Police Firearm Reviews: Handguns - Smith & Wesson M638 Revolver

Disclaimer

PLEASE NOTE:

This hub is for educational purposes only. It is not the intention of this hub to sell, facilitate or advocate the sales of weapons and weapon accessories.

Also in the case of airsoft guns, U.S. law requires that airsoft guns have the top of the barrel (.25") permanently colored in blaze orange.

Always keep you firearm safe and secured in a gun safe!!!

Short-barreled .38 revolvers are the favorite packing pistol of many citizens, and Smith & Wesson has had a major presence in this part of the handgun market for almost a century.
Short-barreled .38 revolvers are the favorite packing pistol of many citizens, and Smith & Wesson has had a major presence in this part of the handgun market for almost a century.

A brief history

In 1902 Smith and Wesson developed the .38 S&W Special, however in 1949 the company president Carl Hellstrom made a request for a new small-frame revolver that was capable of firing a more powerful cartridge. From this request for a new revolver, the famous M36 also known as the Chiefs Special was born. The newer revolver was offered in both a square- and round butt models, but the weapon had one serious flaw in it's design. The hammer of the revolver was exposed, resulting harder draw due to snagging on the individual's clothing, and was found less efficient as a weapon that could be concealed in a pocket for carry.

Due to much response from the law enforcement community Smith & Wesson modified the J-frame by adding a small exposed tab that permitted cocking the hammer and single-action shooting if desired by the marksman. This design was in contradiction to the truly enclosed hammer of the Centennial models of 1952, and was dubbed the "concealed" hammer by the S&W company.


In 1955 S&W debuted the first of two new J-frames the M38 Bodyguard.

Later in 1959 they added the stainless-steel version the M49.


Now in modern times Smith and Wesson has released a new iteration of the concealed-hammer J-frame revolver, the M638.  The M638 is a typical 5-shot revolver that maintains S&W's Bodyguard tradition only it has now been chambered for the newer, more effective .38 Special +P loads now available on the market.

Sight difference The 2-inch gun (left) has a black ramp front secured by a roll pin. The 1 78-inch gun (right) has an integral ramp with a 90-degree face at its top.
Sight difference The 2-inch gun (left) has a black ramp front secured by a roll pin. The 1 78-inch gun (right) has an integral ramp with a 90-degree face at its top.

Gun Review

Here at GB Acquisitions we were privileged enough to receive two of these M638's for product testing purposes, and oh what fun they were.


Unlike the previous models, the M38's and the M49's which were offered with either 2 inch and at special request 3 inch barrels, the new M638 is offers a choice of a 1 7/8 inch or 2 1/2 inch barrel. This is particularly convenient when carry the gun as a concealed weapon, and reduces the overall weight of the weapon. Models bearing a 1 7/8 inch barrel weigh a measly 14.6 ounces, whereas the long varreled 2 1/2 inch weighs in at 16.1 ounces.

The revolvers capacity is five rounds and is capable of both single and double action fire thanks to the concealed hammer. The new M638 is available in a lustrous matte-finished aluminum-alloy frames, brushed-satin stainless steel cylinders and barrels, and is perfect for customizing and personalizing for the user.

The front sights on the two guns differ slightly. The 1⅞-inch version has a fixed ramp with a 90-degree face that is integral with the barrel. The 2½-inch model features an angled black blade that is pinned to the shallow rib atop the barrel. (One would surmise that replacement sights of different heights could be substituted, if desired.) The rear sights are fixed square grooves in the topstrap, and overall, the sight picture is very good.

The frame contains the obligatory safety lock on its left side, just below the angled cylinder release. The barrel/cylinder gaps were .005-inch on the 1⅞-inch model and .006-inch on the 2½-inch gun.

The synthetic grips are just smooth enough to allow the gun to be withdrawn from a pocket without difficulty. The model is also available with Crimson Trace Lasergrips. With its light weight, one would expect the recoil of the M638—especially with +P loads—to be pretty grim. But the grips do a great job of attenuating recoil, and both guns are very pleasant to shoot. The single-action trigger pulls broke like an icicle at a flat three pounds each. The double-action pulls are very smooth, with no stacking, at approximately 12 pounds.

