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Posted: 6/27/2015 7:50:45 PM EDT
I own both of these J framed sized revolvers and thought I'd post my impression on each of them.

Size and weight:

The Ruger SP101 maintains the same basic size as the S&W J-Magnum frame revolvers but does it with a bit more metal.   In addition to the full heavy lugged barrel, the extra metal is evident in the front portion of the frame around the barrel as well as in the slightly heavier top strap.  The Ruger SP101 also uses a frame design that does not have a side plate, with the hammer and trigger parts being inserted from the top and bottom of the frame, creating a stronger frame. The SP101s forcing cone is also about 50% thicker than the forcing cone on the Model 60.  There is however no free lunch and the 3" SP101 weighs in at 1.8 pounds compared to 1.5 pounds for the 3" Model 60.  For concealed carry purposes the extra weight is noticeable but not objectionable.    

Durability with .357 Magnum loads:

Due to it's comparatively light frame and the thin forcing cone, even with its steel frame, the Model 60 is intended to be shot primarily with .38 Special and carried with .357 Magnum, maintaining a very high ratio of .38 Special to .357 Magnum round count.  The SP101 however should be able to tolerate a steadier diet of .357 Magnum loads due to it's slightly heavier frame, thicker forcing cone, and that was one of the primary reasons I bought one.


In terms of accuracy, both revolvers are capable of one hole accuracy at 10 yards and are capable of 3" accuracy at 25 yards.

SP101 10 yards:

S&W Model 60, same load at 10 yards:


The SP101's fixed sights have a slightly wider rear sight notch than the fixed sights on the 2.125" Model 60.  However, the adjustable sights on the 3" Model 60's J-Target frame are a big improvement over the fixed sights on the SP101.  In addition to having a better sight picture, they allow adjustment to point of aim for ammunition other than the 158 gr loads both revolvers seem to be regulated to shoot to point of aim from the factory.  This gives the Model 60 the ability to better utilize its potential accuracy.


This is one of the biggest differences between the two revolvers, but it's not as simple as one being better than the other.  Both revolvers vary a fair amount from the factory, and if you try several examples you'll find some that have better triggers than others.

In general however, the SP101 comes with a heavier trigger from the factory and the feel is not as refined as the trigger on the Model 60 trigger.  On the other hand, it's a simple process to replace the trigger return spring with a lighter spring and it's even easier to replace the hammer spring with a lighter one.   With a 12 pound hammer spring and an 8 pound return spring, my SP101 has a 3 pound single action trigger pull, compared to a 3 3/8 pound SA trigger on my 3" Model 60 and a 3 pound SA trigger on my 2" Model 60, so despite the heavier factory pull, it's fairly easy to give the Ruger a comparable trigger pull weight.

On the other hand, the "feel" of the S&W trigger is better, with a smooth and solid feel, compared to a more mechanical and rougher feel.  The SP101 also has a longer trigger reset and it's a lot less positive than the S&W Model 60's trigger.


It's a very subjective topic, but both the Model 60 and the SP101, in my opinion, suffer from rubber grips that are too small and leave the middle finger behind the trigger guard, where it gets whacked when shooting .357 Magnum loads.   On both revolvers, installing a better designed grip improves the ability to shoot them well with .357 Magnum loads.   The Hogue Monogrip works well for me and it lives on both my SP101s as well as all my Model 36s and Model 60s.

Overall appearance:

This is also very subjective.

The Model 60 has a mildly shiny polished finish that results from polishing with abrasives followed by a passivation process in a mild acid bath that removes any free iron molecules from the surface to improve rust resistance.

The  SP101 has a brushed finish that is much flatter than S&W standard polish.

Both the SP101 and the Model 60 have full length ejector rod housings and untapered barrels, but the SP101's ejector housing take the form of a full under lug, adding additional weight to the revolver, and giving it amore modern styling, while the S&W maintains much more classic lines.  

Both revolvers also use MIM technology, but the lower attention to detail on the small part finish on the SP101 make the MIM mold lines much more noticeable.



Both revolvers are very enjoyable to shoot, and with decent grips make .357 Magnum loads readily controllable.   Both revolvers are also very accurate, particularly by short barrel revolver standards.  

In terms of durability the SP101 wins hands down, but in terms of overall quality of fit and finish, the Model 60 exudes a classy look and feel that the SP101 just can't match.

For concealed carry purposes, both are equally capable, but the Model 60 benefits from 3/10s of a pound less weight.  

The SP101 is about $80 less expensive than the Model 60, but it's not enough difference to sway someone one way or the other.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 12:16:03 AM EDT
I'm not convinced the J magnums suffer from any durability problems. I've never come across a loose example, but then again few people are durable enough to try wearing one out themselves.

The only S&W's of any kind that Ive seen that are approaching unserviceability are vintage military K frame M&P's with many decades of use.

