My 3 Favorite Smith & Wesson Revolvers

Group shot of Smith & Wesson revolvers

My favorite Smith & Wesson revolvers, which have earned that distinction by time in service, enjoyment, utility, and history. From top are a Smith & Wesson Model 1905 Hand Ejector 4th Change .32-20 WCF, a Smith & Wesson M642-1 Airweight .38 Special +P 105972, and a Smith & Wesson M332 103675 .32 H&R Magnum AirLite Ti. Photo by Woody for TTAG

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

Smith & Wesson Model 332 32 H&R Magnum

Two .32 H&R Magnum loads that have produced good results in the Smith & Wesson Model 332 are, left, Federal’s 95-grain lead semi-wadcutter C32HRA, and Black Hills Ammunition 85-grain JHP, right. Both have shown 15- to 16-inch penetration in ballistic gelatin. Photo by Woody for TTAG

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

This .38 Special +P revolver shoots a variety of loads well, but to different points of impact, of course. Right now, the Lasergrip is sighted for 15 yards with the Remington Golden Saber 125-grain brass-jacketed hollow points, second from right. For basic gun-handling practice, any of the others are fine. I maintain a diary about the elevation hold-off I need for each round to shoot to center and don’t adjust the laser. From right, the ammo selections I maintain 200 rounds of on hand are Blazer Brass 125-grain FMJs No. 5204, Winchester’s Train 130-grain FMJ No. W38SPLT, and Black Hills Ammunition’s creampuff Cowboy 158-grain CNL, a cast flat-nose lead bullet. Photo by Woody for TTAG

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

How can one of my favorite revolvers be one I haven’t shot? This .32-20 Military & Police, or more properly called Smith & Wesson Model 1905 Hand Ejector 4th Change .32-20 WCF, has been passed down to me. I’m planning to have it proofed by a competent gunsmith, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay to roll right now with some commercial .32-20 ammo. I’m not much of a collector, so if I have to handload down to get fireable and safe cartridges, then so be it. Photo by Woody for TTAG

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.

The .32-20 WCF cartridge 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 similarly-chambered pistols because the long-gun ammo develops higher pressures than the pistols can take. Photo by Woody for TTAG

Smith & Wesson Model 1905 Hand Ejector 4th Change .32-20 WCF yoke fit

The fit on the Hand Ejector is tighter than a lot of current-manufacture wheel guns. Photo by Woody for TTAG

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

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    My experience is just that, my experience. But S&W is my standard for a revolver. If you buy a factory standard gun with no mods except for changing grips to suit your hand I’ve found that I simply shoot better with a S&W than any of the others I’ve owned and tried.

    Ruger is a close second in my affections. Way back when I reloaded I ran Rugers for their built in safety factor. But they are not as smooth as the action on a K frame.

    It remains to be seen if Colt revolvers will make a come back. Their older product line was good. Very good. But again, in my hands the Smith shot slightly better.

    1. avatar Geoff "Hurry-up and *die*, Ruthie" PR says:

      “Ruger is a close second in my affections. Way back when I reloaded I ran Rugers for their built in safety factor.”

      If I wanted to mess with hand-cannon magnum loads, I’d want a Ruger as well. When I owned my Super Redhawk .44 mag, it just *oozed* a sense of being ‘solid’…

    2. avatar Knute(ken) says:

      That’s been my experience, as well. At one time I had a pair of 6″, “L” frames, blued and SS, and a pair of Pythons, blued and nickle. But I decided I had to go one way or the other, because I couldn’t keep them straight.
      My Smith’s (smooth trigger pull) required a pull straight through in one motion technique, whereas the Colt’s required squeezing to the point of stackup, refine aim, then pull past the stack to fire. I found the Colt’s way to be more accurate DA fire, but slower, and the Smith’s to be slightly less accurate, but faster.
      The Smith’s produced better scores for me, so that’s the way I went. Wish I had kept those Python’s though. so pretty…. 🙁

    3. avatar Specialist38 says:

      Yeah. Me too. A Smith defines double action revolvers for me.

