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Old February 11, 2013, 02:17 PM   #1
Sevens
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"assembly numbers" and inside the factory

These are two related thoughts and certainly could be a subject for the "General Handguns" forum, but I really prefer the Revolver area of the site...and likely for the same reasons that many of you prefer it.

We often talk about assembly numbers and a stamped number on the frame in the crane-area of a Smith & Wesson revolver that is NOT the serial number. Yes, the number is there much of the time, and always on the butt of the revolver, but the other numbers there and sometimes on one or both grip panels or on the older ones -- actually on the breech-end of the cylinder. (my old M&P 1905 Fourth Change)

We mention to folks who drop serial numbers looking for info that these are simple internal S&W numbers and that we don't know what they mean... does anyone posting here at TFL know what they mean? Are we to assume that somehow, many gun parts are piled up together but yet, need to find a particular home and that number mates them with a certain model or frame size or style or some such thing later in the process? Might we think it's a piece original to THAT gun that needs to be removed for some process to be later reunited with that specific revolver?

And that leads me to my second question, much more general in nature.

Here on TFL, we've got some extremely intelligent minds that have seen fit to share time, energy, experience and information with us and the world. But one thing we rarely EVER see is anyone that has a background that is truly on the inside. We do see someone that has worked with a small custom outfit from time to time, we will see a company rep on a rare occasion and sometimes we see folks with extensive experience in an armory and certainly many with long backgrounds behind a retail gun counter.

What we don't see, or what I have missed (and don't have the search-fu to find) are folks who have worked deep inside some of our favorite legendary gun makers -- making guns. I don't recall ever hearing from anyone who's run S&W machinery on the shop floor. Or maybe we have and they've simply never let "the cat out of the bag."

I think it would be interesting in the Handloading & Reloding area of the site if we had someone contribute that worked at, say, Sierra bullets and worked in a lab testing and producing published load data. Or someone who has QC'd at Speer when Gold Dot ammo comes rolling out of the machines. Or someone who has opened up customer-return handguns at Ruger and directed them for warranty repair.

Have we seen such threads and I've missed them?
Certainly, I understand how in this age of internet forums and social media, it's probably a major league NO-NO for current employees to blab about internal company stuff on fan-crazed websites. I'm not naive. Even still, I'd like to hear from some posters that have seen these great industry giants from the inside.

One of my favorite posters here (not here a lot, active on another forum) is Kurmudgeon, a long time inside gun builder and tester for Coonan Arms. He was right in the mix for the Model A&B and was retired and brought back in for the roll out of the Coonan Classic. This is a heckuva guy and all he does is offer hints, tips, helps, experience and inside stories and tales from what just seems like a really small operation. I think that's terrific, and I wonder if we have others.
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Old February 11, 2013, 02:50 PM   #2
James K
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I have never worked for S&W but I have spent time in the factory, so maybe I can answer the question on S&W assembly numbers.

In the old days, one of the things S&W (and Colt) took great pride in was the fit of the yoke (crane) to the frame. That was the first thing gun buyers and gun writers looked for on a new gun. The closer the joint came to invisibility, the better made the gun was.

So the yoke was carefully fitted and installed then polished down along with the frame so the mating was perfect. The assembly number was then stamped on the carefully mated parts so they could be put back together after the gun was given its final finish.

As machinery became more precise (and maybe the buying public less picky), the assembly numbers have been dropped. The yoke to frame fit is not as precise and the joint is certainly visible. But, like so many other things, in today's world, the cost of such niceties would price guns out of the reach of most of us. If it comes down to a less pretty gun vs no gun, I prefer the former.

In Europe especially, it was common practice for parts to be sent to fitters/assemblers in bins. The assembler fitted the parts together, filing or grinding as necessary to get the parts of the gun or a sub-assembly (like a rifle bolt) to work together. Then the assembler numbered the parts so they could be kept together through the hardening and finishing steps. S&W's machinery was precise enough that full numbering was not required, but that darned yoke just had to match up perfectly or some nasty gun writer would be sure to point it out.

