S&W SD9VE

[Review] Smith & Wesson SD9VE

OK. I hear you, even before we start – what the heck does “SD9VE” stand for? Allow me to explain:

SD: Self-Defense

9: 9mm

VE: Value-Enhanced

Oh, OK. How in the world did S&W come up with that mouthful-of-a-moniker? I believe they were just trying to differentiate it from its not-so-well-received predecessor, the Sigma. That pistol had some issues that S&W wanted to fix, so they brought out a different gun entirely.

A Little Background

S&W introduced the Sigma pistol to the shooting world in 1994. This was a gun that was meant to be sold for less than their top-of-the-line M&P series of semi-auto pistols. Available in several calibers, the 9mm seems to have been the most popular.

SW95

The gun used an action pretty similar to that used by Glock. Matter of fact, it was so similar that Glock sued S&W over patent infringement. So, in 1997, S&W and Glock settled out of court, with S&W paying an undisclosed amount of money to Glock. At that point, they re-designed the action a little in order to not tread on the Austrian gunmaker’s proverbial toes again.

The SD/SW/Sigma series was not very well received, to be blunt. The gun’s trigger left a lot to be desired, so it was at this point that Apex and other companies began making replacement triggers for these guns. This helped the situation considerably, but the gun was just not as popular as S&W had hoped it would be. So, in 2012, S&W redesigned the SD guns and introduced the improved models, the SD VE guns, in calibers 9mm and .40 S&W.

Improvements included the trigger, the grip (more ergonomic) and the stainless-steel barrel. This gun felt good in the hand, at least the one I owned did. Decent three-dot sights, that better trigger and Glock-style take-down tabs and procedure helped improve the situation. Capacities ranged from 14 in .40 S&W to 16 in 9mm. Of course, 10-round magazines were made for those states that required them.

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My SD9VE

The gun whose photos you see here once belonged to me. I sold it to a friend who loaned it back to me for this review. I had done, what is called around here a redneck trigger job on it. I got the idea from a video on YouTube that I had seen. That basically consists of insuring that the gun is totally empty and then dry firing it 500 times. Since the gun is striker-fired, dry firing is OK. I do have admit that this action noticeably smoothed the trigger’s travel and seemed to have lightened it just a little (at least it felt a bit lighter – a trigger pull gauge was not available). It makes sense – all you’re doing is wearing the parts in and rubbing rough spots off the mating steel parts. It did help. And, of course, this wasn’t the first time I overdid the dryfire technique to smooth up a trigger – it was just the first time I’d seen somebody else do it on YouTube, with this specific gun.

What I Liked

I really liked certain aspects of the SD9VE. For one thing, as I said above it felt good in my hand. It fit. The grip was just right. Grip angle, grip texture – not bad at all. Of course, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I like a rough grip texture, so I stippled the SD’s grip with a soldering iron. I got pretty good at staying within the molded-in boundaries (I was always good at coloring within the lines, Harry Chapin’s excellent song notwithstanding). Once I got the grip where I wanted it, I next moved on to the action, a process described above. The gun really is a decent concealed carry gun. With two 16-round magazines (or two 14-round .40 S&W mags), you are well set for whatever might come at you. The gun is roughly comparable to the Glock 19 in terms of size and capacity, if you don’t hold the one extra round that the S&W can carry over the 15-round Glock. The sights were decent, and the gun seemed to be accurate with several loads (one of which was my favorite 9mm handload: a Lee 124-grain RN powder-coated bullet over 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder). Having a conventionally rifled barrel helps, as you have no concerns with shooting lead bullets. I liked the gun, and the reason I sold it escapes me now.

Specs

Let’s look at the gun’s specs before we examine some photos and then a target, later.

(Items in parentheses are comparable Glock 19 Gen 5 measurements)

Length:7.2” (7.36”)
Barrel:4”, stainless steel (4.02”)
Slide:Stainless steel, with forward serrations
Frame:Polymer
Weight:22.7 oz. (23.6 oz.)
Width:1.29” (1.26)
Capacity:16 + 1, two magazines included. SD magazines are compatible (15 + 1)
Trigger Pull:6 lbs., 11 oz. average of ten pulls
Sights:dovetailed, three-dot. Any M&P sights will fit the dovetails
Safety:striker block, no external thumb safety; loaded chamber view port
Rail:2-slot Picatinny
MSRP:$389 ($559)
“Real-World” Price:~$299 - $330 ($550)

S&W SD9VE left side

S&W SD9VE right side

S&W SD9VE frame side

Frame, side and top shots. Note the Glock-style takedown tabs. You can see similarities between this gun and other striker-fired pistols. This is a good shot to show how my stippling job on the textured areas turned out.

