Remington Bulldog .45 Colt Conversion


For those of you that have to been following this project you might want to read up on how we got here:

Since Part 2 I have further shortened the barrel to 2-5/8″, fabricated and added a front sight and made a ‘pinky-groove’ at the bottom-front of the handle. This last modification really improves the comfort of the grip, BTW.

OK, now that you are all caught up the final part of this gun has arrived- that being a Kirst gated cartridge conversion in .45 Colt. This arrived last week from Kirst. Price was $325; not inexpensive but well worth it for what you get.

So what do you get? A 5-shot cylinder with a ‘dead position’ to drop the firing pin and a breech-ring with a firing-pin and loading gate. The dead position for the firing-pin borders on brilliant; there really isn’t room for six .45 Colt cartridges in the cylinder, and since the only safe way to carry a gun of this design is with the hammer down on an empty cylinder having five equally spaced chambers would basically give you a four-shooter.  The original cylinder gets around this by having places to drop the hammer between cylinders, and while Kirst could have done the same thing they instead gave you a single position for the hammer. Less machining and a quite positive safety.

To install the converter you simply withdraw the cylinder pin, remove the percussion cylinder and replace it with the new cylinder with the breech-ring mounted. Then just slide the cylinder pin in and… it doesn’t go all the way. OK, they say there might be some fitting required. I looked and the ‘feet’ that brace against the frame were a skosh too long. The directions say to carefully file them until it fits. OK, I can do that. A dozen passes with the file and it was almost there- a few more and it was good to go.

Next I needed to relieve the blast-shield so that cartridges could actually be inserted through the gate. The website said that a template for doing this is included with every conversion. It wasn’t, but there were instructions. Basically mount the converter, mark where the gate is and then use a Sharpy-marker to mark where the gate is. Remove the converter and all internal parts of the gun. Use a 5/8″ sanding drum on a Dremel-tool to remove material until it is possible to insert an empty cartridge into the cylinder. Then use finer grit to finish, polish and then re-blue with cold blue. Estimate time: 2-3 Hours. Helpfully there are no pictures of what this will look like when you are finished.

5/8″ sanding drum on a Dremel-tool? PAH! We don’ need no stinking Dremel! I have a 5/8″ contact wheel for my Bader B-III Belt grinder. 2-3 hours? Try 2-3 minutes.

This is what it looks like. Note that for a rimmed cartridge like .45 Colt you need to cut well into the frame to clear the rim.

It took a couple tries mounting the converter and checking, but it was done very quickly, and applying Van’s Instant Blue directly to the hot steel produced very satisfactory results. Now it was possible to load the cartridges.

Anyone familiar with old-school single actions know the drill-  half-cock, open the gate, load one, skip one, load four. Then when you bring the hammer to full cock and lower it the hammer rests on an empty cylinder. Starting with the hammer indexed to the rest position on the cylinder (which is marked by a cut-out on the rim) load the first chamber and follow this procedure. The result is the same, except instead of coming down on an empty chamber it will come down into the safety position. At first the cylinder was reluctant to turn freely at half-cock, but after a bit of manipulation that cleared up and it worked just as it should.

I’m impressed with the Kirst converter. It required minimal fitting, lockup and timing is good and needed no adjustment. The cylinder gap looks to be .0015-.002″- very tight. Maybe a little too tight for black-powder, but better too tight than to too loose. I expect I will shoot some black-powder shells at some point and we’ll find out.

A particularly nice feature with the Kirst converter is the ability to drop the percussion cylinder back in the gun and use it. Not that I intend to, but this is still important to me. When you take a percussion revolver ( a non-firearm according to ATF) and put a modern cartridge cylinder in it you are, in effect, manufacturing a firearm. This is no problem in states that allow it, but it makes selling the gun problematic unless you are a licensed firearms manufacturer. The ability to drop the percussion cylinder back in with no hassle makes it possible to sell the gun or transfer it easily to an heir. Not that intend to either sell it or die any time soon…

The finished gun. All Italian markings and proofs have been removed.

Went to the range this afternoon with a box of HSM 200gr. RNFP Cowboy Loads. So, how does it shoot? See for yourself-

First shooting

And the target I was shooting at ten yards in the video:


With the mild cowboy loads this gun is a pussycat. I am going to have to reduce the height of the front sight as it’s shooting low, but that’s easy enough. I’m really very happy with this gun’s performance. In the future I’ll try some (modestly) heavier loads, but I am confident it will handle them with aplomb.

I’m pretty delighted with this gun- the looks, the handling and now the shooting. It’s a peach if I do say so myself.

Tinker Pearce, 22 April 2017


Pietta 1851 ‘Outlaw’ .44 Build- Phase One

Phase One of this project is where the gun will assume 90% of its final form. Phase Two will involve the fitting of a cartridge conversion to .45 Colt.

The starting point for this conversion is a Pietta 1851 Navy Colt reproduction fitted with a .44-caliber cylinder and barrel. I’m not sure this is something that ever existed in history, but that’s OK. This gun is old and well-used. Most of the color-case hardening is worn away and there are nick and scratches indicative of long use. While there is fine pitting throughout the bore the rifling is strong, so I am not overly concerned on that point.


