The Gun That Opened the Can of Worms


RM38aThis is the gun that started me on amateur gunsmithing.

I’ve always loved single-action Colt SAA-style guns. I’ve had some very nice ones over the years. The problem with them is that in any caliber smaller than .44 there is just too much metal in the cylinder and bore so they don’t feel right to me. I basically stuck to .45 Colt in these guns. So it was quite a blow a few years back when local environmental regs demanded that indoor ranges stop allowing the use of all-lead bullets until they made significant and expensive upgrades to their air-cleaning systems. That meant the only ammo I could shoot was defensive ammunition, which was prohibitively expensive for target practice. In the end i reluctantly parted with my beloved Cimarron Thunderer because I could never afford to shoot it. But I mourned…

My wife found the solution, and bought it for me for Christmas. It was a 7-1/2-inch barreled Cimarron 1851 Navy Richards-Mason conversion in .38 Special, made by Uberti. Since .38 Special is close enough to the original .38 Colt the gun still felt right to me.  I loved the gun, but before long I had visions of a snub-nosed version. I thought I might buy another gun and make one some day, but I could never afford it. Finally the wife said, “Just do it to this one.” So in late winter 2015 I did.

I started out removing the ejector tube, then sliced of the barrel with my bandsaw. I squared up the end of the barrel and re-crowned it with a conical reamer in the drill-press. I carefully polished the result and cold-blued it. I marked a spot for the front-sight and drilled a 1/8 inch hole, then used a fine carbide burr to undercut the hole inside. I peened in a section of 1/8 inch brass rod for the front sight and carefully polished it to a rounded profile. The rear sight is cut into the hammer-nose, and I carefully enlarged it with a triangular jeweler’s file until I had a good sight picture.

Then I took a deep breath and removed the grip-frame and the one-piece wooden grip. I annealed the brass frame and attempted to bend it. As I had feared it broke; brass castings seem pretty unforgiving, and I discovered that the quality of brass used was not the best. I knew could always buy a replacement frame, and it’s not like it could get more broken, so I cut the grip-frame and brazed in a piece of 1/8- inch brass plate and shaped it, then drilled it for the retention screw. I reshaped the wood grip to the new profile, carefully sanded it down to match and finished it with a hand-rubbed Carnauba wax finish.

The result feels excellent in my hand, points naturally and shoots great. The improved sights compensated somewhat for the shorter sight-radius; one-hole groups at seven yards and even at 25 yards I can keep all the shots on an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper. I honestly don’t miss the ejector- typically I can just open the loading gate, rap the side of the cylinder and the empties fall free. It’s actually faster than using an ejector…

I then made a simple field holster for the gun for mucking about in the woods and such.

I love the results, and as an added bonus Linda now enjoys shooting this gun; previously the 7-1/2 inch barrel was a bit much for her. My success with this gun spurred me to attempt other projects, and the can of worms was well and truly opened. I’m having fun with it, so I am not even going to try to get the little bastards back in the can!

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