IMG_0060

When I wrapped my hands around the diminutive Smith & Wesson Model 60, my first thought was “Honey, I Shrunk The 686!” As I turned it over in my hands, I started to  wonder if Rick Moranis had accidentally pointed his shrink-ray at a real gun, because the Model 60 looks and feels like a 2/3 scale model of my favorite .357 Magnum. But trust me: it’s a real gun. In fact it’s a fire-breathing fistful of ballistic fury, and you’ll use two fists if you know what’s good for you . . .

Overview:

The Model 60 is an all-steel .357 Magnum version of Smith & Wesson’s pocket-sized ‘J’ frame revolver. Unlike the Model 36 Chief’s Special or the hammerless Model 640, the Model 60 is not designed for deep concealment. It features precision adjustable sights,  slender but full-length grips, a 3″ barrel (on our test gun), a smooth narrow trigger, and a petite exposed hammer. It feels in hand like a miniature Model 686, holding only five shots instead of six or seven.

This photo isn’t staged or Photoshopped; it’s an unintentional double-exposure from an iPhone camera (don’t ask me how). It shows the sharp, quick recoil that this gun delivers with .357 Magnum defensive ammunition.

Ergonomics

With the exception of the snappy recoil, the Model 60 handles and operates more like a full-sized revolver than a pocket snubnose. I’ve always been a fan of 3-inch revolver barrels; I’ve found them to provide a decent compromise between accuracy, ballistics, concealability and recoil. The Model 60’s 3-inch tube only confirms my opinion.

The double-action trigger is heavy but smooth; I’d estimate it at around twelve pounds. This sounds awfully heavy, but the smoothness makes it feel much lighter, and it delivered some very accurate double-action groups.

This double-action group shows what this gun will do at seven yards when you have the luxury of taking your time between shots. When you’re in a hurry, groups open up fast; but I’m skipping ahead to the ‘Accuracy’ section. Back to ergonomics . . .

In single-action mode, the trigger is an absolute jewel.  No, it’s not actually a Jewell Trigger, and it’s not actually jeweled, either, but you’ll treasure it because it’s fine and smooth and it breaks like a crystal rod at exactly four pounds. While useless for defensive use, such a fine S/A trigger is ideal for recreational shooting and could make this pistol a viable option for small game hunting. The narrow, low-profile hammer is adequately checkered for secure cocking, but S&W lightly de-horns the edges and rounds off the rear so it’s not egregiously snaggy on clothing.

I couldn’t fully evaluate the carry ergonomics of this gun, because I lacked a proper holster to carry it in. If you’ve got a yen for the Model 60, however, rest assured that a proper holster (or several of them) will be easy to find. It will fit any J-frame holster with an open muzzle, although you’ll want to be sure that the Model 60’s tall front sight won’t get hung up in your holster of choice.

Sights

The fully-adjustable target sights are very precise–a real bonus on a surprisingly accurate gun like this–but they’re small and difficult to acquire in many lighting conditions. If this were my gun I’d dab them with fluorescent Sight Bright for a quick and cheap fix. If I were ordering a new Model 60 I’d consider the factory Crimson Trace laser grips or fiber-optic front sights. Either (or both) would be excellent choices, although the Crimson Trace grips are pricey.

Even these dark target sights are worlds better than the godawful ‘ramp and groove’ sights that most snubbies have.

Size and Weight

Some alloy-framed snubbies (like the Model 642) weigh just under a pound. The all-steel Model 60 weighs in at just under 1.5 pounds empty. I wouldn’t complain; this is pretty svelte for a pistol in this ballistic class, and it doesn’t beat the stuffing out of you the way most 2-inch J-frame .357s do. It’s a full pound lighter than its big brother, the 4-inch Model 686, and you’ll love not having to carry that extra pound on your hip.

But if you drop the hammer on full-powered .357 loads (remember that double-exposure photo?) you might wish you had it back.

The hammer is small and narrow and lightly de-horned, but it will still snag in your pocket. Don’t bother to test for yourself: at over seven inches long, the Model 60 is not a pocket gun. It’s more than 1.5 inches longer than most subcompact 9mms, twelve ounces heavier, an inch taller, and half an inch thicker around the cylinder. Even with a shorter 2-inch barrel, the Model 60’s comfortable but bulky grips would wedge the gun in your pocket tighter than [insert risque simile here] and you’ve still got the sharp-edged rear sight and the hammer to think about. So just, don’t, m’kay?

It may not be a true pocket gun like a Model 640, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good CCW pistol. Like all J-frames, the Model 60 carries discreetly and comfortably in an IWB or OWB holster, and its slim 5-round cylinder won’t dig painfully into your kidney. The bulky (yet comfortable) grips might be a drawback, depending on your size and build, but you can swap them for shorter, non-rubbery grips cheaply and easily. Any J-frame grips will fit.

Accuracy

I already let slip that the Model 60 is exceptionally accurate for a gun of its size and weight. Offhand two-inch groups at seven yards were no problem in slow D/A shooting, and I’m pretty sure that the slight vertical stringing was caused by the heavy D/A trigger. Single-action accuracy was only a little bit better at close ranges.

