Sunday, July 02, 2023

Sunday Smith #74: .32-20 Hand Ejector Model of 1905 - 3rd Change, 1910

Smith & Wesson made literal millions of their famous Military & Police model medium-frame revolver in the .38 Special caliber, but only a little bit more than a hundred thousand in .32-20 Winchester.

The .32-20 was a popular round for small game in Winchester and Marlin lever action carbines, and matching revolvers from Colt and Smith enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the early 20th Century.

While Neal & Jinks's indispensable book claims the Model of 1905 - 3rd Change only came in four- and six-inch barrel lengths, this example is quite clearly a 5" gun and Paul Scarlata wrote up a 6½" model in his review for Shooting Times, so take the Jinks info with a grain of salt.

The pictured revolver is one of 20,499 Smith & Wesson .32-20 Model of 1905 - 3rd Change revolvers made between 1909 and 1915.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Sunday Smith #73: Model 639, 1984

From its introduction in 1955 until its production ended in 1982, Smith & Wesson's first generation of single-stack nines saw only minor changes. In 1957, it became the "Model 39", with some improvements to the extractor and safety lever. Then in 1971 further design changes to the extractor and feed ramp rated the "Model 39-2" nomenclature.

Starting in the early Eighties, Smith began marketing a whole new generation of its pistol, and added a third digit, so the aluminum-framed Model 39 with its carbon-steel slide became the Model 439, and the same gun with a carbon-steel frame and slide was the 539.

In 1984, Smith leveraged its experience in working with stainless steel revolvers into an all-stainless version of its 9mm pistol: The Model 639. This was something of a novelty at the time, since Smith was one of the only manufacturers of the era who sold stainless self-loaders that weren't plagued by galling issues between the frame and slide.

The most notable change in the mechanicals of the Second Generation pistols was the addition of a firing-pin safety that rendered them more drop-safe. They also had optional ambidextrous safety levers, a checkered backstrap, and the adjustable rear sight on models so equipped was protected by sturdy "wings" rendering it less likely to be knocked askew when carried in a duty holster or dropped.

The first few hundred 639's off the line had a short, wide extractor before it was changed back to the proven type found on the 39-2. After the first year of production, 1985 and later guns had a square, hooked trigger guard of the sort that was popular in the '80s. Those two factoids (plus the "TAA" serial prefix) date the 639 in the pictures to 1984.

Notable Hollywood 639 toters include The A-Team's "Hannibal" Smith and Harvey Keitel's Mister White in Reservoir Dogs.

Production of the Model 639 continued through 1988, when it was replaced by its heavily-revised Third Generation successor, the Model 3906.

The pictured pistol was acquired from Indy Arms Company for four fifty in summer of 2023.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Sunday Smith #72: Model 469, 1984

Smith & Wesson launched upgraded versions of their original Model 39 and Model 59 double-action semiautomatic 9x19mm service pistols in 1981.

They featured several detail upgrades, most notably a plunger-type firing pin safety for added protection against unintentional discharges when dropped. On the double-stack models, the thickened section of the frame was extended forward past the hole for the axle of the slide stop for additional strength.

The nomenclature was changed from two to three digits: The original Second Generation single-stack pistols were the model 439, 539, and 639, while their double stack equivalents were the 459, 559, and 659. Respectively, these denoted an aluminum alloy frame with a carbon steel slide, a carbon steel frame & slide, and a stainless steel frame & slide.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, custom smitheries like Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP), Devel, Trapper Guns, and Austin Behlert offered cut-down versions of the Model 39 with shortened slides and grips, but along about 1983 that market got wrecked when Smith debuted their own factory-made mini pistol: A cut-down variant of the double-stack 459.

Dubbed the Model 469, it featured an alloy frame and carbon steel slide, a 3.5" barrel (shortened a half-inch from the duty-size 459), a shortened grip that accommodated a double-column twelve-round magazine (reduced from 14 rounds in the original), that oh-so-disco-era hooked trigger guard, and low-profile sights, safety/decocker lever, and slide stop.

