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Old November 3, 2008, 09:43 AM   #1
Smaug
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Pros & Cons: Ruger vs. S&W vs. Colt DA revolvers?

I posed this question to a retired gunsmith on another forum.

I thought many of you would also enjoy reading this excellent post.
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Old November 3, 2008, 07:56 PM   #2
don95sml
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I've got several Smiths, and a GP-100 that I tuned up following Iowegan's instructions. I love them all, but you can't beat this one for sheer beauty:
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Old November 3, 2008, 07:59 PM   #3
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Because I specialized in doing Colt work for the trade, I saw mostly Colt's.
I saw a fair number of S&W's, fewer Ruger's and few Dan Wesson's.

Here's my take on the plus and minuses.

The Colt's were always "consistently" more accurate then S&W, Ruger, or Dan Wesson.
This accuracy was due to Colt's higher grade barrels and the old Colt action that locks the cylinder tightly in alignment with the bore at the moment of ignition.
This is simply a matter of mechanics. When the bullet enters the bore perfectly centered like with the Colt, the bullet gets distorted less and is more accurate.
Later models like the Trooper Mark III/King Cobra, Anaconda were accurate because of Colt's factory-made barrels, faster twist rifling, and all around quality of the gun.

S&W accuracy fluctuated, with one gun being very accurate, another not too good, but on average S&W accuracy was good.

Ruger accuracy fluctuates wildly.
Seeing a less than accurate Ruger is not unusual, and carries all across the Ruger product line.
You'll see VERY accurate Ruger firearms, and the next one will just not shoot.

While the Dan Wesson was noted for accuracy, their problem was the quality fluctuated so badly, you couldn't count on getting an accurate one.

Colt always seemed to do a better job of where they spent their money.
Colt was always a step above S&W in actual overall quality.
The Colt's were nicely finished outside, and nicely finished inside, with fewer burrs and machine marks.
S&W seemed to spend most of their dollar on the outside for a nice blue job, but inside was usually rougher than Colt.

Ruger was always rougher inside and out, but as with all cast steel guns, the actual working surfaces were about as smooth as they could be as-is.

Dan Wesson fluctuated wildly depending on their business health at the moment.

Colt's frame and cylinder was stronger than S&W or Ruger.
Colt's frame and cylinder were higher quality forgings, and the off-set cylinder notches made the cylinder stronger.
Fact is, even the S&W 686 was slightly less strong then the Colt due to their cylinder notches right over the chamber.

Ruger has a more massive frame, but that's because they HAD to be more massive to provide as strong a frame from castings.
The later Colt's like the Trooper Mark III/King Cobra was probably the strongest medium frame DA revolvers ever made, INCLUDING the later Ruger GP-100 and S&W 686.

The old Colt action is far more intricate, has much smaller operating surfaces, and smaller parts.
The action is complex and very difficult to work on.
It won't take the abuse the later Colt's, the S&W, and the Ruger will.

The last of the old Colt's was the Python, and it was a true semi-custom built gun.
All the older Colt's parts were made over-sized and stoned and filed to fit by a Master fitter, then the parts were adjusted for perfect operation.
The Python went even farther with extensive hand polishing and tuning for perfect operation.
This hand labor priced it out of the market.
Up side of all this was a better quality gun, with more potential accuracy.
Down side was, it won't take the abuse the S&W and Ruger will take and keep operating correctly.

S&W has the easiest action to tune, and most shooters prefer the S&W "feel" over the Colt, unless they've taken the time to "learn" the Colt action.
Colt parts that are worn can often be refitted.
The newer Colt's, S&W, and Ruger are intended to have worn parts just replaced with new parts.

Bottom Line:
The older Colt's were the best quality and most consistently accurate. This includes less expensive models like the Official Police, Detective Special, etc, not just the Python.

S&W was close behind, but "on average" just a little less accuracy than Colt's because of the action design, not quality issues.

Ruger is a good step below S&W in overall quality, with inconsistent accuracy, but.... is considered to be the "best buy" for the average shooter.

Dan Wesson is below Ruger in quality.
Shiny blue jobs, but often with a reddish color indicative of used up or improperly controlled bluing operation.
Dan Wesson accuracy was Python-good when it was good, and lousy whenever their quality fell just before yet another bankruptcy.

