If there’s a more popular backup/pocket gun than Smith & Wesson’s venerable J-frame wheel guns, I’m not sure what it would be. There’s just something about five rounds of .38 Special JHP carried in a steel handgun that just inspires confidence. But being a last-ditch backup or pocketable concealed carry pistol means Smith’s J-frames are, by definition, diminutive. And that especially applies to the revolver’s rudimentary grips.
J-frame grips — meant for easy concealment and a quick draw – will only accommodate two digits. That means your little finger ends up either curled under the bottom or, if you have bigger mitts, dangling out there in the atmosphere.
If the feel of a free-floating pinkie isn’t your thing, you can always replace your factory Smith grip with a larger, three-finger aftermarket “combat” grip. But that defeats much of the purpose of the J-frame’s easy portability and stealthiness.
Enter Pachmayr, a division of Lyman Products, who had a better idea. Their replacement GuardianGrip for J-frame revolvers has a spring-loaded extension that stows away inside the grip for easy carry. It then deploys lickety-split when you grab it, giving you a more secure, three-finger hold on your wheelgun.
My J-frame revolver is a well-worn, slightly customized Model 642-2 that had been fitted with a Crimson Trace LaserGrip. It was an easy job to remove two screws and pop that off. That’s where you need to make a decision.
Smith J-frame handles feature a roll pin inserted near the bottom that some replacement grips require for stability. In their installation instructions, Pachmayr specifies using a punch to pop the pin out of the handle. You can’t install the GuardianGrip with that roll pin in place.
Or can you? Since I tend to lose small parts like miscellaneous set screws, washers and pins, I wanted to leave that roll pin in place for possible future use and decided to do a little improvising.
The GuardianGrip has a series of support ribs molded into the interior of each half for strength. They’re what conflict with that pesky roll pin. But they’re nothing a grinding wheel mounted to a Dremel can’t take care of in about 30 seconds.
Once those were out of the way, installation went just the way Pachmayr specifies in their nicely illustrated instructions. Both sides are attached with a single screw that holds the halves firmly in place (though I added a drop of Loctite just to be sure).
One more time: Pachmayr doesn’t advocate grinding down your GuardianGrip’s interior…I took that on myself. You’ll probably want to pop out that roll pin as they advise and follow the instructions. Do as I say, not as I do.
If you’re worried that you’ll have to think about pressing the release button on your Pachmayr GuardianGrip to deploy that grip extension, put your mind at ease. The pressure required to fire the spring and extend the grip is so light that you can’t grip your gun without firing the extension.
“But wait,” you say. “What if my pinkie’s under the grip when the extension pops out of its hidey hole? Will that be a problem?”
Short answer: nope. You can easily grip and fire your gun the old fashioned way if the extension deploys against your dangling digit. But it’s also extremely easy to momentarily move your little finger forward allowing the extension to fully deploy. A little practice drawing and dry-firing is more than enough to get comfortable with your GuardianGrip.
Pachmayr GuardianGrip at the Range
Shooting a J-frame with a GuardianGrip mounted, you quickly come to understand the real advantages it gives you. The added purchase the extension provides combined with the well-executed molded-in checkering give you an unquestionably better, firmer grip.
That translates into two primary benefits:
1) improved accuracy, and
2) reduced felt recoil.
If you’re shooting hot loads (or, God forbid, .357 Magnums) from your pint-size pocket gun, a two-finger grip is, well, adequate. At best. You can console yourself in the knowledge that the pain being transmitted to your hand with each round fired is much better than the alternative of losing in a defensive gun use situation. You hand will stop buzzing…eventually.
But a full three-finger grip on your little J-frame makes a big difference. You’ll have more control, particularly on follow-up shots. And the firmer, more solid hold means less perceived recoil transmitted to your hand. The best part: when it’s time to put the gun away, that extension disappears right back into the grip where it belongs.
Oh and if you’re not a Smith weenie like I am there’s also a model for the Ruger LCR.
Do you need a $49.98 aftermarket GuardianGrip for your J-frame? That depends. If you have small hands like mine, maybe you can get a firm enough hold on your wheel gun with the standard factory rubber or wood grips. Maybe.
If you have larger mitts, that’s probably much more of a challenge and you’ll definitely benefit from the three-finger hold a GuardianGrip gives you.
I can tell you that after giving the Pachmayr GuardianGrip a try, it’s not coming off of my 642. Anyone want to buy a gently used Lasergrip for a J-frame?
Specification: Pachmayr GuardianGrip
Models: Smith & Wesson J-Frame, Ruger LCR
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ease of Installation: * * * * *
If you have a screwdriver, you can do it. The entire job may take you 60 seconds.
Build Quality: * * * *
Nicely molded polymer fits the J-Frame’s contours well, if not perfectly.
Functionality: * * * * *
It simply works every time, giving you an ideal three-finger grip on your J-frame.
Overall: * * * * *
The GuardianGrip does exactly what it’s designed to do and does it exceedingly well.
A version of this review originally appeared at AmmoLand and is reprinted here with permission.