Uberti 1875 No. 3 Top Break 2nd Model .44-40 Schofield Revolver
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
When most shooters think of a traditional single action (SA) revolver, it is the "cowboy" style of revolver made famous by the Colt Single Action Army (Peacemaker), Remington Model 1875 and, much later, Ruger Blackhawk (original three screw model). These six shooters, all of which are similar in overall shape, have solid frames, plow handle grips, external ejector rod housing and load/unload by means of a side loading gate. Their big hammers incorporate quarter cock (safety), half cock (for loading/unloading) and full cock (ready to fire) notches. The Colt Peacemaker is probably the best known and identifiable revolver ever made, featured in countless Western movies and TV programs. Introduced in 1873 as the Single Action Army (the standard service revolver of the U.S. Army), it quickly became the most popular cartridge revolver on the American western frontier, widely used by cowboys, lawmen, outlaws and ordinary citizens.
However, there was another popular single action revolver on the frontier that was quite different in operation from the familiar Colt and Remington single actions. This was the Smith & Wesson Number 3, produced in several versions during its 30 year production life (1868-1898).
In 1871, Czarist Russia adopted the Model 3 as their service pistol, the Imperial Russian Army ordering 41,000 "Russian Model" revolvers in .44 Russian caliber (a lengthened version of the earlier S&W .44 American cartridge and forerunner of the later .44 Special). This resulted, for a time, in the bulk of Smith & Wesson's No. 3 production being sent to Russia. However, a reasonable number of No. 3's were sold domestically, particularly after the Russian government cloned the No. 3 and began producing it themselves, refusing to pay for the bulk of the S&W revolvers they had already received or to accept a large numbers of Russian Model No. 3's already produced by S&W and awaiting shipment. Apparently, some things never change when dealing with any generation of the Russian government, commercially or by international treaty!
Perhaps the most famous of the S&W No. 3 models was the version redesigned by Major George Schofield (U.S. Army Cavalry). The Schofield revision was produced by Smith & Wesson as the 1875 No. 3 revolver, more simply known as the "S&W Schofield." Major Schofield's most significant improvement to the No. 3 revolver was a frame mounted, spring loaded, stirrup-type latch (replacing S&W's original barrel mounted latch). This used heat treated parts that could be replaced in the event of excessive wear. The standard barrel length was seven inches, but many Schofields sold by civilian distributors had five inch barrels.
In 1875, the U.S. Army and Smith & Wesson signed a contract for Schofield revolvers in .45 Colt caliber. The No. 3 cylinder was not long enough to accommodate the .45 Colt cartridge, so S&W simply shortened the cartridge, creating the .45 Schofield (sometimes called the .45 Short Colt), which could be used in both the Colt SAA and S&W Schofield revolvers. In the event, after a relatively short production run, the Army cancelled the S&W contract, standardizing on the Colt SAA revolver and the .45 Long Colt cartridge. In 1898, the Army sold as surplus their remaining Schofield revolvers. Wells Fargo & Company purchased many of these Army surplus Schofields, shortening their seven inch barrels to a handier five inches for carry by their Agents.
There were actually two Schofield model versions, the First Model and Second Model. The Second Model can be identified by a slight round bulge on both sides, near the top, of the frame mounted stirrup latch. Perhaps these were intended to allow a better grip for the thumb and index finger of the weak (non-shooting) hand, if it was used to open the action. A dished area at the top of the stirrup, just behind the rear sight, allows opening the action with the thumb of the strong (shooting) hand. The final version of the No. 3 emerged in 1877, when all previous No. 3 models (American, Russian, Schofield, etc.) were discontinued in favor of the "New Model No. 3," which incorporated the Schofield improvements.
Schofield revolvers received considerable use in the American West. Perhaps the most famous, or notorious, westerner known to favor the Schofield was the outlaw Billy the Kid. However, many other famous westerners, on both sides of the law, carried Schofield revolves at one time or another during their careers.
Like any single action revolver, the Schofield's hammer must be manually cocked before the weapon can be fired. That is about its only similarity to the more popular Colt Peacemaker. There is no side loading gate or external ejector rod housing. Instead, the Schofield is a top break design. The Schofield's curved rear frame is longer than a Colt and its smooth walnut grip is shaped more like that found (much later) on S&W double action revolvers. There are only two hammer notches; full cock and quarter cock. The quarter cock position permits the cylinder to rotate freely and allows opening the action for loading or unloading.
To open a Schofield revolver, bring the hammer to the quarter cock position and then pull back the rear sight / cylinder latch. This unlocks the action and allows the barrel/cylinder assembly to swing downward. A star extractor raises the cartridge cases as the action is opened. Invert the pistol as it is opened to allow the cases to drop free (there is no ejector). When the barrel assembly reaches its fully open position, the extractor snaps back into place and fresh cartridges can then be loaded into the cylinder. Take care to ensure that all fired cases drop clear of the cylinder before the barrel/cylinder assembly reaches the end of its rotation and the extractor snaps closed. If a case remains in the chamber when the barrel/cylinder assembly hits its stop, it can prevent the extractor star from retracting completely, keeping the pistol from being closed.
