November 17, 2010

Working Savage Slide-Action Rifles

While they are not as popular as they were 20 years ago, thousands of these rifles are still around. Many are in closets or elsewhere awaiting work. Some gun shops will not touch them as they are not familiar with the riflesí little quirks but it was a good rifle then and it can be a good rifle today, even though it may have been mistreated or abused.

The popularity of the pump shotgun for more than half a century made the Savage-manufactured pump rifles very popular also. These were sold under the Savage and Springfield names as well as the private brands of numerous mail order and hardware companies before the 1968 Gun Control Act.

While they are not as popular as they were 20 years ago, thousands of these rifles are still around. Many are in closets or elsewhere awaiting work. Some gun shops will not touch them as they are not familiar with the rifles’ little quirks but it was a good rifle then and it can be a good rifle today, even though it may have been mistreated or abused. A little TLC from a knowledgeable gunsmith will turn one of these Savage rifles back into a good shooter. Unless it has rusted away, I have never seen one that has been worn out. I have seen several put out of service by improper “kitchen table” gunsmithing.

The Savage Model 170 is the most common of these pump rifles but the Springfield 174, along with the Sears, Wards, Western Auto and several others, is basically the same rifle. The big difference is in the year they were made, not in the brand or model number. Savage used as many of the same internal parts as possible each year to make these different brands and models. However, many changes were made in these rifles as new ideas were tried from year to year. These often show up as series A, B, C, etc.

Savage also used parts from its other guns as often as possible to keep production costs down, so part numbers fall into strange combinations. Common sense would tell you that a breech bolt numbered 170A-25 would fit the Model 170 A, right? Sorry. It fits the Model 170 but only the “B” model. Then there is the A170A-25 breech bolt that fits the later model “B.” The contemporary company, Savage Arms, has never built a pump rifle and cannot help you with parts or information. This is all the more reason why some gunsmithing shops, that do not know these rifles, do not like to work on them. I must repeat what I have said in the past: Always compare the old part to any new part you are putting in to make sure all the dimensions are the same.

Being aware that things like the side locks were hand-fitted to each rifle will help you avoid problems when replacing or repairing these parts. More than one person has seen where all the bluing had been filed off the face of the slide lock and thought someone messed up his rifle when it was done at the factory by a skilled fitter.

Our work model will be the most common rifle in the series, the Savage Model 170. Let’s take it apart and look at some of this rifle’s traits and repair problems.

As the stock is bolted onto the trigger guard and not the receiver, you should always remove the stock before attempting to take down any receiver parts. After you take off the butt plate, you will remove the stock bolt with a large long-bladed screwdriver. Savage used a round head slotted stock bolt with a stock bolt washer and a lock washer. The tightened lock washer set that has not been removed for 20 years can sometimes be a problem but remember that it is screwed into a cast alloy trigger assembly that breaks easily. Use caution; these trigger guards assemblies are hard to get and expensive.

After removing the stock, you will want to loosen the trigger guard screw before driving out the trigger guard pin. Do not remove the trigger guard screw until the pin is out. This pin is easily damaged and, if in correctly, should be driven from left to right. This pin is grooved on one end to make it fit tightly when driven home. The groove should be on the right side of the receiver unless the last person put it back incorrectly. I find many of these pins badly damaged as people have abused them in the process of driving them in and out of the rifles. This is also true of the receiver holes for this pin as well as of the trigger housing itself.

As you slip the trigger group out of the receiver, make sure the slide lock assembly does not come off the trigger unit. There are two basic types of these slide lock assemblies. The one-piece unit is a long bar extending from the release button into the receiver and into the lock lip that catches on the slide assembly. The other is a two-piece system that has a slide lock release and a slide lock assembly. The one-piece unit’s release button extends from the receiver beside the rear of the trigger housing while the two-piece unit button comes through in front of the trigger. Calling them one and two-piece units may be confusing. Both types have slide lock springs and studs attached to them. However, the one-piece unit comes out in a single piece while the other comes out of the rifle in two parts.

