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Revolver Reliability Vs Semi-auto

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by USBP1969, Aug 12, 2011.

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  1. USBP1969

    USBP1969 Member

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    Howdy.

    I am submitting this post to both the Revolver and Semi-auto forums since I would really like to hear from both those who favor semi-autos as well as those who favor revolvers. (I hope the moderators will allow this.)

    Question: As stated in the title, I am asking for input in regards to the comparative reliability of semi-autos to that of wheel guns. I ask this question in good faith because 15 years of being a full-time firearms instructor as well as having conducted 5 years of qualification in the field has caused me to come away with a jaundiced view of semi-auto reliability.

    The mitigating factor is that this experience (seeing both types shot side by side) was accumulated between 1990 and 2004.

    So, now in the year 2011, after 7 more years of development, I’d like to ask how they compare for reliability in a civilian and law enforcement environment?

    Respectfully,
    -kent
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
  2. valnar

    valnar Member

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    I fail to see how any semi-auto can be more reliable than a revolver. It can be as reliable, but I'd love to see the arguments about more from my fellow THR members.

    subscribed for curiosity.
     
  3. F-111 John

    F-111 John Member

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    Well, I've never had to 'tap, rack, bang' my S&W Model 19.

    But I did have a 'failure to eject' with it once. Early in it's life the ejector rod backed out enough during shooting that it jammed the cylinder closed. Had a heck of a time getting it open again. But it's never happened since.
     
  4. Broker

    Broker Member

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    It's been said that everyone has an opinion. Well, I have one.

    Been shooting a long time, I've actually had more issues with revolvers than autos. Sure I've had a few ( surprisingly few ) tie-ups with autos, mostly failure to feed, & stovepipes. But, these problems were easy to clear, as in tap, rack, bang. I've had many more revolvers tie up so badly that I needed a soft face hammer to open the cylinder. It seemed to be worse back in the "pinned & recessed" times, in Magnum calibers, & interestingly enough 22 LR. I believe it had much to do with tight tolerances, & the cylinder heating & expanding, doing away with tolerance. JMO.

    I've owned some very reliable wheelguns, & some that you could count on to shoot ony a few times. I've also had a few autos that were totally unreliable, kind of a "crapshoot", just have to shoot whatever you have to determine it's reliability.

    Everone can make their own choice, I shoot revolvers for fun, & when I don't want to bother to pick-up fired cases, but I carry autos almost exclusively. That's just my opinion, based upon my own experience.
     
  5. Snowbandit

    Snowbandit Member

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    Both a revolver and auto-pistol is nothing more than a collection of levers, springs, pins and tubes. It's a machine and machines wear out, get out of adjustment and break over time or with use. Taken by itself, as a machine, I believe either type to be equally reliable today. The difference is that a revolver is a complete machine in and of itself. The trigger is pulled, the cylinder turns, the hammer falls and the cycle is ready to begin again. To the revolver machine we add ammunition but nothing within the machine itself changes. An automatic can not fully function without ammo therefore the ammo is a necessary part of the machine. An ammunition failure within a revolver is just that, an ammunition failure. It doesn't stop or change the machine and we just pull the trigger again. Ammo failure in an auto, where it is part of the machine, stops the machine.

    Again, there is little or no difference in reliability between revolvers and automatics of equal quality. Either can break something at any time and become non-functioning and this type of event is equally rare with either type. Any differences are more related to their owners care and feeding than to their inherent reliability.
     
  6. Bearhands

    Bearhands Member

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    +1 ....... and VERY well said!
     
  7. valnar

    valnar Member

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    @Broker,
    Wow. I've never had an issues with my revolvers. I suppose I should consider myself lucky.
     
  8. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    Revolvers can certainly jam up, and sometimes completely fail. Some examples from my own shooting include:

    A Security Six ejector rod unscrewing itself (though that did not prevent firing the first six).

    A Colt DS mainspring breaking

    An Italian SAA knockoff mainspring breaking

    An abused Ruger Security Six that would pierce primers

    Handloads that would not chamber in tight revolver chambers

    Some of these instantly ended the shooting, but they're rare considering how many thousands of rounds I've shot from revolvers over the years.

    Semis, OTOH, have more minor issues. FTF, stovepipes, and so on. They are more sensitive to how they're held while firing. And you can get away with less variation in rounds.

    But so long as you know these issues going in, hold the pistol correctly and have a quality piece, it is unlikely to have any serious reliability problems.
     
  9. Guillermo

    Guillermo member

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    I have had issues with both...but not in a while.

    The thing to understand is that autos have gotten very reliable.

    The few bottom-feeding brass-chuckers that I own are almost all as dependable as gravity (.22s being the exception)

    Not that many years ago, autos were trouble waiting to happen.

