A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 Combat Magnum

In 1954, Smith & Wesson asked Bill Jordan to design the ultimate revolver for a lawman. Jordan simply instructed the engineers at Smith & Wesson to take the K38 Combat Masterpiece and chamber it in .357 magnum. Thus, in November 1955, the 357 Combat Magnum was born. It was a lightweight K frame for easy all day carry, yet still had the power of .357 magnum. In 1957, the Combat Magnum was designated the Model 19, and cost all of $95, either in blue or nickel. The 357 Combat Magnum wore a Baughman Quick Draw front sight on a four inch barrel, and had a shrouded ejector rod housing. The revolver came with an adjustable rear sight and square butt walnut magna or target stocks.

In 1963, a six inch barreled version with a partridge front sight was added to the line up. In 1965, 150 Model 19-2's were ordered by the US Navy SEALs with four inch barrels and round butts. In 1966, a snubby two and a half inch barreled round butt version was placed into production. Three and five inch barreled Model 19s were produced, but they are exceedingly rare.

Because the Model 19 was built on a K frame, it has one compromise in it's design. It was beefed up in the yoke area and designed to shoot 158 grain lead .357 magnum ammunition. To clear the cylinder and ejector rod, the forcing cone on .357 magnum K frames has a flat area at 6:00. This area is prone to cracking when 125 grain .357 magnum ammunition is used. For specifics, click here or here for some of the best research. Of course, others disagree. The regrettable thing is no more Model 19 barrels are available, anywhere. If the forcing cone cracks, the revolver is basically a parts gun.

Last summer, I paid $279 for my four inch Model 19-4. It was absolutely pristine, a pinned and recessed masterpiece with a nickel finish. I admit I do not shoot a lot of magnum rounds through it. To me, it is a very nice, accurate .38 special revolver with a recessed cylinder and the ability to occasionally shoot 158 grain magnums.

Earlier this week, I found a six inch Model 19-4 for $239. I purchased it immediately. The rubber grips were well worn, so I swapped them for walnut magnas. I took it to the range, and with 130 grain .38 specials it shot cloverleafs in the center of my targets.

I've always wished the .38 special Smith & Wesson revolver cylinders were recessed, but the fellows at Springfield never saw the need. The Model 19 is accurate, damned accurate, with .38 special. With it's additional weight from the ejector rod shroud, and the slightly longer cylinder, it is easily one of the best handling revolvers I own. If I find a two and a half inch nickel Model 19, I'll make it mine as well!

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29 Comments:

Blogger Joseph said...

So which of these two Butch Kent articles should I believe?

Sorry, I still think this problem is overblown and I'll shoot my 19-3 2.5" with whatever load I like best. If it cracks or fails, so be it.

FWIW, I settled on a 158g @ 1150fps load out of this gun due to the harshness of the 125g @ 1300fps load.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thread from the S&W forum pretty much says what needs to be said. Believe what you want, but don't advise other people to use ammunition that might ruin their gun forever.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous SC said...

You cracks make my gun more valuable. Please use all the 125 grain ammo you want.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous hagbard45 said...

Holy cow, man!
I only wish I knew what state you lived in...Where do you find all of those nice old wheelguns? I enjoy your blog regularly. I had to drive down to a town well outside D.C., and stopped at two pawn shops and one small gun shop along the way. Prices were mostly high and gun conditions poor at the pawn shops. At the gun shop, the owner was not very knowledgeable: I had to educate him a bit about his 9mm Largo Star semi-auto pistol. I was sadly in a rush, but I hope to go back to see his "bargain basement" older small S&Ws -- probably overlooked by gun buyers these days in love with whizbang autos. Thanks for the tips on buying older guns. Best regards, "hagbard45"

12:40 PM  
Anonymous hagbard45 said...

