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How to: tune your revolver.

The revolvers available to shooters today--both single and double-action styles--are among the strongest and most reliable ever developed. A few, like Ruger's Security-Six and Redhawk, Colt's Mark V and Dan Wesson guns are relatively new designs, while others, like those from Smith & Wesson and the Colt Python, are built on tried and true lockwork designs that have been with us for most of this century. Unfortunately, the same production methods which make it possible for manufacturers to offer us these fine handguns at a reasonable price also preclude the hand work required to produce glass-smooth actions and light, crisp trigger pulls. As it comes from the box, just about any good revolver sold today can benefit from some tuning of the lockwork.

The "tuning" of a revolver involves those jobs which improve the functioning of the gun, while "customizing" encompasses changes or additions to the handgun that make ti fit and feel better. Both jobs can be done by the shooter right in his workshop, as only a few basic tools are required. Table 1 lists those tools which you'll find indispensable for home tuning and customizing your revolvers. Table 2 lists the names and addresses of a few companies which either manufacture or handle the various replacement parts and custom accessories that are mentioned as we detail the steps involved in home tuning and customizing your revolver.

Before you begin a tuning job, understand that only quality revolvers can be helped by tuning. Cheap guns, which have soft, poor-fitting parts, just can't be helped. Therefore, everything covered in this article applies only to high-quality handguns.

The trigger pull is the first thing that should receive your attention. Whether the gun is of single or double-action design, two things primarily influence the single-action trigger pull. The weight of pull is controlled by the pressure exerted by the trigger return spring, while the smoothness and crispness of the pull are governed by the sear/hammer engagement surfaces. When a revolver is cocked for single-action shooting, ost of the force required to get the trigger to break is nothing more than the pressure required to overcome the force exerted on the trigger by the trigger return results from the pressure of the mainspring holding the sear/hammer in engagement, but this is minimal.

Obviously, then, the point of attack to improve the single-action trigger pul should first be the trigger return spring. This can be an easy or difficult job, depending on the particular revolver you're working with. On Ruger single-action revolvers, it's easy because the trigger spring is of bent-wire design, and specially designed replacement trigger springs for Ruger single-action revolvers are available. Bullseye offers two springs, one for hunting guns and one for silhouette guns. The latter produces a very light pull that's actually too light for safety in the hunting field. The hunting spring will result in a pull of around 2-1/2 or 3 pounds. The Omega trigger spring for Ruger single-action revolvers is a hunting weight spring and produces a weight of 2-1/2 to 3 pounds. Both springs are available from either the manufacturer or from leading gunsmith supply companies like Brownell's or B-Square.

On single-action revolvers like the Colt and Virginian Dragoon, a flat steel spring, set just ahead of the trigger between the frame and grip frame, creates a problem. These springs have two legs and do dual duty as both trigger return spring and cylinder stop, or bolt spring. As far as I know, there are no replacement springs available for this design. About the only way you can reduce the tension afforded the trigger by such a flat trigger spring is to take some of the set out of the spring, then thin the trigger leg of the spring. This is successful if you work very carefully. Trigger spring breakage, however, is a problem with this design, even when the spring has not been altered. So before you attempt such work, I'd suggest that you lay in a couple of spare springs so you'll be prepared for premature breakage.

While changing the trigger spring on a single-action revolver will make one whale of a difference in the trigger pull weight, once this is done you'll usually find that the trigger pull will have some creep or rough spots in it. Creep is the result of too much engagement surface on the full cock notch of the hammer, while roughness results simply from the engagement surfaces being rough. To cure both of these maladies, go to work on the sear end of the trigger and the full cock notch on the hammer with a stone. This is very tricky business, so if you feel you don't have the skill required to do it, leave the job alone. A creepy, rough trigger is better than an unsafe one. However, you shouldn't get into trouble if you work very slowly. Trapper Gun is now offering a number of trigger and hammer jigs desinged to aid you in improving the trigger pull on your revolver. Originally intended for the professional gunsmith, these jigs make the amateur's work much easier. The fixtures are expensive, but if you anticipate doing three or four trigger jobs, I think buying the proper jig for your revolver is worth every penny.

The Bullseye trigger and sear fixture are designed so that the hammer is held in one end, some hex-head screws, the parts can be held at the perfect angle for stoning. Of course, the fixture also frees both of your hands for the job. Bullseye fixtures come complete with instructions.