NOTE: I'm not discussing INDIVIDUAL guns.
I've seen Pythons that wouldn't shoot well, and Ruger's that shot as well as any revolver I've ever seen.
What I'm talking about is "on the average".
In other words, take 50 new Colt Official Police revolvers and shoot them against 50 new S&W Model 10 revolvers.

One revolver (A Colt or a S&W) will be the most accurate.
One revolver will be the LEAST accurate.
"On the average" of the 100 guns, the Colt's will be more accurate.

I base this on 30 years and the thousands of revolvers I've seen.
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Old November 3, 2008, 08:21 PM   #4
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Thank you Smaug and Dfariswheel for one of the most informative threads I've read in a long time!!

I prefer Colts, not as a result of years of gunsmithing or anything, but for a variety of indescribable and intangible reasons really. I have an example of each mfr's late model 6" .357 Magnum (586, GP-100 and Colts of every description which is why I posted the "Big 3" thread recently) and I believe each has their pros and cons but after reading this post I have a new appreciation of each mfr's product.
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Old November 3, 2008, 11:52 PM   #5
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I can't argue with Dfariswheel, I'll only say that a Smith looks much nicer to me than any Colt save the Python. Also the bolt notches on the 586/686 may be over the center of the chamber but there is plenty of steel left in the wall on the cylinder to handle any sane load you could come up with. While the Python's notches may be offset, the gun only locks up at the rear of the cylinder and while Colt used to claim that the hand pushing up the cylinder in the opposite direction from which it opened made the gun strong, it is still locking up only in the rear. I know Smiths lock up at the end of the ejector rod, but it's still better to have both ends locked up. Just my opinion.
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Old November 3, 2008, 11:58 PM   #6
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Yes, thanks Dfariswheel for your addition. Another professional point of view is always appreciated.

This explains why most Colts displayed here these days seem to be safe queens. The guys who can work on them are all retired!

It is a shame that Colt cannot see fit to gear up for production of DA revolvers again. They'd make a killing.

A prime example would be Festool power tools. They're German-made, but they cut no corners. Their new Kapex miter saw is $1300, and people are lining up to pay that for them.
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Old November 4, 2008, 08:52 AM   #7
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Quote:
Because I specialized in doing Colt work for the trade, I saw mostly Colt's.
I saw a fair number of S&W's, fewer Ruger's and few Dan Wesson's.

Here's my take on the plus and minuses.
What do you think of this point?
Quote:
Seems each brand has it's Achilles heel. With S&Ws, it's always been their very poorly designed yoke tube that peens with firing and causes excessive endshake. Once endshake goes bad, timing and lock-up go bad too. Colt's main problem is the design for securing the ratchet to the cylinder. It works loose and causes extreme timing and lock-up problems. Ruger's problems have always been an absence of quality in their small parts. Rather than clean up the sharp edges, machine marks, casting marks, and galls, Ruger just put in heavier springs to overcome the extra friction. Rugers seldom go out of time.
I don't know the first things about the Rugers, but Kuhnhausen seems to agree with the caveats about Colt and S&W. As an aside, the yoke tube on the S&W-derived Manurhin MR73 seems to be a huge improvement on its prototype.
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Old November 4, 2008, 09:56 AM   #8
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All three are excellant revolvers. I dont think you can say either one is better then the other. They are just differant.

I tried all three. The problem is not all three fit me. Out of the three I can shoot smiths better because they fit me better.

In autos its the colt. The 1911 colts just fit. I shoot cold 1911s better because the fit ME better, not because they are better guns.

I shoot smith revolvers because the fit ME, not because they are better revolvers.

I dont care how good a gun in made, or how reliable it is, it anit worth a hoot if you can't shoot it.

Its like a pair of of boots, you can spend a grand for brand X boots, well made, guranteed forever, but they aint work 2 bits if they hurt your feed. You're better off with a pair of comfortable $50 wal mart specials that FIT.
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Old November 4, 2008, 05:14 PM   #9
Gun 4 Fun
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kraigwy- Amen and right on! And THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO THIS COUNTRY! Without men like you we wouldn't be on here discussing this.
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Old November 4, 2008, 07:08 PM   #10
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Quote:
I shoot smith revolvers because the fit ME, not because they are better revolvers.
It's an excellent point, but it is nice to have a better sense of the potential weaknesses of whichever one you find you like/shoot best.

