(courtesy of Lipsey's)

Smith & Wesson’s J frame revolver – if there’s a ubiquitous back-up gun for uniformed officers, the J Frame is it.


The first J Frame revolvers – Chief’s Specials – were produced in 1950 and have included a number of models since then. When the 442 debuted in 1993, I bought mine from a local gun store. It is an alloy frame five-shot with a front sight blade that matches the rest of the gun. It came with rubber boot grips that didn’t cover the back strap. Fortunately, mine was made before that key lock became part of the design.

And until very recently, not much had changed about that design.

Darryl Bolke demonstrating a drill (courtesy of Lipsey’s).

The involved parties, maybe even suspects, in this change are Lipsey’s (of Baton Rouge), Smith & Wesson, and a couple of buddies of mine.


After discussions about beginning to collaborate more in the summer of 2022, Lipsey’s staff talked with S&W in January 2023 about various projects, including upgrading the J Frame line.

Dovetailed into the frame is a serrated, u-notch rear sight. Up front is an XS Sight small dot front sight with a greener green ring around a tritium insert (courtesy of Lipsey’s)

That initial conversation included what many end users wanted – better sights and improved grips. Those involved wanted the front sights to be pinned, which would allow for replacement and regulation – adjustment based on the ammunition used. The rear sight, whether it was adjustable or not, needed to be mounted via dovetail – rather than be a notch machined into the frame.


By March, the initial design was agreed on, and they had the SKUs (stock-keeping units) in their system. The design included a U-Notch rear that was 0.02″ wider than XS Sight’s front sight. The sights also had to support point of aim/point of impact at 15 yards with 125-135grain .38 Special defensive ammunition. No more rubber or even wood; they decided on G10 boot grips. S&W decided this was the next generation of the J Frame rather than “another” model.

One of the engineers from XS Sights getting some trigger time while combining the green small dot and u-notch rear to get hits.

In May, they added a .32H&R chambering to the project. The sights on those models had to be regulated for an 85-grain load at 15 yards.


Pre-production development took place over the summer and into the fall. Two buddies, Darryl Bolke (you have read him here) and Bryan Eastridge, both retired street cops and revolver aficionados, were brought in to assist with sight regulation and, as importantly, the final grip design. They were heavily involved in the selection of a greener green for the ring color on the XS dot. They also were involved in the development of the G10 grips from VZ. That design comes up higher on the backstrap before enclosing it. S&W also chamfered each of the chambers in the cylinder for ease of reloading, especially under stress.

The first guns shipped from S&W to Lipsey’s the week before SHOT. Whew.

Your editor shooting one of the .38 Special’s right handed – because that’s how I carry J Frames.

Bryan and Darryl had held their mud before SHOT, only saying there was a project they had been involved in that I would need to look at.


Lipsey’s had four of the new J Frames – two in .32 H&R and two more in .38 Special in their booth. One of each caliber is in a stainless-like finish, while the other is matte black.

Guns for both calibers are available in matte black and stainless steel-like finishes (courtesy of Lipsey’s).

Bryan had said the triggers on these were exceptionally good. I can attest he was not kidding. In addition to my observation of it, more than a few SHOT attendees commented on it while dry-firing the demo guns. I heard the repeated refrain, “Click, Click, wow, that’s a really good trigger.”

Why should you be interested in this? Because the J Frame is an ideal back-up gun for uniformed officers! And it is a solid off-duty, concealed-carry gun as well.

Range Day

Several writers were invited down to the Range Ready facility in Louisiana by Lipsey’s to get some hands-on time with the revolvers.

Andrew Gore from S&W with Lipsey’s Jason Cloessner talking us through the development of the U/C revolvers – inside GunTalk’s RangeReady classroom (courtesy of Lipsey’s).

Gathering in their classroom, S&W’s Andrew Gore and Lipsey’s Jason I walked up through the development of the Ultimate Carry revolvers, the next generation of the J Frame.

Heading out to the range for live fire, we were handed our choice of .32H&R or .38Special models.

Simply Rugged Leather and Tuff Products generously supplied us with holsters and speed strips.

Trigger Time

Retired Oklahoma sergeant Bryan Eastridge proves these are not just for contact shoots.

Under the direction of Bryan and Darryl, we worked several drills at 3, 5, 7, and 10 yards. They worked us on both paper and steel. Everyone was encouraged to try both calibers. Later in the afternoon, we had the chance to work back to 50 yards on steel. I, your humble editor, stayed in as far back as 35 yards.


Ammunition-wise, I shot the ball, jacketed hollow points, and wadcutters through the .38Special, as well as ball rounds through the .32H&R.

Some of the rounds we shot after they were recovered from Clear Gel.

Double Tap also supplied their new snake load. Given the frequency with which we encounter Mohave Green rattlesnakes at Gunsite, I’m always interested in those. The cartridge has a short wad cutter behind the shot load. The .32H&R has a 40gr projectile, while there is a 60gr one in the .38Special offering. While the shot penetrated in a few inches, the projectiles traveled several inches.

During the afternoon, we shot a variety of rounds into Clear Gel to see comparative performance. In terms of the .38 Special, Federal’s Hydra Shok Deep and Speer’s Gold Dot +P loads were shot and recovered. For the .32H&R, Double Tap’s 60gr all copper load was shot along with an 85gr JHP from Federal, an 80gr Hornady JHP< and Lost River’s 100gr wad cutter were fired as well.

Double Tap’s new duplex snake load out of the .38Special model into Clear Gel.

Remember, Clear Gel is just “a way” of displaying potential terminal performance.

Working pacing drills at ten yards, I lost a round high out of a few of the five-shot strings I was firing. I caught it, and so did a fellow trainer who pointed it out. Seriously though, thank you!


For nearly all my career, I carried a J Frame as my back-up gun – a road deputy’s reserve parachute. The trigger needed work, and I constantly had to re-apply permanent ink to the front sight. Lipsey’s and S&W have more than addressed all those issues and more. I strongly recommend these guns.

MSRP for these is $759