Major Schofield allegedly designed this action to allow one hand reloading on horseback. He was obviously a better man than us, as we found reloading required both hands, even with our feet firmly planted on the ground. The only real advantage we could see over more conventional SA revolvers is the simultaneous removal of all empty cases (providing one doesn't stick in a chamber).
If you had a modern-type speed loader made for .44-40 cartridges and the Schofield cylinder, you could reload all six chambers at once, but we know of no such speed loader offered in the 19th Century. (We have heard that a speed loader for .44 Magnum S&W "N" frame DA revolvers will work with a .44-40 No. 3, but we have not had an opportunity to try it ourselves.) In any case, an empty chamber should always be centered under the Schofield's lowered hammer. Incidentally, in use the Schofield's cylinder rotates clockwise (like a Colt cylinder), the opposite of modern S&W double action revolver cylinders that rotate counter-clockwise.
The Schofield design appears rather bulky compared to a Peacemaker. Its overall length with a 5" barrel is similar to a Peacemaker with a 5-1/2" barrel, although on our digital scale the Uberti 1875 Schofield and an Uberti 1873 El Patron (a Peacemaker replica with a 5-1/2" barrel) both weighed two pounds, nine ounces. The Schofield's hammer is smaller than a Colt's and, although easy to cock, it is placed farther forward in relation to the shooting hand's position on the revolver's grip. This due to the length of the No. 3 action's frame behind the cylinder. For two-handed shooters, this means the supporting hand must be moved farther to allow it to thumb cock the hammer, slightly slowing repeat shots. Colt, Remington and Ruger single actions have larger hammers that are located closer to the grip.
The Schofield hammer cocks with two definite clicks, one as it passes the loading notch and the second when it reaches the full cock position. The top of the hammer spur is grooved to improve traction; these grooves are functional, but shallower and not as sharp as those in a Ruger Blackhawk hammer and thus easier on the thumb. The force required to cock the hammer is moderate, less than required for most Colt Peacemakers.
The firing pin is fixed, machined as an integral part of the hammer. This design should be completely trouble free in normal use and allow unlimited dry firing. However, if the tip of the firing pin wears or breaks, the hammer must be replaced.
For this review we requested the consignment of a new Uberti 1875 No. 3 Top Break 2nd Model revolver in caliber .44-40 with a 5" barrel. This is a replica of the S&W 1875 Schofield Number 3 Second Model. The same basic revolver is also available from Uberti with a 7.0" or 3.5" barrel and in calibers .38 Special, .44 Russian and .45 Long Colt, although original S&W Schofields were never offered in .38 Special or .45 LC. The cylinder of the Uberti replica is slightly longer than the original Schofield to accommodate these longer cartridges.
The trigger pull of our Uberti Schofield measured four pounds on our RCBS pull scale, with a long and gritty take-up. It should be no more than three pounds and "glass rod" clean. There is no excuse for a heavy, gritty trigger in a single action revolver. To add insult to injury, few modern gunsmiths are familiar with the Schofield action and that will make it hard to find a 'smith willing and able to do the job and expensive when you do. The trigger blade itself is smooth, of medium width and gently curved. It is a comfortable trigger design that is poorly executed internally.
The rear sight is a wide "V" notch machined into the top of the action latch. There is a full length rib atop the barrel into which is set a semi-circular, brass, front sight blade. The front sight blade is apparently soldered into a slot in the barrel rib.
The frame, barrel and cylinder are polished and hot blued, while some smaller parts are color case hardened. The latter include the hammer, action latch / rear sight, trigger guard and main hinge pin. The two-piece grips are smooth walnut with "1877" (the year the New Model No. 3 replaced all previous S&W No. 3 revolvers) and what appears to be the initials "DAL" in a small oval cut into the left grip panel and the initials "CW" inscribed in a similar small oval in the right grip panel. The bottom of the blued steel grip frame is stamped with the serial number and "U.S." These are historical U.S. Army markings.
The caliber is stamped on the left side of the barrel. Below the caliber is a line that reads: "Stoeger - Accokeek, MD - A. Uberti - Italy." There are small Italian proof marks on the bottom of the barrel. The overall fit and finish of our top break Uberti is good and the action locks-up tight. Likewise, the cylinder gap is tight and consistent with very little cylinder play.
For reasons we cannot understand, the Instruction Manual supplied with our 5" Schofield pertains only to Colt Peacemaker type revolvers. This includes the exploded diagram and parts list, so this manual is useless to Uberti Schofield revolver owners. Because the operation of 1875 Top Break revolvers is very different from the operation of 1873 Peacemaker type revolvers, Uberti should make printing a dedicated Instruction Manual for Schofield owners a top priority. A correct 1875 No. 3 Instruction Manual (including a parts diagram and list) is available on the Uberti website and this should be downloaded by all Uberti 1875 No. 3 Top Break revolver owners.
