Retro Revolver: Smith & Wesson Model 13

Once issued by both the New York State Police and the FBI, the Smith & Wesson Model 13 is K-Frame .357 Magnum. Like its little brother (the Model 10) the 13 is a blued steel model and features a bull barrel and fixed sights. It is functionally identical to the stainless steel Model 65. I recently got to spend a little time with this revolver and I’m glad that I did. I thought you all might enjoy a look at this retro revolver here!

Smith & Wesson Model 13

Though also made with in a 3″ round butt configuration, the one I got my hands on is a Model 13-4 with a 4″ barrel and square butt. This model is somewhat lesser known than the Models 10 and 65 but typifies the 4″, K-Frame’s quick-handling and balance. I do really appreciate the aesthetics of the bull-barrel on the Model 13.

Smith & Wesson Model 13-4

Though not especially well-suited to rapid acquisition, the fixed sights on this model do lend an attractive flat-top profile to the revolver. Also note the blueing on this particular gun. It is absolutely gorgeous and work like this is seldom seen these days. it is hard to believe finishes like these were once standard from the factory. Unfortunately such a beautiful finish picks up every little smudge and fingerprint…Smith & Wesson Model 13-4

This revolver is reminiscent of a simpler time, for better and worse. The rear sight on this gun  was once acceptable – even preferable in some circles – to the larger adjustable sights we are used to today. Adjustable sights were once perceived as being fragile and prone to breakage. Were I relying on this revolver, I would  definitely have to do something to the sights to make them a little more visible. On the range I found the combination of black-on-black, getting completely lost in the black target.

Smith & Wesson Model 13-4 4

The factory wooden “splinter grips” with inset S&W medallions are gorgeous and the gun owes a lot of its looks to them. Designed to optimize trigger reach back in the days when single-action firing was the preferred technique, these grips are tremendously awkward  during double-action fire. They place the knuckle of your middle finger directly behind the trigger guard where it gets pummeled by recoil. These should come off before a range session and get replaced with a set of Pachmayr Presentation Grips.

Smith & Wesson Model 13-4

This Model 13 is a pre-lock gun with a hammer-mounted firing pin. The lockup on this particular revolver is one of the tightest I’ve ever personally experienced. Looking this hammer it is obvious that this gun is of the pre-MIM era.

Smith & Wesson Model 13-4

Shooting the Smith & Wesson Model 13

I fired a handful of rounds (literally one cylinder full) with the factory wooden grips before giving up. I love the look of these grips, but couldn’t abide their awkward feel on the range. Instead, I threw on a set of Pachmayr Presentation Grips. The gun was far more usable with quality grips installed. Though lighter than my preferred range revolver, the M13 is a pleasure to shoot with the new grips installed.

Accuracy is quite good despite the sights. The revolver hits point of aim at 20 yards with just about every .357 Magnum load I try in it, and just a bit above point of aim with most .38 Special loads. Reliability to this point has been 100%.

I’ll be honest – I really wanted to love the Smith & Wesson Model 13. It is absolutely gorgeous and the lockup is as tight as any I’ve ever seen. It shoots like a dream and has that perfect, K-Frame balance. However, the grips and old sights on this thing are unacceptable. Still, I was fully prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe me, I’m no sight snob and I’m fine with black-on-black as long as they are sufficiently large and defined. My conclusion: I don’t know how those FBI agents and NY State Troopers did it but they did – out of necessity. This gun would make a fine collector’s piece or range toy. And though I wouldn’t consider myself defenseless with this Model 13 and a couple of speedloaders, I’m not going to be trying to buy one for my primary defensive sidearm.

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22 thoughts on “Retro Revolver: Smith & Wesson Model 13”

    1. Not me! I’ll be happy to help anybody who wants to get rid of such “scary” guns! Send ’em my way, friends! ; ^ )

      Justin, that one’s a real beauty and your photos really show it off nicely. A Tyler T-grip and a dab of orange paint on the front sight are all you need before you’re in business.

      Tell us about the holster. It has a similar appearance to some of the old Hunter-brand rigs, but I don’t think it is one. What’s the make?

      I found it interesting that the .38s shot above point of aim. In my Model 65 they print below point of aim. I think the issue here is velocity. My .38 loads are fast, so they escape the barrel early, while it’s still oriented down from the .357-regulation front sight. Perhaps you were shooting some slower loads, that exited later in the recoil cycle, which made them shoot high?

      It’s a beautiful gun. They just don’t make them like that anymore. Don’t let it get away. Loving the blog, my friend. Keep it up!

      1. Mike,

        I think the T-Grip is exactly the way to go on this gun. It will help the grip drastically and preserve the old-school look. I’ll see if I can’t get one and get a review of it here soon. The holster is actually from S&W. I’ll try to get some more pics of it up soon.

