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Click vs. Bang: How to Diagnose a Marlin Rifle Misfire

Marlins may be a perfect expression of the lever action rifle, but like any other machines made by man, they are subject to imperfection. Failures can originate at the factory--which used to happen with much less frequency--or as the result of wear, or in some cases, as a direct consequence of poorly informed tinkering.

I have occasionally come across a Marlin rifle that just goes “click” when I pull the trigger on a loaded round. I gather from forum threads online that others have had similarly disappointing experiences. Often the offending rifle won’t misfire every time. But years ago I had one that did.

That Marlin rifle 336 years ago alerted me to a failing that doesn’t seem to be very well understood. However, I believe that failing is responsible for more misfires than we realize. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, bear with me, while I go over some well trodden territory.

Hammer springs often get the blame for Marlin rifle misfires, but let me say a few words about those crucial coils. In our experience, Marlin's can be fairly sensitive to hammer spring weight. They need quite a bit of spring force, because they must push a two piece firing pin against considerable friction inside the bolt. A healthy and reliable hammer spring will require upwards of 5 lbs. of force on the spur to begin moving rearward.

As much as I like Wolff's products, I feel obligated to point out that their Reduced Power Hammer Spring can be less than 100% reliable with rifle calibers that have hard primers. This applies emphatically to pre-safety Marlin rifles; less so for cross-bolt safety models, with their more massive hammers; and can be disregarded completely for pistol caliber 1894's. The softer pistol primers will ignite very reliably with the reduced power spring.

Assuming your Marlin rifle has an unadulterated factory hammer spring in it, but still misfires, then what?

The first thing to check is the firing pin. Working with an unloaded Marlin rifle, and with the action fully closed and the hammer cocked, use a suitable object to push the exposed rear of the firing pin forward. Pay attention to the feel. The pin will not slide forward without noticeable friction. That said, if you feel that the travel is excessively sticky or gritty, a bolt strip-and-clean may be in order.

Cycle the marlin rifle lever and perform the test again. The pin should be flush with the rear of the bolt when it has gone fully home. If it isn’t, push harder. If, after a distinct stop/start, the pin finally goes flush, then you’ve found your problem. In this situation, the rear firing pin is not being lifted into proper alignment with the front pin, and is contacting the bottom of the passageway in the bolt, which bleeds off enough energy to cause a light strike on the primer.

If you don’t feel this distinct "hiccup" in the pin’s travel, but you are getting an occasional light strike, check the finger lever. Squeeze the lever all the way shut against the receiver then remove your hand.

Is the little bump stop just atop the loop/trigger guard snug against the receiver tang? If it is, exert light downward pressure on the lever. Does it drop slightly away from the tang? If light pressure will move the lever even slightly (it can take as little as a millimeter or two), then this is the most likely cause of your occasional light strike. Check firing pin travel in this configuration. If you now feel the hitch, you have probable cause. Get thee to a gunsmith.

In the extreme case that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the lever would not align the firing pins even when fully closed. It is the secondary job of the locking block (being lifted home by the paw atop the finger lever) to guide the rear pin into alignment. In my exceptional instance, the guide in the top of the block had worn to the extent that it simply couldn’t accomplish the task. It took some head scratching, but I figured it out.

As a result of my findings, this is one of the many checks that we perform every time we work on a Marlin rifle. Because nothing is more frustrating to the rifleman, or more embarrassing to the rifle builder, than hearing a "click" when there should be a "bang."

By Adam Devine

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