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The "new" .50x.348 (AKA 50 Alaskan)
Old 08-13-2006, 02:47 PM
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Default The "new" .50x.348 (AKA 50 Alaskan)

A couple of years ago, my Dad bought an 1879 Martini-Enfield chambered in .22/30-30 for me. I was primarily interested in the action, but I played with the cartridge, and it was interesting. I was able to drive a 45-grain .22 bullet in excess of 4500 f/s. That kind of muzzle velocity always gets my attention. Still, there were elements to this rifle that just didn't sit right with me.

First, this was an action that was over 125 years old with a barrel that was chambered in a cartridge that was definitely not of the same vintage. Second, while I really like small bullets going very fast, already owning a .17 Remington pretty well covered all of my small-bore-fast-bullet-needs in Alaska. I simply couldn't come up with a consistent, practical application for the Martini-Enfield in .22/.30-30. Finally, I have been smitten with big bore cartridges for a while now, and the Martini was definitely originally designed for big bore cartridges. It seemed appropriate to get it back at least toward a configuraton that was more in keeping with its original intent.

Among the big bore cartridges for which the Martini was originally chambered, the .577/.450 was the most probable candidate for rechambering. Unfortunately, getting or making cases would be a major challenge. I wasn't particularly interested in seeking out 'cahllenges'. Also, while .45 caliber is certainly "big bore", I actually was more interested in big bores - .50 or bigger. In that vein, I have had an interest in the .50 caliber cartridges of the commercial buffalo hunter era. Nomenclature and revisionist history have seriously muddied the water sorrounding these .50 caliber cartridges. Suffice it to say that my interest was focused on a .50 caliber cartridge that might have been used during that era, and that would fit/load in the Martini. Both the .50-70 Government, and the .50-70 Sharps, while very different cartridges, looked like the best candidates. Unfortunately, once again, getting brass meant taking out a second mortgage.

While discussing (whining about) this dilemma with (to) Jay, he commented that he had solved the 'problem' by using .348 Winchester brass. Adding that the resulting case blown out to .50 caliber, was the ballistic and esthetic equivalent of the "Big Fifties" of the commercial buffalo hunter era. Turns out, this cartridge was experiencing a bit of a resurgence in popularity. Sufficiently so, that there was even brass made for it, headstamped with the "modern" moniker - the 50 Alaskan. So I did some checking about, and to make a long story at least a little shorter, the .50-.348 turned out to be an excellent candidate for the Martini rechambering.

This is the point at which daydreaming actually has to change to action. I got to figuring the actual mechanics of getting accomplished what I wanted. Getting a .50 caliber barrel would be no sweat, and cost only about $200-ish. Getting it chambered for .50-.348 (.50 Alaskan) would be equally easy, at a cost of ~ $100+. However, it is at this point that 'things' got a little 'complicated'. The barrel of course would come 'in the white' and require bluing. The Martini action is in excellent conditon and has a beautiful blue-job. Getting a new barrel to match the action would require having both re-blued. I really didn't want to go through that rigamarol unless there was no alternative. In additon, the extractor of the Martini would have to be modified from the .30-30 rim to that of the .348 WCF. Furthrmore, the bbl would have to be properly threaded for the Martini action, AND the breech properly fit to the extractor. Even discounting the cost, I wasn't too happy about leaving that work to just anybody. To complicate the matter, there's not a gunsmith in Alaska that I would trust to do the work competantly. I'm sure there must be one or two capable of it, but I don't know them.

Enter Ol' John. He had recently had some reboring work done by a fellow in Arizona, and was pleased with the result. Reboring solved many of my 'problems'. No new bbl required. No bluing either of the bbl or the action. No need for the 'smith doing the chambering to 'know' Martinis in order to get the bbl/receiver fit right. The extractor was still an issue, but I had a solution to that problem if indeed it turned out to be one. So I called Dan at Cut Rifle, and we discussed the project. He was 'game', and said the extractor "issue" wasn't a problem. He added that while he didn't have a .50-348 (.50 Alaskan) reamer, interest was growing in the cartridge, and he'd cover the cost of the reamer, as he was sure he'd have more requests for it. So now it was down to some real detail.

First, was there enough 'meat' in the existing .22/.30-30 bbl to allow reaming it out to .512-ish? Half an inch is a big hole, and a large diameter bbl is necessary for such a bore. The good news was that the .22 bbl was a "bull" type barrel with a uniform taper from breech to muzzle. After extracting the .512" from its muzzle diameter, there was still plenty of metal left. Whew! But bad news was coming. When in preparation for shipping, I took the forearm off the barreled-action, I noticed that the attachment screw for the forearm was threaded into the bbl, not into a post attached to the bbl. That significantly reduced the 'meat', and it was back at a 'bad' point - not too far in front of the chamber. I measured the depth of the hole, and it was 'close', but on the skinny side. That was very disappointing news. After calling Dan back up and disussing the new information, we decided that once he had the bbl in his hands, I would let him decide if he thought it was safe. In case it wasn't, I had another bbl he could use, and I'd send it along just in case. So, late January, off the metal went to Arizona. In the mean time, I started looking at .40-ish caliber cartridges as probable candidates instead of a .50.

After Dan had a chance to inspect the rifle, he thought that there was sufficient metal left for a .50 IF I wasn't going to push the pressure envelope. Say keep it under 35,000 PSI. This was really good news, because in fact, I was intending to keep the muzzle energy down around 3100 ft-lbs (I'll explain the choice of that figure later.) Doing so, it would be easy to keep the chamber pressure below 25,000 PSI. In that case, says Dan, there's plenty of metal for a .50 caliber. Oh yeah, his charge for re-boring to .50 caliber, cut rifling (8 lands and grooves), and rechambering was $285. $25 for modifying the extractor, and $30 for shipping and insurance. Total - $340. That beat the heck out of a new bbl with all its associated extra costs and concerns.

That's the Reader's Digest condensed version of getting to the point of actual action. The story continues.

Here's a picture of the rifle before it left for Arizona.

Attached Images
File Type: jpg Martini Orignial Configuration.JPG (37.6 KB, 214 views)

Last edited by gitano; 08-13-2006 at 09:53 PM..
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.348 win, .50 alaskan, martini enfield

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