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(courtesy The Truth About Guns)

It was close — for a while. The fantastically triggered Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) was neck and neck with the S&W (Smith & Wesson) 642 for more than a month. Over the last few weeks, though, the Smith pulled away convincingly. With more than 17k votes counted — a remarkable sample — we can declare Smith’s venerable pocket wheelgun the undisputed winner of this head-to-head matchup, taking down its Arizona competition by a margin of 12 points. My take . . .

The Smith is the prettier, more solid-looking pistol. Its steel J-frame gives buyers [justifiable] confidence in the 642’s reliability. It is, in fact, an heirloom-quality gun.

That said, the ungainly little Ruger has the best out-of-the-box, non-Performance Center trigger in Christendom. Anyone who’s considering buying the 642 owes it themselves to dry fire the [unloaded, safety-checked, pointed-in-a-safe direction] LCR.

In short, you can’t go wrong either way. As Smith & Wesson contemplates expanding into other markets with other “outdoor” brands, I humbly recommend they reconsider going all Freedom Group and concentrate instead on getting more newbs to buy a 642. It’s the perfect self-defense-oriented beginner’s gun.

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  1. Beginner’s gun?
    Maybe loaded with .38 Special.
    .357 Mag will slap your hand harder than a Catholic school nun’s ruler out of a gun that light. For a beginner, that would be a definite disincentive to regular practice and training.

    A practical carry gun? Perhaps. My wife has one. But she’s not a beginner.

      • Shooting the 642 with .38 Special (not even +P rounds) the recoil, while tolerable, is more unpleasant than every class of handgun that I have ever shot. A large revolver in .357 Magnum or very large revolver in .44 Magnum (with ported barrel) produces less discomfort than the 642 shooting standard .38 Special 125 grain practice rounds.

        That doesn’t mean it is a poor choice for self-defense … quite the contrary it is an excellent choice for self-defense. What it does mean is that the overwhelming majority of people are NOT going to want to shoot 100 rounds through it at a range session.

        • Happy to be part of the underwhelming minority!

          I love shooting 640 pd at the range. Granted, its a .357, and yes like many others i shoot .38+p+ and .38+p through it., but the hit to the hand is largely the same.

          Once you get used to it, it doesn’t even cause ‘the shakes’ anymore.

        • You can always load soft-shooting wadcutters. I only wish there were more around to be bought for reasonable prices.

        • A Smith 340PD with full power 158 grain .357 is even more uncomfortable. I may sell mine for a 686 or maybe a 4″ Smith .500. I’d rather shoot my .460 XVR with full power loads than a titanium / scandium .357.

          Then again, it’s a nicely-built gun and I might not part with it.

        • It’s good to be a reloader. Cheap plain lead 100gr bullets and loadings down into the 60’s power factor are very comfortable for practice (NB a subsonic 22LR is about PF 40).

      • article quote
        “Its steel J-frame gives buyers [justifiable] confidence in the 642’s reliability.”

        I believe all 642 are alloy frame, hence lighter weight, w/ Stainless barrel and cylinder. Not a Steel J frame as other classic J frames.

  2. I agree about the trigger on the Ruger, sweet as a prom kiss. However I am not enamored with it’s MSRP. That is where I think Ruger could have took the market by storm, a lower price. I know that “out the door” prices are less, but I think that they could have rocked this market with a price closer to Taurus (forgive me, for I have sinned for saying that)

    • What? Practically everywhere I go the LCR is exactly the same price as the 442/642.

      In TN they are $409 at no fewer than 10 stores.

      • Lots of people Opts for the 357 Mag version, which is $100 more. I think the extra 2 ounces is appealing, even for shooting 38s.

      • Trigger is nice on the LCR, but I think that the price point should be lower than a J frame. And the Price for 22lr LCR is ridiculous last time I looked.
        I’ll take a J frame, even with less perfect trigger.

  3. I voted 642, partly because I own one, and don’t own an LCR. I have fondled the LCR in gun stores, and love it, especially the trigger. When I bought my 642, I seriously considered the LCR. Here are the reasons I went with the 642.

