MY OPINIONS ON FIREARMS & ACTION WORK

          It took some time for me to decide to do this. I don't want to come off as knowing everything or so full of myself that you should believe what I think. However, after working on three to four hundred guns a year, you begin to notice the things that matter. This should be helpful to those of you who feel lost in the sea of choices to make fewer mistakes when buying and having your guns worked on. Feel free to call me any time during business hours if you want more information.

          I do have some knowledge in this area. I have been working on single action firearms for more than twenty years now and I have seen almost all of them. I work on an average of more than thirty-five guns a month. From Early 1st Gen Colts to yesterdays Cimarron, I have done my share of noticing how well each manufacture builds their guns and the changes made through the years. I have worked on just about every Single Action Army or 1800's Reproduction ever made.

          There are eleven areas I feel are important to look at when making a decision in buying a firearm. I don't list cost because it can impair good judgment. Here are the areas I feel are important to be considered;

1. Quality of the metal used.

2. Machined quality of internal parts.

3. Fitting tolerances of the internal parts.

4. Hardness of  internal parts.

5. Machined quality of the frame, barrel and grip frame.

6. Internal machining of the frame.

7. Overall assembled fit and finish of the firearm.

8. Functional durability relative to application.

9. Initial timing of the firearm.

10.  Quality of the finish.

11. Ease of use and maintenance.

 

         Italian Guns: Considering they all come from two factories, Pietta and Uberti,  you should know they are not all the same. The two factories have different machining capabilities. Each importer, (Cimarron, Taylor's, Cabela's, EMF and Dixie Gun Works) also has different specifications for each model. The quality of the product depends how the firearm was "Spec'd" and on who is checking to make sure those specifications are being upheld. I am talking about engineering specifications. From the type of steel used to the hardness of the trigger to the precise dimensions of the hand/pawl. Quality control personnel overseas and in the US are the key. I am not fond of Italian models that have internal safety mechanisms in the hammer, transfer bars or finishes that look like spray paint. Call me and I'll explain. "Four clickers" take some getting used to if you are new to single actions. You get what you pay for, really.

 

          Cimarron FA .  My favorites are the "Model P" and the "Frontier".  The Model P is Uberti made. In a black powder frame,(Post War), or in a cross pin frame, (Pre War). The bluing is deep and the case coloring is very attractive. These guns are fit well, clean on the inside and timed nicely. They also have the coil spring for the hand. The Frontier is Pietta made and is a 1st Gen Colt copy. Beveled cylinder and great balance. I really like the quality of this gun as the internal parts are well made and fitted nicely. Very much like the EMF "Californian", but just a bit better finished off. If you are going to dry fire hundreds of times a week and shoot every week-end, expect to replace some parts from time to time. Have a set of SAA screw drivers. Clean, oil lightly and snug the screws regularly. Very well made and finished.

Model P, 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.25 lbs

 

           Taylor's & Co. I like the Uberti made models, the "Smoke Wagon" in particular. The Smoke Wagon has deep bluing and the case coloring is very attractive. These guns are fit well, clean on the inside and timed nicely. They have a wide notch rear sight and a squared front blade as well as a coil spring for the hand. If you are going to dry fire hundreds of times a week and shoot every week-end, expect to replace some parts from time to time. Have a set of SAA screw drivers. Clean, oil lightly and snug the screws regularly.

Smoke Wagon, 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.25 lbs.

 

           EMF-Company.  My favorite model is the Great Western II "Californian".  It is a dead ringer for a 1st Gen Colt in all respects. Well OK not the shape of the firing pin. Only US Firearms got that right. Most 1st Gen Colt parts fit it. It is also the lightest of the single actions. This gun has a natural balance that just feels great in the hand. It has a wider rear sight notch and a squared front blade. It has a coil spring for the hand for reliability.  If you are going to dry fire hundreds of times a week and shoot every week-end, expect to replace some parts from time to time. Have a set of SAA screw drivers. Clean, oil lightly and snug the screws regularly.

Californian, 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.15 lbs.

 

          American Guns: Let's look at  Colt, Ruger and US Firearms. I'll make this short and sweet. Again, if you really want more information feel free to call me anytime during business hours.

