S&W J-Frame Airweights: Do They Last?
As a proponent of the Airweight J-Frame for daily carry and regular practice, I am frequently asked, “Do they last? Will they hold up to lots of shooting?” Some have suggested that lightweight handguns are but “to be shot little and carried lots”. I partially agree with that. It remains my position that regular practice is essential with any handgun intended for serious use. That our aluminum-framed snubs are less comfortable to shoot is just a tradeoff for their convenience as a “carry guns”.
It appears that a sizeable number of folks agree with the necessity for practice but harbor concerns as to their lightweight snub’s longevity. In other words, “Will we wear it out if we shoot it?” The truth is, “Yes, eventually you sure will” for the only way not to is not to use it, but does that necessarily mean that the aluminum-framed S&W snub is short-lived? I guess that the “right” answer depends upon how we define “short-lived”.
In a “shoot-‘em-‘til-they-break torture test of endurance”, I believe that the all-steel versions of S&W’s famous snubnoses will win. I think that they will shoot a greater number of rounds than the Airweights before failing.
This is an S&W Model 042 in .38 Special. It has been carried lots and shot quite a bit as well. This aluminum-framed predecessor to the 442 probably will not hold up to as much shooting as the Model 36, its all-steel counterpart, but I suggest that it will hold up to more shooting than most owners will in a couple of lifetimes. In my experience, relatively current Airweight snubs are capable of enduring copious amounts of shooting and are fine for regular practice.
Before retiring from police work, this snub was a backup to my Browning Hi Power. It was shot roughly 50 to 100 shots (mostly standard pressure factory ammo or similar handloads) at least every other week for a couple or three years.
This Model 642 replaced the Model 042 only because of its stainless-steel components being more resistant to corrosion. It has been carried daily since 1992 and shows wear. It has fired approximately 5K rounds of assorted factory and handloaded ammunition, including a few hundred rounds of +P. This snub has remained reliable and is currently still a primary carry gun.
Though statistically invalid, I’ve fired five S&W Airweights (both +P and Non-Plus-P-rated) pretty extensively over the years and have experienced zero problems and am satisfied that these guns are up to more shooting than most of us will ever require of them.
I continue to “practice what I preach” and practice with my J’s. If and when one suffers some mishap, I will report it. In the meantime, I honestly believe that you can practice all you want with your Airweight without undue concerns about shortening its serviceable lifespan.