Our Smith & Wesson 642 review will cover what may be the most popular J-Frame on the market.
The Smith & Wesson J-Frame was introduced in 1950.
At the time, it was more potent than other revolvers of its size, shooting the 38 special round.
This was higher pressure than other 38 caliber rounds of that time.
The Smith & Wesson Model 36 was the initial introduction. It was an all-steel, fairly heavy gun for the time.
In 1552, they introduced the Centennial model, which features a fully enclosed hammer. With this fully enclosed hammer, this gun is double action only.
They use an enclosed hammer so that an external hammer would not snag when drawing the gun.
The lightweight aspect of the gun was not introduced until 1957.
In 1957, they designed the frame of the J-Frame to be aluminum. This makes it much more similar to the 642 that we know today.
The Smith & Wesson 642 was introduced in 1993.
This gun has been in production since that time. Arguably, the Smith and Wesson 642 is the most popular J-Frame on the market. It’s closely related to the S&W 442, as the only difference between the two guns is the finish.
The Smith & Wesson 442 has a black finish, while the Smith & Wesson 642 has a silver finish.
These guns are available with and without a lock. The lock is a safety feature introduced during the Clinton era.
The lock is located underneath the cylinder release and can be turned on and off with a key provided by Smith & Wesson. The pre-lock models are generally considered to be much more valuable and desired.
Both versions are produced at this time.
There is no doubt that the Smith & Wesson 642 and 442 are built for self-defense.
The enclosed hammer, small size, and lightweight make it a great carry gun. Revolvers have an odd shape. This shape lends itself to concealment when it comes to concealed carry.
Revolvers tend to conceal better than semiautomatic pistols of a similar size.
The blockiness of a semiautomatic pistol makes it less concealable.
Coming in at 14 and a half ounces, the Smith and Wesson 642 is a very lightweight gun.
It’s completely loaded; it will come in the right around one pound.
While that may not sound like much, if you plan to ankle carry this gun, it’s probably going to be a little heavy for that.
The rule of thumb is to try to stay under one pound for an ankle gun, if possible. The good news is this gun works great if you’re carrying it with gym shorts or some other sort of application where you’re not using a belt.
Any weight you have on your person adds to the overall weight that is affecting your joints, so a lighter gun is always an advantage when it comes to carrying.
That said, that weight can have its disadvantages when shooting a gun.
We’ll cover that later in the Smith and Wesson 642 review.
As stated earlier, the frame on the Smith and Wesson 642 is aluminum.
Other centennial guns have even lighter scandium frames, but those come at a much higher cost.
The Smith and Wesson 642 has an aluminum frame and a stainless steel cylinder. It’s more or less Smith & Wesson’s budget J-Frame.
The price point of this gun likely accounts for its immense popularity.
Caliber and Barrel Length
The 642 and 442 are only offered in 38 special.
These guns are also designed to handle 38 special +P rounds. There are a ton of 38 caliber ammo options out there, so you’re not going to have any trouble finding ammo for this gun.
You can get the gun either in stainless or get it with a black finish. And, I guess I should mention the lock on the gun again.
The barrel on the Smith & Wesson 642 is one and seven-eighths inches.
This classifies as what many would consider a snub nose revolver. I would check the specs of the ammo you’re using before I would go with a +P round.
With a barrel as short as one and seven-eighth inches, a +P round may have extra powder that will not get burned in that short barrel.
You will get less recoil, less muzzle flash, and a more shootable round with similar velocities and a standard pressure ammo selection.
Versions of the Gun
As stated earlier, the Smith & Wesson 642 comes in the 642 and the 442.
The only real difference is going to be the color of the frame.
The lock is located right on top of the cylinder release.
That lock is considered a nuisance by many, including myself. That said, the No-Lock guns can be pretty challenging to find.
If you’re shopping for a Smith & Wesson 642 and find a No-Lock variant, I suggest picking it up.
The Smith and Wesson 642 holds five rounds of 38 special.
Five rounds of 38 unique are nothing to sneeze at, but it would be nice to have a six-round like other options, like the Taurus 856.
Not having that extra round is a minus when looking at the gun in this Smith & Wesson 642 review.
Cylinder latch or slide cylinder release.
The cylinder latch is well positioned and easy to disengage.
It’s well rounded on the edges and has a nice texturing in the rear to push forward. It is somewhat stiff, but it’s not hard to use.
Pretty much any adult will have no problem manipulating the cylinder release on this revolver.
The sites on the 642 are very lacking. They’re standard revolver sights.
The front sight is milled into the barrel, and the rear sight is milled into the top of the frame.
They work, they aren’t great, and they’re not going to help you hit targets at a distance.
You’re going to have to pick ammo that will shoot to what these sights are already regulated for.
So, if you’re planning to shoot this gun for accuracy versus using it as a belly gun, then you’re going to want to spend some time trying different ammo to see what shoots, point of aim, point of impact in the gun.
The sights on the 442 are slightly better as the black seems to pick up better for my eyes than the stainless color on the 642.
These stainless color sights don’t work well, especially if you’re shooting at a bright white target.
