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.

Pietta1851outlaw

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-

1851gripframemod

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:

1851gripframemod3
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.
1851gripframemod4
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.
1851wedgescrewmodJPG
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.
1851zshortbarrel1
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:

1851zshortbarrel2

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.

1851zzBlueing

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.

1851zzfrontsight

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

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