Smith & Wesson K38 Masterpiece (courtesy smith-wessonforum.com)

Over at smith-wessonforum.com, user SmithNut’s uploaded some hi-res photos of his collection of K-38 Masterpiece and Model 14 revolvers. As for the former, SmithNut would like to keep the model’s appeal on the down-low, to keep prices down low. Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. “The truth has – unfortunately – started to get out, the K-38 Masterpiece is truly that – a world class Masterpiece. This model is an outstanding shooter, a great piece of S&W history, a finely crafted work of art….. For the longest time, they languished on dealers shelves while shooters and enthusiasts rushed to acquire the more popular (and powerful) .357 Magnum models. I’m concerned about the reputation getting out, the remaining guns out there are only going to be harder to find and higher in $$ as the word gets spread…. bummer as there are a few more I need to fill out the collection.”

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48 Responses to The Truth About the Smith & Wesson K38 Masterpiece

  1. Yes, they are sweet. I have had a number. They all worked very well.

    I remember the “good old days”, not that long ago, when the police transitioned from revolvers to Glocks… err semi-automatics.

    Very nice Smith and Wesson model 10s and 15s could be had for a $100, give or take a little. I bought a few dozen on my FFL that had been London police revolvers until they transitioned over to Glocks. Some holster wear, but did not appear to be shot much, just what you would expect. They all had British proof markings, most had an “arsenal number” stamped on them as well.

  2. Last 1 I saw at an LGS here was 500. That’s been a while. IMHO the Smith k frames are the most consistently accurate production handguns from the factory.

    My 10-5 is very accurate. My buddies 15 shades it a little because of the sights. If you miss the mark with either, it ain’t the guns fault.

  3. I am a K frame Smith collector. Or hoarder, more honestly. My safe can be confusinng, with model 10s,12,14,15,17,18,and ummm 6 19s in it. Not to mention a few pre-number 38s. My 14 is the most accurate revolver I have ever shot. Almost boring in a way.

    • Sean.. if you ever decide to sell , i’d love a first look at your model 14 or model 15 S& W revolver . My shooting instructor who is a WWII vet taught me on his .. it is the most accurate gun ever. I just love it .
      You are a lucky guy to have so many.
      Margie Burton
      espirit@mindspring.com

      • I have a model 14 I bought new in the early 1970’s. 6″ barrel, blue, with tar trigger and Hammer. like new condition with one very small dent in butt of the grips. I used it to shoot for Colo division of wildlife pistol team. Shot about a 1000 rounds through it before I built a heavy barrel Model 10 to compete with. If you are interested I will sell for &750.00

  4. my 15-3 “combat masterpiece” is by far the sweetest handgun i’ve had the chance to shoot. I imagine the 14 is every bit the gun that its name suggests. i was able to score mine for $300, I don’t think ill ever let it go.

  5. Everybody loves old S&W revolvers i got a new model 3 in .32S&W I paid 138 plus TTL and I love it. It’s old and beat up the nickel plate needs redone but it is still one of the most accurate pistols I’ve ever fired. I’m sure the 14 would do just as well.

    • The K22 materpiece was the first handgun I got to spend some time with shooting back in the early 1970’s. It was probably made in the 1950’s, had the fabulous deep rich dark blue finish, and the superb craftsmanship often found on that era’s S&W products. And it shot far better than I could hold it. My brother and I put hundreds of rounds through that revolver which is a lot considering it wasn’t our gun. My brother was lucky enough to inherit it, and still has it. I just about always look for any of the “K” series revolvers when at any gun shop, but seldom see them in my neck of the woods, and if I do, the budget won’t cover the asking price.

  6. Sad, I only have 2 S&W revolvers. Those were some fantastic pictures.
    Makes me want to take the model 27 out with some fire breathers.

  7. I remember some years ago an article in a gun magazine about bullet caliber and stopping power. It was quite controversial in that they took these pistols and shot live goats to see how effective the round was. At any rate the only real detail I recall from this is that .38 Special came in dead last in stopping power, the main criteria being, I believe, one shot, goat dropped. It seems unlikely they were testing the mouse gun calibers .22, .25, .32, .380.

    So I have had a Model 19, a Ruger Security Six, and now an S&W 686, my favorite and most accurate shooting gun ever. As for the K38 and similar S&Ws, how will they hold up under +P pressures? And by the way, I haven’t heard anything else about .38 being anemic since that article, so any news to the contrary would be appreciated as my hideout gun is an S&W Airweight in .38 +P.

