Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 60

 

The first known revolver appeared in the late 1500′s, some 300 years before the Mauser’s Broomhandle introduced the world to the joys of a reliable semi-automatic pistol. In the last century, revolvers have not only survived the introduction of semis, wheelguns have thrived. These days, Smith & Wesson can’t build them quickly enough to meet demand. While it’s one of those “rising tide lifts all boats” deals, point taken. Revolvers still have a role to play in modern self-defense. Yes, but what? The Smith & Wesson Model 60 provides plenty of answers, and a few questions besides . . .

Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 60 in 1965. It was a year marked by political upheaval and violence: the Watts riots, the first anti-war “teach-in,” the first major Vietnam ground battle and Martin Luther King’s march on Selma. It was a time when millions of uneasy Americans reckoned a good pistol was a good thing to have. Smith’s first production all-stainless steel revolver fit the bill.

The Model 60—chambered in .38 Special and fitted with a  2.125″ barrel—was an immediate hit. The waiting time for delivery stretched to six months. The heavyweight J-framed wheelgun went on to achieve infamy in 1984, when “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz shot four men with a first-year Model 60. In the intervening years, the Model 60′s popularity has kept pace with Smith’s larger and (especially) smaller revolvers.

Any why not? The Model 60′s design is simple, balanced and elegant. The five-round, exposed hammer, swing-out chamber wheelgun says revolver like a contour Coca-Cola bottle says Coke. The Model 60′s withstood the test of time to become a genuine classic.

There are a couple of significant differences between the original Model 60 and today’s gun. For one thing, the modern Model 60 has an internal lock. Some gun owners won’t buy a Smith & Wesson revolver with a built-in key-operated “safety device.” As regular TTAG readers know, my Smith & Wesson 686‘s lock failed. The hammer and trigger locked back and . . . that was that.

What are the odds of a Model 60 internal lock failure? What are the odds of it happening during a defensive gun use? Infinitesimal. But the possibility is vexing for American gun owners who bet their life—and the lives of their loved ones—on their firearm’s functionality. Provided, of course, they know about such things as lock failures. Truth be told, most gun buyers don’t. What’s more, they believe that a revolver is mechanically infallible; profoundly more reliable than a semi. Yes well . . .

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The video above shows what happens when you run 400+ rounds of cleanliness-challenged Sellier & Bellot ammunition through a Model 60 without giving the gun a damn good scrubbing. A revolver that doesn’t work! This will come as no surprise to informed gun guys and gals, many of whom consider firearms maintenance a perfect outlet for mild to wild OCD. The wider point: all guns can fail.  

Equally, most guns don’t. In this age of high-quality, value-priced semi-automatic polymer pistols, buying a $700 revolver for its “superior” reliability can no longer be considered a “no-brainer.” Especially when there are obvious disadvantages to revolvers in general and the Smith & Wesson Model 60 in particular.

Statistically and practically speaking, the ability to reliably hit what you’re aiming at—say, a person trying to kill you—is more important than the remote chance that your [well maintained] handgun will go “click” instead of “bang.” With the Model 60, accuracy at combat distances is not a ballistic slam-dunk.

I’m not saying the Model 60′s trigger pull is heavy, but have you ever tried lifting an SUV with your index finger? Nestling the go-pedal in your distal joint affords a smoother pull—but only just. Jerry Miculek could shoot the eye out of Birchwood Casey zombie target at ten yards with a Model 60. The rest of us, not. Weak-handed, inexperienced shooters? Not at all. Not even close.

This despite the Model 60′s accuracy-enhancing heft. The handgun weighs-in at 24.5 ounces. A Model 60 with a 3″ barrel [shown] loaded with .38-caliber rounds eliminates recoil issues for all but the most squeamish shooter. The 60′s four-finger rubber handle provides the kind of secure grip denture makers dream about. If the Model 60′s blade front site wasn’t black (on black) and the trigger was a bit easier . . .

Fired single-action, the Model 60 makes mortal men into Miculeks. You (and people less talented than you) can put three out of five bullets through the same hole at five yards. Gun gurus don’t recommend shooting a revolver single action—ever. Needless to say, the Model 60′s double-action accuracy problem gets decidedly worse when you load it with the [otherwise] ideal self-defense caliber: .357.

There’s the second major difference between ye olde Model 60 and the one sitting on my desk: the words “S&W .357 MAGNUM” etched into the barrel’s left side.

