A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, October 19, 2007

The S&W K-38 Combat Masterpiece

One of my favorite revolvers is a weathered .38 special handgun that I found on a pawn shop shelf years ago. Click to enlargeIt possessed incredible balance, and one of the smoothest double action triggers I had ever pulled. I suspect it received a professional trigger job at some point. The .400" wide serrated target trigger cranked back a matching 0.5" wide target hammer with ease, releasing it with no stacking or grittiness. I negotiated the price down to $179 from a tag reading $200. The old gun bears an exterior that has seen better days. If it were not for the cold blue painted on, it would likely have more metal than bluing glistening in the sunshine. Never the less, the appearance of the revolver belies it's performance.

The time worn revolver wore incorrect 1970's style magna grips when I purchased it. I took it to the range with a bucket of .38s, and I was amazed at it's inherent "handiness" and accuracy. When I finally found a Colt Python in my price range, the old Smith & Wesson was my standard of comparison in a range report. In my hands, wearing a Hogue Monogrip, the old Smith beat the snake. It is still the standard by which I judge other wheelguns.

The weathered old war horse I speak of is the venerable Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece. Click to enlargeNow, wearing proper diamond magna grips, my K-38 is still the sweetest wheelgun in my collection. The K-38 Combat Masterpiece was a beautifully blued revolver, with a four inch ribbed barrel and a Baughman Quick Draw front sight paired with an adjustable rear sight. It has serrations fore and aft on the metal portion of the grip frame. The package included the short fast action and an anti-backlash trigger. My revolver, serial number K2208XX, was produced in 1954, just in time to still be a five screw revolver. In 1957, the K-38 Combat Masterpiece evolved into the Model 15 with the introduction of model numbers.

My K-38 Combat Masterpiece had obviously spent a life in a holster when I purchased it. I suppose it was the sidearm of a peace officer at some time. I have to believe that this peace officer knew his stuff when he armed himself with this fine piece of sweet triggered ordnance.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous TJH said...

I believe the adjustable site K-frame .38 spawned two models, no? The Model 14, the aptly-named "Masterpiece", and the Model 15 "Combat Masterpiece" (c. 1950), with its ramp front site. I don't have the Standard Catalog, but this is how they're generally presented in other references.

I can certainly appreciate the man who knows a Masterpiece when he sees it. Holster-wear is nothing, and does not detract from the aesthetics or the superb mechanics of these revolvers. I'm undecided as to whether the Model 19 or the K-38 was the masterwork of S&W.

I do have the Model 67, the stainless version of the 15. Despite its manufacture long after the Golden Age, it works like a Swiss clock and rivals the exceptional accuracy of an early Dan Wesson small-frame that I also own.

When the price is right, a Model 14 will find its way into my collection. The older K-Frames seem to be the best kept secret among Smith fans. I see many pass under the glass for bargain prices. Fine by me, let the buying public suck up those throw-away pistols and keep the manufacturers in business.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Yes, the precursor to the Model 14, the K-38 Target Masterpiece had a six inch barrel and a partridge front sight. The Combat Masterpiece was a four incher with a Baughman Quick Draw front sight, commonly called a ramp.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

A very sweet firearm.

makes me kick myself for selling my 1960s vintage model 66.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a K-38 Masterpiece, first registered in Canada in July, 1958. When I bought it last year they had problems identifying it.......shoots like a dream as a target revolver, I will start using it for IPSC in February. This gun is never for sale.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I carried a K-38 Combat Masterpiece as my duty weapon when I was in the USAF Security Police, and loved the weapon for its accuracy and aesthetics. About two years ago I got lonesome for my old friend aand started looking. There were none to be found and I was told to be prepared to pay big money if I found one in good shape. Well, last week at a gun show a guy put one on the table just as I was walking by.

The weapon was in near-pristine condition and carried a price tag of $950, it came in the original box with a cleaning rod, brush and swab. it is a pre-1957 model and has the number 137683 on the butt, which number matches the grips. The serial number under the yoke is 50590.

I thought I had maybe overpaid for the piece until when walking around carrying the box I got offers to buy it for $1100-$1250. There are a lot of us old SPs around who love that gun. Valuable as it is, I still could't wait to take it to the range as when you meet an old pal you wanna talk some, now don't you? I ran a box of ball through her and boy what a sweet-shootin' piece she is.

I have a Wather PPK/s (S&W made), a Walther P.38 (P1 frame, P.38 slide and barrel assembly), a S&W 629 6 1/2" barrel .44 Mag and now this wonderful K-38 Combat Masterpiece. It is destined to become my preferred carry weapon, albeit I will take extreme care to avoid undue wear and tear. It is not for sale at any price and if I had t chose one of my handguns and sell the rest, my Masterpiece is the one staying with me.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Happy Cubical said...

