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How to Choose the Best Smith & Wesson Revolver

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An iconic firearms manufacturer, Smith & Wesson has been producing incredible firearms since their inception. While they have a wide array of firearms available ranging from compact carry guns to AR-15s, some of their most popular guns available are their revolvers. 

Smith & Wesson revolvers are some of the most popular revolvers available today, constantly being on par with high notoriety competitors like Colt and Ruger. However, as great as they are, they offer a wide variety of revolvers–so many, in fact, that it can be pretty hard to nail down which is the best option.  

Whether you’re shopping for a handgun for concealed carry, home defense, or competition, S&W has a revolver for you. There’s no need to worry. We’re going over the full S&W revolver lineup here.  

Understanding Smith & Wesson Revolvers

Just like we said before, there are a lot of revolver models from Smith & Wesson. Their lineup offers a diverse selection of revolver variants, featuring different frame sizes, calibers, frame materials, and purposes. Before we delve into the details, it’s essential to consider your specific needs before making a purchase. Your future firearm’s intended purpose will greatly influence your decision and help narrow down the available options. 

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Frame Sizes

X-frame: This is the largest frame size currently offered by Smith & Wesson. The X-frame is used for larger calibers such as 350 Legend, 460 S&W Magnum, and 500 S&W Magnum. Coming in various barrel lengths, they’re often used for hunting and defense against large predators when outdoors. Depending on the model, some X-frame revolvers have precision sights and upper picatinny rails for mounting optics like red dot sights and revolver scopes, while others come with lower rails for bipods.  

N-frame: Formerly known as the “S-frame,” the N-frame series of revolvers, introduced in 1908, are among the largest variants offered by Smith & Wesson. They were designed for larger magnum calibers like .44 Magnum and .45 Long Colt. While they maintain aspects of older designs, they feature modern innovations. Typically, they come with six-shot cylinders for large calibers, but eight-shot cylinders are available for smaller calibers like .357 Magnum. 

L-frame: This revolver type was designed for law enforcement agencies when there was a demand for more medium-sized revolvers capable of withstanding the .357 Magnum cartridge’s repeated use. Today, you can find L-frames in various frame materials, such as aluminum, scandium alloy, and stainless steel. They come with 6 or 7 round cylinders, depending on the caliber, and a smaller 5 round cylinder for larger calibers like .44 Magnum. 

K-frame: First introduced in 1899, debuting as the Model 10, the K-frame was initially developed to accommodate a six-shot cylinder for their .38 caliber cartridge. Today, its medium frame size and design makes it suitable for medium-sized calibers and now larger calibers like .357 Magnum. K-frame revolvers are characterized by their medium size and are available in various barrel lengths and calibers, including .22LR, .38 Special, and .357 Magnum. 

J-frame: One of the most common variants available, the J-frame is a small-frame revolver that was designed with concealment in mind. It’s the smallest line of revolvers that’s currently offered by S&W, making it perfect for concealed carry and everyday carry. Just like the previously mentioned models, it can come in a variety of frame materials, barrel lengths, and calibers, the most common of which being .38 Special, and .357 Magnum. 

I-frame: Though it’s no longer in production, the I-frame was the smallest revolver offered by Smith & Wesson and had a ¼-inch shorter barrel than the smallest J-frame models. It’s significant because it was their first hand-ejector model with a swing-out cylinder that was ever produced by S&W. Even though they aren’t in production, it’s common to find these revolvers in the secondhand market; they’ve remained a popular choice long after their production was discontinued.  

Governor: The Governor series of revolvers is arguably one of the more unique variants currently offered by Smith & Wesson. It’s a capable firearm that utilizes multiple calibers, and its size makes it a good option for home defense. The Governor is chambered in 410, a small shotgun shell, but it can also utilize .45 Long Colt, and .45ACP without changing the cylinder or any other components.  

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Key Features

Smith & Wesson revolvers are widely renowned for their multiple configurations, making them beneficial in a myriad of scenarios. Regardless of the frame size you choose, each can be configured with different barrel lengths, calibers, and frame materials. But depending on your purpose, some may be better for you than others. If you’re purchasing with concealed carry in mind, you wouldn’t want to choose a large N-frame with a 6.5-inch barrel.   

