The Used Gun Market–Smith & Wesson Model 30

Editor’s Note: we’re mixing it up a bit this time. In the last few months, we’ve been looking at historical firearms through our typical testing and review lens. That’s all well-and-good when the guns are actually historically significant. But some of them aren’t so historical. They’re more like footnotes. They’re the used-cars of the gun world, and they’re everywhere. WE feel like they deserve some love, too. So–we’re going to add to our catalog with this new addition: The Used Market.

You can check out the other review in the Shooting History series here.  Also, if there is something you would like to see reviewed comment below and we will try to find a “shooter.”  We have some exciting stuff in the works for this series so be sure to keep an eye out.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Smith & Wesson Model 30

The Smith and Wesson Model 30-1.

The Smith and Wesson Model 30-1.

The Smith and Wesson Model 30

Smith and Wesson made the Model 30 from 1948 until 1976.  When it first hit the market it was know was the Model .32 Hand Ejector: a fitting name since it was based on the Smith Hand Ejector revolver that was introduced in 1903. From the start of production until 1961, the Model 30 was built on the S&W I-Frame.  No, the I-Frame (iframe?) was not a collaboration with Apple–though the Model 30 is a well designed and intuitive revolver.  Anyways, in 1961 Smith introduced it’s new J-Frame size.  The revolvers that are made on the J-Frame are marked Model 30-1. S&W made them in blued or nickel finishes.

The Model 30 Smiths are all round-butt style revolvers.  Smith did make a square butt version of this revolver under the Model 31 name. Other than the shape of the grip frame these revolvers are identical.

.32 S&W Long on the left, 9mm on the right.

.32 S&W Long on the left, 9mm on the right.

.32

The Model 30s are chambered in .32 S&W Long. Although this is far from being a powerhouse of a cartridge, it is not really a slouch either.  Factory loads are not super common but they are out there and some defense rounds are still made too.  Now we are not talking 9mm, .38 Special or even .380 power.  The .32 S&W Long can move a 98 gr round nosed lead bullet to around 720 ft/s.  That is with factory loadings that are available today.  Hand loads can push this up a bit.

So this lowly .32 is on the weak side, but it is very soft and easy shooting. The cartage is a great revolver round for someone that is recoil sensitive. It is also known to be a inherently accurate caliber.  Now that could be attributed to the .32 S&W Longs being mostly in the high quality older Smiths.  I do not mean that in a negative light towards modern Smiths, or any other guns for that matter, but the Smiths in particular that were made in the late 1960s through mid 1970s represent, to me, the last of the classic American built revolvers.

Nice deep black bluing and the color case hardening on the hammer and trigger.

Nice deep black bluing and the color case hardening on the hammer and trigger.

The Last American Classic?

Here are my thoughts on why the Smith Revolvers, and Colts too, made before the mid 1980s are the last of the classics:

  • More automatics start being purchased by police and civilians, with the polymer frames finishing them off in the 1990s, resulting in less time and talent being invested in the revolvers.
  • The CNC Machine is great.  It speeds up the manufacturing process and cuts down on labor, but we lose some of the “hand built” quality and attention to detail.
  • Speaking of cutting down on labor, there are a lot of hours involved finishing an all-steel, blued gun.  These older revolvers even have color-case-hardened parts, and you only see that on custom shop type guns now.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Smith and others are still producing some great revolvers today.  They are just missing that one little piece of the puzzle from being “classic.”

Gives you a bit of an idea of size. Not a big revolver.

Gives you a bit of an idea of size. Not a big revolver.

