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The 1903 Smith & Wesson .32 Hand Ejector,
(the Second Model .32 Hand Ejector)—
a Detailed Investigation

Part 1: The No Change Model 1903

by Ed Buffaloe and Gaston Comeau


1903-.32-HE-Catalogue-p.37-M

Listing for the .32 Hand Ejector in the 1903 Smith & Wesson Catalog

Introduction and Overview

The .32 Hand Ejector was Smith & Wesson’s first revolver with a swing-out cylinder. It was manufactured in a number of variations from 1896 until 1942. Its history is the history of the development of the modern revolver. The .32 Hand Ejector was built on Smith & Wesson’s I frame, in the following variations, as defined by McHenry & Roper:

  • First Model .32 Hand Ejector, Model of 1896, manufactured from 1896~1903 with its own serial number range from 1 ~ 19,712.
  • Second Model .32 Hand Ejector, Model of 1903, manufactured from 1903~1942, with at least six variations encompassing multiple engineering changes—the subject of this effort. Serial numbers were restarted with the Second Model and range from 1 ~ 534,532.
  • Third Model .32 Hand Ejector, the 32 Regulation Police, manufactured from 1917~1942, with serial numbers intermixed with those of the Second Model, ranging from 259,193? ~ 536,685

The period from 1903~1942, with which we are dealing in this article, was one of intense innovation at Smith & Wesson, as Daniel B. Wesson and his son Joseph H. (Joe) Wesson worked on perfecting the double action mechanism of their Hand Ejector revolvers. Some innovations appeared first, or concomitantly, in other Hand Ejector models chambered in .38 Special, .32 Winchester, or .44 Special, but in this article we are focusing only on the Model 1903 chambered in .32 Smith & Wesson Long.

Information on variations and changes is taken primarily from McHenry & Roper’s Smith & Wesson Hand Guns and from Neal & Jinks’ Smith & Wesson, 1857-1945: A Handbook for Collectors; information on serial numbers is mostly taken from the latter, with minor changes that reflect our own observations. We gladly acknowledge our debt to the outstanding researchers who have preceded us.

Additional information provided in this article is based on a critical examination of .32 Hand Ejector serial numbers 42, 7611, 13657, 25593, 37559, 45993, 54735, 90425, 95745, 98348, 101046, 224627, 262008, 314670, 378215, 398149, and 530711, as well as an examination of many photographs in the public domain. We welcome photographs and information about other Model 1903 Hand Ejector revolvers that might help improve the information in this article.*

When patents are cited they will not necessarily be in the order of their invention or acceptance. The reader should bear in mind that for every generality there is usually an exception, and that manufacturing changes are not always implemented uniformly.


The S&W Model 1903 No Change
Serial Numbers 1~19,425
Manufactured 1903-1904

The Model 1903 was the Smith & Wesson company’s first .32 to look and function almost like its modern counterparts. Smith & Wesson Manufactured 19,425 of this No Change Model 1903 revolver over a two year period before they proceeded to make further innovations.

1903 .32 Hand Ejector Parts List (Click to Enlarge)

Parts List for the Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector (No Change)

 Legend
479...Frame
480...Barrel
481...Sideplate
482...Yoke
483...Cylinder
484...Trigger
485...Hammer
486...Extractor
487...Cylinder Release Bolt
488...Hand
489...Cylinder Release Thumbpiece
490...Cylinder Stop
491...Double Action Sear
492...Rebound Catch
493...Extractor Rod Knob
494...Barrel Pin
495...Center Pin Spring
496...Yoke Stop
497...Hammer Stud
498...Trigger Stud
499...Cylinder Stop Stud
500...Cylinder Bolt Plunger         

501...Plate Screw, large head
502...Yoke Screw
503...Plate Screw
504...Cylinder Bolt Screw
505...Rebound Catch Plunger
506...Trigger Spring
507...Locking Bolt Spring
508...Bolt Spring
509...Yoke Stop Spring
510...Double Action Sear Spring
511...Rebound Catch Spring
512...Front Sight
513...Mainspring (Hammer Spring)
514...Center Pin
515...Extractor Rod
516...Extractor Spring
517...Stock Screw
518...Strain Screw
519...Locking Bolt (for Front of Center Pin)
520...Hammer Stirrup
521...Cylinder Release Thumbpiece Nut
522...Frame Lug
523 & 524...Stocks

Lockwork

Two large flat springs are mounted in the grip frame.  The rear spring is the mainspring (503) that tensions the hammer. The forward spring is the trigger spring (506) that tensions the trigger and operates the rebound mechanism.

