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 Post subject: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 12:55 pm 
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This may be more than you ever wanted to know about fore-end caps! For your convenience, here is a short summary:
1. Use the red plastic bushing if you put the fore-end cap on when the barrel is off.
2. Don't over-tighten the cap.
3. Clean and lubricate the threads to keep the cap from seizing on the shaft.
4. Check the cap to make sure the parts inside can move. Never shoot the gun if they can't move.
5. Disassemble, clean and lubricate the cap before the inside parts stop working.
6. Replacing the retaining ring (snap ring) in the cap makes disassembly a lot easier.

A. Introduction.
The fore-end cap of a Beretta 391 is a remarkably complicated little device. Unfortunately, the factory owner’s manual does not discuss the maintenance of it at all, and without some maintenance it could require the services of a gunsmith, and perhaps even some expensive replacement parts.

First, keep it in perspective. Don’t let these warnings and instructions scare you or keep you from buying a 391. Most 391 owners never have any trouble with their caps. But some do - enough to justify taking a few simple precautions to make sure that you are not one of those unfortunate ones. Just a few seconds of attention every time you clean your gun is all it needs.

What’s inside the cap? The fore-end nut (or fore-end cap, as Beretta calls it) of a Beretta 391 consists of 7 parts, only 6 of which appear on Beretta's parts diagrams!

Image

The thin stainless steel ring at the 4:00 o'clock position in the picture above is the part which is missing from the parts diagram. Apparently the early 391’s did not have that part, but the stainless steel ring had to be added because the body of the cap is made of a steel that corrodes quickly, causing what I call the plunger (the part at the 7:00 o‘clock position in the picture) to seize in place.

The parts are reassembled in the order they appear in the picture, starting with the body of the nut and proceeding clockwise: the plastic washer goes in first, and the snap ring (lock ring) goes in last. You will probably never need to remove the plastic washer, steel washer, and stainless ring. When you disassemble the cap for cleaning, you can just remove the retaining ring, plunger and spring, and leave the other parts in there.

B. Use the Red Bushing When the Barrel is Off.
When you bought the gun (new) it was packaged in a box or case with the barrel off, the fore-end on, and there was a little red (perhaps another color) plastic bushing between the fore-end and the cap. You shouldn't have thrown that bushing away, because you need it anytime you store the gun with the barrel off. Any time the barrel is off, you must insert the plastic bushing before you screw the fore-end cap down. If you don't, the cap is likely to jam and not come off properly. It gets jammed on the little pin sticking out of the end of the fore-end, which is designed to keep the cap from unscrewing during firing.

Image

If the cap does get jammed without the bushing, all I can suggest is that you fiddle around with it, moving the fore-end around while trying to unscrew the cap, and hope you get lucky (I did, when I forgot the bushing). If it just won't come off, you have no choice but to put some force on it, and hope the little pin doesn't break or bend. Sometimes the pin will break, and the cap won't stay tight until the pin is replaced (but the gun can be used, if you remember to re-tighten the cap every time you reload). Replacing the pin is tricky, and best left to a gunsmith. Sometimes a little force on the cap will cause it to come off with no damage. You could try using a thin knife blade to push the pin in so the cap will come off, but I don't know if that will work, because I have never needed to try it.

C. Tightening the Cap.
When the gun is assembled with the barrel on, the fore-end cap should be tightened by hand until it is snug enough to keep the barrel and fore-end in place, but it should not be tightened with all the force your hand can put on it, nor should it be tightened with any wrench or other tool. Some owners tighten it as much as they can by hand and then back off a couple of “clicks”. That's not a bad idea, but it isn't necessary if you don't put a lot of force on it to start with.

As described below under Section F, the part of the cap that holds the barrel in the receiver is spring loaded, so over-tightening the cap will only compress the spring a little more, and will not hold the barrel significantly tighter. What over-tightening will do is put pressure on the fore-end, which could possibly lead to splitting of the wood. I am not actually aware of a fore-end which was damaged that way, but there is just no need to put the wood under so much stress.

D. Keep the Cap's Threads from Rusting and Seizing.
The most common problem that 391 owners have with the fore-end cap is that the cap rusts and seizes on the threaded shaft it screws down on (part of the magazine cap), making it difficult or impossible to remove. That makes it impossible to clean the gun. It happens because the cap seems to be made of a grade of steel that is not very resistant to corrosion.

Keep the threads clean and lubricated. Owners who store their guns with the barrel off and shoot the gun often (i.e., clay target shooters) are less likely to experience a seized cap, because frequent removal of the cap helps keep it from seizing - but it can happen even when used that way if the threads are not cleaned and lubricated.

