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Martini-Henry Rifle- Nepalese Francotte Conversion


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I've wanted a real Martini-Henry for a long time, but authentic British-made ones are fairly expensive and the only realistic source of ammunition is reloading, something I haven't yet felt like getting into. But it turns out that Nepalese Martini-Henry copies are fairly cheap ($225 US for a Francotte pattern). It dawned on me a while back that while a rusty century-old knockoff is basically a pipe bomb with live ammo, as long as I could get the mechanics working it would be just fine for airsoft use. In the US these are antiques and thus not legally considered firearms, so there are no legal hurdles there.


The basic plan is to convert the gun to use APS shotgun shells, imitating the functionality of the Martini-Henry-derived Greener GP shotgun while retaining the overall appearance of the Martini-Henry. I think this will be more effective than stuffing VSR internals or something into it, and reduces the amount of modification needed.


So, I placed an order and got this:




Not exactly promising. The action cycled with great difficulty, and the trigger didn't seem to do anything.


I got it apart, and it was even worse:





The wood trapped moisture for a hundred years, everything behind the wood was seriously pitted, and the interior had rust on critical surfaces underneath the rancid yak fat.


At this point it was clear that this gun was no longer a shooter. Just to be clear, if the gun that arrived in the mail had turned out to be a British Martini, or even a Nepalese one in good condition, I'd have abandoned the project here and kept it intact as a historical artifact. But this gun is littered with stress fractures, bad fitment, scary headspacing, and rust in critical areas, so I don't really feel bad about chopping it up to turn it into a toy. It would never have been a functional firearm without historicity-destroying levels of intervention, so might as well make use of it.


All the parts I could get off the gun went into Evapo-Rust:




And after a day, came out surprisingly clean:




I tested fit and function, and discovered that the reason the trigger didn't do anything was that the firing pin was stuck forward, due to it being some kind of DIY job that was poorly fitted to the bolt, and the firing pin spring was too large and stuck in place. After some testing, I found that an AEG spring was slightly smaller and a perfect fit:




I cut the AEG spring to length and, while I was at it, cut off the crappy firing pin:




Now I turned my attention back to the barrel. This thing was stuck, and no amount of penetrating oil would loosen it, so I had to cut it off. I had to cut the barrel off in front of the chamber, then stick the hacksaw blade through the chamber and cut two slots so that I could remove a section of the barrel. This took an hour and a half of hacksawing.






With that section removed, I could now use the vise to crush the remaining barrel segment, which flexed it enough to pop it free of its rust and allow me to unscrew the stub.




So, I now have a bare receiver and a fully-functioning action. The to-do list looks something like this:

-Procure piping to make the replacement barrel, cut them to shape, assemble, and fix in place

-Build up a new firing pin with a collar so that it can't trigger a live 12ga shell

-Reshape the extractor to accommodate the APS shells (somewhat larger than .577/450)

-Strip the wood stock, reshape the forend to fit the barrel, use wood hardener to preserve, and either restain+finish or just finish the wood

-Remove the rear sight from the old barrel and attach to the new barrel

-Either cold blue or paint all the metal parts to refinish


Shouldn't be too hard, and I think the worst of it is done with.

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I have fifty-some APS shotgun shells and a sneering disdain for the concept of 'aiming', so I'm pretty set on the 12ga. Functionally, I admit something like the APS .50s might be a little closer to the authentic M-H, but if I'm going onto the field with a single-shot breechloader I want basically no chance of missing.


Also, a number of M-Hs that had outlived their front-line service life were converted to smoothbores by the British military, loaded with .577/450 buckshot shells, and used as guard and riot control weapons before the Greener was developed. So I can at least cite a historical precedent for a shot-loaded Martini-Henry.


After taking measurements, I've ordered steel conduit tubing that matches the approximate correct dimensions. I'm not totally sure on its durability, but if it holds up then I should be able to blue it once I strip off the zinc galvanization. In that case I should be able to get a proper blued finish on the gun rather than resort to paint.

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I got the receiver fully stripped and all the internals put back together:





And it seems to cycle smoothly:





I also drilled through the bolt face to make room for the firing pin. The firing pin itself, unfortunately, seems to be made of pretty good steel, and I'm having much more trouble drilling into it. I superglued a grub screw in place to test alignment and protrusion distance. The firing mechanism seems to work fine:





Lastly, I extracted the rear sight from the barrel. I really ought to just get a blowtorch- I powered through the soft soldering by wedging a screwdriver under the sight base and hammering at it until it pried the sight off. Not my most elegant work, but it should clean up alright.




I've decided I'm going to paint the gun rather than blue it. Cold blue finishes tend not to stand up to wear and tear, especially for in-game use. I'm also concerned that with the gun being made of mystery Nepalese metal, it might not take bluing well, and even if it does will almost certainly turn out differently from the barrel. Fortunately, the dark satin gunmetal used on real Martini-Henry rifles is a fairly easy finish to emulate with paint, so I don't envision any trouble there.

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Keep in mind the APS shells are actually very close in size to the base of the .577/450, partly because the .577/450 is a humongous round, and partly because APS shotgun shells are very slightly undersized compared to 12ga. The base diameter of the .577/450 is 17.0mm, while the base diameter of the APS shell is 19.6mm. It's bigger, but not enormously so, and since the new barrel will be fitting within the profile of the original one, there should be room for it to clear. The extractor is getting mangled into shape anyways so the headspace won't be an issue.


The only hurdle I can see as far as chambering the shotgun shells is the angle at which the rounds slide into the chamber, because the 12ga obviously aren't tapered like the .577/450. But since I don't need to contain any significant pressure, I can use very slightly oversized pipe and flare the base of the chamber to provide additional clearance.


