Smith & Wesson CSX — New Kid On The Block

A few weeks back while at the local gun store, I spied something in the case that I wasn’t familiar with. It had the Smith & Wesson logo on it, but I’ll confess that I wasn’t able to identify the pistol. I asked to check it out and discovered that it was their CSX model, which stands for Chiefs Special X. Then the surprise — it is single action! Wait, what is this sorcery?! Who makes a new single-action micro-9mm that will hold 12+1 rounds??? Well…no one other than S&W. Suffice it to say, I took that little Smith & Wesson CSX home.

Jim Davis holding Smith & Wesson CSX
The author with the very compact Smith and Wesson CSX. The letters on the shirt (V4CR) stand for Veterans For Child Rescue, a very worthy organization run by former Navy SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer. They rescue children who have been kidnapped in the child sex trafficking market.

Get a grip, man!

But wait, there’s more! It’s also an aluminum alloy frame! Things were getting interesting with this little pistol. And the grip — oh, the grip! It is seriously comfortable! S&W clearly took major pains to get the grip right. The front and back strap both have portions that are polymer embedded into the aluminum and that feel like sandpaper, which gives a ridiculously secure grip on the pistol. This thing isn’t going anywhere when you fire it, that’s for certain. Those grips marry your hand to the pistol, period.

I’m jumping ahead here a bit, but I want to interject that, during the range session, the sandpaper-like grip sections did somewhat abrade my hand. I won’t piss and moan about it because they did precisely what they were designed to do, which is anchor this pistol into the hand. As a disclaimer, I don’t have the soft, supple hands of someone who pushes papers all day long — I work outside in the elements with my hands, and they are relatively rough. So yeah, these grips are not messing around, they’re the real deal. If your hands are wet or slippery, these grips are going to bite into your skin and stay put!

Smith & Wesson CSX grip is like sandpaper on the front and backstraps
The CSX’s grip is like sandpaper (front and backstraps) and will not slip in your grip! With two interchangeable backstraps to choose from, it’s among the most comfortable grips available.

To add to the goodness, the CSX comes with two grips, a Large and a Small. They can be changed out by pushing a small detent inside the base of the grip (a tool is included, although a punch works better). I tried both grips and the standard grip feels pretty good to me. They both are excellent in my medium-sized hands. I can tell you that the detent on my pistol is extremely stiff and it took considerable pressure to push it in enough to change out the grips, though I expect over time it will loosen up.

The Trigger

I’ve read a lot about the Smith & Wesson CSX (even before I bought it). I’ve also watched many videos, and they ALL have one thing in common: mention of the trigger. To be more specific, this trigger has caused more wailing and gnashing of teeth than a screaming, yowling chimpanzee that has been set on fire with napalm!

There seems to be what is referred to as a “false reset”, and it is causing tribulations in the gun world. Yes, I can feel it in my pistol when I let the trigger partway out. There is a small, subtle “click” that might lead some folks to believe that the trigger has reset and that they can touch off another round. However, it doesn’t work like that. On mine, you have to basically let the trigger all the way out before it resets with a positive click.

In short, there’s a little click followed by a big click. If you want the reset, go with the big click.

Is this a big deal? Not for me! The trigger reset, in my book, isn’t something I’m realistically going to be able to use in a real gunfight, should I ever be involved in one. Mind you, I have been in lethal force encounters during my career, and the amount of adrenaline that gets dumped into a person’s system is, in my opinion, going to negate any normal person’s ability to shoot using the reset. If you’re able to do it, you are a far better combatant than I am.

For a single action, the trigger is somewhat heavier than I expected. If you happen to be expecting a competition-grade, glass-rod-breaking trigger like you’d find on a competition 1911, then you will be sorely disappointed. It’s not on this pistol. Most people report a trigger pull of just under six pounds on the Smith & Wesson CSX, which isn’t necessarily heavy, but it certainly is not light.

There is a small (very short) amount of take-up, followed by a wall, and then a clean break. The face of the trigger also has a Glock-type safety lever, which, to be honest, does not bother me, as it is not in the way and really doesn’t affect the pull at all. Personally, I’m okay with another safety on the pistol, so it’s all good.

The trigger is also straight and flat-faced, which is a feature that adds to the comfort. As can be seen in the photo, there is a Glock-like trigger safety on the front of the trigger, which causes no issues whatsoever.

