We all have our favorite guns, and I’m no different. Something about the design and cosmetics of certain arms speak to me, but I’m not exclusive to any single brand. In the safe right now are semi-auto handguns from Colt, FN, GLOCK, Ruger, and SIG Sauer, and rifles from Remington, Savage, Beretta, Daniel Defense, F-1, and Mossberg. Many of them are transients, sure, but, occasionally, something will stick.
Overwhelmingly, the ones that have stuck are Smith & Wesson wheelguns. S&W revolvers have solved specific problems for me, so I’ve tended to keep them and mess with them. Are they my favorites? I guess by definition of the word “favorite” they are, because each handgun is “one that is treated or regarded with special favor or liking,” as Merriam-Webster describes it.
Herewith, then, are my favorite Smith & Wesson revolvers, which have earned that distinction by time in service, enjoyment, utility, and history.
Smith & Wesson M332 103675 .32 H&R Magnum AirLite Ti
I bought this double-action-only revolver back in 1999 as my primary concealed carry gun, a role it has served in for 20 years now. I recognize many TTAGers wouldn’t think of carrying it because of its capacity and chambering, but it has worked for me because of its size and light weight. It is the polar opposite of a Dirty Harry magnum revolver.
Features include ramp-and-groove fixed sights, a titanium six-shot fluted swing-out cylinder, a shrouded ejector rod, and a 2-inch stainless-steel barrel liner.
There aren’t many M332s available for sale, but when they come online, they usually run about $375 and up.
The satin-finish hammerless DAO M332 weighs only 10.8 ounces empty and 12.8 ounces loaded with six rounds, so whether it hangs on a pants-pocket edge with a clip or in a pocket holster, it doesn’t sag my clothing. With the revolver measuring 6.5 inches in overall length and only 4.1 inches in height, I usually wear it in the front-right pants or shorts pocket in khakis or cargos, but it will also drop into a rear pocket and not print.
As a self-defense gun, it will also ride fairly comfortably in a Tru-Spec 24-7 Series Uniform Shirt, a tactical shirt with chest-zipper pockets. Also, I can secure it in Under Armour Team Coaches Shorts, which have a right-rear button pocket. I don’t like wearing the gun in the front of the sports shorts because it bangs into my leg.
When I bought it, the M332 had shortcomings that I knew had to be resolved. Unlike a similar M331 with hammer I tried briefly, there was no relief from the stock 10.8-pound double-action trigger pull on the M332. The M331’s single-action trigger pull was a really nice 3.5 pounds. I had a local gunsmith polish and respring the M332’s DA pull to break at 7.8 pounds. Haven’t had any ignition problems at that weight.
The Smith’s original laminated grips were nice looking, but they were too slippery. This resulted in poor control even when firing less-powerful .32 Long cartridges. It so happened that the minimal sights were just a groove machined into the titanium topstrap and a machined-in serrated front sight ramp, so the addition of Crimson Trace Lasergrips (LG-405 for J-Frame Round Butt Compact Grip) solved both problems.
There aren’t as many loads for the .32 H&R Magnum as for the .380 ACP or .38 Special, and they’re slightly more expensive. But my favorite carry load is Black Hill’s 85-grain JHP, which develops 1100 fps and 228 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and is easy to shoot in the AirLite. That compares favorably to the company’s .380 Automatic 90-grain JHP running at 950 fps, but the .32 has 4 to 5 inches more penetration in ballistic gelatin, Black Hills’ ballistic images show.
Buffalo Bore has a starchy 100-grain .32-magnum JHP that comes out at 1300 fps with 375 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. No, that’s not 357 Magnum or 44 Magnum territory, but I have not felt undergunned when carrying the Smith & Wesson M332 with that load. It’s just a bear to shoot in the light revolver.
Still, when Federal and Ruger collaborated on the .327 Federal Magnum launch in 2008, I looked hard at switching. The .327 Federal Magnum is basically a lengthened .32 H&R Magnum, which itself is a lengthened .32 S&W Long. Ultimately, I decided not to switch, and the .327 FM led to more bullets being made in .32 caliber, which has increased commercial availability of the .32 H&RM. For this, my M332 and I are truly grateful.
