When Smith & Wesson released its first, K-Frame, .38 caliber Hand Ejector model in 1899, it’s doubtful that anyone in Springfield thought the basic design would last for over a century.
Yet, it has. Today’s Smith & Wesson revolvers may differ from their Hand Ejector ancestors in numerous ways, but at their core, they retain the design, features and function of those early arms. Your great (great?) grandfather would be right at home with a current production revolver in his hand, and wouldn’t need any instruction in its manual of arms.
Could we say the same about a modern automobile or telephone? Not likely.
Editor’s Note: It has probably felt like “The Smith & Wesson Channel” around here, lately, but it took a lot of work to lay the groundwork for this article. We couldn’t discuss the evolution of S&W revolvers without referencing MIM, and that technology was so poorly understood by most of us, that it was important to crack that nut, first, in our detailed, three-part series. Now that we understand the complexities of MIM manufacturing, we can dive into “the rest of the story.” We think you’ll find the long journey was worth the effort. –Mike
The product has remained remarkably consistent in the most fundamental ways for 123 years (and counting), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed.
Smith & Wesson engineers have made continuous changes in materials, design, and manufacturing that have altered the basic platform from its earliest days. These changes have been made to enhance the performance, strength, and affordability of the gun, and while some have been quite obvious, others have been more subtle.
We discussed some of these changes in our recent, three-part series on MIM, but as dramatic as some of those design, materials, and process changes were, they represent just part of the efforts that have been made to keep the revolver in production. There have been many other changes—some visible, some hidden—which have been made that deserve our attention here, so let’s spend a little time behind the factory doors, and under the side plate, to look at them.
This topic has its roots in my conversations with members of the Smith & Wesson team, who worked in Springfield over the span of four decades, and were part of the Revolver Engineering team that started an industrial revolution, of sorts, in the 1990s and early 2000s, when Smith & Wesson adopted Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining and Metal Injection Molding (MIM) manufacturing.
These new technologies replaced an old-world manufacturing system that relied upon large numbers of skilled workers, who machined parts by hand and assembled them (with some skilled hand-fitting) into firearms. These earlier guns had their fair share of flaws, but Smith & Wesson did such a nice job, overall, with them, that they captured the hearts and imaginations of three or four generations of RevolverGuys.
Unfortunately, the dedication of the consumer to these (now classic) guns posed a challenge for Smith & Wesson when it came time to upgrade their products and manufacturing processes near the end of the 21stCentury. When the company started making their products differently, and changed many of their features to accommodate the new manufacturing methods, many of their most dedicated customers were unhappy. They liked the “old ways,” and didn’t want things to change. Many of them rejected the new guns as being inferior to the old guns—sometimes for objective reasons, but often for subjective reasons.
In the course of our conversations, the Smith & Wesson family members expressed their frustration with contemporary comments about the quality of current production S&W revolvers, versus those of years past. “There’s a strong, but mistaken, belief out there that the old guns are much better than the new ones,” noted one of the workers. “The old guns were different, but not necessarily better,” he insisted. “I spent 35 years trying to make those guns stronger and more reliable, and I think that most people just don’t understand the improvements that we made to them.”
That sounded like a challenge, and we were ready to accept it and give our friends the chance to explain what they meant by it. With their help, we started to map out some of the improvements that occurred during their tenure at S&W, and it didn’t take long before some of our own beliefs about the “old guns” were exposed. Some of the things we thought were true, turned out to be incorrect—perhaps more a product of nostalgia, than technical accuracy.
So, we’d like to invite you along for a short journey while we catalog some of the changes that have been made along the way to today’s Smith & Wesson revolver. We think you’ll be as surprised as we were, at some of the discoveries.
First, to be clear, we need to specify that we’re talking about changes that occurred in the latter part of the 20thCentury.
Major changes like enhanced frame materials and heat treating (1930s-1940s, then again in the 1970s), the addition of the hammer block safety system (1944), and the development of the “short action” (1948), had already occurred in the years prior to the era that we’re talking about. So had smaller changes, like the elimination of the upper sideplate screw (1955) and trigger guard screw (1962).
Additionally, items like the reversal of ejector rod thread patterns (1961), to remedy the issue of the rod unscrewing as the cylinder turned, and the movement of the gas ring from the cylinder to the yoke (1974-76), and back again (1977) were fait accompli.
Perhaps the best place to start in our journey is with the raw materials that S&W uses to make their guns.
