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When Smith & Wesson dropped the last of the K-Frame double-action Combat Magnum .357 Magnum/.38 Special revolvers from production in 2004, Shooting Times said that “they went out in style.” Those guns were the stainless-steel Models 65 and 66. The blued Model 19 had been dropped about five years earlier. Well, the blued Model 19 is back, and it has some new style.
The original K-Frame Combat Magnum was conceptualized in 1954 and was the brainchild of Carl Hellstrom and Bill Jordan. Hellstrom was the president of S&W at the time, and Jordan was famous for many reasons, including serving in the U.S. Border Patrol for 29 years and then touring the country for 11 years as a spokesman for the NRA, during which he performed trick-shooting exhibitions. He held a record for speed shooting with a double-action revolver that stood for decades. He even appeared on television in 1955. Later, Jordan became an outdoor writer and wrote for several gun magazines, including Shooting Times.
Back to 1954. As related by Jordan in an article he wrote for a special publication put out by Shooting Times in 1995, he had a memorable conversation with Hellstrom during the National Matches held at Camp Perry. Jordan believed that a medium-size double-action revolver with a 4.0-inch heavy barrel chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge would be the ideal sidearm for law enforcement officers.
Here’s what he told Hellstrom, in his own words:
“To begin with, it ought to be a .357 Magnum…. Because the .38 Specials we have been using have turned out a little puny a few times. The Border Patrol furnishes us with those .38 shells with no questions asked about what we do with them. They are all right for just fooling around, and I wouldn’t want to see that changed. But for serious business, lots of times we wished for something a little stouter. A .357 would do the trick because they shoot those cheap .38s, too.
“It ought to have a 4.0-inch barrel, a lot heavier than the ones we got now. Four inches would be the right length to fit holsters we got in the Border Patrol. If you don’t have time to aim, shooting a snubby is just like pointing your fist, but you can ‘feel’ a long barrel out there, like pointing your finger. The weight makes up for the 4.0-inch length.
“There ought to be one of those shrouds over the ejector rod. Could keep the ejector rod from getting bent if someone bumped his head on your gun.
“The frame is real important. I don’t believe you need all that heavy frame on your .357 you got now.” [Jordan was referring to S&W’s large N-Frame.] “And a small, light cylinder would weigh less and turn easier when you pulled the trigger double action. Like the K-38 you got now.”
Remember, that conversation took place in 1954 before medium-frame .357 Magnum double-action revolvers became common in the industry.
There’s no doubt about it, the S&W K-Frame is legendary. The medium-size double-action revolver was first produced in 1896 in .32 S&W Long. Three years later it was chambered for .38 Special. In 1955 the .357 Magnum version was first offered. In 1957 Smith & Wesson gave its handguns a number designation, and the blued-steel medium-frame .357 Magnum model was named the Model 19. The Model 19 was also offered in nickel finish. In 1970 stainless steel was offered, and in that form it was called the Model 66.
As I said, the first Combat Magnum was produced in 1955 and promptly sent to Bill Jordan. He was about to appear on a television show called “You Asked for It,” during which he would perform a fast-drawing act he was famous for. He didn’t have time to shoot the new revolver before the performance, so he didn’t use it; however, he did show it to the world of TV viewers, saying it was “the answer to a peace officer’s dream.” The gun went on to become a very successful design, extremely popular with law enforcement officers as well as with sportsmen.
Over the years the blued K-Frame Model 19 has been offered with 2.5-, 4.0-, and 6.0-inch barrels. Guns were offered with either a square butt or a round butt, depending on barrel length. The 2.5-inch-barreled guns were offered with only the round butt, whereas the 4.0-inch-barreled guns and the 6.0-inch-barreled guns were offered with square butts. As I stated earlier, the Model 19 also was offered in nickel finish. The nickeled Model 19s were dropped from production in 1992. The 6.0- and 2.5-inch blued models were discontinued in 1996 and 1998 respectively. The 4.0-inch-barreled Model 19 was dropped in 1999.
The New Model 19
The new, reintroduced Model 19 .357 Magnum K-Frame revolver is offered with a 4.25-inch barrel, a six-shot cylinder, a polished blued finish, walnut grips, an adjustable rear sight, and a red-ramp front sight. It’s part of S&W’s Classics line. There also is a new Performance Center Model 19 with a 3.0-inch barrel and a few other interesting features (see the accompanying sidebar for more details about it). I ordered the 4.25-inch-barreled Classic revolver for my shooting review.
Unlike the original Model 19, the new Model 19 Classic has a two-piece barrel setup. The barrel is composed of an inner liner and an outer shroud. Both parts are steel. This allows S&W to place the barrel shroud over an index tab on the front of the frame and then insert and thread the barrel tube to the frame and to the shroud at the muzzle end, bringing the shroud against the frame as it torques down rather than the traditional threading and crush fitting of the old-style one-piece barrel that requires forcefully tightening to proper index. The two-piece design supports the inner barrel tube at both ends, and according to some experts, it enhances accuracy.
