Monthly Archives: November 2018

Rust Blue for Dummies (like me)

As much as I like Van’s Instant Blue it has it’s limitations, and depending on the steel results can be quite variable. It is and will remain my go-to cold blue, but I wanted something a little more professional. Rust blue seemed to be an option that fits my circumstances, and after researching the subject I decided to try Mark Lee Express Blue #1. This is a product that claims to produce a good finish in ‘as little as an hour.’ 

I bought the small bottle (4oz.) from Track of the Wolf.  Including shipping it ran about $17. Service was prompt and the package arrived in a couple of days.

‘Thumper,’ an Armi San Marcos Walker reproduction converted to fire metallic cartridges. The finish in the photo is an ‘antiqued’ treatment.

I had selected ‘Thumper,’ my ASM/Walker cartridge conversion for my first victi… uh… attempt. I completely disassembled the gun and began surface prep. The barrel, cylinder and frame needed to be done. I used 320-grit sandpaper to completely remove all trace of bluing from these parts, using small scraps of wood as sanding blocks where needed to avoid rounding off lines that I wished to remain crisp. The instructions recommended 320-400 grit for this; any finer and the solution might have trouble ‘biting’ into the steel. This entire process took about an hour; it’s a pretty simple gun…

Next I soaked all the parts in acetone as the first stage of de-greasing them. From the time they went into the acetone until the time it was finished I never touched it with bare hands again. I used standard surgical gloves from there on out, and went through several pairs. After the acetone bath I moved from the shop to the kitchen, where I scrubbed all of the parts with warm water and ‘Barkeeper’s Helper’ powdered cleanser. After that I rinsed them thoroughly and dried them.

The instructions recommend heating the parts to 150-200 degrees with a propane torch or other means. For my ‘other means’ I used our toaster oven. I allowed the parts to heat up, then removed them and applied the bluing solution. The directions specify putting a small amount of the bluing solution in a glass or plastic dish and working from that.  This is presumably to prevent contamination of the product in the bottle. I used cotton balls to apply it. 

It’s important not to overdo the application; whatever you are using as a swab should be damp rather than wet. I applied a thin coating to each piece and, with the parts heated to 200 degrees, they dried quickly. I treated each part and then replaced it back in the toaster oven. After three applications I immersed them in boiling water for five minutes. I used tap water for this, but tap water varies and you might want to use distilled water.

At the end of five minutes the parts came out and I patted them dry. They had turned dark gray. I removed the surface residue with de-greased OOOO steel wool. After only one treatment the finish was darker than I had originally used for this gun. I repeated this cycle two more times- three applications, allowing the parts to dry between applications, then boiling and scouring with steel wool before the next applications. After three cycles of treatment I was satisfied with the result, and per the instructions provided with the bluing solution I immersed the parts in a mix of baking soda in water for 30 minutes. Finally I thoroughly oiled the parts and re-assembled the gun.

Thumper after rust-bluing.

The case-hardened frame did not take as dark a color as the barrel and cylinder, but overall I am quite happy with the result. The total time invested in refinishing this gun, including disassembly, surface prep and re-assembly, was about four hours.

I subsequently treated the cylinders of two of my cartridge conversions with very good results, then did a full refinish of a S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector that I have been rehabilitating, and the results were excellent.

Pietta 1858 Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .450 Adams
Armi San Marcos Remington reproduction, customized and converted to .44 Colt (original)
S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector with custom target grips.

It would seem the key to attaining a good result with this product is simply following the given directions scrupulously, and avoiding touching the parts bare-handed after de-greasing. 

Bluing the two guns and the two cylinders used up the entire 4oz. bottle, and there is already another, larger bottle on the way. I can give it no higher recommendation.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 November 2018

Bulldog Round-up

Right around the end of the Civil War Webley introduced a series of solid-frame double action revolvers in large calibers. These were adopted for the Royal Irish Constabulary, causing the model to be officially named the RIC. A short-handled variant for pocket-carry was also introduced, known as a ‘Bulldog.’ These became very popular, and were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States. In the American west of the 19th C. these guns were widely carried by people as a concealed-carry weapon or ‘belly gun,’ to the extent that at least one author has dubbed them, ‘the gun that really won the west.’

