Monthly Archives: April 2017

Remington Bulldog .45 Colt Conversion


For those of you that have to been following this project you might want to read up on how we got here:

Since Part 2 I have further shortened the barrel to 2-5/8″, fabricated and added a front sight and made a ‘pinky-groove’ at the bottom-front of the handle. This last modification really improves the comfort of the grip, BTW.

OK, now that you are all caught up the final part of this gun has arrived- that being a Kirst gated cartridge conversion in .45 Colt. This arrived last week from Kirst. Price was $325; not inexpensive but well worth it for what you get.

So what do you get? A 5-shot cylinder with a ‘dead position’ to drop the firing pin and a breech-ring with a firing-pin and loading gate. The dead position for the firing-pin borders on brilliant; there really isn’t room for six .45 Colt cartridges in the cylinder, and since the only safe way to carry a gun of this design is with the hammer down on an empty cylinder having five equally spaced chambers would basically give you a four-shooter.  The original cylinder gets around this by having places to drop the hammer between cylinders, and while Kirst could have done the same thing they instead gave you a single position for the hammer. Less machining and a quite positive safety.

To install the converter you simply withdraw the cylinder pin, remove the percussion cylinder and replace it with the new cylinder with the breech-ring mounted. Then just slide the cylinder pin in and… it doesn’t go all the way. OK, they say there might be some fitting required. I looked and the ‘feet’ that brace against the frame were a skosh too long. The directions say to carefully file them until it fits. OK, I can do that. A dozen passes with the file and it was almost there- a few more and it was good to go.

Next I needed to relieve the blast-shield so that cartridges could actually be inserted through the gate. The website said that a template for doing this is included with every conversion. It wasn’t, but there were instructions. Basically mount the converter, mark where the gate is and then use a Sharpy-marker to mark where the gate is. Remove the converter and all internal parts of the gun. Use a 5/8″ sanding drum on a Dremel-tool to remove material until it is possible to insert an empty cartridge into the cylinder. Then use finer grit to finish, polish and then re-blue with cold blue. Estimate time: 2-3 Hours. Helpfully there are no pictures of what this will look like when you are finished.

5/8″ sanding drum on a Dremel-tool? PAH! We don’ need no stinking Dremel! I have a 5/8″ contact wheel for my Bader B-III Belt grinder. 2-3 hours? Try 2-3 minutes.

This is what it looks like. Note that for a rimmed cartridge like .45 Colt you need to cut well into the frame to clear the rim.

It took a couple tries mounting the converter and checking, but it was done very quickly, and applying Van’s Instant Blue directly to the hot steel produced very satisfactory results. Now it was possible to load the cartridges.

Anyone familiar with old-school single actions know the drill-  half-cock, open the gate, load one, skip one, load four. Then when you bring the hammer to full cock and lower it the hammer rests on an empty cylinder. Starting with the hammer indexed to the rest position on the cylinder (which is marked by a cut-out on the rim) load the first chamber and follow this procedure. The result is the same, except instead of coming down on an empty chamber it will come down into the safety position. At first the cylinder was reluctant to turn freely at half-cock, but after a bit of manipulation that cleared up and it worked just as it should.

I’m impressed with the Kirst converter. It required minimal fitting, lockup and timing is good and needed no adjustment. The cylinder gap looks to be .0015-.002″- very tight. Maybe a little too tight for black-powder, but better too tight than to too loose. I expect I will shoot some black-powder shells at some point and we’ll find out.

A particularly nice feature with the Kirst converter is the ability to drop the percussion cylinder back in the gun and use it. Not that I intend to, but this is still important to me. When you take a percussion revolver ( a non-firearm according to ATF) and put a modern cartridge cylinder in it you are, in effect, manufacturing a firearm. This is no problem in states that allow it, but it makes selling the gun problematic unless you are a licensed firearms manufacturer. The ability to drop the percussion cylinder back in with no hassle makes it possible to sell the gun or transfer it easily to an heir. Not that intend to either sell it or die any time soon…

The finished gun. All Italian markings and proofs have been removed.

Went to the range this afternoon with a box of HSM 200gr. RNFP Cowboy Loads. So, how does it shoot? See for yourself-

First shooting

And the target I was shooting at ten yards in the video:

With the mild cowboy loads this gun is a pussycat. I am going to have to reduce the height of the front sight as it’s shooting low, but that’s easy enough. I’m really very happy with this gun’s performance. In the future I’ll try some (modestly) heavier loads, but I am confident it will handle them with aplomb.

I’m pretty delighted with this gun- the looks, the handling and now the shooting. It’s a peach if I do say so myself.

Tinker Pearce, 22 April 2017


Pietta 1851 ‘Outlaw’ .44 Build- Phase One

Phase One of this project is where the gun will assume 90% of its final form. Phase Two will involve the fitting of a cartridge conversion to .45 Colt.

