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Old August 11, 2013, 09:14 PM   #1
Elerius
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Colt revolver longevity

One of the guns on my list, and the priciest, was a Colt Python. Many of you have probably heard others say that the Colts were fragile, and after research I understand that it is more that they are built to a higher precision, like a fine watch, and thus need tuning more often to be kept in top shape.

What I haven't been able to find is approximately how long one could shoot a Python with 357's before it would require tuning by Colt. (As I understand, only Colt and Cylinder & Slide have a reputation for accurate tuning.) The closest I could find was a single person saying that at 1000 rounds he'd be thinking of getting it sent for tuning. To me, this sounds like a really low number for a gun I might shoot 300 rounds a week out of. I don't want to invest in the exorbitant price of a Python just to be shipping it back and forth every month for tuning. Does anyone own one that can testify as to a ballpark round could t before servicing?

In a related question, I have been considering a Diamnondback in place of a Python with the hope that 38's will be less hard on the gun and require less frequent tuning. But, I believe the cause of them going out of time was the hand that pushes to rotate the cylinder gets worn, and one would think that simply dry firing it would be enough to untime it by wearing the hand regardless of what load you're firing. Any input on these things?
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Old August 11, 2013, 09:24 PM   #2
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I don't want to get into the technicalities of the Colt design, but I was selling and working on Colts when they were bought as guns, not as collectors items to be kept in cotton wool. I never heard anyone say they had to be tuned every 1000 rounds, or anything like that. People just shot the heck out of them.

The hand on a Colt is no weaker or softer than the hand on an S&W, and there is no more reason for it to fail.

The problem is that some Colt experts (quotes on that, maybe) have decided that if the gun doesn't come up to their exalted (and invented) standards, it needs rebuilt or tuned or some such thing.

Now, a Python has been "tuned" at the factory to give the best performance the old Colt design is capable of. I will bet it will be shooting for as long as you want it to.

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Old August 11, 2013, 09:45 PM   #3
Bob Wright
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Fro whatever its worth, I had a Colt Python briefly years ago. I ran just over 6,000 rounds through mine before trading it off, and it was still going strong.

As a matter of fact, I shoot my guns heavily, as much as 20,000 rounds by actual count, and have never had to have one "tuned" up from firing. I have split barrels and bent frames, but these were rare and isolated incidents.

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Old August 12, 2013, 07:00 AM   #4
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Avoiding rapid fire with heavy magnum loads will lessen the chances of your Python going out of time.
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Old August 12, 2013, 08:28 AM   #5
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Ten years ago, Jim March published his Revolver Checkout. It's a how-to that helps a buyer determine if a revolver is in good working order. Jim published it as a guide to buying a used revolver, but it can just as easily be used to check out your own revolvers to determine if they need work.

Linky Here.

It's also a 'sticky' at the top of the page. Check out your Python. If you feel it needs a tune-up, then get it done, but I'll bet that it checks out just fine.

I don't believe that Colt's are overly delicate. My wife shoots one from the 1920s that only needs an occasional cleaning and oiling.
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Old August 12, 2013, 08:45 AM   #6
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Just my anecdotal experience, for what it is worth.

I have had (continuously) a Python since 1981. Others have come and gone. When I was young, I shot that Python a whole lot, and as I did with other revolvers in the eighties, I stopped counting fired rounds at 6,000 as it seemed pointless at the time to keep counting- that was well over 20 years ago. 90% of that fodder was Remington's 125 grainers.

I still fire quite a bit that Python. Now I mainly use mild reloads. I'd venture that the gun has seen well over 10.000 rounds. Perhaps quite a bit more. And no, it has not (as yet) required any service. It is still tight as a drum, and a real pleasure to shoot. Knock on wood.

BTW, that Python was used (but as new) when I got it.
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Old August 12, 2013, 09:22 AM   #7
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At Lassen, we were told that Colt uses 4140 steel for its internal parts. If a part gets worn, we stretched it by peening it longer. It was timed by file and stone. The point, it took forever to wear out a Colt.

Don't worry about it. When it happens, it happens; just like anything else.
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Old August 12, 2013, 09:37 AM   #8
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It's not so much that Colts are delicate, but their lockup is quite different from other revolvers like S&W and Ruger and many shooters not familiar with Colt may not know what to look for when checking one out.

