December 17, 2012

Repairing Inexpensive Colt 22 Rifles: Courier, Colteer and Stagecoach

Colt .22 rifles aren’t classics, but they can be fixed up. Here are some tips that will help the gunsmith get these guns going again.

(GunReports.com Special Report) -- If someone were to ask you which products Colt has sold over the years, would you say a .22 semiautomatic rifle? I didn’t think you would. Colt made three versions of .22 rifles, the Courier, Colteer and Stagecoach, as well as others under several private-label names for Sears, Wards and other companies. This alloy rifle shot well, but did not hold up well. Unless it was kept oiled and clean, the alloy parts wore very rapidly. In spite of this, the little Colt rifles were good enough lightweight shooters that most owners will pay to get them fixed rather than discard theirs.

Parts for this rifle are available from one or more of the large parts companies, but they often do not fit or work well. Sometimes when production is stopped, whatever parts are left over are sold in bulk to whoever wants them. This is good, in the sense that parts are available to repair guns. The downside is that the bulk quantity often includes the scraps, rejects, discards or mistakes that are lying around the plant. Given the Colt rifle’s cast and stamped parts, it seems there were many of these problem pieces around.

There are any number of problems that can occur with the Colt .22 rifle, most commonly failure to fire, feed, or eject, a loose barrel, firing when the safety is turned off, a nonworking safety, and breech sticking. You may often run into a combination of more than one of the above.

Courtesy, American Gunsmith Book of the Rifle

Courtesy, American Gunsmith Book of the Rifle

Check the following items regardless of the information the owner gives you, keeping in mind that one of the problems with this rifle has been that some fire by themselves—especially as you feed live ammunition through this one. If the owner says his has never gone off by itself, then feed some shells through it, always keeping the barrel pointed to a safe spot.

If the rifle is dirty, you are not going to be able to tell anything until it has been cleaned. If it appears clean, go ahead and check it out before taking it apart. If it is dirty, or has a gritty feel as you work the bolt, strip and clean it. There is no need to describe takedown twice, so I will skip it for now until I have discussed how to look for problems.

Where To Look

On a reasonably clean rifle, check the safety first to see if it appears to be working correctly. Place it on “safe.” Next, we can check for failure to feed or eject by loading about six cartridges in the magazine tube, double checking that it is on safe. Push the follower in and out of the inside tube to make sure it is moving without any problem. If it sticks or feels gritty, clean out the inside tube by driving out the magazine-tube cap pin to allow the magazine cap to be removed before you go any further. As the cap comes off, the magazine follower spring will be released. You may remove it and the follower for complete cleaning. A .30-caliber rifle brush works great for cleaning out the inside of the magazine tube.

With the tube cleaned and oiled, insert the inside tube into the outside tube and lock it in place. At first, pull the bolt slowly back to see if the cartridge lifter is moving the cartridge slowly up into place or if it is rising with a jerky movement. Feed it through and do it again. If it seems smooth, feed several rounds through by opening the action quickly and releasing the breech bolt. This will allow the action to feed normally. If the shells jam at this point, check the extracted cartridges and examine the nose of each bullet to see if the front edge is rising too high and hanging on the top of the barrel or too low. If it has scrape marks, the cartridges are too high or too low. By watching, you will be able to tell which.

If the cartridges are feeding into the barrel but sometimes fail to eject, see if the extractor is pulling them out of the barrel. If it isn’t, you will have to correct this situation before any other tests can be conducted. We’ll describe this in full as when detailing the disassembly of the rifle. When the cartridges are being extracted from the chamber but not ejected, there could be several reasons in addition to its having a bad ejector. Just make a note for now as we continue our test.

Checking for a loose barrel is often overlooked, as this isn’t one of the things we normally check on rifles. We need to on this one. It can be tightened if it is loose. A loose barrel will cause several problems, including poor feeding and poor accuracy.

It is now time to fire the rifle, the only true test even if the hand tests seemed to work out in every way. This is also the only way to check for misfiring. When the rifle misfires, check the rim of the misfired cartridge to see if the dent is light, heavy, or nonexistent. When the dent seems heavy enough but the cartridge did not fire, check the front of the dent to see if the front rim is pushed forward along with the back edge. A loose or damaged barrel will cause this. Dry firing a rimfire firearm can drive the firing pin into the rim of the barrel until the barrel is damaged to the point the rifle will no longer fire reliably. The loose barrel can be tightened to solve the problem.

You may have already noticed the breech having a tendency to stick in the other tests you have done. If you have not noticed it by now, it probably is all right but let’s give it a good test anyway. Work the breech without ammunition, using the rubber eraser on a pencil to apply inward pressure on the breech bolt as you work it. Enough pressure will hold any bolt back, but small amounts of pressure will show if there are spots on which the bolt hangs.

Now it is time to take this little rifle apart and fix what ails it. Remove the magazine tube from the rifle and then the forearm screw, which will allow the forearm to be pulled down and off the rifle. The trigger guard pin is located under the forearm wood at the front of the receiver. After the trigger guard pin is removed, pull the front of the trigger guard housing down while simultaneously pulling the breech bolt back. This will release the trigger guard assembly so it can be pulled out the bottom of the receiver. Take care that the breech bolt does not come off the charging handle until you are ready to remove it. The charging handle is the recoil spring assembly and fits into a groove cut into the top of the breech bolt. The breech bolt can now be removed from the bottom of the receiver. The recoil spring assembly can also be removed at this time.

