Revolver malfunctions?


May 3, 2006, 04:28 AM
Okay, I'll admit it...I'm more of an autoloader guy :eek: . At least in terms of my firearms knowledge. I know all about stovepipes, failures to feed, etc, etc.

What kind of malfunctions do revolvers undergo?

Also, I've heard revolvers are more reliable than autoloaders...but how much more so? How often if ever have you had a revolver 'jam' or malf?

If you enjoyed reading about "Revolver malfunctions?" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
May 3, 2006, 04:39 AM
When revolvers go down, they go down hard. But, contrary to what a lot of the autochucker guys think, this is usually a result of parts breakage. Revolvers are no more or less prone to actual breakage than automatics.

As for "jams", there really aren't a lot of ways for a revolver to jam. If you have an overpressure round, you might have to pound the ejector rod. If you don't eject properly (muzzle up), you might get brass going under the ejector star, and this can be a minor pain to right (really bad at a critical time). But then, you wouldn't hold an auto upside down and try to eject the magazine, either.

If you get some crud under the extractor star, you can possibly prevent the cylidner from closing, but this is fairly easy to avoid (and can be fixed with some water, usually).

By their nature, though, revolvers can't have failures to feed. Failures to extract/eject are easily avoidable as well, since these operations are done manually.

On the other hand, an automatic won't go out of time. But it takes a lot of beating for a well-made modern revolver to get to this point.

May 3, 2006, 10:13 AM
The most frequent revolver malfunction I've seen has been the ejector rod unscrewing during double action.

Every year, my club has a one handed, double action only revolver league. Typically, the first match of the season has at least one (usually more if people bring new guns) person tie his gun up by having the ejector rod unscrew. This will lock the gun up tight. If you can get the cylinder open, the way to fix this temporarily is to clear the gun, then close the cylinder and snap it double action while holding your thumb down on the ejector rod. The long term fix is to clean the gun and use some non-aggressive LocTite.

May 3, 2006, 10:58 AM
The only time other than a comletely, and I mean comletely worn out gun, Failure to fire on a revolver I ever saw, was on a S&W my brother got used at a local gun store. The gun was fairly new and had been shot very little. It would fire single action ok, but light hits on double action causing intermittent failure to fire. Took it to a smith, found out that previous owner did his own "Trigger Pull Job" by cutting coils out of the hammer spring. Relaced it and it is as dependable as Old Faithful.

May 3, 2006, 08:58 PM
Another relatively common malfunction is buildup around the forcing cone and on the face of the cylinder tying up the cylinder and preventing it from rotating. This is more of an issue in revolvers with very tight cylinder/barrel gaps.

I read an article the other day in which a supposed expert said that the barrel/cylinder gap on his S&W 29 was 0.006" which was, according to him, "way over factory specs". First of all, I called S&W about a 629 revolver some time ago and spoke with three technicians over a period of two days. All of them said that 0.004" to 0.010" was within spec. Second, the author was blaming this "way over spec" gap for unacceptable accuracy--I have several revolvers, NONE of which have a cylinder/barrel gap less than 0.006" and all of which shoot quite accurately, thank you. Furthermore, even folks pickier than the factory generally agree that up to 0.007" is acceptable.

Anyway, the author of the article had a gunsmith tighten the gap to 0.002". I'll bet he can't get through 50 rounds of lead bullet ammo before enough lead fouling builds up on the cylinder face and forcing cone to fill up that tiny gap and tie up the revolver until he brushes things out.

That's fine for him, but I wonder how many people out there read the article, drug out their feeler gauges and called the factory or their gunsmiths. And I wonder how many of them are going to have the gap set down to "nuttin" and then be hacked off when the find out that they can't get through a box or two of ammo without cleaning the cylinder face...

May 3, 2006, 09:05 PM
I have seen uncrimped handloads have the bullet back out a bit during recoil and jam the cylinder. And seen the ejector rod come loose and jam a gun that had about 10,000 rounds through it. And I've had fouling make it very tight and difficult to turn the cylinder and eject empties. And I had a mainspring break on a blackhawk. Revolvers don't fail often but when they do it's not something you are going to clear quiclky.

May 3, 2006, 11:03 PM
In nearly 30 years of revolver shooting I have seen 3 malfunctions:

1. Powder residue build up under the extractor causing the cylinder not to close.
2. Bullet jumping the crimp under heavy recoil loads (hand loads only).
3. Non-powder charged hand load, causing bullet to lodge in the barrel.

