February 1998

Smith & Wesson Model 63: A Good .22 LR Double Action Revolver

We found the Smith & Wesson to be better made and more reliable than the Taurus Model 94 or the Rossi Model 518.

We’ve been asked: Why would I want to buy a double action .22 revolver over a .22 semiautomatic pistol? The answer is: It depends. If targets are your point of aim, you’re better off with a target pistol. After all, holding on a bullseye while cranking the average double action trigger isn’t the easiest thing to do during a course of timed or rapid fire.

On the other hand, small-caliber double actions have long accompanied campers, hikers and fresh water fishermen as part of their basic survival equipment. The little wheelguns have been known to pick off many a squirrel or rabbit and even an occasional partridge in a pine tree. They also have the capability to take out or seriously discourage unwelcome campsite invaders like raccoons, possum and snakes. Nothing much larger than that, though.

On a less serious note than survival is the joy of plinking, plinking and more plinking. You can purchase a good, reliable double action .22 for about the same as a less reliable pistol. You’ll find it’s easier to maintain, and you can kill just as many tin cans or bottles. And if you really want to have some fun, load it with .22 shotshells, toss up an Alka Seltzer tablet or mothball and see if you can splatter the “bird” before it hits the ground.

The Rossi Model 518 and the Taurus Model 94 in this test are patterned after the third revolver covered, the Smith & Wesson Model 63. The Rossi, except for its removable hammer spring base, is a near clone of the small-frame Smith & Wesson. The Taurus differs more significantly with its hammer block system and a pivoting hammer spring base that allows fine, external adjustment of its coiled mainspring. Here is what we found when these three .22 LR double action revolvers were tested head to head:

Smith & Wesson Model 63
Also known as the .22 Kit Gun, the Smith & Wesson Model 63 has been popular for many years with campers, hikers and those wanting a small .22 LR double action revolver for plinking. This $470 stainless steel handgun features a fluted 6-shot cylinder, adjustable sights and a rubber grip. Its ejector rod isn’t shrouded. The revolver is available with a 2- or 4-inch barrel.

Physical Description
Our Model 63’s fit and finish, which we considered to be average, didn’t quite meet our expectations for a handgun costing almost $500. Although stainless surfaces had a uniform matte finish, tool marks were found along the 4-inch barrel and in the flutes of the cylinder. There were a few small gaps between the sideplate and the frame. Edges of the front sight’s plastic insert weren’t evenly trimmed. But, these cosmetic flaws didn’t adversely affect the revolver’s functioning. The lockwork was tightly fitted and well timed.

An Uncle Mike’s Combat grip with a round butt, molded checkering and three finger grooves was provided on this Smith & Wesson. This two-piece black rubber grip covered the entire grip frame. Mating of the grip to the frame was satisfactory. However, some puckering and noticeable gaps appeared when the grip was squeezed.

Our Judgments
During live fire testing, the Model 63 worked reliably with the three brands of rimfire ammunition we used. Unlike its competitors, this revolver’s chambers were countersunk to help prevent the rims of .22 LR cartridges from dragging on the interior of the frame. Ejector rod movement was smooth. After about 150 rounds, fired cases began to drag slightly during ejection. But, cleaning the cylinder with an oily brush quickly solved the problem.

Outdoorsman who carry a rimfire revolver for general use prefer one that is lightweight and easy to handle. In this area, we thought the Smith & Wesson was the best of the test. It was the lightest and most evenly balanced. Pointing was the fastest and most natural. The finger-grooved synthetic grip afforded a firm, stable grasp. All of our shooters said felt recoil was mild.

The cylinder release was a checkered thumbpiece on left side of the frame within reach of a right-handed shooter’s dominant thumb. When pushed forward, it unlocked and allowed the swing-out cylinder to be opened. This revolver’s passive safety, an internal hammer block and rebound slide system, prevented firing if the trigger wasn’t pulled all the way to the rear.

In our opinion, the movement of this Smith & Wesson’s ungrooved 5/16-inch-wide trigger should have been cleaner. Its 11 3/4-pound double action pull had a lot of creep and a gritty feel. The single action pull released smoothly at 3 1/2 pounds. Both pulls had a minor amount of overtravel.

Our shooters felt the ragged edges of the red plastic insert in the Model 63’s stainless ramp front sight made it difficult to acquire and maintain a precise sight picture. However, the blue/black rear sight worked well. It had click-stop windage and elevation adjustment screws.

We thought this Smith & Wesson’s accuracy was consistent and above average for this type of .22 LR revolver. At 15 yards, we obtained five-shot groups that averaged from 2.13 inches with Winchester T-22s to 2.33 inches with CCI Stingers. Chronograph testing showed that the Model 63 produced average muzzle velocities of 997 feet per second with the Winchester T-22 load to 1,334 feet per second with CCI Stinger ammunition. These velocities were the highest of the three revolvers tested.

Taurus Model 94
The Brazilian-made Taurus Model 94 is a small frame, 9-shot .22 LR revolver intended for the plinking/outdoors handgun market. This model comes with adjustable sights, a fluted cylinder and a hardwood or rubber grip. It is available with a 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-inch barrel. Regardless of barrel length, the stainless steel version retails for $356 and the blue variant sells for $48 less.

Physical Description
We couldn’t fault our Model 94’s brightly polished stainless steel finish. However, in our opinion, the fitting of some of its metal parts was unacceptable. Several small gaps were present between the sideplate and the frame. The cylinder’s extractor star had numerous metal burrs that hindered the revolver’s operation. The action indexed and locked the cylinder prior to completion of the hammer’s rearward travel on only eight of the nine chambers.

