Smith & Wesson Model 12 [[File:
My .38 SPL S & W model 12-2 (5)

1976 S&W model 12-2

Type Revolver
Place of origin United States
Production history
Manufacturer Smith & Wesson
Weight 19 oz (524 grams)

Cartridge .38 Special
Caliber .38
Action double-action
Feed system 6 round cylinder

The Smith & Wesson (S&W) Model 12 is .38 Special revolver on Smith & Wesson's K-frame (medium size) platform. It is an aluminium alloy-frame version of the Model 10 (also known as the M&P). It was made from 1953 to 1986 in both two- and four-inch (102 mm) barrel configurations. It weighs 19 oz (524 g) unloaded. Early models used an aluminum cylinder as well as frame.

Production VariantsEdit

In 1953, the United States Air Force (USAF) ordered a variant of the S&W Military & Police Airweight with a two-inch barrel and aluminum cylinder to be issued to US Air Force flight crew members, called the Revolver, Lightweight, Caliber .38 Special, M13.[1][2] Some 40,000 Smith & Wesson M13 revolvers were produced.[3] After persistent reports on cylinder and frame failure with the M13 and its counterpart, the Colt Aircrewman, the Air Force attempted to remedy the issue by issuing a dedicated low-pressure .38 cartridge for the weapons - the Caliber .38, Ball, M41 round.[4] However, after continued negative reports, Air Force officials decided that the revolvers were not suitable for issue, and the model was withdrawn from service, all but a few examples being crushed or destroyed.[5]

A civilian model of the M13 was released in 1953, called the Military & Police Airweight. This designation was changed in 1957 to the Model 12 Airweight.[6] The Military & Police Airweight initially used both an aluminum cylinder and frame, and weighed only 14.5 ounces.[7] The aluminum cylinder proved insufficiently strong to withstand continued firing with standard .38 Special cartridges, and in 1954, S&W changed over all new production Airweight revolver cylinders to steel, increasing the weight to 18 ounces.[8]

The Model 12 variants 12-1, 12-2, and 12-3 used a narrower hammer[9] and had an aluminum grip frame that was 0.08-inch (Bad rounding hereScript error mm) narrower than the standard steel K-frame.[10] The final version, the Model 12-4, used the standard frame dimension[11] of the other K-frames. It also featured a rounded butt.

Model 12 (1957)

-1 (1962) Change extractor rod to LH thread, eliminate screw in front of trigger guard

-2 (1962) Front sight changed from 1/10" to 1/8"

-3 (1977) Gas ring on yoke to cylinder

-4 (1984) Change frame thickness to same as all K frames [12]

Product development and usageEdit

Since the Model 12 uses an alloy frame, it is not advisable to use +P ammunition since the frame may stretch during shooting. This is apparent when the primers have elongated firing pin marks. Very early versions have aluminum cylinders and should not be fired.

The two-inch barrel Model 12 is also called a snub-nose. Detectives and others with licenses to carry find the snub-nosed revolver, such as the vintage Model 12, concealable, lighter in weight than its longer-barreled twins, and in an emergency, easy to deploy with its trim wood grips and round butt. It is also a proven performer as a back-up pistol for some officers, who carry a larger caliber pistol at their waist.

The Model 12 is most often found to have some wear on its bluing due to age, but this wear does not detract from either its function or its value as a vintage concealed-carry piece. An important earmark is the factory stamp Mod-12 on the frame inside the yoke. Also on the inside of the yoke is the revolver's serial number, which is repeated verbatim on the base of the butt. The Model 12 holds its market value nicely and is highly collectible. As with most older revolvers, a reputable gunsmith should check its functioning prior to purchase.


  1. Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight, Shooting Times (retrieved 3 April 2011)
  2. Boorman, Dean K., The History of Smith & Wesson Firearms, Lyons Press, ISBN 1585747211 (2002), pp. 63-64
  3. Boorman, pp. 63-64
  4. TM 43-0001-27, Army Ammunition Data Sheets - Small Caliber Ammunition, FSC 1305, Washington, D.C.: Dept. of the Army, 29 April 1994: The standard .38 ball M41 cartridge first issued in 1956 had a pressure limit of only 13,000 CUP for a bullet velocity of 725 ft/s (Bad rounding hereScript error m/s) After the M13 was withdrawn from service, a higher-pressure cartridge, the Caliber .38 Ball, Special, M41 was introduced. The M41 Special cartridge had a revised pressure rating of 16,000 CUP, giving a velocity of 950 ft/s (Bad rounding hereScript error m/s)
  5. Boorman, pp. 63-64
  6. Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight
  7. Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight]
  8. Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight]
  9. Camp, Stephen A., Shooting the S&W Model 12, retrieved 3 April 2011: The earlier Models 12-1, 12-2, and 12-3 used a 0.240" hammer, compared to the 0.265" wide hammer of the standard Model 10.
  10. Scarlata, Paul, Smith & Wesson's Model 12 Airweight
  11. Camp, Stephen A., Shooting the S&W Model 12, retrieved 3 April 2011
  12. User: Mesinge2

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