Smith & Wesson CSX slide release, mag release, and trigger closeup
A closeup of the trigger reveals that it is flat-faced and includes a safety that closely resembles what Glock pioneered so many decades ago. It’s comfortable and works well.

1911-ish

By this time, you’ve likely noticed some features that resemble the 1911, namely the metal construction, the single action, and the bobbed and skeletonized hammer. Another feature is the manual thumb safety, which is akin to that of the 1911. It is also ambidextrous, which is another plus. It flicks on and off with an audible click and offers a bit of resistance, which I’d classify as perfect—not too hard, not too easy. There’s a detent that controls how hard it goes on and off, and Smith got it perfectly right.

If I had my druthers, I’d probably have made the safety just ever so slightly larger, but that’s just my taste. It works perfectly as they made it. Upon drawing, the thumb can easily flick the safety off with no trouble, so it works as intended. The shooter’s thumb does not have to stretch or reach, the safety is right there, perfectly accessible.

Smith & Wesson CSX safety lever
Here we see the Smith & Wesson CSX safety lever, which is very similar to a 1911. I wish it were slightly larger, but it works well for the task and offers just the right amount of tension. The magazine release and slide release are also visible and placed perfectly. Note the skeletonized hammer.

Another plus is the fact that the slide can be worked while the safety is on, so the pistol can be loaded or unloaded in a safe condition.

The slide releases (there is one on each side) are also ambidextrous and I can reach them with my thumb without having to shift my grip much. But since I’m a “grab the slide and rack it” kind of guy, I normally don’t use the slide releases. Still, it’s nice that they are there, just in case one of my hands is out of commission. It’s worth noting, too, that the slide releases are positioned so that it’s unlikely that you’ll activate them during a string of fire, even if you prefer to shoot with a thumbs-forward grip. On some pistols, this is an issue, but not on the Smith & Wesson CSX.

Smith & Wesson CSX slide release and safety
The slide releases and safeties are ambidextrous. Another plus is that the pistol can be fired without a magazine in place. Also, note that the rear edge of the ejection port is chamfered and melted so that it does not drag when being holstered. It’s this attention to detail that sets this pistol apart in many ways. Also note the large, external extractor.

Smith elected to use an extractor that is external and large, which seems to point toward confident extraction of spent casings.

Although the magazine release is not ambidextrous, it can very easily be switched to either side by taking out a screw. It’s mounted from the factory on the left side, but they include a spare one for the right side for people who are wrong-handed. The face of the mag release has the same rough texture as the front and back straps, ensuring that the skin will not slip on it.

The guide rod is also constructed of metal, which will undoubtedly please many users.

Magazines

Somehow, S&W managed to design this pistol so 12 rounds can be stuffed into the handle, and of course, one in the chamber. Don’t ask me how, because although the grip is hand-filling, it’s not large. The 12-round magazine has a sleeve device that slides and fills the gap between the baseplate and the handle of the pistol when in use. It does that job well enough, but the fact that it slides around is a pain, and if a magazine is carried in the pocket (which I do), this piece is going to slide all over the place, or completely slide off.

The 10-round magazine fits flush with the butt of the handle and my pinkie finger hangs in space below the grip when it is in use. When the 12-rounder is used, my pinkie has a place to land (which I like). Honestly, I’m not sure why S&W went this route; I think they should have simply made it a 12-shooter because the extra length of that 12-round magazine is only about 1/4 inch or so, and the space saved with the 10-rounder really doesn’t contribute to the pistol’s concealability, in my opinion.

That 1/4 inch does, however, give most people a place to park that pinkie, which we all seem to like. And for that, we also gain two more rounds. So I’ll be shopping for some 12-round spare magazines at GunMag Warehouse. Basically, I think they shouldn’t even bother with the 10-round magazine except in states that prohibit anything over ten rounds.

The entire pistol, including magazines, is finished in Armornite, which is all black and quite attractive. It’s flat black, but sports just the least bit of gloss and looks great, adding corrosion resistance. This finish actually permeates the metal so that, even if the finish appears to be wearing off, it’s still protecting the metal.

