Uberti .38 Special 1875 No. 3 Top Break 2nd Model Schofield Revolver
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
This is the third in our series of Uberti 1875 Schofield revolver reviews. We have previously reviewed a blued .45 Colt with a seven inch barrel and a blued .44-40 with a five inch barrel. (See the [http://www.chuckhawks.com/index2f.gun_test.htm] Product Reviews index page.) This time, we wanted to examine Uberti's nickel finish and try the third caliber available, .38 Special.
The folks at Uberti (www.uberti.com) kindly shipped us a .38, bright nickel, 2nd Model No. 3 Top Break with a seven inch barrel for review. (We initially requested a 5" barrel, but none were in stock in the US.) This revolver is supplied with beautiful pearl style grips that match the bright finish of the revolver and would delight any Old West riverboat gambler.
Until the advent of stainless steel revolvers, full nickel plating was the best protection available for working revolvers. It cost more than the usual blue finish and was highly prized on the frontier, especially by those working near the water. Of course, nickel plating is also decorative and it was often chosen for high grade, engraved guns.
The .38 Special is a lengthened, more powerful version of the obsolete .38 Long Colt cartridge. The .38 Long Colt is the cartridge that was chambered in the U.S. Army's then new double-action Colt service revolver and credited with failing to stop Morro warriors during the Philippine Insurrection, 1899-1913. The temporary fix was to re-issue Colt Single Action Army revolvers chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge. The long term solution was the .38 Special.
Any .38 Special revolver can also chamber and fire the shorter .38 Long Colt cartridge, just as later .357 Magnum revolvers can also shoot .38 Special cartridges (but not the reverse!). Interestingly, this Uberti Schofield replica is marked on the barrel: ".38 Colt & S&W Spec." We checked the cylinder with both types of ammunition, which fit with no problem. Fortunately, it would not chamber .357 Magnum cartridges, a very good thing as the .357 develops over twice the pressure of the .38 Special and would almost certainly blow open a Schofield revolver.
Smith & Wesson's top-break single action revolver was produced in several versions during its 30 year production life (1868-1898). In 1871, Czarist Russia adopted the S&W top-break as their service pistol, the Imperial Russian Army ordering 41,000 "Russian Model" revolvers in .44 Russian caliber. This resulted, for a time, in the bulk of Smith & Wesson's No. 3 production being sent to Russia. However, they were also sold domestically.
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. Hence, Uberti replicas are available with both barrel lengths.
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 frontiersmen, 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, Remington and Ruger single action revolvers. There is no side loading gate or external ejector rod housing on a Schofield. Instead, S&W's single action is a top break design.
The Schofield's curved rear frame is longer than a Colt SAA and its smooth grip is shaped differently. There are three hammer positions: down, quarter cock and full 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 cylinder latch, which also incorporates the rear sight notch. 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, preventing the pistol from being closed.
If you briskly swing the revolver open with a snap of the wrist, all of the fired brass will (usually) be flung from the cylinder. Undoubtedly, this technique was used by calvary soldiers in battle. However, it is very hard on the pivot hinge and should be avoided by civilians, except in an extreme emergency. Unlike soldiers, who are issued their firearms at government expense, we have to buy our own!
In normal use, open the No. 3 gently. Likewise, do not slam the revolver closed. This will minimize wear on the pivot and latching system. Treat it as you would a fine double shotgun.
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 advantage we could appreciate over conventional SA revolvers is the simultaneous removal of all empty cases.
If you have a modern-type .38 Special speed loader that will fit the Schofield cylinder, you can reload all six chambers at once. We tried this with an H.K.S. speed loader made for the Colt Python and it was close enough in size to work. Consequently, speed loaders intended for the Ruger GP100, S&W "L" frame revolvers, and possibly S&W "N" frame revolvers, should also work.
However, an empty chamber should always be centered under the Schofield's lowered hammer when carrying the revolver. Incidentally, the Schofield's cylinder rotates clockwise (like a Colt cylinder), the opposite of modern S&W double action revolver cylinders, which rotate counter-clockwise.
The Schofield design is bulky compared to a Peacemaker. Its overall length with a 7" barrel is similar to a Peacemaker with a 7-1/2" barrel. The Schofield's hammer is smaller than a Colt's and, although reasonably easy to cock, it is placed farther forward in relation to the shooting hand position on the grip, due to the length of the No. 3 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.
