Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 10-6

M10BrickShotgun

Some styles never fade; the tuxedo, the little black dress or the martini. They’re go-to icons of classic style and functionality. Along the same lines is the full-sized .38 revolver. Six rounds of widely-available ammo in a package that rarely fails that delivers only a little more recoil than a .22 auto. It’s the ideal bedside gun for those unfamiliar with firearms who might lack the coordination, strength or inclination to wield a shotgun indoors . . .

Model10VS870

Got ammo? More loads exist for the .38 special cartridge than just about any other round. As long as the selected load has enough power to motivate the bullet out of the barrel, the gun will keep on shooting. And there’s no need to use expensive hollow-points when you fire a heavy projectile that imparts all of it’s energy into whatever recipient is unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. Personally, my favorite load for a full-sized .38 is the 158 grain jacketed wad-cutter.

38Loads

Will this cartridge launch your would-be assailant across the room, leaving a Buick-sized crater while blowing out every window in your house? Well, no, but neither will a 12-gauge slug. Relying on any hand-held heater to stop an assailant cold in their tracks is foolish. Utilizing the heaviest cartridge that the shooter can comfortably manage is a much more viable option when it comes to stopping power. So the 10-6′s combination of a comfortable grip, smooth trigger, low recoil, and the use of a heavy semi-wadcutter .38 means putting rounds on target in a hurry is a breeze.

The model 10-6 is a double action revolver, meaning the trigger both cocks the hammer and releases it. That doesn’t mean you can’t cock it manually, but doing so will slow down how rapidly you can let lead fly. Since you’ll probably be primarily using this gun in double action – unless you’re doing bullseye shooting – you’ll want to make sure the stocks you choose fit your hand well. Thankfully S&W revolvers have more grip options than a kung-fu master.

Personally, I went with a set of Pachmayr grips. I found the Hogue’s finger grooves detrimental when firing double action, since they force you to put your fingers in the indentations. Keep in mind hand size if you’re thinking of buying a particular grip for a loved one’s home defense gun. I have small hands that are a size larger than my wife’s.

Model10-01

It also helps to think of revolver stocks like running shoes. If you’re just going to stroll around the block in them every other week, simply adequate will probably do and shouldn’t bother you much. But if you’re training for a marathon – or shooting regularly, maybe even in competition –  you’ll want something more specialized. No one ever complained about their feet being too comfortable and no one ever said a gun was too easy to shoot. Well, expect for people trying to ban or confiscate them.

GunShoes

Smith’s 10-6 is an easy-shooting, inexpensive (at pawn shops), reliable blaster. So why doesn’t everyone use one? Mostly because the design doesn’t hold a ton of ammo or facilitate rapid reloading. You can accelerate reloading by using a speed loader, but unless you’re Jerry Miculek you won’t get 18 rounds through any .38 revolver as fast as you could through a Glock 17.

GlockVSModel10

That said, most wonder-nines don’t fit small hands as well as a slim-grip revolver would. All those extra rounds don’t mean a thing if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at. Your typical 10-6 is also infinitely more reliable than just about any semi-automatic since there are very few moving parts and the parts that do move aren’t dependent on load (or wrist) strength. Still, you should run a box of your favorite defensive rounds through the gun before carrying it to familiarize yourself with recoil and zeroing. But if you buy any mainstream factory loaded defensive round, it will function beautifully in your 10-6.

GunApart

When it comes to maintaining your Smith revolver, less is more. Taking the side plate off of a S&W revolver can be a permanent affair if you’re ham-handed. For cleaning, remove the screw located above the trigger on the right side just below the cylinder. That releases the yoke (or crane as Colt, Ruger, & Taurus call it) and allows it to be pulled forward and free from the frame, along with the cylinder. Vigorously clean the forcing cone; the part of the barrel that almost touches the cylinder. Clean each chamber in the cylinder as you would any carbon-coated barrel. Lightly grease the bearing surfaces, such as where the yoke and cylinder meet and don’t forget the cylinder’s axis. I tend to use lithium grease or the dry ones that I’ve seen marketed under the S&W name as they tend to stay where I put them. YMMV.