On a recent tour of the S&W plant, I saw frames being forged and machined, and cylinders transformed into finished parts on ultra-modern CNC machines that are a far cry from the tooling of old. Paul Pluff of S&W noted that in the old days, it took up to 12 machines to finish a cylinder. Now they do it on one computer-controlled, multi-head unit. The result is a much more precise cylinder. Skilled craftsmen meld the parts into the whole, and it shows. The overall fit and finish of these guns is excellent.

Both M638s are the latest additions to the Bodyguard series, which originated in 1955 and features a distinctive concealed hammer.
Both M638s are the latest additions to the Bodyguard series, which originated in 1955 and features a distinctive concealed hammer.
The M638 fit perfectly in Galcos Fletch belt-slide holster.
The M638 fit perfectly in Galcos Fletch belt-slide holster.
Both barrel lengths shot very wellthis five-shot group was made with Winchesters 130-grain PDX1 Bonded JHP from the 1 78-inch gun. Hornadys 110-grain Critical Defense clocked the highest velocity966 fpsfrom the 2 inch gun.
Both barrel lengths shot very wellthis five-shot group was made with Winchesters 130-grain PDX1 Bonded JHP from the 1 78-inch gun. Hornadys 110-grain Critical Defense clocked the highest velocity966 fpsfrom the 2 inch gun.

Testing the S&W 638 Revolver


The testing protocol was to shoot three five-shot groups from a sandbag rest at 10 yards, a realistic distance considering the guns’ purpose. A representative complement of +P and standard loads was fired, and the results are consolidated into one load table to make comparison of the two guns easy. Good friend and police detective Jens Barclay, who teaches CCW classes and is attuned to the vagaries of concealed carry, was enlisted to conduct a portion of the range tests and help with the evaluation.



The average size of all groups from both guns was 1.84 inches. The longer barrel clocked slightly higher velocities and was slightly more accurate, but the differences were slight; prospective shooters should pick the one that just feels right.


Chronograph results are shown in the table, and the velocities discussed below are for both guns. The 1⅞-inch speed is listed first, followed by the 2½-inch velocity (i.e., 800/810 fps).


Speeds with the +P loads were quite respectable. The new Winchester 130-grain PDX1 Bonded JHP checked in at 784/887 fps, the Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok JHP delivered 849/951 fps, and the Hornady Critical Defense load with the new 110-grain FTX bullet clocked 922/966 fps.


If recoil is a problem, most ammo companies also offer standard-pressure self-defense loads for the .38 Special. The current Federal 158-grain lead roundnose load was accurate at a sedate 693/719 fps, and makes a great low-recoil practice load. No .38 Special test is complete without including the accuracy “gold standard,” Federal’s No. 38A 148-grain Wadcutter Match. With it, groups a hair over an inch were produced with both guns.



After the formal range tests, I conducted a series of combat drills with the leftover ammo on IPSC targets at seven and 10 yards. At either distance, with either gun, a bad guy would be in big trouble. With double-action rapid fire, paper-plate-size groups were the rule. Just align the sights, roll back the trigger and follow through. There were no ammo or gun malfunctions.

Chronograph Results

In Conclusion:

The .38 Special remains one of the most popular handgun rounds of all time, and for good reason. It is adequately powerful, extremely accurate and available in a wide variety of loads.

The M638 is a worthy successor to the Bodyguard line, and it deserves a close look by anyone seeking a foolproof carry gun.

Comments 3 comments

Midasfx profile image

Midasfx 6 years ago

I remember shooting this revolver off at my friends house one day out in the woods. It was fun, but I prefer to use a Colt .45 M1911 Semi auto 7+1. That's my favorite!


Joey Bennett 6 years ago

Great review on all of the guns. I am always looking for new guns to try out and the different pros and cons of each. What would you consider to be a good gun for everyday wear?


Paul 4 years ago

I like 1omm M20 Glock 6" barrel. 16 shots with one magazine and 135JHP Nosler max.155o-1600fps. Winter 180Gold Dot PHP 1300fps.

Silencer 200-235FP 1000fps. M20 is same size like 4" 357mag revolver.

It is very good home defence gun Magnasafe 65gr savety slug 2000fps.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working