To keep the cap from seizing, remove it often, clean the threads on the shaft of the magazine cap and inside the fore-end cap, and lubricate the threads. I clean the male threads on the magazine cap shaft with a small wire brush, and the female threads inside the fore-end cap by spraying with a solvent in an aerosol can. Any kind of lubricant will help, but grease would be better than oil, and anti-seize lubricant would be best of all. Most auto parts stores have Permatex anti-seize or equivalent.

The threads definitely should be cleaned and lubricated every time the gun is cleaned. If you leave the gun assembled (barrel on) through the whole hunting season, I strongly recommend you use anti-seize lubricant on it.

Removing a seized cap. I have never had to deal with a seized cap, because I keep mine lubed with anti-seize. However, I have corresponded with several people who have had to deal with it, and I have seen a gun that was damaged in the attempt to remove one. I have heard of at least one case in which a 391 owner used a hacksaw to cut through the shaft of the magazine cap to remove the fore-end cap. That would mean replacing both the mag cap and the fore-end cap, and would probably leave unsightly marks on the end of the fore-end vent, so it would probably be necessary to replace that. There must be a better way!

First, let me caution you against putting too much force on the fore-end cap with a wrench. When you apply torque to the fore-end cap, you also apply force to the magazine cap onto which it screws. In effect, you are trying to unscrew the magazine cap from the magazine tube. There is a little spring-loaded plunger that extends through the side of the magazine tube, that keeps the magazine cap from unscrewing. If you put enough force on that, the plunger can damage the side of the magazine tube, tearing a gash through it. I've seen that, and it was ugly.

Image

If the cap is seized you will need to apply more force than you can apply by hand alone. However, you could scratch the fore-end cap if you use the wrong kind of wrench. The tool that I would prefer for that job is a small, cheap plastic strap wrench. Even a small one will allow you to put enough force on the cap, and will not scratch it. I found one for about $2 in the bargain bin of a hardware store. An alternative would be to use pliers but pad them with tightly-woven cloth, leather, etc.

If a little force with a wrench won't remove the cap, it needs to be soaked with a penetrating oil. As to which penetrant is best, I don't know because I haven't tried them all. I have heard that Kano Kroil is very good, and according to its many fans it is the best. There is always WD-40 and Liquid Wrench. You may have your own favorite. Most or all of them contain petroleum distillates which have a potential to damage stock finishes or even damage the wood itself, so any method for getting the penetrant into the threads of the cap should avoid getting it on the wood.

Although I have never had a seized cap myself, I have given thought to methods of getting the penetrant into the threads without getting much or any on the wood. Thanks to Steve L. for suggesting the method I tested and which I now consider best.

Either remove the trigger group or close the bolt so you can push the carrier out of the way to reach the magazine follower (the metal piece inside the magazine which pushes the shells out). Turn the gun upside down and brace it so it won't fall - it might have to stay there for a while. Select a well-ventilated area away from flame or sparks (penetrating oils are flammable) and put something under the gun to collect drips. Press the magazine follower in a little way and spray or drip a little penetrating oil (a tablespoon or two) into the magazine. Within a few seconds the penetrant will run down the mag tube, through the hollow magazine cap (even if the magazine plug is in it) and get to the end of the threads, where is can begin soaking back up through the threads in the fore-end cap. Let it soak and check the cap now and then with the wrench to see if it will come loose. It might take a few hours, or a few days. If it takes over a few hours, add a little more penetrant now and then.

Take care not to get any penetrant on the outside of the fore-end while putting it in the magazine tube. Wipe off any spills promptly. As soon as the fore-end cap comes off, remove the wood and wipe it down inside and out. There is a possibility that the penetrant can work its way out of the magazine tube where the magazine cap screws into it, and from there contact the inside of the fore-end. I can't promise that there will be no effect on the wood, but I am not aware of any safer method.

E. Make Sure the Internal Parts of the Cap are Free to Move.
The cap does more than just keep the forearm from falling off. It holds both the forearm and the barrel in place, and most importantly the spring inside it absorbs vibrations. When you tighten the cap, you are putting pressure on two different assemblies. The spring-loaded plunger inside the cap presses against the end of the gas cylinder and valve assembly (that thing welded or brazed to the bottom of the barrel) and holds the barrel in the receiver. At the same time, the outer rim of the cap presses against the end of the forearm, holding it in place.

