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Smith K Frame vs L Frame .357 Magnum

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by flakbait, Aug 25, 2010.

  1. flakbait

    flakbait New Member

    Jul 16, 2009
    Houston, Texas
    I was wondering what are the advantages and disadvantages of a a used Smith and Wesson K-Frame revolver a.k.a. Model 19/66 for plinking/range use over a dedicated L frame revolver like the model 586/686?

    I like the looks of the the half-lugged Model 66 over the full lugged 686. Since this its not a carry gun, the weight does not matter much unless it helps significantly with recoil. Do you think the K-frames balance better or does that extra muzzle weight really help much?

    I guess like most folks with .357 magnum revolvers, I would shoot mostly 38 special practice ammo with an occasional box of .357 magnum. Most indoor ranges where I live prohibit shooting magnum loads even though some modern calibers like the .357 Sig and the .40 S&W nearly duplicate the .357 magnum in velocity, power, and noise.

    I understand the K-frames could not stand up to the high velocity (>1400 FPS) 125 grain .357 loads so Smith and Wesson relegated the K-frame to 38 Special work only but they should tolerate occasional use of the heavier bullet 158 grain .357 magnum loads.

    In regards to used vs new, I can't see a huge advantage for a new S&W revolver with all the silly locking mechanisms their lawyers placed in the last decade (just something to go wrong).
  2. wgp

    wgp Active Member

    Aug 26, 2009
    I have a Model 13 now, and have owned a 4" Model 19 and a 6" Model 66. I have never owned an L frame. I have liked what I had and never had an issue with wearing one out. I have read for years that the K frames won't stand up to magnum loads -- but never seen research as to what is "too much" of those loads. I think I just have always preferred the K frames.

    As for new vs old, I have never had an issue with a used gun that was still tight and did not show mistreatment.
  3. Ala Dan

    Ala Dan Member in memoriam

    Dec 24, 2002
    Home Of The First Capitol Of The Confederate State
    I'm a K-frame S&W fan, and owner of a 4" factory nickel, pencil barrel model
    10-5 from 1963; as well as a 4" factory nickel model 19-3 from 1975. The 19
    is complete - with factory box, doc's, and tools. Both would grade out as
    excellent in both fit and finish~! However, I do own a couple of 6 inchers,
    a model 19-5; and a model 686-5, as those are my revolver's that I would
    compete with~! ;) :D
  4. Chainsaw2

    Chainsaw2 New Member

    Jan 16, 2010
    Central Texas
    While I've shot plenty of rounds thru K frames, I've never worn one out. I've read where Skeeter Skelton and Bill Jordan fired so many magnum rounds thru one that the top of the frame experenced flame cutting, but the "cut" could be easily filled in via welding by a competent gunsmith, and they had it done and kept shooting the same gun. I'd be willing to bet that Bart Skelton is still shooting his old man's pistols yet.

  5. 9mmepiphany

    9mmepiphany Moderator

    Dec 27, 2002
    northern california
    The main advantage of the K-frame over the L-frame is that it is easier to carry. If it were meant for the range, I think the larger cylinder and underlug make it a smoother when shooting quickly...it's like the N-frame cylinder shooting quicker than the smaller cylinders.

    If you like the half-lug look, see if you can find a 520 or 620 L-frame
  6. gwnorth

    gwnorth Active Member

    Sep 3, 2008
    North Carolina
    There are lots of k-frame guns out there in the world with a lot of magnum loads down their barrels. I think the point about the weak spot in the forcing cone cutout was that, with high round counts, especially of lighter weight rounds like 125gr, increased the likelihood of a catastrophic failure. Nothing says that every k-frame will fail, at any particular round count. But, as round count goes up, a k-frame is more likely to have problems then the heavier framed L-frame pistols. The rate of failure in the k-frames has been small in aboslute numbers, but the failure rate was still higher then acceptable to Smith and Wesson (especially for service weapons). Going to the L-frame, specifically designed for high round counts of modern magnum loads, made sense. Remember though, that they kept making k-frame .357 magnums for some time after the introduction of the L-frame models.

    Most people will be hard pressed to shoot out a k-frame pistol. Personally, I do avoid light weight .357 loads in my 65-3, since I see no point in pressing my luck. I still shoot .357 with it, but I stick to 145gr and up (most of my range stuff is 158gr).

