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Old March 6, 2014, 06:28 PM   #1
peacebutready
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S&W revolvers now vs. then

I recently read a claim that S&W revolvers were made better in the past compared to now. Is that correct? If so, what is the latest year generally a person should buy a used one? How did they compare in the 90s. vs. now? 80s vs. now? 70s vs. now, etc?

I have the impression the S&W model 27/28 from the 80s and 90s are really good. Heavy, I know.
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Old March 6, 2014, 06:40 PM   #2
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As you get older, you find that everything was made better in the past.



















Even if they weren't.
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Old March 6, 2014, 07:54 PM   #3
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perception IS reality
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Old March 6, 2014, 08:06 PM   #4
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Pre 76 or so are better. After bangor-punta and then the Brits owned the company, quality was horrendous. Then the gun guys in Phoenix bought the company; after the Brit co. ran it into the ground with bad decisions and being in bed with the clintons. The Phoenix guys ran a good shop,they were Gun Guys, and quality was excellent. Now quality is mostly good, but volume lets some things get by that shouldn't.
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Old March 6, 2014, 08:34 PM   #5
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Yes, it is true!

Go to any gun shop with a decent selection of old (1930 - 1960) S&W's and ask to handle one.

Even an old beater cop gun will show better fit and whatever finish is left is clearly better then what you will see on a new one.

And don't even get me started on the old perfect roll-marks on the barrel & frame compared to today's laser engraved or raised roll marks that look like an after-thought by a janitor with a hammer & a letter punch set!

Then try the DA & SA trigger pull.

Then look at the closely fitted wood stocks.

Even Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder could see the difference.
If not just feel them.

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Old March 6, 2014, 08:44 PM   #6
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Quote:
Even Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder could see the difference.
If not just feel them.
Ouch

I agree, but still..... Ouch
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Old March 6, 2014, 08:56 PM   #7
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The truth is that all "heavy industry" or manufacturing has gone through changes that almost rival the industrial revolution. Whenever the term best is employed, it depends on someone's value system or viewpoint to one degree or another.

Facts;
1. quality revolvers during the "golden age" (1925ish to 1948ish) were the product of the very best materials and hand crafted workmanship available. No one ever abandoned these methods or philosophy to increase quality. It may have partly been to introduce innovation, but the overriding reason for change was cost reduction.
2. Some innovations have worked out well (CNC and to a lesser degree MIM).
3. Some design changes since then may even be considered pure genius.
4. Materials available may be better than "best available" during the stated period.
5. The theory that CNC, modern mass production methods will eliminate most of the variables leaving less for quality control to accomplish has proven a false assumption.

You can get better steel now than is found in my 1924 M&P, the cookie cutter CNC methods of production will often fail (most times) to turn it into a "better" revolver depending on your values. As a parting thought I believe the attention to detail quality may still to one degree or another be available, you will damn sure pay through the nose for it though even adjusted for inflation.
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Old March 6, 2014, 09:51 PM   #8
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From it’s beginning in 1858, and following Horace Smith’s retirement in 1873, the Smith & Wesson Company was privately held and belonged to Daniel B Wesson and descendants until they sold the firm to an International conglomerate in 1965.

During this time period the management fully recognized that to a large degree the substantial elegance and high performance of S&W handguns depended largely on the skill and experience of they’re employees in the shop. Because of this they took care of those critical employees through thick and thin and provided them with high pay and perks that were generally unknown in other manufacturing circles. During the Great Depression they resisted lay-offs to the point of nearly going bankrupt.

In return these employees were known for their loyalty, and this was reflected in the work they did.

After 1965 S&W’s ownership went through a number of larger corporations and the company’s products might be described at various times as good, bad and indifferent.

Today, to produce a product that can be sold at a price-point that the market will accept they have found it necessary to introduce some measures, and discontinue others that have for the most part kept the reliability, but in many ways lost the elegance in finish that was their hallmark.

For those seeking a reliable, competitively priced handgun they still represent that which they always have. For those that want more, a pre-1965 example is often a better buy.
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Old March 6, 2014, 10:15 PM   #9
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All S&W aficionados should be thankful Bangor-Punta was good at one thing --- MARKETING. During the 1960's & 70's, under their reign, Smith & Wesson captured 90% of the massive police revolver market. That ensured S&W's financial survival and it's success that's lasted till today.

Colt, on the other hand, lost the police market, suffered financially, went bankrupt, and has essentially disappeared from the revolver scene.

So, thank you Bangor-Punta! Without you history could of been the other way around.
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Old March 7, 2014, 09:25 AM   #10
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Howdy

I have S&W revolvers from every decade starting in 1863. I am a purist/snob so my collection stops in the 1980s. I only own one MIM Parts/Lock gun, a Model 617. It is fine, nothing wrong with it, I just don't care for the lock and MIM parts. But there is nothing wrong with it. My favorites are the pre-war (before WWII) guns. Fit and finish seems to be the best with them.

