R&D/Howell's Old West Conversion Cylinders


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keeterh
May 3, 2012, 11:52 PM
Hi, I hope you'll forgive me if I'm asking you to cover too-well-travelled ground. I've searched for similar threads and posts in this forum and found much good advice, but I still have a couple questions.

Here goes: in searching suppliers for the Howell's Old West Conversion/R&D Conversion cylinders in .45LC for the Uberti Remington 1858, the market seems to have two versions available. Some sellers offer a six-chamber cylinder (Taylor's, Midway), while some offer a five-shot version (Buffalo Arms, Fall Creek Sutler, as well as the Howell's Old West Conversions own website).

Even after reading through the information already here on the subject, I'm still not clear why there are two versions, as it seems like under any conditions six would be more efficient than five shots. Does anyone have the last word on this? For example, are there black powder max. loading limits for cartridges in the six shot cylinder that don't apply to the five chamber model (given the thickness of the steel in the chamber walls)? I'm not interested in using smokeless powder, so I'm only referring to the max. pressure from black powder that these cylinders can take.

I ask this because the 19th century sources I have come across (U.S. Army small arms test reports, etc.), and 20th c. sources (authors like Elmer Keith and John Taffin) emphasize the versatility of the .45LC cartridge with max. black powder loads of 40(forty!) grains of powder under a 255 grain conoidal bullet. What a whopper that would be! Not having fired the Walker, I can only imagine how big that load's bark would be in the Colt or Remington army-model .44s.

But, backing off that maximum for practical shooting, a couple of my sources write that the army came up with combat loads of 30-ish grains of powder (maybe a little less?) with ball ammo prob. the same weight as the max. tested load, or near it (<250gr.). Apparently, that load yielded muzzle velocities comparable to standard military ball 1911 .45 ACP cartridge. Satisfied with its performance, army troopers carried that .45LC round for many of the early metallic-cartridge sidearms, including the 1873 Peacemaker, through the Indian Wars of the 1870s. Taffin writes that his modern day tests using RCBS bullet mould 45-255 and 38.6 grains of FFFg resulted in a muzzle velocity of 949fps and were "most accurate."

The bottom line is that I want to be able safely to shoot the 1867-1870s-spec. army round, and up to Taffin's .45LC tested black powder load in my Uberti 1858 Remington using a conversion cylinder.

My other question concerns the engineering of the R&D cylinders. At the great research site, Svartkrutt.net, Mr Flatnes' article on this technology (http://www.svartkrutt.net/articles/vis.php?id=24) shows clearly that his version of the R&D 45LC cylinder has the Remington safety notches milled into the backplate between each chamber. In my view, this is hugely important, as it allows the weapon to be carried safely with all six chambers loaded, just as can the cap-and-ball cylinder for this gun. It is one of the Remington revolver's best features, IMHO.

However, the R&D conversion cylinders I've seen on the market don't seem have this feature. Why is that? Taylor's tells me that I would have to carry the pistol with the hammer down on an empty chamber for safety. Not the best option, surely? So, where do I find one of these cylinders that can take the army/Taffin loads, and has the Remington 1858 safety notches?

Thanks for any advice you have.

Respectfully,
-H.

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hang fire
May 4, 2012, 12:59 AM
Carry five and stay alive. If not a modern 6 shot revolver with transfer bar &c, absolutely carry only five with the hammer down on the empty chamber. Especially so with the conversions, it is the only real safety one has for carry.

Driftwood Johnson
May 4, 2012, 01:08 AM
Howdy

It has nothing to do with the strength of the cylinder, it has to do with rim diameter and how many rims can be stuffed into the cylinder.

The Colt Single Action Army was designed specifically for the 45 Colt round. Like most 19th Century rounds, the 45 Colt is a rimmed round. The SAA cylinder is large enough and the chambers are arranged so that six rounds can be chambered without the rims over lapping.

The 1858 Remington was not designed with cartridges in mind, it was designed as a Cap & Ball revolver. So no thought was ever given to being able to fit six rimmed cartridges into the cylinder. So the cylinder or the 1858 Remington is a little bit smaller in diameter than the SAA cylinder.

