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An early American revolver conundrum

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by GonzoGeezer, Jun 15, 2019.

  1. GonzoGeezer

    GonzoGeezer Member

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    Hello all,

    I just purchased a nickel plated six-shot top break revolver chambered in .32 S&W with a 3-1/4” barrel. The seller, Ancestry Arms, dated it to the early 20th Century. The only marks on the gun are the serial number on the butt and an inscription along the top of the barrel.

    The operation is unusual compared to other revolvers I have seen in that once fired the hammer stays down with the firing pin exposed, and the cylinder is locked. When cocking the hammer back to the first notch the firing fan disappears and the cylinder is free wheeling. When the hammer is fully cocked the cylinder is once again locked. Everything aligns properly and the action seems to have no play.

    I removed the grips; I can see two flat springs: hammer, and a smaller trigger return pinned to the frame. I removed the trigger guard and found a third flat spring that appears to be involved in operating the hand and indirectly the cylinder stop. Further disassembly will require removing two pins holding the trigger/hand/stop assembly and a bolt acting as the pivot for the hammer. I am not a wheelgun armorer and have had adventures with flat sprigs under tension in the past, so i settled for a good Ballistol soak and some air pressure to clean things up a bit. No apparent broken parts, nothing binding or out of order. It operates in DA from that hammer down position, although i can feel it pass over that partial cock notch on the way through its stroke. Cocking it always brings a cylinder bore into perfect alignment with the barrel.

    I’m starting to think this may not have a rebounding hammer. Maybe it’s old enough that S&W still had an active patent on it.

    I did find some data on guns made by the American Arms Company but not that describe this particular gun. I have attached some photos to peruse.

    Everything looks solid and safe to my slightly better than amateur eyes. Like I said, I’m don’t know a lot about wheel guns, I’m more of a self-loader kind a guy and I regularly work with and on my 75+ examples. I’m trying to locate some 32 SW ammo and I am going to try to shoot it. I’m convinced it will work safely, it’s just this kind of unusual operation that’s got me Wondering a little.

    Any information would be appreciated.

    - Gonzo


    cc7d2982dd01471bf85af439a09127ee.jpg 0bdced9643a91312d95aee1bb6a06cff.jpg 378147940d04610203008e102e03de06.jpg 6fc72636660c00baa1ad30fd0ffd85a5.jpg 8484bcff36e5f2aad1afcbe4f66615b1.jpg
     
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  2. Monac

    Monac Member

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    The trigger on your gun has an unusual appearance, more like a Smith & Wesson than the various other copies. I can only think of two things to tell you:

    1) Marlin was able to make a very close copy of the S&W top break as early as 1887. There are pictures of one here: https://www.thefirearmsforum.com/threads/marlin-1887-38-top-break-revolver.137677/#post-1239963

    2) It seems to me that most DA revolvers had rebounding hammers from very early on, even the cheap ones. In particular, they had rebounding hammers before they had cylinder notches that would lock the cylinder in place when the hammer was down.

    H&R made revolvers where the cylinder could spin freely when the hammer was down for a long time. I just sold a "Bobby" style 32 Long H&R revolver that probably dated from the 1930's or 1940's that did not have such notches - at first, I though it was broken, then I noticed the lack of notches. This was probably a case of H&R using up old parts, but it still shows that it was a fairly late feature for them.

    https://www.thefirearmsforum.com/threads/h-r-mk-ii.105894/ (See the last photograph in post #4. This is not my gun. I don't know how to post photos here.)

    BTW, does your revolver take 32 S&W Long or just 32 S&W? This could tell us a little about when it was made, and how well it was made.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
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  3. GonzoGeezer

    GonzoGeezer Member

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    It uses standard .32 S&W, aka “Short”, 15mm case length.
     
  4. MikeJackmin

    MikeJackmin Member

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    FYI it may be a black powder gun, modern ammo won't likely grenade it, but it will accelerate wear.
     
  5. entropy

    entropy Member

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  6. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    Most Top Break revolvers did not have rebounding hammers. At least not with the Smith and Wesson Top Breaks that I own. A few did, but most did not. A rebounding hammer was not necessary with a Top Break revolver like it is on a revolver with a side swinging cylinder. On a revolver with a side swinging cylinder, it is necessary for the firing pin to withdraw into the frame before the cylinder can be opened. Otherwise the firing pin may jam in the dent of a fired primer and prevent the cylinder from swinging open.

