The Gunslinger said, "My advice to you is to get yourself a Holy Book, then learn how to pray."
The Preacherman said, "My advice to you is to get yourself a gun, then learn how to shoot."
The Politician said, "My advice to you is to get yourself free of superstitions and weapons, then learn how to trust in me."


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Smith & Wesson Model 640 Performance Center .38 Special

It is no secret that I am a fan of snub revolvers. I didn’t need to open the safe to prepare this review; I just reached into my right front pants pocket. The S&W Model 640 is the heaviest of the S&W Centennial revolvers that I own, but usually I do not find it too heavy for pocket carry.

There is a consensus that snubbies are not a good first gun for most people. If you bought or inherited a snubbie as your first or only gun, you may want to put in some serious range time until you can shoot it proficiently. Your range time may need professional instruction to shorten the learning curve. If you don’t already own one but are dead set on buying a snub as your only gun, try to arrange a range session in order to try one out before you spend your money; consider trying out some other handguns while you are at it. If you ultimately settle on a snub, welcome to the club.

For carry, some people just shove their snubbie in to their pocket. Far be it for me to tell anyone what to do, but I prefer to carry mine inside a pocket holster; it keeps it in the proper position and protects the trigger. My Kramer pocket holster uses a plastic shield to help break the outline of the revolver, but the outline of the revolver grips will still print through a tight pocket.

Today when you talk about the S&W Model 640 many people immediately think .357 magnum; that wasn’t always the case. When S&W first came out with the Centennial line the 640 was a +P .38 Special revolver. For a short time S&W rated it for +P+ loads to satiate those trying in vain to milk magnum performance from the .38 Special. Ultimately,
S&W reengineered the 640 as a .357 magnum.

Factory new
S&W Performance Center guns can be pricey. This old revolver, which I bought used several years ago, had languished on the shelf of a local gun store for more than a year. It was a consignment; the owner prepared a splashy sign stating what he had paid for the gun new, and what a bargain it was marked down to around $750. After a while, the price dropped to $600, then $500. I bought it when it hit $425. Why did I choose to use this revolver for home defense carry rather than put it in the safe as a collector’s item? I felt it was a better shooter than an investment; as I mentioned above, it was on display for over a year and did not draw a crowd.

What could the Performance Center have done better on this revolver? Foremost, the rear edge of the cylinder should have been beveled; initially it was as sharp as a razor, grabbing onto holster-leather or stitching during a draw. I cut my thumb on it once and I don’t have thin skin. Second, although the front sight is actually decent, it would have been classier for them to install one of
Novak’s night sights. Third, since this was a premium revolver they could have at least used real Craig Spegel custom boot grips instead of the S&W standard rubber boot grips. Does the ported barrel improve control when firing hot loads? The port sure looks cool but my unsophisticated shooting hand can’t detect any improvement over non-ported snubbies, the weight of the 640 makes +P .38 Special loads relatively easy for me to handle. The trigger may be a bit nicer on this piece than on a standard Centennial, but IMHO it is nothing to rave about; it may just seem smoother to me because I shoot it more than I do the others.

For this revolver, my preferred defense and practice load is Federal’s 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoints.


Jason said...

Awesome revolver - I am a big fan of the J frames and you have a good one there!! It is definitely not a beginner's gun. I agree with you on the sharp edges of the cylinder!

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Thanks, Jason!

Anonymous said...

I have bought one yesterday, and dealer recommended Speer 135 gr. Gold Dot Personal Protection ammo. When I got home and looked up ballistics they are not much different from .38 Special +P. Comments please.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...


I'm not sure I can add much to your observation; the +P 158 Grain lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint has years of use and good performance even from snubbies. I haven't heard that the 135 Grain +P Gold Dots have performed any better ... or worse.

Thanks for stopping by!


Anonymous said...

I own a Smith & Wesson Model 642 Centennial Airweight .38 spec with Crimson Trace laser grips. I love this gun & feel well armed. I load mine with MAGSAFE Ammo & feel very confident this load has great stopping power ,with less recoil..If I had the extra $$$$ I would love the Performance center model,but for now stock will do.....GLEN

Anonymous said...

I have a 640 with Crimson Trace grips and I shoot the Speer Gold Dot 135+P short barrel special loads...what can I say...just right...simple, clean, to the point...not a target pistol but I feel very comfortable with this set up and ammo.

Anonymous said...

I firmly belive in snub-nosed revolvers are best suited for self defence, as most attacks/robberies take place at "Point-Blank" range out to 10 or 15 FT.."Five or Six for sure"is the old saying...no slide to jam (slide clearance) No long barrel for perp to grab or deflect & gain leverage & disarm you...Hammerless-snub even better...GLEN

Anonymous said...

I carry a S&W 442 with Blazer 125 gr. JHP +P's. This gun is the one I carry "everyday everywhere". I'm 100% confident with this setup.

Anonymous said...

If you are ever near Lancaster PA visit the "ARMS MUSEUM " in Intercourse PA. Every thing From The American Revolution To Present..Also Rare O.S.S.Weapons..Glen

wingsdown said...

My little 640 may be rare since I have never seen another 9mm spring clip version around. It does sting a bit when fired, but for a short barrel is darn accurate. I have considered a semi to carry but am always turned off by the size for comfortable concealment day to day.

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a 640 SW 357 hammerless. It's my first pistol and don't think there is one that I would want more than this to carry. Love the weight, finish and simple lines. Still a little fussy on how exactly to sight down the barrel when target shooting. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

If clicking on the URL below doesn't work, cut and paste it into your browser's navigation window. That site has some interesting articles and a blog where you can find some tips.

Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

Went to the range with my 642 air weight last week fired about 200 rounds mostly wad cutters WOW really kicked ,but manageable..then fired Five .38 P+ rounds & gun took skin off back of thumb near web of hand ..more wadcutters at that point opened up sore-broken skin more!!Was bleeding all over gun!! Just bought & installed Hogue MONO GRIP on gun ..compleatly covers backstrap & comes up to top of hump ..Should cushion recoil nice allows all fingers on grip..cant wait to bring back to range Glenmo