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They only carry five rounds of .38 Spl +P ammunition and, at 15 ounces, they weigh about the same as some autoloaders that hold more rounds. At first blush, it might seem that Smith & Wesson’s little J-frame revolvers have outlived their usefulness. So the question is, are these diminutive hideout guns still relevant?

If sales mean anything, then the answer is an unqualified “yes.” Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolvers remain huge sellers. But why? There are a lot of good reasons to own a J-frame, because the advantages that small revolvers offer to CCW holders outweigh the disadvantages inherent in the platform.

Did you know that:

  • Carson Kressley can’t limp-wrist a snubby. Not that he tried, but I’m willing to bet.
  • Revolvers don’t fail to feed or fail to eject. Phrases like “won’t return to battery,” “stovepipe jam” and “this POS sucks” are from an alien language not spoken in Revolverland.
  • A revolver is a superior weapon for close contact. Shoved into the ribs of a bad guy, the little J-frame conveys its message of peace, love and understanding with surprising eloquence.
  • Loading a revolver is simple. Reloads are reasonably quick with speed loaders, and at least one J-frame model comes from the factory already cut for moon clips.
  • People with a “dead fish” handshake may lack the grip strength to rack a slide, but they can easily press a crane latch and swing open a cylinder.
  • A snubby is as easy to clean as a Rachael Ray Hard Anodized Sauté Pan. When the work is done, just wipe it down and put away. The gun, I mean. The pan could use a bit of a wash.
  • J-frames aren’t picky about ammo, either, and they’ll digest whatever they’re fed. Compare that to a pistol that can jam like the Grateful Dead when it’s fed cheap ammo. Load any .38 Special cartridges, from the priciest to the cheapest, and the J-frame revolver will shoot them all.
  • Revolvers aren’t sneaky. When there’s a round in the cylinder, it’s obvious.
  • Staring down the muzzle of a J-frame is very intimidating. Even though the revolver is small, it doesn’t look like a toy.
  • Snubbies are inexpensive to buy. The Smith & Wesson Model 642 pictured here cost $332 NIB, excluding sales tax.
  • The gun hasn’t been invented that can be deployed more swiftly, or from more places, than a lightweight snub-nosed revolver. From pocket, purse or holster, ankle or waistband, stuffed into a small-of-the-back or shoulder holster, wherever it’s carried, the snubby can be presented with incredible rapidity. In fact, it needn’t be presented at all. In a pinch, it will shoot through a coat pocket, holster or carry bag with great speed and precision, ruining both the garment and the bad guy’s whole day.
  • Finally, snubbies look cool in a retro kind of way. Gee, I wish I could say the same about myself.

Okay, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the snub-nosed holster hornet I’m currently beholding is the Smith & Wesson 642 Airweight. Airweight is what S&W calls its old school lightweight pocket revolvers with aluminum frames and stainless steel cylinders, cranes and barrels – and that’s the entire barrel, not just a sleeve. Smith & Wesson also makes heavier small revolvers all in steel and lighter “Airlight” models in exotic metals. The Airweight revolvers fall someone in the middle in terms of weight, and represent a good balance between low avoirdupois and slick handling.

There are three major Airweight variants, all sold under the forgettable and confusing model numbering system foisted upon the public by Smith & Wesson in 1957. The internal hammer DAO variant of the J-frame that’s now called the Model 642 was originally released in time for S&Ws centennial in 1952. The internal hammer revolver is still referred to as the “Centennial” model, which isn’t a sexy name but still packs more marketing punch than “642.”

Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolvers remain among the best pocket rockets ever made; the Model 642 is perhaps the best of the best. The Centennial J-frame conceals well and won’t hang up or snag in a pocket or holster. It shoots very straight notwithstanding its tiny 1.875” barrel. I like the fact that it’s not made of plastic. The all-metal 642 sports a silver and gray finish; the 442 is the same revolver, but with a handsome blued finish. Internally, they are twins and they are the archetypes of the genre.

Small snubbies are pop icons in the gun world. Bad guys and good guys, off-duty cops and on-duty thieves, detectives and detectees, hit men, hit shows and hot chicks have all featured the Centennial as their quintessential concealed carry piece. Maestro, cue the Henry Mancini Peter Gunn Theme Music.

Should everyone follow suit and pack Gunn’s gun? No, because there are disadvantages to carrying any small revolver.

When looking at the disadvantages, we need look no further than the 642’s trigger. Sure, it has a smooth surface and a sinuous curve that begs to be pressed. But once pressed, the shooter will know why the little gun’s trigger isn’t knurled. It would leave a permanent, pressed-in tattoo.

Frankly, the trigger of any new Airweight is as stiff as a dead carp and cries out for a power assist. Or at least a windlass. Measuring the pull weight is tough since it exceeds the limit of most truck scales, but 200 kilos sounds about right. That’s a total exaggeration of course. Would you believe more than 12 pounds?

The upside of the heavy trigger is that it’s very safe and the gun is unlikely to go off accidentally. In fact, during the first range session, a new shooter may begin to wonder if it will go off intentionally. Not to worry. The revolver will fire every time.

There are two “cures” for what ails the trigger. A lot of dry fire will break in the revolver and soften the springs substantially, although even a well-used 642 trigger will never rival that of a top-notch DA pistol. Until the trigger is well broken in, use the crease of the distal joint, called the “power crease” of the trigger finger. It will save a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on tendons and ligaments.

The second cure, and one that requires no surgery except upon the gun, is a good trigger job from a competent gunsmith. The price is usually very reasonable and elevates the trigger from ridiculous to nearly sublime, enhancing accuracy and comfort without sacrificing function or safety. Some owners have swapped out the springs for something softer. I haven’t tried doing so, preferring to let a ‘smith have at it with his collection of little files.

Then there are the sights. Successfully using these snag-free pimples requires a bit of practice. Okay, a lot of practice. The two stunted organelles consist of a ramped front sight that’s fairly conventional in appearance but small.

The vestigial rear sight is an abortion. The rear sight seems like an afterthought; it’s as if one of the engineers suddenly smacked himself on the forehead one day because he forgot to sketch a rear sight onto the shop drawings.

The working part of the rear sight is squared-off U-notch that resides at the end of a trough running the length of the top strap. We all know what a good sight picture should look like, with the front sight in crystal clarity and the rear sight and target blurred. We all know the mantra “equal height, equal light.” We all know these things, but the rear sight on the 642 does us in when we try to apply them.

A dab of sight paint on the sights fore and aft can make them marginally more useful, but that’s as far as it goes. And if the rear sights don’t get the sight picture all flummoxed up, the short 4 5/8 inch sight radius will.

As to the recoil, .38 Specials don’t typically kick hard, even in +P. Loaded into a full-sized revolver with a four or six-inch barrel, .38s will have average shooters punctuating targets with the lethal efficiency of Jesse James or Annie Oakley. Accurate double-taps will be banged out faster than Tommy Lee paradiddles.

Loading the same rounds into a J-frame changes everything. With its two-finger stock and light weight, every press of a 642’s switch will make the gun jump like a frog with a hot poker up its heinie. Fortunately, while the recoil takes the gun off-target right away, the snubby comes back to point naturally and effortlessly in the blink of an eye. Although the J-frame is the definitive last ditch contact weapon, it was born to rapid fire.

Shooting standard pressure or +P ammo, the J-frame’s comfort isn’t compromised by its low mass. The Uncle Mike’s boot grips that are standard on the 642 insulate the shooter’s hand from any harshness. Even after a long range session, a shooter’s palm will be none the worse for wear. There are grips that look better or cost more, but none that I’ve tried work better than the 642’s standard grips. Kudos to Smith & Wesson for an inspired choice.

Kudos also to Smith for wringing the last bit of accuracy from this peashooter. Pictured is a two inch, five-shot group that I rapid-fired offhand at 5 yards with Fiocchi range ammo.

Results were similar with Hornady Critical Defense, Remington, Winchester White Box, Brown Bear and everything else I fed the 642. Groups opened up to about four inches at ten yards. At 25 yards, still shooting offhand, I was on paper but would hardly refer to the shotgun clusters I was shooting as “groups.”

Given my “ancient eye syndrome,” I was pleased with minute of bad guy accuracy at 25 yards, which is well past legitimate self-defense distance in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Really good shooters with their original eyes untouched by cataracts, astigmatism or farsightedness can replicate my 10-yard results at 25 yards all day long, without sandbags or other rests. The 642 is just as accurate as it needs to be, and maybe a little bit more.

