Single action ergonomics: did Colt screw up?

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JimMarch1

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 19, 2007
Messages
525
Location
Tucson, AZ, USA
Folks, this is going to be a long and possibly controversial post, but...I learned something today that shocked me.

First, let's start with where I'm coming from: I shoot SA wheelguns from a personal defense point of view. My daily carry CCW piece is a NewVaq357, modified. I've shot it and handled it enough to wear half the blue off the steel grip frame. I am very familiar and competent with this gun.

Studying as much material as I can from the "Old West" period, I was (and remain) under the impression that most shooting was done one-handed, cocking with the strong-side thumb. I practice shooting one-handed and two (Weaver-based), and in both cases cock with the strong-side thumb. I believe that when dealing with serious recoil (such as the very stout Doubletap full-house 357 loads I carry) there's no speed disadvantage doing strong-thumb cocking as opposed to the typical CAS/SASS off-hand cocking that seems to have developed around "mouse phart" loads.

BUT, I had reason to doubt my own sanity on this point. Because when it was stock, strong-side-thumb cocking my NewVaq wasn't at all comfortable - the thumb reach was too far. I have fairly big hands (as I'm 6'4" and around 280lbs) but I also hold pinkie-under, which as far as I can tell was used by at least some in the "old west".

To reduce my "thumb reach", I put in a SuperBlackhawk hammer, and love it. But it's very visibly not "period correct" and until very recently was banned in CAS/SASS use.

I had been told by a lot of sources that the New Vaquero was mostly "Colt SAA" sized.

I wore my gun open-carry today at a gun show in Kingman AZ - I'm from Tucson AZ but was visiting and had time to kill so while friends were at the state Democratic Party convention, I decided to hang out with my own species :). I checked my piece at the door unloaded and accepted the safety tie.

While talking SA wheelguns with a guy who turned out to be a vendor, he asked to see my critter. I did so, explained about the experimental sights, etc. He in turn walked over to his table (when I learned he was a vendor) and pulled out a gun he wasn't ready to sell yet - a Colt SAA first generation dated to about 1910, wonderful patina, otherwise in good shape except he was searching for a period ejector rod housing. He handed it to me and I assured him I wasn't going to cock it. I put it in my normal pinkie-under hold, put my thumb on the hammer tip, and stopped.

Because something felt very damned familiar about doing so.

Gently putting it down, I picked up my own gun and held it the same way. And was very surprised to find the tip of the hammer going RIGHT dead nuts on the same place as that old Colt made contact - about 1/8th of an inch past the outermost joint in my thumb. Which on my gun means a quick bend of the thumb always naturally cocks it.

While they didn't look the same, functionally the ergonomics were identical between those guns. Putting the hammer tip to my thumb, the cocking stroke is absolutely perfect for me with either gun, with my normal pinkie under hold.

OK, what the hell?

This particular show had a lot of older guns. I was able to quickly find a pair of even older Colts - genuine "blackpowder frame" specimens from the 19th century. Again, the hammer tip went to the correct place, same as my modified Ruger.

I then found some newer post-war Colt SAAs, one "post-war, unknown year", another confirmed as 3rd generation. Same hold, hammer tip went to the middle of my thumb's "pad", almost 1/4" further out.

Unless I've missed something here, Colt made a major, MAJOR change when they re-invented the SAA on new machines after WW2 - one that trashed one-handed cocking for at least some users.

And as far as I can tell, Ruger then copied the post-WW2 ergonomics instead of the pre-war in the original Blackhawk 357, which became the basis for my NewVaq bought in 2005.

I spied a new-production USFA Rodeo, case-colored hammer, plain black finish and grips. Held that - whoa, guess what? They copied the pre-WW2 Colt ergonomics! Fits like the older Colts and my modded Ruger.

Holy crap.

So let's think about this. Is it possible that in -=functional=- terms, in...I dunno, what do we call it? "Authentic gunfighting terms"(?), the New Vaquero with an SBH/Montado hammer (also found on the new "SASS special" 4.68" New Vaqueros) is actually MORE period correct than a normal Ruger New Vaquero OR a real Colt SAA new production!? And the USFAs are just as functionally correct yet more "period looking" to boot?

That brings us to another question: what did the Italians copy!? I don't know yet, but I damned well intend to find out!!!

Which leads us to our final and most controversial question: is it possible a whole slew of techniques now found in SASS/CAS sports (esp. off-hand cocking) are at least somewhat the product of a massive screwup on Colt's part post-WW2!?

