Providence Tool Company Pattern 21 Sight
A while back I bought a .45-70 Winchester/Miroku 1886 Extra Lightweight rifle. I was in town only for a couple days between remote jobs, so I grabbed the rifle and a modern Lyman #66 receiver sight and headed back out to the bush. Since then, that ’86 rifle has worn the Lyman 66 sight, which was an annoyance to me, because as much as I love the Lyman receiver sights, I am a bit of a traditionalist, and it just wasn’t right for that rifle.
Now my purpose for the rifle is for bear protection, for hunting, and for the enjoyment of owning and shooting a fine lever-action rifle. For hunting or bear protection, the Lyman receiver sight was fine. For my enjoyment of the rifle, it was not. A tang sight would be great for target shooting, would work ok for hunting, and satisfy the traditionalist in me, but they tend to be more easily damaged, and this was a rifle that I planned to have beating around with me in the bush. I wanted a stronger type of sight that would be there when I needed it, but something that was period-correct for the 1886 Winchester.
Back in 1895 Winchester was introducing a new rifle. It had a long bolt that knocked tang sights over like bowling pins. Lyman designed a type of sight to go with the then new 1895 Winchester rifle. The Lyman Model 21 sight attached solidly to the frame of the rifle and allowed easy, fast adjustment for rainbow trajectories common with the cartridges of the day. This was just the sight that I needed for my 1886! The sight just looks right on the long frames of the 1886, and especially the 1895 Winchesters. It is a strong, simple design and provides easy elevation adjustments for longer hunting shots, yet the required ruggedness for daily carrying for bear protection. Lyman #21 (and 38) sights can still be found today, but if in good condition bring premium prices. I have seen them sold for as much as $500. I might purchase an original Lyman 21 sight for an original rifle, but I can’t justify the expense of putting an original sight on a new-production Winchester.
So there I was stuck with a nice 1880s style rifle wearing a modern sight. You can imagine how pleased I was to discover that Providence Tool Company was building a close replica of the original Lyman 21 “Climbin’ Lyman” sight.
The Providence Tool Company Pattern 21 Sight can be ordered directly from Providence Tool Company (check out their Peabody rifles while you are on their site) or can be ordered online from Buffalo Arms.
I ordered a Pattern 21 sight from Buffalo Arms on the recommendation of the guys at Providence Tool Co. The sight soon arrived packaged in a poly bag and included the parts of the sight itself, detailed instructions for installation and use, and quality drill bit and tap for drilling and tapping the receiver for the mounting screw and sight stud. If installing on an original Winchester 1895, the forward hole already exists with the correct threads. New Japanese built 1895 rifles have metric threading, so the forward hole can be simply rethreaded with the included tap. On 1886 Winchesters, new manufacture or original, both front and rear mounting holes will need to be drilled in the receiver. Any rifle previously drilled and tapped for a Lyman 21 sight will work with the Providence Tool Co. sight. If the original threads are poor, simply clean them up with the provided tap for installation of the new sight.
Providence Tool Co. also makes a shorter version of the sight for installation on ’92 and ’94 Winchesters, and a version for Marlin lever actions.
The sight is made of steel with a brass pointer. Two brass pointers of different thickness are included for correctly timing the locking lever. The steel is blued and can be used as is, or reblued, antiqued, or color case hardened to match the rifle or the look that you want. There is a faint mold mark on the locking lever, which I would probably remove if I was ever to refinish the sight for any reason.
The sight is adjustable for windage. I should probably say it can be set for zero, as it is held in place by a set screw and is not finger adjustable. If you want finger-adjustable windage, this modification could easily be done using parts from another type of receiver sight. This would make the sight more like a Lyman 38.
For installation I first disassembled the action. I probably could have found a way to drill the receiver with the action only partially disassembled, but I wanted to be able to easily clean the cuttings up so none remained in the action. I will post disassembly and reassembly instructions in another article, as I fixed
some major mistakes that Winchester made in building this rifle at the same time that I installed this sight. Instead of fixing these mistakes, Winchester gave them fancy names; rebounding hammer, and tang safety, and tried to pass them off to us as “improvements.”
Once the action was disassembled, I located the front screw hole by following the instructions from Providence Tool Co. I marked the location and then drilled the hole.
I tapped the hole and then installed the sight frame and front screw. Holding the sight with the forward screw centered in the slot, I used a flat feeler gauge to place the sight .015″ above the top of the bolt and marked the location for the rear hole. After drilling and tapping the rear hole, I cleaned up the inside of the receiver and then adjusted the length of the screws to prevent interference with the bolt. The screws should be flush with the inside of the receiver and the edges of holes should be cleaned up so no metal protrudes into the receiver due to drilling or tapping. This will allow the bolt to travel smoothly and easily.
The screws were adjusted for length, and the the sight was installed. Now I needed to fit the brass pointer. I first put each pointer in place on the sight stud and spun the locking lever tight. The thinner pointer left the locking lever pointing forward when tight, and the thicker one left it pointing back, but a little high, so I used a file and a pit of sand paper to thin it down a little. The pointer has a little tab that rides in a slot in the sight and keeps the pointer aligned with the elevation marks. The tab is not bent and is left long for easier bending. Placing the pointer in a vice with the tab sticking up above the edges of the vice jaws allows it to be easily bent to a 90 degree angle. Once this is done, the tab is filed down to the correct thickness and length to ride easily in its slot on the sight body.
Once the pointer was ready, I installed everything, checked function, and then removed and reinstalled the rear sight stud and front screw using some Loctite to prevent vibration from loosening them. Any time you are shooting or carrying a firearm on a snow machine, four-wheeler, airplane, or other vehicle, there is a good possibility that screws will begin to back out.
I did not put locktite on the windage set screw yet because the rifle needs to be zeroed first. I plan to zero the sight at various ranges, taking a photo of each range setting, and then make range marks for each position by using a center punch to mark small dots on the sight.
The finished result looks great. It looks correct for the rifle, and the sight is solid. Installation was easy and the included tooling meant I did not have to look for a bit and tap. It is quick and intuitive to use. I am very pleased with the results.
The Providence Tool Company Pattern 21 sight is slightly different than the original Lyman 21. It is a bit simpler and uses fewer parts through a more efficient design. Some may feel that it is not close enough to the original sight, but I think it looks great, especially on a modern 1895 or 1886 rifle. If you are looking for total authenticity, get an original Lyman, of course. Still, I have seen varied examples of period gunsmith-made copies of Lyman 21 sights, so even with the small changes from the original and the Providence name on the side, this sight can look very correct on an original rifle.
If you have a lever action rifle that has been drilled for a side scope mount, this sight can also help cover the unsightly scope mount holes – a much more economical way to deal with them than having each welded up and the receiver refinished. There are many 1886 and especially 1894 and 1895 rifles out there that have been drilled for scope mounts, and the results can be pretty ugly on an otherwise nice looking rifle.
If you want the advantages of a receiver sight on an traditional-style lever action (or even a single-shot rifle), but do not want a blocky, modern-looking sight, I suggest that you seriously consider the Providence Tool Company Pattern 21 Sight.