Thursday, December 31, 2009

Being a man of a certain age...

I love TNT's "Men of a Certain Age." It feels like the writers are spying on my life. (I'll never tell which character I am).

That said, every man over the age of 30 should have a certain amount of fashion immunity. Pick a classic look that works for you and stick with it.

For me, that look is 1950s vintage Field and Stream. I love plaid. I love khakis. I love boots. I love earth tones. I love bluejeans. This pretty much sums up my entire wardrobe.

It works for me.

When I do dress up, I have a couple of earth tone corduroy jackets (Yes, with elbow patches) and a nice tweed vest or two.

If I need something more formal, I have two suits. Yep, you guessed it; navy and charcoal. When I wear a tux, it's the classic black and white, vest not cummerbund. (Yes that's really how it's spelled; NOT cumberbund).

I'm a big fan of JC Penney's St. John's Bay, LL Bean, Dockers, Orvis, and Field and Stream Clothing. The new line for F&S is at

I mean, c'mon, what guy wouldn't like these jackets from F&S?

The Roosevelt Jacket

The Trigger Jacket

Notice that there's nothing trendy, nothing but pure casual class. These jackets (like the rest of my wardrobe) would have looked right 50 years ago, or 50 years from now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Smith & Wesson Model 38 Restoration

Some time back I inherited my great-grandmother's Smith & Wesson model 38 revolver. I emailed S&W for the provenance, and discovered it was sold at at a Louisville hardware store in 1898, where I suspect my great-grandfather bought it. The gun is frozen shut, having almost no movement in trigger or cylinder. I've decided to restore the gun, doing most, if not all, the work myself. This blog is devoted to stripping, cleaning, and re-assembling the gun.

I'd like to thank my lovely wife, Megan, for taking the photos for me.

For simplicity, I'm omitting the photos of the dis-assembly and beginning with the cleaning and re-assembly. I soaked the parts in WD40 for about an hour, scrubbed off the worst of the carbon scoring from 100-odd years of shooting, then re-soaked the parts in G93 gun oil. I know a lot of old-timers shudder at the mention of using WD40 on guns, and the stuff will build-up detergent deposits over time, leaving a sticky "golden film" that will freeze-up the best guns. Still, as a cleaning agent, it does pretty well cutting old oil and debris loose, and I am replacing it with the much better G93 after the fact.

To understand the terms used in this article, you might reference Numrich Arms' excellent schematic for this pistol. It is located at:

Okay, I took this photo as a cheat, so I could remember how the mechanism went back together. You can see how nasty the guts of the little pistol were.

Here is a nice close-up of the crap that was keeping the mechanism from working. All this has to go, which means I have to pull all of the internal works. I'm no gunsmith, but this thing looks like the Swiss designed it.

All of my parts have been cleaned, scrubbed, and re-oiled.

I'm beginning re-assembly with the frame, trigger, hammer, and internal works. This is by far the toughest part.

The first piece back in is the cylinder stop. This piece is easy, because the wear-polished knurl (next to my left index finder) protrudes up from the frame, and locks the cylinder into position.

The length of the cylinder stop lays in a track cut below the trigger guard, and the stop itself is "sprung" into position by tension from its retaining pin.

The pin between my wedding ring and thumb is the retaining pin for the cylinder lock. I dropped the lock into place, then drove the pin back into position.

Here is the view from the bottom of the pistol frame, showing the cylinder-lock now pinned into place.

Next up are the three main components that tie to the trigger internal works. At left is the stripped trigger, at bottom right the front sear, and at top right the hand. The tip of the hand, pointed up here, engages the teeth on the back of the cylinder, turning it to the next chamber as the gun's hammer comes back.

All three pieces must be assembled AFTER the trigger has been inserted back into the frame, but I'll show how they fit together here for clarity.

In this photo, the front sear has been slipped back into the trigger.

Notice how the hand's pin locks the front sear to the trigger itself.

I've pulled the pieces back apart and slipped the trigger back into the frame of the pistol. It must come through the bottom of the frame, since I left the hammer stud in place when I cleaned (there's a special tool to remove it, and I didn't have one, and didn't feel like making one).

