Smith & Wesson 640-1: A Snubby With Venom!

Smith & Wesson is no new kid on the block. In fact, they’ve been making firearms since 1852. If my very poor mathematics skills are correct, that translates into 170 years of manufacturing. That’s no small feat! With all of that experience comes legendary quality and international fame. This is especially true when it comes to revolvers. But before we get into that, we should take a quick trip back to the founding of Smith & Wesson in 1852 to really get the full picture.

Legendary Beginnings

In 1852, Horace Smith and D.B. Wesson patterned with one another to produce a firearm that could utilize a self-contained cartridge. By 1854, they’d produced the “Volcanic”, which had a tube magazine under the barrel, was a repeating firearm, and that fired a fully self-contained cartridge.

From there, they went on to produce several important designs, including the .38 Safety Hammerless in 1887. It was the world’s first double-action, concealable revolver without an external hammer. In 1899, Smith & Wesson debuted two notable pieces of gun Americana: the .38 Special cartridge and the .38 Military & Police Revolver, which is now known as the Model 10. Over six million Model 10s have been produced since 1899.

The company introduced more designs over the years, and in 1935, they released one that made quite a splash: the legendary .357 Magnum. Law Enforcement took notice, quickly adopting the cartridge, and the rest, as they say, is history. It was the start of many things to come, not only for Smith & Wesson but other manufacturers as well.

.357 History

In the “Roaring ’20s”, police agencies had been yearning for a more powerful round than their .38 Specials. The criminals had been opting to use powerful guns with more firepower, and the police wanted to respond in kind.

Smith & Wesson knew that raising the power on the .38 Special would overstress the frames of their revolvers. Phil Sharpe and Elmer Keith began working on the problem independently. Keith’s work led him to improve the performance of the .44 Special.

However, Sharpe’s work saw him improving the .38 Special by lengthening the case to be .125 inches longer than the .38 Special and launching a 158-grain bullet at a velocity of 1,515 feet per second from an 8.75-inch barrel. That was in 1934. In 1935, Smith & Wesson introduced the revolver that would fire it.

Initially, Smith & Wesson intended the .357 Magnum revolvers to be custom orders only. However, sales were much higher than they anticipated. The company manufactured hundreds of thousands of cartridges until production halted with the onset of WWII. Of course, after the war, the company returned to manufacturing the .357 cartridge in mass quantities.

Things progressed, and the round has served law enforcement, hunters, target shooters, and everyone in between. And it has performed more than admirably over the decades, carving out a place in history.

Moving On

Okay, now that we’ve covered some of S&W’s history and the history of the .357 cartridge, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the article: The Smith & Wesson 640-1.

S&W 640-1

It’s true that Smith & Wesson has been around for a long time, and they’re still a major player in the firearms industry. Especially for revolvers, which they are very well known for. And for good reason; they do revolvers very well.

S&W 640 in a hidden vault.
S&W’s J-Frame revolvers were introduced in the 1950s. This one is secreted in a gun vault disguised as a book. Photo: Jim Davis.

Smith & Wesson introduced their small J-frame revolvers in the 1950s, and the design has lasted for many decades. One of the things with S&W is that they offer a confidence-inspiring Lifetime Warranty. It’s nice to know that if anything ever goes wrong, they’ve got you covered.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the S&W 640-1. Let’s look at the particulars.

Tech Specs

The following are the specifications for the 640. The width is 1.3 inches, making it a bit wider than most auto pistols. The overall length is 6.6 inches. The height is 5 inches. The barrel is 2.13 inches long, and it’s constructed of stainless steel. The frame and cylinder are also made from stainless steel. It’s not a huge weapon, nor is it tiny.

Open cylinder of the 640.
The Model 640 holds five rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammunition. Photo: Jim Davis.

Weight is 22.4 ounces, which isn’t overly heavy, but it certainly is solid. And this is a revolver chambered for the .357 Magnum. Of course, the 640 can fire .38 Special rounds as well. Naturally, since it can handle .357 Magnum loads, it will easily handle +P loads in .38 Special.

