Dr.Watson, Your Revolver is Here!

Some (most?) of you may be unaware that my wife and I are novelists. A couple of years back Linda had a character that was enamored of the trappings of the Victorian Era and a Sherlock Holmes fan. Linda asked me what sort of gun she would have and I responded, “A Webley RIC. that was DR.Watson’s gun.”

These were a solid-frame fixed-cylinder gun double-action revolver, often with a short barrel. In 1868 they were adopted by the Royal Irish Constabulary, giving the gun it’s name- RIC.   These were initially available in .442 Webley, but were later offered in .450. In 1883 the model was given a longer, fluted cylinder and other minor improvements.

This month is my birthday, and in honor of the occasion Linda bought me an RIC in .450 Adams.  She found it on Gunbroker and paid far less than these revolvers usually go for.

The gun is in quite good condition mechanically, and has all of the proper proofs, markings, and with matching serial numbers.  Mechanically it is in in good shape; the lock-up would do credit to a brand-new revolver. the trigger is not light, but it is not too heavy and is extremely smooth. The chambers are in excellent condition, and the bore is not bad. The one-piece Walnut grip fits my hand like it was made for it, and the gun points very naturally.

This is a Model 83 (obviously) and after careful examination- and cleaning 130 years of gunk out of the works- there was no obvious reason not to fire it. As I already reload .450 Adams this was not a problem.

…except it was. Event though I had thinned the rims of my brass down for the British lion revolver many of them were not thin enough. I made a new run of brass with thinner rims and loaded them up and we were off to the range.

The gun is a good shooter with it’s smooth pull and unusually good sights for a gun of it’s age. The new ammo worked but the gun experience malfunctions where it would not rotate the cylinder on it’s own. Presenting any resistance to the cylinder (which some of the cartridges did) could cause this. Typically this would be a symptom of a weak hand spring, a common failing on old guns and relatively easy to fix. (The hand is the piece that pushes on the ratchet on the back of the cylinder to make it rotate.)

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Fired quickly at five yards

I had the British Lion bulldog along, and two new loads to try out- both used the 200gr. RNL bullet and Unique powder. One load used 3.2gr and the other 4.0gr, and both had a heavy roll-crimp. Loads were test-fired in the British Lion first, then in the RIC.

The 3.2gr. load worked fine, but was a bit lackluster. The 4.0gr. load was the real deal, with an authoritative bark and notably more recoil. Not in any way unpleasant, mind you- and this load shot closest to point of aim. I think this load closely replicates the original load and later cordite loads, but really this is just an educated guess.

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The Webley RIC (top) and the British Lion

Altogether a satisfactory outing; both weapons shot well, we’d found a good load to use in the weapons and the only issue was an easy fix. Yeah, sure it was.

The next afternoon I got the Webley apart and examined the hand-spring. Huh… it looked fine and seemed to be doing it’s job. I reassembled the gun and checked by applying light resistance to the cylinder- only two of the chambers were a problem. OK, the malfunction is happening because the hand is failing to engage. The tip of the hand seems nice and sharp, so… yep.  Two of the teeth on the sprocket are slightly rolled over at the top. Empty and with no resistance it works fine- apply resistance and the hand slips. The conventional solution would be to weld up the sprocket and re-cut the teeth. I can’t do that. Another solution would be to cut the teeth deeper to allow more engagement.

OK then- deepening the teeth won’t prevent it from being welded and re-cut if need be, so I decided to try that. Using a 1.5mm conical carbide burr in my engraver ( which spins it at 400,000 rpm) and some magnifying lenses I carefully went to work. Nerve wracking, but not particularly difficult.   Shortly I remounted the cylinder and tried it. All chambers now rotated, even against resistance. Success!

So I loaded some of my homespun brass for a function check… and those two cylinders were once again a problem. Took the brass out, no problem. Put it back in- problem. Hmmm… I had some original balloon-head cartridges, so I got them out and examined them. The rim is much thinner than my home-spun brass. I put them in the cylinder for a function-check- no problems. I put my own brass back in and, with the aid of a powerful flashlight, determined that the hand was hitting the thick cartridge rims, which raised it just enough to keep it from engaging on the dodgey ratchet teeth. Eureka! I just needed thinner rims.

Except that the rims were already so thin I had to be careful not to bend them using the hand-primer. Bugger.  Linda the research goddess rode once again to the rescue. She found new .450 brass and reloading dies at Buffalo Arms, which are winging their way to my door as I write this. Hopefully this will remove any issues… at least until I decide it’s time to have the job done properly by, you know, someone that actually knows what they are doing.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 June 2018

 

 

 

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Concealed Carry Decision.

I find that I am carrying outside the home a lot more these days, and the venerable S&W .38 DASH is occasionally feeling a little… light. A 5 shot .380 equivalent. Yes, it will take a J-frame speedloader, but I mostly carry a single speed-strip.
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Yeah, I’ve occasionally packed my 1911A1 or other, um, less practical (arguably goofy) choices, but usually I just drop the old Smith in it’s pocket holster and go. It’s easy and comfortable, and while it may lack power I can put rounds where I want them in a surprising hurry. But still…
A deciding factor was that Linda has said she really wishes I would carry something a bit more potent. Now when it comes to carry guns I suffer from an embarrassment of riches. But most of them are revolvers, and most of them are even less practical than the old Smith. They are also oddball enough that they might raise serious questions in the mind of a Prosecuting attorney. Like if I was trying to live out some bizarre fantasy, for example.
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It was a major struggle not to pick my Detective Special, but again, the caliber leaves something to be desired- It’s a .32 S&W long. My reloads are pretty stout and I have no doubt they posses adequate penetration but they are non-expanding SWCs. The Fitz Special is a purpose built carry gun and will handle +P loads all day long (Colt said at the time the original gun was issued that it could handle .38-44 loads.) I also shoot it quite well, but again it’s esoteric enough that it might bring my motivation into question in the unlikely event that I needed to use it. Also I have to admit the cut-away trigger-guard gives me pause…

