Pros and Cons of revolvers

Discussion in 'General Handgun Discussion' started by M14sRock, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    A few days ago someone asked me to post something I had written. He wanted something instructional after reading my "scope ring lapping and torquing" reply.

    So here is something about revolvers. I hope it is not too long.

    Let’s discuss revolvers, and some of their Pros/Cons.

    Smith & Wesson (S&W), Colt and Ruger are traditionally called the Big 3. Taurus, Rossi, High Standard, Dan Wesson, Webley, H&R, Charter Arms, Korth, etc have their following but space is limited.

    Mechanics and ergonomics.


    S&W steel framed revolvers are forged. The older ones have forged parts, while the newew ones have MIM parts. They have inherently excellent triggers, or triggers that can be made smooth and crisp. However, the triggers themselves on S&W revolvers tend to be serrated (sharp), unless you have the smooth “combat trigger”. On my S&W’s I have ground the serrations off and reshaped the lower part of the trigger to eliminate finger tip rub which causes blisters after a couple of hundred rounds of DA firing. The S&W trigger action has a “stacking” feeling near the end of travel, followed by a slight “click” just before it fires. This staging allows for consistent DA firing with a bit of practice. The “humped” backstrap of the grip frame on S&W’s fills the hand, but also focuses recoil back into the hand. S&W uses aluminum, titanium and scandium in their lightweight/airweight revolvers. They were also the first to use stainless steel in a production revolver (M60).

    Colt trigger action is very smooth, but in my experience Colt revolvers have been more fragile than the S&W competing model. Colt DA triggers also generally seem to get heavier as the trigger is squeezed. Colts tend to have very finely fitted parts which can make them prone to jamming. Great on the range, terrible in the dirt.

    Ruger DA revolvers can have really nice triggers, but the guns themselves are “clunkier”. While ridiculously strong, the Ruger cast frames tend to be much bigger and beefier than the corresponding S&W (or Colt). They are heavy to carry. The flatter backstraps of the new model Ruger DA revolvers like the GP100, SP101 and Super Redhawk help with felt recoil. The grip “post” also makes customizing grip sizes a snap. In the Ruger single actions, the “Bisley” grip frame helps tame felt recoil by a great deal. Ruger single action revolvers flat out rock.

    In double action revolvers, I prefer S&W. The S&W design has stood the test of time, parts are plentiful and the guns are very easy to work on.

    Reliability and durability.

    Revolvers in general are much less reliable than semi auto pistols. The popular opinion is that revolvers are idiot proof and can’t be “jammed”. This is dead wrong, and unfortunately has been repeated so often that most believe it to be true. Here is why.

    Revolvers are an “open action” firing mechanism with many nooks and crannies where dirt and debris can hide. But each of those nooks and crannies is there for a reason. They hold various parts in place or are “ratchet stops” for other moving parts. When they are clogged with dirt, powder, sand, lint, etc the gun does not function right. A few flakes of unburned gun powder underneath the ejector star of a DA revolver can take it out of the game by not allowing the cylinder to rotate correctly. Or unburned powder under the crane (the hinge on which the cylinder swings out) can keep the cylinder from closing completely and will take it out of action. How about a bent crane? (Never flip open/closed the cylinder on a DA revolver as it tends to bend the crane. This is called “Five-O’ing”). How about an ejector rod that comes unscrewed minutely either locking the cylinder open, or closed? Or a bent ejector rod? (One good pistol whipping can bend the rod). Bent ejector rods led to the adoption of protective shrouds that cover the rod, but if anything gets jammed into this shroud the gun won't work. These are all things that I have seen take a revolver out of action, but this list of frailties is far from complete.

    The Sand Box Test.

    The sand box test (or Box Test) is when a (loaded) firearm is dropped into a box filled with sand, or dirt, or flour, or any other medium. Then, more sand is poured over the gun and the box is shaken for a few seconds to get the sand everywhere. After this, the gun is removed, shaken off and fired.

    Revolvers tend to fail the “sand box” test almost every time. Decent quality semi autos tend to pass the “sand box” test with flying colors. Semi auto pistols shed the sand better and keep working better than revolvers. This test also demonstrates the problems with over lubricating, as any sand that sticks to exposed lube will not shake free. Then when the gun is “worked” the sand gets into areas where it will “jam” up the action.

    Anything that hinders the rotation of the cylinder of a revolver will cause it to stop working. Anything that keeps the cylinder from locking up at the right place (timing) can affect its ability to fire. Something as simple as lint from a pocket or purse can stop a revolver from working. It does not take sand to stop a revolver.

    Accuracy.

