K, N, J frame revolvers??


May 13, 2009, 02:32 PM

Can someone please explain the differance in frames between the K N J frame revolvers? I have no idea what this is, i presume its size.

I have a Astra Inox 2" snubby ss 38spl, what would that compare to? I think my Astra is a 680 but its only a 5 shot.

Any ideas where i can get som info on my snubby, i have serched the net but have found nothing, they dont seem to be very common or popular.


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May 13, 2009, 02:40 PM
J frames are very compact... K and L is medium frame, and N frames are large. Your snubbie likely in the size realm of a small K or L frame Smith. I doubt it is as small and light as the J frame's.


May 13, 2009, 02:42 PM
S&W system for denoting frame size. The J is the current smallest used for guns like the 5-shot 38 caliber Model 36 "Chiefs Special."

The K is the classic .38 Special size used for the Model 10 "Military & Police" models and many other models as well. Some 357 Magnums were built on the K but there were concerns about strength.

So the L frame came out. Just a tad sturdier than the K.

The N is the 44 size frame, used for the heavy 357 Magnums (Models 27, 28 for example) and the 41 and 44 Magnums and others.

The X frame is the huge guy for the 500 caliber.

Older discontinued frame sizes include the I frame and a couple others.

I frame:


J frame:


K frame:


I don't have an L frame. Sorry.

N frame:


The S&W frame sizes may not exactly correspond to those of other manufacturers. You can sort of guess at which are appropriate comparisons by the caliber and physical size. I suspect your 5 shot Astra would most closely approximate the J frame.

May 13, 2009, 02:46 PM
I & later J-Frame = started out as a .32 and is now most often a 5-shot .38 or .357, or 6 or 8 shot .22.

K-Frame = started out as a 6-shot .38, and still is. Also has been made in .22, .32, .357, and a few other calibers smaller then .38.

N-Frame = started out as a 6-shot .44 and still is. It has been used for .38 Spl, .357 Mag, .41 Mag .44 Spl, .44 Mag, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt, among other things.


May 13, 2009, 03:14 PM
Man you gays are good!!

Sorry i didnt look at s&w sight untill now.

Thanks for clearing that up.


May 13, 2009, 03:18 PM

"N" frame on top; "J" frame on bottom.

In between the two are "K" and "L".

May 13, 2009, 03:23 PM

Lemme' see.........the two top are both "N" frame.
The middle two are "J" on the left, "K" on the right.

The bottom two define the difference between a round butt on the left and a square butt on the right. Both are "J" frame revolvers.

May 13, 2009, 03:26 PM
New Member Join Date: 05-02-09
Posts: 11

" Man you gays are good!! "

Well now, Saxon Pig is an easy call, but RC? Who'd have thought? :D

May 13, 2009, 03:48 PM
Very informative post. Thanks to the OP for posting, and the "gays", er, guys for replying. I learned something. :D I knew what a J-frame was, never heard of the others...

May 13, 2009, 04:14 PM
+1 Saxonpig

To put dates on the frames:

K frame had origins in
1899 1rst model hand ejector in .38 Special
This later was called the Miltary & Police
and got the MOdel 10 desgination in 1957 when
S&W put the 2 digit designation on all of their
N Frame
1908 2nd MOdel Hand EJector .44 SPecial
used for the US Military M1917 in .45 ACP s/moon ckps
1935 1rst chambering for .357 Mag
1955 1rst chambering for .44 Mag
Model 29 aka Dirty Harry model

L Frame - early 1980s
Beefed up - greater length for a sturdier .357 Mag
medium frame.

J-frame - post WWII
S&W Beefed up the I frame and unlike the other
frames which use a leaf main spring the J frames have a
coil main spring

& the Largest, the X frame for .500 S&W and .460 XVR


May 13, 2009, 04:40 PM
KRS - are the grips on the pre-27 in your first photo newer reproductions? From whom, if so?

May 13, 2009, 04:45 PM
That's not a pre 27, it's a Lew Horton redo of the registered magnum in eight rounds. Those grips are new, came with the pistol, and probably were made by the same folks who make the grips that S&W buys for their 'classics' line of reproduction, or reborn, older models.

I don't know who made them for sure, and they aren't maker marked inside anywhere.

May 13, 2009, 04:51 PM
That's not a pre 27, it's a Lew Horton redo of the registered magnum in eight rounds

That's awesome, it's exactly the gun I wish S&W made right now. An 8 shot N frame .357 that looks just like a 27 otherwise.

Sexy man, sexy.

May 13, 2009, 05:02 PM
That's not a pre 27, it's a Lew Horton redo of the registered magnum in eight rounds

OK, got it now. The sideplate screw and worn looking finish (now I presume the lighting and angle) threw me, but I recognized them as newer grips. i want a pair of those for a 27-2 I have so I can "stash" the excellent orig. grips for the few times I actually carry it.