If you fail to stop a threat with five .357 hollow-point bullets, there’s only one possible explanation: you missed. In this case, it’s a perfectly credible excuse. The Model 60′s double-action trigger is heavy enough with .38′s. Empty a Model 60 loaded with .357′s as fast as you can (call it “point shooting” instead of “panic shooting”) and you can miss a target at three yards. I know. I did.

Again, shoot the Model 60 single action and it’s bullet on top of bullet. Bad guy down. BUT if you switch from double-action to single-action mode—and maybe even if you don’t—you WILL shoot a round without “meaning” to. Hence the gun guys’ stricture against cocking a revolver’s hammer when trouble comes knocking.

The Smith & Wesson Model 60 highlights a simple, inescapable fact: for most people, a revolver’s safety-oriented heavy ass trigger pull makes it a “belly gun.” At bad breath distances, you can aim a wheelgun towards the bad guy Jack Ruby-style and pull the trigger and eliminate the threat. Unlike a semi, you can even put it against the bad guy’s body, pull the trigger and git ‘er done. Only . . .

You really don’t want to shoot a bad guy at bad breath distance (think knife). The more real estate between you and the life-threatening perp the better. By the same token, the more distance ‘twixt you and your foe, the greater the need for accuracy. The less you want to be carrying a Smith & Wesson Model 60 revolver—especially with .357s on board.

If you’re a casual shooter looking for close-in armed self-defense, a hammerless stainless Smith & Wesson 642 firing hollow point .38s is a more sensible choice. The 642′s smaller handle’s not good, but the smaller gun’s more concealable, lighter and less of a bother to brandish than the Model 60. If you want a bedside revolver, the next-size-up 686 is considerably more intimidating and vastly more controllable—even firing 357s.

To paraphrase Inspector Callahan in Magnum Force, a man’s got to know his gun’s limitations. The five-shot Smith & Wesson Model 60 is what it is: a beautiful, superbly made handgun that can fire maximum protection .357 rounds. Whose owner is well advised to treat his pricey revolver to a quality trigger job, STAT.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Smith & Wesson Model 60
Caliber: .38 Special/.357 Magnum
Capacity: 5 rounds
Material: stainless steel frame, stainless steel cylinder
Weight empty: 24.5 ounces
Barrel Length: 3″
Overall length: 7.5″
Front sight: black blade
Rear sight: adjustable
Grip: synthetic
Action: single/double action
Frame size: J-frame (small), exposed hammer
Finish: satin stainless
Price: $759 msrp

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Style * * * * *
A classic.

Ergonomics (carry) * *
Slightly too big for pocket carry (exposed hammer too). When compared to the convenience of a smaller stainless hammerless snubbie, the Model 60′s “extra” accuracy and .357-compatibility’s not worth the hassle.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * * *
The Model 60′s four-finger grip sits in the hand like a baby in its mother’s arms. No recoil issues with .38s. None. Self-defense .357s are more than merely manageable.

Reliability * * * *
As long as you clean it and love it, it will not let your down. Unless the lock fails (star removed for not removing it).

Customize This * * *
The sooner you swap out/paint the black front blade, the better. Give serious thought to a professional trigger job. Actually, just get one.

OVERALL RATING * * * *
A timeless design still built like the proverbial brick shit-house, whose Sumo-class trigger pull works against it. Unless it doesn’t.

[TTAG's targets are supplied by Birchwood Casey]

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

38 Responses to Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 60

  1. avatarMikey says:

    Just about like an SP101, but giving two or so ounces. The SP’s grip soaks up the .357 recoil pretty well. And yeah, I rented a couple of Smiths at an indoor range in Seattle, a model 66 was so gummed up, I couldn’t fire it at all. Come to think about it, I had the same problem with an SP at the same session (being from out of town and needing to rent). I don’t know if it was just because I hadn’t had a chance to shoot for a while, but the LCP I tried really spanked my hand, and the Walther PK380 was snappy too. Just shows the need to get in frequent range time.

  2. avatarSkippy says:

    Interestingly, I just had a trigger job done on my m60 (2.25 barrel) a few weeks ago. My gunsmith noted that older revolver’s steel parts would wear in over time but stainless simply does not wear. For $60 he replaced the springs and polished the sear and other parts and now it shoots like a dream.

