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Discussion Starter #1
I'm going to start looking for either a used S&W or a Ruger SP101. I want a 5 shot with a ~2" barrel. I'd really prefer an all steel frame like a model 60. The extra weight doesn't bother me and will aid in controlabilty.

So what is a price range of what these guns go for used? Ruger's are simple with pretty much the LCR and SP101, but Smith's model numbers go over my head.

I'm in West Texas (Midland) if that helps.
 

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If you want 5 shots, then you are looking for a J frame. They are a bit smaller than the LCR. I was in the same boat, and went with at SW 442 because of its light weight and smaller size.

The 60 is good and was a .38 special up until the 90s sometime, then became a .357, I think. I will go over used prices because that is all I looked at... In 357 you'll be in the neighborhood of $550 and up, unless you find a deal. Cheaper ($450ish?) for a .38. The 49 has that shrouded hammer and I think is .38spcl, too. Probably in the same $450 range.
Then there are the LadySmiths and Chiefs Specials...I think the .38s all are in that same neighborhood.
There are probably more but for steel J frames, those are probably the most popular.

In the end, the J frame SW is smaller than the LCR, steel, and potentially an heirloom, which is how I justify their higher price.
 

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A J Frame S&W is a good choice. Small, well made, & suitable for the very short ranges of defense work.

Basically, It's THE snubbie of choice.
 

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I personally prefer the steel J Frames over the Airweight Aluminum alloy framed ones. I have both. The Models you are most likely to find available are the 36 and 60 plus maybe a 640 in various configurations. I'm discussing the pre-lock models here. I prefer the Centennial styles because there is no exposed hammer spur to interfere with drawing the weapon from a pocket. Some like an exposed hammer better. There are also the "humpback" models, 49 and 649, etc, that have a shroud built up around the hammer with the very top portion very slightly exposed to allow cocking. I find no use for cocking these small personal protection revolvers myself, but the "humpbacks" are also fine guns. Some are carbon frames that are blued or nickel finished, and any model that begins with a "6" will be a stainless steel frame. I like both just fine. Blued guns are beautiful if they've been taken care of but will show holster wear on the high spots. Stainless can also show the effects of being carried but that finish can be retouched if you know what you are doing. Blued guns require a complete refinish to really look right, but bluing done today is different from that given to the older models.

The alloy frames will also get the job done but they are not quite as durable over time, especially if shot a lot, as the steel frames. Keep in mind that a used revolver can be very mechanically sound and function just fine even if it doesn't have the most pristine exterior looks. Personally, honest wear from carry and use gives these guns some character that a new one does not yet have, and they have the benefit of allowing one to carry and use them without having to put that first scratch or ding on them. I like that better!

Good used revolvers are not seen as often these days in the shelves of gun stores, but they are found from time to time. It's difficult to find one priced much under $500.00 these days. They are out there, but they are popular and sought after by us revolver guys and usually get snapped up pretty quickly and cost a lot more money than in the past. I would say that if you find one in pretty good shape, if you can buy it for between 4 and 5 hundred dollars, you'd better buy it or it won't likely be there when you go back for it if you change your mind! Forgot to say that I much prefer the S&W revolvers, not because the Rugers and others are not perfectly serviceable weapons, but the Smiths in my mind and eye are more refined and desirable. Good luck in your search!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for the feedback gentlemen. Yes, I definitely want all steel because I want a shooter as wells as a carry piece. I'll be hitting the local pawn shops and LGS in the next few weeks.

If I can find an old smith that would be my preference, but if not I can pick up a new SP101 for around $500.
 

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First choice is distinctly the steel or maybe stainless S&W. You might even consider a short barreled -66 if you can find one!

I've got a little hands on with a .357 SP-101 and I'll offer you my impressions for what they're worth-

The following is not a flame on Ruger but from personal observations handling various SP-101's in .38/.357-

I don't think you could hurt one of them, it's a typical Ruger, built like one of those old Russian tanks. Unfortunately they have about the same finish quality. I've seen barrels misaligned, dished in places from overly aggressive finish grinding on the flat of the frame ahead of the grip and the action requires some love and polishing to smooth it out. For full house .357 Mag the grip is slightly too small for more than one cylinder. There's a lot of demand for them and I think the QC has suffered. The $500 price tag is too much for the level of final fitting IMO...

they're heavy too, best suited for belt carry. I really like them a lot, it's a brilliant little platform with a heck of a lot of potential but be picky looking one over and be prepared to do a couple of hours of finishing work on the innards.
 

