Smith & Wesson 3913NL Review

Smith & Wesson 3913NL Review (2024 Update)

Before Smith & Wesson had the Shield, they had the 3913. In 2012, the Shield set off a firestorm in the firearm’s market as a compact, single-stack 9mm pistol from Smith & Wesson.

It remains enormously popular to this day, and rightfully so. But from 1989 to 2006, Smith & Wesson was producing another pistol in almost the same category: the 3913.  

The 3913 is one of the third-generation semi-automatic pistols that Smith & Wesson produced from the 1950s up until the mid 2000s. I have no idea what this line of S&W autos were called (other than that they had a rather confusing numbering system), but they were primarily DA/SA pistols with metal frames and were replaced by the M&P line around 2005. 

The 3913 comes from this family of handguns. It was a very successful CCW and backup gun for law enforcement in the 1990s and 2000s, and today, the 3913 maintains a small but very loyal following…and I’m one of them.

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Background of the 3913

The S&W 3913 is basically a third generation Model 39 that’s been made more compact by shortening the barrel and slide. But the history of how the 3913 came to be is far more interesting than that. 

Background of the 3913

The 3913 is essentially a third-generation, compact variant of the Model 39.

In 1954, Smith & Wesson released their first ever semi-automatic pistol: the Model 39. It was a double action/single action 9mm handgun with a single stack magazine. This gun set off the entire family of metal-framed double action/single action S&W semi-autos that would span three generations.

The S&W 39 was popular with civilians and even law enforcement units alike, and many people desired a more compact variant for concealed carry purposes. For a long time, Smith & Wesson never answered the call, but a man named Paris Theodore did. 

Mr. Theodore was a young holster maker based out of New York who likewise admired the Model 39. He was also an expert gunsmith who made many interesting guns for government agents, including pen guns, briefcase guns, and cigarette lighter guns. That may sound like it’s out of a James Bond movie, which goes to show that maybe what goes on in the Bond stories and movies isn’t too far from reality after all. 

Anyways, Theodore was requested to produce a compact 9mm pistol for CCW purposes. What he produced was the ASP 9, which was essentially a heavily modified Model 39 that also had a cut down barrel, slide, and grip to make it more compact. Literally hundreds of other changes to the gun were made as well.

Background of the 3913

The 3913 feeds from an 8-round magazine. These magazines both have the pinky extension installed on the baseplates.

Keep in mind, in the 1970s the idea of having a compact 9mm single stack was revolutionary. Naturally, Smith & Wesson took notice of the ASP 9, which was a major hit with civilians after Theodore had sold the patents to a Wisconsin firm that became known as ASP, Inc. 

In the late 1980s, Smith & Wesson started to unveil pistols from their third generation of handguns. Some of these models were updated versions of the second generation guns, while other models were entirely new guns completely. 

One of the new guns that was introduced at this time was the compact 3913. 

Enter the 3913

The 3913 is a gun that perhaps should have come out long before it did, but when it did come out, it was a major success. 

Enter the 3913

The 3913 was a solid hit for Smith & Wesson when it was released in the late 1980s, intended as a CCW gun for civilians or an off-duty/backup gun for police officers. 

The 3913 fed from an 8-shot magazine, and had a lightweight aluminum frame while the slide and barrel were built out of stainless steel. 

Civilians loved it as a concealable 9mm pistol, and law enforcement officers appreciated it as a backup gun or off-duty alternative to the larger Smith & Wesson pistols that were often carried. The S&W 3913 had the same manual of arms as the Beretta 92FS as well, which was another popular law enforcement gun. 

Several variants of the 3913 were also introduced, which I’ll get into below. The example you see in the photos is a 3913NL. 

The 3913 was produced in one configuration or another all the way up until 2006. For a few years, Smith & Wesson took a hiatus from producing a single-stack 9mm pistol until 2012 when the Shield was born, but that’s a story for another day. 

Variants of the 3913 

Like I noted above, many variants of the 3913 exist. The standard model features ambidextrous safety and decocker levers on both sides of the frame. The blued version and carbon steel is called the 3914.

