The Webley Mk.1- Going Strong 130 Years Later.

The Webley company has roots extending into the 18th Century, and changed names a few times over the years. Initially a maker of bespoke firearms of a variety of sorts, they dipped their toes into the emerging revolver market in 1853 with the percussion ‘longspur’ revolver.

This was a very high-quality, hand-made weapon. Webley had hoped for an Army contract, but in the end they could not compete with Adams mass-produced pistols, which were less expensive and could more easily be produced in the numbers required.

In the 1860s they produced a solid-frame, double-action revolver, and in 1868 a variant of this was purchased by the British government for the Royal Irish Constabulary, causing the model to be named the RIC. A few years later they made a more compact version of the RIC called the Bulldog, and these became one of the most widely copied handguns of the 19th C., with versions being made in Belgium, the USA and Spain.

In the early 1880s the British army was dissatisfied with their Enfield revolvers, and issued a specification for a new gun. Webley’s response was the Mk.1, a large-caliber top-break with an auto-ejector similar to those used by S&W. This robust, large-caliber weapon was adopted by the army in 1887, and the first lot of 2000 guns was delivered within eight months. In subsequent years they made improvements to the design, which culminated in the Mk.6, which was produced in large numbers for WW1.

The Webley Mk.1. Chambered in .455, it fired a 265gr. bullet at approximately 700-750 fps.

Earlier weapons, like the Mk.1, were re-issued to the Royal Navy at the outset of WW1, where some examples remained in use until the end of WW2.

After WW2 a large number of these guns were sold as surplus and found their way to the United States. .455 was not a common cartridge in America, and it was thought these guns would sell better in .45 ACP. To accomplish this the cylinders were cut back to use spring-steel clips to hold, and allow the extraction of, the rimless cartridge, similarly to earlier Colt and S&W New Service revolvers.

This proved problematic; .455 developed chamber pressures from 13,400-15,000 CUP; .45 ACP factory loadings run from 19,000-21,000 CUP. Effectively standard .45 ACP ammunition was the equivalent of a ‘proof-load’ for the Webley. In rare instances this actually caused the cylinder to fail, but more commonly it produced what came to be known as ‘Wobbly Webley’ syndrome, where the gun loosened up enough to render it unreliable. Another common malady of shooting surplus ‘GI’ jacketed ammo was excessive wear of the rifling. These guns were made for lead bullets, where the relatively soft steel of the barrel was not an issue. But the copper-cased surplus and commercial loads wiped away the rifling is fairly short order.

The use of copper-jacketed, stock .45 ACP ammo cause these guns to develop an undeserved reputation for being weak, unreliable and inaccurate. A steady diet of +P+ ammunition might produce similar results in many perfectly good modern firearms. Sadly most imported Webleys were damaged to one degree or another by shooting factory .45 ACP ammunition.

Last month I was contacted by a fellow and offered a Webley Mk.1. It was in reasonable condition and mechanically sound, and like most such guns had the cylinder cut for .45 ACP. We came to an arrangement and a couple of weeks ago the Webley arrived. It came with a single 6-round clip, so I immediately ordered 16 more. These are made by Ranch Products, and are robust, high quality and quite affordable.

An excellent clip for .45 ACP revolvers. I got 16 clips for about $1 each including shipping.

The first thing you notice about the Mk.1 is that it is big. It makes a Colt Single-Action Army look positively svelte. I checked the revolver thoroughly, and was impressed with the fit, and the wonderfully smooth and stage-free double-action trigger. It’s not what you’d call a ‘light’ trigger, but it is so buttery-smooth it doesn’t really interfere with accuracy. The bore and chambers are in excellent condition. The gun’s original finish has aged into a mottled gray with bits of brown. there is little evidence of pitting, and most of that is on the grip-frame. The original horn grips are missing a chunk at the bottom of the left-side grip panel, which is somewhat uncomfortable in my hand. The serial number appears on the frame, barrel and cylinder, and indicates that this is an early gun, likely manufactured in 1888.

The Webley Mk.1, as it arrived. Notte the chunk missing from the grip-panel.

I’ve had a number of well-meaning folks tell me that I should only shoot black powder in this gun, but I believe this to be unnecessary for two reasons: One, the British switched to smokeless ammunition for these guns in 1892, four years after this gun was made. Two- among the various proofs is one that indicates this gun was Nitro Proofed at some point. Mind you, it very much needs to be shot with low-pressure, lead-bullet loads, but it will be fine with smokeless rounds within the proper pressure range.

While I don’t think I am going to refinish or otherwise alter this gun, I did need to do something about that grip. I have a chunk of dense, close-grained hardwood of an unknown type, that I bought at a building-supply salvage place. It makes pretty nice grips, and I made a set for the Webley. They look nice and are quite comfortable.

The Webley’s new ‘mystery-wood’ grip

I researched the loads that people were using successfully in these guns and determined that my .45 ACP ‘Match Load’ ought to be fine. I took the gun to Champion Arms indoor shooting range at the first opportunity and tried it out. The load seemed to work well and shot to point-of-aim at seven yards,producing very reasonable double-action groups.

7 yards, double-action, standing/unsupported. Not bad- especially when you consider there are three bullet holes in the X-ring.

The new moon-clips arrived Thursday, and I decided to shoot this gun in Saturday’s Action Shooting International match. I needed a holster and a way to carry extra clips, so Friday was devoted to making those. These came out well and were very useful at the match. Surprisingly concealable for a large man such as myself, too.

My new ‘half-pancake’ holster and moon-clip holder. I’ll discuss the construction of the clip-holder in a future post.

