February 19, 2020
No matter how many new and innovative uber-sub-micro-nano semi-auto pistols hit the market, gun companies continue to sell small snub-nose (snubbie) revolvers for personal protection and concealed carry at a steady and significant rate. There are two good reasons for this—simplicity and ease of use, which are big selling points for a lot of seasoned gun owners and new shooters alike.
A revolver is either loaded or it’s not. You don’t have to insert a magazine, wonder if you remembered to chamber a round, or flip off a safety. Once the revolver is loaded, all you have to do to fire it is point it and pull the trigger. And the malfunction drill for revolvers, on the infinitely rare chance it doesn’t go bang when you pull the trigger? Pull the trigger again.
While most of the excitement seems to be on the semi-auto side of the aisle, gun manufacturers aren’t putting out snubbies unchanged from the Eisenhower era, these little wheelguns are getting modernized. And new models are getting introduced as well.
In this article, I’ll review a trio of compact revolvers, either modern takes on established models or completely new designs: the Smith & Wesson Model 360, the Ruger LCR, and the Kimber K6S.
S&W Model 360
When your brand has become synonymous with a product (Kleenex, Q-Tip, Band-Aid) it is a marketing manager’s dream. These days, if you throw out the word snubbie, every gun owner with any miles under his tires immediately thinks of the Smith & Wesson J-frame first. Introduced in 1950, the S&W J-frame is the 900-pound gorilla of compact revolvers (www.smith-wesson.com).
S&W puts out dozens of different variations of the venerable J-frame. The Model 360 was new for 2017, and is a combination of old school and new cool. First, like every “standard” J-frame, it has a 1 ⅞-inch (1.875") barrel and a five-shot cylinder. After that, there are so many variations of S&W snubbies these days, with so many options, there are seemingly infinite combinations.
For the Model 360, S&W put together a list of many frequently requested features. First, this five-shot revolver is chambered in .357 Magnum, so you can stuff it with Magnums or .38 Specials. The cylinder is unfluted and stainless steel, with a black PVD finish. That unfluted cylinder looks cool, but that extra steel also adds strength to handle those .357 Magnums.
It has a double action/single action operating system with an exposed traditional hammer, so you can cock it if you want. The rear sight is the traditional J-frame notch milled into the rear of the frame. The front sight is a fixed, serrated ramp and has a red polymer insert for a little better visibility than a standard steel ramp.
Perhaps most importantly to a lot of people, the Model 360 is an “Airweight,” which traditionally would mean it has an aluminum frame instead of steel. In the case of the 360, the frame isn’t aluminum, but rather scandium, a strong alloy even lighter than aluminum. It keeps the unloaded weight of the Model 360 at 14.9 ounces. Not only is the frame scandium, but the barrel shroud is as well. The barrel is stainless steel, but the barrel is not that thing you see sticking out the front of the cylinder atop—that’s the barrel shroud. The barrel is screwed into that shroud, and the steel front sight is pinned atop it.
If you look closely, you’ll see a tiny bit of silver inserted into the frame’s top strap just above where the barrel meets the cylinder. That is a layer of stainless steel, designed to keep the scandium frame from eroding from the blast shooting out of the gap between the barrel and cylinder with each shot. Scandium and aluminum are great, but nothing beats the strength of steel.
The barrel shroud, frame, and cylinder all have a nice matte black finish. “Smith & Wesson” is nicely laser etched on the left side of the barrel shroud. “Airweight” and the S&W logo are etched onto the right side of the frame.
The grips are rubber and in Flat Dark Earth to provide a nice bit of color contrast to the metal bits on the gun. The grips are a bit longer than classic J-frame grips, extending past the bottom of the grip frame. This means you can get all of your fingers on the gun, and they make the gun more comfortable to shoot, but as a result, the gun is not as easy to conceal as J-frames with shorter frame-length grips.
The classic hook on the hammer looks neat and retro, but be aware they did away with it on a lot of models because it tends to hook on the edges of pockets when you’re trying to draw the gun. Like with any carry gun, don’t just practice shooting it, but practice drawing it from whatever location/manner you’re carrying it.