As time went on, such hand fitting became unnecessary, but tradition and regulations kept it in place. In Germany during WWII it was the practice not only to number nearly every part of a rifle large enough to take a number, but also to stamp each part with an inspection/approval mark. The factories were using high precision machinery that made part fitting and marking unnecessary, but it was continued because of tradition and because military contracts required it. I don't think such nonsense lost the war for Germany, but the millions of man hours spent inspecting and stamping parts must have had some effect on the overall war effort.

Jim
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Old February 13, 2013, 11:28 PM   #3
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Kurmudgeon is a heck of a guy. He has talked to me a lot about Coonan.
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Old February 14, 2013, 04:37 AM   #4
Sevens
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Terrific insight, Jim. I guess I didn't get as many hits as I was hoping for with this thread, but yours was a great post.
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Old February 14, 2013, 12:08 PM   #5
Mike Irwin
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Jim's answer is spot on.

But, not only was it a crane-to-gun fit issue, it was also a cylinder timing issue. Cylinder timing often had to be tweeked by hand, and one cylinder wouldn't work on another gun.
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Old February 14, 2013, 12:16 PM   #6
James K
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To add a little bit. S&W wood grips were also numbered, and for the same reason. As they came from the machines, they were very close to the right size but, again, gun purchasers and gun writers set great store by that "wood to metal fit" (I am sure you have heard that term). So with the revolver "in the white", the grips were installed and then the grip and frame polished down together. The grips were removed, numbered to the serial number (which had been put on by that time), and set aside until the gun was given a final polish and finish. That final polish is the reason the grips sometimes stick out just a hair beyond the frame.

As you gather, the S&W factory did things with those guns in a very exact sequential order, and a fair amount of handwork was involved. The modern S&Ws still require a good degree of skill in assembly (contrary to one rant that "a monkey could put them together") but not to the extent of that involved 50 years ago or even more so 70 or 100 years ago.

Jim
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Old February 14, 2013, 12:59 PM   #7
Sevens
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Quote:
Kurmudgeon is a heck of a guy. He has talked to me a lot about Coonan.
You got that right! He's an obvious enthusiast and he speaks as frankly as anyone when it comes to what they've done with these guns.
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Old October 16, 2013, 06:00 PM   #8
Sevens
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I'm bumping an old thread (of mine!) to see if we have any other voices with some input, and to add a wee bit of new information.

The first handgun I ever owned and also the first one I got *new* is the Smith & Wesson Model 17-6 (BBJxxx) that my Mom got me for Christmas, 1989. Inside one of the wooden stocks (arrrgh, I need a handy "S&W grip guide" to get the names right...) which I believe are the goncalo alves target stocks (?!) original to the revolver is a date clearly stamped.

It is stamped (not written) in blue ink and it says "MAR 11 1988" very clearly, and this is stamped horizontally across the inside of the right stock, near the lowest portion of the stock but on the inside, so that it would come to rest at or 'up against' the grip frame itself.

Upon noticing this (somewhat) recently, I decided today to pull out the original stocks from my 686-3 which is of a very similar vintage. (BEBxxx) In the same place... nothing. Or so I thought! In looking again much more closely, I see that those also have a date, also stamped in blue ink. However this stamping is barely visible, hardly there at all, and MAY say "JUL 28 1989", best I can tell.

It's not an issue of wear, actually. The 17-6 wore it's original stocks up until about a month ago (24 or 25 years) while the 686-3 grips were pulled from the revolver within an hour of receiving it back in 1990 when I bought it. They never have been in use except to be shipped from S&W to the wholesaler that sold it to my FFL at the time.

What's my point? Nothing specific, I suppose. I just find it interesting that for at least a while, S&W dated their stocks, right down to the day of manufacture. I'm not sure you can come to conclusions about a revolver based on the date the OEM stocks were manufactured, but for me... it's kind of like a time capsule.

Neat stuff.
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