The regular cataloged ones were all finished in a matte blue finish, but the pictured one is one of a 1500-piece distributor exclusive run done in matte nickel for Ashland Shooting Supply in the summer of 1984. It was acquired from Indy Arms Company in the spring of 2023 for four hundo.

Total production of the 469 was 97,261 pistols from 1983 until 1988, when it was replaced by its Third Generation successors, the alloy-framed Model 6904 and the all-stainless 6906.


Monday, March 06, 2023

Working Classic

When is something a classic? The state of Indiana lets you put Historic Vehicle plates on a car when it passes the quarter century mark, so there's one benchmark.

You know what else is over a quarter century old at this point? Most Gen1 and Gen2 Glock pistols, like the G19 in the picture.

This one was made in 1996, meaning it's not too far off from its thirtieth birthday. If you remember the internet firearms discussion groups at the time, there was a lot of talk about "Well, how well will these plastic guns hold up over the long term?"

So far, so good.

The big differences between the Gen2 Glock 19 and its Gen3 replacement are deeper than just the obvious addition of finger grooves on the frame and an accessory rail on the dust cover.

From top to bottom: Gen4, Gen3, and Gen2 Glock 19s

Later Gen3 G19's incorporated the third pin in the frame, the one added to accommodate .40S&W in the G22 & 23. (Gen3 Glock 17s did not, I believe because their specifications were frozen by big contracts.)

You'll notice that, in addition to the finger grooves, the later Glocks have a divot where the thumb would rest. This makes those "Thumbrest Target Grips" for extra BATFE import points, needed to allow the tiny G26 & G27 subcompacts importable.

One unusual and little-noted difference is that, around the time of the introduction of the Gen3 Glocks, they went to a shinier finish on the slide. You can note the difference in reflectivity even in the potato-quality iPhone 7 photo.

Scuttlebutt on the 'net at the time was that this was in response to complaints from federal law enforcement agencies about how the old matte phosphate-like finish was almost impervious to fingerprints. There was much griping on GlockTalk back in '99-'00 about how the more slippery new "fingerprint-friendly" was just Glock knuckling under to the feds.

This Gen2, on the right in the photo above, also lacks the bevel on the chamber hood added to later G19s as part of an attempt to solve the NYPD's mysterious "phase 3 malfunction" complaints.

Vintage or not, a Glock is just a utilitarian working gun. Oh, sure, there are some collectible ones, but a generic 19 is just a generic 19, whether it's a Gen2 or a Gen5, and this one's been modified to suit my tastes in a carry gun: Tango Down slide and magazine releases, a "Gadget" Striker Control Device, and the factory grooved G19 trigger (needed to get the compact 19 the extra BATF import points) has been replaced with a stock Glock 17 trigger, with a smooth trigger shoe.

The Meprolight tritium sights have almost completely ceased to glow and are due to be replaced. The fact that they were glowing at all when I bought it five years ago indicates they're almost certainly not the factory sights.

Keep anything long enough and it becomes a classic, I guess. 

Heck, these days people collect Smith & Wesson police revolvers, which would have been weird when this Glock was new and you could buy department trade-in Model 10s for less than a c-note.


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Not Quite Locked

Elbert Searle's design for the Savage pistol claimed that it was a locked breech design, but it was nothing of the sort. It was really a sort of mechanically-delayed blowback.

Thanks to Ian at Forgotten Weapons, you now have video proof should you need to win this argument on the internet, rather than just citing old books.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

Mise à Niveau

So, set the wayback machine for the summer of 2007, when I was still living in Knoxville, right after I left Coal Creek Armory. Having some spare time on my hands, I drove over to Nashville to spend a few days at Oleg Volk's place, hanging out and providing an eclectic selection of guns for photographic purposes.

The first morning there, Oleg and a few others were heading out to go do some shooting. Having just finished a good long stretch of six-day workweeks at an indoor range, I begged off. "I'll just chill here and read, if it's all the same to you guys. If you want to shoot anything I brought, feel free to drag it along."

