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The Chiefs Special, which later came to be known as the Smith & Wesson Model 36 was not the first production.38 Special snubby; that honor goes to the in 1927. The Chiefs Special was the first 5-shot J-frame.38 Special revolver produced by Smith & Wesson. I would be willing to suggest that it is the most influential compact revolver design of the 20th Century. The Colt Detective Special is gone but not forgotten, as is the, but the diminutive J-frame snubnose remains one of the most popular personal defense handguns in the world.
In its essential notes, it is copied by Ruger, Taurus and Charter Arms. Whether or not we would declare it the archetypal snubby would come down a matter of personal taste, but the Chiefs Special is certainly the leading contender for that designation. The Chiefs Special J-frame was developed from the very popular.38/32 (.38 S&W) Terrier I-frame revolver. The I-frame was a 5-shot hand ejector double action revolver. It was very popular because it was so small and light, but it was not strong enough to handle the more powerful.38 Special round. The demand was great for a snubby that was small like the Terrier but able to handle the.38 Special. Smith & Wesson lengthened the cylinder and frame of the I-frame, and beefed it up a bit.
They dubbed it the J-frame. It was introduced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in October 1950. In a stroke of marketing genius, S&W named the gun the Chiefs Special and thus it has remained ever since. In 1957, S&W went to a number system for designating guns.
The Military & Police became the Model 10. The Chiefs Special became the Model 36. The Terrier became the Model 32, and so on. This is why you get the curious pre-Model # designations. Most of the guns that got a model number had a pre-model number name.
A pre-Model 36 is a Chiefs Special made before 1957. Smith & Wesson is definitely not Ford Motor Company.
S&W constantly made small design tweaks on their guns, and thereby produced a multitude of variations in the Model 36. Production changes: • • 1951 – Slightly larger frame and triggerguard • • 1952 – Introduction of square butt at serial 21,342 • • 1953 – Elimination of screw in triggerguard, larger grips (four-screw) • • 1955 – Removed upper sideplate screw at serial 75,000 (three-screw) • • 1957 – Chief’s Special continued as the Model 36 • • 1955-1975 – Produced as Model 50 with target sights in 2″ and 3″ barreled models • • Also produced in heavy barrel 3″ version without target sights. Smith & Wesson model 36 The Model 36 Chiefs Special was produced from 1950 to 1999. It still survives in modern metals in the form of the Model 637, the Model 60, the Model 36LS, the Model 340, the Model 360, and their variants. Contemporary J-frame S&W revolvers are actually built on the J-Magnum frame rather than the true J-frame. If you compare a current J-frame with an original Model 36 or 60, you will notice that the frame and cylinder are slightly longer on the new guns. They are all built to the length that will accommodate.357 Magnum, even the models that are chambered for.38 Special.
All of the new stainless J-frames today are chambered for.357 Magnum rather than.38 Special. (There have been variants produced in the Model 60, 66, and 640 that are “re-issued” in.38 Special, so check the gun you’re looking at.) If you go to the store today to buy an all-stainless J-frame, if it is new, it will be chambered in.357 Magnum as will be the Model 360 and the Model 340. You can, of course, shoot.38 Special in the.357 Magnums, but Smith & Wesson finds it necessary to enable their new snubs to chamber.357 regardless of how painful they may be to shoot. The stainless and alloy Airweights are still chambered in.38 Special and rated for +p, and IMHO, they’re the best value and most utilitarian members of the class. The question of using modern +p ammunition in these old revolvers often comes up.
While the all steel early models will probably stand up to a limited amount of +p, they were not designed to handle it. Loads like Speer 135g +p and Cor-Bon DPX did not exist when these guns were built. The safest course with the Model 36 is to stick with standard pressure loads if you choose to shoot it. +P absolutely should not be used in the early Airweights, the Model 37, 38 and 42. And, of course, the all aluminum “Aircrewman” revolvers should not be fired at all, even with standard pressure loads.
The new Airweights, the Model 637-1, 638-2 and 642 are rated for +p and will handle it without damage to the gun. The Model 36 and its children have endured for half a century and the odds are good that they will be around for quite some time. One of the threads over at The Gun Thing talks about concealed carry revolvers. I started talking about mine over there. It’s the Smith and Wesson Model 60, the first revolver that Smith made in stainless steel. It is neither pinned nor recessed, and carries a two-inch barrel. It is altogether an excellent carry piece.
Xavier probably wouldn’t like it much because it is stainless, but in the heat and humidity of Louisiana, stainless is my preferred metal for firearms that might be neglected. Back in the day, a trial commenced where one guy was accused of battering someone else with a firearm.
That is a felony in this state. After the trial, and all the appeals had been finalized, the judge and evidence custodian were going through the evidence room disposing of old evidence when this revolver gained their attention. Fresh from the scene, it had been bagged in a clear plastic zipper bag and there was still blood on the frame and trigger guard. The little revolver was broken as evidenced by the fact that the hammer was halfway back and the trigger was misaligned with the frame.
I happened to be walking down the hall when the Judge asked what he was going to do with it. I offered to take it.
The judge tossed me the bloody revolver and told me to be at his office that afternoon. When I appeared later, he caused a minute entry to be made into the record, wherein that revolver was titled to me for the furtherance of law enforcement within the parish. Under the laws at the time, that was perfectly legal.
All this was back before AIDS, HIV, or any of the more common blood-borne pathogens had been catalogued. I took the little revolver home, stripped it and washed it in the kitchen sink.
I dried it and took it to the bench. After an inspection, I determined that the trigger guard was bent, binding the trigger and holding the hammer halfway back. I clamped the frame in a vise, grabbed the trigger guard with a pair of pliers, and pulled.
The trigger popped forward, the hammer fell to rest. I took off the side plate and looked at the innards and convinced myself that the gun was okay. A trip to the range confirmed the proper function or the piece. The judge in question has since passed on to his mortal reward, after a distinguished career in jurisprudence, a long and happy retirement, and a legendary affection for sour-mash whiskey.
The little revolver has been with me for over 20 years. I carried it during plainclothes assignments and since my first retirement and subsequent employment it has been my CCW piece. Sometimes it rides in a Don Hume beltslide holster, sometimes it is just dropped into a pocket.
For ammo, I either load it with the old Federal Ny-Clad ammo or my own reload of a hollow-based wadcutter loaded backwards over a mild charge of Unique. I don’t use +P ammo in this little gun.
While it is often difficult to rehabilitate a criminal, firearms don’t have as much problem. This pistol originally led a life of crime, but since became an honored member of the law enforcement community.
It has assisted in countless dozens of arrests and has proved a deterrent to many other crimes. In 2001 I showed it to one young goblin. It was immediately effective as the goblin decided to depart posthaste rather than become more closely acquainted.
I put it back in my pocket and went about my day unmolested. One of these days, one of my kids will have it. I am convinced it will serve honorably into the future. By Syd The gun under consideration here is the Smith & Wesson Model 60 J-frame with the 3″ barrel in.357 Magnum, a.k.a., the 60-15. The Model 60 is not a new design. Introduced in 1965, it occupies its own special niche in handgun history.
It was the first regular production all-stainless steel revolver, and it was an immediate success. The original Model 60 was a.38 Special. Todays Model 60 is a.357 Magnum. It is available in 2 1/8 barrel, 3 barrel, and 5 barrel versions. Like all J-frames, it chambers 5 rounds. With its longer barrel and grip, it is as if the traditional short barreled snub-nose has been stretched for better performance.
Besides the fact that it was an all-steel J-frame revolver chambered for, the characteristic which initially appealed to me about this gun was the grip. It felt like it was built for my hand. It’s just a smidgeon longer than the boot grip used on the smaller snubbies and it fills my whole hand. This gun weighs 24 oz.
And balances nicely, although it seems just a tad nose heavy. While I like the boot grip on the small snubbies for concealment, it has always been a problem for me in shooting because, like the baby Glocks, I can only get two of three fingers onto the grip and the little finger is left flapping in the breeze. The black rubber Uncle Mikes Combat Grip on the Model 60 fills your hand and gives you much better support for firing hot ammunition. I eventually replaced the Uncle Mike’s Combat Grip with Hogue Monogrips because the Hogue grips are relieved better for speedloaders. The 3 Model 60 has real sights which are adjustable, the ribbed top rail between the sights, the tapped and screwed-in black rear sight and rail along the top of the frame, and all surfaces are serrated to cut the glare. The front sight leaf is black and is pinned to the barrel.
I can actually see these sights. The frame notch sights on the classic snubby really aren’t much use to me, although I have proven that I can use them if I really slow down and get my glaring blurs lined up right. The 3 barrel of the Model 60-15 allows the gun to have a 5 sight radius.
