The Classic Smith & Wesson .38/.357 K-Frame Revolver


Smith & Wesson manufactures revolvers in four frame sizes which run alphabetically from smallest to largest: J-frames (five-shot “snubbies”), K-frames (six-shot .38 Special and .357 Magnums), L-frames (heavy-duty six- to eight-shot .357 Magnums), and N-frames (.41 Magnums and larger).

The K-frame revolver, the first standardized frame size in the 20th Century Smith & Wesson line, represents the best balance of size, power, and portability—which is why it was the standard American police sidearm for nearly 100 years. While the greatest of the K-frame classics are out of production (the 2½-inch .357 Magnum Model 19 chief among them), several of the other stalwarts are still being manufactured. The fixed-sight .38 Special Models 10 and 64, and the adjustable-sight Model 67 are still being manufactured alongside the .357 Magnum adjustable-sight Model 66. Alas, all are now only available with 4-inch barrels—short barrel versions can be found on the used market. While all K-frame revolvers were once available in blue, nickel, or stainless steel finishes, only the Model 10 is blued—the other three are stainless steel.

The K-frame has a lot going for it. Concealable, durable, extremely accurate with reliability beyond reproach, the K-frame has been the primary handgun I’ve recommended to prospective defensive handgun owners since becoming a police firearms instructor in 1986.

Not everyone needs a semi-automatic pistol for defense or recreation. To become truly competent with a semi-automatic pistol takes more range time than most folks can afford. Let me tell you a dirty little secret. For the most part, the average cop was better off carrying a .38 Special revolver than a semi-auto pistol. When nearly all cops carried revolvers, our shooting was more accurate and the very few malfunctions that occurred at the police firing range were due to carelessly reloaded ammo. Today, malfunctions abound during firearms training with the vast, vast majority being due to operator error.

The operation of a K-frame revolver is very simple. There are only four manually operated controls on the entire gun—trigger, cylinder latch release, ejector rod, and hammer. K-frame triggers are double action. In double-action mode the trigger cocks the hammer and releases it—which requires about 12 pounds of pressure. The hammer can also be manually cocked for single-action fire, which reduces the trigger pull to about three pounds—helpful for long range shooting.

K-frame revolvers are among the most versatile firearms in existence. Purchase a .357 Magnum model and you have a gun that fires the all-time best round in terms of stopping power. Or you can load it with lighter-recoiling/lower-penetrating .38 Special cartridges. The .38 Special is a very capable self-defense round in its own right. Don’t feel undergunned with a K-frame chambered only for the .38 Special.

You can fire wadcutter, semi-wadcutter, round nose, soft-point, hollow point, shotshells, exposed lead, or full metal jacket .38/.357 loads, with bullet weights ranging from 200 grains down to 95 grains without reliability issues. Speedloaders allow you to reload your K-frame with fresh rounds nearly as fast as you can reload a semi-auto.

I still have the 4-inch barreled Model 67 .38 revolver that I carried in the early days of my law enforcement career. It resides in my nightstand with Crimson Trace Lasergrips attached and is loaded with 200-grain .38 Special “Super Police” rounds. I know it will go “bang” if bad things go “bump” in the night.

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16 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Amen. Mine is a model 64 38spc SS 80’s vintage, 4″ also with laser grips zeroed in at about 25 feet. In addition, I did a trigger job and replaced the springs with Wilson Combat springs to get a nice easy crisp trigger pull in double action. In single action, just a twitch will do. As you said in your article, speed loaders are very effective for fast reloads. The balance and accuracy is second to none. I like to think of it as 100+ years of proven reliability, with the latest aids to make it user friendly. There is nothing wrong with wheel guns!

  2. I own two S&W’s, model 36 Chief Special 2″ barrel and a model 19-6 2-1/2″ barrel. The new stainless revolvers look nice but there is nothing more appealing, sexy (imho) or iconic than these blued steel revolvers. With the round butts, both are very concealable, easy to operate and always go bang. Double action with either is easy to use. These are excellent defensive/concealed-carry handguns from a by gone era. Many people argue that 5 or 6 shots might not be enough, but realistically, how many “gun fights” last that long at defensive distances. Why not put your faith in something that won’t jamb or malfunction due to operator error? Pull, point, squeeze, bang. That’s all there is to it.

  3. Doesn’t give any costs or what ti covers. What about my misdemeanor, will that prevent me from carrying?
    curly ..

    1. It depends on the state and the nature of the misdemeanor. Do you have a lawyer? He might be able to find out for you.

  4. Nostalgia! Shame on me for mindlessly selling my K-frames decades ago . . . K-22 and K-38, with Herret grips! My only survivor is my J-38 snubby, which now sports Crimson Trace grips. Although I now enjoy and carry Ruger’s LCP, a Springfield XDM sub-compact 9mm or a Sig Sauer 9mm, my body yearns for that smooth roundness of wheel guns. For accuracy and reliability, I wish I still had those K-frame wheel guns today.