  3. avatarChris Dumm says:

    S&W trigger jobs are usually simple and affordable, and can turn a heavy factory pull into a tumbler of Kentucky bourbon: light, sweet and smooth.

  4. avatarRyan Finn says:

    It seems like most stock revolvers these days need Wolff springs and some strategic polishing before you can get a trigger pull that you could call decent. The older guns, like my Victory Model , just seem to have better triggers.

  5. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    This looks like 357 you let me shoot last night at AFS, and I really liked it. The double action was the stiffest I’ve ever tried, but the single action was terrific and it’s a really nice looking gun that fit my hand very well. This would make a great carry gun if it had a quality trigger job.

  6. avatarRalph says:

    The trigger is a typical, mediocre S&W bang switch. Heavy but smooth, it doesn’t creep but it stacks more than a farmer bailing hay. Then, just when your trembling hand is aching for relief, the trigger breaks like glass. To shoot this revolver accurately, you need either kung fu grip or a nice trigger job. The village smithy can remove the dreaded internal lock while he’s fixing the trigger. Once the trigger is refined and the lock is castrated, you will enjoy shooting one of the finest revolvers ever made.

  7. avatarmoe says:

    Thanks for the review. “Any why not” might be “And”?

  8. avatarSkippy says:

    P.S. Bobbed the hammer, too. No mo’ snags!

  9. avatarBob H says:

    Trigger job, bob the hammer, install a shield to send all the flame and debris forward (instead of out the sides) triple the capacity and you’d have a real weapon there.

    Just a little grumpy tonight. It will pass.

  10. avatarRebecca says:

    The gun itself is pretty nice looking. That handle – or grip, I guess – just looks weird. I wouldn’t buy that gun just because of the grip.

    • avatarMike says:

      I bought a set of lady smith wood grips on my new model 60 now its a pretty gun after that and a polish with flitz , shines now.

  11. avatarMack says:

    I know it is customary to complain about Smith triggers and to compare them to the revolvers of yore. Keep in mind however how many times the old revolvers have been fired and dry fired. Each time a revolver is cycled its parts are polished. This is particularly true of stainless guns.
    I have k frame that I purchased new in the early 80′s through to the present. Trigger pulls were never particularly good when new and all have improved.

    • avatarPatrick from Texas says:

      I agree. Dryfire practice not only polishes the internals, but also builds your trigger muscles. Two for one! It is especially important for revolvers. Otherwise, you can be unaware how much you are dipping the front sight during double action fire. I used to think that snapcaps were only used by the truly anal, but have realized that revolver reloading drills are useful as well.

      I have noticed something about S&W revolvers. Double action trigger pull gets better as the frame size increases. My model 29 has a much nicer trigger than my model 66. And yes, J-frames are a bit on the stiff side.

  12. avatarI_Like_Pie says:

    The “failures” you speak of are because of buildup between the forcing cone and the cylinder. Tolerances are tight and a .005 gap quickly gets gummed up after hundreds of rounds between cleanings.

    I think that one should clarify that these failures are not random events as in some semi-auto problems, but a simple maintenance item that can be 100% prevented.

  13. avatarStephen says:

    Rebecca,

    Not buying a classic wheel gun, like the Model 60, because you don’t like the looks of the grips is pretty silly. Just put some aftermarket grips on it and call it good. J-frames are easily modified, as far as grips go. And once you find the grips that work for you, you’ve got a friend for life.

  14. avatarShannon says:

    I have 2 older model 60s ~ one with a bobbed hammer, one without. I’m looking to swap the bob out for a standard hammer, but have had trouble finding out whether I should be using the .240 or the .375…any knowledge to share on this? Incidentally ~ my most favorite revolver…ever. ~Shannon

  15. avatarlarry says:

    i have a s&w 60 3″ barrel and a 640 they both shoot perfect. the trigger pull is no problem on either gun. grouping shots is a little wider with double action. with the 640 since it is hammerless is your only option. at 15 to 20 feet i still hit within 4 or 5 inches of dead center of the target. in real life you’re history. i think s&w got it right.

  16. avatarTroy says:

    I just purchased this S&W Model 60 and I agree that the heavy double action trigger pull is very discouraging. I do love the single action, and it is a very accurate way to shoot at the range BUT… I bought this as a CCW. One way to counter the heavy trigger pull and gain some accuracy is to change the grip to a Crimson Trace laser grip (like I did) but I think I will still get a good trigger job. I am debating getting it bobbed but I will be removing the internal lock too. I use gun locks so I feel this is a pointless and potentially disastrous redundancy. In any case I am happy with the purchase; will be happier when I take it to the smith. Happy shooting all!

