What I Carry and Why: Ralph’s S&W 642 Airweight

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[ED: In response to reader requests, this is part of a series of posts by TTAG writers revealing their choice of carry guns.]

Sometimes I carry a .40 caliber M&P, and sometimes I don’t. It depends on what I’m wearing, which is determined by the weather, which in Massachusetts can be charitably described as “variable,” or realistically described as “atrocious.” What isn’t variable or atrocious is the Smith & Wesson Model 642 Airweight revolver that I carry every day, everywhere, even when I’m toting the .40 caliber pistol . . .

The M642 is small and light. With its internal hammer, there’s no spur to snag in my pocket or on a garment. Because of the Apex trigger kit that I installed, with its lightened (but still substantial) trigger press, my 642 is accurate at self-defense distances. At the closest of close quarters, snubbies have proven themselves to be formidable contact weapons. I can pocket-carry my 642, stuffed into a Blackhawk #3 pocket holster for safety’s sake. I can also carry the petite revolver in an IWB Remora holster or OWB Blackhawk leather holster. Any way I choose it, it prints less than an unemployed typesetter.

Loaded with five rounds of Hornady Critical Defense .38Spl hollowpoint ammo, the M642 has reasonable firepower for backup or primary duty. I also carry along a couple of full HKS #36A Speedloaders. They provide 10 extra rounds, for a total of 15, just in case I encounter a small zombie horde on my way to the nearest Piggly Wiggly.

And talk about pure, unadulterated schadenfreude! When I walk around, say, Boston with that M642 tucked away, I know that the hoplophobic citizens stumbling around me in Condition Oblivious — whose tax money paid for all that insanely expensive infrastructure — are legally disarmed while I am not. To quote Beldar Conehead, this pleases me.

Alas, all is not sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The M642’s handle is best suited to people with only three or four digits or the small hands of a prepubescent pickpocket. Because of the revolver’s 15-ounce weight, recoil can be a bit stout. Vestigial sights, a microscopic sight radius and a two-inch barrel do not facilitate 25 yard target shooting by anyone except that cyborg known as Jerry Miculek. Five loaded rounds aren’t ten loaded rounds, which is the maximum under the Commonwealth’s preternaturally stupid “assault weapons” ban. And yet, practice overcomes all. Or most. Reloads are reasonably quick with Speedloaders, the gun will shoot straight and it will go “bang” when I need it the most.

In my opinion, everybody should have a little Airweight that they can count on. And why not? They make great stocking stuffers. They’re stealthier than a black cat at midnight. The revolver needs about as much care as a pet goldfish. And – to continue with the animal theme – like a rabid basenji, the M642’s bite is fiercer than its bark.

comments

  1. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    Nice old school rig Ralph!

    1. avatar Another Robert says:

      Wood, metal, and leather–the right stuff….

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        The wood grips do nothing to dampen the snap of +P ammo, but damn they look good! The original Uncle Mike’s Boot Grip and a replacement Hogue Bantam worked good, looked meh.

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          “The original Uncle Mike’s Boot Grip and a replacement Hogue Bantam worked good, looked meh.”

          One of the things that concerns me about deep concealment is the possibility of a rubber grip snagging on clothing at the exact moment I don’t want it to happen.

          In that regard, that (damn good-looking) rounded slick wood grip eliminates that possibility.

          And yeah, the full recoil without cushioning is gonna sting.

          Has anyone ever developed a revolver grip with a smooth exterior that has a rubber shock absorber of some type inside to tame the bite of hot loads?

        2. avatar Old Ben turning in grave says:

          That’s exactly my most common rig, but with the original grip. I find that it’s a bit difficult to use a speed loader with that grip, though. And speed loaders take up too much pocket space. I like strips. Not as fast, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept.

    2. avatar Ralph says:

      I’m all about the school. brother.

