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Old 10-01-2012, 01:20 PM
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Dave Nash Dave Nash is offline
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Please note that this piece is being included to merely show you something that was done experimentally back at Smith in the late 1980’s; shortly after the 5906 was first introduced. It is not intended as a do-it-yourself tutorial for the modification of your own or someone else’s firearm. I am in no way recommending anything like what you see here be done to anyone’s gun; a 5906 or not. Work of any type on any firearm should not be attempted by anyone but a competent gunsmith familiar with the particular weapon involved and it is best that such a person be both certified and authorized by the manufacturer for such efforts. In fact, it is recommended that any work be done only by the factory itself or by someone (or some entity) that the factory itself directly authorizes and recommends. This would include both repairs and modifications.

A little over a week ago, I posted a series of thoughts and comments about the likelihood of a “Mystery” revolver being a legitimate S&W gun from the late 1800’s on another Thread within a different Board on this Site. (Mystery Gun Musings)

In it, I said this about how many things have come out of the factory legally but with something less than traceable and documented histories (I also included the three images I have now attached below):

“…The early (pre-Novak sight) 5906 slide pictured below was made for me at Smith in what at the time was called the Model Shop by some and “Experimental” by others, in order to gauge the response from an ongoing group of known users as to the effectiveness of its full-length but conventionally-patterned serrations during the performance of stoppage (immediate action) drills. Everybody liked them (they gave the user a better purchase and it prompted them to not put their hands near the muzzle like additional front serrations can do) but the company merely chose not to implement the concept. Happens all the time. I liked the idea (and a few other “experiments” the gun contained) so ultimately, I bought it from the company. But if I ever put that pistol out, unexplained at a gun show, I believe that…most people would simply walk by and assume that is was something that a local gunsmith merely “butchered” and not something the factory did “for real”…”

Except for showing it to a few friends in the business and other than mentioning it in some remarks made in a couple of non-public police training programs, I don’t believe that I have ever referenced this slide outside of the environment in which it was originally evaluated. Here’s the story of “how and why” it came about.

As semi-automatics became more popular in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, all kinds of old ideas needed to be reexamined in light of how people were actually fighting with such guns. At the same time, many of the newer concepts coming out of the civilian schools of the era needed to be studied in terms of true practicality and safety. A number of those procedures that dealt with the physical manipulation and cycling of the slide concerned me for either they were lacking in performance or safety, or the gun to which they were being applied left a bit to be desired in its ability to aid the user in their application of them.

One of the biggest and most overlapping issues in these various areas of concern dealt with how to grasp and operate the slide when unloading such a firearm or when attempting to make a malfunctioning semi-auto work again. Even back then, there were pistols available with serrations along the muzzle end of the slide that permitted the shooter to grasp it there in order to rack it. Many people felt that this (or even just the longer smooth slides then common to most 5” guns) would give the operator a larger grasping surface than the smaller serrated zone at rear and it would also keep the various parts of their hand (their fingers, thumb and palm) away from the ejection port and potential harm should a cartridge detonate while it was open. Keeping one’s fingers and thumb away from the rear of the slide also kept them away from any levers attached to that area that could unintentionally be pushed out of their desired or necessary orientation under stress.

While fully recognizing that the generally small and often ineffective number of serrations at the rear of the slide were often more traditional and cosmetic rather than actually helpful, a number of us also felt that putting the hand and fingers of the average officer anywhere near the muzzle while trying to manipulate the firearm under that stress (or anytime for that matter) was not a good idea. So I experimented with a number of “other” ideas while I worked in Springfield and one of them is the slide you see pictured here.

Two of the people in the Model Shop at Smith & Wesson were nice enough to listen to me in this regard and in this version, one of them took the slide I gave him and followed my suggestions to match the standard 5906's serration angle and depth while extending the original pattern on both sides of the piece so that it filled the space from the rear of the ejection port to the rear face of the slide itself. This alteration afforded the shooter a larger and relatively functional surface area at the rear of the slide that kept their hands away from the muzzle and the ejection port as it might have done otherwise had I run things any farther forward in relation to the port.

