The Smith & Wesson Model 10 Military and Police .38 Special Revolver

By Chuck Hawks


Smith & Wesson is currently marketing a semi-automatic pistol as a Military and Police (M&P) model, but the name is taken from the double action (DA) revolver that made it famous. Later, the same revolver was assigned the model number "10," when S&W stopped naming their handguns and gave them numbers, instead. To this day, shooters over 30 associate the M&P name primarily with the forged steel Model 10 revolver that is still going strong and was the mainstay of the S&W police (and civilian) handgun line for decades, not the more recent, plastic-framed semi-auto.

The S&W .38 Hand Ejector, fixed sight service revolver has, in one form or another, been a best seller in the S&W revolver line since 1899. The Military and Police tag was added immediately after the gun's introduction, as a result of an 1899 order from the U.S. military for thousands of Smith & Wesson's new revolvers in the then U.S. service standard .38 Long Colt caliber. Also in 1899, S&W introduced a new caliber in the M&P, the .38 Special (actual bullet diameter .357"). This was an enlarged and more powerful cartridge designed to address the stopping power deficiencies of the .38 Long Colt service cartridge. The M&P revolver and the .38 Special cartridge have been associated ever since.

As a historical note, the S&W Military and Police was engaged in an intense competition with Colt's best selling Police Positive Special service revolver for both the civilian and police markets during the first half of the 20th Century. S&W finally achieved market dominance due to their ability to undersell Colt.

M&P revolvers have been periodically updated, with the first major change coming in 1902, when the lockwork was simplified and the ejector rod locking lug was added beneath the barrel, latching the cylinder into the frame at front and back. Starting in 1904, customers had a choice of square or rounded grip frames. In 1915 the lockwork was again improved by the addition of an automatic hammer block that rendered the revolver completely safe with all six chambers loaded; the fixed sights were also improved at the same time. S&W began heat treating cylinders in 1919. M&P revolvers produced between 1942 and 1944 had a "V" prefix added to their serial numbers and were known as "Victory" models. Incidentally, the S&W Magna grips were introduced after the end of World War II and, at some point, the hammer block actuation was changed from a spring to a cam. The Model 10 designation was introduced in 1957/1958, so the revolver became known as the ".38 Military & Police Model 10," the designation used by the Gun Digest, the Shooter's Bible and practically everyone else until 2010. Whatever it is called, this .38 Special, fixed sight service revolver is the most popular in history, with over 6,000,000 sold and production continuing today.

Model 10's made at various times between 1958 and 2010 were available with 2", 3", 4", 5" and 6" barrels. There were also limited production "distributor special" versions with 2.5" barrels. However, the 4" and 6" barrel lengths have always been the most popular. These were elegantly tapered barrels, without a top rib and only a small bottom lug (about " long) to serve as a latch for the tip of the ejector rod. There was also an otherwise identical 4" heavy barrel (no taper) M&P version. Prior to 1981, the barrel was threaded into the frame and pinned in place, while current Model 10 barrels are simply threaded into the frame sans pin. The gun reviewed here has a 6" barrel, my favorite length for .38 revolvers.

The caliber is marked on the right side of the test gun's barrel, reading "38 S&W Special Ctg." while "Smith & Wesson" is stamped on the left side. The serial number is stamped on the bottom of the grip frame. Our test gun's serial number indicates that it was probably made in 1977, just before the 10-7 engineering change took place (later in 1977). The model number is stamped inside the frame behind the cylinder crane; thus, the cylinder must be swung open to see the model number. In the case of the test revolver, it reads "Mod. 10-5." That stands for Model 10, 5th engineering revision. The fifth engineering revision (-5) was a change from a 1/10" wide "half moon" front sight blade to a 1/8" wide ramp style front sight blade; this was instituted in 1962. Our test gun was therefore part of the Model 10-5 production run, manufactured between 1962 and 1977. (The -6 was not a production version; it was a small run of caliber .357 Magnum prototypes that became the Model 13, introduced in 1974.)

Between 1958 and 2012 there were a total of 14 engineering revisions made to the Model 10. The lockwork has remained the same after the -4 revision, in which the earlier flat leaf spring powered trigger return mechanism was replaced by a more durable coil spring powered slider.

The Model 10 was temporarily discontinued in 2010, only to be immediately reintroduced in the current 4" heavy barrel version without the historic M&P tag. The blued steel Model 10 revolver is offered today in pretty much its original form, but only with a 4" heavy barrel and a rounded butt. All Model 10's, from 1958 to the present, are suitable for use with .38 Special +P ammunition, as well as all standard pressure .38 Special loads.

The M&P is built on Smith's medium size "K" frame, which is an appropriate size for a six-shot, .38 Special revolver. The small "J" frame was designed for .32 caliber cartridges (such as the .32 S&W) and the big "N" frame for .44/.45 caliber cartridges.

