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How much better were P&R S&W revolvers, if at all?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by JellyJar, Jul 9, 2010.

  1. JellyJar

    JellyJar Well-Known Member

    I know that the newer S&W revolvers are not looked upon favorably by the cognoscenti. However, as MIM parts were not introduced until about 1994 or so, how much better, if at all, were the prior P&R versions that S&W made up to about 1981 versus the ones made from 1981 until the introduction of MIM parts?
  2. unspellable

    unspellable Well-Known Member

    A pinned barrel has a theoretical edge for accuracy over a crush fit barrel as the crush fit distorts the back end of the barrel. Colt used to overcome this effect by tapering the bore so that the bore became just slightly smaller as you moved towards the muzzle. The Dan Wesson avoids the effect by fastening the barrel with a nut at the muzzle end. How much difference this actually makes in practice is open to conjecture but the Dan Wesson does have an unbeatable reputation for long range accuracy. But it also has a couple of other features that aid accuracy.

    The recessed chamber traps crap if the case leaks at the rear. This is significant with rim fires, but not center fires. However, for my money the bull barreled S&Ws look better with the recessed chambers.

    None of this says anything about how quality control has varied over the years.
  3. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    Forgings, intelligent castings for the best Engineering reasons only, Pinned Barrels, Counter-set Revolver Cylinders for High Pressure Cartridge kinds, carefully Machined parts and sub-assemblies, all are in keeping with a mystique and ethos of careing about the quality of the Work.

    Shorcuts, 'value engineering', cheap materials or cheap methods to save costs, eliminating skill or intelligence and ability from those people employed to make and assemble the Parts and finished products, all contribute to a mood of cheapness, indifference, gratuity, lack of craftsmanship, lack of really caring...lack of respect...loss of vision, waffled or conflicted committment.

    High quality was never hard for people to notice and appreciate and value...and never a problem for people desiring it, to pay for it, and for it to mean something to own and use, even if it mean saving up.

    Forsaking high quality for a few more sales to appease stockholders and fiscal quarter profits, is not seen as being very admirable by anyone who knows better.

    I think any business should strive for the highest quality product or service possible, and to do without self serving luxuries and wastes and overpaying CEOs and new corporate headquarters and all the other focus killing jive and waste and paper games of not caring about anything but money grubbing and self aggrandizement, and, if offering tiers of hierarchy in the product or service, to be very careful about what is being compromised or reduced or eliminated for the lower tiers, if wishing to offer tiered stratas of what one is to get for one's Money.

    Knowing how to Manufacture things well, with high quality and good design and Engineering standards, seems to be becoming a lost or abdicated legacy of our Culture.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2010
  4. Bill B.

    Bill B. Well-Known Member

    I love the old S&W's as much as anyone but 2 of the finer shooting revolvers I have ever held in my hand have been made in the last 5 years .......a S&W 625 45 ACP & a S&W 627 357 mag.
  5. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Well-Known Member

    The Bangor Punta years were a low point in S&W history. Quality was erratic, some were fine, some were not. I had a crooked M19 from that period, had the rear sight cranked all the way over to zero.
  6. chieftain

    chieftain Well-Known Member


    And not a MIM part in any of them.

    Poor quality parts are poor quality parts. Poorly manufactored parts have always existed. Doesn't mater the process used to manufacture them.

    MIM isn't the problem, poor quality is the problem to many folks A) don't know the difference, and B) to many worry about the difference. You risk your life every day, if you drive a vehicle, to MIM parts. Nothing new here.

    It is an urban myth.

    As to S&W today, it's not about the parts, just like during the dark Bangor Punta days. It's about how those parts are put together.

    Go figure.

    Last edited: Jul 10, 2010
  7. clang

    clang Well-Known Member

    P&R were nice details on the old S&Ws. They probably did not make the gun shoot any better, but there is a saying about the difference being in the details.

