Kimber K6s Review

Kimber is best known for their domestically-produced line of 1911-pattern semi-automatic pistols. So it came as a bit of a surprise around this time last year when they announced that their next concealed carry handgun was going to be… a revolver. It’s not easy to make a decent, double action revolver. People think of revolvers as being simple to operate, but mechanically, they are incredibly complex machines. So, for Kimber to come out of the blue and announce that they’re making a defensive revolver that will compete with established models from Smith & Wesson and Ruger comes across as a bit audacious, to say the least. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The new Kimber K6s .357 Magnum snub nose was released last year, but availability has been limited so far. It sounds like Kimber plans to start ramping up production soon, so you should be able to find one at your friendly local gun store in the near future. I was able to get my hands on a K6s a couple of months ago and I’ve put nearly 1000 rounds through it so far. The video review below offers a good overview of my impressions thus far, but if all goes as planned, I should have some follow-up reviews coming within the next couple of months.

There was a ton of stuff I wanted to squeeze into this video, but I try to keep the reviews under 8 minutes, so not everything would fit. As usual, I’ve provided a transcript of the video below embed, but if you keep scrolling, you’ll find some additional details that didn’t make the final cut.

About a year ago, Kimber announced that they would be producing a .357 magnum 2-inch barreled snub nose revolver called the K6s. This is a first for Kimber, who is mostly known for their 1911s, but the K6s now has them competing with other small, steel frame revolvers like the Ruger SP101, the Smith & Wesson J-frames, and, as of last week, the new Colt Cobra. These revolvers are all roughly the same size and weight, and when you look at variants with comparable features, they are fairly close in price as well. The most notable difference is that the Kimber and the Colt have a 6-round capacity while the more established Ruger and Smith and Wesson only hold 5 shots.

Kimber K6s

The K6s has an internal hammer, making it a double action only design. Not everyone is going to love the absence of an exposed hammer that can be cocked for single action, but I consider it a huge asset in a carry revolver to help ensure a snag-free draw stroke.

The hammerless design is complemented by a frame that has been completely dehorned so there are no sharp edges or corners to catch on clothing. The sights are also low-profile, but unlike most small revolvers, they are replaceable. The front sight is held in place by a pin in the top of the barrel, and the dovetail rear sight is drift adjustable for windage. Both sights come with a black serrated face, but I’ve painted the front sight to improve visibility. The checkered cylinder release latch is activated by pressing inward, similar to a double action Ruger. The chambers are recessed so that the cartridges sit flush with the top of the cylinder.

Kimber quietly started shipping the K6s sometime in the middle of 2016 but in very small numbers. So far, it’s been tough to find one for sale, and price tags often far exceed the $900 suggested retail price. Kimber offered to loan us one to review but said they would have to get caught up with production first. We didn’t know how long that would take, so we just decided to track one down ourselves and pay full retail. So, over the last couple of months, I’ve had a chance to put a few hundred rounds through this gun. That’s really just the beginning of the testing we have planned for the K6s, but I’ve had enough time with it so far to form a few first impressions.

Kimber K6s muzzle flash

The trigger is really the stand-out feature. It’s a very smooth, 10-pound double action pull with no stacking. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s easily the best factory trigger I’ve used on a small-frame revolver. Kimber put a lot of their engineering effort into making sure the trigger was usable out of the box, and that seems to have paid off. It’s still going to be a challenge for anyone who’s not already comfortable with double actions, but it’s a major improvement over the competition.

I really appreciate that they used sights that can be adjusted and replaced, but I’m not a fan of the default black on black sights. Even with some bright paint on the front sight, they’re still fairly short and not the easiest to use. Fortunately, Kimber has announced four new models coming out that have different sight options like a fiber optic front sight, a set of taller 3-dot sights, tritium night sights, and Crimson Trace LaserGrips. Hopefully, these sights will soon be made available as standalone options for those of us who want to upgrade the original sights.

The rubber grip that comes with the Kimber is a decent size and shape that is concealable but also functional. But I’m kind of particular about revolver grips, and this one is not ideal for my hands. The ability to change grips to suit the user is usually one of the major advantages of revolvers, but again, there’s nothing else available for the Kimber yet. I’d like to see some Hogue Tamer grips like the ones made for the Ruger LCR that cover the backstrap and add some girth to the grip.

The lack of aftermarket support is really the biggest problem with the K6s right now, and that’s to be expected with a gun that’s barely in production. So for now, the holster I’ve been using is an SP101 appendix holster that… kinda, mostly fits the Kimber. I’ve got some Colt Detective Special speed loaders from 5 Star Firearms that are actually the same as the K6s-branded loaders that Kimber sells on their website. But realistically, if I were to carry extra ammo with this revolver, it would be on a speed strip. Kimber includes a 6-shot speed strip with the K6s, but I prefer a larger 7 or 8 shot strip so I can space the rounds out for easier loading.

