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Old February 9, 2012, 11:00 PM   #1
Dr_2_B
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S&W generations question

I read lots of beaming endorsements of 3rd generation Smith & Wesson autos. So much so that I'm actually considering one now despite the fact that I have never been that fond of the Smiths.

Can someone explain the generation issue? What differentiates the 3rd gen from earlier gens, and how do I know which version I'm looking at?
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Old February 10, 2012, 12:12 AM   #2
Mosin44az
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Not sure of the differences, except the newer ones are more developed and feed hollowpoints better.

I think you can tell it's 3rd generation if the model number has four digits.

1st generation: 59, for example
2d generation: 3 digits (can't think of an example!)
4th generation: 4013, for example

However, Smith also sold "bargain" 3rd generation autos with 3-digit designations, like the 908 and 910, 457. It's complicated....
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Old February 10, 2012, 10:44 AM   #3
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It IS complicated. Here's a more thorough explanation of S&W "Traditional Double Action" (TDA) pistols.

AFAIK all S&W TDA pistols have mag disconnects except for a few uncommon LE special order guns. All decocker/safety models have slides that can be moved with the decocker/safety engaged, contrary to some misinformation on the Interwebz. The vast majority of TDA guns are either DA/SA or DAO; a handful of SAO guns have been built, but these are generally rare and exclusive limited editions (more below).

1ST-GENERATION: 1954-1983
(IIRC commercial sales started ca. 1959)

All 2-digit-numbered guns are 1st-generation. The 2 basic and commonly-encountered 1st-gen guns are the 9mm Model 59 (double-stack, alloy frame, steel slide) and the 9mm Model 39-2 (single-stack, alloy frame, steel slide). No factory 1st-gen compacts exist, but numerous aftermarket firms have offered custom cut-down M39-2s. All 1st-gen guns but a few special models were DA/SA with a single decocker/safety on the LH side only, blued or nickel finish, separate screw-on grip panels, and were shipped with all-metal magazines. Rear sights were a simple blade or a large adjustable unit protected by curved metal wings. These guns have no positive trigger-actuated firing pin block and therefore aren't considered 100% drop-safe with the decocker/safety disengaged.

Early Model 39s had a long and more breakage-prone extractor, and their feed ramp design gave some guns problems feeding bullets that aren't FMJ ball or a close approximation such as Speer Gold Dots. Later Model 39s had an improved shorter extractor and a redesigned feed ramp, greatly improving reliability. The Model 39 "no-dash" has a steel frame rather than the alloy frame used on the M39-2; the no-dash guns are uncommon and generally command a premium due to collector interest.

Model 59s had a 2-piece barrel bushing that tends to loosen up with extended use, causing accuracy to fall off, and the board-straight backstrap is uncomfortable to many shooters; they were compared to 2x4s before 1st-gen Glocks popularized the term.

ODDBALLS:

The 1st generation included 3 rare pistols with extremely limited production: the Model 44 (essentially a SAO M39), the Model 52-A (a special target pistol produced for the US Army Marksmanship Unit), and the Model 147A (a steel-frame M59 variant produced in 1979 and marked 147A for historically unclear reasons).

The Model 52 was produced specially for Bullseye target competition. It's similar to an adjustable-sight Model 39 but chambered for .38 Special 148gr flush-seated wadcutters(!) with a 5rd magazine. Model 52s were accurized and were built with a high degree of hand fitment uncommon in other TDA pistols except Performance Center guns. Some M52s are SAO. Although technically a 1st-gen gun, the Model 52 was produced well into the 3rd-gen era, until 1993.

2ND-GENERATION: 1979-1987
(There was a slight production overlap between the 1st and 2nd generations)

2nd-gen guns had a positive trigger-actuated firing pin block and improvements to the feed ramp shape, and the 59-series guns had a redesigned and more reliable barrel bushing. Most 2nd-gen guns had a RH-side ambidextrous decocker/safety which is usually attached with a huge and hideous Philips-head screw; this is why you'll see suspiciously few pictures of the RH side of 2nd-gen pistols in Internet forums. The separate grip panels, basic rear sight types, and straight 59-series backstrap shape were retained. The 69-series double-stack compact and M645 .45ACP full-size pistols were introduced. More easily disassembled plastic-floorplate magazines were introduced partway through production.

All 2nd-gen guns had 3-digit model numbers, but some 3rd-gen "Value Series" guns also used 3 digits; more info below.

MODEL NUMBERS:

x39 = 9mm single-stack full-size
x59 = 9mm double-stack full-size
x69 = 9mm double-stack compact*

4xx = blued or nickel, alloy frame
5xx = blued or nickel, steel frame*
6xx = all stainless steel

And...