These slide locks are often the most common problem on these rifles. The lock lip, the only thing that keeps the pump from opening the breech, often becomes loose with years of wear. Some shooters have the bad habit of pulling back on the pump while firing the rifle, which helps transfer recoil onto this small weak part and speeds its demise. This part can often be helped by hammering the lock lip flat again on an anvil but avoid bending it while you are doing this or it will not fit or work right. Badly worn slide locks can be welded and be recut. We have seen those that have been braised and they work well but the braising does not last as long as welds that have been done right. I think braising is far too soft and do not recommend it.

Before you start welding on the lock lips, make sure to get an exact drawing and measurements so you can cut the pieces back to the exact specifications that are needed. To get an idea of how badly this part is worn, do the following test: With the rifle completely assembled and the breech locked, work the pump to see how much the breech moves. Any movement over one millimeter with the action locked shows wear. Three millimeters of movement indicates dangerous wear. Now pull the pump back very softly until it is snug and press in the slide release. Without pressure, it should open easily when released and then pumped. It should be very hard to release with mild pressure against it by the pump. If it releases easily with pressure, it needs repair. If it pops open with pressure, it must be repaired.

The slide lock springs on these pump guns can be a real pain if they become bent. The shepherd’s crook on the front of this spring catches a lug on the hammer as it goes forward, which pulls the slide lock down as the rifle fires. This in turn releases the action so the gun can be pumped for another shot. If the spring drags the hammer or catches it wrong, the spring can cause the hammer to slow and create misfires. If it misses the lug, it will lock up the action. When it is bent to either side, it will bind the action one way or keep the action from feeding the other way. This part never messes up on its own; it only gets bent or messed up when it is outside the rifle. It may bend when it has been reassembled wrong or in the process of trying to reinstall it in the rifle while it is out of place. The most common cause is someone “adjusting it.” I have no idea how many times I have seen these springs with plier marks and bends on them.

Savage Slide-Action Rifles

To disassemble the gun, first loosen the trigger guard screw at the back of the receiver before driving out the trigger guard pin (part 33). Do not remove the trigger guard screw until the pin is out. As you slip the trigger group out of the receiver, make sure the slide lock assembly (part 44) does not come off the trigger unit. These slide locks are often a problem on these rifles because the lock lip is the only thing that keeps the pump from opening the breech.

If one has been messed up, assemble the whole trigger assembly and cock the hammer. While holding everything in place, release the hammer with your thumb holding it. Pull the trigger and let the hammer slowly go forward and watch to see if the stud on the hammer catches the slide lock spring. It should catch close to the end of the spring, in the shepherd’s crook. As it moves forward, the stud should slip into the round part of the spring, pulling the slide lock down about 4 millimeters. All this should happen without the spring’s dragging on any other part of the trigger assembly. Fortunately, the spring is tough and, unless it has been damaged too badly, it can be shaped most of the time. Unfortunately, there are so many variations of this rifle that there is no guarantee you’ll get the right slide lock assembly for what you’re working on even if you order parts from the best companies. If you cannot get it to work right, it might be because someone has already put the wrong part into the rifle.

Another key part in this slide lock assembly is the slide lock release spring. Like the slide lock spring, this little spring can be damaged easily. Most of the time, the spring is damaged by not being properly in place when the rifle is reassembled and fired. This part is not hard to obtain and interchanges in several models. The springs for the two-piece slide lock are also different from those in the one-piece slide. It is usually easy to straighten these to their original shape but remember, they all have a small bend close to the center. If this bend is not there, it will not work right.