  5. S&W are great firearms. Dan Wesson broke out on his own years ago and I own a Wesson .357 Magnum snubnose revolver. It would be equivalent to the L model, heavy duty gauge. I always had to own a .357 when I was younger. This was my first, and still favorite, handgun I picked up back in my early 20’s. Durable, reliable, and no extra parts it does not need. As Larry J stated: “Why not put your faith in something that won’t jamb or malfunction due to operator error? Pull, point, squeeze, bang. That’s all there is to it.”

  6. I carried a S&W .38 COMBAT MASTERPIECE while in the AIR FORCE. I loved the “wheel gun” for its simplicity of function as well as its accuracy even in the face of youthful exuberance. As I got older, I found that semi-autos were a great way to put lead down range without thought of accuracy. The more rounds the mag held, the better off I thought I was. I have since grown up….a lot. While my primary carry is still an auto, I own more than 1 wheel gun. I carry one when I ride my motorcycle instead of the auto. I don’t have a solid reason for this choice, but it “feels” right with it tucked under my let arm. Do not ever let anyone tell you that wheel guns are old school or for old farts. Both of my sons carry wheel guns. One must…he lives in Alaska and in the dead of winter, autos do not cycle all the time.

  7. I recommend K frame or equivalent Ruger Security/Service 6 to my students, especially those new to shooting. The basic grip shape fits many smaller hands and larger grips are available for men wearing size men’s large or larger gloves. My main reason for recommending them is the “KISS principle”. In an emergency simple is better.

  8. The Model 66 Stainless Steel Snubbie was the second handgun I purchased. It is one solid piece of fine operating machinery and, even with a short barrel, in single action I can hit a 12 x 14 steel plate at 100 yds (well, not 100%). I would not want to shoot all day with .357 magnum though. Occasionally I get the thought “I should sell that.” then I pick it up and handle it and decide, “I don’t think so.”

  9. mine is a K-38 Combat Masterpiece, pre-model 15,cal.38, built 1956. 4 in barrel, blue finish, chckered walnut grips. using 38 spcl 125 gr jacketed hollow point

  10. I have a S&W 4 inch 66 no dash that I bought as my first gun a few months ago. This gun was such a beauty that I couldn’t refuse. I’ve tried a few autos before making the revolver plunge and I just feel that the gun fits “right” in my hands.

    I recently qualified for my Illinois Concealed Carry License with my Model 66 and felt confident through the range test. I actually look forward to more practice time due to it’s simplicity and accuracy.

    I’m glad I bought her and she’s staying with me until the end.

  11. I’ve had my Model13-2 with 4-inch barrel since 1979. I’ve been considering putting CrimsonTrace grips on it. The price of the grips is twice what I paid for the revolver new!

  12. a model 67-2 sits by my bed, also a beautiful 29-2 nickel is safe very attractive weapon

  13. My favorite carry is a S&W nickel 4″ 13-1 .38/.357 made in 1977!

  14. S&W Model 19 .357 mag 4″, probably the best, all-purpose handgun ever made. High capacity autos are mostly unnecessary for personal defense. Buy a revolver and learn how to use it well. Keep it clean and well maintained — it will last a lifetime

  15. I have posted so many online comments on classic K-Frame
    Smith and Wesson .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolvers anything I state here will be repetitive. This includes the Models 10, 15, 19, 66 and various others. I do however own John Henwood’s 1997 book: “America’s Right Arm: The Smith and Wesson Military and Police Revolver.” Prior to 1957 Smith and Wesson had no model number designation for their handguns. In 1957 Smith and Wesson’s K-Frame .38 Special Military and Police revolver was designated Model 10, the .357 Combat Magnum Model 19, the heavy N-Frame .357 Magnums the Model 27 and 28 Highway Patrolman, respectively. Today
    (2016) were I limited to owning only one handgun it would
    be either my pre-1982 Smith and Wesson (K-Frame) Model
    19 or 66 “stainless” .357 Combat Magnum revolver, both with
    4″ barrel, original Goncalo Alves target grips, and the pre-1982
    pinned barrel and recessed chambers. Many of today’s
    law enforcement probably are totally unfamiliar with the classic
    Smith and Wesson revolvers from decades past I allude to here. Considering too revolvers were largely replaced in law-
    man’s holsters commencing back during the late 1980’s and
    early 1990’s. Today’s law enforcement primarily carry semi-
    automatic pistols: Glock, Sig-Sauer, Beretta, etc. Mentioning
    a Model 19 to them would be almost like mentioning John M.
    Browning’s venerable, historical, and versatile Winchester
    Model ’97 (1897-1957) “hammer” pump action shotgun in
    riot or trench gun configuration. It would be considered “a
    blast from the past!”

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