1903 .32 Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector - No Change Lockwork & Terminology

S&W 1903 Hand Ejector - No Change Lockwork and Terminology

In the Second Model Hand Ejector, Model of 1903, the frame mounted rebound levers of the First Model Hand Ejector of 1896 are eliminated, replaced by a single seesaw lever that pivots on a pin fixed in the base of the hammer and which is referred to by Smith & Wesson as the “rebound catch” (492). This hammer-mounted rebound catch is tensioned by a small spring and plunger (511 and 505) in the lower portion of the hammer, forcing the front end of the catch down and the rear end up when the trigger is pulled to the rear.

32HE-7611-Lockwork-2-S1

Lockwork with Trigger in Forward Position

32HE-7611-Lockwork-3-S1

Lockwork when Trigger is Pulled to Rear

The rebound catch acts to lock the hammer to prevent accidental firing. At rest, the rebound catch is aligned with the bottom of the frame, but if the hammer is pressed forward, the rebound catch locks against a stop in the frame, preventing further movement of the hammer.  When the trigger is pulled to the rear, the trigger spring is lifted upward by the hand, allowing the rebound catch to rotate clear of the frame so the gun can be fired.

1903-NoChangeHammer-1-m

  S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector  (No Change) - Hammer Detail

The hammer assembly includes the double action sear (491), the rebound catch (492), and the stirrup (520), all held in place by small pins. The solid chafing pins (U.S. Patent № 684331) and hammer nose (firing pin) pin are permanently installed.

US611826-Pat-drwg

U.S. Patent № 611826 - 4 October 1898 - Cylinder Stop

The cylinder stop (490) sits in front of the lockwork recess. Its purpose is to lock the cylinder in firing position. The cylinder stop turns on a stud screwed into the frame and is activated by the trigger hook which engages a pin on the side of the stop. The early cylinder stop, shown in U.S. patent number 611826, is tensioned by a small spring and plunger held in place by a pin through the body of the stop.

32HE-13657-Trigger-labeled-s1

 No Change Trigger - Terminology from Kuhnhausen

32HE-13657-No-Change-Stop-s

 No Change Cylinder Stop

The cylinder stop (490) engages the cylinder notches through a slot cut in the bottom of the frame. When the trigger is pulled, the trigger hook leverages the stop out of engagement with the cylinder, while at the same time a pawl, known as the “hand” (488), attached to the rear of the trigger rotates the cylinder in a counterclockwise direction. The trigger nose engages the double action sear (491) to rotate the hammer backward. When the trigger gets to the end of its pull the nose slips free of the sear and releases the hammer to fall on the cartridge primer. The single-action sear is the small ledge beneath the toe of the hammer. This ledge catches on the nose of the trigger when the hammer is manually cocked.

US733101-pat-drwg

U.S. Patent № 733,101 - 7 July 1903 - Rebound Mechanism and Lockwork

The hand (488) is tensioned by the trigger spring (506). The trigger spring presses downward on the hand to tension the trigger, but the hand needs to be tensioned in a more forward direction, so a tiny rotating lever is fitted to its back side. This lever engages with a notch near the end of the trigger spring, leveraging the hand forward.

1903-NoChange-lockwork-det

No Change Lockwork Detail

SW-HE-25593-hand-S

Hand (488) with Lever

The hammer (485) and trigger (484) are case hardened whereas most of the other lockwork parts are unfinished bare metal, “in the white” in firearms terminology. The case hardened surface of the hammer is protected from scratching by patented chafing pins which extend a few thousandths of an inch beyond the sides of the hammer (see U.S. Patent № 684331). McHenry & Roper and Neal & Jinks report that a chafing pin was added to the trigger with the First Change variation, but we have found that all No Change Model 1903 triggers also have chafing pins.

External sides of the trigger spring (506), cylinder release bolt (487), double action sear (491), hand (488), and cylinder stop (490) are polished to a mirror finish. This polishing is accomplished by a process known as glass-lapping: a piece of glass with one surface etched to a rough finish is coated with a polishing compound, such as tripoli or rouge, and the parts to be polished are rubbed on the coated surface until they take on a mirror finish. The glass-lap process was used into the 1940’s.