The trigger and sear hardly ever gives a problem in these rifles unless someone unqualified has been working on them. These rifles come from the factory with triggers that satisfy most of the public. Recutting the sear for a softer trigger pull will make this rifle go off by itself when the breech is slammed closed or the stock receives a hard blow. This accidental firing will never occur with a factory stock trigger assembly. To take the trigger out for cleaning or work, slip the hammer bushing out while the hammer is in the fired position. This bushing is grooved to be held in place by its spring so it is very directional and will work only when correctly installed. The mainspring plunger and hammer spring, or mainspring as it is called in some parts books, can now be lifted out. The shell lifter assembly is held in place by two screws, one on each side of the trigger housing. Removing these screws allows the lifter assembly to be removed. I have no idea how many lifter assemblies there are in all these different rifles. It seems that Savage experimented with many slight different variations. Many of these lifters have been filed and ground on because some people think if the rifle does not feed correctly that filing or grinding away metal on the lifter will make it work again. One thing that does cause feeding problems here is when the lifter paw pin becomes loose and lets the lifter paw move around. This can be solved by tightening the lifter pin. The lifter spring should have enough snap to smartly push the lifter into place but if it is set too tight, the lifter will move too far and create a jam when feeding the shell into the barrel.

Always check that the shells are coming out of the magazine freely when you are having a feeding problem. When this action is pumped fast, it sometimes jams simply because the cartridges are not coming out of the magazine as quickly as the lifter is trying to raise them. This leaves the tip of the bullet still in the magazine as the cartridge is being lifted and a jam occurs.

The trigger and sear are pinned in place and have 10 parts, eight of which are very small. The trigger adjustment screw will adjust the travel movement of the trigger as the sear adjusting screw will set the sear’s depth into the hammer. When separating the sear from the trigger, remember that the trigger spring between these two parts is a strong little spring. The sear trip is held in place by a pin on the top of the trigger. It also has a small spring that is good at getting away from you if you disassemble it. The two set screws will give you all the adjustments needed for setting this trigger assembly.

The cartridge stops on these rifles, located on the right side of the receiver, are held in place by unique screw and nut combinations. These cartridge stop pivot screws and nuts are items any gun shop should have in stock because they are always getting lost and because they are interchangeable among almost all the old Savage rifles and pump shotguns. I wish I could say the same thing for what they hold in place, but the opposite is true. Savage made so many different cartridge stops with both slight and major variations that replacement is at best difficult. If adjustments become necessary due to wear, the parts must be heated before they can be bent. They will break otherwise. You must also re-temper the parts or they will not hold up.

Dirt and rust between the cartridge stop and the receiver are often to blame for these rifles’ failing to feed or, even worse, trying to feed two shells at the same time. Trying to force pump the rifle when the latter occurs is, in turn, the main cause of a lifter becoming bent.

There are three pressure points on these cartridge stops. The rear point is pushed down by the slide assembly as it comes fully back, which releases a shell onto the lifter. You may get a customer who complains that his rifle occasionally fails to feed a cartridge, causing him to snap on an empty chamber. That usually has more to do with technique than mechanical matters. If the Savage rifle is not pumped all the way back with enough vigor to operate this end of the action stroke, the breech will close without picking up another round. There is not much you can do; the gun was designed this way and it only gets worse as the gun gets older. The owner has to learn how much force to apply for the gun to work correctly. A dirty gun will require more force than a clean gun.

Savage Slide-Action Rifles

The second pressure point of the cartridge stop is an arm that comes straight up from the bar and is pushed down by the return of the slide assembly. This allows the third pressure point—the tip—to slip onto the base of the next cartridge coming out of the magazine and hold it there until the rifle is pumped again. The last point is the one people always try to adjust. Don’t do anything to it until you have made sure the cartridge stop pivot screw and nut are tight and are not allowing the cartridge stop to wiggle around inside the receiver. This makes the others move properly. Only when these are correct and the cartridge stop is moving like it should, do you make an adjustment on the cut off tip.

