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Thread: converting the Italian Colt cap & ball to cartridge revolvers

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  1. #1
    Really Senior Member RCS's Avatar
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    converting the Italian Colt cap & ball to cartridge revolvers

    Back about fourteen or fifteen years ago I found some new smokeless 38 S&W cylinders from a gunsmith. These were part of the old Legal Defender kits sold in Shotgun News to convert your Italianicon Colt to use cartridges. Next step was to fine some incomplete and damaged revolvers at some gun shows. I found an Uberti 1861 Colt missing the cylinder and loading lever and not working, later I found another Uberti 1851 Colt with the cylinder locked and wrench marks in an attempt to rotate it, missing grips and loading lever too.

    I was able to restore these revolvers, making new ejector housings, recoil plates, loading gates plus replacing hands and bolts and making barrel wedges. I ordered brass ejector rod springs and SA mainsprings from EMF. Now these pistols shot alright but there is still the problem of firing a .358 dia bullet down a much larger bore. I decided to use hollow based bullets that I made up with a weight like the original of about 130 grs. these work with light charges of Unique, will try black powder outdoors.


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    Advisory Panel browningautorifle's Avatar
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    They look pretty good...
    Regards, Jim

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    Advisory Panel tiriaq's Avatar
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    Nicely done!
    I remember those Legal Defender kits being advertised.
    In addition to hollow based bullets, there is the option of heeled bullets, as well as sleeving the barrel to correct .38 cartridge dimensions.
    Anyone interested might want to visit kirstkonverter.com and cartridgeconversion.com.

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    Really Senior Member RCS's Avatar
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    converting the Italian Colts to cartridge

    I know about the excellent Kirst products and have a new Kirst cylinder in 38 cal for the Colt 1851 should I find another incomplete revolver. S&S Firearms use to carry the line
    of heeled bullets but long discontinued the molds.

    The 1861 Colt has a slightly larger frame and when I made the recoil late, I had to make the firing pin and bushing off-set. Also had to make a gage to align the firing pin hole to the center of the primer and the cylinder to the barrel breech. It worked out on the second attempt (photo of the recoil plate of the 1861 revolver). The load gates were made from a round piece of stock then cut out

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    Advisory Panel tiriaq's Avatar
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    I'm in the process of setting up a Pietta '51 in both .38 and .45, using Kirst parts. Going to try HBWCs in the .38, see how they work, before deciding about installing a liner. Have a piece of liner on hand, if needed. The HBWCs are an smooth push fit in the .36 barrel, so with the hollow base, they should engage the rifling nicely.
    Made a replacement ejector assembly for a hand made single action revolver (a Selby Webb .22). Folks might not appreciate there is a bit more to making one of these than meets the eye.
    Acquired a basket case Centennial Arms 1860 a while back. This is one of the first repro percussion revolvers to reach the market, back in the '60s. It had a ruined cylinder pin, so I had to make one. Interestingly, the threads are Imperial. Started with a die makers bolt, machined it to fit the cylinder, etc. Cutting the slot for the wedge was the fun part.

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    Really Senior Member RCS's Avatar
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    cartridge conversions

    I would recommend using hollow based bullets first in any of the conversions even if you have to make the hollow base yourself. I have had good results in my 1861 and 1851 conversions.

    I have also used hollow base 452 dia lead in my S&W 1915 that was in 455 but rechambered to 45 Colt. Also made a shorter 45 Colt cartridge case too

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    Senior Member pocketshaver's Avatar
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    Anyone ever try to do the original method of slicing up the factory cylinder, and pinning/screwing a plate on the rear to make the thickness correct and then drilling through the whole thing?
    Remember an issue of old west guns that had a short talk about a modern company post 2010 that did that for a special Patterson edition

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    Really Senior Member RCS's Avatar
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    You are correct, back in the post Civil War period when they (gunsmiths and Colt factory) started the cartridge conversions, they cut off the rear
    of the cylinder and installed a recoil plate. Some had firing pins in the recoil plate while other conversions used the hammer firing pin. Your idea
    is good only if you use black powder in the cartridge (example 38 Colt ) If someone chambers a smokeless cartridge in the repro black
    powder cylinder it is not strong enough for sustained shooting. That is why I used the best smokeless cylinders available as both black and
    smokeless powder can be used

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    Senior Member pocketshaver's Avatar
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    thing is, the company in the 2010 + who did that Patterson conversion I read about, used the Italianicon percussion cylinders and made no specific requirements in regards to ammunition or not.

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    Really Senior Member RCS's Avatar
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    The Patterson conversion proof marks would indicate black powder or smokeless powder

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