Questions for S&W men


April 24, 2009, 03:19 AM
Hey all,

I have a couple of questions that I can't figure out or answer, after much searching - both on the S&W website and in this forum. I only have one revolver - a late 80's 6" 686 - and so have little experience, but the bug has bitten me, as it were.

1) What is the difference between the two following guns, apart from a slight variation in size, and the full/half underlug?



We hear talk all the time of MIM vs forged internals, etc. Is there any differentiation in the internals on the above models?

2) People talk of the model 66 as being an excellent choice for carry. I can't find it in the current S&W lineup. Is this model gone? Is there a current equivalent in the lineup? Again referencing the "old vs new" argument regarding manufacturing processes, is there any reason it would be better to hunt down a 66 rather than purchase its current equivalent (if there is one) NIB?

3) As far as snubbies go - and I am starting to look at them for carry - people seem to love their 642s, or the like. I was wondering if there was a similar gun, but rendered in all steel. I'm a big guy, so carrying weight isn't an issue - but I have some weight to lose, so for concealment purposes size is an issue. :o This works out in favor of my preference, anyway - an all-steel snubbie. I noticed the 649. I wondered if you could provide your impressions of this gun, or other all-steel snubbie alternatives.

Thank you all very much in advance for your time and input!

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April 24, 2009, 04:29 AM
1) They are the same size with the same internals. The only major difference is the lug and the barrel design. The 620 has the newer two-piece barrel, and I do not know if the 686+ has transitioned to it yet. The 620 is going to point and handle a little quicker without the full lug; the 686 is going to tame recoil a little better since it has it. Your choice. I have an older pre-lock 686 4" six-shot and it is a truly great revolver, I'd say the 686 is one of the top 10 modern revolvers.

It has been reported by a number of people that the new electro-chemical method of barrel rifling is producing shallower grooves. They work well with clad bullets, but give sub-par accuracy with lead bullets, reportedly (it is theorized the shallower grooves are not engaging the softer lead as effectively). The two-piece barrel, somewhat reminiscent of the old Dan wesson tensioning system, is supposed to deliver outstanding accuracy. I have no personal experience with these new features, but they have been widely reported and not disputed as far as I know. If you reload lead, it may make you want to find an older, traditionally rifled one.

2) The 66 was discontinued in 1999 or so. The 2.5" version is a superb carry gun, it is a "K" frame size (medium sized). I have one both in stainless (66) and blue (Model 19). You would need to find a used one. It is slightly smaller than the 686 ("L" frame size - medium/large) and thus easier to carry. I had a 2.5" 686 for a while, but discarded carrying it in favor of the 66/19 2.5" because of it's weight and bulk. I use my 4" for open carry when in the woods, etc.

3) The "classic" J-frame (small size) .38 is the model 60, all steel with the traditional exposed hammer - blued steel version is the model 36. It has been around since 1950 (stainless introduced in '65). Newer models are slightly larger and .357; I like the older style in .38 special (pre-lock days). These were originally designed as six-shot .32's, with .38's they are five-shot. These are excellent carry guns and I have used them, too. The only reason I don't know is someone paid me a stupid price for my '80s era 60, and I have not bought a replacement one yet, but at some point I will.

There are other J frame models with hammer shrouds, etc., others can chime in about them as I am partial to the exposed hammer type and don't know the others as well.

April 24, 2009, 04:59 AM
A good choice for a big Snubbie, is any good .45 ACP Revolver, with a very short Barrel.

Fast loading with the Full Moon Clips...wide array of ammo choices in .45 ACP...

April 24, 2009, 07:45 AM
I think that there's an amount of subjective affection for the 19/66 model revolvers and some of it is due to the fact that both were discontinued.

Nevertheless one of my favorite carry guns is this lightly customized M66, now wearing a fixed full length sight and a pair of factory rosewood combat grips courtesy of Oro, above, but not much worse for the previous set of Ahrend's shown...
It's a light 5 lb. fast action .357 magnum DAO revolver as shown though I can switch it back and forth as I like, or as the whim takes me.

