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>> Amending The Marlin Safety :: By J. Marshall Stanton on 2004-07-04
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Several generations past, when lever action rifles were conceived, men were men, and took responsibility for their own actions. Times were different then. Firearms design was driven by functionality and efficiency both in use and production. Unnecessary machining and gadgetry was avoided wherever possible. This was done to streamline production and to minimize moving parts and keep the guns of the frontier as simple as possible.

Lever action rifles evolved over a period of about twenty-five years to an apex of design excellence which endures today in modern production guns. These beloved classics had a simple safety system which operated like the revolvers of the day, with a rugged, and reliable half-cock notch, or safety notch in the hammer. The system was functional and familiar, as well as lightning fast when the guns came into play on the frontier, in the game fields. Men, women and children used these firearms on a daily basis as a tool of survival. Firearms safety was taught from toddler-hood and common sense was much more common than it is today.

Today we live in much different times. Much of firearms design is driven by attorneys due to the litigating society in which we now live. If a firearms accident occurs there is litigation around the corner blaming the manufacturer for not making the firearm idiot-proof, and protecting us from ourselves. As such, we now have superfluous additional safeties added to firearms designs existent for over a century, to protect against litigation from irresponsible users, lacking what used to be common sense.

The case in point here is the entire family of Marlin lever-action rifles and carbines. John Marlin designed these guns over a century ago to be safe, rugged and reliable mechanisms that were easy to use and efficient on the frontier and in the field. To that end he imminently succeeded. Enter corporate attorneys, and protecting company liability, and these marvelously simple firearms were changed by the stroke of a pen! No longer did a simple half-cock safety notch suffice in a suit-happy society, but the addition of a hammer-block safety was mandated, thus changing the basic simplicity of a proven firearms design that endured for a century.

For those of us who cut our teeth shooting traditional leverguns, sans hammer-block safeties, these abominations have caused not only consternation, but lost opportunities on fine trophies in the game fields across this nation. For most hunters going afield, especially when still-hunting in the dense brush and woods where most game is found today, the classic lever-action rifle is carried with the hammer-block safety in the “off” position, and the hammer resting on the traditional half-cock safety notch. This is by far the fastest condition to get a levergun into action in the field, and the way they were intended to work when designed so many generations ago.

The difficulty comes when hunting with a hammer-block equipped Marlin rifle in this manner, from holding the rifle tight to the body when crossing rough terrain, or perhaps bumping the left-side of the receiver with binoculars, water bottle, or other gear while hunting, and not noticing that by bumping the hammer-block safety, it returned to the “safe” position without being noticed. It seemingly never fails, that after just such an occurrence the trophy of a lifetime materializes out of nowhere, and when the rifle is shouldered, and that carefully placed shot is gently squeezed off, that a sickening metallic KERCLACK breaks the silence as the rifle’s hammer falls on an engaged hammer-block safety!

Yes, it happens! It happened to me twice in three years with the same rifle! Both occasions were using a Marlin 444SS rifle during Idaho elk seasons. The first time cost a fine branch-antlered bull elk on the second day of season while hunting on public lands. A steep five-mile hike before daylight had put me on the edge of a burned-off area where native grasses grew in profusion in an isolated pocket of habitat far out of reach for motorized travel. Gray light of dawn broke upon the ghostly grey and tawny shapes of over a dozen elk feeding in the clearing below my secluded position. The early morning light intensified until I could make out two bulls in the herd, a spike and a nice five-point bull both feeding within a hundred yards away. I waited with my front bead centered in the receiver sight on the branch-antlered bull, waiting for him to turn fully broadside as he fed on the golden grass.

Finally everything was perfect. Wrapped up in my sling, sitting with my back against a dead-fall and resting across my knees, my rock-solid rest underscored a soaring confidence when the trigger cleanly broke after a deliberate and perfect pull. KERCLACK! An echoing metallic ringing reverberated through the morning calm, sending the whole herd of elk into the inky depths of the hemlock thickets filling the canyon below!

During the excitement of glassing those elk, my binoculars had bumped the hammer-block safety on my Marlin rifle, and moved it to the “safe” position. It certainly proved safe for that five-point bull elk one misty October Idaho morning. It was my only opportunity on an elk for that entire hunting season.

This scenario played out again two years later when hunting the same general area, only this time on a nice fat cow elk during an antlerless season. I had hunted hard during a heavy snowfall, tracking three elk that I had kicked off of beds earlier in the day. When I finally caught up with them in a little open draw I once again had a well placed, well rested shot, and again, the hollow, sickening KERCLACK rang through the silence of that snowfall, only to send my only chance of that year at harvesting an elk into the next drainage!

