Recently I’ve been weeding out my collection, passing along guns I don’t shoot. I have actually managed- only just, mind you- to part with more guns than I have acquired… Among the guns I didn’t shoot was my EMF New Dakota .45 Colt, made by Armi San Marco.
It’s a nice enough gun, but somehow when I am hauling the .45s to the range it always gets edged out by something else. So, part with it… or maybe do something a bit more interesting?
Digressing a little I used to have a Cimarron Thunderer 3.5″ barrelled .45 Colt. I liked it a lot, but the short ejector stroke was occasionally irksome. The price you pay for an 1873 with a 3.5″ barrel… but I got to wondering, does it need to be? I got to measuring things and thought, ‘Maybe not…’
I had an ejector housing from another gun and experimented. As you can see in the photo below the housing protrudes a good 1/2 on the muzzle end to accommodate the mounting screw that attaches it to the barrel. It also has quite a bit of space on the end that meets up with the frame.
If I could figure out a different way to attach the housing to the barrel and trimmed it from each end I would be in business. I cut the muzzle-end back to just short of the extractor groove. I cut the frame end almost to the end of the opening at the back for removing the rod, then relieved the end to fit into the frame. I shortened the ejector rod to match, and shortened the ejector spring as much as I dared. Good enough- but how to attach is to the barrel?
I superglued the shortened housing into position, wrapped it and the barrel in thick leather to protect it and clamped it in place with vice grips. Then I drilled a small hole through the housing and into the barrel, being very careful not to drill into the bore. I used a slightly larger bit to enlarge the hole on the bottom of the housing, then used a #3 Coarse tap to thread the inner wall of the housing right into the barrel. I then shortened a #3 Coarse screw to about 3/16″, and gripping it in pliers used a fine cutting wheel to cut a slot into one end to make a threaded stud.
Using a very small screwdriver I inserted the stud into the hole in the housing and screwed it in as far as it would go. Since the threads run continuously through the housing into the barrel this secured it nicely. Since the stud does not protrude into the housing the ejector runs right over it, so no length of throw is given up.
I put it all together and discovered I hadn’t gained much after all… the ejector paddle was now hitting the cylinder pin, which restricted it’s rearward travel. I studied on it for a few minutes, and using a 1/4″ sanding drum in the Dremel I relieved the inside of the paddle enough that it would pass over the cylinder pin. Problem solved. I still couldn’t get the paddle all of the way to the frame because of the ejector spring, but I was short the stock throw length by less than .100″. Good enough!
The more astute among you have no doubt noticed the gun now sports a birdshead grip. I replaced the original trigger-guard/front strap of the grip with a slightly shorter one from an 1851 reproduction. My buddy Marc had provided me with a steel back-strap that he had forged straight with the intention of making it into a birdshead frame. I bent it into the desired shape, drilled it for a screw to attach it to the front-strap and modified the stock grips to the proper shape.
I finished the steel by polishing and heat-bluing it somewhat irregularly, then giving it a couple coats of lacquer. I think the result is quite attractive, and a nice change from simple blue steel.
In keeping with the ‘concealed carry’ motif I was working towards I heated and lowered the hammer-spur to a position approximating a Bisley, then shortened it so it would be less likely to snag. I aggressively checkered it for positive cocking. The checkering came out rather badly, but it does the job.
Last was the front sight. Carefully establishing the center-line of the top of the barrel, I used a cut-off wheel in the Dremel to make a slot for the sight. I cut a strip of bronze the right width, rounded the bottom to match the groove and super-glued it in place.
Oh, stop screaming! The superglue is just to hold it while I stake it in place. Which I did once the glue had cured. Then I trimmed the strip to the height I wanted and shaped it. It’s my practice when doing this to err on the side of too tall; if the point of impact is too low it’s a lot easier to remove material than it would be to add it if it shot too high! If it still shoots too high… well, I’m screwed, and there will be nothing for it but to replace the sight. Fortunately I’m pretty good at guesstimating these things.
I like a bronze front sight; it shows up well in a broad variety of lighting conditions; I suppose it’s almost a signature of my modified guns at this point. I think it looks good, too. At this point the gun is finished except for touch-ips and a new grip. I love the way it handles, like the looks and adore the near-full length ejector stroke.
Did I say that the front sight was the last thing? It really should have been and almost was… As I was admiring it and working the action the cylinder suddenly refused to turn and I could not cock the piece. Bugger- the lock had broken.
This had just happened on another Armi San Marco gun not two weeks ago, and I was pretty annoyed. I’d ordered a new part for that gun from Numerich Arms, and when it arrived it had required extensive fitting. I looked up the part for this gun, and it was $35 including shipping… after which I had no assurance that it would not also need extensive fitting.
Bugger that for a game of soldiers! I grabbed a scrap of 5160 spring-steel, bored the correct-size hole in that and used it to line up the original part. I superglued the part in place on the steel (you may be noticing a theme here…) and traced the outline with a scribe and headed for the bandsaw. Between that, the Dremel and some files I shortly had a pretty good copy of the original part. I fired up the torch and oil-hardened it, then cleaned it up and gave it a spring-temper. In less than an hour I had the new part installed, and it worked a treat. Being hardened and tempered 5160 I’ll wager it won’t break any time soon!
Next I’ll be looking for some suitable exotic hardwood or- God willing- antler to make a new set of grips. Tomorrow after I finish the week’s work I’ll hit the reloading bench so I can take Shorty out to the range over the weekend.
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Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 September 2019