Revolver Reliability

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Dave T, Jun 21, 2003.

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  1. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    A good revolver is more reliable/dependable than any semi-automatic. It is a mantra so carved in stone that I risk lightning bolts coming at me through the computer screen if I question this conventional wisodom. So - I'll just tell you what happened.

    Last November I switched from Glocks back to the 1911, which I had carried for over 20 years prior to my 4 year Glock experiment. I bought a Wilson KZ-45 which has subsequently fired over 2500 rounds, most of which were reloads but some JHPs testing for carry ammo function. It has not had a malfunction to date. In the same time period I have fired a little over 500 rounds through my current carry gun, a Kimber Compact Stainless Aluminum. That also includes test firing my carry HP ammo. It has not malfunctioned to date. I went through a shooting session of 150 rounds with each of two other 1911s, my old competition gun (a lightly customized 1959 Government Model Colt) and a Kimber Custom Royal. Neither of those guns malfunctioned.

    My wife is back to the 1911 from Glocks too, and I've seen her shoot several hundred rounds of both factory ammo and my reloads through her two carry Kimbers.

    I still like revolvers, particularly N-Frame Smith & Wessons. After teaching a class today I got out my 3.5" Model 27 357 Magnum revolver to do some test firing. I had three targets set up so I did a very casual "El Presedente", i.e. two shots on each, reload and then two more on each target. At least that's what I set out to do.

    After the first six rounds of "factory" 357 Magnum ammo I dumped the empties and reached for a speed loader with the same factory ammo. I filled the cylinder and tried to close it but it was tight. Thought I might have a tight chamber so I opened the cylinder and pushed each round in more firmly. I was then able to close the cylinder but it was so tight I couldn't pull the trigger in DA.

    I eventually emptied the gun, looked under the ejector star and found unburned granules of powder. A quick brush with the toothbrush from the shooting box and the gun worked as good as new, but...

    I only got off six rounds before the revolver MALFUNCTIONED to the point that it took me several minutes to clear it. Now I still like revolvers and will still own and shoot them for recreation, but I just don't believe this business about revolvers being more reliable than autos. Remember, six rounds and the revolver was jamed up tight. I put a minimum of 150 rounds of reloads through any one of several 1911s in a shooting session and I'm still waiting for a malfunction with the current guns we own.

    Were the powder granules under the ejector star a fluke? Sort of, but it can happen every time you eject the empties. Sorry but that just isn't anywhere as reliable as has been touted, time and time again.

    As always, YMMV!
     
  2. Mark IV Series 80

    Mark IV Series 80 Member

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    A similar failure happened to me..... the ejector rod unscrewed while I was firing an older S&W..... and I couldn't open the cylinder to remove the fired cases and re-load.
    At home, after working some time to get the cylinder free, I de-greased the threads and put Lok-Tite on the them and re-assembled.

    I've had more failures with semi-autos, though.
     
  3. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    Revolvers are not necessarily more reliable then pistols - especially in some environments. This is why all of the major, and most minor military forces in the world use autoloaders. However in most situations the pistol has a greater "potential" to jam because it depends on ejecting each fired case and then feeding a new cartridge from the magazine into the barrel. Most of the automatics that have problems are ones that have been "tricked out" and are a far cry from what the manufacturer made. Others, such as the 1911 Government Model (in all versions) require expert fitting that some companies don't really do anymore.

    Any handgun will offer advantages and disadvantages over other kinds. The trick is too pick which make and model best meets your needs.
     
  4. Gerald McDonald

    Gerald McDonald Member

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    What old fluff said. If its man made it will break or jam. Best be prepared for it.
     
  5. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    Keep the muzzle pointed up when you eject the empties and the chances of this happening are greatly reduced.

    I've never had this happen in nearly 30 years of shooting revolvers, going on 100,000 rounds, I'd say.
     
  6. P95Carry

    P95Carry Moderator Emeritus

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    A binding due to star is one of the most likely things to happen with the otherwise near perfect reliable wheel gun. High primers is another.

    Over a great many years and 1,000's of rounds shooting revo's in competition .... it only happened a very few times ... once my Ruger RH got sticky with unburned 2400 granules under star .. it's cleaner burning now i fancy. Also had a M27 and 686 do same with some factory loads.

    Since then - ALWAYS try any strange ammo first before risking reliability ..... I always homeloaded and so knew what to expect ..... equally ...... the small amount of SD ammo I have for my snubby ... same deal ... shoot some off to make sure.

    Otherwise yeah ... the reasonably maintained revo is tops.

    Oh and yeah .. the locktight for cyl ejector rod .... about the only other major source of potential probs. In fact ... I got in habit with my M27 of always checking that was fully tight every cyl-full or two .... just to sure!
     
  7. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

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    I've never had a cylinder fail to close because of dirt under the extractor star, but have seen dirt accumulate there to the extent that things didn't feel right.

    My pre-agreement Smith & Wesson model 629's extractor rod unscrewed several times, even after a supposedly competent gunsmith supposedly fixed it. I eventually used Lock Tite, and it's been trouble-free.