Smith & Wesson M642-1 Airweight .38 Special +P 105972
I bought this double-action revolver to replace my M332 a few years ago when it looked like .32 H&R Magnum was becoming obsolete, and I still carry it occasionally. The manual of arms is the same as the M332, though the trigger rework on the .38 Special is a little better at 7 pounds.
Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolvers have been around since 1950. The Model 642 is a variation of the Model 42 Centennial Airweight.
This is my second-favorite Smith, and like the M332, this one is no longer cataloged on the company website. It is still available NIB at retail, however, for around $575. Other similar models are more current, however, such as the M642CT No. 12555. It has the lock mechanism above the cylinder release and a CT Lasergrip in Robin’s Egg Blue. It lists for $700.
The M642LS is nearly mechanically the same as my M642-1 No. 105972, but without the Lasergrip and the lock. It’s also inscribed “Lady Smith” on the frame. I’ve shot previous LS models and liked them. (Yes, my pronouns are still he/him.) Perhaps the closest fit, however, is the Performance Center Pro Series Model 642 178041, listed for $499. It is a J-frame with no internal lock.
My Model 642 with Crimson Trace grips and no lock has a fully enclosed Centennial Hammer and double-action-only operation like my M332. The M642 holds one fewer round, five, than the M332. It likewise has the integral front sight serrated post and fixed rear sight groove augmented with the CT red laser in the grip, but this laser (LG-305) came on the gun.
The cylinder is stainless steel, which pops out of an aluminum-alloy frame. The stainless barrel length is 1.875 inches. It’s a heavier than the M332, though not by a lot, at least in gross weight. It weighs in dry at 14.8 ounces and 16.8 ounces loaded, which is only slightly heavier than the .32 Magnum. But on a percentage basis, that’s 40% more than the M332. So that’s why it’s my second-favorite.
Smith & Wesson Model 1905 Hand Ejector 4th Change .32-20 WCF
This was my grandfather’s revolver when he was a peace officer in West Texas and has recently come to me as a collectible. It was also called the .32-20 Military & Police, which makes sense for him to have owned. Blued versions of these K-frame all-steel revolvers were more common than the nickel finishes for law enforcement, and .38 S&W Special was a more common chambering.
The .32-20 WCF cartridge was introduced by Winchester in 1882 for the Model 73 lever-action rifle, but also had considerable popularity as a medium-power cartridge in both rifle and revolver, according to Cartridges of the World 16th Edition. Rifle loads in .32-20 should not be fired in pistols because the long-gun ammo develops higher pressures than what the pistols were designed for. It has been called the first “magnum” cartridge ever developed, though without the formal “Magnum” appellation.
I haven’t fired this six-shot-cylinder handgun yet, and may never do that, but it intrigues me. The Model 1905 chambered for the .32-20 was introduced in 1905 and was also known as the .32-20 Hand Ejector Third Model. The 1905 4th Change was the final S&W revolver to be chambered for .32-20.
The 4th Change was “built on the square butt K-frame with five screws, a 4-, 5-, or 6-inch pinned barrel, blue or nickel finish, forged round blade front sight, with a flattened top strap with a square-notch-cut rear sight for service sights,” says the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 4th Ed.
According to the Catalog, cylinder length was an average of 1.56 inches, which mine measures at almost exactly (1.562 inches). Heat treatment for the cylinder began at serial number 81287, so mine at 100xxx falls in that range. A total of 78,983 of this model were produced between 1915 and 1940.
Mine has the 4-inch barrel and has been fitted with imitation pearl grips, and likely saw duty for home defense as well as being a favorite revolver. A bore scope shows the barrel has no micro pitting, and the rifling is well-defined and visible. There’s some finish pitting on the outside of the gun, so I’ll have to decide what to do about that. It’s in NRA-grade “good” finish overall, I’d think. Maybe “excellent” for antique firearms conditions.
I may also get it lettered by S&W, which costs $75 from the Smith & Wesson Historical Foundation.
The “Letter of Authenticity,” formerly called the “factory letter” when Smith & Wesson issued the letters, includes information on the model and gives information, when available, on when and where the gun was shipped and how it was outfitted. These files can go back to 1858, but the information generally just supplies the date shipped through 1880.
Will I ever shoot the Model 1905 Hand Ejector 4th Change? Time will tell. If so, it might move up the list at least a notch.