In the early days, Smith & Wesson used carbon steels exclusively to manufacture their guns. The raw stock would come in the door, get heated in a furnace to soften it, get cut into smaller pieces, and go into forges, where it would become gun parts. In those early times, parts like frames and cylinders would receive different levels of heat treatment, depending on the caliber of the gun.
By mid-century, Smith & Wesson had made many changes to this process. In 1951, aluminum alloys joined carbon steel, adding the first “Airweight” revolvers to the catalog, and in 1965 S&W produced its first stainless steel revolver, the Model 60.
Additionally, by the late 1970s, differential heat treating was on its way out, and all frames (both Magnum and non-Magnum) were being hardened to the same standard.
There were more changes to come in Springfield. By the late 1990s, stainless steel had supplanted carbon steel as Smith & Wesson’s standard gun-making material (“we now use it for everything, inside and out”), and the raw stock was being electrically heated before it was cut, enroute to the furnace. All the stainless frames, regardless of caliber, were being heat-treated in a vacuum with a computer-controlled process that produced more uniform results, and only the few remaining carbon guns in the catalog were being heat-treated with the older, austemper process that involved heating steel in a liquid salt bath, then quenching it.
One of the biggest material changes came with the introduction of new aluminum alloys, using elements like titanium and scandium. Smith & Wesson had made aluminum-framed J and K revolvers in the past, but they were limited to .38 Special pressures, only. The company couldn’t chamber them for .357 Magnum, and wanted a way to do that in a lightweight frame. This led the Revolver Engineering team to search for a solution, and they found it in an unlikely place.
It happened that the Russians were mixing small traces of scandium with aluminum, and using the resulting, stronger alloy in their aircraft. Their success attracted the attention of some U.S. baseball bat manufacturers who were trying to remedy the problem of college ball players breaking their all-aluminum bats above the handle. They found the new alloy was perfect for their use, as well.
A member of Smith & Wesson’s Marketing team was visiting with friends in the Revolver Engineering department one day, and mentioned reading about the super alloy that powered Russian aircraft and American ball bats, and lightbulbs went on in several engineering minds.
The Engineering team immediately sourced some of the alloy and began to experiment with it. They found the scandium-aluminum alloy was strong enough to withstand .357 Magnum pressures. Adding just two percent of scandium to the aluminum alloy would double its strength, but maintain the lightweight properties of aluminum that Smith & Wesson wanted to retain for their Magnum “Airlites.” “The guns were strong and light, but they weren’t fun to shoot,” said one of the engineers, who actually injured his hand during testing of the first prototype.
Not only was Smith & Wesson moving towards new materials during this era, they were shifting towards new manufacturing processes.
We’ve previously addressed the MIM revolution that occurred inside S&W in great detail, so we won’t repeat that story here, but there was an equally revolutionary change that occurred in Springfield with the introduction of CNC machining.
CNC machining not only introduced a level of precision and consistency that was previously unattainable, using the older, manual machining methods, it also had a dramatic improvement on manufacturing efficiency. For example, in the old days, a revolver frame would have to be loaded into fixtures and machines a total of 105 different times, to complete the required machining operations. It took a lot of time and energy to move the frame around the factory floor to accomplish those 105 loads, but with the introduction of CNC machining, that frame would only get loaded a total of ten times, into a pair of machines that were self-monitoring, self-correcting, and didn’t need a lunch break.
The resulting improvements in efficiency, cost, and quality control dramatically changed the landscape of the factory floor, and allowed S&W to manufacture products at a competitive price. While RevolverGuys might feel nostalgic about older methods of production that involved a lot of skilled labor, the change to CNC machining eliminated scrap, guaranteed better tolerances, and saved significant labor costs that would have otherwise priced S&W revolvers out of today’s market. “None of our customers would want to pay what it would cost to build a S&W revolver the old way, today,” observes one of the team members, “especially because the product wouldn’t be as good—the new guns are much stronger, more consistent.”
There’s a lot of RevolverGuys who would chafe at the notion that the modern guns are better than the old classics, pointing to features that are absent on today’s guns, like pinned barrels and recessed chambers. Certainly, those now-missing features make the older guns better, right?
Not really, according to the folks we talked to. The recessed, or counterbored, chambers may have had some utility in the days of balloon-head brass, but had outlived their usefulness with modern, solid-head cases. A recessed chamber simply hides the head of the cartridge, they explained. Since the cartridge headspaces off the extractor, not the counterbore, they are mostly cosmetic and don’t add any strength. They do create a trap for debris that could prevent a cartridge from properly chambering though, and they add expense, so they were eliminated as unnecessary.1
The pinned barrels were another cosmetic feature that had lost their utility over time. The pins may have contacted the barrel in the pre-war years, to help prevent the barrel from unscrewing from the frame, but after World War II, the pins no longer touched the barrel.
