Sunday, November 13, 2011

Range Report - Smith and Wesson 66

I have more "old" weapons than new. Some of it is simply the comfort of those things that have been proven realiable.Then there is simply the sheer love I have for that which is history, of the acts of courage that defined a persons freedom, of the mechanical workings of objects which support self sufficiency and strength. Planes, trains, steam engines, old tools, and yes, the gun. There's an attraction to old tools and old machines, the human values they represent. Nothing that withstands history gets built without brilliance of design, a laboring effort and the dreams of man. Some say a gun is a killing instrument. Man is a killing instrument. The gun is only a tool, from which we have the pure mechanical force which can keep one alive or take a life. As a tool it is as weak or as strong as he or she who hold its, as good or as bad as the collective soul that keeps it in working order. The guns I own are defenders of good, soldier's weapons, officer's weapons, my weapons.

The Smith and Wesson 66 was born in 1970 as a stainless, and therefore more corrosion-resistant, version of the already-popular Model 19 Combat Magnum. That particular firearm was produced from 1957 (first model number stampings) to November 1999

The Model 19 was produced in blued carbon steel or nickel-plated steel with wood or rubber combat grips, an adjustable rear sight, semi-target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), serrated combat-type trigger, and was available in 2.5" (3" particular to the Model 66 being more rare), 4", or 6-inch barrel lengths. The weights are 30.5 ounces, 36 ounces, and 39 ounces, respectively. The 2.5- and 3-inch barrel versions had a round butts, while the others had square butts. I'm not a big fan of the Spongebob Squarepants gun butt from a "feel" standpoint, but they've got a nice crisp look to them.

The Model 19 was produced on Smith and Wessons K-frame platform (S and W refers to their frame sizes by letter) and was chambered for .357 Magnum. The K-frame is somewhat smaller and lighter than the original N-frame .357, usually known as the S&W Model 27. The Smith and Wesson no longer makes the K-Frame, replacing them with the heavier L-Frame models, which include models 619, 620 and the model 686. The L Frames are a bit heavier, and for me, don't point as naturally as does the 66.

Stainless steel offers many advantages in a gun, outside of just "SHINY", including the fact that you can polish out minor imperfections without removing bluing. Additionally minor rub wear doesn't affect the gun's finish appreciably as it would do to a blued finish.

The Model 66 is a double-action, six-shot revolver, retaining most of the characteristics of the 19. The one I have fired the most, like the 19, had a target trigger (featuring vertical grooves), target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), fixed point sight and adjustable rear sight.

If you are on the lookout for one of your own, the first issued ones are easily identifiable with the stainless steel rear sight, pin barrel, serrated stainless trigger, recessed cylinder and the “mod 66” stamped on the frame. If you think you see one there just waiting to be purchased somewhere, it should have stamped on the left side of the gun the words "SMITH & WESSON" along the barrel, with the trademark S&W logo on the frame below the cylinder latch. If you have a S&W you would like to know more about you can send a picture and a form from the S&W Website to the Historian, Mr. Roy G. Jinks.

The gun remained virtually unchanged until 1977 when the 66-1 model came out which changed the gas ring from the yoke to the cylinder. The later 66-3 designation indicates design tweaks to delay development of cylinder end-shake as well as the elimination of the recessed cylinder. Future changes through the 70's and 80's slightly lengthened the cylinder and installed a new yoke retention system/radius stud package/hammer nose bushing/floating hand.

In 1994, with the 66-4 model, the rear sight leaf and drill, extractor and tape frame were slightly changed and Hogue grips were introduced. In 1998 there was a change in frame design and in 2002, with model 66-6, it introduced the internal lock. I believe the last one was manufactured in 2004 or 2005.

This firearm was a favorite of many law enforcement agencies in the mid to late 70's, some even carrying it into the late 90's (or later than that, if the rumors are true). The demise of the K-Frame (and with it, the 66) came as owners started to get a hankering for the lighter and faster 125gr .357 Magnum load as an alternate to the 158gr lead projectile that was the bulk of the ammo available in the early production years. The forcing cone on the model 19 is not as thick at the very bottom. The lighter bullets at very high velocity using very hot burning powders, apparently subjected the forcing cone to what I guess, in layman's terms, you could call metal fatigue, with resultant cracking of the forcing cone. Smith and Wesson has made the recommendation to not use the 125gr loads though I've not heard of any cone cracking issues with the 66 Model. Some 66 owners recommend alternating .38 with the .357 in the 66, others have shot nothing but 158gr for thousands of rounds and still have a nice, tight weapon.