This is the gun in its original form- 7-1/2″ barrel, loading lever, full ‘plow-handle’ grip. I looked at a number of concepts ranging from a full-length ‘steampunk’ version of the gun to a very snub-nosed ‘Avenging Angel.’  What I settle on eventually was a reshaped handle and a relatively short but not ‘snub-nosed’ barrel. I settled on a length of 3-1/2″ because that’s the shortest practical length if I decide to add an ejector to the gun after it’s converted to fire metallic cartridges.

To go with the shorter barrel I wanted a more compact handle and the go-to shape for guns of this type is the ‘bird’s head.’ Frankly Ive done that a few times already, and was looking for something else. Thinking of N-Frame S&Ws fitted with K-frame grips it occurred to me- what if I grafted the grip of an 1849 onto the 1851 frame?  OK, it won’t work- not to mention that I don’t have an 1849 grip frame lying around. But I could approximate the size of an 1849 grip-frame.

To start with I removed the one-piece walnut grip and the bottom retention screw, then squeezed gently to narrow the width of the grip until it approximated an 1849 grip. This left approximately 1/4″ of the back-strap protruding from the bottom front of the grip. I drilled a new screw hole, threaded the screw in and cut off the excess. I also ground a bit away at the bottom front of the handle to eliminate some of the ‘hook’ in the original grip. For esthetic reasons I rounded the bottom of the frame a bit as shown below-


So, now I had my grip-frame. Now for the grips… I cheated of course. I cut the single-piece stock grip into two pieces and ground them flat on the bottom to make two grips. I’ll tell the story with pictures and captions for a bit:

Here’s one of the new grip panels with the outline of the new frame. I carefully ground each side to fit the new profile, and rounded the outer surface to approximate the original.
I drilled the hole for the grip screw, counterbored them for the nut on the left side and the bushing for the screw on the right side, mounted the grips and shaped them precisely to the frame.  I drilled through the bottom front of the frame for a 1/8″ brass pin, then bored each grip to fit over the pin. This prevents the grips from slipping out of place when the grips are screwed on. I then polished the grips and frame together to get the proper fit.
I’ve always found dealing with the wedge-retention screw a pain, so I flattened one side. Turn the screw 3/4 of a turn and the wedge can easily be removed.
Next I removed the loading lever and cut the barrel at just over 3-1/2 inches using a bimetal blade on my metal-cutting bandsaw. I squared this up on my Bader belt-grinder, then re crowned it with a conical burr. I also took the opportunity to remove the markings and italian proof-marks. 

I could have simply reinserted the loading-lever screw, but this looked clunky to me and lacked intention, so it was back to the Bader for some judicious reshaping. The result was much more complete and purposeful looking:


At this point I detail-stripped the pistol; quite a bit of gunk around the innards, which I cleaned off and oiled the parts. The color-case hardening was worn and in bad shape, so I polished the frame and cylinder.  The barrel, cylinder and frame were the immersed in Van’s Instant Blue for several minutes, then removed and thoroughly hosed down with WD40.


After a good soak I cleaned off the excess oil and thoroughly buffed them vigorously with paper towels. Time for a front-sight, and I planed a simple post like the pistol originally had.


I drilled a 1/8″ hole approximately 3/32″ deep in the tip of the barrel, and returning to the workbench I used a 1/16″ burr in the flex-shaft tool to undercut the edges of the hole so the bottom was wider than the top. I inserted a short section of 1/8″ brass rod and hammered it into place. The caused the base of the peg to expand into the undercut section of the hole, essentially forming a blind rivet. I then trimmed the post to my best guess at the correct height and buffed if to remove the corners. I ground a slight ‘swoop’ a few hundredths deep in the top of the barrel on a whim, leaving the front sight on a slightly raised ‘platform’ and re-blued it without polishing so that the top of the barrel is less reflective than the polished surfaces. Using a round needle-file I enlarged the rear-sight (the tip of the hammer, actually) to a good size to work with the post.

Time to reassemble the essentially finished gun. I find the ergonomics and balance quite delightful; the gun is eminently point-able and comfortable in my hand. It feels much lighter and handier than it did in its original form, though at 38oz. it’s still not exactly a light-weight. A good thing, that; .45 isn’t exactly a powderpuff, even with loads limited to less than 1000 fps.

So, here is Phase One completed- Phase Two, the fitting of the Kirst gated conversion, will occur at some indefinite future point when I can afford the conversion.

Tinker Pearce, 14 April 2007

Reflections of a Reloading Noob

My reloading bench- a work in progress. I’ll be adding at least one shelf above the bench; I’ll certainly need more room when I start reloading shotgun shells.

I’ve always wanted to reload my own ammunition, but there was never room or other priorities were getting in the way. Then a couple of years ago two things happened; my workshop burned down and my wife got me addicted to S&W top-breaks.

Getting me addicted to the top-breaks meant I needed .38 and .32 S&W ammunition. These are not common and are quite expensive to shoot. Reloading was an obvious answer. I also inherited a 7.35mm Carcano rifle, and factory ammunition for that is pretty hard to come by. The shop burning down meant that I got to design my new shop, and I designed it to accommodate space for reloading.

Finances were tight, but eventually I traded for a used press with a set of .38/.357 dies, a buddy sent me four cans of Unique powder and Linda made sure that I got the other tools and sundries needed. I’ve now loaded 250 rounds of .38 S&W and shot 150 of them. Between .38 S&W and .38 Special I’ve now reloaded a total of 550 rounds. It’s been interesting, and 550 seems like a good benchmark to talk about this.

