Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Walker and Ammunition Completed!

IMG_0277With the addition of a front sight and the ammunition made this one is, aside from inevitable tweaks, finished. The biggest piece of the puzzle was the ammunition, but that seems to be sorted now.

I originally planned to use .445 Powermag as the donor cartridge, but the brass is very expensive and must be special-ordered online. I also considered .444 Marlin, but not only was that not much better then the .445 in terms of availability, but the case flairs slightly towards the base and might necessitate special reaming, which would make shooting .44 Colt problematic.  I finally bought some .303 British ammunition, which fits well at the base and has a rim. It also wasn’t absurdly expensive.

First things first I used the bullet-puller. The 180gr bullets were set aside and the powder discarded. Then I cut the brass at the edge of the shoulder, giving an overall length of 1-11/16″- right in the middle of the estimated range needed. I then tried to fire-form the brass, erring on the side of caution by using a thick wax plug over a substantial powder charge. No joy. Rather than fussing with that further I set to work on 1/2″ brass rod in the lathe. I produced two tools of increasing size, and a steel block bored and reamed to .454″

Insert the de-primed brass in the block, hammer in the smaller expansion rod, remove and hammer in the larger. I refined the shape as I went and was very quickly producing credibly straight-walled brass. OK so far.

Next I measure how deep the heel-base bullet went in the case and found that approximately 14 grains of Trail Boss would fit without compression. Backing off to approximately 70% of that load gave 10.0 grains- according to Hodgdon’s data this should be the recommended starting load for my cartridge.

Using my home-made swage I made the 200gr. heel-base bullets to be a tight fit in the cartridge- so tight that once seated with a soft mallet they could not be removed without using pliers. I experimented with my collet-crimp die and the results were not entirely satisfactory, so I tried a ‘chemical crimp.’  Basically I glued the bullet in with blue Loc-Tite. This works quite well actually, and in the limited testing I have done the bullets do not ‘walk out’ under recoil. I’m satisfied with this arrangement, but it feels like cheating so I am going to continue to experiment with the crimping die.

So how is it to shoot? Recoil isn’t bad at all; I imagine the gun’s 3-1/2lb. weight helps with that. Muzzle blast is loud but muzzle-flash is less apparent than I expected. I do not yet have a chronograph so I have to guess at the velocity.  The math I have done seems to indicate a muzzle velocity of around 1100 fps., and the rounds sound supersonic to my ear.  If this is accurate the gun is producing 537ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle. They hit pretty hard too- in my one penetration test the round penetrated 4″ of seasoned Beech wood before exiting the side and burying itself in the backstop. I’m pretty happy with that. I’ll develop some loads with heavier bullets after time and repeated firing have ‘proved’ this load.

The two questions that come to mind regarding this project. The first, which has often been asked, is, ‘You’re using the original Italian cylinder? Are you nuts?’ Yes, I am using the original Italian cylinder. I may very well be nuts- but not for that reason. As near as I and other more experienced folks can tell these cylinders are the equivalent of 1018 steel. The tensile strength of this material is well known, and the math says the cylinder will hold up to these loads just fine. In fact it suggests that a full 14gr. load would be fine, but I’m not going there. Yes, this is just a guess, but it’s a good guess backed by math and practical considerations. The practical consideration is that this cylinder is designed to withstand the maximum charge that will fit in it’s original form- 65gr. of black powder behind a 173gr. ball. The available information suggests that my load generates significantly less stress than that load in terms of both pressure-curve and recoil; black powder is pretty violent stuff.  Suffice it to say that yes, I guessed it would be OK- but it was a very well-informed guess.

The second question is ‘Why?’  That’s harder to answer. This gun does nothing that modern firearms won’t do better. The only answers I have to this are, ‘Because it’s cool,’ and ‘because it was fun to do.’  It’s cool because I did it myself, and no one else has done exactly this conversion before. Yes, others have done big-cartridge conversions of Walker reproductions before- notably Gary Lee Barnes’s .45-60-225 ‘Brimstone’ conversions. But mine is the first using a heel-base bullet and uses a proprietary case of my own devising.

Here’s the idea- if someone in the 19th Century wanted a high-powered cartridge revolver- maybe as a sort of revolver ‘Howdah Pistol,’ they could have done exactly this conversion, and it would work exactly as it does today. The goal here was never to improve the state of the art; it was to make something fun and historically plausible. It does succeed in that- this gun is significantly more powerful than a period .45 Colt. In fact it is more powerful than any revolver cartridge of the period, excepting 11.3x36mmR used in the Gasser and Montenegrin revolvers in Europe.

