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  • "The Dark Side Of S&W" Just For You tvfinak

    The Dark Side of Smith & Wesson

    By Chuck Hawks


    I've never had any particular desire to do an article about the dark side of Smith & Wesson, but it's time someone in the outdoor media called a spade a spade, so to speak, rather than sugar-coat it as a "manual digging implement." I'm sure that I will be accused of all sorts of bias after speaking out in this article, but the fact is that I have no personal motive, nor do I stand to profit in any way, from an S&W hit piece. Quite the contrary, as I will undoubtedly alienate some readers and a large potential advertiser.

    Frankly, I don't like to write negative reviews, which is why I have usually declined to review Smith & Wesson products. However, too many readers have written asking why I haven't reviewed S&W firearms, or asking if I recommend various S&W models. Guns and Shooting Online readers expect, and deserve, the truth--or at least an honest opinion. So here goes . . ..


    Of all the big American firearms manufacturers, Smith & Wesson is--in my opinion--the most deserving of censure. Certainly not because they make guns, nor are their products (always) unsafe when used as directed. However, Smith & Wesson's corporate actions over the decades of their existence have often been questionable and their advertising misleading, at best. (You could say that they flat-out lie and get no argument from me.)

    The recent S&W I-Bolt rifle is one example of S&W "shading" the truth in their promotions. The "I" in "I-Bolt" is supposed to stand for "innovation," an assertion so boldly false as to be almost breath taking. The truth is that this rifle is almost completely deritive. It is a knock-off of the venerable Remington Model 700 action, with a few ideas stolen from other manufacturers tacked-on. Almost nothing about this rifle is actually innovative. Indeed, it is notable only for taking cost and quality reducing shortcuts to a new level in American rifle making.

    This is a company whose professional conduct, as well as their product quality, has far too often failed to meet acceptable standards.

    Example: I once inspected a shipment of Smith & Wesson .22 Masterpiece target revolvers sent to the sporting goods department of a large mass merchandiser. Those half dozen revolvers were so poorly made that the gap between cylinder face and forcing cone varied widely as the cylinder was turned. At one position or another the face of the cylinder would actually drag against the forcing cone. One or two of those revolvers were so far out of spec that the cylinder could not be rotated all the way around. One such gun I could understand somehow slipping by quality control, but a whole shipment so poorly made that even a cursory inspection would have revealed the problem? Obviously there was no quality control inspection before those new revolvers were shipped.

    Example: On another occasion a friend and I inspected perhaps a dozen newly arrived S&W revolvers at a gun shop and found large gaps between the cylinder crane and frame in all of them. On the same guns the cylinder ratchet notches were so poorly machined that no two were identical; it looked like a drunken monkey had done the work. Again, a single defective revolver would be understandable--mistakes happen--but a whole shipment of lemons is impossible to explain as an isolated mistake.

    Example: I purchased a brand new Chief's Special .38 Special revolver. At the time of purchase the store clerk gave me a box of Smith & Wesson brand .38 Special factory loaded cartridges. (In those days S&W marketed ammunition under their brand name.) After firing no more than half of that first box of ammunition, I noticed that all 5 chambers of the cylinder had developed a slight bulge. Presumably it had not been properly heat-treated. Thank goodness I noticed the problem before the revolver blew-up in my hand.

    Example: A Guns and Shooting Online staff member purchased a brand new S&W 22/32 Kit Gun whose rear sight could not be adjusted far enough laterally to put bullets into the target at 25 yards. Upon close examination with a straight edge we found that this revolver's frame was actually machined in a slight curve. Clearly no one had test fired this revolver at the factory.

    Example: Another Guns and Shooting Online staff member purchased a new S&W Model 41 target pistol. It has never shot particularly tight groups, even after having been rebarreled (at the owner's expense!). In addition, it regularly malfunctions. He has put over twice the pistol's (considerable) original cost into it trying, with marginal success, to correct its faults. You can believe that next time he will buy a Ruger, Browning, or High Standard target pistol.

    Such examples are far too numerous and widespread. Design, quality and quality control problems have been endemic to Smith and Wesson firearms for decades.

