The Kimber K6s revolver was introduced at the 2016 SHOT Show, and while I got to handle it in the Kimber booth, I didn’t get to shoot it until the following year’s Media Day at the Range. That first cylinder full convinced me that I was holding a very special gun, and would need to spend more time with it in the future.
So, I was very eager to return to the SHOT Show Media Day in January of 2018, and revisit the gun. When the gates opened that morning to let the crowd into the range, I hot-footed it to the Kimber booth to send more rounds downrange through the super snubby. Upon reaching the booth, I was excited to see that Kimber had several new variants to offer, including a 3” stainless version and a “Deep Cover” (DC) version with upgraded features. I shot the entire lineup and the experience reinforced my impression from the years before—these were special guns that needed further attention.
I first learned of the K6s in the weeks leading up to SHOT Show 2016. Kimber marketing teased all of us with an ad that hinted at what was coming, and a few sources leaked some info about the gun. Excited about what I heard, I mentioned the gun to Grant Cunningham when I was on the phone with him prior to the show, and was surprised to learn that he had been part of the team that created it. That info wasn’t public yet, and Grant was bound by nondisclosure agreements that prevented him from sharing details at this early stage, so he couldn’t answer the long list of questions that I had. However, he encouraged me to report back with my observations after I saw the gun and opened the door to future discussions.
As I mentioned, I didn’t get a chance to shoot the gun that year, but my brush with it kindled a strong interest in it. Several conversations with Grant and Kimber employees ensued, and eventually led to an interesting story about the design and development of this gun. If you haven’t read that story yet in these pages, I encourage you to take a look at it, because it’s a deep dive into the innards of the K6s.
Trigger time with the K6s DC
Talking to engineers and consultants is enlightening, but to truly understand a firearm, you need to burn some powder. To that end, your RevolverGuy team has been working with several samples of the K6s for a while now, and after spending some time with the K6s, we now have enough experience to make informed comments on it.
If you haven’t seen Justin’s excellent review of the 3” stainless version yet, I highly encourage you to go and read it. He has some detailed observations about the gun that are worth reading, and I think it’s worth noting that our experiences with these guns have been very similar in some areas.
The following is my field report on the K6s, based on carrying and shooting the DC model, which differs from the standard 2” K6s Stainless model in its black “diamond-like carbon” (DLC) finish, G10 grips, and tritium night sights. I’ll make note of a few features along the way when I have a specific comment about them, but for general information about the design, I’ll refer you to my earlier article.
There’s no more important characteristic of a self-defense firearm than reliability, so let’s start there. Right up front I need to say that my sample of the K6s DC has been extremely reliable. I have experienced no failures to fire, no breakages, or any other gun-related malfunctions during the test period. Some of you out there are saying to yourselves, “of course, it’s a brand new gun,” but I’m here to tell you that workmanship and reliability is no longer a given these days. I won’t digress into the changes in the industry that have brought us to this point, but will simply say that it’s not uncommon for new guns from the major brands to be defective from the start, or break early in their service lives, so it was exciting to see my K6s perform so well.
I wanted to push the K6s DC hard in my evaluation, so I decided to shoot the gun without performing any routine maintenance, to see how long it would go. I took the gun as it was shipped, and started shooting without performing any cleaning or lubrication along the way. This isn’t how I normally do business, but I thought it would be instructive to see how the K6s DC handled the neglect.
I ran the gun hard. The majority of rounds sent downrange were fired in defensive training classes and drills. The gun was shot fast, reloaded fast, and shot fast again. It didn’t get babied, and there were times that it got so hot that I burned my hand on the cylinder during reloads. Even the accuracy testing sessions were expedited, due to range time. The Kimber kept up a brisk pace, overall.
The gun ran for a total of 464 rounds before it finally became too dirty to continue shooting. These 464 rounds included:
275 rounds of Federal American Eagle, .38 Special, 130 grain, FMJ
54 rounds of Winchester Ranger, .38 Special +P, 130 grain, JHP
42 rounds of Winchester .38 Special, 158 grain, RNL
36 rounds of Remington .38 Special +P, 158 grain, LSWCHP
33 rounds of Winchester .38 Special +P+, 110 grain, JHP
24 rounds of Remington .357 Magnum, 125 grain, JHP
This is a significant accomplishment, I think. I keep my Smith & Wesson 640 meticulously clean, but the action starts to get sluggish after 150 rounds or so, and pretty soon thereafter, the cylinder will no longer close due to the buildup of crud under the ejector star. By comparison, the Kimber’s action didn’t slow down until around 400 rounds, and went to 464 before its cylinder wouldn’t go into the frame.
