Some (most?) of you may be unaware that my wife and I are novelists. A couple of years back Linda had a character that was enamored of the trappings of the Victorian Era and a Sherlock Holmes fan. Linda asked me what sort of gun she would have and I responded, “A Webley RIC. that was DR.Watson’s gun.”
These were a solid-frame fixed-cylinder gun double-action revolver, often with a short barrel. In 1868 they were adopted by the Royal Irish Constabulary, giving the gun it’s name- RIC. These were initially available in .442 Webley, but were later offered in .450. In 1883 the model was given a longer, fluted cylinder and other minor improvements.
This month is my birthday, and in honor of the occasion Linda bought me an RIC in .450 Adams. She found it on Gunbroker and paid far less than these revolvers usually go for.
The gun is in quite good condition mechanically, and has all of the proper proofs, markings, and with matching serial numbers. Mechanically it is in in good shape; the lock-up would do credit to a brand-new revolver. the trigger is not light, but it is not too heavy and is extremely smooth. The chambers are in excellent condition, and the bore is not bad. The one-piece Walnut grip fits my hand like it was made for it, and the gun points very naturally.
This is a Model 83 (obviously) and after careful examination- and cleaning 130 years of gunk out of the works- there was no obvious reason not to fire it. As I already reload .450 Adams this was not a problem.
…except it was. Event though I had thinned the rims of my brass down for the British lion revolver many of them were not thin enough. I made a new run of brass with thinner rims and loaded them up and we were off to the range.
The gun is a good shooter with it’s smooth pull and unusually good sights for a gun of it’s age. The new ammo worked but the gun experience malfunctions where it would not rotate the cylinder on it’s own. Presenting any resistance to the cylinder (which some of the cartridges did) could cause this. Typically this would be a symptom of a weak hand spring, a common failing on old guns and relatively easy to fix. (The hand is the piece that pushes on the ratchet on the back of the cylinder to make it rotate.)
I had the British Lion bulldog along, and two new loads to try out- both used the 200gr. RNL bullet and Unique powder. One load used 3.2gr and the other 4.0gr, and both had a heavy roll-crimp. Loads were test-fired in the British Lion first, then in the RIC.
The 3.2gr. load worked fine, but was a bit lackluster. The 4.0gr. load was the real deal, with an authoritative bark and notably more recoil. Not in any way unpleasant, mind you- and this load shot closest to point of aim. I think this load closely replicates the original load and later cordite loads, but really this is just an educated guess.
Altogether a satisfactory outing; both weapons shot well, we’d found a good load to use in the weapons and the only issue was an easy fix. Yeah, sure it was.
The next afternoon I got the Webley apart and examined the hand-spring. Huh… it looked fine and seemed to be doing it’s job. I reassembled the gun and checked by applying light resistance to the cylinder- only two of the chambers were a problem. OK, the malfunction is happening because the hand is failing to engage. The tip of the hand seems nice and sharp, so… yep. Two of the teeth on the sprocket are slightly rolled over at the top. Empty and with no resistance it works fine- apply resistance and the hand slips. The conventional solution would be to weld up the sprocket and re-cut the teeth. I can’t do that. Another solution would be to cut the teeth deeper to allow more engagement.
OK then- deepening the teeth won’t prevent it from being welded and re-cut if need be, so I decided to try that. Using a 1.5mm conical carbide burr in my engraver ( which spins it at 400,000 rpm) and some magnifying lenses I carefully went to work. Nerve wracking, but not particularly difficult. Shortly I remounted the cylinder and tried it. All chambers now rotated, even against resistance. Success!
So I loaded some of my homespun brass for a function check… and those two cylinders were once again a problem. Took the brass out, no problem. Put it back in- problem. Hmmm… I had some original balloon-head cartridges, so I got them out and examined them. The rim is much thinner than my home-spun brass. I put them in the cylinder for a function-check- no problems. I put my own brass back in and, with the aid of a powerful flashlight, determined that the hand was hitting the thick cartridge rims, which raised it just enough to keep it from engaging on the dodgey ratchet teeth. Eureka! I just needed thinner rims.
Except that the rims were already so thin I had to be careful not to bend them using the hand-primer. Bugger. Linda the research goddess rode once again to the rescue. She found new .450 brass and reloading dies at Buffalo Arms, which are winging their way to my door as I write this. Hopefully this will remove any issues… at least until I decide it’s time to have the job done properly by, you know, someone that actually knows what they are doing.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 14 June 2018
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