Magnificent Manifestation

Turnbull's Classic Cowboy SAA
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No, it’s not. It’s not a Colt, and, it’s not an Italian copy either. Hmmm … the mystery deepens. And it’s built in the United States. And it’s built in Connecticut. But remember, it’s not a Colt. How’s that again?

Actually, it began life as a United States Fire Arms Mfg. Co. sixgun. All beautifully rendered in steel, by craftsmen who knew what they were doing. It was then shipped to Doug Turnbull (can you say “magician?”) for final rendering. And render it he did. The result? What just might be the finest, affordable single action on the market today.

After getting our test gun, I was stunned by the quality of the gun and the elegant finish Turnbull’s shop created. After living with the sixgun for a couple of weeks — a constant companion on my desk-top — I phoned our own John Taffin for his opinion. I was, frankly, amazed at what I had, all for around $1,150, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t simply blinded by Doug’s stunning finishes.

“Roy,” John bellowed to me on the phone, “I think these new guns from USFA are better than the Colts we see today.” I could tell he was smiling on the other end of the phone. I think he believed he had surprised me. But John has good taste in sixguns, and this was some sixgun.

“Can I quote you on that, John,” I asked him. “You bet you can. And I think when you factor in Turnbull’s magic you get an awful lot of value for your money.” It seems my opinion didn’t stand alone.

Doug’s Skills

“We picked the USFA guns because they are made in the USA and we wanted to keep the money in the states,” Doug told me on the phone. “They spent millions on machinery and the craftsmanship is evident in the fact we have to do very little metalwork — and surprisingly, we leave the actions alone.” I was surprised, since my sample gun “snicked” along with perfect timing and the action was “clicky” but smooth, feeling very definitive when cocked. There was none of that roughness, hesitation or gritty felling you sometimes feel with an import gun. Any gunfighter 125 years ago would smile if he handled it.

Doug gets the guns in the white and then the magic happens. First up, the Carbona blue to the barrel, cylinder, frame and other bits. “Carbona bluing is an old American gas furnace process that was used by pretty much everybody in the old days,” Doug explained to me. “If you used oxidation of steel to blue up through the 1940s, that’s how you did it.”

Today, the Turnbull shop still uses the process, but has modified it, taking advantage of some of today’s newer technology. I kept my questions to a minimum, though, so Doug wouldn’t be tempted to tell me any secrets.

“We put in some secret chemicals, and heat the parts in a rotary furnace for two to six hours in a very controlled heat process,” he said, as Doug walked me through the process. “Another way,” he continued, “is to use a bed of charcoal heated to 600 degrees. You immerse the part, let it heat, wipe it down with ‘whiting’ compound, re-heat, etc. until you get the color you want.”

Doug did say his method produces a very durable finish, unlike the fragile fake “charcoal” blued finishes the Italians use. Doug says the finish they use is actually “nitre” blue, not genuine Carbona blue. My own experiences with an Italian sixgun revealed that the beautiful medium blue finish wore off almost immediately, and I was left with a silver-grey grip frame. How disappointing.

Handsome is as handsome does. That’s a real old-timer on the left ...

The case hardening done to the frame and hammer is Doug Turnbull’s signature finish and something his shop is famous for the world over. “We do it the same way they did it originally, believe it or not,” said Doug. “It’s a pack-hardening process which imparts additional carbon. It’s through the heating and quenching you get the rainbow colors,” he explained.

Indeed, because of the natural ingredients involved and the ancient techniques, no two parts color quite the same. “They’re sort of like snowflakes,” smiled Doug. “No two are exactly alike.” Which, if you ask me, is a pretty cool thing.

But it’s not all easy. Turnbull’s has a reputation for being able to case-harden and keep the frames straight, either during the process or straightening things out later. Most shops won’t even attempt it since unless you’re one of those magicians, the result can be a ruined frame – or worse. And after doing close to 100,000 or so, Doug said he figures they’ve got the process down pretty good by now. I’d imagine so.

Simply beautimous.

The Gun In Question

Each gun comes with a Turnbull-assigned serial number, starting with 001DT. Our test gun’s number was 067, so it’s an early gun. Still, the polish was clean, straight and true, the colors full and pure and the metal-to-metal fit was impressive. I could just barely feet the juncture between the grip frame and the frame. Nicely done, gents.

If you think “Second Generation Colt” you’ll have an idea of what this gun represents. I laid hands on a nice version of a Colt and in all honesty, could not tell them apart, other than the fact the Turnbull gun was more beautifully finished. I remained impressed.

The grips are a traditional hard-rubber style and feel exactly correct in your hand and the sights are classic SAA. Each gun comes with a deep green gun rug and handsome USFA black box. This thoughtful addition makes the overall presentation satisfying. You feel like you definitely get your money’s worth here. Speaking of getting something, according to Doug, they’re only going to make 1,000, so you’d better hurry if you want one.

A classy setup.

Barrel lengths are 4.75″, 5.5″ and 7.5″ and the caliber of choice will be .45 Colt. Other calibers are available (just about everything from .32 WCF to .45 ACP and grips can be up-graded to ivory, wood, etc. for an additional cost.

Our test gun shot just fine too. While I didn’t give it a thorough work-out, at 25 yards from a Midway “Caldwell” rest, Black Hills cowboy loads delivered groups in the 2.5″ to 3.5″ range. A “glinty” front sight due to the bright sun added a bit of guess-work to the sight picture, and I’ll bet if you settled down some, found a load it liked and such, you’d beat my groups easily. I plan on getting Duke Venturino and Taffin to help me out in this regard. It pays to have good help a phone call away, especially when they feel obligated to be nice to you.

It’d be hard to beat this sixgun for looks, value and performance. Besides, you don’t have to hock the car and the dog to own one. If I were you, I’d sell off three or four of those Italian guns and buy one, really good gun. Something to think about, eh?

It’d be hard to beat this sixgun for looks, value and performance. Besides, you don’t have to hock the car and the dog to own one. If I were you, I’d sell off three or four of those Italian guns and buy one, really good gun. Something to think about, eh?

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