At 15 yards, our D/A groups opened up to 4-6 inches, while S/A accuracy stayed sub-minute of beer can. Loaded with mild .38 loads (to avoid meat destruction) this pistol is a viable small-game hunter out to beyond 50 feet.

It’s a pretty mild shooter with .38 Specials, but quick double-action firing with defensive .357 loads is an exhilarating endeavor. At barroom fighting distances, Wayne and I consistently emptied our meager cylinder-full of Winchester .357 PDX ammo inside a six- to eight-inch circle, firing as quickly as we could bring the gun back on target. According to the Rabbi, that’s acceptable combat accuracy for a handgun.

Wayne’s no wuss: even with moderate-recoil defensive ammunition, this gun really jumps. It pounds your hand solidly, in a way that’s less painful than most subcompact 9mms, but produces more muzzle flip and a slower recovery time between shots.

With defensive-grade .38+P ammo, you get less recoil, quicker recovery time, and most, but not all, of the ballistic devastation on target. We shot a handful of standard-pressure .38s through the Model 60, and it was a pussycat.

Fit And Finish

Like just about all classic Smith & Wesson revolvers, the fit and finish on this Model 60 is extremely good. The external finish of the gun is marvelous, and the stainless steel is polished to a gorgeous sheen. The only flaws I could notice were very minor ones: a very slight looseness in the grip panels which persisted even when tightened fully down, and a slight mismatch of the external contours of the front face of the cylinder crane and frame.  The crane and frame are starting to show signs of wear, and their external surfaces don’t quite match up anymore.

Ballistics

Wayne and I were both surprised by the good ballistics it produced, compared to two other Smith & Wesson .357 revolvers. The 3-inch barrel doesn’t carry the same velocity penalty that shorter snubby barrels impose; it behaves more like a full-size 4-inch revolver. I’ll reprint the ballistics numbers from our Performance Center 686 review here:

Bullet/Gun    60-3 (this gun)″         686-4″        686-6

125-gr JHP        1140                              1244            1187

158-gr JHP        1015                              1090            1031

If these numbers seem a bit slower than the hotrod velocities some .357s can generate, it’s because we were shooting defensive .357s designed for minimal muzzle flash and controllable recoil. I’m still surprised that this little 3-inch Model 60 spit out its slugs only a nudge slower than the Performance Center 686 with twice the barrel length.

I wish I could find my feeler gauges to prove it, but these velocity numbers indicate that the Model 60’s cylinder gap is properly tight. Unfortunately, the cylinder lockup is not so tight. When you press (not too hard) on the side of the cylinder with the hammer cocked, the crane already shows more flex and wobble than my quarter-century-old Model 686.

Durability, or, A Short Lesson In Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum History

This brings us to one of the unavoidable disadvantages of most small-frame .357 revolvers: durability. The classic Model 27, introduced in 1935, was built on Smith & Wesson’s large N-frame. That first .357 was much stronger than the cartridge required, and as a result they basically never wore out no matter how much they were shot, or with what ammo.

The Model 27 was large and very expensive to manufacture. After 20 years, the immense popularity of the .357 cartridge led Smith & Wesson to engineer smaller and less-expensive handguns for it. The medium-sized K frame (used by the classic .38 Special Model 10) was the basis for the also-classic Model 19 and Model 66 revolvers, introduced in 1955 and 1957.

They were smaller and lighter than the Model 27. A 4-inch Model 19 weighed in at 36 ounces. The K-frame .357s were designed and marketed for police use. The po-po complained that their wheelguns wore out fairly quickly on a diet of heavy .357 Magnum loads. In particular, the frames would stretch slightly and the cylinder crane (swingarm) would loosen until the cylinder didn’t index properly.

For the last half-century, conventional wisdom has held that you shouldn’t shoot too many .357 Magnums through your K-frame Smith & Wesson. While they don’t mind an occasional box of full-power .357s, they’ll shoot themselves loose after a few thousand rounds of them. For decades Smith & Wesson ignored this problem and told shooters to buy the expensive Model 27 if they wanted something more rugged.

In the meantime, an upstart gunmaker named Bill Ruger started selling millions of ridiculously strong, competitively-priced .357 revolvers that never seemed to wear out or break down, and Smith & Wesson finally got the message.

Smith & Wesson’s answer to the Ruger Security Six was a long time in coming, but it stands as one of the finest revolvers ever made: the medium-large L-frame Model 586 and 686 in 1980. They beefed up the K-frame with an extra quarter-pound of forged steel around the frame, cylinder and crane. The result was a nearly indestructible heavy-duty revolver. It may not be as elegant as a bright-blue Model 19, but my own beloved 686 has fired many thousands of rounds of .357 Magnum over the last quarter-century. If anything, it shoots better now than the day it was born.

The Model 60 and other J-frame .357s move against this trend of larger and more rugged .357 revolvers. The result is a very trim and handsome gun, but it asks a lot from modern metallurgy to expect that a small-frame pistol to tolerate a steady diet of heavy .357 loads when medium-frame revolvers couldn’t.

