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?



  1. The bolt thrust caculation for cartridge substitution is cylindrical area of the base of the cartridge (excluding the rim) times peak pressure. You have much more latitude for cartridge substitution here than you think.

    Most corrosion of the type encountered here is actually the product of bacteria, rather than moisture alone. A variety of different bacteria consume organics on or near the steel surface and then excrete acids. This is why the best rust inhibitors are waxes impregnated with barium sulfonate [Tectyl 846, LPS3, etc.]. These rust inhibitors can be applied to the cleaned wood and will prevent further corrosion. Just don’t use barium sulfonate on brass, copper, or zinc alloys.

  2. Forgot to mention that these old guns usually have a huge firing pin which is too big in diameter to work with small pistol and rifle primers. Usually gunsmiths bush the firing pin hole in the breech block and turn down the firing pin to a modern diameter.

    • Thanks, John – you have clearly done more of this than I have. 🙂 Even if I do have a wider selection of cartridges, I rather like the idea of using .32-30. Make it into the sort of rifle you read about in F.W. Mann’s The Bullet’s Flight from Powder to Target.

  3. Ian
    Here is what I am thinking:

    1. If other parts are good enough you may order a new barrel in .577/450 Martini Henry (drawback – must be expensive).

    2. What if use the original barrel and drill it to 12gauge (or 16ga) dimensions. I assume one of these gauges must fit the dimensions (rim, base , overall lenght) of .577/450. Or at least replace the barrel with a shotgun smoothbore one, which must be cheaper.

    • Unfortunately, Hrachya, spares are simply not available. These were all made in Nepal about 150 years ago and any spare parts that might be found would be in the same sort of condition as my rifle.

      A shotgun conversion might work, but I’m not particularly interested in making a shotgun.

      • I mean not to order a spare barrel, but try to contact a modern barrel manufacturer and ask them make one (giving all necessary dimensions like taper of profile, cartridge, twist rate etc.). I guess if that works then maybe it’ll be also useful to order them chamber it in 45-70Govt. (more affordable brass, similar performance (MV and ME are very close for both cartridges with 400gr lead bullets) ). E.g. Pac-Nor makes barrels in wide variety of wildcat cartridges…maybe they’ll do the job.
        Another interesting solution… guys are talking that .303 Enfield barrel easily fits MH’s threads. Check this link:

  4. Now this is my kinda post! I was wondering if you’d get back to it. I can’t wait to see what direction you are going to go with it. I’ve seen a few of these done and it’s always an interesting challenge.

  5. I own 4 of these Gahendra’s from IMA and I don’t dare firing one of them! The design isn’t bad, but it wasn’t that well produced in the factories in Nepal where it was made. Martini Henry’s for instance were made in Great Britain, the no 1 industrial nation of that era, and it shows. Exchanging parts between Gahendra’s is almost impossible (as bad as with the Beaumont Vitali), so buying a second one for the parts isn’t a real option. My 2 cents: put a cleaned up Gahendra next to one with all the 130 years of dirt on.

    PS: Contact those guys that are again producing the FG 42. If you can make those, producing a new series of Gahendra’s must be easy.

    • Actually, I need to contact the FG42 guys (the 1st model, not the Texans with the new 2nd model) because they still have my money and the rifles appear to be on the Bren 10 and Shrike schedule… *sigh*

  6. I like the shotgun idea, but in 410. Some where way back I think I read about a conversion in that caliber. I could be wrong though, it was a 60’s article in American Rifleman.

  7. I wonder if picking the “from best of stock” option will affect the quality at all. I’ve been tempted to order one, but now I’m starting to think twice seeing how beat up this rifle is.

    • Agree with you. With first post about this gun I thought it must be a good deal for such a gun, but now my opinion is that you pay about 200 bucks and what you get is a 100-year-old piece of rusty metal, which is neither aesthetically pleasant enough to be hang on the wall nor is practical. They don’t even bother with what is stuck in the bore. I think it absolutely doesn’t worth the money. I have nothing against guys from IMA, but I wouldn’t pay a penny for this gun.