Next, I've slipped the front sear back into its place in the trigger.

Here I've pinned the front sear to the trigger with the pin on the hand. All three pieces are together and in the gun, so now I can pin my trigger back into place in the frame.

The pin in the frame is the one that holds the trigger mechanism to the frame. All of the pieces are together and moving, so we're ready for the sear spring.

Here's the sear spring in place (you can only see the loop of the spring between the trigger and the frame, just underneath the frame)

In this photo I've slipped the hammer (including the floating hammer fly) back onto the hammer stud. A little turning allows it to engage the front sear and the the sear spring, until it drops all the way in against the frame wall.

I've also reinstalled the mainspring through the butt of the pistol. You can see it hooked to the hammer fly. I've only put enough tension on the strain screw (the one in the pistol's butt that holds the mainspring) to hold it in place. Once everything's aligned, I'll tighten it down until it's properly seated.

With all of the internal works back together, the last step is to reinstall the trigger guard. The guard on this model is held in place by spring tension. First, I set the trigger spring in place.

It's hard to see, but that's the trigger spring sitting in the frame, between my left thumb and index finger. Like the cylinder stop it's covering, it sits down into a groove cut in the frame itself. The spring's bend in aimed at my left hand, with the two ends facing the trigger.

Once the spring is seated, slip the front edge of the trigger guard into the slot on the frame over the cylinder lock and trigger spring (this requires a little hand strength, and a little coaxing/repositioning of the trigger spring with a small screwdriver blade. When everything lines up, it will pop into place.

To seat the rear half of the trigger guard, "pinch" the guard together, and push it into the frame. When it seats, it will "pop" into place like the front part did.

Now that the frame and internal works are all back together (and to my delight, WORKING) we get of the much simpler re-assembly of the barrel and cylinder.

Here are the remaining parts. I'll handle cylinder re-assembly last, even though it's already together in this photo.

Here are the cleaned barrel and extractor cam. Notice the cam's arm facing toward the cylinder; this is the direction we want to install the cam.

With the cam slipped into the barrel's joint, we can re-install the barrel catch. I've already pushed the spring back into place in the barrel frame, so I just need to slip the catch into the frame, press it into place, and then replace the barrel catch screw.

Here is the replaced barrel catch and screw, and the catch is now under spring tension.

Now we slip the barrel joint back into the frame's knuckle. Once everything is aligned, we can gently tap into place the joint pivot. It's worth noting that the pivot has an eccentricity or slug protruding from one side. This eccentricity will align with a matching groove in the pivot joint. My pistol had a handy alignment notch stamped lightly into the frame and pivot. This eccentricity keeps the pivot from spinning when the pivot screw is tightened back into place.

Here the pivot and screw have be reinstalled, and the whole of the gun's frame is now working smoothly.

Here are the major parts after dis-assembly. All of these are going into the WD-40 soak for the next hour.

The cylinder is our last, and simplest stop. In order from left to right you see the cylinder, extractor, extractor post, and extractor spring.

The center of the cylinder is cut to allow the hexagonal shaft of the extractor to slip back and forth, without allowing the extractor to spin.

Slip the extractor into the cylinder.

Slip the extractor spring onto the open end of the extractor post.

Now slide the spring onto the extractor, through the front of the cylinder. Compress the spring until the extractor post engages the extractor, then screw it onto the extractor by turning it clockwise.

Once the cylinder is back together, the extractor, when aligned, should slide easily back with only a little pressure from the extractor spring.

Replace the cylinder onto the gun by mounting it onto the base pin, and pushing forward. When the cylinder has been pressed most of the way down, it is seated by turning the whole cylinder clockwise a few turns. It doesn't tighten, but "pops" into place when fully seated.

Well, here we are, back together again. She's still a homely little pistol, but she functions smoothly. I've noticed that the cylinder doesn't always lock tightly into place, but can be slipped out of time. When out of time, it does lock up nicely with just a little nudge. I'll just have to watch closely when I go shooting. I bought a box of 38 S&W ammo just to fire this. I have a good leather/Nomex glove, and I'll be wearing glasses/muffs for certain.

My next trick is to try and dress my Model 38 up a little bit, but that's a task for another day :)