      1. avatar Rad Man says:

        Nicely done, Ralph! I used to pocket carry an Airweight in my cargo shorts but every time I ran somewhere it would bang into my sack. Probably not a QC issue.

        1. avatar Ralph says:

          Well, Rad Man, you’re obviously not a New York Times Modern Man, because the NYTMM has no sack!

        2. avatar Geoff PR says:

          “… every time I ran somewhere it would bang into my sack. Probably not a QC issue.”

          Try lower cargo shorts that go to the knee.

          Or stash it in one of the lower pockets.

          Or suck it up (so to speak) and wear ‘tightly-whities’…

          🙂

        3. avatar Geoff PR says:

          EDIT –

          Make that ‘tighty whities’…

  2. avatar Art out West says:

    I love my 642. It is my main EDC. I guess I am among the “less worried about crime” fans of TTAG.

  3. avatar ANdrew Lias says:

    Gotta ask hype aside ever thought about the .327 Federal Magnum?

    Also what’s the story on carrying your speedloaders? Just pocket carry? Why not speed strips?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      @ANdrew, I use the speedloaders because I tried to master speed strips and never could. In fact, they slowed me down, YMMV. As for the .327 Mag, I like it — a lot — but I found ammo availability to be somewhat limited.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I use speed loaders and speed strips for my m10 and 442. The 442 I left with the stock rubber grips. They don’t look as good as the wood type but they feel better recoil wise.

        As for the trigger. I just snap capped the bejeesus out of mine when it was new. Either the trigger smoothed up or I got so used to it that it no longer matters.

        Everybody should have a snubbie .38. Classic Americana at its best.

  4. avatar Korvis says:

    Yay revolvers! Love the Speed Classic holster too. Nice choice.

  5. avatar CarlosT says:

    What’s the trigger like? Due to a childhood injury, I can handle up to about eight pounds or so, but any heavier and I’m lucky if I can pull the trigger once over a five second span.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      CarlosT,

      I did a trigger job on a S&W model 642. From the factory I would say the trigger had to be every bit of 12 pounds (or more!). After the trigger job, I would say it is every bit of 8 pounds. It is also a bit more smooth of course.

      If you have trouble with 8 pounds, I would stick with semi-auto pistols.

    2. avatar TTACer says:

      I will echo with what uncommon_sense said. Although I can’t speak to a post-trigger job trigger, the factory trigger is like a really heavy staple gun. I have the 638 (shrouded hammer) and not only is SA still kind of heavy, albeit very clean, the hammer is very difficult to cock if you don’t have the hand strength. BTW if you get a pistol make sure it has a locked breach (delayed vs. straight blowback) because the spring on a blowback is necessarily much heavier. A .32 Tomcat is harder to rack than almost any 9mm. I don’t know about the .9mm though, that might be a good choice;-)

    3. avatar Ralph says:

      @CarlosT, uncommon_sense was spot on. The trigger with the Duty Carry Apex Kit is a bit over 8 pounds, very smooth but as I noted, it’s still substantial. It has to be substantial or it won’t light up every time.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        “It has to be substantial or it won’t light up every time.”

        This is exactly correct. Go any lighter on the trigger and you will start to get occasional light primer strikes … in other words insufficient force to strike the primer and cause detonation.

  6. avatar notalima says:

    Wait, I’ve killed goldfish…

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      On purpose?

  7. avatar younggun21 says:

    Nice, I just inherited my grandmothers old S&W model 49 bodyguard and it is an excellent carry solution for pocket carry albeit a bit heavy being not an air weight model.

    1. avatar TTACer says:

      Very cool.

  8. avatar Danny Griffin says:

    I don’t get it. I carry the same full sized pistol whether it’s 20 below zero or 100 degrees out.

    1. avatar Jon in CO says:

      Agreed. Same gun, everyday, every type of weather.

