Colt Python: Adjusting the timing. - Pistolsmith

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Old 07-17-2004, 02:30 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Seabrook, Texas
Posts: 4
Colt Python: Adjusting the timing.

I bought a 4" nickel Python at last weekend's Pasadena, Texas gunshow, and I haven't a clue as to age of the gun or how many rounds have been put through it. My handgun collection includes several Colt 1911A-1 pistols and many S&W revolvers, but this purchase is my first venture into Colt wheelguns, and I'd like to gain more knowledge about this particular model, both from a general prospective and regarding servicing requirements. Lock-up is crisp and tight, and I would rate the finish as 98%+. It appears to have been well taken care of. The Python's serial number is V954XX, if that helps age-wise with my below questions.

I understand from my gunsmith who is quite talented, but now only builds and services 1911A-1s, that Pythons are very sensitive revolvers, with timing set "close to the edge" at the factory to achieve its legendary smooth functioning and great accuracy. And that this degree of timing requires adjustment from time to time.

So finally, my questions are:

1) Is the Python truly that sensitive, with extremely close tolerances?
2) If so, how does one determine when the timing is sufficiently off that it
requires adjustment back to factory specs?
3) Is it recommended that the Python be returned to Colt for this service?
4) What is the approximate cost for re-setting the timing?
5) What are other highly specialized things I should know about this gun?

I checked this and other forums regarding the above questions, but didn't find very much. Most comments I saw dealt with "buttery smooth trigger", etc., but didn't get into mechanics.

Sure would appreciate some help, guys.

Best regards, Jack M.
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Old 07-17-2004, 03:00 PM   #2
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Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 144
The old Colt action is not sensitive, but it relies heavily on the hand during lockup. The very tip of the hand (which is a small thin surface) does most of the work and when it wears the timing starts to go.
Slow cocking the revolver with and without pressure on the cylinder is a good indicator of the timing. A Colt needs to lock up solid (no cylinder movement) when in time. If you just have to barely move the cylinder after slow cocking to lockup the cylinder the timing is goin, but not bad enough to worry. It should move to lockup on it's own with the pulling of the trigger.
You should use the factory or one of the few Colt reconized service centers to work on the old Colt actions. Very few gunsmiths today are qualified to work on them and many will try. Some of the time the revolver will then need a trip to the factory or service center to undo the gunsmithing. A Colt is not a drop-in parts friendly design. The spring performs several functions and must be tuned as it's also a big part of the timing.
Repair costs, like anything, will be relative to the amount of work and parts needed. It is no more prohibitive than any other maker's repair costs.
About the only real care needed for the Python is to not abuse it. Slamming that heavy cylinder shut will wreck one in a hillbilly's heartbeat. Also because of the weight of the cylinder and the dependancy on the hand, fast double action shooting will accellerate the wear on the hand destroying the timing.
The Python is a hand tuned target revolver and should be treated as such. Get it in time, shoot it sensibly, and it will last a very long time. It is a strong sturdy design when used in the role it was built for.
Old 07-17-2004, 04:40 PM   #3
Senior Member
Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,691
Your Python was made in 1980.

The Python action is adjusted to very close specs, and there's a narrow range it has to be set to for proper operation.

If your Python is not properly in time, it can be repaired either at the Colt factory or:

Pittsburgh Handgun Headquarters
1330 Center Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15229

The only thing to keep in mind about the Python is, it's a highly precision mechanism that was made to produce the maximum accuracy and quality possible in a true production revolver.

The Python is strong and takes a lot of use, AS LONG as you don't abuse the action.
Abuse is "force cocking" the gun, by jerking the hammer back as hard as you can, or firing the gun double action by yanking the trigger as hard and fast as you can.

Treat it like you would an expensive sports car and it'll last quite well.

Here's my instructions for checking the timing on the older Colt action:

To check Colt timing:

Open the cylinder and look at the small "lug" in the bottom of the cylinder window. This is the cylinder locking bolt.

Cock the hammer, and watch as the bolt retracts into the frame and pops back out.

