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A History of Smith & Wesson Hand Ejectors

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - Bolt Stop

Smith and Wesson’s hand ejector revolvers are easily the most successful revolvers of all time. From .32 caliber I-frame revolvers to big-frame .45s, the people armed with hand ejectors are well-armed individuals.

These revolvers are reliable, often accurate, and handle better than most. When the hand ejector with a swing-out cylinder and simultaneous cartridge ejection was introduced, the trigger-cocking revolver wasn’t new.

But combining a solid frame, swing-out cylinder and reliable lockwork made for a winner. Named the “hand ejector” for the innovative swing-out cylinder and ejector rod, the original was introduced in 1896.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - 1896 Version
This is an original 1896 Hand Ejector.

Built on the I-frame, this six-shot revolver was chambered for the .32 Smith and Wesson Long cartridge. The I-frame was a small-frame, double-action revolver. Originally, the bolt stop was located in the top strap.

The bolt stop was later moved to the bottom of the frame window. Considerable modifications resulted in an improved revolver and eventually, the design changed so that the ejector rod locked into a stop at the bottom of the barrel.

The next in Smith and Wesson’s line of hand ejectors was the Military and Police .38. Originally chambered in the military .38 Long Colt, the Military and Police was upgraded to the . 38 Smith and Wesson Special soon after.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - Swing-Out Cylinder
The hand ejector with the swing-out cylinder open for loading.

Transition to K-Frame

The I-frames hung on for many years while the .38 Special hand ejector was to become the most popular police issue handgun of all time.

The .38 Special cartridge became a favorite of those wishing to protect themselves with a fairly light and easy-to-use revolver that offered reasonable power.

Those who must carry a handgun—police, guards and special agents—were armed with the .38 Special revolver for decades.

The .38 Special cartridge had a lot of stretch and further development led to a more powerful combination of velocity, bullet weight and accuracy. The .38 Hand Ejector Military and Police eventually became the Model 10 in 1957.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - Model 10
This is a heavy barrel Model 10 is among the best-balanced revolvers of all time.

The K-frame (or Smith and Wesson medium-frame) spawned highly successful handguns such as the K-38 target revolver, the Combat Masterpiece, the K-22 and the .357 Combat Magnum.

The K-frame was the bread and butter of the company and remains in production. Variations include:

  • Round and square butt frames
  • Barrel lengths of two to eight and three eighth inches
  • Calibers including .22, .32 Smith and Wesson Long, .32-20 WCF, .38 S&W, .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger

During World War II, both Britain and America deployed thousands of Smith and Wesson . 38 caliber revolvers. The majority are five-inch barrel revolvers, but two and four-inch barrel revolvers are encountered. Most were parkerized.

These were known as the Victory Model. They featured a “V” prefix in the serial number, save for very early production.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - Victory Model .38
Smith and Wesson’s contribution to the war effort was the Victory Model .38.

Post-War Developments

After World War II, there were important changes. A new short-action lockwork was introduced. This lockwork is more durable and makes for better shooting in both target and combat shooting.

The I-frame was stretched to accept the .38 Special cartridge in a five-shot version and became the Chief’s Special. The new frame is the J-frame.

The Chief’s Special became the stainless steel Model 60 and was later chambered in .357 Magnum, with the .38 Special being the most common chambering. The I-frame was discontinued soon after the introduction of the J-frame.

To replace the . 32 caliber I-frame, the Smith and Wesson J-frame was offered in . 32 Smith and Wesson Long. This is a feeble caliber, accurate and low recoiling, but at the bottom of the list for personal defense.

Just the same, it was a popular cartridge for about 100 years! If you have one of these excellent-but-underpowered revolvers, Buffalo Bore offers much stronger loads suitable for small game and are right on the edge for personal defense.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - M&P
The Smith and Wesson Military and Police, lower right, is easily the most popular revolver ever manufactured. Upper left is a Colt Official Police. Center is a Miroku police service revolver that has certain features of both the Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers.

Where Hand Ejectors Shine

Hand ejectors excel as personal defense handguns, for field use and for hunting. Even the simplest fixed-sight revolvers are often very accurate. The .32s and .38s are not the whole story. Smith and Wesson introduced the N-frame or large frame hand ejector in 1907.

Originally known as the New Century or .44 hand ejector, the Smith and Wesson N-frame was chambered in .44 Special for the most part with versions in .45 Colt as well.

Eventually, the big-frame Smith and Wesson was manufactured in . 38 Special, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .45 ACP and a few others. These are robust revolvers suited for the most difficult duty. The old long action guns are smooth and useful.

The short lockwork versions introduced after World War II are even faster-handling handguns. Smith and Wesson eventually introduced target grade versions of the N-frame. These adjustable-sight handguns are very accurate and fire powerful cartridges.

The Magnums are among the most accurate and useful of handguns.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - Hinged Frame Revolvers
Smith and Wesson continued to manufacture hinged frame revolvers well into the 1930s. The upper revolver is a Perfected Double Action, while the lower revolver is a Safety Hammerless. Both chamber the .38 S&W.

My Favorite Hand Ejector

My favorite of the big-frame hand ejectors is the Model 1917. Manufactured in great numbers, these revolvers are not as easy to come by as they once were.

I would be more than happy with a modern Smith and Wesson big-frame hand ejector, but the classic 1917 is a useful and reliable handgun. These revolvers are chambered in .45 ACP.

