072214_D7C_1748I had the chance to visit the heart of gun valley for the first time last week. I was in Springfield, Massachusetts with a clowder of other gun guys courtesy of Smith & Wesson. The real reason for the trip was to give us some trigger time with three new guns. The first two are really updates; Smith has now made their .380 pistol and .38 revolver Bodyguards part of the M&P line. They’ve also replaced the integrated Insight lasers in the original versions with new Crimson Trace pointers that they say are more reliable and easier to maintain. They also showed us a new gun that we can’t talk about until it’s released in a couple of weeks. But in between the shooting and the sharing, we took some time to tour Smith’s massive 480,000 square foot production facility. Their media relations director, Paul Pluff, showed us around and I’m pretty sure we walked a good 479,000 of those square feet . . .

Not that it wasn’t fascinating. Besides two other smaller facilities — one a former subcontractor they purchased to do all of their polymer injection molding for things like M&Ps and rifle stocks — just about everything in the Smith catalogue is produced there in the Bay State. It’s a cacophinous conglomeration of the latest computer controlled manufacturing cohabitating along side grinders and milling machines that have been there in operation for sixty years or more. 072214_D7C_1750 Once we cleared security – no small feat – we were greeted by a small, museum-like collection of Smith memorabilia. We got there as they were putting the finishing touches on a new display of movie prop guns (a few were rubber replicas) including Officer Harry Calahan’s model 29 from ‘Sudden Impact.’ 072214_D7C_1866 Another more historically oriented case included this Model 1: 072214_D7C_1752 But our tour had barely begun. From there, it was out onto the production floor.  Here’s a bin full of M&P slide blanks. 072214_D7C_1772 They eventually become a little more recognizable with the help of some CNC milling magic. 072214_D7C_1765 We found out that Smith doesn’t let all of that metal working machinery sit idle for very long. In addition to turning out guns, they produce most of their own tools necessary to fashion those firearms, too. 072214_D7C_1769 And as you might expect, the good people who work at Smith (about 1400 in Springfield, 2000 total) aren’t exactly fans of the general direction of gun control regulation in New England. 072214_D7C_1770 You might wonder, with dozens of pieces of the latest computer controlled manufacturing equipment efficiently turning out firearm parts, why are there still scenes like this on the Smith factory floor? 072214_D7C_1773 In an environment where three-year-old CNC machines are routinely swapped out for the latest, fastest, most efficient models, this old equipment — some of which has been there for almost a half century — is still used because Smith & Wesson offers a lifetime warranty on their products. Which means that if a proud owner of a beauty like a 1935 Registered Magnum needs service, the craftsmen in Springfield still have the tools to do the work. 072214_D7C_1758 Smith’s huge forging operation turns out parts and fittings for other businesses (like Harley-Davidson) too, but at the top of this sample table, you can see the steps a stainless steel blank goes through from cut bar stock to rough frame. 072214_D7C_1833   072214_D7C_1805 Here’s Paul describing the first of three steps your J frame went through before more detailed finishing. 072214_D7C_1808   072214_D7C_1817 072214_D7C_1797 Much of that finish work is still done by hand. There are only so many processes that can be computerized. 072214_D7C_1836 To give you an idea how efficiency has improved over time, in pre-computerized days it took 72 separate operations — and 72 different people — to turn out a finished revolver cylinder. It’s now done using two machines with two skilled operators. 072214_D7C_1846 Finishing a revolver forcing cone. 072214_D7C_1865 Finshed M&P slides. 072214_D7C_1841   Parts ready for heat treating. 072214_D7C_1820 Hanging revolver frames on racks for anodizing. 072214_D7C_1852Which brings us to final assembly. Here are M&P rifles being put together. 072214_D7C_1853 They’re then test fired. 072214_D7C_1858 And bore-sighted before being boxed up for shipping. 072214_D7C_1854 Revolver assembly. 072214_D7C_1861 All in all, it’s a mind-bogglingly complex and impressive facility. And given its scope and the number of skilled individuals it takes to make the place hum, it makes those who blithely issue demands that companies like Smith pull up stakes and move because of Massachusetts’ awful anti-gun laws look horribly ill-informed. Smith obviously can’t give tours to the general public, but it’s a shame that more people can’t see what actually goes into making some of America’s favorite shootin’ irons. I wonder how many of the state’s legislators have taken the time to tour the facility and see the jobs affected by the laws they enact.