    People like guns that were assembled and fit by trained craftsmen who made the high quality products. Cost savings steps tend to be a turn off because they are a sign that the product is being compromised in some way. That's why 5 screw and P&R guns are the most desirable - they come from a time when a lot more hands on labor was involved in putting together a gun.

    I agree with the person above - I've got two 625s and they are a joy to shoot. But I also have a Model of 1950 .45ACP Target (pre-26) that shoots at least as well as the 625s. It's somewhat comforting to know that the cost savings steps taken have not signifincantly loweered the accuracy or dependability of the guns S&W makes.

    That being said, I still prefer a 5 screw > 4 screw > P&R (on applicable models) > no-P&R.
  8. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator

    the quality of S&Ws have gradually been going downhill as the amount of hand-fitting has gone down, this continued until...wait for it...wait for it...the age of MIM :eek:

    one of the country's foremost S&W pistolsmiths recently told me that the quality control of S&W actions is held to a much higher standard since the introduction of MIM parts. once a part is correctly engineered and the specs correctly imputed into the computer, every part is identical and tolerances can be held to a very high standard. there is much less for the Performance Center to do to the current actions to optimze them.
  9. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    One can try 'The Blindfold Test' also.

    Blindfolded, have a trusted person hand you a Model 1899 K Frame which is in fairly good condition...hold it, open and close the Cylinder, satisfy yourself it is not loaded, dry fire, get the 'feel' of it.

    Then, a same length barrel K Frame of any time recently.

    Remove blindfold, and repeat with seeing also.

    Quality was once 'superb'.

    Then, it was very very good.

    Then, very good.

    Then, good.

    Quality is somewhat ineffible...but, one can know it when seeing and feeling it.

    Good is 'good'.

    Superb...was, well...'Superb'.
  10. evan price

    evan price Well-Known Member

    I have a 1905 hand ejector 4th change, a 5-screw .38 spl made in late 1930's. Even in the used condition it was in when I got it, a little cleaning and oiling made it slick as glass.

    I also have a couple of newer K-frames from the 70's and 80's. Quality didn't really seem to slip at first because the same people were doing the same jobs. Very nice pistols.

    Bangor-Punta took over in 65 and was sold in 84 to Lear-Siegler. Then in 86 they got sold again to Forstman-Little who then sold them to Tompkins.

    IMHO the worst years for S&W (pre-Saf-T-Hammmer ownership, of course) was the 1982-1987 era when they were changing hands every few years, eliminated P&R, and got generally sloppy. I suppose a year or two before that was when things started sliding down.

    So let's say 1980 through 1989? Then the Saf-T-Hammer years with the Clinton lock...2001-present?

    Was there anything in 1990-2001 that was good? The 586/686 perhaps...
  11. madcratebuilder

    madcratebuilder Well-Known Member


    While most of my S&W collection are early model revolvers a few are newer with MIM parts. They are as reliable and shoot just as well as the older ones. The MIM guns respond to the same tune-up techniques as the early models. It's all in your head.
  12. DrLaw

    DrLaw Well-Known Member

    I guess I have been lucky. I have not purchased a new Smith & Wesson since 1985 but of those that I did purchase new prior to that, I never have had a problem other than a broken firing pin on a model 36, which Smith fixed pronto.

    The Doc is out now. :cool:
  13. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Well-Known Member

    My opinion is that that current crop of Smith & Wesson revolvers are just as good as the old ones from an operational perspective. You can debate some things on construction, but in the end, the current ones shoot and will operate safely and reliably for several lifetimes if they are taken care of.
  14. Guillermo

    Guillermo member

    The question is not the pinned and recessed cylinders, it is the overall quality.

    Smith and Wesson, in the 40's through the 60's made some spectacular guns.

    The 70's they got iffy and have had their ups and downs ever since. Mostly downs.

    MIM parts are the main problem. They are basically chunks of metal in a binder. Think of gravel held together by cement. Parts manufactured in this method do not polish well. Many gunsmiths refuse to do trigger jobs on them as the customer is often not pleased with the results.