Among the sundries gotten for the purpose were 100 pieces of new Starline .38 S&W brass. For those that don’t know it .38 S&W is a shorter cartridge than .38 Special and it was the first centerfire ‘.38’ cartridge developed by S&W. This means it was originally a black powder cartridge, and of course when they were making the transition to smokeless powder the loads were formulated for revolvers originally intended to fire black powder cartridges. Contrary to the conventional wisdom most ‘black powder’ .38 S&W revolvers are perfectly safe to fire with modern factory ammunition. That being said any antique firearm should be examined by a knowledgable and competent gunsmith before firing.

.38 S&W being the most difficult to obtain and expensive .38 naturally I wanted to reload that first. Like all .38-caliber cartridges it isn’t actually .38 caliber of course- it’s .361. The more common .38 Special is actually .357. I’m not making this up! .361 diameter pistol bullets are a bit thin on the ground; generally one can get 147gr. round nosed lead and that’s pretty much it. This is a pretty unsatisfactory bullet design for defensive use, but fortunately there is an option- the .38/.357 148gr. Hollow-Based Wadcutter. In a .361 bore the pressure from the burning propellant will expand the base and cause it to ‘bump up’ to the larger bore diameter. These bullets have the added advantage that they can be loaded into .38 Special cartridges as well.

Hollow-base Wadcutters as typically loaded into .38 Special

While these will not be an ideal defensive round the are markedly better than a RNL bullet. I checked around for reloading data and found that 2.5 grains of Unique should be a safe and reasonably efficient load in my top-break S&W revolvers. Testing indicated that penetration and accuracy from these reloads is acceptable, and recoil is quite mild. Out of the 1-5/8″ barrels of our guns these rounds are probably going 580-600 fps.

I should note that I was using .38 Special dies for these loads, which does not apply the roll-crimp normally advised for revolver cartridges. The theory is that the heavy crimp is prudent because otherwise the bullets might be dislodged from the cartridges as they are subjected to the repeated recoil of other rounds in the cylinder being fired. Unfortunately .38 Special dies will not permit this in the much shorter .38 S&W cartridge. Given the mild recoil of this round that proved unnecessary; the taper-crimp imparted while seating the bullet is quite sufficient.

Being a ‘noob’ at reloading I tend to be excessively careful, visually verifying the primer and powder charge before seating a bullet. When loading the first 50 rounds I actually weighed every charge. This is completely unnecessary, of course. The Lee Perfect powder measure I am using is a well-proven product and performed flawlessly. After that I was more worried about a double-charge, but these cases are short enough that a double-charge of powder would be obvious a glance. So I glance always glance.

While wadcutters are typically loaded entirely or almost entirely inside the case the .38 S&W is too short for this, so I loaded them to an overall length of 1″, which leaves roughly 3/16″ of the bullet protruding from the case.

S&W .38 Safety Hammerless 4th Model with reloaded .38 S&W wadcutter loads. Despite being a full wadcutter these load easily from a speed-strip.

This load is a keeper, so here is the load data. Note that this is not a max load, even for top-break revolvers, and while it ought to safe in any .38 S&W use this load at your own risk.

Hornady 148gr. HBSW, 2.5 grains of Unique and a CCI small pistol primer. Loaded to an overall length of 1.00″ with a taper-crimp.

Having fired 150 rounds of this load I am quite satisfied with them and went ahead and loaded the remaining 100 148gr. HBWCs before moving on to .38 Special loads… but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post… and it looks like I’ll be branching out to .45 Colt in the near future as well.


Tinker Pearce, 10 April 2017

The Walker Steampunk Magnum- A Modest Proposal

I don’t suppose it’s any secret that I have a ‘thing’ for percussion revolvers converted to fire cartridges. I also have a thing for Big-bore snub-nosed revolvers. Then I found out the Kirst makes drop-in conversions for a number of reproduction percussion revolvers. I was pretty happy to discover this for obvious reasons.

This brings us to the Colt Walker- the first commercially successful Colt revolver. This was a massive Horse-pistol built with the mission to be able to drop a horse with a single shot.

Reproduction Walker Colt

Originally designed to fire a conical Pickett Bullet on top of a charge of 60 grains of black powder. These bullets were fussy; they had very little bearing surface and if carelessly loaded they could tilt in the bore and accuracy when this happened was terrible. People took to loading them with ball or more conventional bullets. With the long barrel and heavy powder charge these were arguably the most powerful handgun available until the introduction of the .357 Magnum.

Obviously this would be a ludicrous candidate to be turned into a snubby, but a shorter, handier version might be neat… especially with a Kirst conversion to .45 Colt.

.45 Walker reproduction with a Kirst gated cartridge conversion.

But this is such a large gun that the cylinder is quite long for .45 Colt. Considering that significantly smaller and handier guns can be converted to this cartridge it seemed silly to convert a Walker to fire it.

The .45 Colt fired a conical bullet on top of a charge of 40 grains of Black powder… but the Walker fired a bullet on top of 60 grains of Black Powder… 50% more powerful. But given how long the cylinder is what if one bored the cylinder out for a longer cartridge- a .45-60 as it were?

Concept of a ‘long cylinder’ cartridge conversion with a 5-1/2″barrel

The Walker revolver could take a 60-grain charge of black powder and it’s cylinder was iron. Modern reproductions are made of steel and are significantly tougher. It ought to work…

It does, and someone beat me to it. It’s called the .45 BPM (Black Powder Magnum.)

