Jessee James and Steve Coulston | Photo by Jody Lewis, Crossfire Photography
Jesse James: The Man Behind JJFU
Jesse James talks with Guns & Tactics Magazine about his life, big move, bikes, guns and more.
Just before Thanksgiving last year, I had the chance to catch up with Jesse James. I know, I know, some of you are now reacting like I just cussed at your grandma, or kicked your dog. Ease up. Jesse has managed to attract millions of followers thanks to his mechanical genius and personality. In contrast, he has also attracted millions of haters due to some of his personal life choices. Regardless if you love him or hate him, he is here to stay and quite frankly, I am pretty sure he doesn’t care what you think. Putting all of that drama aside, I wanted to get the down low on his latest venture. No, he isn’t doing another motorcycle show, rather, he is starting a firearms company called Jesse James Firearms Unlimited or JJFU for short. For those of you that followed his various television appearances over the past decade and a half, it is pretty apparent he has a thing for guns. How much has only recently been revealed.
G&T: Your new venture, it came out of nowhere, but I know you have been planning this for a while. Jesse James Firearms Unlimited is just now hitting the scene, but you have been planning this for some time, huh?
JJFU: Well for a couple years. I had a, well it kinda goes way back. I’ve been in California so my gun enthusiasm was always there but it was kinda stifled on what I could own. You know, so coming to Texas and being able to own anything I want, especially Class III stuff kinda opened up a whole, you know, new world for me. And then, like, you know about twelve years ago I built a few bikes for the majority stock holder in Smith and Wesson. And, so they wanted to do a licensing deal, […] to do a Smith 1911. I was thinking more, like, make a hand made bitchin’ gun from scratch and they were thinking more like Franklin Mint, you know? And so the deal just never happened. It just wasn’t ever enough for me, I was like f&#k, if I am going to put my name on a gun I want it to be awesome, you know, and they were more, like, [in sarcastic voice] “Jesse’s on TV right now, let’s do a gun.”
G&T: A lot of people want to capitalize on names, you know, so it doesn’t surprise me they did that.
JJFU: Yeah, it’s totally cool that they did that, but you know I kinda always thought about it, you know, then I came here [Texas] and I was really just trying to figure out, you know still working on bikes, but just trying to figure out what my next move is. You know, how I am going to keep my creativity going and it just, you know, kinda, I don’t know, it just seemed like a natural progression.
G&T: Absolutely. I remember watching you back in the early 2000’s on Monster Garage, West Coast, Motorcycle Mania and all those shows and it was pretty apparent you had a love for firearms. I mean I just love the episode where you shred the RX7 with that Dillon Mini, that was just epic.
JJFU: Yeah, that was like the first time a mini gun has ever been on TV showing what it can really do. The only thing that really showed it before was like in Predator [Laughs] you know? Yeah, [Dillon] is such a cool guy. A bunch of my friends work in the machine shop and do contract work for him. I am pretty stoked that he’s my friend.
G&T: You have been so busy with everything from your move from California to Texas. It sounds like it has been a really good move for you. Have you been able to still work on your bikes and do all that as well?
JJFU: Oh yeah, I’ll still always build bikes, but just on a much smaller scale, like about three a year for customers, but not on TV or any $#1t like that that. Just getting back to doing what I do. I have a big machine shop here that’s a half mile from my house so it keeps it real close.
G&T: I know you are a guy that is passionate about craftsmanship and really being hands on, where a lot of guys have gone to a lot of CNC stuff to make their parts. Do you still feel the need to hammer out the metal yourself and stay hands on?
JJFU: Oh, yeah! You know, my shop got so big in California that I didn’t work anymore. It was just like, uh, you know, a manager. [laughs] It was terrible! You know if I don’t make something or weld something everyday then I feel like I am cheating myself, you know?
G&T: It’s therapeutic, right?
JJFU: Oh, yeah, yeah, for sure.
G&T: In order to get to know you better […] what was the first gun you ever shot?
