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.
Caliber .38 Special
Capacity 5 rounds
Finish Matt Silver
Frame Size Small – Internal, Aluminum alloy
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.
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.
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.
May 15, 2011
Here is another review I did for Guns for Sale.com on the S&W Bodyguard snubbie.
Link to article
December 13, 2008
The S&W model 25-5 is one of those revolvers that has gained classic status along with most of the other “N” frame S&W’s made before the lawyer proofing started with those darn framelocks that everyone loves to hate myself included.
A couple of years ago you could buy about any older S&W revolver for very little money but these days people have come to realize that these wonderful revolvers are something special and prices have increased accordingly. Most any S&W “K” frame will sell in the $450 to $500 range with “N” frames at $600 plus depending on how rare they are. I recently saw a nickel 6 inch 41 magnum marked at just under $1000! A word to the wise if you have one keep it!
My journey with the S&W “N” frame started in 1976. At that time the model 29 was the revolver to buy. Barrel length was no barrier to the price at that time. The guns were in short supply and were selling for the sum of $400 which was a lot of money at that time. In fact more than is being asked for them now. Of course there is nothing new under the sun and as soon as the supply caught up with demand the prices dropped as dealers found themselves with a lot of unsold guns on the shelf. Being a young officer at the time we didn’t make much money so I had to wait until the prices came down. My first was a blue steel beauty with a 4 inch barrel. Yea I wish I had held onto that one but as with most folks if you want something new you have to do some trading and that Colt 1911 sure looked good:-) Regardless my love of S&W revolvers was in full bloom and has never really left me in spite of the overwhelming trend toward new semi autos.
I picked up my first 25-5 with a 4 inch barrel in 1980 and I loved it! I found I could shoot this big old revolver for a long time without beating myself to death with the recoil of the 44 magnum. That and handloads were a pleasure to shoot using some of the old Kieth type lead bullets going about 750 to 800 fps.
I even carried that big boy as a duty gun for awhile until the weight finally made me change back to the model 19 which is a wonderful revolver in the “K” frame. You wear 45 ounces(depending on barrel length) on your hip for 8 to 10 hours and you’ll know what I mean. After that I relegated it to off duty carry in a cross draw holster from Bianchi. In winter it worked just fine. Back then the Winchester Silvertip was the round to use and I carried my 25-5 loaded up with the big Silvertips.
After a few years we all followed the trend and carried the wonder nines on duty. I still found myself carrying the 25-5 off duty a good bit. I decided it was time to qualify with it since it had been a while since I had taken it to the range to qualify with it. We used an indoor range at a PD close by since it was winter. I got some funny looks since I had one of those obsolete revolvers but I didn’t really care then or now. The first round fired was in dim light and the flash and boom stopped all activity on the line. I stopped firing to because I thought somebody jammed or something had gone haywire. Nope, just new guys not used to a large revolver being fired next to them:-) After clearing the line some of the young guys wanted to know what in the heck I was shooting. Of course now I’m one of the old guys so I explained what it was etc.
That gun served me very well for a good number of years. The affect it had on suspects was something to behold. You’d think I pointed a cannon at them. I eventually traded it for a Colt Delta Elite 10mm when they came out. I’ve regretted that trade more than any other after some years had gone by.
Is the revolver a viable duty or carry gun now? In my opinion yes it is. In fact there is really nothing better as a backup gun than a snubbie S&W. I prefer the S&W 642 that I can just drop in a pocket and go. I’ll probably always have a revolver of some type close by. I have confidence in them and have used them so many years they feel like an extension of my body when I point one downrange.
I haven’t made a solid conclusion yet but it seems to me that the revolver is making a comeback in popularity. Only time will tell.
By now you know this isn’t a review like I normally do but a bit of nostalgia and some personal history with a gun that I truely enjoyed shooting and trusted to save me if I needed it. So, next time you are looking over the shelves in your local gun shop and see an old S&W revolver stop and take a look. It may call out to you like they have to me.
November 9, 2008
Smith & Wesson Model 642
“The Snubnose Files”
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 Model 36. 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, click here.) 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 little or no reason to have single action capability on a self-defense revolver, 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 Why Carry a Revolver? Folks with physical impairments often find that the revolver will work for them where an auto will not. See Age and the Snubnose
Value The Model 642 and its brethren, the Models 637 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. In a 26 oz. all-steel Model 60-15, .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😄 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😄 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 Double Action Only (DAO) versus Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) 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 by. 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 Double Action Only (DAO) versus Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA) for more on this issue.