The budget version of the 3913 was called the 908. It features the safety/decocker lever only on the left side of the slide, an alloy frame, certain polymer components (such as the safety/decocker lever, trigger, and sights), and a parkerized finish 

In 1990, Smith & Wesson introduced a version of the 3913 called the 3913 Ladysmith. Obviously produced for the female shooters’ market, the Ladysmith incorporated several changes to the 3913:

  • The dust cover on the underside of the frame was slanted (giving the gun a more elegant look)
  • The decocker/safety lever was featured only on the left side of the gun for right handed use (on one hand, this makes the gun difficult for a left handed shooter, but on the other hand, it gives a right handed shooter more ‘real estate’ to rack the slide)
  • The grip was changed to a lighter gray colored grip
  • The word “Ladysmith” was stamped on the side 

As you can imagine, there were plenty of male shooters who liked the 3913 Ladysmith because of its changed appearance…but disliked the fact that it said ‘Ladysmith’ on the slide. This was so much so that many male shooters would purchase the 3913 Ladysmith only to manually etch the markings off of the slide. 

To accommodate these shooters, in 1991 Smith & Wesson unveiled the 3913NL, which is one and the same gun as the Ladysmith only without the markings. Some believe that the NL stands for “Non-Ladysmith” but I don’t know if this is true or not. 3914 versions of the Ladysmith and NL were both produced as well. 

Variants of the 3913 

The 3913NL is essentially a 3913 Ladysmith without the ‘Ladysmith’ markings on the slide. This one has the black grips installed (the 3913NL would have shipped from the factory with the lighter gray grips).

The double-action only variant of the 3913 is called the 3953, which was produced from 1991 to 1999. The 3953 was a good choice for police departments that did not allow double action/single action semi autos. 

Finally, the so-called ‘tactical’ version of the 3913 was called the 3913TWS, and it was introduced in 2000. The 3913TSW has an even smaller grip than the standard 3913, and subsequently has a shorter 7-round magazine. It also features an accessory rail under the frame. 

How Did I End Up With the 3913?

My exposure to the 3913 first came in the year 2016 when a friend of mine introduced me to the gun. He actually owned three 3913s and thought they were one of the best concealed carry pistols that he had ever carried. I fired one at the range that day and liked it, but it didn’t start to leave a big impression on me until years later.

Fast forward to 2023, and I was looking for a compact single-stack pistol with a metal frame (I happen to like metal frame guns). I eventually settled on the Beretta 85 .380 ACP, which I’ve also done a review of as well. While the Model 85 was a great shooter and very well-made and reliable, an issue I had with it was the racking of the slide. 

The slide of the Model 85 has very little real estate compared to some other autos, and due to the shape of the gun and my larger hands I found my fingers slicing up against the slide and the producing safety levers, which wasn’t pleasant. I began looking for a successor. 

I remembered my encounter with the 3913 from the years prior and, after doing more research that confirmed the gun had a good reputation, began searching for one in earnest. The pistol I eventually purchased was a 3913NL. It shipped in a Smith & Wesson-labeled soft case, had two magazines (one stainless and one blued), and had the gray grips swapped out for the black grips (which I like better). Most importantly, the gun was in like-new condition. 

How Did I End Up With the 3913

My 3913NL shipped in like-new condition with two magazines and a soft case. I couldn’t have been happier!

My time with the 3913NL since has been nothing short of excellent. The pistol is an upgrade over the Beretta Cheetah (that’s not to diss the Cheetah, it’s a good pistol even if it wasn’t quite for me). The 3913NL has proven to be 100% reliable and a very pleasant shooter at the range. 

Conclusion: Smith & Wesson 3913NL Review

Conclusion

Most users of the 3913 seem to agree that it’s a solid choice for a concealment pistol, and some will go as far as to say that it is the best semi-automatic pistol that Smith & Wesson ever produced.

As for me, I’d say if you’re looking for a compact 9mm single stack, and specifically one with a metal frame, I’d definitely place the 3913 on your shortlist of options.

FAQ

When was the Smith and Wesson 3913 Made?

The Smith & Wesson 3913 was introduced in 1989. It is a compact, single-stack 9mm pistol that quickly became popular for its slim profile, reliability, and performance, making it a favored choice for concealed carry and law enforcement use during its production years.

What Year was the Smith & Wesson?

Smith & Wesson was established in 1852. The company, founded by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, has since become a leading manufacturer of firearms, renowned for its innovative and quality products that cater to law enforcement, military, and civilian markets worldwide.

When was the Smith and Wesson Model 3 Made?

The Smith & Wesson Model 3 was introduced in 1870. This single-action, top-break revolver, chambered in various calibers, gained fame for its innovative design and was adopted by several military forces, including the U.S. Cavalry, marking a significant milestone in firearm history.

What is Smith and Wesson’s Most Popular Gun?

The Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver is one of the company’s most iconic firearms. Introduced in 1955 and chambered in .44 Magnum, it gained immense popularity, partly due to its association with the “Dirty Harry” film series, becoming a cultural icon and a sought-after model among collectors and firearms enthusiasts.

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