This particular 642 came with the controversial internal lock that most serious shooters despise. Rumors about guns jamming because of these “lawyer locks” have proven to be absolutely true. Shooters are all individualists and may choose their own path when dealing with the lock. I note only that removing the lock mechanism does not leave a hole in the frame, because only the guts need to be removed. It’s a DIY job, or can be performed in ten minutes by a gunsmith when he does the obligatory trigger job on this revolver. I’d put up a video, but then you’d blame me.

The main argument against any snubby is its five-round capacity. Some people are uncomfortable with the notion of resolving serious self-defense issues with so few shots before needing a reload. Personally, I’m not planning on needing more than one shot delivered with pinpoint accuracy to the right spot. Thus, one bad guy versus five rounds of FU seems like an overlay to me. However, it’s the things that aren’t planned that get people killed. Like a second bad guy. And if I’m ever attacked by angry triplets, five rounds aren’t going to cut it.

So I adore snubbies, but not as my EDC if I’m only carrying one. In Massachusetts, we are limited to ten round magazines by virtue of an “assault weapons” ban that’s among the stupidest laws ever written. Since even a ten-round mag offers twice the ammo of my snubby, I tend to carry a pistol more often than the J-frame. There are situations, though, where the J-frame revolver is my best or only option. A gun is only a tool, after all, and using the right tool for the job is critical.

When I ride my bicycle or wear dress clothes, for example, the 642 carries and hides much better and more comfortably than any pistol that I’ve tried. That includes some diminutive .380s and 9mms. I carry my 642 around my home, too, where I have fast access to other guns to finish the fight if my snubby doesn’t. I never saw a reason for carrying a back-up gun, but if I did, the 642 would be my first and only choice. It’s the definitive BUG. And try carrying a Beretta 96 or a 1911 in an ankle rig.

Another word of warning to those who may be considering the purchase of a J-frame for a new shooter: don’t. A J-frame would not be a proper choice for noobs, especially women. Just ask Alicia Keyes.

Yes, it‘s cute. Yes, it fits small hands. Yes, it’s light. I’m referring to the gun, not Ms. Keyes, although I’m sure that she’s all of the above. That doesn’t mean it’s the “right” gun for everyone. The snub nosed Airweight is most suitable for experienced and enthusiastic shooters, not for people still searching for their handgun métier or a new Safe Queen. On the other hand, no experienced shooter should be without a J-frame, and my pick of the litter is the Model 642. Not only is it a great little belly gun, but the color goes well with any ensemble.


Model: Smith & Wesson Model 642
Caliber: .38 Special +P
Cylinder capacity:  5 rounds
Materials: Aluminum frame, stainless steel cylinder, crane and barrel
Weight empty: 15 ounces
Barrel Length: 1.875″
Overall length: 6.31″
Sights: Integral front,  fixed rear
Action: Double action only
Finish: Matte silver
Price: $449 MSRP, less via Brownells

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Style * * * * *
A style icon for sixty years, carried by every hard-boiled TV cop and few crooks, too. Revolver purists may think that the Chief’s Special looks better than the Centennial or the ugly-duckling Bodyguard. Maybe, but a hammer spur will hang on fabric or leather, precluding pocket carry.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * * *
Fits in your pocket like small change. To protect the trigger (to say nothing of the owner’s privates), all pocket pieces should be holstered. Lots of good pocket holsters are available for J-frames, and they all work just fine.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * 1/2
Barely a two-finger grip, but that’s all anyone should need. Aftermarket grips are available for an all-finger grip. The recoil may scare newbies but is easily mastered through practice. The front sight is okay; the rear sight sucks like gravity.

Reliability * * * * *
There will be peace in the Middle East before this revolver has a misfire. Expect “five for sure” for another sixty years or more.

Customize This * * *
There’s a vibrant aftermarket for grips, including longer ones that enable a full handhold at the expense of concealment. Crimson Trace, LaserMax, LaserLyte, Laser Schmayzer (I made that up) and others provide enough laser choices to keep Goldfinger happy. There’s no rails on this revolver, so that’s it.

OVERALL RATING * * * * 1/2
With a high “power to weight” ratio and a street price well under $400, snubbies are deadly accurate, effective and supremely “carryable” self-defense revolvers. New shooters should avoid them. These are expert guns that shine in the hands of experienced pistoleros.

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  1. First, this is a great review Ralph. I need to bookmark this one. When you said, “A J-frame would not be a proper choice for noobs, especially women”, which handgun do you suggest for them? And are you referring to learning to shoot or as a first time carry gun?

    Oh and I just loved that Peter Gunn show.

    • I’m not Ralph but I think the best suggestion for a new shooter’s first gun is one they have actually fired for themselves at a range that has rental guns. There’s nothing like hands on experience to aid in that difficult and sometimes pricey decision.

        • As a rental junkie:

          a) A 22 autoloader, preferably a Browning Buckmark, but a Ruger MK III will do.


          b) A striker fired polymer 9mm autoloader: Glock, M&P9, Springfield XD/XDm, Ruger SR9. Pick the one most comfortable.

          When someone is starting out, its a lot better for them when they can hit the target well.

          A revolver may be “more reliable”, but in the hands of an average person, a single-action (ok, “Marketing Dual Action”) striker fired 9mm is going to shoot the best at the range.

        • DonWorsham, the best way for a newbie to find out what she or he likes is to go to a range with some rentals and try out a couple. A lot of guys love shooting a Smith & Wesson 686. It’s a very impressive gun. A Glock 17 would be a pretty good choice, too, if the blocky stock doesn’t seem too offputting to the shooter.

          Many women seem to prefer a lighter handgun, and I’ve had good success with the Walther PK380 because the slide is easy to rack and the recoil is well-damped. But in the end, everyone is different and all shooters, new or experienced, will have their favorites. Some women prefer a 1911, and some men a S&W Bodyguard 380.

          Personally, I’ve gone through many pistols, but I keep coming back to the wonderful J-frame.

        • I start folks off with a semi-auto .22 then the Glock 19/17 as well as the M&P Compact. S&W Model 10 then the 642. Depending on the individual this can happen in one session or over several.

        • I own three smith and wesson revolvers– a 642, a model 43 which is a .22 snub, and a model 67-1, the first two are j frames and the third is a k frame.

          A k frame .38 is the go to for a home defense gun but it is hard to carry. I would suggest a k frame for all home defense newbs and even experts. When bad things happen the gun does its job.

          Also, a k frame loaded with 148 grain wadcutters is a tame and super easy weapon. The little gun reviewed here would be fine with 148 grain low power wadcutters in it, even for defense, for a new gunner or woman because it may be mild and it may not expand but it will leave a large hole in whatever target you shoot.

        • Someone who has never fired a handgun before will do very well with a 3rd Gen GLOCK G-19 9mm. If they don’t like the feel, I would suggest a 4th Gen where the back-strap can be changed. Put that woman up against the same woman with identical credentials whom listened to gun shop sales people and ignorant shooting instructors who MADE her get a wheel gun and she will out shoot the lady with the wheel gun each and every time. Racking the slide using a special “female” technique of push/pull is a lot easier than overcoming a less than 2″ barrel, crappy sights and a HARD 10+ pound trigger pull……let alone the recoil. I’ve seen 10 year old girls fire a GLOCK G-19 9mm before. I hope your wife is over 75 pounds and at least 5 feet tall. xD

      • I’m female and my first handgun was a S&W 642 (for some reason I thought a semi-automatic would be too difficult to break down and clean). Anyhow I took it down to the range and a guy who worked there showed me how to hold and shoot it. I didn’t find it to be difficult to shoot at all and I practiced with it for awhile. The range guy couldn’t believe that I was a noobie and said I was a ‘natural’. Downside is that it only has 5 rounds and its more bulky than a semi-automatic for a concealed carry. But it’s a nice little gun and I’m going to keep it.

        Since then I have bought a full sized S&W M&P 9mm and an S&W Bodyguard 380. I LOVE shooting my M&P 9mm. It is comfortable, very accurate, and easy to break down and clean. The only downside is that it is kind of big for a concealed carry (at least in summer), and I would like to have night sites put on it. So far this is my favorite handgun.

        The BG 380 isn’t nearly as accurate as the M&P 9mm (or the 642), has more kickback, is picky about ammo brands, and I hate the way it breaks down for cleaning. The factory laser was way off, but I adjusted it. The only thing I like about the BG 380 is that it makes a nice concealed carry. But I think I may replace that gun with a Sig Sauer.

