Poor Manís 66 & í73 Action Job

This page last updated September 4, 2013

How to make some simple adjustments to your toggle-link rifle (1860, 1866, 1873) for a lighter action, by Abilene, SASS #27489

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Okay Ė some usual disclaimers for the idiots that may be reading this. I am describing some modifications and adjustments to Uberti-made reproduction rifles that I have made on my own firearms and a few others when I worked at a gunshop and the customer asked for this to be done. If you try to do any of this to firearms of your own or others, I am not responsible for any malfunction or damage or injury that may result. Use common sense and donít do work beyond your capabilities on guns.

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I am fairly competitive, but not a "top shooter" by any means. At a typical match I will come in around ľ down from the top if I shoot my best. At a medium-sized annual match around these parts, I may even come in 1st or 2nd in Frontier Cartridge if Spur Roberts and Silver Sam donít show up J . Iím sure Iíd be better if I practiced, but I donít. I like for my guns to be smooth within reason. I have had action jobs done on a couple of used Colts that I had bought, but they had timing problems to begin with and I decided to go ahead and get the action job which would fix the timing problems as well. The rest of my pistols have only had spring kits installed, plus had the timing tweaked if necessary. They feel good and work well so Iíve felt no need for action jobs on them.

The same goes for my rifles. I have three 1873 carbines and one 1866 short rifle (all Cimarron Ubertis). The toggle-link design tends to be pretty smooth out of the box, just needing the springs lightened, and they do seem to smooth up from use as well. It seems like everyone wants to get their rifle short-stroked these days. Those short-stroke kits are not cheap, and there may be some fitting required. You regularly hear from someone who just got their short-stroked í73 from Cody or whoever and they rave about how great it feels. Well, the great feel is more from the action job smoothness than the short stroke. Iím not knocking those kits and some day when I have a bunch of money and nothing to spend it on, Iíll probably get some for my guns. Note that installing a short-stroke kit on a stock rifle with stock springs and no action job will probably make the action harder to work. The rifle needs to be smooth with a lighter action in order to take advantage of the different geometry provided by the new links.

I have done some simple things to my rifles that have made them feel a good deal better than stock. I have felt rifles that have had action jobs costing several hundred dollars that did not feel any smoother than mine. On the other hand, Iíve also felt a few exceptionally smooth rifles, but you have to decide for yourself if that last bit of smoothness is worth a hundred bucks or more to you. These adjustments I am going to describe donít take much time and even less money (a few cents for a washer). After you are finished, you can decide if you want a full action job or not, but your rifle will surely feel better.

If you are not familiar with taking apart your rifle, please see Marauderís website: http://www.marauder.homestead.com/irons.html for great info on disassembly and maintenance of several firearms including the toggle-link rifles. For what I do, you generally do not need to disassemble the action Ė you only need to remove the stock. But there are some additional items which may require some disassembly if desired. Please read the instructions on Marauderís site before attempting these adjustments. He has two pages of instructions for these rifles. The second page has some great pictures, too, which show you the location of the screws and springs that we are discussing.

What we are going to do is to reduce the spring tensions the simple way. Typical action jobs will include lightening two leaf springs for the lever and carrier and the larger hammer leaf spring by grinding or filing to remove metal and reduce the thickness or width of these springs. I simply change the screw tension by adjusting their mounting screws to get the same effect. Nowadays there are also lighter springs available for purchase, but they arenít cheap. However you do it, reducing the spring tensions not only makes the rifle easier to operate, it will make it last longer.The cam on the lever on which the lever-spring rides can be worn away by the overly-heavy spring tension.

The hardest part of this job is to get the screws loose the first time. But this is something that you really need to do anyway for future cleaning and maintenance of your rifle. The Uberti screws have soft screw heads and they are installed very tightly. It is ESSENTIAL to have a proper fitting screwdriver, and I do mean an exact fit. The screwdriver tip or bit should also be hollow-ground (the sides of the blade will be flat towards the end, not tapered to the end). If youíre not sure what Iím talking about, look it up. Even with the perfect fitting tool, those screws can take a lot of effort. The main screws I am talking about are the lever and carrier spring screws which can be seen on the underside of the receiver, just to the rear of the carrier. I have had the best luck by laying the rifle on a sturdy surface, such as a wooden workbench or the floor, with a towel under the rifle to protect it. The rifle is placed upside down such that the targetted screw head is aimed up. This way you can really lean into the screw with your weight as you try to turn it. If the screw doesnít budge, try holding the screwdriver in place in the screw head and give the base of the screwdriver a couple of good whacks with a hammer. This will often help to break the screw loose. If you still canít get them loose, you can take off the side plates from the receiver, and then use a screwdriver to pry the ends of these two flat springs off of the lever cam and rotate them outwards until the ends are outside the receiver where the end of the spring will drop down. This will remove at least some of the tension from these springs and often will then allow you to loosen their screws, plus you can add a penetrating oil of some sort, such as Liquid Wrench, to the threads. Beware if you do this: as you pry the spring to rotate outwards from the receiver, the "L" shaped end can make a small scratch on your receiver when it clears the side of the receiver and drops down, if you arenít careful (I learned this the first time I tried it. Fortunately itís a very small scratch). The info on Marauderís site also describes this method of getting those screws loose the first time.An additional tool that can be used to break the new screws loose is an inexpensive impact driver sold by Harbor Freight Tools, that will accept standard screwdriver bits.

