Ruger's Old Model Single-Six "Lightweight"


by Bill Hamm

photography by Bill Hamm

May 12, 2002



PRODUCED  1956 - 1959


In 1956 Ruger introduced a “Lightweight” version of its Single-Six revolver.  The first Lightweights had an alloy cylinder frame, alloy cylinder, alloy grip frame, and steel barrel.  All Lightweights had a  standard 4-5/8 inch barrel. The first guns weighed 23 ounces versus the 35 ounce weight of the standard 5-1/2 inch barrel Single-Six.  The guns are roll-marked on the cylinder frame just like the standard Single-Six model, the word Lightweight does not appear in the roll-mark.  The first production guns had a silver/gray anodized cylinder frame, black anodized grip frame, flat cartridge loading gate, blued barrel, and Black checkered hard rubber grips.  They also had a coating on the alloy cylinder, the coating was known as “Martin Hard Coat”.  It was a brown or dark golden color (sometimes appears greenish or another color).  These first guns became known to collectors as the “Tri-color” Lightweight.

In early 1957 Ruger began to make Lightweights that were all blue in color.  These guns were first made with a blue anodized alloy cylinder and then later concurrently with a blued steel cylinder.  Also in early 1957 the flat loading gate was changed to the contour or round Colt-style loading gate to coincide with the same change to the standard Single-Sixes.

There was also a group of Tri-color and a few all blue guns that had been set aside during production.  These guns were assembled later in 1964/65 and marked with an “S” to indicate used or seconds.  These particular “S” guns can have a combination of any of the above discussed parts but most have a steel cylinder. Many will have the later XR3-RED redesigned grip frame and oiled Walnut grip panels since these were standard parts when these guns were assembled and shipped. 

All Lightweight Single-Sixes will be found in the 200XXX to 212XXX serial number range. 

The Lightweights came in silver and red colored boxes with black or less common green wreaths around the Eagle on top of the box.  However, some were shipped in the standard black and red colored box of the Single-Six, usually with the appropriate mark up or sticker on the end of the box to indicate that it contained a Lightweight.

The Lightweight guns did not prove to be very popular and were dropped from production in 1959.  There were only about 12,000 of these produced which makes them very scarce and hard to find.  Pristine Lightweights in their original boxes are extremely hard to find thus extremely desirable - and normally fairly costly.



Single-Six, Lightweight:

Tri-color, Flatgate, Black checkered hard rubber grips, alloy cylinder, 4-5/8” barrel.

All blue, Roundgate, Black checkered hard rubber grips, alloy cylinder, 4-5/8” barrel.

All blue, Roundgate,  Black checkered hard rubber grips, steel cylinder, 4-5/8” barrel.

 “S” marked Tri-color or All Blue, steel cylinder, XR3 or XR3-RED grip frames, Black checkered hard rubber grips or Walnut grips, steel or alloy ejector rod housing, 4-5/8” barrel.

My next article in the series will review the “Magnum Only” chambered Single-Six.

Bill Hamm

Read more about Bill on the "About Us" page.

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Ruger Single-Six Lightweight "Tri-color", made in 1956. This example represents the earliest type of Single-Six Lightweight.



Detailed pictures reveal the unique features of the earliest Single-Six Lightweights, known to collectors as the "Tri-color": silver/gray anodized alloy cylinder frame, "Martin Hard Coat" alloy cylinder (colored dark gold, brown or greenish), black anodized alloy grip frame, flat cartridge loading gate, blued barrel, and black checkered hard rubber grips. Ruger's frame markings did not designate Lightweight models.



The next step in the evolution of Ruger's Single-Six Lightweights occurred in early 1957, as represented by this 1957 gun.



In early 1957, Ruger redesigned the Single-Six Lightweight to include all-blue finish, quickly going to a steel cylinder with alloy cylinder frame & grip frame as on this example. The Loading gate was changed to a "Colt-style" round gate at about the same time.



Ruger, a pioneer in the use of modern steel casting techniques, proved to be visionary in the use of lightweight alloy parts in firearms manufacture as well. Unfortunately, the Lightweight was as far ahead of the marketplace as it was ahead of its time, and Ruger dropped the Lightweight from production in 1959 after producing only about 12,000 units. Good examples of the Lightweight are scarce and costly.



All-blue Lightweight in pristine condition, with original factory box, oil wrap, manual and tags in like condition, represents the ultimate for many Ruger .22 revolver collectors. If you find an example like this one, be prepared to part with some serious bucks!



The original factory box can add substantially to the value of the gun. The rarest variant of Ruger's Single-Six Lightweight box is the silver and red box with green wreath.



Slightly more common (but still rare!) is the silver and red box with black wreath. Some Lightweights were shipped in standard Single-Six black and red boxes, usually with marking or sticker on the end of the box indicating a Lightweight model.

We'd like to thank Lee Sundermeier for providing the boxes for this article.