Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 640 Pro Series

The Smith & Wesson Model 640 Pro Series is a sleek, shiny, all-stainless revolver that fires the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge, conceals in a pocket or purse, and won’t break the bank. Sounds like the perfect self-defense handgun, right? Well, let’s not jump to conclusions.

The 640 Pro is yet another in Smith & Wesson’s seemingly endless line of small revolvers. Two things distinguish the 640 Pro from Smith & Wesson’s inexpensive mass market J-frame revolvers like the 642. First, the 640 Pro is a real stunner of a gun, crafted of the most luxurious stainless you’re likely to see. Second, one can buy two 642s for the price of one 640 Pro, with enough change left over for dinner for two at the 99.


What does a buyer get for his extra lucre? Check out the appearance of the 640 Pro, because that’s where most of the money went. Starting at the business end of the revolver, there’s an elegantly fluted barrel and an extractor rod that is fully shrouded by a stainless steel Snuggie. Oops, make that a small lug if you prefer, you big lug. The lug is sinuously tapered toward the muzzle, and its edges have been melted. I expect that the stylists at Smith & Wesson shaped the lug to enhance its appearance, since the sinuous profile has no effect on concealment or draw. Together with the glassy-smooth sight ramp nestled atop the barrel, the whole package looks as sleek as Secretariat and bespeaks class.

Continuing the fly-by, it’s hard to miss the sights that embellish the 640 Pro. Unlike the vestigial and almost useless sights on a typical J-frame revolver, the 640 Pro sports actual gunsights fore and aft. Both front and rear sights are dovetailed and drift adjustable by anyone who owns a punch and a hammer. And these are not just any sights. Smith & Wesson opted to embellish this revolver with Trijicon® tritium night sights. Literally standing above typical J-frame sights, these Trijicons never snagged in my IWB or pocket holster. Obviously, Smith & Wesson intended the 640 Pro for something more than a gunfight in a phone booth.

A Centennial-style revolver, the 640 has an internal-hammer like the silvery .38 Special 642 Airweight recently reviewed here and its nicely blued fraternal twin, the Model 442. Those two Airweights have aluminum frames to lighten the load. In order to withstand the recoil of the .357, the 640 is constructed with plenty of steel and no aluminum. As a result, the 640 Pro weighs in at 24 ounces, making it positively porcine when compared to a 15 ounce Airweight.

The 640 Pro is also outfitted with a barrel that’s ¼” longer than the two Airweights previously mentioned. The 2 1/8” barrel offers one important advantage over its 1 7/8” cousin; the extra barrel length, while seemingly negligible, enables to 640 to have a full length extractor rod. Recent snubbies such as the 642-2 use longer extractor rods than the original models that have no suffix. Still, extraction of spent cases from a 642-2 remains a bit of a fumble since the extractor is a scosh shorter than full length. Such is not the case with the 640, and extraction is positive and fast. I guess that when it comes to rods of the extractor type, longer actually is better.

Opening the action reveals that the cylinder is cut for moon clips. That’s a big deal. Reloading with clips is way faster than pushing five singles. Moon clips are also faster than loading with speedloaders because, once loaded, the clips remain in the gun. Reloading still requires multiple actions – pressing the crane latch to open the action, tilting the handle down for a gravity assist, pushing or slapping the extractor rod, slipping in the loaded clip and closing the action – but practice makes the process fairly quick. Since the 640 pro offers easy and rapid extraction with easy and rapid reloads of a powerful round, it seems ready, willing and able to do the business.

The rest of the revolver is pretty much conventional J-frame, which is not a bad thing. The 640 Pro boasts the high quality fit and finish for which Smith & Wesson revolvers are known. Even the point-and-shoot handle geometry is the same, just with a larger grip. The 640 Pro is equipped with removable full grip that should please ham-handed shooters. The handle offers a significant edge in leverage over the two-finger grip attached to most snubbies, but the difference doesn’t stop there.

Unlike the boot grips that adorn the 642 and similar models, the grip of the 640 Pro also covers most of the metal backstrap. A covered backstrap is considered essential when firing full power .357s. The snappy recoil of a .357 can be disconcerting, to say the least. To say the most, it stings. Having a bit of rubber twixt skin and steel when shooting Magnums is as welcome as a dusting of talcum twixt skin and skivvies on a hot day.

Grabbing a fistful of 640 Pro, its handle feels about as stable and comfortable as a custom piece. While all shooters are justifiably finicky about grips and handles, most should like the feel of this setup. The downside is that the grip extends the handle’s length by 5/8”. The extra length, while increasing purchase, does nothing to enhance concealment.

Okay, enough sightseeing. Beauty is as beauty does. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then proof of the gun would be in the shooting. Shooting plain-Jane .38 SPLs and +P loads with bullet weights from 110 to 158 grains, the 640 Pro was a 640 Pussycat. Recoil with run of the mill .38s was gentle, straight back and with zero muzzle flip. Shooting +Ps was literally a blast, since a handsome jet of muzzle blast accompanied every shot. Nevertheless, even shooting the stouter +Ps, there was very little muzzle rise and recoil was quite tame.

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Be advised that loading the moon clips with most brands of ammo was easy, but I struggled with one brand in particular. Depending on whether a shooter uses the supplied or aftermarket clips, it might be that some brands of brass or steel won’t fit as readily into the moon clips as might others. However, once loaded into the clips, all the brands of ammo that I tried functioned without flaw.