Okay, now that you have these two little screws broken loose (hint Ė some folks replace these with an allen-head screw. Iím told that Ruger scope ring screws work well Ė however, once you have broken them loose the first time they are much easier to work with), letís get on to the adjustments. The lever-spring screw on the left side of the receiver functions to hold the lever up. If you start loosening this screw, with the rifle held right-side-up (normal shooting position), you will reach a point where the lever will start to drop down away from the rifle. Tighten the screw back up, but only enough so that the lever stays up, but NO TIGHTER! The carrier spring on the right side of the receiver (the side with the loading gate) functions to return the carrier to the down position when the lever is closed. Loosen the screw for this spring a little at a time while working the action. You will reach a point where the carrier does not go all the way down or up. Now tighten this screw just enough to where the carrier works as needed, but NO TIGHTER. These two adjustments alone make a world of difference to the effort required to lever most of these rifles.

One gunsmith who has done a lot of action jobs on these rifles told me that by just loosening the screws on the stock springs, the springs may wobble where the screws go through them and eventually wallow out this threaded hole in the spring or wallow out the holes in the bottom of the receiver that the screws go through. Iíve put thousands of rounds through my guns and so have others with no evidence of any problem. Also, see the additional info at the end of this article from an original Winchester catalog which shows that these rifles are designed to be able to adjust the springs with these screws.One slight disadvantage to this method of "tuning" the spring tensions, is that you will have to repeat the adjustments when you disassemble and reassemble the rifle, such as for a detailed cleaning. However, this is easy to do. A proper action job would lighten the springs so that they function as desired with the screws tightened all the way. I have seen it suggested (Marauderís site also mentions this) putting washers under the lever springs to lighten them, so you might consider that.

One possible problem I have run into is that if the carrier spring screw on the right side is loosened too much, the spring itself rises up slightly in the receiver and might interfere with the loading gate being able to be pushed inward for loading. So check to be sure the loading gate pushes inward okay and if not then just tighten that screw on the bottom right just enough to eliminate the problem. Also, a possible side-effect may exist for black powder shooters. If you are shooting a straight-walled case like the 45LC which leave a lot of fouling in the carrier area, you may need to spritz the carrier occasionally with moose milk or whatever (I use plain water) if it starts getting sticky. Those guns will do that anyway, but with less tension in the carrier spring it could be more noticeable. I shoot BP in mine and they work fine.

Next we need to reduce the amount of effort required to cock the hammer (this is the main spring, or hammer spring). This spring is also a flat, or leaf spring. To work on this spring you need to remove the stock. Remove the screw from the top of the tang, and the screw at the rear of the bottom tang. After the screws are removed you may need to hit the comb of the stock with a rubber mallet to get it loose from the tangs so you can pull it off. Now then, remember the old gunslingerís trick of adding a leather washer under the mainspring of his single-action to make it cock easier? Well, this trick works here as well. Of course these days we have other materials to choose from. I use a #10 stainless split washer. This size also works under the mainspring of SAAís. Put this washer between the main spring and the lower tang where the spring is screwed to the tang. Thatís all there is to it! Also note that there is another smaller screw in the lower tang (in the í73 only) that just pushes against the main spring to adjust tension. Be sure that this screw is backed out to the point where it does not touch the main spring. If you ever have a problem of light primer strikes, you can screw this screw in to increase hammer tension. While the amount of hammer spring reduction using the washer is noticeable, it should not be enough to cause light primer strikes. To be sure, the hammer tension (and rifle action) can be made even lighter by removing material from the hammer spring, but I have not felt the need to do so. I shot my yellowboy for a couple of years by loosening the hammer spring by simply backing out on the attachment screw on the bottom tang, before I finally took it apart and stuck a washer in there. If you do this, just be sure to test it with your ammo of choice to be sure you still have enough hammer tension to pop primers.

