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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