The starting point for this conversion is a Pietta 1851 Navy Colt reproduction fitted with a .44-caliber cylinder and barrel. I’m not sure this is something that ever existed in history, but that’s OK. This gun is old and well-used. Most of the color-case hardening is worn away and there are nick and scratches indicative of long use. While there is fine pitting throughout the bore the rifling is strong, so I am not overly concerned on that point.

This is the gun in its original form- 7-1/2″ barrel, loading lever, full ‘plow-handle’ grip. I looked at a number of concepts ranging from a full-length ‘steampunk’ version of the gun to a very snub-nosed ‘Avenging Angel.’  What I settle on eventually was a reshaped handle and a relatively short but not ‘snub-nosed’ barrel. I settled on a length of 3-1/2″ because that’s the shortest practical length if I decide to add an ejector to the gun after it’s converted to fire metallic cartridges.

To go with the shorter barrel I wanted a more compact handle and the go-to shape for guns of this type is the ‘bird’s head.’ Frankly Ive done that a few times already, and was looking for something else. Thinking of N-Frame S&Ws fitted with K-frame grips it occurred to me- what if I grafted the grip of an 1849 onto the 1851 frame?  OK, it won’t work- not to mention that I don’t have an 1849 grip frame lying around. But I could approximate the size of an 1849 grip-frame.

To start with I removed the one-piece walnut grip and the bottom retention screw, then squeezed gently to narrow the width of the grip until it approximated an 1849 grip. This left approximately 1/4″ of the back-strap protruding from the bottom front of the grip. I drilled a new screw hole, threaded the screw in and cut off the excess. I also ground a bit away at the bottom front of the handle to eliminate some of the ‘hook’ in the original grip. For esthetic reasons I rounded the bottom of the frame a bit as shown below-

So, now I had my grip-frame. Now for the grips… I cheated of course. I cut the single-piece stock grip into two pieces and ground them flat on the bottom to make two grips. I’ll tell the story with pictures and captions for a bit:

Here’s one of the new grip panels with the outline of the new frame. I carefully ground each side to fit the new profile, and rounded the outer surface to approximate the original.

I drilled the hole for the grip screw, counterbored them for the nut on the left side and the bushing for the screw on the right side, mounted the grips and shaped them precisely to the frame.  I drilled through the bottom front of the frame for a 1/8″ brass pin, then bored each grip to fit over the pin. This prevents the grips from slipping out of place when the grips are screwed on. I then polished the grips and frame together to get the proper fit.

I’ve always found dealing with the wedge-retention screw a pain, so I flattened one side. Turn the screw 3/4 of a turn and the wedge can easily be removed.

Next I removed the loading lever and cut the barrel at just over 3-1/2 inches using a bimetal blade on my metal-cutting bandsaw. I squared this up on my Bader belt-grinder, then re crowned it with a conical burr. I also took the opportunity to remove the markings and italian proof-marks. 

I could have simply reinserted the loading-lever screw, but this looked clunky to me and lacked intention, so it was back to the Bader for some judicious reshaping. The result was much more complete and purposeful looking:

At this point I detail-stripped the pistol; quite a bit of gunk around the innards, which I cleaned off and oiled the parts. The color-case hardening was worn and in bad shape, so I polished the frame and cylinder.  The barrel, cylinder and frame were the immersed in Van’s Instant Blue for several minutes, then removed and thoroughly hosed down with WD40.

After a good soak I cleaned off the excess oil and thoroughly buffed them vigorously with paper towels. Time for a front-sight, and I planed a simple post like the pistol originally had.

I drilled a 1/8″ hole approximately 3/32″ deep in the tip of the barrel, and returning to the workbench I used a 1/16″ burr in the flex-shaft tool to undercut the edges of the hole so the bottom was wider than the top. I inserted a short section of 1/8″ brass rod and hammered it into place. The caused the base of the peg to expand into the undercut section of the hole, essentially forming a blind rivet. I then trimmed the post to my best guess at the correct height and buffed if to remove the corners. I ground a slight ‘swoop’ a few hundredths deep in the top of the barrel on a whim, leaving the front sight on a slightly raised ‘platform’ and re-blued it without polishing so that the top of the barrel is less reflective than the polished surfaces. Using a round needle-file I enlarged the rear-sight (the tip of the hammer, actually) to a good size to work with the post.

Time to reassemble the essentially finished gun. I find the ergonomics and balance quite delightful; the gun is eminently point-able and comfortable in my hand. It feels much lighter and handier than it did in its original form, though at 38oz. it’s still not exactly a light-weight. A good thing, that; .45 isn’t exactly a powderpuff, even with loads limited to less than 1000 fps.

