It’s hard to learn when you don’t know what you don’t know.

Sheesh – I spent most of yesterday just sitting around. I roused myself to do my baking in the morning before it got too hot…

…but the rest of the time I basically sat on my ass. I’m tempted to grasp as an excuse guess that the weird weather had something to do with it; it’s been acting more like Monsoon than late Spring/early Summer for nearly the past week, and afternoons we’ve been getting storm cells with thunder, scant but enthusiastic rain, unpredictable wind gusts and the changes in pressure they herald. The desert likes its drama.

But whatever – I woke up this morning determined not to have another day like that. And it’s funny the rabbit holes your mind can fall down…first thing in the morning I like to watch Ian’s video-of-the-day, which this morning was on the French FR-F1 sniper rifle. He included a link to another video on the same rifle – literally the same individual rifle from Ian’s collection – from 9 Hole Reviews which is a channel that specializes in evaluating rifles through expert long range shooting. And that guy got to talking about GIGN, the French antiterrorism secret squirrels you did not want gunning for you back when they were making their name in the ’70’s. And that, since I’m a budding young revolver guy these days, got me to thinking about the MR73 which is a French .357 Magnum and allegedly one of the best, most accurate and durable revolvers in the world and which also used to be a signature GIGN gun.

And that got me to wondering…

… if by some lucky chance the new mainspring for my S&W had come in, and possibly even the cheap gunsmithing screwdriver set I ordered at the same time from MidwayUSA. I have a lot of screwdrivers but they’re the usual sort of worn and rounded mishmash you’ll find in any DIYer’s toolbox: I needed something to take the screws out of a S&W sideplate without completing the destruction of the screws.

I had that thought while beginning my morning walky, which should have turned around at the big chickenhouse and allowed me to do my chicken chores early while it’s still cool. But the thought stopped me dead and I impulsively decided to go back to the Lair and drive the Jeep to chicken chores instead, then pick up the bike at Ian’s place on the way back and go to town this morning. So I did that.

And unfortunately the spring still hasn’t come but the driver set did…

And after a meandering trip home that ended up taking like 3 hours…

… I rushed my prize into the cabin, placated Torso Boy who wished it to be known that he was deeply shocked and hurt that I would be so unfeeling as to take the Jeep away for so long without him, then unloaded my revolver and laid it on the kitchen counter to check something I’d seen while researching S&W mainsprings weekend before last…

Yup – that works. I’ll be damned.

Okay; I knew there are three screws that hold the sideplate on. You can see that much by just looking at the gun. I think of the sideplate as the thing you don’t want to mess with because everything inside there is basically clockwork and those without knowledge – like me – should just leave that shit be. The mainspring is an exception; it’s simple to swap out and I apparently need to do that if I ever hope to get the gun 100% with reloads but otherwise I’d be happy to just never mess with any of those three screws at all ever. Pandora’s box is best left closed.

But in doing research on mainspring replacement I stumbled upon a small factoid that absolutely was worth knowing. That one bigger screw that’s all by itself under the cylinder does double duty: It also holds the cylinder crane on the gun. And suddenly and incidentally – seriously it was mentioned in passing like something everybody knows – learning a very important thing like that was an embarrassing reminder that even after carrying a revolver for over eight years now I manage to remain a clueless noob on their care and feeding.

Longtime readers know my adventure in revolverdom began with a worn-out Taurus 431 that gave me many lessons on the falsity of that old myth about the inherent reliability of revolvers – oh, people, they can break down and jam in so many ways

Look, it’s not all the gun’s fault, okay? It comes from a broken home. It was used hard and put up filthy. And then becoming joined at the hip with the likes of me … well, there were bound to be issues. I’m not a revolver guy. I think back with a bitter chuckle on my naive misconceptions about “simplicity” and “reliability” and “no ammo sensitivity.” It didn’t occur to me that a piece-of-crap auto will at least let you get one shot off before it jams, while a piece-of-crap revolver must function perfectly before it will ever fire at all.

Anyway, one big problem I had with the 431 was the cylinder binding on its hub due to its clearly never having been cleaned at all ever ever ever. And I spent my whole adult life with autoloaders and revolvers need cleaning in places autoloaders don’t have places. And I’ll be damned if I ever figured out how to get the cylinder off the 431 – I’d have been screwed if it weren’t for spray carburetor cleaner and WD-40 which I’m pretty sure isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done but it works and let’s face it the 431 was the very model of a beater pistol so whatever works is good.

But my L-frame is not a beater and I’d like to keep it that way. And I was distressed by the in-passing manner in which I learned how to remove the cylinder for cleaning and lubing. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to It’s hard to learn when you don’t know what you don’t know.

