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Old December 31, 2012, 12:36 PM   #1
Jaywalker
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Colt Detective Special Timing

I never paid much attention to Colt's D-frames when they were available, but now I'm thinking I have to have one - a Detective special (preferably shrouded, three-inch), or possibly a Cobra or an Agent. The trouble is I recall reading one place 30 years ago that the Colt was more likely to go out of time than a Smith.

So, three questions:

1. How can I tell if it's not timed properly?

2. How common is out of timing, as in "All of them need timing occasionally," to "One in a thousand need some work?"

3. Is a timing issue something most gunsmiths can handle, or does this require a specialist or the factory?

Thanks for your thoughts.
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Old December 31, 2012, 01:14 PM   #2
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There has long been a school of thought that if a Colt cylinder is retarded in any way, like clamping a pipe wrench on it, it will not "carry up", resulting in a great disaster in which whole counties will be wiped out. I suspect that some of this silliness originated with folks who, for a hefty fee, would "properly time" the gun.

In fact the Colt mechanism will rarely lock up if the gun is cocked slowly in single action UNTIL the trigger is pulled. When the trigger is pulled, the cylinder will carry up and lock before the hammer falls and the firing pin contacts the primer.

So to see if a Colt is "in time", simply fire it normally. If the firing pin strikes are centered in the primer, there is no problem and nothing to worry about.

Today, gunsmiths who will/can work on those guns are thin on the ground. Even Colt won't work on some of the older ones, as parts are no longer available or being made and their skilled workers are long gone.

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Old December 31, 2012, 01:19 PM   #3
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Quote:
Today, gunsmiths who will/can work on those guns are thin on the ground. Even Colt won't work on some of the older ones, as parts are no longer available or being made and their skilled workers are long gone.
This is what makes buying a Colt something to seriously think about.

Cock the hammer all the way back, and with the trigger pull all the way back, there should be ZERO play in the cylinder - if it moves even the slightest bit, pass that one by
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Old December 31, 2012, 01:24 PM   #4
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That "if it moves the slightest bit" is another needless concern. Some slight cylinder movement is no problem, though it is more common in S&W's than in Colts. One drawback of the Colt system is that in a worn gun, once the second level of the hand pushes against the ratchet tooth, it can actually force the chamber OUT of alignment with the barrel. It takes a lot of wear, but I have seen it happen.

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Old December 31, 2012, 02:07 PM   #5
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Having owned older Colt DAs & discussed them with Cunningham, Cylinder & Slide, and my longtime Colt-certified gunsmith, among others, I'll say that the old V-Spring action IS designed to drop the cylinder stop into the cylinder notch BEFORE the hammer reaches full cock when pulled back slowly.

If it doesn't, it's not timed correctly. It'll still function, but it's not timed correctly.

Also, WITH the TRIGGER pulled fully to the rear and the HAMMER down, there should be zero movement of the cylinder in any direction. That includes rotational and fore & aft.
If there is any movement with the trigger held fully back, it's not set up correctly. Period.
It'll still function, but it's not "right".

The action is designed to absolutely lock that cylinder in place at the moment of ignition.

Once either condition develops, it's an indicator that service is needed. It'll only get worse (typically the hand is shortening), and it's recommended that you get it corrected before it goes any further.

Many say "As long as it functions, I don't care", but it's the equivalent of saying "As long as my car still runs, I see no need to change the oil. Yeah, it's getting pretty black & sluggish, but the car still moves, so what the hey!".
Or, "My tire's bald, but it still holds air, so why worry about it?'
Or, "My temp gauge is pegged & steam's coming out from under the hood, but I'm still in motion, so why pull over now?"
Sooner or later, it'll catch up to you.

Those Colts were designed to meet certain specs, and the timing was important.

Very few gunsmiths today are capable of competently working on those guns, best is Colt for speed, if they still can. They're running out of parts & haven't ordered any new ones for quite a while.
The guns are obsolete & Colt can't be expected to service them forever.
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Old December 31, 2012, 02:30 PM   #6
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Good comments, thanks.