Among the guns they elected to take was the MAS-49/56. I handed Oleg a couple boxes of Portuguese FNM-branded full metal jacket ammunition and told him to knock himself out.

He asked where to hold on the target at a hundred yards.

"How the hell should I know?" I replied, "I've had it a couple years, but never got around to shooting it."

I spent a pleasant couple hours in silence with a book, and when the crew came trooping back in from the range, Oleg had an unhappy look on his face and was nursing his right thumb.

"What happened?"

"The rifle tried to break my hand."

Yikes. The internet wouldn't be happy with me if I broke their photographer, no matter how indirectly.

It turned out that Oleg let the bolt fly forward to chamber the first round, and the rifle promptly slamfired, kicking up a gout of dirt a few yards in front of the line and pranging the base of Oleg's thumb with that big round nylon knob on the MAS charging handle.

A bit of research on the internets turned up the fact that this is what we would call a Known Issue with some ammunition, since the MAS has a large, heavy firing pin meant to deliver a healthy lick to a hard French military primer.

Y'know how the free-floating pin on an AR will lightly dimple a primer when you chamber a round? Same thing, but that's an AR firing pin up top and the MAS pin below...

The two solutions for this I uncovered at the time were to either have a 'smith lighten the factory pin, which seemed pretty iffy, or to track down one of a small number of titanium firing pins someone had allegedly made in unicorn-like quantities a few years earlier.

The importance I assigned to this task can be assessed by the fact that I finally got around to it last month.

I mused about it on Facebook, and Ian McCollum... because of course he would know ...recommended a spring-loaded rebounding pin from Murray's Gunsmithing in Texas, and said they had worked fine in his blasters. So I ordered one. (With my own money, Mr. Federal Trade Commission.)

The other day I went and installed it.

To do so, first you lock the bolt to the rear and remove the magazine, ensuring the weapon is clear.

Next you let the bolt go back forward. This step is important.

Now, look at the rear of the receiver. See that rectangular button doohickey? Put your thumb on the serrated top and press downward and hold it...

While holding that button down, grab the rear sight/receiver cover assembly, slide it slightly toward the muzzle end of the gun and then CAREFULLY lift it up and away from the rifle. Be careful here, because it is under a lot of pressure from the action spring. The spring will probably come away from the rifle along with the cover.

Next, pull the bolt carrier assembly to the rear and lift it out of the receiver...

The bolt will just drop out of the carrier. From there it's a simple matter of pulling out the old pin and replacing it with the new one.

Reassembly is pretty straightforwardly the reverse of disassembly. I will note that the "sproing factor" of that action spring is hard to overstate; that bolt and carrier assembly is small and light when you consider the power of the 7.5x54mm cartridge; it doesn't have a lot of inertia on its own so the spring is doing a lot of work. Getting that receiver cover back on with the spring all compressed back into its nest definitely takes all of both hands.

Now it's ready to use with Prvi Partisan ammunition and the thumbs of America are safe!


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Fallen Star #1: Ultra Star, 1994

It was almost thirty years ago, 1994, when the last new production model from Star Bonifacio Echevarria, S.A. was imported into this country by Interarms. Within five years, both Star and Interarms would be no more.

For decades Star's service-type autos largely riffed off of Colt's Browning designs. In the 1970s they came up with an in-house, clean sheet of paper design that was eventually produced as the Model 28. (It has a lot in common with the CZ-75, but was designed at the same time, half a continent away. Both design teams were cribbing the same ideas, though.)

The Model 28 featured a double-action trigger, hammer-dropping safeties, a fixed lug with an enclosed cam path for unlocking rather than a swinging link, inside frame rails, and a captive recoil spring. The new pistol formed the basis for subsequent Star designs, of which the Ultra Star was the final evolution; the Ultimate Star, if you will.

The Ultra Star ported the basic formula of the duty-size Model 28/30/31 pistols over into a compact, single-stack form factor with a capacity of 9+1 rounds of 9mm. The big changes were the replacement of the Colt/Browning-type locking lugs on the barrel with a SIG Sauer-style shoulder over the chamber that locked into the ejection port and, obviously, the polymer frame. This would be the first polymer pistol from Star...and the last.