Please note, number 2 & 3 were due to faulty handloads, number 3 is a rarity, seen only once. Are revolvers more reliable than autos? Absoutely, I have owned both for nearly 30 years.

May 4, 2006, 01:27 AM
Nothing is certain as long as screwdrivers are widely available to wannabe gunsmiths. But a good S&W or Ruger DA wheelgun is as close to foolproof as any tool gets, as long as the extractor star recess is kept clean and dry and the ejector rod loc-tited.

There is a lot of experience behind the old saying, "Six for sure".

Most of my semiautos now are Garands.

May 4, 2006, 10:01 AM
I guess I can add one from personal experience: the center cylinder pin sticking, and therefore not locking the cylinder in place. This will prevent a revolver from firing--at least, I would hope it does!

I have a thread ("my wheelie done busted") on it, but the bottom line is it's a parts-breakage issue.

Peter M. Eick
May 5, 2006, 07:39 AM
The problems I have had....

1) Bolt spring broke so the cylinder did not stop when the hammer was cocked
2) Bolt screw head broke, so the cylinder did not stop when the hammer was cocked.
3) Unscrewed ejector rod, then the cylinder would not turn.
4) loose side plate screws, jammed up the trigger
5) Buildup on the cylinder face, jammed up the cylinder so it would not turn.

Thats all I can think of off the top of my head.

May 5, 2006, 07:54 AM
Another relatively common malfunction is buildup around the forcing cone and on the face of the cylinder tying up the cylinder and preventing it from rotating. This is more of an issue in revolvers with very tight cylinder/barrel gaps.

I had that happen once on a Ruger Security Six. I sent it back to the factory, and they returned it with a note that said they had reset the barrel/cylinger gap.

That's the only time I ever saw revolver malfunction.

May 7, 2006, 07:25 PM
I've had intermittant failure to fire due light primer strikes when the mainspring strain screw somehow became loose on my S&W K Frame.

May 7, 2006, 09:08 PM
What kind of malfunctions do revolvers undergo?

My own experience over the last 35 years...

1) Cattleman SAA type with a broken trigger spring
2) Ruger Redhawk with light firingpin strikes
3) S&W Bodyguard that somehow got pinched or something and the hammer wouldn't come back
4) Ruger Security Six with a loose Ejection Rod
5) S&W Chief's Special where the crane started coming out. That screw was loose... I had NO idea it would do that. :)
6) Goofy little Rossi Revolver where the cylinder would just... spin and spin... open or closed.
7) Ruger Single Six where something inside broke and I couldn't cock it. This happened twice, exact same thing.
8) Something broke with a Charter Arms revolver... I forget what it was, but they fixed it.
9) Uberti SAA in 44-40 that wouldn't chamber rounds... right out of the box. Sent it to the warranty place where they did a Bubba Fix. :P I still have the piece and it shoots 'ok'

That's about it. ;)


May 7, 2006, 10:42 PM
I bought a used S&W M67 that had peened cylinder notches. During DA firing the cylinder wouldn't lock up and the hammer would strike outside the primer. In single action everything still worked okay.

A trip back to the factory and a C-note later, my gun is performing flawlessly.

Lt. B
May 10, 2006, 01:33 PM
I got one for ya. Ive got a Dan Wesson model 15 I just acquired and have had to the range once so far. On two occasions the cyl. failed to advance. Im not sure why yet. Ive got to do a good cleaning and shoot some more. Nearest I can figure is trash. Works flawlessly unloaded.

dog repellant
August 12, 2010, 05:10 AM
At 1:56-end , the robber waves a gun, looks like a revolver, at the clerk. The gun goes off, and explodes, killing the robber, and wounding the clerk.

I think its rare that revolvers malfunction, but I have heard of failure to ignite cartridges (soft strike or worn hammer), or penetrating primers (could burn the shooting hand?)

August 12, 2010, 09:00 AM
I can only speak from my experience...

During my career as a Small Arms Marksmanship Training Unit Instructor, over the course of 16 years (before I was off the line and mostly filling NCOIC duties) of providing range training with the USAF issue (at that time) Smith & Wesson Model 15 (Combat Masterpiece) in .38 Special, shooting PGU-13 ball ammunition, I saw first hand *ONE* instance of the ejector rod backing out and momentarily halting firing.