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So, something in a potent caliber. Something practical, easy to reload, a gun that I shoot well and am comfortable with. Ideally something not too large. “Something semi-automatic,” Linda suggested. “Preferably something we don’t have to buy…” OK, that narrows it down… In the end it came to two choices:

Carry choices

The top gun is a Para-Ordinance LDA .45. The other is Linda’s Kahr E9 (which she loves but never carries.)  Both guns are single-stacks with semi-DA triggers.  Both are flawlessly reliable and easy to shoot fast and accurately. Their footprints are virtually identical.  But for all of their similarity they are very different guns.

The .45 is heavier, but not enough to bother me. It has a shorter, lighter trigger pull and a manual safety.  Importantly it has the hard-wired manual-of arms of the 1911. I like the big, soft shove of .45 ACP recoil, and in this gun the combination of the bull-barrel, multi-spring recoil system and the short, high-velocity slide-stroke brings double taps in on target in a way you wouldn’t expect unless you were familiar with Detonics Combatmasters. It only carries 6+1, but a pair of ten-round mags will help that right along.

The Kahr adds two rounds to the .45’s 6+1, and I have no issues with a 9mm with modern defensive ammunition. The sleeker profile allows me to get three fingers on the handle, and the wrap-around rubber grip is very comfortable and secure. The alloy frame makes it noticeably lighter- though the weight is not a deal-breaker. The trigger pull is longer but it’s like a super-light, super-smooth revolver trigger. So much so that double taps are no problem. As familiar as I am with revolvers these days the long reset bothers me not at all. Our spare mags hold 8 and 9 rounds, so the overall count is basically the same.

Both guns have a lot going for them, and I was having a hard time choosing…

“Carry them both,” Linda said.

“That seems a bit excessive,” I said.

“Not at the same time, you muppet! Alternate until you decide.”

Oh. Uh, OK.

Don’t get me wrong- the venerable Smith will remain on pocket-drop duty, and I’ll undoubtedly throw a revolver of one sort or another into the mix now and again as the mood takes me. I expect though that I will find myself carrying one of these guns more than the other and the decision as to my primary EDC will be made.

In the meantime I guess I had better get busy making some holsters and mag-pouches…

 

Michael Tinker Pearce  4 June 2018

.450 Boxer

This is reprinted from a Facebook post.  It’s a bit repetitive/redundant here, but I want to document the process.
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My latest reloading adventure has been .450 Boxer/ .450 Adams (also known as .450 Corto, .450 Colt and .45 Webley. In 1868 this became the first metallic cartridge to be officially adopted by the British Military. Even at the time of it’s adoption it was acknowledged to be somewhat under-powered, but it was felt that it’s logistic advantages offset this. It was replaced in service in 1880, but remained a ‘second standard’ issue item through WW2.
 
The standard load for this was a 225gr. RNL bullet over 13gr. of FFFFg powder. This gave a velocity in the neighborhood of 700 fps. in a service-length gun- rather less in the compact ‘Bulldog’ style guns it was commonly used in. For that application- police and civilian self-defense- the cartridge was viewed as quite satisfactory and it was widely used throughout the latter half of the 19th and well into the 20th C. in small concealable revolvers. Since the early 20th C. it has been loaded with smokeless powder.
 
This cartridge is now almost entirely out of production, though Fiocchi seems to still do a run of it occasionally, packaged as .450 Corto. There have been reports that this ammunition has been unreliable, resulting in damage to some guns. It is usually advised to view this ammunition as a source of primed brass- pull the bullets and reload it.
 
I planned from the first to ‘roll my own,’ so the first hurdle was brass. I was able to look up the cartridge dimensions and the rim thickness. I started with .45 Colt brass. The first thing was to grind off the headstamp on de-primed brass. This left a rtim approximately .040″. I had intended to use a primer-pocket reamer to deepen the primer pocket, but this proved unnecessary. Then I shortened the brass to an overall length of 17mm.
 
For bullets I first turned to my standby, a 200gr. RNFP lead. But what to do for a load? All I could find were black powder loads, which were all basically the same. I decided to try Trail Boss, which is designed for mild loads in black-powder cartridges. It has a high volume-to-weight ratio, so it’s difficult to dangerously overload a cartridge. Following the manufacturer’s recommended methodology for developing a load- which amounts to filling the case to the base of the loaded bullet, measuring that and them backing off a little to start. This yielded a load of 2.0 gr. of Trail Boss. Huh.
 
I was a little dubious but took them to the range for a trial, firing them out of a SAA clone. There was virtually no recoil and ignition was somewhat inconsistent; there were a few rounds that went *Pamph!* rather than *bang* and scattered some un-burned powder, but everything cleared the barrel and went downrange. Accuracy was reasonable and none of the bullets key-holed.
 
For the second trial I used the same load, but this time with a heavy roll-crimp. This made a difference- ignition was consistent, the report was notably louder and sharper and recoil was noticeably increased (though still mild.)
 
