Remington Conversions Kits from Kenny Howell

Turn Your Remington Percussion Replica into a Cartridge Shooter

by Gary Campbell, AKA Parson Colt

Kenny Howell, the genius of R & D Gunshop, had been turning Colt style percussion revolvers into authentic 1866-1872 cartridge conversions for several years. His work has appeared in the motion pictures such as Last Stand at Sabre River, and The Wild Wild West. Though I've always loved the look of the percussion Colts, the performance and the sights of the Remington revolvers of that era made them my favorites. Well, Kenny’s business hasn't been leaving out those favor the Remington style replicas, but he has recently come up with a new product that makes manufacturing your own cartridge model Remington simple, easy, and authentic.

Here's what he's replicating:

That little misunderstanding of the early 1860s saw great leaps in weapons technology. Among those was the perfection of the enclosed cartridge. At the end of the war, our ancestors traversing the Old West could choose from several cartridge rifle designs capable of fighting off outlaws and dropping buffalo, but the only cartridge handguns available were small and low powered. Enterprising gunmakers began adapting existing percussion revolvers first to rimfire then to centerfire cartridges. At the same time, they worked on new designs for cartridge revolvers, but until those were released, Colt in 1872, Remington in 1875, for example, the state of the art was the Civil War vintage percussion revolver converted to cartridge.

Early in 1868, Remington contracted with Smith and Wesson, who still owned the Rollin White patent for the bored-through cylinder, to convert New Model Army revolvers to a .46 rimfire cartridge. Most of that run, over 4100, were sent to Benjamin Kittredge & Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, and from there, almost all were sent west. These guns had new 5-shot cylinders fitted in Remington's Ilion factory and were marked April 3, 1855, the date of the Rollin White patent. Of the $3.36 Kittredge paid for each, $1 went to Smith & Wesson for use of the patent. Remington also produced a limited number of .38 centerfire revolvers from the .36 New Model Navy. These were sold along with the percussion versions until 1888.

Today, if you're the owner of a steel framed percussion Remington replica, you can order a drop-in cylinder in .38 Special caliber for the .36 cap & ball or in .45 Colt caliber for the .44 cap & ball. Do not use these cylinders in a brass framed Remington copy. Brass framed copies are not only unauthentic for the large caliber Remington New Model revolvers, brass can't handle the pressure of the cartridge loads.

If you go the .38 Special route, you'll be firing .357-.358" bullets down a .375" bore. The use of a hollow base bullet can produce accuracy good enough for most cowboy shoots, or the barrel can be relined to the correct bore size for the cartridge. Rapine makes molds specifically designed to compliment Kenny's revolvers. Their .45 Colt mold throws a 190-200 grain hollow base conical bullet of authentic size and shape. As an aside, in a .38 S&W caliber '61 Colt Navy conversion I once owned (not one of Kenny's, a cheap one but that's another story), I used hollow base wadcutter bullets from Hornady, and those bullet skirts flared well enough to shoot into 3 1/5" at 25 yards even at low .38 S&W velocities.

Made of 4150 certified arsenal grade steel, Kenny's cylinders have minimum wall thickness equal to the Colt Single Action Army, so they are definitely safe for the suggested loads. And those loads are, as Kenny says, "Black powder or Black Hills." The recommended load for the .45 Colt cylinder is 34 grains of 2f with a 250 grain bullet, and the cylinder is also warranted to shoot Black Hills Ammunition's .45 Colt Cowboy Load or the equivalent. They are not designed for standard factory loads but for cowboy loads or black powder. For the .38 Special revolvers, 15 grains of 2f or 3f with a 158 grain bullet or, again, Black Hills Cowboy Load in .38 Special.

These patented Remington-type cylinders can't be a one-size-fits-all proposition because the different Italian manufacturers of Remington replicas use slightly different measurements when making their guns. Howell's answer is to make them for all the different manufacturers' specifications. When you order, simply tell the distributor which revolver you own, and they will ship the correct cylinder.

As my old Remington copies are beginning to show their age (I've shot them a lot over their more than 15 years with me), I contacted Cimarron FA Co. (P. O. Box 906, Dept TE, Fredericksburg, TX 78624-0906, (830)997-9090) and ordered a pair of the beautiful Uberti manufactured charcoal blue New Model Armies. These revolvers come with case hardened frames (not authentic but absolutely beautiful), and the barrels and cylinders are the beautiful if fragile charcoal blueing. They also come with the dove-tailed front sight to make it easier to match point of impact with point of aim.

Legally, when you convert a percussion revolver to cartridge, you are manufacturing a firearm. If you can legally own a firearm, you can manufacture one for yourself, but you cannot manufacture one for anyone else unless you have the proper Federal Firearms License. So if you make one of these cartridge conversion using Kenny's cylinder, you cannot sell it unless you have a manufacturer's FFL. Of course, you can replace the cap & ball cylinder, then you do not have a new firearm but an antique replica again. And, of course, you can legally sell your antique replica.