    BTW, late in it's production life the Ruger Six series pistols also have a flat spot cut on the bottom of the forcing cone for a similar reason - to accomodate a change in the gas ring at the front of the cylinder which made it necessary to releive the bottom of the forcing cone to allow the cylinder to close. I have a last year of production 3" Service Six, and it's forcing cone is near identical to my 65-3's (my older 4" Service Six is not like this, for example). Not surprisingly, I have come across at least one account of one of these Rugers experiencing a forcing cone crack, in just the same manner as a S&W k-frame. It's a weak spot, but it's not a guaranteed failure point by any means.
  7. Rexster

    Rexster Senior Member

    Mar 25, 2007
    SE Texas
    When I last used K-frames for serious purposes, in the mid-1990's, I did most of my practicing with magnums using my Ruger GP100 as a stand-in. For that matter, I used my Model 17 K-frame .22 for more shots than all the other sixguns combined. I just didn't like the extra chore of cleaning the ring of fouling at the front of the Models 19 and 66 chambers, after shooting .38 Specials.

    I went to virtually all-1911 carry from 1997 to 2002, and my 19s and 66 were sold or traded, much to my subsequent regret. I am still on the lookout for replacement minty pre-owned Models 19s. I do have plenty of Ruger revolvers, and the Model 17 .22, but there is something so right about a 4" Model 19.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  8. S&Wfan

    S&Wfan Participating Member

    Dec 17, 2005
    I love the Smith K frame and N frame .357s, but long ago sold off my 686 L frame.

    The K frame was not only lighter to carry, but it was also faster out of the holster and faster swinging and more naturally pointing during double action matches than the muzzle-heavy L frame.

    The L frame is built on a K-frame grip size but the bore axis is higher on the L frame, which IMHO negates the additional recoil absorbing weight of the L frames over the sleek K frames.

    IMHO the K frame is the best overall defensive .357 revolver that S&W ever made, and I shot my best times in pin matches with the K vs. the L . . . and even the N framed 6" Model 27-2 I once used in matches.

    Make mine either K frames (sleek and sexy) or a nice vintage N frame Model 27 for beauty.
  9. GooseGestapo

    GooseGestapo Senior Member

    Jan 6, 2003
    I've had both, and have both. Shot record scores with both.

    For duty carry, hands down, I still prefer the K-Frame mod 66 to anything I've ever had. For woods loafing purposes in my retirement I carry a similar Ruger Sec.6-4" that I bought in 2000 for 150.00.

    It's no-where near as accurate as my Smith's, but it's brutally strong built, and I don't shoot anything but magnums through it. For the occasional coyote or pig I shoot with it, it's not significantly heavier than the K-frame 4" mod66.

    For my PPC revolvers, except the 2-1/2" "off duty" match gun, I've got K-frames.... a 6" Mod14 full-lug bbl, that is the most accurate revolver I've owned. I've won the Dist. rev. match at the Nationals with this gun, and won 1500 matches with it shooting semi-wadcutters against $2,000.00 Alan Tanaka Match revolvers... l've shot 1" 6-shot groups at 50yds with Delta Precision factory-match SWC ammo from a Ransom rest. It'll shoot !!!! But I had to send it back to the S&W Perf. Ctr. to get a new cylinder fitted to get it to do it. (had reamer marks in the throat of one chamber)

    I did have to "over-haul" this gun last summer as the groups had fallen off to where it would'nt hold the 10ring, much less the X-ring at 50yds. Since then, it has returned to it's match winning ways.

    The Atlanta area East Point Police Dept. back in the early '80's was qualifying it's officers with "range guns" and magnum ammo (Georgia Arms reloads with 125gr JSP's and heavy loads of BlueDot). These guns were developing excessive end-shake (forward and rear) as well as gas cutting the frames. One gun cut the frame and failed (top-strap bowed up where you couldn't see the front sight..... I was shown the gun by the range master/head instructor) and they were one of the proponents that urged the development of the L-frame.

    Yes the L-frame will develope end shake, as well a cut the top strap. However it has about 50% more metal where this occurs and it takes about twice as much shooting to cause it. Hence, the gun lasts about twice as long before it becomes cost prohibitive to "over-haul" the gun.

    This however is moot now as most of the agencies have transitioned to semi-autos and most require the officers to qualify with the gun they carry on duty.

    FWIW; I adjust the endshake on my K-frames every 30,000-50,000rds. I had one that between me and the two previous owners had shot over 1,000,000rds through that gun. To bring it back to competitive condition, it would take a new yoke, cylinder, hand, bolt, and setting back (again) the 4th barrel it's had on it (that I know of). This would cost as much or more as buying a good used Mod10-5 and "building" a new gun. (Which I've done, twice, since last using this gun in 1996).

    The L-frames built (modified) as such are too heavy for except the largest shooters. (hence Phillip Hemphill favored the L-frames). I couldn't make effective use of that much weight (4lbs) in a revolver. I got muscle tremors with that much weight.

    I would like a 4" , 5-shot 41mag on a L-frame however......!
    The N-frame just dosen't "fit" my smaller (but not small) hands.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2010
  10. Marshall

    Marshall Mentor

    Dec 26, 2002
    Oklahoma, Green Country
    I have a 4" Model 13HB K Frame and absolutely love it.