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If you want to do a lot of shooting, get the Ruger SP101. It is easier to shoot well and will hold up to a lot of shooting better than the Smith. It is a bear in .357, a lamb with .38's. I would still get the .357 for the capability, but shoot it mostly with .38's.

The J frame Smith carries much easier. The Model 60 is a good choice, but as kthom said, the concealed or shrouded hammer versions are better for carry. Smith model nomenclature is confusing as it has changed a couple of times over the last few years. Back in the day, there was the 36 in blue or nickel steel, the 37 with alloy frame also in blue or nickel, the model 60 in stainless steel, the model 40 was the enclosed hammer steel frame and the 42 it's alloy counterpart. I cannot remember the model numbers of the "Body Guard" that had the shrouded but still cockable hammer. Then Smith went to a 3 digit nomenclature, and even changed that. If at all possible, get a pre-lock. I think the postlocks are still serviceable guns, but the feel of the pre-locks is just better. For a lot of shooting, I too would want the steel frame.

The LCR is the Ruger size equivalent to the Smith J, not the SP101. The SP101 is almost identical in size to the last versions of the Colt Detective Special, although a couple of ounces heavier. If you can find a 3 inch round butt M10/13/64/65 they carry just about as well as the SP101 and have 6 shots. The SP101 will fit in a smaller box, but on a belt holster you won't notice the difference. I do like the SP101 though. I owned one once, and keep thinking I will get another.
 

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The Colt Detective Special gives you six shots, if I recall properly.

A little bigger, but a Speed Six snubby is an excellent revolver. Do a half-bob on the hammer.
 

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You want a shooter as well as self-defense? A two inch barrel won't give you much of a range gun. You may want it a bit longer if you will use it for both.
 

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If you're considering used, you might want to check out a Six Series Ruger, here is my Security Six, 2 3/4" barrel, six shot, should be able to find a nice one in the $400-500 range, just a suggestion.

 

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For the OP:

It has occurred to me that you are comparing 5 shot revolvers to 5 shot revolvers and that is fine as far as it goes but I've got a fair amount of time handling my own Airweight S&W, my wife's (old, not "new production") S&W M-66 and a three inch barreled SP-101. But comparing the 5 shot S&W (in steel or alloy) to the 5 shot SP-101 is comparing apples to oranges.

The only time the Airweight is fun to shoot is with mouse-fart HBWC handloads. Even standard .38 Spl loads will get your attention and about half a box of ammo is enough for one day. For me anyway-I'll go shoot the N-Frame to calm down and that's with .38Spl. I really can't imagine the displeasure and pain of touching off a hot .357 Magnum load in an Airweight! My Airweight is in .38 Spl for a reason...it's a last ditch personal defense tool!

The only shortcoming the SP-101 has (at least in the 3" bbl length that I've shot) in dealing with magnum ammo is the grips. The brilliance is that the frame is covered so the shooter is fully isolated (as opposed to being exposed to the rear of the grip frame in the S&W) and the crane lock. They're typical Ruger solid, I don't think you'd shoot one of them loose for a long time-certainly more durable than an alloy or polymer frame in my opinion.

We've got someone here who has a signature line that goes "batteries not included, some assembly required..." and that is how I feel about the SP-101-some finish work is required. Rough edges to be smoothed, a hammer spring that needs about 2# less tension on it and about 500 rounds and 1000 dry fires before the single action gets to being where a J frame is out of the box. The DA will never get there in my opinion. And for all of this, the SP-101 still doesn't compare directly to a J frame. It's a good bit bigger, in fact excepting the cylinder diameter it is much closer in size and weight to a K frame Smith and Wesson.

