From time to time, we complete a gun that is a bit out of the ordinary—rarely a cataloged item, perhaps an experimental piece that didn’t warrant further investigation, maybe a restoration project or just something that excited us enough to share it. Most of these guns belong to clients, but occasionally we’ll be doing one for the shop. Those offered for sale will be identified as available and listed at the For Sale section of the site. Regrettably, these guns are few and far between these days but we’re striving to get some interesting projects completed and presented here.
January 2013, Ruger Bisley with S&W Barrel — This Ruger 5-shot .45 Bisley is fitted with a modified Smith & Wesson M1955 Target barrel. Finished at 5 1/2 inches, it is as subtle and graceful a barrel installation as imaginable. Of very high quality, these barrels typically shoot extremely well. The last test group (5-shot) fired off-hand at 25 yds. after final assembly landed in about 1 1/2 in. (far better than average day at the range for the shooter, to be fair), using our house 5-shot load with a Forkin-cast 350 gr. LBT LFN bullet with a .500 nose booming along at 1400—1500 fps. The white-line front sight blade is pinned to the base for easy removal. In addition to the barrel and a steel ejector housing, the cylinder is fluted and chamfered and the receiver, gate and hammer colored by Turnbull Manufacturing. Roy Fishpaw provided a set of his magnificent french walnut grips. Smith & Wesson barreled Ruger single actions are a house favorite at Bowen Classic Arms. We’ve built them in both blue and stainless in every caliber imaginable from .22 (on a Single-Six) to .500 Linebaugh Bisley models and about everything in between.
August 2012, Old Model Ruger Bisley — Since the newest generation of single-action shooters largely cut their teeth on Ruger Blackhawks and Vaqueros, all the arm-waving and foot-stamping about the New Model Ruger lockwork by purists may not make a lot of sense to the newbies who acclimated perfectly well to available Ruger revolvers. The newest iteration with the indexing pawl arrangement has done a lot to diffuse the legitimate complaint that the chambers and loading trough did not align properly for easy loading and unloading. Even so, the new guns just don't sound or feel the same to True Believers. Further, many of the later Ruger models--such as the Bisley--were never offered in Old Model persuasion. Neither were the early XR3 Colt-style grip frames available in steel. Nobody was going to get the best of both worlds without intervention. Happily, there is always some meddlesome sort who not only sees clearly what needs to be done but can do it. Thanks to both David Clements of Clements Custom Guns and the fine folks at Power Custom, we have an assortment Old Model hammers and triggers that enable the custom trade to produce heretofore unavailable Old Model Rugers.
With the advent of their Keith No. 5 two-piece grip frame sets for both Old and New Model Rugers, Power Custom produced both a Bisley hammer and a standard wide trigger with Old Model lockwork and sear surfaces. While David Clements has produced both true Old Model Bisley and Bisley-spur Army-style hammers and standard and Bisley triggers, perhaps his most intriguing and useful parts are the hybrid Old Model Bisley and standard triggers that feature standard Old Model lock sears but are designed to use with the New Model trigger return spring arrangement common to the various New Model grip frames. What this means, in the giant scheme of things, is we can build Old Model guns fitted with any New Model grip frame. The gun shown here is a good example. It started life as an ordinary .41 Magnum Old Model Blackhawk of no partuclar distinction. An unfinished chromoly Bisley grip frame from Ruger bolted right up without drama and integrated as well as on any New Model with just a little careful filing and shaping. Clements hybrid Bisley trigger fitted and worked perfectly with no modifications beyond basic tuning. Used in conjunction with the companion hammer, you can't tell if from a typical Old Model action with your eyes closed. The orignal cylinder was rechambered to the .44-40 cartridge and a new barrel fabricated. In keeping with the retro theme, Turnbull provided the color case. The cylinder received the traditional black powder cylinder chamfer and the screws were nitre blued. Coupled with a set of magnificent French walnut grips from Roy Fishpaw, it is a Twentieth Centurey Ruger even a Nineteeth Century Colt nut could love.
Another favorite gun we can improve upon is the Old Model Blackhawk. While the later XR3-RED grip frame is not the knuckle banger the original XR3 grip frame is under heavy recoil, many shooters still prefer the slightly smaller grip frame so reminiscent of the Colt SAA. On the other hand, few shooters except serious outdoorsmen for whom weight is a real concern, have ever warmed to Ruger's aluminum grip frames, even the desirable XR3 Old Model parts.With the advent of the New Model Flat Tops and New Vaqueros, we now have the Holy Grail of grip frames in the form of a steel XR3 part. Alas, it is not compatible with the Old Model lockwork until now, thanks to the standard Clements hybrid Blackhawk trigger. It is a simple matter now to produce a very finely finished and detailed Old Model Blackhawk; producing, in essence, a Colt New Frontier of better mechanical design.
