Some Things Are Best Fixed Simply.
As anyone who reads this column regularly knows, I am much in favor of do-it-yourself gun work for all kinds of reasons. There is much your gunsmith does that you can do too. Doing the work yourself will give you a better understanding of your gun and how it works. And, in the current dreary economy, one of the biggest reasons is, well, economy. Your free labor can make your parts money go a lot further.
Often as not, an off-the-shelf gun will serve its purpose pretty well. With a few sensible modifications or accessories, it will do so exceedingly well. We’ll run through some examples here where the important modifications were dumped out of a sack and bolted on with little or no machine work, fitting or finishing. Yet, in the end, the guns were far more effective and useful.
I found a Ruger Mini-14 under a bed when moving back to the old home place in the country. It occurred to me this would make a nice casual varmint gun to have in a kitchen corner. There are a few coyotes around who seem to favor house cats as snacks though, as a self-confessed “dog” guy, I do not find this a troubling defect of character. The Mini-14, on the other hand, was troubling, mostly since the stock was clearly designed more for someone 4-foot, 6-inches rather than 6-foot, 4-inches like me. A simple bolt-on Masen rubber buttpad dramatically improved handling.
XS Sights (above) allowed old eyes to see sights better on Hamilton’s foundling Mini-14,
thanks to their white-line front blade and ghost aperture rear peep sight. Getting the
old front sight off would have been tough (below) without a Dremel abrasive wheel and
mandrel, which slit the band easily.
This older stainless Mini had a stainless front sight blade, which was largely invisible to me so better sights were imperative. Poking around in various catalogs, I found a set of XS Sights Systems sights that went on with a little fitting. The ghost-ring aperture and white-line front blade will leave the free-range canine corps somewhat more endangered than before.
Once exposed to the gloriously fitted and finished pre-war Smith & Wesson revolvers, I largely swore off the newer kind with one notable exception. Much in favor of serious lightweight revolvers for outdoorsmen, the M329 scandium-framed, titanium-cylindered .44 Magnum was hard to ignore, homely space-age appearance notwithstanding. But, without a few simple bolt-on parts, it would not be one of my favorite S&W’s now. The gun arrived fitted with wood grips. After about 2 rounds of conventional .44 Mag. ammo, my paw was done for and shooting stopped. An old friend, the late, great Kent Lomont, the only person I knew who regularly shot to destruction S&W revolvers, advised I try the X-frame Hogue grips with the sorbothane gel pad at the top of the backstrap. With this one addition, the M329 became a useable gun. Cost: $30 in parts, 30 seconds in labor to install.
The gun also arrived with a horrific set of sights, which I would never see to use effectively. I know a guy who makes heavy-duty sights for S&W’s and laid on a set. This same guy makes lanyard rings, so I embezzled one of those in the interests of gun retention around water, ATVs and such. The gun wants for nothing now and is unnoticeable in a belt holster.
Many years ago, I acquired a Thompson/Center Contender, thinking it would make a good, general-purpose handgun. Powerful and accurate as it was, try as I might, I could never love it. My paw just never could adapt comfortably to it, especially shooting off-hand. The various barrels were sold off over the years, eventually leaving me with just the receiver. Friend Thad Rybka showed me his .357 Contender carbine and that little light in my head flickered dimly. What a handy and useful little rifle.
This S&W M329 was a holy terror to shoot without the new set of Hogue X-frame grips.
New sights and a lanyard ring make it a practical field gun and a joy to carry.
Three useful guns saved and made even more useful with a few parts and accessories.
Always a .22 junkie, this looked like a way for me to add a high-quality, super-accurate rimfire to the stable. Plus, it would, as the need arose, be a good test-bed for other calibers. In due course, a barrel and stock set turned up and were bolted right on. An unemployed low-powered Leupold scope found work in a set of Weaver bases and rings, giving the ol’ Contender a new occupation.
These three little projects put back in service three useless guns with just a little work and a few parts. That said, I do not advocate the inexperienced engage in modifications if they are potentially dangerous mishandled. But, aside from tuning and action work, most simple rifle and handgun projects are within the capabilities of most shooters. Plus, there will be beer money left over.
By Hamilton S. Bowen
200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171
Midsouth Shooters Supply
770 Economy Drive
Clarksville, TN 37043
XS Sights Systems Inc.
Fort Worth, TX 76105