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S&W and quality, what years are best?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by firestar, Jul 17, 2003.

  1. firestar

    firestar member

    I have heard so much about which "era" S&W is good and which is bad but I am unclear as what the majority of actual owners think.

    I have only owned 5 S&W revolvers. Only one of them had problems that I would consider quality related. I had a S&W 36-1 that had a messed up trigger but that was caused by a bad trigger job not a factory defect. I had a 1978 S&W 63 .22 j-frame that I thought was a little sub par. It had a heavy, gritty DA trigger and the spent shells would get stuck in the chambers. I think the chambers were too tight because it was hard to load. Also the SS finish looked like someone used 100 grit sandpaper on it. The adjustable sights were hard to adjust and there were a few burrs here and there.

    I have a 1983 M-19-5 that is very nice. It is not supposed to be the best year of S&W but I can't find a flaw with it and it is very accurate. The finish is deep and nice. It has a super smooth trigger and action. It shouldn't be this good.:confused:

    I just bought a 1958 S&W 17 .22lr that is nice but I wouldn't say it was better made than the M-19. The grips are nicer and the finish is a little better but I don't really see anything that puts the 1983 M-19 to shame. The finish is really attractive but that is the only thing that is definatly better than the M-19.

    Is it more about getting a peach or does the year it was made really mean something? My 1983 M-19 seems almost as good as my 1958 M-17 but my 1978 M-63 was not as well finished or put together. It all seems so confusing.

    I think I will just judge each gun by its own merits rather than sticking to a certain year or era.
  2. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Well-Known Member

    For the very best in fit, finish, & bluing?

    Pretty much anything prior to about 1955, excepting WW II military production guns, of course.

    It's not a question of all guns after a particular date being festering piles of dung. It's that there are more noted problems than there really should be.

    For example...

    During the Bangor Punta era, which was largely driven by bean counters, the standards for finishing and bluing began to slip and more finish flaws began to creep out of the factory.

    After 1983 the company stopped pinning the barrels on all revolvers, and stopped recessing the cylinders on the magnums.

    While certainly not a critical thing, you began to see situations where barrels were screwed too tightly into the frame, resulting in distinct crush zones on the frames themselves and pressure rings in the barrels.

    Every gun? No. But enough that it should have been a concern.

    A problem for awhile was also that guns would creep out of the factory with barrels that weren't screwed on straight. The front sights would be canted to one side or another.

    Every gun? No. But enough that it should have been a concern.

    In the later 1980s S&W spent a LOT of money on CNC machinery. Promises were made that the new guns would be the best fit & finished of all time, because it was all being done now by computer!

    Wooo Hooo?

    More like Uh Oh...

    Somehow the promise of CNC precision was lost for a number of years.

    I saw quite a few guns coming out of the company that should have been rejected even under Bangor Punta standards.

    Every gun? No. But MORE than enough that it should have been a concern.

    At a gun show last year, possibly the year before, I can't remember for certain now, I examined about 30 new S&Ws (Yes, I will touch them).

    5 of these factory new guns had barrels that weren't indexed correctly. In other words, the front sights were crooked.

    Another several had gaps between the sideplate and frame that looked as if a drunken, stoned money programmed the CNC machine.

    You'll find really well made guns from just about any year of production, and you'll find some that aren't so well made.

    On average, though, S&W over the past 20 years has been releasing more guns with more problems that would have been caught, or simply not tolerated, than they have been at any point in the company's history.

    At least that's my story, and I'm sticking too it.

    Oh, and in case any one is wondering about how many S&Ws, especially the older guns, that I have the opportunity to examine, I've spent quality time with S&W handguns in the following collections:

    1. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), William Penn Memorial Museum -- About 100 S&W revolvers of all ages.

    2. PHMC, 28th Infantry Division Museum and Shrine -- About 75 S&W revolvers of all ages, including some extremely sweet Schofields that had been used by the 28th Division.

    3. National Firearms Museum, National Rifle Association Headquarters -- Don't know how many S&W revolvers, but a LOT.

    4. Several private collections, totaling several hundred guns.

    5. Many, many gun shows.

    I estimate, conservatively, that I've had the opportunity to handle, and examine, close to 3,000 S&W revolvers of all ages in the past 25 years.
  3. Randy63

    Randy63 Well-Known Member

    I own S&W revolvers built frm 1935 to 1990. In my experience I find that in general the best quality Smith revolvers were built from the 1930's through the early 1960's. I also find that the worst years in general for quality with regards to fit, finish, function, and overall quality are 1975 to 1981.

