A Pair of .32 Magnums:

S&W’s New Models 431 and 432 J-Frames


by William Bell

December 5th, 2005




Smith & Wesson (S&W) has been producing small, solid frame .32 revolvers on a near continuous basis for the best part of 108 years.  The first was designed around the new I-Frame and called the .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1896.  Along with this swing-out cylinder revolver came the .32 S&W Long cartridge.  Produced by lengthening the .32 S&W case by 1/8”, the .32 Long allowed for a more powerful load.  This model became issue guns for the Jersey City and Philadelphia police forces, along with numerous others over the succeeding years.  As with all S&W handguns, the .32 Hand Ejector went through a series of evolutionary steps as new improvements were made and newer models introduced.  The Post-WWII era saw the emergence of the J-Frame and the S&W “Regulation Police” or Model 31 was changed to this frame size in 1961.  This model was the last in a long lineage of .32 wheel guns and in the early 1990’s it looked like the end was near.  Enter the .32 H&R Magnum.

The same year the Model 31 went out of production (1991), it had already been replaced by the Model 631 and a concealed hammer “Centennial Model” 632 followed shortly.  The bragging rights for the .32 Magnum was that it provided much the same power as standard velocity .38 Specials, but would chamber in a J-Frame with a 6-shot cylinder.  Federal manufactured two loads for the .32 Magnum, a 95 gr. lead flat point (listed on the box as a SWC) and an 85 gr. JHP.  Factory velocity figures hovered around 1000 FPS in longer barrel six-guns.  Over the ensuing years, production of S&W J-Frame revolvers in .32 Magnum has fluctuated and during some years there was no listing for the .32 Magnum in S&W catalogs.  But, the .32 Magnum Smith just keeps coming back.

The latest rendition of the .32 Magnum J-Frame is the Model 431PD and Model 432 PD Airweight 6-shot “snubbies.”  Both of these guns have aluminum alloy frames and barrel shrouds that protect the ejector rods and form a rib atop the enclosed 1-7/8” steel barrel insert.  Both have fixed sights and non-reflective matte blue finishes, plus Hogue rubber combat-style grips.  The main difference between the two revolvers, as you might have guessed, is the Model 431PD has an exposed hammer and is a traditional double-action, while the Model 432PD has an internal hammer and is double-action only (DAO).  Both also feature the latest improvements S&W has made on their revolvers, such as a cylinder stop integral with the frame, redesigned cylinder release latches and hammer-locking safety device incorporated into the action.  The Model 431 PD also has an inertia firing pin mounted inside the frame, replacing the old firing pin that was once riveted into the hammer nose on all S&W exposed hammer revolvers.

I asked S&W to have a sample of both six-shooters forwarded to me ASAP.  The two guns arrived in record time in the usual blue plastic, foam padded cases.  Inside was found a plentitude of literature, a padlock with a flexible hasp to run down the barrel (just in case the internal hammer lock isn’t enough for you) and a small plastic tool used to remove the Hogue grips.  A check of both guns exterior surfaces showed clean lines and a quality fit and finish.  These are totally black guns and in a departure from the old-line Smith & Wesson revolvers, even the hammer and trigger are a matte finish instead of color-case hardened.  The back strap, outer trigger guard surface and the inner surface of the trigger guard have cut-outs to lessen the weight a tad.  In my humble opinion, S&W has gone a little overboard on putting the logo on both sides of the frame, the large logo a laser-etched white, along with a large cursive “Airweight” of the same coloration, which I could do without.  The front sight on both guns is a 1/8” serrated ramp-style and the rear is fixed with a well defined square notch cut in the frame.  The single action pull on the S&W Model 431PD was crisp and about 4 Lbs. while the DA pull ran about 13 Lbs. as did the DAO pull on the Model 432PD.

For these light-weight, highly concealable “belly guns” I wanted some leather that would aid rather than detract from their “conceal-ability.”  The holsters I had in mind would not only do that, but had an easy on, easy off feature to boot.  A call to Lefty Lewis of Bell Charter-Oak Company resulted in the receipt of two of his latest models, the “Co-Pilot” and the “Charter Jet.”  I will have to say that these holsters are some beautiful examples of the leather crafter’s art.  Fashioned from tough harness leather, they are wet case molded for positive retention, with a durable lock-stitching and an open muzzle.  This molding is no BS, I can tell you for a fact, as I inserted the revolvers into the holsters and gave them a vigorous shaking. Even with the holsters held upside down, the guns did not fall out.  Yet, they are easily drawn when pulled straight upward.

The “Co-Pilot” is a highly successful design and Lefty tells me they have a hard time keeping up with the demand.  My sample was several years old, but looks like it was made yesterday, with its custom mahogany finish and optional mouth-band reinforcement.  The snap fastening feature allows the holster to be put on or taken off without removing the trouser belt.  Although meant to be a crossdraw, I took Lefty’s suggestion and wore it dominant side in the appendix position.  Worn this way, the holster allows a “speed rocker” type draw which not only makes for a rapid presentation, but levels the muzzle on the target at close quarters as soon as the muzzle clears leather.  You can bet this rig will see some miles riding on my belt!