      Colt was never as smooth or slick or ergonomic as a Smith.

      And while Rugers are fine, a Redhawk just does not carry like a 4 inch 29.

      And if the author has a 332 for $375…..I’ll be happy to take it off his hands for that price.

      I do have hope that Colt will offer the New King Cobra without an underlug, a 3 or 4 inch bbl, and adjustable sights. When they do, I’ll throw some money at them.

      Ruger would have more of my money if they had made the 3 inch LCRx with a full length ejector……cheap bastids.

  2. avatar Geoff "Hurry-up and *die*, Ruthie" PR says:

    Why is it every time I see a titanium cylinder on a snubbie my shooting hand instinctively flinches in pain?

    Strange… 😉

  3. avatar D says:

    My favorite S&W revolver is a Ruger SP101

    1. avatar Wild Bill says:

      Mine is my CZ SP 01 Tactical. Why would I want 1880s technology?

      1. avatar Specialist38 says:

        I know ….Right?

        1890s tech is the best. Semi- autos are soooooo much newer!

        Double action revolvers were actually around in the 1860s.

        Smith and Wesson just perfected it in the model model of 1899.

      2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        Wild, because you don’t know any better.

      3. avatar StratSG says:

        Because I’ll bet if I pointed either of those different guns at you, you would piss your pants the same way.

  4. avatar Knute(ken) says:

    I’ve been thinking of trying a .327 Federal for a while now. I’m happy with my S&W .38 snub, but I think .327 might be rather nice too. But I’ll want a bobbed hammer, instead of an internal or shrouded one. I rather like the idea of shooting so many different calibers in one little gun. I think you’ve just persuaded me to pull the trigger, so to speak.

  5. avatar chipBurn says:

    My favorite revolver was my S&W 66, with 4″ barrel – until last week, when I acquired a Manurhin MR73, also .357 with 4″ barrel. The trigger on the MR73 is much better even than my 66, which I thought was excellent.

  6. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Shoot the 32-20. You’ll be glad you did.

    Cowboy loads will be like a 22 and a lot of fun.

    I shoot my uncle’s M&P pretty regular. It was made form 1905-1907. Just standard pressure, no plus P. With a 6.5 inch bbl, it is still pretty effective on varmints.

  7. avatar Randy Jones says:

    Model 13-3 3-inch with the ‘armaloy’ finish (which I think was a hard chrome). It was my first.
    Model 65 4-inch a nice stainless steel revolver an ex police department gun.
    Model 60 2-inch stainless steel. My ankle carry.
    All three went to family member as I got older (transferred legally).
    S&W made some good guns and in the hands of a S&W trained armorer, they were even better.

  8. avatar Bitter says:

    I love the classic look and feel of a S&W wheel gun but being a south Paw I find the Ruger cylinder release is just so much more intuitive to press with my trigger finger.
    One day though I will have a model 37 and a model 10 just because I love they way they look.

  9. avatar Mark H says:

    I only have one Smith, a model M1917.
    .45 ACP and moon clips. Smoothest DA of any DA I have ever shot.

  10. avatar Scott C. says:

    I love my S&W model 60 LS. Say what you want about a dude owning a “Lady Smith” but with the heavier frame, 38s have virtually no recoil, are accurate and just a blast to shoot.

  11. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

    I can relate 100% to your statement: “My experience is just that, my experience. But S&W is my standard for a revolver. If you buy a factory standard gun with no mods except for changing grips to suit your hand, I’ve found that I simply shoot better with a S&W than any of the others I’ve owned and tried.” I agree with you. Almost 40 years ago I purchased a new S&W Model 15 (K-Frame) .38 Special Combat Masterpiece (blued) with 4″ barrel back in February 1980 at Payless Town and Country (no longer exists today) in Klamath Falls, Oregon for either $157.00 or $167.00. This is a Mod. 15-4. I still own revolver today. The only alteration to date was to, 1. have a competent gunsmith strip, detail, and clean handgun, and 2. to replace the skimpy S&W factory Magna grips with a pair of Pachmayr combat rubber grips. The latter improves shooting comfort, gripping, and practical accuracy considerably. This was the last of the pre-1982 pinned barrel Smith and Wessons. I also own a pre-1982 vintage Smith and Wesson (K-Frame) Model 19 and 66 “stainless” .357 Combat Magnum, both with 4″ barrel. Again, pinned barrel and counter-shrunk chambers.

