22LR Restoration & Transformation

A  few months ago my nephew brought over, (what used to be), an old bolt action single loader .22 rifle that had had the barrel cut down to about 7”, and the buttstock cut off – a “pistol” of sorts – a project that someone unknown had literally hacked into some 50 years prior.

He said, “It fires but, it’s ugly and dirty”. A good amount of corrosion, pitting, and rust had accumulated, and he wanted to know if I could just “clean it up” for him. As I began to inspect the firearm it was evident that no care whatsoever had been taken in this “customization” job. The end of the barrel was cut off at a 4 or 5 degree angle complete with hacksaw marks and, when it came time to shorten the fore end, I suppose they figured there was no reason to remove the action and barrel first – the barrel could just act as a “cut-stop”… Or not. Most of the barrel’s hacksaw kerfs were removed during truing up but, there are still a few subdued marks left, luckily, most are hard to locate.

I began to think about some possibilities and asked him if I could take a little “artistic license” with it, to which he eagerly agreed.

1) Disassembly and inspection.

One retaining screw and the entire assembly lifts out of the stock. A very simple system composed of a bolt, lever action trigger mechanism, and a hand cocked hammer with rimfire pin, extractor and ejector. There was a good bit of coagulated oil, grease, and crud, as well as, some pitting and corrosion.

First – tear-down, degrease and clean, and then media blast with aluminum oxide.

2) Re-thinking the design and mechanism.

Now that we can see everything, the question becomes, “what do we want to end up with when it’s completed”? My first thought was that, in its previous configuration, everything was forward of the “grip”, throwing the mass and center of gravity too far forward for comfortable shooting. I wanted to move the fire controls and grip frontward in order to make the weapon better balanced and more comfortable.

3) Making and adapting new parts.

First in this stage was to move the trigger mechanism forward while simultaneously allowing it to act on the original lever that released the hammer and pin. I decided a simple pushrod with guide would do the trick and removed the “trigger” portion of the trigger lever, and drilled a hole to accept the new guide rod. (A second guide rod would be added later as can be seen in the final photos).

Once it was established that this setup worked, it was time to mill a frame to seat all of it in.

4) Machining and carving.

Coincidental with planning out and milling the frame, I thought it somewhat important to turn the barrel down to be concentric to the bore, and then reface and recrown the muzzle nicely. I took the turning only so far back so as not to change the way critical components fit in the receiver area.

I had a pretty good idea as to what I wanted in terms of the frame and grip but, I cannot lie. Much of this kind of thing is “invent as you go” so, changes were made, fitting, more changes, etc, I kept my original concept intact but, the plan for “getting there” was altered a couple of times.

The grip was hand carved from a nice piece of figured Walnut I had laying around but, I only had my own hand to use as a guide. Luckily, it felt comfortable to several who took hold of it so, when complete, it was sanded to 400 and finished in a few light coats of nitrocellulose.

5) Reassembly and testing.

One of the items this thing needed was a pair of sites. Not being able to find a set like I wanted, I bought a set of fiber optic replacement sites for a 10/22, and made the bases for them. The barrel was sanded and buffed to a high polish, while the receiver end was bead blasted to a softer sheen, and then the whole thing was sealed in a clear catalyzed alkyd. I made a smaller bolt knob for it, and jeweled the bolt itself.

The frame and fire control components were finished in a baked ceramic coating, and everything was well lubed during reassembly.

As stated, there are remnants of a few of the original flaws and poor workmanship still to be found but, most are very minor, difficult to find and, judging by the “before and after” – I think – fairly inconsequential.

Shooting tests showed that sights are well zeroed at 25 yds, and will maintain fairly consistent groups with different ammo loads.


While this was a fun exercise in creativity and adaptation, it’s not the kind of job one would want to do all of the time. First, there are the hours that go into it. If I charged my Nephew for this job, he’d be mowing my lawn for the rest of his natural life.

Additionally, some would say that, while we may have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, we’re still left, after all, with a dressed up sow’s ear. And, that may be partially true but, this little sucker shoots pretty well so, maybe the wardrobe change was in order.

Bill Moll

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