Anvil converted Uberti Remington 1858 revolver
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- Last updated: 16/12/2016
This Anvil modified Remington is one of the latest in the line of “conversion” revolvers which allow standard black powder pistols to use smokeless powder with a newly manufactured and proofed cylinder, this time without the need for a special loading tool.
Go west - you can still shoot pistols in the UK
Regular readers and personal friends will know that I have a penchant for Western guns, regardless of make or model. So when the opportunity arose to try out something new in this genre, albeit not historically accurate, I jumped at the chance. My favourite handgun is without doubt the Colt Peacemaker, but when HM government decided in 1997 that only criminals were allowed to have these pistols, I, along with many thousands of others, settled for the next best thing, i.e. reproductions of the 19th century American percussion revolvers. Alas, many more who were deprived of their legitimate hobby simple gave up, citing the mess, extra cleaning and slow loading of these black powder weapons as reasons for their loss of interest. Many did not even try the percussion pistols, relying on the (mis)information from others for their decision. From a personal point of view I feel that they are missing out on using weapons from a very important period in American history, and the little extra time and care needed with these guns is well worth the effort for the rewards to be gained in shooting them.
Giving Up Smoking
Since the handgun ban a number of companies have manufactured cylinders for black powder revolvers which are proofed to take a small charge of smokeless powder, thus eliminating the fouling problems associated with BP and easing the clean-up afterwards. The principal drawback with these designs is the need to remove the cylinder from the pistol for reloading, necessitating the purchase or manufacture of a separate piece of kit for the job. Now we have a smokeless conversion which allows it to be loaded in the same manner as originally intended with black powder. The Anvil conversions of today’s reproduction percussion revolvers may hopefully tempt some of the old time Western aficionados back into the fold.
Derek Buchanan has a strong interest in the period in American history when the muzzle loading pistols of the day were beginning to be replaced with their cartridge counterparts. The transition from loose powder and ball to the self contained metallic cartridge saw some interesting and ingenious revolvers as manufacturers firstly tried to use up their stocks of percussion guns and then began to produce the breech loading revolvers from scratch.
Colt and Remington were the two big players in this market and their attempts to convert the muzzle loaders into breech loaders now command high prices in the collector market. Some five years ago Derek decided that, as the current firearms legislation did not allow him to own and shoot a modern centre fire version of the Colt conversion revolver, he would like one of the new smokeless muzzle loaders that at least looked like a conversion but could be loaded without dismantling it. As no-one was able to provide one, at least not at a reasonable price, he chose to make his own from a Pietta 1860 Army revolver. The resulting pistol can be seen on the Anvil website (www.anvilconversions.co.uk) along with full details of their products and some promotional videos. He next tried his hand at a Remington conversion lookalike and was pleasantly surprised when some members of his gun club praised his handiwork and asked if he could make one for them. Realising that this was not the foundation of a firearms empire and that he was not going to become a millionaire from his efforts, he nevertheless came to the decision that he could probably satisfy the demand for his creations while pursuing his interest – he calls it a passion - in this area of firearms history. So Derek obtained the necessary RFD certificate and the small family business of Anvil Conversions was founded in Hampshire. There is a lot of work put into these guns (the ejector housing is machined from a single piece of round steel bar) and production quantities are always going to be small. Anvil does not offer to convert customer pistols and will only produce their conversions on new pistols supplied by themselves. At the time of writing the lead time for a pistol is around eight weeks. If this pistol proves to be as popular as it should, that time will doubtless increase.
Right out of the box this pistol looks like a quality piece of kit. The fit and finish of the additional parts looks as though they could have been produced in the Uberti factory. (Observe the quality of the chequering on the ejector rod). Many readers will be familiar with Uberti products and you can rest assured that the addition of the conversion pieces in no way diminishes the look or feel of the manufacturer’s work. The basic pistol is the Uberti Remington 1858 with a full blue finish (apart from the brass trigger guard) and the customary red/brown varnished walnut stocks. The high post front sight, dovetailed into the barrel, and the rear notch in the frame will be well known to those familiar with this revolver. The original loading lever is retained and used as per the percussion BP model.
The first thing that the fans of the original conversions will notice is that on these pistols the “ejector” assembly is on the opposite side to the 19th century pistols. The fact is that this is not an ejector rod in the same sense as those old guns, but a housing to hold a detachable pin used to punch out the spent primers. When you look at the very small flash hole in the rear of the cylinder, and the accompanying thin pin which is required to remove the spent primer, you will realise that it would be a bit fiddly to line them up to use like a traditional ejector and any undue pressure on that pin might bend it. Being made from piano wire the pin would be unlikely to break and, as it is held into the rod with epoxy, a little heat would enable you to remove it, straighten it and replace. But any gain in authenticity could be worth less than the trouble it caused. There is also the fact that, were it on the other side, the housing would interfere with the loading process. So, for what it is, a holder for the ejector pin, that assembly is fine where it is. To accommodate the assembly part of one of the wings on the head or the cylinder arbour has been ground off but this in no way impedes the operation and cannot be seen until the arbour is pulled out.
