A must read for the Engineer? I think so… “Unsafe by Design”








 Are you interested in Engineering?  Do you judge a book by its cover?

Most who frequent this blog have seen some real failures in engineering, at times we simply can’t grasp how it was allowed to happen.  Jack Belk is very much a ‘hands on’ man, and as many who drop in here  know;  that’s where the real learning happens.  We know first hand how little you learn from the text and drawings as compared to dancing with the parts, components, and the whole of it. And Jack has done that for a lifetime.

Jack’s book  ‘Unsafe By Design’.  I think it’s a most excellent read, but you need stick with his style for a bit, and perhaps set aside what you’ve heard from others.  Just like almost all of us, we are products of our environment, and Jack is no different.  As you read towards the middle, you get a better idea of his writing style, his roots and what all has   formed his expert view.

Many years ago, I bought a pocket pistol, I took it apart at least 20 times and marveled at the crudeness. I later saw a review of the same pistol in a Gun magazine. The reviewer talked about the small size, he mentioned the caliber, talked about the fact that it had wood grips.   Never did he mention cheap die cast parts or the fact that it didn’t feed right. Nor the poor finish.  So of course I thumbed through the Magazine, and there I found an advertisement for the same little Pistol.  At that time, I wondered, just where does one go to get an honest opinion as per the safety or quality of a firearm?

I really do think  this  book is a ‘must read’ for any Engineer or mechanic, and it’s a reminder that there are genius designers, and then there are the bean counters who engineer.  The latter a sad note about reality. I do recall being in the drive line tunnel of an an economy car and finding an ‘arm’ mounted off the transmission with pig iron weights attached. At the time I thought it was some type of weight added to counter some resoanance problem? To think this was an ultra light weight car with pig iron weights added? But the car was also known for it’s exploding gas tank when hit from behind. Not exactly an award winning design I guess.

But now.. in a world that embraces the probability of a failure as the measure of things safe? Does anyone think we really need a safe safety anymore? That’s a question that Jack Belk explores, and to my knowledge he’s the first person to explore and explain the difference between genius design, and what the bean counters design.  

Here’s something in the news today that should >NEVER< happen, but it happens all the time, why? I think Jack answers that question with a degree of certainity.


Adding comments here is easy, just keep scrolling down and look for the comments tool. I’d love to hear waht readers of this book have to say.

All the best,

George B.


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17 Responses to A must read for the Engineer? I think so… “Unsafe by Design”

  1. Randall says:

    Some George B. guy left a comment on this book over at Amazon, 🙂
    Think I’ll get this one on my next order.

    • George B. says:

      I was able to take Jack’s account of what makes it ‘right’, and apply it to other things I’ve always wondered about. It may be good that I didn’t have an audiance watching me read Jack’s book, I think my face flushed red a few times as I realized I’ve been handling firearms for years and haven’t known nearly enough to be doing it! In the last 15 years, there’s been two shots fired on my cabin deck when the safety was taken off to unload! But the worst of it? This was with a winchester model 70, and the owner didn’t know he has a three position safety! He could have opened the bolt leaving the safety on, but he didn’t know he had three positions! the heart of the problem is a mal-adjusted trigger, but, he could have spared me the fright!

  2. Eliot B says:

    All hail the ACTUARY.

    There used to be a discount clothing retailer on the East Coast who ran radio commercials with the slogan “an educated consumer is our best customer”. They have gone bankrupt after 30 years because low quality low cost products which we can’t seem to get enough of put them under.

    I hope the age of engineering is not over because I just started paying tuition for my 18 year olds mechanical eng degree

  3. John Gillen says:

    It looks like one of those books I would enjoy reading. I’ll get a copy.

    When reading your comments it reminded of an incident that happened on my way to work, one morning. I used to drive past an elementary school. In front of the school they had installed a traffic light, so the kids could press a button to “safely” walk across the street. On numerous occasions I saw drivers push the yellow and sometimes go through a red light.

    One morning a little girl maybe 7 years old was waiting to cross the street, after pressing the button. She was staring UP at the traffic light – NEVER TAKING HER EYES OFF OF IT. The instant the light turned Red she dashed across the street. She never looked to see if any cars were coming – if a driver was pushing the yellow. I’m sure her parents had instructed her only to cross when the light was red. They didn’t want their daughter to get hurt, but they failed to reinforce the basic reason the light was installed.