67 Responses to Miles of Aisles: TTAG Tours Smith & Wesson

    • There might be a hint in the photos.

      In the second photo of Paul (the guy in the light-blue shirt), I don’t recognize the frame he is holding. It looks like a revolver frame, but it has no extension on the lower-rear from grips. That means the grip frame would have to be attached separately, like the old Charter Arms revolvers (that’s not a comforting thought), although it does open up the possibility of making the grip frame from a different material than the cylinder frame.

      Perhaps the new product is a revolver with a polymer or light-alloy grip frame, to compete with Ruger’s LCR series?

      • “from grips” = “for the grips/stocks”

        Note to self: In the future, use post edit countdown time to read and edit entry, not gaze into space…

        • Is the grip-frame for those manufactured separately and attached later? I was under the impression that the grip-frame was integral with the cylinder frame on all the j-frame revolvers (actually, on all S&W revolvers, period), but I admit, I sometimes fall behind in keeping track of the new-ish models.

          It also doesn’t explain all those extra holes at the top-rear of the frame. Usually, there is no hole in that area of a S&W revolver, or at most, one hole on the .22 caliber models (for the rimfire firing pin retaining pin).

          I could be off-base here, but something seems a bit out-of-whack…

          Any chance of seeing a higher-res (or full-size) copy of that photo?

        • As Paul went to great pains to point out, the Bodyguard revolver is not a J-Frame. It’s a new design from the ground up. If I’m right that that’s a Bodyguard frame he’s holding in that pic (I took a LOT of photos) that’s probably how the polymer portions are attached to steel frame and barrel.

        • Ah. Thanks for the clarification.

          Obviously, I’m not nerding-out enough on the S&W stuff. Probably spending too much time outside; I gotta cut back on that… 😉

    • +1!

      I am visiting my HQ across the river in Agawam in October, and as an owner of 4 fine Smitty’s, from a pre-Model 10 made around 1923, to the M&P 15 I bought a month ago, I’d love to visit the place!

      I will, at least, get a selfie out front, if nothing else…

    • Would like to hear from someone who has a shield, preferably in 9MM. Purchased one recently, I love the gun, but it is extremely difficult to rack the slide the last 1/8″ or so, to be able to engage the slide stop, when the magazine is out of the gun.
      With the mag in the gun you do not have to go back quite as far. Then you can remove the mag, and the slide will stay open.

      • Same experience here, the trick is either pushing with your strong hand for better leverage (instead of pulling with your off hand) or using the empty magazine trick. Excellent firearm regardless!

        • Thanks, I have been using my left hand to draw the slide back by wrapping my whole hand around the slide, and pushing the stop up with my thumb of my right hand which is holding the frame.
          I guess I’ll have to resort to the empty mag thing if I can’t strengthen my grip, but that means no spare, or buying another mag. Have been squeezing a rubber bicycle grip to to get a stronger grip.
          I have put about 225 rounds through it with absolutely no problems!

        • No spare mag? Horrors!

          I have a minimum of 3 for every mag-fed pistol, even the tiny pocket guns. Magazines are not only wear items (will eventually wear-out under normal use), they are easy to lose and VERY easy to damage (one drop on a concrete range floor is all it will take, if it lands wrong).

          Getcha at LEAST one spare. I know, they can be expensive, but hey, I think you’re worth it.

    • I’ll take a S&W Shield in 357 SIG – with barrels available aftermarket – so that I can fit one into my .40 S&W for the winter months.

  1. Legislators don’t care. They will pander themselves for the latest shiny lure distraction.

    Btw – when is smith bringing back the 3rd Gen semi-autos? I have 4 of them and they are frickin’ classics!

  2. I always find these articles fascinating..And it’s nice to see handwork still being done. A S&W revolver is in my future soon, just a matter of picking one out.

