Check out the 642: http://www.smith-wesson.com/642
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /642
If you’ve been paying attention to trends in the industry, you will know that revolvers are fashionable again–at least within a certain set. I’m not saying we’re seeing an all-out retro revival, but there are some fundamentally attractive qualities inherent to the design, and this has kept the market for wheel-guns going long enough for them to make a bit of a come-back.
How popular are they? I was at my FFL recently, where I picked up this gun, and he made an off-hand remark. “The Smith 642–our best seller.” Seems he keeps a lot of these dudes on order as the keep moving out the door.
What makes the 642 so popular?
Lets’ check the specs. It is a revolver, so we don’t expect much in the way of a safety. It has the typical key-lock, but nothing manual that can be engaged on the fly. The 642 is a .38 and it can handle the +P rounds, but it isn’t chambered for the .357. This means it can have a lighter frame, and a smaller cylinder. On the whole, this is near the bottom of the weight spectrum. And it is a snub-nosed gun, so it remains compact.
If you don’t like this combination of ingredients, Smith has options. You can get the gun with a hammer, with a partially enclosed hammer, or like this with an internal hammer. If you really want an extra nubbin for grip security, they make an extended grip. And you can get this style of revolver in a variety of materials or finishes. So if you’re leery of the aluminum, or would prefer a darker color, all of these options exist in different models.
So how about that aluminum frame?
I’d shown this one to a friend who wanted to know about recoil. I could see the way he felt about the aluminum by the way one of his eyebrows was cocked up. He was dubious. And he’s not what I’d call recoil sensitive. “Does it hurt to shoot?” he asked.
Nope. Not one bit. I put more than 250 rounds through this on the first afternoon and I had no residual hand pain. It isn’t as pleasant as shooting my beastly 686 with its full-on rubber grips, but it isn’t bad either. I’d compare it to a compact 9mm. The recoil comes in below a .357, and is perfectly manageable. Check the target on the right and you’ll see what I mean. That’s five rounds from 15 yards fired one handed as fast as I could get the gun on target.
And with +P loads it begins to snap a bit. But, my mantra is again relevant–if you ever need this gun for defensive purposes, you won’t be complaining about the recoil. Hopefully the gun will hurt your assailant more than it hurts you.
What about the capacity
Well now we reach the age old argument against all revolvers. Capacity sucks. This gun only holds 5. There’s no sneaking an extra round in the pipe. As most .380s will hold 6+1, you are certainly at a disadvantage. 5 solid shots. Is that enough? I dam well hope so. But the question is impossible to answer ahead of time.
Reloads are also slow. If you have experience loading a six shot revolver, especially one with a medium or large frame, tack on an extra second or two for this little five shot. The compact design makes kicking out brass a challenge. The one hiccup I had with the gun was my habitual desire to throw open the gate and dump the brass in one fluid motion, like I do on my 686. But the crane on a six shot is longer, which rocks the cylinder farther form the frame, making ejection easier. The brass closest to the frame tends to get hung up as it ejects. It isn’t the end of the world, it just necessitates practice and patience.
Speaking of accuracy
These guns point incredibly well, and are easily controlled. That is a win-win in my book for defensive shooting. They also are easy to hold, despite being small. They feel very natural in the hand. Some autos don’t. But most importantly, the trigger allows for a consistent double-action pull that is easy to read. After just a bit of practice, I was able to pull back the internal hammer and hold it at a staged setting that required next to no effort to overcome. There are two clicks-on as the hammer rides back, and one right before it breaks. While the clicks aren’t audible when you are wearing muffs, you can feel them in your trigger finger.
As you can see form this image above, that staged pull allows for accurate shot placement. I would have no hesitation to use this gun for surgical work within limits. I can reliably hit a 10″ circle form 25 yards, no problem. Within ten yards, I could hit a quarter. The gun shoots to point of aim, and it shoots consistently. That’s all you could ever ask for.
Well, as we’ve already implied, there aren’t many. No safety. No hammer to manually pull back. Trigger pull is clean, and it breaks under 12 pounds. While that may seem heavy, it isn’t a detriment to accuracy. I’m not complaining. You can go a lot lighter, but it will take its toll on the force of the hammer. It is theoretically possible to lighten it to the point that it wouldn’t pop primers reliably. I’m not sure why I’m even entertaining the notion, really. This isn’t a gun anyone will use in competition, or for plinking, so why lighten the pull?
The sights are just as utilitarian. The front blade is wide and the rear is a milled channel. There’s nothing to adjust, nothing to knock loose. Still, they work.
Who needs on of these? Well, there’s a sticky wicket. I like the compact design and simplicity. This is a gun I could, in an emergency situation, hand off to someone with very little knowledge about guns and know that they’ll be able to make it function with only the knowledge they’ve gleaned from watching television. Point and shoot.
It is also the type of gun someone with limited hand strength can operate easily. With reduced recoil rounds in the gun, this would be an effective defensive handgun that would be manageable by almost anyone.
But there’s more to that story. With a barrel length under 2″, this gun will sacrifice some of the .38’s power. Speeds should stay right up around 900 fps, give or take. Heavier rounds will be on the 800 fps side, while + P loads could crack 1,000 fps. That puts this better than a .380, and almost exactly as a similarly sized 9mm. As the grain weights on the bullets are close, the speeds will also be close (+- 50fps).
From where I stand, I find it hard to decide. The simplicty is a selling factor. But it isn’t something I typically concern myself with personally. The capacity is an issue, but I really like the control and power it offers. It isn’t as concealable as a .380 mouse gun, but it is so much more than that. More speed, more control, more accuracy….
And then there’s the price. This rocking little gun comes in right at $400. You can find them a bit cheaper, and some models (like those with wooden grips) come in a bit above. But think about what you get for that money.
For me, this is the ultimate coat pocket gun. There are a lot of times that I stage my concealed carry. If I’m getting out at a gas station in a rough part of town, I may slip my gun into my coat pocket first. We just did a big experiment with revolvers and shooting from the pocket. You can see the results here. It was really informative for me. The revolver smoked the autos.