I was raised on lever-action rifles in the game fields, and wouldn’t be without them. However, I was raised with rifles designed for users possessing common sense and the knowledge that the only true firearms safety is the one that resides between the ears! I have never become accustomed to hunting with the Marlin rifles with hammer-block safeties, as those safeties are the farthest thing from my mind when in the field. The safety that concerns me is muzzle direction, and half-cock hammer positions. I guess there is evidence enough of that in the preceding two events that I’ve retold here.

Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that the Marlin hammer-block safety has no value. It certainly does, and the best and most useful application of this safety that I can think of is when unloading a lever-action rifle. Those times where a rifle must be unloaded and cycling loaded ammo through the action to clear the magazine tube of loaded rounds, the cross-bolt safety is of great value. When the safety is applied, there is virtually no risk of the rifle accidentally discharging while cycling the lever to empty the gun. In this application the hammer block has no safety peer.

With that said, the aforementioned use is about the only good thing I can say about the hammer-block safety on these guns. Aside from unloading a rifle, the hammer-block safety is about as useful as a screen-door on a submarine!

The following ideas and procedures are only presented to the viewer of this article for informational purposes. Beartooth Bullets, its subsidiaries, the author or publisher of this website nor any other affiliated persons or entities accepts no liability for the consequences as a result of the application of the ensuing information.

Presented here are four separate, but related treatments to and for the Marlin Lever-action hammer-block safety. These range from the easily and immediately implemented and reversible, to permanent solutions.

The first, simplest and probably the most practical for the average shooter is an expedient application of a number 009 rubber o-ring to the red recess on the “fire” side of the hammer-block safety as viewed in the following photographs.

Rubber o-rings are available at most hardware stores and home improvement centers across the country. The o-ring for this application, a number 009 measures 1/16th inch wide with an inside diameter of 7/32” and an outside diameter of 11/32”, and came from the pictured o-ring assortment kit purchased from Harbor Freight Tools for around six dollars on sale.

The beauty of the o-ring modification is that while hunting the o-ring may be applied to the safety and POSITIVELY assures that the safety can not slip back to the safe-position inadvertently in the field, yet be easily removed when finished hunting, and still enjoy the security of the safety when cycling loaded ammo through the rifle for unloading purposes. This is an absolutely secure option in the field, yet requires no firearm disassembly or modification in any way. Too, it is a cheap and immediate fix!

Keep in mind however, if using the o-ring technique described here, to remove the o-ring when cleaning the gun post-field use! This is especially true if hunting or shooting in inclement weather, as the o-ring will trap moisture, and may cause an untidy orange rust ring to develop on the side of the receiver around the safety where moisture causes rust. Another consideration for removing the o-ring, is that most gun cleaning agents and lubricants applied to firearms will deteriorate the rubber of the o-ring, so removal of the o-ring is desirable for more than one reason. After all, it only takes a few seconds to remove it from the recess of the hammer-block safety, it’s just making a conscious effort to do so!

The following treatments of the Marlin hammer-block safety require some disassembly, and the following steps are necessary for all applications.

The first step is to remove the tang screw at the rear of the tang which retains the butt-stock of the rifle. Be sure to use a properly fitting screwdriver to avoid damaging the screw head.

After removing the butt-stock from the rifle action, note at the rear, and on the left side of the receiver, is a small allen-head setscrew tapped into the receiver. This setscrew both tensions a detent ball and spring which actuates and retains the hammer-block safety in the receiver. Also notice in the photo that this screw has liberal amounts of red Loc-Tite applied to the external threads and head of the screw. This filling of Loc-Tite renders it impossible to insert an allen-wrench into the hexagonal recess of the screw.

However, with a little American ingenuity and determination, that obstacle is easily overcome! For the purposes of this article and removal of the pictured Loc-Tite held screw, a small chisel pointed tool was crafted using a large-size ordinary paper-clip by pointing up a chisel-like bit using a grinder on the tip of the extended end of the paper-clip. Grinding, filing or sanding will all produce the necessary profile for cleaning the Loc-Tite from the hexagonal recess of the screw and the threads extending beyond the allen-screw in the hole.

With just a little time and care using the homemade tool described above, the factory applied Loc-Tite is easily removed, the recess in the allen-head screw cleaned out, and the exposed threads extending past the screw are cleaned up as well. Albeit this creates somewhat of a mess, it is necessary to continue with the project.