The bolt MUST begin to retract THE INSTANT the hammer begins to move.
There MUST be NO (ZERO) hammer movement possible before the bolt starts to retract.

The bolt should retract smoothly with no hesitation until it's fully retracted, then it MUST pop back out with a clean "snap".
There should be no hesitation, and no amount of "creeping" back out.

Close the cylinder.
Use your left thumb or fore finger to again cock the hammer, closely watching the cylinder bolt as you SLOWLY cock the hammer.

As the hammer comes back, the bolt will retract away from the cylinder.

The bolt MUST retract far enough to unlock the cylinder BEFORE the cylinder begins to rotate.

If the bolt is still slightly engaged with the cylinder lock notch, the cylinder will be attempting to turn while still partially locked.

This produces a "catch" or "hard spot" in the trigger pull and will damage both the bolt and the cylinder lock notches.
This often appears as metal "pulled out" of the lock notches, with rounded off and burred notches.

Continue to cock the hammer, laying your right index finger on the cylinder just enough to prevent "free wheeling".

Watch for the bolt to drop back onto the cylinder. WHERE the bolt drops is CRITICAL.

The bolt MUST drop onto the lead or ramp in front of the actual cylinder notch.
If the bolt drops too soon, (in front of the notch ramp), it will mar the finish of the cylinder.

The bolt SHOULD drop into the MIDDLE 1/3rd section of the ramp.

If the bolt drops late, (farther toward the actual locking notch) the revolver may display "cylinder throw-by".
In this condition, during double action shooting the cylinder may rotate PAST the locking notch, and fire in an unlocked condition.

It's the nature of the Colt action, that a hesitant or jerky trigger pull by the user can induce throw-by in even a properly tuned Colt.
The Colt trigger should be pulled with a smooth, even pull, with no sudden jerks at the beginning.

Continue to pull the hammer back and both watch and listen for the bolt to drop into the cylinder lock notch.

The bolt MUST drop into the actual lock notch BEFORE the hammer reaches full cock.

The most common Colt mis-time situation is the hammer cocks before the bolt drops into the lock notch. (Hammer is cocked, but cylinder isn't locked).

In this condition, with the hammer fully cocked, you can push the cylinder slightly, and you will hear the "CLICK" as the bolt drops into lock.

In my experience, most Colt's leave the factory with the bolt dropping a little late into the lead, but usually wear in to correct timing.

If the bolt drops onto the cylinder early, no real problem, but there will be extra finish wear.

If the bolt drops late (closer to the lock notch) the cylinder may "throw by" or rotate TOO far in double action and this can cause off-center primer hits and firing while unlocked.

Each of these checks should be done on EACH chamber. All of these checks are better done individually. In other words, do the bolt retraction check on all six chambers, then do the bolt drop test, and so on.

A properly tuned Colt will:
Have a smoothly functioning bolt with no sticky or hesitant movement.

Unlock before the cylinder begins to turn.

The bolt will drop onto the middle 1/3rd of the ramp.

The bolt will drop into the lock notch before the hammer reaches full cock.

Have a smooth trigger pull, which does "stack", or get heavier toward the end of the pull.
copabeat and wanoyee like this.
Old 07-18-2004, 02:42 PM   #4
Junior Member
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Seabrook, Texas
Posts: 4
Majic and dfariswheel,

Thanks for your very informative responses - and dfw, also for your detailed test steps.

I plan on doing the tests this week to assess mechanical soundness, then to the range to get a feel for the gun. If the tests/range reveal that timing is out, it'll be immediately sent to Colt to perform the required adjustments and repairs. Hopefully, this won't prove necessary, but it will be determined thanks to your extensive comments on this fairly unique revolver. If just a barely discernable drag line on the cylinder is a favorable indicator, than this gun is as good as it looks. Amazing for a gun, particularly nickel-finished, built 24 years ago.

I've enjoyed for some time reading each of your posts on this and other forums. And I'm sure that countless others have noticed the helpful attitude that each of you exhibits.

Best regards, Jack M.

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