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.

28 Responses to Marlin/TFG Lever-Action Quality: Circling The Drain

  1. avatarfrankgon4 says:

    I own 2 Marlins. One in 30-30 and one in .44 magnum. They are excellent shooters, but they are about 30 years old. It is sad to see what has become of Marlin and I cannot defend such poor workmanship. At least they still have H&R firearms – Mechanically, How could you mess up a single shot.
    I must confess, my last purchase was a Rossi in .357 magnum. I was not happy with the quality I saw of Marlin earlier this year and I picked up a Rossi for $300. It is not pretty, but it shoots straight and the fit is much better than described in this thread. My only question is “why Marlin why..??”

    • avatarGus says:

      Well,.. I just bought a H&R in .357. The trigger frame is nice,. fit and finish look good. The steel on the frame was parkerized. The barrel looks like crap. It’s rough to the touch. Looks like it was half-assed cleaned up with rough emery cloth and then unevenly blued. No polish at all. You would think it would have been parkerized to match the frame. I’ve got a much older H&R slug gun that looks much nicer.

      I got half of a good looking gun…

  2. avatarRon says:

    The real shame is that The Freedom Group is able to buy these companies in the first place.

    I have been waiting to buy a box of Buffalo Bore standard pressure .38 Buffalo Barnes cartridges when they become available, but when I found Barnes is part of The Freedom Group I decided to wait for a few reviews.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Some parts of TFG haven’t been mauled the way Marlin and Remington have. AAC seems to be squared away, and Bushmasters still function fine. I’ve seen some forum grumbling about Buffalo Bores and inconsistent bullet seating, but this is something you can check for yourself before you buy the box of ammo in question.

  3. avatarAharon says:

    The last Portland Oregon show I attended was in the summer. A former Nazi vendor was then selling long-term survival food. There wasn’t a Swastika in sight at the table though a good looking forty-something blond-haired woman was working the booth. The Gun Room in SE Portland has used Marlins and many other older guns and gun models out of production. If you ever want to see grown men go ape sh*t, tell the guys who work at the Gun Room some story that Colt doesn’t know quality and High Point is better.

    Gun buying consumers are, at least, in one way much like the fine art supply buying consumer: members from each group are hobbyists and talk with others about good and bad quality, service, and results. The man in charge of the Freedom Group is a shrewd investor and a hunter. Therefore, I am surprised for the disregard of quality control action by the Freedom Group. Once a manufacturer burns an emotional fine art supply buying customer they can go from loyal groupie to crusader against the same company. Gun owners, while being more rational and practical than artists, still have little motivation to risk wasting a $500-$1,500+ purchase on a gun manufacturer that has lost credibility with the gun community.

    • avatarNCG says:

      The Gun Room…never again. Customer abuse is not a good business model.

      • avatarAharon says:

        Customer abuse is what they seem to specialize in at the Gun Room along with some hard to find older discontinued guns. I actually thought the interpersonal experience was hysterical with the senior man. We even had great arguments over the US debt, China, the USD being discontinued as the world reserve currency, all fiat money systems imploding, etc. Seriously, they do seem to have some product and industry knowledge that is above that of the average gun store. Next time that I go there I’m going to ask to see a Taurus and act like it’s known to be superior to a Colt. BTW, they did have a CZ pistol with a green tinged aluminum frame that was really nice.

        • avatarNCG says:

          I haven’t been in there for at least ten years, so maybe I’ll brave another visit. I could easily walk, or worse, bike there. I do look like the lefty I am – shaggy hair and earrings (mild by PDX standards, I could pass for a redneck around here), so that doesn’t help. I do covet a CZ pistol, though maybe not in the green.

        • avatarAharon says:

          I had a good time there since I knew what to generally expect and I left my ego outside. While there I held an ancient Colt revolver with pearl handles, and a lever action Winchester also from the 1800s they said was valued at $25K.

  4. avatarAnonymouse says:

    OTOH, if you want a new 30-30 lever gun, there really isn’t any choice: Henry is vastly more expensive and vastly heavier, and Mossbergs depreciate like stones: A nearly-new Marlin sells for near-retail price, but a nearly new Mossberg sold for 45% off retail the last I checked.

  5. avatarO.N. says:

    I saw in the Winchester catalog that the 94 is back again. Any word on the quality?

  6. avatarTom says:

    I thought Marlin quality was shaky sometime ago. Bought a Marlin 39A in the late 70s and had a lot of problems I should not have had. The biggest problem was that the magazine cut off tab was milled too deep for the spacer. I put an old spacer in it and it worked fine.