Taurus equipped this revolver with a two-piece black rubber grip that covered the entire grip frame. It had a pebbled finish, dual palm swells and three finger grooves. Both halves of the grip were held securely in place with one slotted screw. Our testers considered the grip-to-metal fit to be good.

Our Judgments
A major element of shooting a handgun is confidence. Once a handgun fails, its reliability will be questioned. This tends to have a negative impact on the user.

We were confident that the Model 94 was unreliable. During double action firing, it failed to properly index the cylinder and fire on two of the nine chambers. The hammer couldn’t be cocked for single action firing on one chamber. Both of these problems were, in our opinion, a result of the poor fitting of the cylinder assembly. Due to the ejector rod’s rough movement and partial-length throw, spent cases occasionally failed to extract.

Our shooters thought this Taurus’ handling qualities were nearly as good as those of the Smith & Wesson Model 63. Although slightly muzzle heavy, it sat in the hand and pointed well. Initial and follow-up shots were fairly quick. Those with large hands said the synthetic grip felt overly thin, but it afforded a no-slip grasp. Felt recoil was a little milder than on the Smith & Wesson.

Unlocking the Model 94’s swing-out cylinder was accomplished by pushing the cylinder release forward. Right-handed shooters could easily manipulate this smooth-operating control with the thumb of their dominant hand. This revolver’s internal safety, a passive transfer bar system, allowed firing only when the trigger was pulled all the way back.

When this Taurus functioned correctly, we considered the movement of its ungrooved 3/8-inch-wide trigger to be satisfactory. In the single action mode, the trigger released cleanly at 2 1/2 pounds with no take-up and minor overtravel. The double action pull was smooth, in spite of a minor amount of spring stacking, and let off at 11 1/2 pounds.

Our shooters felt the Model 94’s sights were difficult to rapidly acquire, due to their small size and the front’s lack of contrast. The front was a stainless ramp blade with a serrated face and no colored insert. The black/black rear sight had a short face with a 1/8-inch-wide notch. Its windage and elevation adjustment screws clicked when turned.

At 15 yards, we considered the Taurus’ accuracy to be acceptable for its intended use. This revolver produced five-shot average groups that ranged from 2.25 inches with Federal Gold Medal Target ammunition to 2.75 inches with Winchester’s T-22 load.

The Model 94’s average muzzle velocities, which were satisfactory for a .22 LR revolver with a 3 7/8-inch barrel, measured from 994 to 1,249 feet per second. These speeds were 3 to 85 feet per second slower than those of the Smith & Wesson in this test.

Rossi Model 518
The Rossi Model 518 is a $255 stainless steel .22 LR double action revolver that is made in Brazil and imported by Interarms. It features a fluted 6-round cylinder and a 4-inch barrel. Due to its ejector rod shroud and sight rib, this handgun weighs about 4 ounces more than either of the others in this test. This model comes with both wooden and rubber grips.

Physical Description
All of our evaluators felt the Model 518’s workmanship was unsatisfactory. Most of its stainless surfaces had a uniform matte finish, but there were noticeable polishing marks on the flats and around the edges of the frame. Gaps were found along the sideplate.

The lockwork was poorly fitted. A rough edge on the cylinder’s extractor star caused the action to bind. When opened and closed, the cylinder dragged against a large metal spur on the frame’s recoil shield. The cylinder also had an excessive amount side-to-side play, which resulted in lead spitting.

Rossi provided two pairs of grips with this revolver. The nicely-grained hardwood grip had side panels of checkering and a glossy finish. The two-piece black rubber grip had molded checkering on the sides and three finger grooves on the front. Neither grip had any cosmetic or structural flaws. Grip-to-metal mating was satisfactory.

Our Judgments
At the range, our Rossi never failed to fire. However, at times, it was very hard to cycle. The ejector rod operated smoothly, but it routinely failed to fully extract one or two fired cases. Material shaved from the bullet as it entered the back of the barrel, often referred to as lead spitting, usually hit the shooter’s face, eye protection (glasses) and arms.

In handling, the Model 518 was the most muzzle heavy revolver of this test, which provided the best muzzle stability and the least felt recoil. Pointing and target acquisition were the slowest, but fast follow-up shots were a snap. Although the wooden grips afforded a good grasp, we preferred the shape and feel of the finger-grooved rubber grips.

When pushed forward, the cylinder release on the left side of the frame unlocked the swing-out cylinder. This double action revolver’s passive safety, an internal rebound slide and hammer block system, prevented accidental firing.

Movement of this Rossi’s grooved 5/16-inch-wide trigger was typical of what can be expected on a low-priced revolver. The single action pull had no noticeable slack and a mushy 4 1/4-pound release. The double action pull’s travel and feel was inconsistent, but it let off at 11 1/4 pounds most of the time. Both modes had a moderate amount of overtravel.

In our opinion, the Model 518’s sights provided the clearest and easiest to find sighting reference of the test. The front was a blue/black ramped blade with a serrated face and a red plastic insert. The rear consisted of a matte white base and a blue/black face with a white-outlined notch. It was screw-adjustable for windage and elevation.

We found that this Rossi’s accuracy varied significantly from load to load, but it was more than satisfactory with the right ammunition. We obtained five-shot average groups of 1.93 inches at 15 yards, the smallest of the test, with Winchester T-22s and 3.03-inch groups, the largest of the test, with CCI Stinger hollow points. The Model 518’s average muzzle velocities, 994 to 1,268 feet per second, were from 5 feet per second slower to 19 feet per second faster than those of the Taurus Model 94 in this test. Our shooters felt this level of performance was good for a .22 LR revolver with a 4-inch barrel.