JJFU: Uhhhh, first gun, I had a, probably like everyone, I had a Remington .22 long rifle. It was my dad’s, that was his dad’s, that I shot, you know. What else…? The first handgun was I think a Ruger Security Six .357.
G&T: Way to start out! [laugh]
JJFU: [Laugh] Yeah! Like BOOM!
G&T: How old were you?
JJFU: I was ten. I was born in Lynwood, which is, like, north Long Beach. I grew up and went to grade school in South Gate […] right in the heart of South Central. But I lived two blocks away from Weatherby’s. And so I used to ride over there every day after school and as a kid it was a total scary place for me, cause of, like, giant polar bears and all these mounts and I’d always go there to hang out, walk around and look at the guns and all the crazy, you know, at the time this was the 70’s and Weatherby’s was the best and there was no better handmade hunting rifles. So kind of being around there created my fascination for that stuff.
Well, I think the gun, I think with people, there are different levels of fascination. There is, enthusiasm, but I am really into aesthetics. I like guns and the guns that I like, I like them because of the way that they look. The machine, the mechanism and the way it looks, you know? And some guns I just hate, you know, because they are retarded looking.
JJFU: I think my goal with this whole thing [JJFU] is one, is to come out of the gate with only two models. For a couple of years I really sweated the details and wanted to make sure they were super, super high quality and function well. Cause, everybody is just going to think that I am slapping my name on some deal just to make guns or whatever and not really gonna sweat the quality. This is why I went to STI for the 1911. I told them, “Hey I want to make the best 1911 you guys make.” And they already make amazing guns. And so far so good, I mean the stuff shoot so great. Also, Magpul is awesome at doing great stuff, but you know, Magpul stocks and grips is adequate. I think that loading more plastic on things is what I want to get away from. You know, I like them made out of metal.
G&T: Are you looking at making some furniture that is made out of metal?
JJFU: Well, I don’t know, you can get a Magpul stock for $80, so selling one that’s $600 people are going to squabble at the price, you know? A big part of the gun industry, like, shops with their wallets but it’s the same as the motorcycle industry. You know, I was never trying to build bikes for everybody, just ten to fifteen people a year. Well a lot of people will say “I want to build an AR for $800.” So, Ok, cool there are a lot of dudes with little machine shops in stuff. I’ve gone and bought parts for like two hundred different types and started specing them all out and measuring them and, like, and AR parts are supposed to be the same dimensions have like a 60,000th of an inch variance, you know ? [laughs]. My quality control is, like, 0 plus 5, not over 5,000th and junk. And they still function, but, like, not that well, but it’s cheap and it’s ok, but […] I’m not the only one they are knocking on price, they are knocking other, really top of the line manufactures. [in funny voice] “You want to charge me $3,000 and I can build one in my garage for $600.”
G&T: I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that comment.
JJFU: Yeah, and it’s like, ok, cool go do that, but we are trying to build stuff that is going to last for generations. Things you are going to pass down from kid to kid, you know, that type of stuff that will retain its value.
G&T: Obviously that is part of your vision for JJFU. Explain a little bit of that to me. You say you want to build guns that look good, are well machined and last a lifetime.
JJFU: Well, I have the capability to build whatever I want. So, out of control, brand new weapons, and that’s the stuff we are working on for the future, but out of the gate I wanted to come out with two models that […] are the most recognized styles, besides and AK, in the world, so people can look at it. Because people like what they’ve seen before that they’ve liked. [laughs] You know? I could do $#1t that sails over everybody’s heads like the suppressor I did. They were like [funny voice] “Oh f&$k, I hate that thing, it’s ugly!” But you know, cause they don’t know what they are looking at.
G&T: Tell me where do you see JJFU in the next five years?
JJFU: I think just focusing on military and law enforcement type stuff. You know stuff that is, like, custom, you know a little bit out of the norm. I have some really great projects for military stuff, and it’s like I don’t know enough about it that I can’t [do it]. I am really, really good at making $#1t, so like you know, push the limits of what that stuff is. I think it’s, like, almost everybody has been copying each other for a long, long time. They are afraid to push it out of the box.