  17. avatarCobra21 says:

    One of the most beneficial gun reviews I’ve read.

  18. avatarlarry says:

    you act like you are trying to hold a cannon, and trying to squeeze the bumper off that
    SUV. i shoot my model 60 with 3″ barrel all the time. i never have a problem hitting any target at any distance. i put 50 to 100 rounds through it every time i go to the range.
    it has yet to fail. i clean it after every trip to the range (like you should). and i promise you, i would 100% count on this gun in a life or death situation. and i also shoot 110gr or
    125gr 357 magnums with no problem. this is one of the best and most accurate guns on
    the market. hands down. (no trigger job,) ( no bobbed hammer.)

  19. avatarDave says:

    I have a 3″ Model 60-4 from the early ’70s, stamped for .38 Spl. only. The DA trigger pull is ideal for a defense gun — heavy enough to prevent inadvertent firing if your finger has strayed to the trigger, but not so heavy as to be inaccurate. The SA pull approaches target quality. I have replaced the ramp front sight with Smith’s fiber optic sight, and it serves as a reference point for instinct shooting from the isosceles stance with the revolver at eye level and eyes focused on the target. The Winchester Silvertip .38 Spl. defense load with the “flying ashtray” hollow point is accurate and manageable — I wouldn’t want to shoot .357s from a 3″ barrel. One drawback: it’s hard to find CCW holsters for J-frames with barrels longer than 2″. The Uncle Mike IWB holster in size “0″ works.

  20. avatarJoe says:

    I have the model 60 with a 4 inch barrel. I had to have a custom holster made because I could not find one anywhere. I had it made by Erik at Sideguard Holsters. See a pic of his awesome work here: http://home.roadrunner.com/~joeschmucker/MyGun.html The only problem I have is that when I shoot 357 rounds, the spent cartridges are REALLY hard to eject. 38spls are fine. I think the 357 cartridges expand at the front making it hard to eject. I actually pushed the cylinder off a little before I realized it was coming off. Anyone else have this issue? Any suggestions on aftermarket grips that don’t cost half as much as the gun would be welcomed.

  21. avatarL F Miller says:

    With regard to deactivating the lock on the newer models: I’ve seen warnings about a modified weapon exacerbating the legal nightmare of a defensive shooting. Something to think about…?

  22. avatarCharles A. Murphy says:

    I find the model 60 to be a great gun….I think the writer’s conclusions are off allot. I find this gun to be easy to conceal, easy to control, and incredibly accurate (head shots at 30 yards). I find the trigger to be smooth and really nice. I’ve shot many many many revolvers and the 60 is a gem of a shooter and probably the best kept secret in the CCW market. I think the writer tested a lemon

    • avatardavid ross says:

      Charles… considering a model 60… for in-the-woods carry as well. have you ever shot it with 180gr or 200gr ammo?
      Thanks

      • avatartony l asher says:

        I carry model 60 3 inch with hi vis. front sights for conc. carry everyday ,I find it to be very comfortable and accurate .I can hit consistantly in double action up to 20 yards and single action up to 40 yards I also have used it to take small ,I once shot a rabid raccoon at 40 yards not once but twice I am very pleased with the s.w. 60

  23. avatarRuss Ragsdale says:

    I got the model 60 Lady Smith in 357. The gun’s grip is designed for a woman’s hand, but is also suitable for a man’s hand if it isn’t extra large. 38spl+P loads feel like nothing, however, 357 loads are quite noticable. I decided to try something in between. I loaded up some 38spl+P nickle cases with 7 grains of Bullseye and a SPM primer behind a Honady 125 grain XTP . . . MOST EXCELLENT RESULTS!! Nice and stout, but not too strong. I love it and so does my wife. She still prefers 38spl+P loads for target practice. What a nice little revolver.

    • avatarJohn says:

      Are you sure you mean 7 grains of bullseye in a .38 special case? The load I’m using from my Lyman manual lists a max of 3.7, if I remember correctly, for .38 +p with a 158 grain lead semi wadcutter. If I’m not mistaken, 7 ish grains of bullseye is for 357 cases. Anyway, I just didn’t want someone to load that up without checking it first.

