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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.