These cylinders are guaranteed to fit your Remington revolver copy. There have, over the years, been some differences in manufacturers' standards of some of the Italian firms, and there is the possibility that the cylinder distributor could send a cylinder that fits an ASM today, for example, but will not fit my 15-year-old ASM's. But, as I said, these cylinders are guaranteed to fit. Send your revolver and cylinder to R & D Gunshop, and Kenny will make a cylinder specifically for it. Priced at $225 for either caliber, the cylinders are available from Taylor’s and Brownell’s. Nickel plating costs $25 more, and comes in darn handy when dealing with black powder loads. It's authentic, too.

Each cylinder is test fired before blueing, so when they arrived, I knew they would shoot. I was very curious as to how well. Having wrung out one of the Uberti stainless steel Remington copies imported by Uberti, USA, I knew how accurate the new Uberti's were with their percussion cylinders, but how accurate could a cylinder be that was dropped in, not fitted, and made by another manufacturer? I knew Kenny did good work, but let's face it, he never saw the bulk of the revolver -- he didn't fit the cylinder to the gun. The cylinder is composed of two basic parts, the bored-through cylinder and the back plate. The six-chambered cylinder features recesses to totally enclose the cartridge heads and an indexing pin that corresponds to a hole in one of the safety notches in the back plate. The back plate contains six firing pins, one lined up perfectly for each chamber, and between the pins, safety notches are milled just like those on the Remington designed percussion cylinder. This design means six cartridges can be loaded, and the firearm carried safely with the hammer nose lowered into one of the safety notches. The ratchet is also milled onto the back plate. Lining up the index pin with its hole allows the back plate to drop fully into place, completely enclosing the cartridges. The manual of arms for these conversions is very simple. To load, bring the hammer back to half-cock then remove the cylinder by releasing the loading lever and pulling out the cylinder pin. (The pin will not come all the way out, so you won't lose it.) The cylinder can be easily removed with a slight clockwise twist while you push it to either side. The reason for the clockwise twist is that the Remington designed hand or pawl sticks out into the frame at all times. Twisting the cylinder clockwise, pushes the hand against its spring and compresses it into the slot on the frame. Remove the back of the cylinder; drop in five (or six) rounds of ammunition. I still recommend loading only five, and in almost all cowboy shoots, only five may be loaded. Since the cylinder totally encloses the heads of the cartridge cases, this indexing pin comes in very handy for identifying an empty chamber. I leave the chamber to the right of the pin empty. When the cylinder is reinserted, I place the indexing pin to the left of the top strap, and the hammer is lowered onto the empty chamber. Reinsert the cylinder from the right side, using a slight rotation clockwise to push the hand into the frame, push in the cylinder pin, lock the loading lever back into place, then turn the cylinder until you find that indexing pin. If you have followed my suggestion of leaving the chamber immediately to the right of the pin empty, lower the hammer so that you can see the pin on the left of the top strap. You're now ready to clean that match stage.

My first shots were fired informally at 7 yards, using Black Hills .45 Colt Cowboy Load, and four of the first five shots went into one hole, and this from a standing, two-hand shooting stance. When I got down to the business of group testing, I used the Black Hills .45 Colt Cowboy Load, and for the black powder load, I used Five Star's .45 Colt moderate velocity Pyrodex load. Five Star loads their Pyrodex cartridges in both standard and moderate velocities, and the moderate seemed closer to Kenny's suggested 34 grains of 2f. The Five Star was very consistent with three of five groups measuring 2 1/2 inches. With the Black Hills smokeless load, three of the groups went 1 1/2 inches or less, the smallest being 1 3/16. Group testing was done from sandbags at 20 yards at Bob Howard's Indoor Range (3104 West Reno, Oklahoma City, OK 73107), and I had to pause a bit between groups of the Five Star to give the ventilation system time to clear the Pyrodex smoke. Full results are in the accompanying box.

Obviously, these cylinders are so well made that under normal circumstances, R & D Gunshop will not need to see the actual revolvers. The Cimarron revolvers match that good quality of the test guns we've been shipped from various importers of Uberti products. Triggers, in keeping with Uberti's new policy, measured 3 1/2 lbs. and 3 1/3 lbs. One has a touch of creep and a little bit of a grating feel that my favorite stone will soon make disappear. Custom Remington cylinders are also available for calibers such as .44 Special. If you'd like a Colt conversion or a special caliber contact R & D Gunshop. They'll arrange the custom work -- special cylinder and barrel lining -- at a very reasonable price. I think you'll be surprised at how little a unique, authentic, custom firearm can cost.

Thanks to the following manufacturers for help with products used in this article:

  • Black Hills Ammunition
    P.O. Box 3090
    Rapid City, SD 57709
    FAX: (605)348-9827
  • Five Star Classic Cartridges
    Buena Vista, GA
    FAX: (770)477-5896
  • Cimarron, FA Co.
    P. O. Box 906
    Fredericksburg, TX 78624-0906
  • R & D Gun Shop
    5728 E. Co. Road X
    Beloit, WI 53511
    FAX: (608)676-2269