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.
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
Overall Length: 6 3/8″
Material: Alloy/Stainless Steel
Weight Empty: 15 oz.
January 19, 2008
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Ultimate Defense Handgun…
Not very often does a week go by that somebody doesn’t ask me a gun question at work. Normally, it’s a kid asking about the gun we carry or the type of caliber used but occasionally it’s an adult who wants to know a little bit more about owning a gun for home defense or wanting to get some opinions on a gun that he’s seen in a gun shop.
Now, of course, I’m going out on a limb here writing about the “best” defense handgun someone can buy, but this is my considered opinion.
99% of the time when I’m asked about handguns for defense, I’ll recommend a revolver. Specifically, a Smith and Wesson .357 revolver. Yes, many people think a revolver is outdated…they’ll talk about lack of ammunition capacity compared to all the super “wondernines” that hold 20 rounds of 9mm. They’ll talk about how hard it is to shoot in double action compared to the single action triggers of 1911s and they may even gripe about the weight of an all steel revolver compared to the polymer semi-autos out on the market today. They’re all valid points and I never try to sway anyone one way or the other, but if they ask me what type of gun I would carry and depend on with trouble on the line, it will always be this…
This is an older NYSP police trade in I picked up from a gun show about a year ago. It is my constant companion. It’s a 3 inch K frame S&W model 65 .357 magnum. I have since replaced the hammer with one that can be thumb cocked and replaced the ground down cylinder release because I thought the one pictured was just plain ugly. It holds 6 rounds of .357 and weighs about 32 ounces. On the reverse side I have installed a Clip Draw so the gun can be worn without a holster inside the waistband without the risk of it dropping down below the belt line.
I recommend the Clip Draw to anyone interested in carrying a concealed handgun to eliminate the need of bulky holsters ,etc. CLIPDRAW They are fairly inexpensive and make carrying a handgun much more comfortable. They are available for many guns including semi autos.
When I first started in Law Enforcement, the majority of departments here in Georgia still carried revolvers. I qualified in the Police Academy with an old S&W Model 10 (pretty much exactly the same as the 65 except it’s chambered in .38 Special only and was blued instead of stainless) and the first department I worked with issued us Model 65’s with a 4 inch barrel and square butt. I enjoyed the gun so much that I bought my own and when I changed departments, I continued to carry the 65 until the Chief made us all go to Glock semi-autos. When I found the 3 inch 65 above, I knew I had to have it for an off duty gun and am glad I bought it. The shorter barrel and round butt grip makes it a touch easier to conceal and you still have all the benefits of the full size 65 such as fixed sights that won’t chip or break and the quality of Smith and Wesson parts, most notably the trigger pull which is unrivaled in my opinion in the revolver world.
For practice, the gun can fire .38 Special ammunition, which is much easier to shoot and less expensive than full power .357 Magnums and is ideal for a new gun owner to learn with. The simplicity of a revolver is also a good selling point. There’s no safety’s to worry about…you pull the trigger and the gun fires. In all my years of shooting, for work and for fun, I have never had a revolver malfunction. Obviously, things can happen and one can break but I can say that a revolver is much more reliable than any semi-auto I have had experience with. For the person that wants a gun for protection with no desire to ever take it out from under their mattress until they need it, a revolver is ideal for that scenario. While I discourage that idea, it’s pretty common knowledge that the majority of gun owners do something very similar. It’s very easy to find near new guns for sale in the used gun display case because they’ve never been shot by the previous owner who for whatever reason decided to pawn or sell the gun back to the gun store.
Smith and Wesson has discontinued the model 65 along with many other of their K frame sized guns and replaced them with L frame guns…guns that make the frame a bit heavier and are able to stand up to a steady diet of powerful .357 ammunition. There is a picture of an L frame gun in my photo section labeled S&W 586 if you’re interested in seeing the difference between frame sizes.
So, when my life might be on the line and I need something I can trust that will work 100% of the time, a revolver is the way to go for me. I also carry speed strips of extra ammunition that can be easily reloaded and with practice are very fast. Speed strips are also very flat and are easily carried in a pocket for easy access. Practically speaking If the first 6 rounds don’t do the job your in trouble!
