Interview with Jonathan Arthur Ciener
By Matt Smith
Above: Jon Ciener shooting “Project X”, the Thompson SMG .22 kit at Knob Creek.
SAR: How did you get interested in manufacturing?
JONATHAN: It all started when I was five years old and my grandmother bought me a Tonka truck, which I played with. Later, the mechanical stuff started when I would buy junker motorcycles, taking them apart and putting them back together. I started with a Comet motor scooter that had a Briggs and Stratton motor in it. My dad and I made it run and kept it running. One day the frame broke, and I dropped by a machine shop to get it fixed. The machinist made me a gusset on a Bridgeport and heli-arced it onto the frame. I thought this was the coolest thing, and told myself that one day I would own one of those machines. I finally bought a Sears Atlas lathe for $200 that I used to make my first silencers on, and I still have it. Later, we bought a bigger lathe for $600, and were using a drill vice in the drill press to drill the holes. We finally got a manual Bridgeport after a nine month wait and paying $2000. The last machine we bought was for $400,000, and we bought two of those!
SAR: How did your interest in firearms develop?
JONATHAN: It began when I started going to the local gun shop in Cocoa, where I would buy a gun, put some money down, and pick it up when I paid the balance of the money. I got an AR-15 way back when I was in college, then I got an Atchisson MK I .22 conversion kit. I started playing around with silencers, and found them to be pretty nice, so I decided to build some of my own to see if they would sell. I put a one or two inch ad in Shotgun News, and I was the first person to ever do that, to commercially sell silencers. The phone started ringing. At the time, I was building houses with my brother. He was a contractor and had the big crew cab Ford pick-up trucks with the old style mobile phone that hung down from the ceiling. It was as big as a damn shoebox. My brother complained because I had put the mobile phone number in the ad. It got to the point that I was spending lots of time on the radio phone at the construction site and it started to get in the way of the contractors getting a hold of me to build houses. When the housing boom died during the Carter Administration, it allowed me to turn all my attention to building silencers. Instead of doing this in the evenings and on the weekends, as I had been, I went full time in the garage at home.
SAR: What were the first models of silencers that you made?
JONATHAN: They were the M16, 10/22, and the MK II pistol. These designs, although considered old technology by some, still hold up well next to the newer silencers on the market. As I tell people, it’s like a car. Give me an old ’66 Mustang, and I’ll still be driving down the road when you’re in getting your computer box on yours fixed. I can get any parts I need at the local auto parts store for pennies, compared to having to buy a $400 carburetor that you can’t take apart any more.
SAR: Is that what you drive, a Mustang?
JONATHAN: No, classic Mustangs are now too expensive because people realize the value of old technology.
SAR: How long did you operate out of your garage?
JONATHAN: I did that less than a couple of years, and bought a building in Titusville, in 1979. We moved to our current location in Cape Canaveral in 1991, after outgrowing the Titusville shop. The new machines that I needed wouldn’t fit in the old shop. We had to cut a hole in the ceiling for the one we had and have a crane set it in through the ceiling. We had to build a stack hood on the roof because of the height of the machine. The old shop had been 3000 square feet, and the new one is 15,000 square feet. We are now at the point where we’ve about outgrown this place.
SAR: Before the machinegun ban in 1986, what were some of your machinegun conversions?
JONATHAN: Mostly AR-15’s to select fire, AK’s. Uzi’s, and HK’s including the MP5 with the integral one stamp suppressor.
SAR: How much notice did you have that the machinegun ban was coming in 1986?
JONATHAN: Lots! So we built sears like Fleming and others did, as fast as we could build them. My design was different though. I actually stopped making them after so many, figuring that I had more than enough to sell in any reasonable amount of time. Now, this turns out to have been a serious mistake.
SAR: Were the manufacturers worried that they would also ban silencers at this time?
JONATHAN: People that didn’t listen to what was going on may have thought this, but if you paid attention to the news and the congressional record, it was not in there. The way it came down, the Democrats conspired in the 11th hour and 55 minutes even though they weren’t that prepared and didn’t think that the ban would actually go through. Unfortunately for us, it did, so the law was passed. Fortunately, we still had time before it was signed by the President to build all the stuff we wanted.