While Webley only applied the name ‘Bulldog’ to guns of forty-caliber or larger, guns made in other places were often called ‘British Bulldogs’ regardless of caliber. In Belgium small caliber guns with folding triggers were referred to as ‘Puppies,’ though to the best of my knowledge none were actually marked as such. So here are my Bulldogs, starting with…

The Puppy

I found this gun on Gunbroker being sold for $50 as a parts gun. While it is proudly labelled ‘British Bulldog’ it is most likely Belgian-made. When it arrived I was surprised to find it was pretty much all there, and promptly assembled it into a functional gun. The hammer-spur had been crudely removed, so I smoothed that out first of all.

The gun was chambered in .320 revolver/.32 Colt, which is pretty nearly unobtainium these days. After carefully measuring the cylinder I bored it out to chamber .32 S&W, which I already reload and which has similar operating pressure to .32 Colt.

It’s missing the small part that causes the hammer to rebound to a safe position, so it can only safely have five of the six chambers loaded. I also needed to fabricate a replacement for the trigger-return spring almost immediately, but that was actually pretty easy.

Despite having a surprisingly smooth double-action trigger this was not an easy gun to shoot. Not only are the sights nearly useless, but locating my hand on the grip and preventing it from shifting under recoil was difficult. Something over thirty years ago I saw a gun in the case in a pawn-shop that had a feature that seemed designed to counter those problems, and since there was an extra screw-hole in the front of the grip frame I reproduced that feature for this gun-

I don’t know if this feature was original to the gun I saw it on or was added by the owner, but I haven’t seen so much as a picture of  a gun so equipped on the Internet. It tremendously improves the gun’s shoot-ability without compromising conceal-ability.

You might notice that the sight is located surprisingly far from the muzzle. I am told that this may have been due to import restrictions on barrel length in some countries, and the sight was located so that the barrel could be cut short after import. I don’t know if this is true, but it makes sense.

Forehand & Wadsworth British Bulldog .38

Forehand and Wadsworth produced their British Bulldog models in America from 1880-1890. These were available as a five-shot in .442 Webley, a six-shot in .38 S&W and a seven-shot in .32 S&W. These revolvers were very popular as concealed-carry ‘belly gun’ or as a back-up to a full-sized revolver.

This .38 caliber example was purchased at a Washington Arms Collector’s show for rather too much money… It turned out that the cylinder pin was inextricably stuck in the gun, and it needed to be bored out to remove it. I very carefully did this after sourcing another from Numerich Arms. The trigger-return spring broke while I was sorting the gun and I had to fabricate a replacement.

The gun does not lock up particularly tightly, but it is shoot-able- though the useless sights make accuracy beyond a few yards a dubious proposition. The double action trigger is, again, surprisingly good. However because of relative lack of accuracy I don’t shoot this gun very often

The British Lion

This is a somewhat enigmatic gun; no one knows who made them for starters. This one has Birmingham proof and inspection marks, but that does not indicate British manufacture, merely that it was imported for sale in Britain. I suspect this was after Webley trademarked the name ‘Bulldog’ in 1878, that being the reason the gun is marked ‘British Lion.’ There is reason to suspect these guns were made in Belgium but this is not certain.

This gun is chambered in .450 Adams. While the ergonomics of the handle can best be described as odd, once you are used to that it is an excellent shooter. The sights- a blade front and a reasonably deep V-notch at the rear- are decently usable at five to seven yards. The gun is quite stout and well-made, giving up little if anything in quality to the Webley Bulldogs.

This was my first big-bore bulldogs, sold to me by a fellow on a Cowboy Action shooting board for a very reasonable price.

The Webley Model 1883 Royal Irish Constabulary

OK, this is not technically a bulldog, but the previous model of this gun was the ancestor of all Bulldogs, so it’s close enough in my book!

This was the second model of the famous RIC, incorporating numerous improvements over the original model. It is almost certainly the gun used by Dr.Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

 This one is also chambered in .450 Adams. This cartridge was originally loaded with a 225gr. bullet over a charge of 13gr. of FFFFg black powder. Starting in the late 1880s it was loaded with smokeless powder and remained in use as a ‘2nd standard’ cartridge for .455 and .476 caliber revolvers until at least the end of WW1.

The grip of this gun is surprisingly comfortable and the double-action pull is excellent. The timing took a little work, but now the cylinder locks up very tightly. The sights are quite decent with a brass blade in front and a deep v-notch rear sight. Recoil is easily managed, the gun is reasonably accurate and it’s a real pleasure to shoot! I have to reload my own ammunition of course, but that’s no great hardship. 

In Conclusion…

Bulldog revolvers are fun and interesting to collect and shoot; most were not fired much in their working life and are often in quite good condition as a result. Belgian-made Bulldogs and Forehand & Wadsworth revolvers can often be found in usable condition for a few hundred dollars. Webleys command a premium (as they should) and are usually found between $800-$1500.

