Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece

When I was a young warthog, I had a coffee table book about “The Modern Handgun”, or “The Fighting Handgun”; I’m honestly not too sure of the title – but the title isn’t what’s important.  What is important are the contents of the book; namely the author’s obvious bias towards wheelguns.  Although the book was written post WWII, it was clearly written during the heyday of the revolver, when every cop in America carried a 4 inch .38 Special and the Air Force was issuing the Combat Masterpiece as a service sidearm.

And that brings be back to the revolver that I have in the title of this piece – you see, the book that I must have read 200 times as a child had a wonderful picture of a vintage Model 15 Combat Masterpiece in it accompanied by a couple of pages singing the praises of the .38 Special cartridge.  For whatever reason, both that image and that revolver have stuck with me.  Maybe it’s the name: “Combat Masterpiece” makes the gun sound like a handcrafted Jedi lightsaber (whatanerd), some kind of precision engineered machine ideal for the rigors of mortal combat.  Or maybe it was the looks of the gun that have kept my fancy all these years.  There’s something about the gun that just says “this is what a revolver looks like”.

I have mentioned that I’m building a 1911 – however in addition to that project, I also really want to start competing with a wheelgun.  As I was perusing the internets searching for a suitable competition revolver. I was messing around with a lot of ideas, some of which involved maiming perfectly good revolvers, when I suddenly rolled back around to the Combat Masterpiece. It’s a 4 inch, six shot .38 Special; there are about a jillion smiths who can tune up a Smith & Wesson trigger, and you can get the excellent Safariland Comp III speedloaders for it, which are a lot faster than the HKS speedloaders.

My only concern would be durability. Sure, Jerry Miculek fires about a gazillion rounds per year through his Smith & Wesson revolvers, but if he breaks one than the Performance Center fixes him up a new guns most rickey-tick. Right now, I shoot about 1k rounds a month through my main match gun, my Para 16-40. I tack on about 500 more rounds through various other guns. Assuming I picked this revolver thing, I would be shooting around 1000 rounds of standard pressure .38 Special through this gun every month. Not knowing a lot about Smith revolvers, I’m concerned as to whether or not it’s going to hold up to that kind of shooting.

I know that some of you guys are seriously experts on the whole Smith and Wesson thing, so should I just get a different revolver, or should I look for something special with this gun, etc? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. As long as you avoid +P and +P+ loads, a model 15 ought to run for years.

    The same gun, with slightly longer chambers was the .357 magnum “Combat Magnum”, which did have longevity problems with full power loads.

  2. As georgeh said, as long as you’re running standard pressure loads those guns will run for a long, long time.

    The ones that have problems are the ones that people insist on shooting loads in that run on the ragged edge.

  3. As georgeh said, as long as you’re running standard pressure loads those guns will run for a long, long time.

    The ones that have problems are the ones that people insist on shooting loads in that run on the ragged edge.

    This holds true for a lot of “normal folks”, but is especially fallacious for high volume USPSA/IDPA competitors. See, it isn’t the battering that the gun takes during recoil that is tough, but rather the battering that the timing hand takes from the massive inertia of the cylinder/star coming to a stop suddenly. In fact, look at a lot of very well used .45 from USPSA competitors and they’re slightly out of time for slow shooting…

    The revolver is, indeed an antique since it requires hand fitting and those tolerances get worn down pretty fast if you shoot/practice a lot.

    I killed a Model 19 when I sheared (shorned??) the hammer stud
    (The pin that the hammer rotates on) off the frame. I had S&W
    fix it to the tune of ~$200.00. I ended up selling it. Was a safe-queen anyway.

    I killed a FN Barracuda when I shattered the hammer during dry fire… I replaced that with an Astra hammer and promptly sold it. I was going to use it as a carry gun, but couldn’t since I could bring myself to rely on it.

    I smoked the timing on a k-22 outdoorsman… The hand was more like
    a nub after I put close to 100,000 rds through it over a few years… I sold it to a guy that had a timing hand.

    After getting my 686 back from my local guy for endshake issues, I sheared the rebound slide stud off the frame. I use this as a comp gun. It cost me ~200 to fix.

    I just recently wore out the single cock notch on an ancient pre-Model 10 that I use for dry fire practice.

    Don’t get me wrong – I really like them and still compete with a 686 a fair amount (not as efficient as the .45 since the .38 on a moonclip is longer, thus more difficult to get in the hole. The bigger, stubbier .45s just find their way in…) Honestly, if you’re a real wheel gun fan, go for it. But if you’re expecting reliability, forget it – After I break my 686 again, I don’t think I’ll be able to justify the price of fixing them anymore.

