Tag Archives: smith airweight

22 Years with the same old Snubby

For those situations where a more full-sized gun isn’t on the schedule, this Smith & Wesson Model 642 Airweight has often tagged along with me, especially in hot summer months.

I picked up this 15-ounce piece of prevention back in 1997 and, while my typical everyday carry is a double-stack 9mm compact (alternating between Glock’s G19 and S&W’s M&P 2.0) this .38 special often pokes its head out of the safe for various uses. While not perfect, they do have their place and this one has been nothing but faithful for 22 years.

More on its journey in my column at Guns.com.

My beat up old Airweight, and why I love it

In the 1950s Smith and Wesson gave the Colt Detective Special a run for its money when they introduced the J-frame snub, and the Airweight 642, building on that legacy, has been one of my favorite carry guns for decades.

Snubby 101

In the 1920s, a new wave of Prohibition criminals such as John Dillinger, Machinegun Kelly, and Clyde Barrow captured the public’s imagination. They also scared the crap out of law enforcement. With these criminals being equipped with high-powered Thompson subguns bought over the counter, coupled with weapons stolen from National Guard armories, law enforcement needed to upgrade their sidearms. Plainclothes detectives either had to carry full sized revolvers or pistols, or were forced to tote small and ineffective European revolvers in tiny calibers such as the Velo Dog. What they needed was a handgun capable of being carried concealed, yet still chambered in an effective caliber.

Max Cherry's old-school Colt Dick

Max Cherry’s old-school Colt Dick

Colt, looking to cash in in this need introduced the Detective Special in 1927. Taking their 1908-vintage Police Positive revolver, a double-action revolver constructed with a carbon steel frame and six-shot swing out cylinder, it was equipped with a “Positive Lock” safety that prevented the firing pin from hitting the primer unless the trigger was deliberately pulled, they created a new gun. With the Positive’s proven design that was already popular both with law enforcement and civilians, Colt streamlined and shrunk it down until it was only 6.75-inches overall length with a 2-inch barrel. Weighs with fixed sights and wooden grips was just 21-ounces.

Smith steps in

Colt’s gun sold very well for two decades and became a favorite of bank tellers, shop keepers, postal clerks, travelers, and of course, detectives. So much so that in 1950 Smith and Wesson debuted their J-frame Chief’s Special (still around as the Model 36), with comparable specs to the Colt Detective.

The next year, to trim down the weight, Smith introduced the Model 37 Airweight with an aluminum frame and cylinder then, to compact the gun further, the shrouded hammer Centennial came out in 1952.

Finally, in 1990, the gun that is the subject of this piece, the Model 642, a Centennial (enclosed hammer) Airweight (aluminum frame) was debuted.

And mine, carried for the past 20 years, has a bit of wear to it.


Read the rest in my column at Firearms Talk