The gun I was loading for arrived along with a couple of hundred 200gr. Hollow-base RNL and some brass, so I loaded these over 2.0gr of Trail Boss with a CCI 300 Large Pistol Primer, again with a heavy roll-crimp. When fired from the antique Bulldog revolver these performed quite satisfactorily as a range load.
 
I have to guess at the velocity as I do not have a chronograph, but I know that the paper targets I am using tear when hit with projectiles travelling less than 500 fps. Even before using the roll-crimp that wasn’t happening with these loads. I am guessing that I am currently getting 550 fps. or so.
 
They fly straight, they are reasonably accurate and they all get out the barrel, which is good enough for a range load for an antique gun.
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I’m also going to work up some loads using Unique and Red Dot- but very, very carefully! I’ll let you know how that goes.

Range Report, 25 May 2018

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Not a great night out for the .38 conversions…

First up was testing the two .38 S&W conversion revolvers, and it was not a great success. Goldie, the brass-framed gun, fired a cylinder-full as nice as you please. It was her first-ever firing so I had no expectations. Despite two key-holed bullets I was pleased enough…

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…but on the second cylinder she locked up tight. With no tools on hand there was nothing for it but to retire her for the evening. I have no idea what is happening, but it has something to do with the breech-plate.  The other gun was doing fine- but after four shots it launched it’s firing-pin. Totally my fault, too; I apparently did not stake it in adequately.  OK then, moving on.

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Last time out the Forehand & Wadsworth British Bulldog .38 was spitting lead from the cylinder-gap. Spitting is a nasty habit and naturally I wanted to correct the little guy’s manners. I accomplished this by removing the trigger and taking a bit of the curve out of the hand and twisting it slightly to give is more positive engagement with the ratchet on the back of the cylinder.  This seems to have done the trick- the cylinder locks up much better, and test-firing saw no lead exiting the cylinder gap.

Targets were shot at five, seven and ten yards, all double action. No lead exited from anywhere but the muzzle, so the timing is fixed. Again with the key-holing though… I put a full box of .38 S&W reloads through the gun and it’s a fun little critter to shoot.

The load used in all of the .38s tonight was a .361 diameter/150gr. LSWC over 2.5gr. of Unique with a CCI500 Small Pistol Primer.  This load does not keyhole out of my S&W top-breaks.

 

Last but not least was the Abilene .44 Magnum.  I’m not pleased to report it, but this gun and I do not get on at all. I love single actions, this gun feels great in the hand, has a good trigger and sights… and I simply cannot wring anything like decent accuracy out of it. I bought this gun specifically for hunting, but if I cannot learn to shoot it well it was money wasted.

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The gun is also shooting low even with the elevation cranked as far as it will go- or perhaps I am shooting low.  Whatever the case I would be sorry to see this fine revolver go, but go it will if I cannot master it. I’ll keep after it for now.

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap Guns and Self Defense

According to statistics reported to the FBI annually there is about a 1/1,000,000 chance that a given person will need to use a firearm to shoot a criminal within a given year. Honestly that isn’t a very big chance. It is true that the odds that you may use a firearm for self-defense without shooting someone are much greater- such incidents are not reliably reported however, so it is not certain how frequent this is. Estimates vary from about 1/5,000 to about 1/100,000. These incidents aren’t the focus of today’s blog though- today we are concerned with the odds of your life depending on your firearm to function.

Your gun does not need to function to defend you; while the statistics are debatable it is clear that most instances of defensive use do not involve shots being fired. What we are talking about is how reliable your gun needs to be for legal, justifiable defensive use in which the gun must fire.

On a personal note, and excluding use in a professional capacity, I have used a firearm to defend myself without firing on 3 occasions. None of these incidents were reported to law enforcement.  Interestingly for the last twenty years I have lived in a ‘bad neighborhood.’ Only one of the three incidents occurred during the last twenty years- and it did not occur in my own neighborhood.

Back to the point- there is approximately a 1/1,000,000 chance that you will need your firearm to function to save a life, either your own or another innocent’s.  Now, the odds that you will need a firearm to avert crime without firing are, as stated, much greater. We purchase insurance to protect us from circumstances that are comparably unlikely, so carrying a gun for self defense is arguably not ridiculous- and much less expensive than insurance. While it can be argued that carrying a gun is maybe a bit over-cautious it’s not actually silly- statistically speaking.

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No really, I’m fine- he shot me with a cheap gun!

So what brings this up? Online gun snobs. A fellow in one venue asked to hear from people that routinely carry and practice at the range with ‘economy-priced’ revolvers, and this prompted a number of people to respond that they wouldn’t bet their life on an economy revolver, but would save up to spend twice as much for a ‘reputable’ product.

Over the course of a few decades I’ve gotten a feel for how often guns fail. I’ll grant that a Charter Arms is more likely to fail than a S&W- maybe twice as likely. Of course that’s still not bad- S&W revolvers almost never fail in use so how bad is ‘twice as bad’ really?  If you have a modern revolver in decent condition and it fired the last time you pulled the trigger then the odds are astronomically high that it will fire the next time you do as well.

OK, if I were to carry a revolver I would certainly fire it quite a bit, to insure both my accuracy and the gun’s reliability. That’s just sensible. If the gun goes bang when I pull the trigger and the bullets go roughly where I want them to I’m good to go- I’m not going to worry that I don’t have the right logo on the gun, nor am I going to worry about how much I paid for the gun. A Taurus, Charter Arms, Rossi or Weireacht that has proven itself to me is good enough. Given the literally 1/1,000,000 odds of a life depending on the gun working I think it is reasonable to anticipate that a proven gun will remain in working order.

