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Old 10-31-2012, 02:10 PM
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Dave Nash Dave Nash is offline
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Default Factory Experimental 5906 Lever

Part One of Two

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.

First pictured in late September within a thread inside a different Board on this site (Mystery Gun Musings) and then shown again and mentioned in passing about a month ago on this Board (Factory Experimental 5906 Slide) when I discussed for the first time, the how and why behind the extended serrations on the 5906 slide to which it is attached, was the radically altered, single sided, combination manual safety/decocking lever that is detailed in the attached images below (and in the following, second half of this two-part outline as well).

Like some of the things that I disclosed in the “Mystery Gun” and the “Experimental Slide” postings, I am talking about this at the urging of a friend and because of the potential interest to many of those of you who read and participate in this Forum.

In fact, this time, I think that there might be a lot more interest for repeatedly throughout this site, I see people discuss the merits and the actual value of the conventional, 3rd Generation dual-sided (ambidextrous) lever, its profile and its configuration. Many of these threads deal with what is seen as adding an additional and perhaps unnecessary width to an otherwise “thin” gun and some of them talk about the shape of the lever itself and how that affects its usefulness; especially under certain conditions. The purpose of my posting these materials here is to show you that some of us were at least thinking about such things ourselves some 20-24 years ago when the guns were first introduced and put into service.

First, note that this is a single-sided lever and not an ambidextrous version. While I certainly see the advantages to the “ambi” configuration (that was included on most, but not all, of the 3rd Gen Traditional Double Action guns) for marketing, fielding and actual employment reasons, even back then (in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s), I wasn’t totally convinced that it was necessary on all guns for all applications.

At the time, the ambi-lever was a good selling point (marketing of the gun) and it allowed departments to teach the same techniques to right-and-left-handers while issuing them the exact same weapon (fielding of the gun). Furthermore, it fit in with what at the time might have been the true beginnings of (and in looking back, maybe even an over-emphasis on) certain “weak-hand” techniques (employment of the gun) by the everyday user of such firearms. But in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, I was already seriously involved in Concealed Carry methodology and equipment (something that was not yet a mainstream topic like it is today), and I had my doubts about it. For I saw a real advantage to a flatter outer surface (for right-handers) as well as one less way of snagging something while wearing or producing the gun in such a manner regardless of which hand was used.

So while this experimental lever (and the previously described slide to which it was attached: Factory Experimental 5906 Slide) was installed on what was intended for use as a full size, duty (and generally not a concealment) pistol, in viewing that gun as testbed for a number of things, I found that I could not only study the effects of the flatter profile when it was carried concealed but I could also collect a lot of other data in regard to its everyday use in classes where non-dominant (support) hand operation was taught to both right-and-left-handed students and see if the lack of the dual-sided (ambi) lever was a hindrance or a handicap.

Again, I must admit to having something of a bias in this matter. Even back then, I felt that the lack of an ambi-lever wasn’t the huge issue it was (then) being made into. Granted, as a right-hander having shot a 1911 for the preceding decade in matches where one was often forced to do things with the “off” hand, I could see how some might think it was necessary but “off” the range and in real life, I wasn’t so sure. However, that is a discussion for another day in a separate Thread on a different Board on this site. But if you are interested about it, I have just touched on it recently here on the Smith & Wesson Forum in this Post that I made the other morning in a different Thread entirely: About The Also-Mentioned 1911 Issues

That said, I should make it clear that I believe the main and most important change here isn’t the lack of a right side (left hand) operating surface or paddle. It is the modifications to the engagement surfaces of the left side (right hand) lever itself.

The standard factory, combination manual safety/decocking lever configuration (either single or double-sided/ambidextrous) has a series of fine (shallow) horseshoe-like steps leading up to a small plateau that establishes the shape and the maximum thickness of its user engagement paddle(s). While these proportional ledges look nice, I always thought they left a lot to be desired if one was wearing gloves, if one’s thumb was of a larger diameter than “average” (making for less thumb-to-paddle/line-to-line contact) or if one’s thumb was either “fleshy”, or conversely, “calloused” or composed of dead or inflexible skin. For when thumbing the lever down (to decock the gun and/or put it on “Safe”), it was not uncommon for some people to have that portion of their thumb slip off the lever unless they focused on maintaining an inward, as well as a downward, pressure. Something that is asking a lot of somebody (physiologically) who is attempting to lower the hammer on a gun that might have just been fired in defense of their life or the life of another.

