Monday, April 26, 2010

Classic S&W revolver recessed chambers: A bug, not a feature?

Working at a gun shop for the past 16 months has been quite an education for me on firearms, particularly handguns and even more particularly, on classic Smith and Wessons and Colts.

When describing a classic Smith & Wesson revolver in a gunbroker auction, it always helps if it has "the big four T's", target sights, target trigger, target hammer and target grips, like this S&W 29-2.

And an even bigger plus for S&W collectors and I presume shooters, too, is a classic Smith which has recessed chambers and a pinned barrel. Just what advantage a pinned barrel is, I have no clue. Seems to me a barrel screwed into the frame would be stronger than one pinned in place.

But the mere words "pinned barrel" will definitely help sell a classic Smith, like this Model 29-2 .44 Magnum with a 6" barrel, the classic "Dirty Harry" sixgun made famous by San Francisco Police Department Inspector Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood's most famous role.

And most models with pinned barrels also have recessed chambers, another prized "feature" for S&W buyers. But Massad Ayoob sticks a pin in that balloon in his article about the S&W 27 in his new book, Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World.
The recessed chambers, which began in 1935 and continued late into the epoch of the Model 27, were prized by revolver aficionados. The reason was the exquisite machining that went into them. They served no actual purpose, according to most firearms engineers and experts, other than creating an illusion of more steel support for a high-powered cartridge.

In field use, they actually had a downside. Particles of unburned powder could find their way there as spent casings were ejected, creating a buildup that could prevent full insertion of the next cartridge. This could potentially lock up the gun.
Now ain't that a pip? Sorta the reverse of the famous Microsoft saying, "it's not a bug, it's a feature." Those prized recessed chambers are actually a bug and not a feature. Whodathunkit?

Maybe next I'll be finding out that pinned barrels ain't such a big deal either.


Secesh said...

Pinned barrels were screwed in and then pinned. Pinning was supposed to keep them from backing out.

netfotoj said...

Thanks for the info. Always wondered about that. Don't own any Smiths with pinned barrels, so never got around to researching it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how much I take Ayoob seriously.

The purpose of the recessed cylinders was to provide more support for the cartridge, which is considered irrelevent with modern ammo.

The reason people like them is because they are neat, not due to any function advantage. They just seem so . . . classy.

They do make it harder to tell if there are shells in the firearm.

Anonymous said...

I'll add that the reason they used pinned barels is probably because they didn't perfect the method Colt used. That said, it would be easier to replace a pinned barrel then a crush fit barrel.

The real reason pinned and recessed appeal is because of the old school classic revolvers they are found on, and the associated smooth action.

Pinned and recessed would mean the barrel is easier to replace (if you decide to do such a thing), and the revolver is a bit harder to clean and inspect to see if it has shells in it (should open to check anyhow). But it also means old school fit and finish and quality, no mim parts, locks, and such.