Over-engineering as a design solution

Going to Purdue University, a lot of my friends during the latter half of my collegiate years were engineers (in fact, I started college as an engineering major).  As engineers, they did and still do have a deep and abiding passion for building things that are “disaster-proof”, or as my roommate called it “over-engineered to the point of ridiculousness”.  You can see that same school thought is populated into the design philosophy of some firearms companies, with Ruger being the most prominent example.  Now, when I’m saying “over-engineered”, I do not mean that in the pejorative sense as it’s sometime used.  What I’m saying is when something is properly over-engineered, it extends the service life of Item X well past the failure point of Item X’s market competitors.

A great example of this is the Ruger Security Six revolver, which started life in the 70s to compete in the at-the-time service pistol market against the comparable revolvers from Colt and Smith & Wesson. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the beefed up Security Six frame could tolerate a steady diet of .357 Magnum ammo over it’s service life, while the competitor .357s from S&W and Colt would lose their timing after many fewer rounds than the Ruger revolver.

If you look at the two above images, note the comparative “beefiness” of the top strap on the Ruger Security Six (pictured at top) vs. the top strap on the S&W Model 19. While I’m not knocking the Model 19 in any way, the Ruger simply has more steel in one of the highest stress areas on a magnum revolver. The additional beefiness (new favorite word) of the Ruger makes it more resistant to erosion of the top strap due to magnum loads. The top-strap is the most visible external piece of over-engineering on the Ruger revolver, which allows it to service as an example of the overall design philosophy. If one were to detail strip the guts of the above pictured revolver, you would find that the internal timing pieces (such as the pawl and cylinder lock, etc) on the Ruger are generally larger and more robust than on contemporary revolvers.

Now, this does not mean that the Ruger is a “better” revolver. However, it’s worth pointing out that there no sections in reloading manuals labeled “Smith & Wesson only” or “Colt only”, but there are sections labeled “Ruger only”.

This week, we’re going to continue to explore different schools of thought in handgun design – we’ll also look at elegance in design, as well the point where over-engineering something takes it from a robust, good idea to the land of bad, bad ideas.

14 thoughts on “Over-engineering as a design solution”

  1. You seem to be comparing timing and flamecutting on two guns, which is sorta like apples and oranges.

    Flamecutting != loss of timing.

  2. And on top of that, Ruger discontinued the Security-Six and replaced it with the even more beefier GP100. Go figure…

    Beef…it’s what’s for dinner!

    (I do love my GP100)

    🙂

  3. Conversely, you can “home gunsmith” it – which essentially works down to dry firing it every night until your forearms are exhausted.

  4. I think the real beauty in Ruger’s designs is how they balance toughness and production on top of pricing. I’m not particularly impressed by Ruger’s over-engineering; I have Dan Wesson large- and “supermag”-framed revolvers that make a Redhawk look svelte. They also have much slicker actions.

    However, DW went through two reorganizations, and the quality of their guns suffered during hard times. They’re also somewhat difficult (impossible) to find. Ruger doesn’t have this problem. With the exception of the SR-9–which Ruger will recall and reengineer for free, forever–a buyer can do a brief inspection of a Ruger and be able to trust what he sees. They may not have the nicest finishes or actions, but the quality is pretty consistent over many decades. No gunsmith that I know of has ever said a Ruger isn’t worth the effort to work over.

    So we have a tough gun that’s easy to find on store shelves. A nice price would round out the whole affair, wouldn’t it? And…. wow, the SRP on a Redhawk is only $861; the GP is $680 and the Blackhawk is still only $661. What!? A Smith N-frame is $1,000.

    I love my DWs and my S&Ws, and I don’t think the top strap thickness is critical, but a $600 Blackhawk is like the deal of the century. You’d need a Masters in Stupid to blow up one of these. I already have a couple, but I have to avoid the single action section of the pistol display when I go to the shop, because, you know, I have yet to collect every caliber, finish and barrel length…

    Also: I have a pretty beat 686, but timing is not the issue. I believe that’s a Colt thing, where owners neglect regular maintenance, and the hand is designed to wear quicker than other, more expensive parts. The problem with my Smith is end-shake. I always check for this when I inspect a potential acquisition. S&W will pinch the yoke for $50 and whatever are your overnight shipping costs, so if I really want the gun, I’ll offer $75 (or so) under the asking price. It appears to be a pretty common problem. If the last owner didn’t bother to clean it before selling it, he probably never bothered to have S&W do any PM, either.

  5. FWIW, Cor-Bon used a GP-100 as their .357 test revolver for years ‘n’ years, and if those guys couldn’t blow it up…

  6. All very true, but I have never found a Ruger double action that could compare to a well tuned Smith & Weasel.

    I know Smith N-frames last about 80,000 to 100,000 rounds in .41 or .44 Magnum before their frames stretch and Ruger Redhawks last much longer, but seriously who would WANT to shoot a Redhawk that much? Or better yet carry it and try and conceal it?

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  7. I enjoy your site and show. This is a bit off topic but I was wondering if you have heard of this as posted in Shooting Wire.
    I am a Canadian and have seen this several times in he past few days. Just thought you might be interested.

    http://www.shootingwire.com/

    There is an article at the bottom of the page
    “Features”

    It will hurt Canadian gun owners and definitely have an impact on US manufacturers

    regards
    Dan from Canada

  8. Caleb: Pretty much my point. If you want something bigger than .357. I’ve carried a Smith .41 mag for close to 40 years. I KNOW I couldn’t do a Redhawk for that long.

    Rugers are great guns, but for carry purposes to me carrying one would be like driving a tandem axle Mack truck in place of a ‘pick-up’. Yeah, it’s built strong, but it’s a little ‘much’ for daily use.

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  9. I just love buying ammo that would say on the box, for rifle/Ruger use only. 😀 Talk about faith in a gun, that Bear loads that they only want you to shoot them out of a Rifle or a Ruger.

  10. Caleb, sometimes it’s like you’re reading my mind – or at least staring into my gun safe… (I’ve got a Security Six and a Model 19, interestingly enough.)

    The Ruger’s the go-to gun whenever there’s a “questionable” load to shoot, no question about it…

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