S&W Model 642

July 29, 2011

Since S&W introduced the model 36 in 1950 at the International Police Chiefs Association meeting Its been one of the most sought after little revolvers in history. Police departments bought “J” frames by the thousands for Detectives while the civilian market purchased them for home defense. Shop owners purchased them to protect their businesses and protect themselves when making bank deposits. In fact there are so many categories of people who carry them it would be impossible to list them all.

In more recent history the model 642 Airweight has been the top selling revolver S&W makes. With the hammer housed inside the frame there’s nothing to hang on clothing when drawing from a pocket or pocket holster.

Since I retired from police work I still find myself carrying a 642 in a front pocket of my jeans usually in a “Nemesis” holster made for carry in this manner. On a very hot day here in the Midwest nothing is handier to grab and run a few errands. If you find your build makes it hard to carry this way there are jeans made just to accommodate this type of carry. LA Police Gear makes them at a reasonable price. The pockets are larger both front and back to allow the wearer to carry a small pistol or revolver in a front or back pocket as well as speedstrips or magazines to carry extra ammo or other gear of your choice.

The only downside to some shooters is that it only holds five rounds. This really isn’t a drawback when you consider what this revolvers intended use is. A “J” frame 642 isn’t normally a primary carry gun rather a backup too a duty gun or one you drop into a pocket for a quick run to the grocery store.

From my own experience with these little jewels it rates as one of my favorite guns. When on duty I carried a 1911 on my duty belt and a model 642 in a holster attached to my vest. That little extra insurance is a comforting thing to have. Many officers from local to state and federal agents still carry these revolvers as backups and most likely will for years to come.

Specifications
Model 642
Caliber .38 Special
Capacity 5 rounds
Finish Matt Silver
Grip Synthetic
Frame Size Small – Internal, Aluminum alloy
Barrel 1.875″
Overall Length |6.31″
Weight 15 oz.
Front Sight Integral
Rear Sight Fixed
There is one item I always change right off the bat and that’s the rubber grips. They are just too sticky to carry in a pocket even with a holster. S&W makes beautiful wood grips for the “J” frames which not only look great but make drawing your revolver very easy. With practice they are very nearly as fast to draw from a pocket as from a belt holster.

Speaking of practice these revolvers require the owner to practice a good deal to be able to handle it quickly and shoot accurately. Most encounters are seven yards and closer but you can still miss. Believe me I’ve read reports where it’s happened and more times than one would think. When you mix adrenalin and the short sight radius of these small frame guns it’s easy to miss. Any person who carries a gun should practice, practice and more practice to be proficient in handling and shooting. It’s a serious responsibility any CCW owner should take to heart.

I don’t mean to say the 642 is a hard revolver to shoot because it isn’t. It just takes practice. A shooter should purchase dummy rounds to practice loading, drawing and trigger control. If this is your first handgun seek a reputable school and take a CCW class; you’ll be glad you did. It’s not only enjoyable for most new shooters but they learn a great deal more than they would ever realize.

You may wonder why I’m spending so much time on practice and training. The reason is when I’m asked “ which gun should I buy” my usual response is a “J” frame S&W. Once you master this revolver then move to a semi-auto if you like but learn the basics first.

S&W does offer a wide range of “J” frames to choose from. The 642 is an alloy frame with a stainless steel cylinder. Other models are all steel. They are also offered in a black Melonite finish and even .357 magnum. Click this link and take a look at three pages of S&W’s assortment of these revolvers.

These revolvers can be very accurate within a reasonable distance. In my experience they are great natural pointers. Most shooters can become familiar with them pretty quickly.

Range Time

When I practice with my 642 I keep my distance to no more than ten yards. I’ll start at three yards and work back to ten. At three yards I draw and fire instinctively from the hip followed by another string bringing the revolver up to eye level. After the three yard line I move back to five yards then seven yards firing from eye level using a flash sight picture. In other words placing the front sight on the target and firing. When I move back to ten yards I’ll repeat the same method then practice accuracy by slowing down my rate of fire and shooting the smallest groups possible. Granted I’ve shot S&W J frames a lot over the years but firing a one to one and a half inch group at ten yards is pretty common.

Conclusion

As a choice for a first gun or for a seasoned shooter using the 642 as a backup you can’t beat them. Actual prices are good and within the budget of most people looking for an excellent gun at a reasonable price. They are simple to learn and operate. All “j” frames regardless of your choice of model are as near 100% reliable as any gun can be. The 38 +P is an effective round with a reasonable amount of recoil for fast followup shots. I highly recommend them no matter what your experience level.

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2 Responses to “S&W Model 642”

  1. Brad Gadberry Says:

    This is a great summary of why the 642 and its J-frame brethren are so popular. I have other guns, but the 642 is always in my front pocket or right beside me on the nightstand.

  2. Gunner Says:

    Brad,

    Thank you sir! Mine is in my front pocket whenever I leave the house. They just work and fill a niche nothing else does!

    Phil


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