Friday, October 2, 2015

Marlin 1895SBL Bead Blast Project

Another guest post by hkcavalier. As before the words and pictures below belong to the author.

I’ve wanted one of Marlin’s 1895SBL “Big Loop” Guide Guns for quite some time and recently had the opportunity to pick up a gently used one for a great price.

The 1895SBL is a heavy-duty stainless steel lever action rifle in the ancient .45/70 caliber.  Nearly all of the older 1895s have a 4 round magazine tube while the newer “Big Loop” models feature a 6 round tube.  There is a cut in the barrel if you decide to shave off a few ounces with the shorter tube (although, frankly, that would be silly).  All the Guide Guns have an 18.5” barrel; the original had a ported barrel.  All of the SBLs have an XS Lever Rail on from the factory; this provides a Picatinny (not Weaver) rail for either standard or “scout” mounting forward of the action.  It also gives a ghost ring sight which is quite a bit more useful for long shots than the regular buckhorn sight.

My intent is to use the rifle to hunt elk in the deep woods of the Cascades.  I haven’t pursued bear or moose tags but it would be fine for either.  With the right bullets the .45/70 has taken every game animal in the world — even elephant.  With a modern rifle in good condition it’s like a “.458 Special” to the .458 Win Mag.

If you hang around Marlin fans long enough you’ll hear such terms as, “a JM-stamped barrel” or “yeah that’s a Remlin (or Marlington).”  Both are in reference to the sale of Marlin to Remington (part of the Freedom Group) in 2007.  The general consensus — and a fair one, especially with guns made early on by Remington’s Kentucky plant starting in 2010 — is that quality really took a nosedive.  Stock fit and poor removal of tool marks were a real problem.  Most Marlin nuts only go for guns with a “JM” stamp on the barrel vs. the “REM” stamp.  JM = John Marlin, REM = Remington.  The more serious Marlin guys check serial numbers and only buy guns from well before the sale as quality was starting to get spotty even in the early 2000s.

The 1895SBL model came out in 2010 so, no surprise, there are very few with a “JM” stamp on the barrel, and those were merely the barrels that came on the truck from the Marlin plant to Remington’s.  There are no “old Marlin” SBLs.  So don’t bother looking for one!

So back to my gun.  This is a factory pic, but it looked like this when it came to me.  It had some scratches on the left side of the receiver and nicks in the fore end cap.

The factory finish is a polished stainless.  It’s…really shiny!  So I decided that a bead blast would be perfect to not only remove the scratches but to give the rifle a satin finish.

I was lucky enough to be able to use a bead blasting cabinet for free!  Just so he doesn’t get inundated with requests the owner of said cabinet will remain anonymous J.  Yes…I had zero experience with bead blasting before going to work on this.  I figured the worst I could do is ruin a part.  I kind of did (more on this later).

So…if you want to do this too you’ll have to break the rifle completely down.  Here’s the video I used for help:

You’ll need some basic gunsmithing tools.  Hollow ground screwdrivers/bits from about 4mm to 7mm wide.  A punch set and brass hammer are highly recommended although not required.  I found that it was easy to knock out the hammer spring with the brass hammer and use a brass punch to help get it back in there.  Without those it would have been much tougher.  I had to use the hammer and a plastic punch to get the magazine tube away from the barrel (and needed it again to get it back on).

You’ll find lots of tool marks on the parts that aren’t visible from the outside.  This is normal — you didn’t get cheated.  They don’t affect function and you can’t see them so…don’t worry about it.  You want every surface polished and hand-fitted, you’re going to pay about two grand or more for a rifle, not $900.

Taking the XS Lever Rail off was a pain.  These have some weak Loc-Tite from the factory which is just enough to be trouble.  The middle two screws that hold it to the front of the receiver are pretty soft and I had to ruin them to get them off.  Fortunately a gun forum member had some correctly sized screws lying around and sent them my way.

I used a Dremel and the “Scotchpad” wheel to buff off those marks on the fore end cap.  This was a mistake — the end cap is NOT stainless steel!  It’s nickel plated carbon steel.  So my cap now has a two-tone effect.  I’ll keep it well-oiled and hope for the best.

I think the bead blast came out well!  It was still a little sparkly even after blasting so I rubbed the parts down with 0000 steel wool.  I applied some Italian Gun Lube to the parts and they took on a nice gray color.  It’s very similar to the Ruger satin finish which is pretty much what I was going for.  I did not blast the muzzle or the screws.

Your eyes do not deceive you…the cheek pad is for a lefty.  These really help on these rifles as the stock is pretty narrow.  They kick like a 12g firing slugs so your cheek may not enjoy the experience of bare wood.  The optic is an Ultradot 30mm red dot.  These are really nice non-tactical red dots made in Japan and perfect for woods hunting.  A 1-4x scope with an illuminated dot at the center of the reticle would probably be even better.

I did have some trouble reassembling the rifle. Somehow the dimensions changed a smidgen and the plunger that holds the lever closed  was just a hair too close to the pin that it engages.

So....once you closed the action you couldn't get it open again! I ended up cleaning out the plunger recess (you'll need a narrow steel punch to get the pin out) but still had to take off a little material with a needle file. The rule with filing is: file the smaller more easily replaced part and take it easy.

It takes a good  amount of effort to close and open the action, but that’s no problem, this is not a cowboy action gun.  I have .45/70 snap caps so was able to test feeding and extraction.  Oh…I also got a stainless follower to replace the plastic one.  Just personal preference really.

You may have to assemble and disassemble a couple times in order to get all the bead blast media out.  I did.  A compressor at 100psi and a needle gun type nozzle did great.

I confirmed everything works great on a recent shooting trip into the woods.  This is the most important step after any changes to a firearm in my opinion.  If it doesn’t shoot, nothing else matters much.

In all this gun project was about a 3 on a 1-10 scale.  Took a day and all I needed was a YouTube video plus a quick class from the owner of the bead blast cabinet.  Just remember you have to take a gun all the way down to do this right which can be tricky with certain guns.  Also, you cannot just buff out any scratches — you’ll have to bead blast again if you want it to look the same as before.


  1. I'm not sure about your comment about all SBLs being built at the Remington NY plant...seeing as the SBL's were introduced in early 2009 or before: as evidenced by Jeff Quinn's SBL from March 2009 Additionally, Remington didn't move production to NY until sometime after March 2010 which is when they announced that they would be moving to the NY plant ...see here

    Therefore, SBLs were being produced by the craftsman at the North Haven, CT plant for at least a year. Just something to chew on

  2. Nickel always has a look of pure patina, of substance, even when well polished and bright. It just has a rich look that no other metal condition has, save for perhaps German Silver; a close relative. Chrome or polished stainless look nothing like it, really.

    Bead blasting can very well change more than the superficial surface condition of metal. If you sit on a spot long enough, relative to its thickness, you can alter the shape as well. Be real careful blasting the rust scabs off your doors and hoods. If there is little in the way of surface tension (shape), you'll be creating mole hills you'll work your arse off to remedy. Many an amateur bodyman has ruined a panel by this ignorance.

    I'd say that the combination of "raising" the surface, and/or the distribution and even impregnation of grit was enough to throw off your fit. Blasting dust is like flood silt; it never comes off lightly, or on the first attempt.