    I don’t have data to say if adding the light decreased or increased the safety for the kids.

    At the time I was the Plant Manager of an R&D facility and one of my responsibilities was our peoples safety. ( I am a Mechanical Engineer) I used to have numerous “discussions” with out safety manager as to what actions we were going to do to make a “safe” environment. . The incident above was related many times. I wanted people to be alert and use Common Sense in what they did. If an allusion was given that their environment was “safe” they would become complacent – and get hurt. In my mind safety can be overdone to a point people get hurt or killed. It is impossible to design out all danger.

    Take for example some of the cities that are banning sledding because kids are getting hurt. Yes – I’m sure they are. That is part of life. Since it appears that head injuries top the list, why not have them wear their bicycle helmets when sledding. For Pete’s sake lets not give our kids one more reason to sit on the couch. They need to get outside, get some fresh air and excercise. So lets see – they aren’t supposed to sled, no way they should be allowed to climb trees, can’t play in their yard because they might be kidnapped, can’t take walks – for the same reason, can’t ride their bicycles past the corner, etc etc etc. So now how many unhealthy overweight couch potatoes are we raising?

    The army had to revise basic training because the new recruits don’t have the core muscle strength of past generations. That tells you something.

    Safety can be taken too far. It might seem well intentioned but what are the consequences? The consequences could be worse then the cure.

    Apparently the Officer didn’t have the safety on. Had he gotten complacent? Did he think the pistol was safe because it had a safety-even though he didn’t use it? Did he think because he was a police officer he wouldn’t get shot – by his own gun? When he was 7 years old did he only watch the traffic light and not look for cars? I don’t know.

    The world is as safe as you make it. Just not doing stupid things goes a long way. Take for example the car accident you mentioned George. The people had stopped in the middle of the road, at night without their lights on, and stayed in the car. They got rear ended and the car caught fire and they died. Yes – the engineers unintentionally did miss a weakness in the structure BUT the occupants made a terrible decision, that cost them their lives. In my mind the occupants are more to blame then the engineers.

    Hhmm – when I started to write this comment I never intended to ramble on like this. lol

    Now I have to read the book and get Jack Belk’s perspective.

    Take care – and be safe

    • George B. says:

      Well John…. Jack, Myself, and those who frequent this haunt notice you didn’t condem Jack’s work without reading it, how many would? Of great value to me was the study of how the human brain works. There are a number of books that demonstrate why humans need a good positive ‘safety’ on firearms. Michael Shermer opens the door on the topic in his book the ‘believing brain’. The book will cause you to reflect on what you wrote abot the little girl, and your challenge to produce a safe work environment. In one environment I was in, an accident on your part got you a speaking tour. You’d prepare your presentation, explain why your accident was avoidable or otherwise, and give your talk to the CEO on down. It was a POWERFUL incentive to stay safe!

  4. Glenn says:

    Why was the off duty cop even handling his gun in public! He kind of looked unprofessional as he could not even get his jacket out of the way!

    • George B. says:

      Glenn, I think the answer is pretty clear for me, the cop is a human, and full of mistakes. If I were to look for a place to store my mistakes, it would be a warehouse. A good study is ‘patternicity’, humans are full of flaws..

  5. J. Belk says:

    I sure appreciate George exposing a new group of interesting people to my book. I am MOST anxious to read the comments of John the engineer because in the end it is those folks willing and qualified to sign a manufacturing print that makes the difference. Firearms are mechanical objects that grew from human ideas. The idea of ‘safety’ has become somehow morphed, just as in John’s example above of the red light. Who do you trust? What do you trust? Education is the key to trusting yourself and actually gaining safety.

    • George B. says:

      Jack, there’s plenty of people out there that will condemn Skeptics of all kinds, they’ll even make up new names for them like ‘Deniers’. And all the time they are in denial. The very least a mechanic owes you, is to read what you wrote before condemning it.

      I remember a computer crunching critical data. There were times when a transfer of data was requested falsely, it triggered a train wreck in processing. A real mystery, and a lot of study went into it with no positive answer as per the root cause. The fix was to add another address line to the bus, and to call that bit “we really mean it”. I mention as an example that there are other machines that ARE subject to failure, and ones where they’ve just added another safety to make sure they didn’t ‘shoot’ unless the trigger was pulled.