Thaddeus Jones
April 24, 2009, 08:53 AM
I have a 686-4+ with 4" "traditional" barrel. It is a fine revolver. A little heavy and bulky, for me. I prefer the model 66 for carry.

That said, a LNIB model 66 can easily be found on any of the auction boards.
You will pay less for a 66 than a new 686 or 620, and it is a superior revolver, IMO.

Forged parts, one piece barrel, with real rifling. I have seven, and one on layaway. The 66 is my favorite revolver. Nothing in the current S&W catalog is comparable. Good luck with your decision.

April 24, 2009, 09:07 AM
You might want to look at the Mdl 60 and 640 series.. Stainless Steel
J frames

640-1 stainless .357 Mag. I carry this one in my pocket a lot of the time.

When I don't carry that one, I usually have a Mdl 19 21/2" on my belt.

April 24, 2009, 09:09 AM
Actually, the K-framed fixed sight 65 and adjustable sighted 66 last appeared in the '04 S&W Catalog. The last run of 4" 66's had the new two-piece barrel. Their replacements, the L-framed 4" 619 fixed and adjustable 620, first appeared in the '05 S&W catalog. Currently, the 620 (SKU #164401) offers a more traditional partial-lug look at both 2 oz and MSRP $39 less than the same 4" 686+ (SKU #164194). They share the same gripframe and come with the same grips - open back Hogue rubber monogrips - not my favorite, for sure (I like wood...).

I prefer the 4" .357M/.38 I bought - the 627 Pro (SKU #178014) at both 4.3 oz and MSRP $166 more than the 620. This is a larger N-frame 8-shooter ready for moonclips with dished cylinder and eased charge holes, as well as a modicum of a trigger job, a recessed two-piece target barrel, tapered lug, and, really important, a spring loaded front sight for quick tool-less sight changes. Mine sports Ahrends 'Retro Targets' and a HiViz fiber optic front sight - easily changed. It's the bottom revolver in the picture below.

The top picture above is of a 'Stocking Dealer Exclusive' of '04 - it is a 5" half-lug 686+. It came stock with the HiViz front sight, a V-notch rear sight, and the Ahrends wood stocks shown. A 620 would look similar, save the extra inch of barrel, sights, and stocks. Have the shortened barrel, etc, and extend the lug to the muzzle, and you'd have a 686+. The K, L, and N frames share the same innards. The commonly complained about modern MIM parts are generally the hammer and trigger, mainly because the CCH parts do look better, although the MIM parts are plenty strong, durable, and very uniform in production. The MIM parts and the IL are not a problem in my S&W world, as most of mine have them.


April 24, 2009, 09:29 AM
We hear talk all the time of MIM vs forged internals, etc. Is there any differentiation in the internals on the above models?

With the models you reference specifically I believe both have MIM triggers and hammers. S&W usually announces forged parts in their product descriptions such as:

Though I could swear there have also been times when they've simply stated "traditional pinned sear" which, so far as I know, only works with a forged hammer. Their tech specs have been known to be incomplete.

There's a fair amount of debate on MIM generally but there may be some consensus that, in a general sense, S&W's MIM is done better than some. MAC offers a PDF design guide on their site which makes it pretty clear it's not a good idea to simply take 1908 part patterns and duplicate them in MIM - S&W's MIM parts shouldn't (and generally haven't) been heir to the grief which occasionally afflicts some manufacturer's 1911 MIM parts.

It's been stated that MIM parts can't be tuned to the extent forged parts can but this is not universal. I managed to find one 'smith that refuses MIM parts but Grant Cunningham seems to have no issue with them (provided they're not chrome plated).

