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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The mechanism of the Colt Lightning and Thunderer always had a reputation of being prone to breakage and difficult to repair.

But what puzzles me is the fact that these handguns were nonetheless very popular among police units and Wells Fargo agents. The best proof is that it was produced in almost 167,000 units between 1877 and 1909.

So, what about this reputation ? Was it justified ?

All I can say is that my own Lightning has seen quite a lot of use, judging by the wear of the nickel plating and grips, but it is still fully functional.

Colt Ligthning droit.jpg
 

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I don't believe it was the mechanism that was fragile, necessarily; but rather the quality of materials and metallurgy that was available at the time.

Additionally, the double-action revolver was still a considerable novelty, so there were many evoluntary improvements still to be discovered and employed into a truly robust design.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I don't believe it was the mechanism that was fragile, necessarily; but rather the quality of materials and metallurgy that was available at the time.

Additionally, the double-action revolver was still a considerable novelty, so there were many evoluntary improvements still to be discovered and employed into a truly robust design.
The double action was actually a novelty at the Colt factory, but its history was already several decades old in Europe. Among Samuel Colt very good friends was Eugene Lefaucheux of France who patented his first double action pinfire revolver for the French Navy in 1854. Colt even supplied some of the machines for the Lefaucheux factory.

See below the 1854 Lefaucheux pinfire revolver for the French navy (11 mm - about.45 caliber)

lefaucheux 1854 9mm de paul-01.jpg
 

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Remember how old the springs are now after all this time. I believe when they were sold the guns were as good as any but over time the springs wore out and by then everyone had moved on to other designs.

Pet theory!
 

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I know the same "fact" that M1877 and M1878 actions are fragile/brittle, but not having any aptitude for gunsmithing, I've never known why. What I always think about is that the Single Action Army guns that came out just a few years before the double actions have never had that reputation, and in fact have a reputation for being very easy to work on. So in my uneducated opinion it's not likely to be the metallurgy or quality of materials. Thoughts?
 

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Metallurgy of the spring set just got old - left uncocked for decades, those springs often break, due to brittleness when cycled.

These revolvers aren't a whole helluva lot of fun to work on - most gunsmiths wont - but Dave Lanara's brother Sal is a wizard.
 

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Breaking off a hammer notch while using them in double action was/is a problem. But many SAAs have experienced the same problem. I would assume the metallurgy/heat treat was the same. But that doesn't answer the base question, i.e., was it metallurgy or geometry. Given that later model Colts have hammer blocks that look pretty much the same as the 1878s'/1877's, I would have to assume the problem was metallurgy.
I have both an 1878 in 44-40 and a 1877 in 41 Colt. Although I don't shoot them a lot, I haven't had any problems from them. But I always shoot then SA.
 

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Metallurgy of the spring set just got old - left uncocked for decades, those springs often break, due to brittleness when cycled.

These revolvers aren't a whole helluva lot of fun to work on - most gunsmiths wont - but Dave Lanara's brother Sal is a wizard.
Hiw might one get in touch with him?
 

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I understand that the Colt Lightning and Thunderer were difficult to repair when malfunctioning, but Billy the Kid and John Wesley Hardin had Colt Thunderer’s, so they must have had a lot of confidence in them !
Jim
 

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What a lot of people do not relies or forget that most these guns were black powder cartridge guns. They load them up with smokeless powder and that puts a lot more pressure on those 100+ year old springs and parts. Yes it was Colts first attempt at a double action. But it was also a period in time when powder was evolving. I have a few of these guns and think they feel great in the hand. I think William Mason did a great job designing these. But I also feel that they could of been improved on. Colt went on to bigger and better designs with the swing out Cylinder of the 1892.
 

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I believe metallurgy played a role as others have pointed out. Over the years the soft malleable internal parts wore out, and needed to be replaced. I have read the 1877 is comprised of 38 parts while the Single Action Army (SAA) only had 28 parts. The action is completely different than the SAA and gunsmiths who were familiar with SAA's had no idea how to work on the intricate actions of the 1877. They would tinker with it just enough to get it to sort of work and be done with it. I have even see 1877's that were converted to single action.

When they were new, I am sure they were quite dependable. If they weren't Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, and John Wesley Hardin and other notable users of the 1877 would not have depended on them.
 