December 2011, Custom Freedom Arms .327/.32-20 — From the start of our foray into the M1997 Freedom Arms revolvers, we contemplated not only a fixed sight version but also an adjustable-sight variant based on the pre-war Smith & Wesson sights found on their various target models. The pre-war S&W revolvers are arguable the most beautiful and well made ever produced in the United States. The design was sleek and had many integral features that bespoke great quality and attention to detail. The contoured round barrels, with their integral front sight bases and front bolt bosses, flowed beautiful into a handsome receiver ring with a radius that flowed on into a lovely round-shouldered top strap. Any tinkering with such elegant lines must be done carefully to preserve them as far as possible. S&W’s target sight came as close as anything could have and still been effective. The installation was nothing more than a modified M&P or Hand Ejector top strap will a longitudinal slot milled for the tang which served as the elevator spring and a small cross cut at the back of the strap to accommodate the windage adjustments for the sight blade proper. The seamless fit of the sight tang did not detract from the lines and fairly screamed of quality and craftsmanship.
These early sights were small and did not have the click adjustments of later, more sophisticated adjustable sights but they worked perfectly well and never since have more beautiful and well-integrated sights been offer on factory revolvers. If they had any disadvantage, it was in limited movements which meant merely that most attention must be paid to the front sight height and barrel clocking. Slobs without proper screwdrivers could also disfigure the tiny adjustment screws. While they are not as robust or easy to manage as the more robust factory sights, they are never-the-less, entirely adequate to the job of most revolvers. One must bear in mind these sights were devised purely for target use, not hunting. The fixed sights of the day were designed for hard use in service or police work, in a time when handgun craft was not nearly so sophisticated and developed as it is now. Serious hunting with revolvers was still generations away.
Since the sighting features of Freedom Arms revolvers fixed-sight top straps are very similar to fixed-sight Smith & Wessons, it was not stretch to produce a similar top strap with adjustable sights. We use a proprietary design made especially for this application by David Clements of Clements Custom Guns. Any such sight installation had to be set close to the rear of the top strap which is rounded and would show considerable blade holder overhand. The original S&W pre-war factory sights and Clements reproductions do not quite lend themselves to an attractive installation so some small adjustments in the blade-holder portion of the sight were necessary to achieve a proper appearance. It is important to recognize that, even so, there was a small amount of welding necessary on our prototype to fill in slightly at the face of the existing sight slot so this conversion will be available only on specially ordered guns from Freedom Arms which will be adjustable-sight models without the sight machine work done. More information is available at the website catalog in the Freedom Arms section.
As with our fixed-sight Model 1997s, the adjustable-sight version will feature a new barrel with a pinned-blade front sight rather than the dovetail pattern found on the fixed-sight gun. Ordered with a serial number placed on the bottom of the receiver, this model will be available with all the usual options, including the narrowed frame rails.
While not necessarily the ideal choice for field use, our adjustable-sight M1997 is still a fine all-around revolver with an uncommon touch of pre-war elegance.
October 2011, Comtemporary Colts —With the exception of the Colt Single Action Army and the stray custom New Service project, we do not have much occasion to work on Colt revolvers, especially more contemporary pieces. However, a couple of recently undertaken jobs are worth noting. While these are nothing earth-shattering, they do show very well how a few small touches around the edges of relatively ordinary guns can add a great deal of panache.
One of our customers, a real .32-20 junky and Colt aficionado, wanted a useful field gun which required adjustable sights. Some years ago, he had procured a couple of the limited run of .32-20 SAAs, one of which we cannibalized for the cylinder. Supplied with a .45 Colt New Frontier that was an indifferent shooter (thanks to .457 cylinder throats), we fitted the cylinder and installed a custom 5 ½ in. barrel using our house custom front sight for a crisper sight picture. In addition, we installed an Elliasson rear sight, tuned and sighted the gun.
For reasons known only to the Colt marketing department, New Frontier revolvers have traditionally been fitted with wood grips of the most unattractive wood possible. This gun was rescued with a set of original Colt hard rubber grips which are always of the very best quality and look especially nice against color hardening. The gun was recolored and the screws and trigger nitred. Turnbull’s supplied vintage rollmarks to the barrel for both address and caliber impressions.
The end result is a subdued, modestly modified gun that is far more appealing than the originals. Devilishly accurate, it is hard to imagine a nicer companion piece for idling around in the field.
While we do not offer commercial refinishing per se, a close friend in the trade came to us with a sadly neglected Colt Python and licensed us to rehabilitate it as we saw best. Pythons pose two problems to mortal pistolsmiths: they have a super hi-gloss bluing which is impossible to duplicate by hand (which left us out) and a mechanical action design that is a Gordian knot of subtle complexity for the uninitiated (like us). Mercifully, this project called for a subdued, satin-gloss finish and required no remedial mechanical work.
First order of the business was to hand polish and burnish the exterior metal work, removing the scattered pitting and stray dings and nicks. The factory had not done an especially good job with the rollmarks so the barrel and sideplate were touched up by engraver Dan Love. He also applied a simple family name on the buttstrap.
We refitted some of the pivot pins so they could, along with all the screws and pins, be nitre blued. The hammer and trigger were color cased by Turnbulls. The crowning act is a set of fancy French walnut grips by Roy Fishpaw. As with the New Frontier, these simple modifications added up to a unique piece, possessed of much more grace and style than the garish factory version with its homely oversized target grips.