    This is a Smith and Wesson 38 Single Action 1st Model, also known as the Baby Russian. This one shipped in 1876. It operates as you describe. Upon firing, the hammer stays down with the firing pin extending through the frame. To open the revolver, the hammer should be pulled back about 1/8" to the so called Half Cock position. This allows the cylinder to spin freely and also retracts the firing pin back into the frame so the cylinder can be opened without the firing pin catching in the dent of a fired primer. Note: it is actually possible to open the latch with the hammer all the way down, but the firing pin may snag in a fired primer.

    Baby%20Russian%2001_zpslv3l5mti.jpg




    This little Smith and Wesson 32 Single Acton shipped in 1889. It does have a rebounding hammer, there is no 'half cock' position on the hammer. As soon as the gun fires, a spring pushes the hammer back a little bit, retracting the firing pin into the frame so the latch can be lifted and the action opened without the firing pin interfering with a primer.

    32%20Single%20Action_zpsnqsbvmhm.jpg




    This photo is of a S&W 38 Double Action 4th Model which shipped in 1898 and a S&W 32 Double Action which shipped sometime between 1883 and 1909, sorry, I have not dated it any more precisely than that. With both of these, the hammer stays down all the way after a shot is fired. It is possible to open the revolver with the hammer all the way down, but it is better to do it with the hammer drawn back to the Half Cock position, to avoid the firing pin dragging on a primer.

    32%20Double%20Action%204th%20Model%20and%2038%20Double%20Action%204th%20Model%2002_zpsxwg5j0tv.jpg




    The Smith and Wesson Safety Hammerless revolvers did have a rebounding hammer because there was no way to set the hammer to 'Half Cock'. As soon as the revolver fired, the internal hammer would rebound back into the frame so the barrel could be swung down when ever needed.

    32%20safety%20hammerless%20with%20box_zpsden38qga.jpg




    Most of the Smith and Wesson large frame single action Top Break revolvers had a feature built in that prevented the gun form being opened with the hammer all the way down. Here is a photo of the lock work of a 2nd Model Russian. The hammer is all the way down, as if a round has just been fired. You can even see the firing pin protruding through the frame. Notice the small 'shelf' on the latch that fits into a slot on the face of the hammer. With the hammer in this position the latch cannot be lifted and the revolver cannot be opened.

    hammerdown.jpg




    In this photo, the hammer has been pulled back to the 'Half Cock' position. Notice the sear has engaged the Half Cock notch at the bottom of the hammer. The overhanging lip of the hammer has now cleared the 'shelf' on the latch and the latch can now be lifted to open the revolver. Bringing the hammer to this position also frees the cylinder to rotate.

    halfcock.jpg




    Just for kicks, here is the hammer at full cock.

    fullcock.jpg




    With the hammer withdrawn to the 'Half Cock' position, the barrel can be rotated down and the cylinder can be loaded and unloaded.

    Russian%20Ejecting%20Spent%20Brass%2001_zpsqjnv7k0y.jpg




    Although the latch on the Schofield Model was very different than the latches on all the other big, #3 Smith and Wesson Top Breaks, it's latch too could not be opened unless the hammer was put in the 'Half Cock' position, which also freed the cylinder to rotate.

    Latch%20Open_zpsbmmd2hji.jpg




    The Smith and Wesson New Model Number Three had a similar latch to the Russian Model. In addition, it had a rebounding hammer. In this photo I am forcing the hammer forward as if a cartridge has just fired.

    hammerdown.jpg




    In this photo I have released the hammer and it has rebounded back slightly. Notice the sear has locked itself into a tiny notch at the bottom of the hammer. This is the normal resting position of the hammer. The slot at the top of the hammer has not cleared the shelf in the latch, and the latch cannot yet be lifted. The cylinder is still locked in battery at this point. NOTE: notice how tiny the cross sections are of the sear and the tiny notch at the bottom of the hammer. Although this feature was obviously designed as a safety feature, the cross section of the parts are so small that it would not take much of a blow to the hammer to break something and allow a cartridge under the hammer to fire. For this reason, I never load any of these revolvers with six rounds, I always leave an empty chamber under the hammer.

    hammeratrest.jpg




    Now the hammer has been pulled back to the 'Half Cock' position. the cylinder is free to rotate, and the latch can be opened.

    hammerhalfcock.jpg




    I keep hearing this about Trail Boss. Trail Boss IS NOT a Black Powder substitute. It is a modern Smokeless powder with a much sharper pressure curve than Black Powder.