S&W SD9VE frame topside

S&W SD9VE frame warning
Frame warning – there is no magazine safety on the SD9VE. I. for one, am glad to see that.
S&W SD9VE trigger
Trigger

Note that its safety feature utilizes a hinged trigger, not the Glock-style bladed trigger. This works, even if the trigger pull is a bit heavy.

slide left engraving
Slide engraving. Not bad – it tells you what it is without overdoing it.

slide right engraving

S&W SD9VE field stripped
Field-stripped and the barrel/captive recoil spring.

S&W SD9VE barrel recoil spring

S&W SD9VE barrel feed ramp
Barrel feed ramp, nicely machined and polished.
S&W SD9VE rear sight
Sights, rear/front/sight picture. Not bad. These are interchangeable with aftermarket M&P pistol sights.
S&W SD9VE sight picture
(The red dot was mine – it comes from the factory white).
S&W SD9VE rail
Picatinny rail, 2 slots
S&W SD9VE magazines
Magazines

You know exactly how many rounds left you have, a very nice touch. Older SD mags will work, as well.

S&W SD9VE mag baseplate
Classy baseplate

Shooting The SD9VE And Other Considerations

Since I had owned this gun, I knew roughly how accurate it was with different loads. When I owned it previously, ammunition was readily available, so I tried it with several loads. For this review, however, ammo is plain not available…or, to clarify, is available at $1/round or more. So, I used my tried & true handload. In case you missed my description in previous 9mm reviews, it consists of a 124-grain Lee hard-cast round nose bullet, powder coated, over 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder. This current ammo situation might create some new handloaders, but components are hard to come by, as well. Since I’ve been handloading for over 40 years, I have powder, primers and cases. Since I make my own own bullets, that’s just one less thing to have to find. At any rate, I was outside today for a brief time. It seems that winter has finally decided to visit our neck of the woods, with hazy, 24-degree conditions today. I am not used to cold yet (and I know that 24 degrees ain’t really cold!), but the older I get the less I like it. Hence, the one target. I might’ve done a bit better, but there were three factors working against me – the weather, the lack of factory ammo (as I mentioned above) and the 6-pound-plus trigger.

Trigger Woes

When I owned this gun before, I didn’t have access to a trigger pull gauge. Now that I own the Lyman version of that instrument, my eyes are opened continually every time I check a gun. You tend to get good at guessing trigger pull weights if you’ve done much shooting. I was not too far off with my estimation of this gun’s pull weight. I had “guess-timated” the weight to be around 6 and a half to 7 pounds before. I checked it this morning and I was close – it averaged 6 pounds, 11 ounces. Now, that in itself would not be cause for concern if the trigger broke cleanly with no creep, etc. But, such is not the case here. The pull itself seems very long (probably due to the pull weight). Hence, there is a lot of creep before the striker does its thing. The weight seemed to stack as I pulled the trigger slowly, which magnified the hard feel. This target was the result.

Now, I’m not claiming that the trigger was the only reason I didn’t put all my shots in the orange square, nor were the weather and lack of ammo as mentioned above large factors – I’ll not make excuses – but those things sure didn’t help contribute to accuracy. As for the trigger … I would venture to bet that, if this gun had a smooth, 5-pound trigger pull, more of these holes would be gathered towards the middle of the target. At any rate, it is what it is. The advantages of this gun far outweigh the trigger situation. With the installation of an aftermarket trigger, this gun would be good to go. And, considering that you would most likely pay around $350 for this pistol, an extra $50 or so for an Apex or other brand of aftermarket trigger might be doable.

The Poor Man’s Glock 19?