    The bottom line is that Smith and Wesson used to make some of the finest revolvers ever made. Now they are on the same quality rung as Taurus.

    Pinned and recessed is just a symbol of what once was.
  15. 420Stainless

    420Stainless Well-Known Member

    They look better to me (P&R that is). Whether they are functionally better, I cannot say. I haven't shot either style to death in order to find out which lasts longer.
  16. Shear_stress

    Shear_stress Well-Known Member

    I hate to disagree with Guillermo, but this is only half-true. When the parts are first molded they do contain a binder. At this stage they are called "green parts". However, the binder is then boiled away during the sintering process, which also fuses the metal particles together. The result is very similar to the sintered parts Colt used in the lockwork of their Mark III guns starting in the 70s, parts that people rarely complain about. If the binder wasn't removed those hammers and triggers would have the structural integrity of Tollhouse cookies.

    My objection to MIM is not the functionality of the parts, but the fact that guns with such parts retail for the same prices, adjusting for inflation, as the older guns.

    I agree that S&W quality has had its ups and downs--especially since the 70s--but MIM has little to do with it.
  17. Guillermo

    Guillermo member


    thank you for the lesson. (I LOVE the High Road...lot's of smart people here)

    The fact remains that MIM parts do not polish well
  18. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    MIM Parts:

    We are sort of dancing around the bush here. Smith & Wesson hammers and triggers were formally made from steel bar stock. MIM parts are made from metal particles mixed with a binder into a sort of paste. The paste is introduced into a mold and heated – to a point where the binder fuses the particles together, but not to a level where the particles become melted. If only the metal particles were put in the mold without the binder and heated, you would end up with… metal particles.

    This is why the density of an MIM part is always slightly less then 100% of an identical part made from bar stock or a forging.

    In my experience, MIM parts do not polish very well, but they do burnish – which in some cases may be a better way to go about it then polishing. It is true that some ‘smiths decline action jobs on the newer revolvers, because such jobs when done right (and “right” involves a lot more then polishing parts and installing reduced tension springs); don’t show the improvement that’s possible with older guns, and customers end up being disappointed. As one politically correct ‘smith put it, “they can usually be improved, but they feel different then the older guns.”

    MIM parts can be made to closer tolerances, which permit a tolerance stack (or difference) to allow putting parts together without any attempt to get a perfect (rather then “working” fit). Previously experienced and skilled assemblers would address tolerances issues by using “selective fitting,” where parts were selected in a manner where the tolerance stack was all but eliminated. When done right (and sometimes it wasn’t) this system worked exceeding well, but obviously it wasn’t consistent with reducing manufacturing costs.

    Which brings use to a core point. The switch to MIM parts came about to reduce not only the cost difference between machined parts vs. molded ones, but also to reduce assembly costs – because assembling the MIM parts to make a workable revolver didn’t require the skill and experience that was formally required, and labor costs had become much more burdensome them material costs.

    Which does the Old Fuff prefer? The answer should be obvious. Others I’m sure will see things differently.
  19. Guillermo

    Guillermo member

    Thank you for the lesson Sir Fuffster

    I guess that they are wrong then

    unless speaking of DAO full sized revolvers
  20. Shear_stress

    Shear_stress Well-Known Member

    Not to pick nits with OF (who's forgotten more about guns than I will ever know), but I'd argue that the binder is there mainly to turn a metallic powder into a fluid, injection-moldable, medium. It probably also acts as a flux.

    Anyway, MIM is a perfectly fine manufacturing technique that can yield perfectly functional parts. My problem with it, though, is the same as my beef with plastic pistol frames: I don't want just "functionality". Part of my enjoyment of firearms comes from an appreciation of craftsmanship, the knowledge that my guns are the result of skilled labor.

    To me, novelty is not a selling point and new S&Ws compete with the legions of used ones made "the way they used to." I'm not going to pay as much or more for guns made more cheaply, even if they are just as functional.

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