…And Back To Our Review

I don’t know the history of this particular sample gun. For all I know other writers may have already put a few thousand rounds of .357 through it. This would be more .357s than any non-masochistic shooter would want to fire through any gun so small and jumpy. In any case, it’s not valid to judge an entire design based on the unknown use and abuse of a single pistol. But…

Our sample Model 60 is already starting to show signs of crane wear. Its eventual owner would be well advised to shoot it primarily with .38 Specials. Full-power .357 Magnum ammo shoots well (if violently) but it’s just not for everyday use in a gun like this. Like steak dinners and single-malt scotch, they’re best saved for special occasions.

I would treat any *new* Model 60 as though it were a sturdy .38 Special revolver, with the added bonus that it can also fire any SAAMI-standard .357 ammo you’ve got the minerals to load it with once in a while. If you plan to shoot industrial quantities of .357 Magnums each year, you’ll want a bigger gun. Both it and your wrists will thank you.

Reliability

Revolvers are supposed to be 100% reliable, and our sample hasn’t lived up to expectations. Farago experienced a trigger failure with this very pistol a few months ago:

His problem was caused by extreme crud buildup in/on the gun after 400 rounds of firing without cleaning. It disappeared after a vigorous cleaning, so I’m thinking that it was caused by a bit of crud jamming up the hammer safety lock mechanism. I’m calling it a maintenance-caused failure, since 400 rounds is a hell of a lot of shooting for a gun like this.

OTOH, I’ve never experienced a S&W revolver FTF of any kind before (besides a few squib loads). The Model 60 gave me my first. While firing single-action, I cocked the gun and pulled the trigger. We heard a ‘click’ instead of a ‘bang’ and discovered that the cylinder had failed to advance. Instead of indexing the next chamber and firing a fresh round, the gun had dropped the hammer on the same spent case that had just been fired.  The one spent cartridge had its primer nearly caved in (from two solid firing pin hits) while the other four rounds were untouched.

This particular malfunction isn’t necessarily fatal (all I had to do was pull the trigger again and the gun fired as normal) but it shouldn’t happen. Ever. Without a gunsmith’s advice, it’s my suspicion that the cylinder crane rattle is starting to cause indexing problems.

The Model 60, in its original .38 Special chambering, is a dependable revolver that has passed the test of time. The recent ‘Internal Safety Lock’ unfortunately has not. If this were my revolver I’d schlep it to a gunsmith immediately to have the safety lock mechanism removed and melted into slag. Gunsmiths do it all the time (the removal, not the slagging) and I’d also look into replacing the crane. That’s not a cheap job, unless it’s under warranty.

Conclusion

The Model 60 represents something nearly unheard-of in today’s highly segmented handgun market: an ideal general-purpose handgun. It’s surprisingly accurate and easy to shoot, especially with .38 Specials. It also gives more experienced handgunners the option of sometimes firing full-power .357 Magnums. Even the most experienced shooters won’t want to shoot .357 Hydra-Shocks all day long (and neither will the gun). But the Model 60 isn’t about ballistics, or firepower, or pinpoint accuracy: it’s about amazing versatility.

The Model 60 is a pistol you can carry discreetly on the street as a capable defensive handgun, or carry openly in the field as a small but powerful tool for hunting and survival. Shooting mild .38 Specials, it’s outstanding for recreational shooting, introducing new shooters to the sport, and even small-game hunting. Smaller-handed and beginning shooters will have no quarrel with its weight and grip size, and with .38s they’ll have no problems with its recoil either. Loaded with heavy .357 Magnums, it punches well above its weight and delivers terminal ballistics that no other concealable handgun can touch. (Except a compact .45 ACP, that is.)

It ain’t perfect: it’s heavy for a snubnose, and five rounds of anything isn’t a lot of firepower for a defensive handgun. But these are reasonable tradeoffs for a gun that serves well in so many roles.

Specifications

Action: DA/SA Revolver
Capacity: 5 rounds
Caliber: .38/.357
Material: Stainless Steel
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 7.5 inches
Weight Unloaded: 24 ounces
Price: $475 street, plus shipping and transfer fees

Ratings (out of five)

Accuracy *  * * 1/2
I wouldn’t normally rate an almost-snubnose for accuracy, but this one is accurate enough for small-game hunting.

Styling * * *  **
The world’s most elegant revolver.  Only smaller.

Ergonomics (Carry) * * * *
You’ll hardly notice it’s there, but it’s not quite perfect: subtract a star for the weight, exposed hammer and longer barrel.

Ergonomics (Firing) * *  **
Mild .38 recoil is a delight; good grips make snappy .357 recoil more comfortable than expected.  Kudos for the smooth (if heavy) D/A trigger and superb S/A trigger.

Reliability *  * * 1/2
Remove the Infernal Safety Lock for four stars, but revolvers should be perfectly reliable and this one wasn’t.

