Favorite Handguns: S&W Model 64 Snub
Fascinated with firearms, especially handguns for as long as I can remember, I began purchasing them about four decades ago…as finances allowed. Eventually the inevitable “fever” set in and like so many before me (and after), I began a dedicated search for the “perfect handgun”…which I have yet to find! I bought, owned and traded more than a few makes, models and calibers, both revolver and autoloader but was rarely rational enough to keep those that just had that “special something” we all recognize but sometimes cannot adequately describe. More often than not, I foolishly let prime examples “slip away”. The interesting thing is that I would eventually buy or trade into another and then trade or sell the thing yet again! I was a slow learner!
Though I appreciate a varied array of handguns, the ones I find to be special are fewer, although they were frequently common as could be in years past. It may be that their extreme availability encouraged thinking, “Heck, I’ll trade it off to make up the difference for this new whiz-bang super pistol. After all, I can always find another later on.” Alas, this did not always prove to be true! The common vanilla firearm that I could “always find later on” had become considerably scarcer, not to mention more expensive while my pea brain was distracted on the latest wonder guns hitting the market in my holy quest for the “perfect handgun”. When I think of the S&W Model 58’s, 10’s, 19’s, and 27’s I moved out of the way in my dealer’s display case to get to some newly-introduced shootin’ iron, I shake my head in disbelief. The old saying, “You never want a drink of water until the well runs dry,” comes to mind.
I thought that it might be of some interest to do an occasional article on those special handguns I have come to regard as favorites based primarily on first-person long-term use and personal observation rather than just the descriptors for a specific make and model. Perhaps I could help prevent others from making the very same mistakes I made further back on the very same trail? Without question, much of this will have to be subjective, but I will make every effort to be an accurate reporter of these observations and not to label my opinion as fact.
Like so many other shooters, Smith & Wesson’s line of K-Frame revolvers have just “felt right” to me since the first time I picked up a standard barrel Model 10 in the ‘60’s and none of them more so than the Model 10 Heavy Barrel. In either 3 or 4” barrel lengths, I find this revolver to point better for me than any other “round gun”. My first “duty gun” as a fledgling police officer was a blue-steel 4” Model 10 HB.
To this day I find no handgun finish more handsome than the traditional blue of most S&W revolvers, but when the stainless-steel K-Frames hit the market, I found their corrosion-resistance more practical for me than their better-looking blued brethren! Sweating in Texas’ heat combined with working in inclement weather eventually won me over from the “dark (blue steel) side” to stainless. Some folks do not seem as cursed with “acid fingers” as others, but I am not one. More recently, I have become not only less reluctant to add stainless revolvers to my collection, but actually prefer their practicality for daily (and nightly) carry, which explains my owning more Model 64’s than 10’s.
I have owned and used Model 64’s with 3 and 4” heavy barrels as well as the 2” snubs and the latter is the focus of this article.
In normal trim, the Model 64 came standard with the checkered magna stocks and a spur hammer. Earlier versions had grooved triggers but smooth front and rear grip straps. Shown is a Model 64-2, which means that the gas ring was moved from the yoke to the cylinder. It has a polished stainless finish. This version was introduced in 1977 and was capable of both double and single-action operation. I am unaware of any square butt Model 64 snubnose revolvers; all of the ones I’ve ever seen used the round butt frame.
I am not alone in finding the standard-issue magna stocks that came on the gun satisfactory. Over the years, I’ve tried different aftermarket stocks with varying degrees of success as well as the “old school” Tyler grip adapter which was just “SOP” back when I was first acquainted with them. It was not until I began seriously working with electronic timers that I discovered that I shot just as well in either slow or rapid-fire with the factory grip panels as with any other and couple of other shooters told me the very same thing, but this does not hold true for all shooters. I’ve talked to others who prefer about anything to the factory grip! Like the smaller J-Frames, these revolvers were designed to be carried concealed and if an aftermarket stock is to be used, I prefer those not extending below the bottom of the grip frame and have had excellent luck with Eagle’s “Secret Service” stocks. For those interested, here’s a write-up on them:
I currently use them if not the factory magna grips simply because I seem to be able to hang onto the gun better if someone is trying to force it away from me. The Model 64 snub is not any harder to conceal with the Eagle stocks than those from the factory, but the best stocks can still only be determined by the individual user. Fortunately for K-Frame fans, there are plenty available for round butt K-Frame revolvers.
