August 25, 2023
Gun shops seem to be awash in compact carry 9mm pistols, the new “must-have” fashion accessory. Okay, a bit over the top, as a good 9mm pistol is a useful daily carry item you probably should have at all times. A lot of those to be had are striker-fired, and many have polymer frames. Which doesn’t exactly give me that warm, fuzzy glow that makes life good. There’s a place for non-polymer, and external hammers, and for those who desire a really compact pistol with those features, Smith & Wesson offers the CSX.
OK, the basics: the CSX is a double-stack 9mm pistol with ambidextrous slide stop levers, and an ambidextrous thumb safety. The external hammer
rotates back into an extended tang that protects your hand from the hammer, which is always a good thing on a small pistol. The ambi safety is small enough that I have no problem with the offside lever banging into the knuckle of my firing hand, a problem I often have when designers make the paddles too large. Here, the levers are large enough to be useful, and not missed on the draw, but not so large they get in the way.
The slide stop levers are also low-profile, and also protected by the machined ridge at the back of their recesses, so they only work when they are compelled to by the magazine follower, or intentionally by your hand. You might expect the magazine release to also be ambi, but here S&W took a different tack. I suspect that in making the CSX as compact as possible, they looked at an ambi setup, but could not find the room. Instead, what they did was provide each CSX with two mag catch button assemblies. One for right-handed shooters and one for left-handed shooters. Decide what you want and install that one. (It comes with the right-handed one already installed, so that decision is easy.)
The front of the frame, the dustcover, that part that covers the recoil spring, does not have an accessory rail. I for one do not miss it on a really compact pistol. If the idea is a super-compact 9mm pistol (albeit one with a lot of bullets onboard) then adding a light is counter productive. Then again, I would not be looking at the CSX as a main carry gun, more likely as a backup, but that’s me. Back at the trigger, you’ll notice the addition of an in-blade safety lever to the CSX trigger. That’s a detail usually found only on striker guns, but here I have to give the S&W designers a tip of the hat. By putting in a trigger safety, S&W adds another layer to making the CSX drop-safe, something that a lot of people obsess over. It is completely transparent in use, so I’m in favor. Above the trigger, on the right side, S&W has laser-engraved the notice that there is no magazine disconnector in the CSX. While some pistols do have that part, it is not always an assurance of safety. (To steal a quote from the late Jeff Cooper; “Safety is something between your ears, not something between your hands.”) It is good to know which pistols do and which don’t have such a device.
At the back of the frame, there is a replaceable backstrap. So, if you want, you can swap the backstraps back and forth until you find the one that feels, fits or shoots the best for you. The two sizes in the box are small and extra small, as befits a really compact carry pistol. The backstraps also extend slightly below the frame at the rear, acting as a partial or impromptu mag funnel. Not that getting tapered-top double stack mags into the magwell quickly is any kind of a problem, but it is a small detail that doesn’t add bulk and adds capability.
While we’re here at the magazines, the CSX comes with two. In the box that arrived here, one is a ten-round, flush-fit, and the other holds twelve rounds and is minimally longer. S&W adds a filler slip-over that blends the lines of the frame down to the baseplate of the twelve-round magazine. The twelve-round mag is so minimally longer than the ten that you’ve got to wonder why bother? However, it does give S&W the magazine capacity they need to sell the CSX in restrictive states, while the rest of us can get the extra two rounds. And trying to keep enough SKUs to offer ten-round-only models, and twelve-round-only models is madness. They do offer a state-compliant model, shipped with a pair of just ten-round magazines for those of you who have to put up with such nonsense. If you want more, a quick search turned up plenty of them, running about $36 each, which is the new normal when it comes to hi-cap magazines.
The slide is stubby, as befits a pistol whose barrel is a mere 3.1 inches long. It does, however, have cocking serrations front and rear, and the rear cocking serrations also have the S&W EZ-tab, which makes cocking the slide easier. These are raised ribs at the back of the slide, extending outboard further than the slide flats, and offer a greater gripping surface. They offer it not just on the CSX, but other models as well. S&W is justifiably mum about the technical and manufacturing details of product processes, so if the slides of any particular model are forged, cast, machined from cold extrusions, whatever, it still takes extra effort to produce a raw slide with extra steel that can then be CNC machined into the EZ-tab extension. It is one of those almost forehead-slapping “Why didn’t I think of that?” ideas that is simple in concept but not necessarily easy to implement.
The ejection port is large enough to live-eject loaded rounds, and the extractor is practically a boathook, large and stout enough to haul any 9mm case out of the chamber. The top of the slide has longitudinal grooves down the centerline, to aid in a quick alignment of the sights, and the three-dot sights are held in transverse dovetails. The rear sight is made with a vertical front face, so it can be used as a catchpoint, should you ever need to do a one-handed slide manipulation. The barrel, all 3.1 stubby inches of it, has an integral feed ramp, and a captured recoil spring assembly underneath. At the back of the barrel hood, there is a port for viewing the chamber to see if there is a round chambered, a requirement in a lot of jurisdictions. The barrel locks up by fitting into the ejection port, the modern adaptation of the Browning system.