Do we need to re-think *everything* regarding period-correct *techniques* that are based on real period-correct ergonomics?

And where do the percussion Colts fit in? Or the Remmies for that matter...or old S&Ws?

Can anybody else confirm my findings here? Note that I don't know exactly what's different yet about older vs. newer Colts - I suspect the hammer but it could also be grip length, grip shape...frame height? I have no idea. All I know is there's a difference. What I'd really like to do is put both in a 3D scanner and get accurate blueprints to compare but...that will have to wait :).

If it's the hammer...is it possible Colt was influenced post-war by Hollywood's "invention" (or at least frequent use of!) fast-draw and fanning? We know that the SAA was brought back because of the renewed popularity of "westerns" on both big and small screens...so...it seems possible?

If anybody knows more on this, please sing out.

Jim March
 

Driftwood Johnson

Blackhawk
Joined
Sep 25, 2007
Messages
699
Location
Land of the Pilgrims
Howdy

First off, Ruger never set out to exactly duplicate the SAA in every dimension when they produced the New Vaquero. There are many places where a New Vaquero and a Colt SAA will vary slightly in dimensions. The cylinders are not the same diameter or length, for one thing. What Ruger was trying to accomplish with the New Vaquero was make it similar to the SAA, they never intended it to be an exact duplicate. They simply wanted to scale the gun down a bit from the size of the 'original model' Vaquero so it would be more 'Colt like'. As far as the height of the hammer spur is concerned, with the 'original model' Vaquero the hammer spur was quite short and it was possible to sight the gun on a target with the hammer down; the hammer spur did not obscure the sights. When Ruger brought out the New Vaquero, the hammer spur was taller, and it blocked the sights when it was down, just like a Colt hammer spur does. I really doubt if their intention was to exactly duplicate the Colt hammer, they just wanted it a bit taller so it would obscure the sights as with a Colt.

Just so you know, I shoot all my single action revolvers in CAS duelist style, that is one handed, cocking the hammer with the thumb of the gun that holds the gun. And I also always plant my pinky under the grip, just like you. And I fire full power 45 Colt Black Powder loads, that have a sizeable recoil to them. I don't have any trouble cocking my hammers after each shot.

I have a New Vaquero, an Uberti Cattleman, and a 2nd Gen Colt SAA made in 1968 in front of me right now. Sorry, I don't own a 1st Gen to compare. I'm playing around with them a bit, and the Colt and the Uberti feel quite similar to my thumb. The Ruger hammer spur may reach back a tad more, I seem to be getting a little bit more thumb on it. Whether this is because of the shape of the hammer, or the shape of the grip I have no idea. I do seem to get a slight bit more grip on the New Vaquero hammer spur with its original hammer in it.

I also have Kuhnhausen's Colt SAA Shop Manual open to the pages where he has dimensioned many critical features on the hammers of 1st Gen, 2nd & 3rd Gen hammers, as well as Uberti Cattlemen hammers. Kuhnhausen arrived at these dimensions by measuring lots of guns. He did not necessarilly have access to official company blueprints, he just measured a lot of parts. As might be expected, the dimensions of one part may have varied a little bit from the dimensions of the exact same part from another gun of the same generation. That is the nature of manufacturing and that is why manufacturing tolerances exist. I should also tell you, that most of the features that are dimensioned are critical fit dimensions, like the locations of hole centers and cocking notches, and their relationships to each other. The outside dimensions of the curve of the hammer and the spur are not dimensioned, perhaps because that is not the concern of a gunsmith. Making the parts work properly together is his concern, not the outer contours. You are probably also aware that in the 19th Century when these guns were originally made, CNC machining centers like we have today obviously did not exist yet. To produce the complex curves like the outside shape of a hammer, pattern following millers were used. These machines were very operator dependent. The work piece was mounted in a fixture or part holder of some sort. The operator pressed a stylus against a pattern and a pantograph arrangement caused the workpiece to move against the cutter duplicating the shape of the pattern. But like I said, these machines were very operator dependent. How the operator pressed the stylus, as it traveled around the pattern had a great deal to do with how the part was produced. So did tool chatter and other effects of the cutter. So parts produced by one operator may not have been absolutely identical to parts produced by another operator, even though they were both using patterns out of the same parts bin.

What I am trying to say is, there was usually some variation from part to part.