MARCH 2011, CUSTOM FREEDOM ARMS .44 SPECIAL — We have for some time wanted to tinker with a Freedom Arms revolver, thinking it would be nice to start with a gun that required no blacksmithing and simply let us pursue the few modifications of style that we fancied. The M97 medium-frame gun seemed a perfect canvas for the project.
While the standard grip frame is fine for the heavy recoil of the .454, .475 and .500WE cartridges, it is a bit large and awkward for lesser rounds, especially in the dainty M97 receiver. This example is modified to approximately Colt SAA grip frame size. Since it is now in two-piece instead of one-piece configuration, Paul Persinger could fit a set of his wondrous one-piece ivory grips. The gun is now smaller with much livelier handling.
Over the years, we have built a number of single-action revolvers with the S&W M&P style top strap, perhaps the most handsome way to render one with fixed sights. Its charms are no less on the Freedom Arms revolvers. In this case, we simply used the factory sight and sight slot as it came to us but scalloped the receiver ring and recontoured the shoulders. The perennial sighting problem with stainless fixed-sight receivers is the white sights, often near invisible and difficult to use. This problem is solved here with the simple expedient of a local application of CeraKote to the rear sight. This is a mil-spec coating that is exceedingly tough and wear resistant and will give a long life in the protected recesses of the rear sight.
A handsome top strap deserves a handsome barrel so we fabricated and fitted one with an integral front sight base with drift-adjustable, dovetailed serrated-ramp blade. Coupled with the black rear sight, this is a fixed-sight stainless gun with surprisingly good sights. The custom ejector tube screw is regulated and blended with the tube contours for best appearance. Speaking of screws, we fabricated a complete set of chromoly screws and pins for the gun so that we could nitre blue them, adding a nice touch.
Among the more interesting modification available for single-action revolvers are the lightening cuts popularized in the 1930s on vintage custom guns. The kindly folks at Freedom Arms consented to produce this gun with a serial number on the bottom of the receiver, forward of the trigger guard, which enabled us not only to scallop the recoil shield and loading gate but narrow the frame rails, as well. In keeping with the retro styling, we applied the traditional black powder cylinder chamfer to the factory-fluted cylinder. A lanyard ring graces this particular gun.
One of the best ways to make a single-action revolver run faster is with a low-spur hammer of some sort or other. Ruger and Colt single-action revolvers lend themselves to a variety of hammer styles. Gunsmiths have offered Colt single-actions with Bisley-spur hammers for decades. Ruger’s Bisley hammer is readily modified to fit Blackhawks and Vaqueros. Unfortunately, the Freedom Arms receivers and hammers are not configured to permit terribly attractive wide-spur hammers. The hammer wells just sort of run out into thin air and are way short of the top of the receiver. Our solution to the problem of low-spur hammers is simple and unique. Taking a page from M1911 Colt and Browning P35 auto-loading pistol designs, we adapted a ‘commander’ style spur which is a good bit lower for faster cocking and cycling.
We may also offer some combination of them on the large-frame guns though recoil will probably limit the appeal of the smaller grip frame. We have no plans to offer these modifications a la carte. Feel free to get in touch with any questions.
August 2010, Small-Bore S&W K-frame Caliber Conversions — We are happy to report we now have our own long-body, magnum-length K-frame 6-shot cylinders. With these, we can house cartridges such as the .218 Bee, .25-20 Winchester and .256 Win. Mag. which are too long for use in rechambered K22 cylinders. These new cylinders have bodies which accommodate the older thick-flange extractor for recessed case heads.
Available in both blue and stainless, we also have a few unfluted ones.
The gun shown here is an M19 fitted with a 6-in. late-model M17 barrel with the full underlug which is rebored to .25 caliber. In addition to the unfluted .256 cylinder, we’ve added a retro-style .25-20 fluted cylinder with the black powder cylinder chamfer.
In our experience, the Bee is superior to the .22 Jet in performance with velocities around 2000 fps usually possible with 40 gr. bullets in longer barrels. The same is true of the .256 with its heavier 60 gr. bullets. With frangible jacketed bullets, this is still fearsome performance on small varmints. Needless to say, eye and ear protection is obligatory lest you end up bleeding from ears and nostrils from the sonic muzzle blast and report.
Finding suitable barrels can take a bit of doing as all S&W usually has available now are full-underlug barrels. We have a modest stock of M17, M48 and M53 barrels at hand just for these conversions. Somewhere in all of the various S&W models and parts, there is a combination of parts and finishes to satisfy most any craving. Incidentally, we anticipate having extractors with right-hand threads for vintage ejector rods. Once in hand, we’ll be finishing out a pre-war .25-20 M&P with appropriate target sights and a 5-in. barrel. For additional information on K-frame caliber conversions, please see the regular website catalog at the Smith & Wesson Revolvers section at the Packages subsection. There is a link to additional information on labor and prices to build these guns. In any case, please feel free to get in touch with any questions.
MAY 2010, RETRO .38-40 Vaquero — Before fancy adjustable-sight single-action revolvers came along in the ’50s and ’60s, serious single-action aficionados who wanted adjustable sights had little to choose from except the pre-war Smith & Wesson rear sights. While these are small and dainty by comparison to today’s precision click-adjustable sights, they were functional and afforded a far better sight picture than the Colt SAA top straps.
