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Marlin 1894 Make-Over article

While It Was Out

Marlin 1894CL .32-20 Make-Over

I first saw it at the NRA Show in Reno in the 1980's .... a beautiful leveraction Marlin in that magic caliber - .32 WCF.  Marlin was making news by offering their 1894 in two classic calibers, the 32-20 and the .25-20. They featured a "button" or "half" magazine that held 6 rounds.  What was cool back then was, they both had cut rifling instead of Marlin's famous Micro-Groove barrel.  Obviously someone at Marlin was listening to cast bullet shooters!  Right away I wanted one.

1894_5.jpg (16500 bytes)

             scoped1894.jpg (7886 bytes)
Al Anderson's beautiful 1894CL Bill's scoped 1894CL

It was not too many months after I first saw it that I had one shipped to me.  I had started writing for Gun Week on a more-or-less regular basis by then, and needed material.  Plus.. I wanted to shoot one of these!  Marlin Firearms Co. sent it out along with an invoice in case I wanted to keep it.  Did I?  You bet!  I got the checkbook out and the rest is history.

I carried that levergun all over the mountains around my home for the next few years.  Most of the time it was in a saddle scabbard tied on my horse.  The .32-20 accounted for feral dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes, a few Javelina and one deer in the course of it's journeys. ( No, I don't recommend the .32-20 as a deer cartridge.  With the right handloads and if you get in close enough and place the shot just right, it will work. That does not make it a deer cartridge.)

Over the years I experimented with the .32 WCF and ran everything from Silent Loads to Maxi-Loads through the gun.  By the time I moved to Missouri it had been used a lot and showed signs of it.  The bluing was worn and bare, the stock was banged and scratched, but the old gun worked just fine. I used it in various Cowboy Action matches either with full loads of black powder and the original 120 gr. Lyman bullet (#3118) or else the equivalent load using smokeless powder. The big drawback was that button magazine.  Holding only 6 rounds, it seriously handicapped you on a 10 or 12-round stage!

After talking about getting the gun rebuilt/modified for more than a year I finally gave it to Regan Nonneman (Nonneman Custom Rifles www.leveractions.com ) and asked him to "work it over".  I wanted a full-length magazine tube, new sights, and the fat Marlin wood slimmed to make it look like the old Marlin leverguns.  I asked him to check it out and make sure it was running alright and to clean it up and reblue it.

I left it in his hands and did my best not call at least once a month and pester him about how it was coming.  Or at least I tried.  I am not sure if I accomplished complete "non-pestering", but  I really did try not to bug him.  I have had enough custom work done to know it's best to leave things in the hands of the gunsmith at least a reasonable time before bending their ear.

1894_4.jpg (45229 bytes)When the rifle showed up at the ranch I did not1894_3.jpg (37423 bytes) recognize it.  The slim refinished wood, the full-length magazine tube .. it looked like a completely different gun. And in some ways it is, though it shoots as well as it ever did ... better now since I can see the sights again!!

The Marlin 1894's have a nice short, smooth lever-throw, especially if you work on them just a bit.  Mine is pretty smooth from thousands of rounds over the years.  Regan Nonneman put in a new extractor (the old one was worn and getting "iffy"), he used a "blind" filler in the dovetail where the original short magazine fastened on, and he did a great job on the wood.  I am happy!!

1894_1.jpg (69382 bytes) 1894_2.jpg (61730 bytes) 1894_7.jpg (43775 bytes)

The only thing I have left to do to this firearm is to install the new one-piece firing pin from Evil Roy.  This replacement for the Marlin two-piece firing pin is supposed to make the closing stroke even smoother (hard to imagine) and to reduce the breakage that happens with Marlin two-piece firing pins when you shoot thousands of rounds per year, year after year through the guns. I have never broken a firing pin, but I like the idea and the looks of the new pins.  I will update you when I have it in and let you know what I think.

NOTE: The firing pin is now installed!  CLICK HERE to read about it.

I had installed one of Clyde Ludwig's Cross-Bolt Safety Replacement's a year or two ago.  (http://www.leverguns.com/articles/taylor/crossbolt_safety.htm)

That, along with smoothing out the Marlin "hump" on the bottom of1894_8.jpg (11472 bytes) the bolt a little sure made the gun handle better for Cowboy Action.
               Note: the "hump" helps cock the hammer. Remove too much metal and you will be in trouble.  Be cautious! 


NOTE: If you are not using yours for CAS but rather use it for target or hunting, you might think about removing the safety devices before you do.  In Cowboy Action they really are not needed, but if you use the gun in the field ... well... that's another story.

I have yet to use it in a match since I got it back, but clanging the steel plates with it on my own range has proven very satisfying.  I sighted the gun to hit a couple inches high at 25 yards with my1894_6.jpg (107815 bytes) Cowboy loads.  This puts them dead on at 50 yards.  If I take the gun hunting I will re-sight it.  But I sorta doubt that will happen, especially since I have a levergun or two that works just fine for hunting purposes.

Thanks to Regan Nonneman of Nonneman Custom Rifles, I have the old gun in good shape again.  What fun!

Jim Taylor 

.32-20 Handloads - all loads with CCI Small Rifle Primers - all velocities chronographed at 7 feet from muzzle to the first screen- all fired in the Marlin 1894 CL .32-20 -  all cast bullets sized .311" and lubed with Apache Blue lube

Remember - these loads are safe in MY GUN!   They may not be in yours. DO NOT use the heavy loads in the 1873 Winchester.   If you break your gun do not come crying to me.   You are responsible for your actions. 


10 gr. 2400
  Speer 100 gr. JHP               1712 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1695 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 1831 fps
11 gr. 2400    
  Speer 100 gr. JHP 1881 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1804 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 1913 fps
12 gr. 2400
  Speer 100 gr. JHP 1992 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1912 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 2061 fps
11 gr. 296      
  Speer 100 gr. JHP               1874 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1796 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 1884 fps
12 gr. 296    
  Speer 100 gr. JHP 1943 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1846 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 2027 fps
13 gr. 296    
  Speer 100 gr. JHP 2018 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1955 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 2091 fps
14 gr. 296    
  Speer 100 gr. JHP 2108 fps
  #3118 120 gr. cast 1987 fps
  Lee 95 gr. cast 2159 fps
Silent Loads    

95 gr. Lee

2.5 gr. 2400 491 fps
  4.8 gr. 3031 420 fps


4.8 gr. 3031 432 fps
Make sure the bullet has exited the barrel before firing again
Not-quite Silent Loads

95 gr. Lee

1.5 gr. Bullseye 861 fps


1.5 gr. Bullseye 748 fps
LBT 140 gr. cast bullet Loads
WW - 296 Powder
  10 gr. 296 1541 fps
  11 gr. 296 1651 fps
  12 gr. 296 1774 fps
125 gr. Speer .311" Spitzer loads
WW - 296 Powder
  14.5 gr. 296 1975 fps

These are loaded to an overall length of 1.745 inch and must be used Single Shot - they will not feed through the magazine.

I chronographed some factory loads. These were all quite mild. You can approximate them with a 115 gr. - 120 gr. bullet and 3.8 gr. Bullseye.

Remington Factory Load - 1082 fps

Winchester Factory Load - 1178 fps





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