Customize This * * *
Smaller grips and better sights are about the only options you’ve got.

Overall Rating *  * * *
An elegant and well-made pistol of amazing versatility.

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26 Responses to Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 60 .357 Magnum (Take Two)

  1. Nice to see another revolver review. As to the .38/.357 thing, there’s a factor I would call “redundant utility” that has crept into a lot of products sold in the US. “Redundant utility” is where a product is given a capability that isn’t really needed, but is used to help distinguish the product from its competitors. A good example from the car world would be an all-wheel drive car that is marketed in the sun belt. The AWD capability isn’t really needed, but a customer might convince himself that he is getting “more for his money” by buying the AWD car over the FWD version – and the fact that he doesn’t really need it is irrelevant to his buying decision.

    Similarly, by making this gun in .357, S&W is doing two things: Distinguishing it from their less-expensive .38 only models, and matching the beefier competition (i.e., Ruger), by offering a .357 capability (which Ruger does as well with its SP101 snubbies.)

    The .38 doesn’t get much respect from the gun world, but most of the horror stories you hear about felons hit with multiple rounds are from the days when a 158gr Round-nose lead bullet or a FMJ was considered state-of-the-art. With modern advances in bullet design (hydro-shok, silvertip, SXT, etc), there’s no reason the .38 should be less effective than the 9mm, especially in +p form which any modern revolver can shoot.

  2. As a dyed-in-the-wool Smith & Wesson weenie, I’ve always wanted to love the Model 60, but never could. It’s too large and heavy when compared to the 642 and 638 Airweights that I’ve carried over the years, and too small when compared to the incomparable 686 or (be still my foolish heart) the 686+. Concealment of the Model 60 is possible but not easy. Likewise, shooting .357Mags is possible but not easy. The entire package is a compromise between high power and smallish size, but the Model 60 doesn’t truly accomplish either one with aplomb.

    Well, one man’s bad compromise is another man’s ideal general-purpose handgun, and a lot of people seem to find that this revolver suits their needs. For a revolver that doesn’t know what it wants to be, that’s saying a lot.

  3. Martin:

    Your point about ‘redundant utility’ is well made. The marketing concept is similar to the ‘maximum utility imperative’ that motivates exurban truck buyers to spend thousands (or tens of thousands) of extra dollars on ‘Heavy-Duty’ trucks that even most construction foremen don’t need and couldn’t afford. Diesel engines, heavy towing transmissions and 1-ton chassis are *not* required for hauling the occasional load of bark chips from Home Depot.

    The same goes for guns or any type of theoretically useful tool. How much is enough, and how much is too much?

    For the suburban shooter whose pistol will live in an IWB holster and on the nightstand, there’s no reason to pay the weight or price penalty for the Model 60 over a .38 Special Airweight. He won’t need the extra power, and the extra blast and recoil will reduce instead of increase his defensive shooting proficiency.

    The .357 option is a more worthwhile consideration for the outdoorsman who carries a pistol for defense against bears, wolves or mountain lions. With heavy hard-cast solid bullets from Buffalo Bore or Grizzly, the .357 is effective (but not optimal) against even big game at close range. The muzzle blast and recoil are severe, but the muzzle blast is probably an advantage for deterring wild animals.

    Since I personally tend toward the ‘outdoorsman’ side of the spectrum (and I’ve already got ample quantities of .357s sitting around already for my 686 and Marlin carbine) the extra $150 and the extra 8 ounces would be a good choice for me.

    Take the ‘outdoors’ and the ‘already have the ammo’ factors out of the equation, and the .357 offers little marginal utility to many shooters. For the purely defensive CCW shooter, the Airweight .38 is a better choice. As a nightstand gun, a police trade-in Model 10 in .38 Special is very, very hard to beat.

    • I have a 686 and a model 19. The Model 19 I bought new when I was working security in the 80’s and it’s still gorgeous, apart from some holster wear.

      The 686 I bought a few years ago and it’s my “knockabout” gun. It goes with me when I travel, and I feel OK shooting full-power mag loads in it. The 19 will shoot mag loads but I don’t like to do it, so for my purposes, it’s just a beefy .38.

      I honestly think the L frame is a little too big and heavy to feel “natural.” It’s a honkin’ big hogleg that will shoot a powerful round, but I’m not as emoitionally attached to it as I am to my K frame 19.

      • The 19 is the Jedi lightsaber to the 686’s laser blaster: “A more elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

  4. I do like the small frame, longer barrel (3-4″) revolvers for use a field guns. Carrying something like a 686 or a GP100 gets very heavy, very quickly. The model 60 is a great gun, but I have to say I like the 3″ SP101 just a tad better. The 60 has a much better trigger, but the additional few ouces of the SP101 and the larger grip (both in length and width) soak up recoil better.

    On a side note, I have always carried guns like these loaded with 38 special +P and kept a speedloader of .357 near by just in case.

  5. I have an S&W scandium .357 “Kit Gun” with a 3″ barrel, fiber optic front sight and V-notch adjustable rear sight. Weighs about 12 oz empty, which makes it a great ATV- dirt bike carry gun.

