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Old January 2, 2015, 01:00 AM   #1
Driftwood Johnson
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Comparing a S&W revolver made with MIM parts to a revolver made with machined parts

Howdy

For some time now I have wanted to do a photo essay comparing a modern Stainless Smith and Wesson revolver built with MIM parts to a more traditional Smith made with forged and machined parts. The idea is to go through all the parts, showing the differences as well as the similarities between the parts made with the two different technologies, as well as showing engineering changes made to traditionally machined parts.

First a small disclaimer. I am an unabashed admirer of the older revolvers. The oldest Smith in my collection was made in 1863, and I have at least one revolver made in every decade since then up to the 1980s. My favorites are those made between about 1905 and about 1940. But I try not to get overly carried away with the romance of the older guns. I believe they were made using the most up to date equipment and technologies of their time, but if S&W had found a better, quicker, or smarter way to build their products, I'm sure they would have done so. I also recognize the need for any manufacturer to drive out as much cost as possible from their products, in order to remain both competitive and profitable.

The comments and observations I make on this thread are my own, based on my own knowledge of manufacturing practices. I do not claim to be an expert, and some of my comments may turn out to be opinions based on my own prejudices.

I do not intend this to be a 'how to' thread on how to disassemble a Smith and Wesson, nor do I intend it to be a gunsmithing primer. It is merely meant to be a comparison of the parts of two revolvers, separated by a few decades of manufacturing technology.

Please feel free to comment. And feel free to correct any incorrect statements I make, as long as you know you are correct. I only ask that no one else post any photos on this thread, I would like to keep all the photos my own, if possible.

***************

So let's get started. The two revolvers I have chosen for this photo essay are a Model 17-3 that I bought new in 1975, and a Model 617-6 that I bought used a few years ago.

This is my Model 17-3. It cost $125 in 1975. The Model 17 was the evolutionary successor to the K-22 revolvers of the 1930s. When S&W changed over to the current model numbering system in 1957, the K-22 became the Model 17. This one is a typical 17-3; blued steel, three screws, six shot fluted cylinder with recessed chambers, six inch pinned barrel, short throw action, micrometer click adjustable rear sight, and factory Magna grips.





I bought this Model 617-6 a few years ago. I bought it pretty much as a lark, I had been competing in a steel plate match and I needed to get off eight aimed shots in 15 seconds. I could not do that with my six shot Model 17. The Model 617 was introduced in 1989 as a Stainless version of the full lug Model 17. This one was made in 2003. Three screws, ten shot fluted cylinder with recessed chambers, six inch unpinned full lug barrel, micrometer click adjustable rear sight, one piece rubber grip.





One of the first observations we can make, other than the presence of the lock, is the curve at the upper rear of the frame on the 617 is different from the same area on the Model 17. Notice how the hammer is more obscured by the frame on the 617. The reason for this will be made clear later when we talk about the firing pin.


******************


Another difference between the two guns that jumps out at me is the 'ledge', or rib that is milled into the frame of the Stainless gun. This feature is what prevents the cylinder from falling out of the gun. Without it, when the cylinder is opened, the cylinder would slide backwards right off the yoke and fall out of the gun. This feature first showed up in 1998 with the 617-3. It predated the lock by a few years. This feature always jumps out at me like a sore thumb on modern Smiths and I always know that they are relatively new models.





Here is the feature that the 'ledge' replaced on the older guns. It is a stud, pressed into the frame from the inside and protruding outside the frame. After being pressed and staked into the frame, the contour of the stud was shaped to keep the cylinder captive in the frame. I have one old Smith that was refinished a little bit too aggressively and the cylinder can slip past the stud when the gun is open if I am not careful.

Although I personally prefer the aesthetic of the older style stud, this is the type of feature I am talking about that manufacturers can use to drive cost out of their products. Installing the stud into the frame would have taken several operations. Milling the ledge onto the frame only costs a few lines of CNC code.




***************


Now let's look at the grips. The Model 17 came with standard walnut Magna grips. Held on by one screw through the grips and a roll pin pressed into the grip frame.





The 617 has a one piece rubber grip. The emblems molded onto the side are similar to the old S&W medallions, but the grip was actually made by Hogue. It is fastened to the grip frame by a single screw coming up through the bottom of the grip and screwed to a floating 'stirrup' that is pinned to the frame. Clearly a much more economical approach to grips, but in my opinion this grip is just an ugly blob of rubber. My opinion of course.

The grip frame of the 617 is the round butt style that S&W seems to have gone over to for most of their revolvers today. Incidentally, that extra recess in the grip frame at the bottom of the main spring makes installing the spring much easier than in the old days. The spring can be dropped into place with no tension on it at all, and then the strain screw tightens it up and secures it in position. With the older style grip frame one often had to persuade the spring into position in its narrow slot at the bottom of the grip frame. This is the type of excellent engineering that drives cost out of the product by making it easier and quicker for an assembler to install the spring.




