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cap and ball revolver in .357 magnum?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by jason41987, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    out of curiosity i was wondering if its possible for someone to convert a cap and ball, either an 1851, 1860, or remington 1858 to 357 magnum?.. i dont mean the removable cartridge conversions you see where you take the cylinder out, but im referring to the conversions ive seen where there is a cutout machines to the side of the frame and a loading gate installed, then a cylinder fitted to the frame with a fixed base pin

    my question is, would there be enough cylinder length (im sure there is since they convert these to 45lc which has the same COAL), and enough strength in the frame itself to handle a .357 mag?... obviously both a cylinder and a barrel would need to be made...

    looking at the .36 caliber cylinder, the ball is .375 diameter, almost identicle to the base diameter of the .357 magnum, it would need only a very slight work to make the chambers large enough, but im not sure if theres enough "meat" between the chambers to do this... so perhaps it would have to be a new cylinder on a .44 caliber frame?... and i do believe theres enough "meat" in the 1858 frame to do this, its atleast as sturdy as an 1873 colt frame and these handle .357 magnum all day... of course, id only consider such a conversion on a replica revolver made of modern metallurgy

    so... doable?... and i know someone will just completely miss the point and tell me to buy a new double action revolver, or even an 1873.. but i like the looks of the old conversion revolvers between the civil war and 1870s and it would be nice to have the availability and versatility of .357 magnum ammo to go with it
  2. CraigC

    CraigC Well-Known Member

    In a word, no. Blackpowder pistols are not heat treated or proofed for such pressures. Colt percussion revolvers in particular would not withstand the backthrust of the .357Mag. Even though they are proofed for modern smokeless loads, the factory cartridge conversions also would not handle the pressure and backthrust. Which is why conversions on .36cal sixguns, factory or custom, are done to .38Colt or .38Spl. Even so, heeled bullets must be used for the .375" bore, or the bore must be relined to utilize modern inside lubed bullets. The factory conversions have the proper bore for modern inside lubed bullets. Either way, pressures must be kept relatively low.

    The closest you're gonna get is the Colt SAA or Remington 1875/1890 replicas. Different animals entirely, with top straps and forged frames of modern steels.

  3. VA27

    VA27 Well-Known Member

    If you have cubic dollars, you can DO anything. Whether it's WISE to do it, is another thing altogether. I'm thinking custom cylinder, barrel, possibly heat treating the frame. Less than 5k, more than 1k, but I doubt you'd find a reputable gunsmith willing to tackle it.

    For a LOT less than such a conversion you could simply buy an 1875 Remington clone in 357 and have nearly the same look AND keep all your fingers intact.
  4. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    you dont think the stainless, which is significantly harder than the steel they use in a lot of the replicas, wouldnt be a good start... i could probably machine the cylinder and lathe the barrel myself, but trying to determine what the end result woud be
  5. CraigC

    CraigC Well-Known Member

    Hardness has little to do with it. You're talking about manufacturers using alloys that are easy to machine. You can harden a part all day long but you can never change its composition. Nor will that make up for the inherent weakness in the Colt design. As a percussion gun or cartridge conversion chambered in a low pressure cartridge, it works fine. It's just not up to the pressure and backthrust. You can make a stronger cylinder but you can't make up for a standing breech that is only supported on one end. It simply was never designed to withstand forces of that nature. Think about the difference between ignition of a percussion cylinder and a cartridge bearing directly against the recoil shield. Very different.

    Not just any machinist can produce a functioning cylinder from scratch.

    Only if you can find someone to take up your crazy project. I'm sure that with an unlimited budget, Dick Casull could whip you up one from scratch but then it wouldn't be a Colt or replica. Are you really willing to pay $10,000 or more for the privilege of shooting a .357Mag based on a percussion Colt.
  6. snooperman

    snooperman Well-Known Member

    +1 on what CraigC said above. I have seen the Colt design fail even with stout blackpowder loads. It is a very weak design. If you want a nice 357 magnum in a single action that will shoot heavy loads , look no further than the Freedom arms guns. Mine is the most accurate revolver I have.
  7. BSA1

    BSA1 Well-Known Member

    Conversion revolvers are available in 38 Special, 44 Colt and 44 Special so I don't know why you want a 357 Magnum.

    Substituting a cartridge cylinder does not change the overall strength of the gun and isn't a a good way to skirt firearm law for cartridge rounds.
  8. HKGuns

    HKGuns Well-Known Member

    That sounds like a ton of work and dangerous to boot. Get a 44 and call it good.
  9. AJumbo

    AJumbo Well-Known Member

    The '75 Remington revolver was made to handle 44 WFC and .45 Colt, all was good; when repros became available in .357, it was found that their recoils shields were prone to being battered by the much higher-pressure rounds.

    There are some conversions around for .38 Special, and folks like them, but every time I read someone's questions about turning their 1860 Army into a Raging Bull, I think of that song "Hot Rod Lincoln....."
  10. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    I suggest that you are operating under a few misconceptions.