But mostly this, like many of my other projects, is about finding, pushing and ultimately expanding the limits of what I can do- and creating something unique and, for lack of a better word, cool. Mission accomplished.  Now I need to make a holster for this beast… and come up with a name for it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 Feb. 2018

Once More, With Feeling…

From left to right: .357 Magnum, 45 ACP, 9x19mm, .45 Colt, .38 S&W, .25 ACP Bottom Right: .38 Special

This keeps coming up. over and over. OK, seriously- which bullet has the most Stopping Power?  There is an actual answer, but you aren’t going to like it, because it is not .45 ACP. It is not 9mm. It is not even .357 Magnum.


The bullet with the most stopping power is the one that breaks something your attacker cannot function without.  This means the bullet penetrates deeply enough to hit that thing, and- here’s the part that you won’t like- you have to make sure it goes there. Sorry, there is no magic bullet that will do it for you. No, if you hit them in the big toe with your 45 it will not kill them instantly. .44 magnum is unlikely to actually tear someone’s arm off- and if it does that may not stop them.

Some guy in the Korean war shot a couple guys with a .45, and it worked. His assumption was that this meant it was the only thing that worked.  This became like a religion in some parts of the gun culture. 9mm? ‘Bah! If you shoot me with that and I ever find out I’ll kick your ass!’  .38 Special got an even worse rap.  And anything smaller? Puh-lease! You might as well spit at them!

The sum total of our knowledge about handgun ‘stopping power’ came from anecdotes and some really, really unscientific tests performed early in the 20th C.  Tales of one-shot stops with .45s were like candy, and never mind there were also plenty of stories where it didn’t. There were also stories where someone dropped like a stone after a single shot from a .25 Auto. ‘Just a fluke,’ we were assured.  The fact is for any caliber- up to and including .44 Magnum- one can find tales of them failing to stop someone. Equally one can find a story just about any caliber dropping someone with a single shot. But people tended to only focus on the one’s that supported their pet theory or preference.

Now we don’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence. People have studied actual shootings over a period of decades to see what really worked in real life. What they discovered is that any service caliber- that being .38 Special, 9mm, .357 Magnum or Sig, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .45 ACP- all work about the same.  If you use a modern hollow-point they all work a bit better- but still about the same as each other.

Coroners report that among these calibers- presupposing the use of a good hollow-point- the only way they can identify the caliber that caused a given wound is by finding the bullet. Seems unlikely- these rounds have wildly varying amounts of energy and expand to different sizes in ballistic gel. The fact is that human tissue is not ballistic gel- it is inconsistent in structure and density and very elastic. Yes, a more powerful bullet may produce more damage- but not as much more as you might think, and the evidence suggests it’s not enough to make a difference in something that happens as fast as a lethal confrontation. Adding power adds penetration more than it adds damage, and that’s great if you are hunting large game. Less vital in a lethal encounter.

Calibers smaller than .38 Special get a little more complicated. Sub-calibers like .22LR and .25 ACP may not penetrate deeply enough to cause a solid ‘stop,’ and may not do enough damage if they do. Best bet with these is quantity- but not quantity over quality.  You still need to hit things that matter. If you can put a half-dozen of these in someone’s heart-or face- in short order they are likely to reconsider their life-choices.

Small calibers like .32 ACP , .32 S&W Long, .380 ACP and even the venerable .38 S&W can all do the job, but hit location is crucial with these calibers- even more so than with service calibers. Generally hollow-points are not a worthwhile proposition for these cartridges; either they don’t expand and the round behaves like ball ammo, or they do expand but don’t penetrate deeply enough to interrupt vital structures. Best to use ball ammunition in the semi-autos and wadcutters in the revolver cartridges.  Options to this in .32 ACP and .380 ACP are offered by Lehigh Defense in their Extreme Penetrator and Extreme Cavitator bullet designs; these seem likely to be somewhat more effective than ball ammunition. There are also a couple of hollow-point offerings in .380 that may perform adequately, but I am a bit leery of them.

In a self -defense situation a bullet can produce one of two kinds of stop. The first and most desirable is a ‘Hard Stop.’ This means they stop because they have no choice; you have broken a part of them that they cannot function without. This can be produced by a hit to the central-nervous system or upper spine. This is the only thing that will reliably produce a Hard Stop, but multiple hits to the heart are almost as effective. This is good thing, because in the heat of the moment it’s a lot easier to hit the middle of someone’s body than it is to hit their head.

The second and far more common is the ‘Psychological Stop’ or ‘Soft Stop.’  This occurs when you shoot them and they decide, consciously or unconsciously, that they are done. People don’t like to be shot. It’s traumatic as hell and it can be fatal, and your brain and body want nothing to do with it. Pretty often the fight/flight/freeze instinct kicks in and they run away or simply fall down. Sometimes their brain decides, ‘Nope. Shit got real, we’re done now.’  Sometimes they consciously realize they’ve been shot and decide their best chance to survive is to not get shot anymore. Whatever, when a ‘Soft Stop’ occurs the person stops being a threat, either by running away or effectively surrendering.