This gun feels more like a 5-shot Model 66 than a lightweight snub-nose. It has the semi-bull barrel with full length extractor shroud and sights of the S&W magnums. It is, nevertheless, absolutely a J-frame. And it has the slim ergonomic contours which are so appealing about the J-frames. Comparing the Model 60 with a Model 637, everything lines up exactly, down to the smallest contour and detail of the frame: the frame, hammer, trigger, trigger guard, cylinder, and cylinder release are all identical. Where it differs is in the longer grip, longer extractor rod, and the beefier barrel. The longer extractor rod makes it considerably easier to knock the empties clear of the cylinder during a reload.
The 3 barrel and longer grip gives you a gun that performs better than the classic snubby. It has a better sight radius, better muzzle velocity, more reliable spent case ejection, and less punishment to your hands. For these benefits, you lose pocket carry. The 60-15 doesn’t disappear into a pocket like the classic snubby. I would imagine that it would be awkward in a jacket pocket as well. After a considerable amount of surfing on the web, I have noticed is that it is hard to find holsters for it.
Everyone makes leather for 2″ snubbies but very few build them for 3″ versions. Kramer, DeSantis and El Paso all claim to build IWB’s for 3″ j-frames but I’ll bet you they couldn’t do overnight delivery on one. It works with my other snubby holsters that are open on the bottom, like the Galco Speedmaster, Galco Deep Cover, and High Noon Secret Ally. It doesn’t work with the for the snubbies because of the difference in the shape of the grip.
Thumb break type holsters which are designed for the snubby boot grip will not work with the Uncle Mikes Combat Grip even though the actual frame of the gun is the same size. The thumb break strap does not reach around the back of the grips. I resolved to order an IWB holster, custom built by Rudy Lozano at Black Hills Leather. It is the subject of, but for now I will say that I really like the holster and Rudy.
Aesthetics and Intangibles I have been over this revolver with a magnifying glass, and like the other Smith & Wesson wheel guns I have known and loved, it is without flaw in fit or finish. It is good looking but not flashy, compact but very solid, simply good and right and the way it ought to be. Smith & Wesson has produced some weird iron handguns in recent years with exotic metals and day-glo plastic sights, but this isnt one of them. This is a revolver that reflects 149 years of handgun-building experience.
Its not an experiment. The first time I dropped cartridges into the cylinder, generic range ammunition I had never even heard of before, I knew it would fire. I bought some generic range stuff and a couple boxes of premium self defense feed different bullet shapes, charges, even different case lengths in.38 Special,.38 Special +p, and.357 Magnum, and it all fired without a single failure of any kind. I didn’t have to worry about bullet shapes or magazines that the gun didn’t like. There was no break-in period. No doubt, no concern, no need to run 200 rounds through the gun to make sure it worked behold the beauty of the revolver. This is not to say that one should not do reliability testing on a new revolver.
On the contrary, one should test a new revolver as rigorously as one tests a new autoloader if the gun’s mission is serious work. There is something enormously tactile about the Smith & Wesson all-steel revolvers.
They feel good and solid in your hand. With an aluminum-frame Airweight, there is always an expectation for it to fall apart in the back of my mind, and with no good reason. Has literally had thousands of rounds put through it, and some of it has been pretty hot stuff, and it keeps on ticking. It has had much more shooting than these guns are really supposed to have. Dick Metcalfe did a 5000 round torture test on a couple of Airweights using +p feed and neither gun suffered any damage or distortion of the frame. But I still have this thing about the aluminum frame that one day I’m going to over stress it.
With the steel guns like the Model 60, you get the feeling that they will still be sending rounds downrange 200 years from now, and probably won’t need service. Systems which have stood the test of time appeal to me. Smith & Wesson has been building double action revolvers since 1880 a hundred and twenty years. The.38 Special cartridge has been around for a tad better than a hundred years. In that long sweep of time, Smith & Wesson’s double action.38 revolvers have served cops, soldiers, and citizens with distinction and an almost monotonous reliability and effectiveness. These guns still evoke the cowboy times.
The cowboys carried six-shooters but often left the sixth chamber empty so they could put the hammer down without the fear of accidentally setting off a round. So why not build a five-round cylinder with a safe ignition system which would allow the gun to be slim and easier to conceal and carry? Its.357 Magnum chambering reflects the advances in ballistics of the 1930’s. The Model 60, being the first stainless steel revolver, carries the metallurgical advances of the last half of the Twentieth Century. With its key-operated safety lock, it carries the mark of the gun control battles of the late 90’s.
Lots of history in these little guns. History won’t save your life in a fight if it is history alone and nothing is learned. The Model 60-15 imparts a feeling that much has been learned, and when you have it in your hand, there is a sense of quiet confidence and competence. In particular, these revolvers are built much stronger than the early models so that they can digest a steady diet of hot ammunition for better hollowpoint performance. The design has been through the fire time and again, and come through. Other handguns will load more rounds, reload faster, and launch powerful rounds, but you know what the Model 60 will do. If you do your part, it will do its part, every time, time after time.
The short-barreled revolvers have one purpose and that is self-defense. They’re not hunting guns, target shooters, or assault weapons.
They are completely dedicated. If you’re going to hunt grizzly bears, assault fortified positions, or kick down doors and arrest criminals, the J-Frame revolver is not the gun you would pick for a primary.
If you want a highly compact, easily concealed yet powerful personal defense handgun, these revolvers are hard to beat. They are simple, fast, and effective. They remain one of the easiest of all handgun designs to conceal and carry.
Interesting Lawyer-Friendly Stuff The Model 60-15 has the integral locking mechanism with the little key-deal that fits in above the cylinder release. I guess this could be handy if my kids were still small. I know that many folks are offended by the imposition of these kinds of reasonable safety measures. They are seen as coerced concessions to states like California and Maryland who are increasingly demanding safety features be added to handguns. I resent being forced to do anything, especially by states that would really like to prohibit firearms altogether. On the other hand, I had small children at home once upon a time, and when they were still little doodles whose judgment I couldn’t completely trust, I used trigger locks on my pistols long before they were fashionable in some circles or mandated.
I carried the key on my key ring so it would always be close. The integral lock on the Model 60 could be useful in a number of situations, such as times when you might have to take the gun off and leave it in a locker or athletic bag. There has been some discussion of these safety locks engaging when they shouldn’t.
In the January 2005 issue of American Handgunner, Massad Ayoob published an article about and two of the failures caused the gun to lock up. All three cases were instances in which extremely hot ammunition, such as +p+ and, were fired from ultra-light scandium and titanium revolvers. Ayoob’s analysis was, This is not necessarily an indictment of Smith & Wesson, nor even of the integral lock system that company uses. It may be more of a lesson that extraordinarily light handguns firing extremely powerful ammunition can be damaged by the battering of constant, extreme recoil forces.
Still, it gives us pause. I have not been able to locate any anecdotes so far of the lock engaging during firing on a Model 60. Nevertheless, if this really worries you, it is relatively easy to disable the integral lock. It also comes with a little sealed brown paper envelope which contains a single fired case. On the envelope is Smith’s FFL number, make, model, serial number, rifling characteristics, the tester’s name, signature, and date of test.
Too bad this one won’t make it into New York’s database. Range Report The accuracy, weight, ammo versatility, good grip and good sights make this gun a sweet shooter. One of the charming characteristics of revolvers is their tremendous versatility of ammo. Your choices range from powder-puff.38 Special wadcutter all the way up to.357 Magnum. The longer sight radius and better sight picture had me immediately producing far better patterns than I do with traditional styled snub-noses. The additional weight makes it easy on the hands with excellent recoil recovery.
I can make 25-yard shots with a snubby with a hit average of about 3 out of 5 on a small Pepper popper, but if I have to make a 50-yard shot, I would prefer the 1911 or a Hi-Power. I could make a 50-yard shot with the Model 60 if I took my time and handled my trigger right. While I get much better hits with this gun than I do with a snubby, I am nowhere close to the kind of “ragged hole” patterns that I have achieved at times with the 1911. But this just gives me another excuse to go to the range. I took the Model 60 to the indoor range and bought a box of Independence.38 Special 130g FMJ, Independence.357 Magnum 158g JSP, Remington Golden Saber +p.38 Special 125g, and a box of Federal.357 Magnum Premium HydraShok, 158g.
I was really pleased with the way the Model 60 shot. The most interesting revelation was that I shot it infinitely better double action than I did single action (still trying to figure out that one). Single action, I was really pitiful, all over the target; double action I started shooting nice grapefruit size patterns at 7 yards, rapid fire, without trying too hard. The tightest 5-shot string was with the Independence.357 a tidy little horizontal string about four inches wide. The.38 Special was smooth and cream-puffy, nice, and pleasant to shoot. The +p was crisp and authoritative, and I came away with the thought that the +p Golden Saber was the best all-around load, and is the stuff that should be in the speed loaders. The.357 is predictably brisk.