        • Hi Kat –
          I am brand new to shooting, and just bought this. I am not strong in the hands/ wrists… but I have some friends that recommended the S&W 642 due to being easier to use, clean then a semi as a first gun. But, I find the trigger very, very hard to pull… just with dry shooting. Now, it is brand new – and not been to the range yet with live ammo. But, I am wondering if you have tips/ tricks on how to strenghten in order to pull the trigger with one finger? Does it loosen up wiht use? Again, really like the feel, etc but worried won’t have the strength to really use it.
          Thank you!

        • New Shooter,
          In my experience, the trigger pull on the 642 Airweight does not improve with time & remains at about 12-13 lbs. I solved this by installing a Apex Tactical spring & firing pin kit, which greatly improved the trigger, reducing the pull to 9 lbs. Another option would be to trade the 642 for a Ruger LCR which has an excellent trigger, better sights, & a much better Hogue grip. I carry the 642, but bought 3 LCR’s for my wife & 2 daughters. All 3 of them shoot the LCR better than they do my 642.

        • Kay I’ve owned 390 different handguns and still love my 642 I also carry a sig 938 9mm but the 642 is hard to beat you can hold off 20 people with 5 shots not too many want to be the first 5 to get shot

        • I’m a female with limited shooting experience, and I can shoot the 642 (and the .38 Bodyguard) just fine with decent accuracy. I cannot safely rack the slide of a Glock (26 or 19) no matter what technique I use; I lack the hand strength although I don’t have arthritis. This is not all that rare for smaller or older women. Also, with a revolver there is no worry about limp wristing causing a malfunction that has to be cleared.

          I would not categorically say the 642 is a poor choice for a beginner or a woman. Of course, anyone should try out several guns before purchasing one if at all possible.

  2. As to the recoil, .38 Specials don’t typically kick hard, even in +P

    My 442 with full powered loads rolls back sharply into the web of my thumb. Probably this is a size of the hand thing. Fatter grips might help; I have the standard sized CT grips. Ten of those shots is about all I care to endure. Hand loaded down 20% or so in power factor however makes a practice round that I can shoot for a while.

  3. While the DA S&W trigger pull is heavy, it’s smooth as butter. I can shoot my own S&W 642 better than some autos with a lot more grip surface.

  4. One doesn’t really aim a snubby, more like point. So sights aren’t a priority. After all, it’s a self defense gun not a target pistol.

    • You’re absolutely correct. In fact, this revolver works even better when the muzzle is pressed against the BG’s ribs or in his armpit. The contact shot is an important weapon in the snubby’s arsenal. However, I do like to shoot targets and it takes time to achieve real accuracy at the range with a J-frame’s sights. Not only is accurate shooting fun, but it also builds confidence.

      • About that “belly shot” Cooper often talked about the blow back into a gun from a contact shot. He claimed it would turn semi and revolver into single shot I know I had a granule of unburned powder find its way under the star and it took a mallet to open the cylinder.

  5. “The Smith & Wesson Model 642 pictured here cost $332 NIB, excluding sales tax.”

    That’s very close (withing $10) to what I paid for my Taurus 605 3 years ago. Where can the 642 be found for this price?

    • S&W reduced the MSRP for all of their handguns recently…the 442 and 642 were selling for $450 or so are now more around $350.

      Not sure if it was a response to the competition or the fact that they were somewhat overpriced, but they are priced very nicely right now.

      At $350 they should be the go-to HCP firearm. Add a pocket holster and you have the perfect summer carry gun.

    • Check out Fleet Farm, They have some very good prices on firearms, That is about what I paid for my 642, An di have to agree with the author, My 642 seems to always find it’s way into the holster when I go out the door.

      But lately watching the carnival taking place on the world stage, and our fearless leaders lack of resolve, I am in serious consideration of up gunning, The Religion of Pieces seems set on a 9/11 o2, and that isn’t even taking into consideration the new game those innocent children from the liberal welfare plantation love to play Polar Bear Hunting aka The Knock Out Game.

  6. This is a great review.

    However, there is one point I have to disagree with you on. I think that this the perfect carry gun for inexperienced shooters. My wife does not come join me at the range that often, so I wanted her to get carry something that was extremely easy to use and safe (without sacrificing simplicity). No manual safeties. That is just one more thing to remember to do when the stuff hits the fan. No failure-to-feed/extract. If the round doesn’t go off, squeeze again and go to the next one. And for someone that doesn’t practice much, those are the kinds of things you want to eliminate. Reloading is a little more time consuming, but doable with a speed loader. I agree that the trigger pull is very safe and heavy. I do not expect my wife to be defending herself at 10 – 25 yds. More like 3 – 5 yds, so the heavier the better. Since this is something she would carry in her purse, I have the extended grips so she can get all three fingers on the grip.

    She has fired it at the range several times, and feels completely comfortable with it. The first time I had her fire it was by drawing from a purse and rapid fire at a silhouette at 5 yds. Everything was center mass in an 8 inch group. For the first time firing this gun, not bad. The idea is to hit the attacker center mass and she accomplished that. By the end of the session, her accuracy had greatly improved. Even with the +P loads, she didn’t complain about the recoil and she is a small girl.

    Yes, shooting this gun with precision accuracy takes time, training, and experience. However, for an inexperienced shooter needing something to defend themselves at a 3-5 yd range, you can’t get any better. It is light weight, easy to conceal, and very easy to use. Point and pull the trigger. At three yards, even my wife doesn’t need to use the sights if it came to that. No worries about jamming and malfunctions (controversial lock removed). The only downside is the small round capacity and the slow reload time. But that is outweighed by other factors. With the short barrels and heavier loads (especially +p), the muzzle flash and discharge report have a certain clearing the room effect. Only the most determined attacker would stick around, hit or not.

    • I’d like to correct you on this point “The first time I had her fire it was by drawing from a purse and rapid fire at a silhouette at 5 yds. Everything was center mass in an 8 inch group. For the first time firing this gun, not bad.”

      That my friend is “not bad” anytime, first time, every time. Good for her!

    • Agreed. Having seen far too many failures-to-fire on the range due to new shooters forgetting how to manipulate a more complex semi-automatic, I believe the first priority is getting a bang. Revolvers accomplish this. A hard-kicking little beast like a J-frame is not going to be fun for target shooting, but lots of people who own guns are never going to be recreational target shooters. At the very least, the lightweight J-frame will ensure that they have a gun, and 5 guaranteed shots. And they’ll remember how to use it even if they haven’t been to the range in years. Those interested in target shooting can always buy a similar S&W with a steel frame or in .22 for long afternoons of fun on the range that will also translate to proficiency with the carry weapon.

      • And don’t forget that there is no requirement to carry 5 +p rounds in it. The +Ps will smack your hand pretty good, but standard 38s are still as powerful as a 9mm and will shoot with comfort, even in an airweight.

        • Standard .38 spl as powerful as a 9mm? Maybe you mean 9mm Kurz, better known as the .380 ACP. Even .38 +P doesn’t make MVs and ft/lbs that a standard 9×19 can, and that’s not even considering the jump of 9mm parabellum +P. For that reason, I would love to see a 940 from S&W again.

          Don’t get me wrong. I have a beloved 442. It goes with me everywhere. Can’t say enough good about it, carry it more than any of my handguns in 9mm, .22 lr/mag, .32 ACP, .357 Sig, .357 Mag, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .45 LC, etc, etc, etc. I own 15 S&Ws and this is my “go to” S&W. I think it has a perfect blend of carry, power and ease of use. I actually enjoy shooting +P through it and it shoots better than I can shoot, 100% reliably. I had a Kimber Solo for awhile, until it decided to stop working (which was the first time I fired it). The 442 quickly, efficiently and perfectly replaced it. It’s confidence inspirer as far as I’m concerned. If I ever had to be reduced to the infamous and much discussed “if I only could have one”, the 442 might be it. So long as I could keep my M14, that is.

        • Please click this link:

          You might notice how very close the two rounds are in reality, biases aside. The 38 has a larger diameter and heavier bullets, vs the 9s light projectile and higher velocity. Apx. equal, either in std loads or +P. If you compare +P 9 to std 38 you get a false result, much the same as comparing a squib to a full power load. Also, in today’s world, one can handload either round to the same exact pressure standards, but it will be over handbook max for the 38, which is still downloaded for the aluminum framed guns, even in +P.
          Either way, both have proven to be adequate manstoppers, at least if one stays away from the 158gr RNL(the old blackpowder but load with modern smokeless.) in the 38.You might also notice that the article was written to DEFEND the 9mm against the 38. So any bias there, would be in favor of the 9, and against the 38.

