Questions on getting a S&W Model 52 working properly

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Post by mikemyers on 3/13/2019, 2:32 pm

One of my friends from my shooting club had a Model 52 that most of the time refused to fire.  The primers looked like they were hit fine by the firing pin, but the rounds didn't get off.  After sending it to S&W twice, and getting advice from everyone at the club, he found the fastest way to resolve this - he bought another M-52 that works perfectly with any ammo he feeds it.

I asked him if he was going to sell the old gun, but he didn't want to sell it to someone who would be as frustrated as he was.  I told him I'd like to buy it, if for no other reason than to have a gun to learn how to work on, as I hate the idea of doing anything to my own M-52.  We agreed on a price, and I took it home.  I spent much of the rest of the day cleaning and examining it.  It looked like it was packed with old oil/grease, the recoil spring was backwards, and the barrel had lead in it which eventually came off with Hoppe's.  

If I can't get it to fire reliably, I'll come back here and ask for advice.  For now, I have a question about the slide.  Comparing this gun with my own, there are three holes on the top of the slide on this gun, that don't exist on mine.  Would anyone here recognize if they might be for a rail, and if so, who might sell the rail?  I will measure the hole spacing. (I sort of gave up on steel sights because of my eyes, but who knows, maybe they will work better now than years ago, since I had the cataracts repaired.)

Also, are there any books that were written on how to work on the Model 52?  I have books on 1911's, and revolvers, but this gun is very unique.  I certainly don't want to do something wrong unintentionally, that I could have avoided.


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Post by LenV on 3/13/2019, 3:10 pm

Yes, drilled for a rail. A rail with a flat base. Having one that works and one that doesn't you have it made. Although you may have solved the problem with cleaning. Looks like a pretty standard drill pattern. 

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Post by jglenn21 on 3/13/2019, 3:19 pm

1st thing I'd try to find some factory wadcutters and try them. if they fail to fire then look at the firing pin. no books that I'm aware of on the 52 as far as maintenance or smithing. They were modeled after the model 39 smith but have a different trigger.


clean the chamber with a larger brush like a old worn 45. The 38 special headspaces on the rim so the case has to go all the way into the barrel with the rim sitting on the cutout on the barrel hood.

 is yours a 52-2 or  ?
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Post by jglenn21 on 3/13/2019, 3:22 pm

handloading for a 52 can be a bit unique..in that you have to seat the 148gr HBWCs even with the case mouth or a bit above.. most follks use the std roll crip but you may have to try a taper crimp. my wife's 52-1 runs perfectly with a taper crimp.
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Post by mikemyers on 3/13/2019, 3:39 pm

jglenn21 wrote:1st thing I'd try to find some factory wadcutters and try them. if they fail to fire then look at the firing pin. no books that I'm aware of on the 52 as far as maintenance or smithing. They were modeled after the model 39 smith but have a different trigger.


clean the chamber with a larger brush like a old worn 45. The 38 special headspaces on the rim so the case has to go all the way into the barrel with the rim sitting on the cutout on the barrel hood.

 is yours a 52-2 or  ?

  • Both my guns are 52-2.  The chamber had a lot of "crud" in it, which I cleaned out.  That's too easy a fix though, unless the technicians at S&W didn't notice it?  
  • I have my own reloaded ammo that works fine in my gun.  I'll try that.  I don't see how it could make a difference, but I'll also start with one of my magazines.
  • I read someplace that if you don't grip the gun properly, it can have issues.  That doesn't sound like a likely source of the problem though.


I didn't think of it yesterday - while it was apart, I should have tried my rounds in the barrel.  Next time I'll do that.

When someone uses a return spring backward, with the open end facing "into" the gun, what kind of problems could that cause?  I'm guessing the spring will "kink" a little.
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Post by bruce martindale on 3/13/2019, 6:44 pm

Before chasing down every rat hole, test it. 

Rat hole #1:

The main spring could be soft or have been cut to "improve" trigger pull but 52s are usually too light anyways. 
I have some special fixes to increase pull weight that don't involve the 2 springs
Good luck

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Post by mikemyers on 3/13/2019, 8:54 pm

Thanks, Bruce.  I hadn't thought of a soft mainspring, and nobody at the range mentioned it as a possibility a few months back when we were looking for possible ideas.  Can you suggest a good source for new springs?

I expect to test the new 52  tomorrow morning.   I also did some searching about mainspring information, and found this:

Dropping the mainspring weight allows the hammer to be recocked much more easily. This has the same effect as reducing the recoil spring  weight as a way of decreasing muzzle flip and perceived recoil. When we fire the gun, the less resistance there is to the slide moving to the rear, both in overcoming and compressing the recoil spring andrecocking the hammer, the less energy gets passed on to you. Guns that have an external hammer like a 1911 offer us the ability to drop the mainspring (aka hammer spring) weight in addition to going to a lighter recoil spring as well.