That's all for now, more to come, hope you enjoy it.
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Old January 2, 2015, 01:26 AM   #2
Jim K
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Keep the conparisons coming. I hope you don't mind a comment or two, though. The frame stud on the old guns was pressed in from the outside and staked. (The inside is smaller than the outside.) The problem in assembly was that double curve, because it not only had to retain the cylinder, it had to miss the cartridge heads. It was installed, then checked with a gauge and hand filed if necessary. That, my friend, costs money.

The different curve of the frame is the result of the space needed for the internal lock system. I don't like it either; regardless of the value of the lock, the frame shape is just not (IMHO) as pleasing.

I also think you will find that the grip positioning pin is the same and in the same place, so wood grips can be installed if wanted. Again, I preferred the steel square butt, but the round butt (which was the original M&P shape in 1899) allows square butt stocks to be installed if wanted, while not having to make two different frame forgings (again, cost saving). BTW, that grip positioning pin was once a solid pin, neatly rounded on the ends, and blued. The roll pin was yet another "invisible" cost reducing change.

Jim

Last edited by Jim K; January 2, 2015 at 01:48 AM.
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Old January 2, 2015, 01:49 AM   #3
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Quote:
One of the first observations we can make, other than the presence of the lock, is the curve at the upper rear of the frame on the 617 is different from the same area on the Model 17. Notice how the hammer is more obscured by the frame on the 617. The reason for this will be made clear later when we talk about the firing pin.
I wait with bated breath as I have always assumed that the higher shape of the frame was to accommodate the mechanics of the lock.
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Old January 2, 2015, 02:00 AM   #4
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Me too!

I think I know the answer, but no Spoiler Alert from me!

I am going to set back and enjoy an education from the master.

It takes real dedication from a THR member to tear apart two perfect S&W's and photograph the pieces in an effort to educate others!

Driftwood, my hat is off too you sir for such an undertaking!

rc
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Old January 2, 2015, 02:14 AM   #5
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Driftwood, thank you for a very interesting thread. While somewhat familiar with the Model 17 I was not at all familiar with the Model 617. What is interesting in general is during the evolution the cost reducing measures employed at manufacturing time. Not just in comparison between these two models but other models as well over time. Count me in as waiting patiently for the next installment.

Thanks Again
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Old January 2, 2015, 04:00 AM   #6
9mmepiphany
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I'm watching to see this step by step evaluation...thank you for taking the time to do this...with great interest

I had wondered at how the cost cutting had affected quality and had a chance to ask a well respected S&W tuner. He showed me two disassembled N-frame guns and two disassembled L-frame guns in his shop. He explained the differences and how they affected performance...very interesting time indeed.

I've never seen the comparison in pictures before and am very interested in the layman reactions
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Old January 2, 2015, 04:46 AM   #7
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Should be intressting but I think I'd like to see it done on two more comparable guns like a old m 25 vs a new classics line m 25
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:59 AM   #8
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Driftwood, I too wait with interest the next installment.

alexander45, the Model 17 & Model 617 are directly comparable, as each in their time was S&W's cataloged .22lr target revolver. The Classic series is a short run / special order item, and although comparable to the earlier models, has features that are no longer standard across S&W's range, such as bluing & timber grips.
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Old January 2, 2015, 07:28 AM   #9
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Driftwood

Great photo essay! Keep those installments coming.
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Old January 2, 2015, 11:06 AM   #10
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You set the bar very high DJ...keep it coming and Happy New Year!
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Old January 2, 2015, 11:15 AM   #11
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GREAT work, we'll stay tuned!
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Old January 2, 2015, 11:36 AM   #12
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I'll add my voice to the chorus of thanks. Can't wait to see more!
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Old January 2, 2015, 12:43 PM   #13
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I am truly enjoying this thread, It's entertaining to learn something new about these S&W revolvers that I like so much.
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Old January 2, 2015, 01:49 PM   #14
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Great Thread! Thank you for your time and consideration in sharing your knowledge.
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Old January 2, 2015, 01:50 PM   #15
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Question:

How far back do you want to go? I would presume that the answer might be 1899 and the introduction of the K-frame, but maybe you'd say 1945 and forward.

Understand that during the first half of the 20th century S&W made a substantial number of changes. Most were minor but some (from a quality viewpoint) were meaningful. A lot of these are totally unknown to today's owners.
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Old January 2, 2015, 01:53 PM   #16
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This is a great thread idea, and I look forward to learning a lot from it.
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Old January 2, 2015, 02:49 PM   #17
Driftwood Johnson
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Howdy Again

Thanks for all the kind remarks. Thanks to Jim K for correcting me about the insertion of the stud that keeps the cylinder in the gun. As I said before, I am not an expert, I just love Smith and Wesson revolvers and I have a bunch of them. I too hope to learn a few things from this thread. So all constructive comments and corrections are welcome, as long as you really know what you are talking about.

