I’ve long admired the Colt Detective Special. Sized between the S&W J & K frames the Police Positive-based snubby seemed an excellent compromise between them for concealed carry. Unfortunately prices on these guns- never cheap- has skyrocketed in recent years with decent guns starting at around $700 and climbing from there. So when I encountered this example with the rare factory-installed hammer shroud in .32 Colt New Police (.32 S&W Long) for much less than that the hideous fake-stag Franzite grips did not even slow me down. Shut up and take my money! I consulted Linda, and as she had been recently hinting that it might be time to part with some of the guns I was less interested in we did a little horse trading and took this little beauty home.
According to Colt’s online database the gun’s serial number indicates that it was produced in 1949- remarkable, as aside from surprisingly modest holster-wear the original finish is in excellent condition. The double-action trigger pull is phenomenal, light and super-smooth. But how does it shoot?
To find out I loaded some ammo and trundled off to the range. The answer is it shoots fantastic. This target was shot at a one shot/second cadence at seven yards-
A second group at that range fired as fast as I could was only about twice this size. I’m deliriously happy with this gun. I’ll be on the lookout for a nice set of factory walnut grips and may add a T-grip adapter but other than that this gun will remain unmolested.
Naturally this was not the only gun that went with me today; a pair of home-grown single-shot .22s also went along for testing. Both had received new barrels made from a used stainless 10/22 barrel I picked up last year. In the case of the first gun, the TP22, I wanted a somewhat longer barrel. It shot pretty well, but my eyes are no longer playing well with the bead front sight; I definitely need new glasses this year. Still, this 7-yard target was not completely embarrassing, but I am loathe to adjust the sights until I can figure out if the seven-yard POI is me or the sights.
The second gun was my .22 Magnum. After finishing it I pretty quickly found myself tired of paying centerfire prices for non-reloadable rimfire ammunition, so I made a new barrel and reamed it for .22 LR. Not bad at all-
This target shot at seven yards with a 6 o’clock hold has the gun shooting pretty much to point of aim; more shooting will determine if thew drift to the right is me or the gun. Targets shot with each gun at 25 yards yielded well-centered 4-5″ groups so I am pretty sure it’s me. Need to tighten those up… I’ll work on that; I have plenty of .22 ammo and if practice doesn’t make perfect it certainly makes better.
Both guns functioned well, and empties were pretty easily flicked out with a fingernail. Some day I’ll make a gun with an extractor; maybe the .22 rolling-block carbine that I’m working on…
A note on the Detective Special- it was being sold at such a low price with the understanding that it has a ‘timing issue.’ If you thumb-cock the gun very slowly it will not quite lock until the hammer actually falls. This cannot be reproduced double-action and as for thumb-cocking you pretty much have to make it happen deliberately. Several people have since told me that this is not a defect and that almost all older double-action Colts behave this way. Maybe so, maybe not but either way it concerns me not at all.
The .22s were firing 40-year-old Sears store-brand ammo inherited from my Uncle Jim. It seems to be pretty good stuff actually and has not suffered noticeably after four decades.
The .32 was loaded with a 96gr. LRNFP bullet over 2.7gr of Red Dot. This load has been chronographed at 900-950 fps out of 4″ guns and it is significantly peppier than factory loads (excepting Buffalo Bore,) but recoil was still mild and as you can see accuracy is excellent. Still I would not recommend it for anything but good-quality solid-frame guns. I would not risk it in a top-break.
Not a long session at the range this afternoon, but overall very satisfactory.
Always on the lookout for a new and interesting way to molest a gun I was pretty excited when a friend that works in a gun shop back east reported that they has a .31 Colt reproduction going cheap- mainly because it had issues like a missing or broken cylinder stop and the trigger didn’t seem to be working. I have a couple feet of 5/16″ outside diameter .22 barrel liner lying around and a cunning plan to put it to use in a .31 Colt, so a quick phone call and it was on it’s way to my eager hands.
It arrived today and is is pretty much as advertised. The cylinder stop and trigger return spring are missing. Further examination found no proof marks of any kind. One side of the barrel is marked, ‘.31 Caliber Black Powder Only.’ The other is marked ‘Made in Italy.