    Like Robert said, the 642 is both “prettier” and “classier” looking than the LCR. The LCR is a wonderful gun, but looks a little “dorky or cheesy”. Also, the stock grip on the 642 works better for pocket carry than the larger and more “sticky” LCR grip. That was a big consideration for me. I won’t carry a gun like this IWB. If I go IWB, I might as well carry one of my Glocks. The 642 also tends to be a bit lower priced than the LCR. When I bought mine (about a year ago) the 642 was $369, and the LCR was $420 or so.

    I love my 642, and I’m sure I would have also loved the LCR if I went that way. In fact, I am still thinking about picking up an LCR. That trigger is wonderful.

    • At the range a while back a fellow let me shoot his S&W after I let him shoot my custom Glock. That Smith was excellent! I want one.

  4. I loves me a wheelgun. Unless I was soldiering or copping I see no reason to use a semi. And I do recommend for those that insist on a handgun for defense and are not, and never will be, potg that they get a revolver.

    However, but. The j frame is not a newbie gun. A 4 inch k frame fits that bill much better. In any caliber at all so long as it’s .38. A person that’s not going to tap, rack or any of the other practised moves of an operator operating operationally should have a service revolver.

    K frame for newbs. Everything you need in a fighting handgun and nothing you don’t need.

    Now, for the newb that plans on getting into the lifestyle? The sky really is the limit.

    • The 4″ K-frame is a wonderful gun, but is a little on the larger side for CCW. I’ve been wanting to add one to my collection. If my parents (non-gun people) wanted something for home defense, the Model 10 would be my first choice for them.

    • +1 to jwm and Art out West.

      A k-frame revolver in .38 Special is a rock-solid home-defense handgun for a person who almost never practices and isn’t interesting in maintenance.

    • @jwm
      I don’t disagree with your points but I would add the following:

      I am of two minds here. A revolver is ideal for someone who is not going to care for, maintain, or carry their gun much. For the same reason that it is ideal for a get and forget buyer, it is also no beuno because of the increased practice it takes to master that DA trigger and develop a good repeatable grip. How much that matters in the grand scheme I don’t know, but I always mention those two points to anyone who asks for a recommendation or the pros/cons of semi auto vs revolver.

      I myself carry a J frame every day and shoot it frequently and I barely clean it, so I’m no paragon of cleaning. I like when it shoots fuzz out the first time firing it after being in my pocket for a couple of weeks!

      • The person that isn’t going to learn more about guns is not going to practice either. I’ve known more than one that bought a brand new revolver and one box of shells. 20-30 years on and the gun and same box of shells is still in the dresser/closet or whereever they stashed it.

        Getting a proper grip on any gun, regardless of type, matters nothing to these folks. It just has to go bang after decades of neglect and be pretty much murphy proof.

        As an aside. One of those people, she’s pushing 90 now, has a Colt official police .38 her husband bought brand new when they first got married. I know for a fact that gun has been fired less than one box in it’s lifetime. I go over there about once a year and put fresh shells in it for her.

        The revolver, of decent quality, is the gun for these people.

    • The 642 has been around so much longer. I am sure that had something to do with the results. A lot more people have one.

    • My LGS ( a Ruger distributor) had a “Shoot the New LCR Free!” Event when it came out.10 free rounds supplied.
      The first 5 were so painful, I didn’t want to fire the last 5 ! This was THE most painful gun I’ve ever fired. I’d never let a beginner near this gun. I have fired/ owned Taurus 85’s, Rossi snubs and many different S&W snubbies. All were pussycats compared this LCR monster. Thank you, no, Ruger.
      But a 3-inch SP101? Oh, yes please.

  5. have owned and shot both, will take the 642 all day, every day. those concerned with factory trigger on 642 try the apex tactical.

  6. LCR stands for “Lightweight Compact Revolver.”

    I am a snubby-lover (make of that what you wish) and a certified Smith weenie, but an Airweight like the M642 (or a lightweight like the LCR) would not be a good choice for a noob. They’re really guns for experienced shooters and experts, and everyone who fits the description should own a J-Frame revolver.