Our nickel Schofield's hammer cocks with three definite clicks, one as the hammer starts rearward (presumably caused by the internal hammer block safety added by Uberti), the second as it reaches the loading notch (quarter cock) and the third when it reaches the full cock position. The top of the hammer spur wears flat top checkering to improve traction that is easy on the thumb. The hammer is powered by long, flat, unnecessarily powerful mainspring. There is a small tension screw in the front of the grip frame. The force required to cock the hammer is about average for modern factory built revolvers.
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. The firing pin in our sample was machined with a noticeable downward droop at its tip.
The trigger pull of our Uberti Schofield measured about seven pounds on our RCBS pull scale out of the box, with a little smooth take-up. It should be no more than three pounds. No one liked the Uberti's heavy trigger. We know from long experience that with a proper trigger pull we can shoot smaller groups. An overly heavy trigger is obscene in a SA revolver at this price. Uberti should correct this problem. It is just a matter of substituting a lighter trigger spring and smoothing the trigger and hammer engagement surfaces during assembly.
Part of the problem is the design of the large, hook shaped trigger spring used in the No. 3. This is pinned to the grip frame in front of the mainspring, a unique design in our experience. This sharply curved flat spring must be filed lengthwise to lighten the trigger pull, which is not an easy task.
Unfortunately, few modern gunsmiths are familiar with the Schofield action, which is not easy to disassemble/assemble, and this will make it difficult to find a gunsmith willing and able to do the job. The trigger blade itself is well designed and comfortable. It is smooth, of medium width and gently curved.
In an attempt to improve the trigger pull, we cleaned the internals with Prolix and lubricated with RemOil. After this, we again measured the trigger pull and found it released at . . . seven pounds. Huh.
The rear sight is a wide "V" notch blade machined into the top of the action latch. We judged the Schofield's fixed 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.
There is a full length rib atop the barrel into which is set a semi-circular, brass, front sight blade. The rounded front sight blade is soldered into a slot in the barrel rib. The front sight blade simply fell out of a previous Uberti test gun, but this one seemed to be securely soldered. As frontier era sights go, the Uberti Schofield rear notch is better than most.
All of our test gun's exposed metal surfaces are highly polished and bright nickel plated. It appears to be a decent plating job. We can only hope that the Uberti factory first plated a copper coating on the bare steel and the nickel finish over the copper. This is the way any good nickel finish should be applied. If the nickel is plated directly over steel, as we have seen done with some cheap guns, in a few years (or sooner!) it will begin to flake off.
The external screws and pins are niter blued. This is a seldom seen, bright blue finish that contrasts attractively with the nickel gun.
The smooth, two-piece grips are made of some synthetic imitation pearl material that looks great on the nickel gun. They were well fitted to our test gun, but came with very sharp edges that should have been removed at the factory. A few light strokes with 320 grit sandpaper will solve the problem.
There are a variety of markings stamped into our test gun. The bottom of the grip frame is stamped with the serial number and "U.S." These are period correct U.S. Army markings. (The Army, of course, never issued nickel finished guns.) The caliber is stamped on the left side of the barrel. Below the caliber is a line that reads: SCHOFIELD'S PATS JUNE 20TH 71. APR 22ND 73. Below the right side of the barrel is the legend: STOEGER - ACCOKEEK, MD - A. UBERTI - ITALY." There are small Italian/CIP proof marks on the bottom of the barrel and the side of the cylinder. The serial number is repeated on the rear face of the cylinder. The letters CM are stamped into the bottom front of the frame; we do not know why.
The overall fit and finish of our top break Uberti is good and the action locks-up tight. The cylinder gap is tight and consistent with an average amount of cylinder play.
Unlike the last Uberti top-break revolver we reviewed, this one was shipped with a correct instruction sheet that applies to Schofield revolvers. (Our last Uberti Schofield came with a Peacemaker instruction sheet.) On the back of the instructions is a helpful exploded diagram and parts list. An 1875 No. 3 Instruction Manual (including a parts diagram and list) is also available on the Uberti website.
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. This was not a feature of original S&W top-break revolvers. 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 bolt is retracted and the cylinder is free to rotate in either direction.
Since the Schofield is loaded with the gun open and the hammer in the quarter cock loading position, it is very easy to load five chambers, leaving the sixth empty. Close the action with the empty chamber in the 11 o'clock position. Cock the hammer, which rotates the empty chamber clockwise into the firing position in line with the hammer. Lower the hammer by thumb onto the empty chamber and the Schofield is completely safe to carry.
At this point, you could drop the Schofield from the top of the Empire State Building and it could not accidentally discharge. We carry all traditional single action revolvers with an empty chamber under the hammer.
