The Hobby Gunsmith

Project -

Smoothing the action of a Winchester 94 part Ii

There are several areas where the Winchester 94 can be improved. Improvements are simple and can be made in the sear, the hammer spring, the magazine spring, and the cross-bolt safety.

   We begin making our modifications by drifting the hammer pivot bushing out with a drift punch, but it should only require a little pressure since it is not a friction fit. Remove the hammer and you will find the sear and ramp on the bottom. Using an Arkansas stone or 600 grit wet or dry sandpaper on a flat surface, polish any machine marks down to reduce friction. It is not necessary to create a mirror finish, but removing rough spots will help. It may also help to lightly polish the sides of the hammer where they contact the receiver. Don't forget to lightly polish any roughness on the receiver where the sides of the hammer contact the receiver.

   This improves the feel of the hammer as it is pulled with the thumb or the bolt. Take some wet or dry sandpaper and gently polish the outside surface of the hammer pivot bushing and the inside of the hammer pivot hole. I wrap the 600 grit paper around a drift punch and use the drift punch to polish the inside of the hole. It only takes a few strokes to remove the rough spots, but you do not want to remove enough material to increase the play in the bushing.

   It's now time to make a decision. You can stop and coat all of the friction surfaces with action grease, or you can take the parts further apart and do more polishing. I took mine completely down and polished each part where they contact another part, but there is so little movement in the parts that I would probably just use a good action grease and move on if I had it to do again. It is up to you.

   The trigger and lever safety are held in place by a long spring that lays in the bottom of the lower tang assembly and the end of the spring is formed into the stop for the mainspring.  Drift the roll pin out and the parts can be removed.  Some people have reported success in slightly bending the two springs to relieve a little tension on the lever safety assembly.

The lower tang assembly showing the two springs.  The left is for the lever safety and the right is part of the trigger spring.

   With the lower tang oriented to the trigger assembly is away from you, the left spring has a slight tang that can be bent slightly to slightly lighten the amount of pressure needed to release the lever safety.  I would not remove too much spring tension as this is an important safety feature on this gun. 

   The right side of the spring is part of the trigger return spring and also part of the lever safety.  I removed a little tension from this spring by bending the right tang up just a little.  Only bend it a little as this is part of a balanced spring assembly.  There is a small coil spring that sits between the trigger and the safety sear.  These two springs operate against each other to create the trigger return force.  I also cut a single coil from the little coil spring.

   I then polished all of the sear contact points along with the points on the spring that contact any other parts.  I polished the lever safety bar to allow it to operate more smoothly.

A close-up photo of the sear after polishing.  I polish all surfaces that come in contact with each other and can cause roughness or friction.

   I used an Arkansas stone on the area of the hammer that comes in contact with the bolt while the bolt is cocking the hammer.  I used the stone to slightly radius and polish the area that is in contact with the bolt as the hammer is cocked.  This will smooth the feel of the lever as the hammer is being cocked during the lever stroke.  It will also reduce wear on those two surfaces. Do not forget to grease that area when reassembling the gun.

   Now for an important step: Carefully compress the hammer spring, remove the retaining pin, and remove the hammer spring guide rod and the hammer spring. Note the orientation of the hammer spring guide rod because it's easy to reassemble it into the receiver upside down. I am not aware of any spring kits for the 94 so I removed four coils from the mainspring on the advice of some people who have done it and reported no problems. I also polished each side of the hammer spring guide rod so the spring will slide smoothly over the rod. There were rough areas on the prongs that contact the hammer so I lightly polished those with 600 grit sandpaper. Reassemble the parts into the lower tang assembly and lube with an appropriate low-drag grease. I used Brownell's Action Magic Lube Plus.

   I cleaned the bolt using mineral sprits to remove any carbon deposits and used the Arkansas stone to slightly radius the area of the bolt that contacts the hammer to cock it.  This should be polished to reduce friction during the cocking of the gun.  Do not overdo it as it is possible to remove too much material and make it so the gun cannot be cocked by the bolt.

   While working on the bolt, I ran an Arkansas stone along the part of the bolt that rides in the rails of the frame.  I do this just enough to reduce any friction, but not enough to change the clearances between the bolt and the frame.

   While the bolt is out, I remove the ejector assembly by removing the roll pin.  I remove a single coil from the ejector spring and use a stone to polish the end of the ejector where the cartridge rim must slide while the cartridge is being seated.  This makes feeding a little more reliable while reducing the ejection forces to the point where the casings fall near the shooter instead of being flipped a few feet away.

   Be sure to remove and clean the firing pin and the channel it rides in.  There is a section of the firing pin that is cut away for the lever and it tends to also act as a safety to hold the pin back while cocking the gun.   I do polish the area where the lever is in contact with the firing pin, but I wonder if it does any good.  I also slightly polish the end of the lever where it rides against the bolt during the process of operating the bolt.

   I then turn to the cartridge guide bars and the carrier.  I use a hobby grinder with a cone shaped buffing wheel and emery buffing compound to polish the center of the carrier where the rim of the cartridge slides into position.  I also slightly polish the cartridge guide rails to remove any casting flashings that might impede the movement of the cartridge as it slides into place.

   I make no changes to the loading gate or the locking lug that contains the plunger that strikes the firing pin.  These are critical items and making any changes to the locking lug or the channel it rides in can adversely affect the headspace of the gun. 

   It is now time to reassemble the Winchester 94.  Begin by reinstalling the cartridge guides into the inside of the frame.  I usually install the right side first, because it has a slight little cutaway for the loading gate that helps me make sure I know the exact and correct orientation of this part.  I install the left side second and make sure it is positioned as a mirror image of the right side.  The left side can be installed upside down, but will not work.  The right side will usually not install upside down and it will be obvious if a mistake has been made.