Any hit from any bullet can produce a ‘Soft Stop,’ but it’s more likely to happen if the person notices they have been hit. It is possible that this is where service calibers have their largest advantage- they produce more damage, which means there is a greater likelihood that a person will notice they have been hit. People involved in a gunfight have to be told they’ve been shot surprisingly often; they did not experience a Soft Stop because they weren’t aware that they’d been hit.  This seems to happen less frequently with service caliber and larger hollow-points. This can be viewed as an argument in favor of calibers like .357 Magnum, .45 ACP and 10mm, but this is often argued to be countered by 9mm’s ability to put more accurate rounds on target faster.

Soft Stops are common and probably that’s what will happen if, God forbid, you are required to shoot someone in self-defense. But it might not- in which case your only option is a Hard Stop, and that probably means more bullets. One Marine was asked, hit for hit- which caliber he preferred. He shrugged and said, “Who shoots them once?”

It does seem clear that while small calibers may work your best bet is a service-caliber using modern hollow-points. Whatever caliber you choose to defend yourself with, you need to make sure you can hit what you aim at- preferably quickly and more than once.

The Walker Cartridge Conversion

Last year I came up with the idea of converting a Walker reproduction to something a bit stronger than .45 Colt. After all, the original load for the Walker was a 210gr. Pickett bullet over 60 gr. of black powder; that’s 50% more powder that a .45 Colt… Of course people immediately informed me that it had been done- the .45 BPM, .45 Walker, .45 Brimstone etc.  OK, that meant I knew it could be done. A buddy of mine found an Armi San Marcos Walker repro at a good price and I snagged it.  So far so good.

God, what a beast! 4-1/2 pounds of Italian steel.  I prefer a more compact package, so I cut the barrel at the lug, giving me 3-1/2″ of barrel. That took a full pound off the weight… better. I re-crowned the barrel, then modified the loading lever to use as a disassembly tool and I was ready to tackle the cylinder.

Oops. Too big to fit in the chuck of my metal-lathe. Bugger. Other concerns (like paying the bills) intruded and the project languished. Over the months the project was waiting patiently I started reloading .44 Colt (original.) This used a .452″ heel-base bullet in a straight-bored chamber. I got to thinking- what if I did a longer version for the walker? It would simplify things quite a bit as I could straight-bore the chamber using tools I already have… interesting, but the cylinder was still too big for my lathe.

Yesterday we were having a rather stressful morning and Linda said, “OK, just go in the shop and play.” Okey dokey, I can do that! I removed the nipples and set to boring through the cylinder and reaming the chambers to .454″-

Next I chucked the cylinder up in the lathe and turned the base around the ratchet to 3/4″- this allowed clearance for the cartridge rims. I used .44 Colt ammo I had on-hand to test this-


Of course it’s still very rough in the photo; I did clean it up before bluing!  I apologize for the lack of further in-progress pictures- I got far too involved at this point to remember to take them.

Next it was time to make the breech-plate. I grabbed a hunk of 1020 steel, bored a 3/4″ hole and cut and ground to shape. This involved relieving a 1-1/4″ circle about 3/32″ deep around the central holes so that it would sit flush with the gun’s breech, and I did this with the Dremel using sanding drums and grinding wheels. Life will be easier when I get the mill running…

Once that was fitted it was time to do the loading-port in the frame. Once again the Dremel with sanding drums and grinding wheels went to work… After I had cut the frame I made a matching cut in the breech-plate, a little bluing and that was done.

Last thing to do was to make a firing-pin. I inserted a Sharpy-marker in the chamber and marked where the firing-pin needed to be, then bored a 5/64″ hole at an angle to put the end of the pin under the hammer. I then bored this hole from the hammer-end to 3/16″- not quite through- and found a suitable spring to fit the hole. I had a firing-pin that I’d turned for another project that didn’t work, and it was a perfect fit! I staked this in to retain it and the gun was basically finished. OK, I still need a front-sight, and I am planning on permanently mounting the breech-plate, but the gun is functional.  I used primed .44 Colt brass and it went ‘Pop!’ so it’s all good.

Like a .357 shooting .38 special, while the gun is designed for a longer cartridge .44 Colt will work just fine- better, even as the cylinder is bored straight-through. So what is the guns actual cartridge? A wildcat based on .445 Supermag that uses a 200gr. Heel-base bullet loaded over the equivalent of 50 grains of black powder. The new cartridge will be called .44-50/200 Walker. I still need to obtain brass and dies, but until then I can shoot .44 Colt.

The new cartridge should, with the correct smokeless load, drive it’s 200gr. bullet at 1150+ fps. from this gun’s 3-1/2″ barrel, yielding in the neighborhood of 600ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.

So, here is the gun, if not finished at least in it’s final form- shown with a custom Richards-Mason conversion for scale:

Now I just have to wait for the brass and dies…


Michael Tinker Pearce, 01 Feb. 2018