Colt Walker conversion with .45 BPM and .45 Colt for comparison

With various loads this cartridge develops 500-600 ft.lbs. of energy at the muzzle. It’s is loaded into .460 S&W Magnum brass. The Kirst cylinder has to be reamed out for the extra length and the rim recesses have to be enlarged to accommodate the larger-diameter rims of the .460.  I immediately cringed at the thought of some idiot sticking a .460 Magnum shell in the gun… which would explode when fired. But factory .460 ammunition would actually stick out of the front of the cylinder and prevent the gun from functioning.

My dream of a Walker Cartridge Conversion in a worthy cartridge seemed much more realistic. But not without issues… this cartridge was designed to be fired from a 9″ barrel, and with some loads there isn’t much point in going beyond 50-52 Grains of black powder. There’s a point of diminishing returns where adding more powder just means more smoke and fire, and that point would be at an even lower threshold with a 5 to 5-1/2″ barrel. Essentially the power of the .45 BPM would be wasted in the shorter gun.

OK, but there should till be room for improvement over .45 Colt. Suppose one shortened the .460 brass to a length between .460 and .454 Casull? Turned down the rim to the same diameter as .45 Colt instead on enlarging the rim recesses? .460 would not longer chamber at all. Stoke this with 50 grains of black powder behind a 250 grain bullet with proper compression of the powder and while it wouldn’t be as powerful as the .45 BPM it would see significant gains over .45 Colt. This could also be loaded with Red Dot smokeless powder (in a much, much smaller quantity) as this powder mimics the chamber and down-bore pressure curves of Black Powder. Certainly the local indoor ranges would be happier with me if I did this…

So all I have to do is buy the gun, buy the Kirst converter, modify it and invent a new cartridge. Uh, sure. Of course I could just go buy a .45 Colt Ruger Super Blackhawk and load it up to loads just as powerful. But that wouldn’t be nearly as cool, would it?

No. No it would not. Stay tuned- this could happen…

Tinker Pearce, 03 April 2017

Range report for April 2nd, 2017

With a fresh batch of 100 .38 S&W reloads Mrs.Tinker and I went off to the range this morning. Having adjusted the height of the front sight on her gun I was eager to see if it was hitting closer to point-of-aim. The stars of today’s show-


Our ‘Steampunk Snubbies,’ both S&W .38 Safety Hammerless 4th Model, with shortened barrels and improved ergonomics. Linda’s is the nickel gun with the Mother of Pearl grips.

The load we were using in these is a Hornady 148gr. HBWC over 2.5 grains of Unique with CCI small pistol primers.

I fired Linda’s gun first and determined that the lowered front sight provided a decent 6 o’clock hold. We ran a full-torso target out to 7 yards and it was Linda’s turn. “Aim center-mass,” I told her. She nodded and fired. Bam bam bam bam bam. Reload. Bam Bam Bam Bam Bam.


“Um, you’re hitting him in the face…”

“Isn’t that better?” she asked brightly.

I had to allow that it was, but she needed to adjust her grip because she was pulling left. I showed her how and she was ready to go. I told her this time I really wanted her to aim center mass.

More Bams. Good, now she was placing them center-mass. Even more bams.

“So now you are shooting him in the throat?” I asked.

“It’s a compromise,” she said.


OK then. I tried some 7 yard rapid-fire with my gun.


A couple of fliers but I am not really dismayed with the result. Given the tiny, hard-to-see sights and 2-1/4″ sight radius of these DAO guns I pretty OK with our shooting today.

The S&W M1902 .38 Hand Ejector was also trotted out.


Linda had to adjust her grip a bit to get comfortable but was shortly producing decent groups at 7 yards. We were shooting Freedom Munitions 158gr CPHPs, and until she found her grip she found them a bit unpleasant; she is quite recoil-sensitive. Come to that she isn’t in love with the grip on her own .38, but she does love the Mother of Pearl so she’ll put up with it.

Speaking of grips I really like the new grips and grip adapter on the 1902. Very comfortable and secure, easy to index and point. Plus I like the overall vintage appearance.

I’m finding something odd with the M1902. My 7 yard groups are only OK when shooting Double Action, but double the range and the DA group remains the same size. Run it out to 25 yards and the DA group is only about 50% larger. I guess I need more practice. Uh, darn?

Overall a very nice morning at the range, and Linda was very pleased with her shooting. She’s established that she really does like revolvers best and finds them easiest to shoot. Myself I am liking my little top-break more and more.

It was also a real treat to have Linda accompany me; she’s missed the last several outings. Today she rediscovered her love of shooting, so I expect her presence at the range will be less rare in the future.

Tinker Pearce, 02 April 2017

Handgun Stopping Power and Other Myths, Part 2


Brace yourself, here it comes. Ready?

Handguns are not good at stopping a determined attacker, regardless of the caliber, muzzle energy or bullet configuration.

Take a deep breath, pause and count to ten. Got it together? Let’s continue.

Consider: 1986, Miami– The primary shooter in the Miami shoot-out took a lethal hit from an effective round which performed correctly. Medically speaking he should have dropped from a catastrophic loss of blood pressure in 25-30 seconds. Instead he shot six FBI agents and was killed by a shot through the skull as he tried to drive away two minutes later.

