Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's kind of a hobbyhorse of mine...

A guy on a forum was unhappy with the reliability of his self-loading Ruger Mk.III .22 with hollowpoints* and was looking for a revolver with which to teach his kid the basics of handgunnery, since he still had two bricks of said hollowpoints. He expressed dismay with the prices of some of the .22 revolvers out there, and I'm assuming he was looking in the S&W showcase because he asked "can anyone explain why a .22 revolver is more than a S&W M&P ?"

I swan, the price tag on a S&W .22 revolver is the single hardest thing in the handgun showcase to explain to the average consumer.

We are conditioned by a generation of .22 plinker self-loading pistols to think that a rimfire should naturally be cheaper than a centerfire, right? But there's a reason they're cheaper: Even a classic old Ruger Mark II has a barrel threaded into a piece of tubing, mounted atop a gripframe that's just a couple of big stampings joined together; it's essentially a well-polished Sten gun with fancy stocks.

Meanwhile, over in the revolver case, the only real difference between the Smith & Wesson Model 617 .22 revolver and the Model 686 .357 Magnum is the size of the hole drilled in the barrel, but having walked past the auto case to get there, our brains tell us that the price should be lower for the .22 because it's just a .22. It's more expensive than an M&P auto because, with the exception of its barrel, locking block, and rather elaborately-machined slide, the M&P is a collection of injection molded parts and stampings that is much cheaper to make than a Hand Ejector revolver.

This is the same sort of economics that killed the Woodsman and relegated the 41 to an esoteric niche product, despite an attempt to come out with a sort of de-contented matte blue Highway Patrolman-esque version in the late '50s. All of which makes it kind of ironic that the inexpensively-constructed Ruger self-loaders are themselves threatened from below by products of injection molded polymer and cast zinc alloy, for people who don't want to shell out the bucks for a "high end" Mk. III auto.

There are inexpensive .22 revolvers on the market, but most tend to be fairly crude constructions of painted or plated zinc, like the Heritage. If all you're looking for is a plinker as opposed to an heirloom, and understand that you could certainly wear one out with a high enough volume of shooting, then I reckon they'll do. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a revolver through which you could fire many tens of thousands of rounds before handing it down to the grandkids, I'd consider buying the Smith or Ruger.

*I don't think it's the hollowpoints that are wrong with the dude's Ruger. Most .22 HP's are still round-nosed and even the truncated cone ones like the Remington Yellowjackets still tend to run okay in Rugers unless they're drier than a popcorn fart or cacked up enough with carbon fouling to require a dental pick for cleaning.


Montana said...

Yep, my Rugers run great once you lube and clean them. Just run them by the Sig case on the way to the revolver case, that way they can see what an all metal gun costs compared to some plastic with a steel tube in it.

Tam said...


"Just run them by the Sig case on the way to the revolver case..."

Speaking of ironies... Let's not forget that the SIG Sauer P-series gained its market share based on the fact that its stamped-and-brazed slide and stamping-intensive lockwork made it a lot cheaper to construct than classic all-machined pistols. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Let's not forget that the SIG Sauer P-series gained its market share based on the fact that its stamped-and-brazed slide and stamping-intensive lockwork made it a lot cheaper to construct than classic all-machined pistols."

Does that include the all-stainless models like the P220 elite stainless?

I honestly just don't know, but I'm kinda liking the looks of that pistol. It is definitely heavier than it's aluminum frame siblings.

Tam said...

Does what include what? I'm not parsing the question.

Without writing twenty-seven paragraphs of handgun manufacturing history, The Swiss company, SIG, acquired the German company, J.P. Sauer & Sohn, as a way of getting around Swiss arms regulations and offering the P-220 on the world market.

The P-220 took advantage of extensive use of stampings and an alloy frame to reduce weight and price.

Although the relatively recent variant to which you refer is still a P-220, it utilizes a machined steel frame and slide. This is "better" in some largely unquantifiable sense if you really like machined steel, but there's nothing wrong with the gun the way it was designed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. My question was more curiosity than anything else. I have a P-something already and think it top notch. No complaints.

I've gone from a fan of polymer-guns to a fan of anything well made. The heavier steel offerings (stamped or otherwise) have a certain feel about them. Not better or worse, just different.

The P-220 I was talking about seems to be a bit of a unicorn around here, though.

Alien said...

Heard a statistic t'other day that 1 in 4 Americans are surprised to learn that earth orbits the sun.

Those same people patronize gun stores, with approximately the same understanding of CNC, CAD and labor rates for good machinists.

Paul said...

Amazing how much dirt you can get in a 22 from smokeless powder and plated bullets. Got a 22 once that would not cycle correctly. broke it down and peeled about 50 years of gunk in the frame above the slide. Amazing how much better that rifle ran after that. Accurate a all get out as well.

