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eaders of the Hobby Gunsmith have probably already concluded that we like cartridge conversions. In fact, Walt Kirst of Kirst Industries has been a supporter of the Hobby Gunsmith since the beginning. It was my intention to do another conversion project in order to convert some of my existing percussion revolvers over to cartridge. The reason I've chosen to do this is that the Single Action Shooting Society made a decision to change the loading rules for percussion revolver shooters and feel the new rules are unsafe. For this reason I've chosen not to stop shooting percussion revolvers in cowboy action competition. We were wondering what project to start next when the phone rang and it was none other than Walt Kirst himself. Walt offered me one of his new 38 caliber cartridge conversions for the 1851 Colt Navy. What made this particular conversion special is that it has his new backing ring with a functional loading gate. It took about two seconds to accept Walt's offer

We then removed the mainspring screw and mainspring. We then removed the three screws surrounding the trigger guard and removed the trigger guard and grip frame. We then removed the 3 retaining screws on left side of the frame that hold the cylinder bolt, the trigger, and the hammer. All parts will now slide out through the bottom. This completes the disassembly of the firearm.

The next step was to use the rotary sanding drum in a pin vice. Using the pan vice as a handle, we wrapped 400 grit wet or drive sandpaper around the rubber sanding drum. We applied a small amount of unscented mineral spirits to the 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper and began sanding parallel to the loading port to polish out the grinding marks. This required about 10 minutes of work and resulted in a very smooth loading port.

The machinists dye has been marked to match the backing plate and we are ready to start removing material. Although Walt Kirst provides a template that can be cut from the instruction sheet and placed against the standing breech, we always use the backing plate and as my template. We used machinists dye and coated the inside surface of the standing breech where the backing plate fits. After the dye dried, we put the backing plate into place with the loading Port

The finished loading port is now sanded and ready to be buffed prior to being cold blued. We then used the small rotary grinder with a small bullet shape buffing wheel loaded with emery buffing compound to buff out any final standing marks, which gave us a highly polished surface in the loading port that was ready to be cold blued for rust protection. The parts were cleaned to with gun scrubber to remove any remaining oil or grease from the grinding and buffing process.

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With the loading Port marked in the blue machinists dye, we clamped the frame to the bench and started filing. Although the frame of the revolver is color case Another thing Walt asked heartened, We did not detect was if we would be willing to provide him with a copy of the any resistance to the file while attempting to remove metal article in a somewhat edited during the first stages of format, and to allow him to cutting the loading Port. use these instructions in his conversion kits. We certainly One tip we recommend is to agreed to these conditions use a hobby grinder with a and he sent the new 38 Long small standing drum to cut Colt ported conversion through any case heartening cylinder along with the new that might be present and to spring-loaded loading gate. provide a notch that will help keep the file in place prevent it from jumping out and damaging the finish of the frame. It can be difficult to start filing on a rounded surface while keeping the file 51 Navy revolver prior to conversion with the new cylinder under control. Another precaution we take is to use just below the barrel. duct tape to protect the Some people wonder why a surrounding surfaces to person would spend the prevent damage in the event money to convert to a 51 Navy the file should slip. We placed revolver into the cartridge duct tape on each side of the firearm win a Ruger or loading port as a guide to another clone can be bought show how much to cut. The for only a couple hundred tape also provides some dollars more than the 51 Navy protection if the file slips or and conversion kit. We can the hobby grinder should get think the two reasons why a away. person would convert a black We began filing with a powder firearm: they already round rattail file to cut the have a .36 caliber Navy loading Port into the recoil revolver or they want to be able to shoot in traditional and shield. Work slowly and

to convert one of my 51 navies over to 38 Long Colt. One condition of the offer was that he wanted me to only use readily available tools for illustrating this conversion. That meant no milling machine and everything had to be done by hand using either a file or a hobby grinding tool that might be readily available to the average hobby gunsmith.

open and used a scribe to draw the area of the standing breech and recoil shield that needs to be cut away to accommodate loading and unloading of the revolver. This process is illustrated in the photos.

