Sometimes when working on old air pistols, you end up wishing that you had never started. That happened to me when I acquired a slightly weary Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker, a replica of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army (SAA). Produced between 1970 and 1976, the Crosman 44 Peacemaker is a .22” pellet shooting replica (some of the Crosman .177” Wild West revolver replicas also shoot steel BBs). I have always fancied one of these Crosman replicas, but the prices in the UK for working models are very high. So, when I was offered a leaky and in need of refurbishment Model 44 at a reasonable price, I was happy to go along with it. However, buying a non-working older gun is always a gamble – you never know quite what you’re getting, and spares can be fiendishly hard to find.
The purpose of this article is to share some of the things I learned while refurbishing my 44 Peacemaker so that you can avoid making the same mistakes that I made.
Here is the Crosman, as received and pretty much as described by the seller. Paint is flaking off the metal cylinder, the finish has completely rubbed off the hammer and trigger and there are a few areas where the paint on the body has chipped and discoloured. However, the gun cocked and dry fired well with a nice positive action and the cylinder appeared to index correctly (though only shooting a pellet will show if this is actually true). The plastic CO2 cover was also missing, though I knew that when I agreed to buy. This probably average condition for a replica air gun of this age – this one is at least forty years old.
However, putting in a CO2 cartridge revealed a bad leak. CO2 was venting continuously through the barrel, which suggested a failed main seal. In the short time that the 44 held CO2, it did seem to cock and fire properly (though I didn’t try it with a pellet). My plan was to fix the leak and to do a general cosmetic refurbishment of the pistol at the same time.
The first step was to strip down the 44 Peacemaker and try to find the cause of the leak. Very few tools are needed – a couple of good quality screwdrivers are used for dismantling and a pair of needle nosed pliers are useful for removing tiny springs without having them twang into the middle distance. First the plastic grips were removed by releasing the slotted screw on the left grip.
Then the four slotted screws that hold the two halves of the 44 frame together. Once these are removed from the right side, the upper (right) half can be lifted clear. Nothing pinged off – hurrah! At a first glance, everything seemed to be there (even the tiny détente spring and ball bearing) and nothing looked broken. At this point I took lots of pictures for reference before doing anything else.
Next I removed the cylinder, complete with valve assembly (which just slides out of the front of the cylinder when this is removed). This was followed by the barrel, CO2 tightening screw, main leaf spring and the hammer, trigger, trigger return spring, safety bar and indexing pawl. All these parts simply lift out when the halves are separated. Finally the tiny détente spring and ball bearing were removed.
The only problem I immediately noticed is that the hammer has clearly been rubbing on the inside of the left frame half – some sort of spacer may be required here.
Bright area (arrowed) showing where the hammer has been rubbing
With the valve assembly out of the cylinder, I could see that one or two of the O-rings have nicks and marks (I’ll be replacing them all anyway), but there are no obvious problems. Given that the leak is coming from the barrel, I suspect that the problem is the main seal. This is accessed by unscrewing the top of the valve assembly.
There isn’t much in there really. There was nothing obviously wrong with the main seal, but this had to the source of the leak. Next step was to try to remove this seal from the firing/piercing pin to see if I could fabricate a replacement for the nitrile seal. This looked simple – all I had to do was drift the seal and brass carrier forwards off the pin. What could possibly go wrong?
And here’s the answer – overenthusiastic drifting led to a broken firing pin and the severe startling of my cat due to a sudden storm of expletives. Few things are more irritating than a problem you have caused entirely by yourself. And this was purely down to me. The brass carrier was very tightly drifted on to the pin, and I should have been more careful in my attempts to remove it. Now, fabricating a new firing pin is beyond my meagre engineering capabilities, but fortunately I know a man who can. Nick at Magic 9 Design is not only a nice bloke but also a talented gunsmith who specialises in airguns (see link at bottom of this article). Nick responded to my panicked e-mails with reassurance that he’d be able to make me a new firing pin. I posted off the broken parts of the pin to Nick and started working on the cosmetic refurbishment while I waited for the new pin.