Smith & Wesson J-frame snubbies are known for a lot of things (including reliability and concealability), but good trigger pulls are not one of them. Traditionally, their double-action pulls are heavy and gritty, and that long/heavy trigger pull is the safety, so to speak. The 360 lived up to that reputation. The DA trigger pull on my sample was 12.5 pounds. The single action was typical S&W as well—short, crisp, and light, breaking at 3.75 pounds. The trigger itself has a smooth and slightly rounded face, and is very comfortable on the finger.
The Model 360, like all of S&W new revolvers except for the retro “Classic” models, is equipped with S&W’s Internal Lock Mechanism. You’ll see a small hole in the left side of the frame, just above the cylinder release. S&W provides two keys, which look a bit like handcuff keys; insert one into the hole in the frame, turn, and neither the hammer nor trigger will move.
The Internal Lock Mechanism was added to S&W revolvers in about 2002, and in my opinion, they don’t make these revolvers any safer for the owner, they just protect Smith & Wesson from stupid lawsuits. In all honesty, I would rather have Ruger-style safety warnings plastered all over the gun than extra parts inside the gun that are unnecessary. Always remember that more parts=more opportunities for parts breakage.
Due to the scandium and stainless steel construction, the Model 360 is a little pricier than some of the other J-frames, with an MSRP of $770.00.
Smith & Wesson Model 360 Specs
- Type: DA/SA revolver
- Caliber: .357 Magnum
- Capacity: 5
- Barrel: 1.875”
- Length: 6.4”
- Height: 5.2”
- Width: 1.35”
- Weight: 14.9 oz.
- Finish: PVD
- Cylinder: Stainless steel
- Frame: Scandium
- Grips: Rubber, FDE
- Sights: Fixed notch rear, Red insert ramp front
- Trigger pull: 12.5 lbs. DA, 3.75 lbs. SA (as tested)
- Price: $770.00
- Accessories: Trigger lock
- Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson; www.smith-wesson.com
The Ruger LCR (www.ruger.com) was announced in 2009, and even back then, a lot of people were scratching their heads at a gun company introducing a new wheelgun in an era that seemed to be owned by the small semi-auto. Heck, just the year before, Ruger introduced the now-legendary LCP, which single-handedly caused the .380 ACP ammo shortage (seriously).
The LCR—which stands for Lightweight Compact Revolver—wasn’t just a cut-down version of one of Ruger’s existing all-steel wheelguns, it was a radical departure in revolver design. It featured a frame that was part aluminum, part polymer in construction, which sounded so crazy it got the gun more attention than it otherwise might have—mostly because a lot of people were convinced “plastic” wasn’t strong enough to function as a revolver frame.
While Ruger now offers a number of different variations of the LCR, I opted to test the original model, because, in my opinion, it is the perfect iteration of this design. This revolver features a five-shot, highly-fluted, stainless steel cylinder rated for .38 Special +P ammunition. It has a PVD finish for corrosion resistance. It is a concealed-hammer, double-action-only revolver.
The LCR features a 1.87-inch stainless steel barrel. That barrel is screwed into a one-piece monolithic barrel shroud/frame made of “aerospace aluminum.” The front sight is steel and pinned into place on the barrel shroud, so it is replaceable. The front sight is a serrated ramp with a white outline. The rear sight is a notch machined into the rear of the aluminum frame.
The aluminum section of the frame encloses the cylinder on all sides. The polymer section of the frame includes the trigger guard and grip frame, and encompasses all of the fire control parts. The cylinder release is pure Ruger—a small pushbutton on the left side of the frame.
What got Ruger all the initial attention with the LCR was the polymer frame. What got them all the sales were two things—how comfortable this light revolver was to shoot, and what a great trigger it had. Let’s talk about the grip, first.
At a mere 13.5 ounces, the LCR is light—that “L” in “LCR” deserves to be there. But this revolver is surprisingly comfortable to shoot, and that is due simply to the grip Ruger chose to put on this piece, a Hogue Tamer.