    • The .38 has a poor and underserved rep as a stopper for 2 primary reasons IMHO. The first was the trouble in the Phillipines back about 1900. American army officers were carrying the issue Colt revolver chambered for a round called the .38 long Colt. The local holy warriors were ginned up on fanaticism and drugs. The round failed to stop them frequently. But so did the High powered Krag rifle and the .45 revolvers that were hurriedly brought back into service. That soured the military on the .38. Interestly enough the guys that actually fought there found the 12 bore to be a reliable stopper. Go figure.

      Then S&W brought out a new round. The .38 special. For about 80 years it was the standard for most cops in America and a large chunk of the world. The trouble with the Special is the round that was factory standard and most in use at the time. A 158 grain round nose lead bullet of modest 750 fps velocity. This round was a penetrator. It frequently shot right through the target. It killed the target, it just didn’t stop him quick enough. Especially with drugs or alcohol or mental issues involved.

      The human animal is amazingly resistent to death. And there is no such thing as a powerful handgun. At least not one that can be carried 24/7 for the emergency that may arise.

      The k frame smiths will hold up just fine to +p loads. Use a good modern hollowpoint and you probably don’t even need +p.

      I have an airweight smith in my pocket as I’m typing this. If you use +p loads use them spareingly at the range. And don’t use lead bullet +p loads. My favorite all lead load had bullet creep work a bullet lose and lock the gun up. The recoil impulse of these light guns causes quite a bit of whip and stress on the ammo in the chambers.

      I now carry a jacketed hollow point at standard pressures in my smith j frame.

      • Just after the .38 special came out , an officer who was at a card game that was known to involve some decent money had one of the new Smiths when, as I recall four cowboys with rifles tried to hold up the place.

        He put all four down with his Smith in a matter of seconds.

        That account made the .38 special, I believe.

        I will have to see if I can find a copy of the original account.

      • Thanks for the background, both of you. I bought the .38 Airweight with the titanium cylinder that says it is specifically chambered for +P. I have fired some +P JHP from it for familiarization, but for practice I usually stick to standard range reloads. I thought the .38 was probably getting a bad rap for some reason (can you say .45 ACP) and figured if a shorter 9mm can get the job done a JHP in .38 ought to work pretty good.

        Just for the record, they make the Airweight in .357, but the recoil is vicious. Mine is a handful with the .38 +P rounds, but manageable.

        • I think all you guys are freakin’ nuts. My bride has an Airweight .38+P, and the concept of taking it to the range is pure terrifying. Sumbitch HURTS with +P, like bad. Ir’s a great carry gun because it is so light, but shooting it is nightmarish. If she wants to practice she can use my Colt Detective Special. She got the Airweight to replace her Sig P230 because it lost around 10 ounces in the deal, and was not planning to shoot it but a couple times to confirm it was ready to shoot. I recently replaced the +P HPs with Lehigh standard velocity ammo, much easier to shoot, testing appears to show highly effective.

  8. K frame, what’s not to like
    I prefer the look of the 357 versions of the K frame, gave me the option of using 38 or 357 and with ejector shroud looks balanced, extra weight up front helped
    Until the boating accident I was the of Model 19 with 2 1/2″ barrel and 66 with 4″
    Firing either was hang on and enjoy
    Also lost a 6″ Model 28 and shooting 38’s in any of them was like shooting a cap gun

  9. I’m not much of a revolver guy, but I check buds guns frequently with hope of a nice model 10 for under $200. I love Smith and Wesson firearms.

  10. Absolutely love the K frame Smiths. One of my favorites is a 3″ Model 13 round butt. Had a 15,19, 14 but sold them off. That’s OK. Actually I try not to buy any square butt Smiths. Have a 586, 4″ round butt and a Model 24, 4″ round butt. Can’t figure out which of these I like more.
    So many nice things, so little money!

  11. I’ve owned a number of model 14’s over the last few decades. For a while you could find them really cheap hereabouts – say – up till about 2005. They weren’t the first choice for holster carry, even for armed guards and the like, because of the 6″ barrel. Somewhere in those years the cost of new S&W revolvers and a decline in quality on the new ones started to bring the cost of a nice Masterpiece into focus, and the bargains began to disappear.

    The only K-frame I own now is a five-screw .38 Combat Masterpiece made in 1953. It has a bit of holster wear, but it has the tightest lock-up and the smoothest trigger action of any Smith I’ve ever owned. It’s also the easiest handgun to shoot well I’ve ever owned.