    It isn’t bad with .38+P ammo, but shooting it with .357 loads is – shall we say – fairly painful. It has zero muzzle flip – all of the recoil comes straight back into the base of your thumb. If you want to know what it feels like without buying one, have a friend take a 2-lb ball-peen hammer and give you a good swift smack on the base of your thumb, as if you were holding the revolver.

    Best holster I have found for it is one made for that model by Milt Sparks, of Boise, ID. Well worth the 6-month wait.

  6. Usable with today’s reduced pressure SAAMI spec ammunition. (See <.38-44 level ballistics in article)
    Reliable after surgical removal of the rube goldberg Internal Lock.
    What's not to like?

  7. Unfortunately, the Mdl. 60 is one of many downsized .357 revolvers that led to downloading the cartridge. The current 35,000 psi standard is significantly lower than the former 45,000 cup rating.

  8. I do accept as true with all the ideas you have presented in your post.
    They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are too quick for novices.
    May just you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thank you for the post.

  9. The 3″ Model 60’s are fantastic little guns. You have the ability to use the very hottest .357 Magnun defensive loads – ideal for home defense or camping in drunk Indian and bear country – or, any of the excellent +P .38 spc loads like Hornady Critical Defense – or, cheap and light recoiling .38 wadcutters for plinking and small game. You add a Crimson Trace laser grip and a good concealment holster, you have a deadly CCW rig that leaves no brass at the scene. I also recommend a “super-tune” and spring set to lighten-up that double action pull, but otherwise, it’s 2 thumbs way up.

  10. The review is very good to point out the flaws of the J-Frame in 357 Magnum – something you don’t often see in reviews where the gun is supplied by the manufacturer. While the S&W J-Frame design is fine for standard 38 Special loads, in 357 Magnum, everything the S&W Model 60 does, the 357 Magnum Ruger SP101 (in 2.25,” 3,” and 4″ barrels) does much better.

    The 4″ SP101 has adjustable sights like the 3″ Model 60, and a gunsmith can add adjustable sights to the 2.25″ and 3″ if desired. The SP101 design is simply stronger than the Model 60 side-plate design, and the gun will not wear out in the average owner’s lifetime of shooting 38 +P or factory .357 Magnum.
    Any mechanical engineer or technician will tell you that the S&W side-plate revolver design is simply weaker than Ruger’s double action revolver design (SP101 & GP100) – unless is is beefed up substantially with more metal in the stress areas as on the larger frame S&W revolvers. There isn’t any informed debate about this. The J-Frame just isn’t up to the 357 Magnum task. S&W really shouldn’t have ever chambered the J-Frame for 357 Magnum. It just isn’t strong enough for the thousands of 357 rounds a regular “every-other-month” range shooter might put through the gun over many years. It’s fine for 38 Special and perhaps Special +P, but no more than that. And while the SP101 is stronger, it only weighs an ounce or two more than the same barrel sized Model 60.

    Any handy person can also take apart the SP101 to the three subassemblies for complete cleaning and lubrication with the instructions in the Ruger own’er’s manual. With the Model 60, owner disassembly is not advised.

    For $20 total, an easy-to-install Wolff or Wilson Combat 10-lb hammer spring (from Midway, Brownells, and others) and a shim set (sold by a gunsmith on eBay) can be purchased to make the SP101 trigger as good as the Model 60. And a very light polishing of the internal parts with metal polishing compound (without removing any significant metal) makes things even better. Easy instructions for this are available on the Net or any decent gunsmith can do the whole business even better for about $50 total.

    Ruger also used to make 2.25″ (and I think 3″) short barrel six-shot 22LR versions of the SP101, which were great for low-cost practice and training new shooters. I have one of those as well as a 357 Magnum SP101. I believe the newer 22LR SP101 is eight-shot and has a 4″ barrel. I wish they still made the 22LR snub nose too.

    Some people may like the feel of the Model 60 over the SP101. I’d advise trying them both in the store with snap caps and even at a store range if possible. They do feel different in the hand even when similar four-finger decent grips are installed. But be advised that you should should stick to 38 Special and 38 +P to avoid future problems. For most self defense applications 38 +P is fine. However, If you really want to be able to shoot 357 Magnum in a small frame revolver (like for a hiking gun in black bear territory), the SP101 is the only rational choice currently available.

    • Are you a Ruger salesman? The snub model 60 is my knock around gun, and the SP101 is my father’s gun. He likes his; I like mine. I shoot full house .357 rounds all the time, all day sometimes through my model 60, and it is holding up just fine. The great great grandkids might agree with you, but I seriously doubt Ill be able to shoot this revolver loose in this lifetime. SP101 for end of the world, never going to find a gunsmith in the apocalyptic wastelands? Yeah, alright, it probably is more durable way down the road. The smith is more elegant, has a better trigger, and isn’t as heavy. Its about tradeoffs. Some folks complain about snappy recoil with this gun, but it seems like a pea shooter to me. All steel and rubber grips seem more than enough to mitigate recoil to me. When you say things like ‘If you want to be able to shoot 357 in a small frame revolver…the SP101 is the only RATIONAL choice currently available’ you are quite mistaken.

