The Navy Arms Smith Carbine

Probably no one Skirmishing Arm has developed as large a following as the Navy Arms Smith Carbine, which is available in both an Artillery and Cavalry Model from Val Fogert's New Jersey- based Navy Arms Co. Navy Arms started out a quarter-of-a-century ago providing reproduction black-powder revolvers to history buffs who wanted an inexpensive alternative to shooting costly, and perhaps unsafe, original weapons. Today, the Navy Arms catalog includes Henrys, Muskets, Sharps Rifles and Carbines, and LeMat Revolvers, as well as the well-known Smith Carbine.

The original Smith Carbine was patented by Gilbert Smith of Buttermilk Falls, New York on June 23, 1857, and succesfully completed the Military Trials of the late 1850's. Significant quantites were ordered by the Union military authorities, who after all had to supply both Armies for most of the war. More than 30,000 were produced by the Massachusetss Arms Co. and American Machine Works of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetss, with a few civilian specimens being sold by noted arms merchant Schulyer, Hartley and Graham of New York City. Schulyer, Hartley and Graham also sold the unique ammunition for the Smith Carbine.

Military sales of the Smith were handled by Poultney and Trimble of Baltimore, and units known to have recieved the Smith were the 3rd W. Va. Cav., the 7th and 11th Ill. Cav., the 1st Conn. Cav, the 7th and 17th Penn. Cav., the 6th and 9th Ohio Cav., and the 1st Massachusetts Cav.

In it's design, the Smith Carbine is completely simple and functional, a quality favored by skirmishers now as much as servicemen then. As the photo of the exposed lock mechanism shows, the tumbler, which connects the hammer action to the trigger pull, is easily assessable for repair, replacement or fine tuning. Because of it's excellent design, you can change a tumbler in a Smith in about 5 minutes, and you can't say that about a lot of skirmishing arms. The trigger is equally accessable, and is easily removed after the lock cover is removed by removing one screw. Lock timing is quite easy on a Smith Carbine, which may come from the factory with a stiff trigger pull. The second photo shows the result of tumber and trigger work with the same load. Once the trigger pull was reduced to 4 pounds, the group shrank to about 2 1/4" off the bench.

Although our Carbine Team started out years ago with all front-stuffers, through the years many break-opens have found their way to our line, and most of these have been Navy Arms Smiths. Two members purchased Smiths a couple years back when there was a problem with the barrels on Smith Carbines coming out of Italy, but they sent them off to be lined and have been busting targets ever since. And, the out-of-the-box accuracy of a Navy Arms today is excellent, as the target photo demonstrates.

There are so many Smith shooters today, and 90% of these are shooting the reproduction from Navy Arms, that there are enormous numbers of shooters to ask about what load they shoot. The target in the photo was shot with 28.5 grains of FFF Goex under a Tom Ball .517, 355 grain bullet in a black plastic tube, right out of the box. The only preparatory work done was to swage a bullet down the barrel to make sure it would fit proper. This load delivered good results. Another favored load is 25 grains of FFF Goex in a brass or aluminum reduced capacity tube, with a Rapine .515 Smith bullet on top. I know several people who got out of the box accuracy with this load as well.

Once you get a nice group from your new Smith, you'll want to put 'em in the black. I favor the ladder extension rear sight in the up position because I like that notch better then the other sight picture provided by the rear sight in the down position. It's a personal choice. I think that the .517 bullet jumps out of the Smith barrel and is rising when it hits the mark at 50 yards, but levels out and starts to decline before it hits the 100 yard mark. By using the higher rear sight, I feel that I'm starting the projectile out at an increased elevation, keeping the projectile higher at 100 yards. The following Sight Correction Table will help you move your group to where you want it to go, reagrdless of which sight you use. The table is based on the Smith Carbine's 15 1/2" sight radius. When moving your sights, remember: F.O.R.S. (front opposite, rear same of the direction you want to move your sight).


sight radius = 15.5"

Sight MovementProjectile Movement at 50 yardsProjectile Movement at 100 yards
1" 116.1"232.2"

The action of the Smith Carbine breaks open in such a way that the chamber is broken between the front and rear of it's dimensions. This was incorporated in the design of the weapon to facilitate quick removal of spent rounds. In the photo, you can see the tail of the cartridge sticking out of the chamber. However, this design also makes it easy to make loads which are either to long or to short for optimum accuracy. A depth guage applied to my chamber revealed an optimum cartridge length of 1.8" Making the cartridge this long guarantees that, at the time of ignition, the bullet is in complete contact with the lands and grooves of the barrel. When closing, the barrel binds up about 1/4" before closing, and a small amount of extra pressure guarantees complete closure and a good bullet-to-barrel junction. By pushing the bullet back slightly in the case, I also insure that ignition takes place while the load is compressed, which guarantees more consistent pressure, which helps keep group sizes low.

To clean the Navy Arms Smith Carbine, I suggest a good .50 caliber rod, but a .54 caliber brush. You'll find that the .50 caliber brushes are just too small to really clean the .515 barrel grooves as clean as you'ld like, and there aren't a lot of .52 caliber brushes out there. The Smith is easy to clean. Just break open the action, and run your brush down the barrel from the breech. Pull it out, put a wet patch right on the brush, ram it through slowly, and your ready for the next relay. When you get back to camp, a good scrubing of the hammer and lock area, a couple of clean patches and some oily patches are all you'll need to keep your Smith Carbine in good working order. About once every six months, I break down the action, clean and oil all the working parts while inspecting for wear, and reassemble. The Smith really is a simple Carbine to maintain in skirmishing order.

Looking forward to the 1999 Skirmishing Season, I hope you can promote safe gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun in the New Year. Happy Holidays!

1998 by Tom Kelley

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