Marlin/TFG Lever-Action Quality: Circling The Drain

Joe Grine and I spent a few leisurely hours pacing the aisles at Oregon’s biggest pre-Christmas gun show this morning. We’re not into ‘gun show reports’ much here, so suffice to say that guns and ammo were everywhere, Nazi fetish gear was nowhere to be found, and that I’ve never seen so many NFA dealers at a single show before. SBRs and suppressors are starting to go mainstream, but that’s another story for another day.

After learning that I couldn’t buy a stripped AR lower (because some enema-nozzle at the ATF has decided that a stripped rifle lower is actually a pistol until some rifle bits are attached to it) I made a point of examining every new Marlin lever-action I could find.

TTAG has been a vocal critic of The Freedom Group, ever since it started gobbling up historic American gun marks and puree-ing them together into a Borg collective that seems to have forgotten everything its ‘members’ once knew about making firearms. The results of my anything-but-scientific survey were anything-but-pretty. Sadly, they confirmed everything bad we’ve been hearing about the lever-action arm of The Freedom Group, formerly known as Marlin.

Every one of the half-dozen new Marlins I examined showed the same appallingly poor wood-to-metal fit that plagues my recent 1894C .357 Magnum. From .22 Model 39s to several stainless .45-70 1895 Guide Guns, the gaps between wood and steel were measured in millimeters.

Remember this picture from the Marlin review in June? My rifle was assembled like a Lamborghini compared to the Yugos I saw today. Woodwork like this is a disgrace, but at least wood-t0-metal fit is mostly a cosmetic complaint.

Metal-to-metal fit, though, is crucial to the reliability, accuracy, and even the safety of a firearm. So I was shocked to handle a brand-new $575 Takedown Model 39 with such poor machining that I could fit my thumbnail between the receiver halves. The round barrel was roughly burnished, as though the metal had been prepped and polished with a wire-wheel Dremel tool. The Dremel guy had also ground off most of the roll-stamping on the barrel, and the remainder was carelessly smudged with gold lettering paint that sadly marked the gun as a ‘Golden’ Model 39A Takedown.

The Model 39 has been in continuous production longer than any other firearm in history, and Farago has sent me a time-worn but still beautiful example from the 1920s or 1930s. I haven’t gotten to do all my research on it yet, but it still shows impeccable metalwork.

That was then, and sadly, this is now. These brand-new Marlins hardly even look like Marlins. They look more like Norincos.