One critical dimension of any revolver is the distance between the center of the cylinder and the center of the bore. This distance defines the radius of a circle, and all the chambers of the cylinder must be centered on that circle. With the SAA this circle is large enough that the rims of six 45 Colt rounds can sit in the chambers without interfering with each other. The larger this circle is, the more space there will be between the chambers. That is the key. Since the Remington was not designed with cartridges in mind, there was no allowance made for rims, and the chambers are centered on a circle slightly smaller in diameter than the with the SAA. There were some Remingtons converted to fire cartridges during the Civil War, but because of the size of the cylinder and the distance between chambers they were converted to fire a 44 caliber rimfire cartridge, not 45 caliber. There was enough space on the cylinder for six 44 caliber rims.

Modern reproductions of the 1858 Remington have rifling grooves right about .451 in diameter, perfect for the 45 Colt cartridge. A cylinder with six 45 caliber holes in it will fit in a cylinder the correct size for the Remmie, but as I said, there is not enough room for the rims, they will interfere with each other. So a bunch of years ago Kenny Howell had a brilliant idea. He made a cylinder with six 45 Colt chambers, but instead of drilling them straight through he angled them out slightly at the rear. The actual angle the chambers are at is less than 1/2 of one degree. But it is just enough so that there is enough room at the rear of the cylinder for six 45 Colt cartridges to be chambered without the rims interfering with each other.

Kenny Howell patented the idea. That is why Walt Kirst's 45 Colt Remington cylinders only have 5 chambers. His 45 ACP cylinders could fit six rounds because they are a rimless round. But his 45 Colt cylinders for the Remmie only have five chambers because Howell's patent prevented him from drilling his chambers on an angle. Or maybe he just did not want to.

Now the story gets a little bit more complicated. For quite a few years, Kenny Howell was making his six round cylinders exclusively for Taylors under the name R&D. Taylors was the sole distributor. Any other outfit like Midway that sold the six shot cylinders was buying them from Taylors. Then for some reason, I do not know why, Kenny Howell sold the rights to his patent to Taylors. Taylors now contracts with somebody else to make the six shot cylinders with the angled chambers. Anybody selling six shot cylinders for the Remmie is still buying them from Taylors because of the patent.

When Kenny Howell set up Howell Old West Conversions a few years ago, he was constrained by the patent he had sold to Taylors from making any six shot cylinders with angled cylinders for the 1858 Remmie. He could not build any cylinders using his very clever idea because he had sold his patent to Taylors.

That is why some conversion cylinders for the 1858 Remmie have five cylinders and some have six. Nothing to do with strength, it is all about geometry and legal details.

**************

Inevitably the question gets raised, how accurate can a cylinder be if the chambers are at an angle? I have two of the original R&D cylinders with angled chambers. I can tell you that the angle of less than 1/2 of one degree does not make any difference at all for accuracy. A bullet has no problem at all making the slight course correction as it enters the barrel. My Remmies are probably two of my most accurate 45 Colt revolvers. It is because of how precise the chambers are cut. The chambers on my Remmies are much tighter than the chambers of any of my other 45 Colt revolvers, Colts, Rugers, or clones.

*************

Regarding the 45 Colt round and 40 grains of Black Powder. Modern cases do not have the same case capacity as the 19th Century versions of the 45 Colt. The only case that could probably truly hold 40 grains of powder was probably the copper cased, folded rim, Benet primed cases. They had more case capacity even than balloon head cases. It was still probably possible to stuff around 38 grains or so under a 250 grain bullet in a balloon head round. Modern solid head cases have less case capacity. I load 45 Colt with Black Powder all the time for Cowboy shooting. The actual weight of powder that can be stuffed into a 45 Colt round varies because powder made by different manufacturers does not weigh the same. My standard Black Powder load for 45 Colt is 2.2CC of FFg and a 250 grain bullet. Depending on the actual brand of powder I use, this can vary from about 33 grains to about 37 grains. Let me assure you, even with only 33 grains and a 250 grain bullet, a Remmie is a real handful with that cartridge. The grip shape of the Remmie is a little bit tight. There is less room between the rear of the trigger guard and the grip than there is on a Colt. For this reason, the trigger guard of the Remington is more likely to whack the knuckle of the middle finger in recoil than a Colt will. I shoot my full house loads in a Colt SAA all the time. In the Remington, I prefer to shoot 45 Schofields with about 28 grains of FFg and a 200 grain bullet, a much milder load.

