The Hobby Gunsmith

Winter Feature-

We Rebuild a Used Ruger Blackhawk.

Before working on any firearm, make sure it is unloaded by using the proper procedures for the particular firearm.  This article is provided for entertainment purposes and represents an explanation of how a project was completed.  Only competent and trained gunsmiths should work on firearms. 

   People who make modifications based on the material presented here are responsible for their own work.  The Hobby Gunsmith accepts no responsibility or liability for work people have done on their guns.

   It was during a quick stop at the local gun store that I spotted our new project gun sitting in the consignment case.  It was an ugly stainless Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 magnum with buggered screws and a ten and a half inch long barrel.  I gave it a quick glance before ruling it out as a new CAS gun.  A second look at the gun caused me to notice the longer extractor housing assembly.

The Ruger Blackhawk as it was found in the gun store.  The long barrel was not attractive, but the long ejector housing was.

   I already had a similar gun that I use for shooting in the Modern Category, but my main match gun has a seven and a half inch barrel, which is much more reasonable.  The long barreled gun deserved an evaluation so it came out of the case.   It is difficult to disregard a stainless Super Blackhawk for a hundred and eighty-five dollars.

   The action did not feel quite right and was a bit clunky from years of being carried in a holster while out hunting.  A little gun lube should improve the action.  There was very little indication that the gun had been used for shooting hot loads, but the screws were badly damaged; possibly from being disassembled with a standard screwdriver.  The front sight was damaged and its retaining spring was severely damaged.  The rubber hunting grips would have to go away.

   Measurements showed the extractor housing to be much longer than my other Super Blackhawk: enough longer to get around the problems of not being able to push a magnum load out through the rear of the cylinder.  A quick test with an empty casing showed the extractor was capable of fully removing an empty casing from the cylinder, which is a problem on the Super Blackhawks with the longer magnum cylinder.

   The gun was purchased and I waited the required ten days before we could do any serious planning for this project.  A few measurements showed the larger Blackhawk frame and the longer extractor housing would have about the same proportions as a Colt clone if the barrel were shortened to about six inches.

   I have always liked the aesthetics of the proportions of the short barrel Colt single action revolvers.  The small amount of barrel extending beyond the extractor housing gives the gun a very pleasant appearance.  The Ruger Super Blackhawks have never looked right to me because the larger frame dimensions that simply don’t have the correct proportions compared to the Colt.  It was my desire to create a Super Blackhawk with clean proportions that look attractive while also being a good shooter.  It took several evaluation sessions with black electrical tape to find that a six-inch barrel would produce the desired look.

   The Ruger Super Blackhawk and the Ruger Vaquero both share some serious problems in design that prevent the gun from being a great shooter in Cowboy Action Shooting.  All of the problems are related to the fact that the Ruger products do not have a half-cock notch in the hammer.  The problems are with hammer slipping and with loading port alignment.

   The hammer of the Blackhawk differs from others in that it is rounded on both sides, which may make it easier for the hunter to cock in the cold weather of a hunt, but prevents the shooter’s thumb from hooking the hammer and pulling it all the way back.  This may seem like a minor issue, but we see a lot of hammer slips with the rounded hammers of the modern Blackhawk.  We find the flat-sided hammer like the one on a Colt to be a bit more positive to cock during the heat of competition.

   The slipping of the hammer becomes more critical when we consider what happens when the hammer slips from the thumb of the person cocking the weapon.  When the hammer is partially cocked and the thumb slips, the hammer falls back to the transfer bar while the cylinder continues to turn and the cylinder pawl returns to the beginning position. 

   After the hammer has returned to the uncocked position after the hammer has slipped, the cylinder will likely to have spun and locked into the next firing position.  The shooter must again cock the gun, which will unlock the cylinder and allow the pawl to advance the cylinder to the next position while advancing a live cartridge out of the battery position.  This common problem with Ruger guns causes the shooter to shoot four of his cartridges and then cycle the gun until the live round is again chambered and fired.  This can cost the shooter several seconds when this happens.

   With a half-cock notch on a single action revolver, there is a good possibilities that the hammer will slip and fall into the half-cock notch.  When this happens, the pawl does not return to the beginning of its travel and the shooter can pull on the hammer again and complete the cocking process with a good chance that no live round has been advanced out of battery.

   The other problem with the absence of the half-cock notch is encountered at the loading and unloading tables, or during a reload during the stage.  We have all felt the clicking as the cylinder turns while loading or unloading a single action revolver.  The cylinder ratchet turning past the pawl, which is lightly pushed against the ratchet by the hand or pawl spring, causes this clicking sound. 

   Most single action revolver shooters will use the sound of the ratchet clicking to align the chambers with the loading/unloading port.  Most revolvers allow the shooter to advance the cylinder to the sound of the click and then reverse the cylinder to lock it into the correct position for loading or unloading. 

