CCW Revolver Shootout: S&W 642-2 Airweight vs. 640-3
The story of Smith & Wesson revolvers goes back to the 1800s, but the company’s iconic snub-nosed J-Frame revolvers didn’t hit the market until the 1950s. These compact guns are now classic concealed carry firearms that are still popular today.
Two of the modern-day versions of these highly popular revolvers are the 640-3 and the 642-2 Airweight. The stainless-steel 640-3 revolver is chambered in .357 Magnum, and the 642-2 Airweight is made with an aluminum alloy and chambered in .38 Special. The 642-2 is rated for +P ammunition. Both revolvers are often considered great pocket carry guns because they boast a shrouded hammer, which prevents any snagging on clothing. In fact, they can be shot repeatedly through the pocket if needed.
Personally, I felt that the 640-3 was a little heavy for pocket carry, weighing in at 22.1 ounces. At that weight, you might as well carry the Glock 19 in your pocket. However, that weight does have a purpose. The 640-3 must be a more substantial revolver because it is chambered in .357 Magnum. As such, I felt this revolver would be better suited for inside-the-waistband, or IWB, carry or a shoulder holster.
The 642-2 Airweight, on the other hand, is a perfect pocket carry and weighs in at a mere 14.4 ounces. So pocket carry is certainly an option, but I would prefer an IWB holster or even an ankle holster. Additionally, the 642-2 Airweight is a great choice for a handbag or backpack carry gun for women. My wife loves her 642-2. I bought it for her about a year and a half ago. She is not too thrilled with the recoil, but she loves the weight and style.
Even though both of these revolvers could be considered solid candidates for a backup gun, I would opt for the 642-2 Airweight. That comes down to the specifications. The 642-2 Airweight has an overall length of 6.31 inches and a 1.875-inch barrel. In contrast, the 640-3 is 6.6 inches long and boasts a 2.125-inch barrel.
Both revolvers are double-action-only guns because there is no access to the hammer. That, of course, brings up the question of trigger pull. The trigger pull on both the 642-2 Airweight and the 640-3 is approximately 12 pounds. That’s fairly hefty, but it’s manageable with some practice.
Both revolvers have triggers that are metal injection molded. The triggers are also curved and smooth, which does aid in the heavy trigger pull. The thumb latch – or cylinder release – is easily manipulated on both revolvers.
The sights are similar on both pistols, not that the rear sight is anything special. As self-defense handguns, the pistols host a simple U-notch for aiming purposes. The front sights of both are a ramped blade. The blade on the 642-2 Airweight is fixed and part of the barrel, while the front sight of the 640-3 is a black pinned blade. The 640-3 has a stainless-steel construction, but the 642-2 Airweight frame is made with an aluminum alloy and boasts a stainless-steel cylinder, cylinder crane, and barrel.
The capacity of both revolvers is five rounds. With this low round count, reloading may be an issue. But there are any number of speed loaders on the market. With practice, you can get very proficient at a quick reload. However, if you are carrying one of these revolvers as a backup gun, then you may not be as concerned about reloading since the five rounds may be fired at or near the end of a self-defense encounter.
Since these are compact guns, the grip structure of the J-Frame revolver is a little challenging if you are used to the grip of any other full-size revolvers. Both revolvers usually come with standard synthetic grips that are somewhat minimal but adequate. My pinky finger was totally off the grip on the 642-2 Airweight, but the 640-3 did a slightly better job.
The two revolvers I reviewed came with Crimson Trace CTC grips, and the CTC grips on the 640-3 enabled me to obtain a very secure grip on the gun. The grips on the 640-3 had a nice cushioned backstrap to aid in reducing the felt recoil of the .357 Magnum ammunition. There are any number of aftermarket grip options for both of these revolvers.
Likes and Dislikes
Both revolvers were fun to shoot. However, I did feel a more punishing recoil with the Airweight, which is due to the much lighter overall weight and smaller size. We were shooting Remington .38 Special 130-grain FMJ ammo and Fiocchi .357 Magnum 142-grain FMJTC.
When it comes down to how I would use these guns, I like the 642-2 Airweight for deep concealment or as a backup gun carried in an ankle holster. It has an obvious weight advantage, and it would also be good as a primary for handbag or backpack carry. I like the 640-3 as a primary gun in either an IWB, OWB, or shoulder holster because of its heavier weight.
I like both guns because of their history, extremely simple controls, and nonexistent malfunctions. My only dislike, even though it is not necessarily a dislike, is the recoil and the low round count. Both issues would be remedied by shooting more and practice with speed loaders.
On the Range
I took both revolvers out to the range and found their optimal range for me to be between 5 and 7 yards. They were highly effective at hitting center of mass consistently. We had little trouble getting consistent follow-up shots on steel and on our cardboard targets.
After shooting about 100 rounds, the recoil was easily managed. Both revolvers proved to be fun to shoot and were excellent concealment handguns. I am not a regular revolver shooter, so the term “thumbs down” did not have much meaning to me. But I quickly learned to adjust my grip.
There are any number of carry options for both of these revolvers. You can easily find custom leather holsters by Galco and DeSantis. There are also plenty of Kydex and polymer options from makers like Blackhawk. Personally, I have a DeSantis ankle holster for my 642-2 Airweight and a Blackhawk CQC Level 2 retention holster for the same.
Both of these revolvers are extremely well made, have a great history, and are accurate and dependable. As I have mentioned, I would use the 642-2 Airweight as a deep concealment or backup gun. The 640-3 could be used as a deep concealment gun, but I feel it may be a little large for a backup gun and possibly too heavy for an ankle holster. That is personal preference.