S&W Compact J-Frame revolvers: Chiefs Special, Centennial, Bodyguard (USA)
S&W Model 32 "Terrier" - predescessor to the S&W "Chiefs Special"
S&W "Chiefs Special" (pre-model 36 gun, made in 1955)
S&W "Chiefs Special" with 3 inch barel
open cylinder of the S&W "Chiefs Special" with 5 chambers
S&W Model 60 LS, "Chiefs Special Stainless Lady Smith"
S&W Model 360, "AirLite Sc" in .357 magnum
S&W Model 337, "AirLite Ti" in .38 spl
S&W Model 638 "Bodyguard AirWeight" in .38 Spl
S&W Model 40 "Centennial" in .38 Spl. Clearly visible is a safety lever on the back of the grip.
S&W Model 640 "Centennial Stainless" in .357 magnum
Type: Double Action or Double Action Only
Chamber: .38 Spl, some models also in .357 Magnum, .32 H&R Magnum and .22LR
Weight unloaded (with 2 inch barrels): All steel models - 650 - 700g; AirWeight models - ~450 g; AirWeight Ti and Sc - 280 - 340 g
Length: about 175 mm (7 inches) with 2" barrel
Barrel lengths: 1 7/8 or 2 inches (48 or 51 mm) most common; 2 1/8 inches (54 mm) for models in .357 Magnum; also 3 inches (76 mm) for some models
Capacity: 5 rounds (.357 Magnum and .38 Spl); 6 rounds (.32 and .22)
Smith & Wesson company manufactures the compact revolvers from its earliest days. Even the history of the S&W Hand Ejector revolvers (initial name for all S&W guns with side-open cylinders) began with small-frame .32 Hand Ejector in 1896. This small gun had 6 rounds cylinder and was manufactured for some 80 years, and since introduction of the numbering system it was known as Model 30. Some other models, based on the same frame as .32 Hand Ejector (frame type "I"), were models Regulation Police (models 31 and 33, in .32 S&W Long and .38 Spl, respectively), Terrier (model 32, in .38 Spl), and some others. Since the 1961 those models were manufactured on the "J"-frame, which was introduced in the 1950 with the S&W Chiefs special revolver (model 36, .38 Spl caliber). Models 30 - 33 were dropped from manufacture in the mid-1970s.
The story of the modern S&W compact revolvers began in 1950, when S&W introduced its first "J"-frame revolver - a Chiefs Special model in .38 Spl caliber. It was compact, Double Action, all steel revolver with side-open cylinder. Cylinder capacity was 5 rounds, and barrel lenght was 2 or 3 inches. Chiefs Special was intended as a police back-up or concealment gun, and also as a compact self-defence gun. S&W Chiefs Special revolver quickly become wery popular and still is one of the most common compact revolvers. It also spawned a wide variety of other compact revolvers, based on the same frame of the "J-type" nomenclature.
Chiefs Special AirWeight and AirLite
First of the Chief Special derivatives was also a first "AirWeight" design from S&W. This little gun, named a "Chiefs Special AirWeight", appeared in 1952 and differed from standard Chiefs Special revolver only by having an aluminium alloy frame (cylinder and barrel are made of steel). This lightened new gun by some 40% and made it much comfortable to carry for long periods. Today, 50 years ago since its introduction, Chiefs Special Airweight, also known as Model 37, is still listed in S&W catalogs. It, in turn, also was followed by the line of lightweight derivatives. In the 1998 S&W introduced its "AirLite Ti" series of the guns, which featured Aluminium alloy frame, cylinder yoke and barrel shroud. Cylinder is made from Titanium and the barrel liner is made from stainless steel. These guns became even lighter than original Model 37. In the 2000, S&W also announced it newest line of the "AirLite Sc" revolvers, which used Aluminium-Scandium alloy for frame, yoke and barrel shroud (cylinder is Titanium and barrel liner is steel). The rare-earth elemet Scandium (Sc) is used to add strenght to the alloy frames, so new guns also appeared in powerful .357 magnum chamberings, such as Model 337. Another variation is a Model 332 in .32 H&R Magnum with 6-shot cylinder.
