Friday, August 24, 2012

S&W Airweight

This is an older version of the S&W Airweight. It's the Model 38-2 and is chambered for .38 Special. It's no longer in production but you can still find them on the used market pretty easily.
It was purchased many years ago by my wife and this is her CCW gun. Hogue grips replaced the factory boot grips and the gun was ported by Magnaport. Some of those choices were questionable but I'll discuss that later.

It's been replaced in the Smith & Wesson lineup by the S&W Model 638 Airweight which sells for around $400-$440 in my area.

Let's start with the basics. This is a 15.1oz revolver in it's original configuration. It's aluminum framed with a steel cylinder. Like most snub nosed revolvers it has a 2" barrel and is a 5 shot.
One big difference with this revolver is the hammer shroud. If you look closely you'll see about 1/8" (Or so) of the hammer spur showing. This allows you to cock the weapon for single action shooting or you can shoot it as a double action. The hammer shroud allows you to carry in the pocket while greatly reducing the chance of having the hammer snag the material. You can imagine trying to draw the weapon from a pocket with the normal hammer spur showing.
S&W and a few other manufacturers offer this feature on some of their revolvers. For those that aren't interested in being able to cock the revolver they offer models with a bobbed hammer in which the spur is removed or you can find models in which the hammer is completely covered. These also help in making the draw from a pocket much easier.

The sights are the normal J frame snub nosed fare. There is an integral front sight and a groove in the frame for a rear sight. The front sight is serrated to reduce glare.  Obviously they are not adjustable and they're nothing to brag about. They're OK for close range shooting but if your target is dark it can be hard to pick out the sights against the target.

The target above was 2 five shot groups (And 1 extra round that somehow was left over....gotta get a better target at the range next week). This was in double action at 7 yds. The gun shoots really well when you can see the target but as I said earlier, if you're shooting at a dark target the black sights are very hard to see. My middle aged eyes had a very hard time picking them up against this black background. As this is a CCW gun it's worth it to know what you can hit when the lighting is bad or the sights are hard to see.

I'll go back at a later date and add a target used for single action shooting. As you would expect it's much more accurate (And slower) shooting single action vs. double action.

Recoil really isn't too bad with the Hogue grips but the original Airweight grips left a lot to be desired.
They were the usual hard rubber boot grips that you can get two fingers on. The originals work well for concealed carry as they are pretty small.
I haven't seen any problems with the softer rubber on the Hogue grips but it is possible for the soft rubber on some handgun grips to cling to your clothing. This can make drawing harder but it can also cause your clothing to bunch up around the gun or stick to it instead of hanging freely over the weapon. If you're carrying concealed it would be a good idea to keep the clothing over the gun when you're bending, twisting, etc. This is especially true now that we've had a few more high profile shootings and if your handgun shows you may find those around you hysterically calling 911.
Felt recoil is greatly reduced using the Hogue grips and it's actually fun shooting this gun instead of a chore as when the original grips were on.
I'll probably put them back on for a later evaluation when I put this gun up against my Ruger LCR.

As this gun was in production for years and there's a lot of interchangeability among J frame revolvers it's not a problem finding aftermarket grips. There's some absolutely beautiful wooden replacement grips on the market as well.

The trigger is very good in single action and the double action pull is better than some of it's competition. I have no complaints at all about the trigger on this handgun. Unfortunately I neglected to get any single action targets but I'll probably remedy that over the next week or two.

This is a very light handgun and it comes in under 16 oz. It carries pretty easily but I will admit that it would carry a bit better with the original grips. The aluminum frame offers corrosion resistance and lighter weight. That's important for a carry gun as you simply won't carry it if it's annoyingly heavy. CCW are also exposed to moisture and perspiration more than the average home defense gun.
There are still enough steel parts showing to warrant basic care.

Lockup is tight. The cylinder releases easily. Extraction of the spent cases is very positive and I haven't had any problems with cases getting hung up under the ejection star.