Uberti 1875 top Break revolvers incorporate an internal hammer block that moves into place to keep the firing pin from reaching the primer of a chambered cartridge when the hammer is withdrawn to the quarter cock (loading/unloading) position. To quote Uberti, "This patented device places a steel insert between the hammer and the frame and is designed to prevent the gun from firing accidentally. When the gun is not being used, always use your hammer block safety." Note that, unlike Colt, Remington and Ruger Old Model SA revolvers, when the Uberti Schofield's hammer is in its "safe" position, the cylinder is free to rotate in either direction.
When the hammer is all the way down, the tip of the firing pin is resting directly on the primer of a cartridge in the chamber aligned with the barrel. In this situation, even a moderate blow to the hammer will result in an accidental discharge. An empty chamber or a fired case must always be under the lowered hammer of a Schofield revolver. Keep this in mind, whether at the range or in the field.
In our case, "at the range" means the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This is where we do most of our test shooting. There are covered bench rests (a good thing in rainy Western Oregon) and target positions at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. For handguns, we do our shooting for record at 25 yards. We used 25 yard slow fire pistol bullseye targets and for support on the shooting bench we used a Pistol Perch rest.
For once the weather in March was decent, with partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of about 70-degrees F. The wind was inconsequential for a big bore revolver at 25 yards, blowing only 5-10 MPH.
Guns and Shooting Online regulars Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Bob Fleck were on hand to do the shooting. For ammo we had Winchester Super-X factory loads with a 200 grain Power Point bullet at a muzzle velocity of approximately 950 fps and a handload provided by Rocky using a 200 grain Lasercast bullet in front of 8.0 grains of Unique at about 900 fps. As always, our thanks go to Winchester Ammunition for providing the factory load used in this review. Without their support reviews like this would not be possible. We normally shoot five shot groups from handguns, but due to the ongoing Obama inspired ammo shortage, we were content to shoot three shot groups to conserve our precious supply of .44-40 factory loaded cartridges. Here are the shooting results:
This time out Chuck shot the smallest group. Given our aging eyes and the 19th Century sights, the Uberti Schofield did a satisfactory job at the range.
No one liked the Uberti's gritty trigger. With a proper trigger pull we are sure we could have shot smaller groups. A gritty and overly heavy trigger is obscene in a SA revolver at this price. Uberti should correct this problem at once; it is just a matter of smoothing the trigger and hammer surfaces and removing excess sear engagement during assembly. This is called "doing it right." Original Schofields are mostly in the hands of collectors and not fired, but replicas are purchased to be used and Uberti should realize this and assemble their replica revolvers accordingly. Externally, our test gun's fit and finish are very good; as a premium revolver, it should be fitted and polished internally (where it matters) at least as well as it is externally. After all, we are not dealing with a cheap sheet metal and plastic autoloader!
We judged the Schofield's rear sight more visible than the smaller notch grooved into the top of Colt Peacemaker frames or Remington SA frames, but clearly inferior to the adjustable Patridge rear sight supplied on Target Model Colt SAA's or modern Ruger Blackhawk revolvers. As frontier era sights go, the Uberti Schofield is better than most.
Sight regulation is another matter, as the five inch Uberti consistently shot low, especially for Rocky and Bob. Schofields came standard with seven inch barrels and Uberti made no change in the sights (both the front blade and rear notch height are identical to the guns with seven inch barrels) to compensate for our test gun's five inch barrel. Compared to a seven inch barrel, the five inch barrel has a shorter sight radius, recoils more and typically delivers a lower muzzle velocity than a full length tube, which affects the point of impact and requires a different front sight height.
We found that, with the revolver's hammer in the quarter cock loading position and three cartridges loaded, the pull of gravity on the mass of the cartridges would immediately rotate the cylinder backwards, so that the loaded chambers wound-up at the bottom. This made it somewhat of a hassle to get the hammer to full cock and then down on the empty chamber immediately in front of the first loaded chamber, where it needs to be in a single action revolver. In the top break design, when the action is open the frame mounted hand is no longer in contact with the cylinder (unlike a solid frame revolver), allowing the cylinder to freely spin in either direction.
We also found that briskly opening the revolver with a snap of the wrist would toss the fired brass from the cylinder, making for quicker reloads. This trick might work in a gunfight, but should be avoided for general use, as it will cause unnecessary wear on the hinge. In normal use, open the No. 3 gently. Likewise, do not snap the revolver closed. This will minimize wear on the latching system. Treat it as you would a fine double shotgun.
Overall, we enjoyed our time spent with the Uberti Top Break 1875 No. 3 Second Model revolver. It is a piece of history faithfully executed, except for the internal hammer block (a modern safety feature) and a slightly longer cylinder to accommodate .45 Long Colt cartridges. The latter is a change Smith & Wesson should have made back in 1875, in accordance with their U.S. Army contract. The external fit and finish is excellent by modern standards and actually using one of these revolvers highlights its benefits and drawbacks compared to contemporary Colt and Remington revolvers.
Copyright 2014 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.