GUN REVIEW: Smith & Wesson Model 640 Pro Series
By Steve Tracy
There are plenty of police officers who carry a snubnose revolver off-duty or as a backup gun. These officers are well aware of the limitations of the design. The short sight radius necessitated by its namesake short barrel length is the first, followed by limited round capacity (five or six shots, depending on the maker and caliber). The double-action trigger pull is not always conducive to precision and recoil is often stout as a result of a small and light overall package.
Ever since the first black powder revolver’s barrel was cut down in the mid-1800s, the advantages of short barrel revolvers has outweighed the negatives. Concealment is a high priority. The common 2-inch barrel reduces the gun’s length considerably compared to the standard 4-inch revolver barrel. Officers realize that snubbies are for close-quarters life-saving events. Sure, Bob Munden could hit a steel plate at 200 yards with one, but he was truly super-human as determined by scientific research. The short sight radius won’t usually come into play at distances of 7 yards and less.
Law enforcement officers are aware that five rounds (even with a spare five rounds carried to reload) aren’t appropriate for going up against a rifle-toting active shooter. But those five rounds can be pretty good at protecting you from a mugger or backing up your duty gun.
Officers who have mastered the art of the double-action trigger don’t mind a 12-plus-pound pull as long as it is smooth throughout its travel. As with all handguns, lighter weight creates more felt recoil while a heavier revolver helps tame some of the muzzle rise and kick.
Smith & Wesson’s Pro Series
The Pro Series of firearms from the Springfield, Mass. firearms maker falls in the middle between their common assembly line guns and their custom Performance Center masterpieces hand finished by artisans. The advantage for law enforcement is that the Pro Series provides a semi-custom weapon directly from the factory.
The Pro Series extends from S&W revolvers to their 1911 semi-automatics and continues to include their Military & Police line of striker-fired/polymer-frame pistols. The Pro Series is aimed at the professional who needs production reliability and durability, but who also desires some enhancements to make the gun a bit more “shoot-able.”
640 Pro Series: The Ultimate Snubby
It would appear that S&W considered the many attributes of what one would term the “ultimate snubby.” Frame size, caliber, weight, barrel length, sights, and action/trigger style all come together for the 640 Pro Series.
To start with, the revolver is based on their classic J-Frame round butt. The smallest of their double-action frames is the obvious choice for maximum concealability. Midsize K-Frames and large N-Frames have been made with snubnose barrels, but their overall mass means they’re just too large for true deep-cover use. The standard 640 has been around for several years, but the Pro Series takes it to an entirely new level.
The 640 Pro’s cylinder is chambered for .357 Magnum cartridges. This full-power round is offered in various bullet weights and would also accommodate the .38 Special round in standard or +P variations. Reloading from a speedloader is fast, but the ultimate revolver reload is accomplished with full moon clips. These flattened steel clips hold five rounds by their rims and can be dumped directly into the chambers all at once. Then the cylinder can be closed quickly with no need to dispense with an empty speedloader. The rear of the 640 Pro’s cylinder face is machined to accept full moon clips. Extra clips are available from S&W’s website (www.smith-wesson.com) for just $1.38 each.
While less weight is great for carrying, it certainly doesn’t help with recoil management. For this reason, the 640 Pro Series is produced from stainless steel. At 23 ounces unloaded, it’s light enough to pack on your hip or ankle all day long. The standard Model 642 Airweight weighs just 15 ounces, but firing .357s in an aluminum frame handgun is no one’s idea of entertainment.
The rubber grip on the 640 Pro accommodates all three of a shooter’s gripping fingers for a firm and secure hold. The rubber helps absorb some of the recoil since it covers the stainless-steel rear frame. Similar grips that cover the frame are available that are slightly shorter for pocket carry, but their design means your pinky finger is going to hang off into space instead of being used to control the handgun.
The 2 1/8-inch fluted barrel of the 640 Pro features an elegantly sculpted full-length under lug that protects the ejection rod from being bent if the underside of the barrel were to strike against something with brute force. The ejector rod is .227-inch longer than the one on a Model 40. This extra length may not sound like much, but it makes a difference when ejecting spent cases. The longer rod kicks out the empties better than the old shorter version.
