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Bad Guns: The Chopped S&W Model K-200

March 1, 2010

As a CWP instructor, I’m often asked: “What is the best handgun for (insert demographic group here)?” That question is impossible to answer, because we are all so different. That’s why it’s so good that there are currently so many different handguns on the market. It is, however, possible to say which models should not be bought by any law-abiding citizen at all: unreliable ones.

This is the first in a series of posts on what guns NOT to buy. It discusses a sub-category of revolver that everyone looking to buy a used revolvers needs to be able to recognize: the chopped S&W Model K-200.

Just to clarify: I think S&W makes the best revolvers available. The reason the chopped S&W Model K-200 is a bad gun has nothing to do with Smith and Wesson, and everything to do with greed and bad gunsmithing.

What is a Model K-200? A Model K-200 is a double-action S&W K-frame revolver chambered for .38 S&W with a 200-grain bullet. They are similar to the Victory model, except for their caliber. Around 568,204 of these guns were made by S&W for British forces during 1940-1945 (see: Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas).

The .38 S&W caliber was adopted by the British army after WWI, replacing its large-bore revolver caliber to make training new recruits easier (see: It is less powerful than the more common .38 Special caliber, and uses a shorter case that is wider at its base (more on that later).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with unaltered K-200 revolvers. Many have beautiful markings that speak of their martial history during WWII. If these guns could talk, they would maybe tell of daring RAF raids over occupied Europe, or perhaps boring guard duty in Plymouth harbor. As a defensive tool, they are about as useful as the ubiquitous S&W Model 10 6-shot .38 Special revolver: comparatively large and heavy for the amount of firepower, but simple to operate for the first 6 shots, and little felt recoil.

So what is the problem? The problem, my friends, is greed. After WWII, many of these revolvers were re-imported and improperly converted to snub-nosed .38 Special revolvers so they could be easily sold by mail order during the 50s and 60s. Nowadays, they are seen frequently in gun shows, gun stores, and seasoned warriors’ sock drawers.

You need to know how to recognize these guns, because they may not be safe to fire due to the gunsmiths cutting corners in the conversion process. If you spot one at a gun show, you can have some fun trying to determine how much the seller is willing to lie to you for a couple of measly dollars.

Once you know what you are looking at, they are hard to miss. Here’s a good example (click the pictures for larger images):

Let’s look at what an unscrupulous gunsmith has done to this revolver:

  • Chopped the 4, 5 or 6” barrel, removing the point where the front of the ejector rod locked up, and the original caliber designation on the side of the barrel.
  • Soldered on a new front sight.
  • Replaced the grips with imitation-stag grips made from the grips of another Victory revolver (S/N under grip did not match S/N on revolver).
  • Removed Black Magic (similar to Parkerizing) finish, and blued revolver.
  • Removed the lanyard loop and filled in the hole (see round spot in front of serial number).
  • Honed out charge holes to accept the longer .38 Special cases.

To properly convert these revolvers from .38 S&W to .38 Special, both the cylinder and barrel should have been replaced due to the different case and bullet dimensions between these calibers. This was almost never done. Instead, the charge holes were usually honed out to accept the longer .38 Special cases.

The close-up of the charge holes clearly show where the charge holes were originally cut to accept .38 S&W cases, and where the charge holes were subsequently honed out to accept the longer .38 Special cases. This means that .38 Special cartridge cases will fit in the charge holes length-wise, but are not supported by the cylinder wall. Charge holes like this are a dead give-away of an improperly converted revolver. Trying to use .38 Special ammunition results in split cases. Even using this revolver with .38 S&W is questionable because of the missing lock-up point.

This revolver actually reveals its original caliber in the proof mark under the barrel: .38” by .767” are the case diameters of the .38 S&W case. Sometimes, the “new” caliber can be found stamped on the side of the barrel as part of the improper conversion.

The V serial prefix reveals that this revolver from 1942 is not drop safe. In December 1944, a new style hammer block was introduced to make this model drop safe. These guns are designated by an “SV” serial prefix (see: Standard Catalog of S&W).

Here’s the bottom line: a chopped Model K-200 used with .38 Special ammo may cause high pressure gas to escape from the rear of the cylinder due to split cases, is hard to reload due to the stuck split cases, and may not be drop safe. A competent gunsmith should check it out before anyone attempts to fire it even with .38 S&W because of the corners that were cut during the conversion process. And that is why a chopped Model K-200 is a bad gun. Know how to recognize them, avoid buying one, and don’t let anyone you care about use one.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Carl Overton permalink
    February 1, 2011 7:04 pm

    I was given a Victory .38 S&W that has been converted to .38 special just like your talking about. I would like to know if it is safe to shoot the correct S&W rounds.
    I will thank you now for your help.

    • Alex permalink*
      February 1, 2011 9:06 pm

      “I would like to know if it is safe to shoot the correct S&W rounds.”

      If I were in your shoes, and it was an heirloom, I’d keep it just for sentimental reasons. If I were insistent on firing it, I’d take it to an experienced gunsmith who is used to working on revolvers to ask him that question. There’s just too much variation in the quality of the conversions for anyone to answer that questions over the Internet.


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