None of these S&W frame sizes were originally intended for use with Magnum cartridges. Thus it was that when the .357 Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1935, it was chambered in a big N frame gun, which was unnecessarily large for the caliber. Later, the .357 was adapted to K frame guns, but it tended to shake them apart and the recoil is ferocious. It wasn't until much later, when S&W copied the Colt Python size frame, calling it the "L" frame, that they finally had a frame appropriate for the .357 Magnum.

The sights on the M&P are fixed (non-adjustable). The front sight is the angled (quick draw) front blade introduced with the -5 series and the rear sight is the traditional square notch machined into the top of the frame. This is a durable, but limiting, sighting system that was basically regulated for use with the traditional 158 grain LRN "police service" factory load. Good revolver sights should be user adjustable for windage and elevation, since otherwise the sights can be properly regulated at the factory for only one load at one distance. The K38 Masterpiece (Model 14) is S&W's adjustable sight .38 Special revolver. It is generally similar to the M&P, but supplied with a fully adjustable rear sight and undercut target type front blade that allows accurate use of the wide range of .38 Special loads on the market.

Most Model 10's came with a high polish, luster blued overall finish with a color case hardened hammer and trigger, although nickel finish was also available for most of the gun's life. The nickel plated finish was discontinued in 1991, well after the satin stainless steel Model 64 M&P had been introduced, which effectively replaced the nickel finish. The stainless Model 64 is otherwise the same as the Model 10. (S&W pads their model list by using different model numbers for otherwise identical stainless and blued finish guns.) Previously supplied with a either a round or square butt and checkered wood grips, current production Model 10's come with a round butt (only) and wood grip panels, while Model 64 revolvers are supplied with Uncle Mike's combat style rubber grips. The test gun has a square grip frame with S&W Magna walnut grip panels; it is in completely stock form.

Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special Revolver
The 2013 version of the Model 10 Heavy Barrel. Illustration courtesy of Smith & Wesson.

2013 Model 10 Heavy Barrel Specifications

  • SKU: 150786
  • Caliber: .38 Special +P
  • Action: SA/DA
  • Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Barrel: Threaded into frame
  • Barrel length: 4" heavy
  • Front sight: Fixed blade
  • Rear sight: Fixed notch
  • Overall length: 8-7/8"
  • Frame size: Medium (K), exposed hammer
  • Weight: 36 oz. (catalog)
  • Grips: Wood, rounded butt
  • Material: Carbon steel frame and cylinder
  • Finish: Blue
  • Purpose: Military and police service, home protection
  • 2013 MSRP: $719
Smith & Wesson Model 10-5 .38 Special Revolver
Smith & Wesson Model 10-5. Photo by Chuck Hawks.

1962-1977 Model 10-5 Specifications (as tested)

  • Condition: Used, excellent
  • Caliber: .38 Special +P
  • Action: SA/DA
  • Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Barrel: Threaded into frame and pinned in place
  • Barrel length: 6" tapered
  • Front sight: Fixed blade (1/8" wide)
  • Rear sight: Fixed notch
  • Overall length: 11-1/8"
  • Frame size: Medium (K), exposed hammer
  • Weight: 31 oz. (catalog); 32 oz. (actual)
  • Grips: Walnut, Magna square butt
  • Material: Carbon steel frame and cylinder
  • Finish: Blue
  • Purpose: Military and police service, home protection
  • 1976 MSRP: $109

Like all S&W revolvers with swing out cylinders, the cylinder rotates counter clockwise, or out of the frame, because the hand that rotates the cylinder is on the right side of the frame and the cylinder swings out to the left. This is why S&W revolvers have two cylinder locks, one in the form of a spring loaded pin at the front of the ejector rod and the second a hole in the recoil shield at the rear of the frame window for the spring-loaded cylinder pin. The hand trying to rotate the cylinder out of the frame is also why S&W revolver cylinders are not quite as tight, with the trigger pulled back, as equivalent Colt revolver models.

The firing pin is pinned into the hammer using a roll pin. There is rebounding hammer with an internal hammer block that positively prevents the firing pin from hitting the primer of a chambered cartridge until the trigger is pulled back, thus rendering the gun safe to carry with the cylinder fully loaded. The main (hammer) spring is a traditional, long flat spring inside the grip frame, secured by a screw in the lower front of the grip frame.

The trigger pull of the test gun measured a clean four pounds, per my RCBS pull scale. Like all S&W revolvers we have reviewed, the DA pull exceeded the eight pound max reading of my scale. It is probably on the order of 12 to 14 pounds, so heavy that when dry firing I could not keep the sights correctly aligned, no matter how slowly and carefully I tried to pull the trigger.

This revolver's DA trigger function is adequate for use at contact range and not much else. If you want to hit what you are shooting at, cock the hammer manually for a SA trigger pull.

It is no secret that S&W has turned out a lot of poorly machined and fitted revolvers, especially during the 1970's and 1980's. However, our test gun has a tight, uniform cylinder gap, tight cylinder crane to frame fit and a uniformly machined cylinder star. The frame is straight and the barrel is correctly aligned in the frame. The side plate fits the frame perfectly, with a nearly invisible line where the two meet. The hand ejector rod is straight, the action is tight and there is very little cylinder play. The locking bolt does not drag between the cylinder locking notches and the cylinder indexes correctly during rapid DA fire. The grip panels correctly match the shape of the frame and are a tight fit. It is one of the good ones!