This is a black rubber one-piece grip secured to the grip frame via one screw on the bottom (which makes it easy to switch out if you so desire). This grip has two finger grooves for control and puts some nice, soft, recoil-absorbing material between the web of your hand and the hard frame of the weapon.
The factory Hogue Tamer grip works great for taming the recoil of this light revolver. But that grip is not as small as you might think. It is not long, but it is wide, and the rubber used for it is a bit tacky, so it does not conceal—or draw from concealment—as well as you might expect from a snubbie. Especially out of a pocket, that rubber tends to grip fabric as well as it does your hand. However, Ruger gambled that the comfort and increased shootability this grip provides more than outweighs its compromised compactness, and I can’t say they’re wrong.
Now let’s talk about the trigger on the LCR. Simply put, the trigger pulls are uniformly smooth and light. They are consistently the best trigger pulls of any factory production snubbie revolvers on the market…or at least they were, until Kimber introduced the K6s. Having no engineering background, I would say Ruger accomplished this by using unicorn tears to polish and lubricate the trigger components, but I’m told it actually is accomplished through the use of a friction-reducing cam.
The trigger pull on my sample LCR was very similar to all the others I’ve shot, in that there is a smooth, light trigger pull all the way up until the trigger is about to break. Then, there is a kind of step with a harder break. You can either pull through that step or use it to pause in your trigger pull and then complete the pull with a single-action-style break. This allows you to shoot the gun with almost single-action type accuracy, if you’ve got the time. But that harder step disappears if you’re in a hurry when you’re pulling the trigger, you don’t even notice it. And at 9.25 pounds, it had the lightest double-action trigger pull of all of these revolvers.
At $579, the Ruger LCR is the least expensive of these three revolvers. It is also the lightest, and the only one not capable of handling .357 Magnums (although Ruger does make a heavier version that is chambered in .357).
Ruger LCR Specs
- Type: DAO revolver
- Caliber: .38 Special +P
- Capacity: 5
- Barrel: 1.87”
- Length: 6.5”
- Height: 4.5”
- Width: 1.28”
- Weight: 13.5 oz.
- Finish: PVD on cylinder
- Cylinder: Stainless steel
- Frame: Aluminum/polymer
- Grips: Hogue Tamer black rubber
- Sights: Fixed notch rear, White insert ramp front
- Trigger pull: 9.25 lbs. (as tested)
- Price: $579.00
- Accessories: Trigger lock
- Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co. / www.ruger.com
Kimber got a lot of attention a few years ago when it introduced its K6s, for a number of reasons. First, it was a revolver, from a company known for its rifles and 1911s. Second, it was not a boring inexpensive revolver, but one of the nicest compact revolvers most reviewers had ever seen, at a price that was impressive. It was as if the Kimber engineers got together one day and said, “Let’s design the ultimate snubnose revolver, cost be damned!”
The original K6s was an all-stainless piece with great looks and an attention-getting MSRP of $899. Nine hundred bucks for a snubbie? Cue the heart palpitations.
But just about everyone who laid hands on the K6s immediately realized that it was not overpriced. You were getting what amounted to a custom-designed and built snubnose with great sights and an even better trigger.
Kimber has since introduced a myriad of K6s models, and for this article I secured one of its top-of-the-line K6s CDP versions. CDP stands for Custom Defense Package.
Like the original K6s, this is a six-shot .357 Magnum with a two-inch barrel. This is an all-stainless steel revolver as well, but it has been treated to a black DLC coating on the frame for a two-tone look. Personally, I prefer the all-black (DLC coating) looks of the K6s DC (Deep Cover), but I know there are a lot of you out there looking at the photos of the two-tone CDP and lustfully shouting “Shut up and take my money!”
What does the Custom Defense Package entail, other than the pretty two-tone finish? First, and maybe most importantly, night sights. To either side of the notch in the rear sight, you’ll see tritium inserts that glow in the dark, and on the front sight, you’ll see a tritium insert with a white outline ring around it. With the CDP, you get a nice two-tone finish as well as checkered rosewood grips. The rest of the features on the CDP are standard on all the K6s snubbies, and a rundown of them will quickly show you why I think Kimber intended this little wheelgun to be the be-all end-all of snubbies.
