Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday Smith #20: Model 36-1, 1980

When Smith & Wesson stretched the cylinder window of the I-frame by slightly over a tenth of an inch in 1950 to accommodate a cylinder chambered for the .38 Special cartridge, they created a new frame designation: The J-frame. They also created what would become one of the company's best selling and longest-lived models: The .38 Chiefs Special, later known as the Model 36. Introduced before commercial jet air travel, the model is still being catalogued fifty-seven years later.

The blend of service revolver power and pocket gun size was a winning recipe, and the little 2" snubbie became synonymous with "detective's gun" or "off-duty gun" in no time flat. It was used by both heroes and villains in Hollywood and on TV. J. Edgar Hoover received one of the earliest ones, and police departments across the land purchased them in batches.

It didn't take long for variations to turn up. For example, a very limited number were made with target sights and in the 1990's Smith released the Model 36LS, or "Lady Smith", with attractive hardwood grips and "Lady Smith" engraved on the sideplate. The NYPD ordered a batch Model 36-1's with 3" barrels and square-butt frames to issue to female police officers who had a hard time with the double-action trigger reach on the standard issue Model 10.

The above revolver is an example of the 3" heavy barrel, square-butt Model 36-1. It was purchased back in '01 for $225, a price that was more than fair considering it's outstanding condition and the fact that it shows almost no wear. Current market value for an identical piece would probably be somewhere between $275 and $350, depending on in which area of the country the gun was sold and how badly the purchaser wanted an unusually-configured Chiefs Special.


Jay G said...

3" barrel *and* a square butt?

Nice. Very nice indeed.

That'd be a perfect companion piece to the 3" barreled Colt Detective Special I picked up last year. In fact, I think I just figured out this coming Friday's gun pr0n.

Thanks Tam!

Matt G said...

To my practical mind, a square-butted J-frame is an odd critter, indeed. Sure, they're generally a little easier to shoot, especially with that heavy 3" barrel, but it's harder to carry concealed, which is how I would want to carry it. Interesting bit about the NYPD arming female cops with them; it means that there was a number of officers walking around with 5-shooters as their openly-carried duty weapons, presumably with 5-shot speedloaders. Consider that-- uniformed cops carrying 15 rounds as their total load back then, vs. 17 rd Glocks now.

They really were chief's (or detectives, or people who didn't really have to patrol) guns in 3" with square stocks. They were in a duty caliber, and had the proper scaled appearance of a duty gun, but were much more comfortable than even a K frame to wear.

That said, they were a damned sight easier to shoot than an airweight 2" roundbutt in the same caliber.

trainer said...

I have one.

I modified it by
swapping out the barrel and cylinder with a model 60, adding a T-grip and Quik-clip and engraving "Dad" on the side plate.

Then I gave it to my daughter so Dad will always we with her.

Tam said...

Once I realized what a proper grip on a firearm really is, I realized that even a K is too big for most folks to get a first-knuckle DA trigger pull on while still keeping the backstrap centered in the web of the hand.

I wear a size L shootin' glove, and with a K-frame centered up in my grip, I can just baaaaarely get that first joint on the trigger finger onto the trigger.

Anyone who wears a size S or M glove would probably watch their DA proficiency go up a notch with a J rather than a K.

Matt G said...


I've, uh, never had the problem.

Tam said...

Quelle surprise. ;)

Hobie said...

I gots me one and I likes it. That is the finest shooting configuration of the J-frame 38 Spec. ever made. It will do for squirrels, too!

Assrot said...

Hmmm... I could have sworn I posted a comment and question here yesterday. Did it get deleted? Did I offend somehow? If I am not welcome here just say the work and I won't post any more comments.


Tam said...

I don't think I've ever deleted a comment from this blog.

Assrot said...

Hmmm... It must have just been my feeble, tired brain late at night and I forgot to hit the button to post it. Thanks. Glad I'm still welcome here.

My previous comment that disappeared into the ether somehow was something like this.

Fantastic blog as usual. Keep up the great work. This is one of my regular "must read" blogs.

I also mentioned that while I do love a good old Smith & Wesson, I was wondering if you could spice it up a bit and throw in a Colt now and then or some US Military weapons from anytime between the Revolutionary War to the current weapons our men and women in the Armed Forces use today.

You should really, seriously think about writing a book on guns. You're an excellent writer and your subject matter and content is one of the best. I'd be willing to bet you'd be a big hit and sell a lot of books.


Anonymous said...

MattG said "it means that there was a number of officers walking around with 5-shooters as their openly-carried duty weapons, presumably with 5-shot speedloaders."

Unfortunately, NYPD did not allow speedloaders to be carried until the late 1980's. Only dump pouches were authorized. By that time female police officers were no longer being equipped with J-frames as service guns.


midnight rider said...

I just bought one at a gun show today. Saw it at a show last week, they still had it this week and I took it home. More blueing worn off than this model but still pretty and feels good in the hand. To the range tomorrow damn the snow & ice! Maybe take along it's big brother model 19-3 for fun.

YT said...

Yeah, I remember trainin' with these when I was workin' as a security guard... Not a job I'd really want to reminisce 'bout, for sure...

But I sure do miss firin' one of these. Unfortunately, where I'm stayin' the public ain't allowed to keep firearms. No militia here as well.

Anonymous said...

I have this gun and carry it often. With an Uncle Mike's size 36 Sidekick holster and my shirt-tail out it disappears in the front pocket of my jeans. The longer extractor makes it much easier to extract the spent casings... love this gun. By the way, although purchased 'used', mine looks as nice as the one illustrated.