Now we will slip the slide assembly and breech block out of the rifle. Pull the pump all the way back, reach inside the receiver with a small screwdriver, and pry the operating bar away from the slide. After pushing it forward so it cannot re-lock into the slide assembly, you can reach into the receiver and remove the slide assembly and the breech bolt. The slide assembly will come off the breech bolt. Make sure the firing pin retractor is working on the top of the slide plate. It should move freely up and down in its tower without any bind. It is held in place by a pin and has a small spring under it. The slide plate itself is very tough and needs work only if it has been damaged.

The breech bolt components often need work. The firing pin is fairly tough by most standards but must occasionally be replaced, though not often. It is held in place by a single pin located in the top rear of the breech bolt. The firing pins are often interchangeable with those from other Savage guns but bear in mind that—especially on older guns—you cannot be sure the last person who worked on it put the right one in. Check out everything and compare the replacement firing pin to the original before installing. When installing the pin, make sure its slots are in proper alignment before you replace the firing pin retaining pin. The firing pin return spring is very small but very important. These rifles have been known to slam fire when the springs are left out. You should also closely check the pins’ diameter. Some are larger than others, but still can be put into the small hole breech bolt. Such pins tend to get stuck in the firing position, causing a slam fire.

Replacing extractors on these rifles is a common job because of their design. The right and left extractor springs on these rifles are not the same, and must not be mixed up, even though they look alike. The extractor plungers are the same both left and right but the extractors themselves are not. They are pressure point dog leg extractors similar to those found on Remington shotguns and, like the Remington extractors, can be taken out with a small screwdriver. This is why some get lost while hunting or cleaning. These bolts have shell stops built into the face of the breech bolt. A pin in the front of the receiver holds the shell stop and shell stop spring in place in the bolt face.

The ejector assemblies of these rifles often need repair or replacement. They are held inside the left rear of the receiver by one small screw. The most common problems are caused when this screw loosens and lets the ejectors fall into the working action of the rifle. This occasionally causes major damage but most of the time, it just jams the action. The ejectors have five parts, including the spring and screw. You have the ejector body, ejector plunger, plunger spring and a pin to hold the plunger and spring in place. The good news here is that replacements for these parts are usually available.

Savage attached its magazine tube/pump assemblies to the barrels with a magazine tube yoke or barrel band. Loosening the two screws on each side will release this entire assembly. These screws go into a barrel lug that fits between the inside body of the yoke.

With the breech bolt out of the rifle and the yoke removed, it is easy to slip the magazine tube out of the receiver with the action arm (operating handle). Once out, the operating handle will slip off the magazine tube and the forearm wood can be removed by unscrewing the front collar. The fine threads on the front collar are very often cross-threaded or otherwise messed up, as are the threads on the operating handle. This is the only thing holding the wooden forearm pump to the rifle’s action so shooters really get upset when they come apart because of stripped threads. This is also one of the more common problems that occurs with these Savage rifles. I have seen the collars glued, fiberglassed, welded, braised, and even assembled with plumber’s joint tape in attempts to hold them together. New parts are best, but many of these techniques have actually worked. Most can be secured by screwing the collar down deeper onto the operating handle tube. Try it without the wooden forearm on the operating handle tube, making sure it gets a good hold so it will not come off. If it does, removing some wood from the forearm will allow the threads to better grip each other. I use a monotool to remove enough wood from the front end of the forearm to seat the collar deeper with almost 100 percent success.

As a final check, make sure the magazine tube and follower are operating and free of rust, dirt or other foreign matter. The forearm should be well-seated and properly aligned with the operating handle and the collar must be tight and holding well. When the magazine tube is reassembled, the notch cut into the top front must fit snugly onto the barrel lug before the yoke is tightened.

While some customers happily pay for your time if it means getting their trusty Savage back into shape, others figure that because it’s a cheap gun repairs should only cost a few dollars. That in itself is a double-edged sword. The very fact that the rifle isn’t expensive is what prompts so many owners to attempt repairs themselves. As a result, the ‘smith should be wary of giving a low estimate on fixing one of these old Savage pump rifles because you’re never sure what you will find once you get inside.