Recoil is what you’d expect with a small steel frame revolver. It’s far easier on the shooter than an alloy or polymer framed snubby, but more difficult to manage than a mid-size revolver like a Smith & Wesson K-Frame. The K6s is chambered for .357 magnum, and unlike the Airweight revolvers, shooting magnums doesn’t feel like it’s going to shatter your hand. But it’s still not exactly pleasant, and I wouldn’t recommend actually carrying the gun with magnum ammo anyway. When you go to a 2-inch barrel, .357 loses a lot of velocity and effectiveness but delivers excessive recoil. Follow-up shots are going to be slow, and for most people, accuracy will suffer too. A small, steel frame revolver like this is perfect for .38 +P defensive ammo.

Kimber K6s

 

I fired several 5 round groups from a bench rest at 25 yards to test the accuracy of the K6s. Most of the loads I tested gave me groups between 3 and 5 inches, which isn’t bad at all for a snub nose. From the factory, the K6s was shooting about 3 inches to the left at 10 yards, so I had to make some windage adjustments. I know very few manufacturers sight in their guns at the factory, but the rear sight was visibly off-center, so that’s a little disappointing.

And that leads me to a question I know a lot of people are wondering about the K6s. Even if Kimber has designed a good revolver, can they mass-produce a good revolver? It is well-known among discerning 1911 shooters that Kimber’s quality control is… not awesome. Stuff like misaligned sights might not seem like a big deal, but it’s not encouraging in light of Kimber’s reputation.

And unfortunately, that’s not the only issue I’ve noticed. There’s this little ridge here around the cylinder release. If you look closely, there’s some excess jagged metal there. On the right side, it’s a clean line all the way around but on the left side, someone clearly forgot a step at the factory and nobody managed to catch the mistake before the gun went out the door. It’s a small thing and it’s just cosmetic, but it’s that kind of sloppiness that I find troubling.

I’m really trying not to judge Kimber too harshly. I like the K6s and mechanically, this one has not had any problems at all. But this is just a sample size of one. As Kimber starts ramping up production on these things, I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to what other K6s owners have to say about their experiences. I’m also going to keep shooting this one, and I’ll try it with new grips and sights whenever the aftermarket catches up so I can get back to you guys with an update.

End transcript.


The Steel Frame Snubby

The steel frame snub nose occupies an interesting niche among modern concealable handguns. Most small revolvers made today are not steel — lightweight aluminum alloy and polymer frames are far more popular. A snub nose that weighs under a pound can easily be carried on an ankle or in a pocket. They are great as backup guns or for those times when you can’t wear a belt with a proper holster.

If you can carry on a belt, these lightweight revolvers are far less than ideal. They’re convenient but really difficult to shoot. If you carry a heavier gun like the 23 ounce all-steel K6s, you’ll barely notice the increased weight in a belt holster compared to trying to carry it in your pocket, and you’re a lot more likely to practice with the heavier gun and actually hit what you’re aiming at. But using that same logic, if you’re going to carry on your belt, it might make more sense to just carry a compact double stack semi-auto, or even step up to a medium frame revolver. That’s one of the reasons why the small, steel frame snub nose isn’t more popular. However, a lot of people find that they strike that ideal balance between concealability and shootability.

K6s SP101 S&W 640 comparison
Top to bottom: Ruger SP101 Wiley Clapp, Kimber K6s, Smith & Wesson 640 Pro

So, the Kimber K6s joins this category with the Ruger SP101 and the steel Smith & Wesson J-frames, like the excellent Model 640 Pro. The Kimber has 20% greater ammo capacity than those two, and it’s easily smaller than the SP101 and only larger than the J-frame by an insignificant margin. In terms of dimensions and capacity, it’s actually more like a modern successor to the Colt Detective Special.

For several decades, Colt made the only small-frame .38 special six-shot revolvers. The Detective Special was the original steel frame version, and for a while, they also made lightweight aluminum variants like the Cobra and the Agent. When Colt stopped making revolvers in the mid-90s, they left a big gap in the market and no one has stepped up to fill that gap, until now. After talking to some of the guys at Kimber who are involved with the project, that’s exactly what they wanted to do — their goal was to make a Colt Detective Special for the 21st Century.

However, they are not the only ones who have had this idea. Just last week, Colt announced that they are finally reviving their double action revolvers, starting with a new Colt Cobra. The Cobra name is actually a little misleading here — this will be a steel framed gun, not aluminum like the original Cobra. The new Colt Cobra is actually an updated Detective Special with a fiber optic front sight. Whether it’s deserved or not, Colt has a huge head start with this new product thanks to brand name recognition alone. The pressure is really on for Kimber to prove that their new revolver can hang with the competition.

