As I mentioned here, I took an unexpected opportunity and bought a .45acp revolver. Smith & Wesson Performance Center guns have a bit of a legendary reputation after all. As detailed in the title above, the precise model and serial number are: 625-10, s/n SCC0487. Upon getting the gun home that first evening, I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean it (and my way-too-dirty Commander as well), and there was no visible evidence of flame cutting around the cylinder/barrel interface nor any indication of frame cracking or distortion apparent to a close visual inspection.
This being a scandium alloy frame gun, I determined to fire ammo having less bullet mass than the 230gr FMJ I usually target shoot with, as I went into some detail about in this post. I chose the Remington Express (having the least advertised muzzle velocity of the lead-bullet rounds I had purchased for this test firing) to shoot first and loaded six rounds into a moonclip. The first four rounds fired cleanly and without apparent incident, at which point I placed the gun on the shooting table for my regular FFL dealer (from whom I had bought the gun) to try the remaining ammo for himself (a small diversion here; he had only fired a total of less than 100 rounds of 230gr FMJ - and 5 or 6 rounds of +P ammo max - through the gun. It was an occasional pocket carry piece for him, but mostly a safe queen - he'd never fired 185gr ammo from it and I wanted his impression of any difference between the two bullet weights). When he went to fire the next round, the gun failed to cock properly for a single-action shot, but the cylinder appeared to advance normally. The next (and final remaining unfired) round suffered a light primer strike (which we were unaware of at this point in the process), but the gun double actioned cleanly through all four of the previously fired chambers immediately thereafter. The gun suffered the catastrophic spontaneous disassembly on the fifth shot actually fired (the round the gun failed to cock properly for previously).
Nobody was injured.
A segment of frame blew out to the shooters right into the stall partition, while the barrel flew up into the lane sound baffle material and fell back into the target distance-setting motor mounting metalwork ( a u-shaped sheet metal construction located directly above the lane's shooting table) and was surprisingly hard to hunt down afterwards, but we were eventually successful in rounding all the bits back up:
A bit of online research later that evening lead to this Smith & Wesson-oriented forum discussing this very model pistol. A quick read of the comment thread (there are only 14 entries) makes clear that these pistols have a known history of some of them having had the barrel over-torqued during original assembly with a resultant stress crack forming in the frame material surrounding the barrel threads.
Mine would appear to have been one of these.
For the equally pedantic, there is no visible sign on the barrel of the final (or any) bullet having been off-center to the barrel when fired. The five holes in the paper target are of equal size and there is no evidence of the barrel having detached from the frame until after the bullet's having exited the muzzle. The gun still has a smooth double-action trigger pull and the cylinder still rotates cleanly.
I have emailed Smith & Wesson customer support about this today as their page clearly states to do:
If you have a question about repairing or servicing your firearm, parts questions, etc. email us with your question or call us, please do not use this [warranty work return label request ed.] form.
as well as having placed a call directly to the in-house extension S&W provides to arrange for non-warranty repair work (1-800-331-0852 Ext. 2905) at ~4:15pm Eastern on Thursday, January 13, 2011.
Bit of a fail there. [see update below]
Apparently Smith & Wesson customer service is so overwhelmed with work (leaves a questionable impression with the buying public, that does) that they automatically divert all in-coming calls to a voice-mail box. Will someone notice, never mind actually respond? It's a mystery. Stay tuned ...
Quite frankly, since S&W no longer makes this particular model (which was always a limited production, quasi-collector's piece), I'm not at all sure what the resolution will be. Certainly S&W hasn't got some secret stash of replacement pistols squirreled away (Lew Horton Distributors - who originally commissioned the guns per my research - would have something pointed to say about that, I'm sure), so a straight forward swap is out. I also don't think there's any question of repairing such a catastrophic materials failure (can scandium be welded? Interesting TIG challenge that). And I don't think I want their steel frame 625 at any barrel length; I bought the gun for it's light weight as a summer-wear concealed carry piece, not an application a steel 625 does much better than my Colt Commander.
That will all have to wait for later though. First, I need to determine how to send my current gun pieces back to Performance Center (or whomever) to get the process started.
On a more uplifting note (for some), my Colt Commander sent ~60 rounds down range flawlessly. Some attention needs be paid to the trigger appendage - a bit of sloppiness was observed there (though not really all over the target).
So, how was your day at the range?
UPDATE Friday, 1/14/2011 ~2:00pm: Just finished speaking with Joe Marcoux of Smith & Wesson. Told him briefly what had occured, he requested I send him a picture via email, he took a quick look and took down my details to send me the appropriate shipping label with instructions by return mail. Quick, efficient and, including the wait on hold, the whole transaction took maybe 8 minutes tops (and would have gone quicker if I could get through the whole email a picture pokery-jiggery with two hands - I've got to buy one of those hands-free phone doohickeys) (actually, I did - now, where did I put that thing?). Can't say this went painlessly, but if you've got to deal with such a tragic loss it's always better to deal with professionals.
Well done to Mr. Marcoux and to Smith & Wesson.