After 15 rounds, I was getting some sting in my palm, but I wouldn’t call it “hurt.” It was very manageable, even in rapid fire (“rapid fire” meaning the rate that the beats fall in “Stars and Stripes Forever,” or just as quick as I could regain the sight picture). (And no, Im no Jerry Miculek.) The worst muzzle flash was from the Golden Saber, followed closely by the Federal, but I didn’t find either blinding. It was a real delight to buy four boxes of weird-ass ammunition for it and know that all of them were going to work. With a new auto, you really need to run at least 500 rounds through it to make sure it’s reliable and get it broken in. And even with that, you still know in the back of your mind that a bad magazine or an out-of-spec cartridge or poor support can cause it to jam. With several of my 1911’s, I have had to go through a period of working with them to get them to the point where I considered them 100% reliable. The Model 60 doesn’t have any of those issues.
It just goes “Bang” every time. (And don’t give me a Glock pitch because they choke up and break parts just like any other gun. I have one shooting buddy who is on his fourth Glock because the previous three have broken.) I traded messages with a Special Forces type who was on his third tour in Afghanistan. His unit had rejected the M9 and adopted one of the Glocks. It broke out in the field and he couldn’t fix it.
On his next leave, he bought a Ruger SP101 in.357 said he felt better with it than any of the bottom feeders. Of course, it was a secondary for him, but that spoke chapters and verses to me. Would you use this gun as a carry piece? As a police officer or soldier, no, unless it was a secondary to something with considerably more firepower.
As a civilian who tends to mind his own business and not get into shootouts with armed gangs, sure. If you happen to be one of those folks who just prefer revolvers to autos for personal defense, you couldn’t do much better than this. Its not too terribly heavy, but its heavy enough that you can get in some good practice with it without tearing up your hands. If you have a bit of arthritis in your hands or arms and just cant stand the pounding of.45s and.40s, you can load this gun with standard.38 Special and have a soft shooting, but effective personal defense handgun. The extra barrel length will provide for somewhat better muzzle velocity and hollowpoint performance than a 2 snub-nose, usually 50-100 feet per second faster, depending on the load.
The muzzle flip and recoil dynamics are not near as violent as with a 2 snub-nose, especially if you like to use +p or.357 loads. I really like to carry the Airweight snubbies but I hate practicing with them because they’re hard on my hands, and yet we know that we must practice with the guns we carry. The Model 60 can provide a vehicle to practice for snubby carry same reload, same ammo, same trigger, same leather without all of the abuse to hands and joints.
And also, if you want to carry.357 Magnum in a compact package, the Model 60 in this configuration will handle it without inflicting pain. With a 5-shot J-frame, the issue of firepower always comes up, and if you want to carry these guns,.
When the balloon goes up, five rounds is not a lot. Five rounds placed well will probably address most of the issues that a civilian will face, but you cant count on that. This means that you have to master the reload with a speed loader. I really like the. They are spring loaded and kind of shoot the cartridges into the chamber. Another approach is to carry two J-frames, the proverbial New York Reload.
When one gun runs dry, you simply draw the other. The New York Reload has some other tactical advantages: if someone manages to get your primary away from you, you have another weapon. Also, you can hand off a second gun to an ally in a situation in which you may be dealing with multiple assailants or have another person with you who you need to protect. Better yet, carry two J-frames and speed loaders.
Better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. In this era of autoloaders, is it possible that there are tactical advantages to revolvers? Training With the Model 60 I took the Model 60, two speedloader pouches, and all seven of my speedloaders to Jim Higginbotham’s match and actually shot the first half of the session with the 5-banger. I only quit when I ran out of ammo and switched to the Commander for the remaining exercises. I got there early so I could talk to him. I opened the conversation with, “I’m going to annoy you today.” “Oh, really? How?” “I’m going to shoot my revolver.” He pulled back the left side of his vest to reveal a huge nickel-plated Model 29.44 Magnum and said, “I’ve probably got more revolvers on me today than autos.” Another shooter was packing an as his BUG as well.
I felt a little better. The stages were more revolver friendly than I expected. Most were 3-5 round exercises, sometimes with reloads planned into them, but I didn’t actually have to reload at any time that others didn’t have to. My reloads were, of course, still criminally slow, but getting better. I would do a reload after every string just to practice it and get it smoother. By the end of 50 rounds, I was getting quicker.
We did mostly variations on Mozambique and El Presidente with movement and reloads interspersed. I was very pleased with my hits. I only had to endure one, “Those of you who are deploying antique weapons systems are probably running low on ammo now,” after a 5-round stage. Reloads are a major tactical issue regardless of what gun you use, but they are especially important with revolvers. While five rounds are usually enough for civilian self-defense situations, you have to plan for the instance where it wont be.
This means working out a way to carry a reload, and learning to perform the reload in an emergency. Generally, this means using speedloaders. There are currently two speedloaders available for J-frame revolvers, the Safariland Comp 1 and the HKS 36A. Both of these speedloaders have features that commend them. The Safariland Comp 1 has a spring mechanism that releases and launches the cartridges into the cylinder when you push it against the ejector star. The HKS offering has a large knob which must be turned slightly to the right to release the cartridges which fall by gravity into the cylinder.
I think the Comp 1 has the edge in speed of reloading, but the HKS is easier to grasp quickly on release knob. On balances, I came away feeling much better about the wheel gun as a self defense option. The next step is to determine if the skill enhancements with the Model 60 transfer to the Airweight.
In terms of reloads, I think it will, but I’m not so sure about marksmanship. The 60 is a whole lot easier to get good hits with than its short barreled cousins. Summary The Model 60-15 is a versatile and accurate revolver.
It is somewhat larger and heavier than the classic snubby, but its size and weight enable it to be a pleasant practice gun without being too large for discrete concealed carry. Its longer barrel produces better performance in, and its greater weight allows it handle full charge.357 Magnum without causing pain.
The Model 60-15 is a solid performer which is a pleasure to shoot. For wheel gun fans, this is one that I would heartily recommend. By Dan Smith – I’m relatively new to revolvers.
Being a semi-automatic man for many years, I only have one revolver in my gun collection. That’s been a Smith & Wesson Model 66.357 Magnum service revolver.
Not a small gun, and with reasonable weight, this gun has none-the-less been a joy to shoot at the range, being quite capable of absorbing the power of a.357 Magnum round. This would be a nice home defense gun, and would be a reliable piece to have for camping or hiking. But, I wouldn’t consider it a good concealed carry weapon for self-defense. It’s just too big.
And my focus here is on self-defense. I’m not a hunter, so you won’t see me reviewing the likes of the Smith & Wesson Model 500 for instance. Nor will I probably ever review a or model.
These are big hunting guns, and I’ll let others review those models. So, for my first review of a revolver for self-defense, I jumped right into it and acquired the Smith & Wesson Airweight 360PD super-lightweight revolver. Introduced in 2002, this small, lightweight revolver is built from Smith & Wesson’s “J” frame design which has a lineage that goes all the way back to 1950 with the introduction of their Model 36 “Chiefs Special”.
The key feature of this “J” frame model is the use of exotic alloys in its frame and cylinder construction, producing one of the lightest revolvers on the market. Specifications – Caliber:,, Action: revolving chamber Length: 6.375 in Width: 1.312 in Height: 4.25 in Cylinder Capacity: 5 rounds Barrel Length: 1.875 in Rifling: 5-grooves, RH twist Trigger: double-action Sights: red ramp front, fixed notch rear Weight Empty: 11.3 oz Weight Loaded: 13.7oz Features – Titanium cylinder. Scandium/aluminum alloy frame.
Black anodized finish. Stainless steel barrel tube. Hogue Bantam Monogrip. Click to see the full line of Smith & Wesson revolvers.
Design Notes – The frame of the 360PD is constructed from a scandium reinforced aluminum alloy. Scandium, a novel alloying element for aluminum, is mined and processed in Zhovti Vody, Ukraine, the only primary scandium mine in operation in the world. The key properties of this alloy are light weight, superior strength and good resistance to corrosion. The frame is topped off with a smooth black anodized finish.
The titanium cylinder weighs just 60% of what a similar stainless steel cylinder weighs and yet is able to withstand the same operating pressures. As with all “J” frame designs, this is a swing-out cylinder with an axial pin driven star extractor. The extractor pin rests in a slot in the bottom of the barrel shroud when the cylinder is closed.
The barrel is a hybrid construction consisting of a scandium/aluminum alloy shroud keyed into the frame with a metal tab, and a stainless steel barrel tube which is screwed into the frame with a special tool, holding the shroud in place. The grip is a Hogue Bantam Monogrip, a one-piece wrap-around construction that is held into place by being pressed into a stock pin that extrudes from both sides of the frame near the base of the butt. The Caliber – The.38 Special cartridge was developed by Smith & Wesson and was introduced with its Military & Police Model revolver in 1899.
It is considered one of the best-balanced, all-round handgun cartridges ever designed. It is also one of the most accurate and very widely used for match shooting. This subsonic round is available with bullet weights ranging from 95 to 200 grains.