Steel Snub Nose Comparison

model Kimber K6s Smith & Wesson
640 Pro
Ruger SP101
Wiley Clapp
Colt Cobra
capacity 6 5 5 6
caliber .357 mag .357 mag .357 mag .38 spl +P
weight 23 oz 22.1 oz 25 oz 25 oz
barrel length 2″ 2.13″ 2.25″ 2″
overall length 6.62″ 6.63″ 7″ 7.2″
height 4.46″ 5.1″ 4.5″ 4.9″
width 1.39″ 1.25″ 1.35″ 1.4″
front sight serrated black (removable) white outline tritium insert (removable) black with brass bead (removable) Fiber optic (removable)
rear sight serrated black (removable) white outline tritium insert (removable) Novak style black (removable) fixed trench style
action DAO (shrouded hammer) DAO (shrouded hammer) double action w/ hammer spur double action w/ hammer spur
MSRP $899 $839 $839 $699

 

Inside the Kimber K6s

I’m not going to pretend that I have an advanced understanding of the internal mechanics of revolvers, but I’m also not afraid to pop off a sideplate and start poking around just out of curiosity. That’s one of the first things I did with the K6s. The disassembly procedure was familiar, and very Smith-like. Three screws hold the side plate on, and the forward-most screw also retains the cylinder and crane. Kimber conveniently used hex-head screws for the sideplate so no obscure gunsmith-specific drivers were needed for the job.

The S&W similarities did not end with the sideplate. Like I said, I’m no expert on revolver guts, but the inside of the K6s sure looked familiar. In fact, viewed side by side with a S&W J-frame, the K6s looks like a direct descendant. The most pronounced differences seem to be with the shape of the hammer and the position of the hammer spring and strut. This could account for why the K6s has a significantly lighter and smoother-feeling trigger pull than the J-frame.

Kimber K6s internals
Kimber K6s with sideplate removed.
S&W J-frame internals
Smith & Wesson 640 Pro with sideplate removed.

I’m not implying that it’s a bad thing that the K6s has borrowed so heavily from the J-frame. Improving an existing design to make it your own has a strong tradition in the firearms industry. If anything, I applaud Kimber for advancing the J-frame design into the 21st century. Here’s hoping S&W (and Ruger, for that matter) eventually answer with their own version of the small frame 6-shot small frame revolver.

Accuracy Testing

As I mentioned in the video, I conducted accuracy testing at 25 yards from a bench rest. I started the testing with the seven loads below, but will add more as I have a chance to shoot additional groups. I fired two groups of five rounds with each load and recorded velocity with a Labradar ballistic velocity radar (not technically a chronograph, but it serves the same function). The average group sizes and velocities are below:

Load avg group size avg velocity
Federal Gold Medal Match 148 gr LWC 3.1″ 672 fps
Magtech .38 spl 158 gr +P SJHP 3.45″ 831 fps
Hornady Critical Defense .38 spl 110 gr FTX 4.8″ 889 fps
Remington Golden Saber .357 mag 125 gr 4.85″ 1105 fps
Hornady Critical Duty .357 mag 135 gr 5.05″ 1149 fps
Winchester .38 spl 158 gr +P SWCHP 6.8″ 778 fps
Speer Gold Dot .38 spl 135 gr +P (Short Barrel) 8.6″ 904 fps

 

There’s nothing too surprising here except for the disappointing accuracy of the Speer Gold Dot. This is my go-to defensive load for .38 special revolvers, but I don’t believe I would be confident carrying it in the Kimber knowing that it’s not capable of 8-inch groups at 25 yards even under ideal conditions. Concerned that I may have gotten a bad lot of the Speer ammo, I shot a quick group with my 3-inch Smith & Wesson M66 and managed 3.5 inches. So it would appear that the ammo is fine, but the Kimber and Speer just don’t make a good combination. My “other favorite” .38 special load is Winchester PDX1, but I didn’t have any on hand when I went out to shoot these groups. As soon as I have the opportunity, I’ll test the Winchester load and add the results to the chart. Hopefully it will fare better than the Gold Dots.

Point of Aim

Another issue worth mentioning is the sight picture required in order to get the K6s to hit where you want the bullets to go. This is often an issue with revolvers because the point of impact can vary greatly from one .38 special or .357 magnum load to the next, and the factory sights are often not regulated for the ammo the end user prefers. For 25 yard accuracy testing, I typically use a sight picture with the top of the rear sight held so that it horizontally bisects the “X” in the 10-ring (not that I can actually see the “X” from 25 yards on the B-8 repair center targets I use, but that’s the idea). With the K6s, this resulted in every load I tested impacting well below the bullseye — anywhere from 5 to 12 inches low. When I adjusted my point of aim so the front sight completely covered the black center of the target, the point of impact shifted close to the center for most loads. This is not necessarily a huge downside for a small defensive revolver, but it does highlight one of the reasons many people prefer their revolver sights to be adjustable for both windage and elevation.

Keep an eye out for more on the Kimber K6s in the coming months. In the meantime, let us know in the comments if you’ve had any first-hand experience (good or bad) with Kimber’s new revolver.

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