When deployed on S&W double-action target models and registered Magnums, these sights are beautifully integrated into the top straps and are arguably the nicest looking adjustable sight arrangement known.
Early single-action S&W sight installations are not unknown but most are rather simple efforts with little regard to appearance. Typically, the sight tang slot follows the original sight groove. The sight tang usually stops short of the end of the sight groove about where the front strap starts to flow down towards the barrel, not a terribly attractive or refined arrangement. Further, the top strap tapers similarly at the breech end which leaves the blade holding portion of the sight body high and dry with an abrupt transition from strap to sight body at the leading edge.
Clearly Colt did not design the SAA with adjustable sights in mind. The eventual Flat Top Target models were quite different in form and sported a simple dovetail windage-adjustable rear sight. Smith & Wesson, on the other hand, found, by accident or design, that the M&P model fixed-sight top straps would accommodate adjustable sights easily and attractively. Happily enough, so could fixed-sight single-action revolvers.
This particular installation is on a stainless steel New Vaquero in .38-40 caliber. In order to achieve an attractive sight installation, the front and back ends of the top strap were welded and built up enough that the whole of the top strap line would be parallel to the bore without the usual tapering down at either end. The receiver ring just aft of the barrel was machined round and a fillet running up to the top strap just as on Smith & Wesson fixed-sight guns. These two simple modifications result in an especially handsome single-action top strap with or without an adjustable sight. The addition of the sight (from David Clements of Clements Custom Guns) adds a bit of flexibility and precision in sighting. In keeping with the top strap style, the round 4 5/8 in. barrel features an integral front sight base with a serrated ramp blade pinned into place. Vintage style refinements in the form of scalloped receiver and loading gate, black powder cylinder chamfer, lanyard ring and the Bisley-spur hammer are also added.
APRIL 2010, KEITH NO. 5 STYLE RUGER BLACKHAWKS — The distinctive Keith No. 5 revolver needs little introduction to the True Believers. It is an icon and blazed trails we still ply today. The original gun was built on a Colt SAA model, a gun that today is itself especially collectible and best left alone. Faithful reproductions of the No. 5 are best done on the USFA Flat Top Target models but these renderings tend to be time-consuming and complicated to build and require a costly gun and parts going in. Accordingly, we set out to build a gun that captured the flavor of the original but didn’t bankrupt owners and builder alike. Auspicious developments from Ruger and Power Custom(operating now as Grand Masters L.L.C.) made such a revolver feasible.
The New Model Ruger Flat Tops, both .357 and .44 calibers, along with the vintage Flat Tops, are well suited to this enterprise with their medium-size receivers and top straps. The factory rear sight, though not faithful to the original gun, is small and well integrated and a reasonable compromise in terms of appearance and cost. Even old Flat Tops are not terribly expensive and are still plentiful. Parts are tough and available. The newly introduced Power Custom No. 5 style two-piece grip frames are at the heart of these projects and simplify production of the No. 5 grip frames. Heretofore, makers had to fabricate back and bottomstraps from existing parts, a tedious undertaking.
The same can be said for the Old Model Bisley-spur hammer without which such a project would look quite naked and unfinished. No trouble to fit a modern Bisley hammer to New Model versions. Ron’s parts eliminate the blacksmithing. The grip conversion will include remachining the bottom strap and a dome-headed screw. The straps will be precision ground for best grip panel fit.
One of the most distinctive and important features of the original gun was the novel lever base-pin latch and hourglass-shaped base pin. The outsized head of the base pin made removal easy; the lever latch was proof against pin-pulling recoil and a real improvement over the Colt arrangement. Installation does, however, require a good deal of work. Indeed, this feature will entail more time and effort than the whole rest of the project to complete as there is a good bit of welding (and heat-treat draw), fabricating, shaping and fitting of a several small parts. Beyond the basics, the only other metalwork is the front sight. While the original featured a Colt New Service elevation-adjustable sight, the Bowen Classic Arms Ruger version will utilize a Flat Top Target style base with a pinned blade shaped much like the originals. This is a much hardier arrangement and far less costly to produce. The barrel forward of the crown is turned down to give the appearance of the original muzzle which was machined to accommodate the sleeve with the sight.
JUNE 2008, COLT NEW SERVICE .45 CUSTOM — Bowen Classic Arms Corp. has had an abiding interest in the great American big-bore factory revolvers of the old days. We have for years offered custom caliber and upgrade conversions on vintage S&W revolvers, particularly the Smith & Wesson .38/44 Heavy Duty models which make such wonderful and purposeful .45 Colts, a caliber S&W offered only in exceedingly small numbers. Originals probably number in the few dozens making them exceptional collectors pieces on the rare occasion one surfaces.
Due to our relative inexperience with the early Colt double-action lock work, we have shied away from working much with them over the years. All of the folks we know who were fluent in action building and tuning are dead and took their knowledge with them so we have always been a bit leery sticking our oar in where we didn’t know what we were doing. Practicing on other folks properly is not a great idea. But, occasionally petty rules are for the breaking. We were presented with a tired but serviceable .455 New Service that had been converted to .45 Colt reasonably well many years ago. The lock work was in first-class condition with a tight even double-action cycle and nice, crisp 4-5 lb. single-action pull. No room for improvement and no remedial work indicated so we were able to undertake the finishing on a sound foundation.
