A couple of items that I have been waiting for arrived today- a pair of Pietta 1858 New Army Remington .44 Revolvers. These areÂ cap-and-ball guns; loaded through the front of the cylinder and set off by a percussion cap set on a nipple at the rear of the cylinder. According to the BATF these are ‘non-firearms’ and so may be freely shipped between individuals. The upper gun with the white Ivory Micarta handles belongs to a friend; the lower with the wood handles is a brand new gun that I took in trade.
I don’t know how long my friend has had his gun, but has long wanted it converted into a ‘belly-gun.’ Basically a snub-nosed revolver with a bird’s-head grip. A number of people have made these and I have to admit I always thought they were nifty. I had offered to do this for my friend, and since these are technically not firearms there are no legal issues with my doing so. Not wishing to risk doing anything irreparable to my friend’s gun I set to work on mine first for practice.
The first step is disassembling the gun. The loading lever, grips and cylinder are removed.
Next I cut the barrel to the desired length- in this case 3 inches. I finished the end of the barrel and re-crowned it, then on my belt-grinder I carefully re-ground the frame to a bird’s-head profile. I then placed each grip on the frame in turn and marked the new contour on it in pencil. I ground away the excess wood and re-shaped the bottom of the grips. The grip location-pin was ground away in the re-profiling of the frame, so I will have to drill a hole in the frame for a new pin and drill the inside of the grips. This keeps them from shifting under recoil.
Mounting the grips I sanded them to match the back of the grip-frame, then removed themÂ andÂ re-dyed them to match the original color. I applied a penetrating acrylic sealer and when that was dry I lightly buffed the grips. I cleaned and de-greased the muzzle and back of the grip-frame and blued them with Van’s Instant Blue, then cleaned the gun thoroughly. Normally at this point in such a conversion I would drill and tap a hole in the wide part of the cylinder axis pin for a set-screw to secure it against recoil, mount a front-sight and the gun would be finished… but I had a cunning plan.
My friend has a drop-in cylinder to fire .45 Colt cartridges. Yes, the gun is called a .44 but the bore diameter is actually .452. To load this cylinder it must be taken out of the gun. The cylinder axis pin is normally retained by the loading lever, and if I did a standard ‘belly-gun’ conversion he would need to loosen the set-screw with a screwdriver each time he wished to change cylinders to load it, which would be kind of a pain. So I removed the spring-catch from the loading-lever and shortened the lever to the length of the barrel, then re-shaped it slightly to look nicer. I think there is a way to mount a spring-catch in the cylinder axis pin to keep the shortened loading lever from flopping around when the gun is fired. If so this would make reloading much easier as the cylinder axis pin could be removed in the normal manner. This has the added advantage tat the lever might still be used to load the cap-and-ball cylinder. Â It may not work, and if so I can always finish his gun in the normal way and just order a new cylinder axis pin for my gun.
By this point it was already quite late, and I just didn’t feel like tackling something that complicated, so we’ll leave that for next time.