In other S&W revolvers, the mainspring screw (518) is threaded into the front strap of the frame. However, in the early Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector (No Change and First Change), the hole in the frame is not threaded. Instead, the hole in the trigger spring (506) is threaded to fit the strain screw.

Barrel, Cylinder, and Yoke

During the 19th century, most Smith & Wesson revolvers had a full length rib on top of the barrel, with the front sight pinned to that rib. The First Model .32 Hand Ejector (Model of 1896) retained this barrel rib; however, the rib is eliminated in the .32 Hand Ejector of 1903. The barrel tapers slightly toward the front, and the only remnant of the rib is a raised boss at the front to which the front sight is pinned. The barrel is screwed into the frame and pinned in place.

32HE-42-Barrel-m

Barrel underlug with locking pin for the cylinder ejector rod. Raised boss with pinned front sight.

The Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector cylinder locks at both ends of the center pin to assure proper alignment with the barrel. Perhaps the front lock for the cylinder was necessitated by the Wesson’s decision to rotate the cylinder counterclockwise, opposite the direction of yoke closure. Maybe the Wessons realized that when the cylinder rotates in the opposite direction of yoke closure the hand may push the cylinder out of alignment. However, the patent cites the possibility of a substance becoming lodged between yoke and frame, thus “springing the yoke”. In any case, the front lock prevents misalignment of the cylinder. U.S. patent № 689260 of December 1901 covers the front lock for the cylinder pin.

An underlug on the barrel contains the spring loaded locking pin for the front of the cylinder ejector rod. The barrel underlug and sight boss are forged as part of the barrel. Late Model 1903 “No Change” guns have the front sight forged as part of the barrel as well, so the front sight does not require a pin.

Like its predecessor (the First Model Hand Ejector of 1896) the cylinder stop notches of the Model 1903, have hardened steel shims to prevent the cylinder bolt from wallowing them out. At this time the steel used in the cylinders was relatively soft and the notches were subject to wear; such wear is often seen in earlier Smith & Wesson revolvers, as well as in some of the inferior Spanish revolvers of the early 20th century. The U.S. patent for the shims, № 401087, was granted in April of 1889. Even with the cheap labor of the era, shimming the cylinder notches was time consuming and contributed to the premium cost of the Smith & Wesson revolver.

32HE-54735-Cylinder-notch-shim

Cylinder notch /w hardened steel shim.

SW-7611-Yoke-det-1-S1

Yoke Stop (496)

32HE-7611-Yoke-detents-in-frame

Detents in frame for Yoke Stop.

Beginning with the First Model Hand Ejector of 1896, the cylinder yoke (482) of Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector revolvers is stabilized by a small spring and plunger (509 and 496), referred to as the yoke stop. There are detents in the frame into which the stop fits in both the open and closed positions (unlike the patent drawing, which shows a detent only for the open position).

SW-7611-Yoke-det-2-S

Yoke Stop Spring (509) and Plunger (496)

US539497-pat-drwg

U.S. Patent № 539497 of 1895

Cylinder Release or Cylinder Bolt

Two safety cylinder release mechanisms were patented by Daniel B. Wesson, one in 1896 (see U.S. Patent № 573736) and another in 1899 (see U.S. Patent № 635705). They both consist of a spring loaded sliding bar that runs in a groove cut in the left wall of the frame, with a forward projection at the front and a lateral projection at the rear. The company has always referred to this bar as the “bolt” (487).

US573736-pat-drwg-S

1896 Cylinder Release Bolt - U.S. Pat № 573736

US635705-1899-cylinder-release-1-S

1899 Cylinder Release Bolt  - U.S. Patent № 635705

The two patents accomplish the same end using slightly different mechanisms, though neither works exactly like the mechanism as it was implemented in the Hand Ejector. The cylinder release, as we know it today, is derived from these two patent designs. In the mechanism, as implemented, cocking the hammer locks the bolt and the cylinder cannot be opened. With the hammer down, the bolt is not blocked, and pressing the release button forward will push the spring loaded center pin out of its recess in the recoil plate, allowing the cylinder and yoke assembly to be opened. With the cylinder open, the rear spring holds the bolt forward and the lateral projection at the rear of the bolt prevents the hammer from being cocked. The bolt spring (508) and plunger (500) are held in place by a set screw in the rear of the bolt which is not shown in either patent.