To see other TTAG entries on Smith & Wesson revolvers, click the links below:
Gun Review – Smith and Wesson 629 .44 Magnum Revolver
Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Model 66-8 Combat Magnum and 69 Combat Magnum Revolvers
New From Smith & Wesson: Short Barrel Combat Magnums with Adjustable Sights
Elvis Presley’s Custom Colt Python and Smith & Wesson Model 19-2 Up For Auction
New From Smith & Wesson: Model 69 L-Frame .44 Magnum
Smith & Wesson Brings Back the N-Frame 10mm Model 610 Revolver
I enjoy revolvers on the range. They are just more fun to shoot, for me, than a semi. Not every gun we buy has to be about tacticool.
Smith and Wesson are my favorites, overall. I’ve used and owned just about all the better known brands. But a K frame is everything we need in a handgun and nothing we don’t need.
While Rugers tend to point more naturally for me one cannot beat the sheer variety of options for Smith and Wesson.
I like them all. I own Rugers and Smiths now. Smiths always had the smoother action from the factory imho. Rugers are stronger. If you reload the Ruger is king.
Wonder if current run Taurus is catching up on quality
Safe. I haven’t owned a Taurus in years. Never had a problem with their revolvers. Never used their semi’s.
Can’t speak for S&Ws, but lighter hammer springs and trigger return springs do wonders for the Ruger trigger pulls for about $10. GP100s get 10# hammer springs (stock = 14#) and 8# trigger return springs (stock = 12#). DIY job if you’ve got an hour and YouTube. My GPs run 9-9.5# in DA and 2.5-3# in SA.
Good to know thanks Gov
I beware of my Ruger Alaskan in .44.
Rugers are beefy AF. Smiths are generally smoother. Colts are generally prettier.
Overall, Smith N Frames rule.
Ridge I had a Auger Alaskan 44 in my hand the other day and it was obnoxiously comfortable. Not sure if I would go for 44 or 480 but cannot complain about how it fits my hand and points without needing to search for the front sight post.
Alaskan is definitely one of those “just because I wanted it” guns.
Huh?!? S&W doesn’t even make a single action revolver.
I frequently carry a basic 642, but it wasnt a favorite to shoot until I put Hogue Tamer grips on it! My oddball is an I-frame in .32 S&W Long, and my big boy is a 686 4″. My prettiest is a 6″ 66-2.
For me, the 642 is a pocket gun. Therefore, I run the small rubbery grip that it came with. I don’t want it to be any larger. The 642 is the “midsize” of my pocket guns, fitting between the Ruger LCP and Max-9. For a general purpose revolver, I think a 4″ Security Six in .357 is hard to beat.
I do feel a little bad about the author’s grandfather’s revolver not being shot. I understand that the author is concerned that it may not be safe. It’s still a little sad.
Yessir. Have it checked. If its sound get some mild loads for it and shoot it. Connect to the old timer in the best way. I take great pleasure in watching my grandkids shoot one of my guns. And I hope they shoot them for decades after I’m gone.
Art, if I can ever find another 4″ stainless Security Six HB it will be bought on sight.
I was thrilled to come across my stainless 4″ Security Six in the used gun section of my favorite shop a few years ago. I snapped it up immediately.
Here here! I prefer SS over GP100 all day.
I’ve got some 66es and a model 38. The 66es are great to shoot, I’d love a Hand Ejector though. I’m not really concerned about the caliber as long as it’s smokeless ready. I’ll just roll ammo for it regardless.
686 Plus – 4″.
I love revolvers; they are incredible mechanical artifacts as well as beautiful works of art. I carry them almost exclusively. I think the perceived need for capacity is overestimated, and the perceived need for power is underestimated (ballistic gel tests are highly overrated). While I usually carry a Ruger GP-100 variant, I just picked up a “classic” S&W Model 29, with a mirror-like blued finish and a 4″ barrel. The single action trigger on this firearm is outstanding; no creep whatsoever, the cleanest break on a trigger I’ve experienced. The sights are dead on; the first single action trigger shot pegged the X at 25 yards. Beautiful revolver, and lighter than the equivalent Ruger Redhawk. Waiting on the leather from Simply Rugged; I’m gonna carry this bad boy loaded with Buffalo Bore 180 gr XTP.
I’ve got my eye on a used blued Model 19 from a local seller. Will probably go and pick it up tomorrow. Gotta pump up those NICS numbers.