      • The point is that the a Model 60 will (eventually) have wear problems earlier than an SP101 when shooting thousands of rounds of 357 Magnum (38 Special +P is fine in both guns). The wear mechanisms of the Smith & Wesson revolvers are well known by gunsmiths. Try a search on : Smith & Wesson + revolvers + problem. They will just eventually occur in this size S&W frame when only shooting mostly 357 Magnum. Most of them are repairable. The Ruger one-piece frame and cylinder lockup are just stronger, so that repairs due to wear are rare. It is just physics, material science, and engineering (rational stuff).

        • I would add a few things. There are advantages and disadvantages to all Ruger revolvers compared to the comparable Smith & Wesson revolvers. S&W revolvers generally have the advantage of much smoother double action trigger pulls. The Ruger GP100 has improved in this regard in recent years, but new SP101s I’ve tried still feel like they always have – somewhat stiff and with long travel; and they require a full release forward before they will cycle again (making two audible clicks). However, S&W revolvers generally have a very light single action “target style” trigger pull, which some people may find unsafe. The Ruger revolvers’ single action pull is smooth but it requires a more deliberate pull (which is safer).

          You can improve the Ruger trigger with a $10 lighter spring kit (from Wilson Combat or Wolff) , but it still won’t be as smooth without some gunsmith polishing of the internal parts, which might cost another $50. So if you don’t want to mess with this, I’d take the Model 60 and just use it mostly with 38 Special, and +P; and occasional 357 Magnum. If you want to shoot a lot of 357 Mag, you might as well step up to a 4″ Ruger GP100 or S&W 686 – and be A LOT more comfortable (less recoil and less muzzle blast).

          The S&W Model 60 and Ruger SP101 also feel quite different in the hand, even when they have similar grips installed. Most men find the stock SP101 grips too small, and swap them out for Pachmayrs (small, but wider and more rounded) or the larger Hogues (rubber or hard nylon). The current stock Model 60 grips look very much like the Hogue SP101 rubber grips. Trying both guns in a store is best (using safe handling practices of course.) If possible, take some snap caps into the store with you to try the single- and double-action trigger pulls – of course ask permission and let them inspect the snap caps first. Or better yet, buy a pack from the store, and they will feel better. Don’t dry fire the guns, i.e. without snap caps, even though it may be safe do do so. Gun stores don’t like this.

          There is no free lunch. With the SP101 you get a very high strength gun, but a stiff double action trigger pull that needs a spring swap and gunsmith work to smooth out. The Model 60 is not as strong, but has a much smoother double action pull (but also a lighter single action pull).

    • Comments on comparing the Model 60 and the Ruger SP101–

      Dave R. wrote:
      >>For $20 total, an easy-to-install Wolff or Wilson Combat 10-lb hammer spring (from Midway, Brownells, and others) and a shim set (sold by a gunsmith on eBay) can be purchased to make the SP101 trigger as good as the Model 60.

      You can make the SP101 double action pull similar to the Model 60 for under $10 with a replacement hammer spring and some dry firing. Wolff gunsprings (at gunsprings dot com) is now selling an 11 pound hammer spring that I don’t believe is part of their standard Ruger revolver spring kits, which usually include three springs designated something like 8, 10, and 12 pound. This 11 pound spring seems to be a good compromise to me for primer strike reliablity, safety, and improving the pull to be more like the Model 60. Wilson Combat uses three similar springs in their kits, but I’m not sure if they are also offering a separate 11 pound spring.

      According to Wolff the spring poundage numbers don’t correspond to the double action trigger pull you get, they are just nominal load designations for some spring compression distance. I’ve found that all three springs produce a lighter pull than the stock spring, with the one designated 12 pound being just a bit under stock. The stock DA pull on my older SP101 is definately lighter than 12 pounds when measured with a spring gage (more like 10.5 lb.). When I installed the Wolf “11 pound” spring it lightened up to around 9.5lb, and I haven’t had any light primer strikes. You definitely can get light strikes and no ignition on certain primers with the lightest 8 lb spring in the kits. Also, most people do not use the single light trigger return spring that is included in the kits since it may cause problems (you can search info on-line about this.) So you can just buy a couple of the 11 pound hammer springs for under $10 including shipping and have a spare.

      They are fairly easy to change out on the hammer spring strut with instructions on the net (check Wilson & Wolff websites maybe also). You just need to wear safety glasses and have block of wood with an indentation to compress the spring against. (Ruger revolvers are much easier for the non-gunsmith to work on that Smith & Wesson revolvers – though there are books on the S&Ws if you want to learn).

