O Perfidious Albion!

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Sir James

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I think it’s fair to lionize Samuel Colt’s engineering genius and at the same time disparage the Colt’s Patent Firearms Co. I know they're an easy target, so I’ll lionize first, disparage second. I own a 2nd Gen. Colt 1860 Army revolver. I have attached an image of my two fine revolvers, one an unmentionable, below. The 1860 Army was a high water mark for firearms production in its day, the apogee of the art. It was called a single action revolver, which really meant it consisted of a single part, the hammer. The hammer is a lever rotating on a fulcrum called the hammer screw. The lever’s separate ends describe arcs over that rotation, and, since the rotation is limited anything attached to one of its ends goes up and down like a childrens’ seesaw within those limits, depending upon the direction of the lever’s rotation on the hammer screw.

A fine example of how this works is the pawl. The pawl (hand) rotates on a pin inserted into the hammer lobe, one end of the lever above. As the hammer is cocked, the hammer lobe describes an arc upward, and the pawl rotates on its mounting pin and moves linearly up. A spring fastened to the pawl pushes it forward so that as it moves upward it interferes with a toothed wheel, called the cylinder, causing it to rotate on its axis, called the arbor. So the act of cocking the hammer causes the cylinder to rotate also. Now, this would be a useless parlour trick if it happened in isolation, a sort of “Look Maude, an automaton!” a passing marvel, if it did not also open-up the allied idea of timing.

By coordinating the length of travel of the hammer lobe, the length of the pawl, the circumference of the toothed wheel, or ratchet, and the shape and location of the teeth, it is possible to precisely predict exactly where the cylinder will rotate to when the hammer is cocked. That is called timing. By placing a chamber in that location, all around the cylinder, it is possible to provide a load to fall precisely under the hammer with every cocking action. The hammer lobe itself may be made into a ratchet by means of shelves or cuts into its curvature into which a tooth, called the trigger, is made to fit, the whole under the influence of a powerful spring that tries to keep the hammer down and uncocked. Finger pressure on the trigger is necessary to release the spring by removing the tooth from the ratchet, and the hammer falls on the chamber. Incidentally, this also causes the pawl to drop linearly down, ready to once again engage a tooth of the cylinder upon cocking.

So far, so good; but how do you apply limits to these events? How is the cock limited, how is the cylinder registered in its rotation, and does wear, or inertia (the speed of the cocking action) play a role in where the cylinder comes to rest? Again, a matter of timing. A cylinder stop, called a bolt comes into play as an, if not the, essential element of the single action process. The bolt consists of a u-shaped spring having two spring arms, shaped like gentle hooks or “plowhandles,” and has at its apex a solid cylindrical shaft extending perpendicular well-above the plane of the spring arms. The spring arms are drilled transversely and rotate upon a fulcrum called a pinscrew, that fixes it to the revolver frame, and this is acted upon by spring pressure from another flat spring acting also to return the trigger lever.

This is all very clever, but hardly brilliant as it’s merely the application of solid mid-nineteenth-century engineering practice in the newly-industrializing mechanical world of steamships, locomotives, mines, and factories. But here is the particular wrinkle added by Mr. Colt; locating a complex-surfaced, cam-faced pin fixed solidly in the hammer lobe. Upon cocking, the hammer lobe describes an arc; the cam face has a sharp, full edge that tapers down to a flush surface with the rest of the hammer lobe. The full edge catches under one of the bolt plowhandles and drags it upward. This causes it to rotate on its pinscrew and drop the bolt shaft down and out of the way. The cylinder has begun to rotate under the influence of the pawl. As the cocking proceeds the cam face presents less of a full face and more of its taper to the bolt plowhandle. Since another flat spring is pushing the bolt shaft upward, there’s a battle of forces between that spring and the cam pin face against the plowhandle. Eventually the plowhandle will slip over the reducing cam edge and drop while the flat trigger return spring forces the bolt up.

The bolt now strikes the rotating cylinder at the bolt notch raceway, which guides it up and into the bolt notch in the cylinder at precisely the right point to secure the chamber under the fully-cocked hammer for firing. The cylinder ratchet tooth has rotated out of the way of the pawl, which is now also fixed and motionless. Upon dropping the hammer on the loaded chamber, the pawl drops down again, and the hammer lobe rotates down past the bolt plowhandle, the cam pin’s flush edge first, causing the plowhandle to once again slip over and then catch on the full, sharp edge of the cam pin face. The spring tension keeping the plowhandle spring arm in contact with the cam pin face is provided by the other arm pressing against the action cavity sidewall. Translating rotation into linear motion and vice-versa was typical engineering know-how back in the day, but camming action was, I suspect, quite a bit more subtle and exotic, and Mr. Colt appears to have had the ability to reach his mind out just that much further than the rest and so imagine, then provide us with his marvelous single-action revolver.