   Unfortunately for Ruger owners, the hammer controls the point where the click occurs and the hammer being down causes it to occur at the wrong time.  With Blackhawk and traditional Vaquero revolvers, the click occurs after the cylinder has past the point where it is in alignment with the loading/unloading port.  The Ruger owner must advance the cylinder by eye and load or unload the chamber before they hear the click of the pawl.  If the click is heard, the Ruger owner must turn the cylinder all the way around and realign the cylinder.  This is a time consuming process that requires a lot of practice to do it during a timed reload.

   Fortunately there is an easy way to add the half-cock notch to the Ruger Blackhawk or Vaquero.  The people at Power Custom make a hammer and trigger replacement kit that includes newer and lighter springs that add the half-cock notch to the gun.  They also make a replacement pawl that adds another unique feature to the Ruger products that allow the shooter to reload even faster while on the clock.  This is what Power Custom refers to as their Ruger Reverse Spin Pawl that allows the cylinder to be turned in either direction during a reload, which allows the shooter to extract a single spent casing, replace it with a loaded cartridge, then turn the cylinder counter clockwise to put the newly loaded chamber on the left side of the hammer where it will be advanced into battery with the next pull of the hammer.  This is much better and faster than having to turn the cylinder to the right until it aligns.

The Power Custom Kit parts are on the right and the original Ruger parts are on the left.  Notice the thinner sear and the half-cock notch on the Power parts.  Also notice the tail of the pawl on the right, that tail provides the reverse spin capability.

   We obtained both the hammer and trigger replacement kit and the free spin pawl for our Ruger Blackhawk.  These parts will be the cornerstone of the action job for our Blackhawk project, because the Power Custom hammer and trigger are delivered with the sear already polished and ready to go.

   We started work on our gun by removing the front sight and using blue machinists dye to allow us to draw the centerlines on the top of the barrel.  We also used the dye to mark where we were going to cut the barrel down to six inches in length.

The centerline is marked in the Machinist Dye on the long barrel.  The line is also made for the cut.

   With the cutting points marked in the machinists dye, we used gunsmithing screwdrivers to remove the old aftermarket grip panels.  We then cocked the hammer and inserted a small nail through the hammer spring follower to hold the hammer spring in tension while we removed the hammer spring assembly. 

With the hammer spring removed, we loosened the five screws that hold the grip frame assembly to the frame of the gun. These five screws are in a specific order and one is much longer than the others.  The longer screw is the one that holds the hammer pivot pin in place so it must return to the same place along with the correct orientation of the hammer pivot pin.

   Removing the grip frame should be done carefully because it will release a few springs.  The first spring to release is the cylinder latch spring, which is a mousetrap type spring that is connected to the grip frame.  This spring will not fall off so it can be ignored at this point.  The next spring to worry about is the hand or pawl spring that should be protruding from the left side of the frame of the gun.  Remove this very small spring along with the pin that should be attached to the spring.  The third spring and pin should be sticking out from the grip frame behind the area of the trigger and is the trigger return spring.  We removed the spring and pin assembly and put them in a safe place before setting aside the grip frame.

Retain the spring with a pin and remove the grip frame.

 

  We removed the extractor rod and its assembly by removing the screw that attaches the housing to the barrel.  We removed the cylinder by sliding pressing on the cylinder release cross-screw and sliding the cylinder pin forward.  With the cylinder pin removed, open the loading gate to remove the cylinder from the gun.

   The hammer pivot pin is retained by one of the grip frame screws so it can be drifted out as soon as the grip frame has been removed.  This will allow the hammer and pawl to be removed.

The cylinder pawl tension spring extends to the rear of the frame and is held in place by the grip frame.  Be careful not to loose it.

   The action on the Ruger was removed by drifting two pins out of the side of the frame.  The trigger and cylinder bolt pivot pin is retained by the loading port spring, which must be removed in order to remove the trigger.  The easiest way to remove the loading port spring is with a special tool, but many people have had success by mounting the gun upside-down in a padded vise and pressing down on the spring with a screwdriver or brass drift punch.  Depress the spring and drift the pivot pin through the side of the frame.  This will allow the trigger and locking bolt to be lifted out.

The cylinder bolt spring extends up from the grip frame to place direct tension on the bolt.  Be careful not to loose it.

   With the frame torn down and all parts removed, we thoroughly cleaned the frame with solvent to make it clean.  The front sight on this gun was held in place with a single screw, which we removed before laying out the lines with machinists dye.

The long barrel is placed in the power hacksaw to remove about 4 1/2 inches of barrel.  Lucky, our Queensland Heeler snuck into the photo.

