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“Superior & Worthy”: Best Smith & Wesson Revolvers for 2024

In this post, we’ll be discussing the best S&W revolvers for various applications. Smith & Wesson is one of the most respected gun manufacturers in America. Known for their top-notch revolvers, this long-standing company has endured the test of time – despite the trend favoring slick semi-automatics (like S&W’s very own modern M&P 2.0 series) that began in the 80s with the booming popularity of “wonder nines,” revolvers continue to hold their ground.

If you’re searching for the best handgun for women or a novice looking for the perfect concealed carry, you may have come across opinions like “revolvers are the worst” or “nothing beats a 9mm for self-defense.” But while revolvers do have certain limitations, such as lower capacity, slower reloading times, and reduced rate of fire, they are far from obsolete, and for many good reasons.

First, revolvers can be chambered for high-pressure cartridges yet remain compact enough for a pocket holster. Plus, revolvers have their own aesthetics and are super straightforward to use. They even created 9mm revolvers, with the Smith & Wesson 929 being a prime example!

Read: Revolvers: Everything You Need to Know

So, revolvers are not only fun and cool, they do their job. But what exactly makes S&W revolvers stand out among the crowd? The answer lies in their legacy. A brand with such a rich history can’t afford to produce subpar guns.

So, let’s begin our journey. But before we get to the part with the best Smith & Wesson revolvers of 2024, let’s first take a brief tour through the different frames of S&W revolvers.

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A Quick Guide to S&W Revolver Frame Types

Smith & Wesson has crafted an impressive array of revolvers over the years. The easiest way to distinguish between them is by the frame size. So here’s a breakdown of the modern S&W frame sizes:

J-frame (Small)

sw-model-36-j-frame

First introduced: Model 36 (1950)
Popular models: Bodyguard shrouded hammer revolver series (Model 638, Model 649, etc.), Centennial hammerless (Model 642, Model 640, Model 442, etc.), Chief’s Special standard hammer revolver series (Model 36, Model 637, Model 60, etc.)
Caliber: .38 S&W Spl, .38 Spl/.357 Mag, .22 LR, .22 Mag

Smith & Wesson J-frame revolvers are classic five-shot “snub nose” revolvers often used for carry due to their slim, lightweight design. Almost all S&W J-frames feature fixed sights. They come in various barrel lengths and are typically chambered in .38 Special.

K-frame (Medium)

sw-model-10-k-frame

First introduced: Model 10 (1899)
Popular models: Model 10, Model 19, Model 17, Model 617
Caliber: .38 Spl/.357 Mag, .22 LR, .22 Mag, .38 S&W Spl

The K-frame revolver, first introduced in 1899 as the Model 10, was developed to house a six-shot cylinder in .38 caliber. Iconic service revolvers for generations, these models typically sport 4-inch barrels. The medium frame size and design make it suitable for medium-sized and now even larger calibers like the .357 Magnum.

L-frame (Medium-Large)

sw-model-686-l-frame

First introduced: Model 686 (1980)
Popular models: Model 686, Model 586, Model 986 (9mm revolver)
Caliber: .357 Mag/.38 Spl, .44 Mag, 9mm

The L-frame, while dimensionally similar to the K-frame, has key areas of the steel frame beefed up for added durability, especially when shooting magnums. The cylinder is slightly larger in diameter, allowing for up to 7 shots in .38 Spl/.357 Magnum models.

N-frame (Large)

sw-model-29-dirty-harry-n-frame

First introduced:
– New Century (first .44 S&W Spl revolver, 1908)
– Model 1917 (first .45 ACP revolver, 1917)
– Model 27 (first .357 Mag revolver, 1935)
– Model 29 (first .44 Mag by S&W, 1955)
Popular models: Model 29, Model 629, Model 27, Model 327, Model 627
Caliber: .44 Mag, .357 Mag/.38 Spl, 10mm, 9mm, .45 Colt, .41 Mag

The N-frame revolver collection includes one of the most iconic revolvers of all time – Dirty Harry’s Model 29 in .44 Magnum. N-frame revolvers typically chamber .44 Magnum and .38 Special/.357 Magnum, and the N-frame cylinder holds 6 or 8 shots.

