May 13, 2012

S&W Model 442 Centennial Airweight 38 Special

The 38 snubnose revolver is a staple of murder mysteries, cop TV shows for many decades, and of real-life cops who need a good, light backup. Everyone over the age of, say, 40 has seen a snubby at one time or another. Today’s TV cops favor all manner of automatic pistols, so the snub 38 is not often seen. But that doesn’t mean it’s no good. The bottom line is, if all you have is a 38 Special snubnose with only five shots, you are a very long way from being unarmed. If you carry five more in a speed loader, well, what more could you want?

Gun Tests Magazine recently tested a S&W Model 442 Centennial Airweight 38 Special. Here's what they had to say:

The snubby has a lot of advantages and not many disadvantages. The snub 38 is not a target revolver, so don’t expect it to make small groups for you, despite the fact that some have been fitted with adjustable sights. In this test, we looked at the gun as a self-defense choice, and nothing else. We noted it’s not particularly easy to conceal a snub 38. In fact, many 45 autos are slimmer, thus more easily hidden. But you can simply put the 38 revolver into your pocket, no holster, and no one will know what that odd bulge really is. The absence of a hammer on this test gun makes them easy to get out of the pocket, too.

Gun Tests September 2010


Gun Tests liked everything about this older gun, with very few exceptions. It handled the hottest loads well and had nothing to snag on pocket fabric.

We tested with four types of ammunition, and tried several more types of loads, which are unreported. Our official test loads were Winchester 130-grain flat-nose FMJ, PMC’s 132-grain round-nose FMJ, and Blazer 125-grain +P JHP. We were unable to obtain any heavy-bullet factory loads, so we used a handload featuring a 158-grain cast SWC.

S&W offers a machine-engraved version of the 442 for just over $900 MSRP, but it lacks the barrel rib of our test gun, the S&W Model 442 Centennial Airweight 38 Special, $400 (used). Also, SKU #178041 is the newly made Centennial Airweight, unadorned and matte black with stainless cylinder, which lists for $640. Or you can buy our matte-black test gun—No. 162810 with a carbon-steel cylinder—for $616 new.

This mostly matte-black revolver had hard-rubber grips with a finger groove that most of us liked. The grip was comfortable in the hand, and although we could get only two fingers onto it securely, we had no trouble controlling the gun. The DA trigger was case colored, and had no serrations so the trigger finger could slide sideways during shooting, though we did not find that necessary nor desirable. Although the frame was aluminum and the cylinder and barrel were steel, the finish was extremely uniform all over. The right side of the frame had the Airweight name laser-etched into it along with the S&W logo, and all filled with white paint.

Gun Tests September 2010


The new Bodyguard has a lot more travel to its thin ejector rod, and that helps get the empties out. It has about a quarter-inch more travel.

The gun opened by the usual S&W latch, which we found did not cut our fingers nor get in the way to any extent during our shooting tests. As with all older S&W snubbies, the empties were lifted only 0.625 inch out of the chambers, but if you had a clean chamber, the empties could generally be thrown out of the gun by working the ejector briskly. The ejector rod was steel, and formed the forward latch for the cylinder. The rear of the cylinder had the usual spring-loaded pin fitting into a hole in the rear of the frame for the latch.

The fronts of the cylinder were relatively sharp, though they could have been rounded to avoid cutting fabric or holster. The sights were bold and wide, but there was not enough room on the sides of the front sight blade, and it got lost easily during our fast shooting sessions.

On the range we found the Centennial shot close to its sights for elevation with all the test loads, and grouped about 2 inches to the left at 15 yards. With a few trial FBI loads from Buffalo Bore, the shots struck somewhat higher, but still on the paper. The Centennial Airweight did best with our handload, giving round groups that averaged 2.4 inches. The trigger of this gun was the best of the trio for deliberate slow fire. The trigger stacked to the letoff point, and we could then fine-tune our sight picture and finish the press. Still, our groups averaged around 4 inches at 15 yards.

Gun Tests September 2010


Some people don't like the limited amount of ejection provided by the short-stroke rod in the Centennial. However, if you shake the gun as you work the ejector, empties generally clear.

Gun Tests Said: Overall, this revolver felt the best to our group, in part because it had the best DA trigger for precision slow shooting. The gun performed better in slow DA shooting. All rounds struck slightly left of center, but the Centennial was well regulated for elevation with everything but a few FBI loads, which struck high. All loads struck about 2 inches left of center, which we considered acceptable for this type gun.



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Comments (15)

I've recently purchased another one, and have been training with it a lot. I too have been trying the strips over the speed loaders for the same reason listed above.POA and POI with defensive ammo in this one has been a headache. I normally like Hornady 125 gr. XTPs but haven't been able to get any locally. I've found that the Magtech 95gr. +P is the closest so far to POA vs. POI

Posted by: Swede62 | May 21, 2012 2:09 AM    Report this comment

"put the .38 revolver in your pocket, no holster"? Bad idea! A pocket holster should always be used - it will not only keep the revolver properly positioned, but it will protect the weapon from lint and other foreign material getting into it an jamming it up. I once saw a picture of a revolver which had a dime jammed into it between the rear of the cylinder and the frame, preventing the cylinder from turning and the gun from firing. Also, when the gun is in your pocket, nothing else (keys, coins, etc) should be in the pocket.