The manufacturer closed its doors for good in 1997.


Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sunday Smith #71: Bodyguard 380, 2013

The .380ACP cartridge was developed by John Moses Browning and debuted on these shores in Colt's Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless. It would, however, be another eighty-seven years before Smith & Wesson offered a pistol in the chambering.

That was the SW380, a little striker-fired pistol in the Sigma series. It had a 3" barrel, weighed a claimed 14 ounces empty, and had a six shot magazine that was released by squeezing two large tabs, one on either side, like it was the battery pack in a power tool. It was a straight-blowback pistol with a zinc alloy slide and, as a result, had a beastly heavy recoil spring that made cycling the slide a difficult proposition for those without a lot of grip strength.

The slide was finished with black paint that chipped easily. The gun was built to a price and looked it. Reliability was poor and the guns had a notoriously short lifespan, being cynically designed with an eye toward the fact that the typical purchaser probably wouldn't shoot them much. Production ran for only a year or two and then Smith & Wesson dropped the .380 cartridge from its catalog for over another dozen years before releasing the Bodyguard 380 (sometimes referred to as the BG380) in 2010.

Unlike the SW380, the BG380 is a locked-breech pistol using a modified Browning tilting barrel short recoil setup, with the barrel locking to the slide via a shoulder atop the chamber that mates with the leading edge of the ejection port.

Also unlike the earlier Sigma, the Bodyguard is a hammer-fired pistol. Since the slide has to overcome not only the dual concentric recoil springs under the barrel, but also force the hammer back against the hammer spring, the slide can be much slimmer and lighter than the one on the earlier striker-fired blowback gun. Like the larger pistols in the M&P series, the slide is Melonite-finished stainless steel. The BG380 weighs 14.7 ounces with 6+1 Hornady Critical Defense .380 FTX rounds aboard.

Most of the little .380s in this class, like the Kel-Tec P3AT and the original Ruger LCP, are only quasi-double-action. The hammer spring is cocked by the action of the slide and pulling the trigger just causes the the hammer to move, sort of like the old Para-Ordnance LDA or HK's LEM. The Bodyguard 380, on the other hand, is a true double-action only, with re-strike capability and all.

Originally all BG380s had an integral laser in the frame, activated by the gray button in front of the trigger guard. The likelihood of activating this thing when reacting under pressure is about nil, practically speaking and, in 2014, Smith started offering a version without the integral laser.

I bought the pictured pistol new back in 2013 and used it for wintertime coat pocket carry for several years. The slide is not the original one, being fitted with XS Standard Dot night sights. It was a gift from a friend, having originally been on his BG380.


Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday Smith #70: Model 3913, 199(4)?

When Smith & Wesson started making their single-stack, double-action 9mm semiauto pistol in the mid-1950s, the Model 39 was pretty typical of the breed.

It had a full-length grip that accommodated an 8-shot magazine, a 4" barrel, and a hammer-dropping safety. In the early Eighties production shifted to the Second Generation versions of the same pistol. These came in three flavors: the Model 439 with an aluminum frame and carbon steel slide, the Model 539 with a carbon steel frame and slide, and the Model 639 with a stainless steel frame and slide. These were still full-size pistols with 4" barrels and 8-shot single-stack magazines.

The earliest single-stack Third Generation autos introduced in 1988 were very similar: The 3904 with a carbon steel slide and alloy frame, and the 3906 with a stainless steel frame and slide.

Soon, however, came a Third Generation single-stack nine that was different than earlier models...

The Seventies and Eighties had seen several custom "chopped" subcompact versions of the Smith single-stack nines, the ASP and Devel.

These went for hundreds of dollars for the custom work, with that price being added on top of the base gun. Reliability could sometimes...well, let's just say it could require a little "tweaking" before things settled out.

