DIY Custom Heritage Mfg. Rough Rider Revolvers

by
posted on May 29, 2021
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Being bitten by the at-home gun project bug is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, getting your fingers greasy assembling the gun you want is a truly a satisfying hobby. On the other hand, it's not uncommon for a build or modification to quickly grow into an excessively expensive proposition. But I recently discovered an easy and affordable do-it-yourself project while evaluating a Heritage Manufacturing, Inc. Rough Rider .22 LR six-shot revolver outfitted with a birdshead grip frame and a second .22 Mag. cylinder.

I was curious to see what other grip panel options the company offers in addition to the cocobolo grips this revolver shipped with. As I looked through the Heritage online store, I found key components that usually require hand-fitting by a professional gunsmith, including cylinders and grip frames. A conversation with a company representative revealed that Heritage uses a modern, modular approach to assembling their old-fashioned revolvers.

Using drop-in parts reduces the cost of building the guns, contributes to easier repairs and allows for no-gunsmith-required customizations. So, I gathered up two more Rough Rider rimfires, along with a mixed set of Heritage in-house components, and got to work.

Barrel Length and Receiver Finish

Because this at-home project starts with a factory assembled gun, instead of a box of parts like an AR-15 kit or a Glock pistol build, you'll need to pick a model with the barrel length and receiver finish you prefer. Technically speaking, any feature of a firearm can be modified with the right skills and tools. But the cost of a having a gunsmith shorten the barrel (cut, re-crown, re-install the front sight and refinish) or change the receiver’s finish is likely to exceed the value of the gun itself.

Rimfire models outfitted with flat-bottom Colt Single-Action Army style ploughshare grip frames (Heritage calls it a Regular or Standard grip) are available with 16" (Buntline), 6.50", 4.75" and 2.68" (Barkeep) barrels. The Barkeep is too short for an ejector-rod-housing assembly so a hand-held ejector is provided. The more curvaceous Birdshead grip frame revolvers ship with either 4.75" or 3.5" barrels. Most of the aluminum-alloy receivers sport the same black finish as the grip frames but some models ship with a simulated case color finish.

Most Rough Riders have a traditional blade sight up front and a fixed-square notch at the rear. But a few ship with an adjustable rear sight and a fiber-optic front sight. The aluminum-alloy grip frames are available in a black finish only and the carbon steel barrels all have a round profile. The checkered hammer is stainless steel with a natural silver finish. The other appointments are blued or blacked to match the barrel.

For those who are beginners, I do not recommend opening up the receiver or trying to modify the trigger group. Instead, stick to cylinder exchanges, grip-frame swaps and trading out grip panels until you know more. The good news is that the single-action triggers of the Rough Riders are surprisingly smooth and light right out of the box. The three guns I modified during this review exhibited clean trigger pulls of 2-lbs. 5-ozs., 2-lbs. 9-osz. and to 2-lbs. 11-ozs., which is much better than one might expect from a budget-priced gun.

Select Your Six-Shot Cylinders

Once you have your base gun with the barrel length and frame finish you like, it's time to look at cylinder options. Heritage offers a nine-shot version of the Rough Rider, but the add-on cylinders shown here are only available for the six-shot models. The unfluted blued steel .22 Mag. cylinder will fit into any of the six-shot .22 LR models.

At $30, it is by far one of the least expensive caliber conversions on the market with no additional parts or modifications required to use it. Remove the .22 LR cylinder, install the .22 Mag. cylinder in its place and it's ready to shoot. If you want to change the color of your .22 LR cylinder, you have a choice of silver stainless steel (shown), bright blue, gold and prism finishes. Adding engraved embellishments to a single-action revolver is a time-honored tradition, but also fairly expensive to have done either by hand or with computer-controlled laser engraving.

Heritage offers a series of fluted blued steel .22 LR cylinders for $35 with engraved patterns that I believe are roll-stamped into the metal. The stamping process is a comparatively inexpensive process that yields good-looking results.  Pattern options include cowboy boots, rattlesnake and buffalo-head-nickel themes. Shown here is a cylinder with traditional floral scroll work.

Swapping Out Grip Frames

Exchanging a Rough Rider's factory installed grip frame for either a Standard ($24.99) or Birdshead ($29.99) model is a relatively simple and affordable process that only requires two standard screw drivers and about 30 minutes of your time, if you're not in a hurry.

The procedure starts with fieldstripping the gun as if preparing it for a detailed cleaning. Verify that the revolver is completely unloaded, remove the cylinder from the frame and remove the grip panels by loosening the grip screw and removed the grip stabilizer pin at the base of the frame. The next step is to twist out the five grip frame screws using two sizes of standard screw drivers.

One screw is located in front of the trigger guard, with two behind the trigger guard and two more located behind the hammer. I opted to remove the three lower screws first, followed by the two behind the hammer. The grip frame is under tension from the hammer main spring. For this reason, be sure to squeeze the grip frame and receiver together with one hand while removing the last screw from behind the hammer.

Both types of replacement grip frames ship with a hammer mainspring installed, so no spring removal or replacement is required. Be aware that with the grip frame screws removed from the receiver that the loading gate, along with its tiny plunger and spring, can fall out of the receiver. If they do, just press them back into place before proceeding.

Press and hold the new grip frame against the receiver with the hammer spring in place against the hammer and the screw ports properly aligned. Replace the five-frame screws and make sure they are snug but do not over tighten. Proceed to reassemble the rest of the revolver. If for some reason you should need to replace one or more of the frame screws, Heritage offers a complete five-screw replacement kit for $10.   