I'm generally MIM-agnostic - I liked the process from experiences outside the firearms field but one nagging mystery remains: If it really is the full equivalent of forged in a hammer / trigger context, why does S&W still use forged on their flagship models? They're sure not doing it to please the traditionalists as the forged parts occur in models that have already annoyed the traditionalists in six different ways.

I can't tell the difference but then again I prefer 18 year Scotch to 25 year Scotch.

April 24, 2009, 09:41 AM
Oro said that if you reload lead (which I plan to do in .357) you might want to find an older, traditionally rifled barrel.

Any idea when S&W switched to the new shallower rifling?


Thaddeus Jones
April 24, 2009, 09:48 AM
IIRC, the EDM rifling began in 2001-2002, concurrent with the other "innovations" (AKA cost cutting measures).

April 24, 2009, 10:16 AM
I was a bit surprised to learn that S&W has been using EDM on both the more traditional and the two-piece barrels. Barrels for .22s and ported barrels being an execption along with those models being supplied with Lothar-Walther barrels.

Kinda tangential but still interesting:
EDM forensics (

April 24, 2009, 10:40 AM
I shoot LSWC full-house .44 Magnum loads from a 4" barrel 629-6 and it turns in groups that could be used for Bullseye competition.

I'm not sure what is supposed to be wrong with the rifling, but my gun doesn't know about it.

Of course this is very hard lead alloy, but we're talking about 24 grains of 4227, behind a 240 grain bullet. Wouldn't use a soft lead bullet for that.

Old S&W revolvers had a reputation for leading up the barrels with soft lead bullets.

Not sure what's better, or whether there are many S&W revolvers you'd want if you knew you were going to shoot soft lead through them.

Are there any?

April 24, 2009, 03:02 PM
All of my S&Ws, save a 625-6 from '96, are '01 or later. I have .22LR; .38/.357M; 44 Spcl & Mag; .45 ACP/AR; and .45 Colt - and all shoot lead while none have accuracy problems as far as I can tell. My latest were made last year. I have several two-piece barrels, too. I do have a Lewis Lead Remover for .38, .44, & .45 calibers - and it does remove some lead when used - no more than from the Rugers I once owned.

I have tried to switch, where I could, to copper clad/jacketed - the 125gr JHPs in .357" from Zero and Montana Gold being my common recent .38/.357M plinker bullet. Over the years, tens of thousands of lead bullets have been loaded in my basement - and shot outdoors. My last lead level was up, according to my last blood test. That is my reason cutting back on lead - not some shallow grooved S&W rifling fear.


April 24, 2009, 04:20 PM

I can't thank you enough for your informative responses! I've got a couple of follow-ups, if you'd be so kind as to further indulge me...

1) So, the diference between the 66 and the 19 is just one of material? I mean, they're functionally and dimensionally the same gun, save for the fact that the 66 is all stainless, and the 19 is rendered in traditional carbon steel? I've seen a couple of "shiny" pieces held out as Model 19s... presumably this is nickel plating, whether factory or otherwise?

2) Is the Model 66, with a short barrel (e.g.,, too large to be called truly "pocketable"?

I'd like to eventually have two smaller .357s, one for "normal" CCW (be it shoulder, waistband, etc. - there is also the possibility that we will eventually have open carry here in SC), and another for true pocket carry - when weather and wardrobe dictate.

For the small (pocket) one, the choice for me appears to be the snubnosed model 60 family (, which would include the 649 ( Just a foible of mine - I know I would prefer the ability to get to the hammer somehow.

The accompanying "standard" CCW gun, then, would be a 3"-5" version of the same (

My real question, however, is whether the J-frames can take repeated .357 punishment to the same extent as the 66s - or, for that matter, if the 66s can handle it as well as the 686 family.

If the old 66s are as strong as the 686s in this regard, and a "baby" 66 is truly pocketable, the following looks like a fair combo:

Pocket carry:

"Standard" carry:


The ideal choice may well be a pocket 60/649 and a standard 66/686, but the reason I've broken them up into groups is for the sake of ammunion and speedloader interchangability. Having a 5-shot pocket piece and a 6-shot standard piece would annoy me to no end. I have no good reason for this, it's just the way I am.

