What happened to top breaks?


August 16, 2009, 10:58 PM
I was giving my S&W New Departure Safety Hammerless a cleaning and started to think a modern version in 9mm would be a great pocket gun. A J frame based on the "Centennial" would be sweet. I know pressures are up there but another option would be a 45 GAP or plain old 45 ACP.
This topic was hashed out before here:
http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=79877 and discussed as one of S&W's top 12 here:
A 2" scaled for a 9mm(shorter cylinder than 38) DAO hammerless with a grip safety would be my idea of a great pocket gun.
I know that there are many pocket semi auto pistols on the market that would fit the bill but one thing about a revolver is if you pull the trigger and it just clicks all you need to do is pull the trigger again. My primary carry is a 3" Python (yes, the rare one, not the 2.5) for just that reason.
I still love my Colt 1911's and Beretta 92's but wanted to throw this out for comment. Modern metallurgy and CAD design should overcome the inherent weakness of the design. Combined with full moon clips it would be a theoretically faster reload time with out having to push an ejector rod or twist to release the rounds as with a speed loader. Opinions?

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August 16, 2009, 11:01 PM
It might be strong enough, but it would never be as strong as a solid frame. It would be a neat novelty. Uberti/Beretta make a replica Schofield. You might want to look at that.

August 16, 2009, 11:06 PM
I'm thinking small, hammerless as a pocket gun. Not like a Webly or Schofeild (but I'd like to have a Schofeild to go with my SAA & Blackhawk along with my BP.

August 16, 2009, 11:53 PM
Look at a revolver from this perspective. You are shooting a bullet out of the cylinder, and it flies across the cylinder gap and forcing cone, smacking with a tremendous impact into the origin of the rifling. There is a huge force pushing the barrel forward in relation to the cylinder. In a solid frame gun, no big deal.

Put a hinge at the lower front corner of the cylinder, and a latch at the top back corner, and you're in a whole new ballgame. That latch has to withstand the enormous impact of each bullet fired smacking the barrel forward, while the whole gun is rotating up in recoil, the case head is smashing into the frame, everything is going all whangy-sproingy at once.

It just doesn't work for more than very gentle pressures or very small bullets.

August 17, 2009, 12:28 AM
"whangy-sproingy" ? LOL :D I love it! :D

I read on some other site that top breaks just can't be made strong enough yet also easy to use and still hold up to the heavy pounding of bigger and more powerful rounds or even regular shooting with medium power rounds. Hence the reason you only see them in the smaller cartridge sizes and maybe the odd mid size/mid power ones. This is why they fell out of favour.

August 17, 2009, 01:59 AM
Yet, we have all have heard all the endless jive and asides about how 'modern Steels' are SOOOOOOOOOOO much better...(they are not, but, the question was and remains, what Steels and or Hardening/Tempering are used for what parts/applications...so...)


If they are, then "YES", they should be able to make and offer well designed Top-Breaks in Cartridges larger or peppier than .38 S&W or .44/.45 S&W.

S&W of course DID offer the big frame Top-Breaks in .44 Russian, and .45 S&W way back when...and those held up just fine...and that was the 1870s-1880s.

I like the idea...and I'd love to have a five-shot 'Hammerless' Pocket Model in
.45 ACP...and a mid-Frame one in 9mm Luger...


August 17, 2009, 07:40 AM
They are my favorite design. I'd buy a modern one in a heart beat. Any large caliber O.K. Anyone, anywhere know of such a thing?

Old Fuff
August 17, 2009, 09:09 AM
Part of the reason they lost popularity was that the only way to increase power was more black powder, and the ejector systems wouldnít work with longer cartridges in smaller guns, and making pocket pistols larger was not an option. Then as has been pointed out, the steel alloys which could be heat-treated we have today didnít exist at the time. Last but not least, for reasons that have been pointed out, the basic design is weaker.

Could one be made today using modern, but short cartridges? Yes, in fact the Russians made a prototype in .357 Magnum. But given the high cost of development and tooling vs. a very limited interest, itís unlikely that any manufacturer will come up with one except perhaps an ultra-small revolver using a cartridge of modest power.

I still carry a .38 S&W Safety Hammerless on occasion, but accept the obvious limitations. A .38 S&W bullet placed in a vital organ worked well in the past, and I donít see any reason it wouldnít now. The cartridge performance is in the .380 ACP ballpark, and .380 pistols are some of the most popular in the marketplace.

