In the early 1870s, Remington, or someone working for the Ilion, New York, manufacturer produced a .22 caliber drop-in conversion tailored for the venerable Civil War-era New Model Army .44.
This was certainly one of the first .22 cartridge conversions. According to author and Remington historian Roger Phillips, “Thrice I’ve encountered this .22 conversion kit! First by reading about it in Remington Tips and in a Gun Report story (in both cases) by E. Dixon Larson, and third, in the collection of H.P. ‘Skip’ Quade at, if I remember correctly, a Denver show quite some time ago. I tried everything short of grand theft and murder to acquire Skip’s treasure, but success eluded me. I covered this item in the book Remington Large-Bore Conversion Revolvers. It would be nice to think that the Remington factory turned out such a kit, but until there’s proof it did, we can’t say that.”
Renowned author and firearms historian Roy Marcot also weighed in on the Remington .22 conversion, noting that he has never seen anything comparable to it and also cannot find a direct link to Remington as the maker. Nevertheless, originals can be found and are valued at around $2,000. E. Dixon Larson noted in his book Remington Tips, “cartridge conversions of many types have been studied and examined in detail, but never has one been as unusual as the conversion of the 1858 cap-and-ball Remington to the .22 LR cartridge. The conversion makes this arm a most desirable shooter’s dream.”
In the 1870s, there were more than 140,000 Remington Army percussion models still in use. The beauty of the .22 conversion was that it could be adapted to the Remington in a matter of minutes, and the gun could be just as quickly switched back to fire .44 caliber percussion ammo. No physical or mechanical alterations were necessary. The .22 caliber, six-shot cylinder rotated within the breech ring and utilized the gun’s original hand and locking bolt. A machined .22 caliber liner was inserted down the barrel and threaded into the breechblock. The latter was also equipped with an attached ejector to remove spent cases from the cylinder. Dixon concluded, “Regardless of origin, it offers a most interesting and practical conversion which preserves the arm not only as a collector’s item, but as a usable target gun as well.”
A few years ago, Walt Kirst, the inventor of the Kirst Konverter, a patented two-piece drop-in cylinder and breech ring used to chamber Remington reproductions in .44 Colt, came across a complete Remington .22 conversion and began working on an economical way to make a drop-in .22 cylinder and barrel for the Remington Army.
His first .22 conversion used a short, 2¼-inch, rifled barrel and breechblock that dropped into place from behind the forcing cone and was backed by a two-piece, six-shot, .22 cylinder and breech ring with integral firing pin. Unlike the original 19th century conversion, the Kirst design still had to be removed to load and reload. The .22 drop-in conversion, however, was a far more reasonable price than an antique original at just $290. Still, there remained the question of making a full-length barrel, and Walt isn’t one to ponder long before heading to the tool room. What you see is the prototype for a new version with a full-length, 8-inch-long, .22 caliber, rifled barrel liner that threads into a standing breechblock ahead of the existing production .22 caliber two-pierce conversion cylinder. The front of the barrel liner is slightly tapered so you can fit a wrench into the barrel to fully tighten the threaded breech end into the ring. (The opposite end of the wrench has a punch to eject spent shell cases from the cylinder). It takes only a minute to convert a standard Pietta or Uberti Remington Army into a .22 LR model. The antiqued Pietta shown is the same gun used in the original Kirst .22 conversion and thus the parts are antiqued to match, but they’re otherwise sold with a polished blue finish by Kirst.
I also tested another conversion made by Uberti for Taylor’s & Company. Taking a page from the original Remington .22 conversions, which used a full-length barrel tightened to the breechblock with a hexagonal nut around the muzzle, Uberti developed a 4¾-inch .22 LR barrel for its .45 caliber SAA revolvers based on the Remington design. The kit, available from Taylor’s & Company, sells for $161 and includes the rifled 4¾-inch barrel liner; a full-size, six-round replacement cylinder; a wrench to tighten the barrel nut; and an innovative threaded adapter that fits into the breech end of the barrel. The ring allows the .22 LR barrel to be threaded tightly to the frame without using a breechblock or requiring a shortened cylinder. An added feature of the ring is a rear sight that fits over the top of the frame, thus providing a better sight picture with the .22 LR rounds. It is a very efficient if not original way to convert a .45 into a .22. Currently it is only available for 4¾-inch-barreled .45 Colt models.
For the shooting evaluation, I used three popular .22 LR loads: Federal Premium 40-grain Target Grade solids, which clocked 890 fps from both guns; CCI 40-grain Mini-Mag copper-plated, round-nose rounds, which left the Remington’s 8-inch barrel at 830 fps and the 4¾-inch-barreled Uberti 1873 at 875 fps, despite having a shorter barrel; and Winchester’s famous 40-grain Wildcat round-nose, lead ammunition, which traveled downrange at 825 fps from the Remington and a surprising 885 fps from the Uberti. It was such a notable difference that I tested the velocities again, achieving the same results.
The two guns were polar opposites when it came to handling, with the Remington/Kirst conversion shooting 8 inches below the point of aim (POA) from 50 feet and the Uberti hitting 9 inches above the POA. And mind you, the Uberti comes with a replacement rear sight built into the threaded barrel locking lug. The Uberti proved a hair more accurate and a hair more constant to shoot than the Kirst, despite having a 4¾-inch barrel. But keep in mind that the Kirst is fitted to a standard blackpowder percussion revolver, while the Uberti is in a factory-turned 1873 Single Action with a smoother action and a lighter trigger pull. To my dismay, the one big advantage of the Uberti 1873, the fact that it can be loaded and unloaded like every other SAA revolver, was nullified by the fact that the ejector does not align with the cylinder chambers and cannot be used to punch out spent cases. So you end up having to pull the cylinder arbor, take out the cylinder, remove the empty cases and then put the cylinder back in. As it turns out, at that point it’s just as easy to reload it before replacing the cylinder in the frame, and thus is no faster than the Remington, which requires removing the cylinder and breech ring to load and unload. Either takes about 30 seconds to disassemble, clear the chambers, reload and put back into the frame. And if you think about it, that’s not much different then punching out the empties one at a time and reloading a SAA. At least the Uberti cylinder arbor is easy to remove; the .22 cylinder rolls right out of the frame, and you can get the job done. The Remington is a bit easier by virtue of the original design, which made changing cylinders an advantage over a Colt all the way back in 1858. It turns out that you can change a SAA cylinder almost as fast.
As for accuracy, once you find the sweet spot with the Uberti, it is possible to get decent results at 50 feet firing off-hand. I fired and reloaded for each test, so I fired a total of 12 rounds for each test target. The Uberti put six rounds in the 9, 10 and X rings of an 8-inch-diameter Birchwood Casey Big Burst orange target, with the remaining six scattered around the 8 and 7 rings. The Kirst, which is a heavier gun, tended to shoot left and low even when compensating for the sight differential, but it grouped a little tighter. Neither gun is a target pistol by any means, but if you like punching paper with .22s they’re darn good at that.
There’s nothing quite as much fun as shooting .22s out of an Old West pistol, and off-hand at 50 feet, if you can keep them all in the middle of the target (which means you’ll be ringing steel plates), you’re having a good time.✪
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Taylors & Company
This article originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.
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