The.357 Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1935 by Smith & Wesson for its heavy-frame revolver. Ammunition was developed by Winchester in cooperation with Smith & Wesson using a lengthened and strengthened version of the.38 Special case. While it has less power than, it compares favorably to the, but with better armor penetration. Today factories offer over fifty different loadings in this caliber. Bullet weights range from 110 to 200 grains with an average muzzle energy exceeding 500 ft-lbs. The following data set is based on standard factory loaded cartridges fired from a 4″ barrel, listed by weight, brand, type and muzzle velocity.
It was the best selling firearm offered by Smith & Wesson in 2006. Tradition holds that the original design emerged from the creative mind of Col. Rex Applegate. Among the small revolvers, it has been called a personal favorite by Walt Rausch, Massad Ayoob, Jim Wilson, Stephen Camp, Ken Hackathorn and many others.
Jim Supica, author of The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, said that it was possibly the finest pocket revolver ever made. It is the Smith & Wesson Model 642 Airweight Centennial. There are three basic form factors for the J-frame Smith & Wesson snubnoses. First, there is the standard exposed hammer Chiefs Special such as the. Second, there is the Bodyguard which has a shrouded hammer, but it can still be thumb cocked and fired single action. Third, there is the Centennial which is often called hammerless a misnomer because it actually has a hammer which is completely enclosed in the frame. Since the hammer is completely enclosed in the frame, the Centennial is double action only.
The Model 642 is the stainless Airweight version of the Centennial. In the early 1950s, Centennial models were originally introduced as the Model 40, a blued steel hammerless.38 Special, and the Model 42, a blued aluminum alloy framed version of the Model 40. The Models 40 and 42 had grip safeties.
(For more on the history and development of the Centennial series, ) The modern Airweights are produced in both blued and stainless steel finishes, but the stainless version is far more popular. They have aluminum alloy frames with stainless steel cylinders and barrels.
Unloaded, the Airweight revolvers weigh about 15 ounces. The Airweights are still chambered in.38 Special rather than.357 Magnum, and they are rated for +p ammunition. The original model 42 was not rated for +p and +p is not recommended for them, although I have heard of a number of people using +p in the Model 42 without negative effects. The Airweight Models 442 (blued) and 642 (stainless) were brought to market in 1990, discontinued in 1993 and reintroduced in 1996 as the 642-1. As noted earlier, the Model 642 has been enormously successful.
So, What Do People Like About the 642? Its light, compact, easy to carry, snag-free and enjoys an excellent power to weight ratio. Its easy to operate and renowned for reliability.
That about sums it up, but I want to expand on these ideas. Carry-ability The characteristic that first endeared me to the Airweight snubnose is a factor I had to make up a word for, carry-ability. Carry-ability is a matrix of weight, shape, size and power that when stirred together gives me a rating of ease and versatility of carry balanced against the level of security and confidence the gun gives me. The Airweights really hit the sweet spot for me on carry-ability.
A Kel-Tec P32 is great on weight, size and shape, but suffers with an underpowered cartridge. The M1911 is a tremendous shooter with a powerful cartridge, and its even fairly flat for surprisingly good concealment, but it is large and heavy.
Glocks are lighter, but they are thick and angular and I find them fairly difficult to conceal, especially in warm weather clothing. The Kel-Tec and the 1911 both rate highly in some parts of the matrix, but fall down badly in others. The small size and light weight of the 642 means that you can carry it for many hours in all kinds of clothing, and in a wide variety of carry modes belt holster, ankle holster, belly band, pocket, purse, etc.
It has tremendous versatility for carry while still loading a fairly powerful cartridge. The 642 rates very highly in carry-ability.
Snag-free Double Action Only Smith & Wesson builds a whole gaggle of Centennial variants, but they are distinguished primarily by their metals; the shape and action are the same. Taurus and Charter Arms also build their own versions of the Centennial closely patterned off of the original. These all share the enclosed hammer double action only design. There is, so why have a hammer sticking out to snag on things? The smooth hammerless contour of the gun makes it ideal for pocket or purse, and it can even be fired from inside a pocket without the problem of getting snagged in the fabric. Easy Operation The manual of arms on a snubnose revolver, and especially the 642, is extremely easy to master. If you can pull the trigger, you can make it work.
There are three controls: the trigger, the cylinder latch and the ejector rod. You can learn to use it in about a minute (maybe not well, but the manual of arms is not hard). There are more than a few folks who don’t like or cant work an auto pistol.
The mechanical simplicity of the revolver can be a tactical advantage under certain circumstances. See Folks with physical impairments often find that the revolver will work for them where an auto will not. See Value The Model 642 and its brethren, the Models and 638, remain among the best values in personal defense firearms available today. Retail prices of the 642 remain under $400 in many places. With the entry point for new autos hovering around $600, the Airweights are looking better all the time. I also believe that the Airweights are a far better value than the scandium/titanium versions of these guns.
The scandium Centennial, the 340, retails for twice the money of the 642. Now, I think the scandium guns are way cool, but their prices leave me breathless. For this additional money, you shave off about 3 ounces of weight from an already super light gun, and this also means you get a gun with an even more unpleasant recoil than the Airweight. The scandium models are also chambered not for.38 Special but for.357 Magnum.
To me, firing.357 Magnum in a 12 ounce revolver is a physical absurdity. All-steel,.357 Magnum is tolerable; in a 12 oz. Scandium Model 340, it is self-abuse. Bang-for-the-buck, the 642 is a terrific value.
An Effective Yet Manageable Cartridge I wish I had a nickel for every kilobyte and gallon of ink that has been spilled arguing about the effectiveness of the.38 Special cartridge. The.38 Special was introduced in 1899. The reason the case is so long is that it was originally a black powder cartridge and the black powder needed that much space. The first.38 Special cartridge was composed of a 158 grain lead bullet in front of 21 grains of black powder. Despite the arguments about stopping power and such, the.38 Special has continued to do the job for 108 years. I find it hard to believe that people would have continued to use it for that long if it didn’t work. Certainly, the.45, the.357, the 10mm, and the.40 S&W are more powerful cartridges, but interestingly, the.38 Special remains at or near the top of the lethality statistics, often rating higher than these more powerful cartridges.
Part of that has to do with the fact that the.38 has been around for ages and more people use it than most other cartridges, although the 9mm is closing fast, but the other part of the cartridges effectiveness has to do with the fact that it is manageable in terms of recoil, but still powerful enough to stop an aggressor. There are a lot of folks who don’t want to use or cant manage.45s and.357s, and these powerful cartridges are painful to shoot and unmanageable in compact pocket guns. Again, the.38 Special in the Airweight revolver hits the sweet spot in terms of power and carry-ability. Stoked with modern.38 Special +p hollowpoints, these little revolvers are highly effective and potent tools of self defense. I continue to search for a gun shop commando to take a couple of.38 Special +p rounds to the chest and then tell me it doesn’t work. So far, I haven’t found any volunteers. Too many highly experienced gun fighters who have seen the balloons go up have relied upon.38 Special snubbies for backup and deep concealment for me to believe anything but that they work, and they work very consistently.
Ergonomics Autoloader fans are fond of pointing out the fact that revolvers are wide at their cylinders, and this is true,although the difference in width between autos and revolvers is often exaggerated by those wanting to make the case for the auto. A Springfield XD is 1 1/16 wide. The 642 is 1 3/16 wide at the cylinder. That’s a 1/8 difference.
A 1911 is narrower at 7/8. Everywhere else on the 642, it is considerable thinner and smaller than most autos. I cant put the XD in my pocket; the 642 will disappear into my pocket because of its natural, rounded shapes. The rounded, organic shapes of the 642 (and its cousins) make it very comfortable to carry and very easy to conceal because it blends into the natural curves of the body better than an angular autoloader with lots of sharp corners.
Safe and Reliable Safe is a strange word to use about a handgun. After all, they are by definition dangerous. If it weren’t dangerous, I wouldn’t carry it, goes the famous quip from a Texas Ranger. In this context, what I mean by safe is that the gun has inherent characteristics that help to prevent accidental discharges. The 642, like all Smith & Wesson revolvers, has a fairly heavy double action trigger. Accidental activation of the trigger is very rare with double action revolvers. We don’t tend to hear those, The gun just went off [not] stories about revolvers.
(The gun never just goes off by itself, but irresponsible people continue to try to claim this piece of science fiction.) On the 642 there is no manual safety or de-cocking lever, nothing to forget to put on or off in an emergency or otherwise. The revolver tends to reinforce safe gun handling since there are no mechanisms providing a false sense of security.
I believe also that the double action only (DAO) operation of the 642 contributes to its overall safety and avoids certain legal liabilities. See for more on this issue. Highly controversial to this day is the integral lock which has been included on S&W revolvers since Saf-T-Hammer bought S&W. The lock is activated with a key through a socket just above the cylinder latch. The locks have been criticized for a variety of reasons including the addition of needless complexity, caving into the demands of some states for locks on guns, and the possibility of unintentional engagement of the lock during firing.
