by A.K. Church


The Model 27 SIX INCH

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The .357 revolver in this article is a stock 6 inch of approximately late 1960s to early 1970s production. Despite the fairly poor reputation of Smith workmanship during this period, this .357 shows nice fit and finish. My 1978 vintage Model 39-2 semiauto in 9 m/m is genuinely rough in places, with sloppy fit and some embarassing machine skids on the slide. This revolver is tight and smooth. Bluing is also entirely presentable & actually quite good. The screws convince all who view it that it has never been apart. Price, according to my check register,   was $350,  probably fair but not cheap.

The original N frame .357 was announced to the world by Elmer Keith in THE AMERICAN RIFLEMAN in November 1935. It was a quantum leap over anything else available, and was the quintessential "Big Deal". These revolvers became, ultimately, the Model 27 when Smith & Wesson went to numbering their products. To my thinking, this is THE CLASSIC .357 MAGNUM REVOLVER. My 1968 SHOOTER'S BIBLE calls the weight on this length at 44 ounces, and price was $143 msrp.  

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S&W hadn't stopped making countersunk chambers yet

It was offered to me for sale by a former co-worker whose health was failing. He claimed he fired it 44 rounds, all WW SuperX 158 jsp. One box with 6 rounds came with the revolver. Overall condition seemed to verify the low use condition, no cylinder drag line, razor sharp chamber mouths and forcing cone. Bluing was basically 99%. The wooden presentation box was a victim of poor storage, and is in fair to good order, with surviving instruction manual, screwdriver, and cleaning rod. This revolver is the common 3T configuration-target trigger, target hammer, and target front sight. These first two options were extra cost, but at least a third of the M27s I see have these options. This is clearly set up as a hunting revolver, not a duty gun.

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this is commonly called the "patridge" sight 

I would love to own , mostly for reasons of style, a Model 27 in the not uncommon 8 3/8" barrel, and fully nickeled. The 6" is actually a good bit better balanced, and is a far more practical revolver. The weight settles down the recoil of the 158 jswc, and the Miles Fortis has shown some impressive double action work with this one,  bouncing the 25 yard soup cans capably.

Accuracy has been good with this revolver. It prefers lighter bullets of less than 140 grains, and will not group with plain base lead bullets at all. The .357 magnum smears lead down even a well polished bore. Factory bore finish is actually right good on this one, but the polish which usually comes from a few hundred copper jackets isn't there yet. I suspect this one will pretty much see its working life lived out with jacketed bullets. It further seems to need full length .357 cases as .38 Special loadings are not impressive in this gun. Federal's 125 factory .357, and a stout handload of 11 grains of Herco and a 140 Speer will both group at 75 feet under 2 inches. DISCLAIMER: I am only telling you what I've done with my revolver. Approach all handloads with caution, these have proven safe in my revolver, but I guarantee nothing about yours. In other words: I'M NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU BLOW YOURS UP.

The Herco load is right at book max, and I shoot it sparingly even in this revolver. The N frame Smith is certainly stronger than the K frame, but it's no Ruger Blackhawk, let alone a Freedom Arms 353. It'd be great to have one of the uncommon Ruger Redhawks in .357-a really strong double action. Anyway, why beat up a fine, out of print classic like this? To this end, I made it a point to only use identical cases, work up the load gradually, and stop at book max. The revolver doesn't see much of this hot load, but accuracy makes it the occasional choice when actually hunting. At that, I limit it to whitetail deer, and no more than 75 yards range.

I have some hot 180 grain stuff for the single shot NEF carbine. It never goes in the revolver. I personally don't care one iota about interchangeability. The .38 Special factory equivalents for the Model 10 Smith & Wesson never go in this revolver either. 

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WW SuperX nickel case, 11 grains Herco, 140 Speer jhp, CCI #550 primer, from the bench at 75'




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This revolver was purchased a few years back for about $140. The story I was given was that it was a private purchase law enforcement handgun dating from the late 1960s. Supposedly the department later standardized 4 inch heavy barrel Model 10s, and therefore the revolver became a spare in the drawer gun at a weekend cabin. It carried S&W target grips-I expect as new tires on an old car about to be traded. It don't expect it wore 'em in its service life, however brief. Condition was consistent with this story. The revolver had been fired very little, but showed no signs externally of much love or care. Bluing was around 80%, with several dings on the backstrap checkering, grips, topstrap & end of barrel. 

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 It had to have been thrown around some



Internally, it showed little evidence of firing, with the usual clues. Chamber mouths were sharp, forcing cone likewise. With the sideplate off, the hammer showed virtually no rubmarks, Maybe 100 rounds fired (as claimed), and I imagine it just might be true. Internally, it was sparkly clean for whatever reason. I can't imagine the original owner cleaned inside ever, but clean it was.

These revolvers are so common that they slip into the woodwork. Continuous production for right at 100 years has led to massive numbers. One estimate I read, about 10 years back, claimed a total of about ten million plus. These may possibly be the most common handguns in the world. Add to that a half dozen similar Smiths (Model 12, Model 15, etc.). Finally, unknown sizeable numbers of more or less copies have emerged over the last century, especially from Spain. These things are everywhere.