I will say the first two Smiths I ever bought were a Model 17-3 and 19-3 that I bought brand, spanky new in 1975, during the Bangor Punta era. I have read lots of bad press about the Bangor Punta era guns, but there is nothing at all wrong with mine. Internal finish of the parts is excellent. On the inside it is apparent from the milling marks that the frames were made with CNC equipment, while earlier frames show tool marks consistent with hand operated pattern following equipment. I have to say, the CNC made Bangor Punta frames actually exhibit a better finish inside than some of the earlier pattern following frames. Much more consistent finish. However, it really does not matter because the rougher surfaces left behind by the pattern following equipment are all clearance cuts anyway, nothing to interfere with the moving parts.

Here is a shot of a frame cut with a pattern following miller.



Here is a shot of a frame cut with CNC.



The bottom line is it really does not matter, because most of the moving parts don't bear on the frame. The rebound slide and cylinder latch do, but they glide over the tooling marks just fine anyway. But I think it is an interesting point that the CNC finish is so much finer. That's what programmable machines can do. By the way all the makers use CNC equipment today, and that does not guarantee perfection. Uberti in particular sets their feed rates too fast, to produce more parts per hour, and the finish on their parts shows it.

Please Note: The bottom photo is not of a 1975 era Smith. Old Fuff caught my mistake, explained below.

Last edited by Driftwood Johnson; March 7, 2014 at 07:41 PM.
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Old March 7, 2014, 02:19 PM   #11
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I won't buy anything that wasn't hammer forged over an anvil or hand filed from raw ingot.
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Old March 7, 2014, 03:12 PM   #12
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But even then, you won't KNOW unless you watched someone dig the ore from the ground...
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Old March 7, 2014, 03:42 PM   #13
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Modern manufacturing techniques provide a product that is in some ways better than the old days where everything had to be hand fitted. Note the pictures of the really fine machine work in the pictures Driftwood kindly posted avove) Guns simply CAN NOT be made the old way and remain competetive. There's a lot of moaning and teeth gnashing going on unnecessarily. Modern guns and manufacturing are just fine. Thousands of rounds through my S&W 44 special (with Lock) have convinced me. I just don't pay much attention anymore when people gripe about guns not being made the way they used to.
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Old March 7, 2014, 04:01 PM   #14
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To me "just fine" is one thing at $400. but at $800. I expect a bit more.
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Old March 7, 2014, 05:13 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by huntsman View Post
To me "just fine" is one thing at $400. but at $800. I expect a bit more.

That might have been true 20 years ago, but $800 don't buy you much anymore. My last L-Frame bought 2 years ago was $700. Quality was great and it will last my lifetime as well as for the lifetime of those that will inherit it when I die. Last set of tires I bought for my wife's car cost me more than that and will last if we're lucky, two years before I have to pay someone to haul them away. Folks spend $400 for a phone that is outdated within a year, and $100 a month to use it. In that year they could buy two quality revolvers or a Dan Wesson 1911. While they whine about the price of the guns, they have no problem with the phone bill. Hell...... A side of beef cost more than $800 anymore.

I think wanting perfection in a $800 firearm that not only includes reliability, and accuracy but a hand fit and finish that would rival the days when the average wage was $.30 and hour is a pipe dream. IMHO, theres very few firearms that sell for $800 that are not a value for what you get. At least not where I shop and not compared to what else I can buy for $800. My grandpa always told me you can wish in one hand and defecate in the other......guess one fills up faster.


Most modern firearms today are everybit as reliable, many times require less maintenance and are just as if not more accurate than guns of the past. Modern S&W revolvers resemble that remark. Most modern firearms are bought to shoot......not to look at. Most modern mass produced firearms are manufactured for a general market and a median price-point. Want a gun with a fit and finish of a custom gun, buy a custom gun and pay a custom gun price. Want the fit, finish and nostalgia of a 50 year old Smith.....buy a 50 year old Smith. Want a gun that is reliable, accurate and comes with a lifetime, No B.S. Warranty, buy a new Smith. We folks here in the U.S.A. have it good when it comes to options on buying guns.
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Old March 7, 2014, 06:05 PM   #16
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That might have been true 20 years ago, but $800 don't buy you much anymore. My last L-Frame bought 2 years ago was $700. Quality was great and it will last my lifetime as well as for the lifetime of those that will inherit it when I die.
Quality of those went down within 2 years?

Quote:
Folks spend $400 for a phone that is outdated within a year
Off Topic: I recently disposed of an old computer. I took it apart with a screw driver, hacked/destroyed the hard drive for simple security purposes. It cost something like $2000 to $2500. It was worthless before I disposed of it but still it felt weird to dispose/destroy something that cost that much at one point.

Quote:
I think wanting perfection in a $800 firearm that not only includes reliability, and accuracy but a hand fit and finish that would rival the days when the average wage was $.30 and hour is a pipe dream.
I don't know about hand-fit but doesn't CZ still give the other things?
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Old March 7, 2014, 06:14 PM   #17
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Want the fit, finish and nostalgia of a 50 year old Smith.....buy a 50 year old Smith.
That's exactly what I do. I have not bought a new Smith & Wesson since that Model 17 and Model 19 that I bought in 1975. I usually buy used guns, revolvers, pistols, rifles, or shotguns. I very seldom buy new. The only new guns I have bought in the last few years, that I can bring to mind right now, were a pair of Ruger New Vaqueros, an Uberti replica of the 1860 Henry, and a Pedersoli Sharps. Everything else I buy is usually used. Most are at least 50 years old so I can buy them on my C&R license.

