Saturday, December 04, 2021

Guns: S&W 642 Performance Center review - The Best Pocket Revolver in the World?


I've been carrying Smith & Wesson J-frames for decades - mostly the double-action-only 642s, but also a 638 Bodyguard and a steel-frame Model 60.  They were all flawed, in one way or another: the 642s had atrocious trigger pulls, the 638's humpback hammer channel trapped pocket lint and dust, and the Model 60 was both too little (to handle .357 Magnum) and too big (to pocket carry). They also all had S&W's infamous internal key lock, which didn't impact reliability in any practical sense but certainly looked ugly.

So what would my ideal S&W 642 look like? Enter the 642 Performance Center:


S&W's website provides a laundry list of features for the 642 Performance Center:

• Performance Center Tuned Action
• High Bright, Polished Cylinder Flutes
• High Bright, Polished Thumbpiece and Side Plate Screws
• Custom, Synthetic Grip with Wood Inserts
• Chrome-Plated, Polished Trigger
• Cylinder Cut for Full Moon Clips

Left out of S&W's list is the fact that the gun is based off the 642-1 frame, so it has no internal lock.

Of course, most of these features aren't terribly important. The polished cylinder, screws, and trigger add some bling but are useless apart from aesthetics. Having a cylinder cut for moon clips is nice, in that you can keep your initial cylinder of defense ammo clipped, theoretically making for easier ejection, but I don't believe in using moonclips for reloads in self-defense revolvers. Finally, the included rubber/wood grip is okay, but I slapped on a much lighter set of Hogue Bantams:

Sights and Trigger

There aren't any upgrades to the sights in the S&W 642 PC; it's the same dismal gray-on-gray you find in most of these guns.  I applied my usual treatment of Testors orange enamel model paint to the front ramp, which is almost essential for seeing it through the tiny notch rear sight.

The trigger, on the other hand, has been worked over nicely along with the rest of the action. In this 642, Smith has smoothed and lightened the J-frame trigger into something manageable, while not compromising on ignition reliability. Why can't all their guns come this way from the factory?

Range Report

For all the Performance Center refinement, this is still a snubnose revolver meant for daily carry, something to strap on for a quick trip to the grocery store. That means the 642 PC is tougher to shoot than a larger gun, due to its small grip, short sight radius and barrel, and heavier recoil. Here are some offhand groups from the gun over several years of testing:

Aguila 130 gr. FMJ - 10 rounds @ 10 yards

Remington UMC 158 gr. LRN - 10 rounds @ 10 yards

Remington HTP 158 gr. LSWCHP (the fabled "FBI Load") - 10 rounds @ 10 yards

Perfecta 158 gr. FMJ - 10 rounds @ 10 yards

Defensive Ammo POI comparison - Winchester 125 gr. SJHP vs. Hornady Critical Defense 110 gr. JHP @ 10 yards

...and compared to Winchester 125 gr. SJHP +P 

Magtech 158 gr. FMJ - 10 rounds @ 10 yards

My current "go-to" load for the gun is Federal's HST Micro +P, sort of a cross between a flat-nosed wadcutter and a hollowpoint round. It's one of the most consistent performers in terms of terminal ballistics, although the bullet profile makes it less accurate at range and unwieldy to load under stress (i.e., don't use this in your speedloaders):


The small revolver market is more competitive than it's ever been. There are very good options from Ruger, Kimber, and Colt that simply didn't exist 20 years ago. But to me, the 642 is still the best overall option, and the 642 Performance Center is the best 642.


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