        Thanks for checking in!
        Justin

    2. Pre-2000 Smiths used a rebounding hammer; the trigger must be pulled for the firing pin to reach the primer. If the trigger is not pulled all the way back, a steel block sits between the hammer face and the back of the recoil shield; it only falls away when the trigger is pulled. You can pound on the hammer all day and the gun won’t go off unless you pull the trigger.
      I’m sure you can find cutaways that illustrate this online. There’s no need to worry about the safety of a properly-maintained Smith & Wesson with the hammer-mounted firing pin.

    3. Are you confusing a transfer bar with the intenal block which prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger i pulled? Transfer bars were not used on millions of entirely safe S&W (and Colt, for that matter) revolvers? Otherwise, why does this scare you? The M13 incorporates all the standard safety features of the better and best modern (post WWII) revolvers.

      Also, better than the current Prestation grips are some S&W oversized target grips, or wood or rubber Hogue grips, all if which fill in the space behind the trigger guard, and more.

      Ir you are going to shoot “black on black” targets, use white out or white or red paint on your sights. Or use a 6-O’Clock hold in the white on a bullseye target. And while the sights could be bigger, I’ve managed to win a fair number of matches over the decades with just these sights. Compared to the Gov’t issue sights on the stock 1911A, these are a dream.

    4. I carry and shoot a 13-2 I put a t gripe on it looks good and helps with the shooting. I also put orange paint on the front sight, as of this month I have taken 60 hogs with the 13 and a Winchester in 357

  1. Amen on the grip adapter. I picked up 2 BK Adapters last month for my model 36 square butt and my model 66 round butt. For $25 each they are a great deal. http://bkgrips.com
    I ordered at 8am and he shipped at 8:15.

  2. Old thread, but just found the site. Bookmarked and added to my feed!

    Picked up a 10-6 in .357 Mag a few weeks back. Guess it could be called a “13 No Dash”. Only a few thousand made, mostly for the NYSP. Mine is likely one of those. Apparently a way for Smith to work out a K in .357 before officially releasing them as the M13. Shoots great!

  3. I’ve got a 3″ 65, which is a nice gun. I might get laser grips for it.

    On sights: Don’t overlook nail polish for sight-painting. For red/orange/yellow on the front sight, apply a coat or two of white polish, first. It makes the color top coat stand out. You can get the stuff for under $2/bottle. It’s easy to maintain and, if you want to remove it, acetone will do that quickly.

    1. Misfit,
      I agree that nail polish can fix the black-on-black issue. However, even with nail polish, these sights are really small (both short and narrow). They are more reminiscent of the original M1911A1 sights than the Novaks my 1911 wore in combat, and I think they’re a big compromise.
      Thanks for writing in!
      Justin

  4. I’ve had my 13 since early 1980s. Had the trigger lightened up , never a miss fire or malfunction of any kind. I see concerns about some things, but the way I see it, I grew up with it and really never had any of those issues. Probably my favorite, but then it was the first.

  5. I started out on revolvers in 1998 when I was hired on at an armored car company that issued k frame .38s and Safariland comp 2 speedloaders. The company didn’t let us take the gun home, so I bought a model 13 just like the one you reviewed here. First thing I found to fit in the same holster going to and from work. I quickly fell in love with it! Still have it in the safe. I put some Hogue monogrips on it at the time, but more recently found some beautiful red walnut (I think) ones for it. I too was not thrilled with the sights so I added white paint which helped a lot. Hope I can take it with me when I cross the river Styx!

  6. Got my model 13-1 in May 1976. A few years ago I had to have it retimed after probably 10,000 rounds. Back when it was my primary (only) pistol. I could consistently hit targets at ranges of 100 yds. I did buy a set of target grips for it soon after I got it. I still Carry it from time to time. I did paint the front sight orange and the rear white. I would put it up against any new revolver. 41 years can’t be wrong.

  7. The poor sight, small hammer, and small trigger on you gun are due to a lack of upgrades ordered on the gun. I have the same gun but with the target sight, hammer, and trigger. It shoots like a dream and is really accurate.

  8. I picked up a model 13-2 with a 4” bull barrel yesterday and it’s nickel plated. Wow it is a beautiful gun not a ding on it anywhere. I am so happy with it . She is my new safe queen. Move over Kimber go find a new spot I am part of history.

  9. Justin, thanks for the great photo’s, I pulled mine out today, exact same model 13-3 , in very good condition. I wasn’t aware of much of the detail provided above and was considering selling it . I don’t hardly bring it to the range. But now I am convinced to just hang on to it. When I purchased it I paid $300 , it appears it may be twice that value now and may not be easy to find a 13-3 with the original SW grips. Being a K Frame I find it a little tough on the hands but overall It’s a very nice revolver. Appreciate your discussion ! THX ..Tony

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