Working the Winchester 88
Out of production for decades years now, the biggest problem in performing work on this rifle is getting parts to fix it.
Many of us miss Winchester’s Model 88. First revealed in 1955 as “a bolt action rifle with a lever,” it shared few features with levered Winchesters made up to that time. It had no external hammer, no side-loading tubular magazine limited to flat-nosed rounds, and no rear breech lock-up. It had a full-length stock to dampen barrel vibrations, a removable box magazine that allowed hunters to take advantage of better ballistics pointed bullets provided, and combined lever/trigger assemblies, which eliminated the pinched fingers and snagged gloves known so well to lever gunners. The 88’s biggest departure from Winchester’s lever-action tradition, however, was its rotary bolt head incorporating a trio of locking lugs that was very close to Mauser’s design of the late 1880s.
Like most new firearms, the 88 went through a number of modifications after it had been exposed afield to a variety of conditions in a variety of hands. Its recoil lug, originally three-humped in shape, was rounded off to eliminate stock splitting. Its magazine follower was changed to stop double-feeding. Its safety plunger and spring were reworked to prevent binding and overlocking. Other modifications included a stronger firing-pin alloy, refined chambering techniques to make opening the action easier, a redesigned ejector, and reduction of trigger creep by almost 50 percent.
In its first year, the 88 was offered exclusively in .308 Winchester. In 1956, calibers .243 and .358 were added. In 1963, the rifle was made available in Winchester’s new .284. By the end of its production in 1973, a tad over 255,500 Model 88 rifles had come off the line. Its carbine version, introduced in 1968, was discontinued in 1972 after a total run of about 28,000 in calibers .243, .308 and .284. Less than 8,000 of the latter caliber were ever made. If you run across a pre-1964 Model 88 rifle chambered for .284 with cut checkering, you’ve found a rare bird. Fewer than 3,000 of that version exist.
So, even though the 88 may only be a curiosity, it’s an interesting gun to look at in terms of mechanical function.
Inside the Model 88
Takedown of an 88 begins by making sure the chamber is empty and removing the magazine. Secure the gun by its barrel in a padded vise, lever side up, and remove the stock screw located near the stock’s front end. Lift the stock off the barreled action by grasping the forend and pivoting the stock around its recoil block at the rear of the receiver. Set the barreled action aside.
Fit a wooden filler block in the receiver opening of the stock to prevent crushing it, clinch it in the vise right side up and completely remove the top buttplate screw counterclockwise. Loosen the bottom buttplate screw enough to allow the plate to swing down around it. The large hole in the butt houses the recoil block screw. Find a dowel or piece of bar stock as close to the diameter of the hole as you can and turn it down to just barely under that diameter. Select a flat-blade screwdriver with a shank long enough to reach the recoil lock screw and a head that fits the screw’s slot.
Micrometer the diameter of the screwdriver’s shaft near its blade end, dead center drill the turned down piece to the same diameter for at least an inch, then cut off a half inch slice of it. Grind the flared ends off the screwdriver until you can slip the pilot collar you just finished making on to the shank. Expect to move the collar toward the handle a little bit to get a snug fit.
You’ve just gone to all this trouble because the collar will serve to guide the blade into the screw slot and keep it there while you remove the recoil block screw without ripping its head off. Once the screw is free, lift out the recoil block, remove the stock from the vise and tilt it down over your bench. The screw and its washer will fall out.
Place the barreled action back in the vise lever side up. The hammer pin is located under the forward part of the trigger/lever assembly. The rear link pin is located under the trigger’s rear at the top of the receiver. (Presently the bottom because the receiver is inverted.) Measure the OD of those pins and cut two pieces of drill rod to match. Each piece should be 3/4-inch long, are called slave pins, and are shorter than the pins you’ll be drifting out.
Place a slave pin over the hammer pin, position your punch on the slave pin and drive out the hammer pin. Then place a slave pin over the rear link pin, position your punch on the slave pin, and drive out the link pin. The action may now be removed upward and to the rear intact.