Speaking of shooting this gun, it puts me in mind of the Glock 19. I am certainly not the first to associate the SD9VE with the most popular Glock out there. The two guns are within tenths of an inch in length and height, weight and width. The S&W goes the Glock one better with its 16-round magazine capacity versus the Glock’s standard 15-round magazine. I’m not going to argue over a one-round difference between the two, but you start to get my point, I assume. Given the fact that the S&W is a very reliable and well-built gun, you might feel that it would be alright to invest an extra $45-$55 for an aftermarket trigger as opposed to paying almost as much again as the S&W cost to buy the Austrian model.

This is not a knock on the Glock 19 – that gun is the best-selling Glock, for good reason. I’m just saying that, if you can’t afford $500 or so for a pistol, you have an alternative. I never once had a failure of any kind with this gun when it was mine. It digested my reloads as easily as it did the factory stuff. That says something for a pistol. I would rather have a gun that may not put all its shots in the 10 ring but would feed whatever rounds you stuck in the magazine any day. That 10 ring business can be addressed, but I will not suffer an unreliable pistol gladly. I will just move on. That was not the reason I sold this one. I remember, now, why I sold it. My friend was looking for a 9mm but didn’t have time to go to the local gun shops around here (very demanding job). He went to our church, which was where we talked about his needs. Long story short, he ended up with this pistol and was happy.

target shot with S&W SD9VE

In Conclusion

To sum up, I like this pistol. I obviously did really like it once upon a time, since I was the original owner and shelled out the bucks for it. Does it have areas that could be improved? Of course – what doesn’t? My point is that, the trigger’s pull weight notwithstanding, it still is a good buy. Since triggers are available from other companies, you might consider picking one of these up. If you are a .40 S&W fan, it is available in that caliber, too. It is easily-carried (check out our article on concealed carry insurance), with nothing to snag on the draw. And, who knows – it’s been a good while since I owned this gun. It could be that S&W has fixed the trigger issue. If that is the case, then that just adds more to the “very good buy” column where this pistol is concerned.

Add in all the aftermarket sights designed for the M&P series of pistols that you can install on this gun and you start to see just how useful these guns can be. For around $350, you can have a Glock-19-sized 9mm pistol with 32 rounds in both magazines available, on your person. Even with the stock trigger, you could certainly do worse. Add in its reliability and very serviceable three-dot sights and you have a carry pistol that you can depend on. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it is a product of Smith and Wesson, a company that will go to the mat for you with its very good customer service (at least they did for me). Add it all up and you have a winner. Please let us know below if you’ve had experience with one of these pistols. As always, stay safe and keep ‘em in the black!

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20 comments
  1. I like the SD9VE so much that I have 2 of them. I am going to put a trigger in them. And the main thing is no failures of any kind.

    1. Chuck, yeah, these guns are very reliable and a great way for someone to get a good gun at a very fair price. With new triggers, they would be even better. Thanks for writing!

      1. I will tell you. I fell out of a boat in 8’ of water. My SD9ve spent 5 days under water before I could get a diver to find it. Got it home clean it up real good. Still shoots the same.

  2. A S&W SD9VE was my son’s first pistol he purchased at that time in his life (OK Job, but not great pay). At this time, neither of us had much experience with striker fired guns. We both like the SD9VE, for many of the same reasons you listed, but the trigger wasn’t impressive at all. He kept it for a number of years until his income improved, then he promptly sold it and bought a higher end gun (I don’t recall which one). Now with his PO job he uses a PPQ for duty, and a PPS for off duty carry.
    So my views on the SD guns is based around shooting one a fairly frequent number of times, but I never owned one (a Beretta 92FS was my main semi until I bought a PPQ in .40 in 2013, It took me a while to warm to striker fire).
    So to me, the SD series fills a niche. It gets someone into the shooting sports for well under the $500 mark. It’s well made and functional. The trigger’s not the best, but it’s far from the worst I’ve handled. The one my son owned fed factory and handloads without a hiccup, and that is a huge plus IMO. I’ve owned a number of finicky guns, and owned (past tense) is the operative word.
    At that price point, it’s one of the better guns on the market.

    1. Bemused, good points. The trigger is bad but not the worst – I agree. Sounds like both you and your son have things figured out, with your Beretta and his Walthers. I know a former deputy who appendix-carries a PPQ with a light on it and trusts it implicitly. He’s a skinny guy. I couldn’t do that, for sure. Both the 92FS and Walthers are good guns, and you are right – the S&W is a great way to get someone into shooting. Thanks for writing again!

