The Timeless Elegance of the Smith & Wesson 638 Revolver: A Pocket-Sized Legend

Smith & Wesson 638

In the ever-evolving world of firearms, where semi-automatic pistols and high-capacity magazines dominate the landscape, there exists a quiet yet undying appreciation for the classic pocket revolver. Among these gems, the California compliant Smith & Wesson 638 stands as a paragon of simplicity, reliability, and timeless design. This article pays homage to the Smith & Wesson 638 revolver, delving into its use cases, unique features, distinctions from its sibling, the 642, and its enduring appeal as a functional and collectible piece.

The Smith & Wesson 638 is a compact revolver chambered in .38 Special +P with a 5-round capacity. It features a stainless steel barrel measuring 1.875 inches and weighs 14.6 ounces when empty or 16.0 ounces when loaded. The frame is constructed from lightweight aluminum alloy, and the cylinder is made of stainless steel. The revolver has a double-action trigger pull of 7 pounds and 13 ounces, while in single action, it has a pull weight of 1 pound and 12 ounces. The grips are synthetic boot-style, but Hogue grips can also be used. It is equipped with a notch rear sight and a serrated ramp front sight for improved accuracy.

Use Case of the Smith & Wesson 638

The Smith & Wesson 638 is a compact, double-action revolver designed for concealed carry and personal defense. Chambered in .38 Special, this five-shot snub-nosed revolver offers a powerful punch in a small package. Its primary use case lies in being a reliable backup gun for those who prioritize concealed carry, a perfect companion for quick trips to the store, or as a dependable choice for concealed carry in ankle holsters or pocket carry. That said, depending on where I am going, it often serves as my primary carry gun.

Smith & Wesson 163070 Model 638 Airweight 38 Special


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Details that Set the Smith & Wesson 638 Apart

  1. Enclosed Hammer: One of the standout features of the Smith & Wesson 638 is its fully enclosed hammer, also known as a shrouded or internal hammer. Unlike traditional exposed hammers found on many revolvers, this design choice makes it less likely to snag on clothing when drawing from concealment. It enhances the overall concealability of the firearm, ensuring it remains discreet until needed.
  2. J-Frame Design: The Smith & Wesson 638 belongs to the J-frame family of revolvers, which are renowned for their compactness and ease of carry. The J-frame is synonymous with reliability and is often preferred by those who prioritize comfortable concealed carry. With a lightweight aluminum alloy frame, the 638 is easy to carry for extended periods without causing discomfort.

Smith & Wesson 638 vs. 642

The Smith & Wesson 638 shares a close lineage with the Smith & Wesson 642, often causing confusion among potential buyers. While both revolvers offer similar characteristics, one difference lies in their finishes. The 638 comes with a stainless steel frame and cylinder while the 642 boasts an aluminum alloy frame and a stainless steel cylinder. This results in the 638 being slightly heavier but more resistant to corrosion.

That said, the most distinguishing features that sets the Smith & Wesson 638 apart from its sibling, the 642, is its partially enclosed hammer. This seemingly small design choice makes a world of difference for those who appreciate versatility and control in their concealed carry firearm. Unlike the 642’s completely shrouded hammer, the 638’s hammer can be manually cocked. This feature allows experienced shooters the option of firing in single-action mode, which often results in greater accuracy and reduced trigger pull. For those who value precision and the ability to make a precise shot when necessary, the 638’s hammer configuration becomes a game-changer.

Shooting the 638

I have a deep affection for the Smith & Wesson 638 revolver, but there’s no denying that shooting it can occasionally be a bit of a rough experience. After firing around 100 rounds or so, I often find myself reaching my limit. While it undeniably gets the job done, I cannot lie – with +P loads, the recoil and the way the grip interacts with my hand can be harsh. On a few occasions, I’ve even had the gun rub the skin from the webbing of my hand, reminding me of its uncompromising nature and making me wish I had brought a shooting glove with me to the range. Nevertheless, despite the discomfort, I appreciate its reliability and concealed carry capabilities, making it a valuable companion in my collection for self-defense.

Smith & Wesson 638

The Timelessness of the Pocket Revolver

Despite the proliferation of modern semi-automatic handguns with higher magazine capacities and advanced features, the pocket revolver remains a relevant and practical choice for self-defense. Here’s why:

  1. Simplicity and Reliability: Pocket revolvers like the Smith & Wesson 638 are renowned for their simplicity and reliability. They have fewer moving parts, reducing the chances of mechanical failure. This simplicity also means they are easier to maintain and less prone to malfunction in high-stress situations. That said, any gun can fail.
  2. Concealability: The compact size of pocket revolvers makes them ideal for concealed carry. They can easily slip into a pocket, purse, or ankle holster without printing, ensuring discreet carry when needed most. Combined with a pocket holster, the 638 tends to disappear almost completely.
  3. Timeless Appeal: The classic design of pocket revolvers has an enduring charm that transcends generations. Owning one of these timeless pieces is not only practical but also an appreciation of firearm history and craftsmanship.
  4. Backup Firepower: As a backup gun, the Smith & Wesson 638 provides peace of mind to those who prioritize personal safety. It offers a reliable means of self-defense when primary firearms may be inaccessible.
  5. Accidental Discharge Fears: Many newer gun owners are afraid to carry their semi-auto handguns with a round in the chamber. This is a huge mistake that can get you actually killed in the streets. (see video below) You need to have your firearm ready to fire. With its heavy trigger pull, the fear of an accidental discharge is no longer present.

How I carry the Smith & Wesson 638

I treat my Smith & Wesson 638 like my wallet, phone and car keys. It’s with me at all times whenever I leave the house, almost always in my front pocket for near instant access. When it comes to pocket holsters, for me, one name stands out as an epitome of quality and craftsmanship: Mika’s Pocket Holster. Mika’s has earned a sterling reputation in the firearms community for its dedication to creating top-notch pocket holsters that offer both security and comfort. This is especially crucial for the Smith & Wesson 638 enthusiasts who appreciate the “grab and go” philosophy.

The first rule of a gunfight is to have a gun readily accessible, and my Mika’s Pocket Holster ensures that the 638, or any other compact firearm, can be conveniently carried and drawn when needed. Crafted with precision and attention to detail, Mika’s Pocket Holsters provide a snug and secure fit firearm while ensuring minimal printing and maximum concealment. Their holsters are designed to stay in your pocket during the draw, allowing for a smooth and reliable presentation. Mika’s holsters are not only functional but also durable, ensuring they stand the test of time. I’ve had mine for several years now, used daily in all sorts of pant pockets, and it’s still like new. Whether you prioritize quick access or concealed carry, Mika’s Pocket Holster is the go-to choice for those who appreciate the combination of quality and practicality in their concealed carry gear.

Smith & Wesson 638


The Smith & Wesson 638 revolver, with its enclosed hammer, J-frame design, and versatile double-action/single-action operation, embodies the essence of a practical and timeless concealed carry firearm. Its role as a backup gun or quick-access self-defense tool is unrivaled, making it a valuable addition to any firearms enthusiast’s collection. In a world of ever-evolving technology, the Smith & Wesson 638 reminds us that some classics never go out of style, and their utility endures through the ages.

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