Thank you all so much for tolerating this and helping me out!

I wish S&W would make it easier, and have features on their website like side-by-side visual comparisons of the size of their various models, or having the pages for individual guns organized in such a way that they were arranged - and could be navigated between - according to a sort of "family tree" of the various models.

April 24, 2009, 04:36 PM
Is the Model 66, with a short barrel (e.g.,too large to be called truly "pocketable"?Yes it is.

A Model 19/66 in any barrel length is a belt & holster gun.

For me at least, an all steel J-Frame is the upper limit in size & weight I can carry semi-comfortably in a pocket. That is 20+ oz loaded.

A Model 19 or any other K is going to be over 30 oz loaded, or about two pounds.
Not many pockets built for that.

My real question, however, is whether the J-frames can take repeated .357 punishment to the same extent as the 66s - or, for that matter, if the 66s can handle it as well as the 686 family.The smaller the frame, the more of a beating it will take with equal power ammo.
It's a law of physics not easily avoided.


April 24, 2009, 05:14 PM

Thanks very much for the information!

As to the question of full-house .357 loads in a J frame...

I don't know that I would routinely shoot them at the range, but I would prefer to use the actual rounds I'd rely on defensively for practice occasionally.

I understand that some of the newer .38 Spl +P loads are considered quite adequate for slef-defense in a CCW.

Could some of these be used for training/practice in order to more closely simulate the .357 without punishing a model 60?

The 6" 686 I've got surely mitigates recoil greatly.

I'm just assuming that I'd have to practice somewhat extensively to learn to control/employ major .357 loads in a snubbie.

Maybe I should stick with .38 Spl +P for defense/CCW? Using the model 60 combo described above (5 shot cylinders) would be an easy way to quickly visually differentiate loaded speedloaders for the .38 rounds (5 count) from those for the .357 (6 count in my 686)...

April 24, 2009, 05:23 PM
I am of the opinion that shooting full-house .357 for practice in a J-Frame would do more harm then good for the shooter.

Maybe I'm just a wimp, but they actually hurt my poor old hand.
And rapid follow-up shots are very difficult.


April 24, 2009, 05:27 PM
If you want the same basic revolver - and one must be a CCW - I am afraid your hands are tied. A CCW which requires a holster/belt for carry may not get carried as often as a pocketable CCW. That pretty much limits you to a J-frame - like a 60, if SS is your desire. If the exposed hammer is a concern, as it is for me and my CCW in a pocket, the 649 is the answer. Fixed sight, shrouded hammer, .357M-rated, 5-shot, 2.1" barrel, and 23 oz.

Now, for a more 'fun' version, consider the 60 Kit gun with adjustable sight, HiViz front sight, 3" barrel. Also, for a few bucks more, the 60 Pro has a different style 3" barrel, wood grip, ramp front sight. There was a 5" 60 in the catalog a few years back - check several dealers and wholesalers - someone may still have one in stock.

Re the J-frame... it is a 'necessary evil'. It is required for a smallish pocket gun. In my experience, the coil main spring lockwork never equals the smoothness - or lowered reliable effort - of the K/L/N frames. The larger J-frame grips are still too small to be comfortable to me. I would think a J-frame 5-shooter for CC would be ideal. It should be shot enough to become - and retain - efficiency with. It isn't - and will never be - a decent plinker. I would highly suggest you consider a K, L, or N frame as a second revolver, capacity be hanged. Heck, I have a friend with a 686+ who makes his own ammo - and loads five rounds every time... because it's one row from a box of ammo. We all have our idiosyncrasies. I have 5, 6, 7, 8, & 10-shooter revolvers - and revel in the higher capacities. Go figure.