    It feels much better than the larger L Frame, just a sweeter gun. And keep in mine, this is coming from someone who likes the even larger N Frames.
  11. roaddog28

    roaddog28 Active Member

    Oct 5, 2009
    Escondido, CA
    The S&W K frame magnum I feel is the best handling 357 revolver ever made. Balances better is accurate and is a good carry revolver. I have three of them. A M13, M19 and M66. I shoot mostly 38 and 38+P in the three revolvers. I do occasionally run a box of 158 gr 357s in the revolvers but limit that to a box for each revolver.

    If I was in a gun store and the clerk showed me a M19 4 inch and a 686 4 inch and they were both in good condition. There is no question I would choose the M19.

  12. cougar1717

    cougar1717 Active Member

    Nov 19, 2007
    St. Louis, MO
    OP - Either you've just tapped into a niche group of people that prefer the K frame to the L frame, or something is going on here. When I pick up a 66 and a 686 side by side it's very evident what the others have said. It's not just half lug vs full lug. A 4" 66 is well balanced while a 4" 686 is barrel heavy. They handle and draw differently. Maybe I'm a little biased, but a side by side comparison brings out the differences.
  13. oldfool

    oldfool Senior Member

    Jul 18, 2009
    Thomasville, Georgia
    well a lot of good points made by more serious shooters here than I
    but I still think it just comes down to what fits your own hand best
    "shootability", you can rationalize it or not, but when it's right for you.. it's right
    just got to shoot 'em to really know

    right for me means k-frame
    probably why I own 8 of 'em, but no L/N frames
    (though only 3 of the 8 are 357s, all 6" barrels)
    true, I don't run hot 125 gr loads thru 'em at all, don't even run all that many 158s, so how real the forcing cone thing really is (or not) just doesn't matter to me
  14. 420Stainless

    420Stainless Participating Member

    Aug 15, 2005
    Not much difference if the L is a 3 incher vs. the 4 inch K. The L-Frame is a little thicker through the middle and certainly wouldn't balance as nicely with the same barrel length. I'm not big on trying to conceal either one in the hot weather that runs most of the year in these parts, but the stainless one does do some truck duty at times. They both shoot and handle almost identically at the range for me.

    Attached Files:

  15. Guillermo

    Guillermo member

    Feb 20, 2008
    Austin, Texas
    As a dedicated range gun the extra weight and strength of the L frame is desirable.

    If the OP was concerning carrying I might suggest the K depending on the circumstances
  16. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Mentor

    Sep 26, 2006
    all over Virginia
    The L-frame happened right at the time a lot of departments were switching from .38 to .357.

    Very soon thereafter, the GLOCK happened, and the heavy-duty .357 six-shooter became a dead letter for departmental sales.
  17. Radagast
    • Contributing Member

    Radagast Mentor

    Dec 24, 2002
    I also prefer the balance of the K frame Model 66 to the L frame 686 or for that matter the K frame full lugs such as the model 617.
    For your purposes I would look at a Model 66 with either a 4 or six inch barrel.
    If you are looking at purchasing new then consider the 686 SSR with a 4 inch barrel or a 686 Plus Pro with a 5 inch barrel. These use a lighter barrel than the standard 686 and handle in much the same manner as the 66. Both are on my list of potential toys when money allows.
  18. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Senior Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    many S&W lovers prefer the older guns with pinned barrels and recessed cylinders (in the Magnum calibers). All the L frames are post P&R and some folks are not interested (including me). The Ls are all right, just lack the panache of the older models.

    In theory the L frame will be a little stronger but I have had no problems with any of my K frame 357s.

    I think this is more stylish than any L frame.

  19. Jimmy10mm

    Jimmy10mm New Member

    Jul 19, 2010
    The 4" blue model 19 was the first handgun I ever bought. Brand new in the box, full retail in a gun shop @ $120.00. That was in 1970. Just thinking of Bill Jordan, the great exhibition DA shooter and author of "No Second Place Winner," who was largely responsible for the design of the model 19. In the book he describes how, being a full time Border Patrol agent, he had a more carry friendly pistol in mind with a lighter cylinder for quicker DA shooting.

    I've had a few 4" model 19s come and go and they are very well balanced and handy. The 4" was not bad with magnum loads while the 2 1/2 round butt was punishing to the shooter IME. The only L frame I've owned is the 386PD. This lightweight 7 shoot revolver is fun to shoot with magnums AFAIC. The rubber grips and the added weight, as small as it is, over a 340PD, make it snappy but not painful.
  20. TonyT

    TonyT Participating Member

    Apr 22, 2004
    I have several K and L framed S&W's. However I only use them for competition with mild 38 Special loads. Some people believe that you can obtain a slightly smoother DA trigger with the older K-frames than the L frames - it is definitely in the perception category.
    If I were purchasing a revolver to use with 357 magnum loads then I would opt for the L-framed S&W 686.

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