Gun writer, Josh Wayner, reviews the classic brother vs brother rivalry of two Smith & Wesson J Frame Revolver.
U.S.A. –(Ammoland.com)- Once upon a time there were two J-Frames. Despite being brothers, they weren’t exactly alike. One of them was a big little gun, always powerful and loaded up with the latest features. The other was trim and feathery but secretly held three more shots with hardly a bit of recoil.
This is the story of two Smith & Wesson J-Frame Double Action Only revolvers that are just about as different as two guns could be while still being, shall we say, brothers.
The first of our little Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver friends is the 43-C and I can tell you with certainty that it is one of lightest guns I’ve ever fired.
The Smith & Wesson J Frame Model 43 C revolver is so light that it literally feels like a ceramic replica when you pick it up. Using the lighter-than-factory Hogue G10 grips with a full cylinder of .22LR, the little beauty comes in at a scant 11oz. It feels so much lighter than it weighs. In point of fact, my phone, a Motorola Moto Z, feels like it weighs more in my pocket and hand than the weapon does, despite it weighing 8oz with the camera attached.
The frame of the 43-C is meticulously prepared in a flat black finish that is both abrasion resistant and attractive. Remarkably, almost the entire gun is made of aluminum, including the alloy cylinder. The weapon does have steel parts as well, with those being the barrel and lockwork. The frame and cylinder both exhibit unique fluting when compared to the more conventional J-Frame models.
Along the trigger guard and the rear of the grip, a deep channel is machined that further reduces weight while increasing the visual appeal of the pistol. The butt terminates in a unique feature – a lanyard loop. I think it’s a great addition as it really drives home the point that S&W looked at every angle of this fine little weapon.
The barrel of the weapon is a standard 1 7/8” like most of their snub-style revolvers, but with a curious exception. The muzzle of the gun has what is essentially a recessed crown with a polished and machined interior that gives the appearance of rifling. It is what I would term a ‘false muzzle’, as it does what many small-but-deadly animals do in that it makes itself look larger than it is to intimidate predators.
Aiming the Smith & Wesson J-Frame Model 43 C Revolver is accomplished by means of a large white dot front sight and a rounded notch rear. The gun points naturally and is very easy to use. The cylinder holds eight rounds of .22LR and, when compared to its ‘big’ brother, the 43-C has virtually no recoil. It is truly easy to shoot and would make a great gun for virtually any end user, be it as a trail gun, a buddy gun for jogging, or just as a daily companion.
I carried the S&W 43-C wheel gun in several ways and found that it was virtually unnoticeable, such to the point that I thought I lost it when I was out-and-about, only to find that it was still right in my pocket where I left it.
A .22LR like this isn’t necessarily ballistically handicapped. Time and circumstances allowed only two loads to be tested. Both were fired over an Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance of five feet from the muzzle at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Results are an average of ten shots.
- Federal 40gr Match HP Small Game—930fps
- Federal 40gr Gold Medal—987fps
I recently reviewed a .22LR with a much longer barrel and was pleased to discover that the 43-C lost nothing and actually shot a bit faster with the Gold Medal load. Accuracy was tested on paper at a distance of ten feet. My particular sample shot point-of-aim at this distance and follow-ups were fast and easy to make.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series Model 640 Revolver
The other side of our Smith & Wesson J-Frame revolver coin is the Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series Model 640 Revolver in .357 Magnum. This is what most folks would think of as a ‘snub’ revolver, but it is far more than that. The 640 is like a standard 642 on steroids. The barrel length is 2.125” instead of the typical 1 7/8”, which gives the weapon the appearance of being a far larger gun than it is.
The first thing that you will notice about the gun when directly compared to the 43-C is the weight. The 640 comes in at 24oz loaded, which is double the weight of the 43-C! Yes, it may seem strange that there could be such a wide variation between two guns that can pretty much fit in the same holster, but that is the expertise of Smith & Wesson at work. These people make revolvers and, to me, there isn’t another revolver maker out there.
The 640 is essentially the Cadillac of S&W J-Frames in that it has had every single feature smoothly polished to a slightly matted, but reflective, finish. Nearly every part of the 640 revolver is made of stainless steel. This is and always will be a fantastic material to make guns from, especially guns as nice as the 640. The trigger has had a Performance Center tuning and simply glides as you use it. There isn’t any grinding or clinking of sears. The trigger moves in sync with the cylinder and, well, it all just looks so perfect when in motion.
The weight of the gun does a fair amount to absorb the exciting recoil of the .357 Magnum. To help me control the weapon under recoil, I installed a very attractive set of Hogue Piranha grips. These are essential on a modern carry revolver and look gorgeous to boot.
Loading the pistol is accomplished by either inserting loose rounds or a preloaded 5-round full moon clip. This is an especially fast option and I would highly recommend carrying extra ammunition this way. The gun displayed no reliability issues using the moon clips or loose cartridges.
Unlike most all comparable snub revolvers, the 640 has adjustable night sights. This is a rather interesting addition to a gun like this as the 640 has no ability to fire from Single Action. I do admit that I was not really used to using sights like this on so small a gun, but I adapted and soon found that it was every bit as accurate as I had hoped. Taking my time and firing slow, I was able to put ten shots into an inch at seven yards time and again.
This is a Smith & Wesson Performance Center gun, and it certainly shoots like one.
I tested several fine ammunition offerings in both .357 Magnum and .38 Special. Test conditions were the same as the 43-C.
- Hornady 110gr Critical Defense .38SPL – 872fps
- Hornady 135gr Critical Duty .357 Mag – 1154fps
- Hornady 158gr XTP .357 Mag – 1098fps
- Sig Sauer 125gr FMJ .357 Mag – 1297fps
I will say that this isn’t an acoustically friendly gun to shoot. The Sig ammo offering was what I would describe as both very accurate and easy to fire, however so loud that I debated doubling up ear protection. All loads performed with the same reliability and accuracy. The Hornady offerings are a modern mainstay for most people, and I believe that the Sig ammo will soon take its place in the cabinets of most shooters as it is very high quality.
You would do yourself a favor by trying some on your own .357 Mag or perhaps your new 640.
Smith & Wesson J-Frame Revolvers
It is now time to end our little tale of two Smith & Wesson J-Frame Revolvers. Smith & Wesson has managed to lead the industry in terms of introducing new materials and modular designs and these two revolvers are no different. It is a rarity to find two products from the same company that is so radically different, yet so very much alike. Indeed you could certainly carry either of these fine weapons and not be at a loss. Smith & Wesson has a pair of real winners here with the 43-C and the Performance Center 640.
I’d like to thank the fine people at Smith & Wesson, as well as Hogue, Hornady, Sig Sauer, and Federal for making this article possible.
About Josh Wayner:
Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.