Skill Set: S&W Model 15

May 13, 2022

Today's feature is from our companion service, The Tactical Wire.

I was hoping the U.P.S. truck would arrive a little early, but no such luck. Out in the country deliveries are rarely early. I dialed Editor Rich’s number. “I’m waiting on U.P.S. to deliver a pistol,” I explained. “The Wire’s going to be a little late today.” Finally - right on time - the truck arrived. In the box is a great looking Smith & Wesson Model 15-3 – with a two-inch barrel.

The S&W Model 15 – “The K-38 Combat Masterpiece” – never got the attention it deserved. “It’s only a .38 Special,” was a common comment. Keep in mind all this is way before hollow-point/defensive ammunition. With today’s “modern” ammo the .38 Special is a potent round.

The “Pre-Model 15” .38 Special was introduced in 1949. It’s a K frame pistol, a “five-screw” model – as opposed to four or three - with an adjustable rear sight, a square butt and a four-inch barrel. The first “15’s” were released in 1957, originally with a four-inch barrel, with the 15-2 two-inch barrels appearing in 1964. There are a few differences between the K-38 and the later 15, but all the good things carried over with the “new” pistol. Later, as different models were released, features were discontinued. The 15-1 was changed so that the extractor rod had left-hand threads. Definitely a good thing. The -2 deleted the trigger guard screw – another good change. With the 15-5 they stopped pinning the barrel.

I had been looking at 15’s with two-inch barrels for a while. The older I get the more I appreciate short-barrel/light-weight pistols. Friend and fellow S&W fan Roger alerted me to some recent additions with an on-line dealer I knew it was time. They had a couple that were really nice looking. After he bought one of them, I knew it was time to get mine.

I looked into the safe to see what I didn’t need. The older I get, the less I find that’s really needed. But, I really “needed” a Model 15 with a two-inch barrel for a build I’m planning. After clearing a spot in the safe, and some transferring of funds the 15-3 was on its way to the shop.

With the box open, it was time to inspect. Since there’s a deadline, I don’t get time to take it all apart for a serious look, or even head to the range. After looking it over I don’t anticipate any troubles.

The 15-3 was produced in 1967. Sadly, the Combat Masterpiece was discontinued in 2002. The present sample is a fifty-five-year-old pistol that looks almost brand new. There’s minimal wear around the cylinder where the cylinder stop rubs. It locks up tight, and the timing is good to go. When you stroke the trigger, it takes you back to the 1960’s. It’s a nice, smooth action. Anyone who shoots older ‘Smiths will know immediately what I’m talking about. Some of the fit/finish is lost in later model pistols.

Next, it’s to the range to test fire. Then, I’m faced with the difficult decision of whether to modify it or not. It’s a nice revolver, but in order to carry it there’s going to have to be a few “me” changes. Stay tuned.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. Visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.