There’s two things to note about this. First, my K6s DC was delivered with a sloppy excess of white grease on the ejector rod and under the ejector itself. I knew this would attract fouling and gunk things up quickly, but wanted to see how long it would take, so I left it. I suspect that I would have easily made it past 500 rounds if I had just wiped the excess off before shooting commenced.
More importantly, the K6s cylinder design incorporates a clever and noteworthy feature that helps to ensure reliability. The area underneath the ejector star is relieved to create a “debris channel” that gives unburned powder grains and other trash a place to go. This excellent feature stops gunk from building up under the extractor and preventing it from seating flush, and I think it had a lot to do with how long this neglected K6s was able to run without attention.
A dry fire warning
Sadly, I can’t leave the issue of reliability without commenting on something that happened to a test gun in our pool. One of our fellow RevolverGuys is an industry professional that I talked into buying a stainless K6s, and from the very start he’s been feeding me valuable and detailed information about his sample. I consider this gun to be part of our T&E effort, so I’m obligated to report what happened to it.
The firing pin on his gun broke early in its service life. The gun had only fired about 250 rounds to date (all of it factory .38 Special, except for a few dozen factory .357s), but it had also been dry fired extensively. Our man estimates that he had several hundred dry fires on this gun–without using snap caps–before it broke.
After discussing it with him, we came to the conclusion that the dry firing is probably what precipitated the failure. Without a live primer or a snap cap to cushion the blow, the firing pin was probably getting battered into the frame. A stress riser was created in the pin (perhaps at the location of a manufacturing defect?), and the tip sheared off.
Thankfully, the broken firing pin was discovered during routine inspection and maintenance. The gun was sent to Kimber, who quickly replaced the firing pin and firing pin spring under warranty. The customer service was excellent–Kimber paid for the two-way shipping, and the work was done quickly, only taking 7 days round-trip. The gun has worked flawlessly since the repair.
I spoke to Kimber about the issue and mentioned a similar report I’d seen on the internet about a K6s firing pin failure. I wanted to know if these isolated incidents pointed to a bigger trend. Was there something about the design, the materials, or the production process that needed attention?
I was assured that while Kimber has seen a few guns with this problem, the numbers have been very small—“on the order of tens of guns, out of tens of thousands made.” Despite the infrequent nature of this failure, my Kimber contacts tell me they’re busy examining their design, materials, and processes to identify and fix the cause, so it won’t reoccur. I’m not happy that this problem occurred, but I’m encouraged that Kimber is taking it seriously. I’ve seen other occasions where manufacturers were not as responsive to potential problems, but I get the feeling that Kimber isn’t ignoring this one.
Kimber concurred that we were on the right track with our diagnosis, that the extensive dry firing had either accelerated or caused the issue. Kimber has not issued any recommendations about dry fire yet, and the K6s owner’s manual is silent on it, but RevolverGuy is going to recommend that you use snap caps in your revolver when dry firing it to mitigate this risk.
I should note that my own gun has been dry fired about a hundred times without snap caps and has fired 540 rounds of factory ammunition to date without failure. I’ve also shot 150 rounds through another T&E K6s, a 3″ stainless gun like Justin’s, without any issues so far. It’s likely that the failed gun was an unfortunate exception, but I will be using snap caps from this point forward as a dry fire precaution. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any new developments in this area.
May 2019 Update: We’ve received news of another confirmed firing pin break on a hammerless K6s that was dry fired without snap caps. This gun broke after very limited dry firing:
This latest break is the third one that I have first-hand knowledge of. A fourth was reported in the comments to this article (below) but I did not see the gun, and there are numerous other reports out there on internet forums which I cannot confirm.