It is very important that the force that holds the barrel in place be applied through a spring. The spring allows the barrel to expand and lengthen as it gets warm from rapid firing, and also absorbs vibrations caused by firing. Without a spring to absorb those vibrations, the force on the gas cylinder/valve assembly would be erratic and would sometimes be too strong. That can lead to the whole assembly breaking off the barrel - major problem - although a poorly brazed joint can also can cause that problem. That’s why there has to be a spring in there, and the spring has to be free to move.

I am aware of several cases (I’m sure there are more) in which a gas cylinder broke off a barrel because the moving parts inside the cap had corroded and locked up. In one case I am familiar with, Beretta USA initially refused to fix it, saying it was the owner’s fault for failing to give the cap the maintenance it needed. That is in spite of the fact that the owner’s manual does not mention any need for maintenance of the cap, nor provide any instructions! Beretta eventually relented and either re-brazed it or provided a new barrel, but only after the owner refused to let them bluff him. More recently, Beretta replaced a barrel whith no argument when the gas cylinder came off. Maybe they have softened their position on what causes that to happen. This is what a barrel looks like in that condition:
Image


Check the cap for proper operation. It is very quick and easy to check the cap, to make sure the spring-loaded plunger inside is still free to move. Just press it down on a hard surface until you can feel it move. If it doesn't move, it is long overdue for cleaning and lubrication, and it must be serviced before the gun is used again.

Image

Why the cap needs to be disassembled for cleaning.

Image

All of the granular powder residue shown was inside the cap. The picture illustrates an extreme case, caused by shooting a very dirty brand of ammo which leaves a lot of powder residue. However, the same thing can happen to a lesser extent even with a cleaner brand of ammo. Powder residue gets inside the cap, leading to fouling and corrosion, and eventually causing the plunger to seize up and stop moving on the spring. As described above, seizing of the plunger can lead to very serious problems.

Spraying the entire cap with a solvent only cleans the outside of it: even if you direct the spray down into the threads, none of the moving parts inside are being cleaned at all. To clean it properly, you have to take it apart.

Disassembling the cap for cleaning.
I can't give you an exact schedule as to how often the cap needs to be taken apart for cleaning. It depends on how often you use the gun, how many shots you fire, and what kind of ammo you use. At a minimum, it must be cleaned and lubricated immediately (before firing another shot) if the test described above shows that the plunger is locked in place. I strongly recommend that it be done before the cap reaches that condition. Most hunters will only need to do it once a year, maybe once every several years if not many shots are fired. A high-volume clay shooter might need to do it every 10,000 shots if using a clean brand of ammo, but may have to do it as often as every 1,000 shots with a dirty brand of ammo that leaves a lot of powder residue. I suggest you disassemble and lubricate the cap for the first time within the first thousand shots, and after that you can learn how often you need to do it from experience.

When you take the cap apart for cleaning, you only need to remove the retaining ring, plunger and spring. The metal washer, plastic bushing, and stainless steel ring don't need to come out at all.

You need a pair of lock ring pliers to get the retaining ring out. Straight or curved tips will work, but I found that the curved tips are easier to use. To make it easier to get the ring out and back in, compress the spring to take the pressure off the ring. A friend of mine put it in a drill press to compress the spring, and I have used a small vise, but I prefer to use tongue and groove pliers (Channellock or equivalent) padded to prevent scratching the cap.

Image

Before reassembling the cap, make sure the parts are lubricated, especially the side of the plunger where it bears against the inside of the cap body. I like to use a little Breakfree CLP or oil on everything, and anti-seize lubricant on the side of the plunger.

Dealing with a locked-up cap. First, remove the retaining ring, if you can. If the cap corroded and seized up while on a fully-assembled gun (barrel on) the plunger will be partly depressed and not pressing against the ring, making it easier to get the ring off. If the plunger is fully extended and you can't get the ring off, don't worry about it, just go to the next step.

Soak the cap for 24 hours or longer (it could take up to a week) in a penetrant like Kano Kroil, Liquid Wrench, or WD-40. You could put it in a container full of penetrant, or set it on a flat surface, open end up, and fill it with penetrant (refill as needed).

After soaking, break the plunger loose by pressing it in. You can do that by putting it in a small vise (padded to prevent scratching) or by tapping it lightly with a small hammer. Once you get it to move, you should be able to get the retaining ring out, if it isn't out already. The plunger might come out now, or you might have to use pliers on the center part of the plunger to pull it out. Remove the plunger and spring for cleaning, but don't bother trying to remove the stainless steel ring, steel washer, or plastic bushing. They don't really need to come out, and you probably couldn't get them out anyway.

F. Modifying the Cap to Make Cleaning Easier.
A simple way to modify the fore-end cap to make disassembly and reassembly easier is to use a different size of retaining ring. In the picture below, the factory ring is on the left, with the replacement that I use on the right. The replacement looks a lot smaller in the picture, but it really is only a little smaller.