Also dropping the mainspring weight will, to a certain extent, drop your trigger pull weight and is part of a good trigger job, though you will still drop your trigger pull, a bit, if you replace the mainspring and do nothing else.

On top of that, it makes thumb cocking the hammer for dry fire, over and over again, considerably easier and more pleasant to do.
Most people go for a 17-pound mainspring in a 1911, that's kind of the classic choice. I have personally gone down to 15 pounds in the past, with no problems at all. Though I will admit that a reactionary cautiousness on my part does make me stick with 17 pounds normally.



I compared the new 52 with my own, and it's difficult to tell them apart.  Maybe the new gun is a little easier using the thumb to pull the hammer back, but there's not much difference, if any.  

If my test tomorrow does not work out, I'll take a photo of the cartridge with the dent in the primer from the firing pin.  Last time, everyone was saying that the hits on the primer looked a little light, which goes along with what you're suggesting.
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Post by bruce martindale on 3/13/2019, 9:13 pm

I recall having added a small washer or two  to the spring column..l forget if it was the top or bottom but you'll figure it out if needed.

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Post by mikemyers on 3/13/2019, 10:17 pm

If it turns out to be the firing pin spring, I'm not sure I'm qualified to do that....  Too many chances to lose parts that are probably no longer available...
I think a gunsmith would be a better option.

A link that is close, but it's not the M-52:
http://smith-wessonforum.com/s-w-smithing/176021-generation-3-semi-auto-firing-pin-removal.html

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Post by zanemoseley on 3/13/2019, 10:45 pm

Surely you can figure it out with some youtube videos. Anyway a local gunsmith is probably not going to be familiar with them so you may end up shipping to a bullseye smith if you want anyone really familiar with 52's. Sounds like you bought it to tinker so at least make a safe effort. You can always take apart the slide inside a gallon size zip lock bag if you're worried about a spring or detent going for a ride.

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Post by ser2711 on 3/14/2019, 4:23 am

I have 52-2 that I use in competition , I just use factory Winchester .38 wadcutter.. Really no problem on accuracy and reliability too

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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 7:52 am

zanemoseley wrote:Surely you can figure it out with some youtube videos. Anyway a local gunsmith is probably not going to be familiar with them so you may end up shipping to a bullseye smith if you want anyone really familiar with 52's. Sounds like you bought it to tinker so at least make a safe effort. You can always take apart the slide inside a gallon size zip lock bag if you're worried about a spring or detent going for a ride.
First time I couldn't find a YouTube video.  Actually, I found a lot of them, but none on the M-52.  As for a gunsmith, that's Dave Salyer, and he completely understands the M-52.  If I can't correct it, it will most likely eventually be going to I'm.  Yes, for the reason I bought it, but I'd like it to work. Will try it myself for the first time today.  Very GOOD IDEA about the bucket and a large zip lock type bag.  .....Dave doesn't think it's the firing pin.  I'm hoping between the crud in the chamber I cleaned out, and ammo I know works, that will make a difference.
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Post by bruce martindale on 3/14/2019, 9:47 am

Washers go on the main spring column not the firing pin. As for chamber crud, fire brush it...gone!

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Post by LenV on 3/14/2019, 11:06 am

Mike, I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make in my first post here. Or, maybe you got it but the concept bothered you. You have two identical pistols. One works and one doesn't. You can narrow down the culprit in very easy steps. Step 1. Swap uppers. Did the bad one change? Now you know if it is the top half or bottom half. Step 2,3,4 etc. Mark the good parts so there will never be confusion and swap away ( one component at a time) till failure transfers also. It might be the barrel or mainspring depending on what half had the failure. You can also find out if it is in an area you don't feel good about swapping. That too is worth knowing. Now put he good one back together with all its own parts. 

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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 2:33 pm

LenV wrote:Mike, I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make in my first post here. .......
I missed more than that - I can't find the first post???   Was it in this thread?
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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 2:51 pm

Here’s the result of today’s test.  I think I know exactly why I’m getting the misfires - unless I’m missing something, it’s the “mainspring”.
Check the image below.....

Two rounds at the left shot in the new 52 were hit lightly by the firing pin; they did not fire.
The nine rounds in the middle also came from the new 52 - two of them I fired a second time, and they went off
The 13 rounds at the right are from my old 52 - all fired fine.

So, apparently the firing pin is not hitting the primer with the same force as on my old 52.

My list of culprits includes:
Firing pin - probably not.
Firing pin spring - not
Firing pin and spring filled up with gook….unlikely, but ???
Crud in chamber of new 52 barrel - ???   I thought I cleaned it fine.
Main spring - most likely.

I used my recoil spring tester to measure the hammer pressure on both guns, to pull back the hammer:

FORCE TO MOVE HAMMER ON NEW PROBLEMl 52 - 6 pounds
FORCE TO MOVE HAMMER ON MY WORKING Model 52 - 8 pounds

Where's a good place to get a new mainspring (assuming you agree it needs replacing)?