    I've known people who've encountered major revolver accuracy and reliability problems resulting from bent yokes, buggered main springs, and the like, but those are readily identifiable, reparable, and preventable.

    In my experience, semi-automatics run the full gamut from perfectly reliable to scrap iron. Personally, I pack a revolver.
     
  8. Blueduck

    Blueduck Member

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    Don't neccesarily think that autos are *more* reliable but agree with the main point. Lots of people assume revolvers CANNOT malfunction, but anybody who spends some real time around them know thats balooney.

    I've heard people to claim that "reliability" is the only real factor in the choice of a defensive handgun, but consider that hooey as well. Most reliable handgun would be a singleshot with a 30# hammer spring, yet to see anybody toting one of those though...

    Well designed and maintained auto's with quality ammo can be reliable, same can be said for revolvers. Regardless there is always that .001% chance we just gotta live with.
     
  9. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Member

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    ALL machines can and will malfunction, from Apollo Moon ships to egg beaters.

    The revolver usually does have one thing (maybe it's 6) going for it. The key words here were "After the first six rounds of "factory" 357 Magnum ammo".

    Usually a revolver will successfully fire the first 6 rounds. The cops used to call this "6 for sure". And usually, 6 is all that's required.

    However, because of the advances in ammo quality, the improved designs, and modern manufacturing methods the auto loader is at least as reliable as the revolver, if not more.

    I always wanted to see a gun magazine do a real "shoot off" between an auto and a revolver. Select a good revolver like a S&W, and a good auto like a 1911 and just shoot them until one jams. After this, clean just enough to keep them going and pump about 10,000 rounds through each.
    Then do a close inspection for wear and tear.
     
  10. Hal

    Hal Member

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    Yep, I had the powder under the star happen too. I was using handloads though not factory ammo.

    Lessse, the stopppages I've had over the years:

    - - Ammo related - -
    - Powder/crud under the star extractor. (S$W Model 19-4 6" barrel)
    - Bullet jumped it's crimp and slid foreward enough to bind the cylinder. ( .44mag Virginia Dragoon S/A)
    - Backed out primer hung the cylinder. ( I said a LOT of Hail Mary's getting that one cleared,,,and I'm not even a Catholic :D)
    - I worked up a handload for my .44mag, which was a 240 gr JSP @ ~ 900 fps. Problem was, since I was new at handloading and didn't know better, I used the Speer half jacket bullet. The bullet shed it's jacket 3/4 of the way down the barrel.:uhoh:

    These more or less were the fault of the reloads I was using so I can't fault the revolver(s).

    - - Gun related- -
    - .45LC Blackhawk. The cylinder gap is so small it will only fire 12 shots before I have to take the cylinder out and clean the face of it off.
    - The infamous percussion cap in the works jam. (Please, before anyone scoffs,,this WAS my only HD gun at the time,,until I could scrape together enough $$ to upgrade it, I had to rely on the little Colt replica)

    - - Gun related - - my fault
    - Ejector rod unscrewed (S$W Model 19-4 4" barrel)
    - Cylinder gap too small (Dan Wesson .22) (That first shot was one accurate momma though :D)

    - - Gun related - just weird happenstance/bad habit related
    - Twice, I've had a spent case work it's way under the star extractor. Once with a Smith Model 17 .22, and the other with a Smith Model 19-4, both of which have 6" barrels. The 19 was the worst since the case kinda jammed itself sideways between the chambers and refused to shake loose. I had to pry it out with my
    (mostly non exisitant) fingernail.
    - Used but unfired Smith Model 19-3. Beautiful old example of a deep blue P$R 19 w/4" barrel, oversized target stocks, wide target hammer wide target style trigger. After firing it maybe 25 rounds, I let a friend try it. The trigger overtravel thingie inched foreward just enough to prevent the trigger from moving. Since to the best of my knowledge, this gun had never been fired before I bought it, and there was no evidence the sideplate had ever been removed, I can only assume it came from the factory with a loose screw.

    Ok, bottom line here (aside from me being a clutz and a newbie handloader at the time using a junk Lee setup :D). Most of the stoppages were my fault, either through improper maintenece or bad handloads. The important part though is the amount of time it took to clear the stoppages, and in a couple of cases, the stoppages were enough to require packing it all up and going home to work on it.
     
  11. Tamara

    Tamara Senior Member

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    Dave T,

    There's a reason it's "Six for sure" and not "Twelve for sure". ;)

    I've had powder under the star once, a spent case under the star twice, bent moonclips a couple of times, and bullets jump crimp twice. No weapon is failure-free; it's why I never carry only one weapon. ;)



    (Notice, however, how many people here can recount nearly every revolver malfunction they've ever had? I couldn't begin to tell you how many failure-to-[feed/extract/eject/return-to-batteries] I've experienced, let alone double feeds, et al. ;) )
     
  12. El Tejon

    El Tejon Member

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    All guns break, buy more.:D And, not to sound like El Tejon, carry a bug.

    At IPD I observed an unusual revolver mal. It was mustard and ketchup jamming a M66 of a motorcycle cop!:uhoh: *Sigh* Only here.
     