Edited to remove comments that no longer apply.
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Old December 31, 2012, 02:47 PM   #7
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How common is this out-of-time condition? Does it happen from firing cartridges or dry-firing, or both?
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Old December 31, 2012, 02:52 PM   #8
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Well, since I have seen many Colts brand new from the factory that were not "right" by DPris's standards, I guess you don't have to even buy it. Unless the factory didn't get it "right", I have to assume they went bad in the box while being shipped.

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Old December 31, 2012, 03:28 PM   #9
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Jim,

That's a reasonable interpretation of what I said, so I'm just not explaining myself properly. Let me try again.

I'm interested in searching out used models of, say, a 1973 Detective Special. I have an idea now how to evaluate the current state of its timing, so I'd like to know how frequently a well-timed model goes bad in the future and what causes it, firing, or dry-firing.

Thanks.
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Old December 31, 2012, 03:50 PM   #10
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Jim,
You can accept an out of time Colt, or you can get it corrected.
I have two unfired V-Spring Colts that are just fractionally off. They will remain unfired till the timing's corrected. Yes, it did happen, but that didn't make it right.
I've sent three Colts to Cunningham & discussed the timing situation with him.
I had a Python that was off on two chambers, my local Colt-trained guy was able to correct the problem.
The occasional exception only indicates inattention on the part of the builder or inspection process, it doesn't mean that it's acceptable or correct.

You buy a Rolls Royce that inadvertently left the factory with one sparkplug missing. The engine still runs, after a fashion, but do you leave it that way?

Up to you.
The guns WERE designed to function as I stated.
No sarcasm needed, I'm passing on what people far more knowledgeable than you or I have stated.
I made no personal attack on you, just passed on commentary gained from people who have worked on those guns for decades, and who have either been associated with Colt or trained by Colt.

Jay,
What typically causes the timing to go on that specific V-Spring action is the hand shortening.
The hand, in that action, is designed to put pressure directly on the cylinder ratchet tooth at the moment of ignition to lock the cylinder tight against any movement. This is quite different from a Smith, or even later Colt DA models.

When the round fires, recoil shoves the cylinder backward and a good part of the recoil force bears on the small hand surface sitting against the ratchet.
Over time, the friction of repeated contact in merely advancing the cylinder will wear down the contact area of the hand to a degree, but the thing that shortens the hand the most (affecting timing) is repeated battering from recoil forces during live fire.
The more you shoot, the quicker the wear.
Ammunition type and frequency are the biggest determiners of how soon the timing is seriously affected.

The hand is the weakest point in that action & it was expected that it'd need to be serviced with high volume use.
Colt has none left for the Python, dunno if they have any for the DS.
I have three Dick Specials & quite like 'em, but I realize their limitations.

Denis
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Old December 31, 2012, 05:39 PM   #11
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Thanks, Denis, I'm answered.
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Old December 31, 2012, 07:02 PM   #12
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I'll disagree with James k, as my gun smith, a gent in his 80's and whose father was also a gunsmith , has made it clear
ANY slop or movement, whether you cock the hammer as I was told, or not, if the trigger is pulled all the way, and there is movement, pass it by or buy it and get it fixed.
My DS, is first generation, first year production, within the first 300 made

I'll follow the smith's advice over the web naysayers
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Old December 31, 2012, 07:22 PM   #13
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Jay,
You're welcome.
An additional factor with the DS is that toward the end of production Colt was recommending a return to the factory for a checkup after 3000 rounds of Plus P loads.

I like the little Dicks & carried one both off duty & as a backup in the early 80s, I just don't have unreasonable expectations of them & service is getting to be a real issue if needed.