So why would anyone spend more money on a gun than they, strictly speaking, needed to? Well, there are a lot of reasons. More expensive guns are very often nicer to shoot than inexpensive guns- more comfortable grips, better triggers etc.  Let’s face it, if practicality were the only measure we’d probably all own Glocks. But whatever we might tell ourselves, for most of it it’s about more than merely practical measures.  The supreme tacti-cool piece with all the right bells and whistles might win our admiration, but it’s the beautiful that garners the ooohs and ahhhs.

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“I’ll take it- just let me sell my house… what? That’s won’t be enough?!

There is a tactile pleasure in handling a high-quality firearm. The precise fit and finish, the grain and shaping of the wood handle, the clever mechanical bits… pleasure in ownership should not be discounted as a reason to spend more than is strictly needed for practical purposes. But this should not be conflated with need; let’s be honest with ourselves at least!  Yes, there is a fair chance that the more expensive gun will be more durable in the long run, and that is a practical consideration… for those of us that actually shoot enough for that to matter at least.

These are all good reasons to own a more expensive firearm, but all too often on the internet we encounter a less positive motive.  In all seriousness you will likely go your entire life as a civilian and never need to fire your gun in deadly earnest- but you can go online and rub other’s noses in your superiority every day. Given that day-to-day utility spending twice as much for your gun is a bargain!  Heck, if your primary philosophy of use for your gun is to use it to bludgeon others with their inferiority even a Korth is sensibly priced!

Yeah, we’ve all met That Guy, and for every person that agrees with him there are twenty that wish he would just go away.  The reality is we don’t all drive BMWs and Bentleys even if we can afford them; we may have other priorities or even preferences. Mind you I’m not saying that all you should buy for your EDC is a cheap gun; far from it. But if the best someone else can do is a cheap gun cut ’em some slack.

When it comes to cheap guns and self defense ask yourself this- will you really feel better if the bad guy is pointing a Taurus or Charter Arms gun at you than you would if it were a Colt or S&W?

Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Michael Tinker Pearce,  22 May 2018

Three Dog Night… er… Afternoon

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Three Bulldogs- .450, .38 and .32

No, really- I will write about something other than Bulldogs soon, but this is a range report and, well, all I shot were the bulldogs.  Two of the three needed test firing, which produced mixed results.

First of these was the folding trigger .32, which the Belgians refer to as a ‘Puppy.’ It’s a small bulldog, so I guess that makes sense, right?  This one is from an anonymous manufacturer and sports Belgian proofs. I got it off Gunbroker a couple of years ago- it was sold as a ‘parts-gun’ for $50. Technically I suppose this was true, but all of the parts were actually there… Someone had, at some past time, sawed the hammer-spurt half off and then broke it the rest of the way, so the first order of business was cleaning that up. Then after reassembly and some handling the two springs that usually break- the hand spring and trigger return spring- broke. I replaced them eventually (after the gun had spent far too long sitting around the shop) and decided it was time for a test-firing.

The problem is that the gun is chambered for .320 Revolver (or .32 Short Colt) which is basically unobtanium. After some research into the cartridge I decided the simplest thing to do was to ream the chambers to accept .32 S&W, which is very similar to the .320 revolver in pressure, bullet-weight etc.

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Even at 5 yards this little revolver is quite challenging to shoot.

Two things were immediately apparent- one, that I was only getting ignition about 50% of the time, and two- that it is very difficult to shoot this little revolver accurately!  The ignition issue is due to the firing-pin striking the very top of the primer. Sometimes a re-strike is effective, sometimes not.  The last thing this revealed is that the ejector rod is really not adequate- it barely gets the cartridges moving. It’s far easier to pop the cylinder out and use the base pin to remove the spent cartridges- which really isn’t significantly more difficult than using the ejector anyway…

So- alterations to the firing-pin are needed, and I have some thoughts for a project involving this gun- but more on that later.

Next up was the Forehand & Wadsworth .38. I’ve already done a blog post about this one, so we don’t need to go into details of the work done so far.  The first six shots went quite nicely, as you can see- these were fired at a brisk pace at five yards.

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Bit of keyholing here, and the shots drifted to the left as my grip on the too-small handle deteriorated…

I was using my standard .38 S&W load- a 150gr. SWC- and it was a bit snappy in this gun. Between that, my large hands and the genuinely tiny grip my shots were slipping to the left by the end of this string. This one was shot at 7 yards- paying more attention to my grip-

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This was the last six-shot string fired without interruption. While the leading problem is greatly reduced it has not been eliminated. After a couple of cylinders full lead stopped up the works and the cylinder needed to be fussed with before shooting continued. More adjustments to the hand seems to be in order.

Last but not least it was Leo’s turn.  Since this revolver is labelled ‘British Lion’ I’ve started thinking of it as Leo. OK then.  This revolver works a treat, and is quite reasonably accurate.

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This was shot with as center-hold in the sights; I usually hold at 6 o’clock with this gun.

This gun did not require testing, but the load did.  I was shooting a 198gr HBLRN slug over 2.0gr. of Trail Boss, and the only change from the last time I fired this load was the new loads have a roll-crimp. This makes for a notably louder report and more recoil- though it is still far from being objectionable.

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Double Action at seven yards fired rapidly
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…and the same at ten yards.