Chris
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Old November 26, 2008, 08:46 PM   #11
Smaug
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Just reread Dfariswheel's post. One thing struck me... off center:

Quote:
Colt's frame and cylinder was stronger than S&W or Ruger.
Colt's frame and cylinder were higher quality forgings, and the off-set cylinder notches made the cylinder stronger.
Fact is, even the S&W 686 was slightly less strong then the Colt due to their cylinder notches right over the chamber.
Colt frame was stronger than Ruger? That is the first time I've heard that opinion. Rugers cylinders have offset notches as well. They also have the crane pivot offset in the frame below the barrel, so there's 100% more steel near the weakest point of the frame. I'm curious how many blown-up Rugers you've seen.

From what you're saying, Rugers have the strongest actions, S&Ws have the smoothest actions but weakest frames & cylinders, and Colts are the most consistently accurate and have the strongest frames & cylinders.
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Old November 28, 2008, 01:49 AM   #12
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Quote:
I'm curious how many blown-up Rugers you've seen.
Quite a few actually. A gunshop I used to frequent when I lived in Nevada had a large box of kaboomed revolvers he kept on hand for parts. It was about evenly divided with Rugers and S&W's, all 44 Magnums. All of them blown from overloads.
While I will run the warmer loads in my Redhawk versus my Smiths if I want hot I load up my Freedom Arms 454.
Rugers may be strong but they're not indestructible.

Jim

Last edited by laytonj1; November 28, 2008 at 01:55 AM.
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Old November 28, 2008, 08:05 PM   #13
Dfariswheel
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It not a matter of "blown up" revolvers, it's a matter the battering and peening of the frames and cranes/yokes.

Most people assume the Ruger is stronger simply because of the more massive frame. It's larger and thicker, so it HAS to be stronger, right?

Some of you may remember the famous "burger war" between Ruger and S&W back in the 80's.
Ruger started it with a magazine ad that said that Ruger's more massive frame was stronger than S&W's frames.

S&W retaliated with an absolutely devastating ad that showed a Ruger-shaped hamburger patty on a bun with pickles.
They explained that the Ruger frame had to be larger just to equal the S&W because Ruger's cast steel frame required the added bulk, where S&W's forged frame could have the same strength, but be smaller and lighter.

Ruger became a laughing stock, and quickly dropped the ads.

Colt, especially the later guns in the Mark III, Mark V, and King Cobra were probably the strongest medium frame DA revolvers, because of the Colt high-grade forged frames and barrels, and the locking notches off-set from the chambers.
S&W, even the 686, place the notches right over the weakest point of the cylinder.
Ruger uses cast steel frames, that while strong, are more porous and need the added bulk.
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Old November 29, 2008, 04:35 PM   #14
Smaug
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Thanks for the response Dfariswheel. One more question, if I may:

Was I right in my above assumption that Colt actions are more likely to go out of whack than S&W & Ruger?

That's good to know aobut the frame strength. Maybe some of the guys here with the beautiful shiny Colts can start shooting them now. (depending on your answer to that last question)
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Old November 30, 2008, 01:54 AM   #15
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This is by no means an exhaustive list of Ruger blowups, or anything, but merely two amusing stories.

One was at a cowboy match. Fellow was shooting an old heavy framed Vaquero, in .45 LC. The first round in the string was a squib, but no one noticed. Wasn't till the spotters pointed out that five rounds never hit the targets, that it was discovered that none of the five ever left the barrel. Just stacked up in there. No damage, though. No kaboom, nothing bent, nothing damaged at all.

The second was a SR Alaskan. This fellow was shooting reloads, but nothing excessive, by .454 Casull standards. Only trouble was that he had a high primer. The first round went off, the gun recoiled, driving the high primer into the recoil shield. Result: Alaskan Hand Grenade.

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Old January 6, 2009, 05:40 AM   #16
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So whats the verdict?

I am still pondering on my next purchase: GP100. I have King Cobra, and want to know if GP100 is better in any way or not? If not, then I dont want to waste money on Gp100.