If shot a lot, they'll run into timing issues eventually.
Not saying don't buy one, just understand what you're getting into.
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Old December 31, 2012, 08:57 PM   #14
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Denis,

I agree - I don't want to fall in like with them if I can't shoot them, no matter how seldom I might do it.
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Old December 31, 2012, 09:03 PM   #15
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U-tube

F.Y.I.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkyuD3EjN6Y

Be Safe !!!
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Old December 31, 2012, 09:18 PM   #16
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As I understand the above:

1. Colts must be perfect or they are no good and not worth having.

2. Colts aren't always perfect, even from the factory.

3. Therefore, owners must spend hundreds of dollars to try and make them perfect.

4. Or buy an S&W, which won't be perfect either, but which will fire more than 3000 rounds without requiring rebuilding.

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Old December 31, 2012, 09:21 PM   #17
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Jim,

That's overstated. Denis answered properly, I think. The D-frame will work at less than perfect status, but some folks prefer it to work as it was designed, and there's nothing wrong with that.
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Old December 31, 2012, 09:22 PM   #18
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I wouldn't let the chance of a problem deter you from seeking out a DS. Just don't fall for the first one you see unless it checks out.

I was in my LGS, looking at a Glock (I know, the horror!), when I spotted a third generation Dick Special on the shelf. Turns out it had belonged to a former cop that had passed away and his widow was selling off the old gents guns.

This one was in 97%+ condition, with near perfect bluing and looking as though it had less than a box of ammo through it. The only flaw I could see was a ding in the left grip panel.

Needless to say, I left with a Colt instead of a Glock. This is a great shooting little gun and I am very happy with it. BTW, it locks up like a bank vault.

The condition in which I acquired it:


After a bit of work on the stocks:

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Old December 31, 2012, 10:50 PM   #19
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I guess I have been lucky with D frames. I carried two different DS's and a Cobra during my tenure as a LEO. All three had been fired to some extent before me and I put 1000 to 1500 rounds through each with no problems. They locked up like a bank vault when issued and still did when turned in. I currently own a DS, a Cobra, and an Agent with several hundred rounds through each and they also function perfectly and are in perfect time. I don't subject mine to +p ammo since the newest one is dated 1969. I carry them regularly and practice often. I'm sure some D frames did escape the factory slightly off and they should be repaired by a competent Colt smith or just turned down by a prospective buyer. I just don't believe it's a problem that is encountered on any sort of regular basis.
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Old December 31, 2012, 11:57 PM   #20
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They'll run well beyond 1500 rounds, that's no problem.
I didn't say they were made of eggshells.

If you start out with timing issues already present, you're buying a gun that's already a good ways into its lifespan. That hand can only go in one direction with more use- short. It can't grow while you continue to shoot it. Why not look for one that doesn't already have a substantial part of its service life used up?

My first one bought new is still in time & it's 30 years old. I just don't shoot it much.
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Old January 1, 2013, 08:38 PM   #21
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Here's my instructions for checking the older Colt action revolvers for correct timing:

CHECKING OLD MODEL COLT TIMING
To check Colt timing:

BOLT RETRACTION AND "SNAP BACK".
Open the cylinder and look at the small "lug" in the bottom of the cylinder window. This is the cylinder locking bolt.
Cock the hammer, and watch as the bolt retracts into the frame and pops back out.
The bolt MUST begin to retract THE INSTANT the hammer begins to move.
There MUST be NO (ZERO) hammer movement possible before the bolt starts to retract.
The bolt should retract smoothly with no hesitation until it's fully retracted, then it must pop back out with a clean "snap".
There should be no hesitation, and no amount of "creeping" back out.

CYLINDER UNLOCKING.
Close the cylinder.
Use your left thumb or fore finger to again cock the hammer, closely watching the cylinder bolt as you SLOWLY cock the hammer.
As the hammer comes back, the bolt will retract away from the cylinder.
The bolt must retract far enough to unlock the cylinder BEFORE the cylinder begins to rotate.
If the bolt is still slightly engaged with the cylinder lock notch, the cylinder will be attempting to turn while still partially locked.
This produces a "catch" or "hard spot" in the trigger pull and will damage both the bolt and the cylinder lock notches.
This often appears as metal "pulled out" of the lock notches, with rounded off and burred notches.