Then Smith & Wesson launched their own in-house Model 3913 in 1989. With a barrel chopped to three and a half inches, a shortened grip that still retained an eight-shot magazine, and a no-snag bobbed hammer from the factory, the 3913 was a factory subcompact 9mm that was years ahead of the Kahr or Glock 26. It was utterly reliable, weighed 25 ounces empty, and its MSRP of six-hundred and twenty-two bucks was barely more than what a custom house would have charged to chop a customer-provided 3904 into a compact carry blaster.

It wasn't long after the 3913 was released that the full-sized 3904 and 3906 were discontinued. Apparently someone at Smith & Wesson thought that the future for full-size pistols was in double-stack duty guns, and single-stacks should be compacts.

The pictured pistol shipped from the factory with Novak lo-mount night sights and no magazine disconnect, likely indicating that it was ordered by a police department as a duty or backup gun. It was acquired from a local gun store in 2021 for four and a half bills.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #5...

When the Savage Model 1907 hit the market in 1908, it had very little competition in the compact pocket autoloader segment here in America. It was pretty much just Savage and Colt.

Bear in mind, however, that this wasn't a situation that would last forever. In 1908, self-loading pistols were still something of a novelty, like robot vacuums in 2008 or electric cars in 2018. It didn't take long for the market to get more crowded, though.

By the mid Nineteen-teens, not only were Savage sales slumping relative to those of the Colt autos, but the two companies had been joined in the semiautomatic pistol field by Harrington & Richardson and Smith & Wesson. Suddenly Roombas and Teslas were all over the place.

The American commercial firearms market was put on a brief pause while the domestic gun companies went all in to Beat the Kaiser and it was almost as though Savage used this as a chance to regroup and redesign.

Measuring a range of hand sizes, Savage designers cut the backstrap of a 1907 frame loose at the bottom and bent it backward until they settled on what seemed to be the ideal angle for a naturally pointing grip. The new, flared grip shape may look less graceful than the original, but it's one of the most naturally-pointing shapes you'll find on a pocket auto.

The new grip shape necessitated a large relief to be scooped out of the bottom of the grip frame to allow clearance for the shooter's thumb when plucking out empty magazines.

The grips on the new pistol featured an improvement as well. 

Original Savage 1907 grips were made of a hard rubber and required a slight amount of flexibility to slide into the slots on the frame. This was because Colt had a Browning patent for affixing the grips of a self loading pistol to the frame with screws.

The problem was that the rubber could get brittle with time, and the fine channels into which the grip panels slid could get clogged with dirt or residue, and grips would break or not fit properly.

By the time the new pistol hit the market in 1920, this wasn't an issue anymore and the revised grip panels were held on with a screw like a normal pistol. (Remington's Model 51, which was released in 1918, still had to dodge the Colt patent with rivet-backed grips that slid on and were retained by the mainspring pin.)

Despite the new Savage going on sale in 1920, the marketing department called it the Model 1917, after the year it was designed. The Model 1917 hit the shelves just in time for a period of sharp deflation now known as the Depression of 1920-1921.

Savage churned out over eleven thousand pistols in that first year of production, but sales were tepid. Between the economic slump and the dawn of Prohibition, crime was spiking. Pressure was on to enact pistol restrictions at the local, state, and national level. With unsold pistols piling up in stockrooms and warehouses, Savage suspended production for much of 1921 hoping to move some unsold inventory before restarting production at a slower pace.

Production continued until 1926, by which time 29,072 of the .32 caliber Model 1917's had been made, as well as a further 14,325 in .380ACP. Other than a handful of pistols assembled from leftover parts by special order, that was the end of the most serious domestic competitor for Colt's semiautomatic pistols until Smith & Wesson released its 9mm thirty years later.

The Model 1917 came in two varieties, known to collectors as the Model 1917-20 and the 1917-22, with the major difference being that the later pistols were marked "SAVAGE 1917 MODEL" in a small italic sans serif font on the left side of the frame where the old SAVAGE billboard marking had been in 1907 models; the 1917-20 was blank there, like the one in the photos.

Advertisement from June, 1914 issue of National Geographic


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #4...