*************

Regarding the notches between the firing pins. I never use them. Here is a photo of one of my Remmies with its R&D cylinder. Even though the notches are there, they are too narrow to take the nose of the hammer. If I narrowed the nose of the hammer, It would fit into the notches, but I have never bothered. Keeping five rounds loaded with the hammer down on an empty chamber was always good enough with a Colt, it is good enough for a Remmie too.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v495/Driftwood_Johnson/Remingtons/RemmieandCylinder.jpg

I suggest you buy the six shot cylinder. Get it from Taylors, or one of the outfits they sell it to such as Midway. Load one, skip one, load four. Cock the hammer and let it down gently, you will be on the empty chamber. Do not dry fire the gun without snap caps, you will peen over the firing pins. You can fire mild Smokeless 'cowboy load' in these cylinders too.

Any questions?

arcticap
May 4, 2012, 01:09 AM
Cowboy action shooting competition only allows 5 shots to be loaded with the hammer down on either an empty or the "fake" chamber which would seem to promote a 5 shot cylinder.
Also, the chambers of the 6 shot cylinder are slightly angled rather than being in perfect alignment with the bore in order to fit all of the rounds into the cylinder. For practical purposes accuracy doesn't suffer due to the design.
However the chambers of the 5 shot cylinder are in alignment with the bore which is a selling point, and which design is more accurate or desirable is a matter of contention.

red rick
May 4, 2012, 08:22 AM
Midway has them on sale now for $240.

keeterh
May 4, 2012, 10:53 AM
Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed reply. I hadn't considered that there was a patent issue driving the market availability of 5-shot vs. 6-shot cylinders from the R&D design but that makes perfect sense.

I am happy to read that your experience with the cylinder in an 1858 Remington shows that the R&D cylinder will take the approx. army combat load .45LC cartridge that I mentioned in my post. My correspondence with Mr. Flatnes at Svartkrutt.net had confirmed that target loads of 18gr black powder and a .454 round ball are very accurate and have won at international BP pistol competitions. I also was hoping to learn that the cylinders would take the higher-powered combat load and you have confirmed that.

Your explanation of the slightly angled geometry of the cylinder's chambers also aligns with what I have been reading from others who have shot these. Nobody reports having any significant loss of accuracy from the bullet hitting the forcing cone at 1/2 of one degree incidence. I agree with you that this is a non-issue, as long as the bullet enters the barrel without upsetting and remains symmetrical as it passes out the muzzle (no tumbling or loss of balance in flight). I reckon with the higher powder charges the impact of the bullet above point of aim becomes more pronounced (3-in. or so at 15 feet; 6- or 8-in. at 30 feet, etc.) but that is true of the cap-and-ball loads too; it's just the nature of this particular beast.

Anyway, I also am thankful for the safety advice you and others here have given, re: carrying with the hammer down on an empty room.

Well, I appreciate your help. Best regards to the community here. I always learn a lot reading this forum and am grateful for your expertise and support.

Respectfully,
-H.

Spiller1933
May 5, 2012, 12:46 AM
Articap
I thought you might be interested in a conversation I had with Walt Kirst at the Fort Worth gunshow about two years ago.

He told me that he had specifically designed his gated cylinder with 5 chambers and one dummy position for CAS. He thought the hammer down on the dummy chamber was the only way to handle the revolver.

Funny thing is CAS did not accept it at first and there was some wrangling involved before they approved it for use.

arcticap
May 5, 2012, 04:43 AM
That's a very interesting anecdote.
Thanks for passing it on to us. :)

Driftwood Johnson
May 5, 2012, 10:23 AM
Funny thing is CAS did not accept it at first and there was some wrangling involved before they approved it for use.

Howdy

I would like to comment on that. CAS stands for Cowboy Action Shooting. There are several separate organizations that practice Cowboy Action Shooting, they are not all the same. The organization being referred to here is the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) which is the largest and most popular of the CAS groups.

SASS does not automatically approve of any guns. They must meet certain criteria to be approved for use in SASS sponsored matches. Generally speaking, if a revolver is a reasonably accurate reproduction or replica of an actual single action revolver manufactured prior to 1899 there are no questions asked and it can be used in SASS sponsored matches. But if there is a major departure in the design, it must be submitted to the Territorial Governors for approval. The Territorial Governors only meet once a year, so this may take some time.

Of paramount importance in CAS is the fact that revolvers MUST be loaded with only five shots with the hammer down on an empty chamber. This is an inviolate safety rule. It even applies to Rugers, which are completely safe to be loaded with six rounds, just so everybody is shooting off the same page.

