Monthly Archives: May 2016
The Ugly Ducking- Carcano-Mannlicher Carbine Project
My Uncle Jim passed away last year and left me his guns and tools. Among these was a ‘sporterized’ M1938 7.35mm Carcano rifle of the type that used to sell by mail-order for about $5 before the GCA68. It was un ugly rifle, and standing in a corner unattended for forty years had not improved it.
This is perhaps the least desirable of collectible military surplus rifles, and this one was in miserable shape. Worth about $80 retail it’s not really worth the effort of selling it. On the bright side the bore and action are good, and he left me quite a lot of ammunition packed in the rare and hard-to-find clips. There’s a mix of military ball ammo and soft-points, and by all accounts these are a decent 100-150 yard deer rifle. So… what to do…
I’ve always fancied a Mannlicher carbine, and I’ve taken up gunsmithing as a hobby- why not turn the ugly rifle into one? Deciding to do so and actually doing it were too different things, not the least because a decent pieceÂ of wood was going to run a $100. For an $80 rifle? Yeah, not high on my list of priorities.
As fate would have it a friend dropped off a whonking-big chunk of Walnut, thinking I could use it for knife-handles. I told him, ‘Not so much, but I have this project…’ He was cool with that, so now I had the wood. Now it takes a pretty long piece of wood to make a Mannlicher carbine, and the standard stock was a bit short for my manly frame, so I wanted to extend the reach from the trigger. To make the most of the wood- and because of my addiction to ‘snubbies,’ I trimmed the barrel down to 16-1/2 inches (a half inch longer than the legal minimum for rifle barrels) and re-crowned it. Then I make up a rough outline of the stock I wanted and sawed it out.
Longer than it needed to be, but it’s a lot easier to make it shorter than it is to make it longer. later in the week I took and evening to mill out the slot for the magazine/trigger housing. I used my Uncle Jim’s old Craftsman drill press for this with a 3/8 inch mill.
Then I milled in the magazine slot. The drill press isn’t really designed for this, but with the Shop Fox milling vice and a little care it got done. Not perfect but a pretty decent fit.
The next evening it was time to inlet the action. Aside from milling the ‘tang’ slot the drill press wasn’t really set up for this, and wouldn’t really do the job. As luck would have it among the huge quantity of tools Uncle Jim left me there were a lot of wood-chisels, gouges and carving tools. I sharpened them all up and set to work.
It’s not as hard as you’d think, but it’s plenty hard enough. I mounted the smallest contact wheel on the belt-grinder and cleaned up the barrel channel. I’t set up so that the barrel floats from the rear-sight block to the muzzle. It took hours, and since it uses different muscles than I usually employ in my work it made me stiff and sore as hell.Â The end result was worth it, though.
Then is was time to take the wood to the belt-grinder for shaping. The Butt is offset to the left to give a nice palm-swell, and of course it’s shaped and fitted to my hand. Then I went after it with the orbital sander and took it up to 400 grit. It took a little fussing and fitting, but I was pleased with the result.
Friday afternoon I knocked off work at 2:30 and decided to deal with the front sight. I grabbed a piece of 1/2″ mild steel stock and went to work with the grinder. After the basic shape was done I filed the bottom to match the contour of the barrel. of course I couldn’t mount the sight until I refinished the barrel… basically the steel was all dark, dull and pitted from years of neglect in a coastal town, and theÂ salt air had not been kind to it.
The cut-off end of the barrel shows what the condition of the metal was like throughout. I took it to the buffer with some Black Stainless rouge, and after an hour or so things were looking better. I soldered on the new front sight and treated it with Birchwood Casey Perma-Blue. Big improvement!
The original sight was drift-adjustable and was off the the left a good bit, so I soldered the new sight slightly canted to mimic it’s original position. Of course I have no idea it that’s right, but I can always use a little heat to move the sight if needed.
I’b been planning to do an oil finish, but about this time I noticed that the raw wood was picking up oils from my hands, random drops of sweat etc. Can’t have that! As a temporary measure I re-sanded it and applied a hand-rubbed Carnauba Wax finish. It looked so good I applied more coats and kept after it. I may actually stick with this finish!
Saturday night I was feeling a bit restless, so I decided to address the butt-plate. I Â fabricated one from half-inch mild steel, finished it to 400 grit with an orbital sander and blued it. Nice. It adds a bit of weightÂ to the gun, but it brings that balance to right where I wanted it. So the gun is now effectively finished until I get a nice piece of horn for the tip under the muzzle, and I’ll likely add sling swivels at some point too.
The end result is a 38 inch overall length, a 15 inch reach from the trigger to the butt (I’m a big guy,) it balances perfectly in my hands, and makes a handy ‘brush gun.’ It’s pretty, too, if I do say so myself. I’ve now made my first-ever rifle stock, too. It won’t be the last, either.Â So- Uncle Jim’s tools help me turn his old gun into something that is now very special to me, and I think a fitting tribute to him. I think he would approve.