645 = .45ACP full-size, all stainless steel

*AFAIK the Model 569 was not produced.

3RD-GENERATION: 1988-2009
(Regular production has ended, but Performance Center production continues intermittently)

The 3rd-gen guns had various internal improvements to increase reliability, and the separate grip panels were ditched in favor of a black hard plastic single-piece wraparound grip that actually retains the mainspring. (This is the reason why so few aftermarket 3rd-gen grips are seen.) The grip shape on double-stack 3rd-gen pistols is thinner and much more ergonomic; standard double-stack grips are curved along the back, although "Value Series" grips are not (more about this below). These guns use an improved and much more attractive RH-side decocker/safety attachment method that IIRC was introduced on late 2nd-gen guns. Novak Lo-Mount fixed sights were used on most, albeit not all, 3rd-gen fixed-sight pistols. (Early-production full-size 9mm's are the ones most often seen without them.) Minor design changes were made to the magazines, the mag wells were beveled, and the overall grip length of the 9mm full-size single-stack pistols was increased; 3rd-gen single-stack mags will work in 1st- and 2nd-gen pistols but not the reverse. DAO models, models with a SIG-style frame-mounted decocker, 9mm single-stack compacts, and a subcompact "Chief's Special" or CS lineup were introduced.

STANDARD MODEL NUMBERS:

10xx 10mm
39xx 9mm single-stack
40xx .40 caliber (may be single- or double-stack, but most are double)
45xx .45 caliber
59xx 9mm double-stack full size
69xx 9mm double-stack compact
CSy (subcompact, "y" indicates caliber, 9, 40, or 45)

xx0x TDA full-size
xx1x TDA compact
xx2x Frame decocker full-size
xx3x Frame decocker compact
xx4x DAO full-size (Except 4040PD, more below)
xx5x DAO compact
xx6x TDA mid-size
xx7x Frame decocker mid-size
xx8x DAO mid-size
xx9x Non standard combination

xxx3 Alloy frame silver
xxx4 Alloy frame black
xxx5 Steel frame blue
xxx6 Stainless steel frame (except 69-series which inexplicably have silver alloy frames)
xxx7 Non standard combination
xxx0 Scandium alloy frame (one model, more below)

Keep in mind that not all possible permutations of this system were actually produced; perhaps only about 30% of them were. In particular, the mid-size designation was primarily used on 10mm and .45 pistols, and relatively few frame decocker models were produced.

SUFFIXES:

Some 3rd-gen TDAs had suffixes denoting special features.
  • LS: "LadySmith", 9mm single-stack compacts with tapered rather than straight-cut dust cover, more curved trigger guard, rounded-off slide edges, engraved "LadySmith" script on frame, and light grey grips on stainless pistols. Usually packaged with a cute purple embroidered gun rug. Obviously marketed to women, but sought after by many male shooters because they're so good for CCW, and usually higher-priced than equivalent standard models as a result.
  • NL: IIRC actual meaning is unclear but colloquially said to mean "Not LadySmith". Basically a LadySmith pistol without the "LadySmith" script and cute gun rug, marketed to men who thought that the LadySmith pistols were insufficiently manly. Generally even higher-priced than LadySmith pistols due to an apparently large number of men who have trouble getting in touch with their feminine sides.
  • PD: "Personal Defense", AirLite with scandium frame, one model, more below.
  • S: Stainless slide and silver alloy frame on "Value Series" pistol, more below.
  • TSW: "Tactical Smith & Wesson", late-production lineup featuring a screwed-on tac rail under the dust cover, additional frame and slide machining, tough-looking black decocker/safety levers and slide stops on the stainless pistols, and a butch "TACTICAL" slide legend.

"VALUE SERIES":

The "Value Series" was a lower-priced product line with less refined slide machining and no RH-side ambi decocker/safety. Later models had plastic guide rods, sights, and mag releases, further simplifications in slide machining, and changes in the barrel lockup method on some models. The double-stack pistols had straight-backstrap grips. Standard 3rd-gen parts will swap over to address all of these differences aside from the slide machining and barrel lockup. "Value Series" model numbers consist of 3 digits, the first 1 or 2 digits indicating caliber and the following 1 or 2 digits indicating capacity, with an "S" suffix indicating stainless finish.

The "Value Series" models were as follows, with the equivalent standard model in parentheses:

410 (Simplified 411 replacement*)
411 (4004)
457 (blued 4513) [AFAIK a 4514, the closest theoretical match, was not produced]
457S (4513)
908 (3914)
908S (3913)
909 (3904)
910 (Simplified 915 replacement*)
915 (5904)
910S (5903)

*The M411 and M915 were replaced by the M410 and M910 respectively when the 1994 AWB 10rd limit was enacted; several design simplifications were also introduced. The model numbers were not changed back when the AWB expired and S&W started shipping them with standard-capacity mags again.