Posted by: packratjim | May 18, 2012 9:02 PM    Report this comment

For one I just don't like just DA type guns much even though I do own two a S&W 40 and a Taurus 40 simi autos. But for a snub I still like to have a hammer to pull for single action on the first round just for the acracey on that first shot> I have two snubs right now one is my Ruger 357 and a Taurus 38 special I let the other have use, even though she wants my 357, also have a Taurus in .22 mag on its way, and for all these Airlites I realy don't like them because of the recoil factor with them.
God Bless America and Our Troops Past Present and Future.
Keeping to My Oath Locked Loaded and Keeping My Powder Dry.
Get the US Out of the UN and the UN Out of the US.

Posted by: bear1 | May 18, 2012 3:48 PM    Report this comment

I love my 642. I carry it more than my H&K now after my injury, much easier to deal with.

Posted by: Robert J | May 18, 2012 1:48 PM    Report this comment

Most important rule in gun fighting, Have a gun! That is the advantage of these small revolvers, you tend to carry them when a larger, heavier weapon would home. I even carry a .22 Magnum American Arms mini revolver at times. Glass case in shirt pocket is inconspicious, handy and a huge surprise.

Posted by: Troy | May 18, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

The 442 is what I choose to carry off duty. I took it to Front Site also. I out shot everyone on my range rotation. I will have to say at the end of the four day course and having fired 780 rounds my hand was quite racked. Everyone else had mostly full sized auto's and I out shot them. I do pratice quite often and it did fail me. I am not sure how many couple of thousands of rounds I fired but I was at range and it went "click", click, click and click. I sent it into S&W and one of the sear pins had failed. Other than that I am quite pleased with it. The 442 carries very well. I have had it tucked in my hand and the other guys did not know there was a firearm present and ready. All ended well.

Posted by: MSD | May 18, 2012 1:18 AM    Report this comment

My mdl 442 is my constant companion. loaded with Fed 129gr.Hydra-Shok (+P)JHP's w/spd-loader. Exc.piece to carry concealed. Easy to do.
J

Posted by: jocor | May 17, 2012 11:44 PM    Report this comment

I've enjoyed my 340SC (scandium) Air Lite for the past 10 years. I had the foresight to give this to my wife for Mother's day and she promptly gave it back to me. It weighs 14 ounces loaded with .357 mag self defense cartridges.
I've carried it in an Uncle Mike's ankle holster for years. Sometimes I carry it in a De Santis gunhide pocket holster. It fits in my cargo pocket or in my back pocket. All of this depends on the situation. Instead of carrying extra ammo for reloading, I will carry a second concealed carry pistol such as a micro 1911 or a Kahr, both in .45 ACP. I'll admit that their are a few times when concealment is more difficult and I'll carry one of my Kahrs in 9mm or my Walther PPS in .40 S&W. I have and carry an extra magazine for all of my semi autos. I don't consider myself paranoid. I just feel prepared. Now that my age is catching up with me I've added Crimson Trace laser grips to my S&W 340 and a CT laser to one of my very small Kahrs. The small Kahr weighs 20 ounces loaded. SO, I can carry two decently powered pistols (34 ounces combined) all day long without the burden of weight or bulk. This is especially appreciated during the very hot days of central Texas (Austin area). The Air Lite is not much fun at the gun range when I practice with full powered rounds. I warm up with .38 Specials. Then I'll move through a few cycles of +P rounds and finish with a cycle of .357 Mags. If the time comes that I must use this pistol for self defense then the full powered rounds will not be noticed. Adrenalin will take over. I had an analgous experience (self defense from a charging Russian boar) and I didn't notice that I had emptied my 4" S&W 629 with "elk loads" until the pistol went click and the boar veered away and dropped. I haven't been boar hunting with a pistol since and I don't plan on repeating the experience. It has given me the chance to revel in one of the most exciting hunts of my life. The little 340 just gives me an extra since of security.

Posted by: drbigdaddy | May 17, 2012 8:34 PM    Report this comment

I have the hammered version, the 637, I love it. Every body else loves it. If you can forget that it is a snub nose,,it becomes a great little woods companion,handles snake loads fine and knocks the
snot out of anything at 25 yards or with cheap leess

Posted by: olafhardtB | May 17, 2012 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I have four snub-nosed revolvers, including a S&W 642 (the stainless version of the 442). I carry them in a pocket holster and always feel adequately armed. I had a 442 several years ago and it, and the 642, have nice trigger pulls, but my Ruger LCR's is better. But, carrying a speed-loader in a pants pocket is so uncomfortable I've gone to speed strips. They're not nearly as fast, but they don't feel like a jagged rock in my pocket. You just about have to carry speed loaders in a belt holster made for them.

Posted by: tat47 | May 17, 2012 2:27 PM    Report this comment

I've had at least 3 442's and half a dozen 642's and can hit a fly with one at 15yds. no exaggeration. If these guys don't know how to shoot one they should have put it in a vice.

Posted by: playhookie | May 17, 2012 2:10 PM    Report this comment

checking the box to get updates

Posted by: david b | May 17, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment

When they first came out, they called them "Hammerless". Just a marketing tool, not an engineering claim.

Posted by: Cecil B | May 17, 2012 12:28 PM    Report this comment

When I bought one in 72, it was $95.

I am sure getting tired of the spammers plugging up my in box with those pill ads. Wish GunReports could do something but am not blaming it on them.

Posted by: Cecil B | May 17, 2012 12:13 PM    Report this comment

These little guns have always been great little pieces to have on hand. They're very quick getting into action; they're supremely reliable; and they're small enough to always have, at least one, with you. Despite today's overwhelming trend toward semi-auto pistols, the revolver, in its many forms, is still a viable and effective defensive tool.

Posted by: canovack | May 16, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

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