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Hi everyone, I recently picked up an old top-break six shooter by H&R. It's second generation and chambered in 32 S&W short. I'm planning on hardening the barrel and cylinder so that it'll hold up better to smokeless powder and hopefully be able to use 32 longs. I don't believe that anyones done this before, probably for good reason, but I'm going to try it none-the-less. I have a charcoal furnace for this purpose and a degree in Micky mouse metallurgy. haha
The metal feels chintzy- like a toy- but that's what I'm trying to improve. Any information about the alloy that H&R used would be useful to me.
I think I'll sand-cool the parts and not use water, that way I'll be sure not to end up with something warped and useless.
 

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I'm planning on hardening the barrel and cylinder so that it'll hold up better to smokeless powder and hopefully be able to use 32 longs.
If you're looking for some +1s on this plan, I don't think you'll find them here. Why not sell off the H&R for parts - I guarantee you it'll be worth more parted out than intact, then invest the money in a revolver that's intended to safely chamber and fire .32 S&W Longs. Heck, even a refurbed $100-$150 Soviet Nagant 1895 revolver will handle S&W Longs - though they'll bulge a bit. Still, bulged cases would trump a too-brittle, shattered, and now worthless olde timey H&R.
 

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Take a sample of the metal to a matlab in your area and have them do a spectography test on it. That's the only way you'll positively ID the alloy that H&R used. Just a spark test won't cut it.
Once you've ID'd the alloy, then do you have the proper setup to work with it and what process do you need to follow?

Otherwise yes, it is just "mickey mouse metallurgy" and you're setting yourself up for failure...and probably a trip to the ER as well.

Remember, just hardening a piece of metal won't just increase the strength. It will make the alloy more brittle too.
Maybe what you need to do is ensure the alloy stays more ductile so it can absorb the shock load without fracturing...
 

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There's are ways to harden steel - not that I recommend it, but if you want to experiment------ Early H&Rs are probably made from steel of fairly low carbon content. You can try hardening a cylinder for example by heating it red and quenching it in water. If it has enough carbon in its steel, it will be a lot harder to file.

A sure way is to case harden it. There are products, Kasenit for one, that you heat the part red, then coat it with the Kasenit powder, keep it red for a while allowing the stuff to bubble on the surface a bit, then quench it in water. Be sure you have enough water and quickly swish it around as you put it in the water. That will give a glass hard surface a few thousandths deep and make it a little stronger.

Hardening steel by heating & quenching can make it glass hard --- an very brittle. You could possibly make a cylinder, for example, so hard and so brittle, that if it failed it could send pieces dangerously flying around.

If you don't have some experience, I'd suggest you get old files and do some dry runs. You can heat a file red and let it cool slowly and it will be soft enough to saw or file. Heat it red and quench it, you will have it glass hard and brittle easy to break. Polish one, heat it red and quench it, then carefully heat it till it turns blue, you will have a spring temper, fairly hard, flexible and strong.

Have fun and be careful.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
rhmc24, Thank you, that's rather helpful. Though I'm reluctant to quench with water as it could get warped and I'd end up with an around-the-corner-shooter hehe. As for casing powder, I was thinking manganese and nickle. I'm fairly sure manganese can be used for casing, and the nickle is supposed to act a catalyst and arrange the carbon more evenly.
So I will try each of these techniques out. Thanks for the pointers!
 

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Interesting concept. Very bad idea.
You will need to know the exact makeup of the metal(s). Then, you will need a very accurate heat treating oven along with the proper quenchant(s).
And, you will need the exact knowledge to accomplish the task.
Many of the top break guns were made of cast iron.
 

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From my notebook, of possible interest --- Point of view is often different if from the practical or the academic, precision, etc.


BASICS ABOUT STEEL

This is about simple carbon steel, which is iron with only carbon added. Other steels and most modern steels also have some content of other metals in them such as chromium, molybdenum, nickel etc. to enhance specific characteristics.

Case hardening is usually done to low carbon steels to make it hard on the outside when the carbon content of the steel is not sufficient, or not wanted, to harden throughout. I do it in my home shop using a product called Kasenit. I heat the part to red, push it into the Kasenit powder, take it out and keep it red for half a minute or so, letting the powder 'cook' and bubble, then quench it in water.

The 'cased' exterior is glass hard and the inside condition depends on how much carbon is in its steel. Obviously, if you case harden higher carbon steel, the interior could be glass hard too with probable brittleness.