X-frame (Extra-Large)

sw500 x frame

First introduced: S&W500 (2003)
Popular models: S&W500, S&W460, S&W350
Caliber: .500 S&W Mag, .460 S&W Mag, .350 Legend

Introduced in 2003, a massive X-frame was designed to handle the new .500 S&W Magnum caliber, the most powerful production handgun in the world. The X-frame is strengthened and enlarged everywhere it needs to be to handle the ridiculously high pressures. The cylinder holds 5 rounds in the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums, but the new 350 Legend X-Frame holds 7 shots.

Governor (N-frame based snub-nose)

sw-governor

First introduced: 2011
Popular models: Governor
Caliber: .45 Colt/.410 bore, .45 ACP/.410 bore

Smith & Wesson’s Governor series is their take on the Taurus Judge. The models are capable of firing either .45 Colt and .410 shotshells or .45 ACP and .410 shotshells.

Now that we’ve broken down all the S&W revolver frames, let’s get to the main part – the best S&W revolvers.

Best Smith and Wesson Revolvers [2024 Guide]

Best S&W 38. Special J-Frame Revolvers for Concealed Carry

Generally, most hammerless and shrouded hammer revolvers in the Smith and Wesson J-frame collection are suitable for concealed carry. Their snag-free design, coupled with a short grip, a slim 5-round cylinder, and a short barrel, create an optimal EDC gun. However, when asked to pick the best concealed-carry revolvers, the S&W Model 640 and Model 642 undoubtedly rise to the top.

S&W Model 640

The S&W Model 640 has a hefty price tag but its numerous design advantages and ability to handle powerful rounds make it worth it for those seeking a compact, quality concealed carry revolver.
At first glance, you’ll notice the humpback frame that conceals the hammer. This design feature streamlines the gun, making it easier to draw from concealment without snagging.

The frame is all steel. Unloaded, the 640 weighs in at 22 ounces – it’s nearly twice the weight of some scandium-alloy framed counterparts. However, don’t be quick to dismiss it as a weakness. In fact, the heft of a J-frame revolver can be an advantage – Remember? The heavier the gun is, the more recoil force it absorbs. Besides, even when compared to revolvers similar in design, such as the all-steel Ruger SP101 with a concealed hammer and a 5-shot cylinder, which weighs 25 ounces, the Model 640 is a notch lighter and feels less bulky.

sw-m640

The sights on the 640 are OK, with the black blade front one and a fixed rear one. But there’s also an upgraded version of the 640 – S&W Model 640 Pro, with dovetail style drift-adjustable pistol sights, precisely, a three-dot Trijicon tritium night sight setup, something you’d find on a duty semi-auto.

One downside of the 640 Pro is its heavy trigger pull, which ranges between 12 and 15 pounds. Holding the sights still on a 1.5-pound gun while applying this level of pressure is quite a challenge. Fortunately, this can be mitigated with a J-frame spring kit, such as the J-Frame Duty/Carry Kit from Apex Tactical. It can reduce the trigger pull to a more manageable 9-10 lbs.

Also, while the 640 can handle magnum rounds, firing .357 Mag ammo can be quite challenging. This is true for all J-frame revolvers, particularly the lighter ones. So better stick with .38 +P for carry ammo. Plus, the .38 Spl ammo itself will add less weight to the gun than the magnum rounds.

All in all, regardless of some disadvantages associated with being all-steel and short-barrel, it’s definitely one of the best S&W .38 Special snub-nose revolvers.