Cylinder-release-1-S

Cylinder release bolt.

Sideplate and Fouling Cup

32HE-42-Sideplate

Early No Change Sideplate - Large S&W Monogram

32HE-13657-Sideplate

Late No Change Sideplate - Small S&W Monogram

The sideplate (481) is secured by four screws. The top screw (503), beneath the hammer, is a short screw with a small shank diameter, fine threads, and a head larger than the others. The remaining sideplate screws (501) have a longer shaft. The yoke screw (502) is slightly shorter than the plate screws since its additional purpose is to hold the yoke in place, and it must not bind in the retaining groove.

As on the Model 1896 Hand Ejector, the large size S&W monogram remains centered on the sideplate of early No Change revolvers. Sometime between serial numbers 13153 and 13350 we begin to see a smaller Smith & Wesson monogram centered near the bottom of the sideplate. The small monogram on the right sideplate is rarely, if ever, seen in later changes.

1903-NoChange-sideplate-O-s 1903-NoChange-sideplate-R-s1

Early No Change Sideplate - Obverse and Reverse

There are holes in back (inside) of the sideplate to accept studs for the cylinder stop, trigger, and hammer. The trigger and hammer holes have bosses, which hold their respective parts in proper alignment. The cylinder stop has an integral boss, as shown in the No Change lockwork detail photograph.

32HE-98348-Fouling-Cup-S

  S&W Model 1903 .32 Hand Ejector Fouling Cup.

A feature rarely mentioned is the fouling cup, which is a relief cut in the underside of the topstrap just at the barrel and cylinder interface. This cut is a remnant from the days of black powder when only a few shots from black powder cartridges could foul a revolver action to the point where the cylinder would not turn. The fouling cup provides a little extra room for powder residue above the cylinder. Black powder cartridges were still available well into the 20th century so Smith & Wesson revolvers retained this feature until around 1920, though the use of black powder cartridges began to decline rapidly after 1907.

Inscriptions and Stocks

The left side of the barrel is marked in upper case sans serif characters:

32 LONG CTG

The inscription, with patent dates, is on the top of the barrel. We cannot claim to list all inscriptions, but we list the ones we have observed. The number of lines in an inscription generally varies with barrel length. Inscriptions are bracketed by typographical dingbats, usually in the shape of a stylized cross. An early gun with 4 inch barrel (serial number 42) lacks the later patent dates, and has its inscription on three lines in all capital sans serif characters, as follows:

SMITH&WESSON  SPRINGFIELD MASS.  U.S.A.
 PAT’D  APRIL 9 .89. MARCH 27. 94. MAY 21. 95. JULY 16. 95
AUG.4.96. DEC.22.96. OCT. 4. 98. OCT. 8. 01 DEC. 17. 01

A six inch length barrel inscription (serial number 7611) is on two lines in all capital sans serif characters, and includes the 1903 patent date, as follows:

SMITH&WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS.U.S.A.PAT’D APR 9.89.MAR 27.94.MAY
 21.95.AUG.4.96.DEC.22.96.OCT.4.98.OCT.8.01.DEC.17.01.SEP.2.02.JUL.7.03

32HE-03-7611-NoChange-2line

No Change Two-Line Inscription - SN 7611

A slightly later example (serial number 9378) includes the 1902 patent date but not the 1903; its 3 inch barrel has an inscription on four lines in all capital sans serif characters, as follows:

SMITH&WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
 PAT’D APR. 9.89. MARCH 27.94. MAY 21.95.
  AUG.4.1896. DEC.22.1896. OCT.4.1898.
OCT.8.1901.DEC.17.1901.SEPT.2.1902.

A still later example (serial number 16376) also includes the 1903 patent date:

SMITH&WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. U.S.A.
 PAT’D APR. 9.1889. MAR. 27.1894. MAY 21.1895.
  AUG.4.1896. DEC.22.1896. OCT.4.1898. OCT.8
1901. DEC.17.1901. SEPT.2.1902. JULY 7.1903

The Model 1903 continues to have the same standard stocks as the Model 1896, which are of checked hard rubber and feature the S&W monogram in a circle at the top. Since most stocks are hand fitted, the serial number is stamped on back of the right stock, or sometimes scratched or penciled, especially in the case of custom stocks. Target stocks are oversize square-butt, also made of checked hard rubber, with two grip screws—one in the middle and a longer one near the bottom. Target stocks did not usually require close fitment and so are rarely numbered to the gun. Premium factory stocks in mother of pearl and ivory were not always listed in the catalogs but were sometimes available by special order. Factory original premium stocks have gold plated brass Smith & Wesson monogram medallions inset near the top.

