Lever-action Henry .22 rifles are the very embodiment of Americana. Their advertisements typically sport a prominent image of a Bible along with the slogan “Henry rifles will only be made in America or they won’t be made at all.”
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Benjamin Tyler Henry received a patent in 1860 for the world’s first reliable lever-action rifle. His weapons were chambered for a .44 rimfire cartridge and began service with Union troops during the Civil War. These rifles were universally adored by their operators and despised by their opponents. Henry repeaters went on to see extensive service in the subsequent conquest of the American West.
The motto for the contemporary company that is now old Ben’s namesake is “Made in America and Priced Right,” and that does indeed nicely capture their corporate ethos. My boys cut their teeth on lever-action Henry rifles in .22 LR, and they deliver fun on an immense scale.
The steel on the Henry rifle is nicely executed and the stained walnut is timeless. Working the action will conjure images of John Wayne, stagecoaches and the equine arts. The rifle feeds from an under-barrel tubular magazine and loads from the front. Magazine capacity with .22 Long Rifle rounds is 15. Capacity with .22 Shorts is 21.
A bit about .22 Shorts. Even during the madness of the ammo crisis of 2013 the motivated shooter could typically still find .22 Shorts for sale. Unlike autoloaders, the lever-action Henry rifle will feed and fire these diminutive little cartridges just fine. Choose the right loads and the subsequent report is comparable to the most expensive suppressed .22 caliber platform without requiring any onerous paperwork or a transfer tax. While you might have some difficulty dropping dangerous African game with the .22 Short, they will put paid to squirrels, rabbits and garden pests all day long.
Toting Your Lever Gun
The big question is just how to carry this much awesome. A brace of aftermarket swivels and a store-bought nylon sling might get the job done, but a rifle this cool really deserves something better. The Henry .22-caliber, lever-action rifle warrants a scabbard. Ballistic nylon is simple to sew and great for your breaching shotgun or bolt cutters. For a rifle as timeless as the Henry .22, however, you need leather.
To work leather properly requires a couple of inexpensive tools. A leather punch is reasonably priced and typically sports a rotating head to punch different sized holes. Heavy cord for stitching is also not hard to find. Suede cordage is available by the roll and won’t break the bank.
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In another classic example of American ingenuity, the Stewart Manufacturing Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl is just plain cool. This inexpensive little device incorporates a thread reservoir and a heavy sewing needle to become a rudimentary handheld, manual sewing machine. The Speedy Stitcher creates locking stitches through the toughest material and has dozens of uses in addition to leatherworking. It makes this project a snap!
We found inexpensive leather scraps from a local craft store. This tanned and dyed leather appears to be remnants left over from the manufacture of automobile seats. The material comes in a variety of colors, but carefully picking the stock makes for a very attractive product. In this case none of the scraps were long enough to accommodate our rifle, so we sewed four pieces of brown leather together and affixed a strip of black over the seam to make it look cool.
The first step is to design and size the rig. We chose to make the scabbard with an adjustable shoulder belt so it could be adapted to my frame while still retaining the option of serving any potential grandkids down the road. As such, just lay the rifle out on a piece of cloth or paper to find the shape and length you want. Remember to leave enough material around the edges to account for seams. Once you are set on a pattern, draw the shape on the ugly side of the leather with a Sharpie marker.
With a piece of leather you obviously only get one shot. This is one of those times it is best to measure and model several times before reaching for the carpet knife. It is better to cheat the design a little big than to let it be too tight. Allow enough extra room at the mouth to accept the rifle without a lot of blind poking around.
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If you are serious about just dropping the rifle in the scabbard without resorting to a mirror or an assistant, you will need something to hold the mouth of the scabbard open a bit. Nothing we have found works better for holster stiffeners than plastic harvested from empty milk jugs. Scrub the plastic clean so your scabbard doesn’t smell vaguely of milk and cut the size of strip you want. Fold the top edge of the scabbard down over the stiffener and sew it in place with the Speedy Stitcher. In this manner the mouth of the scabbard always holds its shape.
Leather stock and a buckle for the shoulder strap came from the same craft store. We sewed the formed scabbard to the belt manually with the Speedy Stitcher.
If you stop here the whole rig will try to ride up whenever you reach over your shoulder to draw the rifle. Keep in mind that we are pursuing two missions here: We want to tote our rifle, but we also want to look cool doing it. This trivial engineering challenge can be overcome by incorporating a dedicated waist strap or simply adding an appropriately arranged belt loop to anchor the rig at the bottom. Once the shoulder strap and belt loop are attached, you can form the edges of the scabbard together using the Speedy Stitcher.
A project of this sort is art and engineering in equal measure. An appliqué pouch to hold a little ammo or a little decorative color or fringe on the scabbard sets our project apart from something made overseas and bought in a store. I live on a rural southern farm and walks through the woods are a standard part of my day so long as the weather cooperates. As a firearm of some sort serves as my constant companion on each outing, it is a fun exercise to optimize the gun and the rig for the mission. If you do not have a craft store in your community, fret not. Google is your buddy. Anything you need for a project of this sort is but a click away.
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For More Information
This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN™ Winter 2016 issue #205. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.