Getting a Grip on J-Frames!

By Stephen A. Camp

“Grip” actually refers to the grasping of the handgun by the shooter. The “handles” are more accurately called “stocks”, but the term “grip” is most commonly used. In this discussion I will use the more common term.

With the small frame S&W snubs, we find a handgun intended to be concealed as either a primary or backup weapon. Sights don’t come close to those used for target work and the original grips were meant to aid in the gun’s diminutive size.

J-Frame Grips
This S&W Model 442 is wearing the old classic Smith & Wesson J-frame round butt grips. For years these were common trim on the little pocket revolver.

The classic J-frame walnut grips are easy to conceal and do not lend themselves to “printing” if the gun is worn in a belt holster under the jacket. They are also small enough to allow for dropping into a jacket pocket or via a pocket holster. They are also prone to allowing the gun to shift during recoil, particularly in rapid-fire. I have never been able to do my best using these grips. They cover neither the front or rear grip straps and are the same width and height as the gun’s frame. Everything that could be done was done to make the gun as “invisible” as possible. Unfortunately, controllability suffered. The only concession to aiding stability was that the grips were checkered.

S&W J-Frame Grips
I find the smooth classic S&W grip considerably less controllable than the more common checkered grips. They do look very nice, but simply do not lend themselves to the most efficient handling of the revolver.

A common and still surprisingly good solution to this malady comes in the form of a “grip adapter.” For years Smith & Wesson, Pachmayr, and Tyler offered these add on parts. I know that Tyler still does today.

Installation is simple; loosen the grips and slide the metal tabs at the rear of the grip adapter between them and the frame. Tighten the grip screws and you’re done.

Tyler grips for J-Frame revolver
This Tyler grip adapter adds no width to the gun. It does allow for a much more secure grip on the snub during firing and the revolver doesn’t shift as much in the hand with heavy loads. These are still available. I’ve used such an arrangement for years and know at least one current law enforcement officer who does the same today. If you prefer the “classic look” but want more control when shooting, this has proven a viable solution for me.

For those interested in grip adapters, Tyler Manufacturing has a site located at: http://www.t-grips.com/

The problem is that grip adapters can cost as much as some entire sets of synthetic grips! These are offered for both square and round butt frames as well as J, K, L, and N-frame S&W revolvers.

Fitz Gunfighter grips for J-Frame
Not normally seen these days are the old Fitz Gunfightergrips for the J-frame. Certainly not “tactical” in looks, they do offer very good control of the snub in slow or quick shooting. They are thicker than the standard grips and cover the front grip strap. This does the same thing as the grip adapter. They are also longer than the gun’s butt and do slightly increase overall size.
J-frame grips from Fitz Gunfighter
This picture lets you see the increased length and slightly increased width of these synthetic stocks. Despite the “retro” look, the Fitz Gunfighter does allow for very, very good control of the gun. These have not been made since the ’70’s and do not work too well with speedloaders; they work fine with speed strips, however.

It is my view that the J-frame snub best serves as a concealed carry gun. For me these grips are just a bit large for pocket carry. For use with either an IWB or conventional belt holster, they present no problems. For a snub carried primarily in the glove box or for home defense, their size is a non-issue. They do tame much of the little Airweight Smith’s buck!

J-frame grips for Smith & Wesson
Some grips cover both the front and rear grip straps. This one also extends below the gun’s butt. The revolver is also a bit longer as the grip extends more rearward. This might aid the shooter having extremely large hands or long fingers, but it reduces the J’s primary strength: concealability.
Uncle Mike's Grips for J-Frame revolver
This set of Uncle Mike’s replacement grips are similar to the wood ones discussed previously. While I actually prefer rubber or synthetic grips for pocket carry, I do not find these particularly comfortable and they do make the revolver harder to conceal.

Obviously, some sort of compromise is in order. We need a grip that offers adequate control, but we also do not want to unduly sacrifice the ability to conceal.

J-Frame revolver grips
The grip at the far left is the K-frame round butt service grip from S&W. The center grip is rapidly approaching its size, but for a considerably smaller gun that holds one less round. As the butt is normally the hardest part of the handgun to effectively conceal, I’d just as soon carry the larger gun. The grip at the right is from Uncle Mike’s and is an approved copy of Craig Spegel’s boot grip. The front of the grip mimics the Tyler grip adapter while the grip does not cover the rear strap. It is no longer than the gun’s grip frame and relatively thin. Being rubber, it is not stained by sweat after daily pocket carry in hot climates. I have experienced no problems with this grip for pocket carry. It works fine with speedloaders.