The loading port has been buffed using emery and is now ready for cold bluing. We used to a cold bluing process from Caswell plating that has been featured in previous articles of The Hobby Gunsmith. We used a Q-tip to dab the cold bluing solution onto the freshly polished loading port. After letting the solution set and oxidize the steel for a few minutes, we carded it off and buffed it with 0000 steel wool. It required several applications of cold bluing solution to get a nice brightly polished and blued surface in the loading port. We used a little Birchwood-Casey cold bluing solution in spots to slightly simulate the color of the color case heartening of the rest of the frame.

The finished frame ready for final assembly and oiling of the gun. With the loading port of the frame properly blued, we used unscented mineral spirits to clean the frame and all other parts that had come out of the gun. The gun was reassembled with all parts properly oiled and applied grease on the arbor where the cylinder fits. Final

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frontiersman categories. The conversion kit does allow a person to switch back and forth between percussion and cartridge shooting. This makes one gun become fully functional almost all in cowboy action shooting categories. Only percussion conversion revolvers can shoot in so many categories, because standard revolvers cannot shoot in the percussion categories. We started the conversion process by taking apart the 51 Navy percussion revolver. To disassemble this revolver, we start with a small brass punch on the right side of the frame and drift the wedge out the left side with a small hammer. The wedge on my Pietta Navy revolver must be completely removed to remove the barrel. This is done by depressing the retaining spring and pulling the wedge out the left side of the frame. The gun can then be put into the half cock position and the loading lever can be used as a ram to remove the barrel assembly when the ram is operated and forced against the cylinder.

carefully and it'll take a couple of hours of filing to achieve the desired result. Progress can be speeded up by using a carbide bit in a hobby grinder to cut metal more rapidly. Be very careful to maintain control of any power tool while cutting on the side of the frame, because any slip may propel the tool right across the beautiful color case hardened finish of the revolver.

assembly was to install the barrel and all parts like any other gun that's been cleaned. The amazing part of this conversion is that it only took about three hours from the time we began the process of taking the gun apart until it was reassembled and the final photos taken.

The original Navy on the left and the converted one is on the right.

We admit to using a more powerful quarter-inch dye grinder instead of a hobby grinder, but The early cutting of steel was that probably only saved about done with a rattail file after making a cut through the case half an hour of work. Any hardening with a sanding drum. hobbyist could complete this project on the kitchen table in An alternative to using a less than four hours with just a carbide cutter would be to use rattail file, a hobby in grinder, a a small sanding drum in a little sandpaper, and some cold high-speed grinder to slowly bluing solution. This is an cut metal away from the area excellent project for the where cartridges will be beginning hobby gunsmith who loaded. We used a quarter is limited in the available tools. inch dye grinder with a quarter inch carbide bit to After removing the barrel open up the area quickly. We from the frame, and with the caution people when using gun still in the half cock powerful tools to be careful position, the percussion not to overheat the frame and cylinder is removed from the change the characteristics of The two 51 Navy revolvers. The top frame by pulling it forward one has been converted while the the underlying steel. It is safe and off the arbor. The arbor is as long as you can still touch lower one remains true to the the large axel the cylinder original. the frame without burning revolves around. At this point, your hand. Be aware of how We removed the Kirst backing hot that frame is becoming Ever since I started shooting plate from the box and put it cowboy action I have wanted to and carefully grind. Another into place with the firing pin own a 51 Navy conversion. For caution we offer for anyone area locked into the hammer using a carbide cutting tool is the last four years my desktop recess. Be sure the loading computers desktop has been a

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gate is open before attempting to seat the backing plate into place. If the gate is not open, the backing plate will not move into place as the loading gate will bind against the standing breech. The loading Port will not close until after metal has been cut away from standing breach to form the new loading port.

that these cutters tend to produce small but very sharp slivers that will stick into the skin. We recommended a shop vacuum be set up near where the chips are flying off so they are vacuumed right out of the air. We also strongly recommend using a face shield and safety glasses while using any power tools. Follow the directions that come with your tools.

downloaded photograph of a pair of 51 Navy revolvers with one converted to cartridge, but they've always alluded me in actually owning one. I am now the proud owner of a 51 Navy conversion that looks as good as any of the factory conversions.