S&W Model 640 – Specs

Caliber: .38 Spl +P / .357 Mag
Action: DAO
Capacity: 5
Weight: 22.4 oz
Overall length: 6.6 in
Barrel length: 2.13 in
Frame material: Steel

S&W Model 442

Now, let’s consider another top-rated S&W J-frame revolver – the Model 442 Airweight, another top-rated S&W J-frame revolver. Similar to the Smith 640, the Model 442 features an enclosed hammer for a perfectly snagless draw.
But what sets it apart from the 640 and makes it shine as a backup gun is the frame. It’s made from an aluminum alloy with a stainless steel cylinder, making this revolver significantly lighter than the 640, weighing only 14.4 ounces. Lighter guns like this are incredibly convenient for various carry methods, whether you’re carrying in a pocket, on your ankle, or through any method that’s not on your belt. (By the way, the aftermarket for S&W 442 holsters is huge.)

sw-m442

However, as with most things, there’s a trade-off. The lighter weight of the Model 442 makes it less controllable, meaning fast follow-up shots might be more challenging. On the bright side, holding the gun steady would be easier due to the reduced weight. As for recoil, regular .38 Spl loads probably won’t cause too much trouble, especially if you consider swapping the stock panel-style grip for a more controlling one, by Hogue, for instance. However, shooting +P defense ammo could present a bit of a challenge due to the increased recoil. If you plan on using +P ammo, get some practice at a shooting range.

Another downside is low capacity, only 5 rounds. While this might seem limiting, it’s essential to remember that in most self-defense situations, five rounds should be sufficient. After all, the goal of concealed carry is not to engage in prolonged gunfights but rather to create an opportunity for escape. Besides, if we compare it to another top-rated snub-nose carry revolver, the Ruger LCR .38 Special +P, you’ll see that it also holds 5 rounds. Most will agree that having 5 high-power rounds is better than having 8 shots of .22 LR, at least in a snub-nose revolver.

S&W Model 442 – Specs

Caliber: .38 Spl +P / .357 Mag
Action: DAO
Capacity: 5
Weight: 14.6 oz
Overall length: 6.31 in
Barrel length: 1.88 in
Frame material: Aluminum

Best S&W .357 Mag Revolver for Home Defense: Model 686 Plus 4″ Barrel

Now, when it comes to home defense, many of the restrictions that apply to a concealed carry revolver don’t apply. You’re free to choose any revolver that works for you without worrying about size. Although, we’d advise against going for a revolver with an excessively long barrel or chambered for an overpowered caliber due to potential overpenetration issues.

The Model 686, introduced in the 80s as a high-end variant of the Model 19 (a popular S&W K-frame revolver), quickly became popular among law enforcement officers, gun enthusiasts, and competitive shooters. And even today, it’s considered the best S&W L-frame revolver. It’s aesthetically pleasing and perfectly balanced, and its large, robust frame provides a sturdy platform for the .357 Magnum cartridge.

sw-686-plus-4

Unlike the regular 686, the S&W Model 686+ holds 7 rounds of .357 Magnum instead of 6. This model also features a 4.13-inch barrel and weighs 39.2 ounces. The barrel is beefed up to balance the gun and control muzzle flip, but it may take some time to get used to, especially for those who find handling a gun with added weight all in the front challenging during extended use. Overall, the gun’s bulk helps absorb recoil beautifully, allowing you to fire any .357 Magnum load fast and hard.

Unlike the mentioned S&W concealed carry revolvers, the 686+ has an exposed hammer, which means you can fire it in DA and SA modes. It’s a good idea to practice both. Moreover, the trigger pull is smooth, making it even easier to shoot .357 Magnum loads.

One of the great things about the S&W 686 Plus is that it doesn’t require any modifications. It’s ready to go right out of the box. The only potential change you might want to consider is replacing the adjustable rear sight.

To wrap up, the S&W Model 686 is an incredibly versatile .357 revolver. In skilled hands, this revolver can reliably hit targets at distances of 100 yards or more. Despite its weight, it’s still concealable. And while it doesn’t have a long barrel, it’s still more than capable of handling most predators.

S&W Model 686+ 4″ – Specs

Caliber: .357 Mag
Action: DA/SA
Capacity: 7
Weight: 39.2 oz
Overall length: 9,56 in
Barrel length: 4.13 in
Frame material: Steel

Most Powerful S&W Revolver for Predator Defense: Smith & Wesson S&W500

One of the great things about revolvers, as opposed to semi-automatic pistols, is their ability to handle incredibly high pressures when designed right. By the way, this is something earlier K-frame revolvers struggled with – they simply weren’t strong enough to handle the pressure of the .357 Magnum.

