Police Firearm Reviews: Handguns - Smith & Wesson M638 Revolver
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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.
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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.
Books on the history of Smith and Wesson
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.