Moon clips allow for quickly loading the cylinder and also make reliable simultaneous ejection possible no matter what the angle of the muzzle. This makes the Smith and Wesson 1917 perhaps the finest combat revolver ever manufactured.

Loaded with the Buffalo Bore hard-cast SWC load in .45 Auto Rim, it is a fine outdoors revolver.

Smith and Wesson Hand Ejectors - 1917 .45
The author firing his favorite hand ejector, the 1917 .45.

Conclusion

Hand ejectors are still going strong and offer an excellent revolver for personal defense, hunting, home defense, and some forms of competition. They are among the greatest revolvers ever designed.

Do you own any hand ejectors? Where would you rank them among the best revolvers in history? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. I enjoyed reading your article and was hoping to get some more information on the S&W Military and Police hand ejector.
    I had received one of these and am curious to find out more.

  2. Holy cow, I have never seen a picture of the perfected double action. I bought my refinished, badly polished, snubbie perfected at the local “gun library” a couple of years back, and had seen only written descriptions of the gun. Most knowledgeable “gun guys” told me that my gun did not exist. A top break with a cylinder release button? What do you mean? I love it. Late model J frame grips almost fit it and the combination of finger groove rubber grips and a hundred year old revolver are an awesome combination.I load light loads that you can actually see arc toward the target. Once I found the right diameter cast bullet, it shoots better than me. About those tiny sights and my 55 year young eyes,…..

  3. I have a smith and wesson model 686. I bought it used in 1990, so i have no idea its actual age. It has always been my go to for home defense. Yes it is only 6 shots but, I am very accurate with it.
    It still shoots like a dream despite its age. And I would put it up against any other revolver out there. Many years ago I was offered a trade of a new King Cobra, I promptly said “no thanks.”

  4. At one time I had a 1917 in 45 Colt. It had British proof marks and I think it was first a 455 Webley, it looked like the chambers had been bored to accept the Colt cartridge. Traded it for a 1903A3.

  5. My .32 Smith and Wesson long is probably my favorite handgun. Balances, quiet, and it is ” feeble ” until it hits something.

  6. I carried the Model 15 under its DOD nomenclature M-15 while a member of the USAF Tactical Air Control Parties from 1974 until we received M9 Berettas in the mid-80s. I didn’t like the grip so I bought a Pachmayr grip for use with the M-15. I’d remove and store the stock grip until I was transferred out, the put the stock grip back on the revolver and take my Pachmayer with me to my new assignment. I still have them but haven’t handled a revolver in decades.

  7. I would love to find a reasonably priced WW 1 era S&W, but it probably won’t be in this life. Great Article. My model 66 (70’s era), is still a very accurate and easy to shoot gun. My wife’ model 60 is her go to CC weapon.
    It’s hard to beat a well made S&W Revolver for dependability and performance.

  8. Interesting article! Re the 1917 which in your opinion is ‘better,’ the 1917 S&W or the 1917 Colt? I have a 1917 Colt that is one of my favorite shooters, just a fun gun to shoot.
    Thanks for the time.
    TLP

  9. Have a 1940 British “Pre-Victory” in 38 S&W caliber with an original but unusual six inch barrel. Very well balanced, quite accurate and an overall joy to shoot. And quite an attractive revolver ! There is a certain classiness to these old guns without the odd alloys , strange colors and supposedly “ergonomic” designs. The old Smith just falls naturally into place in your hand.

  10. The only people stimulated enough to comment on this article are suffering from arthritis which affects their typing. Can you imagine a scene from John Wick or The Matrix using two S&W 1917’s? Me neither.

  11. I have carried a S&W Airtight snub in 38 cal with Crimson Trace grips for years.
    Absolute confidence in it. Alternate carry on Sun AM as church security is a Sig 320 with Romeo sights. Also, absolute confidence in it.

  12. I agree with the author that the 1917 is the best combat revolver of all time. I had one and used half-moon clips for fast reloads. Preferred the half-moon clips because they were flatter in my pocket and I could carry several without an obvious bulge. My 1917 was highly accurate, especially with all of the various Buffalo Bore .45 ACP and auto rim loads. To my chagrin, I foolishly traded it in on a 45-70 rifle. I still miss the 1917. I am foolish.

  13. I have a 32 hand ejector w/2″ barrel that I inherited from my father. It is blue with a round butt. He bought it in the early 1950s, but I don’t if he bought it new or used. At some point he dropped it and broke the tab on the hammer. While it is still cockable, it is dangerous to do, and even more so to let the hammer down. I have been unsuccessful in finding a new hammer. Moreover it appears to have a different hammer than the two most common ones available at Numrich Gun Parts. If anyone knows anything about this 3d type of hammer and where I might be able to find one, please let me know.

  14. I have my brothers duty revolver, a model 15-2. .38 caliber. He was a Clearwater cop from mid 70’s to mid 80’s. When they switched from the .38 to the .45, he kept his .38. I have papers on it’s lineage.

    It’s had some wear but is still in great shape and shoots damn well. I love the trigger pull – he had it worked on. Wouldn’t give it up for anything.

  15. Back in the early 1980s, I happened upon a model 25-2, Target Model of 1952 at a gun show. I had been shooting a 45 acp in 1911 for years. This fine piece just fell right into place. A friend with a Ransom Rest set it up and fired a few targets at 50 yards. That pistol held 1 1/2″ groups with match ammo. Wonderful pistol. I’m sure whoever has it now is very happy with the way it performs.

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