The Model 10 Family
It is no secret that the Model 10 and the fixed sight .38 Special offspring it sired are my favorite K-frame revolvers and others holding the same opinion are legion. If my opinion is subjective, I like to think that it was reached through attempting objective evaluations…but it’s been so long I cannot remember! I hope to adequately explain my continuing, long-term, high-esteem for these wheelguns.
Revolver critics might call them “antiquated” or “obsolete” compared to the modern semiautomatic pistol and I’ve been told, “Yeah, they’re neat old guns but they’re outdated. They’ve been around since Moses’ time,” to which I’ve responded, “They are not obsolete. They are “time-proven” and they were not around with Moses, just since the New Testament!”
Truth is that the Model 10 sprang from the old “.38 Hand Ejector” that predates the ever-popular 1911 by but a few years. S&W continued to refine the trusted revolver while Colt tilled new ground via Mr. Browning’s unmatched genius. While Borchardt, Luger and others sought new semiauto pistol designs, Smith & Wesson stayed with the revolver, though they would enter self-loader’s brave new world in later years. Over time, the Hand Ejector became the “Military & Police” revolver, a Smith & Wesson mainstay.
Circa1957, S&W began using model numbers and the “Military & Police” was christened “Model 10”. In one form or another, it has to be one of the most heavily-produced handguns in history. As this is being written (2009), S&W continues to produce a version of the Model 10. It does not require a great leap of faith to say that when a revolver is repeatedly refined over the period of a century and used by millions, its “beta testing” leaves little to be desired; the “bugs” have long been worked out with its somewhat plain appearance being matched by decades of reliably meeting law enforcement needs around the globe. (So long as “refinements” to lower production costs are not at the cost of quality, they should continue on.)
Model 10’s fared well with private citizens. I’ve known several folks who chose them for home defense duty. Who among us wouldn’t bet that many a loaded Model 10 patiently waited unseen to protect not only legions of storeowners’ wares but their very lives? Model 10’s in one variation or the other applied many “permanent rehabilitations” to miscreants in need of such over the decades and are still “capable” today. I have heard and read that only neophytes and non-shooters use revolvers like the “Plane Jane” Model 10; this is not true. Over the years, I have known some very knowledgeable and accomplished shooters, par excellence pistoleros, if you will, who chose the Model 10 or its stainless incantation as their personal defense handgun, despite their owning myriads of more powerful revolvers and/or semiautomatics literally by the dozens. They simply required time-proven reliability combined with very manageable controllability and long product life in a platform that is just as home on the belt as in the nightstand.
Model 10’s have been made in many configurations for both export and domestic use. They have been made with barrel lengths ranging from two to six-inch lengths as well as different barrel styles, shrouded and not. Most often seen in the US are the standard and heavy barrel versions. The standard barrel is tapered and is sometimes referred to as the “skinny” or “pencil” barrel while the larger-OD heavy barrel is not tapered and imitates a piece of blued pipe.
Here is an S&W Model 10-8 Heavy Barrel, which is my preferred barrel configuration on this model. For me, it aids not only in the gun’s “pointability” but the extra weight out front helps reduce muzzle-flip. For decades, Model 10’s similar to this or having a standard barrel graced thousands of police holsters. Depending upon barrel length, style and stock type, these revolvers’ empty weight was near the 2-lb. mark. The HB version of the Model 10 is very common. Non-cataloged rarer versions do exist. Model 10 fans consist of myriads of shooters but also collectors. At one time, the Model 10’s relatively low cost made it appealing to collectors having tight budgets but with each passing year and rising gun prices, this becomes less true.
Early in my police career, I witnessed some impressive shooting using both standard and heavy barrel versions of the 4” Model 10. Some members of the department’s pistol team used the Model 10 as their duty sidearm. On more than one occasion, I witnessed a lieutenant fire double-action groups in the six to eight-inch diameter size range with his standard barrel 4” Model 10 at fifty yards. This was done standing and using a two-hand hold. One sergeant could frequently contain his shots within the head of the standard B-27 silhouette target at the same distance. His revolver was a nickel-plated Model 10 HB. I only recall seeing these pistol team members firing double-action. Neither had tuned revolvers. Their actions had been smoothed by much shooting and even more dry-fire practice.