Finish is crude in the extreme- there are tooling marks, the cast brass grip-frame is completely unfinished and the wood handle isn’t even close to being fitted to the frame. The finish- and I use the term loosely- appears to be very thin nickel that may have been applied with a garden rake. Sanding marks are plainly visible through it and it is worn away in many places.
When the barrel was held up to the light is was solid black inside with no sign of rifling or anything else but gunk. Without much hope I ran a wire-brush dipped in Hoppe’s #9 powder solvent down the bore and scrubbed a bit. It actually pushed a quantity of black dust out of the barrel, and when I looked again I could see rifling. Some patches later and the bore was gleaming and pristine! Running patches into the chambers produces mild rust stains and nothing else. Examining the nipples the are blued and in perfect condition- it has never been fired.
So how to explain the unfinished and missing parts, the fact that it has never been fired and the crude finished? It seems obvious to me- this was a kit that someone simply threw together without any attempt to finish it, and they left some parts off. Perhaps this was used as a child’s toy or for costuming; the right-hand side of the grip has ‘CJ’ scratched into it with 16 notches.
The gun sports a six-inch barrel currently and is complete but for the two parts- which can be had from Dixie Gun Works for $20 total + shipping. The actual parts are for an Uberti, but if the don’t fit I can likely modify them to, or at worst use them as a model to fabricate new ones.
The pristine bore almost convinced me to do a .32 S&W conversion, but I’m not all that sanguine about trusting the cylinder with that. No, .22 LR it is. I’ll get the parts ordered and proceed from there. Of course once the mechanicals are sorted I’ll do the conversion, then a complete finish/refinish. Might take some time to get to this one, but it should be interesting… Naturally I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve made a Percussion version of the Pug for a buddy and discovered that my First Konverter would drop right in so I decided to test-fire it and my new Remington project. Since the recoil-shield is not cut to load cartridges on either gun it was necessary to remove the cylinder to load and unload, but that’s really not that much of a pain.
The Pug performed flawlessly, firing a little low and left. This will be easily rectified; I won’t even need to remove the sight to do it. Another member of the range, Pat, Also fired it. He loved it- had an ear-to-ear grin, and loved the feel of the gun.
The new Remington did not do quite so well, not the least because I forgot I had not yet mounted a front sight… oops! Even so it was no real problem to keep the lead on the paper at five yards. The real problem was that the latch on the longer loading lever was not up to holding the lever against recoil and it dropped as seen in the photo. I will need to redo it with a more robust system. Oh well, live and learn, eh?
So, a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly good. I very much enjoyed shooting both guns. I’m really looking forward to wrapping up these projects. Now if Grizzly Industrial would just get the damn drive-belt for my lathe to me…
Seriously, I am pissed at them. They held up my order because I had not updated my tax-exempt status- despite the fact that it was a taxable purchase and I had paid tax on it! Morons. It’s straightened out now and the belt will arrive next week. Oh well. Not much to be done except spread the word.
The load used to test these guns was my go-to .45 Colt load- a 200gr. LRNFP over 9.0gr. of Unique with a CCI large pistol primer.
The other day at Pintos I picked up some .361-caliber 150gr. LSWCs and a bottle of Trail Boss powder for a project-gun (which will be a whole other series of posts.) Naturally I needed a new load for the 150gr. bullets in the .38 S&W. Why not try the Trail Boss?
How about because there is no published load data for Trail Boss in this caliber? Hmmm… Researching around there was a fellow who spoke highly of 2.7gr. of Trail Boss for this bullet. OK, we’ll try that and see how it goes.
Off to Champion arms to try that out. How it goes is both good and bad. The load is great- they’ve got some real pop, recoil is reasonable and accuracy is good- though honestly I was testing the load more than going for precision. Seven yards fired at a brisk pace-
That’s the good- the bad is that most of the rounds wouldn’t chamber fully. I use .38 Special/.357 Magnum dies to reload this cartridge, and with the .361 bullets it tends to push up a ring of lead at the lip of the cartridge which catches the inside of the chamber and doesn’t allow the bullet to seat properly in the chamber. It wasn’t much of a hassle to scrape them off with a thumbnail and get them to work, but who wants to do that at the range? I need to get proper .38 S&W dies. Thumbs up to Trail Boss, thumbs down to my reloading.