On the NOMAD AR
G&T: So looking at your NOMAD it is made of billet […] and it highlights a lot of your machine work.
JJFU: Yeah, 7075. You know I am working on a version two that’s kinda, you know, this one is just different enough, but now I want to do one that is kinda like a bar of soap, you know totally smooth and snag free.
G&T: The full length pic rail, especially at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock are starting to go away. People want flexibility, people want the keymod and wan the ability to bolt on rails. I can’t totally tell if that is keymod or not…
JJFU: Yeah it is, you can use it as that, but it was more to just take a little bit of weight out of it. I think people have too much $#1t hanging all over them [rails].
G&T: There are definitely things people like. You hit on Magpul and people like Magpul…
JJFU: Yeah, that’s good. Magpul is a really great company and they have the market cornered on that kind of stuff, and you know, I could spend $60,000 on some injection molded dies and try to make my own stuff, but I think that stuff is […] only as cool as the next coolest one. [laughs] So you have to focus on all that stuff. You know, if you are only going to make one cool one, it is going to get surpassed in 6 months.
G&T: You say on the NOMAD the upper, the lower, the rail, the suppressor and the brake are all made by you. So is that something you do in-house? Obviously you had a hand in designing it. Like, how does that whole process work?
JJFU: For the whole AR, I was having Holding making some of the parts in California, and I make some of the stuff and do the assembly here. You know, cause they are just a really good, trusted machine shop and I have done work with them before on Monster Garage. And you know, I am kinda using my design facilities and machine shop to focus on new stuff. I figured I could spend all my resources making an AR, or I can have someone else do it. So it is, like, kind of a partnership where I am doing some of the work and they are doing some of the work. Same thing with STI. I don’t want it to be like West Coast Choppers in California where I have 220 people, seven buildings, over a whole city block where I have this overhead that I have to charge a ton of money just to get it back. You know, so I want to keep the price within reason and job it out to some people who are doing some really great stuff. Meanwhile, I focus on new stuff like suppressors and new style guns and all the other stuff we are making.
G&T: But the rail, the lower, upper and the brake and suppressor are all your design?
JJFU: Oh, yeah. It’s all my design. The rail is all new extrusions, all new shapes and that type of stuff. We are making our own magazines out of stainless.
G&T: How come you decided to make your own magazines instead of using something like a PMAG?
JJFU: I don’t know, I just kinda like the way the metal ones look. I like stainless, you know? It’s almost as light as aluminum. It’s, like, you aren’t gaining any weight and it looks like it’s gonna look forever.
G&T: So you are using a Geissele Super 3 gun trigger.
JJFU: Yeah, we are trying to work with CMC, but they just moved their buildings, but they are working on a trigger that is our own design. They are trying to get up and running and stuff like that so…
G&T: What kind of accuracy are you getting out of this gun?
JJFU: I haven’t tested it with the suppressor, but the AR is super, super nice. From 100 yards it is dead on.
G&T: So, 1 MOA? Sub MOA?
JJFU: You know what, I really haven’t sighted them in, or done really a test, I have just shot them against a bunch of other ones [ARs]. You know, a bunch of magazines have it now and are testing it. That way they can have a firsthand account. I don’t want to, like, [funny voice] “it will do this, this and this.” Then have them, you know. I have had guns before that people said were really F#$king great and then weren’t so great.
On the CISCO 1911
G&T: What about your 1911? You say that STI makes it.
JJFU: Yeah, they are making the majority of the gun and we are machining a few parts in my machine shop for them. Tim and myself worked really hard for a year on the prototype to get them right with the fit and finish. It’s not really something they do, but they didn’t even realize they had the capabilities of doing it, because they have been doing one thing, the same way for 30 years, so for me to come in and say “We need to change this and it’s gotta look like one guy machined everything.” It came as a little bit of a struggle to see that vision, but now it’s just, f&#k man.