A close-up photo of the Kirst Konverter fully installed and ready for a trip to the range. Walt Kirst has certainly outdone himself with this new backing plate with a fully functional loading gate. The Kirst Konverter and a hobby grinder The cut is regularly tested to With the baking plate in prevent cutting too much and to quickly allows the owner to place we loaded 5 pieces of know when a cartridge casing convert an inexpensive 51 Navy .38 caliber casings into the revolver into an authentic will easily pass through the new cylinder and slid the appearing conversion. The only loading port. cylinder into place on the component still missing from the harbor. After assuring that conversion is an extractor Patience is very important everything fit properly, we when cutting steel to form the housing, which will be the reinstalled the barrel subject of a future article as soon loading port regardless of assembly. With the hammer whether you're using hand or as we figure out how to make a still pulled in the half-cock power tools. One should often natural appearing extractor position we used a feeler check to see how close you've housing. This 51 Navy revolver gauge to check the barrel to come to the lines scribed into was one of a pair and we assure cylinder gap to make sure you that the other matching the dye on the standing things were within acceptable breech. As we approach the revolver will be similarly parameters. The headspace point where we might be able converted in the near future. measured to be .004 inches, to load cartridges, we stop, Update: 51 Colt Gated which we believe is remove the duct tape, clean Konverters are not yet available. acceptable for a black powder off the chips, and assemble firearm. The original the backing plate and cylinder Due to construction and equipment problems at the headspace on this particular to see how close we are to machine shop it is not possible to gun and had been .002 being able to remove and inches and we had not insert an empty .38 cartridge. give a definitive answer as to when full production will start. All experienced any fouling And as we get closer and to we can say is: Kirst parts will be problems. running as soon as the new the lines drawn in the This particular 51 Navy machinists dye, we transition machining center is operational. revolver had been used as from the carbide cutter to a part of a two gun set for small sanding drum. We start Percussion revolver with new cylinder mounted in the frame to test the fit. The loading gate will not close until the loading port has been finished.

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shooting in the gunfighter category of SASS. I had always used this gun with either Hodgdon's 777 powder, or more recently with American Pioneer Powder. It was my experience that a 20 gr. load of American pioneer powder was about perfect for this particular gun. This will be very close to the .38 caliber load we will be using in the cartridges. One consideration for the hobby gunsmith is that the .38 caliber bullet is actually .357 inches in diameter, whereas the 51 Navy revolver is a .36 caliber firearm. One might think the .36 caliber barrel would be a smaller diameter bore, but the opposite is the case. The 51 Navy revolver has a barrel bore that is .375 inches in diameter. When firing the .38 Long Colt bullets through the 51 Navy revolver, it is necessary to use a hollow base bullet to maintain accuracy. We purchased a 38 caliber Rapine bullet mold from Buffalo Arms. This mold looks like a normal round nose flat point bullet but has an insert that creates a deep hollow base. Under normal shooting conditions the pressure behind the bullet should force an expansion of the bullet skirt against the rifling lands of larger 51 Navy barrel. The should maintain accuracy when shooting this gun with the cartridge conversion. It did taking some searching to locate a supplier of the Rapine mold, but ordering

with a course grit and focus on rounding the bottom of the loading port. As the port approaches its final size, we transition to a finer grit and begin truing the bottom of the loading port. We eventually found it was necessary to fit a the backing plate and the cylinder, along with empty cartridge casing to test the clearance of the ammunition being fed into the chamber. It required several more sessions of working with the sanding drum to get the correct size, which also required fitting the backing plate and cylinder each time. After it was determined the loading port was the correct size and shape, it was necessary to install the backing plate and cylinder one last time to check the fit and function of the loading gate. The first attempt results in the loading gate not closing correctly because it was still closing against the loading port wall. We installed a small fine-grit sanding drum in the small rotary grinder and began working carefully to match the loading port precisely to the backing plate. This was done with the plate in place and after we had a good match, the loading gate closed properly and the process of fitting was complete.

Makers of fine Cartridge Conversion kits for: Remington New Army 1851 and 1861 Colt Ruger Old Army

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online allow me to have the mold delivered within a week. After determining that the new parts are going to be a perfect fit and matched our gun, we disassembled the revolver by loosening the screw at the butt of the grip. We then removed the two screws from the top strap into the frame and then the screw to remove the grip and the top strap.

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