Model10_PriviPartisan158

Model10_PrecisionWadCuttersWhiteBox148

Model10_MD_148

Model10_AmericanEagle_130FMJ

Model10_AmericanEagle158LN

To test my 10-6′s accuracy, I fired the gun in both single and double action. Neither were done from a rest because I’ve never heard of a courteous criminal letting you find an ideal rest for your pistol to line up the perfect shot. Long story short, it’s much better than minute of bad guy and won’t let you down in a pinch.

Ratings (out of five stars):

Reliability * * * * *

100% – It’s a revolver. Only a squib or broken yoke can take this thing out of the fight, and even then it’s still one hell of a hammer.

Style * * * *

S&W are renowned for their revolvers. The Model 10 with its numerous variations is always a beauty to behold, but Colt’s Serpentines made in the same era puts the Smith to shame.

Ergonomics  * * * *

The S&W Model 10-6 has great ergonomics for 50% of people out of the box. The other 50%, like my wife, find shooting the gun in double action comfortable only with aftermarket grips.

Customize This * * *

While a plethora of grips and sights exist for the Model 10, only the grips can be installed without a gunsmith. That said, the Model 10 has been around for ages so finding leather and speed loaders for this gun will be simple.

Overall * * * *

The Model 10-6, like all full-sized revolvers, is a nostalgic piece that represents a simpler time. But that doesn’t make it any less deadly today. Just keep a spare speedloader or two around.

Special thanks to Salute Targets for their steel plate reactive targets and to Federal Premium Ammunition for their generous ammunition contribution.

46 Responses to Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 10-6

  1. avatar505markf says:

    Very nice review, sir. You made my day. There’s just something about starting a day with classic-revolver gun porn. I think I need to get me 3 or 4 (more) of those Model 10s.

  2. avatarCarl says:

    158 grain jacketed wad-cutter

    Huh? Are you sure?

    I don’t see any in the photos

    Aside from that; Bravo! Love them Model 10′s – no matter what the dash number is. Since it’s hard to improve on perfection, they are all about the same.

  3. avatarEd Rogers says:

    If my 15-2 ever fails (Hah!), I’ll probably end up getting a model 10. Thanks for the excellent review.

  4. avatarMichael B. says:

    I got my 66-year-old father one of the round butt Australian police surplus Model 10s for his nightstand gun a while back for around $250. It has a very nice smooth action and a wonderful trigger pull.

    I personally prefer a 686 since it can also fire .357 magnum but I gotta admit, they just don’t feel as good as the old Model 10 (or the stainless Model 64) in the hand.

    Anyway, I recently retired my wheelguns as home defense pieces. I now rely on a Browning Hi Power because it’s what I shoot best with and 9mm is way cheaper than .38 Special and .357 magnum.

    • avatarCliff H says:

      I also have an S&W 686. I load it with .38 +P Glaser Safety Slugs for home defense (to limit penetration that might annoy the neighbors). I live in a small apartment in a gated complex in a relatively low risk neighborhood, so maximum ammo on board does not seem to be a major consideration. I figure if the first two or three very loud blasts from that 686 do not drop the intruders or at least convince them to change their plans and beat feet I’ve got bigger problems than running out of ammo. But just in case I’ve also got an S&W speed loader with 158 grain .357 JHP.

      And by the way, my ex-wife is 5’1″ tall, 105 pounds, cute as a button, and could accurately pop magnum rounds downrange all day with that 686. I can’t imaging too many people who would have a problem with the 10-6 even with +P on board.

      • avatarMichael B. says:

        I never felt like I needed more than six rounds which is why I enjoyed the Model 10 and the 686 and used the latter for home defense duty.

        The problem is, .38 and .357 have become expensive to train with when compared to 9mm and I simply shoot my Hi Power better than my revolvers.

        Those two reasons are why I made the switch. I wish the Russians would churn out some cheap .38 and .357 mag so I could practice more with my wheelguns without breaking the bank.

  5. avatarKorvis says:

    Very nice writeup. I love the pic with the Glock 17. Something…yin-yang…something something. Two of my favorite firearms.