    First off stainless alloys used in firearms are not stronger than the classic regular steels used in handguns. At least not as a blanket statement. Each alloy from each maker would need to be compared. But it's a safe bet that the steel alloys used by the better replica makers in Italy would compare well with most of the regular stainless alloys used in making handguns.

    The amount of work needed to produce such a gun would be staggering and hardly cost effective. Do you REALLY need an open top cartridge conversion that shoots full bore .357Mag's THAT badly?

    A few things to consider off the top of my head;

    • It's not so much the cylinder that would be a problem but rather the main cylinder arbor and the wedge that holds it all together. That and the front heel of the frame and barrel is what will take much of the brunt of the energy. That and the threads in the frame that hold the arbor.
    • With the barrel wedge being in contact over such a small area the metal around that joint is going to need to special to withstand the pressures. Fourtunetly it would only be the residual that is seen at the head of the cartridge. But that's still like a pretty good whack from a hammer over and over and over....
  11. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    i havent seen any .38 special conversions, but that would probably work out a lot better... however, 45lc and 44 special is not that common to find around here, not as much as you might think

    is there a COAL issue with .38 special in a shortened cylinder for one of these revolvers? im not sure what the length of the cylinder front-to-back is, and if i recall the cylinders shortened to make room for the loading gate / firing pin assembly?... the one i seen had a frame mounted firing pin, so it was safe to carry hammer down as well, but i only found it in 45lc
  12. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    .44Spl or .45Colt are the sort of ammo you want to reload anyway. What they charge for it is mostly criminal compared to the cost to reload these rounds. And the brass is available from a few places. Starline for one. Any outfit that carrys the stuff needed to support reloading for Cowboy Action shooters will have all the supplies you need to begin reloading for yourself.
  13. snooperman

    snooperman Well-Known Member

    Back in the early 1960s my wife's brother bought one of the early replicas of the Colt Army 1860, and loaded conical lead bullets with heavy loads of 3F black powder. After much shooting at a local black powder club the gun came apart and was destroyed. At that time the replicas were not as good as today. The "open-top" models offered by Cimarron in their conversion 1872 would be an excellent choice for you in 38 special , 44 special. Take a look at their web site.
  14. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    i guess theres three ways i can go about this... first, authentic, by converting it to a cartridge available in this time frame between the purpose built cartridge revolvers and the cap and ball revolvers

    second way i could go about it, is by converting to a common cartridge available shortly after in the time period where it was still cheaper for a lot of people to convert older revolvers as opposed to purchasing an 1873 colt or 1875 remington, these cartridges would be .45lc, .44wcf, .38-40, .32-20, etc

    and the third way is using a late 19th century to modern cartridge that could be made to rival the performances of these older ones, but be more available today, like .44 special and .38 special

    would there be any noticable size and weight disadvantage to the 44 calibers vs the 36 calibers?.. i get the impression the .36 calibers were considerably smaller, lighter than the 44s, and would a 36 caliber colt be a good candidate to convert to 38 special, or am i really better off looking at 44 caliber models?
  15. BSA1

    BSA1 Well-Known Member

    It would help if you would explain why and what you are trying to do with converting a B/P handgun to smokeless cartridge.

    The bore of a 36 caliber C&B is oversize for the .357 sized bullet. The originals used a heel type bullets to fit the bore.

    A factory made Uberti Conversion handgun will have the correct size bore for use with modern bullets and cartridges.

    You will probably get better advice from folks that shoot these guns all the time at;

  16. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    im aware a new barrel would be needed to do it properly
  17. jason41987

    jason41987 member

    i guess another question is... out of uberti, pietta, and various other manufacturers, who actually makes the highest quality replicas? any american companies making them?

    BSA1, i was looking for a project to do over the winter... a machining project, and converting a cap and ball revolver wouldnt be a bad place to start.. if i mess up, im only out a cheap black powder revolver
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  18. The Lone Haranguer

    The Lone Haranguer Well-Known Member

    The cylinder isn't the limiting factor in a cartridge conversion, it is the frame. An open-topped frame, as found on all the Colt cap & balls, is not going to hold up to even standard .38 Special pressures, let alone .357 Magnum. I doubt if the Remington, though it has a closed-top frame, is going to do much better. Buy a Colt SAA or Ruger in .357 Magnum if you want the magnum power.
  19. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    Well, .38Spl should be OK since Uberti already makes a .38Spl open top "conversion". But yeah, to expect it to withstand .357Mag seems out there. If it were possible I expect you'd be looking at a whole new gun from the frame to the cylinder arbor to the barrel metal and even the barrel wedge would all need to be made from some pretty fancy alloy and heat treated to achieve the strength and toughness.
  20. rodinal220

    rodinal220 Well-Known Member

    Just use a 1847 Walker if you need more horsepower.

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