Two of the most frequently-asked questions on rimfire forums are, “Which aftermarket extractor should I buy?” and “Why do I have failures to eject?”; and the most frequent answer to the second one is, “Upgrade your extractor.” Often that is the right answer, and often it isn’t. What does the extractor do, and why might you need to upgrade it? If you do, which one should you buy?
The Extractor’s Job
The extractor sits in a slot in the right side of the bolt. First a hole is drilled along the side of the bolt. Then a slot is milled lengthwise about half the depth of the hole; finally a round hole is drilled across the slot into which the square tail of the extractor fits. The extractor is pushed toward the center of the bolt by a plunger on a spring; the plunger fits against the outer shoulder of the extractor.
The extractor has two simple, but critical functions:
- It pulls an unfired cartridge out of the chamber when the bolt is cycled manually.
- It holds the case in position on the bolt until the left side of the case head hits the ejector; at that point the case pivots around the hook to spin sideways out the ejection port.
When a round is fired, the extractor does not pull the case out; in fact, the gas pressure pushes the case back against the bolt and the case pushes the bolt back. This is the essence of the blowback action. I once tested this by removing the extractor and firing fifty shots – every one ejected normally.
Nonetheless, malfunctions can happen when the extractor fails to keep a good grip on the case rim. With unfired cartridges, the extractor can slip off, leaving the cartridge in the chamber.
With fired cases, if the rifle moves under recoil and the extractor fails to hold the case on the bolt face, the case misses the ejector and is not thrown sideways, ending up stuck inside the receiver. When the case sticks sideways in the ejection port, this is called a “stovepipe”.
What can cause an extractor to work poorly? Here are the typical causes:
Dull hook: The extractor hook must be sharp, and the inside edge should be at an acute angle so that the hook grabs onto the case rim without being blocked. The photo below shows a dull OEM extractor next to a sharp aftermarket one from Volquartsen:
Dirt: If soot and powder residue build up inside the extractor slot, the extractor channel can be blocked from closing fully, leaving it with a loose hold on the case rim. When cleaning your rifle, it’s a good practice to remove the extractor, plunger and spring and use a brush and compressed air to clean out the slot.
Barrel not aligned: If you replace the barrel, it is critical that the extractor slot in the barrel’s shank be aligned so that the extractor is centered in it and does not drag on a side of the slot. If the extractor head does drag there, the extractor will tend to open as the bolt moves or will not even close fully on the case. For the same reason, it’s important to keep that slot clean.
Defective bolt: Here is one that I have seen only once: the cross-hole wasn’t drilled deep enough for extractor’s tail to seat fully into the bolt. The plunger could not reach the outer shoulder, so the hook was held toward the outside of the bolt and could not grab the case rim at all. A very rare QC fail in manufacturing, and I doubt I’ll see another. Upon seeing a photo of the problem, Ruger Customer Service sent the owner a new bolt.
Why an Aftermarket Extractor?
The Ruger extractor is made by stamping. The edges aren’t crisp and sometimes the point of the hook can be quite dull. The angle of the hook is 90° at best so the hook’s lower edge rather than the point might rest on the case rim. The point of the hook can dull with use. In fairness, many owners have shot tens of thousands of rounds through their 10/22s with no extractor-related problems. But many also have issues.
Most of the aftermarket parts manufacturers have upgrade extractors in their product lines. The two best known are Kidd and Volquartsen, but Clark, Power Custom, and others make them also. The best ones are precision cut by the EDM method out of hardened steel, and have a sharp point that digs into the brass and holds tight. Upgrade extractors are inexpensive at around $10-15 shipped.
Some owners just like to DIY, and others are really frugal. You can tune your extractor by sharpening the hook and using a fine file or stone to cut the rear edge of the hook to an acute angle so that only the point contacts the inner edge of the case rim. You can also deepen the long edge behind the hook so that the extractor closes more tightly toward the center of the bolt. You don’t need to take off much – about .015” should be enough. Be careful not to take material off the point of the hook – moving the point forward would make it hold less tightly. The photo below shows where to file:
Finally, you can put a bevel on one face of the extractor head to reduce the surface area in contact with the case. This will put greater pressure on the case to hold it more tightly. The extractor on the right in the photo below has this bevel.
The photo below shows three extractors: an original nearly new OEM Ruger, a Volquartsen, and an OEM modified by Que’s Bolt & Barrel Rework (the beveled hook shows up as a dark triangle on the Qued extractor):
My recommendation is to buy a good quality upgrade extractor. It’s inexpensive, and the harder steel will last nearly forever. To spread the shipping cost, you might pick up a bolt buffer to quiet the clacking of the bolt and maybe some other upgrade parts on your wish list.