    2. avatar tdiinva (now in Wisconsin) says:

      I carry a variety of guns some which are large and I have never had concealment issue. The only reason I have a subcompact is that it doesn’t interfere with my golf swing but I do find it useful to have sometimes.

    3. avatar Art out West says:

      So do I, and it is a pocket carried 642.
      Every great once in a while, I’ll carry a Glock or my P3AT. Depends more on clothes than weather.

  9. avatar Gunr says:

    Ralph,
    A few weeks ago I went into the LGS, and was prepared to buy an Airweight M637, which is the same thing, except it has an exposed hammer. I wanted to do a little informal target work, and of course I love plinking at tin cans, so I opted for the exposed hammer.
    No 637’s in stock, but he did have a Ruger LCR with exposed hammer. either 2”, or 3″ barrel. After handling the gun I decided to go with it, in the 3″, since it would be dual purpose gun. Some folks say your under gunned with a 38 Special, but +P makes up for some of that.
    I like that holster, looks like it was made for that gun, which it probably was.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      It’s hard to go wrong with a S&W or a Ruger revolver. To me, the M642’s internal hammer makes it a winner because I do pocket carry a lot.

      BTW, the 642 used to be called the “Centennial,” and IIRC the 638 with the shrouded hammer was called the “Bodyguard” and the 637 the “Chief’s Special.”

      1. avatar Gunr says:

        Gun manufactures change the names on their guns, about as often as I change wives.

    2. avatar paul says:

      Gunr, you mirrored my thoughts exactly. found the trigger on the ruger lcr to be, for me, easier to operate than the trigger on the 642 so am selling the 642 and carrying the ruger lcr. also, the 642, being stainless type finish, seemed to show itself more than the black when the grip stuck its little head out of my cargo pants pocket/

      1. avatar Chrispy says:

        You should never let the little head of your grip out of your pants in public…

  10. avatar Bigdiogi says:

    Basenji humor! The old dog trainer approves.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I was a dog trainer back in the day. I left the dog business for law school. There was less drooling.

      1. avatar Swarf says:

        … previously.

  11. avatar tdiinva (now in Wisconsin} says:

    Been thinking about an Airwiegtht for my wife since she broke her arm and now has trouble racking the slide on her M-9.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      If she can manage the heavy revolver trigger with her injured arm, she’ll be GTG. Let your other half try before she buys. My ex was an okay shot with a M637 (the shrouded hammer Airweight model), but she was much better when she fired it SA. I also rigged it with a laser, which she seemed to like and I hate.

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      tdiinva,

      Just beware that airweight revolvers recoil … a lot.

      This summer while camping, my spouse and I both shot the following handguns all in rapid succession one after another:
      S&W model 642 airweight revolver in .38 Special — 125 grain bullets
      Ruger 9e full-size semi-auto pistol in 9mm — 115 grain bullets
      Ruger GP100 large revolver (6-inch barrel) in .357 Magnum — 158 grain bullets
      Taurus huge revolver (8-inch barrel) in .44 Magnum — 240 grain bullets

      We both agreed without any hesitation that the S&W model 642 airweight revolver had the most unpleasant recoil of all four handguns. That is saying something about airweight revolver recoil when it is more harsh than magnums.

      If your wife is sensitive about recoil, consider a heavier revolver or a “large” semi-auto in .380 ACP. (Given that .380 ACP is a modest cartridge, the recoil spring should be softer than the recoil springs in 9mm pistols.) And if the recoil spring of a .380 ACP proves to be too much, you could always scale down to a semi-auto in .22 LR. I know, .22 LR is a weak defensive caliber but it sure beats a pointy stick.

    3. avatar paul says:

      TD, would like to suggest she try a ruger LC380, my wife has crippled fingers, and she can rack that slide with two fingers. she gave up on a smith bodyguard and a kahr p380. the ruger is unbelieveablely easy to rack.

  12. avatar Charles Ray says:

    Is there some contractual requirement that the writing style on gun blogs must be ridiculously overwrought?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      No, but there does seem to be such a rule for at least one of our commenters.

