HomeUSATFB Armorer’s Bench: Diagnosing and Assessing a Colt 1877 Lightning

TFB Armorer’s Bench: Diagnosing and Assessing a Colt 1877 Lightning

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Welcome everyone to the TFB Armorer’s Bench! As mentioned in the little blurb below, this series will focus on a lot of home armorer and gunsmith activities. In this article, I decided to do some much-needed and desired maintenance on a gun that was once dubbed “the gunsmith’s best friend” or “gunsmith’s nightmare” depending on where you read. I of course am talking about the contentious Colt 1877 otherwise known as the Lightning (Thunderer for 41 cal or Rainmaker for 32 cal). I have talked about all the little issues, controversies, and real-world happenings of this controversial Colt in a separate Commentary article. Today we are taking it apart, taking a peek, and seeing if we can get this thing closer to the like new condition it deserves. Let’s dive right into Diagnosing and Assessing a Colt 1877 Lightning!

Gun Specific TFB Armorer’s Bench Reading @ TFB:

TFB Armorer’s Bench: Diagnosing and Assessing a Colt 1877 Lightning

Here, we at TFB hope to inform, entertain, and even inspire any would-be gunsmith or armorer out there. Ideally, with the information I provide and with the help of our sponsors, you can have some useful knowledge pertaining to the conservation and improvement of firearms technology while at the same time sharing experiences and teaching each other new tips and tricks along the way in the comments. Digging deep into what it is to be an armorer or gunsmith has significance but what is important is what those people do to show they’ve earned that title. I am happy to share my experiences and knowledge and hope it is informative!

Make your personal safety a priority:

  1. Practice proper gun safety. Always make sure before the firearm hits your bench that it is unloaded and safe to be handled.
  2. Wear the proper safety equipment. The main one would be safety glasses (decent ones) since parts are often under spring tension and you may work with high RPM tools. Other honorable mentions would be latex gloves or a respirator when working with potentially harmful solvents and oils. Also hearing protection when working with loud machinery or test-firing firearms.
  3. Modifications, alterations, and customizations will void your firearm’s warranty 9.5 times out of 10. Please take that into consideration before attempting any at-home gunsmithing.
  4. If you are unsure about proper safety practices, disassembly procedures, or warranty standards, stop, put down the tools, and consult a competent gunsmith.

Quick Background & The Issue – Colt 1877 Lightning

So as I mentioned I have already done some commentary on the Colt 1877, its history, and common issues. In my professional opinion, I believe that these issues stem from a bit of misuse years down the road when smokeless powder was the standard, reproduction parts were nonexistent, and word of mouth made the good old Colt Lightning out to be a fragile revolver. Should they have designed this gun to be simpler? Yes. Could they have? Maybe…patents at the time probably complicated this. 

My piece in particular suffers from its age more than anything. It’s the oldest gun I own. It was manufactured back in 1901 and sold to the Continental Tobacco Company as a promotional item for folks to turn in their tabs from cigar boxes and cigarette cartons. Some lucky nicotine-soaked duck smoked their heart out in order to get this piece of quality manufacturing. Now it’s mine and it needs to have a look under the hood. Something I had great excitement about since I haven’t taken my personal one apart yet.

Colt 1877

The age-related issues pertain to some slight sluggishness. The revolver overall is in good condition. It was definitely reblued at some point in its life. The frame itself would have been color case hardened and the markings have been brushed over by an ape that went crazy with a buffing wheel.

Colt 1877

Sometimes the very smooth action has sticking moments in that it feels like it gets hung up. Likely an issue with the hand or hand/bolt relationship (i.e. poor timing). Overall the spring tensions throughout feel good except for the ejector rod spring which feels like it has gone slack. This spring is likely broken or worn out. Another very slight occurrence is the trigger return will sometimes stick. This is likely due to the roller/trigger spring relationship. I mentioned in the previous 1877 article that a common issue with these guns is that their roller will often develop a flat spot and not operate correctly.

I should mention that when I bought this gun I also bought around 10 small parts since I was afraid I would need to fix something and they would no longer be available. Turned out to be the right move in the end because it made the project a quick one.

Colt 1877

Closer Inspection – Colt 1877 Lightning

So without going step by step on disassembly (You want it? Ask please!) the Colt 1877 is not a complicated gun to ME but it does have a lot of small parts and screws that look similar but are not interchangeable. Those small parts can be called fragile but only if you bend or smack on them which you should not have to.

The first big sign of oops was well that pesky ejector rod spring I mentioned. It sure was broken. Broken as in straight up snapped in half. Springs can wear out without literally breaking visibly but this was an easy identification and fix. I had a spring on hand and it fixed it up in a jiffy.

Colt 1877

Next, I checked the sear and the hammer. Both looked healthy. It is obvious this stuff was hand-fit. The notches on the hammer looked clean and crisp so thankfully that needs no attention. The trigger will hide the rest of my suspicions. With it out, everything can look fine at first glance but on a closer look, there may be more than meets the eye.

Colt 1877

Here we can see a pin protruding from the hand (the part that rotates the cylinder). This pin is supposed to intersect with a flat spring which provides tension forward so the hand returns correctly. As we can see, the pin is bent from time and repeated use. A huge example of a pretty needless design. What is the remedy for this? The pin can be punched out and replaced or bent back.

Colt 1877

I happened to have a replacement hand with a new pin. Easy swap, easy fix. No fitting was required but in other situations, the tooth of the hand may need to get sharpened or rounded with a file.

Colt 1877

Next, we turn our attention to the roller. You see in this photo below the blued side of the roller.

Colt 1877

In the next photo, we see a side that is in the white and is ever so slightly worked flat. This is common and will cause the trigger to start returning less and less. I also had a new roller on hand.

Colt 1877

Replacing the roller offers challenges similar to that of installing a trigger guard pin in an AR15 lower receiver. If not done carefully and properly the trigger could be damaged.

Colt 1877

I used a piece of stainless steel media to punch out the tiny pin (they only go one direction and it could be either side so make sure to measure)

Lastly, we can see that the trigger spring itself has a flat spot beginning to appear from the roller. This spring probably did not need to be replaced and in most cases, from what I have read, it is not even recommended to remove it because it is “set at a tension” but these were said to be adjustable so I don’t know what that’s all about. I replaced the spring with a new one and everything was fine.

Colt 1877

Conclusion – Colt 1877 Lightning

The Colt 1877 is one of my favorite revolvers and I think it is super underrated and has a rich history. I sure wish someone out there would make a correct-sized double-action replica that was engineered to work better, last longer, and handle smokeless powder for its lifetime. Get on it Colt, Uberti, Pietta, Heritage, etc!

Colt 1877

As always, thank you for reading TFB! Be safe out there, have fun while shooting, and we will see you next time for the TFB Armorer’s Bench! Also, let us know what you think in the comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.

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