As you may have guessed, I prefer the Uncle Mike rubber boot grip to all others. I’ve found it to provide both comfort and control and it has proven durable over several years of daily carry. They are not nearly so nice as the original wooden boot grips from Mr. Spegel, but neither do they cost as much.

The Uncle Mike’s boot grip has been standard on the S&W J-frame .38’s for several years now and this is one decision that S&W has made that I agree with.

Bodyguard J-frame grips
The most petite grips I’ve found that offer sufficient control in firing are from Eagle Grips. Here are their Secret Service grips for the J-frame round butt. I find these better than the original S&W grips in either rapid or slow-fire and they are no harder to control. They cover the front strap, but not the rear and they do not extend below the gun’s frame at all. I do not find them more comfortable than the Uncle Mike’s boot grip.
Eagle Secret Service grips for J-Frame revolver
Here is a closer view of the Eagle Secret Service grip. It, too, works fine with speedloaders.

So which is best? I cannot say which is best for another person, but have tried to point out strong and weak points (as I see them) on the several types of grips available for the snub. What feels best to me possibly will not to the next guyor gal. It remains my opinion that for a “carry gun”, the wisest choice remains grips that offer comfort, adequate control in firing, and concealability. For the J-frame not primarily carried, it makes no difference. However, in such cases I suggest going to a weapon that offers advantages that the J-frame does not. Without exception, my J’s are the aluminum frame Airweight version. These are superb for carry, but reduced weight does mean more felt recoil. I find their lightweight to be significantly more comfortable for pocket carry. While they are not as light as some newer offerings, neither are there limitations on what ammunition can be used without causing the gun to malfunction. I can use my preferred LSWCHP +P ammunition without worry that a bullet will unseat, protrude from the cylinder and jam the gun. The even-lighter S&W J-frames require the use of jacketed ammunition to prevent this. I tried an “experiment” using lead factory ammunition to see how true this proviso might be; I fired 4 shots before the revolver jammed as described above. It’s my observation that the aluminum J-frames are light enough, but getting a grip on them can be a problem. I find the factory standard rubber boot grip that comes on them to be the overall choice.

Subjectively my choices for “best” are:

  • Uncle Mike’s rubber boot grip
  • S&W checkered service grip w/grip adapter
  • Eagle Grips’ checkered Secret Service
  • Hogue Monogrips

Again, my choices may not be yours and I certainly would not argue with anyone preferring to buy the original Spegel’s from which the Uncle Mike’s were derived. If pocket carry is your preferred manner of carry, I do suggest going with grips that do not cover the rear grip strap, are not thicker than the original grips, and do not extend below the frame.

The J is not the most efficient defense gun by a long shot, but it does offer at least reasonable terminal ballistics with appropriate loads and is so easily carried that it is more likely to be with us when the unexpected occurs.

Were I going to use the J-frame snub only at the range or home, I’d go with the Fitz Gunfighters if I could find them. Despite the dated appearance, they do offer very fine control and tame recoil well. This might be the case for a person having but one handgun, but if the gun’s grips are making it too much larger, it’s original niche is lost.

Smith & Wesson model 64
This S&W 3″ barrel Model 64 is all stainless steel. It weighs significantly more than the J-frame Airweight, but offers six shots instead of five. Felt recoil is substantially reduced. This extra inch of barrel significantly increases velocity. With these Pachmayr “Compac Professional’s”, its grip dimensions have not been significantly increased. They are very flat, but do extend below the grip frame approximately 1/4″. So far I have not found any grip more convenient and comfortable with this K-frame revolver. Before going to a K-size grip on a J-frame, I would go to the K-frame and its advantages if concealability is not an issue.
Smith & Wesson 642 grips
This well-worn S&W Model 642 wears the same Uncle Mike’s grips it came with. I’ve tried quite a few others but always came back to these. This revolver is carried in a pocket holster and on me 24/7.

It remains my belief that the J-frame remains a fine choice for concealed carry or back up use. I’ve also found there to be significant differences in control and comfort depending upon the grips in a handgun this size. Hopefully, this article might be of use to someone fancying a J but wondering about grip selection for concealed carry or just more controllability.

Choose wisely.


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