Pick Your Grips

Standard and Birdshead rimfire grip sets are available in a variety of options. Choose from smooth wood, laser engraved wood, multi-color laminated wood, faux stag horn and a pearlite-type polymer. Depending on the material and finish, grip sets cost between $25 to $30. Two things should be noted here. First, grip sets do not ship with a grip screw in the package. The screw is sold separately for $6. Secondly, the grip screws for the Standard grips and Birdshead grips are not interchangeable.           

Leather Holsters & Belts

If you are in need of a rig for your wheel gun to ride in, Heritage offers a full line up of western-style leather holsters and belts, with holster prices starting at $50. Shown below a Slim Jim Style holster cut to fit the 3.5" barrel rimfire revolvers. It's made of a good, stiff full-grain leather with white stitching and an antique brown finish.  

Results

Here's how these three revolvers looked after they were treated to a cylinder swap, a grip frame exchange and new grip panels. Historically there were no long-barreled Birdshead grip revolvers because this grip style was intended to make small revolvers more concealable, but I like the look of this grip frame with the longer barrel. I also traded out the .22 LR cylinder for the unfluted .22 Mag conversion.

The Barkeep is a slick little gun based on the Colt Shopkeeper which had a ploughshare grip frame. But with its small frame and short barrel, it really deserves a Birdshead grip to make it as compact as possible. The factory .22-cal. cylinder was exchanged for an engraved version. But there's no reason to stick to traditional color schemes if you don't want to. The 3.5" barrel model has been brightened up with a stainless steel cylinder and two tone gray/yellow grip set. 

Bottom Line

Conducting at home modifications to Heritage Rough Rider rimfire revolvers proved to be easy, enjoyable and relaxing. All of the parts were just as drop-in as expected and fit together neatly, properly and without any modifications required. But what about project costs? As I mentioned before, some builds and types of custom work can run into the hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Heritage offers an extensive line-up of rimfire Rough Riders.

That means there's a good chance that you can find the feature package you're looking for right off the rack. If that's the case, then you're looking at suggested retail prices for factory assembled guns ranging from $131 to $233. These numbers often translate into real-world prices that can be as much as $50 less. The add-on components are among the most affordable I've seen with prices ranging from $6 to $35 a piece.

I went ahead and put together the most 'expensive' one-gun package I could using the products I had on hand. I started off with the 3.5" Birdshead Convertible model which includes a .22 Mag. conversion cylinder for a suggested retail price of $193. I added an engraved cylinder, traded out the Birdshead grip frame for a Standard frame and installed an engraved hardwood grip set using a new grip screw. The total parts cost, minus taxes, shipping and sweat equity, would be $106. Throw in the Slim Jim leather holster and the total upgrade package would be $156.

For comparison, I looked up how much it would be to install a Birdshead grip frame to one of the centerfire single-action revolvers I own. The bare frame alone would be around $150, not including the hardware, grip panels and gunsmithing charges to have it hand fitted to the receiver. Based on these numbers, it's safe to say that customizing a Rough Rider is among the most affordable at-home gun projects available. For more information about Heritage Manufacturing, Inc. offerings, check out our video reviews of the Rough Rider Barkeep and the 6.5" Barrel 2-Tone models.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Heritage Manufacturing, Inc.
Featured Base Guns: Rough Rider .22-cal. Six-Shot Revolvers
Model: Camo Laminate .22 LR Revolver (RR22CH6)
Features: 6.5" Barrel, Camo Laminate Grips and Simulated Case Hardened Frame
MSRP: $170
Model: Barkeep .22 LR Revolver (BK22CH2WBRN10)
Features: 2.68" Barrel, Wood Grips and Simulated Case Hardened Frame
MSRP: $180
Model: Birdshead Convertible .22 Caliber Revolver (RR22MB3BH)
Features: 3.5" Barrel, .22 LR and .22 Mag. Cylinders, Cocobolo Wood Grips
MSRP: $193
Featured shopheritagemfg.com Small-Bore Rough Rider Parts and Accessories:
6-Shot .22 LR Fluted Cylinder, Blued Steel with Scrolled Engraving (331-0001-02) $35
6-Shot .22 LR Fluted Cylinder, Stainless Steel (331-0001-05) $35
6-Shot.22 WMR (.22 Mag.) Unfluted Cylinder, Blued Steel (331-0002-01) $30
Small-Bore Standard Grip Frame Assembly (302-0002-00) $25
Small-Bore Birdshead Grip Frame Assembly (302-0002-01) $30
Small-Bore Grip Frame Screw Set 5-Pack, Black  (332-0004-01) $10
Altamont  Camo Hardwood Laminate Standard Grips (802-0007-02-WB) $25
Altamont Hawkeye Hardwood Laminate Standard Grips (GR-HR) $25
Green Hardwood Laminate Standard Grips (GR-GRR) $30
Regular Small-Bore Grip Screw Set (332-0003-01) $6
Black Simulated Mother of Pearl Birdshead Grips (GR-MOPPBLH) $30
Black Strata Laminate Birdshead Birdshead Grips (GR-BSBH) $25
Cocobolo Birdshead Grips (GR-EXHCBH) $25
Birdshead Small-Bore Grip Screw Set (332-0003-02) $6
Slim Jim Style Leather Holster for 3.5" Small Bore (1091H-RH3) $50

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