Kimber advised us in January 2019 that the new DA/SA variant would be produced with an upgraded firing pin which is made from steel (versus the original Titanium), and the firing pin spring and bushing would be changed as well. The new setup was expected to prevent this kind of failure, but as of January 2019, the fix had only been incorporated into the new DA/SA models, and the hammerless models remained unchanged. It’s unknown if the firing pin modifications ever made the jump to the hammerless assembly line (we’re still trying to confirm), but it seems to us that it’s critical for Kimber to incorporate the change immediately, if they haven’t already.
In the meantime, RevolverGuys are strongly advised to refrain from dry firing these guns without snap caps until Kimber corrects this troublesome problem. RevolverGuys are also advised to inspect/check their firing pin as described in the function check article in these pages.
We’ll let you know when we find out more.
Early in the test period, I noticed that I occasionally had cases hang up in the cylinder after hitting the ejector rod. This typically happened on the chambers that were closest to the frame, and I had to pluck them out manually.
This was not the gun’s fault. Instead, I think the habits I developed around other guns with shorter ejector rods are to blame. As I became more experienced with the K6s, I realized that the cases always cleared the cylinder cleanly when I paid attention to what I was doing and gave the rod a full stroke. The cases only hung up when I didn’t fully and/or forcefully push the ejector rod. The problem here was operator error, so, hit the ejector rod firmly, push it all the way, and you won’t have any issues.
Of interest, the K6s ejector rod throw is about 0.93” compared to about 0.65” on my .38 Special, 1.875” S&W Model 640, and 0.98” on a .357 Magnum, 3” S&W Model 65. Given that the .38 Special case body (excluding rim thickness) is only about 1.096” long (1.230” for .357 Magnum), it’s plain to see that the K6s has more than ample throw to chuck the cases out of the way. It’s almost a small frame gun with a medium frame extractor rod. Somebody was thinking, here.
The K6s is a little taller than my .38 Special, 1.875” S&W Model 640 if you measure to the top of the K6s’ sights, but if you measure from the bottom of the grip frame to the upper surface of the top strap, the guns are both about 4.125” tall. However, the recoil shoulder on the K6s is lower on the backstrap, with the point about 3.375” up from the bottom of the frame, compared to 3.625” up from the bottom on the S&W 640.
I could feel this difference when shooting the K6s. It’s my preference to shoot these little guns with the web of my hand very high on the backstrap, to reduce the bore axis and gain additional control in recoil. With the 640, I can “choke up” very high on the backstrap with my larger hand (I wear a Size 11 or 12 glove) and comfortably place the web up and over the hump, but the shape of the K6s backstrap forced me to grip it much lower.
I couldn’t ride my hand up as high on the backstrap of the K6s, and it felt strange at first. However, I have to admit that I became accustomed to it, and it didn’t seem to significantly affect my shooting or my control of the revolver. It’s odd, but in photos the K6s appears to have a much longer grip frame than my 640, but both of them extend about 1.2” below the bottom of the trigger guard, and the overall heights (minus sights) are the same, so it’s probably just an illusion created by the different profiles of the grips they wear.
The K6s cylinder release is a vast improvement over what I’m used to, and it’s one of my favorite features on the gun.
I have a long history of S&W J-Frames cutting the knuckle on my shooting hand thumb with the bottom edge of the cylinder release. All my personal J-frames have had their latches polished to remove sharp edges, but the checkering on the thumb piece still makes me bleed anyhow. I’ve played around with alternative grasps, but have never found a satisfactory solution for this problem, and have learned to accept it as one of the tradeoffs that go with big hands shooting small revolvers wearing boot grips.
The K6s is different though. Perhaps it’s because the backstrap forces me to grip the gun lower on the frame, or perhaps it’s because the cylinder latch on the Kimber is nicely rounded (straight from the factory, no less!) and the checkering is less aggressive, but whatever the reason, the Kimber doesn’t draw blood.
Well, that’s mostly true. When I went to full house, 125 grain, .357 Magnum loads, the gun finally did bite my thumb knuckle a little, but I never had a single problem shooting the .38 Special +P loads that usually scrape me up in the S&W. That’s a heck of an improvement for me, and I was thrilled to discover it.
The G10 stocks on the K6s are simply beautiful. The grey and black laminate is a perfect accent to the black DLC finish on this model, and the gun looks fantastic with them on there. The G10 is durable stuff, and I think it will shrug off dings and scrapes much better than wood.