Holy cow, man!
I only wish I knew what state you lived in...Where do you find all of those nice old wheelguns? I enjoy your blog regularly. I had to drive down to a town well outside D.C., and stopped at two pawn shops and one small gun shop along the way. Prices were mostly high and gun conditions poor at the pawn shops. At the gun shop, the owner was not very knowledgeable: I had to educate him a bit about his 9mm Largo Star semi-auto pistol. I was sadly in a rush, but I hope to go back to see his "bargain basement" older small S&Ws -- probably overlooked by gun buyers these days in love with whizbang autos. Thanks for the tips on buying older guns. Best regards, "hagbard45"

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5 hours left on this one:

http://www.auctionarms.com/search/displayitem.cfm?itemnum=8047908

2:43 PM  
Blogger MauserMedic said...

I've a Model l9 that appears to have been refinished with what looks like a very dark parkerizing. It's disappointing to read there's no barrels left for these anywhere. It's a fine revolver, and I'd hate to see it reduced to a parts gun. Guess I'll keep practicing with the .38 loads, and keep the 110 grain Hydra-shoks for the bedside.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Jay G said...

Xavier,

What a timely post! I've got a line on a Model 19 that, should it pan out, will be joining my armory in the next couple of weeks.

Will post more about it if/when it comes home with me, and not a moment before - it's such a good deal that I don't want to tip my hand... :)

9:51 AM  
Anonymous hisself said...

I have an early Model 66 (Model 19 in stainless) in 4". My favorite wheelgun.

I've never bench-rest tested it, but, years ago, I did hit a moccasin 6 times at about 30 yards free hand with it using 125gr JHPs.

Sufficiently accurate for my needs.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting concept:
http://www.kineticpulse.us/math/kp.html

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please help educate me.

What is it about the model 19 barrel that stops one of the aftermarket companies or for that mater S&W producing a run of new barrels? They are lots of rifle barrels made why none for the model 19?

Thanks for any help you can give

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Jill T. said...

What is it about the model 19 barrel that stops one of the aftermarket companies or for that mater S&W producing a run of new barrels?

How many are ya going to be able to sell, and at what price, to make a profit after your production run?

That's why.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say you didn't know why Smith & Wesson didn't make more 38 specials with recessed cylinders. It is probably because it is difficult to use with speed loaders. I don't understand why anyone would want one with recessed cylinders. One of the best decisions Smith & Wesson made was to convert to flush cylinders in later years. I would gladly trade my recessed model foe a flush cylinder model.

5:40 PM  
Blogger "Gunner" said...

The model 19 is still my favorite. You got one heck of a deal on both of them. Like you, I tend to shoot mine with 38's with a bit of 357 from time to time. It's certainly one of the most accurate revolvers ever made. Mine also are pinned barrels with recessed cylinders. Perfect size and balance for fast accurate work.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1957, the Combat Magnum was designated the Model 19, and cost all of $95, either in blue or nickel.

Aaargh. And in 1957, $95 would buy you what we would consider $942.46 of groceries.

With list price on a 4" Model 686 currently $806, we can conclude that prices are about even.

8:45 PM  
Blogger parrotzanni said...

I have a 2.5" model 19-3. I love it. I bought it from a retired sheriff's deputy in 1996 for $200.
I wouldn't take less than $1,000.00 for it. It shoots accurate and deadly if I need that. By the way I'm a female.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous john said...

john@johnherlosky.com said
I carried a S&W Mod 19 when I was a cop twenty years ago. I carried the 4 inch bbl on duty and the two 1/2 bbl on stake out and plainclothes details. It is far and away the BEST and most versatile weapon ever made. I still own a 2 1/2 inch bbl 19 and it is my staple gun, from camping to bodyguard work to bail enforcement. I may be seeing the middle east in the fall on "official business" and it will be at my side. I have complete confidence in it. The only change is a pair of Lasergrips as you never know...
If you can find one, my suggestion is pick it up...or let me know and I will!
All the best to you 19 lovers

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a model 19-5 nickel plated 6" barrel ..357 that my father claims was on a batch of only 4000 guns. Has anyone heard of such?

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang. Guess I'm embarrassed. I had no idea this gun was prone to cracking. I got mine (Nickle 6") in 1981, and have put thousands of 125s and 110s through it. I load them until they show signs of flow, then back off a little. Big loads of slow powder, like H110 or WW296. Never had a problem. Maybe I've just been lucky? Jeepers!