  1. Bill T says:

    I have that same screwdriver set and find them to be an inexpensive yet reliable. They are almost my go to secret Santa gift if I know that the recipient is a fire arms owner.

  2. UnReconstructed says:

    heres a tip:

    if you ever need to remove the sideplate, undo the sideplate screws and remove the grip. Then hook your finger under the edge of the sideplate, and give the skeleton butt a sharp rap with the plastic screwdriver handle. It’ll come right out. Might need to rap it twice.

    You probably already knew that, tho…..

  3. Klaus says:

    Save this for future reference. He does a good job explaining and the visual is great.

  4. The Neon Madman says:

    I believe that on most, if not all modern S&W revolvers you can remove the side plate safely (as described above) for lubrication without all of the parts falling out. Ian could confirm.

    Removing the cylinder assembly (as you have done) is commonly done for a decent cleaning job. Just don’t bugger up the screw head, or over-tourqe it upon reassembly (cylinder becomes hard to swivel out).

    Also, it is possible to further disassemble the cylinder by removing the extractor rod (left hand thread) and springs/associated parts, allowing cleaning of the spindle and axle that the cylinder turns on. While not usually done for a routine cleaning, I have a Model 19 that came into my possession with a hard-to-turn cylinder that was due to years of carbon build-up in this area. If this disassembly has never been done, it can be moderately difficult, but by no means impossible. YouTube is your friend. Plus Ian, of course.

  5. matismf says:

    Here is something else for your consideration:

    If those critters are still around!

  6. Norman says:

    Coupla things – RE: S&W sideplate screws. They are NOT interchangeable, each is different. Yes, Screw A will screw into Hole B, because the diameter and threads match. But length and head are different. This is especially true of the cylinder crane retention screw (the most-forward one you took out in the picture to remove the crane and attached cylinder) and the flattened head on the rearmost sideplate screw (that one’s flat-headed to fit flush with the sideplate because otherwise the right side grip panel won’t fit peroperly). So, please, don’t mix them up.

    The side plate – easily removeable. Remove the screws (being careful to avoid mixing them up) and tap on the grip frame lightly with a screwdriver handle a few times. The plate will come loose at the back and can be lifted out. When reinstalling, there is a tab at the top front that has to go in first.

    When removing the plate, pay particular attention to the safety bar and its position. It can go back in in several ways, only one of which will work. If you need it, YouTube is your friend (Jerry Miculek) has a few very good videos on parts swaps and minor adjustment to the Magic Innards).

    All sorts of what Tam calls “mechanical ballet” goes on under the plate, but it’s just mechanical parts, not Witchcraft. And, those parts deserve cleaning and careful lubrication from time to time.

    And, finally, the ejector rod (what the Neon Madman (above) mentions: it’s left-hand threads, and needs checking for hand tightness (and hand tightness only, meaning “as tight as you can possibly get it using only clean, dry fingers;” the judiciously experienced can successfully tighten it slightly more with pliers to ensure it doesn’t loosen, but only slightly more). It pays to be somewhat sensitive to the “feel” of cylinder unlatching and lockup upon closing; if the ejector rod starts backing out it will lock the cylnder into the frame tighter than a drum. The rod is also fairly easy to bend, slamming the cylinder closed (the “wrist flip” technique popular on TV shows) will do that, and bend the crane as an extra bonus, putting the gun out of time by misaligning the cylinder with the frame.

    Unburned powder flakes from ejected spent cases (and other dirt and debris) under the ejector star will cause the star to sit above flush, and it takes only slightly above flush to impede lockup and, potentially, jam the cylinder in a closed position. Usually, a quick pass with an old toothbrush under the ejector star is all that’s needed (it’s common to see a revolver shooter at action matches with a shortened toothbrush poking out of a shirt pocket).

    It’s easy to bend the ejector rod with enthusiastic spent case ejection, and once bent, even slightly, it’s done, so prudence dictates having a spare (if you run a wheelgun in action competition, Prudence says “have several spares.”). Depending on how badly the rod is bent, and in what direction, it will either prevent the cylinder from locking up completely on closing or lock it closed so tightly the cylinder will have to be opened with a “percussive maintenance” tool.

  7. I haven’t looked at his S&W manual – but I have his manual for the Ruger DA’s and have found it exhaustive and well worth the $.

    Jerry Kuhnhausen – The S&W Revolver A Shop Manual: Covers the S&W J, K, L and N Frame Revolver Actions

    A couple links on the Manurhin in case you’re interested:

  8. phred says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the Model 69 has a different ejector rod configuration than the traditional setup. Only the knurled tip unscrews – not the entire rod. The locking lug at the end of the rod has been removed in favor of a ball-and-detent locking point on the crane.

    The point here is that the ejector rod coming loose is not the same concern with the 69 as it is with most other Smith & Wesson revolvers.

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