When Savage resumed manufacturing handguns for the civilian market after the Great War, a few changes were made to the basic Model 1907.

Referred to in the literature as the Model 1907-19, these pistols were immediately recognizable by their less expensive matte blue finish that was also more durable than the bright bluing used on earlier guns. They also had twenty-eight smaller, sharper cocking serrations on each side instead of the ten large rounded ones of the original pistols.

The ejection port was smaller, no longer relieved to accept the loaded chamber indicator, which had added extra parts & manufacturing steps and acquired a reputation for breakage.

The large "SAVAGE" billboard rollmark on the left side of the gun was also gone now, eliminating another manufacturing step.

With the Model 1907-19 Modification #2 variant, the cocking lever with a pronounced thumb spur that had been an optional addition since 1914 became standard on the model.

Some 18,000 of the 1907-19 Modif. #1 and 26,400 of the 1907-19 Modif. #2 were build between the start of 1919 and the end of 1920. These pistols, however, were just a stopgap. Savage was feeling pressure not only from Colt, but now also from Remington, who had entered the pocket pistol fray with their John Pedersen-designed Model 51 at the tail end of 1918.

In response, Savage had revamped their basic pistol design in '17 and the new pistol would be ready for sale at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #3...

Sales of Savage's little Model 1907 pocket pistols had gotten off to a good start. They looked modern, had good advertising, and the ten-shot magazine gave them a leg up in the marketplace versus their competition. Nevertheless, despite a couple years where they actually outsold the Colt Pocket Hammerless, the salad days didn't last.

Sales fell off in 1912 and so management in Utica began groping for something to spice up the lineup relative to the competition from Hartford.

Pistols in this size class were usually carried in a coat pocket or vest pocket, and Colt made a lot of hay over the smooth "hammerless" profile of their 1903 and 1908 pocket models. Now, the Colt pistols actually had hammers, albeit internal ones, and the Savage pistols did not have hammers, but the external cocking lever for the internal striker made it look like they did...

Enter the Savage Model 1915, which was introduced first in .380 caliber in February of 1915, with a .32ACP version (like the one pictured) shipping in April of that same year.

The "hammerless" profile of the Colt was easiest to duplicate. All Savage had to do was remove the spur from the cocking lever on the striker and blank off the now-nonfunctional slot with a strip of sheet metal.

The 1915 sought to emulate some other Colt features, however. Among them was a grip safety, which took a couple tries to adapt to the basic mechanism of the original Savage 1907. The final design was by William Swartz and used pressure on the existing trigger-locking bar to prevent the trigger from moving unless the grip safety was fully depressed by a proper firing grip.

The 1915 retained the spring-steel loaded chamber indicator that had been introduced in 1913. Along with this, it introduced a last shot hold-open feature. A tab was added to the magazine follower that actuated an internal lever when the last round had been fired. An external tab was provided that could be pressed upward by the trigger finger to send the slide back into battery.

Despite all these changes, which added to the cost of the pistol, Savage kept the retail price of the 1915 the same as its 1907 predecessor. The sent profitability through the floor. Further, both the loaded chamber indicator and the last round hold-open feature quickly gained reputations for fragility.

Savage charged $15 for the .32 caliber versions and $16 for the .380s, but after selling a few thousand of each in the first year of production, sales plummeted. Compounding the problem was Savage being subsumed into the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Company in 1915, and foreign contracts for Lewis guns were a lot more exciting for bean counters than trying to push a new civilian pistol design.

By the beginning of 1917 production of the Savage Model 1915 pistol, a weapon optimized for concealed carry by American citizens, had been entirely displaced at Savage by contracts for pistols and machine guns for European armies.

With roughly 6,500 manufactured in .32ACP and only 3,900 in .380 Auto, the Model 1915 is among the rarer commercial Savage auto pistols.

Savage for Victory!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #2...