But whether you use a fixture or work freehand, you need a good set of stones for working on the sear and hammer notch. Clamp the part in the fixture or a padded vise and work very slowly. On the sear end of the trigger, simply polish the engagement surface until it's glass smooth. Do not remove any appreciable amount of steel. But on the hammer, the full cock notch must be diminished to remove creep. In other words, you stone the notch down in size until all creep is eliminated. Here, it's vitally important that you keep the stone flat and remove an equal amount of material across the entire width of the notch. Usually, a notch depth of .009 to .012 inch is best for a hunting trigger--adequate for a safe trigger, yet small enough that creep is eliminated. Working a trigger over to smooth it up and eliminate creep requires that you assemble and disassemble the gun many times to try your work. The use of the Bullseye fixture minimizes the trial and error work because you can accurately measure the depth of the hammer notch with a feeler gauge. But even then you want to try the trigger several times as you work.

On a single-action revolver, the mainspring has little effect on the trigger pull, so there is always some question as to whether or not exchanging the mainspring for one that produces less tension is worthwhile. I've found, however, that it does help by reducing the trigger pull slightly and making the action smoother because the hammer is easier to cock. If you have to clip a coil or a portion thereof to reduce spring tension, then I don't recommend making any change. However, new mainsprings for a number of revolvers are available in Bullseye kits, and I recommend making the change any time you tune a single-action revolver.

Once you have the trigger on your single-action where you want it, it's time to polish a few parts and surfaces to obtain the smoothest possible action operation. The word polish means just that--simply slick up the surfaces. Do not remove steel. Polish the tips of all spring-loaded plungers, the top of the mainspring strut where it nestles in the hammer, the sides of the frame against which the hammer rubs, the pivots for the hand and, where it exists, the transfer bar. A critical polish point is the top of the cylinder stop or bolt--that little part that engages the notches cut outside each chamber in the cylinder. It's the rubbing of the bolt on the cylinder as it rotates that causes "ringing" of the cylinder--that ugly little line that connects each of the bolt notches near the rear of the cylinder. No amount of polishing of the bolt will totally eliminate ringing, but it can be reduced to a minimum. Clamp the bolt in a vise and polish the top surface with a piece of crocus cloth fastened to a flat piece of wood. With the crocus cloth, very lightly break the sharp edge on each side of the bolt. Be very careful not to diminish the width of the bolt as the cylinder will not index properly.

For some reason, shooters insist on polishing the hammer and trigger pivot pins used on single-action revolvers, as well as the center pin. Do not polish the center pin. It is a very close-tolerance fit, and you can't afford to diminish it. Trigger and hammer pivots are also a close fit. If a scratch or groove around the pin exists, indicating that a burr of rough spot is causing the part to drag in a spot or two, polish the inside of the hole in the parts through which the pivot pin passes, not the pin itself. You must be very carefl, however, not to enlarge the hole in the part because this will cause sloppy parts movement and be worse than the problem you are trying to correct.

The trigger pull on double-action revolvers presents a more difficult problem. The single-action pull weight is primarily a product of the pressure exerted on the trigger by the trigger return spring, while the double-action pull weight is a combination of the pressure required to overcome the tension of the mainspring and the pressure exerted by the trigger spring. Creep and roughness are seldom a problem with a good double-action revolver, but when it does exist, it's oftentimes the result of too much sear engagement and rough engagement surfaces.

You handle creep and roughness just as you do with a single-action revolver. Let me warn you, though, the job is much more difficult with a double-action revolver due to the fact tht the hammer notch and trigger engagement surfaces are much smaller than on a single-action gun. In fact, I strongly recommend that the amateur leave the job of polishing and reducing creep on Smith & Wesson and Colt double-action revolvers to a professional gunsmith who knows his business. A very tiny error with the stone, and you'll create an unsafe trigger.

As for reducing trigger pull weight, each revolver design must be handled in its own way. Here again, Bullseye spring kits come to the shooter's aid. There's a Bullseye kit available for just about every good double-action revolver on the market. Guns with separate trigger springs and main springs are the easiest to work with and will show the best results for your work. Simply exchange the issue trigger spring and mainspring for lighter ones from Bullseye, and presto, you'll have an excellent trigger pull in both single and double-action modes. Revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Dan Wesson, the Colt Mark III and Mark V designs and the Ruger Security-Six are examples of revolvers having separate trigger return springs and mainsprings.