BOLT DROP TIMING.
Continue to cock the hammer, LIGHTLY laying your right index finger on the cylinder just enough to prevent "free wheeling".
Watch for the bolt to drop back onto the cylinder. WHERE the bolt drops is CRITICAL.
The bolt MUST drop onto the leade or ramp in front of the actual cylinder notch.
If the bolt drops too soon, (in front of the notch ramp), it will mar the finish of the cylinder.
The bolt should drop into “about” the middle of the ramp.
If the bolt drops late, (farther toward the actual locking notch) the revolver may display "cylinder throw-by".
In this condition, during double action shooting the cylinder may rotate PAST the locking notch, and fire in an unlocked condition.
It's the nature of the Colt action, that a hesitant or jerky trigger pull by the user can induce throw-by in even a properly tuned Colt.
The Colt trigger should be pulled with a smooth, even pull, with no sudden jerks at the beginning.

CYLINDER LOCKUP.
Continue to pull the hammer back and both watch and listen for the bolt to drop into the cylinder lock notch.
The bolt must drop into the actual lock notch before or just as the hammer reaches full cock.
The most common Colt mis-time situation is the hammer cocks before the bolt drops into the lock notch. (Hammer is cocked, but cylinder isn't locked).
In this condition, with the hammer fully cocked, you can push the cylinder slightly, and you will hear the "CLICK" as the bolt drops into lock.
In my experience, most Colt's leave the factory with the bolt dropping a little late into the leade, but usually wear in to correct timing.
If the bolt drops onto the cylinder early, no real problem, but there will be extra finish wear.
If the bolt drops late (closer to the lock notch) the cylinder may "throw by" or rotate TOO far in double action and this can cause off-center primer hits and firing while unlocked.

Each of these checks should be done on EACH chamber. All of these checks are better done individually. In other words, do the bolt retraction check on all six chambers, then do the bolt drop test, and so on.

A properly tuned Colt will:
Have a smoothly functioning bolt with no sticky or hesitant movement.

Unlock before the cylinder begins to turn.

The bolt will drop onto the middle of the ramp.

The bolt will drop into the lock notch just before or as the hammer reaches full cock.

Have a smooth trigger pull, which does "stack" or get heavier as the trigger is pulled.
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Old January 1, 2013, 08:51 PM   #22
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About damn time you showed up!
Where have you been?

Thought I was gonna have to carry this one all by myself.
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Old January 1, 2013, 10:48 PM   #23
DPris
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For those who don't know him, D was born & raised in a wealthy family in Hong Kong, but left when the royal colony reverted to the Chinese in 1997.
He now resides in Singapore, where he operates two very successful airsoft manufacturing concerns, and is the holder of 17 patents in the industrial popcorn vending industry.

A lifelong student of the old Colt DA revolvers, D has an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, and now spends much of his time in retirement sharing that knowledge with us on gun forums such as this.
His lovely wife, Camile, and his faithfull basset hound, Baskerville, are his constant companions.