      I have a model 60 pro, and love the feel and concealability of, but have been having a hard time shooting accurately. In addition, I’m having major leading of the barrel with my lightly-loaded .38 reloads, with speer lead bullets. In the process of trying to figure it out. I put a fiber optic front sight on, but that’s harder to shoot then the stock one, because the front sight blade is rounded, and not perfectly symmetrical, which makes it harder to center when you can’t see the red dot (as opposed to the squared off stock front sight). I’ve never had such a hard time shooting a gun accurately. Maybe I just need to keep playing around with bullet weights/charges.

      • avatarJohn says:

        Update on my 3″ model 60 pro. Who knows if anyone’ll ever read this, but maybe it will help somebody. My biggest success yet has been to ditch the factory grips for good. The ones on the 60 pro look beautiful, but they are useless. The gun shifts in the hand with every shot, even with .38s. I have some wood hogue grips with finger grooves that stay in place better. Rubber hogues were even more comfortable, but they really gripped on my shirt when carrying iwb.

        I also ditched the soft speer swaged lead bullets. Never use these. If you must, invest in a lewis lead remover and be prepared to clean lots of lead out of your barrel, forcing cone, and cylinder throats. I’m finding that 125 gr XTPs shoot accurately and are manageable in 38+p and medium .357 loads. 140 and 158 gr recoil much more in this little gun. I have had some success also, with some harder cast 158 gr SWC, over very light charges of bullseye, 3 gr. They shoot softly and accurately, with very minimal leading. At 4-ish gr of bullseye, they were leading more.

        With better grips, practice, and ammo experimenting, it’s starting to turn into the nice little shooter I was hoping it would be!

  24. avatarjohn novak says:

    I won in a raffle, a new in the box model 60 357 . It has been threw the performance center at S+W and is prefect. Stainless steel model. I would like to know the value of this gun. Anyone have a idea?

    • avatarJoe Schmucker says:

      I paid about 5 or 600 for mine (used but in perfect condition) about 2 years ago.

      Sweet gun and very very concealable.

      Joe

      • avatarJoe Schmucker says:

        I just read the Posted on July 9, 2011 by Robert Farago article at the top of this column. I agree with everything Robert said. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has a hell of a time being accurate with double action .357 rounds in it. I thought it was just me! I am getting a trigger job and the hammer bobbed too.

  25. avatarJoe Schmucker says:

    I just read the Posted on July 9, 2011 by Robert Farago article at the top of this column. I agree with everything Robert said. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has a hell of a time being accurate with double action .357 rounds in it. I thought it was just me! I am getting a trigger job and the hammer bobbed too.

  26. avatarChip says:

    Funny, they fixed it in the Model 60LS, yes Lady Smith. I bought one for my wife and she even let me shoot it. Great gun but less pull than the regular mod60 so smoother feel. Great release pulling DA. SA is like butter. If it didn’t say
    lady, I might even carry it lol

    Just so we are ALL CLEAR, the second picture on this thread at the top is not and I repeat NOT the proper grip for a revolver. That is a good way to lose the tip of you fonger or at least your fingerprints.

    • avatarJoe Schmucker says:

      Could you clarify why that is not a proper grip? How else would you grip it? Not being a jackass, I’m fairly new to the gun myself and I don’t know what is being done incorrectly.

  27. avatarRuss Ragsdale says:

    I marked the 38+p nickle cases (yes 38) prior to loading them to soft 357 standard with 7 grains of bullseye. (the 38 special case is just fine for the load, it is the 38 special frame that would not be). I use that load for 125 grain XTP hollow points. It is a fine round. If you own a 38 special as well as the 357 lady smith, then you would not want to make this load as it would then be possible for someont to accidently load up the special with the short 357 loads.

  28. avatarShelby Lynn says:

    You guys sound like a bunch of pussies. I own a model 60 with a 3″ barrel (double/single action). I have no trouble with the trigger. My accuracy is superior, and at far more than 5-10 feet. The grip is outstanding. I wouldn’t own anything else.

  29. avatarBen Sabater says:

    I own an early model 60 with PM grips and a 1.9 inch barrel. Its chambered solely for regular 38 specials and not the +P. Been with me for three years, bought it from a good friend of mine. I’ve shot hundreds of rounds from it already and still its condition never diminished a bit. Accuracy is quite good and it is a very comfortable gun to shoot. Glad I have one like it for concealed carry and personal defense.

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