Image

One manufacturer (Rotor Clip Company) identifies the factory ring as “Axially Assembled, Internal Inverted Metric Housing Ring Type DHI”. As near as I can measure it, the size is ring no. DHI-24. Crown Bolt calls the replacement “Retaining Ring Internal 7/8 inch”. Crown Bolt products are commonly available in hardware stores, including some of the larger and more well-stocked Home Depot stores.

In my experience, the 7/8” ring works fine and is a lot easier to use. The ring is not a critical component, anyway. All it does is keep the cap from falling apart when it is off the gun: when the cap is on the gun, the spring is compressed and the plunger is not even touching the ring, so the ring is not doing anything.

Changing the size of the retaining ring is the only modification that most 391 owners will need or want to do. However, when I was using a very dirty brand of ammo that required frequent cleaning of the cap, I made a more radical modification, converting the 391 fore-end cap into one like that used on the 390. The design of the cap used on the Beretta 390 is much more practical than the 391 design. It has a completely separate spring, rather than a spring and an assortment of other parts concealed inside the cap, so it is a lot easier to clean. It is easy to convert a 391 nut to one like the 390. Just remove all of the internal parts (or you could remove the ring, plunger and spring, leaving the other parts in the cap) and replace the internal spring with a longer one.

Image

The new spring needs to be long enough and strong enough to put about the same amount of force on the barrel as the original does. The spring is what holds the barrel in the receiver. If you hold the stock or receiver in one hand, and pull straight forward on the barrel with the other hand, you can feel the barrel move a fraction of an inch out of the receiver, and you can estimate by feel how much force it takes to pull it. Just use a replacement spring that gives you somewhere near the same amount of force - it does not need to be exactly the same. I used a factory 391 valve spring (I had an extra one laying around), and cut off a couple of coils with a Dremel tool.
With this modification, nothing holds the spring in the cap. When you remove the modified nut, you have to handle the separate spring as well as the nut, but that doesn't seem to be a problem to me. Cleaning is a breeze - just flush it with your favorite solvent in an aerosol can. I clean the spring with a bronze brush (a small welder's brush).

Two Important Notes:
1. Do not try to modify the cap in a way that eliminates the spring completely. There needs to be a provision for the barrel to move against spring pressure, to minimize stress on the barrel and several related parts.
2. Although I have used modified caps on two guns, shooting an estimated 40,000 shots with no problems, I am not a gun designer nor gunsmith, so I can't make any guarantees. At the very least, this modification will be a good excuse for voiding the gun's factory warranty. Use your own judgment, and don't blame me.



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Last edited by Seamus O'Caiside on Fri Mar 19, 2010 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 2:12 pm 
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Thank you Seamus, an excellent article :D


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 11:55 pm 
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Another outstanding article by Seamus.

As time goes by, the better the 390 (and 303) gets. I really have to wonder why Beretta has failed to do in all these years what it took Seamus to do. :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 9:56 am 
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As a relatively new and happy owner of an AL391 Parallel Target, I was unaware of the cap maintenance procedure. After reading this fine article, I retrieved my 391 from the gun cabinet, inspected the cap and performed a light cleaning as only 150 rounds have been fired through it so far. I have kept this information for future reference and offer my thanks to Seamus for his work!

Jon

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:37 pm 
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You Rock Seamus!!!
Thank you for your time and effort putting all this together...really.

So, Seamus what is the purpose of this complication, really (it must be a reason - hope so)?
Does the after market forend cap has the same parts? or more simplified ones (like the 390s)?

Thanks again


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 7:42 pm 
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Seamus, are some of the gases vented through the cap? There are gaps between the gas cylinder and the rod that go all the way to the cap, right?


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:14 pm 
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Cedar, I can only guess at why Beretta designed the gas valve and the fore-end cap the way they did. My guess is the sales people said they wanted a gun with a slimmer fore-end, no seperate spring to fool with when removing the fore-end cap, and (as always) less recoil. The only way the engineers could do that was with a very complicated design. Engineers warned that there would be maintenance problems, but the sales people don't care about that, they only care about something that looks and feels good to a potential buyer who has not yet had to clean and maintain the d*m*ed thing. I'm guessing, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

The thin stainless ring obviously was added because the cap kept corroding and the plunger kept getting jammed. It probably helped, but did not solve the problem. The plastic bushing in the bottom may be intended to absorb vibrations, but right now I'm shooting a cap without any plastic bushing at all, and I can't tell the difference with target ammo. There may be more difference with heavy field loads, I dunno.