Enter the S&W 500 – the most powerful .500 caliber revolver ever made. This beast is chambered for the S&W .500 Magnum, which happens to be the most potent production handgun cartridge available, even more powerful than the .50 AE, a classic chambering for Magnum Research pistols. Sure, there’s the .500 Bushwhacker, but that’s only available for custom guns.

Read: The Magnum Research Desert Eagle Pistol Overview

So, the S&W 500 is massive and cool, but what can you do with a handgun that weighs between 3.5 to 5 pounds unloaded and chambers rounds with a pressure of 60,000 psi? (Especially considering that most handguns are rated for only 35,000 psi.)

sw500-7

Well, applications for this powerhouse could range from having a blast at the shooting range to defending against grizzly bears or hunting elk.

Smith and Wesson produces several models of the S&W 500 with various barrel lengths ranging from 3.5 to 10.5 inches. All of them hold five shots, and many allow for mounting optics, bipods, and slings, helping to make handling this monster a little easier. Additionally, the gun features a DA/SA trigger, meaning you can choose to shoot exclusively in SA to make things a bit simpler.

If you’re looking for a powerful handgun but don’t necessarily need something as monstrous as the S&W 500, consider the other two X-frame series – the S&W 460 in the 460 S&W Magnum big game hunting caliber and the S&W 350 in the .350 Legend hunting caliber, perfect for hunting medium-sized game.

S&W 350 – Specs

Caliber: .350 Legend
Action: DA/SA
Capacity: 7
Weight: 71.5 oz
Overall length: 13.5 in
Barrel length: 7.5 in
Frame material: Steel

Best S&W Revolvers: Honorable Mentions

Smith & Wesson Model 10 – perfectly balanced, classic S&W K-frame revolver in .38 Spl, one of the oldest S&W revolvers still in production.

Smith & Wesson M&P R8 – top-rated S&W tactical .357 revolver that you can accessorize with a flashlight and optics at the same time. It holds 8 rounds.

Smith & Wesson Model 29 – iconic Dirty Harry revolver in the .44 Magnum.

Smith & Wesson Governor – the Taurus Judge alternative capable of firing either .45 Colt and .410 shotshells or .45 ACP and .410 shotshells.

Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 38 – another great S&W concealed carry revolver chambered in .38 Spl +P alternative to the Ruger LCR.

Smith & Wesson Model 986 – the best S&W 9mm revolver with a 2.5″ barrel for concealed carry.

FAQs

What is the best Smith & Wesson revolver for home defense?

The S&W Model 686 is a popular choice for home defense due to its large and durable frame, and its capacity to hold seven rounds of .357 Magnum.

Which is the most popular Smith & Wesson revolver?

The Smith & Wesson Model 10 has been exceptionally popular due to its reliability, durability, and ease of use.

What is considered the most accurate Smith & Wesson revolver?

The accuracy of a revolver can vary depending on the shooter, but the S&W Model 29 has been praised for its accuracy.

What is the best S&W .38 Special revolver?

The S&W J Frames, particularly the Model 642, are often recommended as the best Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolvers.

Which is the best S&W revolver for concealed carry?

The .38 Special Smith and Wesson snub nose revolvers, due to their compact size, are excellent choices for concealed carry.

What is the best Smith & Wesson revolver ever made?

This is subjective and depends on individual preferences. However, the Smith & Wesson Model 29, famously associated with the “Dirty Harry” film series, has often been hailed as one of the best revolvers ever made by the company.

What is the S&W 500?

The S&W 500 is the most powerful .500 caliber revolver made by Smith & Wesson, chambered for the S&W .500 Magnum cartridge.

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Timothy Chandler

Timothy Chandler is a long-time outdoor enthusiast and shooting range regular who decided to put his passion into words. Having tried an immeasurable number of firearms during his hunting trips across Texas and several other states, Timothy has accumulated a knowledge base worthy of sharing. The possible blanks in the expertise he compensates with the help of his numerous shooting buddies. Timothy is set on a seemingly impossible mission to try it all in the realm of firearms. Follow him on his never-ending journey through the gun world.

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