Longer barrels, while adding more overall weight, shift the point of balance of the pistol forward. Both the weight and counterbalance contribute to reduced felt recoil. This is great for larger calibers like .45 Long Colt and .44 Magnum, but it isn’t entirely necessary for smaller calibers like .38 special and .357 Magnum.  

Some of their models even come chambered in smaller rimfire calibers. Rimfire calibers are useful in some situations, but not all. If you don’t know which caliber is best for you, our rimfire vs. centerfire guide will get you up to speed on what you need to know.  

All the revolvers from Smith & Wesson are hammer fire, though some have internal hammers instead of external ones. Because of this, you get all of the benefits of a hammer-fire pistol. Compared to a striker-fire pistol, hammer-fire pistols differ drastically in how they operate; our guide on hammer-fire vs. striker-fire breaks down all of their differences.  

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Factors to Consider when Choosing a Smith & Wesson Revolver

For starters, your needs are going to determine which model is best for you. There are a lot of uses for revolvers like home-defense, concealed carry, target shooting, and collecting. Luckily for you, Smith & Wesson has great options for all purposes. 

Purpose and Intended Use

Home-Defense

Since there isn’t a need for concealment, you have a lot of options for defense. Realistically, any of the frame size and models mentioned previously can work well as a home-defense pistol, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go for the biggest pistol or largest caliber.  

Medium to large frame revolvers will give you the most benefits in terms of round capacity and grip. Models like the 986, 19 Carry, 19 Classic, and Model 610 are some great examples of home-defense revolvers. Capable of being chambered in 9mm, .357 Magnum, and .44 magnum respectively, they are excellent revolvers with high capacities and plenty of power to defend your home.  

For a little more power, the Governor is an excellent option. Being chambered in .410, there’s a plethora of different shot loads you could use. Something else we want to mention is that select models have the option of having no internal lock. Some Smith & Wesson revolvers have an internal lock that prevents the pistol from being fired when locked with a special key. It works well to keep anyone who isn’t the owner from using the pistol, but if you’d rather not have to worry about unlocking your pistol, they offer revolvers with no internal lock.

Concealed Carry

For concealed carry, the J-frame and K-frame are likely going to be the best options for you. Their smaller size makes them incredibly compact, capable of being easily concealed when carrying in a holster.   

Given those frame sizes, there are over a dozen configurations you can go with. In the K-frame size, the Model 19 Carry and Model 66 Combat/Combat Magnum are some of the best options available, coming chambered in .357 Magnum/.38 Special; there are even different barrel lengths to choose from as well.  

For something a little smaller, the J-frame is great and can be found on the Model 642, Model 340, and Model 442, just to name a few. They also come chambered in either .22 Magnum, .38 Special, and even .357 Magnum.  

A further consideration, some of the J-frame models, like the Performance Center Model 442, can come from the factory with Crimson Trace laser grips pre-installed. Performance Center revolvers are part of Smith & Wesson’s premium line, and often come with upgraded sights, triggers, and lightweight frames.  

Additionally, a popular option in the J-frame lineup is the Ladysmith. It’s designed for smaller sized hands and features thinner wooden grips with added contours. Its lightweight steel alloy frame makes it great for concealed carry and comes chambered in .38 special. There is a heavier .357 Ladysmith (https://www.primaryarms.com/smith-wesson-model-60-ls-ladysmith-357-mag-revolver-5-round-2.125in) available as well; besides its caliber, its main difference is its stainless-steel frame. 

Additionally, if you live in a state that restricts firearm capacities, they even offer state specific models like the Model 60 MA Compliant.

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Target Shooting/Competition

All of Smith & Wesson’s revolvers are great for simple target shooting, but for competition, their Performance Center line of revolvers is much better suited for the task. No matter the frame size, there is a Performance Center revolver available.  

As mentioned before, this series of pistols can come with upgraded triggers, sights, and lightweight frames, making them more maneuverable and faster to shoot in competitions or personal training. Models like the 586 L-COMP are chambered in .357 Magnum and come with tuned action, ported barrel, moon clip cut cylinder, and a carbon steel frame. 