Theoretical assumptions aside, I think it's mostly a matter of preference. If the intent is shooting many thousands of magnums I suppose the Ruger looks appealing, as they often are especially in the case of maximum load reloaders.

Some folks don't realize the accuracy inherent in these little guns. My little snubs aren't losing much in accuracy to my service sized guns.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 1:45:53 AM EDT
the Model 60 is intended to be shot primarily with .38 Special and carried with .357 Magnum, maintaining a very high ratio of .38 Special to .357 Magnum round count
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Source for this claim?  I've never heard that one.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 8:26:22 AM EDT
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Source for this claim?  I've never heard that one.
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the Model 60 is intended to be shot primarily with .38 Special and carried with .357 Magnum, maintaining a very high ratio of .38 Special to .357 Magnum round count

Source for this claim?  I've never heard that one.

The Model 19 was intended for practice with .38 and carry with .357. That is why S&W came out with the 686 series. I don’t imagine a J frame .357 would be more durable than a K frame. The 101 is like the GP100, a tank. I haven’t done it and I haven’t seen where anyone else has done it, but I would tend to believe the 101 would be a bit more durable with hot loads than the 60.

That aside, I have a 60 Pro and a 3” 101. Both required a bit of trigger work to get them as good as I wanted. The 101 probably required more work, but in the end, with springs and smoothing, it has a very nice trigger; a bit different in feel than the 60 Pro, but very good and about equal to the 60 Pro.

For me the weakness of the 101 was the sights. The frame sight just didn’t work for me. I had a J frame rear sight and appropriate front sight fitted to the 101. I never realized just how accurate the 101 was until I had what for me were useable sights!

As for grips, I like the Pachmayr Gripper grip for my J frames. I have large hands and the little factory grips don’t work well for me. On the 101 I have Trausch grips. They are similar to the Pachmayrs.

I now have two very accurate .357 and very similar revos with the 101 about 3 oz. heavier than the 60 Pro. Either would be suitable for anything I am likely to use a small, light .357 for.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 9:38:29 AM EDT
I haven't shot j frame 357's much, but I have loosened up K frame with extended magnum rounds.  Of course all guns are subject to wear with enough rounds through them.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 1:04:38 PM EDT
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Source for this claim?  I've never heard that one.
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the Model 60 is intended to be shot primarily with .38 Special and carried with .357 Magnum, maintaining a very high ratio of .38 Special to .357 Magnum round count

Source for this claim?  I've never heard that one.
No one likes to hear the bad news that their .357 Magnum isn't really designed for full time use of .357 Magnum loads.  

However, you've heard it now, and to be real honest you should have encountered it before.


There are a few things I'm using to base this claim.

1. If you look around you'll find a person here and there who has sent a .357 Magnum chambered Model 60 back to S&W with cracks or other issues and been told by S&W that it was't designed for a steady diet of .357 Magnum ammo.  There's a guy on the S&W forum right now who's just managed to crack his 642.  I'm pretty sure he'll get the same message from S&W, although I am equally sure they'll replace his revolver as well.

2. There's also over 50 years of operational history with K-frame revolvers in .357 Magnum that indicate they are prone to cracking and getting loose after a few thousand rounds of .357 Magnum ammo.

The .357 Magnum first came out in the over built Model 27, a revolver that was far stronger than the revolver needed to be for .357 Magnum.  The plus side is that they held up exceptionally well and you couldn't wear them out with a steady diet of .357 Magnum loads.  

When S&W came out with the Model 19 in 1957, the normal practice in law enforcement agencies was to practice with .38 Special and carry .357 Magnum, and even Bill Jordan to consulted with S&W on the Model 19s development, and who regarded it as the ideal law enforcement revolver, cautioned that .357 Magnum rounds should be limited to a ratio of hundreds of .38 Special to each .357 Magnum round.

By the 1970s law enforcement agencies were under criticism for under training officers by having them practice with .38s and then carrying .357s, so many departments switched to .357 Magnum for training as well.  After that point, forcing cone cracks in Model 19s became a much bigger issue.

The Model 19s are known to crack in the area at the bottom of the forcing cone where the cone is relieved to provide clearance for the crane, creating a flat spot where the forcing cone is thinner.  In the Model 19, the 125 gr .357 Magnum loads favored by police aggravated the cracking issue by increasing throat erosion, particularly with slower burning ball powders.  Once a v shaped cut gets started in the 6 o'clock area of the forcing cone, it creates a stress riser that combines with the thin metal in this area to quickly cause a crack.

Consequently, if you shoot a Model 19, you want to limit your use of .357 Magnum loads, and when you shoot them you want to stay with longer bullets and/or faster burning powders that are less abrasive passing through the forcing cone.

S&W's response to the problem in the Model 19 was "get a Model 27".    Ruger however responded with their Police/Service/Security/Speed Six series.  These were K-frame sized revolvers with no side plate and about 4 oz more metal in the frame and forcing cone.  They proved to be very durable with steady diets of .357 Magnum rounds and the extra weight wasn't noticed by police officers in a K-frame sized revolver.