I haven't looked closely at any of the aftermarket caps, but they have to have a spring in there somewhere, or risk the gas cylinder breaking off the barrel.

Crazy, some of the gas passes though the oval hole in the bottom of the cylinder and then out through the hollow rivet at the base of the metal vent on the forearm. The rest goes out into the forearm and most of it vents out through the slots, but some can go all the way to the cap. When the cap is on the gun, the plunger is pushed away from the retaining ring, so the ring does not do much to block the gas and powder residue.

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:58 pm 
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When I was shooting in Argentina this winter, I used a rented 391 rather than take my own. I did take my weighted fore end cap and used it successfully. The outfitter supplied near new Benellis or Berettas, your choice. I shoot a Beretta 391 at home so I used Berettas except to try the Benelli once. It was OK but when you are shooting 1000 rounds a day the recoil difference is cumulative and noticeable. Even some of the Benelli fans were requesting 391's by the end of the trip.

Anyway, back to fore end caps. The outfitter was using caps that appeared to be stainless (not blued anyway) and were ported with 4 or 5 small, maybe 1/16, holes at the front end. I never thought to look at one to see if there was an internal spring modification too. You do not clean your own gun down there so I never looked. But the outfitter is very focused on cost and reliability so they must have found some sort of aftermarket solution to this problem.

BTW, even though they supplied 391's on request, the standard issue gun was a Benelli Montefeltro. He said the Berettas are OK for North American hunting and target shooting but do not stand up to Argentina dove shooting.


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:59 pm 
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Forgot. Thanks for the article. You have saved me some grief. I will print it for some friends too.


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2009 9:38 pm 
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great post and thank you for the info....
something I stumbled across by accident is the briley end cap....I was looking to add weight to the muzzle end and got a weighted briley end cap.....not only did it add the weight I wanted but it is very easy to clean and keep clean....just another alternative....no modifications needed to the gun....it just screws on in place of the stock cap

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 3:12 pm 
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Having just bought a new 391 Urika :D and having read the owner's manual last nite, I'm amazed that no mention was made about cleaning the cap. Nice article.

It (owners manual) said you have to have the gun serviced to remove the magazine plug? Seems rather odd. I didn't really have any intentions of removing it as I will be shooting mostly clays, still you would think that an owner could do that.

I'm gonna have to order the book. I am presuming it's still $15 and the address is still the same.

Thanks for the information! :mrgreen:

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:40 pm 
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FormerTankSarge wrote:
I'm gonna have to order the book. I am presuming it's still $15 and the address is still the same.

Yes, nothing has changed.

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 8:20 pm 
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Seamus,
You saved me from an imminent encounter with Murphy's Law. I read you post last night, went down to check my 391 (which has about 5k rounds through it to date) and noticed that when i compressed the plunger it remained stuck in the down position. I pulled out the ring clamp without the need to keep the plunger compressed! Once apart, I noticed some rust and residue, which has happily been cleaned up and lubed per your instructions.
Much obliged.
Rick


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:40 pm 
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Given the problematic Beretta, forend cap, would you recommend Brileys's replacement cap? I spoke to Brileys re subject cap, not only do they have them but you can have your choice of colors and they are "easy to clean". I asked about the metal and they said aluminum. If the female threads inside the cap are aluminum and the male part is steel then yeah I can see a big seize type problem without proper lube. Dont know if this is the case.


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 3:13 pm 
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I bought a Briley fore end cap for my Teknys. Yes it is easier to take apart and clean, but when I put it on, I noticed it didn't sit square with the end of the fore end as the original cap did. It was kind of tilted. This bothered me and I preferred to use the original cap with proper and frequent cleaning.


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:05 pm 
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I have no experience with aftermarket caps.

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2009 4:19 pm 
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Seamus,

Received Briley 391 fore end cap today. Comes in different colors and weights. No special tools. Four parts to this puppy and even I can take it apart. I would be happy to send it to you for review if you are interested.


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Thu Dec 03, 2009 3:35 pm 
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I just got one too. Do you have any idea how to get it apart? I am not much of an engineer.

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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2009 6:59 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 6:30 pm
Posts: 27
Location: So Cal
Benedict,

It unscrews in the middle. The spring, etc. just fall out.

Jay


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 Post subject: Re: Maintaining the Beretta 391 Fore-end Cap
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:36 pm 
Field Grade

Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2008 4:00 pm
Posts: 81
Location: renovo,pa.
what a great article /info you had.i like pics you did and its just great as is other members info. real nice job you did there. thanks . {hs#




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