Inside A Smith & Wesson

New Departure Safety Hammerless

.38 S&W 4th Model

1898 Smith & Wesson Print Ad 

S&W New Departure Inside This Revolver

Updated 09/01/22

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The Smith & Wesson New Departure Safety Hammerless was a very popular pocket revolver.  Manufactured in both .32 and .38 S&W calibers between 1887–1940.

But how does the New Departure work?  What makes it different than other revolvers?  Most gun owners never get to see the inside of the firearms they own.  This is a good thing because many more handguns would be broken or non-functional if everyone decided to open their guns up.  But the interest remains.  A desire to see the inside of their gun.  That is what this page intends to show.

People are interested in these inner workings.  However, this is not a primer on how to disassemble or re-assemble the New Departure.  Doing so is in fact more difficult than most other revolvers in this regard.  This is not a guide to every model and all detailed changes made to the New Departure over it's manufacturing lifetime.  The following information is about this example only.  A Smith & Wesson New Departure Safety Hammerless, 38 S&W, 4th Model, manufactured in 1904.  If you care for your gun and its history, take it to a gunsmith that is familiar with this specific weapon.  Have them do any necessary work.

Here are some introductory images of this speciman.  Click on the small image and be directed to a larger version:

Like so many other firearms, modifications were everchanging.  Even within the major design change identifiers, smaller changes did occur.  The 4th Model was no exception.  An earlier example had internal parts that no longer existed by later in the 4th Model's lifetime, or had been so extensively changed to make them unrecoginzable.  For this reason, when dealing with older handguns never expect the design of your gun to be exactly like someone elses revolver.

The 1900 Smith & Wesson Catalog for example had two different price lists and part diagrams for the 38 Safety Hammerless in the same catalog!  By looking at these two images from that catalog one can see some obvious changes.


It is obvious that whoever determined the layout for the above parts diagrams did not have the gunsmith disassembling the revolver in mind.  I have tried here to present the parts in a position that provides an idea of how those part appear in the assembled gun.  Please note that the parts associated with the extractor would be rotated about 90 degrees counter clock-wise when being placed back into the firearm.  Click on the small image and be directed to a larger version:

Let's look a some of the features that make this a quality and interestingly creative firearm.  Bypassing the hidden hammer for now, the most obvious unique internal part is the cylinder stop and pinned cross-spring.  A very thoughtful method of approaching the always troublesome part that secures the cylinder for firing while allowing the cylinder to later rotate and align follow-up chambers.  In the image below and some others, the internal parts are held in their correct locations so the viewer can see how each part interacts with other, only viewed on the outside of the handgun.


The first thing to note, and one of the most unusual is the length of the cylinder stop.  Starting at the front portion that physically arrests the cylinder and continuing all the way back through the lower part of the lock work to the forestrap.  In this image is also shown the cylinder stop spring.  That spring which applies downward pressure at the back of the stop, forcing it up at the front and into the nearest cylinder notch.  This method applies an unusually large amount of positive force to the stop.  Much more than any other revolver I know of.  Secondly, there is a "split-spring" that I have not seen in other handguns.  The unique purpose of this spring is to resolutely pushed down the stop as the hammer starts its cocking motion.  Thus allowing the stop to free the cylinder for rotation.  A split spring rather than a single spring has the advantage of not requiring the interaction between the hammer and the stop to need exacting timing.  The hammer can force the stop down as far as it will go and any extra force it applied moving the "split-spring" apart, rather than bending or breaking something.  This interaction will be seen in later images.

The other mechanism in this image is the safety lever (grip safety) and latch.  This is where the pistol gets its lemon squeezer moniker.  The bottom of the lever is pinned.  The top hooks under the frame.  Pressure applied to the upper half of the lever pushes against the lower part of the safety latch.  That force pivots the top of the safety latch out of the travel path of the back of the hammer.  Without this pressure on the safety lever the hammer cannot move back and complete the necessary travel to drop onto the firing pin and detonate a cartridge.  A coil spring is used to apply continued force against the safety latch and preventing full hammer movement.

In this next image I have added the trigger, hand & spring, and the sear as they interact in the gun.  Both the hand and sear are connected to the trigger and move as the trigger moves.  Although hard to tell in this image, note that the long cylnder stop sits inside the trigger in a slot cut for that purpose.  The additional benefit of this arrangement is it provides added strength to the very long cylinder stop, helping prevent any binding during manipulation.  A very useful arraignment.


The single flat spring attached to the hand serves two purposes.  The spring holds the hand itself against the hand slot.  This provides needed assurance that the hand will push up and against the back of the cylinder as the trigger is moved, turning the cylinder to align the next cartridge with the bore.  The other end of this same spring pushes against the back of the sear, forcing the sear continually against the front of the hammer.  This interaction will be shown later.

In the third image of internal parts we look at the firing pin assembly plus the trigger guard and spring.  This is a floating firing pin and not attached to the hammer.  The firing pin and firing pin spring slides inside of its bushing.  The assembly is then placed into a sized hole in the recoil plate portion of the frame.  Everything is held in place by the cross-pin.


The trigger spring pushes against the front of the trigger forcing it to recoil back into position once the trigger is released.  This spring is held in place by the trigger guard.  An additional interesting design feature here is that the guard is also tempered into a spring.  There is a front tab and a rear tab on the guard.  After the front end of the guard is in place, the guard must be compressed enough to fit the rear tab in place.  This is NOT easy to to!  The act is compounded by the need to simultaneously hold the trigger spring in place and at the same time not damage the finish of the frame, plus the installed trigger must he held in a position about 1/2 to 3/4 pulled during all this.  All the while attempting to force the guard into position.  Believe me you do not want to try this if you can avoid it.  It does however provide that in assembly of the gun there is no need for pins or screws to hold the guard in place.

We finally get to the image showing all the parts installed but without the sideplate in place.  The sear held against the front of the hammer, at rest sits in the notch on the hammer,  This serves to protect the revolver from accidental discharge if the nose of the gun strikes something hard like the pavement.  Keeping the hammer away from the firing pin.  Unlike other revolvers that allow for single action, there is no additional notches in the face of the hammer.  The trigger is pressed moving the sear upward and forcing the hammer rearward until it reached the point where the hammer slips off the sear and quickly travels down against the back of the firing pin.  By inertia firing pin is then driven with enough force against its spring to strike the cartridge primer.  All this assumes of course that the grip safety we discussed earlier has been depressed.


These three combined images progressively shows the movement of the protrusion extending from the bottom of the hammer as it moves forward onto the cylinder stop split-spring during rearward movement of the hammer.


(1) span style="font-size: 13.0pt; font-family: "Verdana","sans-serif""> Baughman Ramp Front Sight by Wiley Clapp, American Rifleman Magazine, December 11, 2011
(2) Origins of the New S&W Centennial Revolver, Col. Rex Applegate’s Shoot-out Leads to a Revolver Redesign by Michael Janich, American Handgunner Magazine Online:

This link: "S&W New Departure Safety Hammerless 38 Snub Nose" directs you to my conclusions concerning how this particular revolver came to its current configuration.

This link: "Inside The S&W New Departure Safety Hammerless Revolver" directs you back to the first page.

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Copyright: Bruce Varner, 1972 - 2022