Regarding how far back to I want to go, the intended scope of this thread is just a simple comparison between the manufacturing methods used when my Model 17-3 was made in 1975 and my Model 617-6 was made in 2003. Both are snapshots in time. I really have no idea what further changes S&W has made since 2003, and since I have no intention of buying any more MIM/Lock Smiths, I doubt if I will have a chance to get inside a newer one. Although I will make occasional remarks about earlier technologies, going back further than 1975 is really beyond the scope that I intended for this photo essay. That discussion can be saved for another day.


***************************


Moving right along. Here are photos of the backs of the side plates of each revolver with their hammer blocks in position. Obviously the blued one is from the Model 17 and the Stainless one is from the Model 617. Both of these plates have been machined on CNC milling equipment. Notice that both plates carry an assembly number. More about that later. The bosses that the hammers and triggers rotate against can be seen as raised surfaces machined above the plane of the plates. Notice too that the hole for the front sideplate screw on the stainless plate is larger in diameter than the corresponding hole on the blued plate. Yes, the screws have changed, more about that later too.

There is a shallow spot face milled into the stainless plate just above the hammer pivot boss. It is not present on the blued plate. I have not been able to figure out why it is there. There is no corresponding part or assembly that needs clearance at that spot. Perhaps it is just a little error in the CNC code and it was not worth the cost of an engineering change order to correct it, I really don't know.

The convoluted tool path of the slot for the hammer block on the stainless side plate is another mystery to me. It has been cut with a larger diameter end mill than the slot on the blued plate. This tool path aligns the hammer block just as well as the narrower slot in the blued plate. Perhaps the intent is to reduce friction against the sides of the hammer block. Perhaps it is to allow for a slightly crooked hammer block. Perhaps using a larger endmill resulted in one less tool in the CNC program, resulting in time saved in manufacturing. All of this is speculation on my part. I do know that the deeper recess at the top of the tool path provides clearance for the firing pin retaining pin, it's imprint can be seen as a small circle in the floor of the recess. This is of course not a consideration with the design of the pinned firing pin on the older gun.

I have positioned the hammer blocks at the upper limit of their travel in both plates. Their motion is limited by the perpendicular projection at the bottom of each hammer block against the top edge of their respective recesses.







Here are the two hammer blocks lined up next to each other. These are of course the hammer blocks that were designed and installed in all S&W revolvers after an accident in WWII. There are subtle differences in their shapes, and they do not fit into the slots on the 'wrong' plates. I believe (assumption on my part) that hammer blocks are simple parts stamped as flat parts from sheet metal, and then the 90 degree bend is made by another stamping operation. Notice the 'twist' is in the opposite direction on the two hammer blocks.



That's all I have time for right now, more to come.
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Old January 2, 2015, 03:15 PM   #18
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Quote:
There is a shallow spot face milled into the stainless plate just above the hammer pivot boss. It is not present on the blued plate. I have not been able to figure out why it is there.
My guess is a third CNC fixture clamp or locator point to keep the sideplate from warping while hogging out all the hammer block track metal!!

rc
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:24 PM   #19
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"These are of course the hammer blocks that were designed and installed in all S&W revolvers after an accident in WWII. "

This sounds like an interesting bit of history. Can you tell us the story please?
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:31 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Driftwood Johnson View Post
I believe (assumption on my part) that hammer blocks are simple parts stamped as flat parts from sheet metal, and then the 90 degree bend is made by another stamping operation.
I'm not speaking as any kind of expert, just making a conversational observation. Given that the small 90-degree part is so much thicker than the rest of the bar, I don't think it was one,straight,uniform piece, that was then stamped to make the bend. If it was that simply created, I would expect to see the small bent part have the same outer dimensions as the rest of the bar, if you follow what I'm trying to say.
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:44 PM   #21
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MIL-DOT, I'm just guessing, but I suspect that's the reason for the 90° twist halfway up the part.
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:47 PM   #22
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It actually isn't thicker.
It just looks like it is in the camera perspective.

It is a stamped part of uniform thickness, and always has been.


Hammer block?
A WWII sailor was killed when he dropped a S&W .38 Spl revolver on a ships deck and it fired, killing him.

That resulted in a quasi-panic over S&W's side-plate mounted, tiny spring operated, 'pop-out' drop safety shearing off or sticking.

By wars end, the new mechanical drop safety bar was included in every new S&W made from then on.

The resulting redesign and modification of thousands of .38 Spl S&W Victory revolvers to include the new positive hammer block safety operated mechanically off a pin in the rebound slide.

Just like the ones still used today in all S&W revolvers having external hammers.

rc
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Old January 2, 2015, 05:52 PM   #23
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Thank you for taking the time and making the effort on this enlightening thread, Driftwood. It will be VERY hard not to check in on this a couple of times a day.

Keep up the good work!
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Old January 2, 2015, 07:05 PM   #24
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Great write-up!

I always wanted to do this with Colt, USFA and Uberti SAA's.
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Old January 2, 2015, 07:10 PM   #25
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Aesthetics aside, which one is the more accurate shooter?
While I have three early Ks (two 17s, and an 18)
The 617 (with the IL) is the one with which I'm winning matches.
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