      • Don’t misjudge IMA – they are very, very clear about the condition of these rifles. I don’t regret the purchase at all – if I just cleaned it up to use as a display, I could make it look quite good. Under the crud, the stock is pretty good looking, and the metal has a nice patina (all the pitting is underneath the stock). These rifles are literally never going to be available from any other source, so it’s neat to have one despite the condition. I don’t blame you for not necessarily having interest in it, but I just want to make sure other folks reading come away with both sides of the argument.

  8. I think it’s really just luck of the draw. Mine looks pretty good on the outside, and would clean up pretty well if I didn’t want to shoot it. I think if you want a shooter, you’d be much better off getting a Martini that has already been restored by IMA. The Gahendras are only $190 or so, and you really can’t expect too much at that price. I don’t regret mine, even with the issues I’ve found.

  9. The normal way of doing this is to use a piloted reamer – Brownells sells them – to open up the barrel for a liner. Liners are available in most popular calibers. You’d have to sleeve the nose up to .577″ to guide it.

    If the pitting wasn’t too bad you might be able to line it to .458″ and use Trapdoor-spec low pressure .45-70 cartidges, but it would be a judgement call.

    That in mind, how about… .38 Special? They’re in the right pressure range and dirt cheap. You can reload it to any pressure you feel comfortable with.

    There’s also the Draconian solution – $190 isn’t all that much if you were considering a new barrel. Buy a replacement barrel with a gun on it. Call up IMA, pay the extra for a hand-select rifle with no pitting (if they have any left) and sell the one you have to someone who wants a wall-hanger.

  10. One might consider a sleeve in .303 British. Certainly available, and a useful round.

    A certain fitness in it. There were cadet rifles that were chambered in that.

  11. Nobody makes a liner in the proper diameter for .303 British, at least that I’ve found. That’s why I round up cutting down a spare Mosin barrel to repair my DPM.

    The very similar .30-40 Krag is ordinary .30 caliber, though, and liners are easily available and not very expensive.

  12. If you are going to a .32, why not use the .32 Winchester Special? It was designed to use as a black powder backup, anyway. Readily available brass, jacketed or cast bullets. good luck.

  13. My personal choice would be sleeve it in .30, and chamber it to 30-30. Not a high pressure cartridge, but, one that could be used with a number of different bullets in this gun, and one that could be taken hunting, if you wanted.

    Just my personal opinion.

  14. This is a black powder gun, Original barrel is much thicker than needed. Mine shoots fine with the deep pits. Take a chance and test fire remotely. Hey, if it does blow you will just have a more interesting wall hanger,ok? Start with a light load if you want. You can also use a undersized cloth patched bullet (muzzle loaded)to lower the pressure. I have shot brass barrel screw barrel pistols with no problem. The above is my opinion, feel free to disagree.

  15. Just finished getting mine cleaned up. Mine also had a wad of cloth patch suffed in the chamber. After a few days of applying penatrating oil, heat and blue launguage I was able to get the action apart. It was missing a few screws and one of the screws that held the bottom of the action on had been replaced by a stick.(Napelese field expediant repair). Much to my suprise I was able to replace the missing screws with modern screws. Against all odds, they threaded in correctly. The action now works perfectly. Will make a nice functional display piece and may even attempt to fire it some day. Well worth the $195 bucks just for the story. Dont be afraid to give it a try.

  16. I have 6 of these rifle and i have shot them at lest 50 times apiece
    I am the one that did your Swiss Vetterli bolt

  17. I bought one at the tail end of their stock. I was sick of Martinis and wanted something different. I must have lucked out. My barrel was pitted on the outside, but the rifling and chamber were like brand new. The forestock was rotten beyond use so I made a new one.
    The metal everywhere else is decent. I didn’t buy it because it was cheap. By the time it got to me it was close to $900 CDN. I can get a good Martini here for $750 CDN. I bought it because who gets to play archeologist any more? Peeling beck the layers of barn dirt mixed with hair and Yak fat grease was worth every penny.

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