The State of the Union… Er… My Collection.

Someone on a forum asked about our satisfaction with the state of our collection, and I have to admit it set me back a little- because even though I don’t think of myself as a collector and never meant to be one I had to admit that I am.

That being said every functional gun I have is a shooter, and every non-functional gun is meant to become one. With the exception of one gun that was a present- an 1884-vintage S&W .38 Double Action (2nd Model) and I still shoot that at least once a year. But really I keep it because it was a present from my sweety and it’s cool.

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I do have a few collectible guns, but they were bought as shooters and I shoot them regularly. This time-warp 1958-vintage Colt Frontier Scout for example- which taught me that I really can still shoot at 25 yards-

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Collectible, yes. But I bought it because I wanted a .22 revolver and it was a smokin’ deal, and if I live long enough I’ll shoot it until it falls apart. Recently I picked up a .32 Colt New Police Detective Special (with a factory hammer-shroud!) for less than half of it’s fair market value. Amazing shooter; fantastic trigger, shoots dead to point of aim. Collectable as hell, but again I will shoot- and carry- this gun because it’s collectable because it’s an excellent gun and that’s what it’s for. All that excellence is there for a reason and meant to be used.

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In recent years my interest has run to modifying guns, so if there is anything resembling a theme to my collection that is it. It started with a Cimarron Richards-Mason conversion in .38 Special and have progressed to a rifle and even cap-and-ball cartridge-conversion revolvers.

That started with a Remington 1858 that I turned into a snubby and bought a Kirst Gated Conversion for that I call ‘The Pug.’

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It’s now progressed to where I did a complete conversion myself, making an 1858 into a .44 Colt by doing my own cylinder and breech-plate. Currently I am turning an 1849 Pocket into a .22 and will be converting a Walker reproduction to fire .45-60 Walker.

I also have non-collectible collectible guns- a pair of S&W Hand Ejectors that I repaired/refinished. Beautiful guns and great shooters now, but their collectibility was compromised long before I got my hands on them.  Then there are the guns referred to collectively as the ‘Steampunk Snubbies,’ a trio of modified S&W top-breaks with ergonomic grips.

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Then their are the shotguns- mostly antique doubles in 12 or 16 gauge. There’s also my M1938 7.35mm Carcano inherited from my Uncle Jim that I made a new stock for and turned into a Mannlicher Carbine. Again, all shooters (though there is one shotgun I haven’t shot yet… but I will!)

My collection isn’t limited to old and modified guns though; I have a Chiappa Rhino, a Para-Ordinance LDA.45 Carry, a 1911A1, and the other modern odds and ends lying about. Naturally there are others; I’m really just hitting the high points here. The common thread there is that they are either particularly interesting mechanically, unusual or they are icons. If I had to select a theme for my collection I think that the closest I could come would be ‘Eclectic, Interesting & Iconic.’

I’m pretty happy with the state of things. There will be more things added and occasionally the odd piece is likely to get weeded out but a collection isn’t a thing, it’s a process.

So how is your collection? What is it’s theme if any, and how pleased are you with the state of it?

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Range Report for 23 September

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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-

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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.

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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-

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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.

Loads used-

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.

New Project- 1848 Baby Dragoon Conversion

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.
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Not at all a large gun- The Outlaw .45 for shown for comparison.
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.

Test-Firing Two New Remingtons

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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.

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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?

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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.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 07 September 2017

Range Report 01 Sept. 17- Good News and Bad News

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-

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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-

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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-

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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.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 01 September 17

Oh .38! You so Silly…

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Think you are shooting a .38? You probably aren’t.

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.

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Yep. Your gun is lying to you. 

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…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 August 17