Here is another Model 64-2. Like the other, it was purchased (lightly) used but in fine working order. This one had a smooth trigger on it when I bought it while the other’s was grooved. The front sight’s serrations had been painted red and this gun had a matte finish. It has as smooth an action as any revolver I’ve ever seen that has not been to a trigger specialist. In this picture, it is wearing a set of Precision’s “Hide Out Grips”. They are made of black nylon and are quite inexpensive. I usually texture these with an engraving pencil for a little better purchase with wet hands. These stocks work fine with speed loaders as they come from the factory. (This is not the case with the non-finger groove J-Frame Hide Out Grips.)
The K-Frame .38 Model 64 snub lends itself to frequent practice. Though a snub, its sight radius is longer than on the more compact J-Frames. For folks who have been taught or are willing to learn proper double-action shooting techniques, these revolvers are capable of surprising accuracy in slow, precise fire or better-than-expected “combat accuracy” if things turn fast and furious.
Two hours before this paragraph was started, I returned from a range session with the previously-shown Model 64-2 snub (the one with the polished finish). I’d fired approximately 150 rounds of standard pressure Georgia-Arms ammunition ranging from 125 to 158 grains and three cylinders-full of Remington’s 158-gr. LHP +P. Most shooting was done slow-fire but some was done in “defensive mode” using both standard and +P ammunition. All firing was done double-action, standing and using a two-hand hold. The bulk of the shots were contained within the X-Ring of a B-27 with none straying out of the ten-ring surrounding it. Distances were 10 and 15 yards and unlike the J-Frame Airweights, skill-maintenance sessions are not uncomfortable due to the lighter, smaller guns’ greater felt-recoil. In my experience, K-Frames just lend themselves to good shooting for folks having been trained to shoot double-action. Practice is not cut short due to discomfort and neither is the life-expectancy of a regularly-used K-Frame .38 Special. If you really want to practice shooting long-term with a chosen defensive arm, it is comforting to know that it should go the distance with you. Coupling that with extreme reliability, high mechanical accuracy and a size/weight combination that works well for either home defense or concealed carry, results in a handgun I value highly.
Though its weight (circa 2 lbs. depending upon ammunition and stocks) and size are a mite much for pocket carry (in my opinion), using an IWB holster with practically any covering garment makes the Model 64 snub a very viable option. (Shown is an inexpensive Kramer IWB holster.)
Around the house, this revolver can be conveniently but unobtrusively at hand; mine almost always is, and if it might be a tad too heavy for constant pocket carry, its presence in the hip pocket when answering the door has been both reassuring to me while unknown to those calling…so far. Hopefully, strangers at the door will continue to be for innocent purposes but if not, the Model 64 snub can rapidly provide the means to efficiently quell an attempted criminal attack!
I prefer concealed-carry defensive revolvers as snag-free as possible and replace the standard spur hammer with one bobbed from the factory and follow Mr. Kuhnhausen’s shop manual’s instructions to insure that it works smoothly and reliably. I have personally seen revolvers with hammer spurs snag when being drawn from concealment but only from pockets. While I have been told of its happening from IWB presentations, I have not personally witnessed it. Care in practice or specialized presentation techniques are probably effective in reducing snags in panic situations but I just prefer to remove the spur. Understand that in no way am I trying to mandate using bobbed, DAO hammers, but I do suggest looking into the option to see if it is right for you; entirely your decision.