Most of S&W’s previous J-Frames (which date back to the original Chiefs Special in 1950) featured a rear sight grooved into the top of the frame and a front sight machined as part of the barrel. These minimal sights are not much of an aid when it comes to overcoming the short sight radius when aiming. The 640 Pro Series comes with a factory first: Trijicon night sights dovetailed into top rear of the frame and just above the muzzle. These big sights are easy to see while also being snag-free. They were found to be big and bold and easy to use in daylight, low light, and no light.
The trigger on the little revolver has a smooth face, which allows your index finger to move across it as you pull the double-action mechanism. The hammer is completely concealed inside the smooth contour of the frame’s top rear. The Lyman digital trigger pull gauge only measures to 12 pounds and this revolver was somewhere slightly over that weight. The 640 Pro Series is intended to fire any primer with a hard strike of its firing pin. S&W wants you to have the trust that this snubby will fire every single time the trigger is pulled. So while the pull is not light, it is smooth without any stacking. This translates to keeping the sights lined up during the entire double action pull so that the bullet hits center when the gun goes off. The trigger can be staged to the point where the cylinder is locked up and just a little bit more pressure is necessary to drop the concealed hammer. More precise shots can be accomplished this way.
The internal lock on modern Smith & Wesson revolvers has been a source of consternation for some. These naysayers see the lock as an unnecessary addition that is just another small part that can fail. At the very least, the hole in the left side of most current S&W revolvers above the cylinder release latch is viewed as just plain ugly. The internal lock is noticeably absent on the 640 Pro Series revolver so its discussion is a moot point.
Giving the Revolver a Workout
The opportunity to shoot a few hundred rounds through the 640 Pro Series was presented at Gunsite in Arizona. Colonel Jeff Cooper’s top-notch training facility was the perfect place to really give the newest S&W snubby a workout. The 640 fits in most standard holsters that are designed for the J-Frame snubnose. A BLACKHAWK! Speed Classic holster made from Italian leather offered outstanding performance. This holster sports an open area at the front that is spanned with elastic. The system keeps the gun very secure while also offering a lightning-quick draw. The gun is kept high and tight at your waist and was comfortable to wear all day long.
It only took a few shots to realize that the big front sight made hitting the targets easy during daylight. Gunsite’s handgun ranges are marked on the ground at 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, and 25 yards. Stepping back farther and farther, the 640 Pro Series proved that all of its design elements work very well in conjunction with each other. The .357 provided hits well beyond the closeup distances most assume the little snubby is capable of. Under the duress of fast target exposure, due to Gunsite’s facing and edging targets, the BLACKHAWK! holster and S&W revolver worked flawlessly together.
Other ranges at Gunsite gave the opportunity to shoot simulated settings such as an off-duty restaurant scenario. Firing from a seated position when a threat was presented or standing up and navigating around tables while shooting at steel reactive targets showcased the 640 Pro’s dynamics. The rubber grip gives a naturally high handhold for controlling recoil. The big and bold sights line up quickly and the trigger pull does not disturb them when pulled double action.
Reliability was 100 percent with empty cases falling out of the cylinder without hanging up, even after a couple hundred rounds deprived of cleaning. Speed strips, speedloaders, and the full moon clips all worked well. It should be noted that five-shot moon clips are designed for a fast reload under pressure of incoming fire. Care must be taken not to bend them and a stripper tool is a wise acquisition to assist in loading and unloading. TK Custom (www.tkcustom.com) offers everything needed to when it comes to full moon clips. Their screwdriver-type tool ($20) is a simple design that works like magic for removing spent cases without damaging your moon clips.
63 Years of Evolution
The original Chiefs Special of 1950 has come a very long way during the past 63 years. S&W’s catalog is packed with variations with and without exposed hammers, steel, stainless-steel, aluminum, and scandium frames, grip safeties, different grips, and several sighting options.
The Pro Series scroll on the right side of the Model 640’s frame designates it as the ultimate snubnose. The big night sights, the smooth trigger, and the comfortable grip come together as a balanced package that causes the small frame, stainless-steel revolver to hit what it’s aimed at. The fluted barrel and sculpted under lug not only look elegant, but they offer the practicality of less weight and a protected ejector rod.
The cylinder machined to take full moon clips puts this small J-Frame over the top in comparison to its siblings in the S&W catalog. With so many desirable features, the Model 640 Pro Series is the ultimate snubnose. PM
Steve Tracy is a 25-year police veteran with 23 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org