Monday, February 18, 2013

S&W Airweights, Old Vs New

  This will be a short post. I had the opportunity to try out a family member's S&W Airweight (model 638) last week. My wife has had a model 38-2 S&W Airweight for at least 14 years. It was interesting comparing the two revolvers, but nothing Earth shaking was learned.

  Let's talk about price. My wife's gun cost $300 over a decade ago. The modern Airweight cost $400 a few months ago. Despite 14 years having passed, the S&W Airweight has only increased $100 (in my area at least). That's not a lot. Kudos to Smith and Wesson for holding the line on costs.
  Of course the longer a model is in production, the cheaper it can be made. While there are changes in the current version, I would suspect that there are many common parts that have been in use for decades. I would also expect there to be a few MIM parts in the Model 638, but that is merely conjecture. Manufacturing methods in 2013 are no doubt another factor. Regardless of where the costs were saved, both guns look and feel like they have similar quality levels.

  I only put 100 rnds through these two guns in testing. Most of it was in the matte silver handgun.  Reliability was perfect. That's expected with two clean revolvers and a low round count test. My wife's gun probably has less than 2,000 rounds total on it. The borrowed S&W has less than 300. I'd be surprised if there were any issues in this brief test.

  The older version has a much better double action trigger. Is this due to being shot a lot more or is it because they were made better in the 1990's? I have no idea. We'll see when the new version gets a few hundred more rounds through it.
  The Model 638 doesn't have a bad trigger but the Model 38-2 is a bit lighter. Even a novice would be able to tell the difference. The single action trigger pull was roughly about the same (freakin light as hell) on both guns.

  Extraction was equal in both guns. The cylinder release also felt the same in both weapons.

First 5 shots from the 638
  I think that accuracy is equal between the two guns in spite of the clearly lighter double action trigger pull on the 38-2.
  The testing was done on a bright sunny day last week. The sights on the blued snubbie could be seen OK, but surprisingly the sights on the matte silver model were much more clear. I would have expected a better contrast with the black sights against the white/orange targets. That was not the case. The matte silver sights were just easier to see. It made a big difference in how quickly I could line the sights up against the target.
638 target at bottom. 38-2 target at top right
      While the targets don't always show this, I could get about the same accuracy from both guns. I just had to work a little harder at it with the older Airweight. Advantage... Model 638.
  BTW, the black sights on the Model 38-2 are VERY hard to see when shooting at my local indoor range. You should consider that it's very likely that a defensive encounter may happen at night or in low light conditions. The newer Airweight is a better choice in less than perfect lighting. Of course both guns (and almost all snub nosed revolvers) have mediocre sights, and they'll be hard to quickly find in a defensive encounter. That's the nature of the beast when dealing with these little revolvers. The 638's sights are a little better though. I wouldn't have thought that a mere color difference would matter that much.

  You'll note that there are a few cosmetic differences between the two guns, but you would never notice them if they were not side by side.
  The current version of the S&W Airweight is rated for +P ammo. The better sights and +P rating make this version the winner in spite of the older gun's better trigger pull. Will the trigger smooth out on the 638 as it's shot more? I'll probably never find out as the owner only shoots about three times per year. It may be less than that if the ammo drought continues.
  Both guns wear the same Hogue grips. I did a review of the Model 38-2 with the factory grips in place and a review is coming soon of the Model 638 with the original grips shown. As both guns have the same grips, I didn't feel the need to swap them out to compare the guns. I have to say that both revolvers are much more fun to shoot with the aftermarket grips. If you're not a shooter then you'll hate firing these guns with the boot grips in place. Naturally you're sacrificing some concealability when using the larger grips. Everything is a trade off, and you have to judge what is most important.
  Before I talk about the porting on the older S&W, I'll go ahead and summarize the findings so far.
  Accuracy is about the same with both guns as long as you stage the triggers. While the trigger pull is clearly lighter on the older model, the better sight picture on the newer model makes up for it. If given a choice between the two guns, I would take the Model 638 over the Model 38-2. The +P rating plays a large part in that choice. I would however feel well armed with either gun.
  My wife's .38spl is ported. When the gun was purchased, she wasn't really a shooter. The DaywalkersMom hated the recoil of the S&W, and would rarely put an entire box of ammo through it. Swapping out the boot grips helped a lot and the larger grips don't effect how she carries most of the time.
  The revolver was sent off to Magnaport for the porting, and they did a beautiful job. Porting was becoming more widespread when this gun was purchased and my wife and I hoped that it would cut the recoil a bit and make this more enjoyable for her.
The recoil reduction is mostly in her mind rather than in the gun. This is my opinion after putting the two guns side by side.
  I think that the reduction in felt recoil would be greater if the barrel length was  longer but I just can't feel a difference in these two weapons. Maybe someone that is more recoil sensitive could tell but I cannot. The price at the time was under $100 and it was well worth it since she believes that it made a difference in how hard the gun kicks. It also made the gun more unique and "Hers." She'll never read this so I can say whatever I want. Her cooking sucks. See?
  The ported model is a bit louder than the non ported S&W. It's not obscenely loud but you will hear the difference in the two when shooting them back to back. I wouldn't have noticed it at an outdoor range if I hadn't been comparing snubbies.
So that's it. I hope this helps if you're shopping for a CCW gun. The vast majority of my traffic seems to be from those looking for concealed carry weapons, and most of the gun questions from friends and co workers seem to be about Assault Weapons (hate that term) and the little guns. Two more reviews are coming soon. Hopefully I'll get them up early this week.

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