By the way, that frame that was cut on the CNC is from my Model 19-3 that I bought brand spanky new in 1975. It cost $125 back then. Just did the inflation calculator thing on it and the same gun would have cost $543.48 in 2013 dollars. Even though the frame was cut on CNC, there is still plenty of hand fitting in guns from that era. So all in all, I think I did pretty good on that Smith.
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Old March 7, 2014, 06:29 PM   #18
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Ah.... Driftwood.

In post #10 I notice that the frame in the bottom picture has a hole at the top for a "bug" screw, and the hammer and trigger studs are screwed in with a spanner wrench (note the slots in the boss). Also the holes for the sideplate screws are countersunk (such a nice touch). I am suprised to learn that S&W has turned the clock back... Or could it be that the captions got switched?

Regardless, you take great photographs.
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Old March 7, 2014, 06:39 PM   #19
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I think wanting perfection in a $800 firearm that not only includes reliability, and accuracy but a hand fit and finish that would rival the days when the average wage was $.30 and hour is a pipe dream.
Oh indeed...

Absolutely right without question. I 100% agree...

But on the other hand I occasionally buy one of those older guns that has it all - and then some...

For $600. or less...

Of course it isn't a 6oz. .44 Magnum snubby made out space-age materials.
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Old March 7, 2014, 07:11 PM   #20
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I'm not a collector and all 3 of mine are shooters. I own one built in 73, one built in 92 and one built last year. The older 2 have no MIM or locks. Those are well fitted with excellent triggers. I really can't tell the difference in the quality. The new one has MIM and a lock. The action isn't nearly as smooth as the early models. Quality seems to be good however.

I've read and I believe it's true that the best were all built before the early 90's.
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Old March 7, 2014, 07:36 PM   #21
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Ohmygawd!!!

Old Fuff you are 100% correct. I made a mistake! That is a five screw in that photo. Dunno how I mistook it for one of my three screws.

As near as I can tell, the photo in question is of this old M&P, Model of 1905 1st Change. The hour glass shaped milling marks seem to match up. My notes say Roy said it shipped in July of 1908.





So........................ so much for judging the interior finish of old Smiths. The photo of the 1908 gun shows an immaculate interior finish, compared to the other gun. The old pattern following millers were hand operated and the resulting finish was a partially a matter of the skill of the operator. Basically, the operator used two handles to press a follower against a pattern while operating the machine. Pattern following machinery has been around a long time, they were in use at the Springfield Armory probably during the Civil War. This gun shows an almost mirror like finish inside. Perhaps the skill of the operator, or perhaps in 1908 the operator had the luxury of taking a light finishing cut as the last pass. I'll have to look up when the other gun was made. Perhaps a less skillful operator, or perhaps the foreman told him to hurry up.

I don't seem to have a photo of the interior of one of my 1975 S&Ws, but I can clearly remember being impressed with the interior finish of the parts. No digs, and a very even stepping of the cutter, a hallmark of good use of CNC equipment.

Maybe I'll have to take one apart to get a photo.
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Old March 7, 2014, 08:01 PM   #22
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After handling a lot of new Smiths, and shooting a few, I find them sadly lacking in comparison to the old ones.
I kind of wanted the new model 69, but after handling one at the fun show I decided against it. The new one's are way too much money for way too little quality.
I'll stick with the oldies and let the "gotta have brand new" crowd have the new ones.
Even my Bangor Punta models are more impressive than the current excuse for S&W revolvers.
I'll pay more money for old, high quality guns than for new cookie cutter guns.
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Old March 7, 2014, 08:11 PM   #23
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I have a 10-3 and a 10-8, for all intents and purposes the same gun, but the 10-3 shows better machining on the barrel rib, better stampings, a more polished finish, and a slightly better trigger in both DA and SA.
I don't have anything but prelock s&w's, but the newer ones, while still nicely fitted, are not quiet as nicely fitted and finished as the older, pre 80's s&w's.
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Old March 7, 2014, 08:21 PM   #24
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It's hard to beat an old K frame, or and old N frame.
My 1964-65 10-5 2" puts any of the new Smiths to shame.
It's like comparing it to a Taurus.
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Old March 7, 2014, 08:44 PM   #25
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It's likely that today the guns made by S&W are stronger and more durable. The alloys used are stronger and the heat treat better, than many of those of the past.

However the machining and finishing are cruder. Today's revolvers often have burrs and sharp edges on the end of the barrel inside the frame, the hammer, etc. The cylinder edges are often sharp, the holes sharp edged. Deburring well is a skill and it is no longer practiced much at S&W.

Yep a person with closed eyes can feel the difference.

In some cases the 2 piece barrels are not well done.

At the same time the guns are able to stand up better to a sustained round count from full loads in a way that the older guns could not without going out of time. Competition shooting with revolvers is a tougher game these days than it was at any time in the past.

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