Bowen Classic Arms Ruger Keith No. 5 Conversion Revolver


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

July 8th, 2011


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Bowen Classic Arms Ruger Keith No. 5 44 Special conversion. 



Superbly functional and elegant Keith No. 5 style base pin latch.



Keith No. 5 style base pin features a large, easy to grasp head.



Pinned blade front sight with original Ruger Micro rear.



Persinger elephant ivory grips.





The Keith No. 5 revolver is one of the most famous revolvers ever built, and is well-known to most diehard fans of the single-action sixgun. Elmer Keith had the No. 5 custom built on a Colt frame, transformed into what he believed was the ultimate single-action revolver. The base pin, as well as the method of retaining that base pin in the frame, was very unique. It was designed for utility, but that design created the most elegant and artful method of retaining a single-action base pin that has ever been created. The grip is the heart of the No. 5, and was designed for comfortably handling heavy recoil, which it does very well. The original Keith N0. 5 sixgun will never be handled by most of us, and if we could, it is still an old Colt, with all its limitations. Today, we have stronger, more durable revolvers available, and Bowen Classic Arms will build a No. 5 sixgun using the reliable, rugged Ruger Blackhawk as the basis for the conversion.

Hamilton Bowen is known as The Master when it comes to building beautiful, functional, reliable revolvers. He has been at his craft for many years, and has written the definitive book on the subject of custom revolvers, titled appropriately, “The Custom Revolver”, a book which I reviewed here on Gunblast back in July of 2005. I have reviewed some of Hamilton's fine work here in the past, including some custom 327 Federal Ruger Single-Sixes and his "Perfected SP101" 357 Magnum revolver. My brother Boge, a great fan of Bowen's work and a dedicated Bearcat fanatic, has written about his Bowen custom Old Model Bearcat 22 Long Rifle / 22 Magnum conversion, as well as the Bowen "Perfected Bearcat" package.

Hamilton Bowen knows how to build a custom revolver, and he builds an exceptional version of the Keith No. 5 that is as fine-shooting as it is beautiful. Using either an Old Model or New Model Flattop Blackhawk, Hamilton Bowen can build anything from his basic No. 5 package shown here, to a full-blown, highly engraved sixgun that is fitting to feature in a museum display. However, if you want a No. 5 to shoot that will be durable, reliable, perfectly fitted, and easy on the hand, the basic No. 5 is sixgun perfection.

Starting with a small-frame Old Model Flattop Blackhawk 357 magnum, Bowen bored out the original cylinder and re-chambered it to 44 Special. The barrel is a Ruger 44 magnum barrel, re-contoured to the Keith No. 5 profile, with the step in front of the front sight, as was done on the original to accommodate the sleeved sight on that sixgun. On the Bowen conversion, the front sight is a target style base with a pinned blade. The rear sight is the original Ruger Micro adjustable unit, which looks great with the Flattop frame. Bowen reworks the internals, doing an action tune/ trigger job. The result is a perfectly timed and tuned Ruger action, dropping the bolt into the cylinder notch leads, eliminating the infamous Ruger cylinder bolt drag line. The trigger releases crisply, and the trigger blade is a smooth, wide style.

The hammer is the Power Custom Bisley-spur unit for the Ruger, which places the spur within easy reach of the shooter’s thumb. The grip frame is the Power Custom Keith No. 5, perfectly fitted and shaped to the Flattop frame. The grip frame is fitted with Persinger elephant ivory grips, but ivory Micarta and carved ivory are available, as is just about anything else that the customer desires. Bowen gives the re-chambered cylinder a black powder chamfer for that old-style, classic look. The sixgun is polished and hot blued, with the screws, pins, base pin, and latch nitre blued.

Shooting the No. 5 was a real pleasure. I passed the No. 5 around at The Shootists Holiday in June to a few dedicated single-action shooters, and all enjoyed its shooting qualities. I don’t know what ammo the others used, but the ammo that I used was entirely my handloads consisting of Rim Rock 240 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullets over nine grains of Hodgdon HS-6 powder with a Winchester WLP primer in Starline Shootists brass cases. These bullets leave the muzzle of the Bowen No. 5 at around 900 feet-per-second, and are very accurate, grouping into clusters of five shots under an inch at twenty-five yards, repeatedly. Extraction is easy, with no stickiness, and the perfectly-tuned action aligns the chambers correctly for loading and unloading the cylinder.

The Custom Bowen No. 5 is a delight to shoot, providing not only accurate fire, but a connection to perhaps the most famous of all sixguns, and the man who designed it over eight decades ago.

The Bowen Classic Arms No. 5 is a fine tribute to the sixgun, and to the man. It is available as shown, or with as many custom touches as the customer desires.

Check out the Bowen No. 5 online at

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.




Power Custom Bisley-spur hammer.



The original No. 5 was developed as a working sixgun, so a practical but beautiful holster, such as this one from Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged, is just the ticket.



The tuned original Old Model Ruger lockwork aligns the chambers perfectly for loading/unloading the cylinder.