The .357 Magnum is a story in and of itself, being probably the oldest handgun "magnum" cartridge. Its collaborative development started in the 30's, in direct response to Colt's .38 Super Automatic. At the time, the .38 Super was the only American pistol cartridge capable of defeating automobile cover and the early ballistic vests that were just beginning to emerge in the post-World War I "Gangster Era". ("Gangster" not to be confused with "Gangsta" as the future felons of the 1930's had the common sense not to wear their pants so low the waist is about knee level. It would have been hard to be a successful bootlegger in pants a clown wouldn't wear because they were too undignified.

Tests at the time revealed that those early ballistic vests defeated any handgun cartridge traveling at less than about 1000 ft/s. Colt's .38 Super Automatic just edged over that velocity and was able to penetrate car doors and vests that bootleggers and gangsters were employing as cover. Smith and Wesson's Dan Wesson agreed to produce a new revolver that would handle "high intensity" .38 Special loads, but only if Winchester would develop a new cartridge.

Though .38 and .357 would seem to be different-diameter chamberings, they are in fact dimensionally identical. 0.357 inch is the true bullet diameter of the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special nomenclature relates to the previous use of heeled bullets (such as the .38 Long Colt), which were the same diameter as the case. Thus, the only external difference in the two cartridges is a slight difference in length (the .357 having a .125 inch longer case). Those first revolvers referred to as the Magnum Models were completed by Smith and Wesson in April of 1935.

Retired Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, and noted firearms and shooting skills writer, Bill Jordan, consulted with Smith and Wesson on the design and characteristics of the Model 19. His idea? The Peace Officers perfect dream. A sidearm with a heavy barreled four inch K frame .357 Magnum with a shrouded barrel like the big N frame .357 and adjustable sights. After months and months of experimenting with improved strength steels and the latest in special heat treat processes, the result was the .357 "Combat Magnum" firearm (later designated as the Model 19). The first, serial-number K260,000 was presented to Jordan on November 15, 1955 and a legend was born.

So how does this "old legend" shoot? Flawlessly. With the weight of the K frame and the barrel, it points more naturally then a German Short Haired Pointer. Never having shot the weapon before, I still got a nice tight group, even with the bigger round, once I learned where it shoots with the sight picture. I can see why it was so popular with law enforcement.

The trigger was one of the smoothest I've tried, no stacking. Double tap didn't require me to do the "Dance of the Seven Veils" trying to get my hand back in position from recoil. Single hand holding with double actions pulls was not hard at all with this piece. It was accurate, it was tight, it felt really good in my hand (no ow!!! factor with multiple rounds and tender skin) and even better, it made a nice big HOLE right where I wanted it to go.

Now for the ammo question. Generally speaking, any .357 Magnum revolver will safely handle any factory 38 Special ammo (but do NOT attempt to load or fire .357 in your .38 special - BAD dog. . BAD!). The Model 66 should safely shoot both 357 Magnum and 38 Special ammo, including extra-hot 38 ammunition known as "plus-p" (+P) and "plus-p-plus" (+P+). Of course, check with your manufacturer if any doubt as to what rounds are the best to put in your newly acquired firearm. I've not fired it enough to recommend any particular type, so will leave it up to my readers to pass that information along.

The double action (DA) was not quick as smooth as the Colt Python, but that's like saying Vanilla Hagan Daz ice cream is not quite as rich and tasty as the Coffee flavored. The feel was consistent through out the pull, even more so than the Python, which to me has a noticeable change in the pull weight partway through the DA trigger travel.

You may have to hunt around to find one. But there are not a ton of good condition, clean ones available. If you have to chance to buy or borrow one, you probably won't regret it. The first one I shot, and one of those pictured here, belongs to a partner in squirrellville. It's what he carries when off duty and it's a beautiful piece.

The leverage is excellent for the size of the handgun. I've got really long fingers and a good sized hand. However, I think the hands of most women and men who are not built like Grizzly bears, would find a good grip with this. The trigger finger reaches the trigger with a minimum of effort, and the front sight stays on target if the target isn't a Bobble Head.

Cleaning is a snap. Remove the cylinder and clean with a little Break-Free. There's no sideplate removal or detail stripping that's required on other types of guns you're used to cleaning. Even if you dunk the thing in salt water, it's just a field strip, clean with Break-Free CLP, rinse in hot water, spray with more CLP, wipe down and air dry.

Why salt water you ask? Seal Team Six used the Model M66 until the M686 came along, as did other Teams. The reasoning was that if lubricants washed off the weapon during the swim to the. . uh. . . objective, a revolver was more likely to function than a semi-auto. Blued finishes don't hold up to such exposure. Parkerized, anodized and stainless finishes do quite well. There was no special ammunition used, as the Winchester Silver Tips of the time were considered reasonably waterproof.