    • Charles5, we are all different. My ex-gf also carried a snubby (a Model 638 with the shrouded hammer, formerly called the “Bodyguard” before S&W appropriated the name for its current plastic revolver). Equipped with a laser, she shot the 638 like Annie Oakley shot her rifle. However, most of the newbies that I’ve trained don’t handle a J-frame very well, and that includes men as well as women.

      • I agree that the J-Frame is not the easiest thing to shoot. Despite the fact that she does not shoot very often, my wife has quite a knack for it, which probably gives her an edge over other newbies. She holds her own with my Sig P226. To each his own.

  7. Hey, that looks familiar!

    I love mine. I’ve had it for years. It’s always shot pretty well and it seems to shoot better every time I take it out. It is my EDC weapon unless I’m in the woods. I don’t feel limited by the ammo count as a civilian.

  8. A 342PD with Karl Nill boot grips is my constant companion. It is possibly the ultimate J-frame: chambered in .38+P (and therefore lighter weight than models built to handle .357 magnum, which I don’t shoot out of snubbies anyway), scandium frame (lighter!), titanium cylinder (lighter!!) orange ramp front sight (high visibility) and no lock.

  9. the 442 is the one i carry very dependable for sure added a pair of crimson trace handles for fast aiming…one small can of woop a$$

  10. There are grips that look better or cost more, but none that I’ve tried work better than the 642’s standard grips.

    Try the Crimson Trace LG-405 grips. Same profile as the stock boot grips but with better padding (air pocket) over the top of the backstrap and under the fingers, which makes a huge difference in controllability. Plus, they include a laser to aid in aiming and trigger control practice, and I can’t think of any handgun that benefits more from one.

    • My 642 was small in my hands and difficult to hold well. I bought some Babolet tennis grip tape and slightly built the grip up. Fits my hands better and reduced the felt recoil. A much better gun for me to shoot.

  11. Interesting read. We are getting rid of the 642 I bought for the wife several years ago because it is just too difficult for her to shoot. The small size is both a blessing and a curse. For my big hands, it’s waaay too small. We replaced it with a K-frame that is much more to her liking. Review to follow.

  12. these are great , nice review. for beginners start them out with the anemic 38 s& w round. it works fine in thes guns lots less recoil.

    • If your cylinder will take a 38 S&W cartridge and ‘it works fine’, you need to have your gun checked by a gunsmith. The two are not interchangeable. The old 38 S&W has a shorter cartridge case, the cartridge case is bigger around,and the bullet diameter is larger than the 38 Special.

  13. I used to carry Model 60 SW but with only 5 rounds it is a limitation. Why? Well in our city there are gangs, flash mobs, and more than 1 or 2 assailants all too frequently. A cop had a shootout last May with 1 assailant. Of course accuracy is the premier so 5 hits can be btter than 13 rounds out of a Glock 23 with all misses. That happened in our city last May in a shootout with a cop stopping a bike rider with no lights at 1am in the morning. The bike rider pulled out a Detective Special and fired six rounds at the cop striking him 6 times and killing him. He had a protective vest on. The cop fired back 12 times with his Glock 23 but on had 2 strikes to the assailants arms. Assialant up for muder 1.

  14. The 640, which is a more expensive steel framed version of the 642, is a much better gun, mainly because the additional weight makes the gun much easier to shoot. If the gun is easier to shoot, you’ll practice with it more, and have better odds of getting good hits when it counts. To the “I can’t carry a heavy gun” wusses – my 66 year old, 5’2″ mother in law carries a 640 every day. She found the 640 recoil tolerable and the 642 recoil painful. I’ve lost count of the number of women students we’ve had who were initially “turned off” to shooting by men who made their first shooting experience firing a balsawood snub and a 12 ga pump shotgun loaded with buckshot.

  15. Been shooting for a while, Consider myself a gun nut, like revolvers but never owned a snubbie. Picked up a 442 pro series a couple months ago (no lock from factory, moon clips, hammerless, factory CT laser) and now it’s my carry gun quite a bit.

    SUPER LIGHT, man you forget it’s there.
    a little practice (you have to change your hold, the thumbs over the top works great) and it’s remarkably accurate. Especially good point shooter. All of a sudden I have like 3 J frames and the itch to get more.

    Everyone I show it to likes it.
    The first rule of a gunfight: Have a gun.
    It’s light, easy to carry, easy manual of arms (pull trigger).

  16. One of the things that was mentioned in the review, but needs to be mentioned again.

    This gun can be shot while still in a jacket pocket and while still in the holster. No draw time is a HUUUUUUUUUGE advantage if you are in a SD situation. Repeat….this is a H-U-G-E advantage that is replicated by no other S.D. gun type and strongly sways the odds in your favor.

    In my opinion this is the trump move for this gun.

  17. The 642 remains one of the most popular self defense and police back-up guns in the U.S. Due to police and citizen demand, S&W now makes the 642 in a NO-Lock version. If you need to lock the mechanisim of a double action revolver, put a real padlock behind the trigger. Do not buy the INTERNAL LOCK version!

  18. The best investment in your 642 that you can make is to send it to S&W for its “J-frame enhancement package”. For $80 they polish the rebound spring, hammer stud, and yoke barrel bosses; detail the lockwork surfaces; and stone the hammer and trigger contact surfaces. It will make the trigger pull feel significantly lighter even though the springs aren’t changed. Best of all, it won’t affect the warranty.

  19. I’ve really enjoyed this review & associated comments. I would like to offer a couple of observations as a 642 owner with CT lasergrips. The trigger pull is quite firm, but has a very distinct “stop” at which it predictably breaks with minimal pressure. This is very useful for accuracy at a greater distance with slow controlled fire. Also, as stated by others, the 642 can be rapidly fired as well for max hits at short distance.
    The other observation, partially addressed, is the poor rear sight. The 642 will shoot very low if using a traditional “top of front sight on horizontal plane with rear sight notch”. Literally, the front sight needs to have 1/2 of its height sighted above the rear sight notch to shoot proper elevation. I have never shot another firearm that has a similar sight picture.
    However, I think the 642 is the best concealed carry option for me. With a Uncle Mike’s #3 pocket holster or Fobus ankle holster, I hardly know it’s there & no one else does, either. It goes everywhere with me just like my wallet & keys!

    • Odd that I should be replying to this thread 3 to 4 years later, but I am trying to decide how to help an adult daughter on a purchase. But to your point about the sight picture. I have the same issue with a Taurus 738 TCP. Perhaps it is my hands’ reaction to the snappy recoil, or maybe it’s the very short sight radius, but I have to raise the front sight the same way in order to shoot level. Then the little gun is very accurate. I painted the otherwise non-existent sights carefully with a toothpick in order to force myself to raise the front (only painted the lower half of the front sight.)

  20. I a little while back bought a 642-2 power port pro version and I sincerely love the little guy. Light, comfortable, well made and easy to conceal and carry. The only thing I did to it was have a gunsmith do a trigger job on it, and Wow, its even better now. Help me out with a leather pocket holster, as I have a Betz belt slide, but really want a good leather pocket holster.

    Love this great little Smith !!!!

  21. I loved the review and for the most part agree. My wife (an inexperienced shooter) bought one and loves it. She does have a bit of a time pulling the trigger but I have shown her how as per the article to use the distal joint area to help. She also has the Crimson Trace laser which really helps target engagement once it was adjusted properly. I routinely use a revolver over auto loaders as I enjoy the reliability per the article. My 1911 is my true love but for carry it can get heavy. In any event the article was well written and I enjoyed it.

  22. I love this little airweight revolver! Very easy to conceal and the fact that there’s no hammer to snag on your clothing, makes it a perfect weapon for concealed carry!

  23. why do you state that this gun isn’t for women to carry? what would you recommend for them. my ccw is a .380 sig 238. i think my wife should carry a revolver and thought 642 would be a good choice but now i’m not so sure.

    • Mike,
      The only problem for female concealed carry with a J frame is the trigger pull which is very firm & very long. My wife & 2 adult daughters do not like my 642 for this reason only. A trigger job could likely resolve this issue.

    • I am a woman and I’m 5 feet tall and weigh less than 100 pounds and I love the 642. Yes, the trigger is hard to pull and it actually cut my hand in the beginning. However, the longer I used it, the easier it got (and using a pair of gloves while practicing helped also). As a woman, though, I don’t want to necessarily go for an “easier” gun. Let you woman decide for herself—that’s what my husband did and it worked out well for us.

