Friday, September 20, 2013

The Carving of a Full size Replica of an 1861 Remington Cap and Ball Revolver – Part 1

I am embarrassed to admit that it was some 2 years ago (!) when I promised myself and all of my loyal readers that I would embark on a new project: the rendering of a 1861 Remington revolver in wood (what else?) with construction details so that anyone else who was interested could do the same thing.   I’m not sure exactly what intervened but I am finally achieving that goal.   Here is the goal!  Good looking isn’t it!  No, this is a real one, but you’ll see my finished gun soon enough.
The Real Thing!

What I was looking for and how I found it

I wanted to recreate something that was old to go along with the 45-70 Springfield “trapdoor” rifle, circa 1884, that I had carved back in 2009.  Originally, I thought that I would do the 1851 Navy Colt Revolver based on its historical cache but I soon decided that the lines of the Remington were more pleasing and, after all, this is “art”.  While the Colt came first and introduced the whole idea of placing the rounds into a rotating cylinder that, once fired, would shift the next round into position when the weapon was re-cocked, it just didn’t have the “look” that I was after.

As I always do, I spent a great deal of time rooting around on the Internet looking for views of the gun from all angles.  Actually, this process also helped some in the selection of the gun to be carved.  When I viewed the Colt and the Remington side by side, I could see why the Remington also did well in the market.  It was very handsome and the upper strap (the portion of the frame that lies above the cylinder) added to its ruggedness and provided the users with the option additional “punch” because it had the strength to be “packed heavy”, unlike the Colt.  Through a bit of Internet snooping I discovered that all cap and ball revolvers required daily dis-assembly and cleaning to prevent fouling.  One of the reasons why big name gunslingers e.g. Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok chose the Colt over the Remington was that it was easier and quicker to clean.  And, in their line of work, the less time they spent “out of operation” the better.  OK, that’s a valid argument but I still think that the Remington is “prettier”. :-)   The 1861 is often referred to as the 1858. Actually, as I understand it, they are actually the same piece.  The 1858 date I often used because that is when some of the patents involved were dated.

Now, if you jes’ happ’ned to be packin’ this here piece as you strolled on down Main Street towards the Longbranch Saloon, you’d very aware you had it with you.  This thing was enormous!  It measured 13.25 inches long from the tip of the handle to the tip of the barrel and it weighed in almost 3 pounds (!) (Actually, 2 lbs., 13 oz.).  The overall barrel length was a respectable 8”.  It is no wonder that a cowboy’s spurs jingled with this monster was strapped to his leg:-). 

It is my understanding that after impressing everyone in Dodge City, most hand guns were generally relegated to a place on your saddle when you left town.  As long as it was handy for use, it didn’t need to be pounding on your leg the whole time that you traveled.  No matter how cool it made you look. 

While I obviously never harbored any illusions of making this weapon capable of actually being fired, I did want to make things as realistic looking as possible.  The loading lever moves, the cylinder rotates and the center rod can be removed to free the cylinder.

What I found in the way of Research Materials

Much to my delight, due to its popularity with collectors, there is a wealth of photos if you just Google “1861 Remington Cap and Ball Revolver.  The biggest help that I found was a really fine line drawing of the gun (see below).  Given that drawing, I could scale almost dimension off of any photo.  Make yourself a couple of full size prints of the line drawing.  You’ll be referring to them a lot during the process.
Someone sent me this exploded view.  I filled in some of the names (as I know them) that we will be talking about later.
Exploded view
Cutting out the Frame

I cut the frame out of ¾” basswood.  The job is pretty straight-forward so I won’t belabor it here.  Just go slowly.  There is not a lot of “meat” associated with the top strap, so be careful while shaping it.

Unlike the real revolver where weight was a consideration, I did not cut out the area inside the handle.  Once I had determined the position for the screws that would be used to hold the handles on, I drilled out the hole in the frame to ¼” diameter.  I pressed in a 6-32 x 7/16” or 6-32 x 1/2" hexagonal threaded standoff widely used in the electronics industry (see  In case you have never seen these things, they are like an elongated machine nut with threads running the whole way through.  It is an easy press-fit into the soft basswood and as long as I remember to tighten the two screws carefully and equally I don’t need glue because the two screws pull against one another.  Its hexagonal profile keeps it from rotating in the undersize round hole. 

This brings us to what I call the “cheek pieces”.  I’m sure that there is some “real” name for them but I sure don’t know what it is.  They form the portion of the frame that curves around the rear of the rotating cylinder to help prevent anything from dislodging the percussion caps from their position at the end of each of the chambers.  Because the ¾” thickness of the frame is not quite thick enough to include I glued two small chunks of basswood to the frame and carved them to shape.  The right-hand cheek of most modern revolvers includes a “loading gate” to give access for inserting cartridges.  The 1861 has a rounded notch to give the loader just enough finger room to snap the caps in place.  Despite this design feature, I’ll bet that many “misfires” were due to the inadvertent loss of a percussion cap.

Drilling the Frame for the Barrel and Center Rod

I drilled two holes in the front of the frame.  This job requires a good drill press vise to keep them in position and square to the frame.  

The upper hole accepts the threaded portion of the gun barrel.  The actual diameter of the thread is about 5/8”to allow for a 0.44” bore, but since this is not intended to be a “firing” weapon I brought that portion down to ½” so that I could use a common Forstner bit to drill out the frame and leave more wood in place after drilling the frame.  If you look at figure 1, you can just catch a glimpse of the threads right in front of the cylinder.  I figured that a little extra “meat” left on the frame would be good and that it is pretty well hidden.

The second hole is for the center rod that serves as both the containment and the pivot for the cylinder.  Drilling this one is more difficult that you might expect.  You will need a much-longer-than-usual 1/4” drill bit and even then you might end up grasping it be the very end to reach all the way into the back side of the frame.  Here’s a drilling guide to help you located the holes in the frame.

Frame Hole Drilling Info

End of Part 1

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