The other thing that I wanted to test was The Outlaw .45. I installed a gated Kirst Konverter the other week and the breech ring did not fit precisely and would occasionally jam the mechanism up, particularly on loading. Not blaming Kirst; this is an older gun and specs change over the years. It wasn’t a big gap, so I took a piece of razor-blade and soldered it to the base of the breech-ring. That took out the slop and seemed to cure the problem. But would it hold up to firing? Yes. Yes it would.
As far as firing The Outlaw went it was good news/bad news again. Nicely accurate, but shooting very high. At seven yards, fired at a brisk place-
Pretty happy with that, so I decided to try it at 25 yards. This meant I had to aim well below the target, so consistency was problematic-
The two shots I pulled off to the left were totally my fault. That sucks because I was looking at a pretty good group there otherwise! I need to adjust the sights and get some practice in since this might be my ‘pucker-brush gun’ this deer season. I’ve got a private property locked down for opening weekend, and a lot of it is dense brush where 5-15 yard shots are the norm. I’m quite sure my load will be adequate for the local Black-tails; they aren’t very large.
The loads used today-
.38 S&W: 150gr. LSWC over 2.7gr. Trail Boss with a CCI500 primer. This load has some pop to it- I would hesitate to use it in a lesser quality gun. I’m considering backing it off to 2.5gr.
.45 Colt: 200gr. LRNFP over 9.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer. This is my tried-and-true .45 Colt load. It’s been great in everything I have shot it in- reasonable recoil, accurate and reliable.
So, a good productive morning at the range and directions to proceed. Fun too of course.
Most people are aware that modern .38s aren’t .38″ In diameter. They are .357″ or so, closer to a .36 caliber. Fewer people know that a .36 caliber cap-and-ball revolver has a nominal bore diameter of .375″. So .38s are really .36s, and .36s are really .38s. Confused? You should be- it’s confusing. Most don’t know how this screwed-up state of affairs came about. Here’s how it happened as near as I can reconstruct it-
Let’s start with the muzzle loaders. Typically a muzzle-loader used a slightly smaller ball than the bore, with the difference being made up by the patch. If you were shooting a .38-caliber muzzle loader these balls were often in the neighborhood of .36 caliber.
Colonel Colt decided to make a medium-caliber revolver, which was introduced in 1851. He called it a .36, because that was the diameter of bullets that a muzzle-loader of .38 caliber used. Except since you didn’t use a patch the bullet needed to be .38 caliber. Why didn’t he just call it the 1851 Navy .38? Who knows? Maybe the thought was that if he called it a .38 people would try to load it with .36-caliber balls. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either, but it set the stage for 150 years of confusion.
When Colt and others began to make cartridge-conversion revolvers the madness abated briefly. The two flavors introduced for these were .38 Rimfire and .38 Colt. In both cases actual .38-caliber bullets were used, but these were heel-base bullets with the base rebated to fit into a case the same diameter as the bullet (the only common uses of this type of bullet today are .22 Short and .22 LR.) The inside diameter of these cases was about .36-caliber.
These cartridges using heel-base bullets were not an ideal solution as the lubricating band was outside of the cartridge-case and could pick up dust and debris. The solution was to place the bullet entirely inside the cartridge-case. That way the lubrication was protected against dirt or being inadvertently wiped away. In the case of .38 calibers this meant that you moved to a .36 diameter bullet. Of course you made your revolver with a .36-caliber bore for the smaller bullet.
So why continue to call it a .38? Marketing, I suspect. People were used to buying .38 ammo- easier to just keep calling it that. Besides, maybe .38 sounded more potent than .36 and it made a clear separation between new cartridge guns and the older Cap-and-ball guns. We can only speculate as they didn’t write down their reasoning.
The .38s aren’t alone of course; the original .44 Colt was .45 caliber to match the .451-.454 diameter bore of cap-and-ball revolvers. No, we don’t know why these were called .44s. Presumably the same sort of reasoning that originally led them to call a .38 a .36. Likewise .44s are .43-caliber. .32s are .31 Caliber. Bullets for.30-calibers are .31. Yeah, it’s kinda’ confusing- and dumb.
