Amateur Gun Smithing

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I’ll start this post on with one of those “Don’t try this at home” warnings. At least don’t try this at home and blame me if something should go wrong.

As all but the most casual reader of this blog will know, I have a fondness for the Smith and Wesson semi automatic pistols. Not the newer polymer framed reliable but bland M&P guns, but the older all metal Third Generation pistols.

Starting in the late 1980s, these were among the first wave of semi automatic pistols that replaced revolvers in many law enforcement agencies.

They are well designed, well built, utterly reliable, and accurate. Oh, and expensive. By the mid 1990s, Glock semi automatics had started to displace S&W weapons in police holsters. Glocks are reliable, accurate (for the most part), and well built. I don’t think that they are particularly well designed since they have a combination of no magazine safety and require the trigger to be pulled in order to field strip.

The biggest advantage of Glock was cost. The injection molded receiver (frame) of the Glock is far less expensive to manufacture and can be made in less time. As a result a lot more Glock frames can be produced in a work day than can metal frames.

That is despite the fact that S&W owns the most CNC machines on the east coast. In the days when they offered factory tours I went often and always marveled at the ability of the factory to turn out lots of frames in a relatively short time. The problem is that demand for 1911 pattern pistols, revolvers, and AR15 pattern rifles takes up a lot of machine time. Cost is less of a an issue for those items because the target market is different and likely smaller.

Law enforcement firearm sales are a huge market and very competitive. This drove S&W to develop polymer frame pistols. I’ll let the interested reader research that, including some legal unpleasantness with Glock.

Commercial sales of the Third Generation semi autos pretty much ended in 2006. There were still some available in the supply chain, but for the most part they were being phased out. A few larger LE agencies retained their pistols and S&W even made some for those client agencies who insisted on metal over plastic.

Alas, those days are coming to an end as agencies such as NYPD, CHP, RCMP, and others are replacing their pistols with polymer framed guns.

The good news in all of this, at least for those in most of the country, is that surplus pistols are starting to show up at reasonable prices. These guns have been well maintained by certified armorers, and are carried a lot, but shot very little. If you are interested in one, now might be a good time to buy.

All which falls into the “I told you that, so I can tell you this.”, category.

The guns are relatively easy to work on as long as you have a minimal set of mechanical skills and some quality tools. As it happens, I have both, especially the minimal set of mechanical skills.

The subject of today’s post is the S&W 457, which was part of the “Value Series” of semi automatics. These were an attempt by S&W to produce a less expensive pistol while retaining the all metal design. There were a variety of models, some of which were variations of existing designs. The 457 was different in that there was really no direct analog in the regular series of guns.

The 457 is a seven shot .45ACP semi automatic with an alloy frame. It came in a few different variations. The early guns were alloy frame with carbon steel slide. Then came the 457S with a silver colored frame and stainless steel slide. There were some made in Double Action Only (DAO) configuration, but they are rare and never seem to come up for sale.

Like all Third Generation guns, they are reliable, accurate, well designed, and easy to shoot well.

I was never a big fan of the .45ACP, but a friend convinced me that I should have one. Having no interest in 1911 pattern guns, but a lot of interest Third Generation pistols I started looking for a compact version. Which lead me to the 457. I bought one, shot it, and found it as accurate and easy to shoot as my 9mm guns. I don’t carry it much, but it’s there if the mood or need strikes me.

I’ve been looking for a stainless version, but on the rare occasions when they show up, the prices are outside of the reasonable range.

A couple of months ago while searching for a stainless gun, I came upon a black alloy version for a very reasonable price. I wasted no time buying it. I had no particular reason for that, but since the price was so good, I didn’t need one.

After I got it home, I started to think. Thinking is dangerous.

Since I’ve never seen a DAO version, let alone one for sale, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I could convert one.

I asked around on a couple of shooting forums and found someone who gave me advice on how to do a conversion. In fact, this was how S&W modified the gun for customers who wanted it.

I went shopping on Ebay and bought some parts so I could keep the original parts in order restore the gun to original condition.

The parts needed are a hammer, sear (should be changed as a set), and firing pin retainer. That firing pin retainer replaces the safety/decocker on the Traditional Double Action (TDA) guns.

That is required to make the conversion work is filing down the single action notch on the hammer. This is done slowly, by hand, until the notch is gone and the bearing surface is smooth. Not a great picture, but I am NOT taking this apart again.

Reassembly is not difficult, but it is a bit fiddly. It helps if you have three hands or a couple of assembly aids. I don’t have three hands and only found out about the assembly aids after I was all done.

Then the frame is reassembled with the new trigger and sear. The safety/decocker is then removed and replaced with the firing pin retainer. For good measure I cleaned out the firing pin channel and put in a new firing pin spring, along with a main spring.

Here is the result. The silver colored part is the firing pin retainer. Carbon steel ones are supposed to exist somewhere, but no one has ever seen one for sale.

Once everything was back together, it was off to the range for some testing.

Staring out with just a single round loading I test fired. Success! The gun went bang when expected, the shot hit the target where it should, and the slide cycled properly. Testing continued with two and then three rounds. After that, I shot a fifty round box of range fodder.

The results were… acceptable.

A couple of things to note with the DAO trigger pull. It’s long, very long. Which is how the double action trigger pull is be design. I’m used to the first round trigger pull being long, but it took some time to get used to the long trigger pull every time. Which is why some shots weren’t exactly where I intended them to be.

The factory DAO guns have a prestaged hammer to shorten the trigger pull, but the ones that were originally designed as TDA don’t. At least that’s what other people who have done this conversion tell me.

After a bit of practice, the large hole in the center of the target appeared, which is what I wanted to happen.

The other thing is that after a while, that long trigger pull started to take a toll on my forearm muscles. That’s a range problem and if I should ever have to use this gun to defend my life the statistics tell me that I’ll fire about 3.5 rounds.

If I can ever find a stainless version of the 457, I expect to move the conversion parts to that and sell off one of the black guns.

I’ll close with the previous disclaimer. Don’t attempt this unless you’re comfortable with taking firearms apart. There are some very useful videos on Youtube, at least for now. Also, be sure to keep the original parts in case you ever want to revert the gun back to original configuration.

Oh, if you should find yourself with the opportunity to buy a S&W Third Generation gun, be careful. They tend to be addictive.