Smith Airweight J-Frame


July 31, 2003, 11:19 PM
I am getting ready to purchase a Smith and Wesson .38 Spl Model 36 J-Frame Airweight shrouded-hammer revolver from my father. I currently own a Model 36 .38 Spl that has the standard frame and hammer.

My father bought this gun used several years ago - probably at least twenty years ago.

My concern is this - is it true that the Smith Airweight revolvers are more succeptible to being harmed by excessive shooting than standard all-steel frame ones?

My father said he has shot maybe 20 rounds through the gun, but he doesn't know what the previous owner did. He hasn't had any problems out if it - I have shot it, and it is accurate - and the trigger is nice.

I compared the gun to my Model 36, and I can't tell that the airweight is worn at all - of course, I don't really know what to look for. My model 36 is pretty old as well, but it is in near mint condition - but I know that it has less than 100 rounds through it.

I spoke to a gunsmith about this, and he said that even if the revolver has had 2000 rounds through it, it still wouldn't even come close to harming the gun, and I have nothing to worry about.

I'm looking for a second opinion, so opine away. :)



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Mike Irwin
July 31, 2003, 11:37 PM
Depending on the type of ammo that was shot through it, yes. The lightweights are susceptible to increased wear with heavy ammo, especially a steady diet of +P ammo.

That's to be expected.

If it's an airweight with a shrouded hammer, and blue, it's a Model 38.

July 31, 2003, 11:41 PM
I love the humpback guns, I have a nickel mdl 38 myself(although my wife has more or less claimed it). Use Jim March revolver checkout at the top of the revolver page and you can't go wrong......tom

August 1, 2003, 12:09 AM
I carried a 637 for many years, and put a lot of +P ammo through it. The gun stood up to the ammo better than my hand and wrist did. They are solid guns and do the job. However, if you take it to the range and put 50 rnds of 158 grain SWC +P through it you'll remember it. I love the gun and wish I had it now. I had to return it to my Department when I retired. If I can find another, I'll carry it without hesitation.

August 1, 2003, 12:42 AM
I have a 637 (Airweight, stainless, exposed hammer) I bought new about 6 months ago. It probably has 700 rounds of cast 158's thru it (no +P) and it seems to lock up as well as when it was new.

I can only shoot about 100 rounds of regular .38 thru it before my elbow or wrist starts letting me know (which has never been a factor with any other gun).

You probably won't want to shoot more +P than the gun can handle. I wouldn't say an Airweight .38 is necesarily the "best" for any single purpose, but for a person who only owns a limited number of handguns, an Airweight .38 should be considered.

August 1, 2003, 01:48 AM
I've carried a 642 Airweight Centennial for 10 years. I MAY have shot 500 rounds through it and its as tight as the day I bought it. I honestly think the metal will flat wear out from abrasion in my ankle holster before the gun quits shooting...(8 years to retirement, bet the gun makes it!)

August 1, 2003, 07:32 AM
Also have the 637. I just shoot just regular .38's out of it, but I understand they can easily put up with a non-steady diet of +P .38's.

August 1, 2003, 02:53 PM
When I bought my M38 25 years ago, S&W was very clear that the alloy frames were not to be used with +P. Since then, they have changed this, I think. I don't know whether they changed the alloy, its hardening, or just tested it more to determine that it could hold up to higher pressure loads. Whichever, I've never used +P in mine, and it still works fine, though I don't shoot it much.


August 1, 2003, 03:16 PM
Go for it.
It's likely better made than the current crop of J-frames from S&W.
It should have no trouble handling as much .38 Special ammo as you'll ever care to put through it.

August 1, 2003, 03:28 PM
The M642 that I've owned for five years has 3,400-3,500 rds. through it (I'd have to check the records for exact number). It hasn't gone out of time yet and I see no stretching. All loads, except the plus Ps used to get a point of impact, have been under standard pressure. It is starting to develop a slight depression on the front of the breechface circling the firing pin that matches the case rim. I can't really measure this; maybe it is .001". Maybe this will stop or maybe the revolver will eventually need to be retired.

My opinion is that aluminum won't take what steel will, but I would underload a steel frame J frame also, except for carry loads.

Johnny Guest
August 1, 2003, 04:39 PM
I am getting ready to purchase a Smith and Wesson .38 Spl Model 36 J-Frame Airweight shrouded-hammer revolver from my father. I currently own a Model 36 .38 Spl that has the standard frame and hammer.

If hammer is "shrouded" but exposed at the top so that the revolver cn me thumb cocked, it is, as Mike Irwin said, the Model 38 Bodyguard.

If the hammer is totally enclosed and cannot even be seen, you have the Model 42, Centennial Airweight. This is the one with the grip safety.

If the model number is not stamped on the frame where it is covered by the cylinder crane when closed, this revolver would have been produced in the 1952 -- 1957 era. I don't know when in 1957 they began stamping the model number.

Hope you enjoy the little revolver.

Al Thompson
August 1, 2003, 06:54 PM
I have a M38 nickel. Do what most of us do, use your +P ammo sparingly - just check POA/POI - and shoot standard loads for practice.

They are great guns and will last a bunch longer than most shooters.

August 1, 2003, 08:02 PM
...for all the helpful comments!

I have now acquired the gun, but I have yet to fire it.

It will be fired tomorrow.

Yes, I now see that it is indeed a Model 38. It does have the shrouded hammer, not fully enclosed. I wanted to be able to fire it single-action - that's why this gun was considered.

I think I will enjoy shooting and carrying it. It will replace my Kel-Tec P32.

I carried the revolver today, and while it is obviously a little bigger than the P32, it is MUCH easier to retrieve out of the pocket.

This gun will make carrying a decent size/caliber gun MUCH more convenient!

Thanks to everyone again for all the helpful responses.


August 1, 2003, 08:46 PM
As I understand it, the worst that can happen is the frame would stretch to the point where it wouldn't reliably ignite a primer (if a steady diet of monster handloads were run through it). It won't blow up or anything so drastic. Being an"oldie", I think I'd restrict practice shooting to standard velosity stuff. If it works all the time, it will set off a +P if that's what you want to carry in it.

August 1, 2003, 09:50 PM
Jim March has a test here to check out a revolver. It's the first thread in this revolver forum. Check it out.

September 6, 2003, 09:56 PM
I've owned my nickel S&W model 38 for 20 years. Shot several thousand rounds thru it and it's as tight now as when I bought it. I've only shot a few rounds of plus P in it. My prefered round it Federal 125gr NyClads. I like it better than my model 36. The Hump that covers the hammer keeps the recoil down and follow up shots are faster and more accurate. Yeh, it's ugly but it's beautiful in my eyes.

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