It's a wee bit big to be totally indiscernible, but with the right holster it will make a good concealed piece for someone that's not hobbit sized. Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks has made several beautiful ones of the FlatJack type for the Model 19 (K Frame, just like the Model 66) and a J Frame (Chief's Special) including a couple that blogger Jay G. owns.

I was sold the first time I got my hands on it. It's light for what it packs and comes on target easily with a high hit probability. It's a legend, a true sculpture in stainless. Like my partner, I'd trust my life with it, and that says a lot.


  1. Good choice, nice gun.

    I've carried a K-frame pretty much every day for the last six years or so. Mine's a 3" fixed-sight model with blue finish. Fits me better than anything else, never fails to go bang, and puts 'em right where I want 'em. Can't ask for anything more, really.

    In this day and age, I'm looking at the K as sort of a connoisseur's gun. Most revolver toters carry small-frame snubbies--most don't bother with a 30-ounce steel six-shooter if you can carry a Glock 19 with 16 on board for the same weight. Those folks who do still carry a K are usually a.) really attached to them, and b.) really good with them.

    And yes, a K-frame points like nothing else.

  2. I've been carrying a K-frame just about every day for seven years now. Points like nothing else, never fails to go bang, and puts 'em right where I want 'em.

    You just don't see too many K-frames in CCW holsters anymore these days. Most folks who tote a wheelgun carry a small-frame snubbie, and most folks who carry a 30-ounce gun opt for higher capacity than a six-shooter. Those who do still carry K-frames tend to be a.) really attached to them, and b.) really good with them.

    Nice gun. I'd climb over a pile of plastic cop guns full of toaster parts to get to a K-frame in good shape on the shelf at the local gun-o-rama.

  3. Most excellent review and information piece. And you have excellent taste in handguns as well as aircraft.

    My first revolver was a Model 66. I still have it, and have since supplemented it with a Model 19. Love 'em both and have blogged both, but your post wins the prize.

  4. For a long time I looked for a 66, ended up with a SS Security-Six, with no regrets.

    For car carry, it's perfect, fits more easily in the glove box than a Model 28.

  5. I dig the 66. I have always wanted one, but always seem to have a niche to fill that isn't a revolver.

  6. Yes Indeed!

    Another blast from the past. The department I started out with would allow you to carry your own weapon on duty, Both the Model 66 and 19 were the preferred weapon for most of us, there were a few odd balls that wanted to carry something else. Like myself (Model 28, S&W) and a fellow officer nicknamed "Hollywood" who carried a Colt Python.

    Yep, you were fairly high speed and low drag if you were totin' a Smith 66 or 19 with two or three HKS or Safariland speedloaders on duty.

    Thanks for bringing back some good memories.

  7. My first, last and only revolver purchase was a Model 66 in 1986. (Not my only revolver acquisition, just my only purchase).

    Mine has the smoothest trigger pull I've ever felt in any revolver. I'll take it over several beautiful Colt Python's I've had the pleasure of mauling.

    I'd love to find one of the 3" Model 66 versions that I seem to recall were originally made for the FBI. A friend had one about 25 years ago that was his preferred plainclothes carry gun.

  8. I met Bill Jordan @ the NRA Convention in 1995. He had hands like small hams - making the K Frame resemble a J Frame, just in holding it!
    Marko said it - she points as nothing else!

  9. Brigid,

    I am sitting here wondering why I like this post so much. MMMMMM.


    And PPPP, the 3" is awesome.


  10. I once had a model 686 with 6" barrel. 44oz of stainless steel. It was completely nonconcealable. it wouldn't even fit under the seat of my car. I wish I still had it now. From that I learned to buy guns and not sell them.

  11. My dad has a Python that was made back in the 60's. I am hoping to inherit it. All my siblings are gunphobic.

  12. Wonderful article and the pictures are just excellent. Thanks!

  13. Interesting review. Last evening, there were several friends over for dinner, and conversation, and as usual, the conversation was mainly about guns. Favorites, hates, and stuff that we have had for quite a while and stuff that we would like to have. The fact that there will be a fairly large gun show, in Lewiston, next weekend stimulated a lot of the conversation.

    As we were reminiscing, I brought up the fact that the first Model 19 (with a 4" barrel of course) I had purchased, was in 1973 in one of my favorite gun shops in Tacoma, WA.

    That thing has had an innumerable amount of rounds sent through it's barrel, and it still keeps on keeping on.

    I've never had a Stainless 66, 'cause the 19 serves it's purpose well. My 19 is pretty much retired and has become a safe queen, but every now and then, it is brought out of retirement and put through it's paces. It still preforms flawlessly.