To put this in perspective, we had about 50 M15's in daily rotation being used by folks from all across the base. Most of these trainees had little experience and the weapons were occasionally dropped, snapped shut, casually dropped onto the shooting benches and generally abused. They were cleaned more or less every time they were fired, again with less than the care you give your personal firearms. These once proud pieces of gunmaking art were in short, dogs. We would go over them after each class to ensure they were not coming apart.

I personally saw roughly 8 *million* rounds fired through these M15's over the course of my career, not including all of the shooting I did myself and during the PPC matches I used to compete in.

One out of eight million rounds.

If you want reliability, pick a quality and un-tampered with revolver.

gun guy
August 12, 2010, 12:00 PM
Witnessed revovler malfuntions: Colt Anacoda series: misfires due to poor elevator arm reach/poor cylinder tolerance. After 3 rounds were fired, the remaining 3 loaded cylinders were heavier. an elevator/cylinder mismatch prevented the weapon from "lifting" the next loaded cylinder into firing position. Returned to Colt 3 times for repair.
Model 27 S&W: Failure to fire due to debris in trigger mechanism. Bench repair/remove side plate, spray clean, spray rem-oil, replace side plate.
Charter Arms Bulldog: (357) Fire stoppage after hot handload bent the cylinder pin, cylinder failed to rotate. Bench repair/tear down, inspect, r&r pin. advise owner on load limits.
Colt Diamondback: Fire stoppage after hot handload caused barrel/cylinder misalignment. returned to Colt. Repair was free however owner got a sternly worded letter.
Colt Trooper MKIII: (357) Fire stoppage when the empty case from a factory loaded round, partially ejected from the cylinder. all the rounds in that lot were to spec. Contact with Colt, and the ammo manufacturer failed to find any reason for the malfuntion. put it in the unsolved mysteries catagory. Range fix. With some effort the cylinder was opened, the bent/fractured case extracted, weapon resumed fire.
H&R top break: Fire stoppage due to broken firing pin. Due to the age of the weapon/parts availability weapon was retired to the parts box.
like the above post, this is over 50 years and untold 100's/1,000's of weapons/ammo fired. 6 revolver malfuntions is a pretty small percent.

August 12, 2010, 12:17 PM
I've had one instance of the ejector rod unscrewing, and that didn't keep it from firing the six. Pretty easy fix.

I had one Colt mainspring break on a Detective Special, but that was after fifty years of use.

I've had some beat up Colt DA's with minor timing issues, but that didn't keep them from shooting.

I had a very beat up Security Six that had cylinder lockup from time to time but a trip back to the factory fixed it.

I had a Taurus .45 Colt snub with the b/c gap spacing issues that would start to grind, if not actually lock up. Trip back to the factory fixed it.

August 12, 2010, 07:49 PM
Smith & Wesson's internal "safety" lock system failure that can't be fixed without a tear down.

August 12, 2010, 08:02 PM
I have had S&W ejector rods unscrew, locking the cylinder.
Crud under the extractor, causing the cylinder to stop turing.
Carbon build up between the cylinder and barrel, preventing the cylinder from turning.
Internal part break in a Colt Cobra, locking up the action.
Have seen a hand break in a S&W. Broken firing pins in several S&W revolvers. A lock that engaged while firing a S&W model 629.

The Lone Haranguer
August 12, 2010, 08:17 PM
There is a difference betweed stoppages and jams, although the terms are often used interchangeably. A stoppage is a malfunction that can be quickly cleared using only one's hands. A jam is a malfunction that puts the gun out of action until it can be worked on with tools. Most autoloader malfunctions are stoppages, most revolver malfunctions are jams. Put another way, while a revolver may have a slight edge in cycle reliability over some pistols, when they malfunction, they really break. Study the lockwork of a typical double action revolver - especially an older Colt - and you will find they may be simple for the user to operate, but internally they are very complex.

August 12, 2010, 09:02 PM
Would it be safe to say that the newer, modern, simpler Ruger design might have an edge in overall life? (I'm saying this and I like SWs just as much)

August 12, 2010, 09:26 PM
To my mind, an Ejector Rod unscrewing during firing, is a Maintenance neglect issue...where, the Shooter or other personel had not made sure the Rod was 'tight'.

I believe at one time, S&W Ejector Rods screwed in the opposite direction that they do now, thus alleviating even that possibility, since the Rod would self-tighten, rather than loosen and unscrew when firing, if not tight.