G&T: I am looking at the grips and how they are cut out and how it actually melts right into the slide cuts. That’s pretty trick.
JJFU: Yeah, and the thing is such a great shooting gun. It is so balanced and no recoil. Everything is fitted so smooth. You know, a lot of guys fit them super super tight and put bullets on top of bullets, but it’s not a pleasurable gun to shoot. This thing, I can honestly say, like Wilson, Kimber and Les Baer I all own multiples of with thousands of rounds and this one is out of the gate the nicest gun I have ever shot. And if it wasn’t mine, I would say that. You gotta look at STI, you know, every contest, gun, shooting quality, magazine, they win all of them all the time. The whole other side of the business is the customizing side. Being able to take that gun which is a blank canvas and mess with all the void space on the trigger and slide and make it so we can engrave it and personalize it. You know, people aren’t just gonna get a little bit of bulls#$t or something like that. They are going to get a bad ass custom gun.
On the Sound Suppressor
G&T: Tell me a little bit about your sound suppressor, cause […] it does look strange.
JJFU: It’s pure function. It is designed to follow the sound wave. So if you look at an oscilloscope or a MacPro sound tool display where it shows a bullet shot sound wave it has that bulging ellipse type shape, where it tapers in then BOOM and it tapers back out. So I am trying to let the gas move in a more natural type fashion instead of forcing it with wedges or stacking baffles up in it. The first prototype we tested, and it was leaking, knocked 10 db off the quietest one on the market.
G&T: Really? What’s the db drop that you are getting right now? What’s the average db when you are shooting 5.56?
JJFU: It was at [measured] from the shooter’s distance at three feet or less, it’s 88 db.
G&T: It knocked off 88 db?
JJFU: No, it’s 88 db total at the loudest point. (NOTE: when I talked to Jesse again at SHOT SHOW 2014 he told me he was able to get the levels down to 82 db)
G&T: Even still… That’s with subsonic ammunition?
JJFU: No, that’s just regular. I didn’t want to do any subsonic stuff. I just use regular, cheapo Cabela’s .223.
G&T: What about it being bolted together? I mean, you are a welder, right? [laugh] Why did you decide to bolt it together? Is it for maintenance?
JJFU: Well, you can’t get that shape out and machine the inside of it and make it serviceable. You know, I have had it were some of the other manufactures have blown apart and you can’t fix it and your F&$ked. And you can’t inspect it. I could have probably inspected and cleaned it if I could have gotten inside of it, but the only way you can tell if it is bad if it blows the end out of it cause it got carbon or something in there, you know? I like to be able to take this stuff apart and clean it and inspect it and put it back together. And that’s why we did the two piece and to follow that shape.
G&T: I know a lot of people have been saying, “ Well is that a safety hazard?” with it being bolted together. I am assuming there are some serious safety tolerances built in.
JJFU: It has a whole inner barrel inside there, it’s not just free traveling through baffles. It’s got that whole inner barrel that oscillates the gas between top, bottom then side, side so as it travels the gas is dissipating and not stacking gas on top of gas.
On the JJFU Logo
G&T: People have been asking about your logo. I guess people don’t know what they are looking at, because to me it looks like a hammer.
JJFU: Yeah, I went to Israel four years ago and apprenticed to be a black smith and so it is an Israeli striking hammer that I used.
G&T: So it’s not lighting striking the Popes hat, like some have said? [laugh]
JJFU: It’s hammer and handle with bolts coming off of it.
G&T: Anything else you want people to know about you and your company? I mean you are a guy who has taken a lot of flack and put up with a lot […]. I think your logo, JJFU, kinda says it all, right?
JJFU: [laughs] Yup! I paid a lot of money for that website domain. [laughs]
G&T: […] your full auto indicator on the NOMAD…
JJFU: [laughs] Yup! It says, “F&%k You!”
G&T: Nuff said.
For more information and pricing on JJFU products go to: http://www.jjfu.com/