Handguns > Revolver

Smith & Wesson Model 36 (Chief's Special)

The Chief’s Special continues to be a popular revolver.


Even with the recent advent of ultra-compact handguns, the Smith & Wesson Model 36 remains an extremely popular pocket revolver. For years its only competition was the Colt Detective Special. Indeed, the slightly larger six-shot “Dick Special” was the impetus for S&W’s snubby.

In 1948, S&W President C.R. Hellstrom realized his company was losing ground to the Detective Special. The only thing S&W had that even came close was its five-shot Terrier, which was built on a .32-cal. frame and fired the anemic .38 S&W, a cartridge that dated from 1877 and the days of the top-breaks. Hellstrom instructed his engineers to turn the Terrier into something that could handle the more potent .38 Spl.

The result was a gun that retained its compactness, thanks to a stubby 17⁄8-inch barrel and a five-shot cylinder. With a sturdier coil mainspring instead of the Terrier’s flat mainspring, and with a slightly beefier frame and cylinder to handle the .38 Spl., it weighed less than 20 ounces. This was the first of S&W’s “J”-frame series. In a stroke of marketing genius, it was decided to let some of the potential purchasers name the new revolver.

Smith’s newest creation was unveiled in October 1950 at the Int’l Ass’n of Chiefs of Police conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., where—not surprisingly—attendees christened it the Chief’s Special. In 1957, when S&W switched to numerical designations, it became the Model 36. The guns were blued, with case-hardened hammers and triggers, or nickeled. In 1952, at serial number 21,342, a square-butt option was offered. Numerous minor changes were made through the years, including the switch from a flat to a contoured cylinder-release in 1966. Adjustable sights and 3-inch barrels are occasionally encountered. Most dramatically, in 1965 a variation of the Model 36 became the Model 60, the world’s first stainless steel revolver. Although the Model 36 was discontinued in 1999, in 2008 it became part of S&W’s Classic Series.

This 98 percent revolver was purchased in the 1980s for $85 and was carried briefly, then spent the next decades in a bedside drawer, where its 98 percent condition remained intact while its value rose. It is currently worth approximately $460 while still providing the protection for which it was designed.

Gun: Smith & Wesson 
Model 36 (Chief’s Special)
Caliber: 38 Spl.
Condition: 98 percent
(NRA Modern – Excellent)
Manufactured: 1978
Value: $460

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23 Responses to Smith & Wesson Model 36 (Chief's Special)

Richard A. Egli, Sr wrote:
March 04, 2014

Where can I find out what design changes were, and what dash number was assigned to the changes?

Bear Gunn wrote:
November 01, 2013

In answer to JJMorfei : your stainless S&W Chief's Special (Model 60) will accept .38 Special ammo as well as .38 Special +P ammo - nothing else. And I would somewhat limit how much +P ammo you use in it, as not to fatigue the metal or accelerate 'flame cutting' of the topstrap of the cylinder frame. Quite fortunately, .357 ammo is longer than the cylinder of this gun can accept, so you are saved by default from even trying to use it in your Chief. It would blow it to smithereens. Hope you're enjoying your S&W Model 60 as much as I'm enjoying my well-preserved 1974 vintage one.

Mike wrote:
April 07, 2013

I own a S&W model 36 w/ the 3 inch heavy "bull" barrel. It takes 38 Special. At the range I shoot .38 wad cutters. When I carry, I load it with .38 125 grain SJHP +P loads. The bull barrel lets me get away with using the +P loads. But the dealer advised against using the +P loads for a steady diet at the range.

Larry wrote:
March 27, 2013

I have a model 36. I use 38 special.

JJMorfei wrote:
March 01, 2013

I have a stainless Model 36 Chief's Special and am wondering what ammo it will accept; .38, .38 Special, .357 Magnum. Can anyone answer?

GWHuntter wrote:
January 15, 2013

andrew kish Yes it is a side plate if you look just forward of the trigger on the rt. side you will find a side ways "U" shaped "crack" by removing the hand grip and screws on the rt side the plate my be poped off ther is a small hinge spur under the "crack" top by hammer buy carfuly prying between the trigger and this plate it will pop off this is how you access the works of the firing system to clean and inspect. Note: GREAT care is needed to not damage the edges of this plate and as this is a Percission fit and thefore very very tight fit.

J Graham wrote:
January 05, 2013

I have a S&W .38 special model 36 serial #57XXX which I think means made in 1957. I have shot quite a bit of rounds through this gun with not issues at the range. The other day I picked up a box Remmington UMC 125 gr JHP that was labeled .38 special +P. I didn't notice the +P until I got home, is this ammo safe to shoot through my gun? Thanks for the help.

andrew kish wrote:
December 23, 2012

What is a split frame on model 36 sw cheifs special.holdlng gun in hand there is a small crack by the hammer on right side. It looks uniform with other marks. Is this normal?

