The J-Frame*- How Small Can It Get?

*Yes, I know a Taurus M85 and a Rossi M68 are not really J-Frames, but they are the same size. Additionally one of them is derived from the S&W and the other is a direct copy.

For many years custom gunsmiths have produced trimmed-down J-Frames for deep-cover concealed carry.  Then a while back (2014) Taurus introduced a gun called the 85-VTA, or Model 85 View. This was a Model 85 smoothed out and minimized for concealed carry, and as a special added feature the side-plate was Lexan so you could see the internals.

85VTA-1

This gun is seriously light. Like 9-1/2 ounces light.  Between that and the tiny grip most commentators have said that it is quite unpleasant to shoot; one thick-fingered individual was actually bleeding after ten shots. It is also difficult to maintain a consistent grip with two hands; the reviewers I watched all had to resettle their grip between shots, and this is death on rapid, accurate fire.

I don’t mean to insult this gun- except for that stupid see-through side-plate; I’ll happily insult that. This is a gun with a purpose- to be the smallest, lightest, easiest to conceal gun of its type.  They work well and can even achieve reasonable accuracy. The tiny grip and short sight radius don’t make this easy, mind you, and the very unpleasant recoil doesn’t encourage mastering it. That means that for all but the most dedicated users this will be a point-blank ‘Get off me!’ gun. Fair enough- that’s what it was made to be and it does that job well.

The very short ejector rod works surprisingly well- until you get a sticky case. But, given the gun’s mission, fast reloads take a back-seat to conceal-ability, and that’s not an unreasonable trade off. As a deep-cover gun or back-up it fits the bill admirably, but as a general carry gun it is compromised in a number of ways.  Personally I’m not happy with those compromises; I want a carry-gun that retains the capability of getting hits out to 25 yards, is easy and pleasant to practice with, but still as concealable as is reasonably possible.

This led me to wonder- how small can a gun like this get without being compromised? At least not more than a typical example of a J-Frame sized gun? I needed to establish my criteria for this project. First- sights as good as a typical factory gun. Second- a grip that, while significantly more concealable than a factory grip, does not brutalize you when you fire it.  Third- a more effective ejector. Fourth- a steel frame. This one seems to run counter to mission, but I believe you need a carry gun that is not actively unpleasant to shoot so that you will actually feel motivated to practice with it. But given the mission of a deep-concealment gun it ought to be reasonably light, leading to… Fifth- a target weight between 15-20 ounces.

I had an old Rossi M68 (a part-for part clone of a S&W Model 60) and set to work. I got it to an interesting configuration that met my goals, but that gun had a hard life, and failure after failure led me to eventually retire it and put the project on the back-burner. Then this week a Taurus Model 85 came my way, completely stock with the original-style wood grips.

This is a good, inexpensive work-horse of a gun, and made a fine starting point for resuming this project. Experience with the Rossi had taught me what I wanted, and I set about it.

A hammer-spur on a revolver like this is definitely a no-no, so I bobbed the hammer with a cut-off wheel and files, then polished the result. I have to confess I didn’t remove the hammer to do this, I simply masked off the gun to keep the nasty little metal bits from getting into the works. I polished up the result and moved on.

I made note of the maximum travel of the mainspring guide-rod, and cut the grip-frame just below this. (Note- S&W and Rossi guns have the serial number on the bottom of the grip-frame- cutting this entirely off is a Federal crime! There are work-arounds to do this legally but they are a major pain in the ass.)

 

IMG_1146
The cut grip-frame and a piece of spring-steel that will become the new bottom of the frame.
IMG_1147
Ready to weld, with all the bits held securely in place my my big-ass magnet.
IMG_1148
Here’s the back of the frame gas-welded…
IMG_1149
…and the front.

With the frame shortened I cleaned up the welds, re-profiled and refinished the frame.

IMG_1150
The grip-frame size is now comparable to the M85 View.

By this point the project had me in it’s teeth and I forgot to take more in-progress photos. Oops… Next I shortened the barrel by 1/2″ using my metal-cutting bandsaw and my belt-grinder. I re-crowned the barrel and re-contoured the bottom corner of the barrel-shroud, then polished it and re-blued it. During the cutting, grinding and polishing operations I had cleaning patches stuffed in the bore to keep the nasty stuff out. Afterwards I cleaned the barrel in the usual fashion to remove any residue.

To finish things off I relieved the trigger-guard at the front on the right side to make access to the trigger a bit faster and more comfortable, then took the corners off the cylinder release and polished it. I refinished everything and was ready to move on to the grips.

These are important- I had a frame sized similarly to the M85 View, but these are notably uncomfortable. I wanted something as concealable but significantly more comfortable, consistent with the mission of making a gun that was not obnoxious to practice with.  I had made a pair of custom Zebrawood handles for the Rossi, and these were easily adapted to the Taurus.  These grips were carefully shaped for the mission and are very flat.

IMG_1155
A bit hard to see, but the handles are very low-profile.

So- the gun was basically finished, and excepting the extra 1/4″ of barrel it’s as small as the M85 View. More than double the weight at 19.2 ounces unloaded, but I am a big guy and that doesn’t bother me.

IMG_1158
In this picture you can see the cut-way trigger guard, which makes it faster to transition from a safe trigger-finger position to a firing position.

M85DCC

The grip has a single finger-groove, but it is actually a two-finger grip; the ring-finger actually wraps around the grip from underneath. It’s surprisingly secure and comfortable. But how is it to shoot?

Today I ran five rounds of ‘warm’ 173gr. LSWCs, and ten rounds of 125gr.JHPs loaded to maximum SAAMI standard pressure (but not +P. ) So how did that go? Unfortunately the video of the 173gr loads did not work out, but you can see the 125gr. loads-

Shooting the gun!

There is more muzzle-flip than it would appear in the video, but at 30 frames per second it shows up poorly. The gun was quite civilized to shoot with both loads, so much so that I expect even occasional +P loads would not be too abusive.  I wasn’t particularly focused on accuracy, but even so all rounds hit in a fist-sized group at five yards.

So it seems I have created what I set out to- a very compact J-frame sized revolver that does what I want it to do.  Now I am going to live with it for a while and see how well it does the job. I’ll be doing a more extensive test on my next range trip, and will report further on this gun then.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 28 October 2018

 

 

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