    2. avatar percynjpn says:

      ridiculously overwrought

      Like the use of the word “overwrought” in your comment?

  13. avatar Jjimmyjomga says:

    I like Ralph’s posts…I agree with most, and all seem well reasoned. Thanks for sharing Mr. Ralph.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      TYVM. BTW, “Mr. Ralph” sounds like a hairdresser from Queens. 🙂

  14. avatar Accur81 says:

    That’s a beautiful rig, sir. My version is a Smith 340 PD loaded with Buffalo Bore 140 grain tactical / short barrel .357 JHP’s. It’s very light, loud, and not very accurate.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I’ve shot that very same setup, right down to the ammo. Those rounds are hot, the gun is light, and I liken the experience to whacking my palm with a 2X4, again and again and again.

      And there was the time that Farago, that wacky funster, loaded up a gorgeous S&W snubby with .357s when I asked for plain-jane .38Spls. I had no idea what was going on until it dawned on me to open the cylinder and check. Well, duh.

  15. avatar Pg2 says:

    Great pistol, MP 340 same.

  16. avatar Bob says:

    Looking at your speed loaders, in the picture, it looks like the cases can move around i.e. the loader is lined up with the cylinder but the rounds are angled down. Had this problem years ago and switched over to Safariland loaders, they are a little harder get the rounds into but are faster to get them into the gun.

    1. avatar Jjimmyjomga says:

      Bob, you are right that the safariland loaders are far superior, especially the lates generation of push-buttons. Only thing quicker is moon clips, which several of the Smiths can handle.

  17. avatar Gunr says:

    Ralph,
    I love walnut on a gun, and I see you do too, But I’m wondering why you chose a grip that may be difficult to control with sweaty hands, since there is no checkering.
    Not faulting your choice, just wondering, since it is for personal defense, and nice looking grips, such as these, are usually not the prime thing to consider?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      It’s a valid question. I’ve never had a problem maintaining a secure grip with those wood grips, even when my hands were sweaty. Maybe it’s the finger groove which is visible in the photo. It locks my middle finger into a very solid position. It also may be the gripping style that I (and maybe everyone else) use, where my pinkie is curled under the handle. It’s intuitive for me and very secure. Finally, that wood is, for lack of a better word, tacky. It’s nowhere near as slick as it looks.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Pinky under the grip is how I do it also. I think it’s just a natural reaction to running out of room for the digits.

  18. avatar Rick K says:

    I often carry a S&W 442 in a custom made leather lefty IWB. It wears slightly larger Crimson Trace 305 stocks. It rides and hides very well and allows my picky on the grip. Wheelies rock!

  19. avatar Aaron says:

    I’ve accidently killed goldfish – apparently they DO need maintenance. Who knew?

    And the Basenjis I had as a child didn’t usually bite people. Cats , squirrels, and crows, though, were on the menu. Fast little buggers those old-school Basenjis, before all of the wildness was bred out of them.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I first started working with Basenjis over 40 years ago, when they were well-bred but still a little bit wild. I loved their spirit. Great dogs, but a handful, with a ton of sporadic energy.

  20. avatar DaveC says:

    This just gives credence to my theory that it almost doesn’t matter what you carry, as long as it is reliable and goes bang when you need it. Even though I opt to for the XDs .40 for my EDC, carrying anything can be better than carrying nothing. I bought my wife a Walther PPK for her EDC, because she didn’t like anything bigger. She has small hands and arthritis. The PPK is easy enough for her to grip, load and pull the slide back. Look, even a .25 cal is going to make most bad guys think twice when you pull it out and start squeezing off rounds.

  21. avatar William Burke says:

    Cool choice, Ralph.

  22. avatar Matt says:

    Nice choice Ralph.

    I’ll join you a little further down south in CT with a 649 in my pocket or holster.

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