Summer 1993, Los Angeles– Off-duty LAPD police officer Stacy Lim was shot through the heart with a 125gr hollow-point from a .357 Magnum at close range. The bullet expanded properly and damaged several ribs as it exited her back. Her response was to shoot her attacker 5 times. She not only lived, but returned to unrestricted duty a year later.

Neither of these people were on drugs- OK, the Miami shooter had drunk a beer at some point before the shooting. These are only two of many cases where people took hits that would drop most people in their tracks but somehow continued to function. People are tough.

OK, most of the time it doesn’t go that way. Typically if you put a bullet in someone they run like hell. Sometimes they surrender. Sometimes they take a relatively minor hit and drop like a pole-axed steer. The question is if you are being attacked by someone wielding lethal force do you want to bet your life, or worse yet the lives of loved ones, that you won’t get one of the other kind? The kind that stand there soaking up bullets and keep shooting at you?

So what do you do? You can’t carry a 12-gauge stoked with slugs with you everywhere. Or a high-powered rifle. Within the limits of common sense and practicality you are likely to be restricted to a hand-gun. Over the decades police have found that the most effective method of stopping a determined attacker with a handgun is to shoot them multiple times in the center of mass.

There is a lot to recommend this approach. The heart, major vessels and spine are all at the center-of-mass and police typically use weapons that can penetrate deeply enough to hit those structures, so it makes sense that this would work pretty well. Multiple hits mean more chances to destroy these things. Properly done this worked well enough even when most police used .38 Specials firing round-nose lead bullets.

The simple fact is that the only way to be certain of stopping a determined attacker is to break something that they cannot function without. This means the central nervous system or cardiovascular system. The brain and upper spine control the body- take either of those out and you’ve ‘cut the wires’ that send the signals that control the body. This is the only guaranteed instant stop. The cardiovascular system sends fuel to the body that allows it to run. The bad news is that a major hit to the heart can take up to two minutes for them to run out of fuel. Taking out the Aorta can drop someone in s little as 25 seconds… but again might take as long as a couple of minutes.

OK, realistically someone shot through the heart will be most likely be more worried about that than about continuing to try and hurt you. But they might not be. If you are in a shooting you are already in a worst-case scenario. Can you afford to bet your attacker will stop or surrender before they are forced to by their body’s failure?

“But Tinker,” I hear you cry, “I use the latest high-tech defensive ammo on the planet! Surely that improves my odds!”

Yes, yes it does. Let’s take a look at how much it increases your odds. The first thing is that the bullet must penetrate deeply enough to hit the cardiovascular system or central nervous system. A pistol bullet won’t damage it if it doesn’t reach it. Conventional modern defensive ammunition is good at doing this, so we’ll take it as a given.

Medical Examiners and ballistics experts pretty much agree that ballistic gel is a fair approximation of human tissue. A bullet that performs well in real life typically performs similarly in gel. All other things being equal a modern defensive bullet will produce a similar permanent wound channel in either flesh or ballistic gel. So how big a permanent wound channel do modern, high-tech super-bullets produce? It varies from test to test, but top notch stuff produces a permanent wound cavity 1-1/4 to 2 inches in diameter.

What this means is that if your bullet performs ideally you have increased your margin of error by about 1 inch. At the most. At the most you can miss a vital structure by as much as one inch. Of course with multiple hits near together those inches overlap, which helps. Yep, the last one hundred years of bullet development have given you up to a one inch margin for error.

Don’t despair though; the odds that you will ever need to shoot someone are vanishingly slim; the odds that you will encounter a person absolutely committed and mentally prepared to take you out at all costs are much, much slimmer.

OK, you’re using a service caliber weapon with state-of-the-art ammo. What else can you do to increase that tiny margin for error that you have bought? Practice, of course. As much as you can stand. Practice dry-fire. Practice deployment and presentation. Practice with your strong and weak hand. Practice reloading and clearing jams. Shoot as much and as realistically as is practical. When the excrement hits the rotary impeller and the rational, civilized part of your brain is gibbering with fear and denial you will do as you have trained to do, and your odds will be better than average of things working out. If you have practiced.

Yep, we’re back to the bad news; more than your wonder-gun, more than your miracle ammo, whether or not you survive is all on you. Sorry about that.

Tinker Pearce, 24 March 2017

First Time Reloading- Holy Crap, It Worked!


I’m going to call my first reloads a success… much to my surprise! Seriously, the normal thing when I try something new is that it takes a few tries, some fiddling and fussing’ before it comes out right. This time it worked right the first time and gave pretty much exactly the results I had hoped for. I know, right? I’m as surprised as you are, believe me!

The reloading press I traded from another knife maker (thank you Jim!) came with .38/.357 dies. All to the good; I have those, and a few hundred empty cases. The powder choice was made for me when an old pal sent me a few cans of Unique that were surplus-to-need (thank you Tim!) The first rounds I wanted to reload were .38 S&W; I have a couple of these that I love shooting but factory ammo can be hard to come by and tends to be bloody expensive. One issue with these is that .38 S&W has a bore diameter of .360-.362; just enough bigger than .38 Special’s .357″ bore to cause issues like excessive leading, key-holing and poor accuracy. The only readily available, inexpensive bullets for .360 bores are 147gr. RNL. Fine as far as they go, but one hopes for better… especially when one’s wife carries a .38 S&W revolver.

