Second Model Russian


Driftwood Johnson
November 17, 2012, 02:14 PM

There was enough of a positive response to my photo of my Bisley Colt that I thought I would post some photos of my 2nd Model Russian.

A few months ago I was attending a regional Cowboy Action match and I noticed one of the shooters on my posse was shooting a pair of S&W Russian revolvers. That's different, thought I, not your usual run of the mill Ruger Vaqueros. Then I looked a bit closer and I realized that they were not modern Italian replicas, but were indeed the real thing, a pair of original Smith and Wesson Russian models!

I pigeon holed him, wanting to get a chance to photograph his pistols, and of course hoping for a chance to shoot them. I never did get a chance to shoot them, but I at least got a few good photos.

Here is a photo of that pair of Russian Models. The pistol at the top of the photo is a Second Model Russian, the one at the bottom is a Third Model. The identifying features are the longer barrel, longer ejector housing, and pinned front sight of the Second Model. Also, the Third model has a large thumb screw at the top of the top strap for removing the cylinder, the Second Model has a small slotted screw there.

Fast forward to about a month ago. A friend who knows I like old Smith and Wessons called me up and told me there was a Russian in a local shop. He was pretty sure it was a Russian, it said Russian on it and had the 'curly thing' under the trigger guard. He said it looked pretty good.

I didn't get a chance to stop by the shop for a couple of weeks, but to make a long story short, I had to have it, and after some wrangling with the dealer, I wound up buying it. It is a Second Model.

Here are two photos of my Russian.

Perhaps this would be a good point to inject a little bit of the history of the Smith and Wesson Russian Model. S&W had been in control of the Rollin White patent since the beginning of the company in 1857. The White Patent granted S&W exclusive rights to make a revolver with a cylinder bored through for cartridges. Their first revolvers were small 22 and 32 rimfire Tip Up revolvers like this:

The White patent was due to expire around 1869, and S&W knew that their competition would soon be bringing out their own cartridge revolvers. So S&W decided to make a big splash with a totally new type of revolver. They wanted something really different, not just adding a conversion cylinder to existing Cap & Ball designs. What they came up with was the first of their Top Break designs, a large frame 44 caliber revolver. This revolver had the unique feature that when you broke it open, the ejector mechanism would rise up and automatically eject the empty cartridges. This feature made it much faster to load and reload than the designs of S&W's competitors. S&W introduced their new 44 caliber revolver in 1870, three years before Colt got around to introducing the Single Action Army. This new revolver eventually became known as the American Model.

Here is a web page showing a few American models:

The new revolver fired a cartridge that employed a heeled bullet. Heeled bullets were very common at this time, many early metallic cartridges used them. The bullet was the same diameter as the shell case, and it carried its bullet lubrication on the outside of the bullet. Black Powder bullet lube was soft and gooey, and cartridges with heeled bullets tended to pick up lint and dirt.

Soon after the introduction of the American Model, representatives of the Russian Czarist government approached S&W with the idea of buying revolvers for their military and police. But the Russians were not enamored of the heeled bullet ammunition, they instead proposed a round that featured the bullet sliding inside the shell case, with lubrication grooves on the bullet encased by the brass. This required shrinking the bullet size to about .429. The new ammunition became known as the 44 Russian round, and virtually all modern ammunition is still made the same way, with the bullet sized to fit inside the case mouth.

The first of the Russian contract revolvers looked exactly the same as the American model, the only difference being that the chambers had a reduced diameter case mouth for the smaller .429 diameter bullet, and the barrel diameter had been reduced to .429 too.

My Russian is the Second Model. This model was produced from 1873 until 1878. It has the characteristic large hump (or knuckle) on the grip, and the distinctive trigger guard spur. These are features the Russians insisted on. Mine is a commercial model, it was made for domestic sale, not one of the revolvers shipped overseas.

I bought it on a Saturday and took it down to the basement that night to give it a really good inspection inside and out. The dealer said he had owned it for a long time, but had never shot it. the bore and chambers were crudded up, but I was hoping they would not be too bad. After a little scrubbing with a bronze brush and Murphy's Mix, an almost pristine bore emerged! A little bit of pitting near the forcing cone, but other than that the bore is bright and shiny with nice strong rifling. The chambers have a little bit of pitting, but not very much. Next I took off the side plate to inspect and clean the action. Almost no gunk or rust at all inside. The hammer still exhibits plenty of case colors inside, even though the colors are almost all gone from the visible portion of the hammer.