Incidentally, the Schofield can be opened with the hammer in the full cock position. This allows a shooter who has cocked the hammer, but not fired a loaded gun to easily return the revolver to a safe condition. Just open the revolver part way (not far enough to extract the cartridges) and use a thumb to lower the hammer all the way down. Then bring the hammer back to the safety position and close the revolver.
The trigger must be released after each shot and the hammer drawn back to the full cock position before the gun can be fired again. You cannot hold the trigger back and slip-fire (or fan) the Schofield, as you can a Peacemaker.
The instruction sheet says to check the frame screws after every shooting session, as they will loosen. (Good advice for any single action revolver.) We don't know about the screws, but we found that the small frame pin located just behind and above the trigger had a tendency to slip out the left side of the frame, so watch for this. It is a simple matter to tap the pin back into place with a short hardwood dowl or the plastic handle of a screwdriver.
Due to the unusual shape of the Top Break frame, we didn't expect to find a holster in our holster drawer that would fit the big Uberti. However, to our surprise, a large KNJ black nylon holster, probably intended for a large frame double action revolver, fit the Schofield nicely.
At the Shooting Range
We drove to the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon to do our test shooting. The July summer weather was hot, with a high temperature of 90-degrees F. This facility offers covered bench rests and target positions at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. For handguns with iron sights, we usually do our shooting for record at 25 yards using a Pistol Perch rest.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck were on hand to do the shooting, experienced hand gunners all. We brought four .38 Special factory loads, one .38 Special handload and one .38 Long Colt (SASS level) factory load along to use as test gun fodder.
Unfortunately, we have no shooting results to report. The Uberti Schofield would not fire any of our test ammunition. When we tried to shoot, the firing pin barely dimpled the primer and, in addition, the resulting firing pin mark was off center, missing the apex of the anvil inside the primer. We got the same result with all six chambers and all brands of ammunition. Interestingly, this gun reliably "fired" laser practice cartridges, indicating that the firing pin was sufficiently long, but with insufficient impact to detonate live primers.
There was plenty of mainspring force on the hammer, considerably more than should have been needed. With the hammer down, the firing pin actually protruded farther from the frame than did the firing pin of a blued Uberti Schofield in .45 Colt that we also had at the range.
The .45 Uberti Schofield fired just fine, leaving a normal dent in the primer. This gun's firing pin also hit much closer to the center of the primer, being only slightly off. Our external examination failed to find an obvious problem with our nickel Uberti, other than the off center firing pin, which could not be responsible for the ultra light dent in the primers.
Our guess is that the malfunction in our nickel Uberti was primarily caused by improper timing of the internal hammer block safety that Uberti added to the Schofield design. We think that this "safety" device was not quite clear of the hammer, muffling the hammer's impact as it retracted and preventing a proper firing pin blow to the cartridge primer.
This is conjecture, since we were not about to disassemble a $1429 test revolver at the range. Far better to simply call it a day, return the revolver to Uberti with our regrets and report our experience to you, gentle reader.
We were pleased with the look and feel of the nickel finished Uberti No. 3 Top Break 2nd Model .38 revolver. It is an interesting piece of history faithfully recreated, except for the internal hammer block safety and a slightly longer cylinder. (The cylinders of these Uberti replicas were lengthened to accommodate .45 Long Colt cartridges, for which original Schofield's were never chambered.)
The external fit and finish is very good. Unfortunately, the internal fit and operation (regarding trigger pull, firing pin alignment and hammer blow) leaves a lot to be desired and quality control is clearly absent. Our test gun had obviously not been test fired before it was shipped. (Makes you wonder about the validity of the proof marks, doesn't it?)
Ordinarily in this situation we would return the defective gun to the manufacturer and hold the review until we had a working sample, reporting our experience, but giving the manufacturer an opportunity to make the gun right before publishing the review. Unfortunately, Uberti changed their media contact person about the time this test revolver was shipped and, despite our request, failed to send us an e-mail address or phone number for the new person. Thus, we were unable to report the situation to the appropriate individual.
This is the fourth recent Uberti test revolver with which we have had serious problems. A .357 Patron lost its front sight and broke an improperly heat treated internal part after very little use, a blued 5" Schofield shot so low with factory ammo that the bullets barely stayed on the lower edge of a slow fire pistol target at 25 yards and an 1875 Remington shot so far to the left at the same distance that it consistently hit the next target over, not the target at which it was aimed! This same revolver's improperly hardened hammer also broke. None of these revolvers had been adequately quality controlled before being shipped to us.
It pains us to report these things, as we enjoy classic firearms and Uberti has long set the standard for reproductions. They are now part of the Beretta conglomerate, under the Benelli division and, as far as we can see, the new owners have not been beneficial to product quality.
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