 

      Colt Firearms. The Third Generation Colt SAA from 2005 to present is the best Single Action Army Colt has ever made. Internal machining is clean. The fitting of the parts is exceptional and the metal fitting before bluing and case coloring is very nice. A lot of the late Second Generation (1961-74) and early Third Generation Colts (1976-98) are known to have sub-standard craftsmanship, if you are a perfectionist.* Many bolt, trigger and hammer pivot screws show grind marks and some frames have sharp edges. They are safe to shoot, but it's not what you would expect for the  investment. They are collectable and valuable. Many collectors like these small imperfections as this is the gun's character. I agree. These imperfections illistrate the hand craftmanship. Keep Colts clean as they can be finicky when they get really dirty. If you are going to dry fire hundreds of times a week and shoot every week-end, expect to replace some parts from time to time. Have a set of SAA screw drivers. Clean, oil lightly and snug the screws regularly. The little red washers help immensely.  Hold a late 3rd Gen. Colt in your hands, eyes closed, and you can tell it from every other Colt made. Colt SAA 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.30lbs

Final Notes: Colts are collectable and have an American history that is hard to resist. Get a hold of a 2nd Gen if you want an investment that will deliver a good return.

 

           The Ruger Vaquero, "Old model" and "New model", it is built like the WWII 1911. It has loose tolerances built into the design in order to function under the most harsh conditions. It is safe with six shells loaded. The Old Model has a larger grip frame that provides 1/8 inch more room for your middle finger behind the trigger guard.  There are only two ways to damage a Vaquero.

1. Let someone work on it that is not a qualified gunsmith.

2. 3oz of C4.

           They are tough. Case in Point: In 2009 I worked on a pair of Vaqueros that are used by a noted National Champion. He later professed he had not cleaned the guns since he bought them, ...three years earlier! I have pictures of the inside of his guns that would make you fall out of your chair. He brought the guns to me for grips. The guns still worked, I did notice the actions were gritty and not too smooth. There were blades of black oily grass sticking out of the trigger slots, so I opened them up to clean them. It was like a potato farm. Again they still worked with all the crud in them, just not very smoothly. No other gun would do this, period. You can't break the half cock or safety notch on the hammer. The firing pin can't fall out. You can't snap the flat main spring or break the flat hand spring...it doesn't have them! The trigger sear also lasts a long time, unless someone modifies the hammer by brazing or soldering. The Vaquero is also very user friendly and safe.  

New Vaquero 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.35lbs.  

Final Notes: It loads easier than a Colt or Colt Reproduction. A very safe Single Action. Transfer bars break, on rare occasion. Great gun.

 

           The US Firearms Single Action is the finest made Single Action on the planet. There I said it. What a shame though as we will never see them made again. This gun was made on state-of-the-art CNC equipment in Hartford Connecticut. Truly a work of art and an exact copy of a 1st generation Colt, less the sights.  The metallurgy,  machining, fitting of parts and final finish of these guns is outstanding. Those of us who are familiar with these guns do not consider them "clones" or "reproductions", they are in a class of their own. They are incredibly durable and can be dry fired 'till the end of time. I have worked on hundreds of these, (grips and action work).  I keep a library of part dimensions on all Single Action models. US Firearms parts are the same to within 0.003", that's three thousandths of an inch! People who own them don't hardly ever want to sell them. They sure are going for a pretty penny now!

USFA 45LC, 4 3/4 weighs 2.30lbs

Final Notes: The Rodeo is the exact same gun with a different finish. US Firearms was the only production SA on the market that was charcoal and bone case hardened on the frames. (Doug Turnbull did them) All other manufacturers use a chemical treatment, AKA "case coloring". I am working a new page that will have photos and serial numbers to help you identify; 1. Uberti made, 2. Uberti parts in US frame, 3. 100% US made.

      

* I have been asked many times and involved in many discussions with collectors as to why the quality seems to be sub-par in the late 2nd and early 3rd Gen guns during the dates above. There are two factors that most believe to be the cause of this;

"The official reason (for the shutdown in 1974) given was to retool and replace old and worn machinery, some of which dated back to pre-1940. Considering that the Single Action Army was reintroduced in 1956, it is no real surprise to find a parts rejection problem some 18 years later. Machinery, tools and dies do wear out. Because Colt's exacting standards of quality control, many parts were being rejected by 1974. Thus the decision was made in 1974 to halt production until new tooling could be built."  Colt's SAA Post War Models, G. Garton,  pg70.

The second reason, and this is pure speculation, is that Colt workers were generally unhappy and a strike was brewing that occurred in the late 1980's. History has shown that unhappy and soon to be striking workers produce a lower quality product within many companies.

 

Action Work & Gun Cleaning

           Don't let anyone tell you that having quality action work done is just wearing the gun out. Anyone that propagates that myth is dumber than a Q-Tip. Sorry but that one chaps my hide. By the same token don't let someone work on your gun that is not qualified. I have seen some pretty bad butcher jobs done by "a friend that works on guns". Quality action work keeps the gun from wearing out as fast and increases accuracy considerably. A lighter mainspring is essential to saving the trigger sear and having more accurate shots. I have fixed or replaced hundreds of triggers and hammers than have been worn out by heavy flat mainsprings. Get those Jeep springs out of there if you want your guns to last! Internal parts need to be polished and in some cases they need to be reshaped slightly to reduce pressure on other parts as the gun is cycled. Quality gunsmiths use precision tools to shape, align and fit parts within 0.005 of an inch.