The gun was completely hand polished and any visible and savable markings recut, including the rampant Colt and several proof and military markings. The barrel was shortened to 4 inches and rollmarked with Colt SAA markings by Turnbull Restorations. Not quite authentic but proper and attractive never-the-less. Our little Colt-style single-action front sight completed the barrel work. The cylinder received the usual black powder cylinder chamfer. All the screws, pins and trigger were nitre blued and the hammer color cased. It isn’t often that you find decent original hard-rubber grips so the owner resorted to some reproductions which, with a bit of fitting and tinkering, turned out surprisingly well. Ivory grips on one of these would be stunning. At the end of the day, the owner ended up with a right handsome old Colt.
Thad Rybka produced the military style holster. We‘re looking for a couple more in rimmed calibers in decent shape mechanically with minimal external goobers to try a couple more. Also need a domestic target version in any caliber with the adjustable sights all there and working. Export versions have non-adjustable sights with a pinned front blade and dovetail rear. Blue and bore condition not important. In view of the increasing shortages of suitable S&Ws, these big Colts are an attractive and fascinating alternative for a shooter or collector who wishes to have a fine old big-bore revolver.
May 2008, Best-Quality
.50 Special Ruger Blackhawk
This old fellow passed through the shop this month; couldn’t let it get away without making a few photos and comments. Not much to be said except that this is the 15th ‘best-grade’ gun we’ve built and, perhaps, our favorite.
Build on a chromoly .357 large-frame Blackhawk, the top strap was welded and re-machined in the S&W M&P style which, in our view, is the handsomest top-strap treatment there is for single-action revolvers.
Usual other refinements include scalloped recoil shield and loading gate, narrow Super Blackhawk hammer, dovetail front sight in an integral base and the regulated/ blended ejector housing screw.
The two-piece Power Custom grip frame accommodates a set of lovely one-piece ivory grips from Paul Persinger. The finish is a fine brushed surface with the screws and pins
May 2008, .327 Federal
Those of us who are serious small-bore, small-game revolver enthusiasts have clamored for years for the moral equivalent of the great old .32-20 but in a more modern, tougher, available package. The cartridge fairies have been listening and have come through in grand style. The .327 Federal Magnum will perform every bit as well as hand-loaded high-pressure, high-performance .32-20 loadings. Better still, the .327 is nothing more than a stretched .32 H&R Magnum which means it is quite small in diameter and can be built in 6-shot guns on relatively small frames, places the longer, larger .32-20 just wouldn’t fit easily (or cheaply).
For reasons known only to the fine folks at Sturm, Ruger & Company, the .327 has ended up in their small double-action SP-101 rather than in the Single-Six. While the SP-101 is a hardy little double-action gun, many of us really, really wanted to see the gun in a small single action. The .327 will work fine in a slightly longer cylinder body section with virtually no other modifications. The walls and webs of the factory .32 H&R cylinder are thicker than many .357 Magnums so there is no reason to go to a more costly and complicated 5-shot part.
Bowen Classic Arms is adding the chambering to our line-up and will offer Single-Six and medium-frame Blackhawk and Flat Top single-action revolvers in this great little cartridge. We’ll have a semi drop-in cylinder available under the RS06 catalog number for the .32 H&R Single-Six model that will utilize the original barrel suitably modified for the long-body cylinder. The receiver will be properly marked as to caliber and then re-blued. We’ll also offer a more sophisticated version similar to our ‘Long Hunter’ package per catalog number RS07 which will feature a line-bored cylinder, custom barrel and the usual trimmings. We’ll also note the availability of 6-shot line-bored conversions with factory-style cylinders in conventional calibers in all of the New Model size receivers.
We’re hoping to have our initial run of cylinder blanks available this summer. As an aside, these same blanks will enable us to offer tight-chamber .22 rim fires. .22 and .25 caliber wildcats based on the .327 are contemplated, as well. We’ve done a few Smith & Wesson K-frame guns in .327 which have proven wonderful shooters. Unfortunately, the better cylinders for re-chambering are the scarce older K22 parts. As the supply is fading fast, we’re working to produce a long-body K-frame S&W cylinder which we can utilize not only for the .327 but also the .32-20, .218 Bee, .25-20 and .256. For M53 enthusiasts, we will be able to fashion an auxiliary .22 LR cylinder. As long as we can get our paws on K22 barrels, which should be in S&W part bins for a while now, we’ll be able to produce the lovely K-frame M14s and M15 in a variety of great small-game and plinking rounds, including the .327 It is not often that we have a new revolver cartridge to get fired up about but the .327 Magnum is the most important mainstream cartridge offering since the .44 Magnum for serious revolver nuts.
March 2008 FACTORY DOUBLE-ACTION BARREL INSTALLATIONS — In the Bowen Classic Arms shop, the vast majority of custom barrel installations involver the various Ruger revolvers we work on. Only rarely do we replace or fabricate barrels for S&W revolvers. That said, not all custom barrel installations involve custom fabricated barrels. Some useful barrels come right out of the factory parts bins; we’ll touch on a couple of house favorites.