.32 S&W Model 1903 - No Change - SN 7611 - Scarce Early Target Model

.32 S&W Hand Ejector Target Model - No Change - SN 7611 - Scarce Early Target Model
Note the pinned front sight, the adjustable rear sight, and the oversize target grips.


Serial Numbers, Fitting Numbers, Rework/Repair Stamps

Assembly or “soft fitting” numbers may be found stamped in the yoke cut of the frame, on the yoke itself, and on the sideplate; these parts are machined together and are numbered so they will stay together through the rest of the production process. Stocks, barrel, and cylinder are all hand fitted to the frame and the serial number is stamped on the base of the grip frame, on the rear face of the cylinder, on the bottom of the barrel in the flat at the rear, on the back of the extractor, on the cross bar of the yoke, and behind the right stock. Target models may have the serial number stamped on the bottom of the rear sight, and partial serial numbers stamped on other small factory parts such as the front and rear sight blades. A star next to the serial number, or sometimes on the grip frame, indicates a factory refinish or repair. Numbers stamped on the grip frame, separated by a period, usually indicate the date of a refinish or repair. The letter “B” stamped on the barrel flat or yoke indicates an original blue finish. Lack of the “B” may indicate an original nickel finish, as does a stamped “N”. The “P” in a circle indicates that the gun was re-plated with nickel.

32HE-42-Grip-SN-s 32HE-42-Cyl-SN-s
32HE-42-Extractor-star-S1 32HE-42-Yoke-SN-S
32HE-42-Bbl-SN-det-m3 32HE-42-Grip-frame-det-s

Serial Number Locations. Note the star on the base of the grip, indicating that the gun was repaired and/or refinished.
Also note that S&W must have replaced the cylinder at the same time, since the gun has the late extractor positioned with pins.
P in a circle indicates a replate and the stamp on the grip frame, “1.22”, indicates the work was done in January of 1922..

A Note on Fitment

From the earliest days of their partnership, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson emphasized quality and precision in manufacturing. Their products have always been known for being well made and accurate. Aficionados of Smith & Wesson revolvers know well their close fitment and precision. Roy Jinks, in his History of Smith & Wesson, says of the Smith & Wesson Straight Line target pistol that “because of the tight tolerances to which the pistol had been built, the hammer fall was sluggish if it was over-lubricated.” Our experience with Smith & Wesson revolvers, in general, is that excess lubrication can slow the action and increase trigger pull. Only the thinnest film of a high quality lubricant is required.


* Write to edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com.


No Change Photo Gallery

Part 2: Model 1903 First, Second, and Third Change

Part 3: Model 1903 Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Change, and Regulation Police

References

  • Jinks, Roy G. History of Smith & Wesson. Beinfeld, North Hollywood, California: 1977.
  • Kuhnhausen, Jerry. The S&W Revolver: A Shop Manual. Heritage Gun Books, Boise, Idaho: 1990.
  • McHenry, Roy C. & Roper, Walter F. Smith & Wesson Hand Guns. Standard Publications, Inc., Huntington, West Virginia: 1945.
  • Neal, Robert J. & Jinks, Roy G. Smith & Wesson: 1857-1945. R&R Books, Livonia, N.Y.: 1975.
  • Pate, Charles W. U.S. Handguns of World War II: The Secondary Pistols and Revolvers, Third Edition. Andrew Mowbray, Woonsocket, Rhode Island: 2015.
  • Smith & Wesson factory catalogues and advertising, 1903-1944.
  • Supica, Jim & Nahas, Richard. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, 3rd Edition. Gun Digest Books, Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin: 2006.

Special thanks to JoeSalter.com, Craig Smith, Jim Carter, Michael Carrick, Gary Lowe, and Al Gerth
for assistance, proofing, comments, and corrections. Any remaining errors are our own.

Copyright 2024 by Ed Buffaloe and Gaston Comeau.  All rights reserved.
This article may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the authors.

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