    This is a verbose way to say "the gap has closed appreciably or completely)
     
  10. moxie

    moxie Member

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    Ejector rods unscrewing themselves are I think the most common failure mode for revolvers. This can be prevented in most cases by taking the time occasionally to check and make sure it's tight. If it is a problem, the tiniest dab of blue Loctite will cure it. I encountered this the very fist time I qualified on the Combat Masterpiece in the Air Force. The instructor advised me of the above. Good advice.

    Some of the newer generation of autos seem to be more reliable overall than their predecessors. These include the Glocks, the S&W M&Ps, etc. Note I said "seem" and "overall" so please don't anyone go high dudgeon on me. (I like 1911s too!)
     
  11. PRM

    PRM Member

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    Now that's funny!!!:what:
     
  12. sgt127

    sgt127 Member

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    My thoughts, posted before:

    Very rarely does a gun not fire the round that is chambered. Be it a dud round, broken firing pin etc, those occur at random to either revolvers or autos, and, I might add, very rarely.

    Auto's jam during two phases of operation. While feeding a live round or ejecting a spent round. So, lets say you have a 15 shot 9mm, there are 30 chances for something to go wrong during one string of fire. Once during each feeding operation and once during each extraction/ejection operation.

    Most of them do that very well and, will rarely have a problem.

    On a revolver, the feeding and ejecting operation are performed prior to and after the festivities. During the string of fire, be it 5-6-7 or even 8 rounds, it cannot have a feeding or ejection problem. Period. If the case is oversized, you will notice it while you are loading it and reject that round, in an auto, it will fit in the mag, but, not in the chamber.

    Parts can break on either gun, again, rarely. You can shoot a revolver long enough to start gumming up the action, full of carbon, grit, whatever. An auto is MUCH more forgiving of that kind of abuse.

    However, if you lay down 100 clean, well maintained S&W Model 10 revolvers and, pick them up and fire those 600 rounds, I will bet you you will get 600 "bangs".

    If you line up 100 1911's, with six rounds each, I would bet the odds are that there will be one, or more failures to feed, eject and fire a round.

    I can set up a scenario to "prove" that the revolver is superior (I'll just take an auto and limp wrist it for every shot, or, push it into the target and get it out of battery a little) I can then set up a scenario to "prove" that the auto is superior. (I'll just slosh a revolver around in fine sand for awhile)

    The problem with an auto is that you may never know WHY that one round failed to get into, or out of the gun. It sometimes just does.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
  13. FIVETWOSEVEN

    FIVETWOSEVEN Member

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    Revolvers can jam but its ammunition is what causes it such as a primer not seated properly, if you get a misfire just pull the trigger again and bang on a different round. Semi Autos can jam by faulty ammo, bad magazines, or the gun not manufactured quite up to spec, Revolvers have more tolerance for defects.

    This being said, I carry a Semi auto and trust my life to it.
     
  14. marb4

    marb4 Member

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    Revolvers are generally more complex "machines" than semi auto pistols so one might assume they are more likely to malfunction due to their complexity. Revolvers, like any complex machine, can break and malfunction...

    HOWEVER - A revolver is not dependent on ammunition to function and thats its big advantage. Light loads, hot loads, round nose, hollow point, ect doesn't matter. Potential ammo feeding and cycling problems aren't there like they are with autoloaders and despite their complexity, breakage and malfunction are exceedingly rare. I've owned a number of semi auto pistols, most of which are very reliable, but I've had at least some stoppages with every one of them. Never any with my revolvers. On the rare occasion I get a dud round in a revolver, just squeeze the trigger again and your back in the game. No "tap/rack" drills...

    HOWEVER - if a revolver does malfunction and lock up there is no quick fix. You're pretty much done until it can be disassembled and fixed. Not good if you're defending your life.

    So to answer the question, if I had to defend my life or family and had a semi auto pistol and revolver sitting in front of me I would likely grab the revolver (not factoring in caliber). I've never had a revolver fail me but all of my autoloaders on rare occasions have (thankfully only when shooting paper bad guys). Most modern semi auto pistols are very reliable but no matter how good the gun, it can still be taken out of action with one bad round.
     
  15. moxie

    moxie Member

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    sgt127,
    Agree with everything you said up to the last bullet. You very often DO know why an auto fails to feed or eject. Bad mag, extractor messes up, etc., are all discrete, identifiable, reasons for malfunction. SOMETIMES (not never) the reason for a failure cannot be identified.
     
  16. marb4

    marb4 Member

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    I just saw your post. Excellent explanation. +1
     
  17. David E

    David E Member

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    I've never seen the issue of a hangfire brought up before.

    Granted, I've only had one in 100's of 1000's of rounds, so maybe it's moot. It had about a 1/2 to 3/4 second delay.

    In a semi auto, even if you pull the trigger again, nothing happens. You'll have time to go; "What the - BANG!"

    But, if you're rapid firing a revolver and get a hangfire on any but the last round, that chamber won't be aligned with the barrel when it goes off 1/2 second later. :eek:
     
  18. sgt127

    sgt127 Member

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    I agree with you. I added "may never know."

