Author Topic: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?  (Read 300 times)

Offline Doc Holloman

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What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« on: June 27, 2022, 07:53:00 PM »
I'm considering getting a trapdoor for Cody Dixon and possibly long range matches (yes, I have been told that Highwalls are the" best" for those purposes, but all that I have seen are a bit above my price point.) 

Right now, Originals seem to be more available than H&R or Italian reproductions, and less expensive at that.  I reload 45-70 so I feel I can load ammo at safe velocities and pressures for an original.

Any advice on what to look for ( or avoid) in a Trapdoor that I plan to shoot ( other than the condition of the bore. Which is obvious)?  I've seen some where the bolt has some lateral "wiggle" when locked closed.  I'm assuming that I would not want to shoot one of those.


Doc sends.

Offline Drydock

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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2022, 08:38:00 PM »
Lateral play in the block is normal.  The hinge is to bear no load on firing.  Look for tight vertical lock, bore condition, no cracks in the tang area, tight barrel bands.  Very few are not shootable with a bit of load work.
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Offline Arizona Trooper

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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2022, 05:50:53 PM »
Here are a few comments to get you going.

The breechblock will rattle around on the pivot pin when open and wiggle slightly in the receiver when closed. Don't worry about that, it’s supposed to. The block actually floats slightly in the receiver, which allows the locking cam to wedge the block down when fired. In fact, you can safely fire the rifle with the pivot pin removed, but you have to rod out the empties.

The receiver breech and tang need to be well bedded in the stock. Take off the bands and tighten the tang screw. If the muzzle lifts out of the stock, the wood under the tang is compressed. Put some thin shims under the tang until the muzzle doesn’t lift with the tang screw tight. 1/64” birch plywood works great.

The rod lock at the tip of the stock is often broken, and you can't see the break without pulling the action out of the stock. If it is you will suffer with awful accuracy. You can replace the lock with the barrel out of the stock by removing the top band spring and dropping in another lock. Replacements are available from, Dixie or S&S.

The bores are invariably very close to 0.450”, but groove diameter is always oversize, usually in the 0.461-0.463” range. The chambers run big too. Wolfe says to shoot soft 0.458” bullets and let them bump up (only works with black powder). I have had good luck sizing 0.001" over groove diameter. Chambers are big enough that rounds will usually seat even with 0.464-5” bullets.

The importance of headspace hadn’t been discovered in the 1870s. They all have lots of headspace. I have never seen a Trapdoor that wouldn’t close on a no-go gauge. You can solder a shim in the chamber rim cut to fix that if you want, but with "Trapdoor loads" it’s usually not an issue.

Sights are set up for “hold low”. The M-1884 sight is set for point blank of 285 yards or so with the slide down when shooting the 500 gr. bullet. It is WAY HIGH at 100. The M-1879 sights are about a foot high at 100. M-1879 and later rifles have a replaceable front sight blade. Tall blades are available to get sighted in. If you get an M-1873 with the one piece musket front sight DO NOT MESS WITH IT!! The early survivors with this sight are rare and shouldn’t be modified. Just figure out how low to hold and practice a lot. 

That should get you started. Have fun!!

Offline Pitspitr

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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2022, 07:20:14 PM »
I've had two with the barrel bent at the front barrel band.

My H&R doesn't like BP.

I wouldn't worry a great lot about mismatched parts (most left the service that way) but it's still good to know what you're looking at.
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Offline 38OVI

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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2022, 10:44:48 PM »
I have a M 1879, and bought a Krag front sight from S&S ,drove out the pin and kept the original and put in the Krag sight.  Then, find a load that is consistent, and one can file down the new sight to where it works for you, and you still have your original. 


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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #5 on: Today at 11:32:25 AM »

Offline LongWalker

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Re: What should I look for in a shootable trapdoor?
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2022, 10:10:58 AM »
Before shopping, try to actually shoot the various sights at close/mid/long-range.  I used to prefer the Buffington sights, especially for long range.  As my eyes have aged, I've found I can shoot the 1879 sights about as well as I could the Buffingtons when I was younger. 