    I think that Marko has the right idea – he just carries his and shoots it little. They just aren’t competition guns…

  4. Crap – Now I can’t get the damn Hakunah Metata” out of my head. Ahab you are a cruel and malicious blogger.

  5. I’d highly recommend reading and talking with the folks over at – some of the friendliest gun folks on the net.

    As to the pistol, might be worth keeping your eyes open for a S&W 28-2 “Highway Patrolman”. I have a 4″ HP and it is a dream to shoot, especially with light .38 target loads.

  6. Consult the “Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, 3rd edition” for information on what you are calling the “Combat Masterpiece.”

    Regarding the Model 15 “Combat Masterpiece,” you will find information on page 144, and on pages 181-182.

    The .38 cal. Model 67 “Combat Masterpiece Stainless” is basically a stainless Model 15, and it is on page 231.

    If I were you, I would also consider buying the Model 66 if the Model 15 cannot be found.

    The .357 Combat Magnum Stainless–the Model 66–is basically a stainless Model 15 that is suitable for use with +p and .357 Magnum ammunition, though some folks have complained that a steady diet of full power .357 Magnum ammunition prematurely wears out the Model 66.

    Just this year I bought a near-new Model 66 with 4 inch barrel.

    My .357 Combat Magnum Stainless Model 66 is a tack driver and a dream to shoot with both .38 and .357.

    It has a slick action, tight lockup, clean exterior, excellent adjustable sights, and clean bore (and all original parts, including Goncalo Alves wood stocks).

    If you cannot find a Model 15, buy a Model 66 .357 Combat Magnum Stainless in good condition–you’ll love it.

    The .357 Combat Magnum Stainless Model 66 shoots exactly like a Model 15.

    I paid $400.00 here in Los Angeles County for mine in 95-to-99% condition.

    You won’t regret it.

  7. While I appreciate what Less is saying, hands are wear pieces, like tie-rod bushings on your car. When they wear, you replace them. When endshake gets out of spec, you shim the cylinder.

    The .38/44 Heavy Duty I shoot a hundred rounds through (many of them +P or +P+) nearly every weekend was built in 1936. It was an NRA Bullseye competitor’s gun for nearly fifty freakin’ years. God knows how many hundred thousand rounds of 148gr Wadcutter have travelled down its 5″ barrel since the 1950s, but if it’s only on its third hand, I’d be shocked.

    You want to shoot a Combat Masterpiece? I have a 1980 vintage Model 15-4 that is next best thing to unfired. Let me know when you want to go to the range.

  8. Different caliber, but have you considered a 625? I’ve been shooting one in IPSC for several years; a big plus is it uses the same ammo as my single stack Springer. A caveat- IDPA doesn’t like revolver barrels longer than 4.2″ (IPSC doesn’t care), so get the 4″ version.

  9. Asking me if I want to shoot a nearly unfired Model 15-4 is like asking a car junky if he wants to drive a ’67 Shelby GT. DUH.

  10. While I appreciate what Less is saying, hands are wear pieces, like tie-rod bushings on your car. When they wear, you replace them. When endshake gets out of spec, you shim the cylinder.

    I won’t argue with those point, but will bring up the reality that the days where finding a decent local gunsmith to do good work with a decent turnaround without spending a C-note is getting tougher. Seriously, how long is Grant Cunningham’s wait list for even a trigger job? Is Bowen any better?

    While fitting a hand isn’t necessarily too tough if you’re mechanically inclined, finding the parts can be a PITA. In addition, high round count, fast DA shooting wears the star appreciably too… Keeping that trued isn’t just the same as fitting a timing hand anymore since the root cause is a bit different.

    I guess what I’m saying is that 1.) there is a reason why Bowen charge ~$100.00 for a timing job and 2.) shooting fast DA with a revolver isn’t the same as slow, bullseye or even reasonable DA shooting.

    On a tangent, I always wanted to write to the S&W historian to find out how many guns McGivern killed while doing his stunts.

    Again, I won’t say don’t do it – Hell I’m doing it with my 686 (it was my first gun! Sentimental) – but realize that breakages could get expensive to repair. Personally, I think I just had a REALLY bad string of luck… YMMV.

    Seriously, tho, if you’re planning on getting into shooting comps with a revo, why not just get an OLD, cheap Mod. 10? You can moon the cyclinder out and replacements are slightly easier to get for ’em.

    One other trick is to get into reloading .38 Short Colt – they aren’t nearly as long, so they get INTO the cylinder easier than .38 Spcl. Really, the biggest point of failure in shooting “action sport” with a revo. is getting the reloading technique smooth, then getting it fast. Any trick that speeds this process up helps your scores…

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