  12. My first pistol was a K frame Smith 15. I still have it. I had the trigger smoothed a bit by a smith, and put Pachmayrs on tit. Otherwise it’s box stock. It’s extremely accurate, and despite all the other toys in the safe, it’s the one I chose to use when I had to qualify on my gun club’s range. I hadn’t fired a pistol in years, but it didn’t let me down.

  13. It’s nice to hear people say such nice things about a gun I love.

    My first center fire handgun was an S&W K-38 Combat Masterpiece in the model 64 HB stainless “City Policeman” configuration that I received on my 12th birthday. I was disappointed to some degree that it wasn’t a .357 but this soon passed as I enjoyed countless hours with it at the range and afield.

    With its factory walnut stocks and top strap groove and blade sights it proved to be remarkably accurate with anything it was fed. It’s so accurate in fact that to this very day if I want to exhibit serious handgun accuracy it is the gun I reach for. I’ve seen the newest shooters perform seemingly miraculous shots with this gun, and seasoned shooters outshoot their own more expensive target guns when using my modest K-38.

    It’s had to have the paw and paw spring replaced, as well as the firing pin, so much has it been shot and loved. It now wears Hogue wrap-around rubber grips and sits beside a speed loader, both with Hornady Critical Defense loads to make up for its unremarkable power, and serves as my girlfriends night stand gun.

    It’s difficult to imagine a more accurate, robust and simple handgun. It points naturally in the hand, has little in the way of recoil, and of course has the double action revolver manual of arms that even the least experienced shooter can learn quickly and completely.

    This one revolver has taught so many people to shoot a handgun it would be impossible for me to enumerate them. I dearly love my K-38 and despite the wonder-9s and my propensity towards the 1911 I would never feel poorly armed with my Masterpiece and a speed loader or two. It’s like a .22 rifle, you seemingly can’t miss with this weapon, and that more than makes up for its capacity and power issues.

    I really had no idea that they were so popular or collectable. I always thought I’d just lucked into an excellent revolver that was a well kept secret. It’s joyous for me to learn that I’m not the only one who loves them.

      • Much to my chagrin, you’re of course right Brain. I really wanted to blame it on the spell checker but I checked, and it accepts ‘pawl’ and so I haven’t any idea why I’ve attempted to marry animal anatomy and a revolver, though ‘field expedient’ repair comes to mind. . .

  14. I like all types of firearms but there is nothing like the k frames. The diversity is amazing. From the 1899 32-20 the ancestor of the k frame that my grandfather carried in law enforcement in the 1930s I’m fortunate enough to have.To the 1957 mod14 8 3/8″ single action only and a like new 1956 military and police 5″ in the original box. Also my regular shooter a circa 1976 14.

  15. My interest in Model 15s was initiated when I decided to make a shadow box of my late father’s service in the USAF and a consequent need for a representative copy of the .38 he wore while flying an AC-119 Shadow gunship in 1969 South Vietnam. I’ve since acquired 4 more. My favorite is my 15-2 with target trigger and hammer, but it’s too beautiful to shoot so I keep a well worn 15-3 handy for the days at the range. It shoots better than any of the other half dozen modern semi automatics I own. If any firearm is allowed into heaven, this one will be there…likely laying somewhere near a Garand rifle.

  16. I’ve had a K-38 SW Masterpiece revolver since 1980. But it was confiscated by police . I just represented myself in a case to save the gun from immediate destruction. I’m being allowed to have the gun turned over to a licensed dealer in my area and I will get 80% of the proceeds when it it sold. It really is a nice weapon and was great for target practice. Still in great shape and hasn’t been fired since 1989. I have 3 yrs, 4 months left before my gun possession rights are restored. Some of these laws really seem unfair.

  17. I inherited my Dads K38 Masterpiece. I finally went to the range with it today. After checking the sights from a rest at 25 yds where all the shots were clustering into a ragged hole I shot a group offhand that was about 3″. And I lay no claim to being a pistol shot. The thing is gorgeous. I don’t think he ever shot it that much. The blueing is lovely, cylinder tight. I think he must have purchased it sometime in the early 60’s.

  18. …. while on tour in the Air Force , in the early 60’s , I witnessed the slow transformation from the 1911 to the .38 Combat Masterpiece ….
    I was a sentry dog handler caring the 1911 … while the NCO’s got ” first dibbs ” on the Masterpiece . I did get to go to the range to qualify with ” the piece “… it was the nicest gun I’ve ever fired ….. and the thing I remember most about it …..which
    no one has mentioned so far …is … it’s wide trigger …which I found most appealing …. I was able to apply the hand gun training I received at Lackland where my instructor infasized
    using the ball of your finger and squeezing off the round .