Once this is all out, check the barrel again to see if there is any looseness between it and the alloy receiver. Even if it seemed tight before all the internal parts were removed, it may now feel loose. A loose barrel in this rifle can and will cause many of its problems. If the barrel is loose, it will be necessary to remove the magazine tube before removing the barrel. Loosen the front barrel band screw but do not remove it at this time. The barrel lug to which the front forearm screw is attached also holds the magazine retaining pin that must be driven out. Once it is removed, remove the front barrel band screw. This will allow the barrel band to come off in two pieces. Pulling the magazine tube toward the muzzle, it will come out of the receiver.

At this point, the barrel can be removed from the receiver by driving out the barrel retaining pin that is located just above the trigger guard retaining pin. There are several ways to tighten a loose barrel.

Check the face of the chamber for damage from dry firing the rifle. If the rifle has been failing to feed or has a scratch mark across the head of an extracted cartridge, the top of the chamber may have been damaged by dry firing. If there is a deep dent in the chamber face where the firing pin has been hitting the barrel, a small lump of metal may have been forced down into the chamber from the force of the firing pin. This can be removed with a small round file and will allow the cartridges to feed correctly again. But if the area is damaged too badly, it may be allowing the firing pin to just bend the rim of a cartridge without firing it. This is what we described earlier. When this is the case, the only possible repair is for you to make a very weld on the damaged area of the barrel and re-chamber the striking area. The re-chambering is not difficult with a proper chambering tool if the weld was done correctly. This type of weld requires great skill by the welder as it not only must be done just right but the heat must not damage the barrel or change its temper. Even so, it is easier than re-barreling the rifle.

Attempting to bend the sides back in to tighten the barrel will cause the receiver to crack. Some gunsmiths use a thin lead scope shim to fit into the receiver and force the barrel back in, making it tight again. The best way is to mix up a small amount of stock bedding glass, put a thin coat on the barrel, and a thin coat into the receiver. Let the glass dry and try to fit the two parts. You may have to sand some areas to get the right fit and you may also have to apply a little more glass to some areas, but this will make a perfect and very tight fit. It will also make the rifle tight and strong. I have never seen a rifle repaired in this manner need work a second time, regardless of use.

Turning to the breech bolt, we can solve several problems that might need to be taken care of at this time. Wiggle the extractor back and forth to see if it has proper tension. Also check it for excessive play up and down. Some of the more badly worn extractors will just fall out when you do this. We have described the repair of dog-leg extractors before so we’ll be brief this time. If replacing the spring is not sufficient to tighten it, it will be necessary to replace all three parts. The extractor’s front edge needs to be sharp enough to grip the brass and pull it out. Sometimes it can be filed just enough to renew the edge but be careful not to overdo any filing. There is no extra metal on these extractors to waste.

Failures to fire, or damage from excess dry firing, may require the repair or replacement of the Colt firing pin, a flat plat of steel held in place by a retaining pin. It must be driven out from right to left, as it has a head on its left side. The pin is free floating and sometimes its only problem is that it collects a lot of dirt and trash that prevents its free movement. I have never seen one of the Colt recoil assemblies that needed to be replaced, but check it out and make sure it is clean and not bent.

Other Problems

This rifle’s trigger assembly has 29 parts, many of them moving, and six springs. I hope you will not need to take it apart. If you need to, take it apart in a box with a cloth cover covering everything but a small see through hole. Otherwise you will lose parts and reassembly is even worse. It is possible to repair parts of the trigger assembly without disassembling the whole thing. For example, the safety often gets stuck on the Colt. It can be taken apart and cleaned without any problems. Just removing the safety detent spring and detent from the rear of the trigger guard, by removing the retaining pin, will allow the safety bar to come out the left side of the rifle. Sometimes the face of the ball will get rough and need polishing. This is also true of the safety bar face itself. Again, just polish off the roughness.

The ejector plate fits on the left side of the trigger assembly and can be slipped off for cleaning or repair. These are very hard to get, so be careful with yours. If it has been rounded off, it can be recut. Increasing the notch size and making the ejector face square with the rest of the ejector will help the rifle eject more forcefully. Do not attempt to recut the sear on this rifle to obtain a softer trigger. The trigger is already so soft that they would not be permitted to manufacture it today under current federal safety standards. Broken trigger parts must be replaced with new ones.

The worst problem this rifle can face is the wearing out of its feed throat and lifter. Just about all the new ones I have seen are miscast, rejected parts that were sold as scrap when manufacture of parts for this rifle was discontinued. You will be a great gunsmith if you can re-manufacture one of them into a working set. A common problem here is that either the right or left throat will have a part broken off. Nothing will work but replacement, so good luck. Some will just have worn until they are loose, which makes the lifter loose to where it jams as it wobbles around inside the feed throats.

Thin shims of equal thickness on each side of the outside of both throats will tighten the throat set inside the trigger housing. Just make sure and do not try to short cut by just doing it on one side. It will work part time, but it must be balanced to work right. A loose lifter can be carefully drilled and a larger pin through it rear pin hole will hold it tight.