Regarding Dr. J (frame)…

Let me ask you a question: What, do you suppose, is the most popular, most prolific, most widely produced repeating firearm intended for personal defense in history?

I don’t have solid numbers on this, but I’m betting that if we did do a solid tally the undisputed champion would be the small revolver. Consider the 1849 Colt “Pocket” revolver. Colt apparently produced 325,000 of them, making them Colt’s most widely produced percussion revolver. When you think about Colt’s cap ‘n ball revolvers you probably think of the big Walker Colts or the .44 caliber Dragoons, maybe even the 1851 Navy, but it turns out that the buying public put more money down on Mr. Colt’s smaller, lighter, and more concealable offerings than anything else. They were used by just about everybody who needed a gun in those days ranging from urban gentlemen who required something small and tote-able for personal defense to soldiers who wanted a little more up their sleeve than a rifle and bayonet. They were even issued to the newfangled urban police forces that were springing up in 19th century America. Back in those days many were carried concealed as having a visibly armed police force organized in paramilitary fashion was somewhat controversial. Sound familiar?

Smith & Wesson has been selling small revolvers from the very beginning.

Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson debuted their new metallic self-contained cartridge in: A small revolver. Smith and Wesson would go on to sell a boatload of small cartridge-firing revolvers, as would Colt, Iver Johnson, Webley and a plethora of other manufacturers. Even after John Moses Browning delivered practical, reliable semi-automatic handguns that could be easily concealed the popularity of the small revolver continued. The semi-automatics were certainly nice, but it was difficult to beat the blend of size, power, reliability, and affordability available from the small revolver. Handguns like S&W’s J frame and Colt’s various snub nose offerings were carried concealed for personal defense in the street and/or placed in the drawer of the bedside table to defend the home. Detectives carried them. Shopkeepers kept them under the counter. Bank managers kept them in a desk drawer. Police officers on patrol had them strapped to an ankle or stuffed in a pocket as a backup piece.

The small revolver, AKA the J frame or the “snub nose” revolver, has been getting the job done for a very long time. They aren’t what I would call ideal handguns by any stretch. There are some significant drawbacks to a small revolver, but despite all of that millions of good guys have managed to put them to good use in defense of themselves and others over the past century and a half. It’s tough to ignore a record like that.

Say "Hello!" to Joe Friday's little friend...
Say “Hello!” to Joe Friday’s little friend…

I carried a small revolver for a number of years as a secondary handgun or, on rarer occasions, as my only handgun. The blend of size, power, reliability, and price made the small revolver difficult to beat. Some time ago I handed that gun to a relative to keep in their pocket while we were in a bad neighborhood and they’ve been carrying it ever since. I’ve been pondering replacing that revolver for a while and the other day I ran across a deal that was too good to pass up. The purchase of the new gun gives me a convenient excuse to take a fresh look at probably the most carried repeating handgun in history. In upcoming weeks I’ll be discussing the options on the market, why I made the selection that I did, and what I’m doing to customize the gun for my use and requirements.

It’s already proving to be more fun than I had originally anticipated…so stick around!


  1. I’ve been carrying S&W 642s as BUG guns for a very, very long time. Rarely as my only off-duty gun, but it happens.

    I have tried a number of small semi-autos trying to find a better gun than my J frames, but none have proven as reliable in the long run.

  2. I *want* a nice J-frame snubbie. I just cannot justify it, based on what’s out there in self loaders that are at least as powerful, flatter and easier to conceal, more comfortable to wear, hold more rounds, and are easier to shoot and reload.

    But I still *want* a snubbie, because I *like* them. . .

  3. My first handgun purchase was a S&W M36 blue steel snub nosed J Frame 38. It wasn’t my fav handgun purchase but I carried that revolver around Boston for nearly a year before replacing it with a Glock 17

  4. If you’re customizing it at all, and if you paid under $450, that means you got an LCR. Either that or you purchased something with a hole in the side of the frame and paid more.


  5. Many years ago I bought a New Service Colt revolver in .38 spcl. from a Retired 80 yr. old policeman in my home town in CA. for a $100. Never had to use it he said except to qualify when he was on the force. Still have it and don’t ever remember shooting it at all. Still looks like new.

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