    Revolver chambers are not a part of the barrel. They are contained inside the rotating cylinder, and each chamber will vary slightly from it's neighbors. There is a minute gap between the cylinder face and the rear of the barrel (the forcing cone). So every time the gun is fired, the bullet “jumps” the gap from the chamber to the barrel. Technically speaking, this should seriously affect accuracy, but a high quality revolver will be very accurate. The sights on revolvers are fixed to the barrel and frame, essentially locked down. Semi auto pistols have a one piece chamber and barrel, but most of them have the sights mounted on the slide which is a separate unit from the barrel. I don’t find (practical) accuracy to be an issue with revolvers, compared to semi autos, though technically the semi auto will be more accurate.

    Longevity.

    Here is one area where revolvers may really shine. If a revolver is left fully loaded (and not cocked) all of the springs are at rest. Hypothetically it could be left for 1,000 years and as long as the powder and primers were still active and the metal had not rusted away it could be picked up and fired. Semi autos have a weakness that revolvers don’t have. They rely on the spring tension in the magazine to feed the gun. Now, I have used 1911 mags that were left loaded for 50 years and they worked perfectly, so in a practical sense this may not be an issue. And springs today are vastly better than they were 50 years ago. It is repeated loading and unloading of magazines that wear out the springs, not leaving them loaded for long periods. But the revolver is almost "spring neutral".

    Calibers.

    Revolvers traditionally handle magnum calibers that are not used in mainstream semi autos. While semi autos (LAR, Coonan, Desert Eagles, Wildey, AMT Automag, etc) have been chambered in magnum calibers, most magnum calibers are found in revolvers. And the versatility to handle non-magnun calibers in some magnum revolvers allows revolvers to be efficiently used for self defense as well as hunting (.44Mag/.44Special, .357Mag/.38Special, etc).

    Cycling speed (Speed of operation)

    A double action revolver is faster to operate than a semi auto pistol. Yes, faster.

    Semi autos rely on the expanding gasses of the fired round to cycle the action. While this happens extremely fast, it is still relying on inertia to cycle the gun every time it is fired.

    A double action revolver uses a purely mechanical linkage. It can cycle as fast as the trigger is pulled. Ed McGivern was an exhibition shooter and the fastest pistol shooter in the world. He used S&W "N" frame revolvers for all of his exhibition shooting. He once decided to try a 1911, but found that he could not get his trigger finger to go slow enough to allow the gun to "catch up". He found the 1911 to operate in slow motion, and went back to his revolvers. And Ed McGivern's revolvers were stock. Just the way they came from S&W.

    Operation.

    S&W uses a latch that gets pushed forward to unlock the cylinder, allowing it to swing open for loading/unloading.
    Colt has a latch that gets pulled to the rear.
    Ruger has a button that gets pushed straight into the frame.
    Charter Arms has a series of revolvers designed for left handed shooters. They have the cylinder latch on the right side, convenient for southpaws, and the cylinder swings out on the left side.
    Some revolvers (Webleys, some H&R's, and some old S&W's) have frames that "break open" on top and have an "auto eject" feature for the empties. But these are not "mainstream" designs.

    They all work fine and are easy to learn. The S&W latch tends to have sharp edges, though, making it easy to slice open the thumb if the gun is held wrong, or mis-handled during reloading.

    Loading.

    Loading can be done with individual rounds, speed strips, moon/half moon clips, and speed loaders. Each has pros and cons. The moon/half moon clips are typically used to fire rounds without protruding rims in revolvers (9mm, .45ACP, 10mm).

    My preferred method of carrying spare revolver ammo is in Speed Strips. The ones I use are made by Bianchi and are made of a hard rubber. They hold 6 rds in a straight line, and they fit very flat in my pocket.

    Many shooters use speed loaders. These are little gizmos that hold a full charge of fresh ammo, which can be used to reload all the chambers of a revolver in one smooth motion. Safariland makes some of the most used and liked speedloaders (push straight in to drop the ammo), though I prefer the HKS (twist the knob to drop the ammo) which have fallen out of favor. The old Dade Machine Screw speedloaders were awesome, though they did often dump the rounds prematurely (they used a small coil spring to hold the rounds). They were best used by someone really experienced in their use.

    Moon/Half Moon clips are fast! The whole clip drops into the cylinder and gets cycled through. When ready to eject, the empties come out as one complete unit (moon), or two separate units (half moon). Some "third moon" clips were made that hold two rounds. Third/Half/Moon clips are used with rimless calibers.

    If loading individual rounds, I suggest learning to load two at a time. Practice makes perfect.

    This was by no means a thorough discussion of revolvers, but is a good start. Learning to run a DA revolver hard takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. For serious use, get in the habit of using double action at all times. Target shooting or hunting can benefit from a crisp single action trigger pull, but in a life or death situation the single action pull is too light. The resistance of a smooth DA pull will actually help you create good muscle memory/habit.