After checking around I discovered that some people had good results from using .357 148gr. Hollow-base Wadcutters. The lead skirt easily bumps-up a few thousandths of an inch to engage the rifling in the larger bore. As a bonus I can also load these in my .38 Specials. So now I need loading data… Oh. None to be had for the 148Gr. HBWC with Unique powder. I did find a load for 147gr. RNL that was said to be safe for top-break revolvers so I used that, backing off a bit from the listed maximum load.

.38 Special/.357 dies are not really intended for reloading the shorter .38 S&W but it can be done fairly easily. The one downside is that you cannot roll-crimp the casing as you normally would for a revolver cartridge. As it turns out though if you set the seating die to the right length for .38 S&W you get a quite adequate taper-crimp, and at the low levels of recoil this round produces there is little danger the rounds will ‘walk out’ in the cylinder.

The rounds were loaded in new Starline brass with CCI small pistol primers. The bullets were Hornady 148gr. HBWCs over 2.5 gains of Unique. This is well below the best estimated safety threshold I could establish for use in a top-break revolver. The bullets were seated to give an overall length of .970″, so that the bullets protrude approximately 3/16″ from the loaded cartridge.

Recoil and muzzle-blast were comparable to factory ammunition, being mild and not overly loud or sharp. The first test was a single round fired from a 1-5/8″ barrel at an kiln-dried Douglas Fir 2×6 board. In the 19th century the Army reckoned that a round that would penetrate a soft 1″ pine board could produce a lethal or incapacitating wound. The 2×6 is 1-3/4″ thick and significantly harder and denser than pine, so I thought it would make an acceptable test.

The round completely penetrated the board and made a 1/2″ deep impression in the 2×6 a foot behind it before bouncing off. This result was very similar to the performance of factory RNL ammunition in a previous test with the exception that the factory bullet remained fully imbedded in the second board. The recovered bullet exhibited stria from the gun’s rifling, shallow at the front of the bullet and deep on the skirt of the bullet where it had expanded into the rifling.

Forty rounds were fired through the test guns. The primary and secondary test guns are both S&W .38 Safety Hammerless Fourth Models with 1-5/8″ barrels. The primary test gun shot to point-of-aim and the secondary test-gun shot low in the fashion that I had anticipated based on the very tall front sight. All shots struck squarely with no evidence of instability or key-holing. None of the fired cases showed any evidence of excessive pressure; no flattening of the headstamps or primers. Neither gun showed any sign of damage or excessive leading. Accuracy was within the limits I was capable of producing on the shooting day. I was able to produce decent but not exceptional groups at seven yards. I have no reason to attribute this to the ammunition rather than the shooter; I am recovering from a severe cold and am not at my best.

The group shown in the picture was fired in approximately 2 seconds at seven yards. Under the circumstances I’m pretty happy with the result.


I like this load, and I’ll be using it for both targets and as a defensive load.

What’s that? Yes, I did say I would be using hand-loaded ammunition for defensive loads. Yes, I am aware of the arguments against this, the primary one being that an overzealous prosecutor could claim that I loaded ‘special killer bullets,’ that normal defensive ammo that was OK for the police and military just wasn’t good enough for me.

Oh hogwash. If your lawyer can’t beat that argument check their pulse… then fire them. Especially in this case- these are lightly loaded target bullets specifically designed to punch clean holes in paper targets. Yes, they are likely to be more effective than factory loaded round-nose lead, but so what? They are certainly less effective than modern service-caliber factory defensive ammunition. Using target loads in an antique revolver is going to be pretty difficult to demonize.

As for reliability as long as I am mindful and exercise due care when reloading the rounds, which I should anyway, I cannot believe they will be less reliable than factory ammunition.

What about reloads? I usually carry five rounds in a speed-strip and thought the square-shouldered bullets would be problematic. Nope- not much harder than with RNL. Strange, but I’ll take it!

Anyway, success! I can readily envision vast fortunes vanishing into the rapacious maw of the reloading press… (insert evil laughter here.) I’m already thinking I want a second set of .38 Special/.357 dies so that I don’t have to mess with my settings for .38 S&W…

Tinker Pearce, 23 March 2017

The .38 Special Wadcutter as a Defensive Load


Doing a bit of research lately on .38 Wadcutters as defensive ammunition. For years these have been the ‘go-to’ low-recoil defensive load for snubbies- not perfect, but better than lead round-nose or semi-wadcutters. So much of the ‘conventional wisdom’ about guns has proven to be hogwash over the years that I thought I would look into this.

First I checked for ballistic Gel tests on Youtube. Pocketgunsandgear had such a test, and the results really didn’t indicate performance superior to conventional lead round-nose. However several Medical Examiners have stated over the years that they were impressed with the wounds left by these rounds. OK, I dug further.

It turns out that the Army had actually done ‘energy deposit’ testing back in the 1970s. They fired through a 20cm block of ballistics gel and chronographed the bullets just before entry and after exit from the block. They found that .38 Special 158 gr.RNL bullets deposited 25% of their energy in the block, and 148gr wadcutters deposited 63% of their energy in the block. There is a direct correlation between energy deposit and permanent wound cavity.

The RNL bullets started with about 200 ft-lbs. of energy and deposed 50 ft-lbs. in the block. Even though it started with only 158 ft.lbs the wadcutter deposited 99 ft-lbs. of energy- nearly twice as much as the more powerful RNL round. That pretty much settles the question on that score- wadcutters do more permanent damage than round-nose lead. The conventional wisdom holds true- as far as it goes.