    • I like to think I’m not a noob anymore but the 642 cylinder release on an Airweight tears up my thumb, even with standard 38’s. I’d rather shoot .357’s from the LCR, punishing but not bloodletting. Maybe with different grips that fit my hand better, the 642 could be serviceable. Respectfully, I gotta vote LCR. If SP101 is added to the choices, that’s another story.

      • the 642 cylinder release on an Airweight tears up my thumb

        You are not the only one, my friend. I take a high grip, which places the side of my thumb in the perfect position for shredding by that cheese grater. I have the blood and callus to prove it.

        • Finally an advantage for us lefties. I don’t have that issue. My thumb is on the other side.

  7. As much as I may try to sell my customers on revolvers, they just don’t move as fast as autos. As for the ruger, I have to agree it’s odd looks work against it. A silly and superficial reason to reject what I think is a better choice, but there it is…

  8. The frame of the 642 is aluminum. That aside, being a Smith & Wesson lover, the LCR in 38 is the winner here. The pin replaceable front sight alone tips me to the LCR. Other options for a carry or just small revolver are the 3″ K-frames or something space-tastic like the M&P 340 (nothing like a 13 oz 357 with included night sight) or even the 3″ 686+ which I have on me AIWB as I type.

    But between 642 and 38 LCR the LCR is the functional victor, IMO.

  9. I wouldn’t consider any carry gun an heirloom, but between the two, I prefer the LCR. When I bought my first carry gun (LCR .357mag), my roommate had a 642. Side-by-side .38spl +P, the LCR won hands-down for accuracy (due to the trigger) and friendliness to the user (due to the tamer grip).

    I don’t think I ever got through a full box of .357mag before selling the gun… I was just an early adopter, so I bought the .357mag version with longevity/resale in mind (vs. the .38spl version).

    After adding a CT laser grip, the recoil on the LCR was only marginally better than the 642. The trigger alone should sell the LCR over the Smith… snub-nose revolvers are hard enough to put rounds on target with the more-or-less useless sight picture.

  10. Regarding the new poll, the 5.56mm Kel-Tec RDB is the more appropriate model to be paired against the Tavor. The RFB is 7.62×51.

    • The RDB does not exist in this universe. It only exists in an alternate universe where Kel-Tec supply and demand balance out. It only exists in photos by Oleg Volk. I’ve never actually seen an RDB. I don’t expect to see one in the real world for at least another five years.

      • I walked into a small gunstore near the Thumb (MI mitten) in December and not wearing my glasses seen a bull pup on the far wall, I hurried over hoping it was an x95, it was the 5.56 kel tec. Over priced to boot, MSRP rounded up a dollar.

  11. The 642 does NOT have a steel frame. My first revolver, some 20+ years ago was a 642. Shooting it with +P ammunition felt like a bomb was going off in my hand. I had it ported, but that made no noticible difference in shooting discomfort. I traded it for a steel frame 640, which was at the time only available in .38 +P. It is still an extremely uncomfortable gun to shoot. It is very difficult to hit a vital sized target at distances greater than across a room.
    It’s redeeming qualities are simplicity, elegance and concealability. I have had and have numerous semi-autos, none of which have been as unpleasant to shoot as the 640, which I still carry sometimes on range trips. My Glock 43 is not unpleasant to shoot for a few dozen rounds, the stock trigger works well for me, and I can hit vital sized targets out to 50 feet. The S&W 640 appears to only be available now in the heavier .357/.38 size. I would NEVER recommend the .38 +P 642 or even the .38 +P 640 for newbies to learn with.

    • ^ This.

      I wrote a comment late last summer about some plinking in the woods. My spouse and I shot several handguns one after another for the sole purpose of comparing perceived pleasantness to shoot. We shot a full sized 9mm semi-auto, full sized .40 S&W semi-auto, large frame .357 Magnum revolver (with 6-inch barrel), a very large frame .44 Magnum revolver (with 8 inch ported barrel), and finally a snubbie revolver shooting .38 Special 125 grain plinking ammunition. (We didn’t even bother to shoot +P.) My spouse and I both agreed without any hesitation that the .38 Special snubbie revolver had the most unpleasant recoil of all those handguns.