On most DA revolvers, the hand leaves engagement with the ratchet after the cylinder stop pops up into its recess. Because of this, when the revolver is fired the only thing limiting rotational play of the cylinder is the cylinder stop and thus a slight amout of rotational play is normal and acceptable. On Colts with the "old style" lockwork such as the Python, Detective Special, Official Police, and original Trooper (not the Mk. III or Mk. V variants), the hand actually has two engagement points and the bottom point is in contact with the ratchet when the revolver is fired. This is called a double pawl and, if everything is working the way it should, the revolver should have a very tight "bank vault" lockup with no perceptible rotational play when at full lockup.

The problem comes when someone familiar with S&W and/or Ruger but not Colt finds a specimen with rotational play. Such a specimen actually already requires the attention of a gunsmith but the shooter doesn't realize this because the symptom (rotational play) is perfectly normal on his other revolvers. What happens then is that said shooter continues shooting his Colt and then is shocked and dismayed when more severe symptoms such as lead spitting occur in short order. Because the revolver went from what appeared to be OK to spitting lead in a relatively small amount of time, the shooter assumes that the revolver must be delicate when, in reality, the problem had been developing for a long time.

The real problem with Colt DA revolvers is that, because they've been out of production for so long, both parts and gunsmiths qualified to work on them are getting to be in short supply. Because of this, getting a Colt DA revolver serviced is likely to be a long and fairly expensive proposition. Also, because of the complexity of Colt's lockwork, they are kryptonite to most kitchen table gunsmiths and someone who doesn't know what they're doing will likely do more harm than good by applying the DIY school of gunsmithing to a Colt.

As to the OP's original question, it is hard, fast DA shooting/dryfiring that causes timing problems in most revolvers rather than the power of the ammunition. Evidence of this is found in S&W N-Frame .357's which, while among the strongest .357 Magnums made, actually go out of time more easily than smaller frame guns due to the extra weight of the cylinder wearing on the hand, cylinder stop, and cylinder stop notches with hard, fast DA work. As such, I'd think that the Diamondback may be slightly less likely to have timing problems than the Python, but due to its smaller, lighter cylinder rather than its chambering.

As to whether or not a vintage Colt is worth buying, I wouldn't hesitate to buy one that was in good condition and passed the Colt-specific timing test. However, I probably would not use it for a CCW or subject it to large amounts of hard, fast DA shooting due to the expense and difficulty in getting it re-timed.
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Old August 12, 2013, 12:12 PM   #9
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They're not "fragile", they're just not as durable as other designs in their timing.

The greatest wear part is the hand, and that has nothing to do with materials softness or hardness, it's simply a design & stress issue.

The hand in the V-Spring action takes a beating on EVERY shot fired.
This is unique to Colt in the DA revolver world. Other designs place no stress whatever on the hand at the instant of ignition.

In other designs, the hand's only function is to advance the cylinder into a lockup in-battery position, and final lockup is achieved solely through the bolt/cylinder stop.

In that Colt design, the hand serves two functions, cylinder advance and cylinder lockup.
At the moment of ignition, the hand is firmly in contact against the rear of the cylinder, forcing it forward. Recoil, especially in full magnum loads, obviously drives the cylinder back hard against the hand.
Over time, the hand will wear and/or shorten to the point where it affects timing.

This is not the case on any other revolver design, only the Colt V-Spring actions.
That's why the Colt goes out of time sooner than a Smith or a Ruger.

How soon depends on what you shoot through it & how much.
A thousand rounds is absurd, the Python can handle much more than that.

Eventually, with repeated use, it WILL require attention to the hand.
Colt has no more & has shown no interest in ordering any more.
V-Spring guns sent in for timing issues involving a worn hammer are serviced by stretching (peening) the existing hand.
This can be done once. Beyond that, if you shoot the guns enough to wear them to a timing degradation again, the only solution is a hand replacement.
New hands are scarce, you have to watch for somebody liquidating old "new" unfitted hands.

Jack First is making new ones, but one truly qualified gunsmith who specializes in older Colts won't use them, says they're not quite the same.

Unless Colt buys new parts to keep these obsolete guns going, or somebody gears up to produce them to Colt quality specs, if people continue to shoot them there WILL come a time when no parts or service will be available.

As it is now, there's only a handful of competent places to send one to, and parts availability is a definite issue with them. They have the technical knowledge & skills, but if they can't get new parts....

If you plan to shoot a V-Spring, just understand what you're getting into.

On the dry-fire issue: As I said above, the primary wear on these hands is caused by firing with live ammunition. You'll also get a certain amount of wear from mere friction anytime you rub two metallic parts together, but live fire will accelerate hand wear much faster than dry-fire.