    I also own John Henwood’s 1997 book: “America’s Right Arm: The Smith and Wesson Military and Police Revolver.” Another good reading (fictional but realistic and historical) novel is “A Gun’s Autobiography: Smith and Wesson Military and Police Revolver” by Jack Burton. If a person owns say a K-Frame Smith and Wesson .38 Special or .357 Magnum, perhaps supplemented with a 12 gauge shotgun, why do they need to be tactical or possess an arsenal? Use what you already have, particularly if one is competent, safe, and accurate with their firearm. Even in the worse case scenario such as the aftermath of a major natural disaster: earthquake, flood, wild fire (out here in the Western states these are a critical reality), or in the need to evacuate immediately, a person will have to leave their arsenal behind. With a simple handgun or shotgun they can usually take it with them inside their vehicle. Even a bicyclist or motor-cycle rider can easily carry and conceal a .38 or .357.

  12. avatar LastOfTheOldOnes says:

    My revolvers are a Ruger GP100 (4.2″357), Ruger SP101 (3″357), S&W Model 60 (2.12″357) and a Taurus 85 (2″38+P), my wife’s favorite in the nightstand.

    SP101 and GP100 for over-powered Buffalo Bore and Double Tap 357s, Model 60 for standard 357s. I’m very happy with all four. The sweetest trigger is the S&W, followed not far behind by the GP100, then Taurus, while the SP101 trigger is what I would expect in the small hand cannon category, tight.

    The decibel level out of the SP101 with a strong load is something to behold !!
    Best accuracy, by far, has always been the GP100.

    However, the Model 60’s size, power and trigger makes it my favorite. It’s the smallest one and easily concealable. With the redwood handles and polished stainless, it’s quite a knockout (so to speak).

  13. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

    Would to God I could post a couple of pictures of my two consecutive serial numbered Performance Center 642-2 revolvers. From the outset, I had never seen J-frame revolvers with such light, buttery trigger pulls. I couldn’t believe it. I removed the side plates not long after buying them, because I HAD to see its internals. It was magical. The insides of those two guns are nothing short of works of art. Not a single machine or tool mark to be found anywhere. The rebound slides are like mirrored glass. The only problem was that one of them shot high, which I remedied by carefully lower its front sight, and now it hits where it looks. To top that off, the gun shop owner where I purchased them gave me an astounding deal on them since I was buying two, and I’ve brought him a good deal of business since he opened his doors about five years ago. I walked out the door with my wallet only $748 lighter than when I walked in. My wife now won’t leave home without hers, and mine has become my favorite go-to revolver when I don’t feel like carrying my Hi-Power.

  14. avatar =BCE56= says:

    686, 4″ (the classic service revolver)
    65, 3″ heavy barrel (handier than the 686)
    640, 2 1/8″ (current BUG)
    60, 2″ (retired in favor of M640)
    36, 2″ (retired in favor of M60)
    All pre-lock, each has aftermarket grips to suit me.
    Cylinder releases on Colt and Ruger are deal-killers for me.

  15. avatar Cknarf says:

    Haven’t got my hands on any S&W wheel guns aside from my dad’s old Model 625. Some of my better days at the range have been with that gun.

    1. avatar Victoria Illinois says:

      Time to go shopping. They never go out of style.

  16. avatar DrewN says:

    I actually prefer the “other” Wesson, the 15-2 is my hands down fave. I do love N frames though, my fave is probably a 57 no dash 6″.