This Old Gun

This old Smith Model 30 is made on the J frame and is marked 30-1 on the crane. It dates from about 1970 and shows a bit of wear here and there from its 45 years or so life. This Smith belongs to one of GunsAmerica’s writers, and was his grandmother’s revolver.  He said she kept it in the towel drawer in her kitchen for defense against 2, 4 and no-legged varmints.  Speaking of the no-legged variety, he recalls her taking it out to the garden to dispatch a Copper Head that was trying to make a home in her strawberry patch. The light recoil of the .32 S&W Long would have been perfect for her, and it was.  My 93 year-old grandmother used to keep a .38 special handy for the same sort of thing.  But the recoil started being a bit much for her and she now uses a .22.  This little .32 Smith would be a great compromise between the two.  There is understandable sentimental value here, so I can’t take this one.

From about 15 yards.

From about 15 yards.

Shooting

This is one of those guns that just flat out shoots and begs to be shot.  It is an absolute pleasure to shoot.  The recoil is very mild but still enough to be enjoyable.  Does that make sense?  I have fun plinking with .22 handguns, but they can be a little lacking.  I like to feel some recoil when I am shooting.  It doesn’t have to be hot loaded .44 mag level of recoil, but I like the feedback my hands get from shooting.

We ran a number of rounds through this Model 30 without a single problem.  Double and single action, everything locks up tight like it should.  The timing is set correctly and it shoots great.  See the photos for groupings we were about to get.  They were all done off hand and standing.  From a bench I have no doubt this little Smith could put a cylinder full into the same hole, with the right loads.

Relevance

So is this old Smith Model 30 still relevant?  I say YES.  A big yes.  There is nothing simpler to use than a double action revolver . Couple that with the capable, yet easy shooting .32 S&W Long, and you have possibly the perfect handgun for someone with recoil sensitive or weak hands.  As we all get older, our fingers get a bit weaker and less nimble. I hope it is a long time coming, but one day, some of us–me included, will have a hard time racking the slide with arthritic fingers. When that time comes a Model 30 Smith would be a great revolver to have.  They are made well enough to be around in 50+ years too.

The little Smith points great.

The little Smith points great.

My hands swallow up the grip and I do not have very big hands.

My hands swallow up the grip and I do not have very big hands.

Double action hammer on the way back.

Double action hammer on the way back.

Most of the case hardening has worn off the trigger.

Most of the case hardening has worn off the trigger.

From 25 yards, I dropped one.  No question in my mind that this gun can shoot better than me.

From 25 yards, I dropped one. No question in my mind that this gun can shoot better than me.

.32 S&W Long

.32 S&W Long

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • roger September 4, 2017, 3:06 pm

    I have a S&W 32 made in 1948. Quite concidentally, I purchased another one in 1978, made in 1976. 4″ barrels. Small grips are just right for my wife.. Old has a lot of chrome worn off. Stills fires fine. ’76 model is blued and perfect.

  • WEB May 16, 2016, 9:01 am

    Just before deploying to RVN in 3-67 I purchased a new 30-1 for my wife, took her out in the woods to teach her how to shoot, she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn until I had her pull her elbow into her side and just point at the #10 can at 25 feet. She hit it 4 out of five on the first load. Other than that days half box of shells it been in the safe in like new condition.

  • Ronald February 23, 2016, 9:02 am

    how much is a Model 30 32 long smith and wesson worth?

  • DoctorWho August 10, 2015, 11:20 am

    I bought a S&W M-10 used for $50,
    was out of time, cylinder gap too wide, a good friend, a very good Gumsmith, took it to his shop and replaced the barrel, did a trigger job, and a few other things, charged me very much next to nothing, but what a Sweet shooter it turned into !!!
    I loved that Smith !
    It could place bullets with surgical precision with boring regularity !

  • DH August 5, 2015, 8:56 pm

    Bought one of these new in the early 70’s for my wife. It’s nickel. It has slept under her bed for about 40 years now. Still looks brand new, and I still wouldn’t want her shooting the thing at me!

  • William Bell August 4, 2015, 3:46 pm

    Buffalo Bore makes a couple of good defensive loads for the .32 S&W Long. For older guns, you can still get full wadcutter loads that are better for defense than the RNL bullets. I keep them in an old S&W Regulation Police I have circa 1928.

