As a young shooter, I began firing centerfire revolvers using a Smith and Wesson K frame. I later owned several N frame .357 Magnum revolvers and the K frame Combat Magnum .357 Magnum. I handloaded my own ammunition and learned a great deal about marksmanship and handguns with the Smith and Wesson.
When I became a peace officer, almost all officers were carrying K frame revolvers. Usually, the officers carried a Military and Police revolvers with a four-inch barrel, sometimes the Combat Masterpiece or Combat Magnum Model 19. The N frame Model 27 and Model 28 revolvers were seen primarily in competition.
I think perhaps one or two officers, in the agencies I worked with, carried big frame Smith and Wessons. Many agencies issued the Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum, most often as the stainless steel Model 66. These revolvers were basically .38 Special revolvers with lengthened chambers, while the original .357 Magnum had been a .44 frame revolver. While fast into action and accurate, these K frame revolvers took a beating from magnum loads.
I owned a well-used Model 66 that cracked the forcing cone. The handguns did not blow up or split cylinders but the small parts took a beating. Smith and Wesson improved the gas rings and cranes but a heavy-duty revolver was in the works.
Before World War II custom pistolsmiths developed a short-action revolver action and other improvements that were adopted by Smith and Wesson as it introduced a new short-action revolver after the war. Colt went one better with the Python, a deluxe revolver with a special rib and underlug barrel. During the 1970s, Smith and Wesson shooters and enterprising gunsmiths fitted Python barrels to the Smith and Wesson and dubbed it a Smython- or something similar.
This was a cool set up but expensive. The Python is a super-accurate handgun and very smooth in operation. All told, however, the Python isn’t as durable as the big frame Smith and Wesson revolvers. The .41 frame Colt Python revolver (I am certain) was an influence on Smith and Wesson as it developed the L frame revolver.
The L frame is a heavy-duty revolver, which is smaller than the N frame revolver. It features the same sized grip frame as the K frame revolver. Traditionally, the K frame grip fit most hands well and was easily modified in size with custom grips. Since there were were many different grips available for the K frame, this choice made a lot of sense.
The Model 586 Distinguished Combat Magnum featured a heavy under-lugged barrel. The balance is among the best I have felt in any revolver. The new L frame featured Smith and Wesson’s fully-adjustable sights and post front sight with red insert. The 586 is the ideal size for most shooters.
Eventually, the 686 stainless pistol took over as the majority variant and the K frame production was all but eliminated. Primarily, this was due to the L frame’s popularity. Today, the new-type action offers a 7-shot version in .357 Magnum and a 5-shot L frame .44 Magnum. The original Smith and Wesson action is not only smooth, it responds well to expert tuning.
My personal four-inch barrel 586 features a custom action job. The back of the trigger features a custom trigger stop that offers a sharp action. As issued, the original L frame is a smooth and tractable revolver. The more modern L frame revolvers feature a frame-mounted firing pin. The action seems a bit shorter, and the 7-shot version is a bit quicker to cycle than the 6-shot revolvers.
I have examined several Smith and Wesson Classic revolvers. The fit and finish has most always been excellent. The original 586 features a nice finish that offers a dark, even surface. The revolver cycles smoothly.
Part of the energy expended by the trigger finger cocks and drops the hammer and part of the energy cycles the cylinder. The Smith and Wesson revolver is smooth, often very smooth, and responds well to a shooter who practices.
Examine the gap between the frame and the crane and judge for yourself how tightly the cylinder locks up. The original 586 and the modern Classic are excellent handguns. The newer handguns have the greater mechanical accuracy potential. CNC manufacture makes for tight tolerances. The original revolver illustrated features custom-grade finger groove grips. Smith and Wesson has offered quite a few custom grade grips, and in my opinion, these are the best for overall use with magnum loads. They are not raspy, but offer good control.
I broke out the 586 for this evaluation. The revolver was fired for accuracy using the Remington 158-grain lead .38 Special at 740 fps. First, this is an accurate load that exhibited a 1 ¼-inch group at 25 yards for a five-shot group, firing from a benchrest.
Firing double action in offhand fire, the revolver is a joy to fire. I centered hits at 5, 7, and 10 yards, even 15 yards, firing in double action fire. Switching to the Remington 158-grain SWC in .357 Magnum, I was surprised. This load jolted the backstop at 1,235 fps. This is a full power load similar to that offered for the original magnum. It is good for 2 inches at 25 yards in the 586 revolver. This would be an outstanding load for animal defense. It has the original qualities of the magnum, including excellent penetration.
A load that is overlooked in this day of bonded core ammunition is the Remington 125-grain short jacketed hollow point. This load has earned an excellent reputation in decades of use in personal defense. At 1,400 fps this load expands rapidly and fragments. The result is rapid shutdown—unlike any other caliber and load in general use.
This load has a fierce muzzle blast due to the amount of slow burning powder. However, recoil is controllable with practice. It is worth the effort. While the .38 Special and .357 Magnum are available in many options, these three Remington loads represent all that is really needed. A light load for practice, a heavy load for outdoors use, and a rapidly opening JHP for personal defense and home protection. The Smith and Wesson L frame handles them all well.
The L frame Smith and Wesson is a first class revolver well worth its price and a great choice for long-term service. Obtain a first class holster, such as the Silhouette from Galco, and you are in business. The Smith and Wesson L frame is first class protection against man or beast.
The Smith and Wesson L frame is first class protection against man or beast. That being said, how would you use the L frame? How does it compare to your favorite revolver? Share your answers in the comment section.
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Paul Strickland says
I have both ends of the L frame family. A first year 586, 8″ , no dash. And a new 686, 5″ from the new “3-5-7″ series of 7 shot, unfluted cylinder models. Both are smooth, accurate shooters . The old school 586 carries a 2x Burris Pistol Scope and will shoot sub 2” groups at 75 yards from sandbags. The new 686 is one of the best out of the box guns I’ve ever shot. Not just great revolvers … great guns.
Rick Brewer says
What is the big difference between a K frame and L frame?