    Of course I'm sure their were a few lemons built in the 1950's (I've seen one) and some fantastic guns built in the late 70's (I've seen several).

    I have no problem buying a late 70's gun, but I won't buy it sight unseen, and when I do I perform a thorough checkout on it. I will buy a pre model S&W sight unseen.

  4. mec

    mec Well-Known Member

    The 30s through the late 50s or early 60s generally get the nod. By the mid-late 60's, people were complaining about the loss of pre-war hand fitting etc.

    After 1989, there was a reall upsurge in quality as far as accuracy and overall mechanical quality control is concerned.

    People dont like Bangor Punta era guns but you can find very nice individual examples. I think your guess that finding a 'peach' is the real key to it all.
  5. RON in PA

    RON in PA Well-Known Member

    I bought a new 586 and a new 29 classic in 1994, both are great as far as finish and function, but can you generalize from my good experience with 2 early 1990s revolvers? Have a few Bangor-Puntas, no problems. The moral of all this is that maybe the important thing to look for is not the vintage of the gun, but the condition of the indivdual revolver.
  6. Kentucky Rifle

    Kentucky Rifle Member In Memoriam

    *Mostly, my newer S&W's are pretty good...

    However, I have a 1977 model (Tamara told me the year it was made from the serial number), that is nearly perfect. It is perfect in *function, but it's got a little holster wear now and this odd, darker blue spot that I can only see if I hold it up to the light "just right". Back in early '78, when I purchased it new, I was still working. This "guy" at the place I worked told me..."I don't put anything on my guns but WD-40". Like a dope, I took him at his word and sprayed that "stuff" (you KNOW what I WANT to say!:) ) all over my new Smith. For two years after, each time I took it out, I had to MAKE SURE IT WAS EMPTY and then use my thumb to make sure that the hammer mounted firing pin was loose. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn't. (Varnish) I've always wondered if that coat of WD-40 caused that "spot".
    My father has an early '60's model, .32 LONG "Chief's Special" that's pretty nice too.

    P.S. I have to watch my language now because "my Priest" is a mod on this website. He's already told me that my behavior is SO bad, my next penance just might be a firearm! :what: !!!!!!
  7. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Well-Known Member

    "The moral of all this is that maybe the important thing to look for is not the vintage of the gun, but the condition of the indivdual revolver."


    This is a question that gets asked a lot on the gun forums, usually about Pythons.

    The bottom line is: Guns are not vintages of wine. There are NO "good" years, or "bad" years.
    Each gun must be judged on it's own merits.
  8. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Well-Known Member

    "There are NO "good" years, or "bad" years.
    Each gun must be judged on it's own merits."

    But there are certainly good years and bad years, or more appropriately eras, for the company.

    As I noted, at the current time it appears that S&W is turning out a high number of firearms with barrels that aren't properly indexed in the frames, resulting in canted front sights.

    Not a critical situation, but sloppy as hell, and it makes me wonder just what other problems are inherent in the manufacturing process at that point.
  9. firestar

    firestar member

    Judging from my own limited experience, I would tend to agree that the late 1970s may be the only guns that are sub par. I would buy one from this time period as long as I got to check it out but I wouldn't buy one over the net.

    I know a guy I used to work with that is a certified S&W nut! He carried a S&W 28 or 27 depending on his mood. He had about a dozen S&W 28s and 27s, all were 4", P&R, and all but one or two were blued, the others were nickel. He had Eagle grips on them and he really could shoot them also. Some of the guys used to kid him about the "old school" guns he had but he knew what he liked. He had at least 140 guns but he liked the S&W N frame .357s the best. He only had one centerfire auto, a Colt 1911 SS Commander. He claimed he couldn't shoot well with autos. From what I can remember, most of his S&W guns were from the 60s and 70s. He never said anything about certain years being bad. Maybe I am grasping at straws that don't exist but I would only be leary of a late 1970s S&W if I couldn't see it first hand.
  10. mec

    mec Well-Known Member

    Out, Out, danged spot.

    My 1982 P&R 8 3/8 29-2 has a dark blue spot the size and shape of a thumb print on the barrel. ( No whorls or ridges). this one was in unfired condition when I bought it a year ago. My best guess that somebody left some finger print oil on the barrel prior to bluing. Nothing's perfect, but it sure does shoot good.

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