The one additional item that many Ď73ís need is to lighten the lever safety spring. There is a small metal nub that extends out of the bottom tang and is pushed upwards when the lever is closed. The trigger cannot be pulled until this safety is pushed upwards. The leaf spring inside that holds the nub downward is unnecessarily heavy and the lever must be squeezed closed with some effort in order to fire. Original 1873ís have this safety but they have a much lighter spring. Some folks remove this safety altogether, but thatís not recommended. My first í73 had a tight safety spring, but that spring broke and I never bothered to replace it. My newer í73 seemed to have a much lighter spring that didnít bother me, so I havenít bothered with it either. So I canít tell you how to make yours lighter, other than a lot of folks have made a simple wire spring from piano wire to replace the stock flat spring. You can also bend the safety spring or file or grind it so it is thinner, although it is more likely to break if you do that. I have noticed that some of the other newer Ď73ís that Iíve handled had a lighter safety spring. I donít know if Uberti changed anything on purpose or if that is just random variations in manufacturing. Look up Driftwood Johnson for good info on making a wire spring for the safety.

There you have it. The performance versus time and cost ratio of these adjustments is very impressive. If your toggle-link rifle seems a little stiff or you get a new one and are about to send it off for an expensive action job, you might try these adjustments first and who knows, you might decide that is all it needs. I will say that my rifles, plus a few others Iíve worked on, work fine with these adjustments. Your mileage may vary.

Should you decide to do some custom parts replacement instead of just adjusting screws, the lighter springs are available from Happy Trails ( www.thesmithshop.com ) for $40 for the pair (he calls the "whisper springs") and he may also sell a reduced power main spring, Iím not sure. Iím told that Cowboys and Indians store ( www.cowboysandindianstore.com ) sells a reduced power main spring although I donít see it on their website. Both companies also sell a thin piano-wire coil spring to replace the lever safety spring.If you end up with light primer strikes from the hammer tension being too light, there is also a lighter firing pin return spring that can help with this. They also have a lightweight (aluminum, iodized to make it look like brass) carrier block for about $65 that will also lighten the action by reducing the amount of effort required to raise and lower the carrier.

 

Let me tell you a little story. One well known gunsmith made an announcement a few years ago on the SASS Wire. He had hired a helper in his shop to do action jobs. He found out that instead of full action jobs on rifles, the helper had been making the adjustments that I have mentioned above and thatís all, and sending the rifles back to the owners. When the gunsmith found out, he fired the helper and made the announcement on the Wire along with an apology and a request that anyone who had one of these rifles should send it back at the shopís expense to be slicked up properly. This was commendable of the gunsmith. But it does go to show you that some simple adjustments can make a rifle feel as though it has had an action job! Just like on revolvers, the most noticeable part of an action job is the lightened springs. The smoothing needed of internal parts, or needed timing adjustments, will of course vary from gun to gun.

One further step that I took after a few years was to polish the sides of the carrier (also known as the lifter or elevator, that brass block that lifts the cartridge from the magazine tube up to where the bolt can push it into the chamber). I removed the carrier (again, see Marauderís site for instructions) and laid it on its side on a piece of emery paper on a flat surface, and rubbed it back and forth until it shined. Iím not sure if this made the rifles any smoother, but it was easy to do.

Two of my í73 carbines are charcoal blue. Loose Cannon Lou, who has worked on a lot of these, once told me that the charcoal blue guns seem to smooth up easier, presumably because Uberti polishes the parts more before bluing those parts. He also told me that you can check how smoothly the the firing pin extension works by pushing forward on it with your thumb (this is the shiny metal piece that pushes the hammer back to cock it when you lever the gun, and the hammer strikes it when you pull the trigger). It should push forward and return smoothly. If it feels rough then there is friction in there which is going to rob some of the energy of the hammer and could cause light primer strikes if your hammer spring is too light. Most action jobs will also include polishing the bottom rear of the firing pin extension, at the point where it rubs against the hammer. Again, I have not felt the need to do so on mine.

I have recently obtained another Uberti í73, this one a deluxe pistol-grip short rifle.I did the same screw adjustments on this rifle, but the stock lever safety spring on this rifle was very stiff and needed to be replaced. I got a wire spring from The Smith Shop, and since the installation required disassembly of the action, I went ahead and thinned the three action springs like a ďreal action job,Ē haha.The action feels great, but really not any better than my others with only the screw adjustments made to the stock springs.

Sept. 4, 2013 UPDATE:I recently came upon a reproduction of an 1875 Winchester Repeating Arms catalog, featuring the 1873 rifle.On the ďDIRECTIONSĒ page was a section titled ďTO STIFFEN THE SPRINGĒwhich stated, ďThere are three springs that may lose their tension by long use, viz., the ďmain spring,Ē the spring that holds up the finger-lever, called the ďfinger-lever spring,Ē and the spring that holds up the carrier-lever, called the ďcarrier-lever spring.ĒEach of these has a set-screw, the heads of which are outside on the underside of the frame.By turning these up the tension can be increased to the necessary strength or stiffness.ĒClearly this indicates that Winchester designed the gun so that these screws are not tightened all the way when new, unlike the over-sprung Uberti reproductions.And it validates the spring adjustments in this article, which rather than ďmodifyingĒ the rifle, can actually be thought of as making the rifle more like Winchester originally intended.

I hope this info helps some of you to enjoy your rifles more. Good shooting!

 

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