When they made cheap stuff back in the day it was head and shoulders above the cheap stuff they make now.

/oldguy off

Weer'd Beard said...

My 617 is one of my most prized range gun. Yep sure did get some sticker-shock/disappointment when I first saw the price.

But man after hearing guys talking about what brands work in their gun and what always jam, and finding two different guys with the exact same pistol with two totally different lists, I like that any piece of cheap trash .22 I can find will run like a top in my wheelie.

Also just got a LCR .22 and a NAA Mini (for no reason I can figure...I don't even LIKE that gun, but I needed to have it!)

Also after seeing a few Zamak pistols disassemble themselves on ranges, a more pricy revolver isn't really a BAD thing.

Jennifer said...

A 617 may seem spendy, but they are so very much fun.

.45ACP+P said...

Bought a Taurus 990 (I think)several years ago. Well made and feels like a 357 standard weight pistol. If I recall the price was under 5 bills. It has trained quite a number of shooters and it has a lifetime warranty. Perhaps a similar choice might work for him.

mariner said...

When I looked for a S&W .22, I found they weren't just as expensive as .38spl and .357Mag, they were considerably more expensive.

I still don't have one.

Tam said...


"When I looked for a S&W .22, I found they weren't just as expensive as .38spl and .357Mag, they were considerably more expensive."

Dude, I don't know what to tell you. MSRP on a 686+ is $849 and MSRP on a 617 is $829. I believe Smith MSRps are still assuming keystone pricing, so you should be able to get a guesstimate of street price by dividing by two and multiplying by ~1.2 or 1.3.

Anonymous said...

Had the loan of a 98%, 1947, K-22 (with box and sales receipt) for a while, smooth, accurate and felt really good in the hand. Been passed down through one family since new: Uncle, Nephew, Son, Grandson. Didn't want to give it back, wonderful gun - that's what the forum poster gets for the money. And a gun that's going to hold it's value.

The Raving Prophet said...

It makes me glad I picked up a model 17 a while back for something a bit over $400, used.

Great gun. A real joy to shoot. And if push came to shove, I could get every dime back out of that gun again (and then some)... even though there's many others that would hit the road first.

Justin said...

My wife's father passed down to us a K22 that HIS father had plinked with. It's the most accurate .22 we have, and a ton of fun. I use it for introducing brand-new shooters to guns now.
I wasn't aware of the manufacturing details you laid out here, but I think I'd fallen prey to the "smaller caliber equals smaller price" fallacy.

Windy Wilson said...

My friend's Colt '03 hammerless liked Wolf hollowpoints but not the higher priced brand. Something about the size of the hollow, I think.

As for the business of the cost of machining revolvers, something similar is at work with children's clothes. The amount of fabric and the length of the seams are almost trivial costs compared to the various movements required to cut from the pattern, set up each stitch and do QC. Yet people think clothes for toddlers should be some minimal fraction of the cost of the adult version.

mikee said...

Thanks for explaining something that, once explained, now seems so damn obvious that I am almost embarrassed to thank you for the explanation.

Blackwing1 said...

"...cacked up enough with carbon fouling to require a dental pick for cleaning."

Funny, but I've got a 4-pack of plastic dental picks right inside the cleaning-box. Sharp enough to get into the crevices, but they won't scratch anything. And yes, I've fouled-up a .22 enough to have to use them.

Amazing how much better a .22 auto-pistol feeds and runs when it's cleaned and lubed.

Weer'd Beard said...

mariner, not sure if you are looking new or used, but one thing I found is good .22 Revolvers RARELY show up in the used racks.

There's a reason for that.

Lucky me, when I had finally saved my pennies for a NIB 617 they had a used one in the rack!

**Happy Dance**

I'd been looking for YEARS for a used one, and just when I gave up I found one.

And to continue my point, this gun will leave my collection once my hands are cold and dead.

Jeff said...

My MKIII feeds hollowpoints all day long, provided they are MiniMags, I'd look to a deep clean and perhaps trying better ammo if I was him.

Mine gets dirty fast as its a gemtech integral but that only makes it pickier.
I don't bother trying to clean it without dental picks.

rickn8or said...

Thanks for making me feel a whole lot better about what I spent for a 1951-ish K-22.

Anonny-mous, box AND receipt? I AM jealous.

Joe in PNG said...

The only gun I've found to be more fun than a 617 is a Glock 18.

Sherm said...

My MkII 22/45 is reliable with everything but the cheapest of Winchester hollow points. The hollow is a tad too big and will sometimes grab hold and catch instead of chambering. Rather than replace the pistol I stopped buying Winchester. Problem solved.