Carbon content determines what kind of heat treatment can be effective. Any carbon steel can be hardened somewhat by heating red hot and quenching in water. This hardness can give strength and can cause brittleness. Up to a practical point, the more carbon, the more the steel reacts to heating and quenching.

Higher carbon steels are used to make springs, chisels, punches, etc. If you want to make a spring, you can often find suitable steel from old carpenter saws, carbon kitchen knives, files, etc. To make a spring you first anneal (soften) the steel by heating red and allow to cool slowly, not quenched. You then make your spring, fit and shape it, then heat and quench it. It is now hard as glass and brittle. So to "temper", I put my hard spring in a metal dish in a half teaspooon of motor oil, heat it from below till the oil catches fire and burns off. Allowed to cool in air, I have my spring. I have tempered springs in the kitchen oven by turning up to max to get the 560F degrees, watching/knowing that its temper is right when it turn deep blue.

If you want to make a tool needing hardness, like a scraper or chisel, you want to polish it after quenching, then slowly heat it till it just begins to turn to a very light brown, let cool in air. Higher temp gives color changes as it changes to spring temp. Further heating softens the temper. It is worth while to note that higher carbon steels such as SAE 1095 (clock spring steel) should be quenched in oil rather than water. Before working on a steel of unknown carbon content, I do a test heat quench and temper to confirm its useful for my project.

I tried to write something here that the ordinary person can use with a little experimentation and care. I have some experience in that I have done the above scores of times over the past half century. It would take many pages to delve into the details of this subject. A lot more info about steel, including the tempering colors vs. hardness, types of usage can be found on Wikipedia.com.
 

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rhmc24-
I agree that heat treating carbon steel can be done at home. I have made and heat treated thousands of springs, many knives, stamps, and other parts.
Amateur heat treating of old guns for modern loads is still a bad idea.
 

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I say go for it. I value my fingers and hands and eyes, so I'll let you try it out. Darwin has your award waiting.
 

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A few after comments for Bill De and anyone else interested. Ex Guy's entry post reminded me of myself in the 1930s with my attitude of 'if it ain't broke - FIX IT!'. I offered a few comments, with cautions, intended to provide some relevant info - which I followed up with my summation about carbon steel later.

About guns being made from cast iron, anything is/was possible but I'd be interested in knowing a specific case. I very much doubt a responsible maker such as H&R or IJ would have been one.

we seem to have a few things in common, scores of springs and taps I have made, springs from 1095 steel I bought and from old knives, sawblades, files, etc, using old-time methods above. Made a couple knives, too, plus a lot of gun parts made and restored. We probably would both benefit from an exchange of experience. Most of my stuff is either in my files (like Steels above) or in DVDs I've done.

I've lived a life a lot of it outside the box with my share of bad ideas & mistakes but with enough good ideas & accomplishments to go from cleaning sparkplugs to VP level in a world corporation (Pan Am) from 1943 to 1980.

If it doesn't work - do something else. If it might work, try it! -- my recipe for progress.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
rhmc24, thanks for the encouragement. There are some leaf springs and odd parts that I have to make for the pistol as well, but those should be relatively easy to make. I'll post a picture when I'm all done and before I test-fire it. I'm aiming to start this weekend
 

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From my experience with revolvers of this type made by many manufacturers, I have never seen a bulged or blown cylinder in a .32 S&W cal. top brake. For this reason, I think Experiment Guy is working on a problem that does not exist.

The most common problem with black powder era brake tops is that the cylinder latches and latch screws are not up to the task. They tend to bend and stretch. One early model H&R Premier latch broke off entirely while I was shooting the revolver with modern ammo. No other damage to the revolver. After I replaced the latch the revolver was ok.

If you would like to experiment with some of these old timers, maybe some work with the barrel latches would be of use. For example, maybe adding a Webley type barrel latch would add sufficient strength for these old timers to use modern ammo?

Anyway, heat treating the cylinders and barrels will accomplish little if anything to the safety of these antique handguns. No matter how good the steel in the cylinder is the latches will still stretch out and the screws bend under the pressure of smokeless powder.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
hmmm... that may be good news. I know the latch on mine is already hardened but the screws and stuff are still vulnerable. I'm going to do the cylinder & barrel too because I want to be able to use 32L wad-cutters in it.
 
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