      If you are a newbie and want a first handgun for practice and fun, I strongly recommend a slightly larger revolver with a 4-inch barrel. And if you are only planning to use that revolver for practice, fun, and home defense, consider the same revolver (or a similar revolver) with a 5-inch or 6-inch barrel.

      • My 642 is a little snappy, but not bad at all for me. The guns you compared it to were all LARGE heavy guns. Don’t compare it to those. Compare it to an LC9/LCP/PF9/P3AT/Glock43/Glock42, etc.

        Now, I wouldn’t recommend my 642 – 15 oz. beauty to my wife or my parents.

        .38/.357 revolver wise, I’d hand them either my Rossi 68 (22 oz. 5 shot, 3″, steel frame) or Rossi 461 (26 oz., 6 shot, 2″, steel frame, larger rubber grips). Those are both easier to shoot.

        • Art out West,

          Agree on all points.

          The other handguns in my comparison were all considerably heavier and/or had a slide which mitigates some recoil.

          I recently shot an LC9 and that seems to be more pleasant to shoot than a lightweight snubbie … and it should be because the slide absorbs some of the recoil.

  12. Is the 642 available in .327? No? I’ll take the LCR then.

    Now, if this was between the LCR and the S&W Bodyguard, that’s a tough choice even if the Smith was in .327 Mag.

  13. I shot the LCR 13oz on Ruger Day at the range and I really didn’t like the way the polymer and rubber transmitted recoil to my hand. Also really don’t like the looks. Haven’t tried to pocket carry the little sucker but the grips don’t look as functional for that as the 638 I have. I did compare the LCR grip to the LCR-X 3 inch with the Jordan Trooper style grip and I do have to say my hats off to Ruger on the design- it does line the muzzle up in your hand wonderfully for the guns purpose- self defense and point shooting.

    I also bought the 360J but sold it. Even as a masochist who practices martial arts and has had dislocations and snapped tendons, the recoil on the ultralight makes the gun borderline uncontrollable. I was masochistic and crazy enough to shoot 50+ rounds through it once including some Buffalo Bore and it took 2+ months for the muscles in my forearm to recover. It was a very painful experience. Where I might consider the 360J is as an ankle gun for bad breath distance, although my 638 seems to function in that role just fine.

    I do want to put a plug in for Bill Oglesby of Springfield, IL Bill and his smiths did a wonderful job on my 638 and 1964 Chief’s Special, tuning the action, putting lighter springs in the 638, chamfering and numbering(!) the charge holes, pinning my tyler T on the Chief’s magnas, inserting a sight on the Chief, removing the serrations on the trigger face of the Chief, dehorning both guns, etc. All this for a price that I consider a gift. The trigger on the 638 is smoother and lighter than the Chief. I’ll have to get my local gunsmith to take a look at it and see what he thinks. I’d like the best trigger possible- the Chief is too nice looking to leave on the shelf.

    One last thing: I was reading an old copy of Chic Gaylord’s _Handgunner’s Guide_ (funny name, but look him up) and he made the point that unless one practices religiously, carrying even a steel snubnose is irresponsible. You’re better off liability wise with a three inch barrel or longer. I carry a 638 and a four inch alloy 1911 and don’t practice often, although I have in the past and my skills are decent. The 638 I would only use for up close and personal unless I had no other choice.

    • “Up close and personal” defense is the reason most of us carry a handgun. That is what my 642 is for. Part of the reason I went with a revolver is to avoid the issue of the gun being pushed out of battery. I guess I consider the CCW handgun as a last ditch defense against criminals.

      • I would consider up close and personal much of what we would encounter- muggings zero to three feet away. Probably for the majority of what we’ll encounter the snubby should suffice and would even be better than a semi- ie, in a hands on situation, it won’t be pushed out of battery, like you mentioned. However, greater than three feet and in a dynamic situation, I want a gun I can really control with a four pound trigger and a four inch barrel. That’s why I have a compact 1911.