ODDBALLS:

The Model 4040PD was AFAIK the sole AirLite TDA model. It was a .40S&W compact with a scandium-alloy frame displaying the AirLite "atom" logo.

The Models 745, 845, and 945 (most .45ACP, one .40S&W version) and Model 952 (9mm single-stack) are special Performance Center pistols with a variety of features. Many are SAO. Limited production; some are still made from time to time.

Whew, did I really just write all that?!? About time I guess.
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Last edited by carguychris; February 14, 2012 at 09:36 AM. Reason: More minor work
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Old February 10, 2012, 11:35 AM   #4
Dr_2_B
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Man, I love TFL.

Thank you guys!
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Old February 10, 2012, 12:13 PM   #5
aden67
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Try one...you will like them. I started with just one...and look now. Very addictive and will be a great future present for my son (7 now).

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File Type: jpg S&W.jpg (61.2 KB, 214 views)
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Old February 10, 2012, 01:22 PM   #6
fast20
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i have a 6904 that i bought new many years ago... one of the best pistols i own... then recently i bought a 3914 for cc, got at a gun show for 385 out the door.. which i consider a great deal considering what they are going for nowdays.. cdnn has 6906 for 330. and 5906 for 300.... do some research.. those to me seem llike good prices... below are my 6904 and 3914
6904

3914

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Old February 10, 2012, 01:25 PM   #7
fast20
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carguychris... great post.... is all that in your head...dannnnngggggg
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Old February 10, 2012, 05:00 PM   #8
carguychris
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Quote:
carguychris... great post.... is all that in your head...dannnnngggggg
Not all, just most. I've been intending to write that post for a while, in order to have something to refer back to when people ask questions.

Also, since we seem to be having a blued 3rd-gen party, let me join in. M3904 from my carry rotation:



Notes:
  • The M3904 is wearing aftermarket Trijicon night sights that replace the early-production blade-type sights. fast20's M3914 illustrates the later-style Novak rear sight while the M6904 has the early blade-style rear sight.
  • The M3904 and fast20's M6904 are wearing Hogue "Handall" grip sleeves. These are a popular accessory for 3rd-gens because the factory wraparound grips are slippery and aftermarket replacements for the whole grip unit are uncommon (see my first post).
  • Most earlier-production pistols had squared-off trigger guards as illustrated in the pictures; on most models, these were rounded off later in the production run, but the full-size single-stack 9mm models were dropped before this change was made.
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Old February 10, 2012, 08:18 PM   #9
SauerGrapes
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I need a blued model...lol. All of mine are stainless. Maybe I'll find something at the gun show tomorrow!
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Old February 10, 2012, 09:58 PM   #10
dsk
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carguychris
*FOOTNOTE: The M411 and M915 were changed to the M410 and M910 respectively when the 1994 AWB 10rd limit was enacted; curiously, the model numbers were not changed back when the AWB expired and S&W started shipping them with standard-capacity mags again.
Great post you made, but there's a small error that needs correcting. The 910/410 were NOT merely 10-round versions of the 915/411. They were in fact further simplified with even less machining, and they used the plastic parts while the 915/411 didn't. Below is a 910 and a 915 for comparison:



Note the more blocky, squared-off slide and frame on the 910. In addition there is no separate locking lug on the barrel, as it locks up using the ejection port à la SIG. It also has the plastic guide rod, sights, and mag catch. Despite this they are still very reliable pistols and great guns to pick up if the price is right (under $350). They also take the same grips and magazines as a standard full-sized double-stack 3rd gen auto.

Last edited by dsk; February 10, 2012 at 11:42 PM.
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Old February 10, 2012, 11:33 PM   #11
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I just picked up a really nice well kept S&W 410.40 cal,looks and feels just like the 4006 only with a black finish,great buy for 350.00
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Old February 11, 2012, 12:00 AM   #12
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My wife's comment;

YOU didn't tell me they had them in Stainless!!!

She now wants a 669 rather then the 469 I bought her, because in looks nicer.

I bought her a 469 because she kept borrowing mine.



Oh crap, here we go again
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Old February 11, 2012, 06:31 AM   #13
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I'll add a few minor comments to what Carguychris said.

Most of everything he wrote was correct. But before someone gets the wrong impression, the 39-series guns were the more reliable guns until the 2nd Generation Model 59-series came out. Early 39-series guns ("Model 39" or no model number stamped on the gun) used a smaller safety lever on the slide and a larger, longer extractor. The extractor was prone to breakage and excessive wear if forced to ride over a case when the slide closed (i.e. manually inserting into the chamber, then drop the slide). These early 39's also had a less than optimal feed ramp.