My sample “Charter Jet” was dyed black and as it was designed for the dominant side was not as wide as the “Co-Pilot.”  It sported a nice glossy finish and is also snap- fastened on the belt.  Lefty tells me that it is a favorite holster for female law enforcement officers as it positions the weapon midway on the beltline, unlike other high-ride rigs that position the gun butt right up under the arm pit, making a smooth draw difficult.  Short-waisted men find them comfortable, anatomically compatible and concealable too.   

The .32 H&R Magnum is not exactly the darling of the ammunition producers, and is currently available from only a few manufacturers. As I wanted the most current loads available, I got on the phone and made some orders.  Well known to shooters is Black Hills Ammunition, and they catalog two loads for the .32 Magnum.  One is their mild-mannered “cowboy” load with a 90 gr. lead flat point bullet traveling at a leisurely velocity.  It makes for a good training, practice and plinking load.  Newly manufactured “Red Box” ammo is also available and sports what looks like a Hornady 85 gr. XTP hollow-point bullet.  Federal, the original maker of the .32 Magnum offers an 85 gr. JHP load and a 95 gr. lead flat point load.  These loads were originally meant  to offer the power of a .38 Special standard velocity load in a .32 bore.

A producer that is new to me is Georgia Ammunition, although they have been in business some 24 years.  A look at their web site shows they produce an extensive line of self-defense, hunting and Cowboy Action Shooting ammunition.  They market a .32 Magnum load that has a 100 gr. JHP bullet at an advertised velocity of 1100 FPS.  The bullet is a conventional, exposed lead tip HP design.  

My last test cartridge in this caliber came from MagSafe.  It is their .32 Magnum “Defender” load and features a “pre-fragmented” 50 gr. jacketed bullet, at an advertised 1700 FPS from a 6” barrel Ruger revolver.  The revolutionary bullet is essentially a bullet jacket that is hand filled with #2 and #3 lead shotgun pellets which are capped with an epoxy resin blend.  The combination of pellets and resin allow stability of bullet flight along with proper fragmentation and penetration when the bullet hits the target.

Now that I had all the components of guns, leather and ammunition, it was time to head to the range.  A sunny, late September day was perfect shooting weather, and I set up in the shade of some large hardwood trees.  As is my usual practice, the first order of business was to set up my Oehler Model 35P chronograph and see what kind of velocities I would get from the 1-7/8” barrel of the S&W snubby and the .32 H&R Magnum factory cartridges.  I decided not to chronograph both guns as some of my ammunition was in short supply, so I used only the Model 431PD.  I will have to state that I was pleasantly surprised with the velocities I obtained from the several defense oriented loads.  The Black Hills “cowboy load” also performed as expected.  You can see the results in the accompanying chart.

Accuracy testing was done from a bench rest, using a sandbag at 15 yards, which I feel is a realistic distance for a short barrel revolver or autoloader.  I made a presumption that the traditional DA of the S&W Model 431PD would “eat the lunch” of the DAO Model 432PD, but again I was surprised.  It was no surprise that the Black Hills “cowboy load” did the best in the Model 431, with a group measuring 1.85”.  Second place went to the Federal cartridge and third to the Black Hills 85 gr. JHP.  The Georgia Ammunition ad MagSafe Defender, were only fractions of an inch behind.  The DAO Model 432PD actually had the best group of the day at 1.82” with the Georgia Ammunition.  Black Hills “cowboy” was second and the Magsafe Defender third.  Again, look to the chart for more information.

Combat shooting was next on the agenda, and I fired several 30 round courses using the two S&W revolvers and the two different holsters.  There were four different stages at 3, 7 and 15 yards, utilizing point, sighted and barricade shooting, plus combat reloading under time limitations.  For the reload I used a “dump pouch” made for the trouser belt out of black nylon.  The pouch would accommodate seven .32 Magnum cartridges, which left me a spare if I happened to drop a round.  That seventh round also seemed to want to stay put in the carrier, which I felt was a good thing.  All of the shooting was done with the Black Hills .32 Magnum JHP, and a B-27 Silhouette target from Birchwood Casey was affixed to my portable target stand.

Both revolvers functioned perfectly and even with the tiny ejector rod, using proper technique all brass was expelled from the chambers without difficulty.  The Hogue grips helped with recoil absorption and controllability, allowing the gun to get back on target quickly.  The sights were well defined for aimed shots taken at 7 and 15 yards.  It was, I admit, time consuming loading from that dump pouch, but fortunately I fumbled only once and had to go for that extra round.  I would heartily recommend getting some HKS speed loaders.  I later found out that their Model 32J was tailor made for the S&W 6-shot .32 Magnums.  The holsters all functioned superbly and were not only easy to draw from, but allowed effortless re-holstering, which is an important consideration especially for law enforcement officers. 