        • I agree. My 642 is more for mugger and punks, than terrorists. Sometimes, I wonder if I should carry my Glock19 or 22 instead (occasionally I do). They would be much better for dealing with a serious threat more than 10 feet away.

  14. I’m something of a Ruger LCR fan since have 3 of them in 38 P+, 9mm and most recently added the 22LR version. Absolute favorite to shoot is the LCR 22LR, upgraded stock grip for after market grip that allows full 3 finger grip, same type of internal extra cushion along blackstrap that really tames felt recoil. The trigger is smooth as butter, heavy trigger pull but once change full hand grip, world of difference. With grip mod, I would let a new shooter start on it.
    It is 8 rounds of fun and with stock sight with white stripe for focus, it’s one of the most accurate handguns I own. Also own a S&W model 65 22LR, paid a lot for it but rarely fire it due to very picky on anmo, will lock up if use my favorite round CCI minimags in it. I can pocket carry LCRs and even the 22LR, would not hesitate to carry for SD out in the country for coyotes, fox, raccoons with nasty attitudes. For in city SD, LCR 9mm is the ticket for me, your mileage may vary. For all the Ruger GP100, SP101, SR22 and a variety of semi autos pistols. But I will relie on a wheel gun with a great trigger! Self defense is no time for tap, rack & shoot. I’m no operator, just give me a point & shoot revolver for self defense.

  15. If you shoot a 642 w/ wooden/hard/boot type plastic grips, you will hate it and think it is a palm-torture device. If you shoot it w/ rubbery Hogue-type grips, you will love it and have no idea why so many people complain. My .02

    • grips determine whether it is a mater of endurance or enjoyment
      my 642 with Hogue finger groove grips is a joy to shoot all day long

  16. Odd that few if any mentioned the ruger sp101 in this role.
    It’s all steel, snubby, reasonably compact, and comfortably recoils in 38+p, and even handles 357mag without punishing most shooters. Its footprint is measurably less than a k-frame.

    Ruger should consider an all-steel LCR size. With the LCR trigger and features, and with model-60 heft, it would have a winner.

    Anyone carrying a sw snubbie should plan on a trigger job. That’s the reality of it.

    Then there’s the new kimber K-6 six shot 23oz 357snubbie. Lots of potential there, hypothetically. With a price that keeps it in the low SW PC range.

    • Agree, SP101 snub nose, strainless steel is a nice handgun. Have two of them, one out on loan to sister in law for SD on rural property & long drives from Texas Hill Country to Ft. Worth. Changed out skinny stock grip for Houge hand filling after market grip and even firing 357 is manageable but 38P+ will do the job with a little more control for SD. Ruger just does a good job on handguns period.

    • The SP101 is an awesome gun, but it is a different category in my mind. It has a steel frame, and is much heavier. Likewise, my Rossi 461 is in a different category. It has that steel frame, and is a 6 shooter, even though it is a snubby.

  17. Unfortunately I tapped the S&W icon, having tried both Ruger all the way, trigger feel and function far better with the Ruger.

  18. How I regret selling my rare nickel plated Smith Body guard which you could cock into single action and was made back in the early 1970’s. No junk MIM cast parts, No junk EDM burning in rifling. No junk pressed on barrel shroud. It had index pins on the cylinder to align the extractor, now done away as another cheap ass move by Smith.

  19. Hmmm…didn’t vote on this one. I had a similarly sized(but a little heavier) Taurus 85 ultralite. It was not fun to shoot. And I almost got a tiny S&W 637 too. I decided IF I got another revolver it would be 3 or 4″ barrel in 357-and shoot 38 at the range. I may have to as the wife loves revolvers.

  20. “My take . . .

    The Smith is the prettier, more solid-looking pistol. Its steel J-frame gives buyers [justifiable] confidence in the 642’s reliability.”

    WTF!? Saying that the 642 has a steel frame calls into question the knowledge of the author….

    I have one of each but find the trigger pull on the LCR better though I’m tempted to try Apex’s trigger kit for the 642.