For the shooting part of this review I had .38 Special standard pressure Remington/UMC 130 grain Metal Case (MV 790 fps) and Winchester/USA 125 grain JSP (MV 850 fps) factory loads. To represent .38 Special +P loads I used the Winchester/USA 125 grain JHP Personal Protection factory load (MV 945 fps). Groups were five shots at 25 yards at slow fire pistol (bulls eye) targets, fired from a sturdy shooting bench using a Pistol Perch rest.

Guns and Shooting Online staffers Gordon Landers, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck helped me with the shooting chores. We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor shooting range south of Eugene Oregon. Overcast skies with a high temperature in the upper 50's F during our day at the range with the Model 10 were typical of Western Oregon weather in mid-March. The maximum wind velocity was 10-15 MPH. At least it did not rain.

Shooting results

  • Remington 130 gr. MC: Smallest group = 1-3/4"; Largest group = 2-3/8"; Mean average group size = 2.13"
  • Winchester 125 gr. JSP: Smallest group = 1-3/4"; Largest group = 2-3/4"; Mean average group size = 2.08"
  • Winchester +P 125 gr. JHP: Smallest group = 1-1/8"; Largest group = 2-1/4"; Mean average group size = 1.79"

AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS: 2.0"

This time out Jim shot the smallest individual group. Note that none of our test loads were the 158 grain LRN factory loads (MV approx. 800 fps) for which the Model 10's fixed sights were presumably regulated. I detest plain lead bullets and almost never shoot such ammo in my revolvers, so I don't keep it on hand. Unfortunately, none was available for sale locally, due to the Obama post re-election ammo shortage.

The sights, although fixed, present a decent, Patridge type sight picture in daylight conditions. Point of impact with a two hand hold, for me, was 1.5" low and 1" to the left at 25 yards with the 125-130 grain standard pressure ammo. The Winchester 125 grain +P loads grouped about 1.25" low and approximately centered in windage. Shooting a bit low with these 125-130 grain loads was not surprising, as I figured the gun was intended for use with 158 grain police loads. If only the Model 10 had an adjustable rear sight it would be easy to zero this revolver to hit dead on at 25 yards with 125 grain +P JHP ammo.

The SA trigger pull releases the hammer cleanly without any take-up and very little over-travel. All shooters appreciated the clean trigger. At a measured four pounds, the pull weight is about 1.5 pounds heavier than I would like, but it is so crisp it feels lighter than it really is. Doubtless the weight will decrease a bit as the parts wear-in. The wide trigger has a comfortably gentle curve and a grooved face. I prefer a smooth trigger surface. Never in my life can I remember my trigger finger slipping on a smooth trigger!

As with all S&W revolvers, the checkering on top of the hammer spur is too sharp and tends to abrade the skin of the shooter's thumb pad after a lot of manual cocking (single action shooting). All of our test firing for our recorded groups was done single action, of course, to maximize accuracy. I have never understood the gun manufacturers' fascination with sharp edges on handguns.

S&W's two-piece Magna grips have to be among the most uncomfortable ever designed from the standpoint of handling recoil and they provide no fill between the front of the grip frame and the back of the trigger guard. (Well, okay, they are better than the earlier S&W wood grips.) However, the Magna grips served satisfactorily on the relatively heavy for caliber Model 10 with both standard pressure and +P .38 Special loads. The revolver's 6" barrel and good balance helped minimize recoil and muzzle jump.

My only real complaint was that the S&W cylinder latch (slide forward to swing open the cylinder) was too tight and a bit difficult to operate. It tended to hesitate or stick about half way when pressed forward, the only rough machine work we found on this gun.

Despite its age, this revolver showed signs of having being shot very little prior to this review, with no signs of wear due to use, or even from being carried in a holster. I doubt it had fired a full box of ammo (50 rounds) in its entire life. It had been purchased by G&S Online Technical Assistant Nathan Rauzon's Grandfather for home defense and spent virtually its entire life in a gun case. Thus, we had the pleasure of shooting what was functionally a new Model 10-5 revolver.

The S&W Military and Police Model 10 is a good choice for police service and home defense, just as advertised. It is the right size for the .38 Special cartridge, which particularly in +P hollow point form, is an excellent choice for both purposes. Like any revolver, it can be left fully loaded with all springs relaxed for years and still be ready for immediate action at a moments notice, without any preparation. Just cock the hammer and squeeze the trigger to fire accurate SA shots, or simply pull the trigger for very short range DA use in an extreme emergency. For home defense, nothing is safer, more accurate, more reliable or more ambidextrous than a revolver. A good S&W Military and Police Model 10 is more than adequate for the job.

Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews page.




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Copyright 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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