With the threads and screw-head cleared of Loc-Tite, a hex-bit or allen-wrench easily inserts into the screw as seen below. Make absolutely certain that the bit or wrench perfectly fits the screw-head to prevent damage.

Now comes decision time: which method of dealing with this safety to take? Having control over the setscrew and detent ball now, after removing Marlin’s “tamper-proof” Loc-Tite treatment of the setscrew, there are presented some viable options not previously possible.

The first suggestion is to slightly tighten the screw, and thus increase the tension on the detent-ball holding the hammer-block safety in position. By increasing the tension, the force required to move the safety from “safe” to “fire” may be greatly increased to almost positively prevent inadvertent changes to the safety position in the field due to accidental bumping of the safety. With increased pressure on the detent ball switching safety positions is difficult, and requires a conscious and directed effort. This is a fine option for the hunter or shooter who wants positive reassurance that inadvertent safety position changes do not spontaneously occur, but still desires use of the hammer-block safety for unloading the firearm.

The second option is to simply turn the setscrew down tight with the safety in the “fire” position, and lock the cross-bolt into place and positively know it will not move, period. This is a fast, secure and reversible operation. Should the owner decide to sell the gun, give it as a gift, or trade it in, the firearm is easily returned to the factory guise, and no further fuss is necessary. This non-permanent fix absolutely eliminates the hollow metallic KERCLACK in the field by accidentally applying the safety somewhere along the line. Too, it might lead to more game in the freezer and fewer unfilled tags at the end of the season.

Lastly, are two somewhat more permanent treatments of the Marlin Safety. One is replacement of the whole cross-bolt assembly with a “non-safety” aftermarket part which while available from a few different firms, all have the same basic appearance and “non-safety” attributes. These are available on the web from $17.00-$34.00 depending upon the vendor and manufacturer. I have not used any of these products, so cannot endorse or recommend one over the other at this point in time.

A permanent solution requiring no financial outlay (I like this kind of gunsmithing!) is to alter the existing hammer-block safety mechanism. Keep in mind that reversing this process is not possible without purchasing a replacement cross-bolt from Marlin. Prior to removing the cross-bolt of the safety, it is necessary to measure the protrusion of the safety when in the “fire” position from the side of the receiver as seen in the photograph below. The simple use of a dial caliper reveals this measurement. On the receiver pictured the safety protrudes 0.117”. This measurement may vary from one action to another.

Continuing with the project, the hex-head setscrew must be removed as well as the detent-ball and spring it retains. Be careful to not lose or misplace these parts, as all parts will be reused after some modification.

Following removal of the detent-ball assembly, the Marlin hammer-block safety slides out of the right side of the receiver without resistance.

Once removed, it is easy to see how the safety operates and the interaction of the component parts.

Now measure the overall length of the safety as pictured below. By taking the overall length of the safety, then subtracting the amount of protrusion from the receiver as measured previously, we arrive at the desired target length of the cross-bolt when finished with our modifications.

This cross-bolt measures 1.151” in length. It’s time to calculate the new modified target length of this part. Simply subtract the measured protrusion of 0.117” and the necessary length for this hammer-block safety to not protrude out either side of the receiver is 1.034” overall. How is this accomplished? One of two expedient methods, either of which will do the job nicely.

A good single-cut file judiciously applied to the safety (the side with the red ring) while the cross-bolt is securely held in a vise is a fine option. With only 0.117” of material to remove from the end of the safety, a file will make short work of removing that little metal! Work carefully, keeping the filed surface of the cross-bolt square to the body of the safety. Work slowly, and measure carefully to avoid removing too much material from the body of the safety, as it can’t be grown back! When within a few thousandths of an inch of the target length for the safety, finish it off using varying grades of sandpaper held on a rigid sanding block to insure keeping a flat, square surface. Finish polishing the newly prepared surface, and apply cold-bluing solution as per instructions on the product to finish the hammer-block safety modification.

If access to a lathe is available, the job is quite a bit easier, as the body of the cross-bolt may be chucked in the lathe, then neatly cut the length back taking a couple of facing cuts, polish and blue the machined end. It really is that fast and simple.

Installation of the modified Marlin hammer-block safety, or shall we now call it the ex-safety is very simply the reverse of removal. Insert the cross-bolt into the right side, and center in the receiver, then secure in place with the detent-ball assembly, turning the setscrew down tight. So modified the ex-safety cannot possibly be activated ever again! No longer will the elk woods be Marlin hammer-block safe!

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