If you plan to do 300 rounds a week out of either model, you'll be using them far beyond what the original designers considered "normal", and I guarantee you'll run into timing issues sooner than you would with a Smith or Ruger DA.
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Old August 12, 2013, 12:40 PM   #10
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Lets see, 300 per week, 52 weeks in year=15600 rounds per year. That is 312 boxes of ammo at a minimum of 25 dollars per box that is $7800.00 in ammo cost per year. I think you need 3 guns, one to shoot, one in the shop, and one in reserve. This would be regardless of make or model. You also need lots of ammo money to keep that pace.
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Old August 12, 2013, 12:51 PM   #11
Webleymkv
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Quote:
Eventually, with repeated use, it WILL require attention to the hand.
Colt has no more & has shown no interest in ordering any more.
V-Spring guns sent in for timing issues involving a worn hammer are serviced by stretching (peening) the existing hand.
This can be done once. Beyond that, if you shoot the guns enough to wear them to a timing degradation again, the only solution is a hand replacement.
New hands are scarce, you have to watch for somebody liquidating old "new" unfitted hands.
It seems to me that owners of Colt V-spring revolvers might be wise to proactively start looking for a spare unfitted hand so that if/when it needs replaced, they've already got the scarce part.
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Old August 12, 2013, 03:06 PM   #12
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Interesting, but I fail to see how the cylinder beats up the hand on recoil; the amount of pressure tending to push the cylinder forward is negligible (this is not a Nagant). There is some additional wear on the hand because, as Webley says, the second contact point forces the cylinder against the bolt (the "bank vault" lockup Colt bragged about). In fact, that can actually cause damage to both the bolt and the hand as well as (if the gun is worn) force the chambers out of time past the barrel.

While most of the folks who talk so much about Colts being out of time, or needing tuning seem to not realize that the guns they see are old and badly worn. Most of the guns I saw like that were police training range guns and some had been logged at 100K rounds and more. I agree that, in some respects, the S&W design is better, and it certainly is easier to assemble at the factory and to work on in the field. But to think that Colts need some expert gunsmith to tune them up every 1000 rounds is plain silly and more in the way of making the expert gunsmith rich than in keeping the gun working.

Jim
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Old August 12, 2013, 06:24 PM   #13
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The major factor on how long an old type action revolver like the Python will last is how it's used.
If you don't abuse it, it will last for more rounds than most people will ever shoot in a lifetime.

Abuse is "Bogarting" the cylinder by slamming the cylinder open and shut with a flick of the wrist, firing double action by jerking the trigger hard, and force cocking it in single action by yanking the hammer back hard.
Experienced revolver shooters learn to "roll" the trigger in double action instead of jerking it. You can shoot just as fast, but it's a skill that has to be learned.

For some good into on the old Colt action, here's something by gunsmith Grant Cunningham:

http://www.grantcunningham.com/blog_..._delicate.html
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Old August 12, 2013, 07:40 PM   #14
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For whatever its worth, I've had two Colt DA revolvers that needed attention in the action department. I've posted this before and got pretty well flamed for it and one gunsmith told me it was all wrong. But here was my experience, draw you own conclusions:


The revolvers in this instance were Colt New Service and as I remember a Colt M1917. I got both of these guns used, no idea how much used nor how many rounds were fired through them when I got them. But these two would not lock up when cocked for single action fire unless the hammer was drawn back very sharply, or unless the hammer were held all the way back and the trigger was pressed while holding the hammer back. Being young and inexperienced, I removed the sideplate and watched what happened as I cocked the action. The hammer came to full cock before the cylinder was fully rotated into locked position. The sear of the trigger was worn pretty badly. I ordered triggers from Numrich and replaced the worn ones. Problem solved. Apparently the wear from DA firing had worn down that part of the trigger. Never had any further problem as long as I had those guns.

Thinking back, I think maybe a third revovler might have had the same problem. May have been an Officers Model Match.

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Old August 12, 2013, 08:16 PM   #15
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The older Colt action is more delicate than the S&W but not nearly as much so as some would hold.

This one is over 40 years old and has had the heck shot out of it. Function is still perfect.




This one is over 60 years old and has had the heck shot out of it. Function is still perfect.




This one is over 80 years old and has had the heck shot out of it. Function is still perfect.




This one is over 100 years old and has had the heck shot out of it. Function is still perfect.

