February 15, 2023
By Brad Miller PhD
Self-defense is not just a “man thing,” and several gun companies offer models specifically for women. The one I am focusing on here is the S&W Model 642 LadySmith double-action revolver chambered for .38 Special.
The Model 642 LadySmith is the same as S&W’s other Model 642 revolvers, except it bears the LadySmith trademark. It is built on S&W’s aluminum-alloy J-Frame, with its five-round cylinder and 1.875-inch barrel being stainless steel. It is rated for .38 Special +P ammo and has an enclosed hammer.
I got my Model 642 LadySmith through Academy Sports and Outdoors, and it has Robin’s egg blue (turquoise) synthetic grips. Note that the one offered for 2022 comes with wood grips. (You can get the Model 642 Airweight with pink or black synthetic grips.) The gun has a matte silver finish and a casehardened, smooth, 0.315-inch-wide trigger.
The double-action trigger pull measured 13.0 pounds, and that’s heavy but typical of S&W J-Frame revolvers. Like most S&W revolvers, it has an internal key-activated lock that prevents it from being fired.
The front sight is ramped and striated with a small post at the top. The rear sight is a trench cut in the frame. The sights are the same gray color as the topstrap, and I found them difficult to see. For my range session, I applied orange nail polish to the front sight and used a black magic marker to color the rear sight so I could see them better. Also, the rear trench cut is shallow and measures about 0.045 inch deep, which makes very little of the front sight visible when aligning it and the rear sight to be equal height.
Some people argue that sight alignment is not as critical on a small defensive gun since it is generally used at very short distance and often there is little time for sight alignment in a defensive encounter. While that might be true, having better sights will help the shooter get a better and faster sight picture, even if it is a “flash” sight picture. Simply put, a deeper trench cut would go a long way to make that possible.
Rangetime with this gun was fun, but because it is very lightweight, I recommend low-recoil ammo for practice. I fired a total of seven different loads, including a .38 SPL-SHORT load from Magtech. It produced the lowest recoil and was easy on the hand. I also included three .38 Special +P loadings, and the Super Vel 90-grain JHP Super Snub was the speed king. It averaged 1,301 fps and produced 338 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. That’s nearly the same energy one would get from common 9mm Luger rounds out of a 4.0-inch barrel.
Accuracy-tested at seven yards, the Model 642 LadySmith shot very consistently and with more than enough accuracy for its intended purpose. Overall average group size was 1.72 inches. Point of impact was to the right for all loads, ranging from 0.50 inch to 1.50 inches. Most loads had a point of impact below the point of aim, with the lowest being 2.00 inches low. However, the Speer Lawman 158-grain +P load’s elevation was even with point of aim.
I experienced no malfunctions. Cases extracted easily, including the +P rounds. The Model 642 LadySmith’s light weight and small size make it a perfect pocket/purse gun. The lack of an exposed hammer means there is no hammer to catch on clothing or other stuff when drawn or if fired from within the pocket or purse.
The only thing that doesn’t add up with respect to this gun is the heavy trigger pull. Now, I’m not being sexist here, just practical. It’s a fact that some people don’t have the strength to pull a 13-pound double-action trigger. In my opinion, if any J-Frame revolver deserves a lightened trigger pull, the LadySmith is it.
That aside, Smith & Wesson’s Model 642 LadySmith is a high-quality, very capable revolver ideally suited for concealed carry and self-defense.
Model 642 LadySmith Specifications
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson; smith-wesson.com
- Type: Double-action-only revolver
- Caliber: .38 Special +P
- Cylinder Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 1.875 in.
- Overall Length: 6.3 in.
- Width: 1.3 in.
- Height: 4.9 in.
- Weight, Empty: 14.8 oz.
- Grips: Wood
- Finish: Matte silver
- Sights: Fixed groove rear, ramp front
- Trigger: 13.0-lb. DA pull (as tested)
- Safety: Key-activated internal lock
- MSRP: $548