  6. Brian says:

    Regarding bean counters design: Most aviation experts and Boeing itself agrees that was the reason for the 4+ year delay in the 787. But to their credit heads did roll, and bean counter managers were replaced with technical expert managers. But bean counters design cost Boeing billions! All that being said, the 4 year delay did eventually produce an excellent airplane I would fly on. I think Boeing learned a lesson there. And no lives were lost thank goodness. I hope the lesson learned doesn’t fade.

  7. bob g says:

    got an autographed copy of the book from Jack a couple weeks ago, been down with the flu (twice) during that time, so it has only been the last few days i have felt good enough to read it.

    i read books sort of like a angry caged cat, first here, then over there, and basically all over the place… then i start all over again at the beginning like most folks either do or probably ought to do.

    i found the book to be right on in so many aspects, most interesting being how the problem is not just one centered on firearms and there lack of quality, good engineering, proper testing, bullshit revues in the magazines and a plethora of other area’s of concern.

    it is very enlightening at least for me to find out that yes we have another gaping hole in oversight or regulation when it comes to safety… odd how we can’t ride a bicycle without a helmet, pads, eye protection, lessons, and maybe even a seatbelt because the nanny state regulates the crap out of some activities and products, while turning a blind eye to others?

    while i suppose a kid could die in a bike accident, it is likely he would have even with all the nanny crap, however how many folks have been hurt, maimed, killed, imprisoned etc because of faulty firearm designs? i doubt anyone gets a life sentence for putting his kid on a bike without a helmet and then turning him lose to prove how stupid he is while watching him ramp off a canyon edge!

    i really enjoyed the book and found it to be a big eye opener, something that probably should not have surprised me as much as it did… and it really did surprise me.

    this payola style of writing revues and such in magazines, covering and promoting, then later even defending faulty products because of full page glossy advertizing dollars, to me is bordering on collusion.

    i wonder how long it is before some of the rag/writers get roped in with one of these lawsuits? maybe even if they don’t get to share in the liability of a faulty product, maybe that is what needs to happen to get them to wake up and actually do their jobs!

    anyway, i digress (everyone that knows me understands this problem)

    Jack’s book is excellent in my opinion and will take its place along side of other master works on the topic of firearm design and safety.

    Hatcher, Howe, Vickery, and now Belk!

    Good company you keep Jack!

    bob g

    • George B. says:

      I think the answer is ‘we the people’ need expect more, and now we have every tool to knock a poor builder alongside the head. I sure don’t want this in government hands.

  8. Thomas Lane says:


    Thanks for posting this! I bought the book and read it all. It was very interesting to me. I even went and checked my loaded guns to be sure none of them have one in the chamber – they don’t. I realize that makes it a few seconds longer if I need one, but I’ve always thought that not having one in the chamber was much safer.


    Thanks for putting this into a book. One item I would like to have seen was more labeling of the pictures/diagrams. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing what is a sear vs trigger vs cocking piece; so I had to stare at the pictures for a while to figure it out. I think others would benefit as well, especially those who know even less about guns.

    Have you ever examined one of the accu-triggers being sold by Savage? I have shot one off the bench and made some good groups but I’m curious if you’ve had the chance to look into one and see if it has any problems.

    • George B. says:

      Thomas, I’ll call Jack’s attention to your post, last time I noted, he was ‘on the grill’ if he has time, he might drop by. As for the art work, that was the work of a professional engineer, yes, a documented and papered man who said he’d do it different now that he knows better 🙂

  9. Brian H says:

    Thankfully as I age, I gain understanding. It is amazing that I have made it this long. I fly fast, I fly slow, I fly high, and I fly low, but I always know why I fly.

    I also use firearms routinely, they are a tool I choose to use. I am comfortable with them in any form. I have a closet full of trophies and ribbons, but I try to always remember they are tools and tools break. I remember the cardinal rules and always try to apply them, notice I said try. We are human, and like that officer, we make mistakes and I make then far too often.