I say “relatively functional” for a reason. In an effort to keep the serrations sharp after cutting them into the stainless steel, we merely passivated the area (so that it wouldn’t corrode), instead of blasting, tumbling or polishing it as might have been the then-normal procedure in Production at the time. But even so, I never felt that this relatively “fine” (factory) pattern was the best choice for a fighting handgun. As a result, it should be noted that I also built several other test slides in an effort to vet slightly coarser patterns that might have been more effective under certain environmental conditions, or for people whose skin was not as ductile as others, or for people whose sense of touch or feel was more greatly affected/impaired under stress.

I put the gun in the hands of a number of students over a several year period and while I was admittedly biased toward the hope that they would like it, I honestly believe that most of them did. Male or female, large hands or small, thick fingered or thin, dexterous or not, the majority of the people I showed it (and the others) to or allowed its use for various drills, classes and periods of time, seemed to think that it was far more effective than the original pattern. Unfortunately, the company did not and it was never pursued any further.

Next time, I will explain the modifications I made some twenty years ago to the single sided lever that you see installed in this slide for it is very much in keeping with the kind of thing that people on this site still seem to be seeking these days.

Please note that this piece is being included to merely show you something that was done experimentally back at Smith in the late 1980’s; shortly after the 5906 was first introduced. It is not intended as a do-it-yourself tutorial for the modification of your own or someone else’s firearm. I am in no way recommending anything like what you see here be done to anyone’s gun; a 5906 or not. Work of any type on any firearm should not be attempted by anyone but a competent gunsmith familiar with the particular weapon involved and it is best that such a person be both certified and authorized by the manufacturer for such efforts. In fact, it is recommended that any work be done only by the factory itself or by someone (or some entity) that the factory itself directly authorizes and recommends. This would include both repairs and modifications.
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Factory Experimental 5906 Slide-03a-factory-modified-5906-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Slide-04a-factory-modified-5906-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Slide-05a-factory-modified-5906-jpg  
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Old 10-01-2012, 02:27 PM
RufusG RufusG is offline
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Neat info! Thanks.
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Old 10-02-2012, 01:17 PM
hsguy hsguy is offline
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Very interesting post and information. I think perhaps your idea of increasing the grasping area of the slide to allow more effective clearance of jams etc. was idea before it's time. Judging by the current and plethora of increased serrated areas on slides and the incorporation of different shapes of the grasping areas such as scales etc. perhaps the value of your idea has been recognized. I do sometimes wonder though if the recent offerings are offered more as a design element rather than a functional characteristic particularly the designs placed on the front of the slide. Placing serrations/designs on the front of the slide certainly does not achieve your original safety driven purpose of keeping hands away from the muzzle. Either way, the desired result of increasing the traction area to allow for easier manipulation seems to mimic part of your original idea.

Did S&W give a reason for not incorporating your idea? I am curious if was based upon economics such as retooling costs or they thought there might be functional issues or a lack of consumer demand.

Keep the posts coming as time allows, I always look forward to your knowledge and insight.
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Old 10-04-2012, 02:46 AM
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Dave Nash Dave Nash is offline
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Originally Posted by hsguy View Post
Very interesting post and information. I think perhaps your idea of increasing the grasping area of the slide to allow more effective clearance of jams etc. was idea before it's time. Judging by the current and plethora of increased serrated areas on slides and the incorporation of different shapes of the grasping areas such as scales etc. perhaps the value of your idea has been recognized. I do sometimes wonder though if the recent offerings are offered more as a design element rather than a functional characteristic particularly the designs placed on the front of the slide. Placing serrations/designs on the front of the slide certainly does not achieve your original safety driven purpose of keeping hands away from the muzzle. Either way, the desired result of increasing the traction area to allow for easier manipulation seems to mimic part of your original idea.

Did S&W give a reason for not incorporating your idea? I am curious if was based upon economics such as retooling costs or they thought there might be functional issues or a lack of consumer demand.

Keep the posts coming as time allows, I always look forward to your knowledge and insight.
“hsguy”:

First, I should preface any comments here by making it very clear that this slide was made for me at the Company in 1988 or ’89 and that many of the people working there then are not working there now. I should also say that by 1990 or 1992, there were significant changes in how such “ideas” were viewed, studied and put into place by the organization. A perfect example of that is detailed in an older posting of mine on this side of the Forum talking about how a similarly constructed-as-a-favor project led to the reintroduction of the Model 14 (Origins of the Model 14 Full Lug & An Introduction to the SWCA). And as a member of the Smith & Wesson Collectors Association, you can also read something I wrote on that side of the Forum about how the J-Frame Boot Grip came about.