Other revolvers, like the L-frame Pro Series Model 986, are chambered in 9mm and come with a precision crowned barrel, a titanium cylinder, upgraded partridge style sights, and precision tuning. Its stainless-steel frame is heavier than carbon steel or scandium alloy frames, but it helps to reduce felt recoil, making it a solid option for competition.  

For long range shooting or precision, the X-frame Performance Center revolvers are perfect for the job. The larger calibers allow them to have a much further effective range, and their ability to mount a plethora of optics and accessories makes them more than suited for the task. 

Regardless of size or caliber, S&W has a wide array of revolvers that come with precision triggers, sights, and ported barrels.  

Collecting

If you’re a collector, you’ll be glad to know that Smith & Wesson offers a “Classics” series of revolvers that are a more modern take on the classic models of years past. Classic models like the Model 25, Model 29, and Model 36 are just a few examples of what’s available.  

Each pistol maintains the same look and feel as their original counterparts and feature blued steel frames and wooden checkered grips, all while having the reliability found in modern revolvers.  

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Ergonomics and Comfort

Comfort is one of the most crucial aspects of choosing a firearm. If your pistol isn’t comfortable to hold, it’s definitely not going to be comfortable to shoot. Different grips have different ergonomics; they can be smooth or checkered, have straight walls or finger grooves, and can be either tapered or flared depending on purposes. 

Ultimately, it’s up to personal preference as to which grips are best. Take your surroundings and purpose into consideration before making any purchases. Though each grip performs the same function, the actual grip material may be better suited for different purposes.  

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Consider this: wooden grips provide excellent grip contact and are durable enough for personal defense and concealed carry, but if exposed to moisture or not properly maintained, they can degrade over time. In contrast, rubber grips can still provide you with a good grip AND be durable enough to withstand adverse conditions. These factors make them great for all scenarios, though it should be known that as your hands sweat from extended use, you may lose grip and need to readjust more often.  

Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to research each grip available to see if it could be a viable option for you.  

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Recoil Management

It’s common to hear complaints about how much recoil revolvers have. The compact, handheld form factor of revolvers makes their recoil more pronounced, but there are some ways to overcome it.  

Typically, the heavier a firearm is, the less recoil it will have. Heavier frame materials like steel can help to offset muzzle rise and the sudden snappy feeling of larger/more powerful calibers. Lighter frame materials like aluminum and Smith & Wesson’s scandium alloy are very light and will have more felt recoil.  

Longer barrels will also add more weight to your revolver, as well as alter its point of balance. The longer barrel will also increase muzzle velocity, but it can make the pistol front heavy. This will reduce perceived muzzle flip, but it will also require more forearm strength and grip technique to stay on target for extended shooting. 

Your grip is crucial in mitigating recoil. Properly gripping your firearm by applying equal pressure with both hands promotes positive grip pressure and will help you manage the recoil impulse of your revolver. Larger frame revolvers with bigger grips are easiest to manage as they have more surface area to hold on to, but a firm grip with solid contact goes a long way, even on smaller pistols.  

Reliability

Reliability is another incredibly important factor to take into consideration before buying a revolver. Luckily, each of Smith & Wesson’s revolvers is durable enough to withstand tough conditions, and reliable enough to work when needed.  

Each of the revolvers made by Smith & Wesson are made with high-quality materials and components. We mentioned how strong their frames were previously, and the same can be said about their internal components, as they use solid metal construction and are sometimes precision tuned depending on the model.  

Like any firearm, to keep your revolver in good working condition, you’ll need to maintain it. Properly cleaning and oiling your pistol after shooting will make sure that it continues to work efficiently without any hangups. 

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Conclusion

Revolvers are one of the most timeless firearms available and aren’t leaving the handgun scene anytime soon. With Smith & Wesson’s incredible lineup of high-quality models, it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out which one is the best choice, especially if you’re new to revolvers. 

Remember, your needs are going to best determine which model revolver works best for you. As we mentioned previously, there’s a vast number of revolver models available, each coming with different frame sizes, frame materials, grips, and calibers.  

If you’re still on the fence about which one is the best for you, continue to research the different models and be sure to visit the manufacturer’s website; this will help to break down the niche differences in each model, further aiding you in nailing down the best option.   

Whether you’re shopping for defense, everyday carry, competition, or to collect, a revolver is always a great option to add to your personal collection.