Now to get out to the range…
Kickinâ€™ it Old School 2: Carrying a Single Action Revolver?!
Yep, there are people that do. Seriously. Here in the 21st Century where carrying any revolver for self defense can get you funny looks there are still people that carry single-action revolvers. Not just a .44 Magnum Blackhawk for defense against bears while hiking, or for hunting where you might expect to see it either. As an EDC. Crazy, huh?
Single action revolvers require you to manually cock the hammer for each shot- but in return you get a short, crisp, light trigger pull which promotes greater accuracy. It also promotes greater likelihood of an unintentional discharge, but thatâ€™s nothing that canâ€™t be moderated by training. Modern single-action revolvers can also carry all six chambers loaded with virtually no chance of an accidental discharge if the gun is dropped, so thereâ€™s another plus. These guns also generally come in potent calibers like .357 Magnum or .45 Colt. Most of these guns are pretty large, but no more so than a lot of modern â€˜combatâ€™ revolvers. Easy enough to carry if you are a large person, and many guns like the Ruger VaqueroÂ or Cimarron Thunderer are available with â€˜Birdâ€™s-headâ€™ handles for easier concealment. If you need a smaller gun Cimarron offers their â€˜Lightningâ€˜ model with a scaled-down frame and cylinder in calibers from .22LR to .38 Special, even .41 Colt if you are so inclined. With a 3-1/2 inch barrel itâ€™s a pretty handy package.
These guns arguably require extra training, but thatâ€™s not a huge issue. So whatâ€™s the problem? In a word, reloading. Almost all modern single-action revolvers are slow as hell to reload. You open the loading gate and use the ejector to kick the shells out one at a time, then replace them one at a time. On the range this is no big deal, but if you need to reload in the middle of a fight? Ouch. There is a reason why 19th Century Lawmen and Gunfighters often carried several guns.
OK, yes- there are S&W top-break replicas that auto-eject the shells, and these can be reloaded as quickly as a modern revolver. They are large compared many modern revolvers andÂ are very expensive; I donâ€™t know anyone that carries one as an EDC.
The argument that many make for guns like the J-frame S&W for self defense is that civilian self-defense shootings almost never require more than 2-3 shots, and itâ€™s a valid argument. The odds of a civilian getting into a protracted firefight are almost nil, and a reload is unlikely to be needed. Thatâ€™s fine, but if you do need to a modern double-action revolver can be reloaded in 4-5 seconds with a bit of practice. In a Colt Style single-action (which is what weâ€™re really talking about here) Â a reload will take maybe 30 seconds. Thatâ€™s a lifetime in a gunfightâ€¦ if youâ€™re lucky. So why carry a Single Action as an everyday EDC?
Most people that do this carry them because they like them. They find them comfortable and familiar. They are confident in their ability to put shots where they want them. Yeah, they might be better off developing that level of skill and comfort with a modern firearm, but they just donâ€™t care enough to bother. And lets face it, someone points a Peacemaker at you and thumbs back the hammer they are going to get your undivided attention!Â These things are pretty scary looking from the receiving end. Â Iâ€™ll tell you this, Iâ€™m a lot more likely to be scared of a gray-haired old man with a Ruger Blackhawk than I will be of a gang-banger with a generic 9mm; heâ€™s a hell of a lot more likely to know how to use it!
Then there are the people who just think they are cool, or macho or romantic. The feeling of connection to the â€˜wild-westâ€™ gunslinger of old makes them feel good. But like the song says, these guns â€˜could get you into trouble but they couldnâ€™t get you outâ€™ unless you are very good indeed.
So is there any good, rational reason someone might use one of these guns for EDC? Surprisingly there is. Some people canâ€™t manage the double-action pull of a modern revolver, and/or have trouble working the slide of a semi-auto. Given that any gun is better than no gun such people might find a single-action revolver, particularly a small frame gun like the Ruger Bearcat or Single-Six, or the Cimarron Lightning might work for them. For these people even an inexpensive single-action .22 like the Heritage Rough Rider is better than being unarmed. Letâ€™s face it, the thing any defensive firearm absolutely must do is go bang when you pull the trigger, and if you can only spend $125 on a defensive gun a Rough Rider is a lot more likely to be reliable than anything else you can get for the money.
I have carried Single-Action revolvers. Mostly when hunting, but occasionally as a defensive carry gun- usually because it was the best I had on hand at the time. Honestly for most EDC I would not feel tragically under-armed with a 3-1/2 inch Cimarron Thunderer or â€˜birds-headâ€™ Vaquero in .45 ACP. Would it be my first choice? Probably not. That doesnâ€™t mean I will make fun of you if you choose to. OK, Iâ€™m lying, Â I will. In a good-natured way at least.