A buddy of mine used to have a 686 that was formerly owned by a TX state revolver champion and it was the sweetest shooting gun I have ever held. He has long since sold it and so I was wondering what are some things I can do to my stock 686 to improve its performance? I am a total noob when it comes to modifying revolvers so I don't even know what is out there and what gives the most bang for your buck.
First of all, shoot it, shoot it a lot. Then you will know what shortcoming it has. If you're not planning to shoot it a lot, then any modification is useless and wasted.
Learn how to manipulate the double action pull. Learn it until you can consistently shoot groups at 7/10/15 yards. Start close, if you can't get any consistency at 7 yards, put the target closer, 5 yards, hell 3 yards if that's what it takes for you to hit consistently. What target will you shoot? Something with small aiming point. A 2" aiming dot is a good one. You will hear this phrase a lot, "aim small/miss small". If you shoot at a target the size of a door, your group will be the size of a door. Resist the temptation to shoot the huge silhouette targets, or the Osama or zombies. They develop poor marksmanship.
Once you can consistently shoot 2" or 3" groups at 7 yards, move farther.
Most S&W revolvers don't require any work. If you plan to compete in formal events that require the balance of speed and accuracy, then you may need to get a COMPETENT gunsmith to perform a double action trigger job on your 686. The double action pull does not need to be ultra light, just smooth and lighter than the factory pull but not too light that it will not consistently ignite the primers. Many shadetree gunsmiths get too excited and lighten the trigger pull past the point of reliability.
The sights on the 686 are adequate for 99% of most shooters need.
But the first thing is, shoot it.
Yeah, the gun can definitely out shoot my skill level (although I am a decent shot) it is just after having shot my buddies gun it made me want to have something like that. Definitely not a necessity, gun shoots great, but just like everything I own, I hate leaving it stock :P
As someone who's done high level revolver competition, you can only go so far with a stock gun. Are you planning to compete with it? If so, what type? ICORE, IDPA, USPSA, PPC? Different games favor different mods. If not, you might want to hold off on spending a ton of money on mods. You'll never recoup your investment. A good smooth DA pull alone will do wonders for your ability to shoot well.
I shoot mainly IDPA, with a little ICORE on the side. I usually do my own revolver mods. Once I've confirmed the timing is good (or correct it) I do an aggressive DA bob of the hammer to get it as light as possible, radius and polish the trigger face, polish all the internals and the frame (on the friction points inside), install a tuned Wolff reduced power mainspring and 11# rebound spring, then finish it off with Power Custom hammer & trigger shims (as necessary). If when running the revolver trigger very fast I encounter the dreaded "S&W trigger freeze", I go back in and do some specific mods to the trigger & frame to eliminate it. Without having the guts in front of you to describe what I'm talking about here, it would be pretty difficult to describe. Let's just say there's usually a little slop in the way the trigger engages the cylinder stop that needs adjustment. Then I apply a mix of MCM Green Lightning grease and Wilson Ultima Lube before reassembly.
On the cylinder, I hand polish/cut the chambers as necessary to eliminate any tight spots that will hamper the reload. My goal here is to get through a 300 round practice session with minimal scrubbing of the chambers. I've seen some S&W revolvers begin to bind in as few as 60 rounds. Then I hand cut the chamfer on the cylinders. I do a VERY aggressive chamfer on the cylinder itself, but just barely break the sharp edge of the extractor star in order to avoid getting cases stuck under the star when reloading at speed. I also polish the cylinder face so that a misaligned load can be rotated in more quickly.
When shooting revolvers, your reloads have to fall correctly. It's much more critical than pistol reloads because a muffed revo load costs more time. You have to be careful with the new generation S&W extractor stars. They no longer have the two locating pins like the early guns, which is a shame. Those locator pins kept the star in the correct position to not interfere with the fresh rounds being dumped in the cylinder. Without them, the star can seat slightly off center, which will put the sides of the fingers in the way. When this happens, some of the rounds will not fully seat without using the hand to push them in. That's a real time killer. You can check this by holding the cylinder and twisting the extractor rod to see what I mean. You'll notice that the four longer fingers actually do the work of keeping it in place. You can do a square cut on sides of the fingers to eliminate binding, but only a thousandth or two. Too much and you'll be flirting with cases under the star, same as chamfering. The only other cure is to weld up the ends of the fingers and carefully file them to a more precise fit, which is something I avoid at all costs. The key is to check critical engagement items like this before buying the gun.