           I have fixed a lot guns where all or some of the springs were ground or bent. This destroys the molecular structure of the metal in both cases. This leads to progressive softening and early failure of the springs. You will also get inconsistent results from gun to gun. Flat mainsprings can be ground, but you better keep them cool and polish out every microscopic scratch. Coil mainsprings should never be ground. Quality gunsmiths will install "purpose designed", manufactured springs of a precise resistance. They will inspect, de-bur, hone and polish areas that have "friction load". This produces consistent results that are reliable and durable, but most of all the firearm will perform better and last longer. Grinding and bending factory springs is a cheap way to do action work that results in inconsistent spring rates and early failure. Quality gunsmiths will  provide you with high quality new parts that are designed to give you flawless and matched performance, even if they pocket a little less money. Quality action work is extremely beneficial to your firearms' longevity and your shooting skills.

           Do not spend the extra money to have a "Factory Tuned Action". I see so many people dissapointed with the "Factory Tuned Action" guns when they compare them to guns they had done by a qualified proffesional. Save your money for the real deal.  

           Below are two pictures of what happens when you keep the heavy factory springs in your Single Action. The gun these parts came from is only one year old. The hammer and trigger sears are destroyed. The bottom lobe on the hammer has been completely rounded over and is unsafe and the trigger is ruined. In order to make this gun safe and function properly you would need to buy a new hammer, $180-$250 or the bottom hammer lobe has to  be welded and re-cut, ($190), a new trigger also has to be fit, ($75).

Quality action work would have saved both these parts.

Triggers 2

The extreme pressure from the factory mainspring has worn the tip of the left trigger completely off.

Hammers 2

Front hammer is new. Notice the trigger sear notch rounded off on the rear hammer.

 

Cleaning Your Guns

           I'm not talking about the barrel and the cylinder. If you shoot competitively or every weekend for fun, I highly recommend that every year you completely disassemble your guns and thoroughly clean all the internals. Pick a date and do it. Dirt and dust, are the main culprits. They will start to act like sand paper on the internals. Oil attracts dirt. This causes wear on all the friction surfaces. Parts with tight tolerances become sloppy and the timing will begin to go south. Trigger sears wear out and hammer notches wear down. See "Early Bolt Timing" below for example. I offer gun cleaning as a service to my customers for a nominal fee, $35 per gun. This is total disassembly, solvent cleaning with brushing and high pressure air, checking for wear, oiling, greasing and re-assembly.  

           The two pictures below are from guns used by a local competitive shooter. He cleans his guns after every shooting event. Three to four times a year he sprays cleaner inside the hammer and trigger openings and then blows them out with compressed air. As you can see you really have to take them apart to get to the dirt.

 

Dirty Internals 1Dirty Internals 2

 

Check Your Bolt's Timing

           Unload the firearm. Hold it in your right hand and upside down with the barrel pointed to your left and the hammer to the floor, at eye level. Slowly cycle the hammer and watch as the bolt pulls away, out of the bolt notch. The cylinder spins and the bolt will pop back up on the cylinder. Take note of where it hits. Late is better because there is metal to work with. Early drop, before the lead, means the leg is too short. You need a new bolt. A properly fitted bolt will drop fully in the lead.

           Yes you can bend the inside leg of the bolt to delay the drop, but you are bending a spring plus you are now putting more friction on the hammer cam and the bolt leg. This wears the parts out faster. It is better for the parts to keep the pressure light.

 

Late Timing copy

Late Bolt Timing

The bolt drops late and strikes the front edge of the bolt notch. This will cause the front edge of the bolt notch to become crushed (Fig. 1) and eventually result in the cylinder not locking up properly. This is caused by the leg of the bolt that rides over the hammer cam being too long. This can be fixed with minor gunsmith work.

Early Timing copy

Early Bolt Timing

This photo shows the damage from a bolt that is worn out and too short. It is falling on the cylinder and not in the lead (fig 2). The bolt head was also crowned off center and is not riding in the center of the lead. This gun needs a new bolt.

 

This photo shows the bolt where it would be falling late. It is partially in the bolt notch. The bolt needs to be fit properly.


A properly fitted bolt should fall mostly in the lead or fully in it. This position of the bolt is half in the lead and getting close to needing replacement.