AJ Ordnance “Thomas” – A .45 Locked by Grip Alone

Designed by one Frank Thomas Jr. in the 1970s, this pistol was produced by the AJ Ordnance company of Covina California, and named after its creator. It was designed to be a concealed carry pistol chambered for .45 ACP ammunition without needing a manual safety. Thomas wanted to avoid exposed hammers and manual safeties, which he saw as being potential failure points and potential places for a pistol to snag on the draw. So, he created a single-stack .45 with a long DA-like trigger and an internal striker instead of a hammer. What makes the pistol truly unique is its locking system. It is delayed blowback, using a pair of wedges that the slide must push down before it can open. These wedges engage the slide only when the shooter grips the gun, by way of a grip safety type lever in the backstrap.

This results in a gun that is rather unpleasant to shoot, as the action of cycling slaps the grip lever back into the hand with each shot. Only about 600 of the guns were made, although I was unable to determine exactly why production ended so quickly. It’s not so much a surprise that it didn’t see greater success, but rather a question of which potential problem caused it to fail commercially (or if it was all of them acting together…).

NOTE: I mixed up a piece of footage, and put the wrong sight picture clip in at 1:44. Sorry! That sight picture is a WALAM 48, not the Thomas.


  1. Don’t worry about messing up, Ian, we do that all the time, especially with heat-induced misery.

  2. A friend of mine carried one of these as a hideout gun. When firing it on the range, I remember that it had a distinctly sharp recoil.

    Of course, when fired with standard 230-grain hardball or Speer 200 grain JHP, the checkering on the metal backstrap of my S&W 645 would draw blood. Until I went over it with emery cloth.



  3. I figure that it’ll hurt a bit with the grip lever kicking back into your palm from the slides recoil. We’ll find out tomorrow…

  4. I think This might be adaptable to a hush puppy type weapon. Especially if the cartridge is reduced to something with less Thump! As for back up pistols, I never felt under protected with a plain old .38 snuby.

    • Sure thing. On the other side, such awful trigger is a biggest problem and reason why it wouldn’t be a such great solution.

  5. Looks like that grip lock will give you hand quite a bit of a slap. Reminds me of the trigger slap you got with the early semi-auto AK 47s.

  6. How can you be SURE that it’s a Ballerster-Molina magazine? Since it would be entirely interchangeable with any 1911 mag, even if it had an Argentine marking, it might have been made for a ‘Sistema.’

  7. At this point an original nine-shot Ruby pistol, with a few spare magazines, definitely looks a heck of a lot more likely to win a gunfight in a dark alley!

  8. I added this to the youtube vid, but thought I’d add it here too:

    I picked one of these up last fall. It is missing one of the grips, I was waiting until I got around to making a new set of grips then I was going to figure out how to get it to Ian, guess I don’t have/get to now. BTW, on the extremely off chance anyone needs grip screws for one, they are 5-44×1/4 button head cap screws, and McMaster was the only place I could find them. Mine is within about 50 of this one. A couple notes. The 2nd notch in the magazine is a safety of sorts (1970s tacticool). Based on the paperwork I read, you were meant to carry the gun with the mag seated to the first (upper) notch. This captured the mag, but didn’t keep it in far enough to deactivate the magazine safety. Then when you wanted to shoot it, you pressed the mag home and it was ready to go. I was lucky enough to be able to buy the correct mag for the gun (mine is an earlier version without the safety notch). A regular 1911 mag should work, but you need to have the existing notch welded up slightly on the top to make the mag sit higher, again to deactivate the safety. I only have run one magazine through the gun so far, had to see what it was like but didn’t want to shoot it too much with only one grip. In practicality as long as you get a good firm grip on it the recoil was not bad at all.

    • I always thought the double-notch magazine/mag disconnector safety was an interesting. Carry 6+1 with the mag in “safe” position, then bump the mag into firing position with your off hand during your draw. Kind of inconvenient for one-handed use, though. You’d have to bump the mag bottom on something fairly solid to get it into firing position.

  9. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m witnessing some kind of abominable thing happening in front of me, only I can’t do anything to stop it because my firearm suddenly has a 75-pound trigger pull, and this makes me intensely anxious.

    If anyone needs me, I will be in the corner curled up in the fetal position with my single-action Jericho and its magnificent 2lb trigger.

  10. Take down bolt seems moveable inside at the both sides. This might be a serious defect when the gun gets dirt and rust… Recoiling slide, by aid of sticked dirt or rust collected inside, cammingly might push down the latch protections at both sides as resulting a sudden take down during firing… There are similar take down pistols like “Bernardelli”, “Star”… But their take down latch is only movable at only one side… Besides, take down bolt seems easily dropping out when the gun inclined sidewardly.

  11. Theoretically, you can come up with a scenario in which both pushing protrusions of the slide become stuck in the pressed position and release the slide at the wrong time.
    But, rather, it seems to me that a situation where the user stupidly lose one of these three small parts.

  12. Shades of the Salvator-Dormus (1891!)! A delayed blowback where human finger pressure on the trigger delayed the recoil. Mr. M. is right, there are very few new ideas in firearms.