      • I’m a woman, 5’2″, late 60’s, and I too love the 642. At inside-the-room distances it’s not that difficult to be plenty accurate enough. After a dozen or so trigger pulls, either live or dry fire, I start using both index fingers if my finger is tired; there’s plenty of space inside the trigger guard. Semi-autos just have too many things (such as imperfect grip/limp wristing) that can cause malfunctions even for experienced shooters (go to the Glock or other forums–limp writing, picky about ammo). They aren’t as simple to operate as revolvers for those who don’t get to practice a lot. I bought the 642 without the internal lock. I think I’m also going to buy the Crimson Trace LG 405 grips for it. I have a S&W .38 Spl Bodyguard (not the old Bodyguard, the newer version with the built-in laser) and I’ve just started using the laser. Wow! I like it a lot and it works well. It really helps with dry-fire “point & shoot” practice, too. Hold your position and turn on the laser to see how accurate your point is. I like both of these little snubbies and think they are a great choice for a woman.

  24. I really favor the small-frame S&W revolvers for concealed carry. As per the article, they are extremely reliable and easy to use. I resommend the hammerless Model 642 since the long trigger pull is also a safety feature in that you won’t experience an accidental discharge – if it goes “bang” it will be intentional. Some folks want to point a revolver at a potential assailant and then cock it to show they are “serious.” By so dong, they are holding a revolver with a hair-trigger that will dischage at the slightest movement on the shooter’s part. If the potential assailant decides not to proceed with the assault and turns away, and the intended victim shoots him/her in the back, then it’s a whole new ball game. As far as the stiff trigger is concerned, I had one worked-over by a pistolsmith and it was smooth as silk when he finished. I recommend the Model 642 for novice as well as experienced shooters.

  25. “In Massachusetts, we are limited to ten round magazines by virtue of an “assault weapons…”

    You can legally own magazines with a capacity of over 10 rounds if they were manufactured prior to the AWB date in 1994 in MA. Only newer production pistols are affected by this since they don’t have any magazines in existence prior to ’94.

    Other than that, very nice review. I plan on getting one of these soon for summer carry. But in the colder weather I stick with my Glock 19 since the extra layers make it easy to conceal.

  26. im not rellylooking for any thing except an answer to a certin ? here it is. Are there any guns that take a small silver key? im asking because my mom collected guns befor she died and we found a small silver key that has a strong smell of gun powder.If you hav an answer email me at [email protected]

  27. i still like all the wepons. but i do have to say that i’d like more verity of wepons.Don’t you agree?

  28. i dont mean to be rude but i’ve seen this gun in 125 muder invesagations so its a bit old.and i don’t get why butiful wepons have to be used to kill people.

  29. “Carson Kressley can’t limp-wrist a snubby.” — Not a bad review, but what’s with the homophobic comment? If I were you, I’d would just stick to reviews and keep your personal prejudices to yourself. No one needs to know you’re a bigoted POS.

    • I agree. There’s no need for homophobic comments. I don’t like the condescending remarks about women either: “A J-frame would not be a proper choice for noobs, especially women. Just ask Alicia Keyes.” Stick to reviewing guns.

    • So Rob, Second Amendment’s OK for you….First Amendment…..Not So Much? Think about it.

      Must be somebody’s “time of the month” (I couldn’t help it).

      • Criminy, it’s a light hearted quip. No, it’s not to my taste either but do the humorless PC scolds have to sieze on *every* single opportunity to act like the Church Lady? And does self righteous scolding really give you a license to call someone a POS?

  30. I loved this article and all the pro and con arguments. I carried a J frame for years and only once wished for more ammo in the cylinder. It is an accurate point and shoot gun. When I needed more firepower I’d use my Kimber .45 , which, of course, is not a very concealable. But, oh what stopping power.

  31. I enjoyed your article. I just went to the range today to try out my new S&W 642. It behaved nicely, and I don’t mind the firm trigger. If and when it really matters I don’t think it will be a problem. It’s very reliable and especially easy to clean. Great as an everyday concealed weapon. And I’m using the pink grips; what more could a woman ask for?! 🙂

  32. Just read over this article today. My wife saw this in the store with the pink grips and had to have it. It is a nice little piece and will be in a gun vault by her night stand.

  33. took posession of a 642 new in the box exactly one week ago. second time on the range today FTF after 7 rounds. sending it in for repair and then probably will sell it. so much for reliable revolvers… i am mad as hell especially since i talked my wife into one as well.

    • Tim,
      Was the FTF only once or continual? Did the firing pin dent the primer? Have you tried the pencil eraser test for firing pin function? Condition of ammo? Could you provide more info?

  34. Thanks so much for this review. I purchased my very own 642 today, which will replace a borrowed .38 revolver that is slightly larger and heavier. For a girl:), I shoot the larger handgun pretty well so I am excited to take this one to a range for a little practice. I am certainly not an “experienced” shooter; however, after handling several revolvers, I am comfortable with my choice. I am anxious about the trigger issues, so thanks for the additional comments.

  35. I currently own a S&W642 38 spl. I purchased several HK and Bianchi speed loaders. Upon using either speed loader I notice that the top of the grip hinders the loader by rubbing. Does anyone know how I can remedy this problem?

    • I have an HKS 36-A speedloader and I don’t have any trouble using it with my 642. I just insert about 1/4″ of the cartridges into the cylinder and release them.

  36. Ralph, I have the 642 snub model also, and loved the review, dead on accurate. Hey, chill out “Rob”! (from May26 post)…the man is a reveiwer who’s entitled to exercise his free speech rights. As much as you’d like to silence anyone who doesn’t see it, or do it, your way…he has a full set of rights to say whatever, and write whatever he pleases. Besides, I strongly suspect the reviewer is hardly phobic/fearful of anyone, or their lifestyle choice. ‘Look inward, go the point of your pain.

    • Yes, the reviewer is entitled to his opinions, but when he makes bigoted comments, we are entitled to call him on it. And you need to look inward at your ignorant comments. Just saying. . .

  37. I use a J frame for EDC. I practise with it a lot and shoot it competently. I don’t think it’s a good beginner gun at all. The recoil is very snappy making it unpleasant to practice with. (I use half powered rounds ). The sight picture and radius are a struggle even with experience. Most important, trigger control is tough enough for newbies, DA is hard to learn even if you invest in a trigger job. I agree the 5 round capacity is not an issue if you can hit with it and it is awful cute

    • My eyes are 75 years old. I can’t really see the “sights“. Fortunately I have 305 CT grips on my 442. If you can adjust the laser properly (see earlier comment about sighting to the middle of the front sight…very true but no mention from our beloved… S&W), then you are back to point-and-shoot using the laser to locate your first shot. After that, you just need use the first crease of your trigger finger and pull cleanly straight back…bad pulls end up high-right for me. After one year of range time (with this gun and a 642 that died early of “broken hammer stud” disease) I finally feel like I’m shooting the gun…instead of the gun shooting me. These crazy days of 2020, it’s comforting to always have powerful lightweight and aggressive friend in my pocket whenever I’m home. The red laser dot, the impressive muzzle flashes, the raucous 38 special explosions, and fairly tight groupings should test the will of the most dedicated intruder.

  38. A most entertaining and informative review. It’s such a pleasure to read someone who can inform with humor and who writes beautifully. Marty

  39. My brother gave me a Smith & Wesson .38 special Model 67-1 and I notice that although this is a double-action revolver, the hammer will not lock into position when pulled back. I can pull the trigger and the revolver seems to work properly. Is there a problem with the hammer or trigger mechanism?

    • Yes, there’s a problem. This can be caused by the hammer spring retaining screw having been backed off. People sometimes do this to lighten the pull. Look for a small set screw in the bottom of the front strap and tighten it all the way. You may have to remove your grips.

  40. I used to carry my 442 as a back up. I picked up a Taurus snub .357 for that and gave my wife the 442. She loves it and handles the pull well. I just found Hogue makes a bigger rubber grip and am ordering one today from Brownells. We shall see if it makes the gun even better.

  41. Good write on the 642. This gun is my constant companion. It is my first line of defense so it has to be both really good and really handy and really simple.
    I have to have complete confidence in it. The S&W 642 fills this role very well. Of course it will handle any .38 special ammo but this is one area where one should spend a little time to make sure money is spent wisely.
    ScubaOz does some good ammo testing videos on If you are going to buy expensive ammo know that some expensive ammo works well and some not so well from a 2″ barrel.

