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Starr Revolvers: Working and repairing a Civil War-era revolver.

One of the reasons I took on a Starr revolver rebuild was that I consider it an honor to work on such a storied and significant firearms. This piece has been around our nation in warfare and served both the good and the bad in the Old West. The Starr is a double-action revolver designed by Ebanezer Townsend Starr and made by the Starr Arms Co. The revolver illustrated was used by a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War. That's America! There are a few parts for the revolver here and there and, at present, the Starr isn't nearly as expensive as Colt, Remington, and Smith & Wesson revolvers. Let's look at what is needed to take apart and repair this interesting revolver.

We'll start with disassembly. The thumb screw at the top of the frame is removed first. This relieves pressure on the barrel. Press the barrel downward and it tilts down to allow the removal of the cylinder. The screws in the side of the revolver are removed to free the action. It is common with revolvers of this design to have to tap the barrel hard to get it to actually move. The mainspring is released and the internal parts are removed by taking out the screws in the frame.

There are a few problems encountered with the Starr revolver. One issue is a cylinder that won't rotate when the trigger is pressed. The most common problem is the rotator hand. The cylinder ratchet on the back of the cylinder may be damaged or well worn. If someone exerts pressure on the hammer this often happens. The hammer cannot be used to cock the mechanism, only the trigger (or cocking lever as Starr called it) can. The rotator hand and ratchets may be damaged. The hand is the problem usually encountered and parts replacement is indicated. There may be some relief by taking out the hand and placing it on an anvil and beating it until it becomes longer. This often causes the piece to begin working. If the cylinder does not rotate when fired normally, but will rotate when the barrel is pointed toward the floor or ground, then the rotator hand spring is at fault. You may make a spring or simply remove the spring and stretch it to the limit, then replace.

The rotator hand spring fits into a slot in the rotator hand. If you have access to another proper spring, replace it. The spring is against the frame and pushes against the ratchets. The spring length stretches to about the top of the hand. Sometimes the spring may be stretched and bent but then it may need to be re-hardened to stay in place. A note, the rotator hand should have a serial number stamped into it. If not it is not original.

A common problem that the revolver illustrated exhibited is that the cylinder will rotate when the hammer is actuated by pulling the trigger in its long double action trigger press, but only if the barrel is pointed straight down. The hand spring fits into a slot in the rotator hand and will need to be replaced. Should the spring need to be made locally remember it should be even with the top of the hand in length. If the spring is bent out of shape, re-tempering may be needed. The hand spring's thickness affects the action. If the hand spring is thick then it may suffer binding. If too thick it may not engage the hand properly. The spring tapers from where it fits the slot in the hand. This taper is no more than about 0.0018, so be certain to use the correct spring when replacement is necessary.

Another common problem is a failure of the cylinder to lock properly. The cylinder bolt stop may be to blame. The locking part on the end of the trigger (cocking lever) may be well worn. This simply means that the notch has been worn to the point the nose of the locking part will not contact the cylinder notches. Note that there are twelve cylinder notches, not six. This piece may even be broken off. It may be beaten, heated, or welded to increase its length. As for hardening a weld, if the customer is actually going to fire the piece then that may be the best procedure.

I have read of cylinder pin wear but never seen a Starr revolver that has suffered this much wear. I would imagine if the cylinder pin is worn then the action and other parts would be even more severely worn.

This is an action of irreducible complexity, all parts depend upon the other. If one part is tightened then another may be stressed. If one part needs service and repair then perhaps all parts will need repair. The question of the value of the revolver must be asked at that point. Then there is the question of authenticity of the revolver. Using parts for the modern Pietta replica is a good resource but then the revolver will a hybrid rather than an original.

There is also a common fault with the Starr action involving the trigger return. The trigger will sometimes refuse to return after the action is actuated. The most common fault is a broken trigger return spring. Another fault is that the hammer has no tension as the action is operated and the trigger is being rocked back. The trigger return spring will be replaced in the first instance; in the second, the mainspring. The stirrup that connects the hammer to the main-spring might be a problem but more likely the mainspring is the problem. You will have to search out a mainspring and replace the part.

A problem I encountered many years ago was that the shooter did not understand how the adjustment slide on the rear of the trigger worked. Some adjustment is needed to perfect it. Some settings cock the hammer, others allow a straight through double action trigger press. The hammer notches are often worn and may be welded up but the easier fix is to replace the hammer. The actuator on the end of the cocking lever (trigger) may not fully contact the hammer and may need to be built up or the trigger replaced.

When you are replacing parts please understand that the .36 and .44 revolvers differ.

The Starr revolver is generally well made of good material but even the youngest originals are now about one hundred and fifty five years old. When new they cost twice as much as Colt or Remington revolvers. This is the reason that Starr simplified their double action revolver to the single action type and became competitive with Colt, at the cost of the more modern double action trigger.

by RK Campbell
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Title Annotation:RESTORATION
Author:Campbell, R.K.
Publication:American Gunsmith
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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