The S&W 632 “Ultimate Carry”: An Independent Review


At SHOT Show this year, one of the handful of new announcements that genuinely intrigued me was the Lipsey’s Exclusive “Ultimate Carry” series of J Frame revolvers by Smith and Wesson. I have tried a great many small carry guns over the years like the S&W Shield, Glock 43 and 43X, and even a Sig Sauer P6 once upon a time, but the only gun that I have ever carried consistently and comfortably is the S&W 642 Airweight in 38 Special.

Along with the fact that I reload my own revolver cartridges, the method I use for carrying makes the J frame a no brainer for me. I don’t know if its just my particular build or what, but I HATE carrying IWB. When I was still in the military and was authorized to carry concealed in uniform, I found that it was more comfortable for me to carry an HK USP45 strong side OWB under my ACU top that it was to carry a Glock 43X AIWB. While I still sometimes carry a full size handgun OWB in the cooler months of the year, typically I just drop my 642 directly into my jeans pocket. No holster, just the gun. This is the only gun I can truly carry and forget its there.

This was a lesson that took a while to sink in though, my first 642 I bought brand new around 2015 for I’m almost certain less than $300. This was a model that lacked the internal lock as well. Despite my love of S&W revolvers, I have never owned one with the Hillary Hole and never will. This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the fact that it is ugly and unnecessary. I sold or traded off that first 642 a few years back, tried a few other options I didn’t like and bought a used 642 back in 2022 for close to $450. That was a painful lesson.

While I’ve mulled over the possibility of picking one of these “UC” guns, a friend of mine got lucky and snagged one of the 32 H&R Mag guns and offered it to me to try out for a week. I figured this would be a great opportunity not only to test the 32 H&R head to head with the 38 Special in the same platform, but also a chance to compare the “UC” gun to a well worn and (slightly) modified stock J Frame.

Specs of the “Ultimate Carry” J Frames

S&W and Lipsey’s are offering the UC guns in two calibers and two finishes- 38 special, 32 H&R Mag, stainless, and black. The examples my friend picked up was the “632” or stainless 32 Mag configuration.

The immediate visual differences on these UC revolvers are the sights, grips and shrouded ejector rod. The ejector rod is self explanatory, but the other two are worth mentioning. The sights are snag free with a wide U notch rear and a large XS green tritium front. Compared to the ramp and gutter sight on your typical J frame, these pop spectacularly and also are a great visual upgrade.

The grips are VZ and appear to be modeled off of the famous Craig Spegal boot grips. They end right at the bottom of the grip frame but they do wrap around the backstrap. A slight finger groove and high wraparound on the horn encourages the shooter to adopt a higher grip than is possible on your typical factory or aftermarket grip. This lends itself to a greater feeling of control that translates when shooting too (more on that later)

Aside from these obvious changes, Lipsey’s also advertises these UC guns with optimized hammer and trigger geometry and springs, chamfered charge holes, and an “upgraded endurance package” to improve performance and reliability.

All said, the number of upgrades done to these as well as the relatively uncommon 32 chambering makes this package quite attractive to S&W fans and those who still seriously carry a revolver.

First impressions and initial comparisons

Before I continue on about the UC, I’m going to just briefly touch on my personal 642 and what I have done to it. I very recently replaced the factory grips with some Precision Gun Specialties “Hideout” grips. They are smooth and made of a slicker hard plastic than the checkered rubber boot grips mine came with. The shape is also much more slender, it still ends at the backstrap and sits flush with the bottom of the grip frame but there really isn’t much of a front strap to speak of and it almost resembles a “birdshead” single action grip to me in profile. I was still getting a feel for these in my testing.

632 UC with VZ “High Horn” grips and my personal 642 with Precision Gun Specialties “Hideout” grips

Aside from that, I also put a Wilson Combat spring kit in my J frame. This consisted of an 8lb hammer spring and a 13lb trigger rebound spring. Right off the bat I will say that the Wilson kit makes for a much lighter and smoother trigger than whatever S&W did in house on the UC revolvers. That said, my 642 had these springs put in after it was already used and well broken in and I literally shot the first 50 rounds out of this 632.  

Upon first getting my hands on the 632 UC, the first thing that really stood out to me was the grips. J frame grips ride a very fine line between being small enough to carry easily and not print but also comfortable enough to actually shoot. My 642-1 was an older model that came with the Uncle Mikes boot grips from the factory that were also inspired by Spegal. What really makes the VZ grips stand out is the “high horn” and very minor wrap around. For my hands at least, this makes a grip that is fundamentally quite difficult to make comfortable very manageable.

Slipping the 632 in my pocket and then my 642 right after I could tell they carried slightly differently, the 642 was a bit lighter and filled the pocket less but my friend who was with me said he thought the marginally larger grips on the 632 obscured the lines of the gun a bit more, though if you were looking for a gun, you’d probably spot it either way. Close enough for me to call a wash.

The sights unsurprisingly are much better on the UC. No contest there.


As for the internal upgrades, I can’t comment much on the “endurance package” after my time with the gun, but for those who think its just some marketing buzzword gobbledygook, the launch video published by Lipsey’s actually has the S&W engineers go pretty far in depth explaining exactly what that means and I don’t have much of a reason to doubt them (start at 5:12):

I mentioned the trigger already as not being as smooth or light as a $10 Wilson spring swap, but it is undeniably nicer than the stock factory set up which is pretty difficult for those unfamiliar with DAO shooting to warm up to.

As far as the “chamfered charge holes” goes, I have in my time encountered a few revolvers that had sticky cylinder holes, though my 642 has never given me much trouble. As far as loading and unloading, I noticed no difference in feel between my gun and the 632.