I should mention that S&W brought back the stainless-steel Combat Magnum, known as the Model 66, in 2017, and it, too, had the newer two-piece barrel design.
The new Model 19 Classic’s rear sight is fully adjustable, and it has a plain black blade. The red ramp Baughman-style front sight is pinned into the barrel shroud. The Model 19 Classic uses the K/L/N-Frame rounded grip frame that all S&W revolvers currently use.
The revolver’s cylinder is fluted and holds six rounds of .357 Magnum or .38 Special ammunition. The cylinder measures 1.45 inches in diameter and 1.67 inches in length. The chambers are not counterbored.
The new Model 19 Classic utilizes Smith & Wesson’s keyed locking system. It’s an internal lock that is activated via the key slot that is located just above the cylinder release latch on the left side of the revolver. When engaged, it prevents the hammer from being cocked and the trigger from being squeezed.
The cylinder yoke locks to the frame via a spring-loaded ball-detent system, and the solid, full-length ejector rod is unsupported. Gone are the old-style cylinder locking lug that was pinned into the barrel lug and the hollow ejector rod. The new Model 19 Classic uses a cylinder release thumbpiece shaped like that of the original Model 19.
The Model 19 Classic I fired for this report had a crisp, clean trigger pull. The single-action trigger pull averaged 4.0 pounds, 12.0 ounces with my RCBS trigger-pull scale, and the double-action pull was 13.0 pounds. The trigger’s fingerpiece is smooth and measures 0.38 inch wide. The hammerspur is checkered and measures 0.38 inch wide.
The Model 19 Classic weighs 37.2 ounces and is 9.9 inches long and 5.8 inches high. The two-piece walnut grips are held in place by a single slotted-head screw.
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to shooting, I’m no Bill Jordan. However, I know my way around Smith & Wesson revolvers and have been shooting them for more than 40 years. I’ve owned and let go of (through trades and whatnot) more K-Frame revolvers than I care to disclose. I even had a Class A engraved Model 19 with a 6.0-inch barrel during the late 1980s, but I decided I didn’t need any of my “barbeque” guns and traded off all my engraved S&Ws, Brownings, Remingtons, and Rugers. As I look back on it now, that was a foolish thing to do.
The results of my accuracy shooting session with the new Model 19 Classic with a total of 10 factory loads (five .357 Magnum loads and five .38 Special loads) are listed in the accompanying chart. Overall average accuracy of the .38 Specials was 3.04 inches, and overall average accuracy of the .357 Magnums was 3.21 inches. My most accurate load was the Black Hills .38 Special 148-grain SWC ammo, and it averaged 2.47 inches for five, five-shot groups. The most accurate .357 Magnum load was the Winchester 125-grain Defender ammo. It averaged 2.69 inches for five, five-shot groups. All accuracy testing was conducted at 25 yards with the revolver mounted in a Ransom Rest.
But that’s not all the shooting I did with the new Model 19. I also fired it offhand, using my regular self-defense practice drills. For that kind of shooting, I like to begin by working on making a smooth draw from the holster and putting two shots on target at a distance ranging from about five yards to seven yards. Then I add one or two more targets at various distances but none more than seven yards and practice fast transitions from target to target. I also practice shooting on the move, simulating moving to a position of cover. I freely admit that this is where I am weakest, especially when I shoot while walking backwards.
But the Model 19 Classic was up to the challenge. I found it to be easy to shoot accurately, and its balance and pointability were excellent. Bill Jordan was right; the Model 19 points like your finger. I believe a large fiber-optic or dot-type front sight would make defensive shooting faster, but I grew up shooting S&W’s red ramp front sight, so it works just fine for me.
The K-Frame Model 19 is iconic, and I’m pleased that it’s back in production. You can do a lot with a medium-size .357 Magnum/.38 Special double-action revolver. It’s just about perfect for personal protection, and it makes a darn good trail gun, too. The sample I fired for this report was powerful and accurate.
MODEL 19 CLASSIC
TYPE Double-action/single-action revolver
CALIBER .357 Magnum/.38 Special
CYLINDER CAPACITY 6 rounds
BARREL 4.25 in.
OVERALL LENGTH 9.9 in.
WIDTH 1.45 in.
HEIGHT 5.8 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY 37.2 oz.
FINISH High-polished blued
SIGHTS Fully adjustable rear, red ramp front
TRIGGER 13-lb. DA pull, 4.75-lb. SA pull (as tested)
SAFETY Key-activated internal locking system
MANUFACTURER Smith & Wesson