The Smith & Wesson M438 Airweight Bodyguard differs from earlier versions as it features a blackened stainless steel cylinder. Sovanski Photo

The five-shot, sub-2-inch .38 revolver has been a backup gun for me since 1978. It would have been further back but that date was my first acquisition of such minute firepower. Its primary role is to save my life when (1) the primary gun stops working—whether out of ammo, broken, or hit by incoming fire, (2) I’m relieved of the primary gun by someone stronger and faster than I or (3) when the revolver is closer to hand. In that last category I include those times I have carried a J-revolver as my only lifesaver. That’s happened more often than you might think.

Bodyguard Details
In the numbering protocol at Smith & Wesson, three-digit model numbers beginning with “4” indicate an aluminum alloy frame and dark finish, e.g., the 438 (which is also known as the “Bodyguard”) is a Model 38 in a dark finish. The barrel and cylinder on M38’s are steel. The M438 has a stainless steel cylinder. The barrel has no marking or other clue as to its composition. The cylinder, like the rest of the gun, is black. It’s made black through physical vapor deposition (PVD).


Shooters will learn that Airweight guns can bite on both ends—as the gun’s weight is diminished, recoil can increase. Yet this sample of accuracy testing using a variety of likely .38 loads fired on the S&W Academy “bobber” target shows the Bodyguard’s ability to group will within vital zones of impact.

A coating process that involves a vacuum chamber and operation at the atomic level, PVD is beyond my level of understanding. It is in common use on metal parts to improve their hardness, wear resistance and their oxidation resistance. I’m someone who has rusted stainless steel. I’m all for anything that prevents it.

Up Next


The Smith & Wesson M438 Airweight Bodyguard differs from earlier versions as it features…