In this week’s Wheelgun Wednesday, we take a look at an older vintage Model 14 revolver from Smith & Wesson more commonly referred to by collectors as a K-38 Target Masterpiece chambered in the venerable .38 Special cartridge for target shooting. For target shooters throughout the 1950s – ’70s, this wheelgun was a popular option for league shooting and simply a more accurate choice for recreational shooters of all types. Before the explosion of polymer semi-auto handguns we currently see today, revolvers like this K-38 Target Masterpiece were as common as could be at any firing line. The very basic specifications for this wheelgun as presented by Smith & Wesson can be read below:
- Caliber: .38 Special
- Frame Type: K-Frame
- Finish: Blued
- Capacity: 6-Round Cylinder
- Sights: Black Blade Front Sight with Windage/Elevation Micro-Adjustable Black Rear Sight
- Trigger: Wide, Target Trigger
- Barrel Lengths: 6” (1947 – 1981), 8 3/8” (1959 – 1981)
- Manufacture Dates: 1947 – 1981
- Engineering Changes: 4
By its appearance, you can correctly guess that this is a double-action/single-action revolver allowing the shooter to choose how they would like to fire the six-shooter. There was an extremely small batch of K-38 Target Masterpiece revolvers made to be single-action only in 1961-1962 and they command a premium for collectors. This example of a K-38 Target Masterpiece is likely around 80% condition and quality (my subjective opinion only) which places it solidly around $600 – $700 in value. If someone were to have in their possession a single-action only variant in higher quality, it could be valued as high as $1,500; nearly triple that of the example we will look at today.
For those who are thinking that this revolver looks suspiciously like a Model 14, you are absolutely correct. Up until 1957 Smith & Wesson liked to name their revolvers with “K name” designations (think K-22 Masterpiece, K-38 Target Masterpiece, etc). After 1957 they switched to a more simplified numeric naming system and this revolver became the Model 14. I affectionately call this revolver a K-38 Target Masterpiece, but it actually is a newer variant and it is a Model 14-3. If you remember earlier in the spec list there were 4 engineering changes to this wheelgun so this specific one was manufactured closer to the tail-end of production; likely some time in the 1970s without having a Letter of Authenticity from Smith & Wesson to be definitively sure.
For anyone who might be smitten by this revolver, you, unfortunately, will have to hunt down a used one if you want to add it to your collection. Smith & Wesson used to make brand new manufactured versions recently dubbed a “Model 14 Classic” which began in 2009, but even those have been discontinued. Fortunately for us, if you want to scratch that nostalgic wheelgun itch, Smith & Wesson does still produce 14 different revolvers through their Classic series (just no Model 14 at this time).
While as a whole this Model 14 revolver is a sweet shooter, one area in which it falls short and is traditionally my only gripe with classical Smith & Wessons are the sights. This coming from a middle-aged guy with perfect vision, but black-on-black metal iron sights are difficult to align under the best of circumstances. While the rear is micro-adjustable so you can fine-tune your accuracy if you bag the gun, it will always be a difficult sight picture to gaze at. Even a white outline rear paired with a red ramp front sight is much easier for shooters of all types.
One area in which this revolver gains ground is the grips. Being a standard K-Frame size, the sky is the limit as to what someone could place on here for aftermarket stocks to suit their liking. The factory set of a thick, cut-checkered set does great for me because it completely fills my hand and when target shooting, I have positive dexterity the entire time. I can fire an entire cylinder and there is no need to pause, reset my grip, and continue shooting; the whole wheel gets shot at my cadence and rhythm.
The other elements I appreciate about the Model 14 in comparison to other more simple wheelguns from Smith & Wesson are the oversized, checkered hammer and wide, target trigger. With the hammer being larger than normal and heavily checkered, it is easier to cock the hammer into single-action one-handed. Also, the wide target trigger is perfect for what this revolver is meant to do – target shooting. I can quickly get the pad of my finger on the same place on the trigger every time to ensure a consistent and repeatable trigger pull. With more slender or narrow triggers I personally feel there is more opportunity for your finger to slide around on the trigger face causing inconsistencies in your trigger travel.
While the Model 14 or early vintage K-38 Target Masterpiece maybe do not have the rabid following that some models like the “Dirty Harry” Model 29 or K-22 Masterpiece might get, this is a great wheelgun for anyone who is simply looking to plink and target shoot with a few bonus features for improved accuracy. Being the revolver junkie that I am, it is hard to pick up a wheelgun and not find an appreciation for it. For all of the other wheelgun aficionados in the audience, what do you think? Is this a revolver worth pursuing to add to your collection? Or is there something else you would prefer to simply lob light-recoiling .38 Special wadcutters with? Let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.