Smith & Wesson History

A history and overview of Smith & Wesson revolvers and their different generations.

by RK Campbell

The Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, Military & Police (Model 10), and K-Frame revolvers have been in continuous service for more than one hundred and twenty years. This is the single most successful revolver of all time. While there are more glamorous, more powerful, and more accurate revolvers, none are more reliable. The K-Frame was designed as an in-between size, a bridge between the .32 caliber I-Frame and larger .44 and .45 caliber revolvers. The K-Frame was originally chambered for the 38 Long Colt and then the 38 Special cartridge. In the 1950s the Combat Magnum was chambered in 357 Magnum. Other calibers including the 22 Long Rifle, 22 Magnum, 32-20 Winchester, 38 S&W, and 9mm Luger have been chambered in the K-Frame.

These revolvers have had the same general shape, size, and operation since 1899. Anyone capable of using one could use another, although the internals have been subject to considerable changes. Some of these changes have been in order to increase safety, others to make manufacture more economical.

Two recent situations have combined to spur me to form up this report. First, I was called to work on a nice six-inch barrel S&W Military & Police circa 1935. The revolver was well preserved with most of the finish remaining. The proprietor informed me it came into his shop with a hitch in the action. One of his employees attempted to fit new parts into the action to fix it with the result being one of the worst actions I have ever felt. It turns out the fellow had mixed parts from a junked post war gun – a short action revolver – and attempted to fit them into the older long action gun. The result was a monstrosity that somehow cycled and fired, but not well. It was only a matter of time before it would have locked up or broke something.

The second incident was the purchase of a modern Classic Revolver Series Combat Magnum, about as different a revolver from the original Military & Police as possible. I decided to look over the K-Frame and enlighten myself and the reader as to the differences in these revolvers. If you have a bin of S&W revolver parts, and many of us do, you need to be able to determine what parts fit if you have an old part that is a good start to match. I learned that a mix of parts can be beneficial.

I have kept notes on revolvers and revolver work over the years. I can’t recall repairing a modern S&W revolver due to an issue involving…

Read more in the June 2021 issue.

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