So, here is Phase One completed- Phase Two, the fitting of the Kirst gated conversion, will occur at some indefinite future point when I can afford the conversion.

Tinker Pearce, 14 April 2007

Reflections of a Reloading Noob

My reloading bench- a work in progress. I’ll be adding at least one shelf above the bench; I’ll certainly need more room when I start reloading shotgun shells.

I’ve always wanted to reload my own ammunition, but there was never room or other priorities were getting in the way. Then a couple of years ago two things happened; my workshop burned down and my wife got me addicted to S&W top-breaks.

Getting me addicted to the top-breaks meant I needed .38 and .32 S&W ammunition. These are not common and are quite expensive to shoot. Reloading was an obvious answer. I also inherited a 7.35mm Carcano rifle, and factory ammunition for that is pretty hard to come by. The shop burning down meant that I got to design my new shop, and I designed it to accommodate space for reloading.

Finances were tight, but eventually I traded for a used press with a set of .38/.357 dies, a buddy sent me four cans of Unique powder and Linda made sure that I got the other tools and sundries needed. I’ve now loaded 250 rounds of .38 S&W and shot 150 of them. Between .38 S&W and .38 Special I’ve now reloaded a total of 550 rounds. It’s been interesting, and 550 seems like a good benchmark to talk about this.

Among the sundries gotten for the purpose were 100 pieces of new Starline .38 S&W brass. For those that don’t know it .38 S&W is a shorter cartridge than .38 Special and it was the first centerfire ‘.38’ cartridge developed by S&W. This means it was originally a black powder cartridge, and of course when they were making the transition to smokeless powder the loads were formulated for revolvers originally intended to fire black powder cartridges. Contrary to the conventional wisdom most ‘black powder’ .38 S&W revolvers are perfectly safe to fire with modern factory ammunition. That being said any antique firearm should be examined by a knowledgable and competent gunsmith before firing.

.38 S&W being the most difficult to obtain and expensive .38 naturally I wanted to reload that first. Like all .38-caliber cartridges it isn’t actually .38 caliber of course- it’s .361. The more common .38 Special is actually .357. I’m not making this up! .361 diameter pistol bullets are a bit thin on the ground; generally one can get 147gr. round nosed lead and that’s pretty much it. This is a pretty unsatisfactory bullet design for defensive use, but fortunately there is an option- the .38/.357 148gr. Hollow-Based Wadcutter. In a .361 bore the pressure from the burning propellant will expand the base and cause it to ‘bump up’ to the larger bore diameter. These bullets have the added advantage that they can be loaded into .38 Special cartridges as well.

Hollow-base Wadcutters as typically loaded into .38 Special

While these will not be an ideal defensive round the are markedly better than a RNL bullet. I checked around for reloading data and found that 2.5 grains of Unique should be a safe and reasonably efficient load in my top-break S&W revolvers. Testing indicated that penetration and accuracy from these reloads is acceptable, and recoil is quite mild. Out of the 1-5/8″ barrels of our guns these rounds are probably going 580-600 fps.

I should note that I was using .38 Special dies for these loads, which does not apply the roll-crimp normally advised for revolver cartridges. The theory is that the heavy crimp is prudent because otherwise the bullets might be dislodged from the cartridges as they are subjected to the repeated recoil of other rounds in the cylinder being fired. Unfortunately .38 Special dies will not permit this in the much shorter .38 S&W cartridge. Given the mild recoil of this round that proved unnecessary; the taper-crimp imparted while seating the bullet is quite sufficient.

Being a ‘noob’ at reloading I tend to be excessively careful, visually verifying the primer and powder charge before seating a bullet. When loading the first 50 rounds I actually weighed every charge. This is completely unnecessary, of course. The Lee Perfect powder measure I am using is a well-proven product and performed flawlessly. After that I was more worried about a double-charge, but these cases are short enough that a double-charge of powder would be obvious a glance. So I glance always glance.

While wadcutters are typically loaded entirely or almost entirely inside the case the .38 S&W is too short for this, so I loaded them to an overall length of 1″, which leaves roughly 3/16″ of the bullet protruding from the case.

S&W .38 Safety Hammerless 4th Model with reloaded .38 S&W wadcutter loads. Despite being a full wadcutter these load easily from a speed-strip.

This load is a keeper, so here is the load data. Note that this is not a max load, even for top-break revolvers, and while it ought to safe in any .38 S&W use this load at your own risk.

Hornady 148gr. HBSW, 2.5 grains of Unique and a CCI small pistol primer. Loaded to an overall length of 1.00″ with a taper-crimp.

Having fired 150 rounds of this load I am quite satisfied with them and went ahead and loaded the remaining 100 148gr. HBWCs before moving on to .38 Special loads… but that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post… and it looks like I’ll be branching out to .45 Colt in the near future as well.

Tinker Pearce, 10 April 2017