Paul K wrote:
October 30, 2012

My first gun purchase was a 3 inch Model 36. I purchased it in the late 60s in Washington, D.C. for $67 new. I foolishly sold many years ago but, I purchased a used but clean Model 36 snub nose for $300. Beautiful and great shooting classic. S&W is now selling their modern version for over $700 with internal lock. I love the Chief's Special but I would reach for my new Centennial Airweight if I needed a self-defense gun which would take +P rounds.

Frank martinez wrote:
May 27, 2012

I have a .38 police Spl CTG mod 36- no dash 3 in barrel with squre butt. This little gun is extremely accurate up to 20 to 25 yards. SA is best for target shooting. DA takes a little getting used to, but practice will make you more proficient at hitting your mark. I practice at a distance of 7 ft. With 1 arm. Keep in mind, you shoot someone farther then that your going to jail!

David wrote:
March 13, 2012

I have a S&W model 60 Fin SS, 2” Barrel, stock R, serial number 410 – 563, round butt in the original box with the instructions and oil paper, 3 sets of handles. Not sure what its worth?

Paul Burge wrote:
February 26, 2012

Still have mine, purchased at a gas station for 75.00. They had stainless for 125.00....Didn't have that much money...... Carry concealed for 20 some years, still looks great.....What a purchase...

Laura wrote:
February 23, 2012

I am new to this forum. Does this article with picture mean that this gun is for sale, or is it just stating its value for reference? Also, I am interested in finding a chiefs special with the blue hue, 2 in. barrel, and round butt.

Lauren wrote:
February 17, 2012

Hello, I just read some of the preious comments and would like to know if anyone knows how to tell the age of a model 36 I have. It is in the original box and was purchased from Woolco. The label on the side lists the model no. (36)fin(B) barrel (3) stock (S)and the serial no. The price on the Woolco sticker shows $84.00 Thanks

Lee wrote:
February 07, 2012

Comments...Despite the 'low tech' heritage of the all steel model 36, I prefer it to the 340. It handles buffalo bore 158 LHP +P very well, with its added weight. Still small and light enough for CCW. It is possible to have guns too small/light to be practical for optimum use of its intended cartridge. I find the steel 36 to be THE platform for its cartridge/use.

Lee wrote:
February 07, 2012

I have had a 442 and a Scandium 340. Still have the 340, now with CT grips. My wifes new gun after her. 380 started having failures. Its loaded with Corbon 110 DPX for her. After losing my snub, I replaced it with a steel model 36. Despite its 'low tech' heritage

bill wrote:
January 01, 2012

I too have a Model 36 SS 38 special S&W. I bought it somewhere around 1973. Although, it shows use I would qualify it to be in VG condition. I have keep all my guns in great shape. I don't want to sell it, however I am interested to know if you had ever been quoted a price on yours. Thaks

Mitchell wrote:
December 13, 2011

I have a Mod.36 that was built in 1971.O-Yeah did I mentioned that it is stainless steel. I have had a dozen gun stores and a couple of gun smiths look at the gun and they have all said the same thing " It's stainless". Can any one explain that. Is S&W never made a Mod. 36 SS then were did it come from.

Dale wrote:
November 03, 2011

I have always liked the looks of the 36 even though I've never owned one I have had a model 32 (.38 S&W) & 37 (Airweight)and curently have a 640 (357-hammerless) & 342 (titanium-hammerless. With all the states issuing CCW permits, they are a good gun to consider but, practise will be needed to become accurate with them. For the average person the 3" with the square butt will be much easier to shoot.

L.A.Bonewitz wrote:
October 28, 2010

Good stories,I have a model 36 nickle square butt ,also have the original box it came in with papers etc.inside box date April 15 `1955 Mint condition bed table.not carried,99.9%

rpp wrote:
October 28, 2010

Purchased my 3" square butt Chief Special around 1970. Carried it in a holster for around a year and then moved on to other jobs. It's mostly hidden away now, but occasionally I do a little target practice with it. It is one great, little revolver.

Paul Beal wrote:
October 04, 2010

Your article about the Smith&Wesson 36 really hit home. I have the three inch barrel model which I think I purchased sometime in the mid to late 1960's. It has also spent most of it's life in my bed-side drawer. It has "Lady Smith" stencilled on the right side of the frame. It is a great little gun.

charles dorne wrote:
October 02, 2010

As I have found your aticle Smith&Wesson model 36 very interesting, I would like to contact Rick Hacker for more info because I have two of the models and befor reading his article I knew very little about the model. I thought they were considered cheap "Saturday nite specials". If possible pass this email along to him. Thank you, Charles Dorne