Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Range day, Martini Model 6 (see end)

Went to the range last night, and aside from some pistol practice, put about thirty rounds through one of my favorite rifles. This is a Birmingham Small Arms Martini Model 6 in the wonderful .22LR cartridge:

Mentioned something about the history of these little rifles before, but being too lazy to hunt through my archives for it, I'll repeat: a man named Peabody designed a single-shot breechloading rifle with an exposed hammer, called (who'd have guessed?) the Peabody. Few years later a Swiss named Martini decided he could improve it and did some redesign. Got rid of the external hammer and used an internal striker powered by a coil spring was the big change; he both simplified the action and made it stronger. When the Brits were looking for their first manufactured breechloader(the Snider being a modification of their Enfield rifle musket and intended only as a stopgap), the Martini action was one tested, and it won. Coupled with a barrel with Henry-style rifling it became the Martini-Henry. It served as a military rifle in both the original .577/.450 and the .303, and the action was also used to make everything from shotguns to match and hunting rifles. It became justly famous for strength and reliability, and they kept making them, in large and small actions, until the 1950's(much more history here).

There were a number of different small-action rifles made, and deciding what model one actually is ain't easy; BSA did NOT mark the model on them, there were no serial number breaks between models, etc. Sometimes the width of the action tells you, other times the combination of action size and barrel, etc. From what I've found, this one is an 8.

The action is a 'tilting block'. To load, pull the lever down,

(take note of that screw on the receiver and the round piece above it; we'll get to them later)
and the breechblock tilts down

to expose the chamber

That groove in the top of the block guides the round into the chamber. In the shot above, notice a piece between the block & chamber? That's the extractor. It's an eccentric 'L' shape; when the block rotates down, it pushes down on the lower arm which pivots the top arm back. As it's cut to hold the rim of the cartridge, it pulls the case back. Ease the lever down and it eases the case back; give it a smart pull, and it'll kick the empty out.

This rifle has the original open rear sight base and ladder on the barrel, but the elevator piece is missing, very common on these because with the match sight down low for close range it got in the way. Speaking of sights, this one has Parker-Hale match sights, an aperture rear and tube front. The rear is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, out to a long damn ways out. The eyepiece is separate from the sight itself, and you find everything from different apertures that individually screw in to adjustable like this Hadley. It's got a wide dish for the body, with a wheel that rotates to let you choose among six different size holes depending on conditions.

That bump midway along the breechblock? Cocking indicator; up means cocked, gone means uncocked.
Very handy, especially since most of them had no safety.

The front sight is a tube(or tunnel) sight. There's a threaded insert that fits in from the back, and a slot at the top about midway. Back the insert out a bit, and there are a number of different inserts that drop into the slot. Tighten the threaded piece back up to lock your choice in. They made/make rings, posts, and crosshairs in different diameters/thickness. The old ones tended to be quite thick in outline and mostly post or rings on a post. This is a newer insert, a thin-edged circle held in place by crosshairs.

Remember that screw I told you to take note of? Day is done and you want to give it a thorough cleaning, unscrew the threaded section and pull the pin, and the entire works rotates down and out of the receiver:

And yes, that IS the entire works. Frame, lever, block, extractor, trigger, tumbler. Push out three pins, one each, and the lever, block and extractor come out. A screw/pin holds the trigger and is the pivot for it. There's a screw that holds the trigger spring, and the only other spring is for the striker inside the block. A threaded piece holds the spring and striker in place and the spring under tension, and a screw locks the threaded insert in place. And you can clean the barrel from the breech; in the picture of the sight two shots above you'll see a slot below the eyepiece. It matches up with a hole through the back of the receiver. Earliest models didn't have this, but this mod was made a long time ago.

Remember the piece above the action screw? Not all had this. Look on the left side and you'll see another screw

This one is a tapered pin for takedown models. Pull the pin, open the action(otherwise the extractor won't let the barrel turn), and the barrel unscrews

Makes it very handy for travel. Reassembly is screw the barrel back in and line it up by eye, then insert the pin and tighten it down; the barrel notch and far side hole in the receiver were reamed on the taper so the pin both aligns them exactly and locks them in place.
(See that box on the stock about halfway back? It's brass, and unscrews from the base, and holds inserts for the front sight)

There are a lot of these old rifles in various models out there, used for hunting and target shooting, from short, light ones like this to heavy models intended for prone competition.

How's it shoot? Wonderfully. I've tried this one with a number of different ammo brands/types, and it seems to like two best: Federal Lightning(now Champion) and Eley Sport. Shoots better with these than the match ammo I've tried. 'Shoots better' meaning I've shot half-inch groups at 50 yards with them, the match brands at best equaled that. And since they cost $.69/box and $1.25/box respectively... The trigger is light and clean, couldn't ask for better. For a rifle built- best I can tell- in the 1920's that's had a hard life, very nice indeed.

Personal history on this: several years ago a friend and I went to the range, and he had this interesting little rifle he'd just got to try out. Exterior looked pretty bad- hadn't been cleaned up yet, all he'd done was wipe out the bore so he could shoot it. He got it sighted in a 50, and said "give it a try". And I was hooked. He was using Aguila subsonic ammo, and we were breaking a clay pigeon, then breaking the pieces. So I went looking, and found first a model 12/15(post to come later). Then, about a year after that, the same guy he'd bought his from had another one that looked identical. He promised the bore was pristine and the action tight, so I gave him my credit card number and transfer info. A week later, it was mine. In those with a similar history, you'll find similar appearance; lots of pitting on the exterior, especially on the barrel along the edge of the forearm, and the action was horribly cruddy with old oil and grease and fouling. But the bore was indeed lovely, not a spot on it. It had been lined at some point, which was common; Parker Hale advertised their liners and installation and promised a rifle relined by them would be at least as accurate as the original bore, and I believe them.

In the case of my and my friend's rifles, their hard use came at a school. The same school, as it happens. Both have the school's name and location and their number in the rack stamped into the right side of the stock. And you bet your ass I was very careful cleaning and refinishing the wood. Degreasing, sanding with steel wool only and then rubbing in multiple coats of TruOil brought out the grain of a lovely piece of walnut and made the markings easier to read.

This is one of those I look on as my responsibility to care for until it's passed on. Besides the general history, there's this: my friend managed to get hold of the school, and wrote back & forth with the guy who had last managed the range; according to him, the government regulations for storage, use, and the range finally got so bad that the school closed the range and sold the equipment. Which led to these rifles winding up across the Atlantic and now in our hands. I don't doubt there are a lot of these out there that spent years training kids to shoot; and after long, useful lives there they were sent away due to government BS(in this case) and socialist jackass headmasters who hated guns and closed the ranges(other cases I've heard of). They're now here in the Land of the Free(still, despite the actions of various clowns), and doing what they were designed for; delivering accurate fire on targets from paper to cans to small game.

Some have been relined or rebarreled for everything from .17M2 to .357 Magnum, most still in .22 or .310 Cadet(depending on model); but the keep working. You get a chance to try one out, do so; I think you'll like it.

Added 8/14/10 Originally I thought this was a Model 8; some further checking since has me thinking it's a 6. Whichever, I still like it.

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