Smart K-17 (FN Model 1910) review

The Handguns of John Moses Browning – Part 2

Make it shiny – polishing a zinc alloy replica

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