The bad part of it is we’re still doing it. .460 S&W Magnum? Yeah, it’s .45 caliber. Federal’s .327 Magnum uses .312″ bullets, being named I presume to distinguish it from .32 H&R Magnum and make an association with .357 Magnum. I guess we can’t look for a sudden burst of rationality from ammunition manufacturers at this late date…
Linda bought me a ‘cute’ little gun as a present a couple years back; I think she paid $100 for it. Turns out it was a S&W .32 Double Action 4th Model. Good mechanically, but rough. I bought a box of Remington ammo- mugawd that stuff is expensive- and tried it out. Everything worked and the trigger was typical old S&W- heavy but glass smooth- but the tiny grip was well-nigh impossible for me. Worse yet even with the front sight pare down to a nub the gun shot 8-10″ low at seven yards. There was some pitting in the bore near the muzzle, but nothing that would account for this! I suspected the barrel was bent, but didn’t bother to measure it. Given the cost of ammo I just consigned it to ‘conversion-piece’ status.
Of course I can’t leave anything alone, and I had already shortened the barrels of a couple of guns, so I bobbed it at 1-5/8″ to match the Steampunk Snubby. I also carefully stripped the nickel finish- which was not in good condition- and blued it with Van’s Instant Blue. That being done I made an ergonomic grip for it so that I can actually shoot it. I went through a couple front sights before I got it hitting the way that I want to, and once I had started reloading I came up with a load that performs well in this little gun.
When I showed Linda the modified gun she said, “That’s a cute little critter!” Since then I’ve always thought of it as The Critter.
This gun is really small; it’s not a lot larger than many pocket .25 or .22 autos, and I started dropping it in my back pocket when I was going out to the workshop or yard. It may be a little critter but it’s also a ‘critter- git’r; a Norway Rat in the back yard was dispatched handily at 8 yards with a single shot. Since this and other guns were wearing holes in my jeans I made a pocket-holster for it. It’s rough-out top-grain leather and holds the gun securely without it being really difficult to draw.
With the new grip and sight the gun is remarkably easy to shoot well, despite the microscopic sights and uber-short 2-1/8′ sight radius. This is in part because the sights are so close together that they are in the same focal-plane, which works well with my old eyes. Rapid-fire groups at seven yards? Not a problem!
For those interested the load I use is a 96gr. LRBFP over 2.0gr. of Red Dot with a CI 500 primer. This gun handles the load very well; I’m not sure how lesser-quality guns would handle it.
So thanks to a bit of work (and a reloading press!) a gun once consigned to the junk-pile of history has a new life as one of my favorite guns.
The plan was to chamber the reworked and lined cylinder in .38 Special and reline the bore of whatever gun it ends up in to match. I felt no particular urgency about this; after all I already have a Richards-Mason conversion in .38 Special.
Saturday I was visiting my buddy Ernie; he had some .44 Special brass for me for another project, and of course he had to catch me up on what he’d been doing. In the course of this we were discussing chamber reamers and other tools and it hit me- the barrel-liner Linda bought me from Numerich Arms was labelled ‘9mm/.38/.357. My friend just happened to have a 9mm chamber reamer… Why yes, he would be happy to loan it to me.
Saturday was busy and today we were away all day. Tonight was the season-ending episode of Game of Thrones, and after we watched it I was raring to go. Fearing that tomorrow I would be distracted from paying work I went into the shop to bore the cylinder for 9mm. I set up the drill press carefully and selected an appropriate speed for the reamer and got starting. A few minutes and plenty of cutting fluid later the first chamber was reamed. I set the plunge of the drill-press based on that chamber and did the remaining five. In about 45 minutes I had a 9mm cylinder for a Pietta revolver!
Since I am making the back-plate myself and get to choose the thickness of it I reamed the chambers so the cartridge bases would be flush with the back of the cylinder.
