Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The K Frame is King

(Left-Smith & Wesson Model 13, Center-Smith & Wesson Model 64, Right-Smith & Wesson Model 65)

As regular readers already know, I have a love/hate relationship with 5 shot snub nosed revolvers.  I love their size and retro appearance but I hate the way they shoot.  Even in all steel their recoil bites, their trigger pulls are ridiculous, and their accuracy is just not acceptable for me.  About every other year or so their lure pulls me in and this year was no exception when I spied a S&W Pro Series model 640 at Arnzen Arms in Eden Prairie, MN.  
 (Smith & Wesson Pro Series Model 640 in .357 Magnum with aftermarket grips from Altamont,

The "Pro Series" by Smith & Wesson is a step in-between their standard and "Performance Center" handguns.

This 640 has had some minor trigger work at the factory along with a 2.2 inch fluted barrel and the best set of night sights I have ever seen on an S&W J frame revolver.  It comes standard with a set of rubber grips which I very quickly swapped out for a set of checkered rosewood grips from the Altamont Company.  Even with the tuned-up trigger it still registered over 12 pounds as that is as high as my digital Lyman trigger pull scale goes.

Needless to say I was dismayed.  But driving back from one of my evaluation sessions I recalled that my aversion to revolvers was a phenomenon that occurred post Y2K (for those that remember what that means).  I grew up on revolvers.  Revolvers ruled the roost when I first began handgun shooting in the mid-1970's and I don't remember having these heavy-duty trigger pulls on the revolvers I owned back in those days but...those were K frame revolvers; two model 10s (one with a pencil tapered barrel and one with a bull barrel and round butt) and one model 15.  The model 15 had the best trigger pull of the three and it was magnificent.  One thing that I still did with all three of them was swap out their factory grips.  In those days they came with S&W's Magna grips which were not conducive to shooting in double action.  I resisted the 1970's fad of putting near comically oversized rubber grips on them.  Yes they reduced recoil but ergonomic they were not.  All of the replacement grips I procured were made of wood and improved not only the revolver's ergonomics but also the appearance.  

Thus began my quest for a K frame revolver or two (or three) but not one with a four inch barrel.  I was in search of Smith & Wesson's three inch variants.  The first one I spied on Gun Broker was a 2 inch barreled model 64-2 in .38 Special.  Now I realize that this wasn't a 3 inch barreled revolver but I liked it's appearance and it harkened me back to my earlier days in Chicago when a "heater" like this rode back-up on the duty belt or it was the primary carry for many of the Dicks.

The trigger pull was great!  I very quickly removed the stock Magna grips and replaced them with a set of stag grips, of unknown manufacturer that I found on Gun Broker, and a Tyler T-Grip.

Obviously the K frame revolvers are larger than the J frame snubbies but they carry six rounds instead of five and they are much easier to shoot making them more accurate as can be seen in the target below which was shot at 7 yards with Magtech 158 grain FMJ ammunition (which was used in the evaluation of all three pistols).

The next revolver to come my way was a Smith & Wesson Model 13 .357 Magnum with a 3 inch barrel.

Upon arrival I ordered a set of rosewood grips from Altamont to dress up the revolver.  The trigger pull on the model 13 was even better than the one on the model 64.  The 13 was also a shooter as evidenced by another one of my famous "one-shot" groups at 30 feet.

And here's 18 rounds at 21 feet.

The last revolver that I picked up to complete my collection (actually it won't be complete until I find a model 65 Ladysmith) is a stock model 65 with three inch barrel.

Again I jettisoned the stock grips for the set of gray laminated ones shown in the above photo.  I had these grips in my overflowing "draw 'o grips" but there is no manufacturer markings on them and I do not remember their origin.

The trigger pull on the Model 65 is by far the best of the bunch.  The pulls measured as follows:

Model 64-8 pounds
Model 13-7.5 pounds
Model 65-6.7 pounds

The hallmark of all of these triggers were their smooth pull-through.  I checked with the sellers and none of the revolver's triggers had been tuned up.  This is just the way they made 'em back then!

Now which one was more accurate?  Thank you for asking.  I mixed the grips around on the different revolvers several time and which ever revolver wore the gray laminated grips had the best accuracy as demonstrated by the model 65:

So...if you have a case of the snub nosed flu then get thee to an old stock "K" frame and reminisce about the glory days.


Eclectic Breakfast said...


While I've found a J-frame in my pocket very comforting over the years I wholeheartedly agree that the K-frame is much easier to shoot well and quickly. If you're going to wear a belt holster the six-shot Smith is just as easy to conceal. I had a Model 12 Airweight two inch back in the day. It was actually lighter than my ever present M49. It shot great but it was a square butt so I let it move on. As with most of my gun trades, I regret its departure...

Anonymous said...

Great article. However I disagree about J-frames. As someone who has been shooting them for over 40 years, I do not find the trigger pull horrible or the accuracy not acceptable. Put one in a ransom rest and you will see how accurate they are. As with all small guns, the accuracy, perceived recoil and trigger control is determined by the shooter. The fact that you mentioned retro looks gives your age away. To us old timers they do not look old. It is like saying a 1911 has a retro look. They have been this way for a very long time and are still made to look the same today. Just like the HiPower and 1911. Nothing retro about them. Great review nonetheless.

Average Joe's Handgun Reviews said...


At 58 years of age I appreciate your inference that I am a youngster. I agree that they can be accurate when bolted to a ransom rest I just doubt that I would have one with me if a real defensive scenario broke out.

Average Joe's Handgun Reviews said...


There is not enough bandwidth on the internet for me to write about my regrettable trades.

Erik said...

I appreciate the timing of the article and review on The Gun Nation. I just picked up an unfired M19-4 not too long ago for a song, and damn is that trigger buttery smooth. I can't get enough of the lines, deep blue finish, and wood grips, though it's so pretty I almost don't want to shoot it!

It may be surprising to note that at 25, I'm one of those few "youngsters" that has an affinity for the old wheelguns. I do have a 640 Pro also, and thanks to a days training with Claude Werner, I can run it pretty well. Still, a J-frame is never going to come close to matching the shootability of the K. Keep up the good work!

Scott Wilson said...

Joe, show us what you carry these K frames in about town. I'm thinking IWB.

Scott Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Average Joe's Handgun Reviews said...


I carry them in the Don Hume IWB holster pictured. It is numbered H715M No. 1-2.

Scott Wilson said...

I'll check those out.