Thursday, February 28, 2013

S&W Airweight (Model 638)

Caliber:     .38spl +P
Capacity:   5 rounds
Finish:       Matte silver
Weight:     15.1 oz
Length:      6.31"
Sights:       Fixed (serrated front, notch rear)
Grip:          Synthetic
Action:      SA/DA
Barrel Length:     1.875"

They need some nicer rugs at the range
  Despite spending good money on hard to find ammo, I'm just not into this review.
  It's because this firearm is simply boringly reliable, a proven design, and well made.  It's hard to find anything bad to say about it. Finding something new to say about J frames is also difficult.
  So if it seems like I plodded through this review, it's because this is simply a very good gun that does it's job well. It doesn't generate a lot of excitement. It just works.
  One more thing before starting on the pros and cons, this isn't my gun. I've used it during two range sessions, but I do not consider 150 rounds as anything more than being suitable for an initial review. The owner has put another 100 -150 rounds through it at this time.

  They're obvious to anyone looking at the pics above.
Ammo capacity is a pathetic 5 rounds. This is a biggie. If you can deal with the limited capacity (as I do with my LCR) then this gun is a good choice. I'm not going to sugar coat it and pretend that the capacity is somehow OK because this is a revolver. Similar sized semi automatics easily carry 10-13 rounds of 9mm. You could find yourself up against that in a defensive encounter and there are no timeouts because you decided to get a small framed revolver.
  Get a few speed loaders or speed strips. Practice until it's second nature and muscle memory takes over when using them. Know where your reloads are and plan accordingly. Burying a speedloader at the bottom of a pants pocket along with change and car keys is not a wise practice.

Aftermarket Hogue grips
  You won't like the recoil if you're not a regular shooter, or if you only shoot full sized service pistols. It's something that most can get used to with a bit of practice but how much practice can you actually afford with the current ammo shortage? The family member that bought this gun was in for a rude awakening after decades of only shooting full sized 9mm's. Larger grips will help minimize the felt recoil.
  The sighting radius is very short, and the sights are fixed. Again... you knew this after seeing the first picture. It is what it is. This is the price you pay for concealability.

  You will only be able to get two fingers on the original grips. This increases felt recoil,  and will hurt accuracy with some shooters.

  The trigger pull is OK. There's better and worse out there. I would rate it as better than average but not in the same league as the Ruger LCR.

  That's it for the cons. Other than the trigger pull, everything was obvious from the first picture. If you were considering a snub nosed revolver then you already knew what to expect.

  This gun is very concealable. Pocket carry or IWB work well for me. I believe that anyone can find a method of concealed carry with this gun.

  The double action trigger pull is OK, but the single action pull is extremely light. You have the option of cocking this weapon before firing. I kind of miss that on my LCR.
The shroud will help keep the hammer from snagging on clothing. It should also allow you to fire the gun from inside of a coat pocket in a worst case scenario.
  Note: Do not carry this gun with the hammer cocked. The SA trigger pull is simply too light. Others may disagree but I would never carry this weapon cocked.

  The standard grips are very good for CCW. They're small enough that pocket carry works well, and hard enough that they don't cling to clothing as more tacky rubber grips do.

  It's a revolver. It's hard to make a firearm more user friendly. Almost everyone can instinctively figure this gun out. That's a big plus when you're under stress.

  Reliability is generally better with a revolver but Airweight owners shouldn't be complacent.
  Even if the gun is reliable it may not function with bad ammo. I've had two rounds with badly seated primers over the last couple of months. The cylinder would close but would not rotate. This is worth mentioning because I suspect that we'll see more bad ammo make it through quality control as this period of panic buying continues. The same can be said for firearms.
  The shooter should at least be aware of the things that can go wrong with their revolver even if problems are almost nonexistent.
  I've seen ejector rods unscrew and prevent the cylinder from opening on one .357 Magnum that I used to own. The cylinder on a friend's S&W Model 10 would fail to rotate after about 150 rounds if it wasn't cleaned.
  While revolvers usually don't require the same break in period as a semi automatic, you should put enough rounds through it that you're familiar with the weapon and know that it works. A friend bought a new .357 Magnum last year. The cylinder stopped rotating after about shooting half of a box of .38spl. I haven't been able to get the full details. Clearly this is something better learned at the range than in a defensive encounter.

  There is a large aftermarket for J frame revolvers.   As these snubbies have been around for decades, prices are usually pretty fair for aftermarket accessories.
  The sights on almost all of these revolvers are generally mediocre. I recently compared this gun to an earlier version with a black frame. This matte silver model actually had clearer sights. It's in this brief comparison if you're interested.

2" orange target at 7yds
  Accuracy was very good with this gun.
The target to the right shows the first 5 shots that I fired from this weapon. If the gun could somehow fix my inevitable flier it would be perfect.
  This was double action, BTW.

  This S&W Airweight is +P rated.

  The Model 638 was selling locally for $400 as of December, 2012.

  This weapon has the built in key lock that seems to be included on so many new handguns. I don't like them or ever use these locks. The lock is counted on the pro side since it's another feature that some might like.

  At 15.1 oz the Airweight almost lives up to it's name. I cannot see anyone having a carry problem due to the weight of this gun. It's not as light as my LCR but I'll be honest... the weight difference isn't enough to be a deal breaker. I bought my Ruger LCR largely because of the better trigger and because my wife already has an older model S&W Airweight.

  The edges of this gun are nicely rounded. It's aluminum frame provides corrosion resistance as well as cutting a few ounces. The cylinder is still stainless steel.


  I have nothing bad to say about this gun. Just know what you're getting into when you buy it. If you can deal with mediocre sights, limited capacity and a bit of recoil then this is a great carry gun. That doesn't sound like praise but it is.

The owner added these Hogue grips. The gun handles better with them but is harder to carry concealed.
  Do you like the firearms with the larger ammo capacity? You'll pay for it in weight. If you're like me then you'll find yourself leaving a heavier CCW gun at home. I've never left a snubbie behind because of weight.
Old vs New S&W Airweight

  I'd prefer a larger and heavier gun for home defense, but this handgun could get the job done. Given a choice I'd rather have a full sized service pistol or 4" revolver for the home. They're not something that I would use in a CCW role today (if crime gets worse then that may change).
  So... I'd recommend this gun with all of my usual reservations. Buy it knowing the role you intend it for and realize it's weaknesses. Plan accordingly.
  As I said earlier, my wife has an earlier version of this firearm for her CCW gun. I spent an afternoon shopping with another family member before he bought this S&W. This should tell you a little about how much I believe in the Airweight line.

  As always, I'll come back and edit this later. I suspect that I'll be cringing at the spelling and grammar errors when looking over this tonight.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a great review; thank you. I had a S&W model 317 in .22 LR that was a great "fun gun" and really accurate. I liked it so much that I am really thinking of moving up in caliber to the model 638; hence, I found your review very helpful; thanks again! =)