August 17, 2009, 08:29 PM
Thanks Old Fuff, I appreciate the 411 and the help in identifying my 5" pre M&P 32 Long a while back. Your comment brought the thought of "What happened to the Iver Johnson & H&R tooling for their Top Breaks?"
The ballistics of the 32 ACP and 380 look (on paper) to outperform the 32 S&W and 38 S&W. Combined with a polymer full moon clip it would make a retro or "old school" yet practical pocket revolver smaller than a J frame and more potent than a NAA Mini revolver. In fact, look at the NAA "The Earl", while based on their mouse guns, it requires more tooling to get that 1858 Remington look.
Just daydreaming in my ADD sorta way, I'd like to see small top breaks make a comeback.

August 17, 2009, 08:38 PM
All in all if someone came out with a top break that used 9mm full moon clips I'd be all over that if it was a decent gun in the other important ways as well. It's a short cartridge which would go well with the break action and it's a decently strong cartridge to satisfy the defense pundits (they'll argue about it but on the whole a goodly number at least accept 9mm :D) and yet it's not so strong that it'll tax the limitations of the design.

Would enough buy it to justify? Ah, now THERE'S the million dollar question. The big hinge up front and the massive latch needed at the rear where the sight lives tends to make a top break of any significant size look pretty massive compared to the typical hand ejector flip out pattern. If the issues with that could be solved then there's still the perception that hinges belong on cheap "saturday night specials" that often break where they aren't supposed to break.

Still, it would be neat to see.

August 17, 2009, 11:26 PM
Wonder if enough people wrote Ruger they would start making the SP101 9mm again, for that matter I want a .22lr also!

August 18, 2009, 07:30 PM
A major caliber top break could certainly be done. The problem is figuring out how to do the latch elegantly enough that somebody would actually buy it. I'm not much of a revolver guy but I'd buy a compact, five shot, top break in .45ACP. Looking at my dad's Iver Johnson it sure seems like moon clip reloads on a top-break would be terribly fast without much practice...

Old Fuff
August 18, 2009, 07:54 PM
Smith & Wesson made a Safety Hammerless style revolver, chambered in .44 Russian. Sadly they never produced it - probably because it was too big to fit in a pocket. This all happened back in 1886.

Webley .455 revolvers have been converted to .45 ACP (which may not be a good idea) and barrels shortened to as little a 1.750 inches - which is fine, but the gun is still BIG!

August 18, 2009, 09:31 PM
I've heard that the primary issue is due to the hinge on the bottom getting worn and rattly much faster than some of S&W's solid-frame options, as it not only has to endure opening and closing (and something tells me plenty of people snapped them shut one-handed), but also the added stresses of firing and extracting.

I'm waiting to see how those Beretta versions in .38 special hold up over time, as I've read that the .38 special was "too strong" for the top breaks of the 1890s when it was introduced.

August 19, 2009, 11:51 AM
I think another factor overlooked is the amount of hand fitting that went into the old S&W top-breaks.

Those days of skilled people & very low wages are gone, and you can't churn them out on a CNC mill with that kind of fitted parts precision.

Heck, S&W seems to be having trouble drilling holes in the right place for a crane to fit the frame properly on a swing-out cylinder now.

Also, a 38,500 PSI 9mm +P load is a far cry from a 14,000 PSI .44 Russian.


Jim K
August 19, 2009, 10:59 PM
Much talk about steels, but most of the old top break revolvers were not made of steel, they were made of cast iron or at best wrought iron. Even most better quality revolvers were not made of steel until around 1900. The Colt SAA frame, for example, was made of wrought iron up to around 1900 when they came out with the so-called "smokeless powder" frame, which was steel.

One drawback of iron (aside from strength) is that it can't be hardened, which is why those guns were case hardened to resist wear both from outside sources and from moving parts inside. The case colors were a nice by-product, but not the reason for the hardening.

As to a modern breaktop, there is simply no way to make a latch that won't eventually develop play and develop it a lot faster than a steel frame will stretch. The latch has to have some play if it is to open; and any play, even a tiny fraction of an inch, will allow a tiny amount of battering every shot and eventually make the gun useless.



August 21, 2009, 09:45 PM
A modern medium frame break top with the ability to change cylinders from 22 to 22 mag, or even the ability to swap the barrel and cylinder to .17 would be hot! They could be sold in pistol packs like the Dan Wesson revolvers.

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