The capacity for this revolver is five rounds.

Side view of the 640 with cylinder open.
The cylinder, frame, and barrel are all stainless steel, giving the 640 a very solid feel. Photo: Jim Davis.

Trigger

The trigger is very smooth, with an approximately ten-pound trigger pull. Of course, this is a double-action-only revolver. Though the trigger pull is very heavy, it’s not terrible because of the smoothness of the pull. This is the case with many Smith & Wesson revolvers; their pull is very heavy, but the smoothness kind of saves the day.

Hammerless

The Model 640 has a hammerless design, which makes it outstanding for concealed carry. Because there is no external hammer to snag the pistol when it is drawn, it can be drawn quickly from pockets or other cover garments. The 640 could even be fired from inside a coat or jacket pocket with no chance of the cloth interfering with or snagging the hammer.

Allow me to clarify briefly: I referred to this revolver as “hammerless.” Many people refer to these types of revolvers as hammerless, but to be 100% accurate, there is a hammer; it’s just inside instead of the outside. Because the hammer is not outwardly visible, we often simply refer to it as “hammerless.”

Over the years, revolvers with no external hammer have become my favorite for their simplicity and the lack of snagging when they’re drawn. I have a Smith & Wesson 642 that I’ve carried extensively, and the design is brilliant.

Sights

The 640’s sights are fixed and consist of a groove in the rear of the revolver’s top strap and a ramp sight machined into the end of the barrel. The sights are rudimentary but adequate and not adjustable.

Grip

The 640 in hand.
The 640’s grip is hand-filling yet tacky enough that the shooter can maintain a positive purchase. Photo: Jim Davis.

The grips on the 640 are synthetic and excellent. In fact, Smith & Wesson’s factory grips on their revolvers have always been outstanding. They go a long way in dampening the recoil, especially from stout Magnum loads. They offer an excellent purchase by being slightly tacky and keeping the revolver from slipping into the shooter’s hand. This model has a couple of finger grooves to help keep the revolver even more anchored into the hand.

Between the 640 being stainless steel and the excellent grips, the revolver feels very solid in the hand, giving the shooter confidence.

At The Range

We retired to the range to give the S&W 640 a quick workout. With .38 Special +P rounds, the recoil was fairly tame, and the revolver didn’t jump around much in the hand at all.

S&W 640 at the range.
With full power .357 Magnum loads, the S&W 640 is a handful. Photo: Author’s collection.

With .357 Magnum rounds, recoil was more pronounced, as was the muzzle blast. The muzzle flash with full-power Magnum loads in a snub-nosed revolver does tend to be quite pronounced. Even in the daylight, it’s possible to see a fireball leap from the muzzle with some loads.

The cylinder release worked well, and the cylinder swung out freely. Spent casings ejected smoothly from the cylinder. All in all, the revolver worked perfectly, as expected.

We didn’t fire for groups on paper; rather, we were shooting small steel silhouettes. The S&W 640 did well, and from close ranges, it was not difficult to make solid, consistent hits. Out past about ten yards, the heavy trigger made fast hits on targets a bit more of a challenge.

Parting Shots

If you’re in the market for an extremely potent self-defense handgun that will fit into a pocket, this is a good one. Loaded with lighter .38 Special rounds, the recoil and muzzle blast are quite manageable. When stoked with heavier Magnum loads, it will be a force to be reckoned with, capable of serious penetration.

The excellent grip helps absorb that recoil, taming the beast. Plus, the extra weight of the stainless frame also helps to absorb some of the recoil. At the same time, the 640 isn’t prohibitively heavy when carried in a jacket pocket or inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster.

All in all, this revolver will give the user a great deal of flexibility in the loads that can be used. And it’s durable enough to last a few lifetimes. Once again, it’s apparent why S&W’s revolvers are held in such high esteem.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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