Is a .38 Special S&W 686 possible?

Apr 6, 2015
I have a recently manufactured Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum with 6" barrel. It is a great gun but I hardly ever shoot .357 Magnum. Mostly I shoot .38 Special at paper or steel targets. Does anybody know if it is possible to get a .38 Special cylinder for it? Would the S&W shop do it? Are there custom gunsmiths that can do this?
In what way were they different, other than the chamber length?
The Model 14 and 15 are built on the K-frame, which was designed as a 38 Special frame back 120+ years ago. It is the gun 38 Special was designed for. There were 357 Magnum versions, but I guess there was some controversy about how well they stood up to extensive firing of 357 rounds. The 686 is an L-frame gun. Smith & Wesson introduced the L-frame in the early 1980's specifically to have a medium-sized revolver strong enough for full time 357 Magnum shooting. As I understand it, it is dimensionally very close to the old Colt I-frame ("Official Police") which was the basis for the Colt Python,
The models 14 and 15 are K frame revolvers. Smaller and lighter than the 686 that’s an L frame.

Then UncleEd should have said that K-frames are made special for the 38 Special, and not list specific model numbers. There are a lot of K-frame models in 38 Special; 10,12, 14, 15, 64, 67.

Let's wait and see what UncleEd has to say.
Then UncleEd should have said that K-frames are made special for the 38 Special, and not list specific model numbers. There are a lot of K-frame models in 38 Special; 10,12, 14, 15, 64, 67.

Let's wait and see what UncleEd has to say.
Just offering a guide, especially revolvers designed with adjustable sights like the 686 and within the S&W family. The 10, 12, 64 just don't fit in, they being strictly service revolvers and not usually with 6-inch barrels. Did I offend you?
I just don't see the point of a .38 special chambering on a big K or L frame revolver.

Over the years I've owned a dozen revolvers chambered for the .357; Smith's & Rugers but no Colts. All of them have shot .38 spl loads at least as accurately as my best .357 handloads...and with target full wadcutters, the .38's were a hair more accurate.

Too, I've had no difficulty keeping the chambers clean enough after firing a boat load of the shorter rounds, to allow .357 length rounds to chamber easily. The key is to clean after you shoot....while I've never put 200 rounds of .38 special through one of my magnums in a single range session, I have shot 100 before cleaning and it was no problem.

In fact, my carry load for my Smith M-60, a 3" bbl'd .357, is Speer's 135 gr Gold Dot .38 Spl +P load. I like it not only for its expansion/penetration performance, and also for its easier ejection than the magnum length cases.

I will admit that in the last year, I found a .38 Special M-67 Smith LEO turn-in, that's an absolute joy to carry. It's got that lighter weight bbl., lighter than the M-66 or 19, balances well and has arguably the smoothest DA trigger I've ever found on a small feat that! With it, I can load 148 gr. target wadcutters at 750 fps for plinking and paper, or upshift to LSWC's to the old "FBI" load: 158 gr at 900 fps+. All of that notwithstanding, it's no more accurate that a pair of M-66's, a trio of M-19's, one 686 and 4 Ruger BH's that I've had.

Given the add'l weight of a 686, I really don't see the need...YMMv, Rod
I believe you are correct @StrawHat. I recall the same thing. The L frame happens to be my favorite of the S&W frame sizes.
Same here. I see little use for K frames. It's (small) J-frame -> (medium) L-frame -> (large) N-frame for me. I see absolutely no point in going up to a L-frame for 38 special. A J-frames is the perfect size and weight for that round.
Just my opinion but the only advantage to a 38 chambered revolver I can see, and it woulld minor, is that a the jump to the forcing cone on a 38 chambered revolver would be an 1/8 of an inch shorter than shooting a 38 special in a 357 magnum revolver. In your case installing a 38 cylinder wouldn't change the jump distance. Maybe you shoot a revolver better than I do (probably do), but I can't shoot well enough to tell the difference.

My opinion about the carbon ring from 38's in a 357 cylinder is it is a matter of maintenance not performance.

I like the idea of trading what you have for what you want. Easier to find a K frame, but if you really like L frame, maybe the hunt for exactly what you want will be rewarding. In this group of enablers, we'll support you all the way.
I believe S&W did make some of the Model 686s in 38 S&W Special for export. A vague memory but as I have little use for an L frame, I am at a loss for the source of my information.

Yes, there is some ifo on some S&W marking 38 Special L-frames for special contracts. I'm afraid I do not know the model numbers.

Ii was a large contract purchase.

If you reload, you can load 38 Special level loads on 357 Magnum case and avoid the cylinder cleaning issue.

If you do not reload, it s safe to shoot 38 Special ammunition in a 357 magnum Chamber, Just do a thorough cleaning once in a while.
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