  3. Glad to see that you commented on one of the WORST triggers out there. If i had to keep it I would not want this thing for free. I hated it..

    1. Just Me, yeah, the trigger leaves a lot to be desired but for $50 or so it can be replaced. The rest of the gun is decent. Thanks for writing!

  4. Good Review Mike, as always you go into details and that is awesome. I own 3 S&W firearms and love it. Would you consider doing a review on a S&W – M&P – 9mm Shield / M2.0 ? I recently purchased one, So I will share my views. Installed a Stream- Light Tach Lite with Red Laser. After a few rounds down range, break in time. With being a compact the barrel length is 3.675″ so it has its snappy recoil, I like the double safety feature. 8+1 mag capacity. Fairly accurate using the 21ft rule. So now is the time to zero in. I use a barrel style laser of which works great. Used my gun vise to secure the firearm, spotted a target about 25′ with the barrel laser on the target, I adjusted the Stream light laser. Okay, to the range. My first go was with FBI target. 1st @ 15′ -3 rds / 2nd @ 21′ -3rds / 3rd @ 21′ -5rds, 4th @ 21′ – 10 rds. The FBI targets I add in two extra targets, so I have 4 in one target. Now my laser is dead on and my accuracy has improved very well. Now I went out to do a 60′ with the laser pretty good. Of course I will continue with those type of drills. Over all my opinion is with the S&W 9 Shield is excellent. No stove pipe, failure to feed, No issues, I have fired about 400 rds with all good. Another good feature is internal hammer fire. Easy to clean up. Note do not use +P+ loads. +p defense loads okay. 115 gr rounds good for target.
    Thanks, Jim

    1. Jim, no need for me to review the gun – you just wrote a great one! Sounds like you have it figured out. i did review a Shield a good while ago – it’s listed in the gun reviews. I owned one for a good while. I didn’t dress mine up like you did yours, but the point is you CAN dress one up if you want to – the options are there. Great results on your end – keep us posted as you discover new loads, etc. that really work. Thanks for writing!

  5. I have owned a S&W SD9VE for about 3-1/2 years now. I don’t get to the range much so I have maybe 500 rounds through it. I really like the SD9VE for the most part, but the trigger was a disappointment. Not too longer after purchasing it I installed an Apex trigger and springers Kit and it really improved the trigger. I believe the pull before modification was well over 6 lbs…after installing the trigger kit it averaged just over 5 lbs with 5.25 being the high and 4.75 the low. I also installed a TruGlo Fiber Optic Sight Set. I believe I paid $299 plus tax at Dunham’s…a great self-defense pistol in my opinion.

    1. B., yeah, you’ve really “dressed your gun up” so to speak. The improvements are huge when you change out a trigger and sights – it’s like owning a different gun. The trigger sure sounds much improved, to be sure. Thanks for writing!

  6. I had a no frills full size Smith and Wesson 9mm a few years back. shot flawlessly, felt good in the hand, and was inexpensive. Not sure of the model. As you say here, these great guns exist on the cheap and will meet your basic needs. There is no needs to overspend to be protected.

    1. Bert, too true. Some guns are just plain good buys. The SD guns are sleepers, in my opinion. I enjoyed mine when I owned it. Thanks again for writing.

  7. I completely agree with your assessment of this pistol, I bought one of first production models, as it was (at the time), exactly what I could afford, and it was a brand I knew I could trust. I’ve fired about 2000 rounds through it over the years, and it’s never malfunctioned, and really shows very few signs of wear. I installed an Apex trigger about a year ago, and that completely transformed it’s personality from just a utility gun, into a true joy to shoot! BTW, I really enjoy reading your articles! Thanks for featuring this very underrated pistol!

  8. Mike, thanks for another excellent review. I own a S&WSD9VE and my daughter has a Glock 19. I haven’t changed the trigger yet but it’s on my list. Have you corrected your article on the best 9mm pistols, where you listed the SD9VE as being in a smaller category than the Glock 19? Clearly these two are nearly the same size..

    1. Tom, no, I haven’t corrected my other piece yet but I will – I forget what I write and depend on readers to keep me honest – thanks! Sounds like you and your daughter are well-armed!

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