This last concern has been documented in a few of the early scandium/titanium models, but to the best of my knowledge it has not been documented on the Airweights. It has been reported to me that the problem has been resolved on the scandium/titanium guns, and we are not hearing new reports of unintentional engagement of the locks. I have tested three revolvers with the lock and it has never malfunctioned in my testing. I had small children at home once upon a time, and when they were still little doodles whose judgment I couldn’t completely trust, I used trigger locks on my pistols long before they were fashionable in some circles or mandated. I carried the key on my key ring so it would always be close. The integral lock on the Model 642 could be useful in a number of situations, such as times when you might have to take the gun off and leave it in a locker or athletic bag. While I can see the possible uses for the integral lock, I wish S&W would give us the choice to buy revolvers with or without the lock.
I resent being forced to buy a Clinton-era “answer in search of a question.” Whats Not to Like? Capacity The 642, like all J-frame snubs, only carries five rounds, and that’s not a lot. It is generally more than enough for most self-defense situations, but Murphy is alive and well, and it pays the prudent martial artist to carry a reload or two, or consider carrying a second gun for that one-in-a-million situation in which five rounds is inadequate. Shoot-ability These little guns are not the easiest firearms in the world to shoot well, and their light weight and small grips make the perceived recoil sharp.
This makes them less than comfortable to shoot for extended range sessions. A pair of shooting gloves might be a good idea for someone who is just getting to know their new Airweight. You will often hear it said that snubbies are not accurate, but that just isn’t true.
Quality snubnoses are surprisingly accurate, and they will hit their targets, even at distance, when we learn to use them. The short sight radius, heavy trigger and small grip tend to work against highly accurate fire. These guns do require practice to compensate for the aiming issues. Don’t buy a snubnose and throw it in a drawer and expect it to work for you when the chips are down. Practice and practice a lot with it.
Practice reloading quickly. With practice and familiarity, you will be surprised at how well the snubnose will perform for you. Double Action Only (DAO) Operation I include this feature in both the positives and the negatives because some folks just don’t like DAO.
They want the option to thumb cock and fire single action. See for more on this issue. Summary Two thumbs up! Its a great little revolver. The 642 is a time-proven design, endorsed by experts in the field, and an excellent value in a concealable handgun.
Jim Wilson calls it the always gun because its one you can always have on you. Specifications • Model: 642 • Caliber:.38 Special +p rated • Capacity: 5 Rounds • Barrel Length: 1 7/8″ • Front Sight: Integral Front • Rear Sight: Fixed • Grip: Rubber Grips • Frame: Small – Centennial Style • Finish: Matte • Overall Length: 6 3/8″ • Material: Alloy/Stainless Steel • Weight Empty: 15 oz. By Syd It was the best of times; it was the worst of times No, wait — wrong story. I bought a Smith & Wesson Model 60-15 for a practice gun. This is their 3 barrel.357 Magnum version of the Model 60 in stainless steel.
Its a nice gun, with a full-length grip and adjustable sights. Not being content to leave a pretty good gun alone, I decided to install a Wolff reduced power spring kit in it.
The reduced power kit includes two springs: the rebound spring and the hammer spring. The springs in a handgun force the various parts against each other, insuring a firm and positive engagement of the critical elements of the action: trigger, sear, and hammer.
Without adequate pressure, these parts may not function properly and the gun may even become dangerous or malfunction. On the other hand, the manufacturer will always err on the side of caution and build too much pressure into the action for liability and reliability reasons. This inevitably results in a rough and heavy trigger.
So, a judicious reduction of spring pressure can improve the trigger without compromising function. There are two ways to improve the trigger in any handgun: polish the action interfaces and reduce spring pressure. But if you do too much of either, the gun will become dangerous and unreliable. This is why smart people take their guns to someone who knows what they are doing to get their triggers smoothed and lightened. Click Here for a detailed parts diagram Smith & Wesson revolvers have something called a rebound slide which is powered by a spring. The function of the rebound slide is to push the trigger back into the ready position after the trigger is pulled. It resets the action for the next shot.
The energy for this operation is provided by a strong spring which resides inside of the rebound slide. The rebound slide sits in a channel in the frame just behind the trigger. It is held in place by a post which extends from the side of the frame. Getting this little demon from hell in and out is the worst part about working on a Smith & Wesson revolver.
Brownells makes a tool which helps somewhat in getting the rebound spring back in, but its still a PITA. One resource I consider indispensable to this operation is Kuhnhausens S&W Revolver, A Shop Manual. In fact, I will state this in terms of an imperative: Do not attempt this operation without the Kuhnhausen manual.
Kuhnhausen walks you through the disassembly process and the elements of lightening a trigger. Once inside the Model 60, I did some polishing on the sear interfaces and the area where the rebound slide moves inside the frame and makes contact with the trigger. I polished the rebound slide itself. I am a very gentle polisher.
I use red jewelers rouge and a variable power Dremel with a felt polishing bit. I also have a couple of Arkansas white whetstones that I use for smoothing and rounding over edges. I almost never grind or cut metal, especially on sears. Many of the action parts in guns these days are Metal Injection Molded (MIM). Their surfaces are hard, but they are thin.
The metal inside MIM parts is somewhat softer, and if you grind through the hard surface into the soft interior metal you will ruin the part and leave it non-functional. Grinding or cutting may also change the sear interface angles and this can result in a dangerous and/or unreliable gun. Anything more than a gentle polish and lubrication of these interfaces should only be done by a certified gunsmith. I polished and lubed with and put the gun back together. I was very pleased with the results. The trigger is a little bit lighter but not a whole lot, but it is very smooth.
Following my stunning success with changing out the spring set in the Model 60, I decided that I’d take on the Airweight. Should be all the same, right? I took it all apart, cleaned out eight years worth of crud, polished and lubed. I installed the same springs I used in the Model 60 the 8 lb. Hammer spring and the 14 lb. Rebound spring. No matter what I did, the rebound slide wouldn’t work right with the Wolff spring in it.
It would buck up in the front instead of moving straight back when the trigger was pulled. I took the thing in and out so many times that my thumb got raw from putting the rebound spring back in. Then to make matters worse, I pulled the cylinder hand off of the trigger, not realizing that there was a little spring hidden in the body of the trigger. Of course, when I put it back together, it didn’t work right.
Research project. Oh, there’s a little spring somewhere. Miracle of miracles, I managed to find the spring among the dust bunnies and I had no idea of how it went back in. Spent some time searching the Smith & Wesson forum and found some instructions for how to get the little child of Satan back in. (Its also in the Kuhnhausen manual, but I didnt know that at the time.) Getting the spring back in wasn’t too terribly hard. The rebound slide bucking was another thing, however.
Nothing I did would make it work. I finally put the stock rebound spring back in and everything was Jake. It’s fairly smooth now (although it was pretty good before), but it left me with the impression that not all j-frames are created equal.
I cant say Im completely happy with the job on the Airweight. It also left me with the realization of how delicately tuned and balanced the components of revolvers are, and changing springs and such in and out of them is more perilous than analogous operations on bottom feeders. The last thing that needs to be said about this relatively simple operation is that it’s a far cry from a full action job that you would get from one of the revolver action masters like. A full action job would include truing up the sear faces, adjusting the let-out of the double action sear, checking the cylinder yoke for straightness, eliminating end shake in the cylinder, and other elegant pieces of voodoo that only those guys know. Such things are way beyond the scope of this article, at least for now. Just be aware that there is much more to a full action job in a revolver than just switching out the springs. In some respects, the action of the revolver is far more complex and esoteric than a semi-auto action.
The interaction of the parts is delicately balanced, not unlike a watch, and the inner workings of the lockwork are less intuitive to understand, requiring serious study to master. A simple “keep you out of trouble” rule would be, “If you don’t know the answer, don’t do the operation.”. By John Taffin Mention Smith & Wesson and most shooterswill immediately think of one of two things, either big bore Magnum sixguns, or state-of-the-art semi-automatic pistols.
As a writer I’ve spread a lot of ink discussing both of these types and as a shooter I’ve run thousands of bullets down the barrels of slick shootin’ Smith sixguns and fast-firing defensive pistols. But there are other Smith & Wessons such as the Model 41.22 target pistol and the epitome of target guns from a few decades ago, the K-38.38 Special and the K-22.22 Long rifle, the famous Masterpiece revolvers.
All of these handguns are guns that I would label high exposure. They are seen at target ranges, in the hunting field, worn openly on the belt of peace officers, as well as campers, hikers, fisherman, in fact, all types of sportsmen.
Chambered in.22 they are used not only for target shooting but by thousands upon thousands of families enjoying the great sport of plinking together. Larger calibers are carried for more serious purposes such as hunting and law enforcement. There is another whole class of Smith & Wesson handguns, a group of revolvers rarely ever seen. These are the guns carried concealed by civilians and peace officers alike. These are the guns kept in countless bedside stands, under store counters, in tackle boxes, and day packs.