The sights that looked so impressive during pre-flight functioned slightly less impressively. Although the Trijicon sights are absolutely a step up from the pitiful sights on most J-frame revolvers, I found the three tritium dots to be too small for rapid target acquisition. The front sight was especially difficult to use. I ended up ignoring the dots and aligning the revolver as if I was shooting with plain patridge sights. Not connecting the dots proved to be faster than aligning them as they were meant to be used, and actually improved accuracy.

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The trigger was about what I expected from a Smith & Wesson snubby. It was smooth to be sure, but as heavy as a Christmas fruitcake. Conan might be able to press this trigger with the pad of his pinky finger, but I had to use the power crease of my trigger finger. Using the distal joint changes the finger action from a press to a curl, which can lead to inaccuracy. Which is what I got.

I was unimpressed by this revolver’s ability to drop rounds into the red. Shooting the 640 Pro was like opening Forest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates – I never knew what I was going to get. At seven yards, I could cover my groups with my hand. However, every shot was as far to the left as a Massachusetts politician. Not good.

The front sight seemed to be off center, so the armorer got out his little hammer and brass punch and drifted the damn thing to the left by almost 1/16th of an inch. Drifting the sight did exactly what it was supposed to do, but the gun remained untrustworthy in terms of pinpoint accuracy.

Just to make sure that I wasn’t merely having a bad day, I loaded my personal Model 642 with the exact same .38 SPL commie range ammo and fired off a quick five. I was on the money with the 642, but still spraying shots with the 640. Considering that the 640 has a slightly longer barrel and full size grip, I expected better.

The problem wasn’t too difficult to diagnose. Simply stated, I was using too much finger, thereby pushing the revolver to the left. But diagnosing the problem and curing it proved to be two different things. Had I been able to squeeze off shots rapid-fire using the pad of my trigger finger, I would have been on target.

I would also have given myself tendonitis. The 640 pro’s trigger was far too heavy to get a smooth pull with the pad, forcing me to use my “power crease.” Blasting away at the target and point shooting, I was able to craft this interesting string.

While one can say that the problem was with me and not the gun, the fact remains that a fancy shootin’ iron like the 640 Pro should facilitate accurate speed shooting, not impede the same.

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Firing full-on .357 Mags proved to be an exercise in pain management. The covered backstrap wasn’t covered enough. The grip coverage does not extend to the top ½” of the backstrap, which is exactly where the web of my hand would like to be located. The same web that was deliriously happy shooting .38s suffered an unpleasant stinging sensation firing .357s.  I countered that problem by taking a lower grip, which was well under the bore axis. With .38s a low grip was no issue. Unfortunately, the lower grip position allowed extra muzzle flip when shooting .357s, so it took me too much time to get follow-up shots on target.

For my last bitch, I found “Smith & Wesson Model 640 Pro Series” to be a tad cumbersome in both name and weight. I was able to change the former to “640 Pro,” which seemed to roll trippingly off the tongue or the keyboard, as the case may be. But there was nothing I could do about those 24 ounces.

I admit that maybe I was asking too much from the gun. If it listed for half its current MSRP and was called the “Model 640 Amateur Series,” I might have been more forgiving of its faults. Alas, the MSRP for this revolver proclaims it to be of a higher class. And here’s a warning to all marketing mavens everywhere: if you put “Pro” in the product name, it had damn well better be.

All things considered, Smith & Wesson’s Model 640 Pro Series reminds me of a girl I dated way back in college during the Pleistocene Era. Like the gun, she was flashy, beautiful and comfy to hold. In the end she promised more than she could deliver. And in retrospect, she too was probably just a bit overweight.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Smith & Wesson Model 640 Pro Series
Caliber: .357
Cylinder capacity:  5 rounds, cut for moon clips
Materials: Stainless steel, synthetic full-size grip
Weight empty: 24 ounces
Barrel Length: 2.125″ underlugged, fluted
Overall length: 6.750″
Sights: Dovetail Trijicon® Tritium Night Sights
Action: Double action only
Finish: Stainless steel
Price: $809 msrp

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Style * * * *
Droolworthy style touches, such as the elegant fluted barrel and tapered underlug, dress up this revolver. The finish, which looks so sexy in the box, is hard to keep looking good after a day at the range. Owners will want to invest in many forms of exotic cleaning solutions and use them frequently, or suffer the consequences.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * 1/2
With its full-sized grip, it fits into a pocket but not as comfortably as it should. Swapping the full-sized grip for a smaller boot grip (standard on many other J-frame revolvers) would improve concealment to the detriment of handling, especially shooting .357 Magnums. Although it conceals well in an IWB holster, it feels a little heavy.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * 1/2
Recoil with .38 SPLs is almost pleasant; shooting .357s from such a small revolver is an exercise in self-abuse. The tritium dot front sight is easy “lose” when firing rapidly and hard to see at all times. The rear sight is better, but both sights would benefit greatly from larger dots.

Reliability * * * * 1/2
Expect “five for sure” – but wipe it down from time to time, okay? The finish attracts dirt like a Swiffer duster and allowing carbon and dust to accumulate near the crane or hand is begging for trouble.

Customize This * * *
J-frame revolvers can be accessorized with fancy grips, enhanced with laser sights or personalized with engraving. That’s it.

OVERALL RATING * * * 1/2
Firing .357 Mags, the 640 pro has a high “power to weight” ratio. However, it’s too heavy to be called a lightweight, and too light to shoot Magnums comfortably. It shoots .38s like they were .22s, but for half the price, a .38 Spl. Centennial Airweight would be a better choice.