My biggest concern with the 19 and the other magnum caliber K frames is their ammo history. I have seen parts breakage from K frames fed a steady and exclusive diet of full power magnum loads. It was meant to practice with .38 special and carry the hot loads for shtf moments.
If I do not know the history of the magnum K frame I pass on it.
Thanks for the advice. I’ll take a closer look at it.
I hear you, Johnny. Acquired a 29-2, Dirty Harry model, no blueing like it anywhere in my experience. It rides in a vintage black Tex Shoemaker Border Patrol.
How old is this article? A S&W 332 for $375 and up? Like, way up. One went for $1300 on GB a couple months ago.
“Buffalo Bore has a starchy 100-grain .32-magnum JHP that comes out at 1300 fps with 375 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.”
Nowhere near that velocity or energy out of your 332. You might get about 222 ft lbs (based on 1000 fps). Your 1.875 inch barrel is shorter than any of these tested by Buffalo Bore for that load:
➤ 1,366 fps – USFA Sparrow Hawk 7.5-inch barrel
➤ 1,340 fps – Ruger Black Hawk 5.5-inch barrel
➤ 1,187 fps – Ruger SP101 3-inch barrel
➤ 1,054 fps – Taurus Ultra Light 2-inch barrel
“Black Hill’s 85-grain JHP, which develops 1100 fps and 228 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle”.
Lucky Gunner tested this load out of a 1.9 inch barrel LCR. About the same length as your 332. The median velocity was 902 fps. That is about 154 ft. lbs. of energy
Beware of velocity and energy claims when you have a snubby.
I beware of my Ruger Alaskan in .44.
Wheelgun Wednesday. I like it. My favorite revolver is all of them I own. That’s why I bought them. Now, if we’re talking particular favorites. Starting with the smallest caliber, my 4″ S&W Kit Gun. Model 442 w/Craig Spiegel Boot Grips, 3″ round butt 65 w/Pachmayer Professionals. Both 629s. 6″ w/Pachmayers and 4″ Mountain Gun. Again w/Pachmayer Professionals. Oh, and 6″ stainless Python. Colt SAAs receive an Honorable Mention.
“My favorite revolver is all of them I own.”
That right there, sir, has earned you multiple complimentary beverages of your choice on my dime when I get down to Florida for a social visit this year or next year!
I will make it a point to bring all of my revolvers as well for some serious target shooting fun! Oh, and hopefully some feral hog hunting as well.
Uncommon, let me know. Time it right and we could spend a day offshore or inshore fishing. If you like bass fishing you can do that in the middle of the day between sitting in stands. Private ponds on the land you would hunt. Might have to buy FL and GA licenses though. Shooting would probably be done at Talon Range, or a friend’s private range. If you like full auto I’ll call a buddy. It will all probably be H&K. You buy as much ammo from J.D. as you can stand to shoot. Oh, you clean my buddy’s G-3/33/MP5K, etc. 😆
Any and all of that sounds great!
Art, if I can ever find another 4″ stainless Security Six HB it will be bought on sight.
They’re guns I carry to fight, some to hunt and some I just enjoy. These are very nice and would be enjoyable. Not to say they can’t be used in other roles. I even have guns from the past that don’t work. I enjoy the memories of them.
On a whim I bought a Charter Undercoverette with the 6-shot cylinder, and boy am I surprised how much I like that combo.
Nate in CA,
After I submitted my comment below (stating that I believe a snubbie chambered in .32 H&R Magnum with a 6-round cylinder is the ideal snubbie platform), I looked up the Charter Arms Undercoverette which you listed. I want one, or two, or three. Badly. Did I mention that I want one, or two, or three in the worst way?
I really, REALLY, REALLY like the idea of a Smith and Wesson snubbie chambered in .32 H&R Magnum with its 6-shot cylinder and 95 grain lead semi-wadcutters.
That has to be the ideal snubbie platform.
Smith Model 60 .357, 6 1/2″ Model 29, 3″ Python.
I have one of those old Smiths (blued with a 6″ BBL) in 32-20 & I love it. It was my dad’s gun and the first center fire handgun that I ever shot. Soft shooting and just perfect for the old pine hens during Deer season years back. I think I might have it buried with me when that time comes.
Airweight, meh. My favorite Smiths are 29-2 in .44 mag, 686 in .357, and Highway Patrolman in .357. I do like my Model 10 .38 police turn-in, among others.