The gun performed flawlessly at the match. I didn’t, but I did alright. Reloads were fast and smooth and accuracy was excellent if I did my part. I’m really quite enamored with this revolver!

This Webley is accurate, easy to shoot and can be reloaded as quickly as a modern revolver. While there are undoubtedly better choices, this gun would be a viable option for self-defense even in the 21st century. There aren’t a lot of 19th C. guns you could say that of!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 June 2019

P.S.: I’ll discuss the specifics of using this gun in an action shooting match in a future post, as well as more information about the clip-holder and how I made it.


Iver Johnson .38 Automatic Safety Hammerless

Another old-school Roscoe- this is an Iver Johnson .38 Automatic Safety Hammerless (2nd Model) made in 1897 or so. It is a five-shot double-action only top-break revolver. It is chambered for the .38 S&W cartridge, similar in power to a .380 ACP. Around 1900 the Sears Roebuck catalogue sold these for $6. Not a cheap gun, but not expensive either.

Iver Johnson was trained as a gunsmith in his home-country of Norway and emigrated to the US in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. He worked as a gunsmith and designer, and eventually entered into a partnership in a business that became Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works in 1891 and began production of top-break double-action revolvers starting in 1895. These were very popular mid-priced guns, with over seven million made in .32 S&W and .38 S&W calibers. In 1909 Iver Johnson adopted the trade brand name US Revolver Company, in part to use up remaining stocks of parts for their 2nd Model top-breaks when the line was upgraded for smokeless powder in 1909.

Initially the only differences between the Iver Johnson line of revolvers and the U.S. Revolver Company guns was that the hammer version does not have the transfer-bar safety of the regular line and the hammerless version does not have the safety trigger.

It’s interesting to note that while IJ upgraded their top-break guns ‘for smokeless powder,’ the USR guns were all rated for smokeless… even though they used cylinders and barrels from the supposedly ‘black powder’ guns, indicating that the ‘upgrades’ were made for reasons having little direct connection to the sort of propellant used in their cartridges. More on this later.

IJ revolver opened for loading. HKS Model 36 speedloaders work quite well with this gun.

The ‘Automatic’ refers to the auto-ejection feature. The ‘Safety’ refers to the transfer-bar safety and the hammerless part is pretty obvious (and a lie- it has a hammer under the shroud.) It also has a safety-bar on the trigger identical to a Glock Safe-Action trigger. The cylinder free-rotates when not being fired; it’s lock system is similar to the older Webleys- when firing the cylinder is pinned between the hand and a fixed stop mounted on the trigger assembly. The gun is fully locked when the trigger is pulled all the way to the point where it releases the hammer. The design is quite clever; the action-bar that works the hammer is also the transfer bar.

When I got this the hand-spring was broken, and since both the hand and the action-bar that operates the trigger depend on this it was non-functional. I fabricated a replacement and the gun is surprisingly good in several respects.

The first surprise is that the internal parts are heat-treated and tempered, which is often not the case in inexpensive firearms of the period. The second is that while this gun appears to have been fired quite a bit it is tight and the cylinder lock-up is tight and solid with zero play. The last and most pleasant surprise is the trigger- the pull is short, smooth and surprisingly light.

While these guns aren’t up to the standards of fit and finish that Colt and S&W revolvers of the period maintained they are really decent quality.

This is a ‘Black Powder Gun:’ it does not incorporate the changes made in 1909 to accommodate the new smokeless powders- or, to be brutally honest, to allow for the mistakes of stupid hand-loaders. Factory smokeless ammo for these guns was originally, and remains, tailored to not blow up even poor-quality guns, and was designed to be safe in older guns. But handloaders in the early 20th Century, used to black powder, often didn’t do their research when switching to smokeless.

You can’t fit enough black powder into a pistol-cartridge case to blow up a reasonable quality gun. You can fit enough smokeless powder, and people did. By 1909 smokeless powders had pretty thoroughly edged out BP, and Iver Johnson introduced the slightly beefier 3rd Model which was ‘proofed’ for smokeless powders. Of course what this really meant was ‘less likely to be blown up by idiots.’

Regardless, I have always fired smokeless loads in my cartridge-firing antiques. Mild, conservative loads to be sure, but I have never experienced an issue from doing so.

So how does it shoot? Honestly I am not sure… I ran across an old box of .38 S&W that I had loaded with 125gr. LRN and took that to shoot through the IJ. I very shortly remembered why that box was sitting around- they suck. About 3 out of five bullets from this load keyhole at seven yards, no matter what gun I shoot them through. The few bullets that hit properly were reasonably on-center, but the key-holed hits were all over the target. OK, the targets were 5-1/2″ circles and even the bad hits were in the circle, but a 5-1/2″ group at seven yards is no one’s idea of good. I need another trip to the range with some proper loads, then we’ll see what is what.

All in all I am quite pleased with this little gun. I think I am likely to get creative with this one; even in excellent condition they aren’t worth much or particularly collectible, and this one is not in excellent condition. I am likely to strip the nickel off and rust blue it at least… perhaps some fancy grips too.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 June 2019

Triple-7: That Old Black Magic… Sort of.

Recently I became re-acquainted with black powder ( .) I had a very limited supply and quickly ran out, so I asked after some more at Pinto’s. Nope; they only had black powder substitutes, Pyrodex and Triple-7. It seems that as black powder is classified as an explosive there are some hassles involved in keeping it on-hand and selling it- hurdles that local gun shops have elected not to deal with. (Because of its classification as an explosive Washington State residents are only allowed to possess five pounds of it.) The nearest place that does sell it would require a two-hour round trip.