    Years ago, many customers complained that the .44 caliber "N" frame revolver was too heavy and bulky for the .357 Magnum cartridge. (That is the frame size on which Smith & Wesson originally built their .357 Mag. revolvers.) So, they started building .357 revolvers on their smaller "K" .38 Special frame. These revolvers quickly developed a reputation for vicious recoil and also for shaking themselves apart. Smith's "solution" was to recommend practicing with .38 Special ammunition and reserving .357 Magnum cartridges only for "duty" purposes to extend the life of their revolvers! Ahem, doesn't that sound like a tacit admission of a fundamental problem in a Magnum revolver?

    Smith & Wesson finally addressed their .357 Magnum problem by introducing the "L" revolver frame. Smith L-frame revolvers are the same size as a Colt Python. L-frame revolvers will--surprise, surprise--fit perfectly in holsters formed for the Python. They even have the Colt full-length barrel under lug and a rib on top. This is because Smith simply copied the Colt Python's frame size and styling clues, which is only one of many examples where S&W has simply stolen someone else's good idea. Does the Sigma pistol come to mind? (Glock sued 'em over that one.) Or their cheesy High Standard .22 clones? Even their famous Chief's Special revolver originated as a lower cost knock-off of the Colt Detective Special .38 snubby.

    S&W built the Chief's Special on their existing .32 caliber "J" frame. That frame was actually too small for the .38 Special cartridge, but rather than introduce a new, properly sized frame, S&W reduced the cylinder capacity to 5 cartridges. The resulting revolver was so weak that for decades the use of .38 Special High Speed (and later +P) cartridges was prohibited. Modern metallurgy and heat treating has supposedly cured the problem--if you trust Smith & Wesson's advertising.

    S&W has been ripping off other companies' products, especially Colt's, for over 150 years and the leopard hasn't changed his spots. The current management is following in the footsteps of their predecessors, as evidenced by the recent introduction of their "new" 1911 auto pistol. Not only are they copying the famous Colt/Browning pistol, they aren't even making their knock-off themselves; it is assembled largely from after market parts.

    Smith & Wesson is not a tiny shop assembling these pistols individually. They are the largest handgun maker in the world! Have they no pride? (A rhetorical questions, since they obviously don't.)

    S&W is a huge print advertiser and that has made them a "holy cow," insulated by the press from the consequences of their actions. Or, in the case of Smith & Wesson's sell out to the virulently anti-gun Clinton Administration (creating what some called "Clinton & Wesson"), forgiven as soon as they (again!) changed their management team.

    That unholy deal was a betrayal of the entire industry and every gun owning U.S. citizen. It was widely condemned by other gun manufacturers. A press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation said that the agreement "violates trust for selfish ends." It was neatly summed-up by Elizabeth Saunders, CEO of American Derringer, who said: "In all the years I have been in business, I have never seen anything so blatantly un-American as that agreement. No reasonable business person could possibly sign this thing." Smith & Wesson deserved, and got, a grass-roots boycott of their products for selling out the other gun makers, their own dealers and all American gun owners.

    I've lost count of how many times the S&W management team has changed during my lifetime, every time promising that things would improve. However, the basic company policy of ignoring the intellectual property rights of others and building cheaper knock-off's of other people's successful products has never varied. In addition, their quality control has remained in the tank for decades. Heck, the company was founded on the basis of someone else's patent. (The reason that S&W cylinders have always rotated "backward" [out of the frame] is simply to create an obvious difference from the Colt revolver mechanism.)

    S&W has gotten a pass from the big outdoor media since the 1950's. The legendary unreliability of Smith & Wesson's double-action auto pistols was widely known within the industry, but seldom mentioned in print by the outdoor press. (American Handgunner being the sole exception that comes to mind.) A good example of the "bye" that S&W has always gotten from the outdoor media is the fact that most shooters don't even know about the short cuts, rip-offs and problems cited in this article.

    As I write these words, S&W is busy producing their knock-offs of Glock, High Standard and Colt/Browning designs, plus Walther PPK type pistols by agreement with the German parent company. The latter, by the way, have all recently been recalled as defective and unsafe. This recall applies to all Walther PPK and PPK/S pistols manufactured by Smith & Wesson from March 21, 2002, until February 3, 2009. That's seven years of production! Think that maybe it took S&W's quality control a smigeon too long to find, or at least admit, that there was a problem?

    Enough is enough; Smith & Wesson's history of quality control problems and as a corporate copycat is too long, and too nauseating, to delve into further. Anyway, you've got the picture.

    Ruger sounds better all the time

  • #2

    You got to quote Chuck Hawks, the most venomous and waco S&W hater there is to support why you hate S&W? Honestly? You do know the guy only hates S&W because . . . never mind Iím sure you do.