To me, however, this thumb-construction-to-lever-profile relationship seemed even more problematic in terms of pushing the lever upward into the “Off” or “Fire” position. For in that direction, all of those physical and biological conditions I just mentioned can contribute greatly to the tendency for the tip, top or side of the thumb to merely roll off, slide past or skip over the lever (paddle) rather than to solidly (or positively) move it completely into the position necessary for the gun to be fired; especially when in a hurry or under stress as one might be in the face of a life-threatening situation (even when considering the spring-loaded detent-like functioning of the lever itself) .

So if you look closely at the lever in the picture, you’ll see that without negatively affecting the overall thickness of this left side (right hand only) version, I recut the upper and lower halves of it in different ways that I believe were directly applicable to these two separate (and different) movements and the issues unique to each one.

That reshaping and the reasoning behind it, is discussed in Part 2 (the concluding portion of this 2-Part report) that follows immediately. That half of this paper should be read in its entirely as well.

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.

End Part One of Two
Attached Thumbnails
Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-01-mod-5906-slide-wmod-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-02-dtl-mod-5906-slide-wmod-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-03-top-view-modified-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-04-isometric-vw-modified-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-05-2nd-top-vw-modified-5906-lever-jpg  

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Old 10-31-2012, 02:14 PM
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Part Two of Two

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.

Looking at the attached images below (and those in the preceding, first half of this two-part outline about these efforts), you can see that I reshaped the top half of the combination manual safety/decocking lever to provide only two “steps” (plus the outer “edge” or rim of the lever itself) but each of them is deeper and more sharply defined than those that the factory originally included. While dramatically altering its profile, I didn’t weaken the part. More on that later but here I should tell you that if this configuration had been done on a production basis, I probably would have included small fillets along the inside corners of the “steps” to perhaps make it stronger while leaving the outside edges exactly as seen in the photos. For in my tests, I verified that by exaggerating those remaining and recut ledges (and “edges”) as in the sample seen here, I was able to make them more accepting (tolerant) of the thumb shape and skin type variances that I described in detail in the first installment about this work.

That installment (Part 1 of this 2-Part report) immediately precedes this one. I advise that anyone reading this portion read it in its entirety as well.

Just as important to recognize, however, is that while I gave the lever a more functional and ergonomic shape by retaining and purposely exaggerating the “stepped” surfaces on its the top half, in so doing, I was also able to minimize the concerns over snagging that I would have had, were I to have simply duplicated the large right angle “L” shape that I (then) employed on the lower half, where such a profile did make sense on the upper portion where it did not. Regardless of the appearance of the original component, I did not believe that optical symmetry was the right approach here.

These new “steps” on the top, while specifically more defined in order to better engage the thumb as described, also tended to deflect holster straps and portions of the wearer’s clothing rather than hook on to them like a single 90º cut (as used on the bottom) might do if it was used in this area. The last thing I wanted to have was a gun that could be carried in an “off safe” and immediately fire-able condition to be unknowingly and/or unnoticeably shifted in a non-functional mode through the act of drawing, handling or even carrying the gun itself.

But that hooking effect was exactly what I wanted in regard to the bottom half of the lever, so there I removed the factory “steps” (the raised surfaces) altogether and replaced them with a severe and sharply cut 90º intersection instead.

While the changes I made to the upper half of the lever, resulted in both the deeper crevices (for what in many people, is the softer and fleshier portion of their thumb to flow into) and the sharper and more defined edges of the new steps (to help engage the stiffer and less pliable skin of people whose thumb is calloused through work or altered by age or environmental conditions), what I needed here on the bottom was a 90º “ledge” to not only provide an extremely deep surface for an average size thumb to engage but also an “overhang” (created by this “right angle” crossection) to “hook” those thumbs of a larger diameter as well as those composed of skin that had “hardened” as a result of any one of a number of internal or external conditions.

All of this increased contact area and contact effectiveness was accomplished without increasing the crossection (thickness) of the lever or changing its relationship (profile) to the gun. Therefore, the overall thickness of the gun was not increased although I believe user performance was. Additionally, this and other experiments I performed back then, actually allowed me (in some cases) to thin down the thickness of the lever in order to reduce that overall thickness of the firearm even further.

Ultimately, however, I came to believe that such “thinning” was not necessary and perhaps even undesirable. For while this part doesn’t see much in the way of really severe forces or loads, I was still worried about reducing its thickness in regard to breakage and bending. It is a strong part as designed by the factory and a true reduction in crossection could very well have affected its ruggedness and resistance to damage in the field and/or under severe use. The version that you see here maintains the original factory thickness and I believe it to be the right approach in this regard.