Of all the barrels a custom revolver builder can fabricate for single-action revolvers, one of the most complicated shapes is a round barrel with an integral rib. Most of these barrels we’ve made from scratch over the years ended up faithful copies of S&W barrels. After a while, that little light bulb that occasionally flickers in the back of one’s head glimmered a little brighter than usual one day and it occurred to us that, where possible, why not just use S&W bbls. And, as the fates would have it, factory S&W barrels happen to be of nearly perfect diameter and contour to work on most Ruger single-action revolvers without recourse to far more costly custom pipes. There are few limitations but not many. Obviously, the barrel length and caliber you want has to reside within the contours of factory parts. For large-frame Rugers, SAs, the traditional N-frame Target model barrels found on the M25, M29 and M57 guns and their stainless counterparts will yield wonderful barrels in virtually all lengths from 4 to 7 1/2 inches. Thanks to the fine folks at Delta Gun Shop, we can rebore these on up to .475 and the various .50 calibers if need be. We have a .327 Single-Six underway that will utilize a rebored K22 barrel.
Fitting up a S&W barrel to a Ruger single action is a fairly simple and straight-forward undertaking. First order of business is to machine of the underlug and then file and polish to round that section of the barrel. Now is also a good time to remove the lettering. Next, the S&W barrel shank threads are too small so a Ruger-size shank and threads must be turned at the appropriate point to yield the required length. The 8 3/8 in. barrels will yield up to 7 1/2 in. lengths in most cases; the 6 in. tubes will get you 4 5/8 and 5 in. finished barrels. All that remains now is the usual fitment of ejector tube, crown and finishing. In standard calibers such as the .44 Magnum, often as not, the existing front sight height will regulate properly. If not, simply pinning in a taller blade will do. The only wrinkle that occasionally raises it head is the receiver face. If the top strap is heavily beveled, the top strap nose has to be welded up and recontoured to prevent a step between the rib shoulder and breech face.
Not all double-action barrel conversions are limited to single-actions. One of the most handsome and unique is the installation of a Colt Anaconda barrel on a Redhawk. Installation procedure is much as it is with single-actions except that we leave the under-lug and re-machine the ejector slot to accommodate the Redhawk’s ejector. Welding up the receiver nose isn’t necessary though the rib must be sloped to meet the receiver face. Since the barrel shoulder has to break at a rib post for proper strength and appearance, 6 in. barrels will yield 4 1/4 in. finished barrels; 8 in. 6 1/4 in.
These installations represent a considerable savings over custom-fabricated barrels. Most installations run around $500–$600 plus the barrel though, where welding is involved, the cost is up a bit since we also have to draw back the receiver in the heat-treat furnace after welding and then do the file and polish work. At this writing, Brownells has a few 6 inch. Anaconda barrels and 8 3/8 in. S&W M29 and 629 barrels. Most other calibers and lengths are catch as catch can. While this is not a cataloged item, we are happy to produce these on a regular basis, assuming we can come up with appropriate barrels.
JANUARY 2008, FANCY .475 RUGER VAQUERO — This was a relatively ordinary gun until the finishers got hold of it. Starting life as some sort of Ruger Vaquero, we applied a .475 Linebaugh conversion with a few refinements to the metalwork in the form of a scalloped receiver/loading gate, fluted cylinder and an octagonal barrel with in integral front sight base. Nice enough but it is easy to see how a little bit of additional embellishment can produce a gun that is especially lovely. Paul Persinger made the exquisitely fitted and shaped ivory grips. Dan Love executed the simple, yet tasteful engraving with a few modest touches of gold showing through. Turnbull’s colored the hammer and nitre blued the screws and pins. The peacock blue bits show very nicely against Charles Danner’s rust blue. Nothing loud, nothing flashy but particularly handsome.
SEDGLEY LIFT-OUT CYLINDER .45 COLT RUGER VAQUERO — R. F. Sedgley was one of the most prolific American gunmakers and exerted a great deal of influence on the trade, particularly between the World Wars. Best known for his Springfield and Mauser sporting rifles, he also dabbled in handguns. Many of the famous revolvers conceived and owned by Elmer Keith, including the famous No. 5 gun, reflect Sedgley’s handiwork and insight.
Among the least known of his designs are the lift-out cylinder single-actions. Known examples are all based on Colt SAA guns suitably modified to contain what is essentially a double-action cylinder with an extractor and extractor rod for simultaneous ejection. The rod is pulled forward freeing the bolts so that the cylinder can be removed through to loading gate. Clever and cool if not markedly faster in the loading and unloading.
Bowen Classic Arms has built several of these guns over the years, all based on Ruger Vaqueros. Several have had extra cylinders. This particular specimen is rather more interesting than usual by virtue of its browned damascus barrel. The Power Custom two-piece grip frame has been round-butted and is fitted with a set of one-piece fancy French walnut grips from Roy Fishpaw.
Other features include tuning, coloring, Bisley-spur hammer, scalloped receiver/loading gate and a dovetail Colt-style front sight. We’re hoping to start this year on a version of this gun built on a USFA SAA model as were most of the originals. Sedgley’s lift-out cylinder revolvers represent an interesting if not terribly useful development and are now largely regarded as rare and wonderful curiosities to serious revolver aficionados.
