Revolvers CAN Fail: Smith & Wesson Performance Center 686 Locks Up

Before shooting this video, I was comparing a “normal” Smith & Wesson 686 with this, a recently purchased, pre-loved Performance Center hot rod 686 with undersnout “grill.” I discovered that my groups were nearasdammit identical. So I went single action, shooting .357 Federal magnums (straight from the box, not reloads). This video captures my first SA string with the PC 686. After six shots, I kinda half-cocked the hammer, and then cocked it some more. Both the 686′s hammer and trigger locked back and froze solid. The revolver was—and remains—inoperative. Useless as anything other than a big heavy solid object to throw at an attacker. I’ve posted my tale of no-go woe on the Smith & Wesson forum. Their members have been kind enough to provide some possible explanations . .

First, the rabbi [below] suggested that it may be an internal lock failure. Xtrooper cautions that “the internal lock is a handy scapegoat for every failure of a Smith revolver equipped with one, but the fact is that verified failures are rare. I don’t think this case is one of them.” He also points out that the lock won’t work with the hammer back.

Scooter123 agrees. “I’m willing to bet a whole quarter it aint the Lock. If you knew me, you’d know I don’t bet on anything less than a sure thing. Have to pull the sideplate to be sure but I suspect one of 2 possibilities. One is that the DA sear is out of position and jammed up the lockwork. Two is that the hammer block broke and a loose piece has jammed up the lockwork.”

I’ll take the busted revolver to my gunsmith on Monday and report back.

Meanwhile, I would not want this to happen in a self-defense situation. (Yes, this is a home defense handgun.) I know the odds of a 686 failing in combat are a million-to-one, and the odds of ever needing one for combat are ten times that high. But I buy a lottery ticket every week, and there’s no downside to that deal.

The question is, now what? As I’ve stated before, once a gun gets on my you-know-what list, it’s dead to me. Still, I’ll wait for the smith’s analysis. And maybe Smith’s as well . . .

UPDATE: Gunsmith Dave Sunturri confirms that the 686′s internal lock failed. Click here for new video.

[Note to self-defense shooters: I normally shoot DA only. Hence the wandering trigger finger. Note to bloggers: feel free to scrape the copy, video or pic. In exchange, I'd appreciate a link back. Thanks.]


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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

25 Responses to Revolvers CAN Fail: Smith & Wesson Performance Center 686 Locks Up

  1. avatarrabbi says:

    Robert,

    If I remember correctly, your new 686 has an internal lock. It is possible that it self-locked? Try the key to see if you can open it. It is also possible that the recoil broke the lock.

    I don’t know if its possible to activate/de-activate the lock with the hammer back as I have never purchased a defensive gun with an internal lock.

    Smiths have several documented cases of the locks self-locking or breaking in their lightweight guns due to recoil. I have not heard of any cases of problems with locks on full-size guns though.

    Because of this, I will never buy a small revolver with a lock. After they started putting them on all their guns, I bought only used models without locks. For years, Smith refused to make them without, but have rethought the issue and have started making models without the lock again.

  2. avatarRobert Farago says:

    Rabbi, thanks for that.

    I’ve tried to unlock the Smith with the cylindrical key. The lock feels immobile; the key seems to slide around the thread.

    This is DEEPLY worrying. My wife depends on her 686 as a home defense gun, which also has an internal lock. This may be a one in a million occurrence, but, well, look. It’s completely unacceptable.

    BTW: I was shooting .38s.

    • avatarrabbi says:

      It’s a little early to be worried about Sam’s gun that has a lock. As I said, I have never heard of a lock problem with the larger weapons. It if turn out to be a lock problem, ditch Sam’s gun as well and get a used pre-lock version, and NO, you can’t have mine. :)

  3. avatarChris Dumm says:

    I wonder if you can replace the hammer with a non-safety lock version? My 686 underwent a hammer replacement 14 years ago.

  4. avatarrabbi says:

    “I would not want to be transporting a gun with the hammer cocked over a live round.”

    If anyone needs to transport a broken handgun with a cocked hammer hovering over a live roumd, tape a stick or other object between the frame and hammer. This will block the hammer in case it falls.