  7. avatarNCG says:

    My stepdad has a Model 336 30-30 that he literally bought at a K-Mart (or maybe that other Mart) on the way to South Texas for a hunt, circa 1985. It came with a crappy Tasco 4x, but now sports a basic Leupold 4x, much better. He took a nice little spike mule deer with it last year on the East slope of Mt. Hood. It’s a blue-collar rifle, but everything about it is well-made – the wood fits tightly, the action is smooth. It’s no MOA queen, but it will hit deer vitals at any responsible distance for a 30-30.Sometimes, it seems like corporate America is doing it’s level best to sell us stuff that sucks for too much money, because we’re stupid enough to buy it. Demand better.

  8. avatarMike OFWG says:

    I bought my 336 (not 336C) quite a few years ago, used. It is a nice rifle for under $200 then. Guess I will hang on to it, it’s my last lever. Had a nice 444 I bought new in the 90′s. no complaints on the fit or finish, traded it off for some house painting.

  9. avatarMcCaveman says:

    Meh, Im now a very loyal Henry customer. Got a Mini-bolt for my spawn and it was buggered where some lamer dry fired it in the shop. One email to Henry and the President of the company replied the next day(Sunday) … a shipping label was sent and all was made right in less than a month.

    All the Marlins Ive seen in shops of late have had crappy wood-metal fit and tool marks on the the metal. They look like a SKS on the 99$ rack.

    The Talos goldenboy my wife gave me for my 40th was a work of art. The fit and finish where amazing. Why should I why should I spend my dollars on a Marlin if Henry kills them on quality and customer service?

  10. avatarSean Guerin says:

    I was planning on buying a Marlin 1894C as my first rifle, I’ve always love the quality of Marlin and the cowboy look to it. If I ever win a lottery, I’ll buy the Freedom Group, rename it, and make the companies it has absorbed to begin making the quality products for they were once known.

  11. avatarJonathan says:

    I own a Marlin 1895ABL that was made during the great change over.
    The recoil pad was not properly installed and the foregrip cap was poorly fit. Internally the channel for the firing pin was gritty and internal metal finish was not as smooth as I would like. On the upside it is an extremely accurate rifle and can dump all six rounds with great speed. I have put hundreds of rounds through it with no cycling issues. It does absolutely show a lack of finish work but that problem started before Freedom group. My father recently picked up the forementioned Henry frontier, nice little rifle but not any better in finish quality. Thats the thing, its nice for what you pay. I only wish Marlin would offer a higher line that was fully finished. I would have gladly payed $700 or $800 dollars for my ABL to be finished better. Honestly though if you can buy a gun retail for $550 what do you think the manufacturer is selling it for to the distributer, who then sells it to the retailer? Our unwillingness to pay more than Mossberg prices without crying is why we have so much cheap junk out there. As for the Japanese Brownings I have a flawless BL-22 and sold off a useless .358. It would not cycle right, Browning declared it perfect but it would shoot two and eat one. My Marlin is a pig, but a reliable pig!

  12. avatarMike says:

    Learning that one big company is buying up firearms companies is a bit scary to me. Too much control can corrupt.

    What’s to keep a foreign company from buying up Freedom and moving production overseas? More US dollars going abroad.

    Good thing there are approximately 3 weapons in America for every citizen.

  13. avatarcharlie faro says:

    i own two 336sc marlins made in the early fifties in .35R and .32sp. in my seventies now figured that i would never buy another gun but last fall bought a .308mx despite some reservation. it is very accurate with a receiver sight and eyesight that has seen better days. i started reloading ammo for it right from the start with Speer 170s and Rx15. the rifle itself had issues with the fore end stock being much too tight. the end of the bolt was cut crocked and rough and a couple of screws were so botched up i had to change them. but a fine file and some emery cloth fixed the rest up fine. it has a sn on the side of the receiver starting with MR332. all and all though I think a well made gun if you can get by the issues.

  14. avatarGary Hardy says:

    I own four marlin levers. I bought the last one three months ago and it will be my last marlin. What a piece of (@#$^%$@%^&) good bye marlin, hello Ruger.

  15. avatarGary Hardy says:

    I own four marlin levers. I bought the last one three months ago and it will be my last marlin. In my opinion it’s a piece of (@#$^%$@%^&) good bye marlin, hello Ruger.

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