    Itís nice outside why not go shooting your fine guns, I just got back myself.:topjob:
    On the web=
    Call/Text 602-315-2406
    Phoenix Arizona


    • #3
      Originally posted by ADfields View Post
      You got to quote Chuck Hawks, the most venomous and waco S&W hater there is to support why you hate S&W? Honestly? You do know the guy only hates S&W because . . . never mind Iím sure you do.

      Itís nice outside why not go shooting your fine guns, I just got back myself.

      First off, I do not hate S&W and own several. The ones that I own now all function and shoot fine, but I have own S&W's that did not. I get tired of tvfinak and the S&W worshipers claiming S&W supiriority, when it is just not true.
      S&W make a good looking revolver that when made with quality is a very good revolver IMHO, but they have had a checkered past in the quality deppartment

      I currently own 2 M-57's, 2 M-29-2's, 1 M-357PD, and 2 M-19's and I like them very much, but I have owned M-29"s that you couldn't hit a wall from inside the building

      Notice the difference in the forcing cones of my two M-29-2's

      Both have 6 1/2" barrels and the one with the funnel forceing cone is 50 to 80 FPS (depending on the ammo) slower than the other one with the same ammo


      • #4
        No I do not see a difference, but may not know what I'm looking at. Please explain what to look at and the difference. I have and do own a few S&W revolvers as well as Ruger and like them all. As for the Rugers I owned 30 years ago their quality was not as good as todays Ruger. IMHO
        Retirement Plan - Having Fun and Still Learning


        • #5

          This article comes as a SHOCK to me.

          Frankly, it brings up more questions from me, about Chuck Hawks, than S&W.

          Of course, I didn't like them caving to the Clinton Administration, either. That's the ONLY bad stuff, about them, Iíve ever heard. I thought their quality control was extraordinary.

          I'll qualify that, by admitting that I'm not a Handgun expert, and I own only 2, S&Ws. I also, own 3,Rugers, and two of them are 22s.

          I like both Rugers, and S&Ws, and I've been very pleased with my 44 Mag. Mdl. 29, which functions like Clockwork, and the Mdl.37, Special. The fit and finish on S&Ws is unequaled, and the smoothness of their DAs is legendary.

          Neither, do I have any bones to pick with tvfinak. I thought you RUGER and S&W guys just had a Friendly, jab-o-thon going about the relative merits of S&Ws vs. Rugers.

          He's a great guy to bandy words with, when he's willing to engage us.

          Smitty of the North
          Walk Slow, and Drink a Lotta Water.
          Has it ever occurred to you, that Nothing ever occurs to God? Adrien Rodgers.
          You can't out-give God.


          • #6
            Not sure of the validity of everything in the article and definately have no dog in the S&W vs Ruger fight as I like them both with much more limited experience than some on here. I do remember the S&W event where they caved in to the government over product liability suits. Seems I remember many of the arm chair experts calling for banning S&W, even seem to remember the NRA bad mouthing them over it? I think they have changed management since then? I also remember the law suit that Glock brought against them for the cheap copy of a Glock in the Sigma series. Didn't S&W settle out of court? Never shot a Sigma, but have heard they are decent pistolas for the money, but not my cup of tea.

            All my S&W experience has been good having owned some 5 or 6 now. Only bad one was a model 57 bought new from my saved up Army money while in basic/AIT. Got home for a 10 day leave and she would not cycle double action, but would bind up. Sent it back to S&W who promptly fixed it up for me along with slicking it up! My next leave, I thought I was almost shooting a Colt Python it was so smooth! I've read that Chuck Hawks article in the past as it has been out awhile.


            • #7
              One other thing about the article, I think the point about copying Colt on the 1911 is a cheap shot. Heck, who has not copied the great JMB 1911 design? S&W has put a external extractor on theirs and it actually works quite well. My S&W 1911 will shoot tighter groups than I could ever hope to and I would definately like to own one of their new E Series!


              • #8
                Currently own around 2 dozen Smith revolvers, most "N" frames. I've always liked S&W's for their reliability and affordable quality. The service dept, should you need it, is first rate. I do own one Ruger, an old army stainless. Possibly the finest black powder revolver ever made. No real gripes on Rugers, just generally don't care for single actions myself, and their DA's are not as "svelte" as a Smith. Probably have around 7 or 8,000 rounds through my old M-57 41 mag. Still going strong.
                "A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind."


