As America's oldest firearms manufacturer, Smith and Wesson can boast of a proud history. In 1852 Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson created the first lever-action tube-fed pistol. The following 152 years saw Smith and Wesson introduce a number of other "firsts," including the first magnum handgun, the Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum. The company's latest groundbreaker is the 500 Smith and Wesson Magnum.
Today, Smith and Wesson offers over 100 models of revolvers and semi-auto pistols. And the company's commitment to quality and innovation continues. The fit and finish, crisp triggers and superb accuracy of Smith and Wesson handguns make them the standard by which all other brands are judged.
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1. Except for models with barrels under two inches in length, nearly all Smith and Wesson revolvers have pinned front sights. A pinned sight allows you to easily remove the sight blade to replace it with another style that's more to your liking. If you're familiar with working on guns, you can probably do this yourself, whereas dovetail front sights require more specialized tools and skills to replace.
2. Most Smith and Wesson revolvers have case hardened triggers and hammers. The case hardening adds a thin layer of hardened carbon over the steel on the hammers and triggers for wear resistance. The case hardening may or may not have mottled colors in it such as the colors you may have seen on the Colt cowboy six-shooters. Some stainless models use stainless triggers and hammers, and a few revolvers use MIM ("metal injected molded") triggers. The MIM triggers can be identified by their solid black appearance.
3. Decades ago, revolvers had cylinder ejector rods completely exposed, leaving them vulnerable to damage, especially getting bent. All Smith and Wesson ejector rods are now protected either by an partial shroud end piece under the barrel at the end of the rod (see photo), or by a full length ejector shroud under the barrel (see photo). The full-length barrel shrouds also help reduce muzzle rise (also referred to as muzzle "flip").
4. Smith and Wesson revolvers are made using a variety of metals, including carbon steel and stainless steel for standard weights, or aluminum alloy or scandium for lighter weight. Aluminum alloy and scandium are only used for the frames on the revolvers, as these metals cannot withstand the pressures required of barrels and cylinders. Barrels and cylinders on the revolvers are either carbon steel or stainless steel.
5. The action, or "lock work", on a Smith and Wesson revolver is a marvel of simplicity that traces its roots back to the 1800's. In fact, Smith and Wesson's design was so revolutionary at that time that Colt was forced by lawsuit to come up with a radically different design, one that is much more complex and, frankly, more finicky.
When the trigger is pulled in double action mode, the rear notch on the trigger (see photo of trigger below) engages the point of the sear and moves it upward, which in turn rotates the hammer back. When the trigger is pulled far enough, and the hammer cocked back far enough, the sear is brought to a point where the notch on the trigger is higher than the sear point. At this point the sear is no longer restrained by the rear notch of the trigger, and spring pressure causes the hammer to fall.
At the same time the trigger is pulling up the sear point, the pull of the trigger pushes the Hand up. The Hand has a hook that extends into the cylinder area of the frame, and catches a notch on the rear of the cylinder, rotating the cylinder into position for the next round.
In single action mode, the hammer is pulled back, and the point of the sear engages the notch on the trigger. As the hammer is pulled back further, the point of the sear pulls the notch of the trigger upward. When the point of the sear and the notch of the trigger reach the point where they're completely set against each other, the hammer is cocked. (See photo). Pulling the trigger raises the notch of the trigger slightly, disengaging the point of the sear. The hammer then falls.
At the same time that the trigger is being pulled to put the revolver in single action mode, the Hand is being pushed up by the trigger, which in turn catches a notch on the cylinder, causing the cylinder to rotate to the next chamber.
Just three pieces--the trigger with its notch, the hammer with the sear point, and the hand--make the basic mechanism work. That's Smith and Wesson simplicity.
(The photos above show the lock work of a 1980 Smith and Wesson 586, but the operating mechanism is still the same today, even though the parts look slightly different)