  6. avatarRokurota says:

    Ugh. A Model 10 in glorious condition was the second handgun I ever bought. I got it for $160 off Gunbroker — the seller took awful pictures with a flash that made the bluing look like it was stripped off. When he opened it, my FFL about fainted, it was in such nice condition. I sold it for almost 100% profit, but of all the guns I sold, that’s the big regret. Thanks, James, for the nice review — and the memories.

  7. avatarTom in Oregon says:

    Great write-up. Wish I still had mine. It was my first real gun purchase in 1974. Paid a hundred bucks for it.

  8. avatarensitue says:

    I carried an M-10HB for years, fired it so many times that the mainspring wore-out and had to be replaced. I upgraded to an M-65 (the SS 357mag version). Though the grip was a bit large for proper concealment my Safariland pancake holster kept it close to my body. I regret letting those smiths get away from me

  9. avatartdiinva says:

    I have been thinking about getting a revolver on and off since the great panic of ’13 started. I figure it will be the last handgun the grabbers will grab. It’s not a good CC piece because of its size but I can see using it for home defense. I have been looking at 686s for sometime. I like the 357 capability but the Model 10 will surely do in a pinch.

    • avatarMichael B. says:

      Be certain to make sure the barrels aren’t crooked on any 686 you’re thinking about purchasing. I don’t know what’s up with their QC department but it’s been a common problem recently.

      Also, if it has a storage lock, you may want to factor the cost of getting a gunsmith to remove it and buying a plug (around $20) into your budget.

      I know Robert had a problem with his locking up on him when he was at the range.

      The only reason I even own a 686 is because I got a good deal on a barely used one for $400. It was a steal. Spending an extra $50 to have the lock removed and a plug installed to cover up the stupid empty keyhole was a no-brainer since the final cost was still well below what the gun typically goes for.

  10. avatarAccur81 says:

    Beautiful, iconic gun. Hideous grips.

    • avatarMark says:

      Agree. Was just looking at Model 10′s today. Both had original wood grips. The grips on the gun in this article are horrible.

  11. avatarLeadbelly says:

    The first handgun I ever fired was my uncle Ralph’s model 10. I’ve been in love with S&W revolvers ever since. At one time or another I’ve owned a model 17, a model 14, a model 19, a 1917, a three inch model 36, a model 63, and a 442. Currently I carry a 640, and the most accurate gun I own (and the easiest to shoot accurately) is a 1953 5-screw .38 Combat Masterpiece.

    I’ve recently branched out into semi-autos for “serious social purposes”, for their greater ammo capacity, but if I’m going shooting just for the pure fun of it, I’ll take a S&W revolver every time.

    And, for what it’s worth, I don’t care how rare or historical Colt DA revolvers may be, or what kind of inflated prices they may command, when it comes to SHOOTING, Smith & Wesson rules.

  12. avatarRandallOfLegend says:

    I have heard good things about the 158 grain Keith style semi-wad cutter

  13. avatarRalph says:

    A classic revolver. Flawlessly reliable. Target pistol accurate with the right ammo, and combat accurate with the “wrong” ammo.

  14. avatardwb says:

    good review. you can’t go wrong with a revolver. Pull the trigger, it goes bang. I am kind of partial to .357, because you can use both .357 and 38sp. either is a fine choice though.

    some people say, well it doesn’t shoot 30 rounds like my Glock- brand- Glock.
    if I think I’m getting a firefight I’m taking my rifle

    honestly though, I have a hard time finding 38 special in stock just now, without getting robbed on price. when is this shortage going to end?

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      I was having a hard time finding .38 Special +P JHP until I finally “cheated” and went to the LAPD academy gun store and bought their 135 grain duty load. If your in an area that *allows* online sales check out GunBroker, Ammo Bot, or Ammo Seek online.

      • avatardwb says:

        buying ammo online from the LA police academy MUST be the very definition of irony.

        • avatarAccur81 says:

          Those were all olde school face to face purchases. The guys at the store know me because I visit so much – and I’m not LAPD.