Here is a crude picture of a 4" 64, which is a 36 oz SS version of the old 10 (M&P), a K-frame, with my 642, a 15 oz J-frame, as a pocket protector:

Look at the grips... the light weight and small boot grips of the AirWeight 642 make it less than fun to shoot - with mild loads. The 64 comes with decent grips - and all K/L frames' grips fit both K & L. Much better for plinking - as is the longer sight radius and added mass. Something to consider.


April 24, 2009, 05:59 PM
As stated above, a 2 1/2" K-frame snubby is too large for pocket carry except for perhaps in a parka pocket way up North somewhere. As for shooting full house .357 Magnum rounds from a J-frame damaging the revolver, I think you'd probably damage yourself before the gun. ;) Doing so is rather unpleasant and most folks don't do it much. For a steel J-frame for pocket carry, I'd get a
new Model 40:

It's practically a steel 642/442 and it DOES NOT have the dreaded lock! This is only gun S&W currently makes that I want to buy.

April 24, 2009, 07:41 PM
Might I also suggest a Ruger Security-/Speed-Six revolver in stainless if you can find one? Of the two you mentioned above, however, the 620 would be my first choice. Don't like what I'm hearing about the barrel, but Rugers tend to be better guns that the Smiths, and if I couldn't find one of the "6" series of guns, I'd go with the GP-100.

The Ruger Security-6 is still available used, and they're
much better than the 66s.

April 24, 2009, 10:13 PM
Thanks for all the info. It appears based on these replies that the newer S&W barrels do not give problems with lead bullets. Good to know.

Because I'm looking for a 686+ to keep my Model 60 company...

April 24, 2009, 11:31 PM
I believe both have MIM triggers and hammers

The L frame got MIM parts starting with the 1997 engineering changes (that's a -5 on 5/686's, fyi). The way to instantly spot them is to look on the left of the gun. If it has the new-style "hockey stick" (as I call it) cylinder stop machined at the rear of the frame window instead of the older stud pressed in at the bottom corner, it is going to be a MIM gun. These two features were introduced concurrently. I am not being "down" on the MIM parts, but for those who want to ID them quickly or in photos, that is the simplest way. To see what the visual differences are I'm describing here, look at the rear of the frame window for the little hooked "stick" along the back of the window on the two guns in Stainz's picture above, and then compare that to the neat little pinned-on stud on KRS's 66 pictured up above them.

It appears based on these replies that the newer S&W barrels do not give problems with lead bullets.

I believe it would be more correct to say that based on these replies, ArmedBear's .44 magnum doesn't have any problem with his chosen lead loadings. The sample size here is "1." It has been reported by quite a few knowledgeable loaders and forum members and does exist as a problem.

If you follow Hawk's link above, you can read about how the electrode rifling process works, and why it results in a "dished" groove (sort of u-shaped) rifling pattern vs. a traditional, square-shouldered "notch" type groove. A large enough bullet won't have a problem, but others will definitely not be gripped by the rifling as effectively - it is going to vary based on the bullets actual diameter and it's hardness. If armed bear is talking about particularly hard-cast bullets, and especially if they are gas-checked (which is a strong possibility sense he's talking about a .44 magnum), then those should work better with the new rifling system than soft, slow-speed lead.

It just introduces another variability the reloader needs to control and doesn't mean these guns can't shoot lead, but they will be more picky about which lead they shoot well.

April 24, 2009, 11:51 PM
Rugers look like they were designed in East Germany before the wall came down............but they are reliable and durable.

S&W's are beautiful, and they are reliable and durable.:)

April 25, 2009, 12:22 AM
OK, Oro - I stand corrected. Thanks.

Hungry Seagull
April 25, 2009, 12:46 AM
I ration my Carry ammuntion like a miser at camp doling out gold each month, X rounds depending on three to 6 months availible supply. But I go shoot it. I can peel off other similar 230 grains TMJ's by the box. It's the carry ammo that I care about.