I looked into ordering it online, but hazardous material shipping rendered the price unattractive. I used Pyrodex a lot when I was shooting cap-and-ball revolvers in the early 80’s, and I was not impressed with either its performance or cleaning, After some research I decided to try my hand with Triple-7.

This powder consistently produces higher velocities than Black Powder volume-for-volume. I’ve seen some people worried that it generates higher pressures than BP, even insisting that it has to in order to get higher velocity. Someone needs to do some studying…

BP is a low explosive; maximum pressure occurs in the chamber and drops off rapidly as the bullet travels down the barrel. Triple-7 is a very fast burning powder; maximum pressure still occurs in the chamber, but it falls off much more slowly than BP as the bullet travels down the barrel. In other words it has a longer pressure-curve. It doesn’t push harder, it pushes hard longer. In a typical muzzle loader this creates an average of 17% more velocity than BP without an increase in peak pressure.

Naturally in shorter-barrelled weapons this effect is less pronounced. The manufacturer recommends loading metallic cartridges almost exactly as you would BP, but with less compression. Typically one compresses BP in a cartridge about 0.10″. Triple-7 recommends loading with very little compression but no air-space under the bullet.

Following this recommendation I loaded .44 Colt, .450 Adams and .44-55 Walker with FFFg Triple-7 and tried them at the range. Without a chronograph you can only tell so much, but recoil can be informative.
Starting with .44-55 Walker I loaded 200 gr..451- heel-base SWCs over a charge of 55 gr. of Triple-7 (measured by volume.) Extrapolating from published data and considering Thumper’s 3-1/2″ barrel the math suggests that, all things being equal (and they never are,) I should be getting 1200+ fps for approx. 640 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Recoil of the 3-1/2 lb. gun is similar to an L-frame .357 Magnum, so I find this believable. I really need a chronograph…

I found this load to be quite accurate at close range; longer range testing will have to wait, owing to my limited supply of brass… which I am working to fix!

‘Thumper’ with its 44-55 Walker ammunition

For .450 Adams I loaded 200gr. LRN-FP bullets over a charge of 8.0gr. of Triple-7 (13gr. by volume.) No idea of the velocity, but wow! My best previous load was the same bullet over 4.0gr. of Trail Boss, which recoiled like a .38 target wadcutter. The new load had significantly more muzzle-blast and recoil. After firing it in a .45 Colt and one of my modern conversions I tried it in the Webley RIC. Quite a difference from the Trail Boss load. It was like shooting .38 Spc.+P in an air-weight J-frame; at least bordering on unpleasant. I can finally understand why some people complained of the recoil of these guns. I won’t be putting a lot of these rounds through my antiques.

My Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary. A bit of a handful with the Triple-7 loads…

I loaded the .44 Colt with the same bullets as the .44-55 over 28gr (by volume) of Triple-7 showed significantly more recoil that the same round loaded with 6.5gr. of Trail Boss, but not notably unpleasant in the guns I was shooting it out of.

My Custom 1858 ‘Brasser.’ The .44 Colt loads performed quite well in this gun.

It was a very informative range session. Clean-up was similarly informative. The guns were dirtier than if I had been using smokeless powder but not nearly as dirty as BP or Pyrodex. I cleaned the guns by cleaning them. I used Hoppe’s #9 on the bores and Break Free CLP for the rest. Not much more effort than normal, just that the cleaning patches were dirtier and I used more of them.

Brass was a bit of a different story; the Triple-7 left it far dirtier than smokeless powders. As an experiment I put the brass from my test session in a gallon zip-lock bag with hot water and a few tablespoons of Barkeeper’s Friend cleanser. I shook the back vigorously for a minute or two, then let the brass soak for about a 1/2 hour, then dumped it into a colander and rinsed thoroughly with hot water and put it in a 200 degree oven to dry. This produced acceptably clean brass. Not pretty, mind you, but at least not all gooped up. Next time I’ll follow the suggestion of a buddy and try boiling the brass and see how that works out.

I’m pretty pleased with how the Triple-7 has worked out so far. I’ll continue to report on how it goes with this propellant. Finally getting .44-55 suitably dialed-in has led to some interesting thoughts- like ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a single-shot carbine chambered for this round?’ I’ll be playing around with that idea…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 May 2019

My First Pistol Match in Over Thirty Years!

Load-out for my first ASI match: Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45, Holster, pouch with two extra magazines, hearing protection and 100 rounds of ammunition. My shooting glasses are shown because they are my regular glasses.

Mike Harris recently made me aware of Action Shooting International , a shooting league that holds move-and-shoot matches. It was interesting because the courses of fire are made to be suitable to anyone that can hit a target, and matches are designed to be fun and educational rather than competitive. Yes, stages are scored and technically it is a competitive sport, but scores are more for tracking your own progress. There are no ‘classes’ of shooters, no prizes- the idea is to have fun, socialize, learn where you need to improve and to track your progress.

Some thirty years back I shot USPSA/IPSC matches, but by the end of the 1980’s I had stopped, for a variety of reasons. Most of these come back to money; the cost of ammo, the cost of a competitive gun etc. But there was a part of me that didn’t relish the hyper-competitive atmosphere and the ever-increasing gamesmanship employed to be competitive. ASI, with it’s more laid-back attitude, was appealing to me. I decided to give it a try.

