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Hello. It appears to me that the Model 642 is probably the most popular snub that Smith & Wesson has produced in recent years. I remember that before this version of their J-frame .38 Special was reborn, I routinely carried a Model 37 with the hammer spur removed as a back up gun when in police service. When these covered hammer snubs hit the market I purchased a Model 042 and eventually a few more...including a Model 638.

In the past on some other sites I've seen folks vigorously proclaiming the virtues of one over the other and in some cases, sadly, the discussion degenerated into a virtual shouting match...which is both rude and in my view, stupid.

Let's just take a brief unemotional look at these revolvers and see if any conclusions can be drawn.


Both the 642 and 638 are intended to be snag free and for pocket or concealed carry. Both of these have aluminum alloy frames with the barrel and cylinder of stainless steel. Some parts are of hardchromed steel such as the triggers. Both are the same size and have round butt grip profiles. Obviously the primary difference is that the "hammerless" 642 does not allow single-action shooting while the 638 does offer that option.


This photograph better shows the differences between the internally hammered Model 642 vs. the shrouded Model 638. It's interesting to note that an "add on" part to shroud the hammer against snagging was once made for the Colt snubs that competed against the Model 638, so it would appear that concerns over hammer spurs snagging on clothing has been both widespread and long term.

One gun writer wrote that he has never been able to get any version of the shrouded J-frame snub to shoot as tightly as the others. Perhaps, but that has not proven true in my own experiences with both. I cannot shoot one better than the other in double-action. It seems to me that smoothness of the individual revolver's double-action might well be the determining factor should a fellow see much difference in the performance of two similar snubs from the same maker.


With the Model 638 the hammer can be cocked for a light, single-action shot if desired. To some the idea of being able to make a more precise shot, perhaps at distance, is an option that they like having. Others suggest that such is not at all likely and that the single-action option leaves one open to suggestions during a civil suit that they cocked the revolver and then unintentionally and negligently shot the poor scum that was trying rape, rob, murder, (take your pick) them. I
suggest that the buyer/owner/shooter make his decision on which to get based on his own perceptions of what is important.



Lowering the hammer on the Model 638 is done with less thumb contact on the exposed portion of the hammer spur. I have never had a problem with it and I do not think that it invokes any major difficulties over lowering a non-shrouded hammer, but I don't think that it is quite as "sure" on the Model 638.

Some years ago I read that if carrying the Model 38 or any version of the shrouded snub to be sure and not have any loose change in your pocket or a dime could become wedged between the hammer spur and the frame and tie up the gun. Unless S&W has altered some dimensions on the hammer or frame, I found this to be impossible to do. A dime simply will not fit between the side of this revolver's hammer and frame. I guess a paperclip or an object of the right size might could do this, but a pocket holster goes a long way in preventing such. I also carry only the holstered revolver in my pocket and I'll bet most other folks using this method of carry do the same. I have found
the area behind the hammer on the 638 to be a "lint & crud magnet." Pocket carry is simply dirtier than most expect and after toting the Model 638 for ten days as I normally do my well-worn Model 642, I was surprised at the amount of crud that it had picked up. At the same time, the gun worked fine and the trigger pull was not affected.

For me, the Model 642 is the favorite.

The primary reason is the lack of another opening for grit and lint to build up. That is my "primary reason", but it is not much of one if we simply clean and maintain our personal carry guns at least once every week or so. Being an old revolver guy for years, I shoot primarily double-action with most six and five-guns and do not find the single-action capability on a revolver of this size to be that much of an advantage. (I definitely do prefer having a single-action option on K, L, and N-frames.)

In the end I simply cannot find much difference between these revolvers in practical terms. One may have a bit of an advantage in some aspects while the other offers what
might be a plus for some people.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and is subjective, but I find the 642 more pleasing to the eye. Some will agree. Some will not and others won't care one way or the other, but it is my opinion that either of these little guns will serve about as well as the other and that the potential buyer/user should go with the one he/she prefers.

I just don't see much difference between these two revolvers and were I in the market for such a snub, I'd probably go with the one having the best price or action.

Best.
 

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I once owned a pre-lock 642 that worked pretty well, but I ended up trading it. Interestingly enough, last year I bought the Taurus 650 (Centennial equivalent) and 651 (Bodyguard equivalent). The 651 is in titanium, and it is now my favorite pocket carry revolver. I am a big fan of the S&W or Taurus concealed hammer and shrouded hammer models.
 

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Yet Another Great Forum Thread By Stephen A. Camp

I guess it boils down to how much value you personally place on being able to take a first careful single action cocked hammer shot.

I honestly love both revolvers and both are equally as snag free.

I have it on very good authority that the DAO 642 can be given a smoother double action trigger job than the 638. (due to the hammer of the 642...lacking the single cock hammer notch)

I never did have any problems AT ALL safely lowering the shrouded hammer.

