[This post about the Remington Rolling Block is made possible by JTF Awesome Team Member Raven Concealment]
WTW: Remington’s Rugged Rolling Block Restoration
Mike the Mook
The Remington Rolling Block rifle was a breech-loading rifle produced from 1866 to around 1920. Known for its strong action, the rifle was one of the few mid-19th century designs that could handle the new (at the time) smokeless powders of the late 19th century.
Chambered in a host of rimfire and centerfire calibers, we’ve seen these rifles built for various 12.17 mm calibers formerly favored by the Swedish and Norwegians as well as .43 Spanish (11.15x58mmR). Yet many more were manufactured in (or later converted to) .30-06 Springfield, 7×57mm Mauser, and 8×50mmR Lebel.
According to factory records, Remington made close to 46,450 of the No. 5 rifles between 1901 and 1910. Many were sold to Mexico and other Central American countries. These are the most common types found on the surplus market.
In the midst of World War I, the British Royal Navy purchased 4,500 of these rifles chambered in 7mm Mauser for crewmen of various ships. Almost a hundred years later, one of these rifles came into our hands.
One Saturday night at our local Cabela’s in Reno, Nevada, a load of firearms came in on consignment. They had formerly been in the possession of the nearby Lyon County Sheriff’s office and were in various conditions, from “Destroyed” to “Fair”.
The remnants of this rifle caught our eye, not because we were particularly a fan of the rolling block, but because the left side of the rifle was obviously on the receiving end of a shotgun blast.
The metal was a brownish patina from decades of neglect while in the property room and whatever it went through the century before that. Yet we saw no other signs of damage beyond the wood. Closer inspection revealed that all the metal was intact aside from some corrosion.
The next question was: Where do we find replacement wood for this piece? The usual gun parts suppliers all turned out to be dead ends. Then we came across Womack’s Rolling Block Parts.
We knew we had a British No.5 chambered in 7mm Mauser. A quick look through the website confirmed we needed a forend and upper handguard. Further information revealed Womack’s was within fifty miles of us, and we were able to pick up what we needed without shipping costs or delays.
The wood parts we bought from Womack’s were not reproductions, but actual wood that came off an original Remington Rolling Block No. 5. The grain and color closely matched the butt stock and we saw no numbers or cartouches on any of the wood that would create a mix master. After replacing the rifle’s furniture, we cleaned the hell out of it.
With everything secure on the rifle, we checked the headspace with a set of 7mm Go and No Go Gauges, confirming that the rifle was still in spec and safe to shoot.
This is significant, should you attempt to fire a 7mm Rolling Block:
Back when the 7X57mm cartridge was standardized by SAMMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) in the 1920s, the powers that be settled on a case length that was slightly shorter than the original 7mm Mauser cartridge for which these rolling blocks were chambered since 1892.
The end result is that modern 7mm Mauser cartridges can have excessive head space in the chambers of some of these rifles. Some shooters solve this challenge by fire forming their cases, neck sizing the brass and only using that brass with the rifle. Apparently a previous owner had a gunsmith take more corrective action on the chamber, which made the rifle compatible with modern off-the-shelf 7mm Mauser ammunition.
In our case, we simply lucked out. Should you come across one of these rifles always check the headspace. Improper headspace can cause case separation while shooting and despite the strength of a rolling block action, this can lead to catastrophic failure, as 7mm Mauser is a smokeless round.
We fired some 175 grain Spanish surplus ammunition we had sitting around. At 50 yards we managed a 2.5″ group. We’ve fired more accurate rifles, but this performed a little better than we’d anticipated.
The reason for the overall fame of the Rolling Block design is its strength. In 1867 at the Imperial Exposition in Paris, the Remington Rolling Block was unanimously selected by the High Commission on Firearms as “the finest rifle in the world” and was awarded the Silver Medal of the Exposition, the highest award for military and sporting arms.
General Custer famously used the single shot rolling block on many hunting expeditions on the Great Plains. The rifle was more widely used against buffalo than the more commonly known Sharps rifle of the period.
In the 1870s the Belgian proof house at Liege loaded a .50 caliber rolling block from breech to muzzle with 750 grains of black powder (about 10 times the recommended load), 40 bullets and two wads in an attempt to make the rifle fail. They never even came close.
The Remington Rolling Block rifle is an interesting and forgotten piece of history. Should you come across one, we feel their best use is for a custom long range shooting project in a better caliber than the 7mm.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author: Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.
More About Raven Concealment
Many of you are familiar with RCS and their outstanding quality and craftsmanship; for those of you late to the game, we’ll break it down Barney style so you can get up to speed: Out of the nearly 20 wretched, execrable minions we have slaving ceaseslessly writing for us, over 2/3 of them utilize RCS gear every day. Frequently duplicated, often imitated, their modular holsters allow a whole series of different modes of carry. With practical inventions like the Vanguard, they even have helped popularize efficient means of appendix carry. For those that attend professional firearms training, its more common than not to see many of the best instructors running RCS rigs. In fact, many of their products are used throughout America’s elite SOF community, federal, state and small town law enforcement, competition shooters and plenty of regular Joe Sixpacks.