Going to change Barrels on an older S & W M&P ( .38 Special Revolver )
Never done it before...so...
Would the prospective drill be as -
Remove Cylinder and Yoke...Stocks...
Drive our Barrel retaining Pin ( are these tapered? Do they drive out from the right, or, left? )
Leather lined Wrench, Lead or Copper lined Vice...clamp Frame in Vice, unscrew Barrel?
Or, clamp Barrel in Vice, unscrew Frame?
With Cylinder removed...screw in new Barrel, and see where it ends up being when reasonably tight, far as where the Sight is in relaion to '12' O'clock...
If problems here...does one remove material from the Barrel's Boss, for allowing a tiny bit more screw in? And or, what does one do if reasonably tight has it ending up say, with the sight at 1:00 O'clock?
Lastly, once these issues are resolved, install Cylinder and Yoke, if they will install, and see how the clearance is,
between Cylinder and Forcing Cone...and if more clearance is needed, remove material from forcing cone end.
This is what I am imagining anyway...
Any guidances, pointers? Wisdoms of experience?
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May 25, 2009, 05:11 PM
Changing a barrel isn't as easy as it seems, and without the correct blocks to support the frame and other special tools (obtainable at www.brownells.com) you stand a high risk of warping the frame and ruining the revolver.
There are a number of past threads and posts covering this subject. You will find them by using our search feature (toward the center/right in the green bar at the top of the page). In particular, search out posts made by our fellow members, dfariswheel and Jim Keenan.
Without tools and experience I strongly suggest that you reconsider.
May 25, 2009, 06:55 PM
Hi Old Fluff,
I never said/thought it was going to be 'easy'..!
Still, nothing beats carefully trying things, to learn...
I'll read up more, and seek further info, look into the 'Brownells' stuff, before I give it a whirl.
Definitely, I'd hate to distort the Frame...and I imagine, those Barrels are usually pretty tight...
May 25, 2009, 07:28 PM
Here's something I wrote on barrel work on revolvers.
As you'll see, there's a LOT more to it:
Changing a revolver barrel
A common question is “How do I change my revolvers barrel”?
Barrel work is a MAJOR pistolsmithing job and requires a considerable amount of very expensive equipment.
It involves a lot of steps that most people, including a surprising number of gunsmiths, don’t even know is required.
Failure to do the job correctly insures an inaccurate revolver at best, and a destroyed frame at worst.
The common do-it-yourself technique is to use “expedient” tooling techniques that are found in old gunsmithing books, and can still be found mentioned occasionally in gun magazines.
These methods range from wrapping rope around the barrel and using it with a stick to form a sort of tourniquet to unscrew the barrel, to the most common, which is to use a hammer handle through the frame window as a “wrench”.
The hammer handle method is to make up a pair of wood barrel blocks for the barrel.
The barrel is sandwiched between the blocks, and are locked in a shop vice. One writer said to “Tighten the vise until your eyes bugged out”.
A hammer handle or a shaped wooden 2x4 is shoved through the frame and is used as a “wrench” to twist the frame off.
The new barrel is fitted by hand filing the barrel shoulder until the front sight is at 12:00, the rear of the barrel is filed, if necessary, to provide a small gap between the barrel and the cylinder, and you’re off to the range to shoot your fresh re-barrel.
At least that’s how it’s touted as working.
In reality, when the hammer handle is used to turn the frame, one of two things happen:
Either the frame bends, or it breaks.
Revolver frames are a lot softer and easier to bend then most people suspect, and when the frame itself is used as a wrench, the frame will almost always bend.
Once bent, the frame is ruined even though it may still be shoot-able.
A bent frame will often have timing problems, and always has alignment problems. All of which cause inaccuracy and possible spitting of bullet metal.
Some owners who’ve tried this method of barrel work, are surprised that the factories do not have some kind of machine or device that will straighten the frame like bent car frames can sometimes be straightened.
The fact is, once bent the frame can never be repaired, and the best a factory can do is replace it.
The second thing that can happen is the frame will break.
If you look at a revolver frame just under the area where the barrel screws in, you’ll see that the frame is very thin in this area.
When the unsupported frame is unscrewed with the handle, it can crack right through the threaded portion.
While there are ways to weld the crack, the very high expense of having a top level custom pistolsmith/welder do it is very prohibitive, and is reserved for repairs to revolvers of high historical value, with NO guarantee that it will work.
The advice to hand file the barrel shoulder to align the barrel and to file the end of the barrel to provide the barrel/cylinder gap always ruins the barrel, since it’s near impossible to keep the surfaces perfectly square.
The result is tilted barrels due to uneven shoulders, and the end of the barrel not square with the cylinder.
When re-barreling a revolver, the first thing you need is a USABLE barrel.
This is much harder to get then you’d think, since a good percentage of barrels for sale at gun shows and on eBay are defective.
Major reasons for selling a used barrel are, the barrel was defective to start with, or it was damaged during removal, using the hammer handle method.
This damage may not always be readily apparent, and sometimes isn’t revealed until the pistolsmith attempts to install it.