My two cents worth: I agree with Eric on choosing a revolver not only for a new shooter but for the experienced police officer. Many people do in fact believe the revolver to be a relic from a past age but the revolver in the configuration of Eric’s with the rounds butt and three inch barrel you would be hard pressed to find a gun faster to get into action. If you think a revolver is outdated talk to Jerry Miculek who has won competitions going against semi auto shooters! Jerry shoots for Team S&W. Jerry shoots an N frame S&W with a 5 inch barrel using moon clips to fire 45 acp.
The potency of the .357 magnum is also above and beyond any other caliber for the handgun. My old favorite the 1911 with the best ammo achieves a one stop shot rating of approximately 90% whereas the .357 125 grn JHP earns the highest rating at 97%! Mastering the double action trigger pull of a quality revolver such as this S&W is fairly easy to master with practice. In the real world the civilian licensed to carry a weapon or the off duty officer is very unlikely to be confronted by multiple attackers so the revolver is very much a viable choice. In addition carry at least two speed strips or speed loaders and you are well protected. No matter what you choose to carry practice, practice, practice. No matter which gun you choose if you buy a gun and never fire it or fire it once a year you are not protected! The S&W K frame like the model 64 or 65 as well as the former issue US Customs model 686 3 inch revolver is an extremely practical carry gun and outside of the 1911 my very favorite!
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November 12, 2007
S&W Model 27 8 3/8th inch barrel made in 1958
The S&W Model 27 is the original .357 Magnum revolver and was first produced in 1935; production ceased in the 1990s. The Model 27 was built on Smith and Wesson’s carbon steel, large N-frame and was available with 3 1/2″, 4″, 5″, 6″ or 8 3/8″ barrel lengths and had adjustable sights. The model 27 came about from the 38/44 Outdoorsman which was an N frame chambered in the 38HV round. This round was a 38 loaded to maximum pressure and was to powerful for the K frame so S&W chambered the N frame for the round. Later the 38 case was lengthened to prevent it from being chambered in a K frame chambered in 38 special. Thus the 357 was born.
When first introduced by Smith and Wesson in 1935 it was known as the .357 Registered Magnum. The model was essentially a custom order revolver. Barrel lengths could be had in quarter inch increments from 3.5″ to 8.75″ in length. In addition to the different length of barrels available there were different grips, front sites, triggers, hammers and finishes available. Each Registered Magnum came with a certificate of authenticity.
Even though it was introduced in the middle of the Great Depression, and was extremely expensive at $60 to $65 a great sum at that time. Smith and Wesson found itself backlogged with orders for the four years that it produced the Registered Magnum. The Kansas City Police Department issued the Registered Magnum to its officers and many other law enforcement officers across the United States carried the Registered Magnum. In 1939 S&W stopped producing the Registered Magnum. It was replaced with the .357 Magnum. The .357 magnum was available with barrels lengths of 3.5″, 5″, 6.5″ and 8 3/8″. It has been reported that these were the most popular barrel lengths for the Registered Magnum. Essentially the .357 magnum (the ancestor of the Model 27) was still the Registered Magnum, but standardized for ease of production and economy.
It was noted for its durability and reliability. The 3 1/2″ barrel length was extremely popular with FBI agents in the 1940s through the 1960s. Skeeter Skelton considered the Model 27 with a 5″ barrel as the best all around handgun. General George Patton carried an ivory handled Model 27 with a 3 1/2 inch barrel (along with his ivory handled Colt Peacemaker); Patton called the Model 27 his “killing gun.”
Workmanship on this gun was of the highest standards of S&W. Much of the gun was handcrafted and had a deep blue hand polished finish which was the pinnacle of gun finishes of the time. The trigger was finely tuned and is so smooth it’s hard to believe even the best craftsman could achieve results like this. Of course all older S&W revolvers had excellent triggers but this gun surpasses even those. This 8 3/8th inch barrel version is accurate in the extreme and is such a joy to shoot especially at longer distances. With the N frame even the hottest 357 rounds are comfortable to shoot. One feature this gun has is unique to this model and that is the cross hatching on the top strap to reduce glare.
Photo Courtesy of Xavier
Overall it’s just one beautiful revolver without peer.
In later years a new model was released in order to be an economical alternative to the model 27 and that’s the model 28 Highway Patrolman. This gun was for the most part a standard N frame without all the extra features, handwork and fine bluing of the 27. This gun was intended as solely a working law enforcement gun. The most common was the 4 inch barrel.
This was a very popular law enforcement weapon for many years. Between the model 28 and the later model 19 S&W had the market all to themselves as far as law enforcement guns are concerned. In later years the model 19 became very popular and supplanted the model 28 with the exception of the devoted N frame shooters.
