When a shooter reloads using either the Taylor “speed load” method or either of the better known FBI methods, S&W’s new art-deco style cylinder release latch might be viewed as something of an improvement. This is because the new latch is angled for the convenience of the right hand shooter so he may activate the release while retaining the revolver in his right hand. The new latch addresses the complaint of latch contact to the knuckle of the right thumb during recoil. There were also complaints that the clearance from older style latches sometimes impeded reloading with some speedloader.
Regrettably, when reloading the revolver using either of the LFI StressFire methods or either of the “Auto-pistol” method, all of which I prefer over either of the FBI methods, the new style cylinder release latch takes away more than it gives.
In my experience the new latch:
1 – Is angled poorly for the right handed shooter who wishes to use his left thumb (Auto-pistol style)
2 – Is angled poorly for the left hand shooter who wishes to use any reload style
3 – Offers reduced contact surface area for reliable manipulation
4 – Offers no significant improvement in speedloader clearance
In its defense, the latch seems to reduce the incidents of knuckle contact during recoil, but so would some simple grip strengthening exercises, and increasing grip strength would improve overall gun handling. Certainly more so than any cosmetic change to the cylinder release latch. (See blog section titled Stocks and Grip Strength)
If you own a J-frame, you might consider contacting S&W’s parts department, and see about buying an older style latch while they are still available.
If you own a K- or N-frame snub, check out the cylinder release latches produced by SDM Fabricating. SDM currently offers four latch styles; old (classic) and new (art-deco), both in either stainless or blue. Their latches are the same size and shape as the original factory part with improved gripping surface. They are fully CNC machined from barstock, and feature a very effective 30 line-per-inch checkering. Please note that the SDM latches are flat while the original Smith & Wesson latches have a distinct concave surface. This in no way takes away from the effectiveness of SDM latches. Regrettable, SDM does not (currently) offer their excellent replacement cylinder release latches for either Smith and Wesson J-frame or the comparably sized Taurus revolvers. Hopefully, interest will be great enough that SDM may someday offer a classic J-frame style latch in the near future.