S&W N-Frame Revolver Serial Number:181xxx


Initial View:

A friend of mine recently brought me this revolver for evaluation. He said that it had belonged to his father who had been a gunsmith many years ago. At first sight, this appears to be a post-war vintage transitional S&W Outdoorsman revolver. This big revolver was introduced in 1931 as the target sighted version of the Heavy Duty introduced the previous year. These are .38 Specials built on the heavy .44 N-frame. Shooters of today may well wonder why S&W would bother to chamber the relatively puny .38 in such a heavy piece (44 oz unloaded!). The standard .38 Special had been around since 1903 and fired a 158 gr. round nosed lead projectile at 850 fps, hardly a cartridge necessitating such a large frame.

Metallurgy back then, not being what it is today, necessitated that if you wanted to handle a more powerful cartridge the only way to go was to put more metal around it. S&W increased the pressure in the .38 Special case so that it drove that 158 gr. bullet to 1125 fps and called it the .38/44 (also called the .38 High Velocity) to differentiate it from the standard round. Due to the 444 fpe this loading generated, it was only to be used in the large framed revolvers like the N-frame S&W and the Colt SAA and New Service. Colt had done essentially the same thing when they introduced the .38 Super for use in the 1911 using a hot loaded .38 ACP case in 1929. Imagine the litigation potential of doing that today. Were people smarter back then or were there just fewer lawyers?

S&W manufactured 4,761 pre-war, 2,036 post-war transitional, and 6,039 Model 20 style pieces until they were discontinued in 1965. This would have made this revolver a relatively rare and desireable piece. However, aside from the cosmetic blemishes, closer scrutiny revealed various interesting anomalies.



  • The first place to begin the examination of any firearm is the serial number. The very last pre-war Outdoorsman, serial number 62,483 left the factory in 1941. All post war N-frame revolvers had an “S” prefix indicating that the “safety block” and been incorporated. This one is lacking the "S" indicating a pre-war "five screw" frame. However, the serial number is outside of the range for the Outdoorsman. The markings on the frame are typical of the commercial pre-war production pieces. The "Made In USA" mark appeared in May, 1922 and was changed to the modern four line bi-lingual marking in 1948. The butt originally had a swivel but it has been ground off and the marks are clearly evident. The Outdoorsman was not fitted with a swivel. The Frame has the pre-war “Long Action” but the ribbed barrel did not appear until long after the war.

    Right FrameLeft Frame

    Barrel Marking

  • The front mounting screw sticks up rather than being even with the surface of the sight. The rear of the barrel rib does not blend evenly with the front of the frame indicating that this is not the original barrel to this frame.
  • Sight Screw
  • Adjustable sights are clearly not original to this frame. Bare metal and machine marks are evident at the front and rear of the sight. There is not enough clearance between the sight and the frame. Below is a comparison with the sights on a modern N-frame (M629) in the left-hand photo and then with a K-frame (M15).

  • The front mounting screw hole is bored through at the barrel/cylinder gap (the worst possible location).The top strap exhibits gas cutting exacerbated by the position of the screw hole. There are burrs inside the frame from the threading where the front mounting screw hole is bored through. Had the proper “N” frame sight been used instead of the “K” frame sight the mounting screw being further forward on the former, this would not have been a problem.

  • The cylinder on the Outdoorsman was serially numbered with the frame, this one is not. The cylinder has been re-bored to accept .357 Magnum cartridges. This was an unfortunately common practice many years ago. Bear in mind that the newest of the Outdoorsman/Heavy Duty series is nearly half a century old now and the use of full power .357 Magnum ammunition in them is emphatically NOT reccomended!

  • The Outdoorsman originally had the matching serial number engraved inside the right grip panel. The serial number inside these grips do not match the frame and they do not fit the frame correctly. They are obviously not original to this frame.
  • There is a slight “hang” in double action shooting rather the famous S&W long action smoothness. Probably related to the fitting of the cylinder.


    Size Comparison spanning almost 100 years of productin: Custom M15, M629, Ersatz Outdoorsman, .38 Hand Ejector 3rd Model



    This revolver started life, most likely, as a commercial S&W Hand Ejector Model 1917. Military issue 1917s were not marked "Made In USA" nor did they have the S&W emblem. Instead, they had the ordinance "Flaming Bomb" on the upper left hand side of the frame. Its serial number falls in the range for the commercial pistol (over 170,000 but not over 209,780) and places it as being manufactured ca. 1922. 

    Probably sometime during the fifties when these revolvers were relatively plentiful and parts were available, it was fitted with a new barrel and cylinder from an “Outdoorsman” and re-chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. The earlier frames were metallurgically different than modern revolvers and were never intended for such high pressures. To exacerbate the situation, the front mounting hole on the rear sight was positioned directly over the barrel cylinder gap and has caused additional weakening and cutting. Most S&Ws have the hole over the forcing cone where the hot gases do not affect them. The action was not well fitted and there is roughness in the double action trigger pull making accurate double action shooting difficult.


    Were it truly an "Outdoorsman", or if it had been left in its original incarnation as a Commercial 1917 it would have considerably more value. As it is, it is a "shooter" grade piece.


    Email: Omega Crossroads