According to their website you need a handgun of 9mm caliber or larger (.380 ACP counts,) and I certainly had a variety of options available. I decided to go with one of my carry-guns, a Detonics Mk.1 Combat Master .45. I had a holster but needed a mag-pouch. I whipped one up Friday, so there wasn’t really any time to practice with it before the match- which certainly showed in my performance! I didn’t make things easier on myself by making a ‘match’ style high-profile pouch- this one is meant for concealment and works quite well for that.

The Match was due to start at 10AM and I showed up at Renton Fish and Game at about 9:15. My pal Pat Hillyer was due to meet me there early to settle any issues or questions since this was my first match. You can show up with a loaded gun, but you cannot carry one around the match for safety reasons. No problem- just find a range officer and tell them you need to unload and they’ll walk you over to a shooting bay to do so.

Next was filling out the waiver and paying the range fee. Helpful to know that they only take cash for the $20 range fee- or you can walk over to the rifle range when they open at 10 AM to use a card. After that there was a new-shooter’s briefing, which was basic gun-handling safety and range commands. Then you sign up for a squad; they started with a squad at each of the six stages, and you simply rotate through the stages from there. Pat put me on a squad with him and some other people he knew, so I was set. At 10AM there was a Shooter’s Briefing and then we dispersed to our stages.

Given the dual goals of ASI- to be self-defense applicable and to be accessible to anyone that wants to participate- targets were pretty close and the courses of fire were set up to include not more than one reload. Some stages had a mandatory reload, some didn’t. In six stages I went through 53 rounds of ammunition, and one of those was optional. It took about 2-1/2 hours to cycle through the six stages.

Engaging hostage targets around a barricade.

The atmosphere was very laid-back and everyone was super-friendly and helpful. There was none of the tension of a ‘serious’ league match. There were people shooting that, from their gear and they way they performed, were obviously IDPA competitors. At the opposite end of the scale there was a fellow who had bought his first pistol three weeks before, and this was the third time he’d shot it. About 70-80 people showed up for the match, which elicited some surprised comments from the range officers.

So, how did I do? I honestly have no idea; I haven’t bothered to look up the results. I did discover some areas I need work on- picking up the front sight quickly and magazine changes were the stand-outs. It also reinforced my dislike of three-dot sight systems; I found the ones on my gun rather imprecise and slow to pick up. Also the gun is less ‘grippy’ than I would have preferred. I learned eventually to relax, have fun and go for it; I was overly cautious on many of the stages, and on the last one I said, ‘What the hell- I’m going to smoke this one!” And I did- except for loading the wrong magazine, which meant the gun went dry unexpectedly. This resulted in some befuddlement and a very slow magazine change (about 8 seconds. Ouch!)

One-handed double-tap around a barricade…
…and a two-handed double-tap for the last target

The upshot of it all is that I had a great time with a great bunch of people, learned some things I needed to know and had fun. The best part is that the bar for entry into this form of competition is so low- basically hearing and eye protection, a gun with a reload and a couple of boxes of ammunition, These folks will be happy to guide you through things and help any way they can. I would heartily recommend this to anyone that shoots and wants to expand their skills but is intimidated by the seriousness and intense competition of some other venues like IDPA. If you can hit a target you can have fun at one of these matches, and you’ll have the opportunity to shoot in ways that normal range-time doesn’t allow.

My experience did inspire me to make two changes to my gun- first off, no more three-dot sights. I filled and painted over the white dot on the front sight.

The other modification- I used contact cement to affix a strip of 120-grit emery cloth to the front-strap of the grip. Simple, but it makes a huge difference.

I will definitely be attending ASI matches regularly. For the moment I will be relying on the Detonics, but there’s a revolver match coming up later this year, and at some point (after I am set up to reload the ammo) I very much want to shoot a match with my Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle.’ Just for the hell of it, and why not? It’s all in good fun anyway.

If you are interested in trying this yourself follow the link above to find a match in your area. You won’t regret it!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 May 2019

What do You Think is Going to Happen?

Sig P238 Legion with custom Desert Ironwood grips- Linda’s favorite.

This is the question my wife asked me the other day. She was getting ready to go to a nearby park to walk Lilly, and I told her I’d like her to take one of her pistols.

“Why?” she asked. “What do you think is going to happen?”

“I don’t think anything is going to happen,” I replied. “If I did I’d be asking you to not go.”

It’s not the first time the question has been asked, and my answer has always pretty much been the same. I carry a pistol for self-defense. The chances I will ever need it are, let’s face it, pretty slim. There are well over 200,000,000 adults living in the USA, but only 300 civilian self-defense shootings a year. Of course this doesn’t count incidents where a gun is deployed that do not result in a shooting, but even if you do include those the odds of needing to use your gun are not high.

I don’t carry a gun because I think something is going to happen. If I thought something was going to happen I wouldn’t go. If I thought I would need a gun and for some unimaginable reason I went anyway I’d take a rifle, thanks very much.

So if I don’t expect anything to happen why carry a gun? Simple- for the same reason I have car insurance even though I don’t expect to get into an accident. For the same reason I have home-owners insurance even though I don’t expect my home to be damaged. For the same reason I have AAA even though I don’t expect my car to break down. For the same reason I take my cell-phone even if I am just going round the block to the convenience store. I do all these things because life has taught me that unexpected things happen. When these unexpected events occur I want the right tools on-hand to deal with the situation as best I can.

Today’s ‘pocket-dump.’ Wallet, handgun with reload, wristwatch, pocket-knife, lighter, pen, flashlight, cell phone and keys. I should add a pocketable first-aid kit, given how often I cut myself in the shop…

It’s axiomatic that it is better to have a thing and not need it than it is to need a thing and not have it. That’s really all of the justification you need.