  13. Some practical questions: Can you carry with a loaded chamber? (Capacity of 7 looks a little better.) Has it an internal striker a la 1911? (Can’t single-load?) Did I see a slide lock on the left side of the gun? (Is it worth carrying an extra magazine?)

    • It being DAO, you can carry it safely. However trigger blocking safety like in VP70 would not hurt the design (but may be overkill)

  14. Slide looks like its made with breech insert, similar to Sig Sauer, but held with 4 pins, visible in 0.42
    Shame he did not comment on that

  15. I think, given the disassembly through the rear guides of the slide, it would be worthwhile to apply the slide buffer by trigger guard, as in FEG.
    In general, it was not necessary to show off, but to completely copy the disassembly as on FEG. And use the removable rear guides to simplify production, get rid of the spring and make them separate but non-removable when disassembling the part.

    Crude gun, but certainly worthy of attention.

  16. Perhaps you could make two small ^ type shaped aligned cuts on the underside of the “slide delaying wedges” in order a / kinda shaped piece could run in between the cuts (maybe round the cuts off and use a bar) anyway said piece could be operated by the trigger. It could be attached to two, sort of < shaped pieces on either side & under the cuts, this piece (call it a bar) runs across the top of the < pieces) a further bar runs across the bottom of the < and one runs through the middle; this one is pinned through the frame, which allows the now complete piece to pivot.

    The trigger could engage the bottom bar when you pull it back via a "riser" piece… When you pull the trigger this piece wants to act on the lower bar of the < in order to make the bottom of said shape become horizontal; which means the top of it has been lifted higher. Said rising piece could be a scalene triangle type shape; with the long edge acting as the lifter, it would be attached to the trigger by a pivoting pin through its left apex for example.

    (Attached to some point of the trigger in a manner that permits it to operate as per I.e. Moving the striker rearward still; while enabling said rising function to take place.)

    It stays thus "the piece between the delaying wedges" until you release the trigger… Now! Because of the long trigger pull, maybe its reset is quite long; and so due to the risers shape it keeps the piece "risen" for a fair amount of reset, and therefore time.

    Ok. Now!! On the original rear grip depresser which operates the delaying wedges; on its inside you create a stud. This stud when the "depresser" is depressed, sits under the the lower bar on the < shape that the riser engaged (the stud would be to the right of the riser etc; or however you get both to fit) Soooo… What happens is! In theory… This addition prevents force going into the "depresser" until the trigger gets to a certain point of reset, and thus acts as a new delay to the normal delay I.e. your grip.

    The new piece is prevented from lowering until the stud (on the inside of the depressing lever) moves back from under the lower bar on the new piece I.e. When the recoil losens your grip. Your trigger finger will enable the reset to take place as per; what this is supposed to do, is simply delay you from having your grip "losened" It isn't much of a delay, but it is a delay in principle so it should have some effect; if nothing snapped etc. Timing wise, its still your grip losening that operates the delay, however in principle there is an additional delay via the new piece*

    May enable you to try and lighten the gun, shave a bit off here and there until you feel it is opening to quick etc. I automatically jumped to gas for an extra delay, then came up with this as a mechanical option for simplicity. Might have some problems; some I haven't thought of, such as the new piece snapping. But if it could work, it is a fairly simple way to provide extra delay maybe; which may allow you to make the gun more compact.

    *= The length of the stud so its surface engagement and thus time in contact with the bar, is what is supposed to ensure the trigger reset is at the correct point; prior to the gun operating as normal.

    Might work, burp. No?

      • Anyway I’ll shut up, but the point is! If the time for the trigger to reset “at the new operation point” is greater than the original was to impact your hand, then I am saying theres an extra delay; thus thats the point.

        • Ok the trigger reset “at this point” is essentially governed by the withdrawl of the stud… But in terms of the slide opening, theres a mechanical disadvantage to overcome in regards the piece between the original delay “wedges” I think… Must be more than originally surely.

          • No it does “cig packet sketch” even through the trigger; theres more of a delay, albeit not much… The stud length does the rest. Meh, who’s got a spare gun and a hacksaw… Try it.

          • I’ll shut up again, but that; modified is potentially an improved delay, simply, so an improvement potentially to an already simple pistol, resulting in a more accurate* lighter, smaller .45

            *= Well fixed barrel.

    • Mind you the bar has to be above the stud, when you have already pulled the trigger he he… Er… Make the trigger pull less long, and grip “depresser” tougher. Thats probaly about the length of striker pull overall… Still reckon it might work; tip draw one first.

      • Yeah, striker and trigger pull; so respective weights so timing of trigger/depresser do come into play… Clearly. Hum, hum, hum… So long as your still pulling the trigger past the point of the lower bar passing above you depressing the stud fully in… Could angle the stud / thus perhaps; bit of extra clearance above, so move time to depress the lever. Anyway interesting gun, the original.

        • Tap, tap, tapity tap… Still think thats valid in principle; needs fiddling with accordingly in practice.

    • Said “scalene triangle” perhaps has to run in a groove in the frame… No good if it can pivot, aside from off the trigger attachment… Pivot to much; as its doing, some holding.

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