In the 1955, S&W introduced its first compact revolver with Double Action Only trigger and side-open cylinder. This gun can be described as a cross between the XIX century S&W "Safety hammerless" models and Chiefs Special. Also known as Model 40, .38 Spl caliber, Centennial featured 5-round cylinder, frame size and general design of Chief special revolver with concealed, DAO-only hammer and automated grip safety of older "Safety Hammerless". Due to the lack of hammer spur and redesigned rear part of the frame, this gun was much more "snag-proof". Centennial model was dropped from manufacture in 1974, but latter was substituted by all-stainless Model 640, also known as Centennial Stainless. Model 640 is quite similar to the original "Centennial" model but lacks the grip safety. Current production Model 640, due to its steel construction, is capable of fire .357 magnum ammunition and has a slightly longer barrels of 2 1/8 inch or 3 inch, but original Models 640 were rated as .38 Spl +P+. Model 642 is a "Centennial AirWeight" with aluminium frame and stainless steel cylinder and barrel, and in 1993 it was complemented by Model 442 revolver, which also has aluminium alloy frame and carbon steel cylinder and barrel. During last years, S&W introduced some more "Centennial" guns, such as Model 340 "Airlite Sc" in .357 Magum, Model 342 "Airlite Ti" in .38 Spl and Model 332 "AirLite" in .32 H&R Magnum. Interesting but now discontinued variation of the Centennial Stainless theme was Model 940, designed to fire 9x19mm Luger/Parabellum ammunition. To achieve proper extraction of the rimless ammunition, gun should be loaded using full-moon clips
Next line of compact S&Ws began from S&W "Bodyguard AirWeight" model 38 revolver of 1957. This gun was a modification of a basic Chief Special revolver with the main intention to improve "carry-ability" and "draw-ablity" (note: i just invented those terms. Patents pending :). It was the same 5-shot, aluminium-frame, side-open cylinder revolver in .38 Spl, but it featured shrouded hammer with only a small tip of the hammer exposed. This allowed for manual cocking, which could improve accuracy, but prevented the hammer from snagging into clothes or other obstaces during the fast draw. It soon was followed by model 49 "Bodyguard" with all steel frame, and later, by Model 638 "Bodyguard AirWeight" in .38 Spl and Model 649 "Bodyguard Magnum" in .357 Magnum (latter with 2 1/2 inch barrel).
Chiefs Special Stainless
In the 1965 S&W introduced a first-ever all stainles revolver, a Chiefs Special Stainless, also known as Model 60. Due to its strenght and improved corrosion resistance, this gun became very popular, and currently is still listed in S&W catalogs.
22 caliber J-frame revolvers
Current S&W catalog lists only one .22LR small-frame revolver - model 317. It is a 8-shot gun, available in three different forms: basic Model 317 with fixed sights, rubber grips and 1 7/8 inch barrel; Model 317LS "Lady Smith" with same sights and barrel but with rose-wood grips; and Model 317 "Kit Gun", with 3 inch barrel, ajustable rear sights and longer rubber grip.
There also two additional wariations of the "J"-framed guns. First is a "Lady Smith", and a second is "Kit Gun".
"Lady Smith" revolvers are manufactured by S&W from the XIX century and currently are no more than modification of some models with rose-wood grips, sized for small female palms. Currently, S&W manufactures following "Lady" models (identified by "LS" suffix in model designation): Model 317LS (.22LR), Model 36LS (.38Spl), Model 60LS (.357 mag) and Model 642LS (.38Spl).
The "Kit Guns" are longer-barreled modifications of the basic designs, intended for back-packers and others, who need a lightweight gun with a little better accuracy.
One of the latest additions to S&W J-framed revolvers line is a PD (Personal Defence) guns. Thrse are basic guns with grey non-glare finish and HiViz front sights.