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Last edited by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 11:04 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : typo, thanks LenV !!)
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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 2:58 pm

LenV wrote:Mike, I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make in my first post here. Or, maybe you got it but the concept bothered you. You have two identical pistols. One works and one doesn't. You can narrow down the culprit in very easy steps. Step 1. Swap uppers. Did the bad one change? Now you know if it is the top half or bottom half. Step 2,3,4 etc. Mark the good parts so there will never be confusion and swap away ( one component at a time) till failure transfers also. It might be the barrel or mainspring depending on what half had the failure. You can also find out if it is in an area you don't feel good about swapping. That too is worth knowing. Now put he good one back together with all its own parts. 

Len
Len, I thought all the Model 52 guns were custom fitted - is it safe to swap parts around as you are suggesting?  If so, that's an easy way to confirm where the problem is or isn't.

(If you sent me this earlier, I can't find it.......)
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Post by LenV on 3/14/2019, 6:49 pm

I was in shop all day playing with steel. I guess I was too vague on my first post. I was your first poster on this thread. All I said was if you have two identical pistols you have it made. It may be custom fitted but there is zero problem changing uppers. I might consider doing the bushing at the same time as the barrel but everything else would just swap. I can't believe the factory didn't change mainsprings before sending it back. FYI you have a typo on your spring test.
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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 7:08 pm

I'm a bit confused; now that you mention it, I think I remember you saying it, but when I look up above at your post, I can't find it.

From what you're suggesting, I can switch the slide, barrel, spring, and bushing - everything.  Brilliant idea.  Maybe this weekend.


Regarding the factory not changing it, I completely accidentally found this website:
https://www.smith-wesson.com/repaired_serials/index.php
It appears to be a Smith & Wesson database, where you enter your Serial Number and it finds the repair(s).
It came back empty....    

Maybe that isn't a working website, or maybe he actually sent it to someone else.  

Another bizarre thing - the gun had a rattle.  Turn it upside down, and something metallic was loose, inside it, falling and making noise.  Bewildered I took the magazine out so I could look inside, but the noise had vanished.  The gun came with an extra grip screw bouncing around in the magazine.  Since I doubt the owner did that on his own (where would he get another grip screw??), maybe the guys at the factory or wherever aren't as careful as they used to be.  

The fellow I got it from is at the range religiously, every week, and is thoroughly into Bullseye.  He seems meticulous, and is one of the people at the range I most enjoy talking to.  He's happy now, because his new 52 works perfectly "no matter what ammunition he throws at it".   :-)

Me?  I'm too durn stubborn.  When something doesn't work, I'll spend forever trying to fix it, usually doing so, and then quite often give whatever it is that I fixed away, as I didn't really need it. I love working on guns, as long as I stay within my limitations, and get "permission" first from people who know better than me.  

(If I wasn't so stubborn, I'd never have given up using two hands.....!! )

Back to the gun, the Tech Support person at Brownell's checked all over, including interchangeability tables, and discovered that the Model 41 main spring is the one they used on the Model 52-2 (but not the other models of the 52).  

Thanks again - fixing this thing is more of a "hobby" than a "need", but I won't give up on it until it works properly.


Last edited by mikemyers on 3/15/2019, 7:39 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Changed Model 14 to Model 41; typo)
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Post by bruce martindale on 3/14/2019, 7:09 pm

So swap mainsprings.... should prove your theory

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Post by mikemyers on 3/14/2019, 7:14 pm

Bruce - first, I haven't found the appropriate way to remove the mainspring.  I think I push out a pin at the bottom, after removing the grips, and everything comes out, but that's just a guess.  Second, it's just a $4 part.  Third, I ordered two of them - if this gun ends up with more spring pressure than my old gun, I'll change it as well.  If you look closely at my photo, lots of primers from my working gun look like the firing pin wasn't as strong as I think it should be.

Good idea though.  If the part was $400, not $4, I would follow your advice!
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Post by jglenn21 on 3/15/2019, 6:48 am

If you were refering to the model 14 smith that is a revolver who's main spring is a leaf spring not a coil spring. 41 perhaps?


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Post by mikemyers on 3/15/2019, 7:41 am

jglenn21 wrote:If you were refering to the model 14  smith that is a revolver who's main spring is a leaf spring not a coil spring. 41 perhaps?


Yikes...   not sure how I did that.  I wrote down 41, but typed 14.  Thanks for pointing this out.    
Sometimes I get my mords wixed up.    :-)
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Post by Dr.Don on 3/15/2019, 9:18 am

I vote for making sure the firing pin and its channel are not all gooped up.  I would for sure check this before replacing the mainspring.  Swapping the uppers will tell you whether the mainspring is usable.
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Post by New2BE on 3/15/2019, 10:48 am

I looked at my fired 52 cases. Yes, those are some light strikes Perhaps the mainspring is tired and needs changing. Or, do any of those rail mount screw in the slide in front of the rear sight drag on the firing pin spring?

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