  19. Interesting how long this trail has been going, and all comments have positive things to say about the K frames. My K38 Target Masterpiece was my first pistol purchase ever. I bought it not long after I joined the Navy in the early 80’s. At that time S&W had quit making the gun and the salesman told me it was considered an operational collectors piece, which was the truth. Since then, as I understand it, it has gone back into and out of production twice. Still, the $320 I paid for it back then, which seemed like a lot to a young sailor, is a tad cheaper then they go for today. It is a great gun with outstanding accuracy. My step son, who is used to shooting his semi-autos and kind of hitting all over the target, is amazed at how much more accurate he is with this gun. Mine has the 8 3/8″ barrel, which helps a lot. The only issue I have ever had is a couple of miss fires I attribute to bad reloads I had purchased. Other than that the gun has performed flawlessly all these years. I am going to a gun show this weekend specifically to look for a S&W model 27/28. I know this is not a K frame, it is an N frame. The point is that S&W make great revolvers, and the old Highway Patrolmen is one of the best. It was an S&W HP that I first scored Expert Marksman with in the Navy. That is what got me to looking for an S&W revolver when I bounght my K38. So now I’m on the look out for a HP to add to my collection.

  20. I never had much use for a revolver until I used a S&W Combat Masterpiece a the firing range at Andrews AFB. Yearly duty as a flight crewmember. We were given 3oo rounds to fire with this gun. It looked new and was smooth to fire. I thought extremely accurate and I, too, liked the wide trigger. I did own a Ruger Single-Six .22 which I bought in 1960 for $63, new. I think I would like to own a S&W like this one. I have five semi automatics, one being a Remington Model 51 with a four digit serial number, which i believe was manufactured in 1918-19. It is .380 cal and in mint condition.

  21. I am going to an estate auction today where they are selling one of these, model 14, K 38 Masterpiece.

    I hope it’s in good condition and that no one else at the sale realizes what a good gun it is.

    I already own 2 other S&W’s. They are wonderful revolvers and I could sure use another one.

    • I bought my K38 Masterpiece way back in like 1982, not long after they had first stopped making them. At that time it was considered an “operartional collectors piece”. I really did not know anything about the gun, but was going off what the salesman at the gun store told me. It was actually my first pistol purchase and my second gun purchase. I was in my early 20’s and just starting my military career. So now I have had it all these years and consider it one of the best gun purchases/investments I have ever made. And it was all done in ignorance. Sometimes the Lord just smiles down un us.

  22. I bought my combat masterpiece back in college 1968, I knew I
    Liked it, at the time I really don’t know why. I was at a gun shop
    Some guy had it on lay- a-way, missed 3 payments , so the shop owner sold it to me. Had to sell a Browning 9 I had to get the money$—– shot it once back in the 60’s,just shot for the second time three weeks ago, god I made a great decision in the sixties. The piece is a 99% what a great revolver !!

    • Yep. These are timeless, regardless of what decade you shoot them in. I know-kinda redundant. Anyway, hard to believe you have owned it for 46 years and just shot it for the 2nd time. Think of all the good shooting you have been missing. I do hope you cleaned it after the 1st time you shot it. Just kidding-I’m sure you did. S&W has always built a great revolver. These K models just happen to be diamonds amongst the other precious jewels. My recommendation Steve; shoot it some more and enjoy it. These models have appreciated greatly. But since you have already shot it a couple of times, not shooting it is not going to make a difference in value. So enjoy it, show it off, and have fun putting those groupings into that very small bull’s-eye in the middle of the target.

  23. I kinda sadly got rid of the huge target trigger on mine in exchange for a more narrow grooved trigger (much better for double action shooting). But still an awesome gun I take to the range to commune with a better time 🙂

  24. Yep-too late. The word has gotten out. Every one of these I have seen come up for sale lately has been in the $700-$900 range. Actually, most any of the S&W revolvers I have seen, regardless of model, has been up there. I did finally score a model 28 at a gun show last year and got it for $550. He also had a model 19 for the same price. I should have bought that also, but funds only allowed for one of them. Needless to say, I am constantly on the look out now any of the models listed here to see if I can find one for a “reasonable” price.

  25. I just was given one by the widow of a friend who died a couple years ago. She was finally going through his stuff and found it in a locked box. Its in pristine condition, I don’t think it was ever fired which isn’t too surprising as my friend was an anti. Who knew he had such a nice gun stashed away?

