Winchester 1873 “Saddle Ring Rifle” rebuild

I just love these old rifles!  A few weeks ago a fellow on one of the Cowboy Action forums offered up a real “project” Winchester 1873 rifle for a ridiculous low price. The last thing I needed was another project, but I simply couldn’t resist. My 12 step firearms purchasing program is not working to well!

Here is the picture the seller posted:

He was extremely honest about its condition. Trashed barrel, didn’t feed properly, “worked” on bolt, cracked stock, etc….

I told him to send it but he could put the short stock in the fireplace. I had no need for it.

When the rifle arrived it was in considerably better condition than I expected.

What did I get…..Well…

It has a carbine length barrel…but a rifle forend with no barrel band…..but it has a saddle ring

A “Saddle Ring Rifle”!

The stock was cracked in the wrist and the butt plate was nearly falling off due to excessively large screw holes. I opened up the crack in the wrist and using a syringe injected SuperGlue Gel. Fixed! The butt plate screw holes were drilled out and walnut dowels were glued in, holes re-drilled and the butt plate now fits tight.

The round, carbine length barrel was toast. Complete sewer pipe bore. Someone in its past life sanded all the model numbers and trademarks off and then blued it. The area under the forend was a rusted mess. Seems they blued it while the forend was installed! No blueing under the forend.

This barrel was in 44-40, but the rifles serial number showed it to be sent from the factory as a 38-40.  My plan was to bore it out and line it in 44-40. I ordered a barrel liner from Brownells and was set to proceed, but at the last minute, changed my mind. I had a brand new Green Mountain octagon barrel in 38-40 that wasn’t getting used. I decided to bring it back as a carbine length rifle, octagon in 38-40.

The old barrel was pulled

And the new barrel chucked up in the lathe, threaded, chambered and dovetails cut

A quick rubdown with 000 steel wool and some metal browning agent and it was good!

On to the receiver:

I disassembled everything and put the parts in my ultrasonic cleaner.

The receiver had been polished and reblued.  And it looked pretty good.

Amazing the amount of crud and metal filings that remained in the water

Here is a magnet with the filings from the water.

I guess 140 years of wear adds up!

This rifle had a saddle ring added to it at some point. Unfortunately, it was added in the wrong place. It was too low and it interfered with the lower tangs left side screw.

Whoever installed it, filed it down to fit over the lower tang and then filed off the left side tang screw! The tang was only held on with one screw on the right side.

I removed the filed down screw, cut the saddle ring tangs off flush  and TIG welded the ring with a couple spot welds on the inside. TIG welding concentrates the heat so well that the blueing wasn’t damaged.

All the various screws were buggered up by a Kitchen Gunsmith. I ordered a complete screw kit from Homestead Gun Parts (Great folks to do business with!)

The biggest issue was the bolt. Someone had filed the nose and deposited a blob of weld to use as the cartridge shelf on the bottom of the bolt. Wish I had taken a picture. What a mess!

I tried to buy another bolt, but no one has one. I bid on two of them on Ebay and lost at well over $100 each!

The extractor was jammed into the bolt and upon trying to remove it, it broke……”Hello Homestead!”

Homestead sent a new one .

To repair the bottom of the bolt, I milled a shallow grove which removed the weld blob and prepared the bolt for a new “shelf”

A piece of metal was cut and filed to fit the machined slot

Using Brownells “High Force” silver solder, the new piece of metal was silver soldered in place

Back to the milling machine to cut the proper radius

Once that was done, it was filed to the proper length and contoured.

Because the bolt was a few thousands shorter that it should be, this presented a few new issues.

The barrel had to be set back beyond the face of the inside frame.

And then the brass carrier needed to be shortened an appropriate amount. Surprisingly, the rifle still feeds perfectly! Rattles a bit, but it works!

If I can find a new bolt at some point, the barrel will be recut to the proper length, re-chambered and a new carrier installed. But for now, this solution works.

UPDATE 1-30-15… I won a new bolt and carrier on Ebay. This will let me fix the above issue. Stay Tuned!

This rifle came with new toggles and toggle pins…Nice!

The lower tang, trigger / hammer assembly was cleaned up. The trigger spring needed some attention. It was re-bent to apply proper pressure to the sear and the trigger bar. This rifle had a one piece, bent round spring rather than the two piece flat springs I’ve seen on other 1873 rifles. Not sure if someone made this spring or if it was offered at some point in Winchesters production.

The last issue that needs resolution is the dust cover. I ordered a replacement from Homestead, but the dovetail on the top of the receiver has been modified and the new dustcovers dovetail is much to wide. Not sure how I’m going to resolve this. Either make a new dust cover with the appropriate width dovetail or machine the dovetail off the top of the receiver and screw on a new one. We’ll see…

The finished rifle is actually quite handy. The action is very smooth if not a bit loose. It feeds and ejects very nicely. For the money I have into it (Under $600), its a keeper!

A “Saddle Ring Rifle”…..Strange but True!

Lots more pictures here:

Thanks for looking!


UPDATE 1-30-15  Dustcover Modification:

I noted above that I had an issue with the dustcover on this old gal. I ordered a new dustcover from Homestead, but the rail on the top of this rifles receiver had been modified or was just so worn, the dovetail on the new dustcover was simply too proud. The dustcover’s dovetail measured .330″ and the rail was .300″

I decided to mill off the old rail and install a rail from a “2nd Model” 1873 which had the dustcover attached with two screws and not a part of the receiver

Homestead had the 2nd model rails:

First I milled off the old rail:

Drilled and tapped a new hole in the rear of the receiver

And simply installed the rail with the new dustcover:

I also won a new bolt and cartridge carrier on Ebay. This will allow me to fix the headspace issue. Stay tuned!



The new bolt arrived, but it is exactly the same length as the old bolt. So the headspace problem still exists. For now I’m going to leave it as is. Too many other projects before it. I’ll need to order a set of custom length toggles to move the bolt farther forward…..


Stay tuned!






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11 comments on “Winchester 1873 “Saddle Ring Rifle” rebuild”

  1. W Hall Reply

    I like the way you think!
    Beautiful work, nice to see a “junker” returned to purpose.

  2. John Strahl Reply

    Neat project. I wish I had the equipment and knowledge to do a job like that. Congrats.

  3. Tarheel Rifleman Reply

    Really enjoy reading your cowboy projects and the great pictures. I always read your posts on the SASS wire but now I’m going to bookmark your website. You sir are a master craftsman, a really rare breed.

  4. Ron White Reply

    I saw the SASS ad about 30 minutes after you bought this one. I’m really glad you got it as I just do not need another project. I have a trap door Springfield that need a liner and I’m building 2 wood splitters while my ’41 Mercury coupe sits on the rotisarie. I think you have done a great job with it.

  5. Bryon Reply

    Hello Roy and nice job on bringing the 1873 back to life. I happen to have an original 1873 44-40 Saddle Ring Carbine, S/N 283K that do longer has its ring. I know this request comes five years late, but since I did not see the ring reinstalled in your last photo, would you consider parting with it if it is still in your parts box? From what I can tell, the saddle ring was an option one could order from Winchester. Yours does look a bit closer to the left side tang screw than mine. Thanks!

  6. Knob Creek McGee Reply

    You say you have $600 into it but you probably have $6000 of labor to add in. Good job.

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