    I suspect that Jack’s understanding could be applied to my chainsaws, tractors, generators, or fishing tackle. I just wish Jack’s understanding was more widespread. I do think there are safety features that need to be added to our lives, but like others have said, you can make thing “Fool Proof”, but you can’t make them “Damn Fool Proof.”

    Thanks for writing such a well documented book. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, and thank you for doing it in a way that is easy to read regardless of ones firearm familiarity.

    Thanks for bringing this book to your readers attention. I always enjoy your perspective. Your insight has come with your attention to how things work and why they are made the way they are. Your KISS foundation is well grounded and I would bet is part of the reason you and Jack are kindred spirits. I am just glad to be in the audience.

    Life is humbling if you know where to look.

    • George B. says:

      Greetings Brian, few will know your deeds, they won’t know of your flights over the hump, or your past need to fly a cork screw decent to deliver your goods, they won’t know you flew the Herc, or that you warm the first seat of a 777. You’re BH, not BW, so you have no need to borrow valor. Same as many other pilots, you like machines a strive to understand them best as man can. fact is, you’ve flown one of the most durable and rugged made, and now one of the most sophisticated trucks man has ever built to haul the freight. You understand that KISS is something that has been refined, sometimes from the complex to the more simple. Do simple Men appreciate simple designs? I’m not sure.

      As for Jack, he has little interest in electricity, but it took him no time at all to understand fuel/kwh figures, and we (utterpower and friends of utterpower) watched as Jack Belk turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse. How his life went from mostly miserable at magic, to him and his favorite dog watching the worst of the weather from a comfortable spot at Magic Hot springs. It’s interesting to note that Jack moved on, and those that followed attempted to duplicate what Jack had done.

      As of present, those who have access to money attempt to discredit Jack, as they claim he’s no expert of anything. They point out he has no Doctor title, nor is he a Harvard man. The fact is, they can not attack Jack’s facts, so they attempt to attack his Character.

      As I write, I note that there are institutions who have grown far too lazy, are they that way because they think they are safe,secure, immune? I think that might be why Rememington and others have ignored some very simple realities? But NBC, ABC, CNN and others, do they think they too can ignore reality? Maybe BW is the canary in the cage? I personally think he’s dead. But.. time tells all.

      We get to watch this play out. In my mind, there’s little reason not to have a safe safety, what man would want less?

  10. Jack Belk says:

    Somebody delete this if it’s redundant. It’s a re-post.

    WOW!! I got waylaid somewhere and didn’t know this thread was gathering so much attention. I appreciate it! All of it!

    Annotations an illustrations— The book was written to be a full color, hard-back, semi-collector’s edition tell all that would blow the gaskets out of a goodly number of semi-honest lawyers. Full color, hard backs are $80 each!! The compromise was to publish a trade paper back with B&W pictures done as clear as possible and then a FREE Kindle version that gives you pictures in full color and the red arrows shows up great, but a Kindle is too small to read some of the captions, so I also posted the book in PDF form at academia.edu. That means each illustration or picture can be blown up to 22 inches or so and the real chittlins become visible. The lawyers got all three and blew the appropriate gaskets.

    It has been great fun tracking the different searches and how books are sold and gathered for free. I wish there were an interactive map of the world with little lights showing where another book has been read. The free pdf at academia has been most fascinating because they give the search engine, search term, location and if the file was downloaded or just read on line. Every day, sees a dozen downloads OUTSIDE the USA. Five or six in country but on average, twice as many overseas. Even Pakistan, Bolivia, Namibia and Iceland.

    I fear that to do the subject justice in all the nuances and details would take a stack of big coffee table books, three DVD presentations and an index contained in a foot-locker. I’m not up to that project but a sequel is being written without my help by the courts, lawyers, and concerned shooters. The book has ‘taken root’ with several gun guys and they’re buying books wholesale ($10@) and giving them away to people that NEED to know the information. One guy gave a book to every hunter instructor in his state. I just gave twenty to a gunsmithing school. An engineer in Wisconsin just bought another twenty for his friends. It’s not that the book is that good, it’s because the information is so important. There are cases in Federal Court right now that need a lot of understanding if we’re to remain free shooters.

    Thank you again for giving me a ‘hearing’. Here is the last news I have. We’re still waiting on Judge Smith’s ruling.

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