    • Mine was tucked away and likely unfired as well, tell I got hold of it of course… 🙂

      I heard Roy Jinks commented one time that he thought 50% of S/W’s revolvers were bought and stashed away never to be fired. From my limited sample, and area, it seems the 38 specials are typically the most commonly older revolvers found in this condition. Maybe mainly urban buyers, making decent enough money to want an “American Made” gun, likely the only caliber they had heard of when they went shopping in the 50’s-60’s, and with very limited access to ranges. Of course in those days and among that group “Defensive handgun training” and even “practice” not quite as popular concepts. Just personal theory.

  26. James, your theory may have some validity. There is also the possibility that during that time frame there were a fare number of returning military from Korea and Vietnam. And they may have been looking for something for the house. Figure that in that time frame the standard calibers for handguns were mostly .22, .32, .38, .357, and .45. There were others, but I think these were probably the most “normal” calibers. Even today with so many choices, I think except for maybe the deletion of the .32 and the addition of the 9 mm/.40 these still make up most handgun purchases. The .38 has always been a good middle of the road selection. A good target pistol, but with enough power to stop most adversaries.

    By the way, reading back over earlier posts it was mentioned that the .38 had gotten a bad rap in the Philippines due to its inability to stop the hyped up enemy. This is very true. However, what this eventually led to was the development of the .357 by Dan Wesson of S&W fame. He partnered with Federal I believe to develop the cartridge. This is where the Model 19 Combat, and the “N” frame, came from, and that eventually led to the model 27 for sale to the public. Several police departments approached S&W, including state Highway Patrols, who wanted to purchase the .357, but did not want to spend the extra money for the “nice” amenities like the high luster bluing and the checkered grips. They wanted something less expensive, and so the model 28, Highway Patrolman, was born. The reason for the step up from the “K” frame to the “N” frame was to provide a little more heft to the weapon which of course meant less kick. A more manageable weapon. Now you have the short history of the .357 and the “N” frame.

  27. A few years ago, I bought a new Model 27, and loved it! I also have 2 short barreled 686, first edition, consecutive SN# Rosewood handled, combat grips. They are beautiful, and I fell in love with them at first sight! I’ve been saving them, so I haven’t shot them, yet! I’ve got 4 Sig Autos, and way too many other pistols, in most calabers, including my .460. The holster cost $200.00. I carry small Sigs, but like competing at the range, with the full sized pistols.

    I came across 2 Colt Police Positives .38 Specials, and bought both. One is 90% or better, and the other is 95% or better. I enjoyed shooting both of them, but one shoots a little to the side, but still deadly. I went back to the same place a couple of weeks later, and found a Model 10, for $400.00. I fell in love with its action. It’s great in single action or double action. My buddy shot one ragged hole with the six shots he had. He really liked the gun also, but was looking fore one in stainless steel, with an adjustable rear sight. I looked around and found a model 15-6, at Gander Moutain, on sale for $349.00. That is a very reasonable price, for a S&W Pistol. The pistol looked better in person, than its picture on line. I don’t think it is even close, between the Colts, and the Smiths, with the Smiths winning hands down. I’ve got all the Colts that I want to collect, but I’ll keep my eye open for some more Smith & Wesson Revolvers. I’ve got a new Model 25 on back-order. At 69, revolvers are appreciated, when saving brass. No chasing and bending.

    I found these guns at a local gun store, in a small farm community. Farmers like good guns, also. Get out to small gun stores. These guns wouldn’t have been in my larger community gun store displays. Have fun and be safe!

  28. I bought both Smiths, .38 cal 10-5 2′ snubnose and the 15-3 4″ back in 1976 a couple after getting out of the military. I paid $118 for the snubnose and I believe the same for the 15-3. I still have the box and bore brush for the snubnose which is why I am sure of that price. I probably have only put about hundred rounds combined through the two of them, and even though they just sit in the safe I have always been proud just owning such a pair of high quality firearms. By the way, I qualified for CCL with the 4″ and was the only revolver in a class of about 20. Shot like a dream. I recently went Gander Mtn to see what they would give me for the snubnose on trade and was told $125. Even not being knowledgable about gun pricing, I knew that it was worth more than that and was frankly insulted. Last time for that place.
    Really appreciate all of the knowledgable folks here to help me gain some insight.

  29. I picked mine up in excellent condition from gander mountain (years ago when they weren’t gouging on prices for EVERYTHING) for $250. Other than the drag marks on the cylinder it is beautiful. I should have looked for a couple more back then.

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