Fussing With A Fitz


The finished Colt .38 “Fitz Special” in matte blue with nitre blue accents looks
pretty authentic, and was great fun to build.

Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone. I work on a lot of 1911’s every year. So when I got a call from Mark Mason of Downers Grove, Illinois with a request for a one-off project, I took the chance it would be a good change of pace. Mark wanted an iconic “Fitz Special,” scoring an abused 1921 Colt Police Positive in .38 Special for $55 bucks at a local police shop for a base gun. I agreed pending a first hand look at this classic Colt. It turns out the revolver was moderately pitted and had an overall brown patina. The pits and scratches were just deep enough a nice blue was never going to happen, but Mark was okay with this, and on a limited budget.

I dove into my research on the “Fitz”-style guns. I never had seen one in person and only a few pictures. John Henry Fitzgerald was a NY Trooper who worked as a spokesman and gunsmith for 26 years at Colt. His revolvers were designed for a quick draw from the pocket or waistband. The lack of a full trigger guard allowed the finger to fall right on the trigger fast. The bobbed hammer and short barrel offered fewer snags. The number of true Colt-made “Fitz Specials” is unknown, but in the ’20s it was the hot modification. They were made in .38 Specials and the rarer .45 Colt. Originals can demand prices north of $2K with documentation.

The 1921 Colt Police Positive donor gun was pretty rough, but a perfect base gun for the project.

The Police Positive in process next to an image of an original “Fitz Special.”
Things are shaping up, and the retro-look is thought-provoking.

The Build Begins

The barrel, cylinder and internals were all fine. I removed the barrel from the frame with a Brownells’ action wrench preventing “springing” the frame while unscrewing the barrel. My son Nick cut the stock barrel from 4″ to just over 2″. The short barrel was then chucked in my lathe for truing and crowning to 2″.

Cutting the trigger guard was easy, but the hump where the guard meets the frame in front of the cylinder needed lots of work. Some photos I saw left a slight hump. I wanted it to look like it never existed so I jigged the frame up rigidly in the mill and cut as much of the hump as I could. Then I went at smoothing with files and sand paper to the point you would never know it existed. The ejector rod was cut and rethreaded for the end cap, something “Fitz” did not usually do but it looks odd without the cap.

Fitz reused the original front sight. I didn’t like the half circle look of the Colt so I managed to get Ted Yost to make me a 1″ square blank with a gold inlay I could shape into a front sight. To set the sight in the barrel I cut a 1/8″ keyway on top, allowing the new sight to sit in place while silver soldering. Once I got the proper sight height for a 25-foot zero I shaped the front edges and serrated 50 LPI with a checkering file. Bobbing the hammer was straightforward, just grind off the spur and reshape.

Ted Yost came to the rescue with a custom gold line front sight.

We converted the frame from a square butt to a “somewhat” rounded butt. I did this with a bench grinder then a Scotch Brite wheel. I found some square grips online and rounded them to fit while on the frame for a perfect match. For a grip finish, I used Tung oil over the old patina. I wanted the revolver to look less than perfect since the finish was going to be matte blue.

Speaking of finish, I blasted the large parts with a mix of glass bead and aluminum oxide at 120 grit. The screws, trigger and hammer were polished on a buffing wheel to high gloss. Nitre Blue Salts from Brownells were used to treat the screws and trigger as well as the cylinder release. This was to provide contrasting accents to the matte blue frame, done with Brownells’ Oxynate No. 7. The hammer was left in bright polished steel, as were the original Fitz Specials.

This was a fun project for me and Nick and our client Mark, who was patient during the process. I like the idea of doing the occasional one-off since I learn more about the gunsmiths who came before me and their innovations.

For more info: www.brownells.com, Ph: (800) 741-0015

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