1895 Browning .35 Whelen beautification project.
An 1895 Winchester chambered in .35 Whelen has been one of my dream rifles for many years. I always watched for a good deal on a .30-06 1895 Browning to convert. A few months back, one showed up on Gunbroker already converted to .35 Whelen. My wife promptly bought it for me. You may have seen the post about it here.
The 1895 Browning is the ideal rifle to convert to .35 Whelen. The steel used is stronger than the steel in the original Winchesters, and the original Winchesters have value that could be lost in converting them. The current Miroku-built Winchester 1895s have tang safeties and rebounding hammers that make the actions more complicated, cause a poorer trigger, and add the danger of a hammer dropping when the rifle is on safe, causing the shooter to cycle the action and try again, instead of placing the rifle on fire.
The Browning rifles are great rifles. They are well-built, strong, and nicely finished. There was little I do not like about the rifle, but there were a few things. This rifle came with the standard front sight and a Williams receiver sight. The front sight was actually a very nice sight, but was thin and fine and would be subject to damage on a rifle meant to be used hard. The Williams receiver sight is a great sight, but I am a bit of a traditionalist and it looks squarish and modern and is made with aluminum, which adds to its modern looks. So while I use Williams receiver sights on more modern-style rifles, it just wasn’t right for me on this particular rifle.
The buttplate was a simple, flat, smooth, thin steel buttplate. The edges were sharp, and the face smooth and slick. It is the poorest feature of the rifle and seems almost an afterthought. The forend was a schnabel forend, but very blocky, not nicely shaped like the originals, and the finish was a varnish that is thiner and more traditional-looking than heavy poly finishes on the current Miroku Winchesters.
The first thing that went was the sights. The front sight base was soldered to the barrel and easily removed by carefully applying heat. A dovetail was cut in the barrel and a Lyman 17A receiver sight installed. Since I was very busy with jobs for customers, I dropped it off with a customer’s rifle that needed work to Precision Arms in Anchorage to have the dovetail cut. Vince at Precision Arms not only cut the dovetail, but fit and installed the sight at no extra cost.
The rear sight was replaced with the Providence Tool Company Type 21 sight. This sight is a replica of the Lyman Model 21 sight that was originally designed for the Winchester 1895 when the rifle was introduced by Winchester. The Providence Tool Company Pattern 21 sight has traditional styling and looks right on the 1895 Browning.
I emailed Providence Tool Company and received a call from Frank, who gave me the model number of the correct Lyman 17A globe sight to work with the Type 21 rear sight, and advice on installing sights. I purchased the Type 21 sight and an aperture to fit it from Providence Tool Company and purchased a Lyman 17A globe sight and Lee Shaver inserts from Brownells.
It looks like the checkered steel shotgun buttplates used on the current Miroku-built 1886 rifles would be almost a drop-in fit on the Browning 1895, with the same curve and size, but instead of searching for one, I chose to use a repro Winchester buttplate that had been collecting dust for a few years. It was advertised for a Winchester 71, but turned out to be too narrow for the Model 71. It was the right width for the Browning 1895, though.
So the factory front sight and Williams receiver sight were removed and replaced with the Lyman globe sight and Providence Type 21 rear sight. Installation was straightforward on the Providence sight, as usual.
I removed the factory buttplate. Using a wide belt sander, I flattened the back side of the repro shotgun buttplate. I began inleting the top spur of the buttplate to allow it to be held in place on the stock, and then scribed a line on each side of the stock to determine the correct curve for the new buttplate. Using a spindle sander, with a shim to keep the butt square, I reshaped the curve the match the butplate. A couple hours worth of careful fitting with sandpaper and inletting black gave me a perfect fit. I could have sped the process by removing the spur on the buttplate, but I think it is worth the extra effort.
After fitting the wood to the buttplate, I screwed the buttplat on, scribed a line on the buttplate, an fit the buttplate to the stock. By working carefully, I brought the buttplate just to the size of the stock without going under. I then reattached the buttplate to the stock and did the final fitting of both wood and metal together with sandpaper. Since the plate is hollow underneath, I bedded it with epoxy, and then left the buttplate on the stock as I did the final sanding in preparation for the refinish. The resulting fit is perfect between the metal and the wood.
Since the buttplate was cast, it had a rough surface and some flaws that were cleaned up by sanding and polishing, and then the buttplate was blued with Brownell’s Oxpho blue.
The stock and forend were stripped and sanded carefully. The schnabel forend was reshaped using files and sanding to a more graceful shape, reminiscent of the original Winchester forend shapes. This proved to be quite easy, and I really like the results.
I refinished the wood by applying several coats of Formby’s Gloss Tung Oil, cut two-to-one with turpentine (two parts turpentine to one part tung). This carries the oil deep into the wood for a very stable finish. Once several coats were applied, I used Tapadera’s Gunstock Stain, the Winchester red stain. It is an alcohol-based dye that is very easy to apply and control, and gives great results. Once the color was where I wanted it, I continued with applying coats of the oil until it filled the wood and gave me the surface luster that I was looking for. The resulting gloss oil finish is beautiful, really stabilizes the wood, does not show damage as noticeably as a poly-type varnish, and can easily be touched up at any time. Damage to the surface of an oil finish does not open the wood to damage by water, like damage to a coated finish, like a varnish or lacquer does. By using the gloss tung oil, I can get the smooth finished look similar to shellack over oil, without the hassle of working with shellack and dealing with future damage to the shellack.
The result is a rifle precision-made from modern steels that has the look of an original Winchester from decades ago, chambered in one of the greatest hunting cartridges ever developed; the .35 Whelen. With the ability to be loaded from .357 Magnum levels right up to bear-crushing 250 gr. loadings that match most popular magnums in usefulness, in a rifle with the speed and balance of the 1895 Winchester, this will be a rifle I will be using heavily.
I think Col. Townsend Whelen would be proud.