I had better say right here that I am by no means an expert on refurbishing old air pistols. However I have been restoring old motorcycles and sports cars for more than 25 years, so I do know something about making sad old bits of metal look shiny again.
The first step was to re-paint the 44. I know folk have lots of different views about this – some people think that repainting spoils the originality of a gun. I go along with this to a degree, but I believe that the original paint on this 44 was so chipped and flaked that there wasn’t any alternative. If you are going to paint a gun, the first thing to look at is the original finish – is it matt, semi-matt (sometimes called satin) or gloss? On the 44 it’s a semi-matt finish for the body of the gun and the cylinder, with a matt finish on the hammer and trigger. The first job was to paint the cylinder. This is fairly straightforward as it’s a metal cylinder on the 44 (the cylinder is plastic on some of the later Crosman Wild West revolvers).
Cylinder stripped and ready for paint
If you are painting a pistol, I’d strongly recommend spray rather than brush painting. You need the right colour and finish, obviously, but you also want something that’s resistant to chipping and which won’t dissolve if it’s exposed to solvents or oils. There are lots of good paints out there, but over the years I have used the Hammerite range of spray paints with good results. These paints seem to bond well with metal (they’re used without primer), they last well and they’re readily available at home improvement and car accessory outlets so that’s what I decided to use here.
Left frame half, partly stripped.
Preparing the surface for painting is critical. You need to get all traces of the old paint off. If you use a good quality paint stripper, this isn’t too difficult, but you do need some patience to get into all the nooks and crannies. If you find stubborn bits of paint which won’t come off easily, don’t scrape at them with anything metal (like a screwdriver blade), you’ll just mark the metal. Instead, use a wooden spatula – an old ice lolly stick is ideal or a large kitchen style matchstick will do at a push. Do check what you’re trying to get the old paint off – some aggressive paint strippers will dissolve plastic just as happily as paint, so check what it says on the tin before using paint stripper on plastic components.
When all the old paint is off, clean the item in warm water with some washing-up liquid in it. This will help to get all the grease from years of use and your sticky finger marks off the metal. Once the piece is clean, rinse it carefully with clean, warm water and don’t handle it before it’s painted.
OK, now you’re ready to paint. Almost. Before you start, warm the paint. Stand the aerosol can of paint in warm water for about 15 minutes before you start to spray. This helps the paint to flow better and gives a much better finish. When you’re spraying, use light, even coats. Don’t be tempted to try to put on lots of paint in one go. I find that 2 – 3 light coats, with at least 30 minutes between coats works well.
Frame halves and cylinder painted.
Let the piece dry thoroughly before handling. Most paints take at least 24 hours to cure properly but some take even longer. Don’t panic if the finish doesn’t look right immediately. Some paints take time to achieve their final finish – for example, the Hammerite paint looks gloss when it’s first sprayed, and it doesn’t turn semi-gloss for about 12 – 18 hours after application.
Initially I was happy with the finish on my 44 – it looked just about the right tone of semi-matt. However, after leaving it to cure for a couple of days, I noticed some bubbling of the paint in small areas (circled, below).
It was obvious that I hadn’t removed all the old paint and that these tiny traces of original paint had reacted with the new paint to cause the bubbling. Unfortunately, when this happens, the only solution is to rub off all the new paint and start again, being especially careful to remove every trace of the old paint.
Stripped and ready for painting. Again.
Painted, again. No bubbling this time.
Once it had cured, the second application of paint on the frames halves and cylinder looked good enough so I also decided to repaint the hammer and trigger at this time. I cleaned all traces of the existing finish off both and painted using a spray matt-finish black. You can see the result below (the wire is used to hang the piece during painting and drying). The paint has reacted with something on the metal to cause bubbling and a strange gloss finish. The trigger was exactly the same. Beginning to wish I had never started the whole repainting job, I removed all the new paint, cleaned both pieces thouroughly and started again.
I tried using two different types of paint, and the result was precisely the same both times. It seems as though there is something impregnated into the hammer and trigger which no amount of cleaning will remove and which reacts with the new paint. I finally ordered a small bottle of Birchwood Casey Aluminium Black from Amazon. This is supposed to provide cold blueing of light alloys, such as those in air pistols.