Damage can run from tiny cracks in the forcing cone to pitted bores, to bent barrels.
I once saw a Diamondback barrel that someone had TWISTED, probably by attempting to unscrew it from the frame the wrong way.
This wasn’t apparent until, suspicious, I checked it with a straight edge.
Cracks in the forcing cone are common, and contrary to popular opinion, a cracked barrel is almost always toast.
Cracks in steel tend to continue to spread, even if you cut the cracked end off, since cracks are a sign of metal fatigue caused by blast damage.
Some gunsmiths will attempt to save a barrel with a cracked forcing cone by setting the barrel back, but this almost always fails, and the crack continues to spread forward.
Here’s a brief description of how a revolver barrel is changed correctly:
First, the barrel is locked in a special barrel vise.
I had two, one was a small scale copy of the larger hydraulic jack type vises that gunsmiths use to change out rifle barrels.
I used this one for older round barrels like the Colt Official Police.
The second vise was large Wilton vise with heavily modified jaws.
I had sets of custom machined brass or aluminum barrel inserts that were fitted to specific makes and models.
As example I had sets for Pythons, Trooper Mark III’s, King Cobras, shrouded Detective Specials, etc.
These inserts are installed around the barrel, then clamped in the barrel vise.
The action, or frame wrench, is installed on the frame.
This wrench is a universal revolver wrench that fits around the front of the frame. It is fitted with brand and type specific hard plastic inserts.
These inserts very closely fit the front of the frame around and below the barrel area to fully support the frame.
Again, I had inserts for specific guns. I had one set for Colt “E & I” frames, another set for “J” frames, another set for “D” frames, etc.
These inserts support the frame and spread the torque over a wider area to allow unscrewing the frame without over stressing the frame and damaging it.
With the frame and barrel tightly locked up, and with no “spring” to the setup, the frame is unscrewed from the barrel
With the barrel off, the frame threads are cleaned up with brass brushes, solvent, and if necessary are “chased” with a tap to insure clean, uniform threads.
The replacement barrel is closely inspected and it’s threads are cleaned and chased with a die if necessary.
The barrel is test fitted to the frame to determine where the front sight is and how much material has to be removed to allow the front sight to be at 12:00 top-dead-center after being torqued in place.
How much to remove is largely a judgment call based on experience.
Using a lathe or a bench trimming device, that amount of metal is removed from the barrel shoulder.
The barrel threads are coated with anti-seize compound and the barrel is threaded on the frame, everything is relocked in the barrel vise and frame wrench, and the barrel is torqued in place.
If the barrel is torqued with insufficient torque the barrel will vibrate loose.
Too much and you run the risk of pressure dimpling or constricting the bore in the thread area, or even cracking the frame.
With the barrel in place, the barrel/cylinder gap must be set.
This is done with a special cutter tool that works down the bore.
A Tee-handle rod is put down the bore and a cutter tool is attached on the end. The rod is pulled outward and rotated, trimming the end of the barrel.
Care has to be taken to insure the end of the barrel is not scalloped from uneven pressure.
With the barrel/cylinder gap set to an ideal .005”, the forcing cone has to be re-cut.
The forcing cone is very misunderstood, and even some gunsmiths have no idea it has to be re-cut and gaged or that it must be gaged at all.
The critical dimension of the cone is not it’s “length” or taper, but the outer diameter of the mouth.
If the outer mouth is too big, the gun will be inaccurate. Too small and it’s inaccurate AND will spit bullet metal.
The same Tee handle tool is inserted down the bore, but this time a cone-shaped cutter head is attached.
The cutter heads come in various tapers, and you can set a barrel for exclusive use with lead bullets by using a longer taper, or for jacketed with shorter tapers.
The factories use a good compromise that works with everything.
The Tee handle is pulled outward, pulling the cutter into the forcing cone. The handle is rotated and the cutter head cuts the cone.
Again, care is taken to prevent scalloping and the progress is checked often with a special plug gage.
This drop-in plug gage gages the outer diameter of the cone. The difference between too large and too small is very small, so gauging is done often.
The cone cannot be "eyeballed", it has to be gaged.
After the cone is cut, yet another head is attached to the Tee handle, this time a brass cone-shaped lapping head.
Valve grinding compound is applied to the lap, and the forcing cone is lapped to a smooth finish.
After lapping, the barrel and frame is carefully cleaned of all metal chips and lapping compound, and the revolver is reassembled.
The last step is firing the revolver for function, and to check accuracy off the sandbags.
As you can see, there’s a LOT more involved than first thought, and all steps are CRITICAL.
Unless you’re willing to invest quite a bit of money in custom made tooling and spend the time learning how to properly use it, attempting a do-it-yourself re-barrel job is a very fast way to ruin a good gun.
May 25, 2009, 08:17 PM
The hammer handle often (not always) did work OK with the S&W pinned barrels. The problem was in trying to drive out the pin without marring the frame.
Those barrels were fairly loose as the pin kept the barrel from turning and a crush fit was not necessary. But on Colts and the new S&W's, using the hammer handle will do just what Dfariswheel says - twist the frame.