The DC’s grips are completely smooth, which will appeal to some and drive others crazy. I love the smooth surface because they don’t grab clothing like some checkered or rubber grips do, which makes the gun draw more easily from a pocket, and also helps to prevent printing. Additionally, they’re more comfortable against bare skin when carrying concealed.
I also appreciated the smooth surface because it allowed my hand to shift around on the grip and establish a good grasp on the weapon while it was in the holster. Sometimes a heavily-checkered or rubber grip traps your hand where it lands during the draw, and won’t let it slide around to make necessary corrections before the gun comes out, so your grasp suffers for it.
I know Justin didn’t care for the smooth stocks of the 3” Stainless version, but those long handles lack any kind of finger grooves. I found the finger grooves on these G10 grips did a good job of anchoring the gun during recoil, and didn’t feel like I needed checkering to control the gun. Incidentally, I like the longer, smooth wood grips on the 3″ stainless very much. They were comfortable and gave me good control of the gun, which goes to show that there’s a lot of personal preference involved in grips. What works for my hand may not work for yours, and vice versa.
I will complain about speedloader clearance, though. Even though the G10 grips are relieved on the left side for a speedloader, there simply isn’t enough room for the speedloader body to get in there without running afoul of the grip panel. The grip on the DC prevented me from using all the speedloaders in my inventory (including S.L. Variant, Safariland, Dade, and Jetloader devices sized for the K-Frame), except for the HKS style. I could make the “DS” version of the HKS (designed for the Colt D-Frames, like the Dick Special) work with .38 Special ammunition, but I still encountered some binding issues with this combination. When the DS HKS was loaded with longer .357 Magnum cases, the grip interference was significant. It was the same story for the wood grips on the 3″ stainless, except the binding with the HKS loader and .38 Special ammunition was even worse than it was with the G10 grips on the DC, making the speedloader almost useless.
For those who are curious, the S&W K-Frame-sized model “10” HKS loader was worse. The cartridge spacing on the K-Frame is wider, so the bigger loader could get the noses of the cartridges into the chambers, but they bound up as you pushed them deeper into the cylinder. This prevented me from getting the body of the loader past the point where it was binding on the grip panel, making a clean release impossible.
It’s a shame that Safariland doesn’t make the Detective Special-sized Comp speedloader anymore. I’d like to see if one of those units would fit, but I just can’t find one to try. As Justin mentioned, the industry needs to get behind this gun and provide some good speedloader options for it. The same loaders would work on Colt’s Cobra-series of guns, so there’s definitely a market for them.
I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to take a file and some sandpaper to those beautiful G10 and wood grips if I want to use a speedloader without interference (Note: I later did. See the April 13, 2019 entry on DIY Grip Modifications). Unfortunately, the third man on our test team reports that the rubber grips on the standard K6s suffer from the same malady.
This could have been one area where Kimber really separated themselves from the rest of the pack, but they didn’t. I’m not sure why the industry hasn’t managed to get this right in over a half a century, but there it is.
The K6s DC sights are one of those good news / bad news propositions. On the good side, I’ve never seen a small frame revolver with sights as good as these. The Ruger LCR sights were an improvement on the standard J-Frame, but the K6s sights are in a class all by themselves. These sights offer a big and blocky sight picture, just like you get with a good set of autoloader sights. There’s a good amount of light on either side of the blade, and if you like 3-dot patterns (I don’t) you’ll be thrilled to find them there.
The first time I raised a K6s on target at SHOT 2017, I immediately lowered the gun back to low ready, before firing a shot. I turned my head and told fellow RevolverGuy Steve Tracy with a huge grin that, “these sights are EXCELLENT!” Honestly, these are REAL sights and legions of snubby fans who have suffered with skinny blades and shallow troughs machined into top straps will rejoice at the K6s sight picture.