    • avatarPat says:

      You can get revolvers cut for full moon clips (fast reload). I own an 8-shot smith (38/357) cut for moon clips. Don’t hear many 1911 semi carriers complain about being under gunned (as the 8-shot wheel shoots the same amount of ammo) and is only moderately slower to reload with the moons.

  15. avatarmiforest says:

    love the model 10. the universal handgun from my youth. I have the 547 model that shoots 9mm w/o a moon clip.

  16. avatarjwm says:

    The classic American combo. A revolver and a shotgun. They’ve earned the classic status.

  17. avatarRKflorida says:

    Great old revolver. Mine shoots consistently high/left so I hold at about 5 o’clock. Smooth trigger. Got it from Buds for about $270 and love it. Since I use it as one of my home defense guns, I’m thinking of a Crimson Trace – but they are pricey.

  18. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    With revolvers (of all makes/models), choice of grip needs to address two issues: comfort and ability to reliably hold the gun, and then the “natural pointability” (for lack of a better term) of the revolver. By changing the way the grip fills your hand, you change whether the barrel will point high or low when you extend your arm in a snap-shoot situation. When the grips really fit you, you can rapidly point your hand with the revolver properly gripped as if you were pointing with an extended index finger and, as if by magic, you’re “just there.” When the grips don’t fit your hand properly, you’ll find yourself changing the way you hold a revolver, or adjusting your wrist angle, to get the barrel to come up or down. Generally speaking, if you find yourself having to shift your grip to get the barrel point of aim up, you’d probably benefit from more grip material on the lowest part of the rear of the grip to fill your palm – and vise-versa.

    When you’ve got your grips chosen or sized correctly, revolvers can point very naturally and quickly. For guys with big hands, this sometimes results in some hideous-looking grips on what would otherwise be a nice, trim revolver.

    A few other tips come to mind:

    For heavy leading of the forcing cone (which might happen if someone is shooting lead wad cutters for target work, for example), I suggest the classic Lewis lead removal system. Available through Brownells. Yes, it’s old-school. There’s not been anything developed that works better, IMO. When using the Lewis lead remover, things go much easier if you use a vise and padded jaws to hold the gun or cylinder whilst cleaning the lead out with the Lewis.

    Use the correct type and size of screwdriver when pulling screws out of a S&W. Their frames and plates aren’t all that hard, and use of the wrong screwdriver or type of screwdriver results in buggering up the metal around the screwhead or the screwhead itselt. Forester sells an eight-piece screwdriver set that would handle most everything an owner would do on a S&W.

    The screw that tensions the mainspring (found on the grip) should never be “backed off” to give a lighter trigger pull. This screw should always be all the way in and tight, or simply removed (as in a full disassembly for cleaning).

    Before jumping straight into reducing the weight or number of coils on a rebound spring as a way to lighten the DA trigger pull weight, do an ‘action job’ (where all the sliding/pivoting parts in the lockwork are polished and the matching surfaces in the frame are polished) and see how the trigger feels. Often, people are surprised at how smooth the factory-spec 12.5# pull can become when this is done, and often the hue and cry for a lighter trigger pull stops.

    It shouldn’t need mentioning in such an educated group/setting at TTAG, but I’ll say it for the record: Don’t do that “spin the cylinder and flip it into the frame” bullcrap. There are few things that are more abusive to a revolver. Don’t slap, flip, bash or slam the cylinder into the frame. If you’re right handed, wrap your left hand’s fingers around the backside of the frame, and gently push the cylinder into place, using your fingers to prevent the cylinder from slamming into place.

    And, on a general note, I’d choose a S&W (such as the above-reviewed model) over a Colt for self-defense, and Colt over a S&W for collecting. Unlike the typical “brand wars” (eg, Ford vs. Chevy, Mac vs. PC), there are significant differences between S&W and Colt revolvers that lead me to make this recommendation. I’d rate S&W’s action design as more robust in the face of abuse or dubious maintenance, and Colt’s DA design as being the more elegant, but less tolerant of abuse or lack of cleaning. S&W revolvers have slightly looser fitting/tolerances and older Colt revolvers are justly famous for their very precise fit and lock-up. Additionally, don’t trust revolvers in general to hack gunsmiths, but especially don’t trust Colt DA revolvers to hack gunsmiths. Someone who spends most of their time merely slapping new parts into semi-auto handguns is often in not prepared to do the hand-fitting of parts inside revolvers.

    ps – and reviews and articles about S&W and Colt revolvers meet my criteria for “nice gun” writing. It is very welcome to see articles about guns that aren’t finished in black phosphates.