   We clamped the barrel of the Ruger into a metal cutting bandsaw, which allows the barrel to be cut very evenly and true.  We then drilled the hole for the front sight screw and threaded it using a 6-40 bottoming tap.  A bottoming tap has a very sharp cutting angle, which allows complete threads to extend very close to the bottom of the hole.

The Ruger Blackhawk with the excess barrel displayed below.  It is a striking change.

 

   We reinstalled the front sight on the newly cut barrel and then used a stationary disk sander to square up the end of the barrel and to perfectly mate the end of the barrel to the end of the front sight.  This produced a very professional looking fit to the front sight.

We tap the hole for the front sight using a 4-40 bottoming tap.

   The black front sight had significant damage to the rough bluing so we removed the bluing with Navel Jelly and sanded the steel with emery cloth.  The front sight was set aside to be Nitre Blued at a later time.  The previous owner had damaged the front sight retaining screw so we attempted to clean it up by filing the bad slot and polishing the head of the screw.  We will probably have to replace the screw at a later date.

The original front sight with the damaged screws, damaged front sight, and the red paint.

   We next turned our attention to the inside of the frame where the parts of the action reside. We used cotton tipped swabs to find the rough casting surfaces that needed attention.  We wiped the swab around on the internal surfaces.  Rough areas will pull cotton away from the swab.  These are the areas that may need a little attention.  We found a lot of rough areas inside the frame that increased the friction between the moving parts and the frame.

   We used an Arkansas stone to polish the areas of the frame that come in contact with the moving parts.  This is done to reduce friction.  We also cleaned up some of the rough machining left over from the manufacturing process.  The internal parts were smooth and most were polished to reduce friction.

   The Power Custom hammer and trigger needed no additional polishing and were dropped into the gun without any need for polishing or fitting.  We reassembled the gun using the reverse spin pawl, which may require a little fitting.  Ours required no fitting and worked well right out of the box.  We did, however, polish the area of the frame where the bottom of the reverse spin pawl contacts the frame.

   A few words about the reverse spin pawl are in order at this time.  The pawl is the Ruger name for the link that runs up from the left side of the hammer to the ratchet on the rear of the cylinder.  Other gun makers refer to the pawl as the hand and refer to the ratchet as the star.  The cocking action of the hammer pushes the pawl up and out against the ratchet on the rear of the cylinder and advances the cylinder to the next chamber.

   As the hammer drops to fire the gun, the pawl returns to its bottom position.  The cylinder is held in place by the cylinder bolt on the right side of the hammer.  When the hammer is down, the cylinder bolt remains in the up position and engaged with the cylinder to prevent it from turning.  Opening the loading gate operates a cam that retracts the locking bolt and allows the cylinder to turn for loading.  Turning the cylinder creates a soft clicking sound, which is the ratchet turning against the spring-loaded pawl.

   The pawl rides in a channel that keeps all of the parts in the correct location.  The shape of the channel is such that the pawl almost comes in contact with the channel when the hammer is down.  Machining a new pawl with a little tail below the pivot will cause the pawl to be forced back against the handspring and disengage the pawl from the ratchet.  The cylinder will not move with the hammer down, because the cylinder-locking bolt will still be engaged to lock the cylinder.

   With the hammer down and the pawl forced back away from the ratchet by the little extension tang, the cylinder remains locked and all is well.  Cocking the hammer will unlock the cylinder and also move the pawl up in a way that the pressure against the handspring will be relaxed and the hand will move forward into the ratchet.  This causes the normal operation of the action of the gun.  With the hammer down against the transfer bar, however, opening the loading gate will unlock the cylinder while keeping the pawl away from the ratchet.  This allows the cylinder to be turned in either direction for quick single-shot reloads on the clock.

   The Ruger has another interesting design detail that will crop up once the Power Custom kit has been installed.  The Ruger is designed to not be cocked while the loading gate is open.  This occurs because the transfer bar will bind against the cylinder bolt release cam on the end of the loading gate.  The only way the Power Custom kit will work with the Ruger Transfer Bar is to move the hammer to the half-cock position before opening the loading gate.

   The transfer bar can be modified slightly to allow the action to be moved to the half-cock position with the loading gate opened.  Although this modification can appear intimidating, we followed the directions provided by Power Custom and used machinists layout dye to lay out the area of the transfer bar that needs to be trimmed.

   After laying out the area of the transfer bar that needs to be removed, we used a Dremel tool with a sanding disk to remove the excess metal.  We used a small file to finish the modification and then buffed out any file marks to prevent unnecessary stress where modifications were made.  We then polished the area using a Dremel tools with a small buffing wheel.  The purpose of the polishing is to remove any unnecessary sharp edges or tool marks that might allow a crack to form in the future.

The transfer bar is marked for filing.  We filed away the small section to the left of the line.