  3. Yeah moving lock,stock and barrel is a daunting task. I need to buy something S & W. Not to be a debbie downer but when is TTAG going to report about the $2000000 fine involving S&W?

  4. It’s interesting how SIG’s factory looks like a space ship while S&Ws looks like the engine room on a cargo haul.

    • S&W was making guns when the people who founded SIG were not even a gleam in their daddy’s eyes.

      It’s very easy for a new gun maker, with no prior investment in machines, tooling and training, to start with a nice clean sheet of paper. The American gun makers in New England who started in the 19th century, are carrying around well over a century of investment in machines, tooling, fixtures and training. Yes, some corners of their shops are going to look like they’re just this side of the dark ages.

      Something people who are really interested in how guns were made in the US should read is a book on the history of the Winchester Model 12 shotgun, titled “The Winchester Model 12,” by George Madis. In this book, Madis details just how much work, machinery, tooling, fixtures, etc Winchester devoted to producing the Model 12, and how long it took to ramp all of that up after they had a working, perfected design for the Model 12 pump shotgun.

      I’m recommending this book because the early chapters would give modern readers, who have grown up in the age of CNC machines, CAD/CAM systems, CMM’s, 3D tasters/probes on CNC machines (as you see in the pictures above), a feeling for what it took to make guns 100 years ago. SIG missed that era of firearms production completely.

  5. Thank you for a little voice of reason on the moving out issue. I have been on the wrong end of a major move. I experienced and witnessed how that had huge negative impact on the families and workers forced to make those choices.

    Good for S&W. Making their workers one of the higher priorities than politics.

  6. Hmm… The last gun that S&W ever produced that I really liked was the 5906. I’m just not feeling the M&P’s these days.

  7. Smith outsources a number of slides to other companies across the states. Check the bottom of your slide and the marks up front tell which shop it came from if you know which dots and lines go with each factory.

  8. I gotta be honest, I just looked at the pictures the first time through.

    Then I read it.

    Despite the fact it’s behind enemy lines in Taxachusetts, home of some of the worst gun control laws in America, I’m envious of your time spent there Dan.

    John

  9. Did you really have to tell us about the super secret gun that you cant talk about until its released…

  10. Smith is incredibly important to the economy of Springfield, MA, and that’s saying something since the town is already down in the dumps. Hampden County is dead last (14th out of 14) in per capita income of all counties in MA, and Springfield is ranked #350 out of 351 towns and cities for per capita income.

    MA gun laws are bad, very bad, but if Smith left MA, all bets would be off and the gun laws would get even worse. In a one-party Democrat state where the NRA has little to no impact, Smith — through its economic impact — is saving MA from becoming California.

    • Before I finished Dan’s article and saw his little note about the impact on these workers if Smith & Wesson were to pull up stakes and move else where, I felt a little ashamed that I’ve been rooting for Smith & Wesson to leave that constitution-forsaken state.

      On one hand I hate that my money is going into the Massachusetts economy and their taxes that go to the state’s gun-grabbers. On the other hand, as Dan pointed out, no matter how bad it is, if the gun industry, and by extension the gun culture, leaves that state, things will only get worse. Our chances of taking back that state (however unlikely that may be) diminish.

  11. I recently lost a small part to a Smith & Wesson pistol. I called them and ordered a new one, explaining that I had lost the part. They said they would send new part without charge!
    Great company! Great customer service!

    • I had the same experience when I installed an Apex kit in a J-frame. I lost a spring, called Smith and the rep sent me two new ones. Unfortunately, I had given the Smith rep the wrong part number, so the spring didn’t fit. So I called them again with the right number and they sent me the correct spring, with an extra for “just in case.” All at no charge to me, not even postage.

      I’ve been a Smith weenie for damn near 50 years and I see no reason not to be.