Alas, they’re not regulated for anything you’re likely to shoot. Sigh. My experience with the K6s is that it shot low with all loads tested. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert marksman, but achieved the following results from an unsupported, standing position:
|Load||7 yds||10 yds||15 yds||25 yds|
|Win, 110 gr +P+ JHP, .38 Spl||2.25” below POA||Not Tested||5” below POA||8” below POA|
|Win, 130 gr FMJ, .38 Spl||3” below POA||3” below POA||2” below POA||2.5” below POA|
|Win, 130 gr +P JHP, .38 Spl||Not Tested||2” below POA||2” below POA||Not Tested|
|Win, 158 gr RNL, .38 Spl||1.5” below POA||Not Tested||3.5” below POA||8” below POA|
|Rem, 158 gr +P LSWCHP, .38 Spl||1.5” below POA||Not Tested||4.5” below POA||13” below POA|
|Rem, 125 gr JHP, .357 Mag||2.5” below POA||3” below POA||Not Tested||Not Tested|
The Kimber engineers tell me that the sights are regulated for .357 Magnum, 158 grain ammunition at a distance of 15 yards. I didn’t relish the idea of shooting a bunch of 158 grain Magnum ammo to test the theory, but was saved by the third member of our test team. From a bench rest at 25 yards, he obtained the following results:
|Load||Point of Impact (5 round group)|
|Speer Gold Dot, .357 Mag, 135 gr GDHP||3” below POA|
|Black Hills Ammo, .357 Mag, 158 gr JHP||At POA|
|Remington, .357 Mag, 158 gr Semi-JHP||4” below POA|
|Independence, .357 Mag, 158 gr JSP||1” above POA|
|CCI Blazer, .357 Mag, 158 gr JHP||1.5” above POA|
|Buffalo Bore, .357 Mag, 180 gr LFN-GC||4” above POA|
Additionally, he obtained the following results with .38 Special ammunition, shooting from the bench at 25 yards:
|Load||Point of Impact (5 round group)|
|Federal, .38 Special +P, 129 gr Hydra-Shok JHP||4” below POA|
|Federal, .38 Special, Gold Medal Match, 148 gr WC||4” below POA|
|Speer Gold Dot, .38 Special, 125 gr GDHP||3.5” below POA|
|Federal, .38 Special, 125 gr JSP||3” below POA|
|Super Vel, .38 Special +P, Super Snub, 90 gr JHP||8” below POA|
|Speer Gold Dot, .38 Special +P, 135 gr GDHP SB||2.5” below POA|
I think the trend here is clear—the gun shoots low with almost anything that you will put in it. We’re used to that on snubbies (I have to hold over with my 640 as well), but I had hoped this time it would be different.
The 158-grain .357 Magnum loads look like they would be pretty close to point of aim at 15 yards, based on the 25 yard results, but I have to wonder why Kimber would settle on this as a standard. I seriously doubt that many K6s shooters are going to routinely feed this gun with 158 grain, .357 Magnum ammunition. Why not regulate the sights to the most commonly used personal defense and training loads in this class of gun?
I’ll note that the DC model has a tritium dot in the front sight blade, and sometimes this makes for a taller sight. The front blade on the DC is about 0.22” tall, and there’s honestly not a lot of extra material above the tritium tube. You could file a little bit of the height off as Justin did with his S&W 640 Pro, but you won’t be able to do much.
This is an area where Kimber could have shown the industry how it’s done. They wowed me with the high quality sight picture, but missed the mark on regulation. Considering the premium price for this gun, I was really hoping that Kimber would have nailed this. Fortunately, the front sights are pinned in, so it’s possible that someone will eventually offer properly-regulated replacement blades someday . . . maybe even Kimber.
Odds and ends
Kimber did some clever engineering on the yoke of this gun. There’s a removable collar or ring that rides on the yoke, which Kimber calls the “gas check.” The gas check is designed to take the brunt of the high pressure gas that escapes out the front of the cylinder when the gun is fired. This protects the yoke from flame cutting, and if the component becomes worn, it’s easily and cheaply replaced.
The Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating on the Deep Cover model of the K6s is worth remarking on. I’m not a chemical or materials engineer, but I gather that there are as many as seven different “recipes” for DLC, each varying in its mix of SP3 (diamond), SP2 (carbon), and fillers. Each DLC recipe has its own capabilities, but in general, DLC is bonded to an underlying material to increase hardness, improve wear resistance, resist corrosion, and improve lubricity.