This isn’t the 1970s though, and bullet design has come a long way. There are light-recoiling hollow point rounds that work very well from short-barreled guns these days and one might be well-advised to research them. Still, it’s kind of nice to know the old stand-by is always there if you need it… and they are a LOT less expensive than modern defensive ammo.

Tinker Pearce, 20 March 2017

Derringers: The Arms-Length Equalizer

People’s 150-year long love affair with Derringers shows no sign of slacking off anytime soon. I get it; derringers are neat-o. They conjure images of the wild west, riverboat gamblers and tough-as-nails Ladies of the Night (with hearts of gold.) Tuck it up your sleeve, in your vest pocket or a lady’s garter and they are nearly irresistible.

The original Deringers (with one ‘r’) were muzzle-loading, large-bore pocket pistols made by Henry Derringer Jr. from Philadelphia. You only got one shot, but that shot was a pretty good one. They required a fairly large pocket as well, ‘compact’ being a relative term. Some over-and-under guns were made as well. Early examples were flintlocks, and later models used percussion caps. These guns were widely copied, as were his name and proofs, and Henry spent much of his later life in court fighting trademark infringements.

The first really small single-shot pistols seem to have been invented roughly two minutes after the invention of rimfire cartridges (or pin-fire on the continent) and judging from the numbers and variety that were produced there was a large market for such pistols. The term ‘Derringer'(with two ‘r’s) was not broadly applied to such weapons until Remington introduced their iconic over-and-under in 1868. These days if you say Derringer this is the gun people think of.


This was chambered in .41 Rimfire, which had a .41 caliber 130-grain bullet loaded on top of 13 grains of black powder. Not exactly a powerhouse- this round reportedly left the Remington at around 425fps and produced around 52ft-lbs. of energy. This seems to have been sufficient however; the gun remained in production until WW2, and ammunition was still made well into the 1960s. You can still, if you hunt around, find new ammunition occasionally but be prepared to pay a steep price for it.

The Remington remains the derringer that everyone copies; the mechanism is simple and easy to produce. Meant for arms-length last-ditch self defense, people still sell scads of them. They seem to have settled into two camps- cheap and unreliable or really expensive and reliable. You can find a Cobra ‘big bore’ derringer for about $125 if you shop around, but experience has shown you might not want to bet your life on it. Higher end derringers like the Bond start at an eye-watering $499, but they are at least very well made. There isn’t much in between as far as I can tell.

So what do you get for your money? A gun as large as a pocket automatic pistol, that is single action and holds only two rounds. If you buy a cheap one the barrels may be only roughly pointed in the same direction, and it’s anyone’s guess if it will fire when you pull the trigger. If you go the expensive route you’ll have a solid gun that you can count on… but it will still be single-action and hold two shots. Oh, and very likely it will be solid stainless steel, and thus rather heavy.


So what, if any, are the advantages of a Derringer over a pocket-auto? One is caliber; you can anything from .22 RF to .45-70. Currently .45 Colt/.410 seems to be a popular option. With current pistol-oriented .410 loads this would make for a very potent ‘GET OFF ME’ gun. With longer barrels and larger handles available it’s easy to imagine the .45-70 in the role of a compact ‘Howdah’ pistol, but this isn’t really in the realm of traditional derringers.


I actually carried  Remington-pattern Derringer as a last-ditch back-up on duty. It was a Davis D32 .32 ACP derringer, and it rode in my right-front pants pocket. It cost me $69.99 brand new, had a cast zinc-alloy frame with steel barrel-liners. The upper barrel shot six-inches high/right at a somewhat optimistic seven yards, and the lower barrel shot a foot low and left. I eventually got to where I could put two hits center-mass (by knowing which barrel was going to fire and aiming accordingly) pretty promptly at that range. Shortly thereafter the gun started to experience light primer hits and became unreliable; putting several hundred rounds through it had stretched the frame. Arguably this is my fault; the gun is meant as a contact-distance self-defense weapon. Had I not actually tried to develop some sort of proficiency with it it could have served in that role indefinitely.

That’s what derringers as a class are really all about: extremely up-close and personal self-defense. If we disregard the cheap, unreliable guns as novelties or range-toys we’re left with some pretty expensive guns with grave limitations.  The $500 entry price (and they go way up from there) gets you a relatively large, relatively heavy gun that can be difficult to manipulate, inaccurate beyond point-blank range and only holds two shots. Like the original Deringer they can be two very potent shots, but still.

For that kind of money you can get a compact automatic in .32 ACP or .380 ACP that is easier to use and gives you three times as many shots. With modern ammunition those will be be pretty good at the point-blank self-defense role. They will also reload faster and put subsequent shots into at least the same postal-code.  In a rational world the derringer would have been left behind in the 19th century. So why are they still so popular? Because people’s decisions about firearms are not always rational. Derringers are cool, and for a lot of people that is reason enough. They don’t need to be the best possible solution because they are fun.