The current load is certainly adequate for close-up target work, but I think I am going to work on some loads with different powders. Red Dot is at the top of the list, and at some point some FFFg black powder is going to get into the mix.

Not an entirely successful afternoon at the range, but I learned things so it’s all good.  I really do like Leo; I think a period-style shoulder holster is called for here…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 May 2018

“A Little Powder, a Lot of Lead!”

“A little powder, a lot of lead! Shoot them once, shoot them dead!”  This basically sums up the British philosophy for revolver cartridges from 1868 to the end of World War 2.  It’s relevant because of a new acquisition…

I mentioned my Forehand & Wadsworth bulldog on a cowboy action shooting forum, and one of the members mentioned that he had a Bulldog that he no longer shot, and that he might be willing to part with it. Negotiations commenced and in the end he sold me the gun, some bullets and brass he had adapted from .45 Colt for an unrealistically good price. Thanks to ‘Baltimore Ed!’

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The gun, about fifty pieces of brass and a couple hundred bullets. Ed also sent three balloon-head casings to get precise dimensions.

This is a British Lion revolver, in the style of a Webley British Bulldog. It’s chambered for .450 Adams (also known as .450 Boxer, .450 Corto, .450 Colt and , in the US, .45 Webley.) There is no serial number or indication of who the maker is, but there is every reason to believe that the gun is of British manufacture. Both the cylinder and frame are marked ’45,’ and the barrel, frame and each chamber are marked with a Birmingham proof mark. The specific proof was in use from 1813-1904, so it is not useful in dating the revolver. The use of the name ‘British Lion’ also points to British production; Webley had trademarked ‘British Bulldog’ so a domestic maker using that name would be in front of the law shortly. Manufacturer’s in Belgium, Spain and the US were under no such constraint and were not shy about applying the ‘British Bulldog’ moniker to their guns.

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This is the proof mark found all over the gun, from the Birmingham Proof House

The weapon appears to have had a blued finish originally, which has transformed over time to a fairly uniform gray patina. There is no serious pitting or rust. The walnut grips are complete, appear original and feature the sort of flat checkering used in much of the 19th century.  The gun has a very solid feel; fit and finish are good throughout, and it seems like a very robust weapon of good quality.

The chambers are in very good shape, and the bore is lightly pitted but with strong lands and grooves. The previous owner has fired the weapon, and it seems to function just as it should. The Double-action trigger pull is not overly heavy and very smooth, with no ‘staging’ points. The single-action pull has no take-up, virtually no over-travel and is a very crisp 4lbs. or so. The cylinder has almost no end-play and locks up acceptably tightly.

This weapon does not have the Stanton Patent rebounding hammer that some other British Lion revolvers do; the hammer must be cocked to the safety notch before the cylinder will rotate freely. It appears that this gun was meant to be carried with all five chambers loaded and the hammer in the safety notch.

The sights are unusually good for a vintage handgun, and consist of a half-round front blade and a surprisingly deep and well-defined V-notch in the rear; one can obtain a good sight picture.

This gun was sold to me as a shooter, and given its quality and condition I have no reservations about firing it. Which requires suitable ammunition, of course. The .450 Adams cartridge was the first metallic cartridge to be adopted by the British military in 1868 and remained in service until 1880- though as it could be fired from later .455 caliber revolvers it remained a ‘second standard’ cartridge until the end of WW2. The cartridge continues to be produced to this day as .450 Corto, manufactured by Fiocchi.

In it’s original loading the .450 Adams used a 225gr. round-nosed lead bullet over a charge of 13gr. of black powder, probably FFFFg. From the service-length Adams revolver this generated 725fps and around 263ft./lbs. of energy. Shorter-barreled guns like the Webley RIC and even more so the Bulldog got rather less performance from the round.

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Aren’t they adorable? They’re like little cartoon bullets…

As you might guess loading data for smokeless powder is a little hard to come by, so I was left to develop my own load for this cartridge. Trail Boss seemed the best, safest bet. it has a very high volume to weight ratio, and works very well in cartridges designed for black powder. Trail Boss’s maker recommends developing a load by filling the case to where the bottom of the bullet will sit after loading, then removing a bit for a safe starting load. I decided to start work with a 200gr RNFP bullet, and following the instructions led to a charge of 2.0gr.

I was frankly dubious- .44 Colt, itself not a particularly powerful cartridge, uses 4.5gr. of Trail Boss. I tested the load from my 3″ Sherrif’s Special and they went bang and punched neat holes in the target- produced a pretty good group, too.  It seems adequate, but in the future I am likely to do some penetration tests, maybe comparing it to the same bullet with a black powder load.

Since Baltimore Ed had provided me with a couple of hundred bullets I decided I would use those. These were 230gr lead round-nosed bullets with a hollow bored in the base, leaving them with an average weight of 198gr.  I loaded fifty of them for the first range trip.

This afternoon I was off to Champion Arms indoor gun range to but some shots through this gun.  For the most part it went well; there were no issues with the gun, but there were a couple of issues with the ammo. The problem was that without a proper roll-crimp a few of the loads launched the bullet before pressure could build up, and as a result a few times the gun went ‘Pamf!’ instead of ‘bang!’ The third time this happened the bullet stopped in the bore, but was easily dislodged with a cleaning rod. I’ll need to come up with a proper crimping die, after which I expect these loads will be quite satisfactory.