SAR: What about your destructive devices business?
JONATHAN: I gave it up, because there wasn’t any money in it. I made about 24 M203 40MM grenade launchers. It was fun, entertaining, and interesting to do something different for a while, but it didn’t pay the bills, and I ended up dropping my DD license.
SAR: Back in the early days of the business, who else was manufacturing suppressors?
JONATHAN: Doc Dater was. Later, he was connected with Lynn McWilliams and AWC. Reed Knight came along a little later, but he only sold to the military. I don’t care to do business with the military, too much paper work, red tape, and too many people trying to cut each others throats to get the contracts, and after spending a lot of time and money somebody else usually ends up with the contract and you walk away with nothing.
SAR: When did you first get involved with the .22 LR conversion kits?
JONATHAN: In 1984, we started the production of the Mini-14 .22 conversion kits. It was so successful that the people that owned the Atchisson MK II and were having trouble with their current manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio, called me up and asked if I would be interested in manufacturing their kits. After looking at it, we arrived at an agreement. I flew up to Dayton, rented a U-Haul Truck, picked up all the tooling, and brought it to the old shop in Titusville, and started building them. I eventually ended up buying the rights to the Atchisson kits, and now I own it all.
SAR: How did you get involved with miniguns?
JONATHAN: It started with John Wayne movies, where they used the old original Gatling guns. A person that likes mechanical things, who likes guns, what a perfect combination! I also had a hand crank BB machinegun as a kid that I ordered from the back of a cereal box for so many box tops and $5. I would set up my toy soldiers and then mow them down with my BB machinegun. I remember seeing my first miniguns in Viet Nam on the gunships. Later, at a Houston gun show, when I was on the road selling silencers at gun shows, I saw a minigun for sale for $5000. I stood drooling at this thing, and knew there wasn’t a possibility that I could come up with that kind of money at the time. Considering I was driving a Ford Escort stationwagon, building silencers on a $600 lathe, and lucky to sell $2000 worth of guns on the weekend, I knew I couldn’t lay down $5000 for something that was not going to create income and was just going to eat ammo. Dale Thomas of Paragon ended up with that gun, and then it went to Syd Stembridge in California. Dan Shea got it after that- from there I don’t know. I ended up building mine from scrap parts. I welded the housing back together, made the rotor, heat treated everything with acetylene torches on the floor of my shop and registered it before the machinegun ban. While looking for parts for the minigun, I picked up enough parts to put my Vulcan cannon together before the minigun was even finished.
SAR: When did manufacturing the .22 kits overtake the suppressor manufacturing as far as your time and interest?
JONATHAN: When the AR-15 kit came along. The Mini-14 kit was good and it moved along with the silencers, but when the AR kit came along, things really got busy. I updated the MKII to the MKIII by improving the firing pin, rails and other features and made it even more reliable. Three other AR-15 kits made by others have come and gone since I updated mine. My most successful conversion kit has been for the 1911 pistol. It has been unbelievable and has outsold all the others. The Glocks and Berettas have also been very successful and we recently unveiled Project X, a .22 conversion for the Thompson sub-machineguns. These are available for either the M1921/M1928 or the M1/M1A1 versions. With the current demand for my various .22 conversion kits and ideas for other firearms whose owners would like a .22 kit, it is to the point where we just don’t have time to devote to the suppressor business. There also are too many others who are making silencers now. I would eventually like to get to the point where I could just design and build the first prototypes of future projects and have someone else take over the day-to-day manufacturing and customer service. I would be content to do this and take a percent of the sales, wait a couple of months and then design and build the next prototype.
SAR: What .22 kit are you developing now?
JONATHAN: One for the Browning High Power pistol. SAR: Jon, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers.
JONATHAN: You are welcome.
Jonathan Arthur Ciener, Inc.
8700 Commerce Street
Cape Canaveral, FL 32920
PH (321) 868-2200
FAX (321) 868-2201
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