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

Fn America High Power Pistol F
Fn America High Power Pistol F

New For 2022: FN High Power

FN America brought back its High Power in an all-new, redesigned package that takes the iconic Browning design into the 21st century.

First Look: Nosler Suppressors

In 2022, Nosler expanded into suppressors with four all-new models designed for durability, lightness and great sound mitigation.

First Look: Magpul Hunter American Stock

Magpul now offers an easy upgrade for owners of Ruger American Predator and Ranch rifles with its Hunter American Stock.

First Look: Federal Premium HST In .357 Mag. & .327 Fed. Mag.

Federal Premium expanded its popular HST line of defensive ammunition to include the .357 Mag. and .327 Mag. cartridges.

New For 2022: Henry Long Ranger Express

Henry built on its Long Ranger lever-action platform with its all-new Express model in 2022, providing a utilitarian take on the precision lever gun.

On The Range: Taurus G3X

Taurus USA blended features from its full-size and compact pistols to create the all-new G3X, a hybrid design that aims to do it all.

Interests



Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.