Now, here is where the disparagement I spoke of at the outset begins. With the single-action process as described came multiple additional opportunities. In particular, my 1860 Army has an ingenious system to ensure safety. In an already slender and compact cylinder, Colt introduced between-chamber safety pins. These are hardened and fit into precision-drilled holes. I believe they are sweated-in, which means that the cylinder is heated to expand it in all dimensions while the pins, which are either chilled or simply left cold are slipped into the holes, which creates an interference fit when the cylinder cools again. The hammer face has a corresponding notch to fit over the safety pin. When the hammer is only very-slightly cocked back, the pawl has not yet engaged the cylinder ratchet teeth, but the bolt has dropped below the water table sufficiently to allow the cylinder to be rotated by hand. The hammer may thus be placed over a safety pin and thumb pressure removed. The gun is unbolted, but locked and safe to carry with six loaded and capped chambers.

It’s my belief that many years after Samuel Colt’s death, the Colt’s Patent Firearms Co. in designing the 1873 Single Action Army knowingly and deliberately dropped this safety system in favor of a simplified alternative, the so-called “safety notch.” The safety notch is what produces the notorious four-clicks of a Colt Peacemaker hammer. It is the first click, and as a safety it’s weakness makes it widely ignored in favor of carrying the arm with the hammer down on an empty chamber; a five-shot revolver.

Now in my mind, Colt’s stood to make a lot of money, a boat load over this simplification of the manufacturing process. They avoided the precision drilling, wear and tear on tools, the heating and sweating-in, and substituted an extra sawcut on the hammer lobe instead. By selling the 1873 at about the price of the 1860 (the 1860 sold for $20 in 1860, then it was reduced to $14.50 by 1865, from Wikipedia; an 1873 sold for about $17.50, from Popular Mechanics, Nov. 23, 2020), their profit margin on each unit must have soared! The America of the 1870’s was the heyday of the Robber Barons and it was the zeitgeist of the times to EXceed.

How could an alternative have been arrived at? A smaller-diameter cartridge than the .45 LC of course (.44-40?); or a slightly-larger cylinder and maybe even a frame-mounted, sprung firing pin. Some combination that would allow either firing pin style to enter the between-chamber holes to lock the piece. That would dispense with the hardened, sweated-in pins, the extra sawcut, and might have saved enough, right there, to cover costs in additional cylinder metal and firing pin structures. The result would have a more or less neutral impact on P&L but provide a safe and useful six-shots! I guess it’s an open question whether the transfer bar mechanism of the unmentionable shown below, itself a modern classic, is a better alternative to a putative Colt mechanism like the one I just speculated about. ;-)

Cheers,
Sir James

My Single Actions -2021.jpg
 

45D

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Well, "holes in between the chambers" is exactly the safety system Kirst uses in his conversion cylinders for the Colt open top platform as well as the newly revised cyl for the Remington gated conversion.

Your description of the installation of the safety pins is a little "involved". I could be mistaken but drilling a hole and inserting an oversized pin (interference fit) doesn't involve heating, and I don't believe solder was used (sweating) since it is an interference fit (redundant). That's definitely not the way the staking pin is installed for the arbor. It's an over sized pin for the hole it is installed in (interference). I do that repair all the time and I've added safety pins in cylinders that didn't have any. Can you tell us where you got your information for this from? And, I'm a little confused about your " angle" . . . are you concerned about the "safety" mechanism or the money Colt made 150 yrs ago . . . or both? Robber barons? I hardly think anyone was forced to by a Colt product. Do you feel the same way about Freedom Arms? Magnum Research? Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche . . .

Mike
 
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"The America of the 1870’s was the heyday of the Robber Barons and it was the zeitgeist of the times to EXceed." Sounds like Euro-trash commie talk...The men who made the USA the greatest economic power in the world had no titles and many had very poor starts in life. What they had was real freedom that the world had never seen before and they made the best use of it...To the envy of the world even today...They can shoot for second at best...c
 

Daveboone

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Could you expand on that?
Yep. wth? the hammer without the cylinder , cylinder pin, hammer spring, etc. was ...just parts. I wonder when the term "single action" actually came into play? certainly /not likely before double actions also were around, though I think there were a number of them early on.
 

Loyalist Dave

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I believe that the terminology was due to the English patent on the "double action" revolver first held by Robert Adams in 1851.

Ebenezer Townsend Star patented and produced a cap-n-ball, double action revolver, the Starr Revolver (patented in 1860) of which 26,000 were made in the double-action design up to 1863. 23,000 simplified single-action Starr revolvers were also produced in 1864.

The reason why certain cartridges were adopted are for another forum, but quite often, the patent on the cartridge belonged to another gun company, and making a revolver to accept that cartridge was patent infringement. For example it was Smith and Wesson that held the patent on a "bored through" cylinder to accept a metallic cartridge..., from 1855. Colt had to wait until the patent expired, and still had to use something different than an already existing cartridge patented by a different company. There are several famous cartridges that have been the result of either dodging patents or improving performance while retaining an older design that existed at the time, again... a subject for another forum.

