If you happen to own a J-Frame, Airweight, or “snubby” revolver nowadays – whether it is a Smith & Wesson brand or not – you might not know where those popular, short-barreled wheelguns came from. While no single firearm can take all of the credit, the Smith & Wesson Model 37 can receive quite a bit of applause for growing the market to what it is today. So, on this week’s iteration of Wheelgun Wednesday,” we are going to take a look at a Model 37 Chief’s Special Airweight .38 Special that I recently acquired and examine the history behind this revolver. Let’s dive in!
Wheelgun Wednesday @ TFB:
J-Frame, Airweight, and “snubby” revolvers
While polymer pistols seem to be all the rage when it comes to concealed carry, there is still a strong segment of the market that desires a small-frame revolver for everyday carry (EDC). The phrases mentioned earlier to describe this category are both general and specific terms. When people talk about “J-Frames” they might be stating that loosely to mean a short-barreled revolver. While that is a term specifically detailing a precise frame size from Smith & Wesson’s portfolio of arms, your average gun owner could be throwing that term around to refer to a Taurus, Charter Arms, Ruger, Colt, and/or Smith & Wesson. It is a colloquialism or slang phrase in the gun world.
So, too, is Airweight. That, again, is referring to specific models from Smith & Wesson, but your average-Joe gun owner could once again be nonchalantly referring to his Taurus “Ultra-Lite” as easily as he could be (correctly) detailing his Smith & Wesson to you. Again, it is both a general and specific slang term around the gun owner’s water cooler.
Finally, we have the term “snubby revolvers” for which Smith & Wesson cannot directly take credit. Where that term originated from and how it immediately correlates to short-barreled revolvers, I do not know. That could have easily been an insult one drunk friend lobbed at another at a bar while trying to make his friend feel inadequate about his manhood, but I digress. “Snubby revolvers” refers to all manner of short-barreled revolvers whether you are pointing one under a poker table when you’re losing at a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em, or you have one bouncing around in your pocket as you grab a glizzy to-go off the steam rollers at your local bodega.
Smith & Wesson Model 37 Chief’s Special Airweight .38 Special
Getting back on track with our subject at hand, the Smith & Wesson Model 37 Chief’s Special Airweight .38 Special we are examining here today is very similar to a Model 36 Chief’s Special except for the alloy frame. There is no internal lock and the barrel should be openly marked as “Airweight” on the left-hand side.
- Cartridge: .38 Special | .38 Special +P
- Capacity: 5 Shot
- Frame Size: J-Frame
- Barrel: 1 7/8″ | 3″ (discontinued 1988)
- Finish: Blue | Nickel (discontinued 1995)
- Weight: 15 Oz
They offered these revolvers in two different barrel lengths for varying periods of time as well as their standard finishes of Blued or Nickel. They even did a stronger version of .38 Special +P in 1997 on a Magnum J-Frame. Knowing that the example we have before us is a 3″ barrel variant, it is at least 35 years old (or older). There were 3 engineering changes to this model (hyphenations to represent that). Since mine is simply labeled as “Mod. 37,” it is one of the first types released making it an earlier model.
Other elements of note are the Half-Lug barrel (a full-lug barrel on a “snubby revolver” would honestly be really peculiar), a nicely knurled cylinder release button as well as hammer. It is an all-black, ramped, anti-glare/knurled front sight with a simple grooved rear sight in the top strap. The age of the bluing on this revolver has the bluing on the frame looking “plum” or downright purple which is normal for older blued revolvers (depending on their heat treating/bluing processes at the time).
The wood grips are slender and tight to the frame for a square butt frame/grip. You have the classic Smith & Wesson medallion pressed into them along with some central cut checkering. All hallmarks of Smith & Wesson double-action revolvers from 30 – 70 years ago. The cylinder exhibits a slight timing ring, but nothing aggressive. The previous owner/s likely shot this revolver, but I doubt it has a round count anywhere north of 500 rounds in its 35+ years of existence.
For somebody who is addicted to double-action and blued revolvers of old, this is an easy purchase to add to one’s collection. These are not highly sought after like your big hitters like a Model 29, Python, or anything like that. So, they can be affordably had for less than $500 routinely (depending on condition). According to the “Blue Book of Gun Values,” my revolver should be right in that ballpark of $500 being somewhere between 80% – 90% condition.
Could you easily go buy a new Airweight from Smith & Wesson for their retail MSRP of $539? Yes, but how cool is this thing?! You simply don’t have the same nostalgia, history, and curb appeal in new revolvers that you do in something like this. Will I ever carry this as an EDC pistol? Absolutely not. I have a high-capacity space blaster to take down a hoard of zombies like any Tactical Timmy you have ever met. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to purchase this snubby revolver from yesteryear, I did not flinch. It is a rad revolver to add to my collection that I will love for a long time.
So, the next time you are strolling your local gun shop (LGS) and see all of the Smith & Wesson 637 (exposed hammer) and Smith & Wesson 642 (internal hammer) revolvers in the showcase, just coyly smile as you remember that time you read a TFB article and learned that the Model 37 Chief’s Special Airweight had a large hand in growing the “snubby,” Airweight, and J-Frame category of wheelguns. As always, let us know all of your thoughts about Smith & Wesson in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.