Both of those examples of consumer-driven products took place in that later 1990-1992 time frame but in this earlier ’88-’89 period, there could, but not always, be some reluctance to entertain ideas from outside certain circles within the company and/or to listen to the end user as much as was actually possible. That might have been the case here or it could have been the extra machining time, increased tool wear, and possibly higher scrap rate generated by the longer pattern seen in my experiment that led to this idea not being adopted. Or, it simply could have been a combination of the two. Or, any number of other things. And so it goes…

It should also be recognized that this functional serration and slide-grasping issue was not unique to S&W. Over the decades, older guns from other companies saw the patterns they employed become less helpful due to changes in manufacturing or the costs of doing business. Later guns (newer designs) often employed patterns that were less-than-optimum for the same reason or because they were viewed more as traditional holdovers that “just had to be there” or (as you suggest) as “design elements” instead of performance-based aids to the shooter. In fact, that last part goes back to something I said in my initial post regarding the matter that some people were just beginning to look at the pistol as a reliable fighting tool in the 1980’s (and some not until the early 1990’s). Suddenly, the serrations that were OK for target shooting and older, often-bullseye-related defensive techniques were not helpful (and, at times, even an impediment) to these newer users’ employment of the gun under stress.

Certainly semi-auto handguns had been used successfully by a number of countries since early in the last century and easy-to-manufacture pistols (like the 1911 and the P-38) were used throughout World War II. Smith & Wesson’s own Model 39 (arguably derived from the P-38 and ultimately still the basis for the 5906 we are discussing here) was developed at the beginning of the second half of those 100 years and sold to police departments around the world in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. But the average “guy”, let alone the average “copper” didn’t carry, shoot or fight with anything but a revolver until the last 10 or 15 years of 1900’s.

As such, the functionality of the things like the slide serrations or the practicality of the techniques used to getting a stopped gun back into the fight weren’t given a lot of thought by the mainstream user (or much ink by the mainstream gun press) until both the weapons and the methods of employing them began to be studied and refined in that same end-of-the-century time frame. And even then, much of that interest was still limited to people who either shot at the upper levels of the competitive scale on the range or who were responsible for teaching others how to stay alive with such guns outside of it.

The people to whom I showed and let use the gun to which this slide mounts up tended to be from both of those camps. Generally, they were police and military instructors and usually, they were serious shooters “back home”; often using competitions of various sorts to test themselves and the techniques they had studied before passing them on to others.

I think that is why they (like I) saw the value to something like this Extended Serration Concept. But I think that its value was lost on some of the engineers of that era who either weren’t shooters themselves or who only saw such “grooving” as the “way things had always been done”. The same might have been true of some of the end users as well. People, who through no fault of their own, just didn’t understand or appreciate their effectiveness because pistols were something new to them and they just hadn’t become experienced, knowledgeable, or discriminating enough to know any better at that point in time.

So while I still wince at Forward Slide Serrations every time I see them, I am happy to see things like truly functional serrations or other functional patterns on the rear of some guns as they make them today.

The “scales” that you mention are a good example. As I said, things began to change rapidly in the early 90’s at Smith (and elsewhere in the industry) and their Performance Center (somewhat hamstrung early on for its mission kept changing) finally started coming up with gun “models” identified with them and not necessarily with the company as a whole. Sharp and relatively deep “Scales” became common on several of their pistols for both functional and visual reasons.

Over time, they filtered down into parts of the standard line and can be seen now on most, if not all, of the company’s Enhanced series of 1911’s. That’s good for two reasons. One is performance in that if cut properly so that they are truly effective, such “scales” can work far better than many of the smooth surfaced or poorly patterned serrations seen on other guns (even within Smith’s own line). The other is brand recognition. For when looking at row after row of 1911’s in your local gun shop or gun show tabletop, those “scales” can often distinguish an S&W from the others crowded around it.

However, one does have to be careful (again as you suggest) that things don’t become too much of a “design element” (only). For while I think that as long as they perform like a true, directionally-opposed series of steps or working surfaces, that things like the heavily stylized rows of S-shaped “waves” that are found at the rear of the slides on S&W’s new “Shield” pistols can be a good thing, one still has to be careful that they “work” first and “look good” second. What is that phrase that is so popular with many political commentators these days? “Style over Substance”? It’s the same thing here.

