A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thoughts on the J Frame Grip

The small pocketable revolver is perhaps one of the best options for a true concealed fighting gun. The reasons for it's continued popularity are plentiful and sound. The Smith & Wesson J frame makes no pretense of being a he man gonna getcha at 25 yards threat neutralizer. It is a close in hand to hand get the hell off me weapon.

The Smith & Wesson pocket protector is not the gun for everyone. Although available in a wide variety of styles and chamberings, more is not always better. Pictured left to right: Model 38, Model 49, Model 649, Model 49, Model 38, Click to enlargeAs the revolver is chambered in more powerful cartridges, the ability to control it for rapid second or third shots quickly diminishes. The muzzle rise is often extreme and torqued. Returning the sights to target is frequently compromised. In flyweight magic metal versions, the more powerful cartridges are often more than some shooters want to detonate in their mitts more than once. They revert to less powerful loads in an effort to better control the gun. The problem with the Smith & Wesson J frame is often the grip. The rubber boot grips that come on these revolvers, like the older factory wood often leave the shooter's pinky finger dangling uselessly beneath the grip.

Some shooters try to adapt to the recoil by gripping the revolver higher on the grip frame. I have found that this not only allows the gun to squirm around, but worse, it changes the relationship of the trigger finger to the trigger. Instead of pulling the trigger straight back, gripping the gun in this fashion leads to a 45 degree trigger pull and reduced efficiency in double action. The end result is reduced accuracy with a weapon containing only five chances at survival in the cylinder.

Fortunately, the selection of grips can radically change the handling characteristics of the J frame revolver. There are so many styles of grips available that there must be one on the market for every shooter's needs. The problem becomes determining which grip is best for the individual shooter. My friend Stephen A. Camp has penned an excellent piece regarding the differences.

I happen to be a rather large fellow, with big hands and big pockets. For me, a grip which allows me to wrap a third finger around the gun gives the leverage against recoil needed to control the revolver when firing it. Model 38 and Model 649 with extended grips. Click to enlargeMy pockets are big enough that concealability is not compromised.

Unlike Mr. Camp, I actually like the Uncle Mike's grips that extend beneath the grip frame. You can see them on the Model 649 in the center, above. The extra finger on the grip helps me control muzzle flip, and the extra material behind the grip frame allows me to control the trigger without a cramped trigger finger. The result is better shooting, for me. Unfortunately, Uncle Mike no longer makes this grip. It can still be found at gun shows and on ebay though.

An extended grip works for me, but every shooter is different. Our hands are as individual as our fingerprints. Among J frame grips, I divide them into two basic types. Forget about wood or rubber, grip adapters and such. Consider how you hold the weapon. I divide J frame grips by how many fingers I can use to hold the gun: three finger grips and two finger grips. Once separated in this way, each type has selections that fill the area behind the trigger guard, and those that leave it open. The factory wood gives a two fingered grip with the area behind the trigger guard left open. Of course, grip adapters such as the Tyler "T" used with factory scabs result in a two finger grip that fills the area behind the trigger guard.

Beyond that, J frame grips either leave the revolver's back strap exposed or they cover it. I have found that people with shorter fingers generally shoot better with an exposed back strap. The covered back strap simply increases the distance between the web of the hand and the trigger. Finally, if a shooter plans to carry a speedloader, they must make certain that the grip they have chosen does not interfere with it's function. Not all grips are speedloader compatible.

There is no doubt that smaller grips help conceal a J frame revolver. The person who chooses to carry such a fighting gun must first consider the reason they carry it though. They carry it to stop a threat, using accurate and effective fire. If their grip choice does not allow them to shoot the gun accurately and quickly, they might be better served with another choice, either in grips or in the gun itself. The J frame only gives five chances before a reload.

Getting a Grip on J Frames by Stephen A. Camp



Blogger Old NFO said...

Excellent post and excellent references! Thanks.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Rabbit said...

Another worthwhile grip option worthy of consideration on a J-frame is one of the three Crimson Trace variants. While there may be better 'feeling' grips out there, the addition of a good laser on a J-frame is an excellent training/survival tool in addition to a pretty good confidence builder when eyeballing over those notches that pass as sights.

Lasers are no substitute for training, but they do let you see your trigger pull problems and let you get on target quicker and stay on target.

I had the opportunity to see Preacherman's CT grips the day he bought them for his J-frame, and I decided at that time I needed some for myself.


6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems the J-frame is now available in .327 Federal mag, as a six-shooter. Lists at almost $1,000.

My 642 [Airweight] has a Crimson Trace grip, which I like but my wife doesn't. [She's also uncomfortable with the recoil, so carries a Ruger SP 101 in .38/.357.]

A good post, as usual.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous micko77 said...

My Airweight Bodyguard with Uncle Mike's short grips in a Desantis Nemesis pocket holster work well for me in the role a pocket snubby fills: a short range, rapid access gun that is more likely to be carried than not. I gave my set of longer Uncle Mike's grips to my 75-year-old, 75 lb. neighbot lady for her Model 36; she doesn't carry, but they make the gun fit her hand and help handle the recoil of the wadcutters she fills it with. Thanks for the post!

9:18 PM  
Blogger Chris Byrne said...

I like the Spegels, and the Uncle Mikes pinky grips, rather than the short grips.

Yes, the exposed frame models are a tiny bit smaller; but I've got big hands. I need that extra bit.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous JustP said...

Who was it that said "Never pick a fight with an old man.... he can't win the fight so he'll just kill you!"

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Wolfwood said...

I've really enjoyed the "combat" j-frame grips I got at Gun Grip Supply. The extra little bit for my pinkie makes a huge difference.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous cmsmith said...

And the wood grips are ...?

They look rather like the "Fuzzy" Farrant J grip, but the checkering is more like Hogue.

OK -- I checked old posts from Aug. and May and found: "with a custom grip given to me by a retired State Trooper."

Just from the pictures, I'd guess modified Farrant, but early Hogue, Farrant, Stark, Hurst, etc. can look alike.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One quibble,"J" frames are accurate at a much greater distance than most believe.I can hit a 12" gong all day long at 50 yards with my 442 and you are not safe at 100.

11:32 AM  
Blogger "Tarak" said...

Having small hands, I find I shoot fairly well at close distances with the stock factory rubber grip on my S&W 642. My pinky finger does not grip the gun. I practice at typical max distance of 15 yards doing 2-5 shot rapid fire. I seem to do okay. But, I know a lot of women with bigger hands than I have.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...


Yep. He shaved them down and sanded them to a perfect fit. He told me they once had a lot more checkering.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Travlin said...

Off topic, but important. In case you haven't heard, these people are organizing a nation-wide rally for gun rights for spring 2010. Looks good to me.


4:31 PM  
Anonymous micko77 said...

The nice thing about the Bodyguard is that it combines the best of several worlds: easily concealed and deployed, but still has the single-action hammer. While my defensive-type accuracy (double action) is limited to 15 yards, I have a 115-yard 12x18 inch gong that rings more often than not when I do my part with 3.5 gr. of WW231 behind my cast 150 gr. semiwadcutters. This is my PPC load for my Model 686, my squirrel load, my basic all-around .38 load except defense. That's where +P 125 gr. HP's come in and they don't beat me up with a high-hand grip. And while I don't recommend it, the Bodyguards can be shot through a coat pocket repeatedly---try that with an auto!

3:39 AM  

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