My great-uncle-in-law, if that is an actual title, just gifted me with a K-38 masterpiece. I haven't seen the gun yet as it is being held by my father in law. After reading your post, I am very excited! Thanks for the blog!

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I purchased a K38 Combat Masterpiecein 1952. it is the perfect gun if there was ever one made. I have serial K109822. I seldom get to use it because of my age though.
BGJ of Texas

3:02 PM  
Blogger Peas 'n Carrots said...

I got my Model 15-2 Combat masterpiece in a trade for a Taurus 380 auto that kicked so hard, I actually broke my thumb socket (Gamekeepers Injury). I looked up the various incarnations of the Model 15 dash 1 through dash 4 and found mine was a late 60's model. So it cost me about $200.00. The guy I traded with was a craftsman who had made a set of target grips for it that make you feel like you're wearing a custom made glove. I still keep it with the stock grips most of the time. It's a K frame that easily handles any 38spl I load it with, including +P's. By comparison, my son has a 9mm, 380, and 40 s&w Autos. All Springfield models made somewhere in the Czech Republic. They are very nice Glock knock-offs, that seem more dependable, but even though they can spit out sixteen rounds to my six, the lack of kickback, comfort of the grips, and undisputed accuracy of the model 15 beat all his modern toys at 75 ft. and considering the more potent rounds, I'd rather hit the target hard 6 times, than spray and prey.
I thank the designers of the K-38 for starting a noble family. No revolver has ever jammed on me.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Peas 'n Carrots said...

I got my Model 15-2 Combat masterpiece in a trade for a Taurus 380 auto that kicked so hard, I actually broke my thumb socket (Gamekeepers Injury). I looked up the various incarnations of the Model 15 dash 1 through dash 4 and found mine was a late 60's model. So it cost me about $200.00. The guy I traded with was a craftsman who had made a set of target grips for it that make you feel like you're wearing a custom made glove. I still keep it with the stock grips most of the time. It's a K frame that easily handles any 38spl I load it with, including +P's. By comparison, my son has a 9mm, 380, and 40 s&w Autos. All Springfield models made somewhere in the Czech Republic. They are very nice Glock knock-offs, that seem more dependable, but even though they can spit out sixteen rounds to my six, the lack of kickback, comfort of the grips, and undisputed accuracy of the model 15 beat all his modern toys at 75 ft. and considering the more potent rounds, I'd rather hit the target hard 6 times, than spray and prey.
I thank the designers of the K-38 for starting a noble family. No revolver has ever jammed on me.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

For the K-38 what is a good speedloader that works well?

I love the simple elegance of a revolver. Old fashioned I suppose, but they are so totally reliable and simple. Is there a good model, any brand, that would be comparable to the K-38? I need an additional revolver............

10:18 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Speedloaders and Speedstrips both work well. There is no comparable S&W.

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Dad was a peace officer for many years and after he passed away in 2004, I got his Model 15 "Combat Masterpiece". My husband and I have just recently started going to the range. Growing up at home, my Dad always had it either in it's holster or in his top dresser drawer, and we were taught at an early age not to ever touch his gun. If we wanted to look at it, he would take it out, unload it and let us handle it, but he taught us proper gun handling in that way. I'd never fired it, until the first time at the range with my husband. Being a novice gun owner now, we have a couple of 9mm's, a Rugar and a Sig, but there is just something so timeless and perfect about the older style handguns. It has a bit of wear from being holstered most of the time, but the action is smooth and basically in really good shape. It's a keeper, that's for sure!

6:55 PM  
Blogger DrFlora3rd said...

I would love if my mom, who was the designer of the K-38 Combat Masterpiece, would be able to read your words of praise. Her name was Flora Mitchell Van Orden, and she and my dad, Brig. Gen. George Owen Van Orden started a business, Evalators, Ltd., in Triangle, VA to supply our protectors (the men and women in the armed forces services, police, detectives, FBI, CIA, etc.) and in the sport of competition shooting, a weapon that was dependable under combat conditions. I am so happy to read your expressions of appreciation. My email address is drflora3rd@netzero.net and if there is anyone out there who actually med my parents, I would really love it if you would write to me and share your memories of them. Many of their admirers would chew the fat with them in our office in Triangle with safety, because both of them had security clearances. Probably saved some marriages because they were able to allow people to vent scary stuff that they couldn't share with their loved ones at home. I admire them both and although the office is torn down to the foundation, I find myself standing where his or her desk was, and just remembering. They were so busy we never got to know them very well. Please write.

3:45 PM  

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