Viable In A Square World?

S&W’s 3" K-Frame ‘Round-Gun’

Old school but still cool. This 3" round-butt M66 sits in a period Bianchi No. 3 holster
next to a DeSantis 2x2x2 cartridge pouch.

Amidst a tsunami of polymer-framed autoloading pistols we’re seeing a groundswell of renewed interest in double-action revolvers. Some of the most popular are the 3″ barreled K-Frame Smith & Wesson wheel guns in round-butt configuration.

Why this particular variation? The fact they’re relatively uncommon is the least of it. The “3KRB” has a lot going for it. Let’s examine why.

Old and new 3KRB: From top left the M13 .357, the M547 9mm and M66 .357.
At right the new .357 M19 K-Comp from S&W’s Performance Center.

Appealing Features

The 3″ barrel — with the correct outside-the-waistband holster — protrudes less from beneath the hem of the concealing garment than a full-length service revolver. The extra bit of barrel gives it a smidgen more velocity than a 2″ or 2.5″ specimen. Perhaps the greatest tactical advantage over the more common shorter barrels is the full-length ejector rod, making an emergency reload much more positive.

The K-Frame is still medium in size, reasonably concealable but with much better handling in actual shooting than the smaller J-Frame. Its cylinder holds a full six rounds instead of five, its trigger reach is optimal for the average adult male hand and it has just enough heft to keep recoil manageable without making the wearer list to one side. And, of course, there’s the famously-smooth trigger pull.

The round butt seems to conceal distinctly better than the square one and the round butt was the configuration of the very first Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899. Some of us feel it fits our hand better than the more common square-butt S&W as well.

Taken all together — and we’re being subjective again here — lots of us think this particular S&W configuration simply has exquisite balance, not only in the tactile sense, but in looks too. There are also elements of habituation and tradition. My friend Vant Abercrombie recently retired from a distinguished career as a police investigator. The day after his retirement he put away his issue 16-shot .40 caliber polymer pistol and strapped on his favorite 3″ S&W Model 65. “It’s comforting to have a classic .357 at my side,” he says.

Retired cop Steve Denney still loves to hammer things with sweet-shooting 3KRB revolvers.

French rarebit: This long-out-of-print Smith M547 9mm showcases the distinctive 3KRB look to a “T.”

What’s Out There?

Smith 3KRB’s are most commonly encountered with fixed sights. In .38 Special, this includes the chrome-molybdenum steel Model 10 series (blue or nickel) and the Model 64 stainless. In .357 Magnum, it’s the Model 13 in chrome-moly, and the Model 65 in stainless. The 3″ Model 13 was the last service revolver the FBI issued before changing to autos. The least common variant is the Model 547 in 9mm Luger, said to have been made originally for the French government.

All these have naked ejector rods except for another rare variant, the Model 65 Ladysmith, which has fixed sights but also the shrouded ejector rod more commonly seen on the adjustable-sighted .357 Combat Magnum.

Adjustable sight versions are much less common. Round butt 2.5″ .357 Combat Magnums were hugely popular but the 3″ option was never cataloged and always was a special order for a distributor or (usually) law enforcement. The stainless 3″ Model 66 is thin on the ground, and while I’ve heard of 3″ Model 19’s, I’ve never actually seen one. The Model 66 is my personal favorite among the 3KRB guns simply because its adjustable sights (changed to MeproLight versions on mine) allow me to dial in precisely with any of the wide range of .38 Special to top-end .357 Magnum loads.

Good news: You no longer have to haunt gun shows and to find one. S&W has reintroduced the adjustable-sight Model 66 with a 2.75″ barrel — close enough! — and I recently had a chance to shoot the K-Comp 3″ Model 19 with a ported barrel and Trijicon front sight from the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.

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