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Old August 7, 2012, 06:00 AM   #1
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Smith revolver barrel replacement

I have been told that Smith revolvers are difficult to replace barrels. For those that are pinned, getting the pin out often shows damage from a slipped punch. Then, it is claimed, the barrels are extremely tight to begin with making it tricky to not damage the frame when trying to unscrew the barrel without twisting the frame. Are these claims true? I'm interested primarily in pre-1950 revolver barrel replacement.
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Old August 7, 2012, 07:21 AM   #2
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If you try it without the correct frame wrench and blocks to hold the barrel there is a very good chance you will warp the frame. You would not be the first. And the new barrel will need to be regulated to the frame (requiring a lathe) to get the sights lined up. I would definitely pay someone with the tools and experience to R+R a S&W barrel.
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Old August 7, 2012, 01:36 PM   #3
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Depends on what you mean by "difficult."

Putting the barrel in a vise with some lead jaws (or, if you're too cheap, a shop rag) and twisting the frame off the barrel by shoving a whittled-down 2x4 through the window isn't "difficult." That'll get the barrel off (or, more accurately, the frame off the barrel), and it won't be "difficult." Heck, don't worry about that pin. Get a big ol' drift and a 5lb hand sledge and it'll come right out. You can clean up the damage with a Dremel tool. It'll buff right out in five minutes, tops. Not "difficult" at all.

But that lumber-through-the-window tactic will most likely twist the frame. There are some who thinks that the twist will "equal out" by using the same tactic to twist a new barrel on, but I'm not confident in this tactic. I've been told, however, with the most strenuous of language, that this isn't "difficult."

However, I tend towards the belief (perhaps an overly complicated belief, I'm told) that all this twisting and torquing on the window tends to make getting the revolver to shoot true again,... hmmm... what's the word I'm looking for... oh yes... "difficult."

You should know before you begin anything on a S&W that their frames' steel tend towards the softer side, and they'll warp/bend/dent/mark fairly easily.

It isn't getting the barrel off that's difficult. It's getting the gun to shoot true again after you've gotten the barrel off and a new one back on using "not difficult" methods that's "difficult."

Sorry for my snark, I've recently had a run-in with a know-it-all Bubba and Cletus duo that exceeded my patience. Something about pipe wrenches and shop towels set me off. I'm sure that whatever S&W revolver was in their hands now looks like it was gang-raped by a bunch of monkeys. I will try to resist asking when I next see them "How did that S&W barrel change go?"
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Old August 7, 2012, 01:53 PM   #4
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It's done everyday.
The proper tools and technique should allow you to do the same.
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Old August 7, 2012, 07:07 PM   #5
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The question is, is it worth spending $300 or so for tools you may use only once, twice at the most?
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Old August 10, 2012, 07:19 PM   #6
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I don't believe the tools cost anywhere near that much.

I've swapped several Smith barrels, the pinned ones aren't nearly as tight as the later ones. I made pine blocks that fit the frame, held in a bench vise, and made a barrel tool from a pine board and block fitted to the countours, held by 1/4" bolts. That setup didnt work for a later, non-pinned barrel, I had to borrow the right tools (plastic blocks for the frame, held in a vise, and a clamp fixture for the barrel), but it was simple at that point. All the ones I've fooled with indexed just fine, and gapped within spec. You don't know til you try it if it will index. The worst thing that could happen is you'd have to take it to someone to fit if it didn't index, but that seems unlikely from the ones I've done.

The slipped punch and buggered up finish are operator errors and not having a decent, clean punch, not a given hazard of the operation. The pins come out pretty easy, at least on the ones I did.
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Old August 11, 2012, 07:20 PM   #7
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Getting the old barrel off and the new barrel on with the front sight lined up is just the first step of a barrel job.

After the barrel is on you have to use a special tool that works down the bore with a cutter head that trims the rear of the barrel to set barrel/cylinder gap.

Next you use another special tool set that works down the bore to re-cut, gage, and lap the forcing cone.

Most kitchen table and a disturbing number of pro gunsmiths have no idea you have to do anything about the forcing cone. They assume the critical forcing cone is just a funnel in the rear of the barrel.
They also tend to cut the barrel to set barrel/cylinder gap with a hand file.

The right tooling costs some real money. The use of expedient tooling may be okay for the owner because if/when he botches it up, it's his gun.
Those you never hear about, but they often turn up in gun shop cases or on the table at a gun show.
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Old August 12, 2012, 01:22 PM   #8
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As for the price of the tools, here's a quick way to get a handle on tooling costs for a revolver smith:

First, you could check out Manson Reamers' web site:

Brownells carries revolver frame wrenches. They're showing a gunsmith price of about $120 for a complete wrench for a S&W revolver of any particular frame size, $70+ for another set of blocks to change frame sizes.

Brownells is showing forcing cone gages at about $28 to $58 each, or about $193+ for the entire set.

Now, one could make their own barrel/frame wrench. That's not rocket science, certainly. If one has a tool & cutter grinder, one could make the rest of the tooling too - gages, reamers and cutting tools for the crown and rear of the barrel could all be done on a T&C grinder. Since S&W doesn't use especially hard steel in their guns, you could even use O-1 or A-2 steel Q&T'd for the tooling instead of HSS.

But I'm guessing that most guys who won't spend money to buy tools won't spend the $3K to $8K to buy a used T&C grinder, nor take the time to learn how to run it.

I'd say $300 for tooling is a reasonable estimate of what it costs to get a bare minimum of revolver tooling into the shop if one buys all new tooling.
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Old August 16, 2012, 10:50 AM   #9
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Dfaris wheel is right on what it takes to complete the job. but I love it when folks thake the advice from a certified internet's what keeps me in business
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Old August 17, 2012, 06:42 PM   #10
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Dfaris wheel is right on what it takes to complete the job.
Roger that.

Also, anybody who has replaced S&W revolver barrels and found the replacement barrel indexed correctly should be buying lottery tickets! It almost never happens. Usually the barrels needs to be set back a turn so the shoulder needs to be trimmed. Because of that, there is the need for precise measuring and cutting barrel's shoulder. When the replacement barrel is screwed back into the frame, it should come up hand tight about 60 degrees before TDC. Then there is, as previously mentioned, resetting the B/C gap & re-cutting the forcing cone to bring that back into spec.. By the way, any headspace or endshake issues must be resolved BEFORE the barrel is replaced. Having Smith & Wesson evaluate the gun and then do the swap will be the best money you ever spent-unless your a professional pistolsmith.


Last edited by BruceM; August 17, 2012 at 06:48 PM.
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Old August 25, 2012, 02:04 PM   #11
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I have changed S& W barrels and made my own blocks and wrench out of 1/4x 1 CRS and oak blocks.
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