Recently I did an “A Look Back” retrospective on the Smith & Wesson J-frame series of revolvers for AmericanRifleman.org (http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/8/10/a-look-back-at-the-smith-wesson-j-frames/), and it sort of got me wool gathering. I bought my first J-frame, a 1970-vintage Model 60, used, in about 1983. One of my best friends, who was a police officer, had one as an off-duty gun, and we were playing with it one day. I managed to luck my way into hitting a 200-yard gong several times with it a few years before I found this one, and I was determined to get my hands on one.
Of course, when I finally got mine, I wasn’t hammering 200-yard gongs or anything else with it with any consistency beyond about 15 yards or so. After a while I called it my “eye-socket gun.” About all it was good for was shooting a miscreant in the eye sockets across a card table—not a useless tool but not the backup or concealed carry piece such revolvers were touted to be by those who are more adept at entertaining people than saving their own life in a threatening situation. With some practice I did achieve a somewhat better shooting performance, but it had a couple of problems: The damn hammer spur would catch on anything it got within a foot of—like my pocket, where it was most often stashed. And, too, the trigger was way too heavy and gritty to be able to do anything resembling precision shooting in double action at any distance.
About 15 minutes with a Dremel tool, a file and a few seconds in a bead-blaster fixed the hammer spur issue. It almost looks as if it came that way from the factory. It took several hours over a period of time to smooth up the double-action trigger pull. When it comes to such tasks, I am of the go-slow-and-try-it method—hence the length of time it took to accomplish what I was trying to. Eventually what I ended up doing was to clipping off one coil of the trigger-return spring, polishing the interior of that housing with a dowel and some lapping compound, polishing the outside of the housing where it rides against the frame and carefully draw-filing and polishing with crocus cloth the strut that the mainspring rides upon. Yes, I could have made the pull even lighter, but this is a small revolver, and I wanted to ensure the hammer would always crack the primer. The pull may still be a bit heavy for target shooting, but it is butter smooth and allows me to pull through the double action with minimal disturbance of the revolver. A disclaimer: If you choose to try to emulate this and haven’t done it before, go very slowly and try it as you progress. Be prepared to replace parts you may ruin. It worked for me, but I am not responsible if you screw your gun up.
Anyway, the little Model 60 grew on me over time, logging thousands of miles in a pocket and providing me a sense of preparedness in case a ne’er-do-well decide to try me. I grew up on the beach, and in the summer I never wore long pants unless absolutely necessary, even long into adulthood. The cargo pocket in shorts is a perfect repository for a little gat like the J-frame. Trouble was, the Model 60 weighs 17.5 ounces, loaded with five Speer 125-grain Gold Dots and with a set of Craig Spegel Boot Grips—the very best grips or stocks for a J-frame in my opinion—and this weight clearly prints in a shorts’ pocket. It also wears out the pocket fairly quickly.
In 2007 I was fortunate to get a plant tour of Smith & Wesson—a truly amazing and nearly seamless melding of 19th, 20th and 21st century technology—and came away with a Model 342 PD. This is a now-discontinued 11-ounce .357 Magnum to which I, of course, added a set of Spegel Boot Grips to. I do not shoot .357 Magnums in it—ever. As far as I am concerned, it is still an eye-socket gun and a near perfect pocket companion during the dog days of summer when my purpose is something far away from sociopaths in their preferred environment.
A J-frame is not the primary self-defense pistol I would choose, especially when the chance of an encounter rises due to environmental (read urban) conditions. But it is a regular companion to me in the summer when a cover garment isn’t appropriate. The 342 PD is my go-to J-frame, but I still have the Model 60. You just never know when I might be called upon to ring that 200-yard gong again.