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Where did top-break go?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Beatnik, Dec 19, 2006.

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  1. Beatnik

    Beatnik Member

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    So, does anyone know why the top-break system wasn't carried forward to the current day?

    I was just reading that there were a couple 45LC models made in the past, so .357 magnum shouldn't be a stress issue - and even if it was in the past, I think that 21st century materials science could do much better job at making a solid frame.

    I'd think that the Webley's self-extracting feature would be really handy in a modern .357, and it's not really possible with a swing out cylinder.

    Anyone know why this design died out?
     
  2. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    The .45s chambered in the HUGE Smith and Wesson top breaks were .45 S&W which weren't as powerful as Colt stuff, but black powder never-the-less. A modern top break, even as big as the Smiths, wouldn't really be up to modern cartridges, especially something like the .357 magnum. Just not enough strength in the design.

    Of course, this is based on reading. I'm no design engineer. But, I think I'd prefer my Blackhawk for the magnum round, thanks. Besides, it's lighter even with a 6.5" barrel. If I'm going to carry something as big as a S&W top break, I'll buy a Ruger Alaskan or one of the new X frames.:D
     
  3. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Member

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    Some you can still buy brand-new:

    http://www.uberti.com/firearms/TopBreak.tpl
    http://www.berettausa.com/product/product_pistols_main.htm

    The last non-replica top-breaks were the H&R's, AFAIK. They made some great rimfire and small centerfire caliber revolvers. At some point, they quit making any handguns. They were neat guns, and they're still around on the used market.

    It's important to remember that the .45 Colt black powder cartridge (and the modern smokeless equivalent) is nothing like the .357 Magnum. .45LC is a low-pressure round, except in the souped-up modern versions that are only safe in guns like the beefy Ruger Blackhawk. Original .45LC is a good deal weaker than the early Walker and Dragoon cap-and-ball loads.

    Top-breaks and high pressures are not a good mix.

    Hence, like open-tops, large-caliber top-breaks fell by the wayside as heavier loads became commonplace.
     
  4. Beatnik

    Beatnik Member

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    What I'm really wondering is why. Is it because firing high pressure rounds would disengage the latch or something? If it's just materials, then I can't help but think that throwing Titanium or modern alloy steel into the mix may have an effect...
     
  5. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Member

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    The top-break revolver lost out to the swing-out cylinder revolver because the swing-out is a solid frame, to the top-break's two piece frame.

    Simply put, the two piece top-break has a hinge and a latch arrangement that just isn't as strong and durable as the solid frame revolver.
    The lower-front hinge is not as clean and compact a design as the solid frame, and the latch is simply not as good.

    Due to the two piece frame, and the tendency to loosen up over time, the top-break will flex more, and will not be as consistently accurate as a solid frame.

    While it's possible you could make a durable top-break for powerful modern ammo, the metal and heat treating would be much more expensive than the solid frame, and the frame would have to be much heavier and more bulky.

    Not all gun designs age well, and the top-break is old technology that was overtaken by developments in the late 1800's.
     
  6. Eightball

    Eightball Member

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    I think I've read a similar thread about 6 times in the last 4 months.

    Frankly, I'd be happy for a DA/SA top break, regardless of calibre, just for the fun factor. Or a top-strap-less .38 Spl revo (since it probably could not handle .357)
     
  7. Deer Hunter

    Deer Hunter Member

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  8. Beatnik

    Beatnik Member

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    Eightball: sorry to bring it up, I did the search and didn't get anything meaningful. I should try quote protecting two word phrases next time.

    AM I GOING TO SPEND THE REST OF MY LIFE COPING WITH THAT MAN'S PRESIDENCY?

    Isn't this somewhat offset by the fact that there would be fewer alignment problems? Also, that MP-412 doesn't look much bulkier than a swing-out midframe.

    Lack of accuracy would be a big point, but I can't help but think that lots of people had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to make locked-breech automatics hit the broad side of a barn. I'm sure it could be done here.

    I think that's a bit harsh considering that the British were using them up to the 1960's. It still sounds to me like the idea has been abandoned out of hand, especially considering that the Russians were playing with it 10 years ago.
     
  9. Eightball

    Eightball Member

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    Yes, as are the rest of us (re: Hillary)

    'Twould seem that any given high-pressure round is excluded from top-break design, and since most of what comes out nowadays is built for high-power rounds, a company would need to risk a total flop to produce a new-designed & manufactured top break for low-enough powered cartridges soas to not blast the hinge apart upon firing.

    Beatnik, I didn't mean to incriminate you, occasionally "search" is useless---for example, try searching for anything specific relating to a 1911 on here, and you'll get upwards of 200 pages!!! I just remember this being coverd in the past.....
    ...and for the record, I originated an identical thread a while back :eek:
     
  10. JohnKSa

    JohnKSa Member

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    It's certainly not as robust an action as the typical revolvers available today, but it is my opinion that with modern manufacturing and materials, it is possible to make a viable top-break revolver in at least some common self-defense calibers.

