By Ted Yost
One of the nicest perks of my new gig here is that the boss and I get to spend a little time talking about guns and gunsmithing. We pick each other’s brains and solve a remarkable number of the world’s problems long distance. We recently discussed our mutual love of the J-frame S&W revolvers, which naturally led to a chat about the ways they can be improved.
The little J-frames — typically carried much and shot little — are often the focus of “What can I do to make my (fill in the blank) better?” questions. This becomes increasingly true as more and more gunsmiths specialize, narrowing their focus, with the goal of enhancing profitability. Hence, we see fewer and fewer shops willing or even able to do the little things many J-frames need to run well. The good news is some of the most beneficial modifications can be accomplished by a patient, determined gun owner — one with reasonable problem-solving skills, proper tools, knowledge and some common sense.
The Brownells’ chamfering set allows you to optimize forcing
cones and chamfer the chambers for easier loading.
One of the fundamental principles of gunsmithing is the things that appear to be simple generally are not, and the things that appear complicated are, well … complicated. Attempting a full-blown action job on a J-frame’s lockwork is best left to an experienced hand. But there are a few simpler modifications that can pay real dividends. If you’re not familiar with basic disassembly procedures, you should first consult a reliable reference. The Kuhnhausen manual, available from Brownells, is a valuable tool, as are the books by our own J.B. Wood on take-down and assembly.
There are three things an owner can do on a newer J-frame that will improve the smoothness and “weight” of the trigger without major work. First, change the springs — especially the rebound spring. In the Brownells SWJ200 spring kit, there are three weights of rebound spring, in 13-, 14- and 15-pound versions. The 14-rated spring works best in my opinion.
When changing the mainspring, plan on testing your revolver with different types and brands of ammunition to ensure reliable ignition. Any light strikes and it’s back to the factory mainspring.
The second “trick” helping to smooth things out is to polish the mainspring stirrup (actually the hammer strut). Newer models have a stamped, squared profile stirrup with sharp, square corners. Most will show chatter marks from contact with the inside surfaces of the spring. Carefully break these edges with a fine file, and polish them with fine abrasive paper. Don’t get carried away here — there’s no need to remove a lot of material. The difference is usually quite noticeable.
The third modification really isn’t a modification at all. When you get things put back together, lightly lube any bearing surfaces you can see, and reattach the side plate. Then, and this is the secret part, simply dry fire the revolver — a lot. Of course, all safety considerations apply here. Roy and I both agree this simple step can be as important as any other in establishing a more comfortable relationship with your revolver. Plus, it really helps slick-up and settle things inside your gun.
Grips & Chamfers
A comfortable firing grip on a small revolver is another way to improve overall effectiveness. I’m not a huge fan of rubber grips, although they are an economical alternative. As an unrepentant wood lover, I’ve always favored Craig Spegel’s beautifully crafted grips. They’re not cheap, and you may have to wait a while, but they will not disappoint.
Excellent-quality exotic hardwood grips are also available from Ahrends (through Brownells). Because choice is a good thing, now VZ grips is offering S&W grips made from synthetic materials like Micarta and G10. They fit very well, and since they have no added surface finish, they can be easily personalized with nothing more than a little abrasive paper. The laminated layers create an almost “wood-like” appearance without any of the durability concerns of real wood.
I’d feel derelict in my duties if I neglected to encourage the purchase and use of really cool tools. And honest, I’m not on the Brownells payroll, it’s just that they have so much good stuff! Brownells’ revolver chamfering sets allow us to chamfer chambers and optimize or restore forcing cones. They’re available as complete multi-caliber sets, single-caliber sets and as individual components. A mild chamfer on the chamber mouths of any revolver will aid in smoothly loading that chamber, whether you’re using speedloaders, strips or loading single cartridges.
As usual, it’s important to be patient, go slow and check often, as with any gunsmithing procedure. While modifications like chamfering are best undertaken by capable, experienced hands, the tools, along with Brownells’ typically well- detailed instructions, put these processes into the hands of confident hobbyists. When cutting, insert empty fired cases into all the other chambers to keep the extractor properly aligned. Go light here, and remember to leave adequate support for the extractor to pull cases from the chamber.
Want to comment on this article? Let us know what’s on your mind, and maybe tell us about your own experiences learning to gunsmith your own revolver. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. RH
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