So what’s it like to shoot? Some guns you pick up, and you just ‘click.’ It’s like you’ve been shooting it for years from the first shot. This is not one of those guns.  The ergonomics are different than modern revolvers- not bad, just different. It took some adaptation to shoot the gun well, but by the end I was getting the hang of it. As sometimes happens with me and revolvers I found this gun easier to shoot accurately double-action. Recoil, by the way, is quite light.

 

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Five shots at seven yards
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Another five, fired at a brisk pace at ten yards.

Overall I am extremely pleased with this gun. It functions flawlessly and is a pleasure to shoot. I’m pretty pleased with the loads as well, and I think a good roll crimp will sort them out nicely.

Regarding British Lion revolvers- my researches thus far have confirmed that they were made in Britain, and they were considered at least nearly the equal of a Webley for quality. They were offered in both .442 and .450 calibers, and some were nickel plated and engraved. As to who the maker was, when they made them etc. I have not been able to discover a thing.  Perhaps more information will come to light in time.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 May 2018

 

 

Not-So-British Bulldog

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In the 1860’s Philip Webley & Son developed a solid-frame, large caliber double-action revolver with a five-shot cylinder. These were relatively compact guns chambered for a .44 Rimfire cartridge, .442 British (also known as .44 Webley) and .450 Adams. These developed into the Webley RIC, which stood for Royal Irish Constabulary who adopted the weapon, and a short-handled, short barreled variant that become known as the British Bulldog, which name Webley trademarked in 1878. Webley later produced variants in .320 and .380 Revolver, but only guns forty-caliber and larger received the ‘British Bulldog’ name.

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The classic Webley RIC- father of the famous ‘British Bulldog’ and Dr.Watson’s sidearm of choice.

These guns were widely imitated in Europe- mostly by the Belgian cottage gunsmithing industry- and in the United States. The quality of these guns varied from excellent to rubbish, and calibers of these ‘knock-offs’ ranged from .22 Short to .45 caliber.  These guns became very popular in America during the western expansion, and in fact General George Custer was reportedly carrying a pair of these guns when he was killed at the Little Bighorn.

 

The best of the American copies were introduced by Forehand & Wadsworth in the late 1870s. The gun was available in a single frame size and chambered in a seven-shot .32 S&W version, a six-shot .38 S&W and a six-shot chambered in .442 British. While not up to the quality of Webleys these were decently-made, robust little revolvers. No records exist of production numbers, but they must have been reasonably popular judging from the numbers of surviving examples.

The company’s name changed to Forehand Arms in 1890, so guns labelled ‘Forehand & Wadsworth’ were produced prior to that time, and are classified as antiques by the BATF.

Given my love of ‘snubbies’ I have long desired a proper British Bulldog, but alas the prices of Webleys are out of my reach. I was offered a F&W .38 Bulldog last year, but finances were tight that month and I reluctantly turned it down- which decision I’ve regretted it ever since.  So when I came across another at an affordable price I snatched it up- maybe a little faster than I should have. More on that later…

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Bulldogs load through a gate like most single-action revolvers.
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This gun has a hammer-safety that blocks the hammer from moving fully forward unless the trigger is pulled.
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Here’s the loading gate, which may be opened with the hammer at rest The cylinder free-rotates when not firing, so there is no half-cock notch for loading.
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This picture shows the operation of the ejector rod. This is stored in the cylinder-axis pin. You simply pull it forward, rotate it to the right then push the shells free with the rod. It only pushed the expended shells part-way out, but they are easily removed manually at that point.

The gun shoots well enough, but it shaves lead with each shot. After a cylinder or so enough lead will build up to block the rotation of the cylinder. In addition, of course, to spraying hot lead out of the gap at high velocity. Not good.

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Accuracy is reasonable- this group was shot rapidly at 5 yards.

Another issue is that the cylinder axis pin is stuck. Soaking did not loosen it, and the retaining flange was ground off some time in the past to allow it to rotate with the cylinder. That’s pretty annoying, and had I examined the gun a little more thoroughly I’d have noticed this.  It’s well and truly stuck too; a 1/4″ drift and hammer didn’t budge. OK, I’ll drill it out; there are enough of these guns out there that I might well be able to find a replacement, and if I can’t it’ll be a doddle to fabricate a new one.

OK, I didn’t know that I was purchasing a project-gun. That’s just more fun, right?

Michael Tinker Pearce, 30 April 2018

 

 

Cartridge Conversion Percussion Revolvers- Info, Criteria and Process

It’s no secret by now that I am fascinated with Cartridge conversions of percussion revolvers. This all started with the local indoor ranges insisting on jacketed ammo only. It meant that my beloved .45 Colt’s were prohibitively expensive to shoot as I did not reload. Since times were hard I reluctantly parted with them. Then Linda surprised me at Christmas with a Cimarron Richards/Mason conversion- in .38 Special, which I could still afford to shoot!

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This was perfect on so many levels- I love the 1873, but that grew out of my love for the 1851 and 1860 revolvers. This was the best of all worlds- a gun type I loved in a caliber I could afford to shoot. It also represented a type that was more common in the old west than 1873s, and hearkened back to the Spaghetti Westerns of the early 1960’s.

With a bit of research I became aware of the cartridge conversion kits available from Howell, Kirst etc. I decided to do a cartridge conversion of my own, and circumstances (which I have detailed in earlier blogs) dictated that I do so on an 1858 Remington. I selected a Kirst .45 Colt conversion (.44 percussion revolvers are actually .45 caliber) because it was a simple drop-in and would be the easiest to install. It was, requiring only a tiny amount of fitting. Like Remington’s original factory cartridge conversions this is a five-shooter; there just isn’t quite room for the outside diameter of a .45 caliber cartridge to put six shots in the cylinder.