Do those grips fit the frame well? I have seen variable fit/finish on some of the wod grips on the new "classics." Those look pretty darn good. Do you like them compared with the older quality ones, say, pre-1980?

(Sorry for the thread drift)

May 14, 2009, 03:53 AM
I just love show-n-tell threads. Nice pictures Saxon, I don't recall seeing those revolver before.

May 14, 2009, 04:13 AM
Oh hell im sorry about the "gays" thing, only realized it now. I was wondering what you were all on about. Sorry again. :)

May 14, 2009, 06:27 AM
Just a few words to clarify why an L-frame was developed. There was nothing wrong with the original K-frame .357 Magnums - with SAAMI-spec'd ammo in heavier bullet weights (140-158 gr). As you go lighter, of course, the velocity increases. This made 110-125 gr .357 Magnum bullets require 'hot' propellants - producing more hot gases escaping at the b/c gap - and possibly eroding the smallish forcing cone. While cracked forcing cones undoubtedly occurred, they can be fixed by a barrel change. This likely would never occur in normal use, as it was estimated as taking 20k lite/hot loads minimum to cause this damage. There are millions of 13, 19, 65, & 66 models, all K-frames, still in use - and great .357 Magnums, too.

The L-frame has a front frame piece that is .040" thicker where the barrel mounts. This permits a .025" larger OD on the barrel - and more 'meat' at the .357 Magnum's forcing cone. They also gave it a taller cylinder opening - allowing a 7-shot cylinder to be fitted. This also permitted a 5-shot .44 Special variant to fit the frame, albeit with a really teeny forcing cone (No Keith-level loads for these .44 Specials!). The gripframe of the L-frame is the same size as the K-frame, thus, they take the same sized grips. Several years ago, S&W dropped the last of the K-frame .357 Magnums, the 65 & 66, and replaced them with 7-shooter 619 & 620 models. As the other .357 Magnum L-frames were full-lugged, they appeased we traditionalists with the 619/620 models and retained the partial lugs of the 65/66 models they replaced. Gripped similarly, a 4" 66 and 620 aren't too different... great 'pointers'.

The K-frame won't go away... the original M&P's latest variant, the 10, may always be in the S&W line - as is it's SS sibling, the 64 - and the adjustable sighted version, the 67. Then there is my latest new one - a 617 from last fall. That's a ten-shooter in .22 LR.

You can have fun in one caliber - .38 S&W Special - with each frame size. A J-framed 642 as a five-shot pocket protector, a 4" 64 as a K-frame plinker/house gun, a 5" half-lug 686+ as a fun seven-shooter plinker, and a 4" 627 Pro eight shooting, N-framed, super-fun plinker. Yeah, I won't ever bring them all to the range at the same time again - the indecision as to which to shoot was maddening! Also, I shot up a ton of my 125gr JHP .38's.


May 14, 2009, 09:08 AM
Oro: Do those grips fit the frame well? I have seen variable fit/finish on some of the wood grips on the new "classics." Those look pretty darn good. Do you like them compared with the older quality ones, say, pre-1980?

Hi, the grips fit good enough but they lack the ambience of an older set and thus seem sort of fone'., if you catch my drift.

I don't use them for shooting the pistol because they cause my knuckles grief, but I like their smaller size making the rest of the revolver look so huge! They'd be better with a Tyler T grip filler.

I have fingergrip Kim Ahrend's grips on the gun most of the time and take it with me when it's chilly enough to hide it.

edit: it's the same revolver as top left in my second photo, that time with Ahrend's non fingergrip square butts. I switch grips around as it strikes me to do, as I'm pretty sure you like doing as well, Oro.

May 14, 2009, 11:03 AM
Here's a K frame Magnum shipped in 1970 to the federal government. I bought it 18 years later from the retired federal agent who said it had been fed nothing but full power 125 JHPs and that's what I shoot in it. So far, nada. Some K frames have failed with various ammo types (1 split the barrel with target 38 loads) so I am not sure that it isn't some defect in select guns rather than a general unworthiness of the whole line.


The new "classic" stocks will generally fit the older models. Here's a pair of 3rd model 44 Specials wearing the new Service Stocks sold for $55 from S&W.


Also, the L frame guns use the same stocks as the K frame models.

May 14, 2009, 01:59 PM
Stainz gets a +1

For the O.P. many of the S&W aficiondos refer to various
models by only the model number but they all also have
a title.

The model 36, blued carbon steel and the ( first production
handgun in ) stainless steel MOdel 60 = Chiefs Special.