                • #9
                  Only thing I can add about S&W is custumer support and backing of there product. Say what you want bad about em, but I can't.
                  I traded a couple of my rifles last year to my son for his 329PD and it messed up on me during fall hunting. The gun was way out of warranty and I sent it back to S&W and they completely overhauled the gun for me at no charge. No questions asked. I wasn't even the original owner, but they cared enough about their name to make it all good again at no charge to me. You'd have a hard time telling me S&W is a bad choice for a gun....JMO and $.02 worth
                  I can do the impossible right away. Be patient, miracles take me a bit longer.


                  • #10
                    Calling them out for the 1911! Come on, what company doesn't have a 1911 rip off, or a pistol designed around the 1911. I guess next they are going to call them out on the M&P-15, because they had to be the first to rip that off too right...

                    I have been nothing but satisified with my smith. I guess I really can't talk much on them because I only own one. It has a very smooth trigger pull, the hammer pull is nice, and it is much smoother to shoot in double action than any of my 3 rugers. The most important thing about it is, it's very accurate.

                    I do get annoyed however whenever I am watching a show like shootiing USA, and all they talk about is the smith and wesson shooting team. There is only so much Jerry Mchleck (spelling) I can take. But one thing you have to notice about those revolver shooting teams, is the majority of them are shooting smith and wesson.

                    And saying Smith and Wesson is not inovative, look at the schofield.
                    Some people call it sky busting... I call it optimism
                    "Swans are a gift" -DucksandDogs
                    I am a shoveler's worst nightmare!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Smitty of the North View Post
                      This article comes as a SHOCK to me.

                      Of course, I didn't like them caving to the Clinton Administration, either. That's the ONLY bad stuff, about them, Iíve ever heard. I thought their quality control was extraordinary.

                      Neither, do I have any bones to pick with tvfinak. I thought you RUGER and S&W guys just had a Friendly, jab-o-thon going about the relative merits of S&Ws vs. Rugers.

                      Smitty of the North
                      Smitty lots of people seem to have either forgotten or forgiven Ruger for their position during the 90's. Bill Ruger agreed to limit handgun capacity before the hi-cap mag ban passed in 94. The guns have always been pretty decent though.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Blue Thunder View Post
                        No I do not see a difference, but may not know what I'm looking at. Please explain what to look at and the difference. I have and do own a few S&W revolvers as well as Ruger and like them all. As for the Rugers I owned 30 years ago their quality was not as good as todays Ruger. IMHO
                        Look closely at the forcing cone in the 2 pictures the bottom revolver has a much largewr and deeper forceing cone, it is clearly visable


                        • #13
                          I like my Smiths and my Rugers even though both caved in to clinton
                          Now left only to be a turd in the forrest and the circle will be complete.Use me as I have used you


                          • #14
                            Here was me on the Clinton and S&W deal. I was at Shooters World in Phoenix one day on my lunch hour and ordered 2 engraved Smith revolvers (his-n-hers) @ just over $3k. That night I was watching TV and see S&W has struck a deal with Clinton! Next morning, before heard anyone suggest we boycott S&W, I show up at Shooters World before they even open to cancel my order! Standing at the door were 3 other guys who had bought Smith then watched the news. I was off Smith till they sold and I read the statements and stand the new ownership was taking on 2A . . . I support that view so I support that company.

                            Ruger, Colt and others also sold us down the river to the government a couple times though not as bad as the English ownership of Smith. As far as gun manufactures go Smith under the current ownership is likely second only to Barrett in supporting the Constitution.
                            On the web=
                            Call/Text 602-315-2406
                            Phoenix Arizona


                            • #15
                              Just like so much of what Chuck Hawks writes, I disagree. Any company making mass produced products will have material and workmanship problems. S&W, Colt, Ruger, Glock, Kimber, (Who also copied the 1911 also!!) will have these problems as well.

                              He's entitled to his opinion, as are we all. But to say that any S&W is a copy of any Colt indicates he knows very little about either.
                              I have owned hundreds of S&W revolvers, presently have about two dozen in my collection. I love the guns, even those with problems. They are generally well made and designed, they are not perfect and are not as durable as the big frame Rugers in the same caliber, but they are still good. There is a certain class and finesse in the feel of the S&W revolvers that isn't there with the others.

                              I"m wondering since he hates S&W he must love Taurus, right?
                              Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?


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