  42. After a recent burglary, while my wife was home alone, she decided she might want to get a gun to keep in the house. My wife has never fired a hand gun, and it’s been almost 30 years since I sold my last one. We visited 12 gun retailers in our area, and all but one recommended a DAO revolver for her, but nobody had one in stock. (the one suggested a single shot shotgun)The 13th store had a couple of 642s in the case, so she got out her debit card, filled out the paper work and left happy because the search was over. I’d seen several reviews on this gun, but that night I saw this one, and another, that both said ‘ not for first time shooters’, without an explanation. Panic set in. After reading many of these comments, I feel much better. This gun was not purchased to carry, but to be with her in the house, just in case. Hopefully, she’ll never have to use it, but we do live very close to an indoor range, so of course, we will go there for practice.
    If she (read ‘we’) decides she likes it (or not) maybe a range gun could be in our future. Forgot to mention, wifey is 4′ 10″ so we wanted the small frame. Looked at an LCP – she really liked it, but we went with the simplicity of the revolver.

    • Larry,
      Don’t be too worried about your wife & the j frame 642. Start out letting her shoot .38 wadcutter ammo which is for target practice & typically loaded for light recoil. As she gets used to the sights, trigger pull, recoil, etc, then move up to semiwadcutter ammo & finally to hollow point +p Speer Gold Dot for self defense.

  43. “Limp wristing” a firearm, is a common term that’s been around for years (decades) not related in any manner to anyone’s sexual preferences. It means to keep your wrists locked so an auto won’t jam.

  44. If you expect to be able to shoot a 642 in SD, you have to, have to master the trigger pull. An inexperienced shooter can crank the gun way off target. I’ve had a newbie miss with my Airweight at 3 yds! I carry a j frame, I love revolvers and I agree that in every way they are an excellent choice for a non enthusiast shooter except for the DA pull. When friends ask me, I recommend a SA semi auto for just this reason and if he/she is overwhelmed by the idea of field stripping the weapon, I suggest they take it to a gunshop to be cleaned every 100 rounds or so – which wont be often since this is a person who is not into shooting.

    The Airweights are superb CCW weapons, reasonably priced, about as reliable as you can get, fire a serious SD caliber, very compact (they fit into a front pocket easier than my LC9) and they are beautiful. Good looks count. If you like the gun, you will spend time with it on the range and carry it with you. But, if you are going to depend on it to save your life, you must master the recoil and the DA trigger. If you aren’t going to carry it on your person, you’d be better off with a full size gun.

    If you are inexperienced and want to learn how to shoot this gun, first spend $100 -$150 on an action job. This will make the pull lighter, smoother and more predictable. Then practice dry firing it, thousands and thousands of times. (Be safe, no live ammo in the room. Muzzle pointed in a safe direction etc…). Part of this practice can be just pulling the trigger without sighting to develop a feel for the mechanism ( Brian Enos recommends this) . Otherwise, the goal is to see the front sight still between the rear notch after the hammer has fallen.

    I can print 4″ groups @ 10yds firing my 637 DA mode which I consider adequate for SD. On a good day I can print them 2″ wide. A good shooter could probably do much better. I’ve hardly ever shot it SA mode.

    Yeah, newbies are drawn to cute little guns. They have no idea of what they are like to shoot. My gf has just fallen in love with my little Ruger LCP. She has yet to shoot it. I recommend going to a range where they rent guns and trying out a number of different models. It’s expensive and takes time but defending yourself is a very serious business. There’s no way to just spend a few hundred dollars on a gun and become safe. It’s going to require some significant effort. It’s a lot easier than training up to be 7th dan blackbelt but it’s still work.

    • Revolvers aren’t as reliable as “novice” folks make them out to be. I’ve been shooting for 33.5 years and fire at least 200 rounds a week out of (something) and have managed to completely lockup no less than THREE different wheel guns in that time period. One of which was a S&W 4″ 6 shot 686 stainless .357 mag. The other was a S&W Air weight model 642 .38 spl. The last was a Ruger SP101 2.5″ stainless .357 mag. All I had was a very expensive paperweight all three times. The “novice” shooter who practices very little fails to realize that in all three cases all three weapons had to be sent back to the factory for warranty repairs.

      IF and only “IF” a GLOCK or Sig Sauer classic P-series malfunctions, a competent shooter should be able to clear it in under 6 seconds. I’ve put 1,850 rounds of my reloads through a 3rd Gen FDE frame GLOCK G-19 9mm without cleaning and did no re-lubrication ANYWHERE and it still never missed a beat. I get tired of hearing the same crap all the time about wheel guns this and wheel guns that. It shows what dated information they posses and how little experience they actually do have.

      A snub-nose revolver is a terrible choice for a CCW in 2016 for anyone, let alone a woman or a inexperienced shooter. There are so many much better options out there. For me being primarily a 5″ 1911 Government .45 ACP, GLOCK (all models), Sig Sauer classic P-Series, Beretta M9/92FS, CZ-75B and S&W M&P guy, even I have trouble shooting one to my HIGH standards and liking, and I’m the guy who has a 24/7/365 key to a private gun club and shoot between 200-600 rounds a week. Someone who fires 50 a year won’t be able do anything but make a bunch of noise. You can always throw it at the perp when you run out of ammo so quickly I suppose. It’s also a bad idea to limit your carry option to a firearm that is generally only effective at 5-10 yards. You’d be really supprized to know what a NEW GLOCK G-42 is capable of at distances twice that amount. Not to mention it is thinner, lighter and holds more rounds.

      Wheel guns were a decent choice back when customized 1911s, GLOCKs, Sig Sauers etc didn’t exist. That’s not true anymore. I’d also bet my some of my Wilson Combat CQB 5″ Government 1911s and Col. Jeff Cooper on that. Gaston Glock thinks they are full of it too.

      • To each his own.
        Semi’s and revolvers each have their pros and cons. I think it’s generally acknowledged, though, that revolvers are much less likely to malfunction, especially in the hands of a non-expert, that semi-autos. Semi’s that are in perfect condition can malfunction simply from an improper grip, a very easy thing to do. In the hands of someone who doesn’t often get to practice, that would be a disaster in a self defense situation. It’s very rare for a revolver to have a malfunction, especially with factory ammo. I prefer to depend on a revolver.

  45. The 642 CT (Crimson Trace) model with the laser built into the grips is tits (that is a positive naval adjective). The size of the grip is much better too. Damn near perfect. If you can see it, you can shoot very accurately (ignoring the mechanical sights altogether). What a magnificent invention!



  46. ” A J-frame would not be a proper choice for noobs, especially women.”

    Absolutely agree on that.

    “On the other hand, no experienced shooter should be without a J-frame, and my pick of the litter is the Model 642.”

    And agree again. My 642 with the Crimson Trace laser came without the internal lock, like the old models (I don’t think I would have bought it otherwise).



  47. I tried to test out the airweight vis a vis Lou Chiodo’s instructions, five shots in one second at an 8 1/2×11 target at 15 feet at a range in northern Illinois. Manager threatened to kick me out for rapid firing, so I made a day trip to Blythes in Indiana where the farmers live outside the reach of the nanny state. Problem is, there’s less money flowing, so fewer guns to rent and I ended up with a Charter Arms airweight.

    My rapid fire double taps in Illinois yielded a 7×12 “group” with a Model 638 with a number of misses (8? not sure as I shot the first target holder and the first target dropped).

    My rapid fire five shot strings with the Charter Arms in Indiana yielded two hits out of ten on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of copier paper, at approximately 15 feet.

    Admittedly I took the graduate level test after being away from shooting for four years, but I wasn’t encouraged by the idea of carrying an airweight revolver.

    My results with a Glock 26 and a Kahr P380 were much better. My results with a Glock 20 and 29 were only slightly better.

    I like the idea of an airweight, however I’d need some/a good deal of practice to carry it responsibly.

    I’m encouraged by Mike Rayburn’s tests in _Combat Gunfighting_. There, he starts students off at nine feet with one shot, then a double tap and then a string of three to five, as fast as they can manage and keep the hits in a 4×6 inch group. Then, he moves the target out in three foot increments to 21 feet.

    With the partial restoration of our second amendment rights here in Illinois, I’m thinking of carrying a Smith Model 638 and a Kel Tec P32. I’ll see how the airweight works out through combat shooting tests between now and June when I should receive my permit. If it works, great. If not, I’ll switch to the Glock 42 or the Kahr P380. I would carry a Shield but the morons put a tiny safety on the gun and I don’t trust myself to be able to disengage it when the SHTF. I might consider the XDs 9mm but the barrel is an insult and I don’t trust myself to be able to disengage the grip safety when the SHTF. I guess another option could be the Glock 26 which is what Lou Chiodo carries or go with my 1964 Chief’s Special, which is what a gunsmith I talked to recently, carries.

