The S&W Model 12

posted on October 5, 2011

There was a 1950s-era trend in American handgun making that is still alive and even growing. It received its start because post-war handgunners suddenly awakened to the fact that handguns were really heavy to carry.

At this time, there was little if any use of light materials in gunmaking. But the circumstances of World War II, as well as increased interest in aviation and its related equipment, combined with police and civilian interest in lighter armament started the ball rolling.

The military voiced an interest in lighter firearms for aviators and gunmakers responded. In Hartford, Colt started a huge trend with the aluminum framed Commander pistol and Cobra revolver. Smith & Wesson started with a light snub-nosed revolver on its newly-developed “J” frame and followed several years later with a revolutionary auto with the Model 39 in 9 mm. These guns were alike in one major particular way—each was made with a frame or receiver made of aluminum. Guns made in this fashion were 30 percent lighter.

One such gun was the seldom-seen Smith & Wesson Model 12 revolver. Guns numbered in the teens were all made on the firm's durable “K” frame. Essentially, the Model 12 was identical to the famous Military & Police Model 10, with the exception that the frame was made of a strong aluminum alloy and that frame was .08-inch thinner. Made as a 2-inch round butt and 4-inch square butt, with the buyer's choice of blue or nickel finish, the Model 12 weighed 14.5 ounces in a 2-inch configuration. At the very beginning of production, the Model 12s were fitted with aluminum cylinders, but these quickly proved to be inadequate for use with many kinds of ammunition and were recalled. The Model 12 went through the same series of engineering changes as most K frames in its rather long life span. It's possible to find the gun with no model number in the yoke recess, and then later marked as Model 12 all the way through Mod 12-4. The last engineering change made the frame the same thickness as Model 10 M&Ps.

For reasons I don't completely understand, the Model 12 never really caught on. Part of it may be attributed to the well-known failure of the Airmans’ revolver project, which used an early aluminum cylinder that did not work with hot GI ammo. The lightweight, six-shot .38 Spl. was made from 1952 to 1986, but is seldom seen on used gun shelves. I found one in the gun case at Mark, Fore and Strike, a Reno gun emporium. It is in new condition and now lives in my personal collection.


M1C rifle
M1C rifle

Sniping In Korea: 1950-1953

When U.S. forces rushed to stop the North Koreans from overrunning South Korea in 1950, there were almost no American snipers. As the battle lines stabilized, that would change, and the war would become ideal for the employment of well-equipped and well-trained snipers.

Preview: Archangel Mosin Nagant OPFOR

Greatly improve the ergonomics and versatility of your old Russian workhorse with the Archangel Mosin Nagant OPFOR—one of the few replacement stocks on the market compatible with most variants of the storied bolt-action.

The Armed Citizen® September 20, 2021

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

Rifleman Q&A: Bullet & Primer Sealant

From the archives of American Rifleman, one NRA member questions the importance of the colorful or black-colored paint-like coating around the cartridge necks and primer pockets of surplus ammunition.

Preview: Zero Tolerance Knives 0357BW

The U.S.-made Zero Tolerance 0357 Black Wash liner lock features a 3.25" blade of hard, wear-resistant CPM 20CV steel treated with a scratch-hiding blackwash finish best suited for everyday carry.

The French FR F2 Sniper Rifle

Conceived during the Cold War and after thirty years of service, the French are beginning to phase out the FR F2 bolt-action sniper rifle, with the surplus rifles available for sale from Navy Arms.


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.