    • avatarDonS says:

      Damn, I do love reading your posts.

      Regarding grip sizing… any recommendations on how to actually do that? While I’ve only done casual browsing, none of the local shops seem to have a large assortment that I can try out.

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      No argument here – any grips that hideous wouldn’t go over unless they served a legitimate functional purpose.

      Beautiful gun though, and I appreciate the review.

    • avatardwb says:

      +1000. thanks

  19. avatarCK in CA says:

    “Widely-available ammo.”

    What year was this written?

  20. avatarAtypical Philadelphian says:

    Ah man, classic. Love the “retro review”. How about an original Hi-Power review, or a Webley Mk VI, or a S&W model 59 review? It’d be neat to see that compared to a modern 9mm auto to see what’s really (practically) changed since 1971.

    I have two model 10′s: a 4″ heavy barrel that was bought new in the late 60s by a friend’s mother while her husband was on deployment with the Navy and she was worried about a “creeper” in the area. Some of hubby’s Navy friends taught her how to load and shoot it. She put a box and a half of wadcutters through it, cleaned it, and put it back in the original box…until a few years ago when I convinced her to sell it to me. It’s as close to brand new as I’ll likely ever see! She threw in the half a box of Peter’s brand wadcutters too. I hardly shoot that one since it’s so like-new. That’s what the workhorse is for…

    The “workhorse” is a pencil barrel 4″ model 10 with chipped grips with the diamond pattern worn almost smooth, the finish worn off in all the holster contact areas, and “BRUSHY MNTN PRISON” electro-penciled on the frame just below the cylinder. But it locks up tight and the SA and DA operation is perfect. I tend to shoot this one a lot when I’m in a revolver mood. This one sits in a bed holster with Hornady 158gr XTP hollowpoints in the cylinder.

    If that’s not enough to take care of dangerous things that go bump in the night there’s also the Ithaca model 37 12 gauge with Federal low recoil flitecontrol 00 buck. If THAT’s not enough…uh, I guess I lose?

  21. avatarPaul W. says:

    Love the gun but man, it needs some less-ugly grips. How about nice, checkered wood?

  22. avatarArdent says:

    Nice review of a nice revolver. It’s hard to find anything to disagree with other than continual compression of the pawl spring due to being stored with the cylinder closed but not rotated to lock will take the weapon out of action, as to broken firing pins from time to time. However, proper storage and maintenance does tend to make these ‘bullet proof’ as a gun can be.

    I have a S&W Model 64, it’s very similar to the model 10 and inherited the K-38 combat masterpiece title when it was released. It’s also commonly known as the ‘city police’, an all stainless bull barrel DA/SA .38 spc that it virtually identical in both looks and works to the 10′s, excepting its fixed front sight and grooved top strap rear. I’ve had it for 24 years, shot it what must be more than 10,000 times, have had to replace the pawl spring and firing pin over the years but the thing still looks and shoots like a new revolver. It’s one of the guns that I’ll never turn loose of (like my Colt Brand 1911).

    As for the recommendation regarding it’s particular utility to shooters who benefit from it’s light recoil and easy operation, mine is currently by GF’s night stand gun and has served as such for years now. In fact it seldom sees range time, but’s its easy operation and natural ‘pointabilty’ make me confident I could shoot it today as well as I could when it was my primary handgun so many years ago.

  23. avatarOut_Fang_Thief says:

    “Just keep a spare speedloader or two around.”