  48. Nice review. I carry a model 442 and have a model 686 .357 in the house.
    We are senior citizens. My wife is adverse to the recoil on the .38’s and .357’s. Also, her wrist does not seem to be strong enough for a semiautomatic. After some trial and error I was able to purchase a used Colt .32 Detective Special (in great condition) that she enjoyed. Then after lots of Gun Show visits, I bought a .327 Magnum. This gun fires .327 Magnums and also less expensive .32’s (on the range..) So, now my wife’s carry gun solution is .327 and we recommend that to new female shooters. The .327’s are tough to find, so a .32 would maybe be a good compromise.

    • Mike K.
      My wife is adverse to the recoil on the .38′s and .357′s. Also, her wrist does not seem to be strong enough for a semiautomatic.

      Hey, for a Nice Easy to use ( rack and fire) Semi -auto pistol, check out a Sig Sauer P250. The P250 is Hammer fired.
      I have some hand /wrist issues (Carpal tunnel etc) and found the P250 to be
      a very sweet DAO pistol. Racking the slide is NOT A Problem, even when my hands/ wrists are acting up, I can still use it.

      Trigger 5.5 -7 lb pull. it is long…. but smooth.and NO trigger STACKING.

      Those used to an SA pistol – might bitch and moan about the trigger travel and reset, but Revolver people LUV it!!! ( or say “No big deal”)
      The Sig P250 is a Modular pistol.
      Trigger frame assembly (FCU) is the serial numbered atf 4473 part.
      You buy a complete P250 in whatever caliber / length ( sub compact, compact, or full size frame) the grips are sized small, med, and large respectively. That makes fitting to your hands nice.
      It may or may not come with tritium night sights.
      Ambi slide lock and mag release – the only 2 controls it has.

      I like the size of Subcompact. The compact is also nice and only about 3/8″ longer barrel and a bit longer length grip/ mag.

      One is able to change or swap calibers and frame sizes with numerous choices of Sig p 250 X- change kits; 9mm, 40cal, 357 Sig, 45 acp and if one looks around you can find the P250 380 cal.(complete) pistol , it too uses the same interchangeable FCU . ( I have not seen the P 250 380 cal as an X-change kit )

      The P250 X-change kits come with a grip frame, mag, barrel/ slide and
      Tritium Night sights.

      The 9mm, 40, 357 Sig- use the same grip frames. you can swap only the slides/ mags to (respective) matching length grip frame, without having to mess with grip swapping the FCU
      Since the 45 acp mags are larger one needs to swap the FCU to the 45cal grip frame.

      OH OH Oh!!!!! Take-down to clean—–Seconds……or to change kits —
      less than a minute– start to finish…. NO TOOLS!

      If looking at or buying a new / used P250 look for serial prefix EAK it is a second gen FCU
      prefix EAU is a 1st gen FCU Some had Issues I guess. They can be updated to gen 2 parts.

      • Another option for your wife might be to try Hornady’s “Lite” reduced recoil Critical Defense .38 special ammo. It has pink on the box. I’ve not used them because I have no problems with the regular and +P ammo.

    • Have you considered a Chiappa Rhino? It won’t win any gun beauty contests, but its unique design can have your wife shooting .357 or .38 with surprisingly little felt recoil.

      • the “RHINO” sure is an ugly ( or should I say, unique) looking gun. It would be interesting to try one out sometime.

  49. GREAT WRITE-UP, Thanks Ralph!

    I’ve read that the “safety lock” is reasonably simple to remove (gut), Could you share how one would “fix” the problem?

    Also would you or anyone else have thoughts as to buying a second J frame, whether to consider a standard weight j frame for home defense/ range practice or a second 642 airweight and use both for any type use ?

    Thanks again

    • Hah! Excellent thinking, cj ! – Funny you should mention the notion of getting a second 642 airweight j frame for home defense/range practice and use both for any type use. As of yesterday, I have done just that. I’ve been a fan of the S&W Centennial for the past 20 years and find it excellent in many ways as a deep-concealment defense weapon and home defense gun. So yesterday I went and got a second 642-2. One will be constantly ready as a defense weapon at home or on-the-go as needed. The other, I plan to use as a frequently-used range practice shooter, to stay proficient with it. I find that frequent practice with the 642 is a good thing, and I usually only fire about 25 rounds per range session through it. I also generally warm-up with some other gun, like a larger S&W DA revolver, then shoot my 25 rounds in the 642. It’s quite likely I’ll ultimately rotate the 2 642’s between range and defense duties, putting the two to equal use.

      • Thanks, If some cash fell out of the sky I think two 642s would be nice, though I sometimes ponder the idea of the (shrouded hammer) sa/ da ability with no hammer spur. ( just don’t like the slot that would seem to allow crap inside the frame.
        I also would think about picking up a selection of grip sets to swap according to use or need. i.e. stock baby grip for cc, longer hogue or ? for range, and even a laser-grip.

        • Re the hated internal lock, both the 642 and 442 are available at some retailers without the lock, although you may have to specifically ask for that. I bought a 642 (new) several months ago at Gander Mountain. The one in the display case had the lock, but they had some in the back without the lock. I believe he said the no-lock model is the 642-1. .

  50. I have an airwieight smith and Wesson and it had a catastrophic failure. Frame cracked and the back part bent and contorted using blazer ammo less then 200 rounds

  51. are you OK? Any idea why? Did you buy it new? Or could someone previous run hot ammo through it? what series is it, 642, 642-2 ect….?
    How about pictures?

    • Bought it brand new only 200 rounds of 38 special Plinker ammo frame cracked bad and the back part bent

    • That has the shrouded ( frame hump ) hammer, correct?
      I have not heard of one doing that.
      Since it’s new have you talked to SMITH & WESSON to see what / if they will replace it or anything?

      • I just emailed them will hear back from them in 5 days according to them. It’s so bad I can tell u there is no fixing it. I am hoping and have heard they are pretty good about taking care of this and hope they replace it with a new one.

  52. And yes has the shrouded hammer that no one can seem to operate the single action part but I have no problem pulling the hammer back. Hoping they do take care of it because the only reason I bought a smith and Wesson was the reputation that this would last longer than I would live. I am 47 but my son was firing it when it malfunctioned.

  53. This is by far my favorite carry piece. The LCP is great in smaller pockets. But I prefer the 642 when pocket carrying (desantis nemesis holster).

    I like the weight and feel. Not to heavy. But not so light it gets lost, meaning the tactile sensation of item in pocket. The nemesis N3 size holds it upright and ready. It is very comforting. It looks all business too. Nobody will think it is a water gun.

    I really don’t care though. As if I have to use it my life will be in serious danger. It is not for show and tell.

    For this reason I have not installed CT grips. But would like input on those who have. I was wondering any examples available of the laser promoting a bad guy quitting. The buckeye firearms forum has the research that over 90% of bad guys stop coming forward at the sight of a firearm. And was wondering if a laser adds to this. But make no mistake, if in a position to aim laser, I would be in position, legally, to fire a shot. but it would be great if they just got on all four and quit, when the laser is on them.

    I know one can’t count on it. And that laser is just to see flinch control. Not necessarily aim for you. Or at least that is what I have read so far.

    Any input, please give opinions or research below.

    • Becoming more and more far sighted as time progresses, I think a laser is a useful tool to have mounted. As a sudden situation occurs, grabbing my glasses will NOT be a possibility.
      The laser ( if adjusted) should allow better aim locating of shot quickly, that otherwise could not be attained easily or quickly, the only alternative is simply point shooting.

      Also even if glasses were able to be used to focus on the sights, the target would probably be blurred due to the glasses being TOO MUCH magnification for added distance.

      I feel it is better with the lasers assistance to know where the projectile will hit.

    • WELL, I guess I may be two years late but 3 points. 1. My wife and I have 2 638 models and one 642. The 642 has crimson grips and I have carried it for almost 20 years. My wife started carrying 2 years ago and is very happy with the 638. I am her only “instructor” and teach her, grandchildren, children, and friends to point and shoot which is what Uncle Sam taught me in the 1960’s. The laser is a great training aid for eye hand coordination. Point quickly, squeeze grip to activate the laser, and repeat until you are always on target.
      2. Women can do just fine with an airweight. We have other guns , smaller and bigger. She likes her lcp in warm weather but prefers the 638.
      3. Who said the lcp was harder for cc. I have both and the 638 and 642 are wider , have a slightly larger footprint but weigh a tad less than my lc9. The lc9 is easier for carry but give me my wheel gun for always going bang.

  54. Golden Saber +P 125, Gold Dot 135 SB, and now the new Lehigh penetrator grinding ammo looks great.

    In a 4″ model 10 or 64, it appears the heavier 158 hps do open. If soft lead, as Remington has. there is also a vintage +p+ hydro shok which looks great in 148. Or the NyClads some swear by. I have a model 64 bedside, but pocket the 642 for doorbell duty. Not paranoid, realistic. I won’t be a sucker for a fake environmental science questionnaire!