On the yoke, I detest the new spring loaded plunger yoke screws. It's a cheap fix for a costly area of production called "hand fitting". Almost all of S&W's "improvements" to their revolvers have been improvements to the manufacturing process, not the end product. I've actually seen shooters knock the entire cylinder/yoke out of the frame while trying to do a fast reload, particularly those who do "off hand reloads", which tend to be harder on the gun. I do strong hand reloads and don't usually have problems in this area, but I keep a close eye on the yoke & screw for impending doom. The only real fix is to use the old style yoke and hand fitted yoke/endshake screw, preferably the square faced type. Past that, I square the face of the yoke barrel and polish, then install a Power Custom shim there as well. You want minimal endshake but no binding, which is a fine line. Liberally apply grease here and keep it greased to avoid issues. Finally, I do the ball detent mod for improved lockup. That's a weak link in the S&W setup IMO.
I polish the ejector rod shaft for smoother ejection and keep blue loctite on it to avoid the rod backing out, which will lock up the gun. Avoid over torquing it or you can crack it at the threads. A bent rod will hamper consistent trigger pull weight and opening of the cylinder more than extraction itself. I keep a spare on hand, just in case.
I use a custom rear Millet sight with two white dots in place of the white outline. This mates up well with my taller EGW fiber optic front sight, which is one of the brightest FO's available. If you prefer a plain black blade, you can order a .196" tall S&W blade that will match up well with this sight. I do a speed "U" notch cut on S&W blades in that case.
Grips are personal preference, but you want grips that have as much clearance as possible for the reload. You also want a grip that sticks when you apply pressure, but allows your hand to slide on the reload when pressure is released. The only grips I've found that do all these things out of the box are Nill's. They're expensive, take time to be delivered from Germany, and they're worth every bit of it. That they look gorgeous on the gun and fit it like a virgin pussy are added benefits.
A note on firing pins. It's been proven that you can get a lighter DA pull with reliable ignition on the MIM guns with frame mounted firing pins, than those with forged, hammer mounted pins. However, there are issues that can crop up with the MIM setup. Many competitors will use a Cylinder & Slide Extra Length Firing Pin. Why? S&W stock pins can vary in length by several thousandths of an inch. This can be the difference between reliable ignition and a lot of problems. A lot of the C&S pins wind up being broken. They usually blame the pin itself, when in fact, it's the firing pin spring that's the issue. These springs are short, thin and tiny. They don't hold up well to heat. When they fail, the firing pin nose doesn't retract into the face of the recoil shield all the way and as you pull the trigger, the rim of the next round hits the nose, which can bend or break it. If it does, you'll suddenly have light or no primer hits. I replace this spring every 800-1000 rounds. As for the pin itself, I use the C&S part with the nose re-profiled and polished. This aids in ignition reliability with the light trigger pull.
With all this work, you can get down to a butter smooth 5-5.5# DA pull using Federal primers, and about 7-7.5# with Winchester or Remington. I keep two mainsprings on hand, each tuned to individual primer use. I try to always use Federal, but sometimes they get hard to find. You cannot win in competition if it doesn't go bang every time you pull the trigger. With a stock setup I can get .22-.25 second splits between shots. With this setup I can get .17-.19 splits. Over the course of an entire match, that adds up.
You can do this work yourself if you're highly mechanical minded, or you can contract it out. For revolver work, I'm very selective about who I'd use. For a competition gun such as the type your buddy had, I'd only recommend Randy Lee at Apex Tactical (he's on this board). For a carry gun, based on what I've seen of his work, Mr. Smith here (Superior Firearms) would get the nod.
I'll finish with a couple of vids running my tuned 686 in IDPA. This gun happened to come with an Apex Tactical, Level IV ICORE trigger job, which saved me a LOT of time and effort. Hope this post helps!
Wow! heavy duty post, glocktogo :)
Can you please show more pics of your revolver, cylinder chamfer, etc.?
Fast DA shooting and specially off hand reloads take their toll on the revolvers. I also prefer strong hand reloads to avoid abuse on the yoke.
I love the 586/686, but for IPSC shooting a pistol requires far less maintenance.
WOW Awesome post! Thanks for all that info!
Spring kit but not too light if you paln to use for CCW. But a rebound spring tool from Brownells. Grips. Check barrel cylinder gap if over .009 have adjusted. End shake check. Sights you can live with
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