The Master's Gun


Staff member
The Master’s Sixgun
by Glen E. Fryxell

“It’s not nice to mess with The Master.”

The good Lord has blessed me with a number of colorful characters that have made my life rich beyond all expectation. Some have been wise, some have been funny, some have been salty, and some have been……well….colorful. They have all taught me something, made me wiser, and several have left me laughing years after their deaths. This is the story of a very special sixgun, one that vanished mysteriously, reappeared, shot terribly, and now makes hits that border on magical. But the story is special because of a man that played a central role in the play.

The story starts back about 1998, with a group of buddies gathered up to make a road trip to a small town gun show. Gary had a nice van, and offered to drive, so Lyle and I took him up on his offer. Larry (one of Lyle’s co-workers) also joined us, and we were off to Moses Lake. On the drive over, there was a lot of talk, hunting stories, tales of hot cars, pretty girls, amazing shots we had made (and missed), and hunts that we hoped to go on someday. All in all, pretty much standard gun-show guy talk.

We got to the fair grounds and parked. On the dusty walk in from the parking lot, we decided to spread out since there were 2 different buildings (2 guys to each of the 2 buildings), and then regroup for a cup of coffee at the coffee hut outside after we had completed the first building and compare notes on what we had seen. I went to the big building first (the bigger building had about 150 tables, and the smaller about 100, some with antiques). There was the usual assortment of stuff that one finds at small town gun shows – beat up shotguns, some elk rifles, a few mil-surp guns, and an assortment of handguns. The only thing that had caught my eye was a S&W revolver, that was stamped “MOD. 14-2”, but it had a 6” full-lugged barrel, a narrow service trigger and a butter-smooth action job. The nose-heavy balance of the gun, combined with the narrow trigger and exceptional double-action trigger had me thinking of various action shooting disciplines (e.g. bowling pins, falling plates, etc.). I was an experienced bullseye shooter at this point, and was thinking about branching out into other handgun disciplines. This gun might be a good way to do that.

We regathered at the coffee hut and shared our thoughts over a hot, steaming “cup o’ joe”. I reported on what I had seen (the only things of interest to the group were a couple of 1903 Springfields I had seen). I was the only “handgun guy” in this group, so kind of as an after-thought, I also mentioned the S&W Model 14-2. I went on to say that I was thinking about it as an “action gun”, but was still undecided as I had several K-38s and didn’t really need another one. Maybe, but…..

I bought another cup of coffee, and went into the second building to think it over. It didn’t take long since the building had lots of antiques, and not so many guns. I decided I was going to buy it. I went back into the big building just in time to see my buddy Lyle standing at the table where I had told him the K-38 was. My first thought was, “Gee that’s nice, Lyle is taking an interest in my shooting, and wanted to look over that K-38.” As I walked down the row to that table, I see him tear off a check out of his checkbook and hand it to the vendor. Huh? As I walked up to the table, he looked up at me and said, “Hey! How do you like the new K-38 I just bought?”

“But Lyle, that’s the one I was telling you about! Did you buy that to keep someone else from buying it out from under me?”

“No, I bought it for me. I’m thinking about getting back into bullseye shooting.” (I knew this to be true, as we had discussed it at length previously).

“But I was going to buy it!” I screamed.

“Sorry, but outside you said you couldn’t make up your mind about it. I knew if you liked it, it was a good, solid handgun, and I’ve wanted to get back into bullseye for a couple of years now, so I figured I’d better come look it over. I liked it, so I bought it.” Lyle explained, straight-faced.

Now, I need to explain that Lyle was a Master-class practical jokester, and I knew full-well that he was pulling my leg, BUT the fact remained that he HAD been talking about getting back into bullseye shooting for a while now, so his story held water (at least superficially). I offered (repeatedly) to buy the gun from him, and he repeatedly, and politely, turned me down. He was playing me like a fish.

Gary had left a spare key to the van stashed where the rest of us could find it, so we could stash anything we bought out in the van without having to track him down for the key each time. By the end of the gun show, the four of us had all kinds of boxes and bags full of brass, dies, guns, cleaning stuff, etc. It had been a good gun show. We decided to celebrate by going to a spot Gary knew that had really good burgers and brews. He was right, those burgers were downright delicious! As we were walking out, Lyle said, “I’ll be right out, I need to hit the head.”, so the 3 of us headed out to the van.

I had bought a 50-cal ammo can that was half full of 10mm brass in the gun show. As Larry and I got into the back seat of that van, I said, “Larry, give me that paper bag with Lyle’s K-38 in it.” I grabbed it and stuffed it into the 50-cal ammo can, with the 10mm brass, then slid it back under the seat. Lyle came out and sat in the front passenger seat, and we hit the road back home. More “gun-show guy talk”.

We got to Larry’s house, and he unloaded his stuff. Lyle’s stuff had been mixed in with Larry’s, so he was asking where was his gun? Larry said, I don’t know, did you walk off without it? (with a wink and a nod to us). This went on for ~10 minutes, with the four of us standing around in Larry’s driveway at dusk, teasing Lyle about forgetting his gun back at the gunshow.