    Ya, that’s just what I want to do at 4: dark-thirty with eyes full of sand and sleep goo, fumble around trying to speed load 6 more rounds. I’ll still have 3 shots left in my Sig 226′s mag. I can also leave one in the pipe when I’m changing mags in case I have to shoot before the second mag is securely engaged. With a semi-auto you’ve got more options, and bullets, for saving your life in those heightened frantic moments. Save the warm and fuzzy gun vibes for the range where you and your friends can wax nostalgic for the good old days when the G-men and gangsters were packing 6-shooters. Why limit yourself? I’m a pretty damn good shot, front sight discipline, target acquisition, even counting my shots, but in a moment of ultimate startled awareness, I want all the help and options I can get to save my life. Defending your home with a 6-shooter is starting out with a -9 handicap. Who would choose to do that? A cap and ball 6-shooter is nostalgic too, but few, if any, are trusting one of those for their home defense. Are you going to trust your life to…nostalgic technology? The modern firearm has so much more to offer.
    More ammo before having to reload.
    Easier to reload more ammo quickly.
    Up to 6 shots per second for speed.
    Seriously, what’s there to think about?
    Less, is rarely ever, more.

    Everybody! What’s the first rule of ammo? “There’s no such thing as too much!”
    There’s no such thing as too much. Damned straight Skippy.

    • avatarjwm says:

      0 dark 30. On sunny days at the range I’ve seen guys grip their autos improperly and dump the mag out on the ground. Murphy has a way of rearing up when he’s needed least. Dud round. FTF or FTE. Double feed. A gun is a mechanical device and any breakdown can occur at any time.

      Which is why, whichever your choice, revolver or auto you should have a backup.

    • avatarMark says:

      What if it jams at 4: dark thirty? That’s my only argument with what you’re saying, otherwise you have a lot of good points. Having said that, I just love the reliability of a revolver. It’s always ready to go and easy to use when you wake up bleary eyed.

  24. avatarCameron B says:

    I own a 15-3 as my bed stand buddy, agreed that the (older) S&W wheel guns are the best around. Though it’s a little weighty i could see CC with the original grips, probably more doable in a place where you can wear a jacket of longer shirts without roasting. I was told the older 15′s and maybe 10s can’t handle the +p ammo. does anyone know more on that?

    • avatarjwm says:

      I’ll give you the info i got when I made inquiries. The K frame smiths(10, 15, etc.) that were made after the switch over from names to model numbers(sometime in the mid to late 50s) are safe to use with +P ammo. So if it’s marked model 15, it is.

      Near as I can tell my model 10-5 was made in the 60′s. I limit the use of +P loads because it is cheaqper to practice with standard loads and common sense will tell you that running the hotter loads always will excelerate wear on the gun. I shoot a few +P’s at the end of each range session and I load with +P’s for home use.

  25. avatarscott payne says:

    Hi ….Im new with the S&W revolvers. Educate me, model 10-10 , what is it specifically….and what do all the number variations mean? I have an opportunity at picking up a 10-10 wanted to know if it was worth dealing with, I have a feeling it is . Thanks

  26. The pencil barrelled Model 10 is the best looking handgun made in my eyes. Good choice. It was the same revolver John Kennedy carried on PT-109. I have the near twin of your M-10 as well as a few much older M&P’s, great revolver’s. Many prefer the M-10 Heavy Barrel, I like the standard barrel. Thanks.

  27. avatarMark says:

    My grandfather got me hooked on the Model 10 when I was a kid. He had a tapered barrel version of the gun. Thanks to Daddy Burt’s (as we grandkids called him) influence, the first handgun I purchased after I got married was a Model 10 with a bull barrel. This is a great handgun and my first choice for home defense. It has a smooth, easy trigger pull. It functions as a natural extension of your arm and points naturally where you aim it. It’s reliable as can be and doesn’t jam like today’s popular semi-autos are prone to do. At 7 yards, I can consistently hit the 9 and X rings. Change to a set of combat grips and buy a couple speed loaders and you have the perfect handgun. Who needs a Glock? The Model 10 is old school, but sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

  28. avatarPork-n-bean says:

    Recently, sold tapered barrel mod 10, nickle plated, bout 70/75% condition.shot good. Bought mod 10 nickle plated.95/98% condition.with fake gold on trigger.hammer.crane pin and screws.Represented to me as” presentation grade”. Can anyone elaborate on this particular mod 10-5. Factory? Someone had gold plating done?..shame its not as accurate i sold previously…thanx

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