Anonymous said...

rickn8or, really liked that gun. Still had the original waxed paper wrapping and everything. Friend borrowed money while going through cancer treatment, gave me the gun as payment when he knew he couldn't work to pay me back. I gave it and a couple of others back to his son after he died. Son's eyes lit up and he told the history of the gun. Took away the pain of giving it back.

bedlamite said...

Actually, the Ruger Mk2 barrel is pressed into the receiver, not threaded.

burkdoggy said...

Where you people getting .22 ammo?!!!

Greg Tag said...

I love the Smith Model 17 that was sold to me so the owner could use the cash... wait for it... to buy a Glock 19.

Speaking about old vs, new designs, or parts of designs...this is The Perfect Forum a report of an interesting event - Thank You, Tam.

SMITH revolver users take note:

Last week, I was serving as Range Instructor and a lady came in with her new carry gun - a brand new J-frame Smith. She had not fired it before and was not revolver savvy so she asked for some help. I grabbed my muffs and glasses and we headed out onto the firing line to fam fire her new revolver. We went through load, unload reload drill, proper grip, etc., and then she dry fired about 10 times. Then she fired five rounds under my supervision. She fired a decent group and seemed to have everything under control, so I headed off to perform other duties.

Three minutes later she approached me and told me her gun would not fire. I went back onto the range and found she was right- the gun would not fire. Not for her, not for me, not for King Kong - the famous Smith Lawyer-Lock had vibrated "on", and the gun was inoperable. She did not have a key with her.

This was a scary occurrence to her, and to me as well. The possibility of needing the firearm and it locking itself is scary.

True story - I avoid the lock equipped guns like the plague.


Weer'd Beard said...

burkdoggy: Hording isn't too stupid now is it?

Greg Tag: The first brand-new gun I ever bought was my 642, and specifically because it was a no-lock.

I have no idea why Smith continues to make zit-guns.

At the NRA show every year they have all sorts of beautifully engraved and polished guns...with that fucking zit!

It's like a pretty lady with nice clothes and makeup...and a damned uni-brow!

Fix that shit!

Anonymous said...

Weerd Beerd -

I'll see your S&W 617 and raise you one Colt Officer's Model Target.

With reference to the jamming Ruger, or any quality .22 semi-auto pistol that jams, dirt is probably the most likely culprit (in my experience). I've shot Rugers, Smiths, Colts, and Hi Standards, and ALL ran like a top if they were clean. Once they started getting gunked up they started hiccuping, although the Ruger Mk II seems to have a higher tolerance for crud than the others.

rickn8or said...

". I gave it and a couple of others back to his son after he died. Son's eyes lit up and he told the history of the gun. Took away the pain of giving it back."

Takes a mighty big person to do something like that. That should do wonders for the balance in your KarmaPoints® account.

Firehand said...

I've been looking for a K-32 for years that isn't 'like new in box', because I want something I can actually shoot, not just keep in a safe. Problem is, the used ones are not to be found: the people who have them won't turn loose unless forced to. Tells you something about them.

Did run across a S&W Collectors Assoc. guy at Tulsa and asked him about used ones: "They turn up occasionally, but they get grabbed FAST."

.22s can get REALLY dirty, which sometimes has good consequences. Son's first rifle was a Marlin I picked up cheap because it didn't work properly. Reason being every time the fouling got bad enough to be a problem the owner had put some more oil(motor, from the smell) in; there was so much grey sludge in the receiver it was scary. Broke it down, flushed all that crap out, lubed and reassembled and it worked perfectly.

Will said...


Problem is that that cleaning needs to be done about every 50rnd box, to keep it reliable. At least on the Marlin 60 that I had. Bought it used, put a few boxes through it, and got rid of it. I suspect that was why the guy sold it to me. Way to much upkeep for just a plinker. Spent a good portion of the day cleaning, instead of shooting.

Unknown said...

I own a S&W model 34 Kitgun that I bought new in 1981 for $179 dealer price when I was working part-time in a gunsmith shop. This was my first gun and it still looks great and shoots great after about 20,000 rounds. This was my first handgun and though I now own a lot more pistols and revolvers, it's still one of my favorite that I will never part with.

Training Counselor said...

Presenting pistol marksmanship at a Boy Scout leader training, I asked my team of 8 NRA-BSA Certified Instructors to bring a .22 pistol if they were willing to share. No details. Eight Ruger Super Single Six were brought to the range, from early 3 screw to new stainless. What a testament to consistant quality. To this day, folks I train buy the best gun they can manage. ~ Training Counselor

waepnedmann said...

Many years ago, in my foolish youth, I bought a used model 17. I had installed target hammer, trigger, grips. Very accurate. Very difficult to extract fired cases after firing two cylinders full (Drew blood repeatedly trying to extract). Polished chambers repeatedly. No improvement on extraction. Finally sold it.