    Personally, I NEVER fire any of my antique (pre-1899) revolvers with anything but Black Powder. The steel simply was not designed for the types of pressure curves that Smokeless powders deliver.

    If you don't want to deal with the mess of Black Powder, and the soft bullet lubes it requires, I suggest you try American Pioneer Powder (APP). APP is a true Black Powder substitute. It will not subject the old steel to modern pressure spikes. In addition, APP can be used with modern bullets with Smokeless bullet lube, it does not require special, soft BP compatible bullet lubes. Yes, APP is messier than Modern powders.

    Live with it if you have old revolvers you want to shoot.

    P.S. Sorry for the harangue, but I feel very strongly about that.

    Here is some information about the American Arms Company.

    http://www.american-firearms.com/am...A/American Arms Co/American Arms Co-1861.html
     
  7. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Maybe Driftwood said this above, but this suggests that your revolver was made before 32 S&W Long was developed, which was in 1896.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
  8. GonzoGeezer

    GonzoGeezer Member

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    Blue Book says this model has a circular side plate on the left side. Mine does not; as seen in the photos, the frame is monolithic.

    So I’m still unsure of which iteration of the company made it. It was sold to me as C&R, so the seller, at least, thought it was post-1898.
     
  9. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    Driftwood

    Excellent tutorial (as usual), about the inner workings of S&W Top Breaks! Outstanding photos too!
     
  10. GonzoGeezer

    GonzoGeezer Member

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  11. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Driftwood Johnson wrote: "This photo is of a S&W 38 Double Action 4th Model which shipped in 1898 and a S&W 32 Double Action which shipped sometime between 1883 and 1909, sorry, I have not dated it any more precisely than that. With both of these, the hammer stays down all the way after a shot is fired."

    This puzzles me. Think about loading a top-break revolver. Think about what would happen if the chamber at the 12 o'clock position is loaded when you close the gun. If the firing pin protrudes through the standing breech, as it would if Driftwood's description is accurate, you are slapping the primer of that cartridge against the protruding pin. True, only the force of the hammer spring is holding the pin forward - but it is still resting right on the primer. I think if this were true, S&W double-action top-breaks would have a reputation for accidental discharges much like that of the Colt Single Action Army, and keeping one chamber empty would be a byword with them as well as the Colt SAA.

    I can easily believe the single-action S&W top-breaks did not have a rebounding hammer. They had a manual half-cock notch for loading and carrying that the owner could use. Did the DA revolvers have a manual half-cock?

    I have to say, every double-action top-break revolver I can remember handling either had a rebounding hammer, or some other safety mechanism to keep the firing pin from protruding through the standing breech when the hammer was down, like Iver Johnson's transfer bar or Hopkins & Allen's "Triple Action" device. I have never owned a regular S&W DA top-break, but I did have a 38 Safety Hammerless, and I do not recall its firing pin protruding like that.

    Given that the lockwork of any DA revolver has to return the trigger to the forward position automatically once the hammer is down, I would suggest that also automatically moving the hammer to a rebound position would be a relatively minor addition to the mechanism, and that any sensible manufacturer would include it for safety and convenience.

    (It is only with trepidation that I disagree with someone who is so much more knowledgeable than I am, such as Driftwood Johnson. If I have misunderstood what he wrote, or have otherwise been making much ado about nothing, I apologize in advance.)
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
  12. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    You didn't misunderstand him. But I believe him to be correct. I have a couple of early S&W top breaks that dont have a rebounding hammer. They just carried them with the hammer on an empty chamber.
     
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  13. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Sure, I agree, if by early you mean single-action. It is the double-action guns I am curious about. Thanks!
     
  14. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    I dont own a single action. All of mine are double action. I've looked at the action and there is no means to rebound the hammer. Now I have some that do rebound. Like the New Departure.
     
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  15. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Dang. Well, I can't argue with that. Shows how a thing can be perfectly reasonable and still wrong. Thanks, Johnm1.
     