I cleaned the inside liberally with Murphy's Mix to get rid of any old gunk, then lubed everything lightly with Ballistol to prepare it for shooting with Black Powder.

Next day I took it to the range to see how the old girl could shoot. I set up a target pretty close, about 25 feet, I had about a box and a half of my Black Powder 44 Russian loads with about 20 grains of FFg inside topped off with a 200 grain Big Lube Mav-Dutchman bullet lubed with SPG. The first thing I discovered is the trigger pull is really heavy. Probably about ten pounds. Not what I'm used to. So my first group was not so hot. Second group was much better. From a rest, with careful trigger control the old girl did just fine. The group on the left is the one she did from the rest. I was actually holding at 6 O'Clock, and like my New Model Number Three, the Russian shoots high. The target on the right was shot standing duelist style. The stiff trigger opened the group up a fair amount.

I shot up the rest of the ammo I had brought with me, then went home to clean the gun. Cleaning the Russian is not as simple as cleaning my New Model Number Three or my DA 44. In order to get the cylinder out, two screws have to be removed. Cleaning is simple then, but it took me a bunch of tries to get the ejector ratchet back in the gun properly. Gonna have to work on figuring out an easy way to do that.

I spent the rest of the week fooling around with the gun. I noticed that it had a tendency for the cylinder to throw by if I cocked the hammer quickly with two hands. Closer examination showed the cylinder stop was a bit lazy, not rising briskly enough to stop the cylinder reliably. Consulting Dave Chicoine's excellent book about disassembling antique firearms, I removed the trigger guard to see what was going on with the cylinder stop. The spring seemed plenty strong, so I degunked every thing, making sure the stop popped up smartly and put everything back together again.

On the following Sunday I attended a local match and brought along the Russian. The only holster I have that it fit into is an old Hunter holster with a strap that snaps over the hammer. Works fine in a pinch, but I plan on getting a nice holster made specifically for the gun over the winter. This match allows me to shoot my DA 44, so the Russian and the DA were my pistols that day.

I had a ball, but if you want to shoot fast, the Russian is not for you. Those Russians must have had really long thumbs. No way my thumb could reach the hammer spur, curving up like it does, if I held the gun properly with my hand below the knuckle on the frame. I had to regrip in order to reach the hammer, then regrip again to shoot the gun. Not too much of a problem because the trigger is so heavy I did not worry too much about an AD. I even shot one stage cocking the hammer with my left hand, then letting go and shooting it with one hand. I made the mistake a couple of times shooting it without the proper grip, and even with the heavy gun and my light 44 Russian loads, that hump smacked my palm uncomfortably. I completely forgot that the gun shoots high, and I only missed one target in six stages, so shooting high is not a problem at normal SASS distances.

Here is a photo a friend took of the two revolvers I was shooting that day.

About the hook under the trigger guard. No, it does not help steady the gun if the middle finger rests on it. Much too awkward. I completely ignored the hook, grabbing the gun no differently than I would a modern S&W revolver. Nobody has ever definitively figured out what the hook was for, I have read it helped suspend the gun from a belt, and even that it was designed to protect the hand if parrying a slashing sabre. But it sure does not help grabbing it while shooting.

I have since shot my Russian at one more Cowboy match last week. Another friend brought his newly acquired S&W New Model Number Three, so I brought mine too. I had a ball, shooting my two old Top Break single actions.

Next step is I have to fill out the form and have this fine old gun lettered to find out more about its history.

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November 17, 2012, 03:18 PM
Thank you sir, I thoroughly enjoy these threads.

There are few firearms ever made that I don't have at least a passing interest in; but the 1800 -1900 era brought forth the guns that truly move me.

November 17, 2012, 03:50 PM
Jealous... my lonely replica Schofield can't compare, but I've got years to collect things like that still. Basics before Pleasure.


From the Book "Smith and Wesson Sixguns of the Old west" by David Chicoine.

Page 114-115 (so much typing, but as it appears in the book, but anyone who loves top breaks should have this book IMO)

"The Russians Came Back"

in the fall of 1871, General Gorloff's Aide, Captain Ordinetz requested the factory to develop a new grip shape for future Russian contract guns, one that would help to keep the revolver from turning upwards in the hand during recoil. Smith and Wesson experimented with several different grip shapes during December 1871, eventually settling on an enlarged rounded butt with a distinct "knuckle" at the top that engaged the web of the shooter's hand on recoil. This alteration formed the nexus for the revolver that was to be called the Second Model Russian. Other alterations from the Russians were that the barrel length be shortened from 8 inches to 7 inches, and the thumbpiece of the hammer spur be widened. Captain Ordinetz had also asked for a trigger-shaped "spur" to be added to the lower rear of the triggerguard. In operation, the spur could be grasped with the shooter's second finger to further discourage the pistols upward movement during recoil. It was that odd-looking combination of the saw-handle grip shape, and the spur on the triggerguard that were the features that offered an easy way to identify those Smith & Wesson's as "Russians."

