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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm thinking of buying a sechand S&W 686. But how to check for unusual wear?
I allready know a few things: there must not be a star-shaped impact at the back of the frame(indicating too little headspave iirc). And I know the cilinder should turn nice and smooth, the ejector must be straight, the gap in fr

4,399 Posts
Hi Yana,

I am sure that there are a lot of people more expert than I in checking the condition of a used revolver. However, here are some of the things I look for:

Check the sideplate screws for burrs indicating someone may have taken them off to do their own gunsmithing.

With the cylinder locked in place, try wiggling it to and fro to check for "end shake" or stretching of the yoke.

Check the muzzle crown and make sure it is "undinged", smooth and concentric.

The cylinder should not move when the hammer is cocked. The locking bolt should be tight in its recess of the cylinder.

Many accuracy "nuts" take a .38 calibre range rod (a rod that is the diameter of the bore) and stick it down the muzzle and check the alignment of the cylinder charge holes to the bore. (I never quite got around to buying a range rod).

I hope this helps,


Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Specific things to check on used revolvers

1. Note the condition of the forcing cone at the back of the barrel. Slight erosion in this area, particularly on magnum revolvers, is not cause for concern, but it should not be seriously eroded. The more erosion you see the more the gun has been fired with heavy loads.

2. Check for cutting of the top strap at the cylinder gap, particularly with magnum revolvers. A little erosion here will not hurt, but excessive cutting is undesirable and indicates a lot of shooting with heavy loads, or a wide cylinder gap, or both.

3. To test the safety notch of a traditional single action revolver, pull firmly (about 8-10 pounds--this is not intended to be a test to destruction) on the trigger with the hammer in the safety notch to see if it can be easily forced. Put the revolver on half cock (the loading position) and repeat the test, applying about 5 pounds of pressure on the trigger. The hammer should not drop. This test does not apply to New Model (two screw) Ruger SA revolvers, as they use a different lockwork than traditional SA revolvers.

4. The cylinder of Colt double action revolvers should be completely tight when the trigger is pulled all the way back (the hand forces the cylinder against the bolt). S&W revolvers are never as tight as a Colt, but at least they should not rattle. Slight cylinder play is permissible with S&W DA (and also Ruger SA) revolvers.

5. Check the cylinder gap. It should not exceed .010", and .006" is ideal. Cock the gun to turn the cylinder so that every chamber, in turn, lines up with the barrel. The cylinder gap should remain constant.

Also, the cylinder should not slide back and forth appreciably on the cylinder pin. This is called endplay, and it generally increases with use.

6. The crane of a swing out cylinder DA revolver should fit tight to the frame (when closed) without any unsightly gaps. If it doesn't the crane may be sprung. When you wiggle the cylinder with your fingers the crane should barely move, if at all.

While you are at it, check to make sure that the ejector rod has not been bent. This is easy to see if you spin the cylinder, which should spin true.

7. Use you fingers or thumb to put a small amount of drag on the cylinder while you manually cock the revolver (single action mode). The cylinder bolt should click into the locking notches in the cylinder, locking the cylinder in place, at the end of each segment of cylinder rotation. If it does not, the gun is out of time and needs work. Then rapidly thumb cock the gun (don't "fan" a revolver)--the cylinder should not rotate past the proper locking notch. Also, the bolt should not be dragging on the cylinder as it turns. If it does it will leave a clearly visible wear line in the cylinder's finish.

8. Examine the sideplate of a DA revolver. If it has been improperly disassembled it may show pry marks at the edge or have been warped. The sideplate should fit flush and tight, without any gaps.

9. Check the tip of the firing pin, it should be smooth and rounded, not sharp or broken. The firing pin hole should not be chipped or burred.

Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Paco's list is pretty complete.

I would just add that on MANY of the used SW wheelguns out there and a surprising number of new ones, you will see some rotational play in the cylinder in lockup. As long as it isn't severe, it's not a problem. BTW, the new SW design of the cylinder/extractor (which has no pins to hold alignment) requires adding empty brass to the cylinder to test lock up wobble. Cock the hammer, pull the trigger ALL the way back and hold it and check cylinder rotational play. A few thousandths is no worry, a whole lot of play means the gun will need a new hand fitted.

Also, many SW's (even some new ones) will fail Paco's #7 (which I call a resistance carry-up test). They still shoot OK because under normal shooting, the ineretia of the cylinder will cause it to rotate to locking location. If the cylinder stops just a shade before cylinder stop drops into the notch, it's probably still serviceable. It's better if it passes this, but I'd say there are about ten million out there that won't... and many of them are new guns.

Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Check the chambers.

I've been looking at a lot of revolvers, lately, and I notice a recurring theme of disgustingly rusted chambers. It seems that people forget to run these with a brush, and they leave so much residue on the steel that it can't help but rust. It';s probably not that big a deal, but I just don't like it.
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