Rifleman Q & A: What is a S&W “Flat Latch”?

by
posted on June 19, 2019
latch1.jpg

The early S&W Chief’s Special (above) had a flat thumb latch (arrow) for releasing its cylinder, which is different from the style used on most of its models (l.).

Q: I recently saw a gun advertised for sale described as “a Smith & Wesson Flat Latch.” I thought I knew all the S&W models, but I have never heard of this one. What is it?

A: The “flat latch” term is sometimes used to describe the earliest versions of the S&W Chief’s Special, which was introduced in 1950; it became the Model 36 in 1957 when S&W switched to numerical designations for its handguns. The flat latch, used only on Chief’s Special/Model 36 snubbies and their J-frame variants made from 1950 until 1966, was simply a modified, “flattened” design of S&W’s more prolific concave, checkered thumb latch that unlocks the swing-out cylinder of their revolvers.

According to S&W historian Roy Jinks, “The flat latch was used on the early Chief’s Specials to keep them as flat [as possible] and [make them] easy to slide in and out of various pockets. The company never referred to it as a flat latch; that is a term the collectors have since dubbed it.”

Prior to the appearance of the flat latch, S&W revolvers, starting with the K-frame in 1899, sported a now-familiar concave, checkered thumb latch. As Jinks notes, after 1966 the company changed to this standard-style thumb latch for its Model 36, as it was deemed easier to use. However, the flat latch continued to be installed on the Model 36 for a brief period after 1966, until the supply of parts ran out.

It is interesting to note that current S&W revolvers use a semi-triangular sloped thumb latch, while their re-issued “Classic” guns use what the catalog now refers to as a “Classic style thumb piece” which, of course, is the old-style concave, checkered thumb latch. Smith & Wesson flat latch Chief’s Special/Model 36 revolvers are an interesting variation for the collector, although generally speaking, they do not add appreciably to a gun’s value.

--Rick Hacker

Latest

Nraam 2021 150Th F
Nraam 2021 150Th F

NRA To Hold 150th Annual Meeting In Houston

Join thousands of NRA members as they celebrate the 150th Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Houston, Tex. on Sept. 3-5.

Wiley X Breaks Ground at New Headquarters in Frisco, Tex.

Wiley X, known for its lines of durable sunglasses, has broken ground at the site of its new headquarters in Frisco, Tex.

Taurus TX22 Competition: An Optic-Ready Rimfire

Following the current growing trend of optic-ready handguns, Taurus has adapted several of its handguns to accept micro red-dot sights, including the new rimfire TX22 Competition chambered in .22 LR.  

Best Seller: Citadel Boss25

The Citadel Boss25, ergonomically modeled after the ever-popular AR-15 platform and available from Legacy Sports International, was the fifth top selling semi-automatic shotgun of 2020.

I Have This Old Gun: U.S. Model 1898 Krag–Jørgensen

Watch this segment of American Rifleman Television's "I Have This Old Gun" to learn about the history and development of the United States' first standard issue bolt-action rifle, the Model 1898 Krag–Jørgensen, chambered for .30-40 Krag.

True Velocity Highlights 'Switch Barrel' Capability Of Its Composite Cartridges

True Velocity, an entrant in the U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapons system trials, highlighted that its composite-cased 6.8 mm cartridge can be employed in current firearms by simply switching out barrels.

Interests



Subscribe to the NRA American Rifleman newsletter