The Kirst Konverter is an excellent product, made of modern materials with proper heat-treat and a very high degree of finish. I was so happy with this product that when my next conversion project came along I bought another one, this time for a Colt reproduction. Again it worked a treat-aside from needing a drop of Loctite in the gate retention screw.

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But there is a problem with Kirst Konverters. OK, to be more accurate there is a problem with my finances; being self-employed and partially disabled my disposable income is pretty limited at times, which means a conversion project winds up sitting on the shelf for 3-6 months waiting for me to be able to afford the Kirst unit. So when another 1858 project showed up on my doorstep it was time for a different approach.

I had taken up reloading which opened the gates to more variety of cartridges, and these guns were originally chambered in .44 Colt or something very like it. These cartridges used a .44 caliber case loaded with a .451 bullet with a heel-base like a .22LR. This meant the casing had an outside diameter of .451-.454, and there is just enough room to bore out a .44 Colt or Remington cylinder to accommodate this cartridge. I had also procured a proper metal lathe, so I turned down the back of the cylinder and bored it through, then reamed the chambers to .454″.  I made a breech-plate from scrap 1/4″ 5160, which I have a lot of due to my day-job, mounted a floating firing-pin, cut a port for loading and voila! I had a home-spun cartridge conversion, very like the sort of things done by gunsmiths back in the day.

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Really the mechanics of the conversion were not difficult, and I knew it was possible because it was done safely in the 19th century even though the quality of the materials was lower. Getting the ammunition right actually proved to be a far tougher task and involved making special equipment to load the cartridges. But overall it was a success.

Since then I have converted an 1849 reproduction to .22 LR, an 1851/.44 to .38 S&W and a Walker to a .44-55.

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All of these conversion were basically done the same way- turn down the back of the cylinder, leaving the ratchet, then bore it through to accept cartridges. In the case of the .22 and .38 S&W I also lined the chambers and reamed them for the cartridge, and lined the barrel as well with rifled barrel-liner purchased from Numerich Arms. Then I made a breech-plate with a loading port and a floating firing-pin. In the case of the Walker conversion I mounted this to the gun’s blast-shield with screws. Each gun had it’s variations, but the basic process is the same.

So far I’ve done four home-spun conversions, and I plan to do more. But there is something you should understand- this is risky- even dangerous- if you aren’t me. I have been a knife and sword-maker for decades, and not only have the shop equipment I need, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of the strength and working properties of metals. I also have more than the common run of knowledge about firearms- though this is easy to remedy with sufficient research. You need to know though- there are no guarantees and it would be very easy to harm yourself or others if you get it wrong.

OK, in an excess of optimism or even based on genuine capability you have decided to go ahead and do your own conversion. I’d actually advise against it, but I will tell you how I made my decisions and what they were based on.

The first conversion I did myself was based on conversions that were done to original guns- I used a reproduction of a gun they used and made it for a cartridge from that application. The metallurgy of modern reproductions is a fair bit better than what was in use when these guns were new. We use steel where they used iron. Where they used steel makers today use better quality, more uniform steel. It is a safe bet that we can do anything to a reproduction that they did to an original.

Some background you should know- in the mid 19th Century all cartridges used black powder, and the cases were loaded by putting as much powder in as would fit,  then stuffing a bullet in on top of it. You literally cannot put enough powder in the case to blow up the gun without some external factor- like a plugged bore- contributing.  Similarly you cannot stuff enough black powder into the cylinder of a modern reproduction percussion revolver to blow it up. This makes 19th century cartridges an obvious choice to use in a cartridge-conversion revolver, even with smokeless powder.

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Here’s something else you need to know- it is perfectly safe to load smokeless powder loads in a cartridge designed for black powder loads. Back around the turn of the 20th Century when they converted to smokeless powder all common revolvers and derringers were designed for black powder cartridges. Yet the transition to smokeless powder was seamless. Why? Because ammo companies didn’t want to get sued and besides, blowing up people’s guns would make it difficult to sell their ammo. So they formulated loads that were safe to fire in cartridges designed for Black Powder.  Yet many people today are convinced this is unsafe. Why?

Because hand-loaders. They had a tendency to load the new smokeless powders as if they were black powder, and they blew up their guns. This was so common that catalogs of the period specifically noted that the new style of powder was loaded differently and used much less powder. The truth is that the laws of physics don’t magically change because one type of powder is more energy-dense and makes less smoke. Pressure is pressure, period. Burn rates, pressure curves etc. can all be compensated for. There are even people that load reproduction cap-and-ball revolvers with smokeless powder (though this often necessitates a better ignition system.) No, smokeless powders are not a high-explosives that can ‘shock’ the steel and cause ruptures if properly loaded.

The fail-safe method would be to use black powder cartridges loaded with honest-to-God black powder. This is safest for one simple reason- it is impossible to overload the cartridge. If you want to use smokeless do your research and stick to lower-powered loads. It’s also going to be prudent to pick a cartridge that was used in cartridge conversions, like .38 Colt or .44 Colt. This will require special equipment and heel-base bullets to reload, which is  bit of a pain in the butt if you aren’t seriously committed. Or just should be committed.  Regardless, this will provide your greatest margin of safety because you know it worked then and there is no reason it wouldn’t work now.