I also believe (and the past two decades could have blurred my recollections somewhat) that the early levers sat differently in relation to the slide than they did in later years. That is, in regard to how “high” their outside and rear, non-user-contact surface(s) stood above the faces of the slides into which they were installed. I believe that the “rear outer faces” of the early ones “sat” lower but still not flush. Additionally, I also thought that the edges of those same non-user-contact surfaces on the early levers were more radiused as well (creating a more rounded and dome-like shape to this part of the lever). But even with that in mind, I still did not find them to be “optimum” for all applications.

Neither condition is much of a problem (if a “problem” at all) in terms of the Duty Gun or Service Pistol that the 5906 was designed to be. But again, with my interest in Concealed Carry, the still somewhat sharp-shouldered step between the rear (trailing) edge of the lever and the face of the slide not only annoyed me aesthetically but concerned me in terms of being just one more surface on which to snag the gun when drawing it from under a covering garment. So if you compare the pictures below to your own gun or to pictures of 5900 Series guns either online or here on this site, you will see that I gently radiused things to try and minimize those matters. However, it is important to note that even in the example shown here, you will see once again that I did not really reduce the crossection of the lever in doing so.

Finally, I believe that the blending of this rear surface from its trailing (rearmost) edge forward through to the new steps that I had cut into the actual “levering” (engagement) surface of the paddle proper, also had some positive effects on the positioning of the thumb when it is first brought to bear on the lever after firing and the decision to decock the pistol has been made. Once more, we must remember that decocking “in the field” is very likely to occur after the user has just fired the gun in defense of their life or the life of another and it is a time of great stress and perhaps one that also involves a limited or impaired sense of touch or “feel”. The last thing we want under those conditions is for the shooter to “clamp down” on this lever (especially if from a less than ideal angle or approach) and be stopped or even impeded by a raised surface that doesn’t really need to be there as they attempt to position their thumb properly on the lever and move it down to the decocking and/or engaged position.

So, that’s what I’ve got and I hope that this presentation spurs further thinking about how this lever (and other controls for that matter) might be better-shaped or designed to work with, and not against, the user as too many of the configurations that I see today (on these guns and others) seem to lose sight of what is really needed to improve performance; especially on a concealed carry gun and especially under stress.

Most people thin things down or polish them out to the point where they are not only of a lower profile and less likely to snag on something nearby but also less likely to work effectively for the user. I’m obviously biased here but I think that this solution succeeds in all of those areas (especially in terms of better performance) and does so without becoming unnecessarily oversized or involving additional support hand surfaces for what a lot of people feel are unnecessary, or at least unlikely, ambidextrous operations (a topic I also discussed recently in regard to another in another Thread on a different Board on this Site: About The Also-Mentioned 1911 Issues.

In any case, I hope you enjoy what I had to say about something that most people hadn’t seen before now.

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.

End Part Two of Two
Attached Thumbnails
Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-06-dwnwrd-side-view-mod-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-07-straight-side-vw-mod-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-08-upward-side-view-mod-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-09-rear-isoview-modified-5906-lever-jpg   Factory Experimental 5906 Lever-10-rear-view-modified-5906-lever-jpg  

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Old 11-04-2012, 10:51 PM
gtoppcop gtoppcop is offline
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Dave,

I like your treatise on the safety. Good gouge and good pics. I'm one of the ones who like a considerable amount of purchase on the safety. I like to carry the guns with the safety on.

I have been able to find the out-of-print Ed Brown #850-series of extended safeties. When I grip the gun, I curl my shooting thumb and use the inside of the thumb nail to flick the safety into the fire position. The Ed Brown permits me to do it very quickly and substantially.

I realize of course that there are many who:

1.) Have no issues whatsoever with the stock safety
2.) Use the safety as a decocker only
3.) Wish that the safety was thinner

I think (for my uses) that a wide safety is the way to go. I wish I could have a couple of these safeties, as they seem to bridge the gap between my and others' views.

I guess that it wouldn't be too hard to have a decent 'smith' to make the current safety the same as the one pictured. I have kept the pics in my archival file, should I need them.

Many thanks for the great reads.


-Greg
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Old 11-05-2012, 11:20 AM
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Thank you Mr Nash for sharing your experience and insight into the 3rd generation pistols history with us. Rarely do we get to learn any background or history on these underated pistols.

I'm really looking forward to a "S&W 45XX" thread from you! Best regards, 18DAI
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:32 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 to learn more about them.

John
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