In the 1930s, the barrel and frame were drilled as one, after the barrel had been installed and adjusted for top dead center, and the pin was inserted into this hole to keep the barrel from unscrewing. But that’s not how the guns were being made by the 1950s. By that time, the barrels were being made with a clearance cut on the top that made it easier to drive a pin through the frame (especially if the barrel wasn’t properly clocked), and the holes were already drilled in the frames before the barrels were ever installed. The assemblers just tapped the pin in, often after giving it a little bend, so it wouldn’t walk out of the sloppy holes in the frame.
The pins didn’t make any contact with the barrel, didn’t serve any function at all, by the 1950s. Even the engineering drawings showed that the pins didn’t touch the barrel—there was no combination of acceptable pin, hole and barrel flat tolerances that allowed them to actually touch. The pins missed the barrels by 0.030 inch, allowing the barrels to turn underneath them—the very thing they were designed to prevent.
One thing the pins did do, however, was create a lot of problems. By the 1980s, the number one reason for scrapping a finished frame was the damage incurred when a mistake was made, while pinning the barrel. “The assemblers would have a bad fit, and have problems driving the pin in, and they’d strike the frame with the hammer, by mistake,” said one of our interviewees. “Either that, or they’d ream out the holes with a drill to ease the installation, and bugger up the frame.” Sometimes the damaged frames could be repaired and refinished (adding time and expense), but oftentimes they were so damaged that that had to be scrapped, which was both costly and wasteful.
To remedy this problem, the Revolver Engineering team was directed to eliminate the troublesome, useless, and costly pin entirely. They did it by continuing the barrel flats for two years, but stopping the manufacture of pins and frames with pin holes immediately. This would allow S&W to use up their existing inventory of parts, and when the flat-top barrel supply was exhausted, they could switch to making barrels without them.
Dedicated fans and collectors may like them, but the honest truth is that, over time, the pins had become useless, and the guns were better without them.
A Barrelful of Changes
The pins weren’t the only change to the barrels in this era. In fact, the Revolver Engineering team did a lot of work to improve the launch tubes during this period at S&W.
As we’ve previously discussed here, in these pages, one of the big difficulties with revolver barrel installation is getting the front sight “clocked,” or timed, so that it rests at “top dead center” (TDC) when the barrel is installed to the proper torque value. If the barrel or frame threads are just a bit off, or if the shoulder on the barrel or the face of the frame are just a little out of spec, the barrel may stop too early or too late when it’s getting installed, leaving the front sight off kilter. This is more than just a cosmetic problem, as it influences where the gun will print, and may throw the shots wide enough, that rear sight adjustments cannot bring the groups back to center.
From the earliest days at S&W, barrels were installed by hand, using a fixture to hold the frame and a wrench to screw the barrel in. Since it was done by hand, there was a fair amount of potential for human error, as the assembler tried to time the front sight on the tight-fitting parts. Too little torque would allow the barrel to start backing out of the frame on its own after the buyer started shooting it, and too much torque would stress the thin, threaded walls of the frame, and lead to a crack that would kill it. Getting it right was a difficult process, and also led to a lot of back and arm injuries for the workers. The company didn’t get to use a person in that role for very long, because the potential for a worker’s comp injury was high.
This risk increased with Smith & Wesson’s migration towards stainless steel as their go-to material for building guns. The galling properties of stainless steel increased the engagement between barrel and frame, and increased the force required to turn the barrels into the frames.
In an effort to improve the process, and guarantee a good, TDC installation at the proper torque, without hurting the workers, the Revolver Engineering team developed a new process and tooling to install the barrels. While factory workers used to tap the frames via a lead screw tapping process, and install the barrels by hand with a wrench, the Engineering team changed the process so that they milled the threads on the frame, and installed the barrels with a hydraulic machine. Pressure switches would stop turning the barrels when a torque limit was reached, which would prevent cracking the frames.
This new installation process was introduced around 1993 for the J-Frames, and migrated to the other frames over the next five years or so. The engagement of the threads was much greater with the new process, and the friction was dramatically increased, so it takes a lot more force to install and remove barrels that were assembled this way. Aftermarket gunsmiths who worked on the guns didn’t necessarily appreciate the changes, as they made it difficult to pull barrels without damaging frames, but from the manufacturer’s view, the new installation process was a winner, delivering more consistent results while decreasing injuries and claims.