John, I hope this helps you and that I answered all your questions.

In summary, there could have be economic issues for while it really wouldn’t have involved “retooling” in the traditional sense (more like reprogramming), there would have been some increased costs for the reasons I gave above: longer times to make the longer cuts; shorter tool life because of increased tool use; and perhaps a greater chance for something to be scrapped because of a greater length in which to do something that was out of spec.

There were no functional issues that I was aware of. You weren’t affecting any of the gun’s mechanisms and you weren’t removing enough metal to affect the slide speed in either direction. We also worked our guns a lot harder than most people did and no, I don’t mean that we abused them (although sometimes for test purposes we did): we just shot them a lot; a whole lot and I saw no negatives with this one.

I simply think that it related to perceived value within the company at the time and your mention of a possible “lack of consumer demand”. It is like a lot of things in life: an idea that was just a bit ahead of its time. And I don’t say that because I think that I knew better or was clairvoyant about such matters. It’s just that as I described in detail above: pistols were only beginning to become accepted as trustworthy sidearms by the mainstream and all the things that the average shooter would learn about them were still a long way off. I was just lucky enough to see some of those issues early on when I was shooting and teaching with such guns every day of the week and this just happened to be one of them.

You take care.
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Old 10-05-2012, 12:12 PM
hsguy hsguy is offline
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Dave, thank you for your reply! Your insight and knowledge are a valuable resource to the forum.
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Old 10-09-2012, 03:00 PM
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Chuck Jones Chuck Jones is offline
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Dave: Did you come up with your Extended Slide Serration Concept out of the blue or were you influenced by something you had seen in the past? I'm not wanting to take anything away from what you did here but something about it does seem a bit familiar. It was a great idea; too bad it wasn't picked up by the factory at some point. Although I guess we can be grateful, for as you point out, at least some of the Performance Center's attempts to move things in that direction in other ways and in later years have trickled down into S&W's line in general these days.

The sad thing there, I suppose, is that while the factory has, as you say, employed those Performance Center-originating fish scale-like surfaces at the rear of their Enhanced series of 1911's, they have also taken the "belt & suspenders" approach by still including the (now trendy) additional ones at the front! Nothing like attempting to solve one problem while possibly contributing to another.

in general I object to front slide serrations for 2 reasons
a) they chew up and/or stick in good holsters
b) as an instructor I hate encouraging hands to be that close to the muzzle

/c
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Old 10-17-2012, 12:27 AM
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Dave Nash Dave Nash is offline
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Originally Posted by Chuck Jones View Post
Dave: Did you come up with your Extended Slide Serration Concept out of the blue or were you influenced by something you had seen in the past? I'm not wanting to take anything away from what you did here but something about it does seem a bit familiar. It was a great idea; too bad it wasn't picked up by the factory at some point. Although I guess we can be grateful, for as you point out, at least some of the Performance Center's attempts to move things in that direction in other ways and in later years have trickled down into S&W's line in general these days.

The sad thing there, I suppose, is that while the factory has, as you say, employed those Performance Center-originating fish scale-like surfaces at the rear of their Enhanced series of 1911's, they have also taken the "belt & suspenders" approach by still including the (now trendy) additional ones at the front! Nothing like attempting to solve one problem while possibly contributing to another.

in general I object to front slide serrations for 2 reasons
a) they chew up and/or stick in good holsters
b) as an instructor I hate encouraging hands to be that close to the muzzle

/c
Chuck:

Did I wake up one morning and think this up all on my own? No, I’m not that bright.

I saw a definite need for it (the need to keep people’s hands away from the muzzle and to give them a better working surface at the rear of the gun when they were rushed and other things were going on around them) but I have always tried to keep my eyes open for good ideas and inspiration from elsewhere. My father, my father-in-law, the man who broke me in on the job, and a handful of other really good teachers and mentors in my life all taught me the importance of things like that. Whether it was tracking down and arresting someone who would otherwise gotten away or having the good fortune to patent something that the USPTO felt “novel” enough to award its originality with a number, I’m sure that most everything I’ve done was as a result of seeing a “problem”, studying it and being aware of other attempts to solve it or things like it. That and a lot of good luck.