The ones that give you trouble are revolvers using a single spring to provide both hammer and trigger return power. The oldest of these is the Colt system, used in such models as the Model 1917, Police Positive, Python and Diamondback. A single V-shaped spring is used in these revolvers. The top leg provides hammer power, while the bottom leg bears against the rebound lever to afford trigger return tension. Bullseye offers a replacement spring for the Python that will fit some other Colt guns. With the exception of spring replacement, there is absolutely nothing you can do with this design. Thinning or bending that V-spring will do nothing but cause it to break at an inopportune time.

Ruger's Redhawk double-action revolver is a case unto itself. A massive, well-made revolver, the Redhawk is of unique design and is one double action I recommend that you stone the hammer notch to eliminate creep, and polish both engagement surfaces to smooth up the single-action pull. This is accomplished in the same way as with a single action, and the Bullseye fixture for the Redhawk will make the job relatively easy.

It's lightening the trigger pull that will give you fits. The Redhawk employs a single horizontally deployed coil spring to afford both hammer and trigger return tension. This spring rides on the mainspring strut, seating in front on the trigger link and in the rear against the mainspring lever. When the hammer is cocked, the mainspring compresses from both ends. Then, when the trigger is pulled, decompression at the rear powers the hammer forward. When finger pressure is released from the trigger, forward decompression of the mainspring pushes the trigger forward.

With such a spring arrangement, attempts to reduce the trigger return spring pressure also reduce the power of the mainspring. Likewise, work to reduce the single-action pull also reduces the double-action pull. The danger is that you'll reduce the power of the spring so much that hammer thrust will be insufficient to guarantee reliable primer ignition.

On the Redhawk, shortening the issue mainspring to reduce its tension is a mistake, just as it is with any coil spring. Clipping the spring changes its makeup, and you never know how it will perform. Fortunately, old Bullseye comes to the rescue again. The spring kit for the Redhawk contains three mainsprings--light, medium and heavy. Try the light one first. If you get any misfires while firing a box of ammo, replace the light spring with the medium one. Repeat the test by firing another box of ammo. If even one misfire is experienced, then go to the heavy spring. Even though it's the heaviest of the three, it isn't as heavy as the issue spring, so some reduction of the trigger pull will result. Every Redhawk is different, so the only way to find out which of the Bullseye springs will work in your particular gun is to try them.

How about polishing the parts of a double-action revolver to smooth it up? There are a few things you can do, like sliding the parts over a piece of crocus cloth to remove any tiny burrs, polishing the end of all plungers and slicking up any rough spots on the inside of the frame. However, work very carefully and simply polish, don't remove metal as you work.

On Smith & Wesson revolvers, the hammer often has a tendency to wobble from side to side and will rub against the frame on one side or the other. This can be corrected and the hammer centered in its frame recess by placing special Teflon bushings over the hammer pivot on both sides of the hammer. These special Teflon washers are available from Terry K. Kopp Gunsmithing in .001, .002, .005 and .010-inch thicknesses for all models of Smith & Wesson revolvers. Be sure to specify the model you have when ordering the bushings. The washers come complete with instructions. You want to install the bushing thickness needed to center the hammer and stop all side play, but not so many as to bind the hammer and hamper its smooth movement.

The final step in the tuning process is proper lubrication of the revolver. Some shooters still insist that no lube should be used on the working parts because it will gather grit and cause the parts to wear prematurely. No doubt, lube does gather dust and grit. However, unlubed steel parts rubbing together don't work as they should, and the friction generated causes just as much or more wear than does what little grit gets into the lockworks. Lube the lockwork, then make it a practice to regularly disassemble, clean and relube the revolver.

Well, that about ends this dissertation on tuning your revolver at home. It should be obvious that while none of the jobs we covered are difficult, they must be done carefully. If you try to hurry, chances are very good that you'll do more harm than good, possibly making it necessary to replace parts in order for the revolver to function properly again. Work slowly and carefully, and don't start any job until you understand exactly what you're going to do, have the proper tools to do the job correctly and are sure that what you're doing is going to improve the operation, feel and appearance of your revolver.
COPYRIGHT 1985 InterMedia Outdoors, Inc.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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