  14. Like Mike - when I hired on my department it was, uh... open carry of everything imaginable. The recruits were issued old beat up Colt 38's, of unknown vintage.

    Everyone in LE back then made a pilgrimage to a retail/wholesale outlet in Michigan to purchase. I remember traveling over with an older officer, and when we got around to talking guns, my heart was set on a #19. The salesman said that he had a new 66 in stock and went off to retrieve it. I said to my bud, hey, I was looking for a 19. He responded that if I didn't want it, he'd buy it from me. Came with the wood grips, target trigger and hammer. Kept it until transfered to plainclothes. Later the department standardized on Glock 40's.

    Ended up loosing it on a bet with another deputy. Don't know what he did with it.

    Still have the Bodyguard Airweight though.

  15. carry a brace of them in a Ken Null reload time and 4 HKS reloaders..use .38 LSWHP+P in chambers backed up by Remington .357 125gr. HP..With crimson trace in primary RH carry.

  16. Dad was a police office for most of my life. When I was about 10, my new chore was to move his buttons, badge, name tag and pocket litter to the new uniform shirt a couple times a week. I also cleaned his Model 19 once a week. The he showed up with a dirty Model 66 one night. I looked at it, and asked what happened to the blued one. He said they made him dump out his rounds, handed him the 66, and told him to get to work. He drove out to the north side of town behind a grain elevator, opened the car door, and ran 6 rounds through it into the dirt just to make sure it worked!!!! Different times, eh?

    If you ever have a post about chiggers, I'll tell you about the "Longest Shift" my dad ever worked.

    Take care.....


  17. Dennis makes some wonderful holsters, I'll second that.

    I've got a Flatjack for the K-frame in which I've carried my 4" Model 19, 3" Model 13, and even the 2.5" Model 242ti L-frame. The 242 is especially nice as it's an airweight 7 shot, and with 7 rounds of .38 Special +P at the ready, with 8 more in a speedstrip, I've got the same amount of firepower as when I carry my Colt Officer's model...

    At some 12 ounces lighter...

  18. My very first issue weapon when I joined the pd was a four inch 66. It shot well enough that I was top shot at my Academy, against the somewhat newer pistols then becoming vogue. I liked the thing so much I bought a two inch for off duty carry that I still have. If I can get my camera fixed I'll put up a picture.

  19. Nice report! And they are purty guns :-)

  20. Mike -

    You're not helping. I know the 3" is awesome. The friend who had it was a police officer. He outshot me then, and even though he's now probably mid 70s, I'll bet he can still outshoot me.

    Funny story he told me once. He already had his deer, so was without a rifle and was basically just bird-dogging for someone else, traipsing through the woods to push the deer around. It was near the rut, and a buck jumped out of the brush and charged him, antlers lowered. He was backpedaling something fierce, and he was no small man (i.e. - couldn't run), and all he had was that Model 66. Well, what could he do? It was him or that deer.

    His buddy filled his tag without firing a shot that year.

  21. I have my father's 4" Model 66 and it is indeed an easy pointing, fine shooting sidearm. Although I doubt I will, I do find myself asking "How much of a sacrilege would it be to have it cut to accept moon clips?"

  22. Miss B, Thanks for the post.

    I bought a 2.5" M66-1 in '78 or '79. It served as my EDC from then on until retirement in '93, except when I had uniform duty.

    When I retired, I went through a phase of acquiring bottom feeders because, I suppose, they were the thing to have. I am thinning that heard these days, except for a couple of 1911s, an S&W 39-2, an S&W 3913, and a bucket full of 22s.

    So having gone around the circle of gotta haves, I am firmly back in the M66 camp for EDC again. There is nothing like it.

    Last year, a local pawn shop had a beautiful, blued 2.5" M19 for cheap (less than $300, if I recall correctly). Overnight, I thought about it, but couldn't figure out why I needed a gun almost perzactly like the one on my hip. By morning, I had The Answer. But of course, it was gone by the time I got to the shop. What a moroon.

    If I could find a round butt 22 K frame in 2.5", I'd be done looking for the perfect gat. That, and an M19, of course. :)

    What's old is new again.

  23. My husband and I went looking today for guns, we did not buy one yet, but I was told that for me since I have small hands, I should get a .22 or .380. I held a .380 today and it was a bit heavy to me and they said I probably should get a revolver...So we are looking for me a revolver that is not to heavy and is good size for my hand.My husband is looking for a Bersa or a good Rifle for himself... We went to Cabella's and to Academy, but they are out of a lot of guns.We are also searching the Pawn Shops in the area we live in... There are a few gun shops in our area, but they to are out of a lot of guns... and ammo... We live in North Texas in Grayson County...


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