From the introduction of the Model 39-2 in 1971, the gun's reliability was vastly improved. The -2 featured a new short extractor, longer tang at the rear, redesigned curved backstrap, a guide rod hole in the barrel bushing, improved rear sights and other minor changes including an improved feed ramp integrated to the barrel.

I purchased a 39-2 in 1972 and over the years it fed FMJ, RNL, JHP, JSP and even jacketed and lead semi-wadcutter bullets without ever jamming. It took about 842 rounds to foul it enough to require tapping the slide to seat it. At 894 rounds it finally insisted on a bath.

I have a preference for the 39-series guns because of their reliability and because I found the 59-series straight backstraps uncomfortable to fire. If you can find a Model 39-2 or 439 for $400 or less, it's a bargain. The later 39xx series guns are worth a little more yet are often seen at low prices too.


S&W Model 39-2 quartet, Mfr dates from 1972 to 1982

The 39-2 is easily carried though it is neither super light nor "compact". It's as easy to carry as a 1911 Commander sized pistol. For all day carry, I use a 3rd Generation Model 3914NL -- essentially a black Ladysmith. Standard Model 3914's have a straight lower dust cover instead of the tapered one seen below. This one was issued to a police woman who traded it in for a Block...er...Glock 26. Carried a lot, shot little. After cleaning out about 8 years of gunk under the grips the action is smoother and lighter. Using 124gr Gold Dot +P it prints dead on POA at 15 yards.


S&W Model 3914NL, 9mm, 8+1, night sights
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Old February 11, 2012, 07:50 AM   #14
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This is some really great info! My first 9mm was a model 39. Man ,what a sweet weapon.I would have kept it forever , but a guy offered me a Walther, nazi marked, AC 44 P38 straight swap for it , and I had to do it. Recently I bought one of the 5906 police trade-ins for $299. That is a bargain! Some minor holster wear and filthy inside(What is it with some cops not cleaning their weapons regularly?) There are some great bargains on those 'smiths out there.They are built like tanks!
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Old February 11, 2012, 09:53 AM   #15
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Thanks for the comments, y'all. I've made some edits to my initial post because it's about time someone wrote a short S&W TDA FAQ.
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Old February 11, 2012, 11:40 AM   #16
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Carguychris - Thank you and 'wow' and thanks again.
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Old February 11, 2012, 10:08 PM   #17
fast20
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Carguychris... she is a nice one....your M3904... 3rd gens, they are great pieces of machinery and art..... people are starting to catch on and prices are going up....
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Old February 13, 2012, 02:50 AM   #18
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Quote:
Recently I bought one of the 5906 police trade-ins for $299. That is a bargain! Some minor holster wear and filthy inside(What is it with some cops not cleaning their weapons regularly?) There are some great bargains on those 'smiths out there.They are built like tanks!
The 5906 is an excellent firearm, thought it's a large, heavy service pistol. That greatly helps tame the 9mm's recoil however. The 3904/3913/3914 pistols are lighter but still very comfortable to shoot. The reliability is very high on all the 3rd Generation pistols. For big bore fans, the 4506 is the .45 ACP version of the 5906 and the 4516 the compact version. The earlier 457 compact .45 is another excellent carry gun and an alternative to a small 1911.
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Old February 14, 2012, 12:01 AM   #19
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Over the years I've had a 39-2, a 59, a 5906 and currently have a 4006. Great guns, wish I still had all of them. I have put approx. 8000 rounds through the 4006 and everything inside looks brand new.
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Old February 14, 2012, 09:00 AM   #20
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carguychris

Thanks for all that info. Ever since I bought my 3913, I've been looking at other models of 2nd and 3rd gens to buy. Your post filled my need for knowledge.
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Old February 14, 2012, 10:08 AM   #21
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Thank you all for this information. I've had my eye on these S&Ws, because I keep reading great reviews about them, and I was just about to create a new thread, asking for help on "cracking the code" on the model numbers. Now I don't have to.
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Old February 14, 2012, 01:28 PM   #22
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Quote:
I've made some edits to my initial post because it's about time someone wrote a short S&W TDA FAQ.
That's phenomenal work!
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Old February 14, 2012, 02:44 PM   #23
carguychris
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Quote:
That's phenomenal work!
Thank you.

FWIW I've apparently unable to edit the post any more, so I may repost it in a different thread if I find that any further changes are needed.
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Old February 14, 2012, 04:47 PM   #24
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Quote:
carguychris

It IS complicated. Here's a more thorough explanation of S&W "Traditional Double Action" (TDA) pistols.......
Good gawd!!! Excellent information! Hope you didn't Copyrighted that, 'cause I just copied it and threw it onto my hard drive.

[personal use only, btw]
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