I’m not going to be an idiot about this; I really don’t know how strong the relined chambers are. I reload 9mm so I am going to start with very light loads and work my way up. The goal will be to wind up with a standard-pressure load that will cycle our 9mm semi-autos without being anywhere near ‘hot.’ I am not going to trust it to handle +P ammunition. Once the breech-plate and firing pin are in place I plan to drill small, shallow holes between the rims so the cylinder can be set between chambers to allow the gun to be carried hammer-down safely with all six chambers loaded.
This is the first time I’ve used a proper chamber-reamer, but the Brownell’s finishing reamer worked a treat. I’m very pleased with the progress on this project! I still have four inches of liner ready to go to sleeve the barrel. Now all I need is a Pietta .44 donor gun to work on the next stages.
We’re all gun enthusiasts here, but most of us aren’t into every conceivable sort of gun, hunting or shooting sport. You can be forgiven if you don’t understand or have misconceptions; I am not trying to talk down to anyone here, just educate.
First let’s talk about gunpowder. If there isn’t enough for the volume behind the bullet dangerous conditions can occur. Normally gunpowder ignites from the rear and combustion progresses from back to front, allowing pressure to build gradually and fairly uniformly. Whether it’s black powder or smokeless it’s pretty much the same. But if there is too much room behind the bullet you can get flashover. This is when the fire of ignition passes over the powder and ignites a much greater percentage of the powder much more quickly, causing pressure to spike almost instantly and sometimes reach unsafe levels. This is called ‘detonation’ and it can cause the cylinder to fail. Steel is tough, but it has elastic limits, which includes how fast it can expand or resist pressure. How bad this is likely to be depends on how fast-burning the powder is; Black powder burns super-fast (if inefficiently) but in smokeless powders it’s the slow-burners that will get you.
This is more of a danger with Black Powder because black powder is classified as an explosive. This means it ignites very easily and burns very, very fast. This is why you always use a compressed load of black powder; either by using enough powder that you need to compress it by seating the bullet or by using a filler to insure that the powder is under compression. While it is rare with modern metallic cartridges and smokeless powder it can still happen, particularly with small loads of slow-burning powders in (relatively) large cases.
This leads to another issue; many people feel it is unsafe to use smokeless powder in cartridges designed for black powder firearms. It is and it isn’t, so let’s talk about that. Black powder is pretty inefficient stuff. It takes a lot of it to produce a desirable velocity. This means that cartridge cases tended to be just the right size so you could load the proper volume of powder and compress it. Smokeless powders are much more efficient so a lot less of them is used. The thing is that black powder is loaded by volume and smokeless powders are loaded by weight, and this distinction was lost on many reloaders at the dawn of the smokeless era. If you made the mistake of measuring smokeless powder by volume you were probably going to blow up your gun.
When the transition to smokeless powder was made they formulated loads that worked in existing guns. I hear concerns about the excessive pressure and how fast the pressure builds with smokeless powders, but if you use the correct amount of powder this isn’t an issue. Use the correct smaller amount and you’ll get the same pressure as black powder, and pressure is what provides propulsive force. As to how fast that pressure builds no smokeless powder I am aware of burns as fast as black powder, but that does not mean they don’t build up pressure as fast or faster, so caution is called for. They are after all much, much more efficient than black powder. Many of the same powders that were used at the time when they were transitioning to smokeless are still readily available and can be a good place to start. Unique, for example, has proven a good smokeless powder for many black powder cartridges. Red Dot functions well in cases with a smaller capacity, like .32 S&W. Red Dot was scientifically tested a while back, and it has a nearly identical chamber and down-bore pressures as black powder. Of course you use a lot less of it.
The condition and safety of the gun is paramount, not which flavor of propellant you use. Of course any antique firearm should be thoroughly examined by a gunsmith or other qualified person before being fired, and if you value your old guns you’ll keep to mild loads to avoid accelerated wear.
In no small part because of Cowboy Action Shooting all styles of Western-style single-action revolvers have been enjoying a renaissance, including cartridge-conversion guns. With the expiration of S&Ws monopoly on bored-through cylinders Colt was eager to get into the game. They also had literally tons of parts for their cap-and-ball guns, so they did what gunsmiths had already been doing for a few years- they built cap-and-ball guns modified to fire cartridges. There was just enough room to bore through the cylinder of a .44 for a modestly powered cartridge, and shortly thereafter they produced the open-top, which was a purpose built gun rather than a conversion, though it used some components from the earlier guns.