I would also venture to say that the New Vaquero was probably designed on a 3D CAD system. I have a lot of experience with that. Generally speaking, complex curves like the outside shape of a hammer are often not dimensioned on a drawing. The CAD designer simply sends his 3d model file to the machine operator, who imports it into his CNC machine. The CNC machine then sets up the tool paths for the cutters directly from the 3D model. No dimensions are involved at all. It is a bit more complicated than that, but that is the general idea. A print may specify some critical inspection dimensions, but curves that do not fit against another part are often left undimensioned.

Actually, with Ruger it is even a bit more complicated than that. Hammers are investment cast, they are not machined to shape. The designer sends his CAD file to a CNC machine that cuts a mold for the wax patterns used for the investment cast parts. Wax masters are cast from the mold. Then the wax patterns are wired up to an armature and covered with ceramic slurry to make the investment molds. The ceramic slurry is fired in an oven to harden it, and the wax melts and runs out of the ceramic molds. Molten steel is then poured into the molds, and when it cools the ceramic molds are broken up to remove the parts. There is also a shrinkage factor involved, because the ceramic molds will shrink a bit when fired, and the steel parts will shrink a bit as they cool. So the computer does the best job it can at calculating how much bigger to make the wax masters than the final parts will be. After all that, secondary operations like machining critical fits are done, and the outside contours are ground and polished to remove parting lines. So a little bit of variation can easily sneak in with all those processes going on.

Getting back to Kuhnhausen's drawings, yes, there are some minor differences between some dimensions from the 1st Gen to the 2nd & 3rd Gen Colts. According to Kuhnhausen, the 2nd & 3rd Gens share the same dimensions. But we are only talking .010 or so here and .005 or so there. Nothing really earthshaking.

I think you are being a little bit unfair when you talk about a Major Change from the 1st Gen Colts to the 2nd and 3rd Gen Colts and Colt screwing up. The differences are quite minor, from what I can see dimension wise. But the cumulative effect of a tolerance stack up between several parts may amount to something. Don't have a 1st Gen to play with right now.
 

JimMarch1

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 19, 2007
Messages
525
Location
Tucson, AZ, USA
As I said, I had three first-gen Colts to look at. They matched to within 1/16th of an inch of each other the placement of the tip of the hammer to my thumb. I was able to measure off of a major "crease" in my thumb joint. My NewVaq with SBH hammer fell right into the same range, as did a bone-stock USFA Rodeo.

ALL of these guns felt "right".

The two post-WW2 Colts I was able to find were 1/4" off, further out. They felt difficult to handle in the same way my NewVaq did stock.

So far, that's all I know.
 

Jimbo357mag

Hawkeye
Joined
Feb 22, 2007
Messages
10,185
Location
So. Florida
I always thought the regular single-action hammers were designed so you could put your thumb in the curve of the hammer and cock the gun after the grip had rolled-up in your hand after firing it. It doesn't make sense to me to be using the tip of the hammer for cocking. ...but what do I know? :D

NewVaquero.jpg


...Jimbo
 

JimMarch1

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 19, 2007
Messages
525
Location
Tucson, AZ, USA
Part of the issue here may be that I'm not letting it roll up "enough"...except that's what works for me.

OK...first, I'm kinda big (6'4" 280lbs) but as far as hand size, not really (size XL motorcycle glove).

Second, I haven't owned a car in about 20 years - see previous comment re: "motorcycle glove". I pilot something with a big heavy clutch (left hand) and that needs a fairly heavy hand on the front brake (right hand). In other words, probably better than average grip strength.

Which might explain it not rolling...esp. combined with a pinkie under hold?

Look, obviously this is going to affect different people differently. However, I'll still stand behind the tests I did. Measuring just "static reach", there was something different about 1st gen Colts (and that USFA) and 2nd/3rd gen Colts (and my NewVaq when stock).
 

gak

Buckeye
Joined
Oct 13, 2007
Messages
1,549
Location
Aridzona
Although I have not measured any of these, my Cimarron Model P (Pre War clone: how accurate re the hammer I don't know), USFA and 4th (late 3rd) gen feel "about" the same--and pretty comfortable,...the NV a bit more exaggerated somehow (in the manner suggested by the OP), the Montado's SBH hammer lower than any and the large frame ("old") Vaquero further forward and lower than any of them except the SBH/Montado. When I get a chance, my NV will be changed to the old Vaq, SBH or maybe more likely Bisley hammer. I've got small hands--especially vs my overall size--and the NV's (and to lesser degree the Colt and clones above) hammer is a reach for me. Not un-doable, but not ideal. I can live with all of the above except the NV. Seems kind of "up and out there" by just enough to warrant exploring an alternative.
 

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