      I don’t think that installation of trigger and hammers shim kits are necessary, though it can smooth out the pull a little bit more. (They also obviously add more parts that you have to keep track of in disassembly.) And for most people, after installing the 11 pound spring, you can just do some dry firing practice with snap caps to smooth out the pull. There are instructions from gunsmiths on-line to do internals polishing, but it is possible to really screw this up and make the gun unsafe if you don’t know what you are doing. I’d leave any internals polishing to a gunsmith unlesss you’ve done similar work on guns before. For most people, just doing the hammer spring swap and the dry firing is fine. It probably won’t be quite as good as the DA pull of the Smith & Wesson, but it wil be close. The stock single action pull is fine at around 4.5 lb on the SP101s, and in my opinion, a little safer than the pulls on some Smiths, which can be quite light.

      Obviously, if possible you want to be be able to try both the S&W Model 60 and the Ruger SP101 at a range. There are some ranges now that have guns to rent for that purpose. Some gunshops even have a small indoor range to try out guns. I agree that that the SP101 and Model 60 feel somewhat different in the hand, so you may prefer one over the other just from the balance and feel. Most people do change out the small SP101 stock grips for the larger Pachmayr (bit larger) or Hogues (larger still, with finger grooves), unless they have very small hands. The stock rubber Model 60 grips are usually fine as is, though there are lots of larger J-frame grips available.

      Note that the SP101 only has adjustable sights in the new 4″ barrel version, and I think that 4″ gun is too nose heavy compared to the 3″ SP101 or 3″ Model 60. Yes, you can have adjustable sights installed by a gunsmith on the 3″ SP101, but it involves some milling machine work, drilling & tapping holes, etc., so is not cheap. It also takes a good gunsmith or the gun can obviously be damaged. So if accurate target shooting is important, the advantage of the stock adjustable sights on the Model 60 is considerable, especially making adjustments for different types of ammo and bullet weights from different manufacturers. If you are going to be shooting mostly 38 Special or 38 Special +P, the Model 60 is an advantage in that regard. On the other hand, fixed sights are obviously more durable and are better for concealed carry in fanny pack or purse, where the adjustable rear signt could snag on fabric. However, for concealed carry, the shorter barrelled versions of both guns are obviously preferable to the 3″ versions.

      • As far as comparing the the similar S&W and Ruger guns 357 / 38 Special guns…
        With the S&W Model 60 you can get get it in the Model 60 in:

        1. 3″ barrel with adjustable sights and black rubber grip
        2. 3″ barrel Pro Series, with angled barrel shroud/slab sided, with adjustable sights and wood grip (about $50 more than #1)
        3. 2-1/8″ barrel with fixed sights and black rubber grip
        4. 2-1/8″ barrel Model 60LS, Lady Smith engraved model with wood grip

        S&W also makes the similar Models 64 and 640 with 2-1/8″ barrel and rubber grips, with either a shroud on covering the sides of the hammer (single & double action) or the hammer covered (double action only). They are also all stainless steel like the Model 60s.

        For the SP101s in 357/38 (all stainless steel with black rubber grip, with plastic or wood grip inserts):
        1. 3-1/8″ barrel with fixed sights
        2. 2-1/4″ barrel with fixed sights
        3. 2-1/4″ barrel with fixed sights, double action only
        3. 4.2″ barrel with adjustable sights

        They are obviously both fine guns, and there really isn’t much reason to shoot 357 Magnum out of them unless needed for protection from large animals. The 38 Special +P loads are just fine for self defense, as are regular 38 Special for those who want less recoil. The Smith & Wesson guns are just a few ounces lighter than the Rugers for the similar barrel lengths, so there might be a slight difference in perceived recoil. If you want a good trigger “out of the box” without having to do the Ruger spring swap or having a gunsmith tune it for $60 or so, then go with the Smith & Wessons. The Smith & Wessons will probably be about $50 more in price.

        There is too much hype encouraging people to buy semi-autos. The S&W Model 60 and Ruber SP101 small frame revolvers are probably what the average person should get for home defense, so they don’t have to worry about the complications of a semi-auto. Revolvers are much simpler to use. The larger revolvers from Smith & Wesson and Ruger may actually be too heavy for some people to hold steady at arm’s length for any length of time.

        You can look at all the specs on the Ruger and Smith & Wesson websites. (On S&W, its under the J Frame section.) The actual retail prices at gun stores are about 80% (or less) of the suggested retail prices in the on-line catalogs (MSRP). I a gun shop is charging near MSRP, I’d go to a different shop.

        • The stainless steel hammer shrouded Smith & Wesson models are the Models 649 and 640, not Models 64 and 640 . The Model 64 is a larger K Frame 38 Special revolver. The guns with a shroud on the hammer like this, or with the hammer just bobbed – trimmed off like on the the double action only Ruger SP101 – are made to avoid any snagging of the hammer spur on clothing or if you are drawing from a pack or shoulder bag.

          The 2 1/8 inch barrel Lady Smith model also has fixed sights like the regular Model 60 in that same barrel length. I think it is identical except for the engraved Lady Smith logo, fancy maroon colored wood grips and special Lady Smith box. Of course you can save the fancy grips and put on a set of the rubber grips which would feel better for a lot of target shooting. The Lady Smith is about $30 bucks more than the standard model.

