I’ve always liked the look of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army- I mean, who doesn’t? One variant that I always found particularly fetching was the Sheriff’s Model.
Typically this model is associated with a shorter than usual barrel length of 3″, but in reality the defining characteristic is the lack of an ejector. ‘Sheriff’s Model’ is actually a name applied to these guns by collector’s; Colt originally offered them as ‘Ejectorless’ models. I’ve seen originals with barrel-lengths up to 5-1/2″ and in fact you could order them with any length of barrel. In the 19th Century the most common lengths were 3″ and 4″.
Being a man of limited means the chances of my getting my hands on a factory Sheriff’s Model, either original or new, is nil. If I ever wanted a gun of this type I was going to need to make it myself from a less expensive reproduction. Enter the Hawe’s Firearms Western Marshal .45, made by J.P.Sauer & Sohn of West Germany.
J.P.Sauer & Sohn were the first European company to produce replicas of the 1873, and they were imported by several companies under different trade-names. These guns were much less expensive than Colts, so they were often used in television Westerns of the 1950’s and 60’s instead of actual ‘Peacemakers.’ They differ from Colt’s in a number of respects; they are rather larger and stouter, which since they were offered in calibers up to .44 Magnum they pretty much had to be. They also used a frame-mounted rebounding firing pin instead of the Colt’s hammer-mounted unit. Like the Colt the hammer must be placed over an empty cylinder for safe carry, or else dropping the gun risks an unintentional discharge. The profile of the front of the frame below the barrel is also different, and the grip-frame is alloy rather than iron or steel. These guns were not as well finished as a Colt, of course, and came with a plain dark finish.
I encountered one of these guns at Pinto’s last year in quite good condition, and it seemed like the perfect candidate for a Sheriff’s Model conversion. It was well-made, locked up tight and had an excellent action and trigger. It also had a spare, un-fluted cylinder chambered for .45 ACP. The finish was nothing to write home about- the sides of the frame were wavy and the ‘bluing’ there looked distinctly paint-like- but for the princely sum of $275 I was willing to forgive a lot.
Of course I had to take the gun out and shoot it, and it was a nice gun. Since I didn’t have a full-size gun in .45 Colt I decided not to cut the gun down. This didn’t mean I was going to leave it unmolested, mind you! I thought I would take care of some of the cosmetics and re-blue it. I flattened the sides of the frame and removed the finish from the grip-frame, which I thought improved things a good bit. Then I tried to blue the gun…
Nope. Not happening. None of the several bluing methods I had on hand had any effect. I even tried to see if I could make it rust. Nope. The gun is apparently stainless steel, or so close to it as to not matter. This explained why the finish looked like paint in some places- it more or less was. Bugger.
Well, nothing for it but to polish the entire gun, so I did- and wile I was at it I went ahead and re-contoured the front of the frame to more closely resemble a Colt. You can see the difference in the pictures below-
The refinished gun was quite attractive, and it stayed in this state through the winter. Then a 4-5/8″ Armi San Marcos 1873 .45 was offered at a very good price and I couldn’t resist. This is my favorite barrel length on a Peacemaker so it has remained unmolested… but now the J.P Sauer & Sohn gun was redundant. Yeah, remember that Sheriff’s model I wanted to make?
First things first- I like the look of an un-fluted cylinder, and the .45 ACP cylinder that came with the gun was going unused, so I carefully reamed out the chambers to accept .45 Colt. This took some time, mostly because I needed to be very careful to accomplish this. When it was finally done I went ahead and made a ‘nail-nick’ at the edge of each chamber so that a fingernail or small tool can be inserted under the rim of the cartridge to facilitate removal of spent shells.
With that being done I removed the dark finish and polished the cylinder to match the rest of the gun. Moving on to the barrel I removed the ejector, then used a small pipe-cutter to mark the cut. I sliced the barrel off on the band-saw, then used the mark from the pipe-cutter to true the barrel on the belt-grinder. I broke the edge of the barrel and crowned it with a conical burr in the drill-press.
Since the front sight was far too tall I sliced it off the cut-off barrel section rather than removing is properly then refaced the bottom. I established the center-line on the barrel, and using a cut-off wheel in the flex-shaft tool I cut a slot for the sight. I worked carefully to get a friction-fit, then silver-soldered the sight in place. The front-sight is set well-back from the muzzle, as was typical for these guns. No- I don’t know why.
Polished everything up and gave the gun a good cleaning, and I’m delighted with the results-
So, all finished? Not quite, actually. I left the ejector-rod housing in place because I had not yet decided whether or not to mount a shortened ejector. After contemplating the matter overnight though I have decided not to, so I ground away the ejector housing as was done on the first of the original guns. Colt later made a symmetrical frame that lacked this housing, but that’s not an option, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way.
After grinding away the ejector housing I found the cylinder-release screw on that side stuck out ludicrously far, so I shortened and re-blued it. Now we’re done!
This will make it much easier to use a rod to eject empties, and it really does look better. I can’t wait to get this one to the range and try her out.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 April 2018
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