These lightweight easily concealable handguns are the J-frames. Smith & Wesson has long utilized the alphabet to distinguish their revolvers: the N-frames, the largest.41 and.44 Magnum,.45 Colt,.45 ACP, and even.357 Magnum; the middle-sized K-frames, the.357 “Combat Magnum” and earlier mentioned Masterpiece revolvers; the L-frame, the newest intermediate sized.357 Magnum; and finally the diminutive J-frames chambered in,,, and. The first small frame double action Smith & Wesson, a.38, was built in 1880. This was not the famous.38 Special which would come later, but the less powerful.38 S&W. The first.38 DA weighed 18 ounces and would go through five design changes, thirty-one years of production, and number more than one-half million examples of top-break design. These were followed by the Perfected Model.38 with a solid frame/trigger guard combination, but still of the top break design, that led the way for the solid frame, swing out cylinder revolvers to come. At the same time that the top-break.38’s were being made, the same basic design was offered in.32 S&W caliber with nearly 300,000 of the smaller caliber being made.
Shortly after production began on the.38 and.32 Smith & Wesson Double Action Models, D.B. Wesson worked with son Joseph to develop a completely different style of revolver. Lucian Cary, a well known gun writer of forty years ago relates the following legend. “When Daniel Wesson read a newspaper story about a child who had shot himself with the family revolver, his conscience hurt. He told his wife that he would make a revolver that could be safely kept in the bureau drawer. It was his custom to receive his grandchildren every Sunday. No doubt it was tough on the grandchildren.
Daniel Wesson must have been a fearsome man, with his thick body, his great beard, and his virtue (Cary obviously did not understand grandfathers and grand children and the bond between them!) But on one occasion it was his young grandchild who put it over. Daniel Wesson made a revolver he thought no child could fire. He gave it to his grandson, Harold Wesson, now president of Smith & Wesson (this was in the 1950’s) and challenged him to fire it. Harold was only eight years old but he knew that his grandfather expected him to fail.
Maybe that gave him a shot in the arm. Harold tugged at the trigger with all his strength and fired the gun. His grandfather went sadly back to his shop–not that day, of course, which was Sunday, but on the following Monday. Some weeks later he again presented a revolver to Harold and asked him to pull the trigger. Harold did his best.
But he failed. The gun the boy couldn’t fire was the New Departure, also known as the safety hammerless. It had a bar in the back of the grip supported by a spring. You had to squeeze the grip hard enough to depress the spring and pull the double action trigger at the same time in order to fire the gun. No child of eight had the strength to do both at once. The New Departure was an uncommonly safe bureau drawer revolver.” The Safety Hammerless, so designated by the fact that the hammer was completely enclosed by the revolver frame, became the first really practical pocket gun.
Five hundred thousand of these were made in.32 and.38 caliber from 1886 until 1940. With the advent of the I-frame Smith & Wessons in 1894, the basic design was changed from top break to a solid frame, swing-out cylinder style of revolver. Over the years from before the turn of the Century until 1960, the I-frame was offered in.32 Hand Ejector,.22/32 Hand Ejector, which became the.22 Kit Gun,.32 Regulation Police,.38 Regulation Police, and.38 Terrier. In 1950, one of the most famous of the Smith & Wesson revolvers arrived. A five-shot, compact revolver to fire the more powerful.38 Special instead of the.38 S&W was introduced at the Conference of the International Association of Chief’s of Police in Colorado Springs, Colorado and has been officially and lovingly known as the Chief’s Special ever since. This was the first J-frame revolver and was larger than the I-frames and chambered in.22,, and.38 S&W. In 1960, all I-frames became J-frames.
The Chief’s Special has been offered in a number of versions along the way: the standard Model 36 in both round and square butt versions, the Airweight Model 37, the Model 38 Bodyguard which had an extended frame that protected the hammer and exposed only enough of the tip to allow for cocking. The Number “39” was used for Smith’s new double action 9MM Semi-automatic in the 1950’s, but the J-frames resumed with the Model 40 Centennial, a J-frame “Safety Hammerless”. In 1965, a most significant J-frame variation appeared.
One that was to have far reaching consequences throughout the firearms industry as the Model 36 Chief’s Special was offered as the Stainless Steel Model 60. Instantly popular with peace officers and outdoorsman alike, the first stainless steel revolver revolutionized firearms and stainless steel revolvers are now a major part of the handgun industry. Stainless is so much a part of the handgun market, and especially with the small frame concealable firearms that are carried closest to the body, that of the five J-frames I have been testing, four are stainless, and the fifth has been custom finished to look like stainless. Metalife was applied to a Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special, a two-inch Model 36.38 Special. Depending upon the weather, it has been carried in an inside the pants holster, in an ankle holster, in a boot top, and in the pocket of insulated coveralls.
This particular revolver has been further customized by sending it to Teddy Jacobsen. Jacobsen is an ex-cop now in the gun smithing business and he did one of his famous action jobs on the little Chief’s Special along with polishing the trigger smooth, de-horning the hammer spur, and also jewelling both hammer and trigger. When combined with the Metalife finish, these modifications make the Model 36 into a near-perfect pocket pistol. The only thing left to do to finish off the round butt Chief’s Special was to fit it with custom grips. I just happened to be carrying this little gun when I visited Herrett’s. I soon had a pair of Detective stocks for the Chief’s!
The modification makes the little Chief’s into a beautiful close range double action defensive pistol and the hammer can still be cocked for a longer deliberate single action shot by starting the trigger back and catching the hammer with the thumb to finish the cocking procedure. As a companion piece to the 20 ounce Chief’s Special, I have been testing the same basic gun, in this case a Model 60 Stainless Steel “Chief’s Special”. Friend and gun writer Terry Murbach certainly deserves at least some of the credit for suggesting the.38 Special Stainless Steel that Murbach feels should be known as “The Trail Masterpiece”. This little 23 ounce, round butted.38 sports a three inch full under-lug barrel and fully adjustable sights. The sights are exactly the way they should be, black both fore and aft. Yes, even though the newest Model 60 is stainless, the rear sight assembly is black and the front sight blade is quick draw style, plain black and pinned to the stainless steel ramp. Anyone who has read many of my articles know that my usual forte is the big and bold, the Magnum and beyond sixguns and the big bore semi-automatics.
But I have definitely found a place in my collection for this little five-shooter. A Plus P five shooter I might add as Smith & Wesson does classify this little.38 as one that is able to handle the hotter loads. No little strength certainly comes from the fact that the Model 60 carries a full length cylinder with very little barrel protruding through the frame unsupported. The cylinder also, being a five shot, has the bolt cuts between chambers rather than under them. When the J-frame Smith & Wessons came in, I went to the local gun shop, Shapel & Son’s, and found three dusty old boxes down behind the counter containing long-out-of-production Jay Scott Gunfighter J-frame stocks. At the present time they ride unaltered on three J-frames but all will receive extensive customizing in the future which will see the removal of the finger grooves and the checkering that adorns two pair. The Model 60 Trail Masterpiece wears plain walnut Gunfighter grips that will clean up very nicely as time and ambition permit making the Trail Masterpiece an even more desirable little fivegun for hiking, fishing, camping, etc.
And with the right loads, the three-inch barreled.38 will make a fine little close range varmint and small game gun. I can only find one fault with the Model 60 Trail Masterpiece and that is strictly the result of my own preference for smooth triggers. All other test J-frames came through with smooth triggers but the this three-inch.38 boasts a grooved trigger that you can bet will become a smooth trigger in the future as it will be sent to Jacobsen for one of his action jobs after a check to Smith & Wesson makes it mine. Chic Gaylord, New York leather worker and the father of the modern concealment holster, was a real fan of the three-inch.38 Special and promoted a “Metropolitan Special Adaptation” of the Colt Police Positive consisting of three-inch barrel, ramp front sight, nickel finish, bird’s head butt, grip adapter, and trigger shoe. Another favorite of his was the three-inch Chief’s Special with Fitz Gunfighter grips. He would have loved the Trail Masterpiece. The firing tests of the Model 60.38 Special Trail Masterpiece gave quite pleasant results.
Considering the short sight radius the three-inch barrel affords, and also considering that the test groups were fired at 25 yards, and especially when one considers that the groups were fired by my hand and eye combination, some groups border on the phenomenal. The two-inch.38 Special Chief’s Special was fired double action only on combat targets and not for group size.