Ruger continued that trend in the GP100 series and the SP101 follows the same trend in a J-frame sized revolver.  Rugers uses more metal and a thicker forcing cone than S&W to add a little more weight and strength in a revolver that is still J-frame sized.  It's on par with the Model 19 in terms of the forcing cone thickness, but without the clearance cut for the crane at the bottom

Oddly enough S&W went in the other direction with the .357 Magnum chambered J-frames, with an even lighter frame and forcing cone than the Model 19.  The explanation I've heard for this is that S&W figures that most shooters won't endue the fierce recoil enough to put a significant number of .357 magnum rounds through their J-frame pistols to cause issues, and that's a safe assumption if you stay with the original grips they put on them.  In other words, like the Model 19, the idea is that people will carry them with .357 Magnum, but primarily shoot them with .38 Special.  

3.  If you compare a Model 19 (bottom) to a Model 60 (top), you'll see that the  entire forcing cone of the Model 60 isn't much thicker than the  thin spot on the Model 19's forcing cone, and it's a lot thinner overall:      

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that at best, the Model 60's forcing is not going to be any more durable than the forcing cone on a Model 19.  It's also very obvious that the frame of the Model 60 is much less substantial than the Model 19, so stretching and loosening of the revolver is much more likely.

Personally, I try to keep the .357 round count down on my Model 60s and I also load them with faster burning flake powders (usually Unique in my Model 60s) to reduce forcing cone erosion, which also makes sense as I get greater velocity and less muzzle flash using a faster powder than I get with a slower burning powder better suited to a longer barrel.   I get 1250 fps velocities with 125 grain bullets out of my 3" .357s and that's with a load (8.5 grains of Unique) that is still a couple steps under maximum.   It adds another 150 fps over and above a .38 +P load, without beating up the revolver.


Now you can shoot what ever you want in your Model 60, but if you plan on a steady diet of .357 magnums I'd recommend you be the original owner and that you register the warranty for it as the odds are that sooner or later you're going to break it.

The Ruger is a little heavier and should tolerate a higher round count of .357 Magnum loads than the Model 60, but you still probably don't want to go crazy with it.
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 5:09:10 PM EDT
I almost bought the 2.125 DAO SP101 about a year ago.  I think it would make for a good carry revolver.   I but the 3" is fun to shoot.  I think they both are great though.  Great post.

Link Posted: 6/28/2015 6:12:04 PM EDT
Link Posted: 6/28/2015 8:45:59 PM EDT
The Airweights (and Airlite) are something else altogether. The infamous frame crack is due to an over torqued barrel and is usually evident within the first few hundred rounds. Aside from those rare instances, they have been proven to easily last for many thousands of rounds of +p (and in the case of Airlites likely more magnums than the shooter can endure).

The K frames are also a different story. There is a stress riser at the thin flat of the forcing cone where a crack can propigate with extensive use of lightweight magnums. 158 gr magnum ammunition causes less stress on the forcing cone and is known to prevent such issues.

The steel framed J magnums are not known to suffer from such maladies and most folks aren't durable enough themselves to fire a steady long term diet of hot magnum loads. Manufacturer defects aside, when researching the purchase of my 649 I could find no mention of or pattern of durability problems with the guns. Full power lightweight magnums will hasten forcing cone erosion, but that's always the case in general.
Link Posted: 6/29/2015 11:34:25 AM EDT
Good info from everyone.

S&W came out with a M66-8 that fixes the forcing cone problem, per them.

Never had a problem with many M19 and M66 revolvers.   I used almost exclusively 158 or heavier bullets.

Either the S&W or Ruger will make fine trail guns.   3 inch barrels are the best snubbies IMHO.

Really, you wont want to fire many heavy loads from either one.   38 Special is just fine for practice and saves money.
Link Posted: 6/29/2015 1:04:39 PM EDT
This is just my geometry;  I've never had an issue with any J frame but the SP101 I had absolutely hammered a bone in my hand, OK, so factory grips are not for me, bought Hogues and put it on - no better at all. Light or heavy loads didn't matter. The 101 just doesn't fit me - too bad; neat little gun.
Link Posted: 6/29/2015 10:54:12 PM EDT
OP - Very nice review!  Thoughts/opinion - how you consider the 4.2" SP101 is this discussion?  Curious
Link Posted: 6/30/2015 8:13:49 AM EDT
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OP - Very nice review!  Thoughts/opinion - how you consider the 4.2" SP101 is this discussion?  Curious
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Personally, I think that when you get up to the 4" barrel length in a .38 or .357 Magnum, you've gotten long enough that concealment is already compromised and for a shot often range gun, you just as well have a larger frame in the K, L, Security Six  or GP 100 class.

I do however own a 4.2" SP101 in .22 LR.  It's a great little revolver where the small frame is not a hindrance to high round counts, and the longer sight radius is very useful.
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