Eventually, Lyle and I piled back into Gary’s van and we left. We dropped Lyle off next and he gathered up his stuff and said his goodbyes and went into the house. I lived about 5-6 blocks away from Lyle, so it was a short drive to my house. I unloaded my stuff from the van, and Gary went home. I hauled my stuff into the house and sat down to admire my goodies. Chuckling to myself about being able to pull a fast one on Lyle, I sat down to open up that 50-cal ammo can with the 10mm brass in it. I popped the lid open, and there was the 10mm brass…….and nothing else! The K-38 in the paper bag that I had stashed in there in the parking lot of the burger joint an hour earlier had vanished! I could hear Lyle laughing, but I had no idea how he could have pulled it off – with him sitting I the front passenger seat, it was inaccessible to him for the entire drive home (not to mention directly in my line of sight), so he must have done it while we were unloading Larry’s stuff in Larry’s driveway, but again, we were all standing right there and watching. Anyway, I looked over at my telephone answering machine, and the little red light was blinking. I walked over and hit “Play”.

“It’s not nice to mess with The Master.” Click.

In the time between being dropped off and me getting in to my house (only a few minutes since we lived so close to one another), Lyle had called and left this message for me. There is no doubt, when it came to practical jokes, Lyle was indeed The Master, and try as I might, I could not put one over on him. I had tried, but there was nothing left to do but acknowledge that I had been beaten by The Master. I called him back immediately, and we both had a hearty laugh over the whole deal. I badgered him to tell me how he did it, but he refused to budge an inch. I pestered him for years and he never did tell me how he pulled his sleight of hand. Of course – a Master doesn’t reveal his secrets.

Over the next week, we discussed it, and arrived at a trade that was mutually beneficial, so I ended up with the Model 14-2. The K670xxx serial number puts the frame in early 1966 production, but S&W wasn’t putting full-lugged barrels on its K-38s in the 1960s. The full-lugged barrel was introduced in 1991 with a special run of 2000 guns, and then added to the standard catalog in 1992, so somebody took a 90s production barrel and put it on a 1966 gun (after drilling it to accept a pin). Whoever did the work did a very nice job of fitting the barrel to the frame and cylinder, and the cylinder gap is a tight .003”.

I plinked with the gun a few times over the years (mostly with target wadcutter loads), but never got around to shooting it seriously because of occasional misfires (I was mostly shooting it single-action at this point). Lyle’s death in 2010 prompted me to re-visit this gun (and its issues) as a mechanism to reminisce about an old friend.

Double-action on this revolver was remarkably light and smooth. During a trial run down at the range, I found out that there was a problem with misfires. Swapping out the after-market mainspring for a factory mainspring helped a little, but did not eliminate the problem. This made me suspicious of the strain screw -- more than once I have seen where some bozo did “an action job” on a S&W revolver by taking a bastard file (or bench-grinder) to the tip of the strain screw to reduce the compression of the mainspring. Sure enough, somebody had monkeyed with it, but based on the length of the strain screw it looked like they had taken off only a few thousandths. I asked Dave (my gunsmith buddy) if he had a spare strain screw that he would sell me so I could replace this one that had been modified. Dave responded by asking me what the hammer spring weight was currently. I measured it as best I could (using a trigger weight gauge), and told him that it was running a little over 32 ounces (which turns out to be the lower threshold for getting Federal small pistol primers to pop reliably, but other brands of primers need as much as 36-38 ounces; K-38s commonly run as high as 48 ounces from the factory). I suspect the previous owner had reduced the hammer weight down to 32 ounces, and had fed the gun a steady diet sparked with only Federal primers. I routinely run CCI and Winchester primers in my .38 Special loads, so this option wasn’t going to work for me. Anyway, Dave told me to bring the gun the next time we went shooting and he would show me how to fix it.

It turns out that Brownell’s sells a reamer specifically for setting the shoulder back in the strain screw hole in S&W frames. Dave had one, and brought it the next time we got together, and showed me how to use it. I took a little bit out, and re-weighed the hammer. A little more, re-weigh, etc., etc. All in all, I removed about .005-.006” and got the hammer weight up to about 38-40 ounces. It goes “Bang!” every time now. With CCI primers.

I took it with me next time Dave and I went plinking, and went through about 200 rounds of ammo, with nary a misfire. At close range (~20 yards) accuracy seemed to be OK with target wadcutter ammo, but at longer ranges (50-100 yards) with SWC and HP ammo, accuracy ranged from so-so, to downright awful, with some shots missing by 3-4 feet. I set up a target at 25 yards and shot some of the HP ammo off of a sandbag rest, and was shocked to see an 8-9” group! I had never checked the throats on this revolver, so as soon as I got home I ran out to the garage and did so – all six were undersized – 4 were just slightly under .356”, and 2 were just slightly over .356”. I ran into a similar problem with a .357 Magnum revolver about 15 years ago, so I already had a .357” throater reamer. I pulled the cylinder out of the Model 14-2 and reamed all six throats to .357”. The next time I took it out plinking, I had no problem staying on 1-gallon milk jugs off-hand at 100 yards (something that would not have been possible previously). This K-38 has done very well with the 160 grain H&G #51 SWC over 5.0 grains of Unique (925 fps), and the 150 grain Ideal 358477 SWC over 5.4 grains of Unique (1025 fps). Both cast bullets were sized .357” to fit the throats and groove diameter of the barrel. This gun is consistently a little bit faster than my other K-38s, presumably because of the tight .003” cylinder gap. Yeah, it’s a keeper.

The Master’s Gun, minus a little bit of metal, is now making a joyous noise and shooting to its full potential. Thank you Lyle (you flippin' smart aleck).

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