The Hot-Rod J-Frame Project

After 14 years of study, I’ve got my mind made up that the ideal carry gun, for me, is a double action only pistol of some flavor. Since most of what we do with our guns is simply live with and around them, and when we do need our guns it’s rarely a shooting problem and more of a people management problem, I choose a Double Action Only pistol. The inherent mechanical safety increase (though perhaps marginal) afforded by the longer heavier trigger is enough that I’ve completely moved to DAO guns for defensive purposes. Any difficulties in managing the trigger can be overcome with deliberate practice, so no worries there.

Since I gave my mom my 442, I’ve had a hole in my collection that I’ve been meaning to fill. I decided I wanted a ‘shooter’ J-frame. Not quite an underwear gun, but an easy to carry small framed revolver. It would be carried in a belt/pocket/ankle-holster, with less emphasis on lightweight, and more emphasis on ‘performance’.

I also know that centennial model Smiths are some of the best selling guns in the country, so there’s a lot of people who secretly carry one daily while they argue on the internet about why a Glock 19 is the best carry gun. It’s OK, I won’t tell anyone.

The amount of worthless information about small revolvers is staggering. Just visit YouTube for endless hollow reviews and misinformation. I felt like I owed it to the community to make something useful about little revolvers.

The Test-Bed

What would my ideal ‘fighting J-frame’ look like? I am not a Smith&Wesson aficionado by any means. I don’t have the depth of knowledge or patience to wait for the perfect vintage snub to come up on gun broker. Nor do I have the wallet to pay the wild prices people ask for used revolvers. So my Hot-Rod would have to be a current catalog item.

After much late night bourbon fueled research, I decided that the steel framed, 2″ barrel, pinned front sight 640 model in .357 would be a suitable choice. I came upon a great deal on a local forum and jumped at it.

The Upgrades

The ability to customize and tune j-frames is well known. The aftermarket accessories market is chock full. You can find the perfect stocks (grips) to fit your hand and optimize trigger reach, find springs and firing pins to drastically improve smoothness and weight of the trigger and maintain reliable primer ignition, frame plugs if you don’t want to deal with the internal lock, and there’s even front sights for the pinned front sight models. So, here’s a list of the upgrades I have planned, and the reasoning for them:

  • APEX TACTICAL Duty/Carry Spring kit – $22 A popular kit from a well known brand. Includes the mainspring, trigger return spring, extended firing pin and firing pin spring. It reduces the weight of the trigger press by about 3.0 lbs and makes the gun immediately more shootable. Always test fire your chosen ammo to guarantee reliable ignition.
  • Trijicon tritium front sight – $70 It was between this and an XS big dot. I decided for a slightly smaller front sight to maintain the ability for precise aiming beyond 10 yards. The white ring should help at speed, and the tritium will buy a little low light sighting ability.
  • Altamont “combat” grips for J-frame – $55 – Since this isn’t intended as a pocket gun, I decided to go with the slightly-longer-than-boot-grip sized combat trips from Altamont. They are highly recommended by people I trust, and they look great.
  • Zulu Bravo Kydex – J-frame holster. This is on the way from ZBK. They are providing me with one to evaluate.

Are The Upgrades Worth the Cost?

Instead of throwing all these on the gun and reporting back that they ‘feel good’ and ‘smooth things out’ and I talk about ‘shootability’, I want to answer a more important question. Are the upgrades worth the cost?

“How can you determine this?” you ask. Science!

Specifically, I’m going to create a testing protocol that consists of four well known tests that provide certain data about shooting. I’ll gather data with the gun in its stock configuration, then make one change, and redo the testing. Any increase (or decrease) in performance will be readily apparent. I will also shoot the tests with other revolvers, small autos, and even larger autos to be able to quantify performance across platforms.

How To Quantify Performance?

I wanted to look at several aspects of ‘good shooting’ when it comes to my testing. I’m interested in pure accuracy, without the pressure of time. Pure speed, without a strict pressure of accuracy. Lastly, a blend of speed and accuracy. I wanted to use targets that I could print on my printer. I also wanted to keep the total round count under 50 rounds because j-frames can beat you up. Here’s what I decided on.

Test 1:

Pure Accuracy Test – 10 shots @15yds on a B8, no time limit

Test 2:

“5 yard Roundup” 5 Yds, B8 repair center

four strings of fire, each with a time limit of 2.5 seconds.

Scoring is by the rings on the target for the ten shots, equaling a possible 100 points. Hits off of the ten-inch repair center minus ten each. Late hits are five points are deducted per late shot.

String 1: One Shot From the Holster (I used muzzle on table, support hand high on chest. Copying hand position of the draw since my range doesn’t allow holster work)

String 2: Four Shots From the Ready

String 3: Three Shots From Strong-Hand-Only Ready

String 4: Two Shots From Support-Hand-Only Ready

Test 3:

“HITS SUPER SNUB TEST” – B8 repair center, all shot from low readyH

10 Yards – 5 shots in 8 seconds. Two hands

5 Yards – 5 shots in 5 seconds. Two hands

3 Yards – 5 shots in 3 seconds. Strong hand only.

Test 4:

Pure Speed – Snubbie Bill Drill: 5 shots, 5 yards, on full piece of paper

B8 repair center for you to download:

Closing

Of course there are intangibles and things I can’t easily quantify with scored targets and a timer. There are also environmental and lighting conditions that I can’t reproduce on the range. There is limited time and ammunition for me to do multiple tests with the same configuration. I am only one person, so I can’t get several shooters to shoot the tests with each configuration. However, I believe this is a good quantitative way to see if an upgrade is actually buying performance, and approximately how much.
Thanks for following along. More soon.

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5 thoughts on “The Hot-Rod J-Frame Project”

  1. Have you tried the phlster city special? It has a cutout for one hand reloading. Also you can definitely shoot well at a distance with big dots once you’re used to them

    1. Yes I have handled it. As well as the dark star gear. Really cool design. I’m working with Zulu Bravo Kydex on an upgraded design, so I’m working with that one for now.

    1. As usual, I often get one piece of brass hung up on the grips. Sometimes it ejects all 5 cleanly. There’s no guarantee of that, so I usually just plan to sweep the stuck ones out.

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