The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Russian TOZ35

The Russian TOZ35 is a World-beating Olympic Free Pistol. So Naturally, We Hacked One Up

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

Olympic 50-meter pistol shooting is perhaps the purest, accuracy-driven discipline of all the pistol sports. In it, shooters attempt to send sixty, 22LR rounds into tiny groups at 54.68 yards … riveting stuff.

Which isn’t to detract from the undoubted skill required to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship on a consistent basis, in order to rise through the ranks of any competitive sport. But we have to wonder if one of the hurdles the athlete has to overcome is to stay awake on the firing line. While it has its roots way back in the code duello, the sport evolved over the years to embrace Flobert’s radical new invention — the rimfire cartridge — before being adopted as an official Olympic sport in 1896. The International Olympic Committee, being a bunch of corrupt, limp-dicked, party yes-men with a visceral aversion to any kind of shooting event, dropped it in 2018.

Way back in 1959, the TOZ-35 was created to give Russian Olympic shooters a home-grown pistol to compete with the likes of Hammerli and Walther, and it was employed to good effect throughout the Cold War era and beyond, taking the top four places at the 1996 Games. As a match tool, it developed a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, with some examples achieving sub-MOA groups.

In order to nurture future generations of propaganda creators, the pistol was shipped in a fitted wooden case, along with all the tools and spares needed to keep it running in out-of-the-way corners of the Soviet empire. Included were a couple of blocks of walnut, fitted to the pistol’s grip frame, but otherwise completely unfinished, so the recipient could carve them to accommodate their physique. The gun was supposed to fit quite literally like a glove, with a grip that wrapped around the back of the hand.

Designed around a Martini-style falling block, the pistol seems like it’s all barrel and grips. In fact, unlike say a bolt action or semi auto, the action is only 1.5 times as long as a 22LR cartridge, making for an extremely compact package. A short action means there’s lots of room for a longer barrel while maintaining neutral balance, with a correspondingly long sight radius. The sights, by the way, are everything you’d expect from something used to punch bull’s-eyes at the Olympics.

There are two levers located on the left side. The longest serves to cock the mainspring and open the action, which automatically kicks out a spent case. The second cocks the set trigger (there’s no conventional trigger option), and when it’s cocked you’d better be committed to firing the shot, as it can be adjusted down to an insanely low level. The heaviest we’ve been able to set this one is just shy of a pound, and turned down to the lowest setting, we’ve been able to release the striker by blowing on the trigger shoe. For those of you used to dealing with crappy AR triggers, let that sink in.

The TOZ 35 shipped in a case with spares and tools, along with honkin’ chunks of walnut with which to fashion grips. The Soviet hierarchy assumed you had your own set of chisels, or at least access to an angry beaver.

Project Clownshoes
While browsing the online catalog of an upcoming auction, and after scrolling through pages of beat-up Glocks, busted Jennings throw-down .25s, and Hi-Points with evidence tags still in place, one listing jumped off the screen. Up for sale was something described as a Century Arms single-shot pistol, in average condition, along with a thumbnail image that looked like a plumbing fixture in a plywood briefcase. Be still, my beating heart.

Always a sucker for off-beat guns, a bid was made then forgotten about, until an email popped up demanding payment of $310, followed shortly by the thought of, OK, genius, what the hell are you going to do with this? Hmm, let’s see. Insanely accurate single-shot .22? Sounds like an ideal suppressor host, as there’s no action noise to speak of, and it’s very compact. So, an idea was born.

Phoenix-based gunsmith John Brooks met up with us in a bar (natch), and a plan was made to cut back the barrel, thread it for a can, and then see what could be done to attach a stock. (We’ve covered the process of legally converting a pistol to a short-barreled rifle in previous issues, and with the ATF’s E-File process, it’s way less onerous than in decades past.) Leaving the project in his capable hands, it was largely forgotten about until one day we received a text suggesting another meeting was in order.

“Look, I know you wanted this to be a pretty straightforward conversion,” Brooks said. “But I reckon we can do something off the wall with this.” He then whipped out a laptop and showed off the CAD files he’d been noodling with over the course of the past few weeks. Our suggestion of threading the grip frame for a bolt-on wire stock had been replaced with a folding mechanism, while the front of the pistol had morphed into something from Firefly. Know anyone making M-LOK handguards for a ’60s 22LR target pistol? Nope, neither did we, and yet there they were on the screen. We signed off on the revisions, knowing that there’d be plenty of unforeseen problems in the next few months and made a few phone calls to source parts.