          I’d say Ruger quality and customer service has been a little better than Smith & Wesson in recent years.
          There are lots of reviews of these small frame steel revolvers online, you can just search on the model number plus review.

        • Then why buy a 357 revolver if there “isnt any reason” to shoot them? I disagree with your comment 100%. There is a reason to shoot the 357. Extra power and better ballistics, which in real world means more chance of incapacitating the threat. There is no 38+p round on earth that matches or bests the ballistics of a 357 round, even out of a short barrel or snub nose. Ive seen people make comments like this for years and it simply is untrue. If you lose velocity with a 357 round out of a snub nose, guess what, the same applies for a 38+p. Simply having a shorter barrel does not in any way put the 38+p on the same or level playing field as the 357. In fact with hollow point self defense ammo having the extra velocity in the 357 makes the bullet perform better. Studies have shown that the lower velocities of the 38 or 38+p in a snub nose can drop the bullet velocity enough to cause reliability and expansion issues with a hollow point. If a bullet is moving too slow it will cause the hollow point to not expand or perform the way it should. And in most cases even out of snubbies there is still a good 200-300 ft per second velocity difference from most modern 357 self defense rounds vs 38+p rounds. Again, which equates to more power and better ballistics and more reliability with hollow points. So if there is an instance where you WANT 357 over 38, its in a snub nose, because of the drop off in velocities. Now granted you deal with more muzzle blast, recoil, ect. but as far as performance the 357 still is well above the 38+p

  11. I own both a Ruger SP101 2.25 inch and a Smith Model 60 2 inch. Both in .357. My take is the same as the gentleman above. With some minor adjustments and a trigger job, the Ruger SP101 is the better gun. If you want refinement on the SP101, get some Mothers and learn how to wet sand and take the edges off and polish the SP101. I did. And it look everybit as good as my Model 60. But the biggest and most important reason I always prefer the SP101 is the recoil difference. It is pretty substantial. I still have yet to find a set of grips to really negate the recoil with 357 in the Model 60. It sucks to shoot with 357. The Pachmyer grips prob work the best, but it still is not a fun gun to shoot. The SP101 on the other hand is fun and has much less recoil. Houge grips make the gun a blast to shoot and i can shoot it all day with 357. The Model 60 is def a looker for sure, but as a shooter it is on high end of whats comfortable to shoot. My Model 29 44 mag 4 inch is less painful to shoot to put it in perspective. I love and cherish both my 60 and SP101, but for pure shooting ill take the SP101 all day long

  12. I started carrying SW wheel guns in law enforcement since about 1972 and own(ed) maybe 2 dozen including a half dozen J Frames. I carried a model 640 for backup and while hunting for 20 years and have finished at least 20 deer with that gun in 357. I made the mistake of trying to finish a few mule deer with 38+P and had very bad results. A 357 to the neck requires only 1 shot, ever, a 38+P takes several and really shows you the difference. I have chronographed these rounds, the 38+P never tops about 925 fps whereas the 357 will be about 1,150….this is a big difference….I hike in hog country often and hike/camp in black bear country several times per year…..you can double your energy level with the 357. That being said, I have a dozen large guns to carry, but while hiking, hunting with a rifle, or fishing, there is no better choice that the model 60 3 inch. And with the adjustable shots it is EZ to hit a yards should that need arise…and as a survival gun choice you could even harvest a deer or hog if that need should arise.

  13. Emphasis: I am not “against” S&W by any means nor am I against revolvers by any means (or definition). I want to make that clear because of my actual experience with S&W and magnum pistols in general. I bought a S&W Mod. 58 P&M- .41 Magnum in 1968 and had a Ruger Super Blackhawk (.44 Magnum) at the same time.

    I learned a lot by having that working comparison. #1 was that the S&W had a handgrip which was way too small. Heavy recoil caused “hammer rebound” in spades – so bad that, inevitably, the web between thumb and hand got a nasty, bloody “bite” from the hammer unless the Mod. 58 was gripped too hard for accurate shooting. I’m an average size man and all the same size or larger men who accepted my offer to shoot that gun shot that gun only once before saying “No more!” I bought a set of custom grips (Herret’s Shooting Star) and that solved the problem.

    2. But the gun was built & designed too light to really handle the .41 Mag. It wasn’t long before the cylinder failed to index properly and started sending “peels” of bullet jacket metal right back into the faces of anyone who fired that gun. Sending it to S&W resulted in a no-charge repair. (Thanks, S&W). But at that time I had already fired many hundreds of full-power rounds through my Ruger Super Blackhawk – which had a much better grip design and never had a problem with shooting 50-100 rounds time after time after time.

    3. Overall I just wish that S&W had read the writing on the wall that Ruger had written for all gun makers. S&W stuck with undersize grips and too light frames for longer than was necessary. That’s all water under the bridge though.

  14. […] Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 60 .357 Magnum (Take Two … – Oct 06, 2011  · Nice to see another revolver review. As to the .38/.357 thing, there’s a factor I would call “redundant utility” that has crept into a lot of … […]

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