    Hows that?

    :)
     
  19. moxie

    moxie Member

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    sgt127,
    Real fine. Thx.

    moxie
     
  20. Dogguy

    Dogguy Member

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    I'm dredging a faulty memory here but this is what I've come up with.

    I've had a Dan Wesson shake itself apart and go out of time after two cylinders of S&W .357 Magnum ammo. Had to go to the gunsmith after that. I've had a Ruger SP101 totally jam up after 5 rounds when unburned powder or burned powder debris got caught under the ejector. Easily remedied by cleaning but would have been a little disconcerting in certain situations. I've had a S&W 642's cylinder decide to simply stop rotating. Another trip to the gunsmith.

    For autos I've owned in the last 20 years other than older 1911s, pocket pistols and .22s, I've had issues with a new SIG and a new Glock. Both issues were resolved immediately under warranty. Both guns continued to function but they were not hitting 100%. If you consider older 1911s, yeah...I've had numerous jams and failures with those. But I've never had a Glock, SIG or Ruger auto jam or fail to function. Those are the only brands of autos I currently own in "serious" calibers.

    That's been my experience based on what I can remember. I've owned revolvers for more years than autos so there may have been more revolver problems in the past--I just don't remember them right now. Basically, most revolvers and most autoloaders I've owned have been reliable. Your experiences may be different and cause you to develop another opinion. I'm fine with that.
     
  21. VA27

    VA27 Member

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    A quality firearm with the proper ammo is as close to 100% reliable as any machine ever made. The difference in reliability between the revolver and the semiauto (all things being equal) is so close as to be statistically insignificant.

    Pick what you like, keep it clean, feed it good ammo and get some training and there's not enough difference to talk about.
     
  22. Warp

    Warp Member

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    All else equal, or close to equal, a revolver is more reliable. This is especially true when you consider anything other than round nose FMJ. Once you start talking flat point, jacketed hollow point, SWC, etc, the revolver is hands down more reliable.

    I am the owner of two Glocks. I was trained on a Glock. I had a third Glock but I sent it back to the factory for failing to feed JHP reliably. Got it back and it FTRTB on JHP. Sent it back again requesting a different gun/model. I had a P3AT but it wasn't totally reliable so I sold it. I have spent a great deal of time from 2005-present on gun boards. The revolver is more reliable. It's that simple.


    Failure to feed? That's a semi auto problem, regularly...not a revolver problem.

    Extractor messes up? Yeah, that sounds like a semi auto problem as well.

    Bad mag? Yup...another possible semi auto problem.

    All of the most common failures are associated with semi autos. There is a reason for this.
     
  23. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    Warp, the problem with blank statements like yours is that it's not true. At least not always. I was the chief firearms instructor for my department, made up of 400+ armed personnel. About 40% carried revolvers (357 S&W) and 60% carried Colt GM 45 ACPs. In 6 years I saw more problems with the revolvers than with the autos. I am not claiming that is always the case, for every revolver or auto but that was my experience. Someone earlier said ammo can't jam up a revolver. Boy is that wrong. A squib load that lodges a bullet half way into the forcing cone or a primer that flows into the firing pin bushing will lock up a revolver until you get it to the gun smith or have the tools to fix it on the range. Tight barrel cylinder gaps (still with in minimum factory tolerance) can bind after a cylinder or two of lead bullet ammo. The backing out ejector has already been covered and there's more but the point is made.

    All the time the above was happening the vast majority of our Government Models just plain worked. Biggest problems I saw were lack of proper lubrication and poorly maintained magazines. Those I considered operator problems more than gun problems.

    Like I said earlier, I'm not saying my experience will be everyone's but in my last 6 years with the department that's what I saw. When I retired I ran my own firearms training business for 10 years. I won't get into what I saw there...it would take pages to cover. Suffice to say, everything can malfunction if you work at it hard enough! (LOL)

    Dave
     
  24. oldfool

    oldfool Member

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    I think the gap has closed up a bunch, with one caveat
    the majority of short/lite compact autoloaders are challenged by the laws of physics; reliability varies more model-to-model in those, IMO, than in full size autos
    (even if you choose to blame it on operator error, there is less margin for error)
    1911 full size service pistols they ain't
    (and too many full size are not "service" pistols these days, either)

    but as for the rest, sure they all can malfunction, and sometimes do
    but the autoloader has nowhere near the ammo tolerance that the revolver does
    even if certain you have chosen the optimal load for your gun, just one off spec round can mess you up.. significantly less likely with the wheelgun
    (happens, yes, happened to me ONCE with a wheelie, extra cheapo whitebox of especially poor quality, but still significantly less likely)
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
  25. wlewisiii

    wlewisiii Member

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    For informational purposes, let me provide a link to Grant Cunningham's article on a malfunction drill for revolver shooters.

    Revolver Malfunction Drill
     
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