To disassemble the action, slightly spread the links at the rear of the bolt sleeve to free their studs from the holes in the forward section of the rear link. Don’t bend the bolt sleeve links in the process. Set the bolt sleeve aside for the moment. The rear links have L-shaped slots with studs in them. Carefully work the studs out of the slots, then push out the rear link slave pin to remove the guard latch assembly. This assembly houses the hammer catch and hammer catch spring, which are retained by a pin that is staked in. If you have to replace the catch or spring for any reason, you’ll have to restake the pin whether you replace it or not. For restaking, you’ll either have to grind one of your punches down so its end has a 3/16-inch radius or use a hardened, 3/16-inch steel ball. If you can find one the right size, a ball bearing is perfect for this purpose.
Next, hold the trigger/lever assembly in one hand and pull the hammer lock back. Control the hammer with your free hand, pull the trigger, and ease the hammer into its fired position. Drifting out the hammer slave pin will now let you remove the hammer, hammer spring guide rod, hammer spring and spring guide. The rod, spring and guide are retained by a pin in the hammer which can be drifted out if any of those three components need replacement.
Place the trigger/lever assembly in a padded vise lever side up and tilted so you can get at the trigger pin. This is another of those staked-in pins and can be driven out from either side to allow you to remove the trigger, hammer lock, and trigger spring.
The safety comes next. With the assembly out of the vise, grasp the safety between a thumb and forefinger, rotate it 90 degrees in either direction and push it out along with its spring. The lever and its spring are held in the trigger guard by yet another staked-in pin. Like any similar pin you remove, it must be restaked on reassembly.
Except for a couple of caveats, the bolt and bolt sleeve are fairly simple to disassemble. One of those caveats concerns the firing pin retaining pin. It’s thicker on one end than the other and may be grooved for half its length as well. The pin must be driven out left to right and replaced left to right.
Trying to hammer it back in thick end first, which is to your left as you look at the fully assembled bolt from the rear, guarantees damage to the pin, the bolt, the firing pin or all three.
With the retaining pin removed, grasp both front links and slide them forward to align their pin with its take-down groove in the bolt sleeve. Drifting out the pin allows you to remove the links, firing pin and firing pin spring. Taking out the cam lock pin, bolt and bolt sleeve lock completes disassembly of the sleeve.
Now for the bolt itself. To take out the extractor, depress the detent plunger in the face of the bolt with a suitable pin or punch. Push in on the extractor and slide it down out of its dovetail while being prepared to prevent the plunger and its spring from flying out. This brings us to the second caveat. Don’t remove the ejector unless it’s going to be replaced.
However, if you must remove the ejector, drive its retaining pin downward—toward the extractor dovetail—until the ejector is free of the pin.
Do not drive the pin all the way out.
The ejector and its spring should fall out after you tap the bolt face on your bench a couple of times. If they don’t, they are probably crudded in, and you’ll have to go fishing for them with a dental pick.
One other assembly that can be damaged and need repair is the magazine lock. It’s located forward of the receiver and aft of the barrel. Simply drive out the pivot pin to remove the lock and its spring. Removing the lock’s housing is not recommended, but if it becomes necessary, drive the housing from its dovetail left to right.
Since it can cause more than one problem, one of the first issues to discuss on the Model 88 is headspace. On this gun, headspace isn’t determined by “go” and “no go” gauges alone like on most other guns. To determine if an 88 has developed excessive headspace, you must look through the magazine opening in the bottom of the stock as well. Close the bolt on the empty chamber and note its position in relation to the locking cut. Applying light pressure to the locking lug with a screwdriver blade or punch will rotate the bolt further. With a “go” gauge in the chamber, the bolt should rotate to the same position it did on an empty chamber. If it rotates further, it’s an indication headspace exceeds minimum. That’s OK. With a “no go” gauge installed, however, the bolt shouldn’t rotate any further than it did on an empty chamber even under pressure. If it does, excessive headspace is present, and the gun should be returned to the factory to have the condition corrected.
