Double and triple-duty sixguns expand a revolvers versatility, just by adding a cylinder.

Let’s think about the .38-40 and the .41 Long Colt. Two totally different cartridges. The first is a tapered or bottleneck cartridge beginning life in the Winchester Model ‘73, while the straight-sided .41LC was first chambered in Colt’s 1877 Thunderer. Two totally different cartridges, but by the time they were chambered in the legendary Model P, the Colt Single Action Army, they both used barrels identical except for the caliber markings. To add further to the confusion, the .38-40 is, in reality, a .40 caliber, while the .41 Long Colt is a .38 caliber. Confusing isn’t it? For both to work in the same .401″-403″ barrel, the .38-40 used bullets sized at .401″ while the .41 Long Colt was loaded with a soft lead .386″ hollow base bullet that expanded to fit the rifling when the sixgun was fired.

All of this means the .38-40 cylinder could be fitted to a .41 Long Colt sixgun or vice versa. Early sixgun experimenters understood this and took it a step further. Two sixgunsmiths, Pop Eimer of Missouri and Gordon Boser from New York, independently came up with two wildcat sixgun cartridges by building new cylinders to fit Colt Single Actions in .38-40 or .41 Long Colt. Both used cut down rifle brass to come up with the .400 Eimer Special and the .401 Boser Special respectively in the 1930s. Both rounds were basically the .41 Magnum ahead of time.

In the 1940s, another well-known pistolero and experimenter, John LaChuk, had new cylinders made for his .44 Special Colt Single Actions. Again using cut down rifle brass and .44 caliber bullets, LaChuk came up with the .44 Magnum about 10 years before it surfaced as a production cartridge. All three of these men knew one was not restricted to using the original cylinder in any sixgun, but rather extra cylinders firing different cartridges could be added with great success. The same holds true today.

Multiple Cylinders

Not only do extra cylinders give us the bonus of being able to fire different cartridges from the same sixgun, in some parts of the country it’s such a hassle to purchase a handgun, once that first sixgun is purchased, life is so much simpler if one simply adds new cylinders. An added bonus is the fact one only has to purchase one quality holster which will handle up to four, possibly five, “different” sixguns.

Auxiliary cylinders work. This big-bull bison was taken using a .480
Ruger cylinder in the Freedom Arms .475 Linebaugh


Today Colt offers the Single Action Army in both the .44-40 and .45 Colt and extra cylinders can be fitted in .44 Special and .45 ACP respectively. The latter especially makes a lot of sense as there is a nearly endless supply of .45 Auto ammunition available. Instead of starting with the Single Action Army and adding extra cylinders, I prefer to scrounge-up a used New Frontier due to the fact it’s fitted with adjustable sights which allows me to take full advantage of all the different loads available.

For my use, a 2nd Generation 4-3/4 New Frontier in .45 Colt has been fitted with another Christy cylinder that is set up to handle both .45 ACP and .45 Auto Rim. This allows me the great versatility of firing three different cartridges from the same easy packin’ sixgun using two different cylinders. A second New Frontier, a 3rd Generation 71/2″ .44 Special has been fitted with two extra cylinders by Hamilton Bowen. This sixgun was sent off to Bowen with two new un-fitted Colt cylinders, one in .44-40 and the other chambered for .357 Magnum. Both were expertly fitted to the .44 Special New Frontier and the latter was re-chambered to the ancient .44 Russian. Is possible now to buy replicas chambered in .44 Russian, however at that time it had been more than 60 years since the .44 Russian had been dropped from production. The cartridge is a great part of sixgun history and I now have an accurate shooting, ivory stocked .44 that handles all three cartridges affording me great shooting pleasure.

This ivory-stocked Colt New Frontier started life as a .44 Special. It now does Triple Duty
with the addition of a .44-40 cylinder and a .357 Mag. cylinder converted to .44 Russian.


A little gun shop in the downtown area of the college town I was living in saved me from a terrible summer while I attended graduate school. I had really wandered in simply to kill time with no thought of finding anything, and especially not the great sixgun awaiting me. There in the glass case was a 71/2″ Ruger Blackhawk unlike any I had never seen before. It was not a .357 Magnum, nor a .41 Magnum and not even the .44 Magnum. I struck gold that day and found what was probably the first .45 Colt Blackhawk to reach the Northwest.