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Old August 12, 2013, 08:57 PM   #16
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SaxonPig: My guess is that most of those revovlers were shot single action. My assumption in my case was that the wear was caused by friction of the double action fly on the hammer. I assume the guns I had in question were either fired, or dry fired, in the double action mode.

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Old August 12, 2013, 09:42 PM   #17
DPris
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Web,
The WISE owner of a V-Spring Colt DA already has a couple spare hands squirreled away. As some of us do.

James,
What do you think shortens those hands?
It's the beating they get from the cylinder.
That cylinder doesn't have to travel far, since the hand's pushing right against it when the trigger's pulled to fire.

It's just a built-in design feature & vulnerability.
A V-Spring with excessive endshake can also accelerate hand wear, one of the reasons why some Colts develop timing issues sooner than others.
Load pressures & volume of shooting are other factors.
As is how the gun left the factory, on the + side of hand tolerances or the - side.

Years ago I knew a guy who competed with his Python.
He had to have it rebuilt.

I've sent three V-Springs to Grant to be worked on, hand-related timing issues on two. We've discussed them. And he's not the only Colt guy I've talked to about 'em.
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Old August 12, 2013, 10:38 PM   #18
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Hey, if you think your Colt needs rebuilt every couple of days, or hours, or whenever, who am I to say you are wrong. It is your gun and your money.

Jim
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Old August 13, 2013, 01:44 AM   #19
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Thanks everyone for your input. I figured the 1000 count mark for tuning was ridiculous but as far as I can find this is the first thread to directly address the issue. It looks like I'll end up springing for a NIB or lightly used Python then, and split the shooting between planned Smiths and Rugers and by the time it needs returning years from now I'll probably be able to 3D print my own replacement hand.

Quote:
Originally Posted by redhawk45
Lets see, 300 per week, 52 weeks in year=15600 rounds per year. That is 312 boxes of ammo at a minimum of 25 dollars per box that is $7800.00 in ammo cost per year. I think you need 3 guns, one to shoot, one in the shop, and one in reserve. This would be regardless of make or model. You also need lots of ammo money to keep that pace.
I would be reloading properly lubricated lead for 357, which I can do for about 1/3 the cost of factory ammo, about $3000 a year for magnums in themselves or less. Ideally I'd like to be shooting 2-3 times a week and total about 500 rounds per week, autos and revolvers combined. Since my only expensive hobby is buying guns and ammo, it should be pretty doable if I can buy in bulk, which is slowly getting easier but powder remains a problem

Last edited by Elerius; August 13, 2013 at 01:52 AM.
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Old August 13, 2013, 02:44 AM   #20
DPris
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James,
If your comment was directed at me, nowhere did I say anything even remotely like a Colt needing to be rebuilt that often.
I simply said the truth: The old V-Spring action will develop timing issues, as a rule, before a Smith or a Ruger, and it's because of that hand design.

It is not fragile, it's just not as durable as those other two designs.
When it was first introduced, nobody shot thousands of rounds through them, labor was cheap, parts were readily available, and the hand wear wasn't as much of an issue as it is today when labor's expensive, few know how to work on the guns, and parts are drying up.

With approximately contemporary roots (roughly 1900-1910) between the two older actions, S&W had the good fortune to develop one that was more durable and more adaptable to changing times & manufacturing techniques, which is why the Colt V-Spring is no longer made.
The Ruger was developed from the ground up to handle higher pressures, higher volume, and more modern manufacturing techniques.

The V-Spring Colt just couldn't remain competitive.
None of which is to say don't buy one, just understand what you're getting into if you do.

The Python was not dropped from production merely because Colt felt like being capricious.
Nice as it was, it couldn't keep up in the marketplace.

Used guns WILL wear out with continued heavy use, and when they do, that'll be it, unless the owner has managed to accumulate enough spares to rebuild them. Assuming anybody will still know how to work on 'em.

I have five classic Colt V-Springs.
I do not shoot them heavily.
If I want a regular shooter, it'll be a gun that'll hold up better to regular shooting, and one I can get serviced.

Denis
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Old August 13, 2013, 07:14 AM   #21
In memory of dad
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Python

Had one in the eighties bought used and the action wasn't there. Probably had bunch of plus p ran thru it.!looked at one couple years ago used at my local gunship and action and timing was gone! What a shame and they had to send it back to colt and the great price of 800 dollars went up quick after trip to them! Moral of story??????
Favorite revolver but for use everyday I have to stick with smith or ruger and it hurts to say this
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Old August 13, 2013, 11:47 AM   #22
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Hi, Dpris,

I was, of course, being a bit sarcastic, so I will add to my previous post.