Having shot and sold several Browning Medalists when I was in the business, I always thought that somebody at that company was paying attention to the shooter’s needs by employing a coarser (not cruder) serration pattern that completely covered both sides of the slides (bolts?) of those guns. Obviously not a combat handgun but one that was used in competition, I would like to think that its maker knew the last thing they wanted to encourage was someone fumbling with their pistol in an effort to either open the slide, close it, or somehow clear the gun when they were either nervous or affected by the pressures and time constraints of a match.

Those guns were still being made when I first got serious about all of this stuff and I do remember when they were actually introduced and made popular. But I wasn’t old enough when they first came out to really appreciate (or now, even remember) how they were initially advertised or presented so I don’t know if they made a big deal out of this feature or not. With the way the original grips come up so high and are so full (wide) across the area just below this component, I think that somebody must have seen that there would be at least some issues with thicker-fingered people accessing it even under field conditions. But to be honest, I don’t know if they ever called the fully serrated slide (bolt) to people’s attention within the factory materials.

It should be noted that the same approach was also taken with the original Browning Challengers and Nomads of that period. So that raises the question of whether it was done for a functional/user-benefitting reason (as I would like to think) or, just as likely, for manufacturing (same or similar parts; or similar manufacturing methods) or marketing (“it just looks cool” or “because it’s unique, everybody will know it’s a Browning”) reasons instead. All three options are possible but I am also cynical enough to think that it could have been just a whim of the designer, with the end user benefiting merely by luck and not good intentions. Who knows!

In the case of our guns at Smith, we were still using a conventional (traditional) short, rear-position serration pattern on our pistols when I tried out this approach. People were already beginning to teach front gripping techniques to manually cycle the slides (and some custom gunsmiths, not the S&W factory) were beginning to add serrations at the front of the slide to facilitate and even encourage this and it concerned me a great deal. So that’s why I was experimenting with different approaches that I thought would be safe and still help out.

Hell, even John Browning and Colt thought about this at the beginning of the 20th Century when their long barreled (long slide) 1900 Model appeared on the scene as I believe the second batch saw the rear serrations moved to the front so that there was less chance of user interference with the rear sight safety found on those guns. Things got even more interesting with the also very long-slided Model 1902 (Military?) where some of the earliest versions actually have checkered frontal areas instead of serrations to make them more effective! It’s a knowledge (or at least an awareness) of stuff like that, that has always been helpful to me in my work.

Furthermore, while concerns over covering the ejection port with the hand during such manual operation are the main reason for an illustrated article in Issue #14 of the Smith & Wesson Academy Training Newsletter from December of 1989, it also touches on the front grasping method for such things and carries an “All Caps” emphasized warning about using it. So it is pretty obvious that employing this technique (and being concerned about it) was something that was being recognized in other portions of the company as well.

It is also interesting to note that same article illustrates a rear grasping method that is not only effective in general (in controlling the slide, keeping the palm and fingers away from the port, and keeping any slide-mounted levers in the position they started out in) but is a procedure that would have benefitted greatly from this rear-of-the-slide-face to the rear-of-the-port serration pattern seen on my experiment from the roughly the same time.

As to seeing things in other parts of this industry that I thought should have crossed over into better and extended applications of their original use that was, and still is, something that intrigues me. Maybe someday, I’ll post something in The Lounge section of this site about how when I was involved in the rifle sling business pretty seriously, I always thought there was a lot to learn from Biathlon shooters. For while everybody (including me in those days) was working feverishly to improve things for the Tactical Community, I figured that hunters (especially those in the western and mountain states where I lived at one time) could have benefitted a great deal from the hands-free, out-of-the-way but extremely-fast-to-employ slings used in those Olympic events. Such a design would have allowed the more energetic users to climb around a lot more with the gun basically tight, but comfortable across their back. Yet it would have been just as fast for them to employ as it was for those people who race to a stop, jump into position and shoot against the clock.

I’d still like to give that another look if I ever get the time. For the experiments we ran back then were pretty interesting.

Anyway, I hope I answered your question and I want you to know that having been in the holster business for as long as I was, I fully agree with you in regard to front slide serrations being an issue in regard to either holster wear or undesirable holster contact and adhesion. For with some models, they can actually affect both the draw and reholstering of the gun under stress. That’s another reason I really don’t like them.

You take care.
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:28 PM
JohnHL JohnHL is offline
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Mr.Nash, I have this slide and others that probably belonged to you.
I would like learn more about them.

John
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