A Two-Piece Suit
The new hydraulic barrel installation process was an improvement, but dissatisfaction with continuing TDC issues soon had the Revolver Engineering team looking for a better solution.
By 1995, they had determined that manufacturing the barrel in two pieces would provide an excellent solution for their troubles. The two-piece barrel concept had previously been used quite successfully by rival Dan Wesson, where they developed a reputation for excellent accuracy, even if they were a bit cosmetically-challenged.
The team thought they could do a better job of it though, and started looking at options. They considered installing a thin barrel into the frame first, then trimming it and installing a shroud around it, but this was too difficult and not a good manufacturing solution.
Putting a little more thought into it, they came up with a patented solution to use the rifling of the barrel as a gripping surface for the wrench that would be used to turn the barrel into the frame. There are six surfaces with square shoulders inside the barrel, and the wrench fits them tightly enough to complete the install.
In practice, an outer shroud that looks like the “barrel,” with front sight integrated, is attached to the frame first, using a “key” on the rear face, that mates into a matching recess in the frame. The key ensures the shroud is properly timed, and the front sight is TDC. After the shroud is installed, a small barrel “sleeve” is screwed into the frame, using the wrench that grips the rifling to turn it. The stainless barrel sleeve has a slightly belled end at the muzzle, which bears on the front of the shroud, locking it into place.
There are many benefits to the two-piece barrel design, besides fixing the critical TDC issue. The risk of creating stress risers and cracking a frame by over-torquing the barrel is eliminated, and a variety of shroud designs can be used, allowing the manufacturer to change the cosmetics of the gun (full lug, half lug, different sights, different shroud profiles and colors—including colors that match the frame, which has been a struggle on the Airweights, since the stainless barrels don’t neatly match the aluminum frames) quite easily. The 410 stainless steel barrel sleeve will resist corrosion much better than a traditional carbon steel barrel, and the lack of a dedicated barrel nut (as on the Dan Wesson design) improves the cosmetics of the arrangement.
Significantly, the two-piece barrels also seem to have a greater inherent accuracy than the traditional, one-piece barrels. The tensioned nature of the barrel sleeve apparently dampens barrel harmonics, and allows the thin barrel to throw its slugs with greater accuracy.
Aftermarket gunsmiths don’t like them, because they lack the special wrench to remove the rifled barrels, and some traditionalists don’t like them for cosmetic reasons (a thin seam between barrel and shroud is visible on the muzzle end), or because they’re just cranky about change (guilty, as charged! -Mike), but a retired team member insists, “if the customer understood all the reasons why the two-piece barrels are so clearly superior to the old one-piece barrels, they would want all of their barrels made like this!”
The Wheel Turns
The heart of a revolver, the cylinder, didn’t escape the attention of the team, either.
In the old design, the cylinder’s extractor star closed over two alignment pins that were pressed into the cylinder. These pins, which were located in the cylinder relief underneath the star, served to help align the extractor star with the cylinder chambers, and support the star. Unfortunately, the pressed-in pins could work loose and fall out. When that happened, the round extractor rod shaft could unscrew as the cylinder turned, which could tie up the cylinder, or even cause the whole assembly to come apart.
Smith & Wesson engineer Dick Mochak improved the design by CNC-milling the extractor tunnel in the cylinder with a square flat, giving it a “D”-shape, in profile. This prevented the shaft from turning in the tunnel, and allowed S&W to eliminate the troublesome alignment pins for the extractor head. There were no pins to lose, and the extractor rod would no longer work itself loose, with the improved design.
An additional benefit to the new system is that it made it easier to replace the extractor, if it was damaged.
In the old manufacturing process, the alignment pin holes were drilled with the extractor and cylinder as a matched set. As a result, each extractor was essentially “custom fit” to its cylinder, and if it became necessary to replace the extractor, it could be difficult to find one that fit the existing pattern of the alignment pins (which were never drilled exactly the same, from gun to gun, due to manufacturing tolerances). If a good match couldn’t be found from a supply of replacement extractors, through trial and error, one might have to be modified to fit the old pin pattern. Either that, or an entirely new cylinder and extractor assembly would have to be installed.
The improved, Mochak design made this repair much less complex and expensive. The cylinder and extractor are no longer “married” during manufacture, and are just built to exacting tolerances. If an extractor gets damaged, any replacement part should fit the CNC’d cylinder, as they’re all built to the same specs.