Shooting comparison

I took these J frames out on two different range trips, my initial test was outdoor and then my follow up was indoor. At my first range trip, I was mainly wanting to just get a feel for the difference between 38 Special and 32 H&R to settle my own curiosity.

For those unfamiliar, the 32 H&R Magnum us a relatively recent cartridge introduced by Harrington and Richardson right before their first bankruptcy in 1986. It used 32 S&W Long as a format and the case was lengthened slightly so that it could accept the older cartridges but not vice versa. The same was done in 2007 with the 327 Federal Magnum which used 32 H&R as a basis.

From left to right: .32 H&R Magnum, .38 Special, .357 Magnum

While some will probably be asking why S&W chose to chamber this UC in a middling magnum round instead of the more modern and powerful 327, the answer is simple- the J frame cannot accept the case length of the 327 Fed Mag. Also of note is the fact that the 32 H&R is actually a decently potent round. While I had a variety of ammo for testing, the main control round I used for both guns was Hornady Critical Defense.

The box states that at the muzzle 32 H&R with an 80 grain bullet is travelling at 1150 FPS while the 110 grain 38 Special round is only going a hair above 1000. Combine this with the fact that the smaller diameter of the 32 bullets allows for a sixth cartridge in the cylinder as opposed to the 642’s five and you have a compelling argument for carrying one of these 32’s full time.

After loading both guns up with Critical Defense at the range, I was even more convinced. I set up a steel IPSC target at roughly 7 yards and started with my trusty 642. 110 grains is pretty mild considering my other main carry round is the old 158 grain LSWC “FBI” load from the 80’s that I reload myself but even still, it took a decent amount of focus on fundamentals for me to keep all 5 rounds of CD on target and not pull one.

After shooting one round through the 632, I paused briefly taking in the difference in feel then rapid fired the next 5 rounds into the plates one after the other. Compared to the 642, it was markedly easier to keep all my rounds on target. Even with the heavier trigger, the lighter recoil I think evened the playing field quite a bit.

When I loaded up some lighter/plinking rounds in both guns (Winchester white box 130gr FMJ for the 38 and Federal 85gr JHP for the 32) I noticed that the recoil impulse was less sharp on the 38 compared to the 32, but the gun was still moving around in my hands a lot more. After reflecting on that more at the end of the day, I decided I would take both guns out one more time and see how they would perform with their grips switched.

My personal 642 with the UC grips from VZ (top) and the 632 with some Uncle Mikes rubber boot grips (bottom)

I took both the J frames to an indoor range next and made a minor change to the grip situation. I swapped the VZ grips onto my personal 642 but instead of putting the PGS grips on the 632, I instead put on the Uncle Mikes boot grips my 642 shipped with from the factory. These grips fill the hand better and are made of tacky rubber unlike the than the smooth, think hard plastic PGS grips. I figured for shooting comfort, I would try to even the field as much as I could.

Again I wanted to use Critical Defense as my control ammo here and I again started with my 38. To my disappointment, the 642 still moved around in my hands even with the VZ grips, though it was considerably less. What was surprising to me was that the 32 moved around too, less than the 38 with VZ grips, but only very slightly less. To me this solidified that the snubnose shooting nirvana I experienced at my first trip to the range was due to the combination of the VZ grips as well as the 32 caliber. It truly was rock solid in my hands and felt wonderful to shoot. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be with the Wilson spring kit installed.

Just to get some quantifiable data here since I was shooting paper instead of steel, I decided to get a group with both guns. Since I only had 4 rounds remaining of 38 Special, I shot 4 rounds of 32 as well to make it even.

The paper target was set up at 7 yards. I wanted to shoot at the small targets in this picture but after taking my first shot with the 32 on the left target I found I was shooting low left off the paper. I moved my point of aim to the larger bullseye and got the below group.

After taking one shot with the 38 on the right target and seeing I was shooting pretty much right on, I unloaded the next three rounds into a group I’m quite happy with. Maybe the guns felt still pretty close to me, but there was no doubt with Critical Defense anyway, I shot much better with the 642.

Final Thoughts

While it was fun getting to try out the S&W 632 UC, I’m not too upset giving this back to my friend. At the end of the day, it comes down to logistics. If I were going to carry a 32 H&R, I’d have to get set up to reload for it and I sadly don’t spend enough time already reloading 44 Mag, 45 Colt, and 38 Special like I should.

There’s always the argument as long as you occasionally practice with your carry gun, the whole point is that it will be carried much more often than its shot but the irony is that the 32 is much more enjoyable to shoot than 38 so if I DID reload it, I’d probably get more trigger time with it than I currently do with my 38. So while I did enjoy shooting 32 and also shot it a bit more accurately than my 38, I’m still happy with my old 642.

The one feature of the UC that I truly can’t live without though is the grips. I checked VZ’s website trying to track down the grips they used on the UC and while a few of their choices were close, none of them were exactly the same for some reason (the standard grips were the closest but did not wrap around the backstrap and the wraparound grips extended past the bottom of the grip frame). When I contacted VZ’s customer service department, they informed me these grips are unique and currently made only for S&W for use on these guns. However, they hinted that they should be available later in the year on the store for general purchase.

So this gun will go back to my friend and I hope he has a lot of fun with it. He’s a self professed 32 S&W Long fan (for some reason) so plinking with those should be even more fun. I truly think that S&W did in fact make the Ultimate Carry revolver when you combine these features with the 32 chambering and the VZ grips. I had never shot a small DAO revolver more smoothly. But I think I’ll be happy with my “gud enuf” route of my classic broke in 642 with the VZ High Horn grips. I never would have guessed that 2024 would be the best year for snub nose fans in a while, but I am sure glad it ended up that way.

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