My first duty gun was a Model 10 Heavy Barrel…which promptly broke its firing pin after but a single shot! Though this experience initially gave me pause to reflect on my choice of sidearms, it didn’t take long to realize that my experience was the exception rather than the rule. My revolver was quickly repaired and it served me well for years as have other Model 10’s and 64’s I’ve owned since. When I began policing in the early ‘70’s, a senior officer there used a ‘60’s vintage Model 10 HB. He went on to become my patrol captain years later; his duty gun was the same. Since those days, both he and I retired from that agency but he decided to supplement his police retirement as a constable and has been elected several times. That same Model 10 has accompanied him for decades now.
The square-butt 2” Model 10 was very common in police service during decades past.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that an increase in frame size brings a decrease in the practicality of that revolver model’s snubnose version. In other words, the small J-frame genre of snubs fills a considerably larger niche than do their larger K-frame relatives unless rules specifying a six-shot capacity are in effect as might be the case in a law enforcement agency. The larger the frame, the less difference it makes if the barrel length is 2, 3 or even 4” unless (large) pocket carry is being considered so why go with the shortest barrel? I have observed that opinions are split down the middle whether snub K-frames are more comfortable than 3 or 4” versions when carried via IWB holsters. I lean toward the shorter barrel gouging the gut less if worn “appendix carry” but being a non-issue if carried at the 3 or 4 o’clock positions, but some of this “comfort factor” will depend upon both holster cant and design as well as differences in individual human physiques.
Regardless, Model 10 2” snubs were extremely popular with detectives in “pre-autoloader” police eras and remain so with many shooters today. The majority of detectives carrying Model 10 snubs did so using OWB holsters.
The Model 10 snubs are surprisingly easy to get the hits with in my experience and the ones I’ve used have all had their sights well-regulated. Larger size combined with recoil-dampening weight from its all-steel construction increases practical accuracy characteristics, but the Model 10 snub does have the same weak point as do the short-barreled J-frames: extractor rod length.
Necessarily short to match abbreviated barrel length, positive, one-stroke case extraction is a skill to be learned rather than a near-guaranteed characteristic as with 3” barrel lengths and longer. In my opinion, this is represents the snub gun’s major weakness, but that does not mean that it cannot be overcome. As with the 1 7/8” J-frame, briskly striking the short extractor rod with the right-hand palm before retrieving extra ammunition is necessary. It is slower than depressing the longer extractor rod with the thumb while simultaneously retrieving ammunition for reloading with the other hand.
It has been my experience that these gun’s fixed sights are regulated for standard pressure .38 Special ammunition using 158-gr. bullets with a six o’clock hold, regardless of barrel length. This will vary slightly for the individual revolver, but the majority that I’ve seen and shot has sights that are well-regulated. Point-of-Aim pretty closely matches Point-of-Impact at 25 yards. Thankfully, using 158-gr. +P ammunition has not required a change in POA in my experience. Sometimes, POA matches POI using a “dead-on” hold with lighter-but-faster bullets. In my opinion, fixed sight Model 10’s are superb duty guns and protection pieces, however if a wide variety of loads are to be regularly used, a revolver with adjustable sights might be a more appropriate choice. That said, there are more than a few loads that strike where the Model 10’s sights are “looking”.
Shown at the left is the serrated ramp front sight on the standard tapered barrel. Because of the smaller barrel OD at the muzzle, the sight is higher than on the heavy barrel version of the gun. Some opine that this makes the standard barrel version’s front sight easier to find at speed. On the right is the muzzle of a Model 10 HB. It does have a visibly shorter front sight. Using an electronic timer, I find no advantage one to the other in obtaining a quick flash sight picture. Does that mean that the same is true for everyone? I cannot say. This is another one of those situations in which each of you must find out what actually works best for you individually.