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I know two guys that can make them
work and fix them. They said the weak link is the sear typically and this is from
being used in sao, oddly I guess da does alot
less wear. I never asked for details of how this works. They can however get them going great which it seems isn’t an easy task for modern trained smiths.
 

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I have been going to gun shows for more years than I like to think about, and the "Lightnings" (as all calibers were then called) were commonly seen, and most didn't work properly. Truth is it is an intricate design as well as mechanically delicate. I believe they were just prone to failure regardless of whether they were fired with black or smokeless powder loads. Earlier I had recounted the story of Donn Heath having a really nice Model 1877 that worked, but in a later list he advertised that it no longer worked, and it hadn't even been fired.
 

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I know two guys that can make them
work and fix them. They said the weak link is the sear typically and this is from
being used in sao, oddly I guess da does alot
less wear. I never asked for details of how this works. They can however get them going great which it seems isn’t an easy task for modern trained smiths.
Any chance of sharing their contact info? I have one in need of repair. Thanks.
 

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The major problem that I have found is the Sear as "MAM" stated above. When the Sear chips or breaks, the revolver is DA only. As "JohnnyP" stated, the parts operation of the action is Intricate.

To me, the major problem with the 1877 is getting replacement parts. Used parts are usually worn or worn out and expensive. Jack First does make some good replacement parts, but they still must be "fit" to the revolver. Reassembly takes three (3) hands to make it easier.

I have about 8 or 9 of the 1877s and like them a lot, but don't shoot them very often as I may get a parts breakage and usually just shoot them in DA mode. Oddly enough, the wierd 3 legged Spring is one part I have never had to replace on any of mine and they seem to keep working. The flat Trigger Spring is the second most replaced part I have found. The compactness of the 1877 is probably why some of the old "outlaws" like them so well as a hide-a-way revolver.

If the revolver was manufactured today in the same physical size, with modern action parts, I feel it would be a big hit on the market????
 

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I do not believe that metallurgy was the problem with these guns. It was the person using the gun. Unlike the Single Action that you could make function if a jam were to occur while cocking by forcing the action, doing so with the 1877 would bend or break the cylinder stop. Many that I repair have had this issue. I personally have guns that I have owned and fired for over 20 years that never needed any work to keep them going. in fact, I have serial number 404, 1338 and 1442 and all three will be 140 years old in 2018. All have their original interior parts and all function properly to this day! I tell everyone that if when cocking, the cylinder starts to bind or will not turn, DO NOT FORCE IT BY PULLING HARDER ON THE HAMMER OR TRIGGER!. Instead, remove the cylinder, find out what was causing the bind ( typically a backed out primer catching on the cylinder stop) work the action and replace the cylinder. There are parts such as the springs that can wear out or break but that is normal for the age of the guns. If you need repair on 1877's, 1878's or other early DA Colt's my address is below. I am an FFL dealer so if the gun was made after 1898 you can ship direct to me and I can return direct to you as long as you are the owner of it. There is no charge for inspection if you do not want the work done. Only charge would be for return shipping.

Sal Lanara
8150 Richard Rd.
Broadview Hts., OH 44147
 

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I do not believe that metallurgy was the problem with these guns. It was the person using the gun. Unlike the Single Action that you could make function if a jam were to occur while cocking by forcing the action, doing so with the 1877 would bend or break the cylinder stop. Many that I repair have had this issue. I personally have guns that I have owned and fired for over 20 years that never needed any work to keep them going. in fact, I have serial number 404, 1338 and 1442 and all three will be 140 years old in 2018. All have their original interior parts and all function properly to this day! I tell everyone that if when cocking, the cylinder starts to bind or will not turn, DO NOT FORCE IT BY PULLING HARDER ON THE HAMMER OR TRIGGER!. Instead, remove the cylinder, find out what was causing the bind ( typically a backed out primer catching on the cylinder stop) work the action and replace the cylinder. There are parts such as the springs that can wear out or break but that is normal for the age of the guns. If you need repair on 1877's, 1878's or other early DA Colt's my address is below. I am an FFL dealer so if the gun was made after 1898 you can ship direct to me and I can return direct to you as long as you are the owner of it. There is no charge for inspection if you do not want the work done. Only charge would be for return shipping.

Sal Lanara
8150 Richard Rd.
Broadview Hts., OH 44147
Great info and a great resource!
 

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Heck, my gun is going straight to him......I hope he does not mind it being in pieces........one less gun in the pile of guns that I have dismantled and never put back together.......
 
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