This week I finally finished ‘The Cherub.’ This was an unidentified unfinished gun when I got it. It was full assembled, but many of the parts were ‘as cast’ and only the internal parts were finished at all. It was also missing it’s locking-bolt. I had the impression that it was bought as a kit and thrown together without any effort to finish it. This is the gun as I first saw it-
I’ve covered the details before so I’ll stick to general comments here. This project took some serious gunsmithing! First I had to replace the locking bolt- with no idea who manufactured the gun. The gun had no manufacturer’s marks or proof marks of any kind, but I eventually decided it was probably an Armi San Marcos. Naturally the part wasn’t available, so I got an Uberti part and fussed with it until it worked. This process continued throughout the time I was making other modifications to the gun and ended yesterday.
Oddly turning down, boring through and lining the cylinder was very straightforward. Likewise shortening and reshaping the barrel, fitting the wood grips etc. presented no novel issues. But the timing? Oh yeah… headaches galore. Take the gun apart, make a change, reassemble, test, swear. Repeat until you lock yourself in a dark room and cry forever. Well, for a long time anyway. Pro Tip- start with a gun that already works!
The Breechplate presented it’s own issues, most of which relate directly to the fact that the milling machine is still not up and running. In the end there was nothing insurmountable. The firing pin was also problematic, mainly because I wanted a rebounding firing pin, and there really wasn’t room for the spring. Finally I just used a design that omitted the spring, and it works quite well.
Finally with all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed I refinished- well actually- finished the gun; it had never been finished to begin with. I used a simple cold-blue as I wanted to test the gun before committing to a final finish. I actually like the results-
The other gun has been finished for some time. Technically. But it never felt finished because I couldn’t come up with proper ammo for it. It’s chambered in .44 Colt- the real .44 Colt, not the cartridge used in Italian reproductions. The original cartridge used a .451 heel-base bullet; .44 percussion revolvers were actually 45 caliber. Because reasons.
.44 Colt brass is easy to make from .44 Special; just shorten it slightly and turn down the rim a bit. easy-peasy. What isn’t easy is keeping the bullets in the cartridges. With the bullets being the same diameter as the case a conventional crimping die won’t do it. Old West Bullet Molds offers a customized Lee collet-crimp die to accomplish this, and that’s what a reasonably intelligent person would buy. Naturally I didn’t. Because reasons.
I tried a taper-crimp, and that held the bullets quite well. Especially since my loads were so wimpy they barely made it out of the barrel. OK, I was a little too cautious starting out, but smokeless powder loads for this cartridge are hard to come by. Next I tried Trail Boss’s recommended method for developing a load. Fill the case to the bottom of the bullet, weigh that charge and start with 70% of that weight. OK then, 6.5 grains of trail boss under a 200 grain bullet. This failed because bullets were backing out under recoil, and even if that weren’t the case I was getting a lot of un-burned powder. Bugger.
Next I tried the taper-crimp with what a friend of mine calls a ‘Chemical Crimp.’ Basically you glue the bullet in. This solved the problem with un-burned powder and the loads had considerably more pep. So much that bullets were backing out in the cylinder again. Bugger.
Next I tried modifying a pair of wire-stripping pliers to make the crimp. Ugly not uniform… and the pliers broke. Next! I took a suggestion from a gun-store acquaintance and dulled the cutting-wheel of a pipe-cutter and used that. It crimped them alright- but pieces of the lip of the cartridge came loose and went downrange with the bullets. Others just stuck out at random angles so they could cut you after you removed them from the cylinder. Uncertain of the effect of this crimp on pressure I had also reduced my load. It was perfect- a combination of weak and inconsistent but still strong enough to tear the cartridge lip. Bugger.
Finally I did what any rational person would have done to begin with- forked out $50 for the customized crimp die. This arrived today and I gave it a go. Works a treat- as you would expect, since it’s actually the right tool for the job. I also went back to the original load I had developed, and I am quite confident that things will work out properly this time.
This had an unexpected effect- I hadn’t realized it but I’ve been harboring a niggling feeling that The Dandy wasn’t really finished. I didn’t realize this until having proper ammunition cured that. I finally feel like the gun is complete!
I recently acquired a new SAA clone- a story for another time- and took it, The Pug and The Outlaw to the range. There I discovered that my ‘cowboy’ loads for the two cartridge-conversion guns look exactly like my hunting load, which is significantly stouter. That was… exciting. It also meant both guns needed some degree of repair. I needed this not to happen again. I needed my cowboy loads to be unmistakable, and the solution was easy- .45 Cowboy Special.
This is basically .45 Colt shortened to .45 ACP length. You reload it using a .45 Colt shell-plate and .45 ACP dies- which I have. I also have quite a lot of .45 Colt brass, so I shortened a box of it to the appropriate length and loaded it with a 200gr. LRNFP over a modest .45 ACP load of Trail Boss. As long as I stick to these the conversion revolvers will have long, happy lives.
Both of these guns- my first home-made cartridge conversions- will be going to the range later this week for a good wringing out, and I’ll test the new .45 CS ammo as well. Ought to make for a good time! Naturally I’ll let you know how it goes.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 16 January 2018
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