  12. I’ve worked in and around factories for almost 40 years, and I am impressed with how clean S&W’s factory is. Any time there is a lot of milling, grinding and polishing, there is a lot of dust and dirt generated, but they must really keep after it, because the light fixtures appear to be shiny white, and the floors are clean as well. I’ve shot several S&W revolvers over the years and liked each and every one of them, but by circumstance, the only S&W I own is the model 41 .22LR semi auto target pistol. It is easily the most accurate handgun I have ever shot. Mine is about 30 years old, and I’ve had people offer me serious money for it, but I plan on keeping it till I die. I would love to add a couple of stainless revolvers to the collection, but they got a little pricey over the years.

    • Ditto on the Model 41.

      Keep it. Absolutely. There aren’t any more like it being made in the US.

      If you like the 41, have a look at the Model 52. You’ll have to reload for it (it takes crimped wadcutter .38’s), but it has the accuracy of the 41 and makes holes in a target you can see without a spotting scope.

        • I know Federal shows that load in their product line.

          I’ve never, ever seen it on a stocking ammo dealer’s shelves. I’ve called distributors who sell to FFL’s – they don’t have it and don’t know if they could get it. They’re usually surprised to hear that anyone makes a load in .38 Special WC.

          It’s a little like a unicorn: Lots of people dream about them, but have you ever seen one?

        • I guess I’m just flashing-back to my PPC-shooting days in the mid-to-late 80s, when you had your choice of Federal, Winchester, or several different brands of remanufactured .38 WC loads on the shelf at most gun shops, even in a small town. Hell, the USAF used to use Winchester’s .38 Match Wadcutter load for all revolver training with the S&W model 15 in the late 70s and early 80s. I shot a LOT of that highly accurate ammo, and reformed more than a few pests and poisonous snakes with it.

          Memories…

        • Sometimes, when I’m dealing with youngsters, I have to explain a lot of things to get them to believe me:

          1. Yes, we used to shoot revolvers. In competitions. In target competitions. Yes, there were lots of them. Yes, they were accurate.

          2. Because we didn’t worry how the ammo fed in a revolver, we could use wadcutters to make crisp, clean holes in paper targets. Yes, they were cast from lead, No, they didn’t have a jacket. No, they weren’t used for CCW, but I supposed you could. No, we didn’t become retarded from shooting lead bullets, even indoors.

          3. There’s a semi-auto designed by S&W for the AMU that shot rimmed .38 Special cartridges loaded with wadcutters. It had a five round magazine. No, that wan’t the result of legislation, it was due to the rules of competition.

          4. As a result of 1 to 3, companies used to load target loads in .38 Special with wadcutters. They were very mild loads and very accurate. Now, do you have any of these that are listed as made by Federal, or don’t you? Oh, you don’t? Well, thanks.

          Sigh.

          After some of these phone calls, I don’t know to be pleased that I educated a youngster, or to weep at how the cheez-whiz and black-zombie-rifle craze has lowered the collective shooting IQ of the nation.

    • Joe, that was something I noticed, too. We had to tip-toe through a freshly mopped area as we walked around the plant at least twice that I remember. On a very hot day – pretty sure it was in the 90s when we were there – the plant was comfortable and tidy.

  13. I wonder how many of the state’s legislators have taken the time to tour the facility and see the jobs affected by the laws they enact.

    Probably none.

    The constituency of the Democratic Party comes down to three groups:

    – the financial sector, composed of rent-seeking grifters and thimbleriggers,
    – the government employee sector, especially those represented by government employee unions,
    – people with their snout and front two feet in the public trough.

    Employees of a private sector, manufacturing business aren’t a concern of the Democrats. Since S&W produces “bad” products (from the perspective of the DNC), they’re to be treated with disdain, at best, by the Democrats.

    The trouble is, companies like S&W are shown concern by the Republicans only at election time, and are then ignored the rest of the time. The GOP curries favor with multinationals and foreign companies that want to peddle their crap in the US, particularly those located in the PRC, all the while chanting mantras of “free trade.”

    • DG, Smith is keeping the economy of Springfield (barely) afloat, and even the dunderhead Democrats in the MA legislature damn well know it. The gun laws here totally suck, but the reason they aren’t worse is the economic impact of S&W.

  14. Did a TV shoot there with a crew of NYC anti-gun types. At the end of the 2 days the S&W guys brought us on their range where we could shoot any gun we wanted as much as we wanted. A lot of minds were changed that day.