   Install the carrier spring into the left side of the frame through the loading port and secure it with the little screw.  Install the loading gate by starting the screw into the threads and then pushing it into place before tightening the screw.  If the screw is tightened before pushing the gate into place, it will probably not fit and I will have to remove it and try again.

   I reinstall the carrier into the frame with a single screw.  It takes a little pressure against the spring to get the correct clearance for the screw to thread correctly.  With the carrier in its proper place, the bolt with the firing pin may be slid into place.  With the bolt sill slightly backed out, I insert the end of the lever assembly into the bolt through the cutaway in the firing pin and then slide the bolt forward into place.  I usually also slide the locking lug into place to hold the bolt in the proper place while fastening the lever.

The correct orientation of the lower frame and the carrier.  I like to install the carrier before attaching the lower lever frame.

   I then gently move the end of the lever into alignment with the pin hole that serves as the lever pivot in the bolt.  With the lever aligned with the hole, which is visible through the hole in the left side of the frame, I grease and install the retaining pin into the hole to positively connect the lever to the bolt.  I then install the retaining screw to prevent the pin from backing out.  I then install the notched pivot hinge pin at the front of the frame to secure the lower plate pivot that is part of the lever assembly.

This is the screw that retains the drift pin.  This is confusing and the correct way is to remove this screw, remove the drift pin, reinstall the drift pin, and reinstall this screw.


   With everything connected back to the gun, I slide the locking lug back out through the bottom and engage it into the notches in the lever assembly so it can be moved up and down with the lever.  The lower tang, trigger, and hammer assembly can be slipped up in to place and secured by installing the hammer pivot screw.  The last step of this assembly is to install the buttstock and test the operation of the lever.  Everything should function properly if it was put together correctly.

   After installing the lower tang assembly and reinstalling the buttstock, I lubricated the gun as I normally would and cycled the action. Reducing the spring tension reduced the force needed to cock the hammer on the down stroke of the lever.

  The grease and slight polishing seemed to make the trigger feel better and smoother. Testing the gun with empty, but primed cases, told me that there was still enough mainspring force to reliably detonate the primers. We will now turn our attention to the magazine.

   I find the Winchester 94 to be a bit difficult to load, because there is simply too much tension on the magazine spring to get the last cartridges to feed easily. I removed some of the tension by cutting four coils off the magazine follower spring.  I then put the forearm stock into place and slide the magazine tube into place.  There is a little channel cut away for the front retaining ring that needs to align with the similar small channel cut into the barrel. I make sure these are aligned when I put the magazine tube into the stock so I know it is oriented correctly.  I then remove the assembly and install the large retaining ring before reinstalling the forearm stock and securing it with the retaining ring.

Magazine components ready to be installed in the magazine tube.

   I then install the forward retaining ring, oil and install the cartridge follower, insert the follower spring into the magazine, install the cap, and secure it with the magazine cap screw.  That completes the assembly of the gun and it is ready to be checked by cycling some dummy rounds through it.

   My last modification is to remove the cross-bolt safety. Laying a 94 on its side at the loading table often activates the safety, which may not be noticed until it fails to shoot while on the clock.  It was not difficult, but itís a personal decision that must be made by each owner.  We resisted this change for the first year we used the gun, but finally decided to remove it after loosing four shots in a match because the safety was on.

   Removing the cross-bolt safety is not difficult.  I finally removed the safety from the gun to prevent any future problems. Examine the photo to see a close-up view of the cross-bolt safety and the release hole. That flat platform with the little hole is the safety bar. The bright metal on the left of the image is the breech bolt with the firing pin. The flat piece of steel in the middle with a tiny hole is the safety. The large hole just above the small hole is the access hole for getting the special tool into the small hole in the safety so you can depress the spring loaded detent and remove the safety bar.

A close-up photo of the area where the pin resides that must be pressed with a fine pointed tool, like a paperclip.

   If you are going to remove the safety, push the safety into the safe position. This should align the little access hole with the larger hole that gives you access to the access hole. You will need a special tool that will fit into the access hole. I found a standard paper clip to be a good fit. Using the paper clip, or any suitable tool, press down into the hole and depress the detent and the detent spring. While holding the detent down a little, push the safety on through from the left side of the frame (from shooting position) and out the right side. Once the safety bar moves about an eighth of an inch, it may hit a machining mark and need a slightly more aggressive drifting out. Proceed carefully!

   Remove the spring and detent, and save them for installation at a later date. Some people advocate modifying the safety so it does not work and then putting it back into the frame to plug the holes. I feel it is dangerous to use the rifle outside of CAS without the safety installed and it might be carried with a round in the chamber. Cowboy Action Shooting does not allow cartridges in the chamber except when the gun is ready to fire. I feel it is worse to have a safety in place that does not work.

   The Winchester New Model 94 has a reputation for parts failures and for actions that jam during shooting stages. I have had a few problems, but most of them have been of my own doing or something other than the gun. A common problem that has led to the reputation of this gun is the fact that many people do not cycle the lever forcefully enough. This action was designed to be worked with deliberation and a timid operation of the action can cause problems. Treat it with respect and don't abuse it, but operate the action with some authority and it will be more reliable. These modifications to my Winchester 94 Trapper have smoothed the action on the gun and made it a lot easier to shoot in competition.

   There are a lot more things that can be done, but this represents the total amount of work I have done to mine. I am planning to make a filler for the hole left by the removal of the safety. I will add any additional modifications to a future article as they are completed.