I mentioned the S&W 66 (old production, not a new one) earlier and excepting the cylinder diameter, the grip size (which is smaller in the 2" version of the -66), the extra height from the adjustable sights and the trigger guard, the frame itself is closer to the dimensions and weight of the SP-101 than a J frame. A SP will fit into a K frame holster (a bit loose) but the SP won't fit into a J frame holster, not going to happen. And here's the part that sticks in my craw. In spite of it's similar mass and dimensions there is no way in Hades that the SP-101 will ever compare favorably in either Single or Double Action trigger with one of the old S&W-66's!

I guess one point I'm trying to make is that there is not a direct comparison to the SP-101. It really is it's own little machine and it has its own strengths and weaknesses. For mass you need to think alloy framed, Officer Size 1911 or K Frame S&W, and excepting a little more thickness for the K-Frame they'll be the same to conceal.

If you want to have something that is fun at the range you need to be looking at the 3 to 4" barrel. Yeah, it's more to carry and a bit harder to conceal but if you want a shooter in the long run you will be happier with something in the K frame size. Snubbies can be fun but they can also be discouraging to new shooters. Mechanically they are quite accurate but the human interface is challenging to master and can be humbling in the extreme.

I dread adding to the number of people in search of serviceable, used S&W revolvers because I really don't need any competition but there you have it...you want a good, used, carry revolver that will be fun at the range, you should be looking for a short barreled (even up to 4") S&W -66. Or maybe something even bigger in one of the DA Rugers or Smiths...

Just food for thought...
 

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I've got a S&W 442 and Taurus 85.
Both shoot great, once get's treated a little better than the other.
 

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You can't go wrong with the Smith or the Ruger..
I've had a dozen J frames & four SP101s in 38, 357 & 9mm..
The J frame will conceal & carry better than the SP101 but the Ruger is more robust & makes a better shooter, no snubbie is range gun, purely designed for carry & 100% reliability..
Now decide if you want DAO = Model 640 in 357/38 or DA/SA = Model 60 in stainless or the SP101 which were/are made both ways..
I prefer DAO for deep concealment, No hammer snag but either have served me well & wouldn't think twice about suggesting one to others..

S&W 642 940x2 342Ti "Grips by Craig Spegel"

DAO SP101 9mm Ruger SPNY 38 Spl. NYPD " Grips are Hogue"
 

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Take a good look at a used S&W Mod 13 in 3". There is a reason it was FBI issue. They are a bit hard to find but it is a favorite of mine. Of course it is a little bigger than a 5 shot air frame but it delivers much more for the upgrade. I have an Airweight 38 and model 13 and I much prefer the mod 13. Happy Birthday!

357 mag or 38 loads
6 rounds
Good balance in 3"
Reasonable concealed carry
 

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I vote J Frame. Steel.

It's the Ford F250 of snubbies.

Heck, It's the Swingline Stapler of snubbies.

It's the Briggs & Stratton. The Mag Light. The Zippo.

Dare I say it? THE 1911 OF SNUBBIES!!!
 

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I have a 442 and love it. The felt recoil is actually less with it than my Colt DS. I have hogue tamer grips on it though because I carry IWB strong side. It's there pretty much all the time and it is not uncomfortable. Although I doubt a steel framed one would be much worse either .

And I agree with Cpt. Methane and whoever else said no hammer is a good thing. When I used to carry my Colt DS, there were times when I was unholstering the hammer would snag on the bottom of my shirt and it seemed like there was a remote chance of it actually cocking it, if conditions were right.

I don't think you can go wrong with any centennial model. (hammerless j frame). But that's not to say an SP101 wouldn't be a bad deal either. I almost bought the 2.25" DAO one before I got the 442. The 442 was my Step Dad's and after he passed away I bought it from my Mom because she needed the money and I needed a carry gun. (My Colt DS has timing issues at present).

Having said all that. I'm still learning how to be a good shot with the snubbies. They are harder to shoot accurately than a full sized gun. And it might take you some time and be a little frustrating. They are capable of very good accuracy, it's just that you need to be good to wring it out of them.

My last range session. Which most tell me sucks, so...... But I feel like it's good enough for what I need it for right now.

 

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I told you I had a dozen J frames at one time..
Here's the one that started it all, A PRE40 Centennial #248 made in S&Ws Centennial year 1952..
NOTE: Lemon Squeezer grip safety..
 
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