Then too the fact that there may be better options does not mean that they won’t do the job. With modern cartridges they will do the job better than the originals; even a .22 Magnum is going to be more effective than the .41 Rimfire. Ballistic tests have repeatedly shown that while they probably won’t expand they will penetrate deep enough to kill even from a very short barrel. Derringers are available in pretty much any service-caliber (though you might be out of luck in .357 Sig) so you can match it to the caliber of your main carry weapon.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule (or opinion!) I was recently at a gun store with a person buying their first pistol. I told him, “You do not want a derringer- but if you get one it should be one of these.” The gun I pointed at was a High Standard .22 Magnum.


These little guns were made for decades in .22 LR and .22 Magnum. There are quite compact, very flat and- most importantly- are double-action. Just grab-and-fire. The established method for using them is to lay your index finger along the side of the barrel and pull the trigger with your middle finger. Literally point-and-shoot. I found that even with very little training I could easily put two shots into the center of a target at two yards in under a second. While .22 Magnum might not be anyone’s ‘first-best’ choice for a self-defense cartridge taking a couple of them in the face is going to be pretty discouraging.

Another advantage is that the way the firing mechanism is designed they are one of the only rimfire guns that can safely be dry-fired, which is very useful for training. Price-wise they are the exception to the rule; neither very cheap or very expensive. Though currently not being made they tend to be available for around $300-$350, and they work well and are reliable. A local shop currently has several on-hand, and if I had the disposable income I would pick one up. Because, you know, derringers are cool.

The first, most important rule of a gun-fight is have a gun. There might arguably be better choices, but a derringer does meet that criteria, and sometimes it’s not practical to carry anything larger or more potent. Whether or not these technological relics have a legitimate place in modern self-defense we have made a place for them in our hearts, and for now that is sufficient to keep the breed alive and kicking… and did I mention Derringers are cool?

Tinker Pearce, 19 March 2017

S&W M1902 Redux

Prices on S&W revolvers have been climbing for years, with many models well out of my price range. I love their revolvers, so what’s a poor knife-maker to do? Look for guns others have given up on, of course.  The ones that aren’t pretty, aren’t collectible. If you are willing to lower the bar enough you can always afford something.

M1902- ugly finish, ugly grip = Bargain price

In that spirit Linda bought me the gun above for my Birthday. It’s a S&W m1902 M&P that has been… uh… let’s be charitable and call it ‘refinished.’ It looked like it had been bead-blasted before blueing. It sports a 6-1/2″ barrel and some seriously large Pachmyers. Neither the grips nor the finish suit the character of the gun, which was made in about 1909.

The thing is the bore and chambers are excellent and the double-action trigger pull is maybe the finest I’ve ever felt on a revolver. It shoots very, very well, and since the crude refinish ‘ruined it’ for collectors it was available for less than the price of some Model 10 Police trade-ins. So, what to do with an ugly gun? Refinish it, of course.

As an experiment I cleaned and polished the barrel, which was more of a job than anticipated because the gun had not been bead-blasted, but rather had apparently been ‘pickled’ in a caustic chemical. I re-blued the barrel with Van’s Instant Blue and checked the results, which were pretty nice if I do say so myself.

So I started by detail-stripping the gun. I do this over a terry-cloth towel so that small parts and screws are less likely to bounce, roll or otherwise escape. First things first as I removed all of the ancient crud from the mechanism. Presumably they at least partly dismantled the gun when they refinished it so the crud was probably not original, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Next i removed the blueing by buffing it with a sisal-wheel and Stainless Steel Back rouge. This gave me a good look at the surface finish of the gun for the first time. Ugh… covered with a fine network of pitting. I went to work with the polishing wheel, 400 grit sandpaper and several dowels wrapped in sandpaper. Once things were looking reasonably good it was back to the buffer.

This machine mounts two 14″ Sisal wheels and it’s aggressive as hell. Exceptional care needs to be taken to avoid washing-out lines and blurring edges. It’s also important to do this step with the side plate in place so that you don’t ‘roll’ the edges of the side plate.  I made no effort to entirely remove all the pitting, especially in highly detailed areas like the crane. After a few hours work the gun was ‘in the white’ and looking pretty good. Mind you I wasn’t going for a ‘like-new’ finish; more like ‘cherished antique.’ What might be referred to in automotive circles as a ‘sympathetic’ restoration.

After I had the look I desired I de-greased all the parts and washed them in acetone. I applied a coat of blueing, buffed it with 0000 steel wool, then rinse-and-repeat. I originally intended to go for a deep, rich blue but after a couple of coats of blueing I’d achieved a sort of antique-gray finish that I really liked, so I stopped there.


It was almost physically painful to put those neoprene grips back on so after a few days I hunted up some scrap walnut and made a new set of grips. Well… two sets, actually. The first ones didn’t work out well. The grips eventually came out pretty nice, and I decorated them with hand-cut square-top checkering. I wanted it to look DIY, and since that’s about the best I can manage at this point that worked out well.

The finished gun no has a very pleasing vintage appearance that I am quite happy with. I’m not entirely finished; after shooting it yesterday I think I would really like a T-grip style grip adapter. I really want to maintain a vintage appearance, and a t-grip does that a lot better than a modern-style target grip. I’m also on the lookout for a suitable piece of antler; I think it would look terrific with stag grips.


It’s very satisfying to restore an old gun like this. It allows me own guns I could not normally afford and it’s fun to give an old gun new life. With care this one could easily go another century…

Now it needs a proper holster…

PS: A little more work on the checkering and a grip-adapter. Much improved!


–Michael Tinker Pearce, 6 March, 2017