Insufficient Crimp or Bullet retention in the Cartridge Case, while inconvenient in a Revolver, can be a disaster in an Autoloader, when the Bullet too deeply Seats on chambering, causing a loading density condition which can generate very high pressures.

It might not be fair to attribute Ammunition problems as if they were somehow related to inherent design or function issues of the Guns themselves though.

High Primers of re-loads can make for a heavy pull or a Cylinder which resists normally actuated rotation, in Revolvers.

Far as I recall, I have never seen a Revolver malfunction...though one time years ago, my S&W Model 36 did do the Ejector Rod Cylinder won't swing out jam, because I had never known to check it for tightness when doing routine Oiling and cleaning.

I just figured that was my fault...not the Revolver's.

John Wayne
August 12, 2010, 09:35 PM
It is also worth noting that while a revolver may prove unreliable, the cause of these problems usually manifests itself right away. If you go to the range and something's not right with your revolver, you'll generally know it before you finish shooting the first cylinder through it.

With an autoloader, it may take several hundred rounds for a problem to surface. But then again if you needed the gun, I'd much rather it fire several hundred rounds first :D

Lee Roder
August 12, 2010, 09:45 PM
broken studs will cripple a revolver - one trigger stud and one hammer stud here

August 12, 2010, 10:10 PM
Model 60 (no dash). I purchased this one new in 1974, and its been flawless ever since. Only revolver I have ever carried. Regarded it as totally reliable

At the range Monday, firing 158gr reloads (Trail Boss, 600 fps). Had fired maybe 30 rounds when, after two shots, it locked up tighter than a tick. Quick check, B/C gap good, no pulled bullets. All cases that I could get to wiggled free from the recoil shield. Could not open the cylinder. Wait a minute - the cylinder release is all the way forward. Pulled it back and I was able to cock and fire, so at least was able to fire the last 3.

Obviously, something in the cylinder release mechanism has broken. So much for revolver reliability, glad I wasn't in a gunfight!

Pulled the sideplate and the problem was obvious. The bolt had broken. And this was no MIM part!

BTW, the only auto breakage I ever experienced was a 1911A1 when I was in the Army back in the day. And, it was during qualification. Luckily, I was almost through the course and still managed to qualify as expert.

Image taken "before" the incident.

August 12, 2010, 10:28 PM
At 1:56-end , the robber waves a gun, looks like a revolver, at the clerk. The gun goes off, and explodes, killing the robber, and wounding the clerk.
It didn't explode; that was an accidental bump fire. The revolver was held loosely enough that when the robber shot the clerk (possibly an ND, hard to tell), the revolver rotated back in his hand until it was pointed at himself, and he accidentally pulled the trigger a second time as it rotated.

Here's a example of that happening a little more clearly on video, thankfully with no injuries this time. It requires a hard recoiling revolver, inexperience, and a light trigger, and it's extremely rare for anyone to get hurt, but it can happen.

BTW, anyone who hands a hard-kicking firearm to a novice for them to shoot and be overwhelmed by, because they think it is "funny", is contemptible. This clown almost killed his girlfriend due to HIS stupidity.

August 13, 2010, 12:51 AM
And I've had fouling make it very tight and difficult to turn the cylinder and eject empties.

This is the only problem I've encountered over the last 20 years with revolvers, with the exception of a 629 that I beat to death and had rebuilt. I only shoot reloads, so fouling could be due to poor powder choice, incomplete burning of the powder in the barrel etc. Some powders are more "sooty" than others. A few weeks back while shooting two new GP100s, both got a bit tight after 15 or 20 rounds of my reloads (H110 powder). At one point I couldn't advance the cylinder of the 3" either in double action or single action. Fouling under the ejector star and in the chambers appeared to be the problem. A clean revolver with good ammunition is just about as reliable as any machine can be.


August 13, 2010, 04:32 AM
During a class I taught last year two different, relatively new, J frame S&W's revolvers stopped functioning. One had the fired cases expand so much that we couldn't get the cylinder open. This happened a few times and the last time it was so hard to pound the cylinder open that I pulled the gu from the line for the rest of the day.

The second gun would "lock up" where you couldn't pull the trigger without first rotating the cylinder by hand. I had to pull that gun also.

Nothing mechanical is perfect.

If you enjoyed reading about "Revolver malfunctions?" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!