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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
If you are concerned about the recoil springs in a P.38, they are quite simple to check, BUT I have seen far more damage done to P.38s by maladroit spring removal or replacement than by shooting with springs that are a little tired.

To check the springs, dismount the slide and --unless you have three hands-- clamp the frame in a padded vise. Push each recoil spring guide in turn all the way rearward. Feel for steady smooth movement. The recoil spring should NOT go ?solid? before the recoil spring guide contacts the rear of the frame. When fully compressed by the recoil spring guide, the recoil spring should still have a little room left between the rear coils to compress; test it by prying with your fingernail. If it doesn?t, the spring is too long; also, going completely ?solid? with every cycle will cause premature spring failure. Original factory springs vary considerably, but all use 0.6mm wire, coil diameter of 5.3mm, 41-1/2 to 43-1/2 coils with closed and ground ends. A new factory spring will measure about 123mm at rest; after a little use it will take a set to about 115-117mm. If it?s kinked or appreciably shorter than that, replace it.

An excessively long, or excessively strong spring (thicker wire or more coils) may prevent full slide travel and/or shorten the cycling time, which may not get the slide back far enough to securely pick up the next round. It may also cause the slide to rebound too quickly and try to strip out the round before the magazine spring has lifted the cartridge high enough to be correctly fed.

CAUTION! Great care MUST be exercised in checking or changing a recoil
spring: the spring guide and spring, when compressed, must NOT be allowed to snap forward freely, as that WILL damage the frame by chipping or swaging out the guide retaining notch (thus allowing the spring and guide to fly out whenever the pistol is field-stripped). EASE the guide forward into its notch. Also take care not to nick or scratch the recoil springs with a tool, as scoring will lead to premature failure of the spring. A bamboo skewer sharpened to a chisel edge works well, and won?t leave marks on the spring or the frame. After installation, check to make sure the spring guide is properly seated and the spring compresses smoothly; if it isn't you'll have a helluva struggle trying to get the slide back on.

I continue to maintain --and I guess I am a lone voice in the wilderness on this-- that Walther's design engineers knew more about their pistol than Wolff. Part of efficient firearms design is to make allowance for the normal "set" of recoil springs in service use and provide adequate reserves of power. Recoil spring replacement is not like taking aspirin: "extra strength" does not automatically provide "faster and more effective relief". Changing spring power, length or rate often leads to problems that were not there before. Walther made hundreds of thousands of P.38s. After some 60 years of experience from military, police and civilian service, if the pistol needed heavier recoil springs Walther would have provided them.

M
 

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Thanks for the write up and great advice! IMHO the P38 and P5 series are the most stress free recoiling systems of any modern handgun. There is a reason that Beretta "kind of" copied it in their 92F, because it is such a reliable and accurate system with the straight recoil.
 

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I could not agree with you more ! I collect P-38s from WW ll and shoot many of them when I first get them and have never had a problem with the original recoil springs. Thank you for the article, hope it helps a few folks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I regularly shoot my pre-WWII handguns, and most of them still have their original recoil springs. I have never seen a gun damaged from shooting with an original spring (no matter how old) that was not obviously collapsed, kinked or broken.

Sometimes a spring that is tired will start to cause malfunctions which its replacement will cure, but that is learned from observation and empirical experience. More often it is the smaller, more highly-stressed springs such as extractor springs that wear out, rather than recoil springs.

In short, if a spring looks and feels okay, and is not causing malfunctions, it usually IS okay, and replacing it at some arbitrary interval is a waste of time and money.

M
 
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