Sunday, January 10, 2010

Webley Bulldog, an old fascination and a new project

MANY years ago I had acquired some books on guns one of which was a recap of the famous Stagecoach collection. In it was a Bulldog revolver. It looked purposeful, sturdy and interesting. Years after that came the movie "The Wind and the Lion" in which a character pulls his Bulldog revolver to defend the heroine and uses it to good effect, until he empties the cylinder.  How unfortunate that it looks like it was really an RIC or Metropolitan Police!  No matter.  These two things have put the love of the Webley Bulldog in my soul.

Of course, the Bulldog shows up in other movies. In "Joe Kidd" Helen arms herself with one and holds her Webley Bulldog on Sheriff Bob Mitchell (Gregory Walcott) in the courthouse. In "Unforgiven" English Bob has to give up his Bulldog to the Sheriff before he's beaten.  In the recent movie "Sherlock Holmes" Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes manage to fire a cylinder full of ammo each.  There's even a hint of black powder smoke. Apparently, Peter O'Toole carries one in a 2008 movie, "The Iron Road". 

The ammo?  A great example of the type of cartridges for which the bulldogs were chambered is the .455 Webley.  Ok, so these were mostly chambered for the .44 Webley.  Still this was a short stubby, large caliber cartridge producing rather sedate velocities from even longer barreled guns, these are cartridges for sitting room distances.  These were guns for self-defense.

Most all of this ammo used black powder, the propellant of the time.  Most all of the bullets used were lead and most likely swaged projectiles with round noses.  Neither black powder nor the lack of hollow-points (or, alternatively, a big flat meplat) would be accepted by modern users.  Perhaps something could be done about this, but not in original guns.

It is also an unfortunate truth that President Garfield was killed with an American made copy of this gun.  Long a resident of the Smithsonian, it has been on the MIA role for almost an equally long time now. 

Perhaps it is this fascination with the Bulldog that is manifest in my accumulation of modern snub-nose revolvers. I certainly have been accumulating quite a few of those lately. Unfortunately, I seldom see one of the Webley revolvers much less one for sale.  I want one.  Moreover, I want to shoot it.  I might even want to carry it!  How to do this?  Perhaps a project is in order.  How about building a new Webley Bulldog from modern materials?

Now before you go ape on me and point out that Charter Arms has just such a revolver let me reiterate that I want to re-create the Webley British Bulldog.  I think the .44 Special is a bit long a cartridge for what I want.  Maybe the .44 Russian will work, maybe the .45 AR, maybe the .45 Cowboy.  I think the original .455 Webley and predecessors are just too hard to get brass for and also, the appropriately sized barrel blanks might be much easier to acquire with .451"-.452" groove diameters.

I got Mr. Layman's book yesterday and read it last night after work. Worth every penny for the excellent illustrations as well as the information some of which is applicable to other interests! I also discovered that Mr. Layman and I had some things in common other than gun interests. Great read but I've already started to go back over certain sections, there was a lot to absorb! I'll have to write a detailed book review.

-Webley Solid Frame Revolvers - 2008 by Black, Ficken & Michaels
-THE BRITISH BULLDOG REVOLVER The Forgotten Gun that Really Won the West by George Layman
-Those Confusing .455s by Chris Punnett


Unknown said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your post while looking at the bulldogs online. I too have become fasintated with these little guys and would also like to own, shoot, and carry one. I think the biggest problem with that is finding sudible ammo for them.If there was a modern re-creation that shot a size of ammo that was redily available, I would be all for having one. A type of ammo you might think about is the .45GAP. It is a shortend .45 made for Glock. Good Luck!

Caleb said...

i actually have a .380 british bulldod but was wonderin if u knew if the .380 ammo made know would work for it?

BigM-Perazzi said...

the .45 GAP is rimless, won't work.

I'm also considering the .45 Cowboy for my .44 Webley. probably find a .442 dia bullet and forgo the heeled bullet design. Also trying to locate some .45 AR...

Jim Chapman

Anonymous said...

.44 Special or .44 Magnum brass. Shorten them. Then (obviously using a precisely sized for tight fit mandrel inside the case, on your lathe thin the front (topside, not the headstamp side) of the rim enough to allow cylinder rotation. Much talk on the web about using hollow based bullets and custom molds. Too hard to find and too much work. Easier is to use a 200 grain lead .45 acp bullet swaged down to precisely 44 caliber. Mike your bore diameter to make sure is .442, You must use Black powder as those old pistols were NOT designed for smokeless powder. You will need a custom crimping die of course.

superc said...

I like these little revolvers and I have several of them.

Regarding Caleb's question about the .380 variant, NO modern 380 auto pistol ammo has no connection to the old round. The old .380 revolver round was known under a variety of names and came in multiple flavors (lengths). .380 Rook, .380 short revolver, .380 long revolver. In Europe it is sometimes ca;led the 9.8mm x 28R and 9.8mm x 25R. In the US the .38 Short Colt and the .38 Long Colt were copied from it. Sometime around 1904 Colt thickened the rims on their variant. Smith and Wesson later copied the design, lengthened the case and changed from a heeled bullet to an inside the case bullet and called the new round the .38 Special.

Depending on the cartridge maker shorter versions also exist. The original .380 revolver/rook round was a black powder load. The .380 Rook was used in both single shot rifles called Rook rifles (designed for shooting crows or rabbits in a vegetable patch) and also in many single shot pistols and revolvers of the Bulldog type.

Never, ever, use modern smokeless powder in a weapon designed for black powder. You can burst the gun and lose a finger or an eye if you do so.

All that being said, if you go to
I recently added a blog (includes videos) about making .380 revolver ammunition and shooting it experimentally in a French made Bulldog revolver. Essentially using a plumber's tubing cutter one shortens a .38 Special case to 0.7 inches, then in a lathe (as shown in the video) the case rim is thinned from the mouth back to about 0.02 inches of thickness. That will give you the cartridge cases. The bullet type is a true .38 (rather than the .355 used by the .38 Specials). Both bullets and molds for them are available as special orders online. Also .377 lead balls such as used in Colt 1851 percussion revolvers are also usable. A suggested beginning powder charge for them is 10 grains of FFF black powder under a 124 grain lead bullet.

Regarding the .442, be advised again there are several different names and varieties usable. The English versions were the .442 Trantor and the .442 Webley. In the US a shorter, less potent round that also works in these guns is the .44 Bulldog. To my knowledge Western Scrounger was the last US maker to commercially sell loaded .44 Bulldog ammunition. They have been bankrupt and gone for almost a decade but one still encounters their product now and then at gunshows. Rounds for the .442 Webley can be made by reducing .44 Special/Magnum or .44 Russian brass to a length of 0.7" and again trimming down the rim from front to back to about 0.02" thickness. Again this is a heeled bullet design so either one buys a mold, or one buys heeled bullets online or one uses .44 caliber lead balls of the type used by Walker Dragoons and similar percussion revolvers.

It is also worth noting that there existed a longer Australian version of the cartridge intended for shooting Kangaroos from a rifle. It too is called the 442 Rook or the 442 Roo. That cartridge is also black powder only. It varies from the Webley variant in that the empty case is a full inch long instead of just 0.7 inch.

Originally the .44 Webley was a black powder cartridge. The situation became more complicated shortly before WWI when some manufacturers produced smokeless powder versions of the revolver and some ammunition makers did likewise. As a result smokeless .442 Webley ammunition was available commercially until shortly after WW2 ended. My personal advice is unless you know for a fact that your .44 Webley firearm is one of the later ones designed for use with smokeless gunpowder, stick with the black powder.