These guns remained popular long after the introduction of the 1873 Single Action Army, in no small part because of the price. A Peacemaker would run you $25, but a Richards-Mason navy conversion revolver would only set you back $5.
There are two ways to get a cartridge-conversion revolver. Nowadays both Taylors and Cimarron offer reproductions of these guns made by Pietta and Uberti in Italy. These are modern, new production firearms and carry no restrictions as to ammunition. They ought to be safe with any standard-pressure ammunition in their caliber, though it would be wise to refrain from using +P ammunition, which will accelerate wear; the open-top frame isn’t the strongest of designs.
The other way to get one is to purchase a cartridge conversion from Kirst or Howells. Both are available as either a replacement cylinder or a gated conversion that requires modification to the frame of the gun. Cap-and-ball revolvers are not made to the same standards as modern cartridge revolvers, but the metallurgy is doubtless at least as good and probably better than the originals. Both Kirst and Howell’s recommend low-pressure ‘cowboy’ loads with lead bullets only. This isn’t because you are likely to blow up the cylinders; these are well constructed modern products. The concern is accelerated wear; quality of reproduction revolvers can vary- best to err on the side of caution.
Both manufacturers state that you should not mount their conversion cylinders in brass-framed revolvers. Most knowledgeable shooters recommend shooting modest loads in these guns, and this is for the same reason that the cylinder manufacturers say not to use them. Brass is much softer than iron or steel, and heavier loads will stretch the frame over time and render the revolver inoperative; sooner or later the frame will stretch enough that the hammer will no longer strike the cap with sufficient force to ignite them, and this is hard to fix. Again, the danger is not so much that the gun will blow up; after all the parts that contain the pressure of firing are steel. It’s the parts that hold them together are the weak link.
Do your own research, educate yourself and proceed with caution and intelligence. There’s a lot of fun to be had with cap-and-ball guns, conversions and antique firearms. With a little common-sense you can have that fun safely- and for a long time.
Having just competed The Outlaw I was left with a cap-and-ball cylinder I had no use for and a metal lathe that was doing nothing particular at that moment. Hmmm… I wonder if I can bore this out to shoot the original .44 Colt?* I pulled the nipples, chucked up the cylinder and turned down the back around the ratchet so it would fit the gated ring that came with the Kirst Konverter. Well, that’s what I meant to do… It actually came out a bit small. No matter, I can always make a pass-through breech plate.
Rummaging around in Uncle Jim’s tool box I came up with a .450 drill bit. I set up the milling vice in the drill press, grabbed the cutting fluid and away I went. No real issues drilling out the soft steel cylinder- until I discovered it had broken through the base of the cylinder lock notch.
Oh dear… well, nothing ventured, nothing gained and it’s not like I was going to use it… Fast forward to this morning. We had electricians running power in for the milling machine (finally!) so I was very limited in what sort of work I could do. I finished the few odds and ends I could manage without interfering with the workers and had a smoke while I contemplated what to do next. My eye fell on the ruined cylinder and something occurred to me- while I couldn’t cut chambers for .44 Colt that wasn’t the only caliber in the world. As it happened there was 16″ of .357 barrel-liner lying on the bench that I had been wondering what to do with. A barrel liner that just happened to have a nominal outside diameter of .444″.
The drill press wouldn’t produce dust and since it is in the corner opposite where the electricians were working I could see no reason not to bore out another chamber or five. Thirty minutes and a half-cup of cutting fluid later all six chambers were bored through, and yep-every one of them broke through the locking notch. No matter. Off to the bandsaw (which was only a little bit in the way) to cut a two-inch section of barrel-liner. With the help of a handy hammer and an immoderate amount of pounding I was able to get the liner into one of the chambers.