  • Tommy Barrios August 4, 2015, 2:23 pm

    I have a S&W Model 15 (.38 SPL) Combat Masterpiece that I bought from a retired Deputy Sheriff around 1971, it was his service weapon.
    I had it sent back to S&W to be refurbished and had an awesome gunsmith do a custom trigger and action polishing job that makes the gun a Target Masterpiece from heaven 😉 (If you think about pulling the trigger in single action you have already dropped the hammer and you can squeeze off six rounds at about one round a half second in double action and never leave the center rings at 10 yards 😉 )
    I have put about 3000 rounds through it over the years and it’s still fairly tight, particularly on cocked lock up, but has loosened up some from carrying it in a holster, but the gun will still put any and all rounds in a 2 inch pattern at 25 yards consistently in single action!
    I will NOT part with this bad boy for love nor money 😉

  • M. Johnson August 4, 2015, 9:41 am

    While this nice gun qualifies as an antique, the modern counterpart is the .327 revolver. What I like about the modern one is it can shoot a bullet with 100 ft/lb energy, and it is reliably doing just what it is designed to do. And it can equally shoot one with 500 ft/lb energy and *also* reliably doing what it is designed to do. In my estimation the .32 caliber has a lot going for it.

  • Al August 3, 2015, 11:35 pm

    I was fortunate enough to pick one of these up a couple of years ago. It’s a GREAT little gun. They just don’t make them like this anymore…….

  • Louis Malta August 3, 2015, 7:39 pm

    I use to have 4 of the 30-1’s until my wife , daughter shot them so I had two but I sold them for a good profit
    My wife like it because I put banana grips and so did my daughter they love them the ones they have have round butts some have square butts u can’t put banana grips on the square butts . They are real nice guns to plink with a lot of fun.

  • Thomas Fowler August 3, 2015, 4:58 pm

    I enjoy your testings and reviews…there must be MILLIONS of us out here who proudly own Mauser 8mm’s and Mannlicher-Schoenauer’s, in various calibers…not altered and customized…how would they stand up under testing? Really? We love them, obviously, and we think that they are great in the field, but are they really shooters, by modern standards? Wooden stocks, not plastic…many with double set triggers, and old calibers…what if you put some of them through their paces, with comparable modern pieces?

    Curious…

    Rev. Thos. B. Fowler
    Dry Fork, Virginia
    rockfishman60@yahoo.com

  • CW August 3, 2015, 4:10 pm

    I have a 1954 pre-30 and a 1956 pre-31 on the improved I-frame, both nickel finish. These are great little guns as you wrote in the article but one thing you failed to mention. Recoil can be softened even more when practicing by using .32 S&W (short) ammo. I don’t know how hard the shorts are to find since my local gun shop routinely carries them but the shorts will dispatch copperheads and other yard vermin as well as the longs.

  • Philip August 3, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Photo caption should be “Its the 9mm on the left and .32 on the right”

  • Dov August 3, 2015, 2:13 pm

    My S&W 30-1 besides being a great gun to shoot, is one of my most important teaching tools. I load mine with .32 ACP (which it shoots even tighter groups), and pair it with a Walther PP also in .32. Since they are both “comfortable” sized traditional double action handguns that are within about an once and .1″ of each other, they are the perfect tool for teaching the comparison between revolvers & semi auto pistols.

  • j August 3, 2015, 11:20 am

    If I find one of these at a reasonable price I’m buying it. I have 3 revolvers in 327 mag and I love to shoot 32longs in them. My intentions are to shoot and have a good time doing it. I have better options for defense like a cz p09 or cz75 which I recommend highly for their shoot ability. Another low recoil option is a 1911 style pistol in 9mm.