    1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

      Just got my first DW, it’s a Sentinel MK-II. Seems like a nice enough gun, I got it because the forcing cone kind of fragged out. I taped the frame up and took a carbide burr to the die grinder. Got a new barrel on order (ordered a 4″ first not a 6″) and I’m hoping to get this thing barking out soon. Should be fun for 275 with the 6″ and probably another 75-100 when I finish up making a new barrel shroud for the 4″ barrel.

    2. avatar Specialist38 says:

      The Combat Masterpiece is indeed a great gun.

      Slick and accurate and the ability to dial in a good load.

      It’s what I shot when I used to shoot in steel matches.

      Very handy in a good holster.

  17. avatar CLARENCE E HODGES says:

    MY FAVORITE IS MY WWI 1917 U.S.ARMY IN .45ACP WITH FULL MOON CLIPS. I CARRIED THAT ON DUTY WHEN IN THE OFFICE AND MY 1939 1911A1 COLT ON THE STREET BOTH WORKED GREAT AND DEPENDABLE.

  18. avatar GS650G says:

    I prefer the colt cylinder release to s&w and I have an official police 38 which is a favorite. I like the smith 14 with a long barrel. A friend had o e he was supposed to sell me but he ended up trading it with cash for a ..

    ..Colt highway patrol 357.

  19. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    The cool factor of the Hand Ejector is off the scale. The provenance makes it even better. 32-20 Winchester caliber? Better still.

  20. avatar B.D. says:

    I have a 686, rarely shot. Given to me by my step father when they moved to Belize. Thought about selling it many times but for some reason i just can’t. I feel like it keeps my safe… safe…

  21. avatar Will Drider says:

    I got rid of my S&W revolvers when they got in bed with Clintion. Sold out to Gun Control for a “Prefered buying program” and they knew at the time it would lead to product boycotts. S&W went quickly down the shitter and was sold for pennies on the dollar. It doesn’t matter If the Company changes ownership or management a dozen more times, I’ll never have a S&W product under my roof.

  22. avatar Chuck says:

    We have our Grandfather’s Hand Ejector in 32-20 from his time as a Police Officer (my older brother actually physically has the gun). Grand Dad carried that pistol from 1922 until he retired in 1962. He then went to work part-time, at first, at the Sheriff’s Dept. (In the same town), until 1975. I say at first, because he ended up being full time for 10 or 11 of those years and spent 3 as Acting Sheriff when the elected Sheriff died in office. Funny, that what should have been a 5 or 6 month temporary turned in to a 3 year gig. Things were running smooth enough under his leadership that the County Commissioners held off replacing him until the next election. Last time I remember firing the gun, was late 80’s/early 90’s with what had to be the last issued ammo he been allotted. It fired fine, but the copper jackets were beginning to verdigris at the edges.

  23. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    I have 2 66es and a model 38 (no -.) I like them, they’re quality guns from a more civil era. I would consider carrying the target stocks on the j-frame to be a horrible idea and trigger return springs (I don’t do hammer springs) to be a good idea on any of em unless you’re talking some PC editions perhaps.

    I do want a tapered barrel Smith like that. Just that look. Drool.

  24. avatar Joseph Ott says:

    I would Choose:
    1) Model #29
    2) Model #19
    3) Model #745
    *Good SHOOTING everyone!!!

  25. avatar BusyBeef says:

    Love my worked over Model 64 for ICORE
    Hated the airweight, sold it for an LCR, sold that for a Kimber K6S which I think is the best of the bunch. J frame size with 6-rounds on board and fairly comfortable to shoot.

  26. avatar Whiteji1 says:

    I love my Smiths: I have the following,

    29 6 1/2″
    66 4″
    27 6″
    25 6″
    28 6″
    36 x 2 snubbies
    10 x2. 4″

  27. avatar DrDKW says:

    My favorites, in the order I acquired them –

    !950s M&P, nickel, 4.5 barrel 38 special.
    !890s ‘Lemon-Squeezer’, nickel, 3.5 barrel, 38S&W.
    1990s Bodyguard, stainless, with original & rubber grips, 38 Special –
    newer version of the one in the infamous Pulitzer-prize 1968 Saigon execution photo.

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