The cylinder yoke assembly was improved as well, from a two-piece unit that was pinned, then welded together, to a one-piece unit that is CNC machined from a single piece of stainless steel. In the old style, the pieces were forged and machined, and you had to drill one piece in order to pin it to the rest of the assembly, then silver solder them together. The assembly was pretty strong, but there were still occasional issues with breakage, they were difficult and expensive to make, and sometimes the tolerances weren’t right after assembly, and the piece had to be scrapped because it wouldn’t fit properly in the frame. With the new, CNC-machined, one-piece style, the tolerances are much tighter, the part is much stronger, and there’s less effort and waste involved.
One other cylinder-related improvement is more subtle, but still very important. The lug on the frame which prevents the cylinder from sliding aft, and off the yoke barrel, used to be a separate piece, which would occasionally come loose and tie up the gun. During manufacture, the frame would be drilled for the lug, which was inserted into the side of the frame, then cut and shaped, so the cylinder would pass over part of it, then stop. When it worked loose from the hole, you had a big problem. Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of Revolver team member Richard Mikuta, the cylinder lug is cut as part of the frame. There’s nothing to come loose, and the gun is much stronger for it.
The frames have received several notable improvements, as well, over the years.
The hammer studs on the steel frame guns are much stronger now, than they used to be. In the old design, the stud had a collar at its base, just above the threaded part of the shank that screwed into the frame, and the stress risers would occur at the square corners between the shaft and collar, leading to the hammer stud cracking and breaking off. In the new design, the stud has no collar, but instead has a pin inserted through it, where it meets the inside of the frame wall, and the pin is copper brazed in place. With no stress riser at this spot, and a strong weld in place, the steel frame hammer studs are very robust now, and it’s rare for them to break.2
Those of you who are fans of the flyweight, J-Frame scandium Airlites are familiar with another frame improvement that resulted from the team’s efforts—the stainless steel frame insert at the top of the cylinder window, just above the forcing cone. They patented the insert, which is designed to minimize flame cutting of the scandium alloy frame with hot Magnum loads. Whether or not anyone is brave enough to fire a sufficient number of Magnum rounds through the 12-ounce blaster to damage it is another question, but it’s there, if you want to try. The stainless shield can also be found on the .357 Magnum, L-Frame Model 386, and the .44 Magnum, N-Frame Model 329 for the masochists who’d like to try and wear one out.
One last frame change that we’ve addressed previously was Smith & Wesson’s decision to standardize on the round butt (RB) frame, starting in 1995. We personally miss the square butts here, but there’s no doubt that moving to a single frame profile simplified manufacturing and logistics for the company, which (theoretically, at least) resulted in efficiencies that reduced prices for the consumer.
Parts Is Parts?
We talked about it in the previous installments on MIM, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the improvements in the triggers and hammers that resulted from using the new manufacturing process, starting around 1997.
By that time, the hammers and triggers hadn’t been forged for about 40 years. Around the 1950s, Smith & Wesson started punching out triggers and hammers from flat stock with a press, instead of forging them. The punched parts would get drilled, and the hammers would get placed into a press to swedge the thumb pad to dimension and knurl them, then the parts were color case hardened, to put a hard skin on them.
These parts were soft inside, though, because the raw material had to be soft to facilitate punching and swedging. Smith & Wesson used 1020 or 1018—soft, low carbon steel—to allow the swedging and maintain ductility, so the high stress parts wouldn’t be brittle.
Unfortunately, the broach that cut the notches in the stamped hammer and trigger would leave a rough surface behind. “Under a microscope, you could see a bunch of ridges and valleys running across the parts, perpendicular to their arc of movement. The tool marks looked awful, and left the contact surfaces rough, where you wanted them smooth,” said one of the team members.
With the new MIM manufacturing method, there are no toolmarks left behind on the action parts, which are smooth and hard from the start. “The MIM hammers and triggers give a better factory action from the start,” we’re told. “They’re much smoother than the actions made with the old, broached and case-hardened parts.”
The new (circa 1997) MIM hammers have proven to be more robust than their predecessors. Moving the firing pin (“hammer nose”) from the face of the hammer, to the frame, as part of the redesign, dramatically reduced the number of firing pin failures. Additionally, the new MIM hammers have escaped the indignity of having their thumb pads snap off, which sometimes happened with the swedged hammers.
The colors of the new MIM triggers and hammers are not as attractive as the old case-hardened parts, but they’re generally smoother and much stronger, and Smith & Wesson thinks that’s a pretty good tradeoff.