    Used police trade ins are a good source of affordable DA revolvers, though supplies are running out. Get them before they are all gone and you are lamenting "the good old days".

    Revolvers are archaic and outdated, but I love them. 20 more years and they could be the new "black powder resurgence".

    So, did anyone actually read this?
     
  2. RadioActiV

    RadioActiV New Member

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    I liked it, great read! Look forward to another one if you get the chance.
     

  3. danf_fl

    danf_fl Retired Supporter

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    "Revolvers are archaic and outdated..."
    Is the only thing I disagree with. That falls in the area of "Sophia Loren is archaic and outdated."
    There have been innovations galore in the last 20 years for revolvers. True, the basic design of a revolver is is "archaic", but not "outdated".

    Some applications the revolver is used for the semi-auto just cannot compete with.

    The revolver is just another platform, used to guide a projectile's flight to the intended target (and it still does a great job at that).

    An example of "outdated" is using lath and plaster on interior abode walls. That technique is of no use today,and is "outdated", unlike Sophia Loren or the revolver.
     
  4. doctherock

    doctherock New Member

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    Good info, thanks. Revolvers are still good in my book and another good thing is you dont have to worry bout the fail to feed or the stovepipe. Bonus!!!!
     
  5. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    But lath and plaster is the only way to go, Dan......

    Seriously though, I love revolvers. If a magnum is needed they are the shizzle. But carrying a 5 shot .38 makes no sense if an 11 shot 9mm is handy. That is what I meant by "outdated". And I have at least a couple of 2" 5 shot .38's.
     
  6. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    Semi auto failures are fast and easy to fix. Revolver failures are not.

    A semi auto is far more reliable in a general sense. And far more durable across the board. Far more things to go wrong with a revolver than with a semi auto.
     
  7. MAGNUM44

    MAGNUM44 New Member

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    Revolvers

    I find no con's with any revolvers :d
     
  8. danf_fl

    danf_fl Retired Supporter

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    Trying not to ramble, but...
    We had a course of fire that involved a semi-auto and revolver.
    Rounds for each were laying in a box mixed up.
    People discovered they can grab the revolver rounds, load, and move on versus grab the semi-auto rounds, feed the mag (correctly), finally load the handgun, then move on.

    Revolvers excell in some applications that semi-autos cannot (rat shot, for example).
    I have my share of revolvers, and enjoy them, and rely on them as part of my SD/SHTF package.
    Archaic design, yes. Outdated design, no.
    When I think of "Outdated", I equate that to "not of any use anymore" (like the motor hand crank of the Model T).
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
  9. NGIB

    NGIB New Member

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    Good read, nicely done!

    One of the truly critical factors is revolvers are just damned pretty. This is an older Colt Trooper Mk III and is a really smooth shooter...

    [​IMG]
     
  10. spittinfire

    spittinfire New Member Supporter

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    Good read. Thanks for sharing.
     
  11. lonyaeger

    lonyaeger New Member

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    I did! Very well done, M14!
     
  12. IGETEVEN

    IGETEVEN New Member

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    Great information and informative read there Rock. :cool:

    Everyone who owns firearms should have at least one or more wheel guns in their stable. Simple, straight forward and almost always, very dependable guns IMHO.
     
  13. IGETEVEN

    IGETEVEN New Member

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    Very informative read Rock.

    You can almost make some revolvers fit in the rifle section, bro! :D;)

    [​IMG]
     
  14. CA357

    CA357 New Member Supporter

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    This should be a sticky in the revolver section. Well done. :cool:
     
  15. igordog

    igordog New Member

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    I found this to be very interesting information. As someone who is just learning about guns, wants to get a pistol permit and possibly a revolver someday, it's good for me to know as much as possible BEFORE I commit to anything. Thanks for putting it up.

    *EDIT-One thing I wonder about is the "sandbox test". If the revolver that I choose will be well taken care of and maintained, and never dropped into a box of sand or flour, does this really make a difference?
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
  16. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    Thanks Dave. I have the identical Trooper and loved it. Ended up trading it to a guy for an old Colt SP1.

    And I agree about the "pretty".
     
  17. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    Igor, it does not matter at all if you keep your revolver clean and take care of it. But almost everyone believes that a DA revolver is immune to malfunctions, and that is just plain false.

    I sometimes carry my S&W M15 while ripping around the dez in the dust, sand and grit on dirt bikes or ATV's. Even in a holster that covers the entire cylinder, it will still be "gritty" at the end of the day. If it was exposed to that for a couple of days in a row (without cleaning) it would lock up. So at every stop, I take it out and blow/wipe it off.
     
  18. M14sRock

    M14sRock New Member

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    Uh....yeah.....that must be why it somehow got moved to the rifle section????????
     
  19. crossfire

    crossfire New Member

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  20. canebrake

    canebrake New Member

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