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Smith and Wesson Airweight Model 12 .38 Special Revolver

The Smith and Wesson Model 12 is the Airweight version of one of the most popular revolvers of all time, the Model Ten .38 Special.

Smith and Wesson Airweight Model 12 .38 Special Revolver

The Model 12 is nearly identical to any other Military & Police .38 save for a thinner aluminum frame. The round butt fits most hands well, and the action is quite smooth.

If there were ever a revolver with an intrinsic warmth as you grasp the worn handle, it is the Smith & Wesson Military & Police. Dubbed the Model Ten in 1957, this midsize .38 is among the most popular revolvers of all time, with millions manufactured. Lesser known is Smith & Wesson’s later Airweight version of the gun, the Model 12.

Introduced in 1899, the Military & Police revolver line became immensely popular. As a K-frame revolver—larger than the more famous J frame but smaller than the N—it’s easy to handle, fits most hands well, rides relatively light on the hip and offers modest recoil.

At the time, it was arguably the most powerful handgun and cartridge combination the occasional shooter could handle well. This made the Military & Police a popular choice with police and civilians. The revolver also served in wartime and as a field gun.

There were a number of lockwork changes to the Military & Police revolvers, mostly related to safety aspects. The short action, introduced after World War II, was the last major change. This action was a result of pre-war development by custom gunsmiths who modified the action to produce a faster lock time. These revolvers are smoother and more reliable than anything that came before them.

Another development coming soon after World War II made many modern handguns possible. Aluminum, once a precious metal, was now plentiful and affordable due to wartime research. Aluminum-frame handguns allowed the shooter to carry a handgun of the same size caliber and action as steel-frame handguns.

This development led to the Smith & Wesson Airweights, and among the most overlooked Airweight .38s is the Model 12. Manufactured from 1953 to 1986, this 17-ounce .38 Special is a six-shot K-frame revolver about 15 ounces lighter than its steel-frame Model 10 counterpart.

Three-inch variants are rare, and supposedly Smith & Wesson also manufactured versions with five- and six-inch barrels as well. However, I have seen only two- and four-inch models.

The Model 12 is as easy to shoot well as a steel-frame revolver, in my opinion. For the first few cylinders of ammunition you find the revolver a joy to fire. Afterward, sometimes your wrist may be sore, but the revolver will do the business with a few rounds if you need it for real.

The grip, incidentally, is about an eighth of an inch narrower than the steel-frame Model Ten. This makes for easier concealment, especially with the round-butt version, which was changed to standard configuration in very late Model 12s.




The revolver is easy to use well. The action is smooth, and the sights of my 1975 version are well-regulated for 125-grain loads. I prefer to aim where I want to hit, and I am not a six o’clock hold person. The Model 12 accommodates. The revolver is quite accurate. I carry this old friend when hiking and spelunking, and it just feels right.

A well-used serviceable type may be found for around $400. An example with good-finish grips and original box will push $700.

The Smith & Wesson Model 12 was the forerunner of modern scandium and AirLite revolvers that the company produced later. However, the Model 12 is more than a piece of history; it is still a capable defense revolver.

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