To be clear- I carry a handgun for self-defense, or the defense of other innocents when there is absolutely no other option. I do not carry it to be a hero and I am not looking for trouble, or a reason to use it. In fact I go out of my way to avoid any situation where I might need it. I live on a pretty safe block, I am aware of my environment. I know my neighbors and my neighborhood. But despite our best intentions and efforts sometimes ‘excrement occurs’ and we have to deal with it, ready or not.

I doubt I will ever need my gun; in fact I earnestly hope that I will not. I would happily live out my days without ever shooting another human being. But if I ever really, really need to I’ll have a gun to do it with.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 May 2019

PS: May the 4th be with you!

The Lure of the Holy Black

The first pistols I owned were replicas of Colt’s percussion revolvers, an 5-1/2″ ASM Navy Sherrif’s Model, and a Navy Arms 1860 Army .44. I loved the look and feel of those guns, and more than a few Coyotes met their ends because of them. I graduated to one of Colt’s ‘re-issue’ Pocket Navy .36s, one of the most beautifully made guns I have owned.

As an aside, the 1860 inspired me to have a T-shirt made. It read, in old-timey script, “Life Insurance by The Colonel” over a drawing of the 1860 Army, and in smaller script beneath, “Address Colonel Samuel Colt, New York, USA.”

They were fun to shoot and surprisingly accurate… but they were painfully slow to reload, only reasonably reliable and clean-up was a pain in the butt. Following the best information I had at the time I would fully disassemble each revolver, immerse it in boiling water, then scrub with hot water and dish soap, then dry everything in a warm oven before oiling it and reassembly. Eventually I was seduced away by modern cartridge revolvers, and seldom looked back.

Around a decade ago I discovered the wonderful world of cartridge-conversion revolvers, and the Kirst gated Conversions that would let me make my own from inexpensive percussion revolvers. I started off with a Remington snubby with a .45 Colt conversion, and progressed to a Colt .45 Schofield conversion.

‘The Pug,’ a Pietta 1858 Remington-based conversion in .45 Colt
‘The Outlaw,’ based on a Pietta 1851/.44. It uses a .45 Schofield Kirst Gated Conversion

Kirst makes a hell of a good product, but they aren’t cheap and I am, so it was inevitable that I would eventually start doing my own conversions. I started by boring through percussion cylinders and making breech-plates for them. In a six-shot percussion cylinder there simply isn’t room for a .45 caliber cartridge (percussion .44s have a .451″ bore, but conventional .45-caliber cases are close to .475 in diameter) which is why the Kirsts are 5-shooters. A bored-through percussion cylinder takes a .44 caliber casing with a .451 heel-base bullet, like the original .44 Colt. In other words the bullet and case are the same diameter.

I made some dies to swage 200gr LFP bullets into a heel-base bullet and bought a special crimping die and set to work developing loads, with limited success using smokeless powders. The best results were with Trail Boss, but it was still somewhat inconsistent, and not entirely satisfactory.

I also did a Colt Walker conversion, shortening the barrel and boring through the cylinder. While there is more than ample room in the cylinder for a .45-caliber cartridge I decided to go a different route… I shortened and expanded some British .303 cartridges and loaded them with my 200gr heel-base bullets- it is, in effect, a ‘stretched’ .44 Colt. With a wonking great charge of Trail Boss behind it, it worked well enough. Since the case will comfortably hold 55gr. of Black Powder I called the resulting cartridge .44-55 Walker.

.44-55 Walker
This is Thumper, my Walker cartridge conversion

Eventually I bought a cop-and-ball revolver to convert to fire cartridges, and it came with a flask of FFFg black powder. Just for fun I loaded a .44 Colt cartridge with it. I’ll make a note here- BP is dead easy to reload in cartridges designed for it. Since you cannot have air gaps in the chamber when dealing with BP, cases are designed to hold the correct amount of powder. Simply fill the case almost to the rim and you’ve got the right load. Stuff a bullet on top, crimp it and you are good to go. I also loaded a few .44-55’s with it. I took the guns off to the range and, with some trepidation, touched off a few rounds.

Wow. It was a transformational experience; the guns barked with authority and set a massive cloud of smoke downrange. Finally my .44 Colts were acting as they should. The .44-55 Walker was even better- it actually recoiled like it meant business, though it’s still not at all uncomfortable. Since my latest .44 Colt conversion also has a percussion cylinder I loaded that up and tried it. The same grin-inducing boom-and-buck.

Remington ‘Brasser’ conversion, with cylinders for .44 Colt and percussion. cased with ammunition and reloading supplies for the percussion cylinder.

I don’t think I am going to get back into cap-and-ball revolvers at this point in time- but FFFg is my powder of choice for these two cartridges from here on out. I’m even planning on doing a rolling-block carbine in .44-55 Walker to complement ‘Thumper’ (The converted Walker revolver.)

Yes, clean-up takes a bit more effort, but my standard cleaning regimen works just fine- some Hoppe’s #9 followed by a bit of CLP and the gun is good to go. The guns do need to be cleaned immediately after coming back from the range; black-powder residue is hydrophilic and rapidly attracts moisture, so you want it out of your gun as quickly as you can conveniently manage.

I have a number of antiques that fire black-powder cartridges like .450 Adams, but having developed satisfactory smokeless loads for these guns I am a little reluctant to expose them to the mess.