  13. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    All the feedback is interesting and appreciated. I tend to agree with those of you who say any mechanical device can break/malfunction, so nothing is perfect. My point in starting this was not to bash revolvers (one whole shelf in the safe is full of the things) but to point out the falicy of the "revolver more reliable than autos" mind set that comes up so often.

    A quality revolver is very reliable (most of the time). I started my LEO career carrying a Model 28 S&W and didn't lay awake at night worrying about it failing. As a young cop I was more worried about me doing my part right.

    I have had the occasional semiauto that was problem prone too, but to tell the truth they have been few and far between. Of all things, my Glock 45s (a G21 and G30) will periodically fail to fire. There is a light indentation on the primer and that round always goes off the next time I try it. In thousands of rounds the same ammo never failed to go off in any of our 1911s. Go figure.

    To be fair, I had a Commander (alloy frame) that would feed ball and Hydra-Shoks like a knife through butter, but would occasionally hic-cup on anything else. I fed it ball and the occasional magazine of H-S until the frame cracked and it was retired. See, I'm admitting autos aren't perfect either.

    Anyway, enjoyed the exchange of ideas and opinions. Thanks!
     
  14. Penforhire

    Penforhire Member

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    One of your initial statements was the military chose auto's for reliability under adverse conditions. I'm not sure that was the primary reason. I thought we had a doctrine of wanting to send more rounds downrange and reload more quickly. And a related doctrine to fix damage in the field with simple parts swaps. Those are the reasons I would think the military choses auto's.
     
  15. 22luvr

    22luvr Member

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    From what I've seen, read, and heard....

    A revolver is less likely to malfunction than an autoloader but IF it does, clearing the malfunction is probably going to be MUCH MORE difficult and time-consuming.

    Most of the malfunctions with autoloaders are either FTF's or FTE's which an experienced shooter can rectify quickly.

    All that being said, I'm STILL waiting for my very first revolver malfunction!
     
  16. bountyhunter

    bountyhunter member

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    The gun didn't malfunction. It's a classic jam caused by letting oil get on the "star side" of the ejector rod. You keep the rod squeaky clean and lube the star face with grease so it won't migrate. If oil gets on the rod, when you eject the empties, some carbon can fall on the rod and stick. When you try to close the cylinder the crud under the star holds it out enough toi jam the cylinder. Everybody has done it, but it's not the gun's fault.
     
  17. Geech

    Geech Member

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    Actually, Old Fluff made the statement I believe you're refering to, but he didn't say autos were more reliable, he just said they probably weren't less reliable in some conditions.
     
  18. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    bountyhunter,

    You have made a big assumption without enough facts to support it. I have been keeping the underside of the ejector star clean and dry on S&W revolvers for more years than I care to recall. This wasn't the first time this has happened, and admittedly it is worse with some powders (or loads) than others. Back when I shot PPC (Police Revolver competition) for a couple years it was routine to see shooters cleaning under the ejector with a toothbrush between stages.

    If it is your intention to shoot some more and the cylinder won't close, what do you call that? A boobo! Just bad luck!. The gun was clean and dry. I fired six rounds and couldn't fire any more untill considerable corrective action was taken. I have said several times I am not bashing revolvers, simply illistrating the mistaken idea that revolvers are some how inherently more reliable than semiautomatics.
     
  19. Trebor

    Trebor Member

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    Revolvers don't go down as often, but when they do, they can go down HARD. I had a student in a CCW class with a newer Colt revolver (Trooper I think) who started having problems getting the cylinder open and closed. The first couple of times she was able to force it, but a couple relays later I had to pull her from the line. It was just locked up that tight.

    We eventually got it open and emptied the casings, but I didn't have the time to clean it for her and get it back up and running. She'd borrowed it from her dad and didn't have the cleaning gear or knowledge to clean it herself. That's also a good example of the importance of knowing your gun well.
     
  20. Nick96

    Nick96 Member

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    If you're using a gun for target or competetion shooting - so what? Use whatever you like. But in the common real world self defence sererio (average citizen - not LEO or military), we're talking a gun that's realitivly clean, and the only available ammo is what's in it (factory loads - not re-loads). Add to that most such shootings involve less than 5 shots and under 20 feet.

    So now what's most reliable?
     
  21. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    "Revolvers don't go down as often, but when they do, they can go down HARD."

    Even a quality semi-auto can go down hard, too.

    Sheared locking block on a Beretta, broken collet finger on a Colt 1911, etc...
     
  22. jc2

    jc2 member

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    I think that's probably the key issue. Both revolvers and pistols can have failures that are either very hard to clear or require a trip to the shop--neither platform seems to have an advantage in this area (though you seem to hear of a lot more small parts--e.g. trigger springs--on autos). The auto is subject to and seems to have dispropotionate share of minor problems--failure to feed, failure to extract, failure to eject, failure to fire (particularly striker-fired platforms) than revolvers. The fact that they are relatively easy to clear (with practice and the proper techniques) does not negate the fact they happen (and can happen at a very, very bad time)--and not all these "minor" problems are necessarily easy to clear (re in infamous type three malfunctions in G19s).
     
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