Some have expressed that the medium-frame 38 no longer makes sense with the advent of the K-frame 357’s. In fact, on one forum I read one (pompous) declaration that, “If you’re going to get a K-frame, it better be a 357”.
“Better be,” thought I? “What’s going to happen if I don’t? Will the ‘Caliber Police’ come and take me away?” I fully agree that K-frame 357’s offer some advantages over the 38’s but for some, maybe not so much. The K-frame owner seeking a protection piece but not interested in weekly range forays is likely to be better off with a less-violently recoiling Model 10 than a magnum-loaded Model 13. Handicapped shooters only having one hand may be too, and yes, I’ve seen this to be the case in real life.
While it is true that 38’s can be fired in 357’s, is the “greater variety” of ammunition the magnum allows all that important for all people in the real world? Shooting 38’s in the 357’s requires scrubbing the residue build-up from the charge holes without fail to prevent magnums from being very difficult to extract or even chamber in extreme cases. Though probably in the minority, I prefer to shoot my firearms only with the ammunition for which they were originally chambered. That said, millions of .38 Special rounds have flown downrange from .357 Magnum revolvers without incident. We just need to be sure that we thoroughly clean the charge holes each and every time we do so if we plan to shoot/load magnums. Not realizing this came close to costing a brother officer his life when he could not extract his magnum cases during a gunfight.
The Model 10 was also available in lightweight trim via an aluminum frame of thinner than normal dimensions, aka “Model 12”. Only the “-4” version of the Model 12 had normal frame dimensions but it was the last of the 12’s.
Here is a lightweight aluminum-frame version of the Model 10. This is the Model 12-3. Model 12’s were available in various barrel lengths, as well as both square and round-butt frames. Model 12’s are just not seen as much as either the Model 10 or 64.
I saw only one officer who routinely carried a Model 12 and I’ve owned but a couple over the years. I am aware of two winding up with cracked frames under the barrel after firing a few rounds of 150-gr. Armor Piercing ammunition, a hot load that is no longer available. I have fired moderate amounts of commercially-loaded +P ammunition through a couple of Model 12’s with no damage occurring.
Another K-frame favorite spawned by the Model 10 was the Model 15 or “Combat Masterpiece”. I saw these only in 2 and 4” barrel lengths. The longer version appeared to be nothing more than standard barrel Model 10 fitted with S&W adjustable sights. I never saw any of these with other than square butts.
When the Model 10 came out in stainless steel, it was an instant hit with law enforcement in my neck of the woods. I prefer “dark” guns but a policeman’s sidearm can live a tough life with respect to corrosion and holster-wear and the battle against rust is constant. The Model 10’s and 15’s stainless lookalikes were christened Model 64 and 67, respectively.
The Model 64 replaced many Model 10’s, though not all. These revolvers handled just like their chrome-moly steel predecessors and were available in standard and heavy barrel configurations. The one’s I’ve seen had barrels ranging from 2 to 4”.
Model 64’s were offered with square or round-butt frames. The one on the left is a DAO service revolver originally ordered by a private security service. The hammer was bobbed from the factory. Though this is NOT one, S&W service revolvers set up in DAO and bobbed hammer spurs from the factory were ordered by the NYPD and are referred to as the “NY-1” configuration. The Model 64 was commonly seen with square-butt frame and traditional double and single-action capability, as is the one on the right. Stocks are Eagle’s Secret Service.
Sadly, as this is written, the only version of the Model 64 being produced is the 4” HB. I regret the passing of the snubs and three-inch barrel versions.
If you happen to be in the market for a medium-frame .38 Special, keep your eyes open; Model 10’s and 64’s can still be found used at gun shows, gun shops and from private individuals. Condition will run the gamut from “As New” to “rode hard and put up wet”. Regardless of barrel length, they are workhorses. In my opinion, they are very worth owning and don’t worry about the “Caliber Police”.