Aside from all the individual nuts and bolts, there’s some genuine design improvements that have crept into the guns over time, as well.
Consider the latest iteration of the classic, Combat Magnum. Today’s Combat Magnum lacks the Achille’s Heel of the old gun—a barrel flat for yoke clearance that led to the older forcing cones cracking under a steady diet of 110 and 125 grain Magnum loads. You can shoot all the barn burners you want to in today’s K-Magnum, and it will just laugh them off. You’ll wear your hand out before you break the gun.
The new Combat Magnum does away with the forward locking bolt for the extractor rod, as well. Instead, the forward lockup occurs at the yoke, which is arguably much stronger, and eliminates the problem of an extractor rod unscrewing, and tying up the gun.
Too, the elimination of the forward locking bolt allows the use of a full-length extractor rod on the short, 2.75” versions of the gun, because there’s more space up front in the hollow of the lug. This makes it easier to clear spent cases from the new gun than it was on the older versions of the snub Combat Magnum, which had shorter extractor rods underneath their stubby barrels.
As much as I love my old Combat Magnums, I have to admit that the new versions are designed better, in many important respects.
Yikes, did I just say that out loud?
A Solid Case
We have to admit that the Smith & Wesson team members we spoke to made a pretty good case for the current production guns, and we were surprised to see how some of our strongly-held beliefs about the old guns didn’t hold up under scrutiny.
To many eyes, the new guns are less attractive than their forebears. The matte stainless finishes and blackish bluing found on the new guns don’t compare to the polished stainless and deep blues of old, and the case-hardened hammers and triggers of the old guns look better than the new, gray MIM parts. It also seems the older wood stocks, made in-house, were more shapely and attractive than the versions which have been sourced to equip today’s “Classic” line of S&W revolvers.3
Then, there’s the lock. We’ve already said our piece about that, and won’t belabor it here, but the lock does take away from the appearance, reliability, and acceptability of the new guns. Terminally so, for many RevolverGuys. ‘Nuff said.
However, if we can put those things aside, we’ll find there’s a lot to like about the new guns. They still have good looking lines, are attractive in their own right, offer improved features, and they’re a lot stronger than the old guns. They may not gleam like the old ones, but Smith & Wesson says they’re tougher, more consistent and will last longer.
They’re also affordable. You couldn’t buy a Smith & Wesson at today’s prices if they were still making them the old way. Would you be willing to pay upwards of $2,000 for a regular K-Frame? Probably not.
I refer again to the words of one of the team members:
If the customer had any idea of how difficult the journey was to improve these revolvers from the old to the new design, they would feel much better about the new product! We made all these changes to improve the gun, not to cheapen it. We didn’t make these changes just to save money, we made them because our customers use these guns to defend their lives, and they have to be durable and reliable. They have to work when it counts!
So, on behalf of RevolverGuys all across America, we’d like to thank them and their fellow Smith & Wesson family members for all they’ve done to ensure these guns will be around for future generations to enjoy.
Armorer Dean Caputo argues that recessed chambers might actually serve a role in protecting the ratchet on the extractor from getting battered, as the revolver develops endshake over time. Cylinders with recessed chambers are built slightly longer, with a raised rim around the circumference of the rear of the cylinder, to surround the rim of the cartridge’s case. This extended rim may contact the rear of the frame window first, as the cylinder moves aft under recoil, bearing the brunt of the impact and saving the ratchet from unnecessary damage;
Alas, the aluminum-framed guns are more of a difficulty. You can’t copper braze aluminum, so the aluminum hammer stud is made with a collar on it, like the old design, and it’s staked in place to hold it securely. Since aluminum is a weaker material, the hammer stud is more likely to break on the aluminum guns, which is simply one of the costs associated with making a gun from the lighter and less expensive material. Fortunately, a titanium hammer stud can be used on the scandium alloy guns, which makes them as robust as the stainless and carbon steel-framed guns;
For that matter, the wood stocks that were standard on the older guns were more attractive than the rubber stocks found on most S&W revolvers today, but you can hardly blame S&W for that, as it was consumer demand that forced the change. Back when revolvers were all shipped with wood stocks, it was popular to yank them off and replace them with aftermarket rubber stocks from Pachmayr, and others. Now that revolvers are generally shipped with OEM rubber stocks, it’s popular to yank them off and replace them with aftermarket wood stocks. Smith & Wesson gave the customer what they wanted, but the customer can sometimes be fickle, and hard to please. We’d do well to look in the mirror sometimes, when we’re pointing a finger at the manufacturer!