The steel, the slide and barrel, are done up in the S&W Armornite finish, which is a nitride treatment of the surfaces that makes the exterior harder, and more corrosion-resistant. The aluminum frame is done in a black anodized finish, and the polymer backstrap is also black, so the CSX projects a non-nonsense appearance. In handling the CSX, one of the things that you might not notice right away is just how slick it is, without being slippery. Slick, that is, in not having sharp edges. Every edge that might be a corner, a hand-cutter, a clothing abrader, S&W has rounded. The leading edges of the slide have been rounded, making it easier to re-holster, not that you should be viewing that as a timed event. The old standard of a carry gun that has been de-horned, “like a used bar of soap” pretty much describes the CSX. It is non-slip where it needs to be, but it is un-edged also where it needs to be. The slide stop and thumb safety are set into the frame enough to keep them from being a carry hassle, but large enough to be easy to use. The grip is also something that someone spent time on, making it ergonomic and hand-filling. I tried both backstraps, and while the smaller one felt a bit better in the hand, I didn’t see any difference in performance. Which leads me to a point I should remind you of: you have to be careful in taking the advice of other shooters that “this feels better” or “fits better” because experience both matters and confounds. Me, I’ve handled so many firearms, for so long, and shot so many rounds, that my brain pretty much automatically adjusts to whatever it is, as I pick it up. So, asking me “What fits better?” isn’t useful except for me. You have to try it yourself and see what works for you. That takes practice, and practice is always good.
What I do have to complain about (Sweeney, complaining about something, that’s not exactly new now, is it?) is the trigger. Now, the S&W engineers took a look at making the CSX as compact as they could. And the conclusion hey came to was that they could make the CSX smaller as a hammer-fired pistol than they could as a striker-fired pistol. I was expecting a much better trigger than the CSX has. I guess decades of 1911 shooting has led me to equate “external hammer” with “nice trigger.” Well, the CSX has an adequate trigger for defensive purposes, but it could be a lot better. Out of the box the hammer dropped at seven pounds, even. It also had some grit in it, and a strange catch/hitch in the take-up. The grit and the catch/hitch disappeared after some dry-firing and during the test-firing, but the seven pounds only got a couple of ounces better with use. It’s a single-action, hammer-fired pistol, it could be better. And, it has that trigger-mounted extra safety mentioned earlier, so it can be better and still be safe for carry. Ideally, the CSX trigger should be something just over four pounds, not approaching the seven pounds it is.
Now, for a 9mm pistol that weighs just 20 ounces, you’d expect the CSX to have more felt recoil but, the wider grip of the double-stack magazine helps spread the impact more across the palm of one’s hand. Reviewing the photos and video, it is clear the muzzle comes up, but it happens so quickly
you’d hardly notice, and without a smack in the hand, it seems a lot more sedate than the camera indicates. Accuracy shooting, on the other hand, does not lie. I’m not saying the CSX is an inaccurate pistol, far from it. But, the combination of a heavy trigger, and short sight radius and brisk defensive ammo is not going to produce bullseye-level groupings. The CSX wanted to shoot smaller groups, as it routinely printed three and four-shot clusters, with one unexplained flier. Well, unexplained only in that I didn’t see during each shot’s follow-through that the shot out of the group would have been that far out. But, when you combine a small and lightweight pistol, with a heavy trigger, and a short sight radius, only the softest ammo is going to approach potential accuracy.
Disassembly of the CSX takes a bit more effort that you might think at first glance. If you look on the right side of the frame, in the middle of the slide stop lever is the head of the right-handed lever shaft. You will need a punch, or a small-size Phillips-head screwdriver for this. Unload the CSX and retract the slide until the notch on the left rail lines up with the retention tab on the slide lever. Then, push the head of the shaft, from the right side, until you can grab the left-hand lever and lift it out of the frame. Then just run the slide assembly off of the frame, pull the recoil spring assembly out, and pull the barrel out. Reassembly is easier, as it is just reassembling the slide, ride it onto the frame, line up the slide stop retention notch on the slide with the tab on the slide lever, and press the lever home.
That said, the Smith & Wesson CSX kept all its shots inside the A zone well past any reasonable distance for a super-compact 9mm. I did the accuracy work at 15 yards, the standard for a pistol this small, but as long as I took more than a warp-speed sight picture, I could keep all the shots inside the A zone of a USPSA target, out to 25 yards. So, what do we have here? A most-excellent compact carry 9mm that holds a useful amount of ammunition on board. If you holster the CSX with the ten-round magazine in it, and use the extended one as your reload, you leave the house with 23 rounds of 9mm for emergency use. Sounds like a plan to me, and a plan that depends on the CSX is a good one.
Smith & Wesson CSX Pistol
- Type: Hammer-fired, semi-automatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 12+1 rds.
- Barrel: 3.1 in.
- Overall Length: 6.1 in.
- Weight: 20 oz.
- Finish: Armornite, aluminum, polymer
- Grips: N/A
- Sights: White dot
- Trigger: 6.5 lbs.
- MSRP: $609
- Contact: Smith & Wesson