I'm getting the barrel material today so hopefully should be able to at least do a quick test tonight.

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Progress. First up, I got the stock cleaned off, but I don't think it's going to be usable- there's an extensive crack on the stock, and the top of the butt where the buttplate would screw in has sheared off. Rather than use this ratty furniture, I've gone ahead and ordered a new-production replacement wood set that should look a little nicer. Unfortunately, that means I likely won't be completing the project this weekend like I'd hoped, but I can still work on the functional components.


Anyways, I reshaped the extractor. This just took a lot of very careful filing to get it to the point where it would grab the rims but not the body of the shells:




Next, the chamber. I'm using thin-wall 3/4" steel conduit for this, so had to break out the Dremel to carve out extractor grooves:




I did end up having to extend the grooves, as visible in the next image. Rather than use a single piece of pipe for the whole barrel, I'm sleeving 1/2" medium-wall conduit inside the 3/4" thin-wall. It nests perfectly and matches the inner diameter of the shells, to maximize gas efficiency.




Before I do that, though, I wanted to get the chamber piece mounted. It's a perfect fit, requiring some force to scrape past the threading, and holds securely even without epoxy. With the JB Weld, it should be pretty much indestructible:




Lastly, I got to do some function testing, and it feeds, fires, and extracts successfully after modification. In addition to reshaping the extractor, I had to modify the bolt slightly to allow it to depress further for loading and unloading. This was accomplished by filing down the corner where it hits the extractor- the rounded edge just right of the middle of this photo:




And now it's all starting to come together:


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Progress was delayed by some further action work- I noticed that if the shell wasn't firmly pushed into the breech, the extractors were capable of spitting it back out. A bit of online research revealed that on a real, properly-functioning Martini-Henry, the breech block should neutrally sit at a position just high enough to slightly overlap the rim and keep the shell in. The contact surface on the lever that produces this behavior was heavily peened, preventing it from engaging as it should. I shimmed it up with some scrap metal, and now the breech block sits as it should, requiring a bit of pressure to fully depressing the block.


I JB Welded the barrel and rear sight in place, then stuck on the original furniture just to see how it functions in the full rifle configuration.



I need to polish the edges of the chamber to prevent the lip where the plastic hull meets the metal base on the shell from catching, but otherwise things are progressing nicely.


In total, the remaining to-do list is as follows:


-Use more epoxy to smooth out where the receiver meets the outer barrel, and where the outer barrel meets the inner barrel

-Clean up all the epoxy and sand it smooth, then lightly sand the pipe to wear down the zinc coating and help paint adhere

-Paint and finish all the metal components

-Modify and mount the new stock and forend, whenever they arrive

-Mock up the teardrop-cocking indicator of the Martini-Henry, missing on the Francotte

-Fix up the lever retaining spring that goes in the stock, or fabricate a replacement if it's too badly rusted


Not too much work remaining, overall, just going to have to wait for the new wood sometime next week.

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Over the weekend I finished the barrel and then started painting, which I finished today.


With the sights mounted to the barrel and the barrel contours roughed out, I sprayed the whole thing flat black:




That looks pretty unimpressive. It's just black spray paint, nothing like the proper finish for these guns. To fix that, I use my tried-and-true graphite method.


I just squirt a little bit onto the metal:




Then rub it in with a toothbrush:





Now it has a more metallic look, but it's still kind of dull-looking, and the graphite itself is not a durable finish. So I sealed it with Testor's Dullcote (matte varnish), then sprayed the whole thing down with Hoppe's gun oil and rubbed it in with a cloth. The varnish seals the graphite to the gun, and the oil lubricates parts, protects against corrosion, and gives a nice gunmetal shine:




Back in the crappy stock:




And a beauty shot of the receiver finish:




All that remains is fitting the stock and forend when they arrive tomorrow, fitting the remaining hardware (forend cap, stock lever catch, buttplate) to the wood, cleaning off the cleaning rod, and attaching the cocking indicator that I completely forgot about until just now.

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Thanks. I wanted to use the stock that came with it, partly because it has a lot of character and partly because buying a replacement set cost almost as much as the rifle itself, but the pictures really don't do justice to how damaged the thing is. Chips and dents I can deal with, but cracks running all the way through the wood and gouges so big that they leave nothing for metal fittings to attach to are kind of a show-stopper, let alone having the wood actively start falling apart every time I sand or scrape at it.


The peening and wear on all the stress-bearing surfaces show that this gun wasn't an armory queen, it was heavily used and abused in the field, and repaired with makeshift substitutes like nails in lieu of pins. Then it was put into less-than-ideal storage for over a century before getting pulled out and exported to the US. Frankly, I'm impressed that it's cleaned up as well as it has.

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Turns out that a 21st-century Indian-made reproduction of a stock for a 19th century British gun isn't a drop-in fit on a Nepalese knock-off. Actually, it's proving to be kind of a royal pain in the *albatross*. I ended up removing the sloping shape at the chamber, partly because it was obstructing the furniture and partly because I thought it looked mediocre. After much swearing, filing, and fitting I got the stock and forend on, and glued on the faux cocking indicator while I was at it.




I also found in the process that a weak trigger was making it such that bumping the lever could cause the gun to discharge (!) so I had to bend the trigger spring a touch to get more tension on it. Seems to work now.


Still need to affix the buttplate, file down the front barrel band until it fits, wedge the cleaning rod in there somehow, and modify the lever retaining cap until it actually works.

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Have to admit I don't think I even really knew of the Martini-Henry until a year or 2 ago, watched the IV88 video on the Greener 12 when that came out though and seeing an airsoft version using real parts is just bloody sweet.  Especially given the fact that gun looked a total disaster when you first received it, I was very surprised it wasn't entirely rusted solid throughout.

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