  16. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy Again

    The S&W Top Break revolvers that I mentioned operate exactly as I described.

    Let's go into a little bit of history.

    The first Top Break revolver in the world was the S&W American Model, introduced in 1869.

    This is not actually an American Model, it is a Russian 1st Model, which was mechanically identical to the American Model, except it was chambered for the 44 Russian cartridge, rather than the 44 S&W heeled bullet cartridge.

    Russian%201st%20Model%2001_zpsr8jlf3c9.jpg




    This model incorporated the interlocking hammer design that I showed earlier. This is the hammer all the way down. This is the position the hammer would be in after a shot was fired. The cylinder is still locked in battery, and the latch cannot be lifted because the overhanging lip in the hammer prevents the 'shelf' on the latch from being raised.

    Hammer%20Down%2001_zpstymeh7pl.jpg




    I have defeated the interlock in this photo and lowered the hammer all the way again. You can see the firing pin poking through the frame.

    Hammer%20Down%2002_zpsputioxdi.jpg




    Here the hammer has been moved back to the Half Cock notch. The cylinder is now unlocked and will spin freely. The shelf in the latch will now clear the hammer and the gun can be opened to eject spent rounds and load new rounds.

    Half%20Cock%2001_zpsf7snirqe.jpg




    This is the condition of the firing pin, it has withdrawn into the frame and the action can be closed again without the firing pin touching a primer. As with all the S&W large frame Top Break revolvers (except the New Model Number Three) the hammer does not rebound. There is no need. The interlocking feature of the latch and hammer makes it unnecessary.

    Half%20Cock%2002_zps7vudqgn2.jpg




    Smith and Wesson began making double action Top Break revolvers in the early 1880s. This is a 44 Double Action. It is a large frame, 44 caliber revolver.

    NewFrontSight_zpsb5e9933c.jpg




    Here is a close up of the hammer and latch at Full Cock. Unlike all the large frame single action S&W Top Breaks, there is no interlocking feature between the latch and the hammer. In other words, the latch can be raised and the action can be opened with the hammer all the way down (and the firing pin protruding through the frame) or with the hammer eased back to the Half Cock position. Yes, the revolver can be broken open and closed again with the firing pin protruding through the frame.

    firingpin_zps388a3c39.jpg




    Lets take off the side plate and look at the lockwork. In this photo, the hammer is all the way down. The firing pin can be seen protruding through the frame. The claw like thing in front of the hammer is the Front Sear. Pulling the trigger double action pushes the claw up, rotating the hammer back. As I said earlier, the latch can be opened with the hammer in this condition, and the gun can be loaded up with fresh rounds and closed up again with a primer contacting the firing pin. It may not make sense, but that is the how the action worked.

    hammerdown_zpsc61af2d1.jpg




    In this photo, the hammer has been pulled back to the Half Cock notch. The firing pin has withdrawn into the frame. There is a separate sear at the bottom of the hammer, it is called the Rear Sear. It can be seen engaging the half cock notch at he bottom of the hammer. This is obviously the safe way to close a fully loaded cylinder, but I say again it is completely possible to close the cylinder with the firing pin sticking through the frame. I have two of these revolvers, and they both work exactly the same.

    hammerhalfcock_zps39edcbd0.jpg




    Finally, here is the hammer at full cock. Yes, the revolver can be broken open and closed again in this condition too, I just did it, but it would not be wise with a loaded cylinder. Notice the Front Sear has ridden all the way up now. If the trigger was pulled double action, the front sear would rotate the hammer back, then it would rise a little bit more and allow the hammer to slip past and fall forward.

    As I have said, the hammer on these double action Top Breaks does not rebound. Once it falls it stays there. The New Model Number Three had a rebounding hammer because the geometry of the trigger spring wedged the hammer back slightly after a shot was fired. There is no room underneath the hammer with this model to do that. At least that is my guess. That is why these revolvers did not have a rebounding hammer.

    hammerfullcock_zps14431fb4.jpg




    If we look inside the 38 Double Action, we see the action is a miniature version of the 44 Double Action lockwork. Hammer down with the firing pin poking through the frame. Just as with its big brother there is no hammer/latch interlock and the revolver can be broken open and closed again in this condition.

    Hammer%20Down%2001_zpsgifhdinh.jpg




    The Rear Sear is holding the hammer in the Half Cock position here. The prudent way to reload.