  • James B. Towle August 3, 2015, 10:02 am

    Nice…ya know I just filed off the hammer and the old 30 still makes a good back up gun….thanks for the article Sam…

  • Dave Hicks August 3, 2015, 9:32 am

    Nice article . I enjoyed the gran ma story. I come from along line of country folk . Nice caliber for a rat gun.

  • Richard Prichard August 3, 2015, 7:10 am

    Did anyone edit or proofread this article? It was a nice article to read but there were so many glaring grammatical and spelling errors. If you do continue these posts at least look them over for errors. I don’t mean to be rude, but as a teacher it’s frustrating because some people may not be able to understand what you are trying to convey.

    • OmegaMan August 3, 2015, 8:03 am

      Yes I noticed. It’s far too common these days. And difficult to tactfully point out. Sam – great article. Great content, and perspective. It deserves an error free presentation. Please keep up the great work.

    • JohnJ August 3, 2015, 4:19 pm

      Perhaps the problem arises in part from our increasing reliance on spell check and autocorrect (if not a failure of our schools to rigorously educate the student in the English language). A computer often can’t tell the difference between “it’s” and “its” and has no notion as to which is possessive, and auto correct won’t change “…know was…” to “…known as…”, which is obviously a mere typo. As you suggest, good proof reading is becoming a lost art.

    • steve August 5, 2015, 1:42 am

      sadly, almost every gunsamerica article is like this. in addition to spelling/grammatical errors, he also mislabeled the 9mm and .32 S&W in the photo caption(it’s the 9mm that is on the left, not the .32.)

  • Carl White August 3, 2015, 6:49 am

    I have not noticed The Used Market before, I hope it continues. All too many of us have let some great old firearms slip through our hands, it is nice to see articles on them. It is always great to walk down memory lane. Great article keep it up

  • Lt. Donn August 3, 2015, 5:04 am

    You know…put some of Buffalo Bore’s hard-cast flat-point rounds in this baby and you would have a “reasonable” self-defense platform…I love these old Smith’s…younger shooters who have never spent time with a fine-tuned Smith are really missing out

    • D Thater August 3, 2015, 7:36 am

      Absolutely Lt. Donn. Grew up and would like to say mastered the bull barrel model 10, Colt Police Positive, both in .38 specials….loved them, reloaded them just a little hot with 158 gr semi wad cutters…red dot, I would not be worried about anything…yes , mine had put a copper head or two away when I was working on my farm. The good ole days at the gun shows , cases of police trade- ins, from $115-125.00 for really nice departmental weapons…plain janes, but in great shape…I bought my share and a few for my friends, both I and they still have them, wish I would have both more. Do I prefer the Glocks , yes, probably, but my son started out on a model10 and learned the basics well. Today, when I go to my farm to mow around the barn, cut up a tree for firewood that blew down last week, will definitely have that smith, in a holster, looking closely for the slithery brother running mate of the CH from last summer….continue on sir …

    • Uncle Nat August 3, 2015, 3:15 pm

      You read my mind. Got one in the locker with 2 boxes of Buffalo. Damn accurate little pistol and fits in the back pocket just right.

  • Greg Schmidt August 2, 2015, 4:18 pm

    Enjoyed reading through The Used Market. I think it will be a popular addition. Interesting article about the Smith & Wesson Model 30. Ironically enough, a friend of mine owned one years ago, long before the current concealed carry explosion. He would carry it in his pocket from time to time and found it not in the least bit bothersome. So this \”used market\” gun may have a place as a conceal carry piece in today\’s market.

    • Roger W. Hamilton August 3, 2015, 4:34 pm

      My Grand Mother gave me my Great Grand Father’s handgun. He carried it in his bib-overalls until the day he died.
      It’s a .38 S&W caliber “Pocket Pistol”, five shots and a five inch barrel, black powder. I have never fired it. I keep it in my curio cabinet in front of pictures of my Grand Father and Grand Mother, before they were married, between 1900 and 1910. My Grand Father used it one time. He used it to convince my mother’s first husband to give her a divorce.

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