I was curious to see just what the expansion capabilities were with these factory .32 Magnum defense loads.  Not having the facilities for proper ballistic gelatin testing, I went with my “Fackler Box”, which is basically an open topped and open fronted wooden box.  Gallon sized, water filled zip-lock plastic baggies ate inserted into the top of the box and mine will hold 12 front to back.  Basically, you fire into the row of baggies and then check to see which baggie the bullet stopped in.  You don’t get that nice wound channel you would in ballistic gelatin, but bullet performance is nearly identical.  The downside is you will get wet when shooting from several feet away, something you may not want to do during colder weather. 

First up was the MagSafe Defender.  At the report of the Model 431PD I had a nice shower as the first bag exploded outward.  An examination showed the largest jacket fragment in the second bag, jacket fragments and shot in the 3rd bag and a few pellets in the 4th bag.  I would say the defender worked as expected.  The Black Hills 85 gr. JHP was found perfectly expanded in the 8th bag and had enough “umph” to have knocked a hole in the 9th bag.  Georgia Arms 100 gr. JHP was actually found lying between the 8th and 9th bags.  It had lost its lead bullet tip for the most part and what remained was a dimpled, lead filled and blunted bullet jacket.  I did not expect any expansion from the Federal lead bullet and got what I expected.  It was found intact in bag #12 and had made a dent in the wooden backstop of the box.  Bullet placement is the key, be it a .32 or .44 Magnum.  I would also consider since it is a revolver, skip loading a Magsafe round between convention JHP loads in this caliber.

Lefty Lewis told me a story of a 20th Century Western sheriff who was involved in a number of shootings during the “Roaring 20’s”.  His weapon of choice was a revolver chambered for the .32 Long cartridge.  It was said that he killed as many miscreants as any of his law enforcement contemporaries, which points out that a cool head, accuracy and thinking on your feet most often have more effect than the weapon you use in a gunfight.  The .32 H&R Magnum is very controllable in the J-Frame S&W, offering portability and power in a small, plus and an increase in one round over the same gun in .38 Special.  I was favorably impressed with the Smith & Wesson Models 431 and 432PD and would suggest either of them to you should your handgun needs point in that direction. 

Specifications Charts

S&W Model 431PD and Model 432PD Revolvers

Both are chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum

Cartridge capacity is 6 rounds

Barrel length is 1-7/8”

Overall length is 6-7/16”

Weight is 13.4 oz for the 431PD and 13.5 for the 432PD

Material is carbon steel and aluminum alloy

Finish is non-reflective matte black

Fixed rear sight with serrated ramp front sight

Hogue Bantam rubber grips

Model 431PD is traditional DA, the 432 PD is DAO


Ammunition/Gun Performance Table

Cartridge Ave. Velocity Ft. Lbs. Energy Ave. Grp. M-431 Ave. Grp. M-432
Black Hills Cowboy 90 gr. FPL 661 FPS 87 FPE 2.11” 3.51”
Black Hills 85 gr. JHP 870 FPS 143 FPE 3.11” 3.12”
Federal 95 gr. FPL 859 FPS 156 FPE 2.52” 4.20”
Georgia Arms 100 gr. JHP 1002 FPS 270 FPE 2.75” 1.94”
MagSafe Defender 50 gr. Pre-Fragmented 1151 FPS 267 FPE 2.18” 3.71”

NOTE:  Velocity reading from average of 5 rounds using Oehler Model 35P chronograph; accuracy measured from the bench at 15 yards for three 5-round groups; FPL (flat point lead); wind 5 MPH, temperature 83°.


Product Charts

Smith & Wesson

2100 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield, MA  01104-1698




Bell Charter-Oak Company

P.O. Box 198, Gilbertsville, NY  13776




Black Hills Ammunition

3050 Elgin St., Rapid City, SD  57709




Federal Cartridge Company (ATK)

900 Ehlen Dr., Anoka, MN  55303




Georgia Arms

15 Industrial Ct., Zilla Rica, GA  30180




MagSafe Ammo, Inc.

4700 South US Hwy 17-92, Casselberry, FL  32707



William Bell


You can read about Bill on our About Us page.


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Click pictures for a larger version.


The S&W Model 431PD is a lightweight, alloy J-Frame, exposed hammer revolver in .32 Magnum.  It accepts 6 rounds of .32 Magnum ammunition as opposed to the .38 Special J-Frames that have a 5-cartridge capacity.



Featuring a shrouded hammer for deep concealment, the S&W Model 432PD is perfect for packet carry.  The rubber Hogue combat-style grips add a measure of controllability to this lightweight (13.5 oz) revolver.



Produced by Bell Charter Oak, the Charter Jet is an easy-off/easy-on holster that allows removal and replacement on the belt without taking the belt off.  It is made for dominant-side carry and worked well the S&W Model 431PD.



The Co-Pilot holster by Bell Charter Oak was one of the author’s favorites.  Designed as a cross-draw, it can be worn in the “appendix” position, giving the gun a rearward rake along with a rapid presentation and making it a great carry rig for the Model 432PD.