Gahendra Gunsmithing Gets More Complicated

A little while back, I picked up a Gahendra rifle from IMA – the plan was to clean it up, make sure it was in safe firing condition, and do some shooting with it.

Gahendra "Martini" (image from IMA)
Gahendra "Martini" (image from IMA)

Well, we finally got a chance to really get started on it this past weekend. Removing the front stock requires driving out three pins and taking off two stock bands. the front back came off easily, as did the forward two pins. And that’s where the easy part ended. The screw in the rear band was frozen up, and we ended up having to cit it in half with a Dremel. The rear pin (which runs through a lug on the barrel) had at some point been replaced with two half-length pins or nails. When we tried to punch it through, both sides just disappeared into the stock. That required a bit of digging into the wood to deal with, unfortunately.

The wood on my particular rifle looks better than the stock photo above, but it is well coated in black junk from 100+ years of storage in Kathmandu. It’s fairly soft, but the test spot I chose on the butt cleaned up surprisingly well using Simple Green and a scrub pad. The color is a nice brown under the crud, which is nice to see. The metal is similarly covered in hardened greasy crud, but has a pretty decent patina underneath.

Anyway, once we got the forestock off, we were able to get a look at the underside of the barrel. There wasn’t and significant corrosion on the visible top area, but the wood would have held water in contact with the metal, and that’s where a problem might be. And sadly, here’s what we found:

Gahendra Martini barrel pitting
Deep pitting on the underside of the barrel

In a couple places, the pitting looked deep enough to make me nervous about the prospect of firing it. These barrels weren’t exactly wonders of modern QC in the first place, and that was before rusting away for a century.

With the action apart, I decided to have a glance at the bore condition ((what the heck?), and found it to be blocked by something about a foot from the muzzle. We figured it would be a stuck bullet, so out came a piece of 5/16″ steel rod and a mallet – but a good hammering session didn’t move the obstruction at all. We tried heating it up form the outside with a torch to soften the lead, and that did no good either. So next up was a long drill bit.

That felt like it bit into the thing, but when we pulled it back out a load of wood chips and sawdust came spilling out. Weird. We drilled down through close to and inch of woody blockage, and then tried the rod and hammer again. This time we were able to clear the bore, and here’s what had been in there:

Barrel blockage from Gahendra Martini - old cleaning patches
Barrel blockage from Gahendra Martini - old cleaning patches

Yep, three vintage cleaning patches topped by some sort of wood plug. I have no idea what the plug was or was intended to do…

Now I now have a decision to make. This rifle will never shoot again in its current condition, and I’m not particularly interested in having it as a non-functioning wallhanger. So what we will be doing (as time permits) is sleeving the barrel (drill it out smooth and solder a new smaller barrel inside), repairing the firing pin (it was broken off), and rebuilding this rifle into a working gun in a new caliber. The question is, which caliber?

To fit well inside the existing barrel, I need something not more than about .32 caliber. And it needs to be a rimmed round, to function well in this type of falling-block action. And, it needs to be at or below the pressure level that this action can handle. The safe level on a .450-577 Martini round is about 19,000 psi, which is much lower than almost anything currently on the market. In fact, there is only one cartridge still sort of available that I found to meed all the requirements: the .32-20.

So here’s what I’m thinking: a sporter type target rifle for relatively short ranges and small game. The .32-20 loaded with something like Trail Boss and cast bullets. Mount a set of good aftermarket peep sights, and keep the original barrel length to maintain a long sight radius (although the barrel sleeve will probably not run the full length). Tune up the trigger a bit, and clean up the wood. Dunno if I’ll refinish the metal or just clean it up to it’s natural patina.

What do you think?