On this installment of our Select Fire series, we traveled to Smith & Wesson's historic Springfield, Massachusetts factory to see what goes into making some of the finest revolvers in the world.

Celebrating 170 years in the firearms industry, the company gets its name from the 1852 partnership between Horace Smith and D.B. Wesson. Just two years later, the company debuted the .41 Magazine Pistol, best known as "The Volcanic" -- the first repeating American firearm capable of successfully using a fully self-contained cartridge. By 1857, S&W was producing the Model 1 and Model 3 revolver, guns that soon marched off to war and one that Mark Twain carried in his early travels in the West, writing in his 1872 book, "Roughing It," that, "I thought it was grand."

Fast forward to the present and Smith is still rocking and rolling. While they have made moves to shift black rifle construction and headquarters to a new factory in Tennessee, the company's legacy plant in Springfield is still working around the clock and will continue to house its traditional revolver line. 

With that, we got the run down on the process from beginning to end and cover it in detail in the above 18-minute factory tour. 

One thing we noticed during our time in Springfield was that, especially when it comes to revolver work, the more things change the more they stay the same. Check out these images of S&W workers from 1956 compared to ones on the line today. While the machines and safety equipment have been upgraded, the invaluable human factors of attention to detail and quality endure, despite the generational change.

 

(Photos: Smith Wesson & Chris Eger)
(Photos: Smith Wesson & Chris Eger)
(Photos: Smith Wesson & Chris Eger)

 

Of course, there are modern CNC processes and machines, but the old ways still echo on the assembly line, in the forge (yes, Smith had their own in-house forge) and on the bench. 

 

Staples of the craft that any S&W employee since 1852 will recognize. 
A clock that reportedly hugged the walls in Mr. Smith's office, still serves while we also found a classic WWII era machine on the floor just in case it was needed
Cylinders still get finished by hand. A skill that is learned and earned. 
 
J frames waiting to be born. Smith doesn't go shopping for parts and forgings, they make them .
All S&W needs is the steel. They'll take care of the rest.
From start to (almost) finish on a big X frame
Racks of frames on the move
You can almost hear the echos of the 19th and 20th Century in terms of tradition carrying forward
But, of course, only part of S&W's story is wheelguns. We'll be back with the rest of the story soon!

 

revolver barrel loading graphic

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