    If anybody has info or links to solid ammo choices in under 2″ barrels, please post below and share the info. Either FBI tests or legit studies (not milk jugs with wet newspaper). That being said, wet pack is surprisingly similar in penetration testing.

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  56. Thanks for the review, including the funny homophobic, etc. digs. There’s way too much ostentatious PC sensitivity out there, and it’ll be the death of us.
    A comment, though: I’ve always been under the impression that you have to choose your 642 ammo carefully, because of the lightness of the frame; that shooting +P, for instance, is dangerous. Is this not the case?

    • The barrel of my 642 is stamped “+P,” so I’d think it would be fine with factory ammo. I would not use anyone’s reloads, though, but that’s just me. I use the regular pressure Speer Gold Dots or Hornady Critical Defense, but I wouldn’t be afraid to use their +P’s in it. The cylinder and barrel are stainless steel.

      Oh, and I agree with you about the current obsession with PC-ness.

  57. Thank goodness somebody explained limp wristing to the p.c. police. Politically correct may have been a term used in the U.S.S.R. and the same type of people have promoted it here. As for women and the J-frame, perhaps the author’s experience has been that more women than not have a harder time with recoil.

  58. I carried a small Sig for awhile. On the range, the slide bit by hand enough to draw blood a couple of times. Then, it ejected cartridges down the front of my shirt, burning me enough to leave a scar on one occasion — strike 2. Then, it jammed — strike 3. I sold it and bought a 642. It always goes bang when I pull the trigger. No cut hands. No burns. Only 5 shots, but they are dependable.

  59. I was in the market for a revolver to conceal carry and stumbled across this online. I pretty much already had the S&W 642 in mind to purchase. This article made the choice easier. I bought the 642 yesterday. I took it to the range today. THAT’S when the story begins. The 642 fired GREAT. For the first 11 rounds. Then it just stopped firing the rounds. I changed out the ammo. Pulled the trigger. Nothing. Changed the ammo again. Nothing. It’s as if I was dry firing, with bullets in the chamber. I went and fetched the gun range owner to bear witness to this. After all, isn’t the popular phrase “Five guaranteed shots?” The owner of the range, which also retails a lot of Smith and Wessons, was astonished. He carefully inspected the gun and then loaded it with a different type of ammo. Same results. No fire. I contacted S&W costumer support and were helpful. However, I won’t have a gun for a MONTH. This was my first Smith and Wesson purchase. Needless to say, I will never recommend Smith and Wesson. Fix it or not. I will now have a brand new firearm that is faulty. It malfunctioned. That will always be in the back of my mind. I WILL NOT carry this gun once it’s returned from Smith and Wesson. I don’t trust it. I don’t trust S&W now. I’ll probably use it at the range, but that’s it. It’s very disheartening about the whole situation. I was so excited to get the 642. I’ll probably get the Kimber 9mm micro carry now. My wife has a .380 and loves hers. Moreover, it has never catastrophically malfunctioned. I guess it’s a sign of the times. Big business just trying to make money at the expense of quality.

  60. I must be an anomaly. I am both a new shooter and a woman. I took an intro to handguns course for women. I then took my CCW class. I went in with all intentions of getting a Ruger LCP or LC9, maybe even a Glock 43… but nothing felt as good in my hands as the Smith and Wesson 642 .38 Special. I will definitely say that I felt the kick much more than with the smaller semis, but I liked that. If I am shooting at the range (which I go to twice a week), I want to feel like I shot a gun. Maybe it’s the fact that I have always kind of wanted a revolver? I also added a laser. I know that I am not Annie Oakley and this is for defense, but sometimes target shooting is just fun. I don’t want someone to feel like they can’t get a certain firearm because they read that it’s not made for them. Would I get myself a .45? No. I am quite comfortable with this piece and hope to pick up a really neat Sig for my next firearm. For now though, I’m having the best time with this bad girl!

    • Good for you Melissa, Glad you found something that is comfortable for you. There are numerous choices available in the way of grips for the J frame, depending on what you want,. the real short original (boot) grip to longer more full size grips.

      If you want something with a real smooth (but ) long trigger- but about 1/2 the pressure of the 642 trigger, check out the (hammer fired) Sig P250 or Sig P 320 (striker fired) Pistols.
      The P250 racks real easy, racking the P320 might be a slight bit more because of setting the striker.

      good luck as you learn and grow !!

  61. HELLO FROM TEXAS..enjoyed this review..seems like all roads lead to S&W MODEL 642..I’M 69,,MALE WITH CCW and have learned from lots of owners and some shootist and some folks that need to grow up and remember that…. THE BITTERNESS OF POOR QUALITY REMAINS LONG AFTER THE SWEETNESS OF A LOW PRICE IS FORGOTTEN…AND DON’T PULL A GUN ON A MAN UNLESS YOU’RE GONNA USE IT,,AND DON’T STOP USING IT UNTIL THE JOB IS DONE…

  62. I hated the .357 Airweight, and the 642’s trigger was so flippin sorry, I was elated to pick up a used slightly holster worn 1980 Colt Detective Special for well under $600. 6 rounds, not 5, high carbon steel, so it’s heavy, but not much larger. The trigger? After a little work, it puts many Pythons, Cobras, and Diamondbacks to shame, not to mention $7800 Korth, and Manurhin revolvers. I can do a lot with a Smith & Wesson as far as trigger jobs go, but there are limits. The frame metal is soft, it inhibits getting a glassy smooth surface & retaining it. Give me a 586 and we are in a different universe. Nothing will equal the old Colt watchmaker’s action, though! It is not a robust as the Smith, but think of it as a thoroughbred, rather than a draft horse.

  63. Nice review, Ralph. I would rather carry a S&W 638 (38 Special +P) or 649 (357 Magnum or 38 Spc. +P) that weighs 22.2 ounces and is lot nicer to shoot with 38 Special ammo and not that much harder to carry. The shrouded hammer won’t snag on clothes and will let you take advantage of a 3 or 4 pound single action trigger should you need it. A snub nosed S&W will put all five in a mans chest at 50 yards or more if the shooter can hold the gun steady enough and get a sight picture. Green Crimson Trace Laser grips will help hitting what your shooting at a lot.

    In my opinion the first rule of choosing a gun for anyone is to find one that fits their hand. By that the pistol should point almost exactly where you look when presented to the target. I expect more people will find a CZ-10 fits their hand better than older Glocks I haven’t tried new ones. The grip can be smaller and does’t feel like a 2 x 4. A CZ-75 fits my hand the best but their a bit heavy for most folks and the double action trigger take a lot of practice to get used to going from 8 or 10 pound on the fist shot to a 3.5 or 4 pound trigger pull on the second shot. Probably not what new comer needs to learn on.

    Most women and many men find guns the size and weight of Glock 17 or CZ-10 too large and heavy to conveniently carry on their body with the wardrobe they choose to wear. Single stack 9’s and 380s are a lot more popular.

    The best way to try lots of guns is by joining a gun club, going shooting with friends or getting instruction and renting guns at dealer that has a range that refunds some of the rental if you buy a gun or guns from him.

  64. In a perfect world… However, since becoming disabled and having to rely on a cane and track suits/jersey shorts, it’s hard to keep them up with even a G19 in the waist band. The S&W 642 slides in my pocket, doesn’t pull my pants down, doesn’t print, and gives me 5 rounds to get to my truck where in my backpack is my Sig and behind the seat a shotgun. If I could wear jeans/cargo shorts, after carrying my snubby this long, I think i’d stick with it. I can hit here I point, and am confident it’ll get me to the truck. Great gun! Love mine!

  65. Retired fed here. I recommend revolvers to female friends who want to shoot. 642 is nice, but not as cool as my 2nd gen det spl, which is deadly at clos range.(And which I carried for years).

  66. It makes me cry that back in 2011 the 642/442 was approximately $320-390 depending on where you bought it, and now they are upwards of $500. Jeeze….

  67. I bought this gun for one reason and it was not to do target shooting. I shot around 50 rounds when I got it and maybe 20-30 every now and then, just to handle the gun if I ever have to defend myself with it. I didn’t and still don’t care about a trigger pull or a little recoil. If and when If have to shoot this gun in a life or death situation the trigger pull or recoil will not be an issue.

    The gun is a perfect carry gun, in your pocket or in your jacket. Nobody knows you have. I choose this revolvers strong points just for concealed carry and I’m happy with it.


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