Smith and Wesson Side Plate Screws | Wheelgun Wednesday

If you’ve handled more than one revolver, you’ve probably noticed they’re all different, and not only because they’re various models and calibers. Specifically, Smith & Wesson revolvers have varying numbers of screws in their side plates. Have you ever wondered why? Whether you’re a collector or not, understanding the ins, outs, and numbers of Smith and Wesson side plate screws is an interesting piece of gun knowledge to have, and we’re here to help.

Side plate with screw for a Smith and Wesson revolver
A side plate screw in a Smith & Wesson revolver. (Photo credit: Smith & Wesson Forum)

What are side plate screws?

First, a quick note on side plates and their related screws. The side plate on a revolver is a metal plate that’s cut to fit that specific model’s frame. It can be removed to access the small mechanisms within the gun. Some side plates have screws that are entirely visible when the gun is assembled and others have screws that are covered by the grip.

The screws in the side plate might be crowned or flat but are generally compatible with a flathead screwdriver. Some modern revolvers have hexagonal screw heads. If you’re going to remove the side plate, take the time to use a screwdriver that’s specifically made to precisely fit the screw in question. Using the wrong size can permanently damage the side plate. It’s possible to use a Dremel to make a screwdriver bit narrower so it properly fits the screw, but it tends to be simpler to acquire gunsmithing bits. Once the screws are out, a non-marring hammer can be used to gently tap the frame around the side plate to loosen it so it comes free. Don’t attempt to pry it out.

Side plate screw located in front of the trigger guard
An example of a screw located in front of the trigger guard. (Photo credit: The Firing Line)

How many screws does a Smith & Wesson revolver have?

There are three general numbers of screws in a Smith & Wesson revolver’s side plate: three, four, or five. To correctly reference these, refer to them as 3-screw, 4-screw, or 5-screw. The number of screws actually decreased over time rather than increasing, so if you were to list them in chronological order, the numbers would be reversed to descending (5-screw, 4-screw, 3-screw).

It isn’t good or bad to have a Smith & Wesson with a certain number of screws but it does give you information regarding the age of the gun. In addition, the number of screws in the side plate is an indicator of the overall value of that specific revolver.

5-screw

Smith and Wesson 5-screw pre-model 10 revolver
A Smith & Wesson 5-screw, pre-model 10 revolver. (Photo credit: Collector’s Firearms)

The time frame when the majority of Smith & Wesson revolvers were the 5-screw type spanned 50 years. From 1905 to 1955, there were four screws on the side plate itself and a fifth screw located immediately ahead of the trigger guard.

4-screw 

4-screw Smith and Wesson Model 27 Revolver
An example of a 4-screw Smith & Wesson Model 27 revolver. (Photo credit: iCollector.com)

When Smith & Wesson decided to do away with the screw located at the uppermost portion of the side plate, the era of 4-screw revolvers began. Those models had three screws on the side plate itself and one in front of the trigger guard. 4-screw models enjoyed a much brief amount of time in use. Between 1955 and 1961, Smith & Wesson moved forward with 4-screw revolvers, but at the end of that six-year span, they dropped yet another screw.

3-screw 

3-Screw Smith and Wesson Model 37 Airweight
A 3-screw Smith & Wesson Model 37 Airweight. (Photo credit: Guns International)

Around 1961, Smith & Wesson decided to stop putting a screw in the front of the trigger guard. That reduced the number of screws to three, ushering in the era of 3-screw revolvers.

The 3-screw design remains the most commonly seen on modern Smith & Wesson revolvers. However, the gun maker does produce some of their classic revolver models with the top-of-the-side-plate screw back in place, making them modern versions of the 4-screw designs. If you’re interested in the value of your gun, it’s important to consider whether it’s an original 4-screw revolver or a newer production model.

Does the number of side plate screws really matter?

When you’re evaluating older models of revolvers, the number of Smith and Wesson side plate screws gives you information about their history. Some will argue the Smith & Wesson revolvers with more screws are better quality guns, but that has less to do with the screws and more to do with being handmade, which lends itself to greater attention to detail and fitment. Modern assembly-line revolvers can still be of fantastic quality, but there are certainly differences between guns made on an assembly line and guns made at a slower pace by gunsmiths.

If you’re a collector, you’re probably looking for models with specific numbers of screws (especially when it comes to finding the rarer ones). As a gun person in general, it’s nice to have this extra bit of knowledge in your gun-related toolbox.

Do certain screws go in specific places?

Multiple Smith and Wesson side plate screw types
As you can see, there are multiple types of screws for revolver side plates. (Photo credit: Rebel Gun Works)

This might not be something you’ve considered, but the question of whether certain screws in a side plate can only go in that specific spot is a good one. The answer is yes, it is wise to replace screws in the exact location they were originally set. It won’t always be absolutely imperative, but all too often a screw will fit best in the hole it was already in. When disassembling a revolver, keep track of which screw goes in what spot and replace them accordingly.

Older side plate model and screws
Sometimes it’s possible to find parts like this older model side plate and screws on internet auction sites. (Photo credit: ebay.com)

Can I replace screws in side plates?

There are reproduction screws for side plates available from a number of manufacturers. If you find yourself forced to replace a side plate screw in an older revolver, consider taking the time to hunt down a screw that’s either miraculously an original or made by someone who had access to the original screw’s specifications. Not all screws will fit all side plates and you want to be sure the correct size screw is used in your gun. Don’t just do an internet search and grab the first side plate screw you see. Do some research and find the best-quality part possible. Many screws require exacting fitting and the last thing you want to do is attempt to force the wrong screw into the side plate.

Should I work on my own revolver?

The answer to whether or not you should do your own gunsmithing on a revolver is that it depends. Generally speaking, no, it isn’t a great plan to attempt to repair your own revolver. Their parts are more intricate and sensitive than those found in something like a Glock and that means it’s a wise idea to have an experienced gunsmith work on them. Of course, if you have a lot of experience and know exactly what you’re doing, go for it. Basic things like cleaning and replacing a basic part are certainly doable on your own. But if you don’t know what you’re doing on repairs, a revolver is not the place to start.

Do you have an older Smith & Wesson revolver? How many screws does it have? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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