Last week's Savage 1907 was the variant known as the "1907-10 Modif. #2" and was made sometime in early 1911. Only two and a half years later, Savage was three more iterations down the road. By the latter part of 1913, they'd segued through the pistol now called the "1907-12 Transitional Issue" and the "1907-13 Modif. #1" and started making the pistol in the photos: The 1907-13 Modification Number 2.

The 1907-13 Modif. #2 was made from the latter part of 1913 through 1915, by which time it was largely supplanted by a version made under foreign contracts for the French and Portuguese militaries.

The pistol shown, which is in rather decent shape for an older Savage, was made toward the end of the period. 

The easiest tell for distinguishing a 1907-13 Modif. #2 from the earlier Modif. #1 is the large billboard "SAVAGE" in fine-outlined all caps on the left side of the frame.

 The trigger is still case-colored and it still has the early version of the burr on the cocking piece as well as the very wide slide serrations. The grips on this example are in very good shape, with the "TRADEMARK" lettering still legible on the chief's headdress.

The 1907-13 had introduced a loaded chamber indicator. This was a piece of spring steel, viewable through the ejection port, that clipped around a recess in the barrel with a tab that extended rearward that would be forced up by the semi-rim of a chambered round. This would provide both visible and tactile indication of a round in the chamber.

The 1907-12 Transitional issue had introduced a new magazine release. Rather than being in the center of the frontstrap and depressed with the ring finger, the second version of the magazine catch, used from the 1907-12 through the rest of the production run, had a knurled bit at the bottom of the catch and was operated by pressing this inward with the pinkie finger of the firing hand.

This obviously required a new magazine with the hole for the mag catch in a higher location.

So by 1913 we have a striker-fired, double-stack, self-loading pocket pistol with an ambidextrous magazine release and a loaded chamber indicator. Savage sold some 30- to 40,000 of them in the days before the Great War.

Actual Savage advertisement, circa 1913

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #1

Few patents in the firearms industry gave a manufacturer such an effective stranglehold on a market as did Smith & Wesson's licensing of the Rollins White patent for bored-through cylinders in revolvers. Other companies were forced to try and engineer workarounds for more than a decade while Smith basically had a lock on the metallic cartridge revolver until the patent expired in the early 1870s.

The only patent that came close was Colt's Browning patent for a one-piece breechblock and slide that extended forward to enclose the barrel. 

That gave Colt a deadlock on the self-loading pistol market in this country, at least for the most part. The challengers were mostly failures in the marketplace; the only one that came close to being a success was the Elbert Searle-designed Model 1907 from Savage. In some years it even outsold the Colt, but was far more complex and expensive to produce and eventually ceased production in the late 1920s.

There are approximately sixteen different iterations of the little .32 Savage (the constant changes and tweaks over a twenty-ish year production run did nothing to aid profitability) and the pictured pistol is the most common variety.

Manufactured in 1911, it's the variant referred to in James Carr's Savage Automatic Pistols book as a "1907-10 Modification No.2". Some 45,500 of this version alone were made.

Without consulting serial numbers, the main way to tell a "1907-10 Modif. #2" from a "1907-10 Modif. #1" is by the "SAFE" and "FIRE" rollmarks in the frame. While these are sometimes found on earlier guns, they were done after the pistol had been blued, indicating they were probably added after the pistol had been completed, possibly when it was returned to the factory for service.

Incidentally, that thing that looks like a hammer spur? It's not. It's just an external cocking lever attached to the internal striker.

The 1907-10 Modif. #2 still has the first version of the Savage's magazine release. Intended to be operated by the shooter's ring finger, the portion in the recessed divot in the frontstrap is pressed, causing the release lever to pivot on its pin and withdraw the catch from the cutout in the front of the magazine body, allowing the magazine to (at least attempt to) drop free.

By 1912, Savage had made around 65,000 of these striker-fired, double-stack, ten-shot pocket autos with ambidextrous magazine releases. They were, in many respects, way ahead of their time.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Classic Reevaluated

 There was a time, back when I first got this Model 12-2, that I was skeptical of its utility as a carry piece due to my reluctance to fire +P ammo through early alloy-framed Smiths.