This gets harder when you are working with a cartridge that never existed- like .44-55 Walker, which I made up. The reasoning goes something like this- the wrought-iron cylinder of a Colt Walker could handle a 60-grain charge of black powder behind a 210 grain picket bullet. The steel that a modern reproduction is made of is mild steel equivalent to 1018-1020.  This is significantly stronger than wrought iron, so it will be safe to duplicate Walker loads in the modern reproduction.  Other people have bored-out Kirst .45 Colt cylinders to accept cartridges like .45-60-225- a .45 caliber, 225-gr. bullet over the equivalent of 60 gr. of black powder. The Kirst cylinder is of course much tougher than the reproduction cylinder, being 4140 tool steel that has been heat-treated to a half-hard state- but the load is still only a little over the limit for the original iron cylinder. Still, the repro cylinder is less strong than the Kirst, so it is better to err on the side of caution and not quite equal the original Walker load.

I also decided to make my cartridges out of rifle brass- .303 British, actually- because this brass is much stronger than should be needed. Once expanded to take the .45 caliber heel-base bullet and fire-formed the cartridge will accommodate a 55gr. charge of FFFg. Thus the name- .44-55 Walker.  Since my winter shooting is pretty much restricted to indoor ranges I wanted a smokeless load, and I selected Trail Boss for this because it is a relatively safe alternative to black powder, and unlike some other powders it will not leave a large void in the loaded cartridge, which can cause poor ignition or, in a worst-case, detonation. Using the manufacturer’s recommended process for developing loads the case will hold 13.4gr of Trail Boss, so I backed it off to 10gr. as a starting point and this has worked out just fine. A friend’s wildcat, .45 Walker, uses a 225 grain bullet over 12 grains of Trail Boss, so I reckoned 10 made for a pretty safe load, and so it has proven in use.

So I started from a reasonable assumption, checked with other people’s experience and proceeded methodically, erring on the side of caution. Similarly deciding to chamber the brass .44 in .38 S&W. The recommended load is a 173gr. .451 ball over 15 grains of black powder. This is about half the maximum charge for the cylinder, so I know the cylinder can easily take it. 173gr projectile over 15gr. of Black powder won’t over-stress or stretch the brass frame. My .38 S&W was normally loaded with a 147gr. bullet over 11-12gr of black powder, so the modern equivalent is well below the threshold of the recommended load for the gun. Since I actually added metal by lining the chambers and bore the gun is even stronger than stock, so it is reasonable to assume it will be fine with the .38 S&W loads.

But- while I can be virtually certain the gun won’t grenade on me the smaller diameter cartridge will generate higher pressures than the same load in a larger cartridge, and it might stretch the frame more than expected. I don’t really expect so; equal and opposite reactions and all that; between the ball, fiber wad and powder charge of the recommended .44 load it’s throwing a lot more weight downrange, so it’s going to have significantly more recoil. The good news is the worst frame-stretch will cause is inconsistent ignition as the primers get too far away from the breech, and excessive cylinder-gap blast. In other words a failure will not only be obvious, but it will render the gun inoperable before it is catastrophically severe.

A lot of thought goes into my conversions- and the thought I cannot escape is that it would be better to leave it to professionals. Products like Kirst and Howell converters are made from better materials and processes than I can employ by people with a lot of experience.  They can also steer you to professional gunsmiths like Gary Lee Barnes that do conversions using their products and produce exceptional results. The fact that some schmuck can do this in his home workshop and hasn’t blown himself up yet does not make it a good idea.

Yes, I am going to continue, against my own advice, to make cartridge conversions. But I am going to do it carefully, thoughtfully and cautiously, and never forget that what I am doing is inherently dangerous.

Michael Tinker Pearce. 29 April 2018

 

.38 S&W ‘Avenging Angel’

A buddy of mine asked if I would convert a brass-framed 1851/.44 to an Avenging Angel for him, and since it is technically a non-firearm I said sure. So in yesterday’s mail a pair of Pietta 1851/.44s arrived.  I had a .38 S&W cylinder and barrel that I made last year mounted on a steel 1860 Army frame, but I thought the brass frame might be a better home for it.

Since the conversion was based on a Pietta cylinder it dropped right in, but the breech-plate wanted to rotate excessively. No worries- I simply soldered on some sheet-brass to the bottom and trimmed it to size, then ground it to fit the frame precisely. Other bits of fitting were required here and there, and I turned a new rebounding firing-pin as the other had always been a bit short and occasionally caused light strikes. Naturally I needed to cut a loading-port in the frame for loading and unloading, but this was quickly and easily accomplished with a 1/2″ sanding drum on my flex-shaft tool. A little polishing and it was good-to-go. You can see some small pits- these are just tiny voids in the casting, and are perfectly normal. The cartridges shown are dummies.

The brass gun already had a decent trigger so there was no need to fool with that, and the cylinder locks up tight with no side-play at all. The I haven’t measured the cylinder-gap, but it looks to be maybe .0030-.0035″. I need to track down my feeler gauge to be sure, but it’s absolutely within acceptable limits.

Normally one does not do a cartridge-conversion on a brass frame- with full-power charges these can stretch after as few as a hundred rounds. However with the recommended load of 15-20gr. of FFFg behind a fiber wad and a 173GR .451 ball theses Piettas will last for many years of steady shooting. The load I am shooting is the equivalent of 11-12gr. of FFFg behind a 148-150gr bullet, and Unique is significantly less violet than BP so it ought to be fine for the occasional range outing and some casual plinking. Time will tell of course- I’m very much looking forward to getting it out to the range this weekend!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 April 2018