It proved to be quite capable as a defensive revolver. SMITH & WESSON J-FRAMES CALIBER:.38 SPECIAL TEMPERATURE: 60 DEGREES CHRONOGRAPH: OEHLER MODEL 35P GROUPS: 5 SHOTS @ 25 YDS. By John Taffin Bellygun is a term you don’t hear much any more, but from the time of the Civil War up to very recently, that’s what short-barreled revolvers were called. Some people in the gun business tried to gloss over the genre of small, concealable handguns, but the snubnosed bellygun is the most important type of all firearms because it is made for self-defense. Bellyguns were first offered in the seven-shot single-action.22 rimfire by Smith & Wesson in the 1850s. It was favored as a hideout weapon on both sides of the Civil War. In the first half of the 20th century, every little store had a punchboard with one of the main prizes being a nickel-plated pocket pistol.
No forms to fill out, no instant check, no waiting period. You hit the board, you won a gun. Even in my family, which was certainly not part of the gun culture, I found such a little pocket pistol, an Iver Johnson, among my grandfather’s effects after his death. Today the media has picked up on what was originally a racist term of derision, Saturday Night Special. There are no such guns. Saturday Night Specials are certain people with a certain mindset, not an inanimate object such as a life-savin’ bellygun. Smith & Wesson’s first double-action bellygun was the break-top of 1880, chambered in.38 S&W.
In 1882, S&W brought forth the “lemon-squeezer,” a hammerless double-action with a grip safety. These guns featured not only a grip safety, but also an extra heavy DA-only trigger pull to make it that much more difficult for a child to operate. These guns were very popular as pocket pistols since there was no hammer to catch in the clothing. I lucked onto one of these in excellent shape in a strange way. My daughter moved into an old house and, while she was cleaning it, she noticed a loose board in the back of a closet.
She pulled it out and found a 1 lb. Inside she discovered a 1935 championship high school ring, a box of.32 S&W and a.32 lemon squeezer. The rubber grips are perfect, while the rest of the gun is 98 percent with very minor nickel flaking.
It works just as well today as it did more than 100 years ago when it left the Springfield factory. In the 1890s Smith brought forth their first solid frame, swing-out cylinder gun, the I-frame. The little gun was beginning to take on the profile that is so recognizable today. These little I-frames were chambered in.32 S&W,.38 S&W and, in 1911, thanks to a gun dealer by the name of Bekeart, in.22 rimfire. The.22 would evolve into that grandest of all little sixguns, the.22/32 Kit Gun in 1936. The late Col. Rex Applegate was often involved in clandestine operations from his early days with an outfit known as the OSS in World War II through his commissioning as a general in the Mexican Army.
One of his favorite pocket pistols was the.38 S&W. At least until he found himself emptying it to stop an attacker. More power was needed in pocket pistols. Colt had chopped the barrel of their Police Positive to 2″ before World War II and called it the Detective Special. It was a start in the right direction, but with its six-shot cylinder, it was a mite big for a pocket pistol. The answer was soon forthcoming.
Smith & Wesson engineers had been working to improve the I-frame by slightly enlarging it to take five rounds of.38 Special. In addition to a larger frame, the new revolver, dubbed the J-frame, used a coil mainspring. It was very much like the.38 S&W I-frame except for the extra long cylinder, filling the J-frame window.
To introduce the new pocket pistol, the J-frame was taken to the 1950 annual meeting of the conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, You are probably now ahead of me and can see the name coming. The police chiefs voted on a new name and the first I-frame was appropriately given the name of.38 Chief’s Special. It is altogether fitting that the police chiefs should knight the new five-gun, as it became immensely popular with peace officers as a second or backup gun that slipped easily into a uniform pocket or as a very easily concealed and carried off-duty weapon.
For 40 years, until the revolution of sorts in semiautomatic weapons, it was the pocket pistol by which all others were judged. Not only was the J-frame.38 Chief’s Special a near perfect pocket gun, but also it was extremely strong.
The bolt cuts came between the cylinder chambers and the cylinder itself to fill the frame, with no unsupported portion of the barrel sticking back through the main frame as found on the.357 Magnum and.44 Special Smith & Wessons of the time. How strong are these little pocket revolvers? Elmer Keith reported in 1955 that both of them would perfectly handle the.38/44 and other high speed.38 Special ammunition, as he ran 500 rounds through a Chief’s Special with no ill effects. At the time of Keith’s writing the.38/44 was a +P loading, the forerunner of the.357 Magnum, rated at 1,150 fps from a 5″ Smith & Wesson.38 Heavy Duty sixgun. I’ve gone even further with my little Chief’s Special. In the pre.357 Magnum days of the early 1930s, Keith came up with a heavy.38 Special loading for his sixguns that does 1,400+ fps from an 8 3/8″ S&W.357 Magnum. Using this load in a Chief’s Special, the recoil is stout, with a muzzle velocity of 1,150 fps with a 168 gr.
Bullet from a 2″ barrel. This is not something I recommend and I do not shoot loads like those very often, but it is great to know that option is mine should I need it. The.38 Special Chief’s became the Model 36 in 1957, the Centennial became the Model 40, while the number 37 was attached to the Airweight Chief’s Special.
In 1965, a revolution of sorts arrived in handgun manufacturing when Smith used the Model 36 as the platform for the same gun in stainless steel. This of course is the Model 60. A favorite little sixgun of hikers, backpackers and fishermen is the six-shot.22 Kit Gun on the J-frame platform.
The Model 34 with either a 2′ or 4′ barrel was produced from 1953 to 1991. It then became a stainless steel sixgun, the Model 63, and was subsequently joined by the Model 651, the.22 Magnum version, and the very rare (only offered in 1990).32 Magnum Kit Gun, the Model 631. These diminutive sixguns make fine companion guns for the hunter who does not want to pack any more weight than necessary, but can still be prepared to take a grouse, squirrel or rabbit for the camp cooking pot. The 1990s brought major changes in the J-frame series. All of the older.38 Specials are gone.
Today’s J-frame is slightly larger with a 2 1/8″ barrel and chambered in.357 Magnum. In the mid-1930s, a heavy duty, large framed.357 Magnum was looked upon as the ultimate sixgun. Now we have the.357 Magnum chambered in a 24 oz. Five-shot pocket pistol. Firing full house 158 gr..357 Magnums in one of thee little J-frames is a real attention getter. On both ends. My wife carries Smith & Wesson J-frames.
In her fanny pack is a blued Airweight with a 2″ barrel while her purse gun is a 3″ stainless steel Airweight. Both of these are the Bodyguard models with no hammers exposed.
From blued to airweight to stainless to titanium, the J-frames keep evolving. Loaded with 125 gr. JHP, I can think of no better carry gun for wife, mother or daughter than these. By Stephen A. Camp Revolvers continue to be popular in the age of the autoloader and one that seems to garner good reports far and wide is the Ruger SP101. It is currently offered in.22,.32 Magnum,.38 Special, as well as.357 Magnum. Barrel lengths run from 2 1/4″ to 4″ and the revolver is available with fixed or adjustable sights.
The one I purchased was in.357 Magnum with the 3 1/16″ barrel and fixed sights. The.357 Magnum chambering is probably the most common and I suspect that it is sold more often than not in the 2 1/4″ barrel length with fixed sights. Of course,.38 Specials can be fired in the.357 guns. These little magnums are five-shooters rather than six and the swing-out cylinder is used. As the gun comes from the factory, stocks are of rubber with plastic inserts snapped in and retained by the grip screw. The SP101 is a bit smaller than the S&W K-frame but beefier than the same company’s compact J-frame, some models of which can be had in.357 Magnum.
Specifications: Weight: 27 ounces Length: 8″ (with 3 1/16″ bbl) Height: 4.5″ Cylinder Width: 1.349″ Frame Width at Barrel: 0.774″ Top Strap Width: 0.602″ Top Strap Thickness: 0.204″ Trigger: smooth Action: Conventional double/single action revolver Cylinder Rotation: counterclockwise Sights: Fixed or adjustable (front sight pinned to bbl) Twist: 1:18 3/4″ (.38/. 357) Safety: Internal transfer bar allows for firing only when the trigger is pressed all the way rearward. The revolver is safe to carry fully loaded. Here is the Ruger SP101 compared to the 3″ S&W K-frame Model 65 LadySmith. Both are chambered in.357 Magnum. The slightly larger K-frame holds 6 shots while the Ruger holds 5.
Both of these revolvers have shrouded barrels that surround the ejector rods. This S&W is about 5″ tall. Its cylinder width is 1.47″ compared to the Ruger’s 1.349″, but this adds enough to allow for a sixth round.
The J-frame cylinder width measures 1.34″ across. Ruger SP101 Comparison to S&W J & K-frame Revolvers Measurement (in.) – Ruger SP101 – S&W K-frame – S&W J-frame Cylinder Width – 1.349 – 1.47 – 1.34 Frame Width at bbl – 0.744 – 0.823 – 0.697 Top Strap Width – 0.602 – 0.654 – 0.546 Top Strap Thickness – 0.204 – 0.233 – 0.168 Forcing Cone Thickness – 0.086 – 0.086 – 0.066 The table shows that the SP101 might be thought of as a J-frame on steroids, a compact revolver that has been beefed up in critical areas.