The newly manufactured, and much stronger, cylinder is made of EN1A mild steel and like the originals, has the outer periphery, which would have held the percussion nipples, milled away leaving the centre portion with the ratchet for turning the cylinder. On to the rear of the cylinder fits a separate recoil shield – not attached – which contains the spring-loaded firing pin and is fitted with a loading gate similar to the Colt revolvers. This whole new portion shows extremely fine workmanship and as stated earlier, well up to factory standards of machining.
The cylinder locks up like the proverbial bank vault.
Full Instructions – and a Lolly Stick
Each revolver purchased from Anvil comes with a comprehensive 8-page instruction leaflet which owners should read before using the gun. Although at first glance they seem complicated, with the pistol in your hand they become self-explanatory. Two bits of kit I would advise for your workbench or range bag are a matchstick and a lollypop stick, or something very similar – explanations as we go along.
The pistol has been proof tested for a load of 4.5 grains of Herco powder behind a .454” lead ball, the latter lubricated with Alox. If casting your own ball make sure that they are of pure lead, not the lead/alloy mix that shooters may be using for cartridges. The latter will make the pistol much harder to load. The use of lubricated wads or grease cookies between powder and ball is not recommended. Anvil recommend using a slightly reduced load of 4.3 grains of powder which they state improves accuracy and has a built in safety margin should your measure not be exact. Herco powder was chosen because the size of the individual grains is too large to allow them to fall through the flash hole. As an accessory (at additional cost) Anvil can supply a clever little powder dispenser which has been calibrated to throw the required 4.3 grains of Herco. Manufactured entirely from brass, again to a high standard, the tool makes powder loading speedy and simple. The powder reservoir is actually an Enfield oil bottle – ingenious! Also offered as an optional extra is a Delrin ‘handle’ which slips over the end of the loading lever to assist with leverage. This would be a very valuable extra should you choose the shorter barrelled version of this pistol.
Whilst the use of smokeless powder is a big plus for those who use an indoor range, these pistols come into their own in Cowboy Action Shooting competitions where the lack of fouling and consistency of ignition make for a much less stressful day. Having a misfire, a jam due to broken cap or simply difficulty cocking through excessive soot build up during the last stage of an otherwise successful competition is not really what you want. The Remington design is not prone to the broken cap syndrome, the smokeless powder eliminates the soot build up and poor ignition is a thing of the past with shotgun primers. So, is this the perfect CAS pistol for the UK? Well if it isn’t it comes very close. I feel that the shorter, 5½” barrel would make it even better. If your range allows the use of powder flasks for reloading then the optional powder dispenser is a worthwhile purchase. Even if you have to load from phials, you will do it a lot quicker with this bit of kit than measuring each charge individually. The shotgun primers are a massive plus compared to normal percussion caps and will come into their own on those chilly days when your fingers don’t function too well. Loading the pistol proved to be quick and easy with the powder dispenser throwing consistent loads and the Alox-lubricated balls eliminating the need for wads or grease, thus cutting out one operation compared to black powder.
Those who remember the cartridge handgun days will find shooting this revolver relates closely to a .38 Special, with mild recoil easily managed in this long-barrelled example. The powder charge is spot on and the gun swallowed both hand-made and commercial balls without any problems. There was not one misfire during half a day’s shooting, the only minor hiccough being a couple of primers that proved a little stubborn when it came to removal.
As with most single action revolvers that I shoot I found this one printed a little high and to the left – maybe it’s just me. But shooting single-handed I had no problems keeping my shots into a group I could cover with my hand at around fifteen metres, probably the longest distance in a CAS pistol stage. Anyone wishing to use this pistol for precision shooting will no doubt be able to improve on that.
Without the damaging salts of black powder, clean up is not necessarily an immediate task with the Herco as it would be with a normal percussion load. Removing the cylinder and its back plate from the frame is very similar to the standard Remington revolver, with additional care needed with the firing pin, which needs to be pressed into an empty primer pocket, and spring. It is here that the above mentioned matchstick may come in handy. Refitting the assembly also needs a bit of extra care as the hand on these pistols protrudes a long way into the frame aperture and needs to be held back while the cylinder and plate are fitted – use the lollypop stick here! The whole operation is fully explained in the instructions that come with the revolver.
I have long been an advocate of authenticity in reproduction firearms with the feeling that “if it wasn’t made then, why make it now?” This pistol may just cause me to have second thoughts as, although I don’t shoot CAS any more, I can imagine having a lot of fun without the drawbacks of black powder. Perhaps I’m just getting old…GM