Success! I trimmed off the excess and repeated the process five more times. Now I had a cylinder with six lined chambers. Uh… rifled chambers. Yeah, that’s not right. Back to the drill-press. I bored all six chambers with a .355″ drill, dressed the front of the cylinder and with some judicious filing got the back fixed up. Sweat in some silver solder, dress the back of the cylinder and it’ll ready for the chamber reamer!
OK, some of those holes aren’t perfectly straight, which was some concern to me until I measure a couple of cylinders I have lying around and found they were pretty damn close to what the factory produced. Certainly they will line up with the forcing cone well enough, and I happen to have a buddy with a forcing-cone reamer who lives nearby.
Those of you acquainted with basic math will note that I still have 4″ of barrel liner left, so if I happen across a Pietta .44 or .36 yearning to be a short-barreled cartridge conversion I’m all set. Next I need to make the base-plate. This will have a simple pass-through rather than an actual gate. No point in pushing it… this time.
*Modern .44 Colt uses a .429 diameter bullet and will not work in a .44 cartridge conversion. Like the originals .44 C&B reproductions are actually .45 Caliber with a .451-.454 bore. The original .44 Colt used a .451 heeled bullet with the same outside diameter at the front as the cartridge case and a .430 heeled base. Sort of like a .22 on steroids.
I posted Phase 1 of this build several months ago, but I thought I’d save you the trouble of looking it up so I’ve included that post in this one.
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:
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 32oz. it’s still not exactly a light-weight. A good thing, that; .45 Colt isn’t exactly a powderpuff, even with loads limited to less than 1000 fps.
The above was posted back in April and it’s now August. Last Thursday the Gated Kirst Konverter arrived, and I immediately mounted it.
I had to shorten the forcing cone slightly, but that was the work of seconds. Once that was set it was time to address the loading-groove in the frame. On the Remington converter Kirst specified using a 5/8″ sanding drum on a Dremel tool, but I have a 5/8″ contact wheel for my Bader BIII belt grinder. Much quicker! I ground first with a 60-grit belt, then used a 400-grit to clean it up. I applied Van’s Instant Blue to the hot metal and it took very nicely-
After carefully de-burring where the cylinder’s pawl is exposed I fitted the new conversion. It works a treat except…
The converter ring can move very slightly sideways when the gate is open, and this causes the cylinder to bind if you aren’t careful. If you bear that in mind it’s still easy to make things work for loading and unloading, but it’s a little disappointing. I think I have a fix for it however, so it’s not a big deal.
The standard load for .45 Colt has an overall length of 1.6″, but this cylinder is shorter than a normal cylinder and they recommend loading to 1.58″ to allow the cylinder to rotate freely. I used my usual load, a 200gr. LRNFP over 9.0 gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer, but I loaded them to an overall length of 1.45″. Yes, I could have used Schofield brass, but why when I have all of this .45 Colt brass lying around?
With the gun finished and ammo on-hand it was time to try it out with a quick trip to Champion Arms indoor range. Recoil is sharpish but it doesn’t beat you up. The shape of the modified grip-frame works a treat at managing the recoil. Here’s footage of me shooting at ten yards, followed by the target:
As you can see in the video muzzle-flip isn’t excessive, and accuracy is fine. The only issue is that after 75 rounds or so the loading-gate hinge-screw backed out enough to block the cylinder from turning. Easy fix- pop the wedge, remover the converter and tighten the screw, but I called it a day and headed home where I had better tools. Needs some Loctite, obviously.
I really enjoy shooting this gun and am quite happy with how it has come out. I originally contemplated fitting an ejector but generally the brass will fall free with a little coaxing, and using a cleaning rod to clear the empties is no problem. Speed reloads was never going to be a thing with this gun anyway…
So, is it finished? Well, yes and no. See, I now had this cap-and-ball cylinder that I don’t need, and I have a metal-lathe…
I’ve removed the nipples and turned down the back of the cylinder to work with the Converter ring, and plan to bore-through the cylinders for .450 Adams (if there is enough room for the cartridge) or .44 Colt (Original, using heeled bullets) if there isn’t. Needless to say if this works I will be very cautious about working up loads for it…
I turned the back down a little too much, so likely I’ll make my own backplate with a loading slot but no gate. If it works I’ll have two converters for this gun- or a spare converter for another gun…