  21. I actually broke my first 642 dry firing it about 500 times. I was trying to “break in” the trigger like that (bad idea). Anyway, the post that holds the hammer actually break from the frame and I had to send it back to Smith for it to be destroyed and they sent me a new unit with a new serial number (Saved the paperwork to this effect of course, in case it was not actually destroyed).

    Gotta say I was not impressed that dry firing would break the gun so quickly. The new unit has been flawless. Gave a it a trigger job instead of blindly dry firing.I can easily make one ragged hole at 7 yards with it.

  22. Have posted this comment before, but I love the Smith. Was my first conceal and carry weapon. Crimson trace, plus-p chambered and Blackhawk in waist band. Always said great beginners gun because it is point and squeeze if the situation arises, which I would hope I have a better chance of winning powerball then ever being in that situation. However I do travel with a Sig p220 with tritium nights and keep a mossy spx bedside. Also an evil black .556 for the farm/ranch. Just sayin.

  23. Call me old fashioned or just old but I prefer my wheel guns with an exposed hammer and DA. I carried my S&W 637 airweight for years. Way before the mouse gun craze and definitely before ccw was talked about that little gem rode in my front pocket. So much so its been to the factory for refinishing once.

  24. Not to hijack the the thread but I have the opportunity to purchase a S&W 657, does anyone have any experience with one or the .41 cal in general?

  25. I didn’t read all the replies so maybe someone has already pointed this out. The 642 doesn’t have a “steel J-frame” as stated in the original article. The 642 (and the 442) are lightweight “airy” Airweights because they have aluminum frames.

    The 442/642 remain my favorite S&W revolvers. Especially after professional trigger work. I can shoot my SIGs and Glocks better but nothing carries as easily as my 642 in a pocket holster.

  26. Please, people – you are forgetting the First Rule of Gun Buying:

    If you cannot decide between two guns – get both.

  27. Hey, I’d pick the Smith too, in a fantasy world where I wasn’t actually paying for it.

    Here in the real world, I picked the Ruger and am extremely happy with that choice.

  28. Dry fire any Smith & Wesson revolver 1000 times (50 each day) and you sill have a perfect triggefr job and a strong trigger fjnger both at no cost.

  29. “Also own a S&W model 65 22LR, paid a lot for it but rarely fire it due to very picky on anmo, will lock up if use my favorite round CCI minimags in it.”
    CCI .22LR brass has less spring back when fired than other brands. I recommend against it in revolvers. Failure to spring back enough after firing expansion can tie up the cylinder and also makes simultaneous ejection of a cylinder full of fired brass difficult.

    The frame on the -1 (1996 and later) and later 442, 640, and 642 is completely different than the frame on the “no-dash” models. So many accessories will not fit the earlier “no-dash” guns. Forward mounted lasers like the Lasermax Centerfire will not fit. The longer firing pin and lighter return spring in the Apex kit cannot be used. The Apex kit uses a lighter hammer spring than the 8# reduced power that Wolff and others use. Without using the Apex firing pin and spring, ignition issues are more likely to result.

    I recently put Ergo Delta grips on my 640 and 442. It is “as ugly as homemade sin” but is the best shooting grip I’ve tried.

    Since LaserMax changed from a side to side switch to an ambidextrous tap on-tap off switch, it has become my favorite laser for snubbies. Both S&W and Ruger offer it as a factory option, but currently their lasers are still old stock with the side to side switch.

  30. I’m torn. I have an LCR and a 342PD. Whichever one falls into my pocket. The 342, load them both with HPs and have qualified with both. The LCR the last ten were in the head at 40 feet. Like the man said I was confused so I bought both. The 342 is easier to conceal but the accuracy of the LCR is magnificent and the 342 is only a little less.

  31. I just don’t get all of the “fierce recoil” comments. Seriously, I own, carry and shoot both a S&W 640 and a Ruger LCR in .357 Magnum and like them both. I shoot at least 100 .357 Magnum rounds per month in each and can’t say I ever have any problem with recoil. I don’t think you can go wrong with either. If you are very recoil sensitive, just load them with .38 Special or .38 Special +P and you will be very well equipped.


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