Of course I immediately bought it and then found it came with a little red bag containing an extra cylinder chambered in .45 ACP. In those days I never really expected to use that cylinder, however in a weak moment I slipped it into the Blackhawk, loaded five rounds of government surplus .45 Hard Ball, tacked up a lid from a Mason jar, backed off 25 yards, and proceeded to put all five rounds, offhand, in the center of that small target. I was sold on extra cylinders.

Today Ruger continues to offer Convertible sixguns in .22LR/.22 Magnum, .357 Magnum/9mm, and .45 Colt/.45 ACP. In the past they have offered three special runs. Two of these were Blackhawks in .30 Carbine/.32 H&R Magnum and .38-40/10mm, and the third was a Super Blackhawk combination of .44 Magnum and .44-40. Occasionally one sees Vaqueros with two cylinders in .45 Colt and .45 ACP. The .38-40/10mm is a particularly good shooting combination.

Going the custom route I have had Gary Reeder re-chamber a New Model 9mm cylinder to his wildcat .356 GNR, a .41 Magnum necked down to .357 and fitted to a 71/2″ Ruger Bisley Model .357 Magnum. The result is a beautiful custom sixgun that handles the .357 Magnum as well as the .356 GNR which gives .357 Maximum performance in a standard length cylinder.

Because of the simplicity of the basic design, it is much easier to fit
a second cylinder to a single action, such as the Freedom Arms Model 83,
than double actions such as these from Ruger and Taurus.

Freedom Arms Model 97 6-shot .357 Magnum can be outfitted with extra .38
Special cylinders while the 5-shot .45 Colt also takes a .45 ACP Cylinder.

A true quadruple-duty sixgun. This Model 83 from Freedom Arms is fitted with
cylinders chambered in .454 Casull, .45 Colt, .45 ACP, and .45 WinMag.

Freedom Arms

When the Freedom Arms .454 Casull arrived I used an early silhouette pistol, a 101/2″ .454 set up with BoMar sights for competition. The more I shot the long barreled .454 Casull, the more I knew I would have to have another one, not with a long barrel but rather a 43/4″ .454 Packin’ Pistol. Even with the short-barreled .454, we had access to muzzle energy levels never before approached with a traditional sixgun. A 240 grain bullet at 1,800 fps, a 260 at 1,750, and a 300 at 1,600.

Freedom Arms has turned the .454 Packin’ Pistol into an even more versatile handgun by offering auxiliary cylinders in .45 Colt and .45 ACP. My 43/4″ .454 was returned to the factory to become a true Triple Threat Packin’ Pistol by having it fitted not only with a .45 Colt cylinder but a .45 ACP cylinder as well. Now I surely had the perfect, most versatile packin’ pistol imaginable.

In 1997, Freedom Arms introduced their “90-percent gun,” the smaller and thus easier packin’, easier shooting Model 97. The Mid-Frame guns offered were true sixguns with six-shot cylinders in .357 Magnum and offered with either fixed or adjustable sights and with 51/2″ or 71/2″ barrels. It was only natural to offer them with extra .38 Special cylinders as this is the favorite cartridge of the faster shooters. Two cylinders eliminates the chore of having to scrub out the .357 cylinder every time a large quantity of .38 Specials are fired.

The second chambering offered in the Model 97 was the legendary .45 Colt, a 5-shot .45 Colt, and the most compact single-action .45 Colt ever factory produced. The .45 Colt Model 97 from Freedom Arms is one ounce lighter than a 51/2″ Colt SAA at 38 ounces, 2 ounces lighter than the same barrel length in the Colt New Frontier. It also has the same natural feel and point-ability as the Colt. Did I hear someone say Perfect Packin’ Pistol Lightweight-style? A small sixgun as big bores go, the cylinder diameter is smaller than a Colt Single Action Army by .075″. This is an accurate sixgun that packs easily all day which is exactly why I went with a 51/2″ barrel with adjustable sights.

The Model 97 is made even more versatile with the addition of the .45 ACP cylinder allowing a whole range of target and defensive loads being employed. With its interchangeable front sight system on the adjustable-sighted models, if necessary, the height of the front blade can be easily changed as one goes from 185 grain JHP .45 ACPs to 260 grain hard cast .45 Colt loads.
An extra cylinder or two, or three, can really ramp-up the versatility of any sixgun that qualifies!

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