2:35 PM  
Blogger KevinMcF said...

Howdy. Great thread. So, I'm mostly a hunter and don't have any handguns, until recently. My father passed down his father's 19-4 S&W .357, and it is, for me, the quintessential pistol. I am itching to take it to the range and have my way with it. However, after reading your post, I don't want to put rounds into it that might damage this masterpiece. Not knowing much about the weapon, how bad of an idea is it to use the box of Winchester .357 rounds that my Grandpa handed it off with? This gun has a very special place in my heart and I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I were to cause it to crack or become otherwise unusable. Thanks for the help, by the way.

10:58 PM  
Blogger KevinMcF said...

Let me rephrase this in quick and easy-to-understand terms:
do you guys think shooting a modern .357 magnum round in a twenty-plus year-old 19-4 is a bad idea or safe? That about sums it up.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous JGreene said...

I own one, a 19-3 4" barrel blued. It is a beautiful gun. Dont be afraid to shoot standard 158g magnum loads through these guns. The model 19 can handle it.

The problems started back in the eighties when the hot 125g loads came out. The k frame revolvers weren't designed for such pressures and they began to fail after people hammered them with round after round of 125g magnum loads. That's why the L frame was developed.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a model 19-4 .357 magnum 3.5 inch. I only use 125 grain & 158 grain .357 magnum rounds in it and have had no problems with thoes rounds

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father was a U.S.Marshal for 24 yrs. Before that he was a city police officer for 7 yrs. He was also a firearms instructor and frequently toured and trained at the S&W factory. His first weapon with the Marshal's Service was a S&W Model 19, 4"bbl. He used gov't issue 38cal 125 gr +P+. Much higher pressure than the +P rounds a law enforcement round. He worked with US Border Patrol on joint agency ops. The U.S. Border Patrol used S&W Model 66 and fired 125gr magnum loads and was knocken the bad guys dead and no catastrophic failures with the weapons. By the way the Feds always practice with what they shoot. However, I have seen several model 66's with some stress problems from shooting the 110gr's and the 125gr's magnum loads. As far as shooting magnum ammo from today in 20+ yr old guns should pose no problems as long as the gun is in good working order. S&W revolvers were made very well prior to mim parts and internal safety locks. I have several modle 28's and a model 19 and no problems. Also check out the Standard Catalog of Smith & Wessons and it will tell you that the model 19 was built on a slightly larger frame at the yoke area due to increase pressure stress.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Model 19-7. Purchased about 1996. Has rubber grips, adjustable rear sight. Front sight: not what to call it: it's serrated until the blade. Barrel is 2.25 inches, but supposedly not produced or is named 2.5 inches.

Damn accurate. Only shot 18 rounds of magnum and 38+p into a wooden target from 40 feet. Starfire went through 4 inches of pressure treated 4x4 backed by 3/4 inch ply. Remington 115 semi-jackected hollow point was stopped by the plywood. The 4x4 had a large expansion hole. The Subsonic 38 cal was stopped by the 4x4 at about 2 inches.

Weight is about 32 oz.

For self-defence I'd recommend Bear Boar 38 special +P low flash ammo in this revolver. That's what I carry now. A bit expensive, but what is your life worth?

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi...I own both a S&W Model 19-5 4" and the S&W Model 19-5 2.5"...Does anyone know when (approx.) these guns were made? What was the time span between the 19-4,19-5, 19-6, etc...My best !

4:29 PM  
Blogger lucair2002 said...

How about 180 grain loads in a mod 19-4?
How do you check for cracking?

1:10 AM  
Blogger lucair2002 said...

How about 180 gr loads?
I just found a 19-4 with a box of 180 gr.
How do you check fro cracks?

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a 19 3 k983xxx blue 5 inch barrel in mint condition. what would something like that be worth Iam told that its from 1967-1970 and rare and having a 5 inch barrel even makes it more rare. would you are the nice people on here please tell me what they know about this gun. thanks bob

7:38 PM  

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