April 25, 2009, 06:18 AM
The way to instantly spot them is to look on the left of the gun. If it has the new-style "hockey stick" (as I call it) cylinder stop machined at the rear of the frame window instead of the older stud pressed in at the bottom corner, it is going to be a MIM gun.
Almost but not quite all the time.

The current models produced with forged hammers and triggers will be in frames with the hockey stick and, just to add to the confusion, the forged hammer will be missing the hammer nose.

The MIM trigger will have a groove in the rear but with forged hammers being machined for frame mounted firing pins I don't know how one could tell MIM hammers from forged without opening the beast up and checking for pins.

Forged / conventional triggers and hammers are pretty sparse in "L" frames but there's at least one.
Rat chair (

April 28, 2009, 01:33 AM
Thank you all so much for your input, information, and suggestions!

I think my solution is thus:

Pocket CCW: A snub, steel J frame. Likely the 649 as opposed to the fully-exposed hammer model. Fed with .38 +Ps

Hip CCW: Likely also a steel J-frame. The 3" 60. I'll likely get a 66 for this at some point, but to be honest I know myself, and in the short term the interchangability of ammo (.38 +Ps, as opposed to .357s) and speedloaders (5 round count, as opposed to 6) will get the better of me and my OCD. :o

I'll keep my 6" 686 for range time, and walking in the swamp.

From what everyone has said, I'm now very much intrigued by the 66, and I think a 4" example may have to added to the mix at some point in the future - seeing "duty", if at all, as a glovebox gun.

Stainz: Thanks VERY much for all you wrote, and most of all for the photo illustrating the size difference. I'm not a moron, but it's very difficult for me, no matter how many guns I've seen and handled, to appreciate the diference in size an inch or so here or there, or a few ounces, really makes in terms of the overall heft of a given piece.

Hank327: I like that Model 40, but I'm hooked on stainless for revolvers. I don't even know that this preference is justifiable, but there it is. As to what you said, you may want to do a search of the revolver forum. I SWEAR that I saw someone mention that there is a recent, limited-availability production of 642s and 442s with special suffixes that denote a "no lock" option.

July 11, 2009, 09:21 PM
1) Are the 649s made in very small numbers? There is presently ONE on gunroker that I could find.

2) As to the exposed-hammer (plain) model 60's...

The early examples were all chambered in .38 spl, and they later went over to .357 magnum.

Were they initially made with the prefereable pinned barrels, also?

If so, was there any overlap between the time they were stilled being offered with the pinned barrels, but were being made in .357 magnum?

That is to say - was there ever such a creature as a model 60 in .357 magnum with a pinned barrel?

Jim K
July 11, 2009, 10:14 PM
It stands to reason that an alloy frame will not stand up as well as a steel frame and an alloy J frame will not stand up as well as a larger frame, alloy or steel. No one uses a Scandium J frame in formal target competition and fires 10-20 thousand rounds a year from it. S&W knows that and its small light guns are not made to take that kind of punishment, any more than your family sedan is going to run at Talladega.

But those guns are perfectly fine for carry guns and will certainly hold up to enough rounds to become proficient in their use for defensive purposes. As for the J frame .357's, especially the super lights, I think the guns will hold up to more full house loads than the shooter will.


July 13, 2009, 09:08 AM
Pack: The pinned barrel was deleted on all S&W revolvers in 1982.The 38 special model 60 & three inch barreled 60-1 were made with pinned barrels until that time. The J-Magnum frame (beefed up J frame for .357 magnum loads) was introduced as the 60-9 in 1996. The J magnum is easily identified by the full underlug in the all steel models.

No idea on availabilty of the 649, but it is obvious that the enclosed hammer Airweight guns are the most popular versions: There are no threads with over 1000 posts discussing the all steel guns, there have been two IIRC just for the model 642. I would say production follows popularity in the market place, so it probably is a fairly rare item. In addition, the 649 has only been around since 1985, the model 60 since 1965. Fewer 649 guns are available on the used market.

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