Seriously, though, I am wondering about your description of the cylinder beating on the hand and shortening it. You seem not to be talking about normal wear on the hand from rubbing against it to turn the cylinder or on the lower finger to hold the cylinder against the bolt, but from something that happens when the gun is fired, and I can't quite envision that. The cylinder isn't turning, so the ratchet tooth can't be beating on the hand. And the cylinder can't be moving back, since the ratchet hitting the frame stops the cylinder. (Actually not that much since the cartridge case moves back under pressure and only friction pulls the cylinder along.)

Any rearward pressure on the hand is absorbed by the rebound lever, which is pressing the hand forward. There is nothing else that stops the hand or would act as an anvil to allow anything to beat on or distort the hand in that way.

Jim
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Old August 13, 2013, 01:18 PM   #23
DPris
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James,
In that Colt design, you can tell when the hand is resting against & putting pressure on the rear of the cylinder quite easily.

Cock the hammer, check the cylinder for ANY detectible fore & aft movement at all. There'll typically be at least some tiny movement.

Pull the trigger to let the hammer drop & hold the trigger fully to the rear, as far as it'll go.
With the trigger still held FULLY to the rear, repeat your check for ANY cylinder fore & aft movement.
If the hand is at factory tolerances (as long as it should be), you should not detect any cylinder fore & aft OR rotational play.
This is the much-referred-to "bank vault lockup".

Now, ease up slightly on the trigger, let it go forward about an eighth of an inch, hold it there, check the cylinder for any fore & aft play.
You should detect the same amount of cylinder movement, however slight, as you did with the hammer cocked, which will also be the same amount of play with both the hammer and trigger at rest.

Pull the trigger fully back again, hold it, check for cylinder movement.
It'll be (if the gun's set up correctly & the hand's good) gone again.

Other designs will have SOME movement, fore & aft and rotational, regardless of trigger position, because their hands do not rest firmly against the ratchet under mechanically-leveraged pressure in any position, and those hands don't get hammered into shortening.

Primary cylinder in-battery lockup is done by the bolt, as in Smiths & Rugers.
The V-Spring has a secondary final moment-of-fire lockup provided by the hand (which the other two brands do not have), in direct contact with the rear of the cylinder, pushing it forward the last few thousandths into a no-play position when the trigger's pulled fully to drop the hammer.
Same in either DA or SA.

The cylinder, on firing, doesn't move much, but recoil back-pressure does jam it against the hand (in a way that does not occur in the Smiths or Rugers), and with repeated firing the hand both wears by normal friction (which happens in the other two brands) and "compresses" or shortens over a period of time.

This is primarily what causes a shorter hand life in the V-Springs than in other designs. Friction wear adds to it.
Hands do wear out in other brands, but in those it's typically just friction wear with steel rubbing against steel, which invariably removes minute amounts of surface material every time friction occurs.

Not all rearward movement is stopped by the frame, not all rearward pressure is absorbed by the rebound lever.

Smiths do go out of time, Rugers rarely, Colts inevitably DEPENDING ON EXTENDED USE & AMMUNITION TYPE.

You MAY shoot light .38s periodically for 50 years & run into no problems, particularly if tolerance stacking worked in your favor from the factory.
You MAY fire 10,000 rounds of hot magnums & need at least one hand replaced or stretched, particularly if tolerance stacking did not favor you.

Given equal volume of use with the same full-bore .357 Mag load, the V-Spring .357 will need attention long before a Smith L-Frame or a Ruger GP.
Exactly how long before, I doubt anybody can say & I certainly won't try.

People keep asking for round counts they can expect to get out of a given V-Spring before it'll develop timing issues, and there is no exact answer.

Denis
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Old August 13, 2013, 03:09 PM   #24
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I agree that with the trigger fully to the rear, the bottom finger is pressing against the ratchet* which in turn causes the cylinder to try to turn against the bolt, giving the solid lockup.

But you seem to be saying that any cylinder fore and aft movement (end play) will somehow convert into a reverse rotational movement and cause the ratchet to come down vertically on the bottom finger of the hand, compressing the hand and shortening it. If I have that right, that is the part I don't understand. How does the movement, if any, of the cylinder to the rear cause the hand to be shortened, and why, if the hand is struck that hard, nothing is felt in the trigger, to which the hand is directly connected?

* The top finger is past the ratchet and out of the picture at that point.

Jim
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Old August 13, 2013, 03:10 PM   #25
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I can't put it any more concisely.
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