  5. avatarrabbi says:

    “the internal lock is a handy scapegoat for every failure of a Smith revolver equipped with one, but the fact is that verified failures are rare”

    Broken or self-locking locks on small, light-weight guns are rare, but well-documented cases have happened. They are not myth. Being that your gun is a full-size revolver, it is more likely that it is not the lock, but there is always a first.

  6. avatarFederale says:

    Probably because it is tuned. I carried a S&W 686 for 6 years and never had a problem. I never fired it single action though, always DA. I used to shoot and reload faster than most in my unit who carried semi-automatics. I always like it, heavy enough to tame recoil, but a quick shooter and very comfortable.

  7. Robert,

    Was the gun looked at by a gunsmith before you shot it?

    And, can you hear any rattle if you shake the gun?

  8. My documented lock failures on my 329 have involved the “safety on” flag bouncing under recoil and catching the falling hammer, delivering exactly this kind of jam. That is why I cannot in good conscience recommend a lock- equipped S&W revolver for life-threatening situations.

    The lock, which is NOT a safety, can be easily removed and has been so removed from my working guns.

    These kinds of jams don’t happen often, but they DO happen.

    WARNING: You MUST refit the lock before selling the guns!!!!

    Michael Bane
    DRTV

  9. avatarDan Baum says:

    I had a Ruger LCR lock up on me while at the Crimson Trace booth at last year’s SHOT Show.

  10. avatarNukemJim says:

    Somewhat OT but I have had S&W Centenials ( .38 442 and .38 640 ) jam due to ammo.
    I was using Glaser safety slugs and MagSafe ammo. Absolutely no problem with shooting them through a .357 640, and Massood Ayoob wrote an article claiming that the firing pin bushing on the Centenials in .38 has a little bit larger hole in it then the bushing used in the .357s thus allowing primer backflow which can cause a revolver to jam.
    I am a mechanical KLUTZ of the highest order so am depending on MA for the diagnosis.

    NukemJim

  11. avatarCaleb says:

    I have a hard time dismissing an entire line-up of firearms due to a freak failure. If I refused to carry any firearm that I’d seen fail, then I wouldn’t be able to carry ANY guns.

    That being said, having seen all sorts of weird revo failures, I’d agree that it’s probably not the IL in this instance. Far more likely would be an internal parts breakage or an issue with the cylinder star. I’ll be interested to see what the actual result is.

    • I agree. I had a SIG fail once and a SIG is still my daily carry gun. You cannot dismiss a product line or brand from a single malfunction. Of course if you can repeat the problem at will, that’s another story.

  12. avatarBob H says:

    Y’all are missing the obvious reason. Joan Peterson cast a spell causing gunbloggers’ guns to jam in order to convince us all that guns are unsafe to operate.
    See how simple that was?

  13. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Robert: There seems to be an obvious solution here. DA revolvers were meant to be fired in DA mode. The SA mode is really an anachronism and put there primarily as a holdover from the old single action days of yore. I hope you aren’t teaching Sam to use SA mode (manually cocking the trigger) in a self defense situation because that’s a recipe for a negligent discharge right there.

    In the waning days of the Revolver’s prevalence in police departments, many departments modified their guns to shoot DA only for this very reason.

  14. avatareverett walker says:

    I’ve never had it happen to me. Probably never will as I don’t shoot them. A friend who is entirely credible did have a 629pd-like Bane’s bounce the flag up and stop the hammer at half cock….twice in close succession. I posted his picture on wikipedia where it remained for an amazingly long time before one of their video game ninja gun experts deleted it. Other people I trust have had the locks fail. Probably a semi-rare occurance but only the people in Springfield have some idea of the frequency.

  15. avatarEvan says:

    What is the function of the internal lock and what’s the difference between the old model 686 locks and these new problematic ones?

  16. avatarEvan says:

    What is the function of the internal lock and what’s the difference between the old model 686 locks and these new problematic ones?

  17. avatarEvan says:

    What is the function of the internal lock and what’s the difference between the old mo del 686 locks and these new problematic ones?

  18. avatarNik says:

    Ah, the joys of the hilary hole – putting such great revolvers as S&W down the drain

  19. avatarTommy Truth says:

    All gun have failures and jams. Revolvers have less. I’m betting it was the internal lock. Just remove it and be done with it. It’s really non issue and take like 10 minutes your first time, every time after that you could do it in 3 minutes.

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