The DLC certainly does give the gun a slick finish, and I suspect its self-lubricating qualities make at least a little difference in the smoothness of the action. It will certainly protect this carry gun from corrosion caused by sweat or acids in your fingerprints (yep, “stainless” will rust—ask me how I know), and it did make the gun a little easier to clean up when it finally got a well-deserved bath.
Another significant advantage in this application is that it allows Kimber to provide a revolver with a matte black finish that won’t wear off. The DLC is hard stuff—depending on the recipe, it can be even harder than a diamond—and I don’t expect that this gun will develop any shiny wear spots over time. I’ll let others argue about whether or not there’s a tactical advantage to having a gun with a matte finish, but it certainly reduces glare on a sunny day at the range.
The DLC finish adds somewhere around a hundred and fifty dollars to the MSRP, and you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the premium. I personally like the black finish very much, and think it’s handsome. I don’t know if I’m too concerned about abrasion, but I like the idea that the finish reduces friction and protects the stainless from corrosion. I could certainly live with the plain stainless model (been carrying guns like that for decades), but I’m kinda glad that I got the fancy one to work with.
Putting it all together
I’ve been nibbling at the edges in this field report without commenting directly about the overall shooting experience, so let me say it: this is the best shooting compact revolver I’ve ever handled.
Shooting the full-house, 125 grain, .357 Magnum in this gun was too much horsepower for my tastes, but I actually shot tighter groups with this load than with any other (maybe I focused better with the powerful loads?). The recovery between shots was slower than I liked however, so the K6s DC—like all my other snubs—will remain a .38 Special +P gun for me. Stoked with .38 Special +P loads, the K6s is not only a great shooting snub, but a great shooting gun, period.
Shortly after master gunsmith Paul Liebenberg stood up the Smith & Wesson Performance Center to do quality custom work on Smith & Wessons, I sent my Model 640 to Springfield to have them round and polish the trigger face, polish the sharp edges on the cylinder release, and perform a “duty action” job on the trigger. The J-Frame action is tough to work on, since the geometry doesn’t leave a gunsmith much to work with to improve the pull without sacrificing reliability, but the talented folks at the Performance Center worked some magic on the gun. They gave it an action that’s the envy of every other J-Frame I’ve ever come across–lighter, extremely smooth, and 100% reliable.
This K6s nearly equaled it, straight from the box. The K6s DC trigger pull is slightly heavier than my custom 640, but more importantly, it’s just as smooth. When you combine the excellent trigger pull with the strong handling qualities of the K6s frame and the outstanding sight picture afforded by those beautiful sights, you’ve got a winning package.
The K6s DC has been an excellent performer in my testing. I was disappointed to learn about the firing pin break on the one gun, but all the samples I’ve worked with have been solid so far. The sight regulation issue stinks, but to be fair, all my other snubs have sight regulation issues too. I’m still shooting better with the K6s than with any other snubby I’ve fired.
Over the years, snubs have developed reputations as “phone booth guns” with limited practical range, but the sights and trigger on the K6s DC make it a legitimate 25 yard gun . . . if you know where to hold. I daresay that the K6s shoots better than some of the most popular subcompact pistols on the market.
The K6s extends the effective range of the snubby revolver, and that sixth shot somehow seems to push it into a new class. I’ve always used my J-Frames as pocket guns, and never carried one on the belt. I’ve always felt that if I’m going to carry on the belt, then I’ll carry a more substantial gun than a 5-shot J-Frame, but the handling qualities and the extra round in the K6s DC cylinder seem to change the calculus, somehow. This could be a legitimate belt gun.
Back to the future?
It’s interesting that the work I paid the Performance Center to do on my 640 is totally unnecessary on the K6s DC. The trigger face is rounded and smooth from the factory, and so is the cylinder release. The trigger is excellent from the start.
I’m reminded of the era when the new Kimber first appeared on the scene with their 1911 pistols, and turned the industry upside down. For the first time, shooters didn’t need to send their brand new 1911s to a gunsmith for custom work, as the most desirable custom features were factory standard on the new Kimbers.
Decades later, it seems they’re trying to do the same thing with revolvers. I’m impressed with their progress so far, and with a few small tweaks to the otherwise excellent grips and sights, they’ll be there.