And… it worked! After half a dozen applications, I ended up with a durable looking matt, very dark grey finish on the hammer and trigger. Which is pretty much what I was hoping for. I also tidied up the grip and frame screws at this point. The heads of some of the screws were badly chewed up. The easiest way to do this is to stick the screws individually in the chuck of an electric drill and use fine grade wet and dry paper on them as they rotate. I could have tried to source new screws, but I imagine that finding identical fasteners for a gun of this age would be very difficult. I also prefer to re-use original components wherever possible. Poking the screws through holes in a piece of card gives good support for re-painting with the same semi-gloss black used on the frame.
I also ran a wire brush over the CO2 tightening wheel to clean it up, and that finished the cosmetic side of the refurb.
At around this time the firing pin was returned from Magic 9 Design. Nick had made, tempered and hardened a new firing pin to replace the one that I broke, and installed a new 90 Shore Hardness polyurethane stem seal. And very nice it looked too. I hope that the new stem seal should fix the leak.
All O-rings were replaced at this time and all internal components were cleaned, checked and lubricated with appropriate oil and grease. Reassembly is fairly straightforward as long as you notice that there is a locating pin on the frame (arrowed) which must fit into a hole on the cap of the valve assembly (arrowed, inset), or you will be baffled and frustrated that the frame halves won’t quite join properly. Guess how I know that?
The only really fiddly bit is installing the tiny détente ball and spring (arrowed below). This isn’t a job to try if you have had more than your allotted daily ration of caffine!
With the pistol back in one piece, it was time to try the action. Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that the new paint on the front of the cylinder was causing the cylinder to bind making the action stiff and scratchy. So, I dismantled again and sanded the new paint off the front of the cylinder before reassembling.
After the second reassembly, the action was very good indeed – smooth, light, precise and creamy. Interestingly, the hammer was no longer rubbing on the left frame half, even though I hadn’t installed a spacer. Oh well, that’s one less thing to worry about. It was then time to try CO2 in the pistol. This 44 didn’t come with a plastic CO2 cover, so when spraying the pistol, I also sprayed a few CO2 cartridges black just to make them look a little less obtrusive.
Time for the moment of truth – I inserted a new CO2 and…
No leak! Even better, the 44 now shoots very nicely indeed. The single action only trigger is beautiful and the pistol is satisfyingly loud and reasonably powerful. It isn’t especially accurate despite having a rifled barrel, but the lack of a decent rear sight makes it less of a problem than it might otherwise be. Overall I’m very happy with the way that my 44 shoots and it doesn’t look too bad now either.
Final thoughts? It was much harder to get a decent finish on this pistol than I had expected though the cold blueing solution worked better than I expected. Breaking the firing pin was stupid and entirely my fault – some care is required when working on this part. Internally, the metal parts of the gun showed few signs of wear at all, despite the pistol being more than 40 years old. Internally the 44 Peacemaker is pretty simple and requires no special tools to disassemble.
And with some of my other Colt SAA replicas…
The refurbished and fully operational 44 Peacemaker is at bottom right. At top left is a Crosman Peacemaker 44 in .177” fitted with rosewood grips and top right and bottom left are a couple of gas powered, 6mm Tanaka SAA replicas.
Thanks to World of Replica Air Pistols reader Sidney Shaw who sent me details of a good way to cover up the CO2 cartridge if you don’t have the plastic cover (and on lots of these replicas, this is missing) and yo don’t want to paint the CO2 cartridge. You can buy packs of 50 tubular, black battery covers intended to be used to be heat-shrunk on to batteries. Now, just to be clear, it’s best not to shrink these in place, because the heat involved may cause the CO2 cartridge to explode, but fortunately they fit pretty well without shrinking.
Here you can see Sidney’s SA6 with one of these covers in place.
The order code for these covers is 18650 and you can find them here: www.fasttech.com/p/4436901
At less than $2 for 50, these are a great way to cover up that CO2 cartridge.