Note also that the forcing cone on the SP101 is equivalent to that on the K-frame rather than the J. Having been in constant production in.357 for over a decade now, complaints on the SP101 being fragile have been few and far between.
The K-frame from S&W has been associated with some parts breakage when a constant diet of magnums have been used, but the K-frame is a bit larger than the SP101. That means there is more steel around the.357’s SAAMI-rated 35K CUP pressure limit each time a round is fired. What’s the deal here? SP101’s are regularly described as being “built like a bank vault” and praised for their ability to digest huge amounts of full-power magnum ammunition.
The SP101 is a compact revolver, but its forcing cone is very similar to that of the mid-size S&W K-frame guns. I think the answer is two-fold. It has been my observation that most.357 factory ammunition is simply not loaded as hot as it was a few decades ago. Years ago it was not uncommon to honestly break 1450 ft/sec with various makers’ 125-gr. Magnum loads from 4″ barrels.
Now, chronographed velocities are closer to 100 ft/sec slower. Since the hot 125-gr seemed the culprit in most cracked forcing cones and flame cutting, this slight reduction in muzzle velocity probably alleviated the problem.
Combine with that the reduction in size of.357 Magnum revolvers in recent times. These guns are certainly easier to carry concealed than the K, L, and N-frames of years past, but one pays for it in increased felt recoil. I strongly suspect that most owners of the compact magnum revolvers shoot a few full-power loads through them, but do the bulk of their practice with the considerably milder.38 Special. I believe that this includes SP101 shooters, but they are shooting a gun is probably a bit more rugged than the J-frame.
Hence, we get the comments on the Ruger’s durability. I am neither a gunsmith nor a mechanical engineer so I cannot honestly say whether the internal parts on the Ruger are stronger than the S&W, or give bold statements on which system is better. It does appear that both work quite well, but there seems to be fewer complaints of the small Ruger having problems than the small S&W when either is heavily used. There is an area where the S&W usually beats the Ruger: trigger pull and smoothness of action.
I believe that S&W is almost always the winner here. Using full-power springs in the SP101 compared to the S&W will almost always result in a noticeably smoother action in the latter. Both the Ruger and the S&W use coiled springs to power their hammers.
The SP101 spring is rated at 14 pounds, the S&W at 8.5. The trigger return spring on the SP comes in at 10 pounds while the rebound spring on the S&W is 18 pounds at factory standard. It seems like the Ruger should have the lighter smoother trigger pull, but such is usually not the case. Some folks reduce the trigger return spring a bit to smooth up the Ruger, but if a person opts to do this, make absolutely sure that the trigger doesn’t have a sluggish return for the next shot. I suspect that S&W perfected the double-action pull many years ago and that we’d have to look long and hard to find better ones on out of the box guns.
That does not mean that the RUGER SP101 necessarily has a terrible trigger pull or that they cannot be smoothed up very nicely for they certainly can. The trigger pull on the SP101 used in this evaluation was smooth, but stiff, and certainly nothing special. It has proven imminently useable however. As it came from the box, it did have sharp edges. These were taken care of using 400-grit sandpaper and a little elbow grease. Others have commented on similar experiences and applied similar corrections. Total time spent was less than 15 minutes.
Other than that slight “modification”, the SP101 used was as it came from the box. Shooting: I fired the SP101 at 7 and 15 yards. The revolver was fired in double-action at a combat-type target at the closer distance. At 15 yards, the revolver was fired single-action and from a sitting position with wrists braced. Unfortunately, I only had two types of.357 Magnum ammunition available so I included quite an array of.38 Special also.
The SP101 was fired using the ammunition shown. From L to R: Winchester 145-gr. 357 Magnum Silver Tip, Remington 125-gr. 357 Magnum Golden Saber, Remington 158-gr.
38 Special LSWCHP +P, Corbon 115-gr. 38 Special JHP +P+, Corbon 110-gr. 38 Special DPX, Federal 147-gr. 38 Special Hydrashok +P+, and Remington 130-gr. 38 Special FMJ. (Note: The 115-gr.
38 Special +P+ and standard pressure 110-gr. DPX from Corbon have been discontinued. Is no longer produced and the standard pressure 38 DPX has gone to a +P version.) The chronograph data is based on 10 shots fired approximately 10′ from the chronograph screens. Ruger SP101 w/3 1/16″ Bbl Chronograph Results Load: – Average Velocity (ft/sec) – Extreme Spread (ft/sec) – Std. Deviation (ft/sec) 38 Corbon 110-gr. DPX – 1141 – 44 – 18 38 Corbon 115-gr.
+P+ – 1342 – 62 – 24 38 Rem 130-gr. FMJ – 821 – 28 – 11 38 Federal 147-gr. HS +P+ – 963 – 35 – 13 38 Remington 158-gr. LSWCHP +P – 906 – 23 – 9 357 Remington 125-gr. GS* – 1189 – 57 – 22 357 Winchester 145-gr. STHP – 1207 – 39 – 18 *Mid-range load. The SP101 used for testing had fixed sights.
Nothing fancy to be sure, but they worked fine and provided a very usable sight picture. This target was fired upon using Remington 125-gr. Golden Sabers and Winchester 145-gr. STHP ammunition. A two-hand hold was employed and firing was done at 7 yards.
Shots were fired as quickly as a flash sight picture could be obtained. Though the resulting groups appear quite similar in size, the Remington was distinctly easier to handle; more so than the slight differences in velocities and bullet weights might lead one to believe. On paper, the differences appear pretty slim. In the hand, there is definitely a substantial difference. Observations: Neither the double or single-action trigger pulls on my SP101 were as smooth or light as on my J or K-frame S&W revolvers. It is slightly heavier but has smoothed up a bit after roughly 400 shots, about half of which were.357 Magnum handloads and factory ammunition.
The gun does appear to have its fixed sights regulated toward the heavier end of the.357 bullet spectrum although POI was perfectly satisfactory at 15 yards with the slightly attenuated Remington Golden Saber load. Silvertip was right on the edge of becoming uncontrollable in rapid-fire when using two hands. Using one hand, as might occur in a defense scenario, it was not at all easy to handle. For that reason, I will be using the Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber in this gun for now. Other potential defensive.357 ammunition will be looked at as time permits, but the Golden Saber is it for now.
I found the revolver more comfortable than expected when firing magnum rounds. No doubt the heavy barrel and its shroud putting more weight up front to reduce muzzle flip were factors, but I think there’s also much to be said for the grips on this revolver. I found them extremely comfortable and have no plans to replace them. There were no malfunctions of any kind. Primer strikes were plenty reliable and well centered.
Case ejection was positive and there were no incidents of “sticking” cases. As can be seen in the upper left photograph, the SP101 has a heavy barrel and the long shroud helps reduce muzzle flip. Seen at the right are 5 fired 38 Special cases with the ejector pushed all the way rearward. They lack a tiny fraction of an inch ejecting and falling free.
To eject either fired 38 or 357 hulls, one must depress the ejector rod briskly. It sounds harder than it actually is and there were no problems in doing this with 100% reliability. I find the SP101 a little gem. It might be a bit of a “diamond in the rough,” but not by much.
I will use this revolver and report back any problems that might crop up. Frankly, I expect none from what I’ve read and now, seen. Some will opine that 5 shots are not enough for a serious defense arm. I suggest that it depends on the type scenario envisioned. I believe that for me, it is adequate in my now tame orbits. I no longer am involved in police service and my days of kicking in a door to a room full of crack heads are long over. That said, if you do not feel comfortable with but five rounds before a reload, the SP101 might not be your best choice as a primary defense gun.
A nice fact is that the SP101 uses the same speed loaders as the J-frame S&W revolvers. A fellow could have the SP101 on his belt and an Airweight J-frame in a pocket holster and use the same speed loader(s) for both. (Obviously, the speed loader would contain 38 Special ammo if the pocket gun were so chambered.) Some complain about a handgun of this weight for carry.
I agree that it is heavier than many revolvers intended for concealed carry. I also find it too large for pocket use, but as a compact belt gun, it is just fine and carries comfortably. Its weight is appreciated when firing magnum ammunition. Frankly, I cannot see limiting this revolver to “just” self-protection. Though its stainless steel construction makes it heavier than various lighter framed revolvers, that emphatically does not mean that these are hard to tote. Given a proper belt and decent holster, just the opposite has proven true for me.
I think they would be a heck of a fine sidearm for hiking, camping, fishing, or just knocking about in the woods. The gun has no removable side plate.
The gun is easily disassembled for cleaning via very good instructions provided in Ruger’s paperwork accompanying the revolver. Some suggest that the frame is stronger as it has no removable side plate as do S&W revolvers. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but do think that these are tough little guns that should easily last a lifetime, even with regular use over the long term.
The barrel’s bore cleaned about as easily as a Smith so I assume smoothness is similar.