Kirst's 45 Colt conversion cylinders for the 1858 Remington originally only had five chambers, because of the problems I mentioned earlier regarding spacing six rims without interference. Unfortunately, with a five chamber revolver it is impossible to load five and still have the hammer down on an empty chamber. The rule is inviolate, lowering the hammer onto a safety notch between chambers was not allowed. So Kirst's solution was just as clever as Kenny Howell's was. Kirst altered the spacing between chambers, squeezing the five chambers a bit closer together and creating a 'dummy' chamber in the space that had been opened up.

Like this:

http://www.kirstkonverter.com/remington.html

Notice the very shallow counterbore at the bottom position of the cylinder. There was no 'wrangling' involved. This was a very unique situation and there had to be some discussion amongst the TGs as to whether that shallow conterbore was actually a chamber or not. Clearly it is not, but the TGs decided that using such a cylinder, with the hammer down on the 'dummy chamber' was perfectly safe and in keeping with the rules of SASS. So it was approved.

It just took a little bit of time.

ZVP
May 5, 2012, 08:00 PM
WHen using a conversion .36 caliber cylinder there is one little catch that isn't discussed commolly. Most .36's take a .38 long Colt and NOT a .38 Special! The chambers are reamed too short to accept the .38 Special ( and it's pressures).
I wonder if this means that the conversion cylinders are too weak for the .38 special pressure or if this is just a built-in safety margin?
Where the .45 conversions used a full .45 LC?
I have noted that some manufacturers Open Top "Conversion" models in fact do chamber the regular .38 Special. Cimmaron arms revolvers are built to take the .38 Specialsas is the Man with No Name Revolver.
Needless to say, one should NOT force a regular .38 Special into the .38 Long Colt chambers. Nor will a .38 S&W fit as it is a outside dimensioned cartrige.
Does anyone know why the .36 caliber conversions are regulated to lower powered ammo? The .44 1860 Army cylinders shoot .45 LC ammo...
Interesting eh?
Well it is always the RULE to NEVER, EVER, insert the WRONG caliber cartrige into any chamber!
Read your instructions that come with your conversion cylinders, Be safe, and have FUN!
Any info on this topic will be greatly appreciated!
ZVP

rcflint
May 6, 2012, 01:25 PM
Two comments. The military load was not reduced, I understand, for safety of the SAA, but because the troopers complained of the recoil at 40 grains. The 45 S&W (Schofield) loaded with less powder was milder in that respect, and later loads in the 45LC were reduced, both for the recoil and the less spacious alternate case designs. A modern solid head 45 LC case will not hold 40 gr of bp.

As far as a 36 is concerned, the cylinder is cut for a 38LC because the full length roundnose bullet loaded in a 38 Special case is too long for the chamber, particularly in a Colt Navy. Since the bore groove diameter is .375, the conversion needs either a hollow base or heeled bullet to fuinction properly, and a hollowbase wadcutter is safe in a 38 Special case. A roundnose (conical) hollowbase would need a 38 LC case.

ClemBert
May 9, 2012, 10:05 PM
Driftwood Johnson gave a great account of the story behind the 5-shot versus the 6-shot. I have nothing to add with regard to that topic.

I was just gonna chime in and say that I do load 40 grains of GOEX FFFg by weight in .45 Colt using a 250 grain BigLube bullet. It will fit but I use a drop tube in order to get the powder to settle enough in the case to give me room to use a compression plug to make more room for the bullet. The exercise of determining whether or not 40 grains vs 38 grains (or fewer) has merit is left to the individual to determine. Sometimes I'm in the mood for lots of smoke-n-boom. How much more, if any, additional smoke-n-boom is achieved with the extra 2 or 3 grains will take some scientific work to truly satisfy those who do or don't endorse a 40 grain load. YMMV.

http://i40.photobucket.com/albums/e212/SyberTiger/Firearms/Reloading%20Bench/ReloadingBench020.jpg

Driftwood Johnson
May 10, 2012, 04:54 AM
Two comments. The military load was not reduced, I understand, for safety of the SAA, but because the troopers complained of the recoil at 40 grains. The 45 S&W (Schofield) loaded with less powder was milder in that respect, and later loads in the 45LC were reduced, both for the recoil and the less spacious alternate case designs. A modern solid head 45 LC case will not hold 40 gr of bp.