   After carefully cleaning and oiling, we reassembled the gun in the reverse order in which we had taken it apart.  The Power Custom Kit came with Wolff replacement springs to lighten some of the important parts.  We replaced the very stiff trigger spring with the new Wolff replacement.  It is a large spring that remains attached to the grip frame and is easily replaced.

   We chose to use the eighteen-pound hammer spring to maintain a reasonable lock time on the gun and to ensure that primers are ignited on the first strike.  This requires that we take the hammer strut assembly to the drill press to compress the spring before removing the retaining pin we installed when we took the gun apart.

   We set up a drill vise on the drill press to hold the stamped metal mainspring seat with the jaws open enough to allow the drill press to depress the hammer strut through the mainspring seat.  We opened the jaws of the chuck just enough to hold the hammer end of the hammer strut and used the movable jaws to compress the old spring so we could remove the retaining pin and the back the strut out to remove it.  We replaced the old spring with the new Wolff spring and used the drill press to again compress the spring assembly through the mainspring seat and installed the temporary retaining pin.

The spring clamp is used to hold the spring in place while installing the drift pin, which is held in place by the spring.

 

   Reattaching the grip frame can require about four hands.  The pawl spring and pin must be installed in the hole on the left side of the hammer with the pin inside the frame and the spring sticking out of the gun frame.  The bolt spring must be installed into the grip frame, and the trigger spring must be engaged above the trigger when the assembly is put into place.  The last component is the mainspring assembly that must be in place while the grip frame is positioned into place.

   There are springs on two different planes of the grip frame as the frame is carefully put into place.  It is helpful to have a helper and some say it is easier if the gun is clamped upside down in a padded vise.  Slowly bring the parts into place and make sure the springs remain in alignment and are not pinched as the components move into place.  Do not forget to keep the trigger spring under the trigger and to not let the hammer strut assembly bind up and prevent the grip frame from going into place.

   With the gun buttoned up and the new sights installed, we took the gun to the range for some testing.  It required only a little adjustment to the rear sights to bring the gun to point of aim with.44 Special ammunition.  The gun shot a good clean pattern in the cold morning air and the trigger break was crisp.  Cocking the gun to the half-cock position and opening the loading port allowed us to load and unload with the clicks in the right place to simulate a Colt.  Opening the loading gate without putting the gun in the half-cock position allows the cylinder to turn in either direction without any clicking sounds from the ratchet.  Everything performed as we had hoped.

   When we returned from the range, we disassembled the gun again and use a fine file to clean up some of the cosmetic damage to the frame assembly and barrel.  We then used fine emery cloth with unscented mineral sprits to sand out any blemishes in the frame.  We like the beauty of Nickel-plated guns so we decided to use the buffing wheel to give the satin gun a bright polished look.  This took about an hour and resulted in a very nice looking frame, barrel, grip frame, and cylinder that is smooth and shiny.

   Before reassembling the gun, we fired up the Lee melting pot filled with Nitre Bluing Salts and brought the temperature up to about 710 degrees.  After polishing the steel front sight and screw, we dipped them into the bluing salts until they turned a deep bronze to purple color.  We then removed the sight and dipped them in Mobile One synthetic motor oil to help set the color.  We let the parts sit overnight before cleaning them in oil and oiling them.

The cleaned up and Nitre Blued front sight.

   An interesting thing was found with the Stainless Steel used by Ruger.  We polished the stainless screws and dipped them in the 710 degree Niter Bluing salts and left them for a few minutes.  At that temperature, they turned a light copper/bronze color.  We dipped the ejector rod, all screws, the base pin, and the hammer and trigger pins into the bluing salts to give them a nice light bronze color.  The bronze color provides a nice accent to the bright polished stainless steel of the Ruger.

The Nitre heated stainless pins of the Ruger can be seen in their golden color.  The pin just above the trigger guard gives the best illustration of the color contrast.

   With the gun reassembled, we installed some standard wood grips from another Blackhawk and took the gun to a CAS match to see how it performs.  Pairing it up with another stainless Ruger Blackhawk with the Power Custom kit installed, we managed to shoot a clean match and place better than normal in the rankings for the match.  We are very happy with the performance and attractiveness of this new Ruger Blackhawk.

The cylinder pin and cross-bolt cylinder pin retaining screw was also Nitre Blued for a nice contrast with the polished stainless steel.

   A used Blackhawk like ours can often be picked up at bargain prices, because the long barrel reduces its market attractiveness.  A good cleaning along with some polishing would have given us a good performing gun for Cowboy Action shooting for fewer than two hundred dollars.  The addition of the Power Custom kit would add about another hundred and fifty dollars as the budget allows, and is well worth the addition.  The additional selection of the reverse spin pawl adds about another thirty dollars to the total price of the gun and provide us with a very good shooter at a very reasonable price of less than four hundred dollars.

The completed Blackhawk with the 6" barrel and long extractor has about the same scale dimensions as the smaller Colts.

 

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