First, there’s the size. While it is a six-shot chambered in .357 Magnum, it does not seem any larger than the Ruger LCR—although it is substantially heavier. Kimber advertises it as having the smallest cylinder capable of handling the .357 Magnum, and I don’t doubt that. The cylinder has very attractive flats on it.
The cylinder release is a checkered rectangular button that has not been given a DLC coating and matches the cylinder and barrel. The backstrap has been serrated to keep your hand from slipping side to side.
If you’ll check out the grip positioning on the Kimber, you’ll note that the top of the grip is even with or even just above the center of the cylinder, higher than on either the Ruger or the S&W. The higher you can get your hand on any handgun, the less muzzle rise and felt recoil you’ll experience. Don’t think this happened by accident. The one thing that affects muzzle rise more than anything else is bore height off the hand, and the grips on the Kimber go higher than on either the Ruger or the S&W.
The Ruger LCR weighs 13.5 ounces. The Kimber K6s weighs a beefy 23 ounces. The Kimber is far too heavy for pocket carry, unless you’re used to carrying $40 in quarters in your reinforced pocket. However, that extra weight means firing full-power .357 Magnums through the Kimber won’t have you immediately regretting your life choices.
That weight also means that, unlike the Ruger, if you empty the cylinder at a bad guy and he still hasn’t ceased his bad-guy activities, the K6s is heavy enough to be used very effectively as a blunt force educator. I’m not joking here, I know an off-duty cop who had to shoot someone because the Glock 26 he carried proved ineffective when pistol whipping the guy who’d just stabbed him with a screwdriver. Real life ain’t pretty, folks.
The factory specs for the K6s trigger call for a pull between 9.5 and 10.5 pounds. Measured pull on my sample was 9.75 pounds. Pull was smooth and consistent all the way through and lived up to the “non-stacking” descriptor given it by Kimber.
The base model K6s is a bit pricey for a compact wheelgun, and the end-all be-all K6s CDP is even pricier at $1,155.00….but it really seems more like a custom-made firearm than a production gun. That’s not a bad price for a “customized” snubbie that is designed to be perfect out of the box.
Kimber K6s CDP Specs
- Type: DAO revolver
- Caliber: .357 Magnum
- Capacity: 6
- Barrel: 2.0”
- Length: 6.62”
- Height: 4.46”
- Width: 1.39”
- Weight: 23.0 oz.
- Finish: Black DLC over brushed stainless
- Cylinder: Stainless steel
- Frame: Stainless steel
- Grips: Laminated wood
- Sights: Fixed notch rear with tritium inserts, Post front with white outline tritium insert
- Trigger pull: 9.75 lbs. (as tested)
- Price: $1,115.00
- Accessories: Soft case, trigger lock
- Manufacturer: Kimber / www.kimberamerica.com
“So, which one did you like the best?” is a question I’ve already been asked about this trio of snubbies. But I honestly can’t respond to that with a simple answer.
As a fine piece of craftsmanship, the Kimber K6s CDP is unequaled in this group….but it had better be for that price. And with a beefy weight of 23 ounces, it is the revolver that I would choose to shoot (loaded with soft .38s) if I was to attend a high-round-count back-up gun match or training course, because it is just a soft-recoiling pussycat with a great trigger.
However, if I was to pick one of the pistols as a personal carry gun, I’d probably go with the Ruger. It has a great trigger, is the lightest, and the least expensive, but I admit it is too big and sticky for most of the pockets I’d want to put it in, at least with the factory grip. I’d have to stick it in a holster. Or buy a replacement grip. The only one of these three snubbies that actually is close to being a pocket gun is the S&W M360.
Traditionalists, I know, think choosing any snubbie other than an S&W J-frame is sacrilege and heresy, and the Model 360 is the most traditional of these three in appearance, but the Model 360 isn’t quite for me. Putting full-power .357 Magnums in a gun this small and light seems like the sincerest form of self-abuse.