22 January 2024

What a Time to Be Alive - The Era of Lever Actions (Smith and Wesson and Others Enter the Ring)

 Smith and Wesson pulled out some very old history today. I found out that they released a new lever action rifle series called the 1854. I thought that was an odd name but if you know their history, it makes sense. 1854 is the year the Volcanic repeating action was patented. Smith and Wesson as a company back then though they sold off their first company that made the lever action Volcanic to what would become Winchester. Basically, you can thank Smith and Wesson if you love lever action rifles. I know I do. 

I figure it would be a PCC, pistol caliber carbine, given Smith and Wesson's handgun history. It would make sense for them to make a companion rifle for their revolver line up. Turns out, I was correct. I assumed an and/or situation for the caliber figuring on .357 mag and .44 mag. I was correct again once I saw their website. The initial offering is a .44 Magnum with a 19 inch barrel. I love that it's threaded. In fact, I think it's the only All Weather styled lever action currently on the market with a threaded barrel save Marlin's 1895. Sounds like Henry needs to look out.

I would like to know what S&W didn't get from Henry.

A very close visual comparison of the rifle say that the 1854 is extremely similar to the Henry Big Boy rifles. Again, I was correct. Smith and Wesson has been once again, copying someone else's homework but making enough changes to make the product theirs. See the Shield Plus and FPC products compared to the P365 and SUB2000. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the parts are interchangeable with the Henry rifles.

While pricing is about the same, there are some start differences like the stainless steel finish. The Henry X is a 17 inch barrel. The Henry thread pitches are all 5/8x24 as far as I know but S&W using the 11/16 pattern for the .44 Mag. The sights on the Smith are XS products per their website. The level loop sizes are different as well with the Smith being larger. The handguard on the Smith is more traditional with the nose cap. I like that. The 1854 is using a different extractor claw and is styled like many of the other Smith and Wesson pistol's extractor claw. The 1854 uses the same hole pattern for scopes as the Marlin 1894 which is fantastic. Also, the Smith's magazine tube is very different. Instead of having a loading port on the tube, S&W just stuck with the side gate but the tube still unlocks. You pull the entire tube out. I've never seen that before. You pull the tube out and dump all the rounds out. Pretty handy.

Personally, I would get the 1854 over the Henry. The sights I think are better and the rifle is ready for an optic from the box. I like the furniture a lot more on the 1854 than I do on the X and the scope mount holes use a better pattern. The only real thing I don't like on the Smith is the cross bolt safety and I would prefer the Henry loop more as it's smaller. I would also like to point out that Smith and Wesson has a wood stock and blued steel version that is gorgeous but the price tag is outrageous at $3500.

The new 1854 models will make for great pairing with Smith and Wesson's other products. A .357 Magnum version would pair with either the S&W Model 19 or the Model 27 in the blued model. A 686 or 627 would match stainless model. The .44 Mag version would go nicely with the Model 29 based guns. The current base model stainless matching perfectly with the 629 and the blued version matching the Model 29 Classic. 

I really wish I had both the Henry and Smith to set down and compare.

I think Smith and Wesson nailed it with the base model stainless option. A stainless steel and synthetic rifle makes for a great working gun. I love my blued steel and wood stocks (I talk about it all the time) but my Marlin 1894 CST has shown me that having a stainless gun for in the woods or out in the weather is great. It helps with rust issues that the bluing can run into. The fancy model is hard to justify though. The wood is gorgeous but I'm struggling to see how a high polish, fancy grain walnut wood and bluing is worth an additional $2200.

If you love lever action rifles as much as I do, I think now is a great time. With Marlin coming back online, with Henry producing so many great options and now Smith and Wesson in the game, it will be interesting to see what else happens. Winchester has been pretty stagnant which is sad but they did announce they are back in the rimfire lever action game with their new Ranger. Rossi, for the most part, has been covering the 1892 game pretty well and is beating Winchester at their own game. Pedersolli has some interesting Winchester based options as well. Chiappa is releasing new versions of the LA322. Heritage Arms who makes the Rough Rider revolvers has a budget .22 lever action called the Settler. Bond Arms was working on a super modern lever action that has modularity similar to the AR-15. POF released that Tombstone 9mm level rifle last year. Who's next? Colt reintroducing the Lightning pump action? Marlin bringing back the 39A? No idea but it sure is interesting time to be alive. 

Big Update: I really wish I could have gone to SHOT Show this year. Apparently it really is the year of the lever action. In addition to S&W dropping theirs, Aero Precision and Stag Arms have announced a 336 / 1895 clone. Aero's version will be more tacticool with rails and such with the Stag Arms being a more traditionally configured rifle both in .30-30 and .45-70. Apparently, the guns are in early development and the Aero noted that they'd likely have more to show off in 2025. By the way, they all have threaded barrels. Henry released a rifle they call the Supreme that's configured to us AR-15 magazines. It will be offered in 5.56 and .300 Blackout which is great! I always thought that .300 BLK would have been a great option in the Long Ranger and Express models they have. Basically, that's 4 "new" lever action models. I quote new because their just copies of Marlin and Henry rifles. I'm going to assume these companies can do this as the patents ran out some time ago.

Bond Arms Lever Action (From their website)

Update: As I have looked around, I found out the fancy model of the 1854 is a collector's version. Smith and Wesson themselves are hinting of a collector's set version with engraving and a Model 29 Classic to go with it. It would be sold as a set pair. They are also hinting at possible versions in "bigger" calibers. I don't know that they can stuff a .500 S&W Magnum into that frame but you could sell me on the .460 S&W since that's based on the .45 Colt.

Update 2: I found out about the magazine tube information and added that. Spooky ghost edit. 

Update 3: I would recommend not expecting this to come out in 500 S&W or 460 Magnum. Those cartridges are almost as long as .30-30 is; 2.25 inches over all length vs .30-30 at 2.5 inch OAL. They would likely need a larger receiver like the 336. When they said bigger, they probably meant .45 Colt. I think the most powerful cartridge they will stuff in will be .44 Mag. They MIGHT go .454 Casull but I highly doubt it. 

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