BTW: Your fantastic added pics are always so much appreciated.:yup:
 

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Thanks for the excellent comparison and review. I was faced with exactly this decision a few months ago when looking for a more compact carry gun. I ended up going with the 642. Turned out, it was about 2 boxes of shells and a holster less expensive than the 638.

Too bad it came down to that in my comparison, but found the 642 to offer the best bang for the buck. Sorry for the bad pun.
 

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Steve - thanks for another beautifully presented ''article''.

My vote would be for the 642 - not that I dislike hammers actually and neither do I subscribe to legal ramifications over the single action deal.

Thing is - defensive revo shooting must almost by default be DA and training reflect that. Were I to want a shrouder hammer gun then it would be 642 much as anything because it will only see DA use. Second to that - practiced DA shooting can allow the shooter to take up all slack such that final release can still be close to SA if time allows.

Yep - 642 has it.
 

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Those both look like very nice guns. Thanks for the great pictures and review.

Here's a newbie question for you. How do you decock the 642?
 

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Tony - the 642 is DAO - it will not stay cocked!

Pull trigger all way - bang! No half measures - and I suspect there is no SA provision within either for a cocked status to be possible, even with no hammer accessible.
 

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Another great Camp article!

For as much as I like the 638, I'd go with a 642 for no other reason that it's DAO mechanism defeats the most scummy ambulance-chasing attorney salivating at the thought that he could cash in by accusing a good guy of using a revolver with a "hair-trigger."
 

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P95....Correct

There is no possible way to take a single action shot with the 642.
 

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For whatever it's worth, the double action only 642 does not have the same internal configuration as the 638 or 637. Lacking the capability to fire single action, its internals lack the corresponding lockwork.

If you can find a gunsmith to do an action job, the double action pull on the 642 can be made smoother than the double action pull on the 637 or 638 at least in theory.
 

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I'd rather have the 638:shockwh:
 

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I was looking at both as a BUG but went
with the 642-2 because of price.For
some reason it was 30 dollars less than
the 638.Also having the option of a S/A
trigger wasn't enought for me to spend
the extra money.I carry a 3" 65-3 daily
and can not remember the last time i
shot it S/A.
 

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I personnaly like the 638 over the 642. I have an 649 38special and I like it better than the new school 638(alloy frame). I'm in the process of acquiring a 640 38special because the PD I'm applying for only approves of DAO revolvers.

I had to send my 638(new school) back to S&W because it keeps locking up on me when practicing with snap caps. It never happened shooting live ammo but I wasn't going to take the chance having it lock up when I would need it on the street, so I sent it to S&W to check it out.
 

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I have a 642. The Centennial frame (fully enclosed hammer). From S&W website:

"They are available in three distinct hammer styles – the "Chiefs Special" with exposed hammer, the "Centennial" frame with fully enclosed hammer and the "Bodyguard" frame (.38 S&W Special +P only) shrouded hammer. Three styles with one idea...perfect personal protection. "

In addition to fully enclosed hammer, sounds like they have shrouded and fully exposed hammer. Never saw them, just reading from what is on the website.
 

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I prefer the shrouded hammer but it's really just personal preference. On the rare occasion that I carry a J frame, I have my Airweight. Mrs. Airedale carries a 649 (shrouded hammer), she had a 642 and sold it due to recoil.
I'd get the 638.
Dave
 

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I have a 642, so you know how I decided...

However, there is one benefit to the 638 that noone has mentioned yet. When you go to a defensive shooting school that knows a bit about revolvers, they always caution you to do a "function check" everytime you load and holster. This involves pulling back the hammer until the cylinder latch releases, then rotating the cylinder one full rotation to make sure there are no high primers or other impediments to rotation -- the main reason revolvers will stop in a fight.

With a 638 or standard Chief's Special gun, you can do this in complete safety, never having to touch the trigger. With a 642, it is much more difficult. You have to pull the trigger far enough to disengage the cylinder latch, then rotate the cylinder, and release the trigger. Clearly this is a violation of one of the 4 rules -- and I never felt comfortable enought to do this in my bedroom.

So -- with the 642 I inspect my ammo before loading, but I don't do the function check that I would with a gun with an accessible hammer.

Just more food for thought. This is the only real drawback to the 642 to me -- I wouldn't see myself shooting single action in a defensive situation.
 

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Duane - darned good point you make.

Of course time and place do make the 642 free cyl check difficult but even if this does break rule #3 - as long as rule #2 is assiduously followed then not too bad. I tried this on someone's gun - empty at first and the travel needed to reach enough lift of cyl bolt did not strike me as being too great.

With practice and care it is well feasable but yes - so much easier when you have hammer!
 

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Chris,

I agree -- function checking can be done on a Centennial frame gun -- it just requires a bit more attention, and a safe place to point it. I wouldn't do it in my house, although I would do it in my backyard perhaps... ;)
 

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1man: What was the outcome with you sending back your 638 because it locked up on you while dry firing? What did S&W say or do?
 
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