If you can find an older model 27 grab it since they are pretty hard to find these days. Most shooters that own one won’t part with it so there are few traded. You can find a model 28 much easier and a lot cheaper. Both guns are well worth the cost if you run across one. To me the older model 27’s are works of art but should be shot and enjoyed!
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November 9, 2007
The S&W model 642 is the biggest selling gun that Smith & Wesson makes. It has far outsold all other guns in the S&W lineup for years and for good reason. There is no gun made past or present which is handier to carry and provides a potent loading in 38 special +P and even 357 magnum. When I started in police service in 1974 we all carried revolvers of course. The standard issue for patrol officers was the S&W model 10 bull barrel whereas detectives were issued the model 36 S&W snubby. Later (1979) when stainless steel was perfected for firearms we traded our blued guns in for model 64’s and the snubby model 60. Of course times have changed but the snubby revolver still has a very large following. In fact the two largest police departments in the USA, New York and Chicago still authorize and issue the S&W snubby as a backup and off duty gun for patrol officers as well as detectives. Since 1952 the model 40 Centennial and it’s descendants have served us well.
I bought my first model 36 as an off duty gun in 1975. Of course like most shooters you are always trading and this is one gun I wish I hadn’t traded. It would make a nice keepsake to remember my police service. Fortunately I did keep a S&W model 19 revolver from my early service which after 28 years still serves me well. With the model 36 if you carried it in a front pocket or jacket pocket you had to place your thumb over the hammer to keep it from hanging up on your clothing during the draw. With the hidden hammer of the 642 this is not a concern. You just put the gun in your front pocket and draw. I don’t know of any gun that is faster to get into action. It’s just like pulling your hand out of a pocket and pointing. A very simple, practical and potent gun and method of carry. The most practical holster is the DeSantis Nemesis synthetic holster that fits in a front pocket of your jeans and is shaped such that it will not come out with the gun. The holster lining is very smooth allowing for a fast draw. This holster is an excellent choice and has a modest price tag of $15 from MidwayUsa. As far as ammunition is concerned a great choice is the Speer 135 grain +P loading made specifically for the short barreled revolver.
This particular model 642 is the Airweight version which to my way of thinking is the best choice. At 15 ounces you don’t even notice it’s there. It certainly doesn’t give itself away by pulling your pants down on one side as full size pistols often do if you don’t purchase a good holster. You might think that at 15 ounces the recoil would be punishing but I can assure you it’s not at all. In fact it’s very comfortable to shoot even with +P ammo. I watched a training video the other day called the “Snubby Summit”. It’s restricted to law enforcement only but I can tell you that the top trainers in the country where present and all of them carry a snubby revolver as a backup gun or as a primary off duty gun. Massad Ayoob is a particularly big fan of the snubby and that’s saying something since he is in the top five instructors in the country. The 642 is his favorite snub nose revolver.
Shooting the snubby revolver is just downright fun. Of course it’s not a target revolver by any means but with practice you would be surprised at the accuracy you can obtain with this gun. Being double action only takes some practice to get used to but it is certainly possible to shoot small groups at reasonable distances. This target was shot at ten yards slow fire at the head of a standard B27R police target.
The small black squares used to cover previous shots are one inch by one inch square so this gives you an idea of the group size. I’ve shot many thousands of rounds from a revolver but I’m convinced that anyone willing to put in the practice time can shoot just as well. This is five rounds or one cylinder of Winchester +P 38 jacketed hollow point ammo. Using the old method of drawing and firing from the hip you can obtain a group well within the 9 ring of a police target. That is more than sufficient to be effective in protecting yourself or a loved one. Reloading is faster than one might think. Using a speed loader and practice will make you very fast in reloading. Another option is the speed strip. This is a device made out of a rubber substance that holds five rounds of ammo. You simply strip two rounds at a time into the cylinder until you’re reloaded. While not as fast as a speedloader they are very flat and you can carry several in your pocket without anyone noticing.
My standard stance for up close target engagement
These S&W’s fill a nitch that no other gun can. The proof is in the numbers of guns sold and the longevity of the design. They are as popular as ever and probably will be for many years to come. If you’ve never considered a snub nose revolver for your carry or backup gun you really should. I’m sure you’ll find it a very valuable addition to your gun collection or if you don’t collect guns it will certainly serve you well as a home protection gun.
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