This Model 64 is a favored “house gun” and one I usually have close to hand. It is wearing Eagle Secret Service stocks and is DAO (measured at a smooth 11 pounds) with a spurless hammer not capable of being cocked for single-action shooting. I am able to maintain a strong grip on the gun with these stocks should someone be trying to physically separate me from it though I do not shoot any better (or worse) with these stocks than those from the factory. This one has a full-power mainspring, something I insist upon in any handgun intended for the serious business of self-protection. It is perennially loaded with Remington 158-gr. LHP +P.
The majority of my handgun shooting is with these three calibers: 9mm, .45 ACP and .38 Special. Shown are examples of loads that I feel comfortable with for self-protection, though these are not the only ones. Left to Right: Winchester 9mm 127-gr. Ranger T +P+, .Remington 230-gr. Golden Saber in .45 ACP and their .38 Special 158-gr. LHP +P.
Like all revolvers, bullet shape does not constitute potential reliability issues. Any of these rounds can be used in the Model 64 snub. Left to Right: handloaded 158-gr. LSWC, Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot +P, Remington 158-gr. LHP +P, Winchester 148-gr. WC target load, Georgia Arms 125-gr. LFP, and Corbon 110-gr. DPX +P. It has been my experience that the S&W fixed sight .38 Special revolvers, regardless of barrel length, are factory sighted for 158-gr ammunition. Standard pressure 125-gr. loads strike a bit low for me beginning at about 12 yards or so. At closer ranges, it is my opinion that most loads’ points-of-impact will be close enough to their respective points-of-aim for most shooters, but time and again over the years, I have found the fixed sight Model 10’s and 64’s sights to be set for the traditional 158 grain weight bullet. (Whether that load is standard pressure or +P does not seem to make much difference.)
The S&W Model 64 snub has proven itself reliable, capable of a really smooth action without sacrificing spring strength and more mechanical accuracy than most shooters can ever extract from it…including me. It is large and heavy enough to be comfortable during extended shooting sessions with quick recoil-recovery with even the hottest .38 Special loads, but light enough to be comfortably carried all day or night if using a proper belt and holster. I can control its recoil satisfactorily using either hand should there be multiple targets or repeat shots required, something that I cannot always say with all magnum loads in K-Frame .357’s. Even though a snub, there is enough sight radius that surprisingly precise shooting can be done with it.
For me, this snub’s primary downside is its short ejector rod. Because it does not fully eject fired cases unless briskly depressed, case ejection is almost guaranteed to be a two-handed procedure. This is simply slower than with revolvers having longer ejector rods because they can be depressed with the thumb of one hand while the other hand is simultaneously retrieving a speed loader or ammunition strip. Is this downside enough to steer a person from the Model 64? That is a decision each of us has to make for ourselves. I believe that we are more likely to run out of time than ammunition, but that does not make it some sort of universal truth. Nor does it mean that other shooters feel comfortable with this concept.
To me, this snubnose is not too large but offers a “reassuring heft” that allows many shooters to control the gun nicely in rapid-fire using warmish defensive ammunition. In this caliber, many expanding bullet loads do so, but still meet the FBI protocols for effective bullet penetration.
Like other double-action revolvers, the Model 64’s springs are no more compressed when it is fully-loaded than when empty. I understand that the repeated compressing and relaxing of springs is what eventually weakens them, but have found the idea of “spring fatigue” or failure over the long term to be a pretty common concern among some gun owners. Others like the simplicity of a point-and-pull double-action revolver but are just uneasy with a semiautomatic which might operate in the same manner! Whatever the reasons some have in opting for the revolver, I believe that the Model 64 snub very capable of quickly become a favorite.
This Model 64 snub is on constant “house duty” but has been lawfully carried concealed on more than one occasion and will be again. Like the Hi Power pistol, this handgun just has something very right about it, at least to me.
In my opinion, the Model 64 snub’s positive attributes substantially outshines its negatives. I greatly appreciate its handling qualities, reliability and demonstrated longevity. In fact, I am continually on the lookout for another! I think that they are that good.