The easiest idea to execute turned out to be finding a suitable stock, as B&T has several polymer options to choose from in their PDW lineup. The mechanism to allow it to fold and deploy was machined from scratch by Brooks, and as an extra touch, it incorporates storage for five, 22LR shells that are secured by a friction fit.

Raising the newly fabricated cocking lever provides access to the breech and locks into a detent in the handguards.

The original steel grip frame was removed, and in keeping with its Soviet heritage, an AK pistol grip machined to fit, but adding it presented its own set of problems, as both cocking levers were now in the way. The larger of the two was rerouted, so that instead of falling in line with the now-defunct grip frame, it lay parallel to the bore axis, and the grip got relieved for the smaller one. This required much cutting, welding, and fabrication, including a new handle housing a ball detent, which locks into a notch in the handguards.

The handguards themselves presented a problem in that nothing we could source on the aftermarket came remotely close to fitting, so the solution was to laboriously machine them from bar stock. Rather than attempt to hog everything out of one piece, the design was split in two, machined, and then welded together, before a final pass with an end mill to pretty things up. There are M-LOK slots on six sides, with a Picatinny rail section in front of the breech to handle a red dot, as the original iron sights were removed when the barrel was cut down to provide just enough real estate for suppressor mounting. Also machined into the handguard’s right side is a slot to accept a locking tab from the B&T stock, which snaps securely into place when not in use. The whole shebang mounts to a precisely fitted block of aluminum that slips over the barrel and secures to a steel tang, which used to support the original pistol’s wooden forend.

A final meeting was scheduled to go over the build, and with everything assembled and in the white, the gun felt like a toy in the hands. A lightweight, accurate, functional carbine that in testing proved to be Hollywood quiet with subsonic ammo, but a toy nonetheless. So the choice of finish was both immediately obvious and sure to cause some pearl-clutching. Enlisting the help of our local Cerakote masters, We Plead The Second in Phoenix, Arizona, we left them the gun to work their artistry, which came out looking pretty damn nerftastic.

Stock mechanism provides storage for five, 22LR rounds. CCI Clean-22 comes in colors to match our paint scheme.

Which leaves the question of how does it perform? Accuracy-wise, it gives up nothing to the original, as the stiffer barrel compensates for its barrel-mounted handguard system. It’s a little picky regarding ammo choices — sometimes we get light strikes — which is compounded if you fail to cock the mainspring — well, duh. It’s possible to eject a spent case without bringing the mechanism to full cock, so you have to remind yourself that it’s “strong like tractor” and a product of the Soviet Union, so yanking on the cocking lever is perfectly acceptable. The folding stock works like a charm and allows far greater practical accuracy than any handgun. Combined with a
cheap and cheerful red dot, the advantages over the base gun are even more apparent.

Shooting the thing is hilarious. Its combination of paint scheme, abbreviated dimensions, and the fact we spent so much time, effort, and money to make something so utterly outside the mainstream brings a huge grin to the face of anyone who shoots it. Shooting should be fun, and this gun underlines that precept well. As a tool to introduce new shooters to the world of firearms, it’s good, but could be better. Although it has the advantages of being a single shot (and therefore easier to manage), as well as crazy quiet and unintimidating, the trigger takes most newbies by surprise. It does, however, reinforce the rule of not placing your damned finger inside the trigger guard until the sights are on the target.

If you’re interested in replicating what we did here, or have your own ideas for an off-beat build, hit up John Brooks on Instagram. He’s probably preoccupied with his day job involving making miniguns, but we’re all about helping people realize their dreams and who knows, maybe your custom project might end up in these pages.

Sometimes, it’s worth doing things just for fun. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, you might want to consider joining Mike Bloomberg’s staff.

Gunsmith – John Brooks

Cerakote – We Plead The Second

Baikal TOZ-35

Caliber: 22LR
Barrel Length: 8.5 inches
Overall Length: 11 inches (stock folded)
Weight (unloaded): 2.7 pounds
Magazine Capacity: N/A (Single Shot)
MSRP: You gotta be kidding

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