The usual caveats apply, of course: Have the gun looked over by a competent gunsmith to determine whether it is safe to fire, and exercise great caution when determining the loads you will use. The safest bet is, of course, when in doubt don’t.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 20 November 2018

.44 Colt- That Hollow Feeling…

Custom 1858 reproduction converted to fire .44 Colt

.44 Colt ain’t what it used to be. No, really; originally designed for cap-and-ball revolvers converted to fire metallic cartridges, it had straight-wall chambers and used heel-base .451″ diameter bullets.  Modern .44 Colt (basically invented by Italian gun companies) has a .429″ bore and is basically a slightly shortened .44 Special with a smaller rim.

I’ve done conversions in .44 Colt before, and since cap-and-ball .44s are actually .45s, I swaged my own heel-base bullets. These work pretty well, and with a couple of extra steps in the reloading process they were only a bit of a pain in the butt. Enough of one that I started to wonder if there might not be another way…

Delving into history-  Heel-base bullets are the same diameter as the outside of the cartridge case, with a section of reduced diameter at the rear to fit inside the case,  like a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. On firing pressure caused the soft lead base to expand to bore diameter… or nearly enough. But in the days of black powder lubricated bullets were vital, and to insure they worked properly the lubricant had to be on the part of the bullet that was outside the case.

Modern Heel-Base .44 Colt. Note the band of lubricant just above the casing.

This is problematic because the lube can pick up dust and grit, and under the right conditions even melt.  44 Colt waned in popularity as cartridge conversion and open-top revolvers were gradually phased out, but two other heel-base Colt cartridges lasted well the early 20th Century- .38 Colt and .41 Colt. These two cartridges, however, lost their heel-base bullets in favor of smaller-than-bore-diameter hollow-base bullets that fit inside the cartridge and would (hopefully) expand to engage the rifling when fired. This was desirable because then the band of lubricant was protected inside the case, as with other modern rounds. These more or less worked, but were never an ideal solution.

Coming back to the present I wondered if a .429 Hollow-Base Wad Cutter, cast in soft lead, might be the answer to simplifying my reloading. I could reload them like conventional bullets and it would all be good. I decided to give it a try– only to discover that no one seems to sell .429 HBWCs commercially. Perhaps I could eventually track down a specialty manufacturer that makes them, but that would inevitably come at a specialty price. Or I could swage my own…

Turning to the lathe I made a punch to create the hollow base, then I bored a .430″ hole in a block of mild steel to form a die- not entirely through, but deep enough to leave a hole approximately .320″in the bottom so I could punch the bullets out of the die.

The punch, die and the punch used to drive the bullet out of the die after swaging, with two cartridges loaded with the resulting HBWC bullets.

Some time ago I picked up a small bag of 225gr wadcutters from the reloading odds-and-ends shelves at Pintos, and these seemed a good candidate for the process. Very shortly I was producing quite credible 225gr HBWCs.

These are a fair bit longer than the original bullets, so I decided to load them with a portion of the bullet outside the casing like a more conventional bullet. Of course there is no loading data for this bullet, but after some research I decided 5.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer would be a reasonable place to start. I loaded up a box of ammo and headed to the range to test them.

First target shot with the hollow-base wadcutters.  The lowest impact appears to have been yawing when it hit the paper, but it did not key-hole.

The actually seem to work pretty well. Out of the box I fired three yawed and one key-holed (hit the target sideways.)  I reckon that’s not too bad for a first attempt.

Three bullets passed through the uppermost hole, and one quite plainly hit sideways (at the bottom of the hole)

The final target of the day I knuckled down and tried for accuracy, and was rewarded two hits in the 7-ring and one int the 6-ring… and yes, two in the 4-ring. nobody’s perfect, right?

Clearly accuracy of the bullets isn’t an issue; though mine could justly be called into question. At this point I’d call these bullets a qualified success. As far as the load goes it is quite light- maybe too light. I’m going to work up a little bit and see if that increases rifling engagement enough to get rid of the occasional yawing issues.

This is also the first time I’ve fired this gun on the range; that’s not really what this post is about, so I’ll just briefly say there were some minor issues, but nothing that isn’t easily fixed. It also shoots rather high, so I may replace the front sight. I might not too; hits are well centered when I do my part, and that’s all to the good.

Thanks to for the targets!


Michael Tinker Pearce, 6 November 2018