Smith & Wesson CSX Technical Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 10+1, 12+1
  • Length: 6.1 inches
  • Barrel: 3.1 inches
  • Action: Single Action
  • Weight: 19.5 ounces

Sights

Both front and rear sights are metal (kudos for that) and of the 3-dot variety. Nothing to write home about, pretty standard, but they function just fine and are dovetailed into the receiver. For the progressive shooters, there is no place to mount a red dot sight at this time, nor is there a rail for mounting lasers, lights, and such. This is a minimalist, super-compact pistol.

Smith & Wesson CSX sights
The sights are pretty standard, metallic 3-dot type. Note the high thumb position – if the author grips the pistol like this, the slide will contact the inside of his thumb. Not a huge deal, just something to be aware of.

As mentioned, the sights are metal and their shape allows them to be used to cock the pistol if necessary using a belt, the sole of a shoe, or another hard surface such as a curb or table edge.

Finish

We’ve already discussed the Armornite finish, but I want to talk about the overall finish of the pistol a bit further. It is seriously nice! The ejection port is chamfered so that it doesn’t catch on the holster as you’re holstering, and is nicely done. In the same vein, the front of the slide is beveled for the same reason and will aid in holstering. All edges on the pistol are beautifully melted so that there are no sharp edges to catch on anything, including the shooter’s skin.

Smith & Wesson CSX muzzle
Notice the rounded, melted edges, which make holstering easier. A few decades ago, this feature would have been considered custom work, but now comes standard on many pistols.

The front cocking serrations facilitate press checks, which is a nice aspect, and are not abrasive, but they do offer a great grip. The rear serrations have the same qualities, but the very last serration on either side sticks out further than the others to form wings, which gives a little extra purchase when cocking.

Smith & Wesson CSX At The Range

Eagerly, I hit the range with the little CSX to see how it would act.

S&W CSX with range gear
Several types of ammunition were tested in S&W’s new CSX Micro-9mm.

Not surprisingly, the micro-9 was a little snappy with the recoil, but I’d say not anything beyond what I expected. Although it let you know it was going off, the muzzle flip wasn’t bad at all and the sights returned to the target very quickly. I believe the felt recoil was largely a factor of the aluminum frame, which transmits energy as opposed to the Polymer pistols that we’re so often used to. You see, Polymer frames have a certain amount of flex when they’re fired, which helps to mitigate some of that recoil. To be honest, the recoil of this fairly small pistol was a bit less than I had anticipated.

Smith & Wesson CSX with range gear and boxes of ammunition
The Smith & Wesson CSX acquitted itself quite well at the range. On top of performing great, it also looks really good! It proved 100% reliable with a few types of ammo, including Blazer Brass, Remington Range, and Federal HST Hydra Shock Tactical. Recoil was not excessive.

As for accuracy, the CSX is pretty darn good for such a little pistol. I shot a group at 15 yards that went into just over one inch, and that was in the first magazine that I had fired through the pistol. At 25 yards, groups did open up (obviously), but it’s still adequate for hitting a silhouette target. With that said, my eyesight these days (I’m a FOG — Fat, Old Guy) is the limiting factor, and the pistol will shoot better than I can wield it.

Smith & Wesson CSX target group from 15 yards

I decided to run a few simple drills with the CSX to see how it handled. Drawing from concealment, I fired two controlled rounds as quickly as I accurately could. Amazingly, I got some of the most accurate shooting of the day by shooting rapidly like this. Don’t ask me how, but that’s how it went — this pistol handles very well at speed.

Rapid fire target group from 10 yards with Smith & Wesson CSX
Rapid-fire proved to be no problem for the little Smith & Wesson CSX. This is a reduced size target, not full size.

A bit more about the trigger — it really is not bad at all, despite what many reviews on the interwebs are claiming. Although it’s a little on the heavier side for a single action, it functioned great on the range. And personally, for a defensive handgun, I don’t mind a trigger that is on the heavier side. Though I don’t have a trigger gauge to measure it with, most people report that the trigger pull is in the 5.5 pound-ish range. As it is, I believe the trigger contributed to the accuracy I was able to achieve on target.

Smith & Wesson CSX

There were no stoppages of any kind on the range, and I used a few different brands of ammunition: Blazer Brass, Remington Range, and Federal Hydra Shock Tactical (HST) +P. All functioned perfectly. The HST, despite being +P, was not noticeably snappier.

I had no problems with my Smith and Wesson CSX Magazines.

