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…
Naturally I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 august 2017