Keith No. 5 Grip Frames
From Grand Masters L.L.C.
Throw out this question to a congress of your shooting cronies some time: Who is the dean of modern sport revolver shooting? Unless you run with a crowd of brain dead, ill-informed numbskulls, they will shout out in unison “Why, Elmer Keith, of course, you dolt. Can’t believe you don’t know that!” Okay, now for a very slightly more subtle question: Aside from the S&W .44 Magnum M29, what gun springs to mind at the sound of his name? While the assembled experts might mull this matter a moment, the most likely answer will be “What are you smoking? Surely you read the April 1929 issue of the American Rifleman magazine which introduced the Keith No. 5 revolver, perhaps the most influential custom revolver ever made!”
The revolver Elmer Keith commissioned reflected his view of the perfect working revolver, based on the best technology of the time. Photos and commentary on this gun showed up regularly for the next eight decades in the popular press. One might say the .44 Magnum caliber eventually descended from it. Certainly, the grip shape informed the Ruger Bisley model grip frame.
Now, here’s a question you could ask your friends that won’t get you in a lot of trouble: Why doesn’t anybody make a Keith No. 5-style revolver now? You’ll get a pregnant silence with much head scratching. There is no really good answer except the huddled masses aren’t screaming for one loudly enough to encourage major revolver makers to build an example. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.
The new Power Custom Keith No. 5 parts are all you need to
build a credible version from a Ruger single action.
Custom revolver builders have built a few No. 5-style guns over the years, using a variety of basic guns from USFA, Colt and Ruger. While interest remains high, commissions don’t come rolling in for custom revolver builders mostly because making up the grip frames in the Keith No. 5 style is a time consuming operation (read expensive). Further, most custom revolver shops are small mom-and-pop outfits who don’t have the capital, machinery or know-how to produce such parts in quantity. Happily, that has changed.
Revolver impresario Ron Power, operating these days as Grand Masters, L.L.C. (formerly Power Custom), keeps adding to his line of gun parts. Ron and son Randall manufacture a considerable line of revolver tools and parts rendering contemporary revolversmiths positively giddy. The latest in a line of 2-piece, single-action grip frames is a Keith No. 5 faithfully copied from a tracing of the original. Now, rather than undertaking the laborious blacksmithing a custom-fabricated grip frame entails, you can procure a first-rate, ready-made part with just a phone call.
Installation of the parts is not complicated but does involve a bit of skill with a file since the parts are made oversize to accommodate virtually all Rugers. I like to true up the mating surfaces on both receiver and grip frames in order to achieve as seamless a fit as possible. Once the grip frames are filed and polished into the sides of the receiver, the upper grip frame section can be properly shaped and blended. Nothing here to trouble a reasonably experienced hobbyist gunsmith. I do find fitting grip frames far easier if the barrel is removed and replaced with a holding mandrel allowing me to hold the assembly in a vise and position the work best for the filing and polishing.
These are not drop-on parts and will require a bit
of fitting and shaping with files for proper results.
The Keith No. 5 grip frame set uses the standard SAA triggerguard and modified Bisley backstrap (as did the original gun) and has an integral mainspring bracket, which simplifies 1-piece grip installations. The Bisley-based backstrap, however, isn’t compatible with such grip sets since the upper grip frame screws are covered with the grips installed. One neat feature is a provision for an adjustable hammer overtravel stop. This small screw at the rear of the hammer well allows any residual cocking pressure after the action is cocked to be born on the hammer rather than on the hand and cylinder stop which, in turn, extends lockwork service life on hard-used competition guns.
Machine work is first-rate but will require a good bit of polishing to achieve a workman-like installation. On installations in our shop, we machine the bottom strap a bit thinner in order to shorten the bottom strap screw counter-bore depth so we can dome-up screw heads. In addition to an informative set of instructions, Grand Masters supplies a special Allen wrench necessary to install the upper backstrap screws.
At this writing, the grips themselves are a purely custom proposition. Anybody skilled enough to execute this installation attractively can render a first-rate set of grips. There are also any of a number of exceptional grip makers working today who can fit out very nice grips in all manner of materials. These carved ivory grips (shown here) were produced by Paul Persinger, who is a real wizard at his work. Fit and finish are of museum quality as is the wondrously rendered carving.
The Keith No. 5 grip frame set is available in chromoly (blue) for both Old and New Model Ruger single action. A companion Bisley-spur hammer and wide trigger are also available for Old Model Rugers, which is especially helpful since, like the grip frames, these had previously to be fabricated from scratch or cobbled together from bits and pieces. Grips frame sets are priced at $289 with the Old Model hammers and triggers at $140 and $40 respectively, all a bargain at three times the price as I can tall you from the experience of making them myself. Thanks to the guys at Grand Masters, hobbyist and tradesmen alike can easily produce first-class replicas of Elmer Keith’s iconic revolver for all of us to enjoy.
By Hamilton Bowen
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/power-custom, (573) 372-5684; Paul Persinger (915) 821-7541