I believe there were some problems with some of the very early Single Acton Army revolvers blowing up with the full 40 gran load. When first produced in 1873 the frame and cylinder of the SAA were made of maleable iron, not steel. I believe this caused some problems with the strength of the cylinders and full 40 grain loads. It was not for some years that Colt began using steel for the frame and cylinder of the SAA.

ZVP
May 12, 2012, 05:19 PM
I had the chance to try a conversion cylinder in my 5 1/2" '58 and I found the Scofield smokeless powder loaded ammo to be the most accurate! Recoil was about like a light .38 and with such low recoil, recovery of the swight picture was very quick! I really liked them over the .45 Long Colt. I prefer to use that round in a Peacemaker.
I have long thought that the ideal concelment revolver would be a 3"- 3 1/2" Remington '58 with a conversion cylinder. You would run into a little cost and innovation in building such a revolver but it'd sure be one tough gun! I'd stick with the Scofield load but in B/P just to have some class in the chambers.
ZVP

Driftwood Johnson
May 12, 2012, 06:15 PM
I had the chance to try a conversion cylinder in my 5 1/2" '58 and I found the Scofield smokeless powder loaded ammo to be the most accurate! Recoil was about like a light .38 and with such low recoil, recovery of the swight picture was very quick! I really liked them over the .45 Long Colt. I prefer to use that round in a Peacemaker.
I have long thought that the ideal concelment revolver would be a 3"- 3 1/2" Remington '58 with a conversion cylinder. You would run into a little cost and innovation in building such a revolver but it'd sure be one tough gun! I'd stick with the Scofield load but in B/P just to have some class in the chambers.
ZVP

Howdy Again

When they first hit the market, the R&D 45 Colt conversion cylinders for the 1858 Remington would not reliably chamber 45 Schofield ammunition. 45 Schofield rims are a bit larger in diameter than 45 Colt, about .520 vs .512. Schofield rims were always larger in diameter than 45 Colt rims because the Schofield revolver relied on its extractor mechanism to eject the empty brass. Early 45 Colt rims were really tiny, and the extractor mechanism of the Schofield revolver would slip off rims that small.

The antique 45 Colt round in the center of this photo has a rim only .505 in diameter. Much too small for an extractor to reliably get a purchase on, but just fine for the ejector rod of a Colt to punch out from the middle. Which by the way is one reason the 45 Colt was never chambered in rifles until very recently. The rim was too small for a rifle extractor to get a purchase on. SAAMI spec for modern 45 Colt ammo is .512 rim diameter, but most of my Winchester 45 Colt brass actually runs around .508 in diameter, like the one on the right. I don't have an antique 45 Schofield round in my cartridge collection yet, but the 44-40 round on the left in this photo has a rim about .520 in diameter.


http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v495/Driftwood_Johnson/cartridges/444045colt45colt.jpg




The same old 45 Colt round is at the far right in this photo. Next to it is a modern 45 Schofield round made using Starline brass. The rim is .518 in diameter.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v495/Driftwood_Johnson/cartridges/4440_44Sp_44R_44Am_44H_45Sch_45C-1.jpg


When the R&D cylinders first hit the market they did not look like this. The counterbore surrounding the rims completely surrounded the rim, and the diameter was just a tad too small to allow 45 Schofield brass to chamber properly. There was a bit of interference. I had a smith open up the counterbores a few thousandths to accept 45 Schofield rims. Opening up the counterbores that much would have left the metal near the edge of the cylinder too thin and liable to deformation, so I told him to cut right through to the outside of the cylinder. This created what I call 'view windows' which allow me to see whether or not there is a live round in a chamber after the cylinder is in the gun.


http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v495/Driftwood_Johnson/Remingtons/RD_disassembled_01.jpg



Now I can load either cartridge in the cylinders, I could not do that when they were new.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v495/Driftwood_Johnson/Remingtons/45coltand45schofieldloaded.jpg



The funny thing is, now the R&D cylinders come this way. They have been cut pretty much the same as mine, so the counterbores will accept the larger 45 Schofield rims, and the 'view window' idea is there too.


I agree, it is much more comfortable to shoot 45 Schofield ammo out of the 1858 Remington than 45 Colt. There is something about the grip shape of the Remington that is not as comfortable with the recoil of a 45 Colt round. I usually load 45 Colt with about 35 grains of FFg and a 250 grain bullet. I can fire these all day long in a Colt. But I much prefer the Schofield round, loaded with about 28 grains of FFg and a 200 grain bullet when shooting my Remingtons with their cartridge conversion cylinders.

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