Slide Bite

A few folks with larger hands have reported receiving some slide bite on the web of their hand when firing the CSX. I don’t have large hands at all, but I managed to get some slide bite of my own. My problem is that I like to shoot with a very high thumb position, and having that thumb up there caused the slide to come into contact with the skin of the base of my thumb. Simply put, I need to shoot this pistol a little differently, and it’s not the pistol’s fault — it’s mine.

That’s one thing about firearms and other equipment that I’ve noticed with people: often, it’s not really the fault of the equipment, but rather the user who then blames the equipment and decides it has to be modified, removed, or scrapped.

I think people need to shift their thinking and realize that they need to invest the time to get to know the equipment and train with it to eliminate the problems in many cases. While it’s true that certain parts may need to be replaced, it’s not always the case. We see it with triggers all the time — people claim that because a trigger isn’t two pounds, it’s garbage and needs to be replaced because there’s no way they can achieve accuracy with such a piece of junk.

To many of those people, I think to myself, “No, you just suck at shooting and you need to practice and master that piece of gear.” Investing hundreds more dollars in the firearm is not likely to solve their problem, (although once they spend the money, they’re often convinced that now they are good to go). Bottom line: you cannot purchase skills.

Holster

As I write this, there aren’t a plethora of holsters available for the Smith & Wesson CSX. Apparently, it’s still new enough that many makers haven’t geared up for it. I did manage to purchase one from DeSantis Holsters. I began using DeSantis back in the early 1990s when I began carrying pistols concealed. Over the years, I’ve used some excellent holsters from them and even have one or two from that time period that are still functional (although quite worn).

For the Smith & Wesson CSX, I opted for the DeSantis “Inside Heat” holster, which is an inside the waistband (IWB) model that I carry in the appendix position. It’s constructed of heavy, thick, stiff leather that maintains its shape very well. Around the mouth of the holster, it has a band that reinforces the opening and helps to keep the mouth of the holster from closing, which enhances holstering.

Within a day or so, the draw from the holster became much smoother and easier as I practiced drawing the CSX. In fact, I was amazed at how well and quickly the holster smoothed out.

Inside Heat Desantis HOlster
DeSantis Holsters Inside Heat is a very sturdy holster with thick, stiff leather construction and a hardy clip.
Inside Heat DeSantis Holster
Here on the front of the holster, we can see the band that reinforces the mouth of the holster, keeping it open even when in the waistband of the pants. This is a very comfortable holster that does not dig into the skin when I bend over.
Smith & Wesson CSX, DeSantis Inside Heat holster, Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA, and SpyderCo Native knife.
The DeSantis Inside Heat IWB holster is very high quality. Here, the pocket clip can be seen. The flashlight is the Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA. The knife is a Spyderco Native.

After carrying Kydex holsters for quite a while now inside the waistband, it’s refreshing to be carrying in leather again, for a few reasons. First, the handgun’s finish isn’t getting scratched up by Kydex. Second, the leather is a bit more forgiving and not as hard as the Kydex. The Kydex tends to jam into the skin when I bend over, which the leather does not do. This holster is surprisingly comfortable! An added bonus is the fact that it is made in the USA.

 DeSantis IWB holster
The holster keeps the pistol tucked into the belly nicely. The CSX is really nice to carry; not heavy, and yet very solid feeling. The short grip is a huge advantage for concealment.

In Conclusion

Smith & Wesson’s new CSX delivers as promised. It’s light, has an extremely secure, comfortable grip, and is 100% reliable. The little pistol looks great and has a durable finish. Accuracy is more than adequate for the assigned role. It’s pleasingly concealable.

If I had a magic wand in hand and could ask for any wish to improve this pistol, it would be this: make it double-action/single-action with the option of carrying cocked and locked. I feel just a smidgen more comfortable carrying a pistol in my waistband when it has a heavier first-round trigger pull. I realize that, to some out there in the audience, I’m speaking heresy and there are those who will call for me to be burned at the stake for it, but there it is. Not a huge deal, and certainly not a deal-breaker; just a wish. As it is, I’m going to carry it cocked and locked, especially in situations where I want or need a very small pistol.

At the time of this writing, I was able to score one for $529 at my local gunshop (I bought mine, S&W did not give me this one). All in all, if you’re looking for a very concealable pistol for concealed carry, the Smith & Wesson CSX will fill the bill as well as you could possibly expect. This one is a keeper!

 

 

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.

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