I haven't measured the gap in between the cylinder and forcing cone. I have noticed a few revolvers over the  years having a tighter than normal gap. You run across this every once in a while.
A friend's S&W Model 10 was tight enough that the cylinder would start to drag on the forcing cone after just 1or 2 boxes of ammo. I've seen the same thing happen to another friend's Rossi and had it happen to one of my Rugers.  The dirtier the guns got the more the cylinder would bind up.
I doubt that this gun has ever had more than 2-3 boxes of ammunition put through in a single range trip but I haven't noticed any problems.

So let's talk about the barrel porting and grip changes. This isn't my gun and it's not set up for me. I carry concealed IWB with a Kahr CW9 or Ruger LCR. My wife rarely carries and when she does it's in a coat pocket or purse. The larger grips don't effect her as much as if she was carrying in a belt holster.  It's a trade off. The larger grips do make the gun harder to conceal and there is no getting around that. On the other hand they make it easier to shoot and the Hogue grips greatly improved her accuracy with the gun. She was miserable shooting it with the boot grips and while she doesn't really enjoy shooting the Airweight (Luvs the M1911's though) she practices more with it then she did when the original grips were in place.

We use HKS 36-A speedloaders for this gun. There are other brands on the market but these are fast, inexpensive, simple and work well. I generally get them for under $10 each.

BTW, this handgun isn't rated for +P ammo. If my sources are correct then 1998, the final year of production, is the only year in which this gun is rated for +P.
The current S&W Airweight (Model 638) is rated for +P.

The porting probably doesn't do much to help recoil on a gun with a 2" barrel. That's just my opinion. Even if it just cuts recoil by 5-10% (Real or imagined) then that's an improvement and a recoil sensitive shooter will appreciate it.
There are downsides to porting however. First of all there will be a nice large flash coming out of the top of your barrel and you'll see it when shooting in the dark or in dim lighting.
Secondly, the gases being vented out of the top of the barrel tend to smudge your front sight so that ends up  more gray than black after a few rounds. If you're using black sights then generally a nice dark front sight is preferred. If you paint your front sight orange for better visibility then the gasses will take the paint off of it.

Then there's shooting from the pocket.
If you're walking to your car in a dark parking lot you may have the revolver in a coat pocket and your hand on the gun. In a defensive encounter you may fire from the pocket if there's no time or space to draw. This is far from ideal but it could happen.
When shooting revolvers, unlike semi autos, you'll have fire coming out of the muzzle and from around the front of the cylinder where it meets up with the barrel (Forcing cone). When the gun is ported you'll also have fire exiting the top of the barrel. You'll have hot gasses leaving the gun in three different places.
Long story short....if you absolutely have to shoot from a coat pocket then push the gun as far away from you as your clothing will allow in order to keep from getting burned. You may or may not find your coat pocket on fire but regardless of that you don't want the hot gasses burning you when firing the gun.
Several years ago one of the major gun magazines had some photos demonstrating what your coat would look like after shooting from a coat pocket. I'm sure a search would easily pull them up. Until I find the the article I'd like to include a link to this excellent write up on the topic from Carteach0.
Again, this is inaccurate and dangerous but I could see it happening to someone that is surprised and finding themselves nose to nose with an attacker. Shooting from a coat pocket is an awful idea unless the situation is truly desperate and you have no time to draw. As for shooting from a pants pocket...I wouldn't do it or recommend it. I suppose it might be possible with some extremely loose pants but it would be almost impossible to get the gun pointed in the right direction IMO.

So in summary, this can be a hard gun to shoot accurately for a novice but it is capable of pretty good accuracy. This can be said for most small revolvers. The sights are mediocre but average for J frame revolvers.  It's easily concealable, reliable and reasonably priced. I'd recommend it without any reservations and I would recommend comparing it to similar revolvers instead of putting it up against semi autos when shopping for a CCW gun.

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