Trapdoors are a wonderful thing for shooters!  They were the end product of 200 years of evolution of muzzleloading muskets and rifled muskets.  The lock is a thing of beauty, designed to soldier on through accidents, neglect, and battle damage.  The sights were intended to be functional for a pooorly-trained soldier while still allowing a well-trained soldier to use them for individual targets or volley fire on an are target.

Of the 20-30 trapdoors I've owned over the years, I've only seen a limited number of broken parts.  Missing parts are more common.  Fortunately, they made about a gajilliion trapdoors, so parts (at least for the 45-70s) are easily available.  The trapdoor is also fairly easy to work on, so almost anything is fixable.   

Before anything else, I check the bore condition.  I know I'll be shooting BP and cast bullets in the rifle, so I have little tolerance for a rough bore.  The problem is that the bore will often be crudded up with layers of fouling, to the point that sometimes the rifling isn't visible.  In general, if I can see deep pits, I reject the gun.  If the muzzle is battered or out of round, I reject the gun--cleaning with that abominable metal rod can result in muzzle damage, and I don't like having to counter-bore a shooter.

I check the chamber for damage.  Damage is usually limited to corrosion, or scratches due to some idiot prying out a broken case with a screwdriver/ice pick/etc.  Once in a while you'll actually find a gun sold as a wallhanger just because there is a broken case in the chamber; this can usually be removed with the proper tools. 

Inspect the sights for damage.  If the front sight is interchangable, damage to the blade is less of a concern.  The problems I've seen here are bases broken loose from the barrel, slots for the blade cut over-size to fit a thicker front sight, and corrosion.  Rear sights, make sure all the adjustments work smoothly--you may need to oil the sight before you can test this.  Rear sights can be re- built or re-placed, but some (Buffingtons for carbines, for example) are hard to find and expensive.  You'll have to use your best judgement here.  If the sight is a mass of rust, plan on replacing (and use this as a bargaining point). 

The action is fairly simple.  Arizona Trooper and Drydock covered the main issues with teh breechblock.  Check to make sure the extractor hook that catches the cartridge rim is present, and sharp.  Check the firing pin to make sure no one has removed the tip so the rifle won't fire, and that the pin moves freely.  On the lock, make sure the tumbler has 3 notches (unless it is an early model, or one of the Bannerman guns fitted with an earlier lock: then you should have a solid half-cock notch and the usual full-cock notch).  Make sure the hammer will not fall from the first two notches when the trigger is pulled. 

On full-cock, make sure the hammer doesn't move backwards slightly when the trigger is pulled, and that when at full-cock you can't push on the back of the hammer and make it fall.  Either would indicate problems with the tumbler or sear, and should be corrected before shooting. 

Trigger pull is going to be heavy and long.  Yeah, there are ways to work on this.  I've had trapdoors I re-worked to a 3 1/2-4# trigger pull, and others that I fitted with set triggers. . . but either alteration is not allowed in some competition, and can be expensive custom work if you can't do it yourself. 

Check for cracks/previous repairs in the wrist, usually coming from the lock bolts (due to over-tightening) or through the wrist (due to being dropped).  You can also find cracks/previous repairs behind the lock, due to the lock being hit when the rifle was dropped.  Personally, I think most such damage was due to rifles falling when stood in a corner on a slick floor. . . .

Pitspitr mentioned bent barrels.  I've had this come up on a couple of rifles too.  Since you can't look through the bore, it can be hard to detect until you shoot the rifle. 

If I were coming in as a novice looking for a shooter, I'd look for a rifle someone was already shooting so I could test-fire it.  One thing about trapdoors being so common is that many shooters do some trading this way.  (Lord knows I'm always searching for the perfect rifle!)  You'll probably pay a bit more this way.  Second-best would be to take someone familiar with the rifle with you when you shop. 
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