The cost of having someone with the tools replace that barrel will be less than buying a new revolver.
May 25, 2009, 08:34 PM
Oooooooo...nice essay, being printed-out as Hard-Copy, and into my 'Keep' folder.
Yes...everything you mention makes sense.
I'd brooded on how one would best grip both Barrel and Frame so as not to twist either, and I had not felt satisfied with details I'd run across incidentally over the years, of the '2x4' through the Frame and so on.
Revolver is a 1915 ( is it? mid 'teens anyway, ) M&P, round Butt, Factory Checkered non-Medallion Wood Stocks, ultral low miliage, but had got 'damp' at some point, and blueing is both freckled, frail, and has many tiny pits.
Bore and Action are superb.
Barrel is 6-1/2 inch, and has a BIG bulge right before the front sight, where, I assume, someone long ago fired on thoughtlessly, after a 'Squib'.
I obtained his Revolver with a view of locating a true M&P era Factory 2 inch Barrel and correct 'short' ejector Rod, and, with these, to convert or re-Barrel it, into an aesthetically period correct, if 'Mixmaster' 'snubby'.
I recently obtained the new ( old, likely early 1930s but it has not arrived yet for me to see the Serial No. to say, ) 2 inch, Blue, half-round Front Sight, Barrel and short Ejector Rod, and am now brooding on the protocols as you desribe, for the re-Barreling procedure.
Generally, my own experience in Life, sadly maybe, has amply taught me, never to trust anyone, ever, to mess with anything of mine...since reliably, they will screw it up, while charging me heavily for the disappoinment, then they get mad if I notice.
Now, if someone of your understanding were to recomend a Smith you know, who will not screw this up, I'd earnesly consider having him do it...and, having him do maybe a few other small projects too.
Otherwise, the problem, as I am sure you grasp, is that it is not always easy ( as a lay person un-schooled in the inner details of essoteric occupation, ) to decide if a practioner is indeed as competant for one's intended project to be realized 'rightly', as one would have hoped, regardless of the practioner's fame, notariety, celebration, or other ostensible 'success' in the broader business.
Too, I do enjoy learning...and learning by doing.
And I'd be careful and methodical, all through.
I have a good Metal Lathe if the Barrel's shoulder needs minute address...and I would not feel shy to make or send off for the Forcing Cone gauges and small Cone reamers...and I can make the Jig they set into alright...or, I could establish and realize the empirical final OAL of the Barrel, for a right Gap o he Cylinder, do that, and send it out for the Forcing Cone's address...which I'd prefer to be for plain 'Lead' Bullets in this case, since that's all I'd ever put through it.
Your missive made my day...a 'Gold Mine'...
May 25, 2009, 08:44 PM
Thanks for the mentions...
Yes, one would best have right, indented-nose straight-shank Tempered Drifts for driving out the Barrel Pin.
I've worked on a fair amount of old Machinery, happily, and there's lots of fine points, always, if one is to be respectful and not harm anything by impetuousity or presumption or make-do with wrong Tools.
Many old things had Tapered Pins, and I was not sure if this is the case also, with these old S & W Barrel Pins.
If you go to that 2" barrel you're going to need a new center rod, and be sure that ejector rod doesn't have a left-hand thread. They changed in about 1961. The cylinder internals were different in 2" barreled revolvers then other longer lengths. :uhoh:
May 25, 2009, 10:58 PM
Hi Old Fluff...
Oooooo...hmmmmmm...well, may just modify the original Ejecor Rod then, by shortening it one way or another...
Though I t-h-i-n-k, the Half-Round Front Sight was gone by 1957 anyway, when the Model 10 succeeded the M&P proper line...
Oh hell, I hope this is not some darned, early J-Frame Barrel...with an incompatible or smaller thread..!!
Ohhhhh golly...I'll be on the edge of my seat now, till it gets here...
I can always do a tasteful-enough Cut on the leave-it-installed original Barrel, and Solder the Original Sight, once fitted, for making a 3 inch or so, not-quite-a-Snubby, and, that'd be alright too...and, a lot easier...and would be plenty charming and practical...
May 25, 2009, 11:15 PM
Frankly, given the size of the frame a 3" barrel will give you a better balanced revolver and a full-stroke ejector length. Last I knew Numrich still had some in a 3" length. (www.e-gunparts.com). They also have the short center rods for the 2 inch length.
May 25, 2009, 11:24 PM
Hi Old Fluff,
Yes...that's true...a 3 inch or 3-1/4 inch would have it's advantages and merits.
Were I to do that, I'd just make a cut, 1/8th of an inch in front of the Ejector Latch housing...round the Muzzle a little...and, either call it Macaronii, or, cut off the old Sight, fit it to it's new location, and hard-Solder it on...
In fact...this "3 inch, not-quite-a-Snubby", is starting to really appeal to me...
I might just forgo the Barrel changing, and do that instead.
I'd be a charmer at 3 inches...and, the project would be much simpler, too.
May 25, 2009, 11:32 PM
I did a fast Razor Blade and old curdled White-Out...to sort of arrive at an on-paper mock-up, and, I like it...