I've always been a fan of longer barrels, and for the Military & Police, 5 inches is a longer barrel. It gives a feel not quite duplicating the 4 inch heavy barrel, but still to my taste a little muzzle heavy while still being lively. This length also provides an extra inch of sight radius. I've not ever chronographed this revolver against a 4 inch, but I suspect the velocity differences aren't going to be major. Weight, with Smith & Wesson square butt service grips and a Tyler grip filler is 33 ounces.

One of the persistent stories regarding the flood of police trade in revolvers is that Smith & Wesson gave less care to the finish and construction of these contract guns. If the story is to be believed, my revolver is not a contract gun. My revolver certainly has some machine marks in places where they don't show. It does, however, have the sights about on for standard velocity .38 Special 158 SWC , (usually Black Hills brand for me), at 25 yards. I've heard of more than a few contract revolvers which don't. Blocky visible sights identical to those on the 4 inch heavy barrels help accuracy. These are good sights for the purpose. Fit of my revolver is fine, finish is decent. While the original bluing is considerably gone, the polish it lay over was creditable.

For plinking and general familiarization, I use any of several 158-160 grain SWC bullets over various powder charges. Commonly 4. 3 grains of Unique, CCI 500 primer, and whatever .38 cases are lying around at the time. I personally, for this sort of shooting, don't usually even bother keeping them all with the same headstamp. The usual disclaimer about handloading being at your risk, etc. applies. This load duplicates the recoil, etc. of the 158 non +P factory, but is in my revolver a little less accurately. For practice it'll do.

It is tempting to upgrade to at least occasional +P ammo in this revolver. .38 Special isn't reputed to be the most effective 1 shot stopping cartridge ever invented, and a little extra oomph can be a good thing. However, it is pretty much an established fact that +P will beat a K frame revolver up with steady usage. I don't use it. If you have an older K frame Smith, I'd at least write Smith & Wesson before I tried it.

One major plus point to the .38 Special is the absolute profusion of cheap reloading components for this calibre. Cases, even really good once fired nickle commercial cases, are plentiful 'n cheap and 150-160 grain bullets will appear for sale at just about all gun shows. You'd be amazed how easy it is to acquire a few thousand cases without realizing it. Assuming certain crypto-communist politicians from the Empire State don't try again to limit how much ammunition Americans can own, I intend to retain lots. Shumey-boy hates the idea of ammunition being owned by Americans since he isn't one.

The range has revealed 2 inch to 2 inch plus groups with the Black Hills, and a profusion of handloads. One exception is the UMC brand military type hardball. This round provides an underweight, slow, non expanding bullet of a poor shape. As an added bonus, it won't group for jack-3 inches being typical. Yuck. These cases do reload as well as any other. These are military type loads, but UMC has at least omitted the staked primers. Good.

The revolver came with Smith and Wesson's horrible "target" grips. Huge, oddly shaped, and too fat to clear HKS speedloaders. I played around with other stuff. Pachmayrs, even a set of WWII "Victory Model" grips. The Pachmayrs were too big, and the Victory panels were rough, weirdly flared, and generally awful. In the end, the most satisfactory arrangement for me is the factory K frame grips with the ancient Tyler grip filler. Cheap and satisfactory. The factory service panels will clear speedloaders quite well.

The trigger on my cheap and cheerful specimen is satisfactory. I have no scale, but the single action breaks lightly and cleanly, and this with no gunsmithing. Double action is smooth and consistent. Again, I'm not much good in double action, but Miles has tried it, and found the DA capable of decent work. In the meantime, I'm burning the Unique reloads, and trying to get better. Still, since improvement is good, and action polishing on K frames is a pretty standard deal, I suspect my Smith will be 'smithed, eventually. My problems with 'smithing are discussed below.

One scribe wrote an article claiming that a couple of Model 10s stuck back for the expected Y2K turmoil was a good idea. We're two months past New Year's, but I imagine it still is a good idea.

I'll give you several reasons.

One, these satisfactory defense revolvers can frequently be found in the trade papers for well under $200 in absolutely serviceable shape.

Two, the ammo in reloaded quantities is cheap to shoot, and very available as both loaded ammo and as components.

Three, parts breakage on these is rare. I keep a spare of about a half dozen pieces.

Four, your gunsmith is almost sure to have parts for these-they are just too common.

Five, your gunsmith pretty well is bound to know how to work on it.

I retain 2 holsters for mine. One is a Threepersons type, but with the trigger well covered, by R D Makers. The other is a thumbsnap speed sheath by Terry Tucker. I'm still exploring my options.

This one really deserves to be refinished. I'd like Parkerizing. That is a gunsmith job. There are two problems with that. One that the refinish would add half again more to what I have invested in the revolver. Two is that the entry on the gunsmith's bound books makes the gun that much more visible for the day when the ATF decides it's your gun or your life. So it remains as is, with its scabby bluing. Anyway, I'm hanging on to it.

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NOTE: Author Church regrets that he is unqualified to do appraisal, and cannot establish a value on your gun. 

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