So, the Holy Black is back in my life- for limited uses at least!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 April 2019

Philadelphia Deringer Build- Part 1

Recently I’ve been becoming re-acquainted with Black powder, loading .44 Colt and .44-55 walker cartridges with it. It’s a bit more work to clean the gun after firing, but honestly? It’s not that bad. These cartridges just work better with black powder; hardly surprising as that’s what they were designed for. This has been helped along by the fact that the new air evac/cleaning system at my local indoor range deals with the smoke quite effectively.

This got me thinking about building a muzzle-loading pistol. I’ve never done it before and I do relish a challenge. Since it is not legally a firearm by either Federal or State law it could even be a smoothbore. I have reamers for .251, .357, .375, .451 and .475 so there were options available for the caliber. But what to make?

The obvious answer was ‘something small’ as none of the reamers are long enough to do much more than four inches. A derringer perhaps? I tossed around a number of ideas, but eventually settled on a Philadelphia Derringer.

Typical percussion derringer, mid-19th C,

Around the middle of the 19th C. a Philadelphia gunsmith named Henry Deringer made a name for himself by producing small, large-caliber single-shot percussion pistol. Small being a relative term, of course. These .45-caliber weapons were designed to carry in an overcoat pocket, and they became popular enough that soon others were copying them, with the general type of weapon being referred to at first as a Philadelphia Deringer, and later shortened to simply calling any small pistol with one or two barrels a ‘Derringer.’ I’m not sure where the extra ‘r’ came from, but it was well established by the end of the Civil war.

I’ve never made a side-hammer lock before, but they aren’t rocket science. I’ll need to employ a number of techniques I’ve never used before, but that’s where the fun comes into it (…as well as the swearing, hair pulling and throwing things across the shop.)

The idea of boring a smoothbore is appealing; relatively easy to do, and working with a somewhat oversized block of steel would leave a lot of options. Sure, accuracy would suffer, but these were never meant to be more than a point-blank weapon to begin with. But, poking around the shop I ran across several bits of barrel cut off of percussion revolvers in the course of various cartridge-conversion projects. The one from ‘Thumper,’ my Colt Walker conversion, was suitably beefy. Using the cut-off barrel section would also allow me to produce a rifled weapon, which is better in a number of respects- not the least of which is that it would not be limited to round-ball ammunition.

These barrels have a .451″ bore, and I discovered a .44-caliber hollow-base bullet fits snugly in the rifling, opening the option of using a hollow-base Minie Ball. Better and better…

Typically the barrel of a percussion pistol (or rifle for that matter) is retained in the wooden stock by a tang extending from the back of the barrel being screwed to the wood, and a wedge passed through a lug on the bottom nearer the front. Another method, which I have chosen to use, is to have a screw pass through the bottom of the fore-stock to secure the front end of the barrel.

So, forst the easy bit. I cut a tang from the barrel itself, then did a little shaping with the belt-grinder and files. Next I ran a 1/2″-13 tap into the breech end of the barrel to secure the barrel-plug. I used a high strength 1/2″-13 bolt to create the plug.

Barrel with integral hood, a 1/2″-13 high-strength machine bolt and Red (Permanent) Loctite

I cut off the bolt on the bandsaw and used the bandsaw to cut a slot of a screwdriver. I applied the Loctite and screwed the plug in as deep as it would go, using considerable pressure to insure that it was firmly in place. There is at least 3/8″ of thread engagement, so I sincerely doubt that one could pack enough black powder into the barrel to blow the plug. The Loctite has an absurdly high sheer-strength; there is literally no chance the plug could unscrew itself.

Barrel with the plug in place. The end of the barrel will be cut to length later.

After the plug is cut and filed down I’ll weld a 1/4″-20 nut to the bottom of the barrel for the screw that passes through the bottom of the fore-stock. With the barrel then ready to mount it will be time to start on the stock.

I’m hoping to use a piece of century-old pre-blight American Chestnut for the stock; it’s a lovely wood with nice color. After that it’s time to make the side-plate and action.

So, that’s a start anyway. I’ll keep you posted as the build progresses.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 April 2019

Like what you see? Consider contributing to my Patreon!

Announcing my Patreon Page

Let’s face it, this hobby isn’t cheap. As a self-employed knifemaker my income is averages out decently, but it can be irregular and let’s face it- excrement occurs. When it does the first thing put on hold is ‘non-essentials,’ which includes practically everything to do with firearms, from reloading to range trips to new and interesting projects- and I’ve got a lot of those in the pipeline, including:

*A home-made single-action revolver

*A .25 Wildcat cartridge (.25 TCR) designed as a reloadable replacement for .22 and .22 Magnum

*A home-made rolling-block rifle chambered in .44-55 Walker

*Bespoke cartridge conversions in a variety of calibers, from .25 TCR to .32-20 to .45 Colt

*A chronograph to test commercial and handloaded ammunition

*Reviews of budget-minded new firearms for sporting and self-defense purposes.

*Shooting and review videos

*A double-rifle conversion

…and a lot more.

A lot of these projects require components or tools that I cannot easily afford- and this slows things down a lot. Also certain types of videos- specifically ‘how-to’ videos, cannot be monetized on Youtube. I’ve decided to let you, my readers, decide what this content is worth to you. If you are happy with things the way they are rest assured, I’m not going to stop doing this. The worst thing that happens is that nothing changes- I’ll keep right on producing the sort of content you are already enjoying at the current irregular pace. But if you find this blog interesting and value more new and original content, please consider contributing to my Patreon.


Michael Tinker Pearce 16 April 2019

A Bit of Fun With Obsolete Guns

Been a good while since I have posted; my apologies, but this is a hobby, and essentials of life occasionally take priority.