    • Gun Companies, ranges, even gun shops should invite the media and politicians to shoot guns. Most people that get to shoot are hooked.
      We even need to have celebrities/actors/pop stars being pro-gun.

  15. DZ, very interesting article as a resident of the same Springfield I always wondered what the other side of those walls looked like.

  16. I last visited S&W in Springfield in 1986, when the guns were made of large chunks of steel and the only ‘polymer’ was maybe in semi-auto grip panels or sight inserts. That was also LONG before some bright boy came up with the idea of drilling an extra hole in the frame above the cylinder latch in which to insert a ‘lock’, a concept with the same engineering relevance as nipples on male pigs.

    Instead of creating a new, NEW Ruger LCR and stamping S&W on it, how’s about S&W producing revolver frames without that hideous hole for an allen wrench with which to turn off the gun, for those that can figure out on our own how not to negligently shoot ourselves? I would GLADLY pay a premium, and sign a letter absolving S&W from all liability from the beginning of time until the ending of the Universe, for a Model 69 without an on-off switch. Alas, I shall make do with my 629-2.

    “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

  17. Good article peoples…

    Since the only people who are gonna read this is the NSA, FBI, CIA, SS, BATFE, IRS, AT&T, and etc… I’ll be honest about my opinion…

    Most anti’s I’ve met, heard, or read about where democrat’s. It’s not common knowledge that they are Socialist’s… They don’t care about jobs, just state hand outs… That’s why our president was destine to fail… Trying to have a government like that of Greece is far from enlightened…

    It just proves lawyers are not human, ops, most politicians are lawyers… Honestly what make lawyers so bad is 1) greed and 2) lack of real world experience, books are only so good…

    I’m not the wisest man or even close to 1/8th as wise but it’s plan to see just from reading history what happens to a Republic that is socialist; it fails, go’s bankrupt and crashes; the worst part is the citizens pay for it, though it’s also the reason why it failed, the citizens got complaisant and didn’t police their government… Truly the only books worth reading, is history… The rest is garbage to keep us looking the other way…

    • Truly the only books worth reading, is history

      Books on punctuation and grammar are also worth reading. You should try one.

  18. Regarding that soon to be released firearm that you can’t mention, let’s take some guesses. I’ll start:

    “Plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range”

    • Well they already make a 1911 , AR15, and a small 380.
      How about a Combat shotgun, maybe a Bulpup? One that is affordable, available and reliable.
      Maybe bring back old calibers like the 455 or the 7.62×25.
      How about and American Personal Defense Weapon

  19. I went to go check out the museum about 18 months ago when I lived close to Springfield. It was closed for renovation! Savage is across the river and about 20 minutes away from Smith in Westfield. I worked two miles away from it but never got a chance to see if they do tours.

  20. Great post. My favorite revolver ever (and I also owned a Colt Python) was my Model 29-2 .44 magnum 8 3/8 barrel in gorgeous polished blue. Incredibly accurate out to 100 yards and beautiful to look at. My friend and I owned one each and we could both hit the large 7/11 coffee cups at 100 yards with relative ease, and all this with the factory iron sights :).

  21. Thanks for the article – it was an entertaining read that will help me enjoy my Smith revolvers and pistols even more.

  22. I just watched a show today on the Sportsman Channel during lunch, an African lion hunt where the guy shot a large male lion with S&W500 Magnum. He shot the lion three times but it would have died from the first shot. He also had an open red dot sight on it – looked like a Leupold.

    Had to get close!! This is the exact gun – minus the dot sight:

    http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product4_750001_750051_765788_-1_775664_775655_757896_ProductDisplayErrorView_Y

    The short video is here. Look below the main video screen for the .500 S&W video:

    http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/shows/petersens-hunting-adventures/

    That puppy will hunt!!!

  23. Is there are reason they can’t do public tours? You don’t need to have the tours cutting through the factory floor. Maybe set up just a few elevated walkways that overlook the factory floor (they do that at the Herr’s potato chip factory allowing you to see the process but keeps out of the way and safe from all of the industrial machines).

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