    Half%20Cock%2001_zps9veyvkwx.jpg




    Full Cock. Yes, just like its big brother, the latch can be lifted and the revolver broken open and closed in this condition. But not very smart. No, I did not pop the side plate off the 32 Double Action , but I'm sure I would find the same lockwork, just slightly smaller again.

    Full%20Cock%2001_zpsczx22y4d.jpg




    These little guys are known as the 38 Double Action Perfected Model. This is the last Top Break that S&W designed. They were manufactured from 1909 until 1920, well into the Hand Ejector era. Notice they have a thumb piece on the side as well as a latch at the top. In order to open these guys up, one must lift the latch at the same time as one pushes the thumb piece forward. I grabbed one of these a little bit ago, and forgot to push the thumb latch. I was afraid I had broken something.

    Three%20Perfecteds_zpsbo6ntdgw.jpg




    The Perfected Model did have a rebounding hammer. That is because the lockwork was basically the same as any modern S&W revolver. Just like with any modern Smith, when the trigger is released, the heavy spring inside the rebound slide pushes the rebound slide forward, shoving the trigger forward. This also causes a bump on top of the rebound slide to slide under the hammer, wedging it back and pulling the firing pin back into the frame. Just like any modern Smith. However, notice there is no hammer block. Just like any modern S&W revolver, the hammer only has two positions. All the way down, or full cock. No Half Cock.

    hammer%20down_zps6opzolbd.jpg
     
  17. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    Mr. Johnson knows his stuff. We all bow to his knowledge. And drool when we see pictures of his collection.
     
  18. GonzoGeezer

    GonzoGeezer Member

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    Google is your friend. I learned there is a whole ‘subsystem’ In google to search the patent database. And I have found two of the three patents cited on the barrel. Provides a little insight into its internals. There is no side plate, so it would appear the hand and cylinder lock drop out the bottom along with the trigger after the trigger return spring and three pins are removed.

    Thanks to the amazing, informative material my initial question has generated, I feel comfortable in my revolver’s operational ability. My remaining question is: black or smokeless? And if uncertain, is current .32 Short smokeless mild enough to allow the gun to be safely fired on a limited basis. I only want to ensure it works, it will not be asked to serve in any capacity afterwards other than taking up space in my collection.
     
  19. 1976B.L.Johns.

    1976B.L.Johns. Member

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    Thanks, Driftwood!
    Great pictures and tutorials.
     
  20. thomas15

    thomas15 Member

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    Great thread...
     
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  21. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    I repeat what I said earlier:

    "Personally, I NEVER fire any of my antique (pre-1899) revolvers with anything but Black Powder. The steel simply was not designed for the types of pressure curves that Smokeless powders deliver.

    If you don't want to deal with the mess of Black Powder, and the soft bullet lubes it requires, I suggest you try American Pioneer Powder (APP). APP is a true Black Powder substitute. It will not subject the old steel to modern pressure spikes. In addition, APP can be used with modern bullets with Smokeless bullet lube, it does not require special, soft BP compatible bullet lubes. Yes, APP is messier than Modern powders.

    Live with it if you have old revolvers you want to shoot."


    I don't care what anybody says about modern ammo being loaded down for the old guns, I will never put Smokeless ammo through any of my antique revolvers. Rifles are a different story, but we are not talking about a rifle here. Colt did not factory warranty the Single Action Army for Smokeless Powder until 1900. Smith and Wesson is a bit harder to pin down as to when it was OK to use Smokeless Powder. The 1900 catalog recommended against it. Certainly by 1908 with the appearance of the 44 Special Triple Lock Smokeless ammo was OK to use in a S&W.

    Any other brand, I doubt if they were using steel as good as Colt or S&W was using, so I most certainly would not be shooting Smokeless ammo in that old shooter of yours.



    Real Black Powder requires a bullet with soft, BP compatible lube. Modern hard lubes on modern hard cast bullets usually do not do so well with real Black Powder. The fouling turns hard and crusty and is difficult to remove from the bore. That is why I am suggesting if you want to shoot that old shooter you load up some ammo with American Pioneer Powder. APP is a Black Powder substitute that does not require a soft, BP compatible bullet lube. Modern bullets with modern bullet lube work fine with APP.
     
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