#wheelgunwednesday: "Next Generation of J-Frames"

Feb 28, 2024

Last week, I attended a gathering of the grey beards in Louisiana to participate in the hard launch of the Smith & WessonUC – “Ultimate Carry” – revolvers. Think in terms of a lower-cost, high value “Performance Center” product line.

Lipsey’s image

It seems that Smith & Wesson has been in product development stages of many of their product lines for decades. When they got a new Handgun Product Manager, Andrew Gore, he wanted to see it all. He became interested in a product-improved concealed carry revolver based on the small frame revolver line.

Jason Cloessner, Senior Vice President & Product Development Manager at Lipsey’s, also had interest in a better snub. Ably assisted by American Fighting Revolver entrepreneurs Darryl Bolke and Bryan Eastridge, the form of the new guns took shape – with a twist.

S&W had ceased their 32 H&R Magnum snub line, the M432/M632, some years ago. That was before guns like the Shield EZ line were recognized as being important in the expanded gun culture we see today.

Very few people spend any time learning to shoot a snub revolver; who wants to? Have you fired the 642 (or 442) with +P loads? Hard stocks, a small frame and a significant jolt made them “carry often, shoot seldom” guns. That’s a bad idea when someone’s shooting experience can be counted in one box of fifty rounds.

It’s not that the guns aren’t simple to shoot; they’re difficult to shoot well. So what do we do?

Media event at Range Ready Studios featuring Jason Cloessner of Lipsey’s (left) and Andrew Gore, S&W Handgun Product Manager.

We sort out the trigger. There’s some difference in the UC line, I can feel it as I cycle the action – as I did quite a bit a week ago, at Range Ready (the rather nice production facility of Gun Talk Media), as I went through iterations of the “Werner Drill” with other media types.

That’s a trigger control drill – actually a grip consistency drill – that came from the old “ball & dummy” exercise, modified by our own Claude Werner, the Tactical Professor.

Then we sort the gripping solution. This was solved by VZ Grips with an updated, high horn model that sprang from their 320 “boot grip.”

Finally, we look at the visual solution: a dovetailed rear sight with “U” notch and a “funny-green” XS Sights Tritium front sight. To get the right sight height for ammo regulation, to allow changing the front sight easily, to shroud the ejector rod and to make it easier to manufacture, a two-piece barrel (liner and shroud) are used. Think “M&P340” without Scandium and at a lower price point.

Put it all together and you’re part of the way to the product-improved M642/442-M632/432 UC revolvers.

I did include the 32 H&R Mag revolvers – because they did. For the feeble elderly, like a number of us in the grey beard group as well as new shooters, the smaller caliber not only adds a round but subtracts some recoil (unless you use those rhino-rollers from Buffalo Bore and a single SKU from DoubleTap).

A word about caliber selection for those in the “why not a 327 Federal Mag?” camp: Throughout the range day in Louisiana, I had a S&W M&P340 in my pocket. One of a pair separated by years, I’d only fired them with Magnum ammo for the shooting part of features I’d written. I don’t carry them that way. Call me feeble, but I’d much rather be able to reliably hit what I’m shooting at with first round and fifth round without crippling that hand.

One of the grey beards – like me, a Harris alum – Rob Garrett, shooting one of the UC revolvers on a walk-back drill that went to fifty yards.

Besides, without Scandium (and the attendant increased cost), it’s not going to work. Scandium increases cost and the huge number of buyers of small revolvers – those in that 99% of gunowners (some who are new to it all) who tend to never shoot much – won’t buy at all.

What about the frame lock? It’s gone, none in the UC line. S&W knows it lacks popularity, lacks necessity and they excluded it on this product line.

The sights are regulated for ammo likely to be used. Traditionally, sights were regulated for 158 gr. ammo. With the pair of M&P340s, it seems the 10-yard sweet spot is 110-125 gr. ammo, either +P or standard pressure. With the UC 38 Special line, they’re regulated to hit POA with Speer 135gr. +P Gold Dot or target wadcutters at 15 yards. The 32s are regulated to 15 yards with Federal 85gr. JHP as well as 100 grain ammo traveling at around 800 fps in a 2” barrel.

All models weigh 16 ounces. The guns in each caliber are provided in stainless with black & gray stocks or in black with black cherry stocks. Both formats are pleasing to the eye.

The cylinder chambers are chamfered for ease in loading – something I round loading 32s in the 632 using Tuff Products 8-shot Quick Strips. The front of the cylinder is nicely beveled as well.

Darryl Bolke, of American Fighting Revolver, shooting the S&W M432UC in a demo. Lipsey’s photo.

The quote in the title of this feature is taken from my notes during the lecture portion of the S&W/Lipsey’s presentation: I believe it was Andrew Foley, Project Engineer, who said “Treat this gun as the next generation of J-frames.”

They’ve most certainly done that. In the coming months, there will be more coverage of this story with ammo tests and more.

To note it was a group effort is to understate the case. Companies involved in finalizing the product include not only S&W and Lipsey’s, but XS Sights and VZ Grips, each of whom made running changes to products to specifically fit the need. Loading devices were provided by HKS Speedloaders and Tuff Products. The new “Boomer” holster from Simply Rugged Holsters (about which more will be written later) carried the guns and loading strips. Ammo came from DoubleTap, Lost River Ammunition, Georgia Arms, Hornady, Federal, Speer, Magtech, and Sellier & Bellot.

In the “nice to have” department, is the UC Endurance Package. The frame stud pins are titanium. For nearly all purchasers of guns like these, it’s a difference that won’t be noticed. For the 1%, it may become critical because we’ll shoot the wheels off these things.

If you run across one of those new shooters who need a gun for protection and a conventional five-shot 38 is offered up, you may want them to take a look at the UC – particularly in 32, but the 38 is fine with me. The difference in sights, trigger and stocks are worth the difference at the cash register.

Rex Applegate’s dream gun is reaching its pinnacle with the advent of the UC line. Congratulations are in order for Smith & Wesson and Lipsey’s. These guns should be a solid hit. Inspired by concern for the consumer, I have no doubt they’ll sell well.

— Rich Grassi