K frames
Model 10 - Miltary & Police
Model 15 K-38 Combat Masterpiece - it has ramp
front and adj. rear in .38 Special with standard hammer
& trigger. 4" Barrel
Model 18 K-22 .22 LR version of the Model 15
MOdels 14, .K-38, .38 Special Model 16 K-32
in .32 S&W and MOdel 17 .22 LR are the Target
Masterpiece, with 6" or 8 3/8" bbl.s and larger/wider
Target trigger and hamer

Model 19 Combat Magnum
MOdels 581/586 681/686
Distinguished Combat Magnum

& so on.... all i can pull out of ready memory
but it's a good exercise I'd have to look up the 27
but the 28 was named Highway Patrolman - both N-frames
the 28 meant for LEOs as a working gun, and the 27
being the top finish - jhigh polish blued and polisheed
interior parts as well.

oh, gotta do one of my favorites,

Model 25 1955 Target .45 ACP/.45 Auto RIm


May 14, 2009, 05:46 PM

You mentioned "This also permitted a 5-shot .44 Special variant to fit the frame, albeit with a really teeny forcing cone".....is this a model currently in the lineup?

May 14, 2009, 06:50 PM
The models were the 696 3" SS, 296 2.5" Ti-AirLite hammerless, and 396 3" 'Mountain Lite'. They were introduced in that order - the 396 last in '01, just in time to see the other two go - then it went, too. The 396NG was introduced for this year - at $1,074 MSRP. It has the NG sights and a black finish on the Al/Sc frame - and on the SS cylinder, replacing the original's Ti cylinder - and increasing the weight from the 3.1" barrel 396's 18 oz to the new 2.5" barrel 396NG's 24.1 oz.

Below are my, going CW from top right, 696 (L-frame), 296 (L-frame), 2" 10 (K-frame), and 642 (J-frame):


And below is, top down, my 4" 629 (N-frame), 2.5" 296 (L-frame), and 642 (J-frame), again, for size comparison. Hope this helps.


When I bought the 696 new - regular store price was $439. The 296 was $349 on closeout (Less than half it's last MSRP!). That was nearly 6.5 yr ago - now they sell for $700-$900. A new 4" 629 is a far better buy.


Low Budget Shooter
May 14, 2009, 06:57 PM
Dear Blind Justice,

Are you sure about "Target Masterpiece"? How about just "Masterpiece" on that?


P.S. Don't make me go dig out my box!

May 14, 2009, 11:37 PM
Many shooters (including me) say Target Masterpiece but S&W never called them that. Simply K22 ( or K32 or k38) Masterpiece is the official factory designation.

Pine Cone
May 15, 2009, 03:03 AM
As noted by BlindJustice, J-frames have a coil spring while the larger framed guns have a leaf spring.

In my experience, the J-frame triggers are not as nice as the K's and L's. The leaf springs in the larger frame guns give you a lighter, nicer trigger. I've had 4 J's, 3 K's and 2 L's so far and the heavier trigger and lighter gun make the J's harder to shoot accurately, but they are great carry guns. My J-frame 649 is my go-to gun for concealed carry. My L-framed 686 has a nicer trigger and is very accurate, but my pre-17 K-frame 22 is the nicest revolver I own.

Haven't felt the need for the larger caliber revolvers in the larger frame sizes, but I suppose it is just a matter of time (and $$$)

May 15, 2009, 07:41 AM
Ah, the S&W infection mutates... you start innocently enough, maybe a 5-shot like a J-frame 60. Shooting .38s is addictive - and was relatively inexpensive, pre-madness. Then - you get a 6-shot K-frame - like a 10, 64, 67... more fun. Someone suggests a 686+ or 620 - 7-shooter L-frames - wow!

It aint over. Look at the 627 Pro - an N-frame that holds eight rounds of .38 or .357Ms. Of course, then someone says, "You know, a 625 is really a big bore - that shoots frugal .45 ACPs....". Makes sense. As does the migration to a .44 Magnum 629 ("yeah, .44 Specials are no more than .45 ACPs..."). Then, back to five shooters... a .500 Magnum - and a request that you quit destroying the steel plates on the rifle lanes at the range. Yep... you're doomed.


PS I went backwards...sold my .454 SRH years ago - finally bought a 617 .22LR last fall. It can be controlled!

May 15, 2009, 11:11 AM
About the name of the K22/K-38 - My first hadngun was a
Model 18 - I'm a member of the Smith & Wesson forum.... I didn't know
the MOdel 18 also had the Combat Masterpiece monicker
I was corrected about that with a ref. to the history of when
the K series were introduced in the late '40s, and indeed they
carry the "Target" and "Combat" designations in combo with

What else, oh, yeah the Coil sping J frame isn't as tuneable. and
imho, the best out of the box Double Action pull is found in the
K-fraem - the one that started it all back in 1899 - Mr Smith & Mr
Sure got it right. I'd say the lower reciprocating mass - lighter cylinder
is a factor.


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