OCTOBER 2007, ‘Perfected’ Ruger SP101 — Admittedly, the .357 Magnum cartridge is not a great favorite at Bowen Classic Arms as it always seems not to be the right caliber for the job. It makes a very poor .32-20 or .44 Magnum and lives in a no-man’s land where it has but one useful application. As a self-defense gun. While the .357 Magnum may not be the greatest sporting revolver caliber in the land, it has compiled an enviable record as a service round that makes it hard to ignore. After several inquiries about J-frame style high-visibility sight installations, we figured it would be well to investigate the possibilities. As it turns out, the fixed-sight SP-101 accommodates our J-frame sights almost as well as the wee Smith & Wessons. Accordingly, we’ve added a new entry to the Ruger Double-Action Revolvers section of our website catalog to accommodate what our marketing department has cleverly dubbed the ‘Perfected’ Ruger SP-101, catalog number RDSP01.
The SP-101 may not be the smallest or lightest .357 Magnum revolver but, sharing the Redhawk’s basic mechanical design, it is surely one of the hardiest and suited to a steady diet of hi-performance ammunition. While the Smith & Wesson 360PDs maybe the ultimate in compact, light-weight hi-performance revolvers, it is infamous for its foul disposition with full-power magnum ammo. While we haven’t tinkered extensively yet with the SP-101, its stout, 100% stainless steel construction gives it enough heft to absorb heavy recoil better. Carefully tailored loads with 180 gr. bullets would make the SP101 a pretty serious back-up gun, even for field use. No substitute for a real gun, it never-the-less would beat a sharp stick and be more manageable for the average shooter. No matter what, it is still tough to extort this much power from a gun this small.
Smith & Wesson N-frame
Not much to be said about this gun except it is a sexy as a three-dollar firecracker. Starting life as an ordinary .38/.44 Heavy-Duty model, this gun was converted to .45 Colt. Dan Love did the wonderful engraving; Paul Persinger pleads guilty to the steer-head grips. Dan and Paul have an unseemly amount of talent between them. In combination, their work is stunning. Photos courtesy of owner.
April 2007, Damascus-barrel Single-Action Army — Damascus steel is one of the loveliest and most beautiful materials found in gunmaking. Not nearly as strong as fluid steels, damascus barrels largely disappeared with the advent of smokeless powder. While never used on single-action revolvers, damascus barrels have been used on more modern firearms than one might imagine. The best example is the M1897 Winchester pump shotgun. Damascus barrels were available as an extra-cost option for several years, right on into the twentieth century. These guns are extremely rare since nobody wanted to pay extra for obsolete technology.
Colt produced a number of smooth-bore Single-Action Army revolvers for aerial trick-shooting which begs the question why some weren’t made with damascus barrels since many shotgun barrels of the day were of damascus steel. Colt didn’t make one, but that’s no reason not to have one now. Bowen Classic Arms has made several over the years both with ‘Paradox’ rifle chokes and fully rifled .45 Colt barrels. These are made with modern fluid-steel liners entirely strong enough to function even without the thin, outer damascus sleeve.
This particular gun started life as United States Firearms Single-Action Army model in .45 Colt. The composite damascus barrel sports an overlay of English gun tube material browned in the traditional ‘salt and pepper’ colors of vintage Parkers which makes for an unusual and especially handsome finish. The front sight is our traditional Colt-style dovetail base with pinned blade. Turnbull Restorations did the coloring. The checked ivory grips were produced by Paul Persinger with a monogram of the owner’s initials. One of the nicer single-actions we’ve done in a while.
February 2007, Ruger New Model Flat Top Bisleys
The two most exciting Ruger revolvers introduced in years are the 50th Anniversary Flat Tops in .357 and .44 Magnum. Naturally, they are very closely related to their Blackhawk and Bisley cousins; parts are largely interchangeable. Converting the Flat Tops to Bisley configuration was an obvious notion and one that renders a handsome and handy single-action revolver. For whatever the reasons, the Bisley grip frames mate to the Flat Top receivers better than the standard Blackhawks. Even the safety locks integrate well into the Bisley grip frame with a few simple milling machine cuts.
The two revolvers shown started life as .357 Magnums but are now .44 Specials. The color cased gun is fitted with a 5 1/2 in. barrel, the blue gun a 7 1/2 in. barrel. The Bisley parts conversion is applicable to the new Flat Tops and is now a standard catalog item per cat. no. B410 in the ‘Options’ section of the Ruger Single-action Revolvers portion of our on-line catalog. All of our caliber conversions, whether the RS05, RS06 or the big-bore RS07 are suited to the New Model Flat Top revolvers. Since many of the RS05 Simple Caliber Conversions will require longer barrels, feel free to contact us for a quotation on your project.
December 2006, Fancy Smith & Wesson M58 — Seems like we do not turn out many engraved S&Ws but, thanks to the lovely engraving by Dan Love, this one makes us wonder why. This gun started life as an ordinary M58 and then was overhauled to resemble a Heavy Duty model. The receiver topstrap was recontoured to resemble the vintage fixed-sight guns and an original 5-inch HD barrel added and rebored in .41 Magnum caliber. Other touches include tuning, recoloring the hammer and trigger, a black powder cylinder chamfer and a taller front sight blade, serrated and pinned to the existing sight base. While not wall-to-wall, Dan’s engraving is beautifully executed in a style befitting factory S&Ws. There is just enough gold work to give the engraving a bit of fire. The grips are vintage factory N-frame S&W parts.