LD
 
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LME

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"The America of the 1870’s was the heyday of the Robber Barons and it was the zeitgeist of the times to EXceed." Sounds like Euro-trash commie talk...The men who made the USA the greatest economic power in the world had no titles and many had very poor starts in life. What they had was real freedom that the world had never seen before and they made the best use of it...To the envy of the world even today...They can shoot for second at best...c
I totally agree with your statement but now we are experiencing the dumbing down of America! It's a crying shame and hard to watch!
 
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"The America of the 1870’s was the heyday of the Robber Barons and it was the zeitgeist of the times to EXceed." Sounds like Euro-trash commie talk...The men who made the USA the greatest economic power in the world had no titles and many had very poor starts in life. What they had was real freedom that the world had never seen before and they made the best use of it...To the envy of the world even today...They can shoot for second at best...c
Spot on!
 
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Yep. wth? the hammer without the cylinder , cylinder pin, hammer spring, etc. was ...just parts. I wonder when the term "single action" actually came into play? certainly /not likely before double actions also were around, though I think there were a number of them early on.

the 1837 Allen & Thurber Pepperbox features a double-action
 

FishDFly

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Thank goodness for Google, I was so confused.

"Perfidious Albion" is a pejorative phrase used within the context of international relations diplomacy to refer to acts of diplomatic sleights, duplicity, treachery and hence infidelity (with respect to perceived promises made to or alliances formed with other nation states) by monarchs or governments of the United States.
 

Sir James

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I believe that the terminology was due to the English patent on the "double action" revolver first held by Robert Adams in 1851.

Ebenezer Townsend Star patented and produced a cap-n-ball, double action revolver, the Starr Revolver (patented in 1860) of which 26,000 were made in the double-action design up to 1863. 23,000 simplified single-action Starr revolvers were also produced in 1864.

The reason why certain cartridges were adopted are for another forum, but quite often, the patent on the cartridge belonged to another gun company, and making a revolver to accept that cartridge was patent infringement. For example it was Smith and Wesson that held the patent on a "bored through" cylinder to accept a metallic cartridge..., from 1855. Colt had to wait until the patent expired, and still had to use something different than an already existing cartridge patented by a different company. There are several famous cartridges that have been the result of either dodging patents or improving performance while retaining an older design that existed at the time, again... a subject for another forum.

LD
Good points, all. I have been under the impression that the .45 LC was developed with input from the army or as a result of an army requirement for a .45, similar to the requirement years later that resulted in the selection of the M1911. The size of the cartridge, even with the thinner rim, obviated the presence of interchamber pins in the compact SSA cylinder. I provide a few avenues that would have resulted in a six-shot, but the fact that the safety notch could have served as a safety was apparently good enough for the army, without exploring the matter any more deeply.
 

Sir James

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Well, "holes in between the chambers" is exactly the safety system Kirst uses in his conversion cylinders for the Colt open top platform as well as the newly revised cyl for the Remington gated conversion.

Your description of the installation of the safety pins is a little "involved". I could be mistaken but drilling a hole and inserting an oversized pin (interference fit) doesn't involve heating, and I don't believe solder was used (sweating) since it is an interference fit (redundant). That's definitely not the way the staking pin is installed for the arbor. It's an over sized pin for the hole it is installed in (interference). I do that repair all the time and I've added safety pins in cylinders that didn't have any. Can you tell us where you got your information for this from? And, I'm a little confused about your " angle" . . . are you concerned about the "safety" mechanism or the money Colt made 150 yrs ago . . . or both? Robber barons? I hardly think anyone was forced to by a Colt product. Do you feel the same way about Freedom Arms? Magnum Research? Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Porsche . . .

Mike
"Can you tell us where you got your information for this from?" Why, do you want me to repair your guns? I don't want to, so no.

"And, I'm a little confused about your " angle" . . . are you concerned about the "safety" mechanism or the money Colt made 150 yrs ago . . . or both?" This is actually a very good question, so I'll attempt to answer it frankly. The fact is that in any collecting activity there is a certain amount of fetishism. I know this, because I've been a Luger collector for some time, much longer than the couple of months I've been exposed to the black powder scene! It's weird, but understandable ($$$$$!) the lengths and depths some of those (Luger) folks will go to, but recently I started seeing fairly innocent Youtube videos where all manner of recent reproductions are being touted as having the magic "C" - "O" - "L" - "T", four clicks on cocking the hammer, when patently this was not true historically. It's such a marketing gimmick and some people fall for it and appear to just love it that I wanted to put a pin in the "COLT" balloon. Sorreeee!!!! I originally wrote in-persona, as an English dude who might be writing back home to his friends and family about this new thing, and illuminating this man's brilliance but, since I didn't have much time I may have kicked over the traces a few times and gotten out of character and got more modern. I apologise if the thread got a little muddy and hard to follow. Thank you for pointing it out.
 
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