Today was my first range-trip in weeks, and I had a number of things to test. Based on past experience I also took several guns that I know work and that I enjoy shooting. It’s annoying to make a range trip and discover that none of the guns are working as they should… Ask me how I know. Go one then, ask!

First up was the Webley RIC. This wasn’t so much a test of the gun as the ammo. Yep, working a treat! Shooting low, but I am reluctant to cut the sight down to bring the POI up; it is a collectible antique, after all. I think I can live with it.

Five shots at seven yards. of course there just had to be a flier…

Next up was Thumper- again, more a test of the ammo than the gun. This gun uses a bespoke cartridge- .44-55 Walker. Essentially a ‘stretched’ .44 Colt, my typical load for this has been a 200gr heel-base bullet over 10 Gr. of Trail Boss. I haven’t fired Thumper a lot because the brass was formed from .303 British- doing this was a major PITA, and only 15 of the original 20 shells survived the process. “Hey Tinker, you know that’s a lot easier if you anneal the brass, right?” Sure, now I know that! Anyway, I’ve also learned that it’s much easier to form the brass from .460 S&W, and wanted to try some of the new shells.

Hey, Champion Arms actually does allow Black Powder on their range- the air-evac/cleaning system whisks the smoke away quite adequately. I decided it was time to try my latest heel-base SWC bullets ( a 200gr. .451/.430 heel-base) over 55gr. of FFFg black Powder. In the picture below the taped-over shots were from an older bullet design, and the dispersion should make it clear why I abandoned that design! The new bullets worked much better.

Shooting a bit low at 7 yards…

I gotta’ tell ya… this thing is a hoot to shoot with black-powder loads! First off the are notably more powerful than the Trail Boss loads I developed for this cartridge. They actually produce enough recoil, even in this 3-1/2lb gun, to rap my middle-finger sharply with the trigger-guard if I am not careful with my grip. The BOOM was impressive enough to make the Range Officer look to see what the hell I was shooting! Very satisfying.

What was not satisfying was that with the BP loads the firing pin is piercing the primers. Have to look into that. I think that in the future I am going to be mostly loading this cartridge with BP.

Another satisfactory test was my third scratch-built cylinder. This is a five-shot .450 Adams cylinder for my second 1858 snubby, made to replace it’s .44 Colt cylinder.

I turned the cylinder from half-hard 4340 round bar, cut the cylinder-notches, line-bored the chambers and then cut the sprocket. It needs a bit of refinement and to be properly finished, but it works. I need to finish it to 320 grit, hone the chambers and tweak the breechplate a little, then rust-blue the lot before I can call it finished. Oh, and remove the .44 Colt marking on the side of the barrel.

No more .44 Colt for this gun- from now on it’s .450 Adams!
The cylinder is relieved between chambers, so that the firing pin can rest securely between the cartridge-case heads with the hammer down.

Next was a new gun. This one is likely to get it’s own blog post- suffice to say for now It has both a .44 Colt converter and a percussion cylinder, both of which need to have the cylinder dismounted for loading/unloading.

The 1858 ‘brasser’ in it’s fitted case with accessories.

The first test was with the .44 Colt cylinder, and it was both satisfactory and rather not. The gun functioned very well, but the ammunition was dramatically underpowered. For all of that it was accurate enough at seven yards-

I think I am done trying to use Unique in this caliber; I’m just not getting consistently good results. Time for another powder or even FFFg black powder. I thought about it and decided, ‘what the hell’ and loaded five rounds into the percussion cylinder. Much more satisfying to shoot- plenty of boom and velocity was much, much better. Accuracy, however, left something to be desired.

cap-and-ball shots- not particularly accurate at 7 yards. I’ll fiddle with it and see if I can’t improve on this.

The gun appears to be shooting consistently low, but I’m not going to mess with the sight until I have a decent .44 Colt load working.

Last but not least I made my third cylinder from scratch for an 1858 Pug. This gun was originally fitted with a .44 Colt conversion cylinder, but I wanted to convert it to .450 Adams- what the heck, I already load that for some of my other guns, so why not? I turned down a piece of half-hard 4340 rod, cut the lock-notches then line-bored the cylinder. After that I reamed the chambers and cut the ratchet. I made a base-plate with a firing-pin mounted and tried it our in the gun.

The new cylinder. It’s relieved between the cylinders so that the firing pin can rest securely between the case-rims with the hammer down, so that all five chambers may be loaded safely.
Mounted in the gun- now that it’s tested I need to hone the chambers and sand everything to 320-grit and rust-blue it to finish it up.

I’ll need to remove the .44 Colt marking from the barrel, naturally.

The business of testing finished it was on to the fun stuff. A facebook group I’m part of is running a Postal Match, and I was about out of time to get my entries in. It’s a very simple course of fire- five rounds at five yards and five rounds at ten. For my centerfire target I chose my S&W 6-1/2″ Half-Target Hand Ejector in .38 Special, loaded with some stout 158gr. RNFP loads. The results weren’t embarrassing- 97/100-3x-

…of course there’s a flyer. Yes, the grips are temporary- theyw ere a Christmas present and are destined to fo on a different gun when it’s finished.

For my rimfire entry I went a rather different direction- my S&W 6. This little gun is hilariously accurate for a pocket-pistol, and the results reflected that- 96/100-1x

This weird little Smith is an excellent little shooter. I’m not sure I’d have done much better than this with a full-sized gun.

I finished out the session by putting practice rounds down-range from my custom Taurus M85 sub-compact. Satisfying but not noteworthy. It’s amazing how well this little gun handles heavy loads.