I am looking for a strong, reliable and accurate revolver. From the posts above it seems like SW and Ruger are far behind Colt. However, my querry is model specific.

Any comments would be deeply appreciated.
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Old January 6, 2009, 08:01 AM   #17
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Great post from the gunsmith side of each revolver showing both their strength and weakness.
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Old January 6, 2009, 09:12 AM   #18
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I see that Colt has no weakness as such here. It wins hands down.
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Old January 6, 2009, 09:37 AM   #19
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Thank you very much.
I am in agreement with Firepower. He is all knowing.
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Old January 6, 2009, 12:31 PM   #20
Smaug
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Firepower!

One thing that was not touched on too much is that Colts are harder to get worked on now, and harder to get parts for. (if not now, then soon)

One of the two authors above mentioned that Colts go out of time easier than Rugers.

You should stick with your King Cobra unless/until you have problems. I suspect you won't. The only thing I don't like about them is that they're so damned shiny!
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Old January 6, 2009, 12:50 PM   #21
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Perhaps Ruger just needed smarter advertising types. The "hamburger" ad is copy stupid, but clever with the photo illustration.

Given equal length barrels, the GP-100 and the S&W 686 weigh within an ounce of each other, utilize the same speedloaders, and share leather. That's hardly indicative of a "beefier" piece.

The GP's lack of such quaint oddities as a fragile screw attached sideplate mounted to hold in its guts, relying on the ejector rod for mechanical integrity, and having notch cuts directly over the thinnest part of the cylinder walls are what make the Ruger tougher than the S&W, not massive amounts of additional steel to make up for "casting porosity."

I have a Colt DS that is a marvel of manufacturing. I love the thing, but I am wary of shooting it often due to the intricate spring works in it and the fact that when I casually mention to local gunsmiths whether they'd be comfortable working on it the subject invariably gets changed to why it should be a collection piece rather than a shooter.
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Old January 6, 2009, 03:08 PM   #22
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Quote:
I have a Colt DS that is a marvel of manufacturing. I love the thing, but I am wary of shooting it often due to the intricate spring works in it and the fact that when I casually mention to local gunsmiths whether they'd be comfortable working on it the subject invariably gets changed to why it should be a collection piece rather than a shooter.
Some men would rather drive a Ferrari than operate an International Harvester. Extra maintenance costs don't deter them from choosing high performance gear.
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Old January 6, 2009, 04:17 PM   #23
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I have no issues shooting my Colts.

They weren't built to sit around collecting dust, and even the oldest one (1926 ) still locks up with ZERO play fore and aft, or port and starboard.
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Old January 6, 2009, 04:22 PM   #24
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Quote:
Some men would rather drive a Ferrari than operate an International Harvester. Extra maintenance costs don't deter them from choosing high performance gear.
While correct I would note that Ferrari remains in the automobile business and most major metropolitan areas have competent Ferrari mechanics that don't require that you reserve your place in line for service a year in advance or, optionally, crate up your Ferrari and mail it to Maranello for service.

I've found it to be a mild irony of the information age that the Grant Cunningham article on "Pythons being delicate" is routinely cited by those on both sides of the issue.

http://grantcunningham.com/blog_file..._delicate.html

The analogy works insofar as Ferrari's reputation for high-priced service goes but, sadly, the reality is that it's now orders of magnitude easier to arrange for service on one's Ferrari than one's Python.

Nobody minds paying for service on a high-end product but it has to be available, preferably locally, and timely. It has to be, in other words, not an ordeal or risky. It's my personal supposition that the service issue, more so than the pricing, accounts for why many if not most Pythons are currently traded strictly as safe ballast.

'Course I had two Pythons ruined by separate individuals claiming expertise they did not in fact have. So I'm admittedly a bit biased (one might almost say "Snake bit").
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Old January 6, 2009, 04:43 PM   #25
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I've had a lot more fussy auto loaders, than Colt Revolvers.

I really don't get the irrational (required IMO) fear of actually firing Colts.

Do I feel the need to pound them by shooting super hot loads out of them? No, but I don't feel the need to do that with my Smith's either.

I'd gladly trade the possibility that my Cobra may need to get serviced someday than comprimise the sweet trigger and capacity with another brand.
It was built to be carried, and fired. That's just exactly what I do with it.
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