While it will probably hold up to an absolutely normal level of shooting, I'm scarred by having seen a couple early Airweight J-frames crack their frames, probably due to having the barrels torqued in too tightly. 

Most vividly was the little flat-latch Model 37, a very early gun in absolutely pristine condition, that an elderly gentleman brought in for a trigger job. He'd finally gotten a carry permit for the revolver that had sat unused on a shelf for decades, and decided it could use a better trigger pull. 

Gunsmith Bob did a great job on the trigger pull and took it out on the range to verify that it would reliably light off primers still by putting a couple of cylinders of ammunition through it. The test ammo was standard pressure .38 Special, probably American Eagle FMJ, and the frame cracked there at the barrel shank. 

Smith & Wesson replaced the gentleman's Model 37 with a brand new Airweight J-frame, a stainless 637, and the customer was overjoyed. I guess from a practical point of view it was an upgrade, and we all tried not to actually cry in front of him.

At any rate, these days I am less inclined to seek any sort of expansion out of loads from a .38 Special snub. The only way to get it reliably seems to be to use light bullets with the velocity boosted via +P chamber pressures. So you get more blast and recoil and then a bullet that, if it does expand, tends to underpenetrate. If it doesn't expand, it pokes a hole just like a wadcutter. 

The fact that most of the switched-on dudes I know who still utilize .38 snubs all carry standard pressure wadcutters in them is what I would call a clue. Plus, Federal's Gold Medal Match has quality control that's second to none and has sealed primers just like premium defensive ammo.

Knowing what I know now, I'd have no hesitation to throw a Tyler T-grip or a set of boot grips on this thing and carry it with a cylinder full of 148gr wadcutters.

We live and we learn.


Monday, March 01, 2021

The Great Recession

So the above photo has two Smith & Wesson rimfire revolvers, built probably about thirty years or so apart. The top one is a .22/.32 Heavy Frame Target, an I-frame revolver built probably sometime in the late 1920s. The lower one is a Model 34 Kit Gun, dating to the late '50s and built on the Improved I-frame.

If you look at the cylinders...specifically the rear of the will notice a difference. If you pop open the .22/.32 Heavy Frame, the rear of the cylinder looks strange to anyone accustomed to Smith & Wesson rimfire revolvers, because the charge holes are not recessed to accommodate the rims of the cartridges.

This was actually the norm at the time. Dating back to its earliest revolvers, the teeny little No.1 from before the Civil War, rimfire .22 Smiths had simple charge holes bored straight through the cylinder.

In 1930, however, Remington released new high velocity loadings of the .22 Long Rifle round and, when used in these revolvers, blown case heads were a very real possibility. So when Smith & Wesson released a .22LR version of their K-frame Target, known as the "K-22" or "Outdoorsman", they resorted to a solution that had been used on cartridge conversions of percussion revolvers: a rebated recess around the charge hole to support the rim.

By the mid-1930s, this had migrated from the K-22 to other rimfire Smiths. Here's the cylinder of the Model 34 Kit Gun:

Along about the time that Smith was adapting their rimfire revolvers to handle this new high-pressure, high-velocity .22 load from Remington, they were also working to develop another high performance round, albeit much larger than the little rimfire.

Julian Hatcher's Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers unveiled the new super round:

Without reading Major Wesson's mind, it's impossible to know why, exactly, the chambers were recessed on the new .357 Magnum. It's not like there was ever any balloon-head .357 Mag brass to worry about handloaders blowing up; the Magnum (there was only the one, at the time) was a thoroughly modern cartridge with a solid case head.

With the hype surrounding the cartridge, though, it would probably have appeared as a sensible precaution, at least to the buying public. In Hatcher's words,
...which seems almost quaint, looking back from the current era of AirLite Scandium Magnums and four-inch .500S&W X-frame revolvers.

The recessed chambers remained a hallmark of centerfire S&W revolvers in magnum chamberings up until the launch of the L-frame Model 586 & 686 in the Eighties, after which it went away, in a tacit admission that it was an entirely vestigial holdover.