Overall a great morning at the range- hopefully I’ll be going back soon, but life has been interesting the last couple of months…

Michael Tinker Pearce, 31 March 2019

Achievement Unlocked- Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle’

Black Powder is dirty, dirty stuff- so dirty in fact that practical self-loading weapons simply weren’t viable, as powder fouling would quickly render them inoperative. But with the advent of clean-burning smokeless powders not only were semi-autos viable, but they also allowed the production of small-bore high-velocity bullets. This turned out to be precisely what was needed to allow an explosion of creativity in the field of handguns, and within a very few years semi-automatic pistols were being sold commercially.

‘Broomhandle’ Mauser

The Mauser C96 was not the first of these, but it was the first to achieve widespread acceptance and commercial success, with over a million of them produced by Mauser, and millions of ‘knock-offs’ being created in Spain, China and other places.

The C96 was introduced to the market in 1896, and it was a whole new ballgame. Chambered in the powerful 7.63x25mm Mauser cartridge, it’s fixed box magazine held 10 rounds. The .30 caliber cartridge launched an 86gr. copper-jacketed round-nose bullet at 1450fps., producing a respectable 402 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle.

Endless variants and knock-offs of this gun were made over the next 4 decades; a ‘compact’ version with a shorter barrel and a six-shot magazine, guns with fixed or removable ten or twenty-round magazines, even a full-auto version. Guns were often equipped with a wooden stock/holster combination that led to the Chinese nicknaming the gun ‘the box cannon.’ In the west it was known almost universally as the ‘Broomhandle,’ owing to the shape of its grip.

The gun was extensively exported to China as it circumvented restrictions on arms sales to that nation, and soon indigenous copies were being made in calibers ranging from .32 ACP to .45 ACP- the famous ‘Shanzu’ .45s. Mauser itself made the gun in 7.63 Mauser, 9mm Parabellum and even some in 9x25mm, which in it’s original loading spat a 128gr. bullet at 1340fps. for a muzzle energy of 510ft./lbs. of energy, making it one of the most powerful commercially available handgun cartridge until the introduction of the .357 Magnum.

There were military contracts for these guns, but Germany only used them as a ‘second-standard’ and special use weapons. They saw fighting in the Boer War, WW1, the Spanish Revolution and WW2 as well as many smaller, regional conflicts. By the mid 20th Century the Broomhandle Mauser was an iconic firearm, world-wide.

It’s not my intent to list a complete history of this gun and it’s variants; that’s the subject for a book. A book like this one, in fact-

No, this blog is because after wanting one of these guns for my entire adult life I have finally gotten one! Less than 24 hours after resolving to moderate my firearms purchases this year I encountered this gun at- where else? Pinto’s, and at a ridiculously low price; a previous owner had the gun nickel-plated, thus ‘ruining’ it for collectors. Well, their loss is my gain!

The gun is a ‘pre-war’ commercial production New Safety model made in 1915-1916. Yes, I know that is actually during WW1, but because series production began prior to the war these guns are still classified as ‘pre-war.’ The gun is overall in very good condition, and it was provided with two stripper clips for loading the ten round magazine. These only hold eight rounds, because these are not Mauser clips; I think they are actually for a Steyr. They work well enough for the moment, but I will be seeking the proper clips.

First thing to understand is that by modern standards this is a fairly terrible gun. It’s quite large for it’s barrel-length, cartridge and capacity, it’s a bit awkward, the high bore-line exaggerates muzzle-flip and the lack of a removable magazine is a serious deficit. Yeah, I don’t care. This represents the very first time someone got it right, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to have gotten it perfect.

The grip is actually more comfortable than it looks, and the thumb safety is easy to access and operate. The gun points well, and has decent sights. Highly optimistic sights, mind you; they are calibrated out to 1000 meters. I imagine that, using them, an unusually proficient shooter might manage to hit a decent-sized house at that range, especially if using the stock/holster.

To load the weapon you pull the bolt to the rear, and it will lock open on the empty magazine. You insert a clip loaded with up to ten rounds into the guides at the rear of the magazine, then using your thumb you push down on the cartridges so that they are forced into the magazine. When all the rounds are in the magazine you pull the clip out and the bolt will close and chamber a round. With this gun the process irs rendered a little fussy from having the wrong clips, but it works. Apply the safety by pushing it upward and you are ready to go.

The safety deserves some mention here; originally the safety on these guns was on in the down position, but they reversed this relatively quickly. The New Safety on this gun may be applied with the hammer down or in the cocked position, allowing the gun to be carried ‘cocked-and-locked. According to sources this safety requires the hammer to be pulled back beyond the cocked position to apply it, which is fussy and kind of stupid, as it means you need to use both hands to apply the safety. Contrary to this mine can be applied with the hammer in the cocked position, making it much easier to use. It does cam the hammer back slightly. I’m researching this now. There is no doubt that this is a proper ‘New safety’ gun; it is marked as such, has the correct hammer and it’s production-date is right. The way mine operates could be a result of wear or deliberate modification. I’ll look at this when I remove the fire-control group.

So how does it shoot? Very well indeed.

Fired strong-hand at 7 yards
Rapid-fire at seven yards
Slow-fire at fifteen yards

As usual, the gun is more accurate than I am. The sights aren’t actually terrible, but being covered in nickel makes them a bit hard for me to resolve. I’ll be painting the rear sight black, and probably red for the front sight. That, and more importantly more practice, ought to improve my results.

I have to say that the gun has lived up to my expectations, and I am delighted to finally own one!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 March 2019