Cracking Open a Smith & Wesson
1. Know your limitations.
The lockwork of a Smith & Wesson revolver is not particularly delicate, although there are a couple of small springs that can pop out at inopportune times for the uninitiated. The tolerances of a S&W are precise, however. Disassembly and reassembly requires an eye that has a bit of mechanical aptitude, and a mind grounded in common sense. If you are unable to jump start your car, or you cannot figure out how to plunger a toilet, then disassembling a S&W is not your game. On the other hand, if you are a professional watchmaker, you will pick it up with no problem. Most of us lie somewhere in between. My own experience is a mechanical aptitude that ranges from Model T speedsters to F-18 fighter jets. I am a self taught wrench turner who knows to watch how things come apart, and when to go to the manual. That is enough, as long as the proper checks are performed before firing the weapon again.
2. Get the right tools.
Do not try to open up your Smith with Grandpa's old twenty-nine cent screwdriver and Granny's butterknife. Buy the proper tools. The proper tools include at the minimum, a small set of gunsmith screwdrivers, of high quality sized for Smith & Wesson revolvers. Do not skinch on these. When the bits become worn, buy new ones. You will also need a small brass hammer. If you are unwilling to invest in the proper tools, then you are unwilling to do the job right.
3. Get the right information.
Do not rely on what the gun counter commando tells you. As soon as they say "Just pry the sideplate off" you know they are full of hog manure. Buy Jerry Kuhnhausen's The S & W Revolver: A Shop Manual. Cruise the various gunsmithing forums and listen to what the old established posters have to say. If the information conflicts with Jerry K, then eschew it. If it sounds like a non-damaging or reversible trick, give it a try.
4. Get cheap practice.
Purchase a beater revolver to be your first sacrificial lamb. Buy the ugliest, cheapest S&W you can find that still has a functional trigger and hammer. Learn on it. Do not start out on your three and a half inch Model 27. If you do, do not blame me for the results!
Now...... Here are a few of my tricks I have learned along the way.......
Have a proper workspace. A gunsmithing table is nice, but I have learned that such a wonderful space quickly becomes cluttered in my world. Thus, I purchased a large wooden cutting board to function as a workspace on any counter or table I choose. I attached rubber feet to it's underside to keep it from skidding, I drilled holes in it to allow me to punch out pins and to keep screws in order. In fact, I have an area with a diagram of a S&W sideplate with the screw pattern drilled, so I do not mix up yoke screws with the other screws. I have also attached a small wooden bowl to hold small springs, pins and such while I work.
Have a disassembly box. Nothing wastes time like trying to find a miniscule spring that leaped across the room, let alone not even knowing what happened and wondering why your gun doesn't work anymore! For disassembly I use a ten gallon acrylic aquarium turned on it's side with a cloth over it's opening. I simply place the gun inside, drop the cloth over my hands, and voila! When the spring pops out, it is caught.
Move slowly. Watch how things come apart. Remove the hammer and trigger assemblies as complete assemblies. Do not disassemble them outside of your disassembly box! If you have a digital camera, you may want to take a few photographs along the way. Get sufficient light. If necessary, buy a clamp on spotlight. If you cannot see what you are doing, you will screw it up!
Remove gunk and rust by cleaning with a solvent such as Varasol, CLP, or brake cleaner. Many, many problems are caused by gunk. A soak and a nylon brush usually work wonders. If you use a spray can, wear eye protection. Do not remove metal. As in medicine, the first rule is do no harm. It is OK to use a bit of steel wool or a sharpened copper penny to scrape away stubborn rust. Copper ScotchBrite works well too. At times, I will put a bit of steel wool or a sharp piece of copper in a pair of hemostats to get into tight recesses. Keep ammonia based solvents away from nickel finishes.
It is not OK to start stoning sears. Stoning a S&W sear is a quick way to buying new parts. Be wary of case hardened parts. The case hardening is a thin layer of hardened surface. Softer metal lies underneath. I am a believer in lubrication in the right place. It is true that oil attracts dust that over time turns to gunk. The inside of a S&W revolver is pretty well protected though. The problem comes from people spraying lubricants into the gun without disassembly, creating a pathway for the dust to migrate inside the gun. Placing a dab of oil on the hammer and trigger stud before reassembly does not have the same effect, nor does a small dollop of grease on the sear.
Most problems with a Smith & Wesson revolver are caused by one of three things.
1. Rust/gunk in the lockwork.
2. A blow to part of the gun.
3. An uneducated person entering the lockwork.
If you want to prevent number three and take care of number one, then you must get the right information, the right tools, and go about things in a methodical manner to minimize error.