Excessive headspace, beside being dangerous, is a cause of accuracy problems. So is a loose forearm screw, a damaged muzzle and metal fouling in the bore. You can recrown the muzzle with tooling available from Brownells. Tightening and cleaning are cures for the other two.
Chances are better, though, that the cause for lost accuracy can be found in the stock. The barrel should bear on the bottom of the channel only at the forend’s tip. This bearing point can range from a point the size of a pencil lead to 1/2 inch. If you see any glazed spots other than a that point, it indicates the stock is warping and the barrel is touching the wood in places it shouldn’t. Scrape them away, but don’t remove the slight interference between the magazine lock housing and the stock. It’s supposed to be there. Of course, if the stock is too badly warped, it has to be replaced.
If the action opens hard after firing, it could be due to excessive headspace. Then again, maybe it’s not. Remove the extractor, plunger and spring from the rifle, then open the action to see if it opens freely when not extracting a fired case.
Not sticky anymore? Check the chamber for surface finish. Is it rough or ringed? You might be able to lightly polish out the defects. Also check the ejector retaining pin to be sure it’s not protruding and binding in the receiver.
Another cause for a stubborn action is interference with the bolt.
You can check this out by closing the action on a sized, dummy case, pulling the trigger to release the hammer, and looking inside the magazine well to observe the hammer hitting the firing pin. Keep your eye on them while you slowly open the action to see if the hammer is being retracted before the bolt begins to rotate. (Unless the firing pin spring is broken, the firing pin will follow the hammer rearward.) If the hammer doesn’t cam back with the initial stroke, the bolt cannot be unlocked. Look for signs of battering of the hammer on the guard. These show up due to dry firing when the guard has been disassembled, and I’ve yet to fathom why some gun owners do this. Sometimes you can stone down the battered area, sometimes you can’t. If you can’t, you’ll need a new guard assembly. There are also causes for hard opening and cocking that can be traced to the rear links. Check all surfaces for burrs or rough spots. If you find them, stone them smooth. If the links are bent. replace them.
Feeding troubles, if not caused by a battered or distorted magazine, can happen when the cartridge is held down in front by a sharp corner on the receiver lugs. If so, you can carefully file down that particular corner to correct the problem. If filing doesn’t do it, the rifle has to be returned to the factory for lug modification. The best cure for a bad magazine is a new magazine, but you may be able to straighten out obviously distorted lips or a bent follower.
In its original design, the Model 88 had a trigger stop pin. If a shooter was wearing heavy gloves, the gloves could prevent him from fully closing the lever. This kept the trigger stop pin forward and prevented pulling the trigger far enough to release the hammer. The result, as you’d expect, was a failure to fire.
The trigger stop pin was later eliminated by Winchester, but if you come across an 88 that still has one, you can avoid the problem it creates by doing two things: (1) Throw it away; (2) Replace the hammer catch with a new, modified version. When you’re not faced with a trigger stop pin, check elsewhere if the complaint is a failure to fire or let off. Open the action with the hammer cocked and pull the trigger. The hammer will fall until it engages the hammer catch. When you close the action, the hammer should remain in its cocked position. If it doesn’t, replace the guard latch, guard latch spring, guard latch spring abutment, hammer catch and hammer lock.
Any search for the cause of extraction/ejection problems begins with the extractor and the ejector. Use a cartridge case to push the extractor away from the center of the bolt. If it doesn’t return freely to its original position, replace the extractor, plunger and spring. You should also check the face of the barrel for signs of interference between it and the extractor. If you see any, replace the extractor. To clear up weak or no ejection problems, see if the ejector is binding. If the bind is caused by something other than dirt, replace the ejector and its spring.
Winchester stopped making the Model 88 because manufacturing it was too labor intensive, and now, securing parts for one may be just as labor intensive. U.S. Repeating Arms Company doesn’t carry Model 88 parts, but outfits like The Gun Parts Corporation in West Hurley, New York, or Pennsylvania Gun Parts in York Springs, Pennsylvania, may from time to time.