.32-20 Ruger Single-Six — Loaded in a modern revolver with high-performance ammunition, the lowly .32-20 may be best of all the small-bore revolver cartridges. It will shoot 110--115 gr. bullets at least as fast as a .357 Magnum and, since the .32 caliber bullets of this weight have a better sectional density, trajectory is flatter, velocities at longer ranges higher. Recoil is negligible even though muzzle blast can be annoying. It’s hard to imagine a nicer small-game and plinking round. It does have one drawback however. The over-all cartridge length ordinarily limits it to medium-frame revolvers such as the Colt SAA, the K-frame S&W or the .357 Ruger Blackhawks. Well enough but a smaller package would be nice.
An obvious candidate at first blush is the Ruger Single-Six. Unfortunately, the .32-20 is far too long to fit the receiver and existing cylinders without some modifications. The cylinder window in these little guns is simply too short to accommodate an adequate cylinder. Fortunately, there is enough material in the receiver to open up the window at the front for a proper cylinder. The .32-20 is also just a bit too large to work in the standard 6-shot part so the window must also be opened up to accommodate a 5-shot cylinder of larger diameter. A lot of work but the results are worth it for a real .32-20 nut. The little gun shown here started life as a stainless steel .32 Magnum Vaquero and has been extensively modified to handle the .32-20. The oversize 5-shot cylinder is line-bored to the receiver. The barrel is fabricated from a piece of stainless Douglas .308 caliber stock and features an integral front sights base to which is fitted a drift-adjustable dovetail sight blade in the white-line ramp style for improved visibility.
The top-strap is machined for a BCA J-frame square-notch/white-outline rear sight, giving the gun a first-class set of sights. The Bisley-style hammer with checkered spur makes for faster handling. The lanyard ring lets you apply a lanyard so you can hang onto it. Tuning, sighting and a set of Roy Fishpaw dall sheep horn grips round out the list of modifications.
Stoked with high-performance ammo, this gun will shoot gas-checked cast bullets at 1400 fps into quarter-size groups at 25 yards. Hard to imagine a better trail/companion gun. Regrettably, it took considerably more time to build this gun than a .500 Linebaugh Bisley so it is unlikely that this conversion will make it into the regular catalog.
September 2006, Fancy Colt SAA Light-Weight with Keith No. 5 base pin and lock — This Colt Light-weight style gun in .45 Colt is a bit out of the ordinary for several reasons. The metalwork is hand-polished and lightly detailed. Most importantly, we’ve fabricated and fitted a Keith No. 5 style base pin and lever lock. Roy Fishpaw did the one-piece french walnut grips and Dan Love did the engraving. Turnbull Restoration colored the receiver, gate and hammer, carbona blued the major parts and nitre blued the base pin, trigger and screws. A lovely classic custom.
April 2006, The Real Super Redhawk — The Ruger Super Redhawk is neither the handiest nor most graceful revolver around due to the enormous receiver distinguished by the extension around the barrel and the integral scope cuts on the top strap. The Super does, however, have a couple of very real advantages over the standard Redhawk. The Super action is improved with a two-spring lock work arrangement which gives better ignition and ease of tuning. Better double-action hammer and trigger geometry gives a more even double-action cycle. Lastly, the Super receiver has a spike-style grip frame which is available factory-fitted with a couple of different rubber grips which many shooters find more bearable under heavy recoil. With no straps, a custom grip maker can make grips with improved reach, different angle relative to the bore and a host of other subtle adjustments not possible on the standard Redhawk conventional grip frame.
Efforts to produce a more conventional-looking revolver from a Super receiver have generally been stymied in the past by the unsightly integral scope-base cut in the topstrap which ordinarily would require welding to fill which adds a good deal to the time and expense of the project. This is all changed with the advent of the new Super Redhawk ‘Alaskan’ model with its plain topstrap. We have devised the tooling and procedures to remove the original barrel and shorten/recontour the receiver snout to accommodate standard Redhawk barrels which results in a giant GP-100. Now, we have a receiver suited to virtually any modification available for the standard Redhawk. We can build in calibers from .44 Magnum to .500 Redhawk in barrels from 4 to 7 1/2 inches (5 1/2 in. length maximum in .475 and .50 cals.). The only fly in the ointment is the barrel situation. Standard Redhawk barrels are unavailable from the factory so we have to depend on an uncertain supply of take-off and scrounged parts. Accordingly, interested parties need to be on the look-out for barrels. We are also interested in purchasing extra barrels you might find and would appreciate hearing about these.
There are many possible ‘GP-44’ variations so prices will necessarily have to be quoted for each job. As a general rule, the most basic conversion, utilizing the existing cylinder but less barrel price, will cost $795.00. Now a regular catalog item, details are found at the Ruger Double-Action section of our catalog. There are many possible ‘GP-44’ variations so prices will have to be quoted on an individual basis.