That's as good as any answer I've been given, other than the possible use of the hook to hold the gun more securely in a sash-belt.

Captain... Ordinetz? is this a root of the term Ordinance, or a pseudonym?

Driftwood Johnson
November 17, 2012, 04:59 PM
Howdy Dnaltrop, thanks for your comments.

Actually, I do have that book. No, the origin of the word ordinance goes way back proabably 800 years or so to middle English. Nothing to do with that Russian gentleman's name.

The large knuckle on the grip would actually give no trouble at all if the hammer spur was shaped differently. Keeping my hand firmly in place below the knuckle I simply cannot reach far enough with my thumb to reach that turned up hammer spur. The tip of my thumb reaches it, but I cannot get a good purchase on it unless I shift my grip. Then I have to shift my grip back down a tad so the knuckle does not wallop me in recoil.

The 44 Russian load is a much milder load than for instance the 45 Colt. Even with modern brass, I can stuff about 35 grains or so of FFg under a 250 grain bullet with 45 Colt, I am only stuffing about 20 grains of FFg under a 200 grain bullet with modern 44 Russian brass. So recoil is fairly mild. Absolutely no need to grasp the trigger spur to control recoil, the gun can easily be controlled by holding the grip itself. As a matter of fact, with a finger on the trigger guard spur, my hand is even more restricted and has even less success reaching the hammer spur. Just does not make any practical sense at all to try to grasp it while shooting the gun.

The hammer shape of the Russian Model is almost exactly the same as my New Model Number Three. But the much reduced knuckle on the New Model Number Three frame allows reaching up to grasp the hammer spur without as much trouble.

November 17, 2012, 05:21 PM
Thanks, wasn't sure on how old the usage was, and I've been reading the "wrong" books lately to expand on history.

Either way, good fun to have the name attached to the Russian's orders.

Whatever was intended when it was added, the hook certainly is a striking addition today.

November 17, 2012, 05:42 PM
Excellent post! And a very nice Russian.

You've probably seen this website:

November 17, 2012, 05:50 PM

thank you for sharing

(damn...that sounded pretty PC...let me try again)


Thanks for posting amigo

(there....that was better)

November 18, 2012, 09:50 AM
Thank you for this post. I don't get into Cowboy shooting at all but I have a soft spot in my heart for all the many varied breaktops. I'm especially fascinated by your DA44. Perhaps someday...

Driftwood Johnson
November 18, 2012, 11:04 AM
Howdy wlewisiii

Until I found the Russian, my Double Action 44 was the coolest old gun I have. It is just a shooter grade, and it has been refinished at some time in the past, as evidenced by the blued trigger and hammer, as well as the heavy rounding over of the edges of the side plate. Still, it is a great old gun, shipped in 1881, and I love shooting it with my 44 Russian Black Powder loads. I really love the funky lines of the trigger and trigger guard.

Even though it is against SASS rules, a few of the local clubs allow me to shoot it as long as I only shoot it Single Action.

Driftwood Johnson
November 19, 2012, 10:14 PM
Howdy Again

Just heard from Roy Jinks over at the S&W forum. My Russian shipped in February of 1875. I will be lettering this one for sure.

November 20, 2012, 08:17 AM
That's one of the ones actually worth it. I'm pure green-eyed.

Thanks for the extra info above too, I appreciate it.

November 20, 2012, 10:00 AM
What a rockin' tutorial.

I've always given these a pass but I'll be looking closer now. That picture of the open side has to have one of the all-time prettiest hammers ever put in a gun.

November 21, 2012, 09:27 AM
Howdy Driftwood, I thought you were into Rugers? Beautiful guns I sure would like to see them in the near future!!

Driftwood Johnson
November 21, 2012, 09:00 PM
Howdy Tubby

Yes, I have a few Rugers, when I shoot CAS I usually shoot my Colts, but a pair of Rugers always comes along as backups. But I have more Smiths than anything else, something just over 40 at last count.

November 21, 2012, 09:41 PM
Those are gorgeous Driftwood!

Wish i could afford to collect them.

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