S&W Airweight Review: A Badass Little Revolver For Conceal Carry

By J.R. | Last Updated: April 26, 2017

S&W Airweight ReviewSo you’re on the lookout for a new concealed carry weapon (CCW).

One that’s small, light reliable, and accurate while still packing a punch.

Maybe you currently carry a popular semi-auto CCW (such as a Glock 26, S&W M&P Shield, or Ruger LCP) but are looking for something even lighter and smaller.

Or perhaps you’ve heard about the reliability of the revolver over a semi-auto and you’re now reconsidering your options.

Or you’re looking for a solid concealed carry firearm for someone new to carry.

Something reliable, simple, and not intimidating.

Well, then I may have just the right gun for you.

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Smith and Wesson Airweight -

S&W Airweight Review

Today I’m going to review the Smith and Wesson Airweight.

Specifically, model 637 because it’s the one I own. The 637 is a SA/DA weapon chambered in 38 Special and rated for Plus P rounds (we’ll talk more about the slight difference between the 642 models a bit later).

All S&W Airweight models hold five shots, and they are very compact at only 6.31” long with a 1.875” barrel.

The Airweight frame is an aluminum alloy, and at first touch, you may want to hold on tight lest it floats away. But alas, gravity still holds down its 15 oz empty mass.

This reliable revolver is so damn light it makes for a worthwhile self-defense choice for a survival pack or a bug out bag.

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The cylinder is fabricated of stainless steel coupled with a steel barrel liner. The little S&W J-frame pistol comes with a synthetic grip in black or pink (for the ladies – or men who can appreciate pink).

Or you can get an upgrade to a popular aftermarket Pachmayr grip.

Like most revolvers, there is no safety. If you don’t want to shoot, don’t pull the trigger.

The S&W Airweight has a front sight integral to the barrel and a fixed rear sight. The sight radius is what you’d expect for a small revolver. That being said, I was surprised by the accuracy demonstrated.

Like most conventional S&W revolvers, the Model 637’s single-action trigger pull is light with a crisp break. I’m sure this contributes significantly to the inherent accuracy of the revolver. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of accuracy with a 1.875” barrel but was pleasantly surprised.

Testing The Airweight On The Range

I shot the weapon at my brother’s range the weekend before Christmas. We sat up some paper targets and fired single action from 7 yards to start.

Most of the hits were within 2” of the bullseye after we got the little revolver dialed in. Very, very repeatable performance.

Then we moved on to shooting steel. Nothing gives me a sense of satisfaction than hearing the thunk and ring of lead on steel. The range had a series of six 8” diameter steel plates lined up in a row. We took turns knocking these down and resetting them.

The little revolver put the bullets right where I asked it to with no qualms at all. I finally backed off to fifty feet to see what it could do at a distance. After very little practice I could hit five for five steel plates at this distance.

Much more accuracy than I expected from such a small revolver.

Of course, this is all single-action shooting. The double-action trigger pull is much harder, and I make no accuracy claims for this mode of operation. Frankly, I’m just not as steady a shooter with double action.

We fired fifty rounds of 130-grain Federal .38 Special copper jacketed target rounds. Finishing the day with fifty rounds of hand-loaded 125-grain copper-plated cartridges (from my ammo stockpile).

The recoil was very mild, another surprise from such a lightweight weapon. To be sure 158-grain bullets will have more felt recoil, as will Plus P rounds. But still, the felt recoil of the 130-grain bullet was a little more than a .22 Magnum.

Felt recoil had no impact on accuracy that day. The little Airweight was a joy to shoot, unlike some other pistols where I’m happy to have shot my last shot of the day.

The little J-frame is compact and seems easy to conceal in a woman’s purse or an IWB holster. It has curves in all the right places and, as I said before, it’s so damn light.

Make no mistake though; this is not an ideal pocket pistol.

It’s J-frame and dimensions are far too large to go unnoticed in your front pants pocket, unlike my Kel-Tec .380 auto. However, unlike my Kel-Tec, the Smith will never fail to extract or fail to feed.

I carry my Kel-Tec because it’s so damn easy to carry. If I wanted to upgrade to more firepower, this little snub-nosed 38 Special would be a good choice. But more firepower also requires a holster.

The S&W Airweight and five quality Plus P defensive rounds represent a fair compromise between size, price, and power.

The weapon I bought retailed for $388 (check out today’s price).

In the revolver world, the 38 Special is the last of the lower recoil rounds. It’s the last stop off on the way to .357 or .44 Magnum – serious recoil rounds not for the timid. But don’t let anyone tell you the 158 grain 38 Special is weak-kneed, especially the Plus P rounds.

And finally, the size of the little revolver is what drives the five-round limit. But the weight and concealability of this weapon is a good trade-off for the loss of a round of capacity.

You simply can’t build a revolver this compact and fit six rounds, unless you drop in power exponentially to the .22 LR.

If I’m going to aim at my target, I’d rather have five 158 grain 38 Specials, than eight .40 grain .22LRs – but that’s just me.

Here’s a video covering all the features and details of this “dandy little revolver”.

Speed Loader

As you saw in the video, it’s worth getting a high-quality speed loader for this gun.

When I was researching speedloaders, I found a few people who added thicker grips who had clearance issues with this speed loader.

Quick Strip

If that’s your case, I suggest you look into using quick strips.

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S&W Airweight Model 637 vs Model 642

Ok before we wrap this review up I want to talk about the S&W Airweight Model 642.

It’s damn near the same gun with nearly all the same features. The main difference between the two models is the exposed hammer with my 637 and the fully concealed hammer with the 642.

Now, this concealed hammer vs exposed hammer is no small matter, especially when discussing concealed carry and self-defense

Many firearms in this CCW category are DAO (Double Action Only) with no exposed hammer like the 642. The DAO pistol is hammerless to prevent the hammer from catching on a man’s belt.

The design also makes it easier to extract from a woman’s purse, but the internal striker and double-action nature of a revolver  (you still have the move the cylinder) require far more trigger pull than a single-action-capable revolver.

Heavier trigger pulls translate to more errors in aiming and holding the weapon on target.

I always use a hammer with at least the first shot as a single action. While at the very short ranges usually associated with a gunfight the error induced by DAO may not be significant.

However, if you want to use the revolver for recreational purposes, like a morning at the range, the SA/DA revolver allows you to shoot for accuracy.

Frankly, I have a DAO carry gun (the Kel-Tec mentioned above) and I’ll never be as good a shot with it as my Smith and Wesson Model 15-3.

On the flip side, even if your shots are more accurate with SA, if the exposed hammer gets hung up when it matters, you may never get your self-defense rounds off because you couldn’t get the gun out of your pocket or off your belt in time.

The bottom line is:

You’ll find this topic under debate across the web and I’m only sharing with you a few of the main arguments. Ultimately if you decide the S&W Airweight is the right gun for you, you’ll need to decide which model suits you best.

Here’s a great video worth watching that compares in detail the subtle differences between these two models.

Final Word

I realize you have many everyday carry firearm choices. And at the end of the day, only you can make the final choice on what works for you.

But you should take a nice hard look at the S&W Airweight it offers reliable protection at a mere 15 oz.

For the combination of size, weight, and accuracy it’s a tough little CCW to pass up.


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