Smith & Wesson Classics Series Model 21 .44 Special


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

August 15th, 2008




Recently I reviewed the Smith &Wesson Classics Series Model 25, a polished blued steel and walnut revolver with the look and feel of an old Model 1950 Target, but chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. I pretty much figured that reviewing that sixgun would suffice as good enough to familiarize our readers with the new Classic series handguns. However, a couple of days later, Boge bought this new Model 21 Classic, and it is enough different to warrant a review of its own. While the Model 25 is of the target style, this Model 21 .44 Special is built with features reminiscent of the old 1st Model Hand Ejector. The Model 21 has the round, pinned blade front sight with square-notch rear, and the timeless and beautiful diamond checkered walnut stocks.

Featuring a four-inch barrel and polished, case-hardened frame, the Model 21 has a distinctive look that sets it apart from the target-style Classic models, and is a good example of a heavy duty service revolver, as effective today as it was a century ago. Made of modern steels on computerized machinery, the fit and finish on these new Classics are as good as any ever produced in Springfield, Massachusetts, but the styling sets them apart from most modern revolvers.

Every year at Thanksgiving, my brothers and I gather back at Mom and Dad’s house with our families for a traditional feast, as do most families in the United States. My brothers and nephews sit around watching football all afternoon, and chatting like school girls about the clothes that the players are wearing. After listening to this foolishness for several hours a couple of years ago, I finally snapped and asked just what in tarnation they were talking about! Apparently, on Thanksgiving, some of these football teams wear old-style uniforms called “throwbacks”. While I have absolutely no interest in watching grown men swapping sweat for hours on end while fighting over a misshapen ball, I finally realized what my brothers mean by “throwback”. Well, I suppose that this Model 21 Classic is the throwback of double-action revolvers. Picking up a Model 21 is like holding history in one’s hand. It just has that old-style feel about it, much like holding a Colt Single Action Army, but of a bit later era. The Model 21 .44 Special is like the lawman’s sidearm from an era when lawmen were trained as Peace Officers instead of the military commando attitude that some police departments instill in their officers these days. There was a time when almost every lawman in the nation wore a big double-action S&W or Colt on the hip, and the Model 21 Classic epitomizes that sidearm. Built on the round-butt N-frame, the 21 is a large, but well-balanced sixgun which clears leather quickly and points naturally. The barrel and cylinder of the 21 Classic is beautifully blued with a polished finish, and the frame, hammer, and trigger are casehardened. Were it not for the modern internal lock, the handgun could pass for one built a hundred years ago. While on the subject of the internal lock, I don’t use them, and don’t really like them. However, the presence of an internal lock will not stop me from buying a new Smith & Wesson handgun. While many handgun buyers do not like the lock, there are also many that do. I get email from readers who want a handgun with an internal lock, usually from parents with small children. Owning just one handgun, they do not own a safe, but do want the ability to render the handgun inoperable when they are away from home. Ideally, it would be great if handgun manufacturers could offer identical models, but with the lock being optional. However, as I stated earlier, the lock will not stop me from buying a handgun, and the one on this Smith is an effective design, making the sixgun incapable of being cocked or fired when locked.

As noted above, the fit and finish on this sixgun is very good. With their modern CNC machinery, the side plates on new S&W revolvers fit better than ever. The fit of the walnut grip panels is almost perfect, with just a slight gap at the top of each. The case-colors are very nicely done, and the entire handgun is well-polished. The barrel-cylinder gap measures five one-thousandths (.005) of an inch. Timing is dead on, and cylinder endshake is nonexistent.

Shooting the big Smith was a pleasure using standard .44 Special ammunition. Trying out some heavy, but within standard pressure specs, handloads, the stocks were a bit small for my hand. For accuracy testing, I secured the Model 21 into my Ransom rest, and fired on paper at a distance of twenty-five yards. Firing various factory and handloads, the sixgun proved capable of very good accuracy. 240 to 250 grain Keith lead bullets would group right around two inches, and jacketed handloads did as good or better. The best-shooting factory load was the Speer Gold Dot 200 grain hollowpoint, which is also a dandy load for social work or close-range whitetail hunting. These would consistently group between one and one-quarter to one and one-half inches at twenty-five yards. Checking the velocity of this load had the 200 grain bullets traveling just under 800 feet-per-second at twelve feet from the muzzle, and recoil was light, making for a very controllable load. Point of impact at twenty five yards firing offhand was just a bit low for me with the Gold Dot load, and a bit high using the heavier Keith style bullets. Windage was dead on. The double action trigger pull measured a smooth nine pounds, one ounce on the test gun, and the single action is a typical S&W crisp four pounds, two ounces. The Model 21 weighs in at 36.6 ounces unloaded. The tapered four inch barrel measures a slim .593 inch at the muzzle, giving the sixgun a neutral, quick-handling feel.

For packing around the Model 21 concealed, or for field carry, the Sourdough Pancake holster from Simply Rugged Holsters proved ideal. With the sixgun’s round butt, hiding the big handgun under a loose shirt or jacket is no problem, and the Sourdough Pancake carries the weight very comfortably, while offering excellent protection to both the wearer’s skin and the sixgun’s finish. Simply Rugged holsters are handmade in Alaska, one at a time, and are one of the best values on the market for a quality-crafted holster.

The Model 21 .44 Special is a welcome and natural addition to the Classic line, offering styling touches from the Hand Ejector models of a century ago, with a few modern changes and a round-butt grip frame for better concealability. It is a handsome sixgun that shoots accurately and handles well.

Check out the Classics and other Smith & Wesson products online at

For the location of a Smith & Wesson dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at

To order the Model 21 online, go to

To order a Simply Rugged holster, go to

Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to: To buy this gun online, go to:


Model 21 comes with hard case, manual and cable lock.









Simply Rugged Sourdough Pancake holster.



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Click pictures for a larger version.


Smith & Wesson's Classic Series Model 21 .44 Special.





Front sight (top & center) is a half-moon blade pinned to integral barrel ramp. Rear sight (bottom) is fixed grooved type.





The Model 21's frame is mirror-polished and beautifully case-hardened.





Altamont walnut grip panels are nicely fit and checkered.





S&W's internal key-locking mechanism.