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Old January 2, 2013, 01:42 AM   #24
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I currently own three DA Colts, A 32/20 OP circa 1931, a Colt Marshal circa 1955?, Cobra, newish, no shroud. Use to own quite a few D frames 30 years or so ago...dick specials, diamondbacks, etc. Worked on them thru info from Skeeter Skelton articles, lengthening hands lightening springs, probably not Colt gunsmith approved. The 32/20 when I recieved it would allow the cylinder to roatate backwards with a little pressure. Took it apart and did some filing to the rear of the bolt and all was well. All my current Colt bolts do not drop into the cylinder notch with a thumb retarding rotation SA. They all lock up tight, (hand pushing notch against bolt), DA. They are all accurate particularly the 32/20 with my cast handloads. Not wanting to steal the thread,but would like to know if Dfariswheel knows how tough the OPs are. I have shot the heavy Skelton and Keith loads in the Marshal and the only reason I don't anymore because of the pain caused by factory grips...Am I on a ranting tangent?
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Old January 2, 2013, 08:50 AM   #25
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I can tell Grant Cunningham knows Colt actions, how to work on them, etc but he sure does have a fancy way of saying that the Colt action is obsolete, and that it does not offer any real advantage over say a S&W action. I personally know of 3 Colt DAs that were out of time, a 1969 Python that I owned, a model 357 that I own now (same action as Python) and a Colt OMM from about 1954. I don't believe I was just unlucky, and I don't think it was because the oil and air filters weren't changed in these "Ferraris" either. I've had a few S&W problems as well, but much less frequently and at least one problem was from someone inside the gun. Don't get me wrong, I have a Colt collection and I really like them overall but I get tired of hearing about how great they are from the people who know far less than myself, when in reality, I collect S&W even moreso. I respect Cunningham's opinion when it comes to how a Colt works, or how to repair a Colt, but not for his opinion on Colts compared to other DA revolvers. Denial comes way before acceptance, as per Kubler-Ross.

According to these very generous analogies for Colt, when common sense is applied, these Colt DAs would surely still have a market following, and be very profitable, just like, ironically enough, both Ferrari and Rolls Royce still do. No one says "well I don't want one of them, they cost too much". The problem arises when, for example someone says "wow I'm never buying a Rolls Royce again because I can get the same luxury and quality, or even a little better from Cadillac". And that folks, is what happened to Colt.

I'm not a pistol smith, but as a collector, I have a good bit more than 5 or 10 of each, and I own them from all different eras as well. For my money, regardless of the Cunningham opinion on why Colt actions have some hiccups, its going to be S&W nearly every time. When he called S&W pedestrian, he lost some credibility with me personally. Funny how the "pedestrian" standards of S&W were not attainable by Colt, causing Colt to cease DA production. Even if he meant pedestrian meaning, more common only, it was a poor choice of words. Any Colt fan should look at S&W with the same respect and admiration, because to say the least, they are still around today. And if they were the Ferrari, and S&W the F150, Colt still failed miserably because at that point, they had zero domestic competition for a true higher end Korth-like American made DA revolver. Many Colt fans have trouble accepting the truth about their Rolls Royce (or Ferrari) of revolvers, or their company as a whole. If I had a $1 for everytime I heard some variant of: "man you don't understand, they stopped making DA revolvers because they cost so much to make, and were so awesome, that no one wanted them and they were not profitable but they were actually the best of all time but no one bought them. Don't you get it!"

Ya I do get it, I get it very well. Too well.

Quote:
How common is this out-of-time condition? Does it happen from firing cartridges or dry-firing, or both?
Also, the issues, rather imaginary issues that people have with Colts going out of time are often on medium frame guns, and more specifically I frame or perhaps E. I never read nor heard of any reliability or timing issues with the Colt D frame, for any model. I personally own a Cobra, a Detective Special and a Diamondback. I have few rounds through them for several reasons, but all work great. The D frame has a very different action than a Python, or other medium frame Colt, and therefor should not be placed under the same umbrella as the others. The Colt D frame was used for the Police Positive Special, Detective Special, and Diamondback. The D frame airweight was used on the Cobra, Viper, Agent, Courrier?(IIRC). The odds of wearing out a D frame Colt are not very good, esp considering how uncomfortable most snubs are to shoot. Also consider these are 38 special guns, and you can practice with 38 special but carry 38+P if you really want. Of course you need to make sure that the 38+P is appropriate for your specific Colt before shooting those in it. With standard pressure 38s, assuming the gun has no problems from the factory, the Detective Special should outlast any of us.
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