Stainless colored sights tend to wash out and become very hard to see.
The double-action trigger on the 642 is surprisingly lovely.
It’s heavy, but it’s not so heavy that people have difficulty using it. If you’re not used to shooting a double-action revolver, then it will be difficult.
But it, again, it’s not unusable.
If you plan to have this gun and not practice much, I would suggest trying to dry fire it periodically to make sure you can successfully manipulate the trigger.
As far as the trigger pull itself, it’s just a smooth, consistent pull to the rear and with a rolling break at the end.
It resets to the forward position, and you’re ready to fire again.
I said it earlier, the hammer on this gun is enclosed, so you don’t have to worry about snagging on anything.
The downside of this is you will not be able to use this revolver in single action only.
That said, I think this revolver is much better than most with an exposed hammer.
If you’re using this for self-defense purposes, then this gun’s just going to have a lot fewer failure points than a revolver with a hammer.
The grip on the revolver is minimal, but the good news is they’re replaceable with many other options.
The grip that Smith & Wesson ships these with is either a laser grip or a standard rubber grip. I personally really like the rubber grip as it seems to tame recoil a little bit better than the Crimson Trace laser grip.
If neither of these grips works for you, then there are many aftermarket options, one of which should fit your needs.
The 642 is what’s considered a round butt revolver, so you want to make sure you’re looking for a round butt Smith & Wesson J-Frame grips when grip shopping for this gun.
Apex Tactical Specialties makes a trigger kit for this gun so you can switch out some of the springs to improve the trigger pull.
There are many grip options for this gun and a couple of trigger options out there. Besides that, there’s not much else. However, when it comes to Kydex holsters, we’re one of the only companies that make an excellent Kydex holster for the Smith & Wesson J-Frame.
There are many leather options out there, but not as many Kydex.
It’s much harder to make a Kydex holster for a revolver than for a semi-auto due to the shape of the gun. Therefore, most of the hardware and all the other parts designed for Kydex holsters are designed for semi-autos.
This can make holster design quite tricky.
As I said earlier, there are many great leather options out there, though, and there are enough excellent Kydex options that you should find one that suits your needs.
Aesthetically from afar, this gun looks good.
In my opinion, it’s just a classy-looking firearm. But when you start looking at it closer, the finish they use on this firearm kind of ruins it for me; it looks like some sort of clear coat anodizing on the aluminum.
It’s silver, and it’s a matte finish.
It just doesn’t look as good as the all stainless steel models.
As we stated earlier, the finish on the 642 is a little bit fragile.
It works, gets the job done, but it’s not something that will hold up well over time.
This gun is aluminum, so any areas that have scratches will oxidize over, and you don’t have to worry about damaging the gun beyond an aesthetics standpoint.
I really can’t complain about the finish for the price of this revolver.
If you’re a fit and finish guy, this gun might not be for you.
Shooting Smith and Wesson 642 Review
Shooting the Smith & Wesson 642 is not what I would call fun.
Considering the weight, this is a decently shootable revolver, assuming you’re using the right ammo. This gun is not fun to shoot with 38 +Ps. It’s not fun to shoot with 38 specials, but it is doable.
Firing more than 50 rounds through this gun in a range session is not something I would look forward to doing.
This is a gun that I shoot about 20 times when I go to the range, and after that, I’m done.
This gun just has a lot of recoil.
The good news is the factory rubber grip does an excellent job of soaking it up.
The factory laser grip, not so much.
That said, there are a variety of other grips that will tame recoil. For example, Hogue makes a long grip that makes this thing feel like you’re shooting a 22, but it’s tough to conceal the firearm.
Hogue also makes a smaller rubber grip that feels good and works okay, but again, it leaves you desiring less recoil.
This is not a gun that you’re going to want to shoot a ton with to get super proficient.
This gun you carry for niche purposes where a revolver makes the most sense.
If you’re looking for a great J-Frame to take to the range, I would suggest something in stainless steel, like the model 60 or the model 640 Performance Center.
An old model 36 in steel would also be a great choice.
Any of the steel frame J-Frames will add a couple of ounces to the gun, making it much more enjoyable to shoot.
The 642 range from $400 to $600, depending on the time and what special Smith & Wesson is running.
At $600, this gun is not a lot of gun for your money.
It’s quite a bit overpriced. However, most of the time, you should be able to pick this gun up at around 450, and at that price, it’s a solid value.
If you’re looking for a lightweight gun you can carry while running or just around the house, it’s going to be hard to beat the Smith & Wesson 642. But if you’re looking for a gun, you can shoot bull’s eyes all day with at 25 yards, then look elsewhere.
This gun might mechanically be able to shoot bull’s eyes at 25 yards, but the horrible sights and high amount of recoil will make that task very difficult.
Concluding Thoughts Smith and Wesson 642 Review
Overall, I do like this gun. For the price, it’s probably one of the best revolver values out there.
It’s just a solid, good-looking gun that does a job and does it at a decent price point.
This gun isn’t what I would consider an exceptional value, but it’s a solid value nonetheless.
Let us know your thoughts on the Smith & Wesson 642 Review below.