    Perhaps magnum calibers are out of the picture (although I don't think that's a given) but that still leaves a few handgun calibers on the table. A decent top-break chambered in a caliber that uses moonclips would be about as fast to reload as an autopistol while still retaining nearly all of the advantages of a typical modern design revolver.
     
  11. c_yeager

    c_yeager Member

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    I am still waiting for reproduction Webleys in 45ACP. :(
     
  12. Jim March

    Jim March Member

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    The newest top-break design is by NAA:

    http://www.naaminis.com/sandy080106.html

    They've moved the hinge to the end of the barrel and made the cross-pin out of some sort of "supersteel". There are solid engineering reasons for going this way...basically it causes the upper part to rotate around a longer axis than the more traditional "hinge right in front of the cylinder". The 32Mag is a fairly high-pressure round, and it's here being contained in a very small gun. If this concept was scaled up into a 3" barrel 357, it might work well...but damned if I know how you'd do an automatically rising ejector star with this NAA design. NAA didn't worry about that, because this gun is a concealment "bang and run away" type of piece (or a last-ditch backup).

    As an aside: they said in the forums that there were already changes in progress to the triggerguard and hammer, but the basic engineering was working. While the grip angle seems seriously funky, I actually like it, and it should work well with a Weaver hold at eye level.
     
  13. tantrix

    tantrix Member

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    Bingo. My grandfather in-law has an OLD Smith & Wesson top-break chambered in .45LC (that I probably will end up with, along with some very old Mausers and Lugers :eek: ) and it is in very poor shape after hundreds upon hundreds of rounds through it. The frame latch is loose and the entire thing has a sloppy feel to it. Now that is with .45LC, picture the same gun with hundreds of .44 Mag, .454 Casull, or .480 Ruger through it. The frame just can't handle it. The design is nice for functionality but very poor for durability. You'd have to see an old top-break with alot of rounds through it in person then you'd see why the design failed.

    The reason Ruger's Blackhawk and Redhawk can handle very punishing loads with no issues is because of the high frame strength that a good solid frame can deliver.

    I could see a modern top-break design in smaller calibers like .38SPL or 9mm but I'd be willing to bet that it would have frame issues long before a solid-frame design would.
     
  14. Coyote3855

    Coyote3855 Member

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    Tantrix,

    I don't think the original S&W's were ever chambered for the .45 Colt, but for a shorter .45 cartridge. The shorter cartridge would work in Colt SAAs, but the longer cartridge would not chamber in the Smith breaktop. The invevitable quartermaster screwup of delivering Colt cartridges to units with Smith and Wessons led the Army to 86 the Smiths. Uberti made some S&W breaktop replicas for the .45 Colt, but that required a longer cylinder and stretched frame. Your point is valid regardless. Solid frame trumps a breaktop.

    Coyote3855
     
  15. mainmech48

    mainmech48 Member

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    Virtually all of the original top break designs were made to use cartridges generating relatively low velocities and pressures, regardless of bore size or propellant.

    AFAIK, there were no original S&W No.3's produced in .45 Colt, although I have seen a few original New Model No.3's in .44-40. The .45 S&W "Schofield" cartridge as issued for use in both the S&W No.3 and Colt SAA by the U.S. Army after 1874 had a 230 gr. bullet over approx. 28 grs. of black powder, as opposed to a 250 gr. slug over 30 grs. for the original issue .45 Colt. Both generated something under 750 f/s.

    The big Webleys like the .455 didn't make 700 f/s, even when they changed from black to Cordite. The .38 S&W and .32 S&W "short" are perhaps the most commonly encountered CF calibers in top breaks of any make, and they're pretty anemic by about any standard. The Brit military's 200 gr. .380 revolver (.38 S&W) load would barely top 600 f/s.

    IMO, the Webley's "stirrup" latch system was the strongest of the bunch. But even with the mild loads they were chambered for their service life was much inferior to most of the contemporary solid-frame designs.

    With all of these cartridges, average peak pressures were well under 12,000 psi. The standard .38 Spl. SAAMI pressure spec peaks at about 16,000, and the .357 Magnum over 40,000. While modern metallurgy might be able to let a "traditional' top break design cope with the former (at least for a while) I don't believe that anything less than a radical change in basic design concept and execution would hold up long enough to be practical under magnum stresses.
     
  16. ArmedBear

    ArmedBear Member

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  17. tantrix

    tantrix Member

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    I think you are probably right. It's been a while since I looked at it, but now that I think about it the cylinder was pretty short...possibly too short for .45LC
     
  18. wooderson

    wooderson member

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    .45 Schofield - you can shoot it in a .45 Colt cylinder, but not vice versa.
     
  19. Phil DeGraves

    Phil DeGraves Member

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    At a cowboy shoot I went to a couple of years ago, one of the shooters had a Uberti Schofield. Every time he fired it, the top strap would open and dump all his rounds on the ground. Up until that time, I was very interested in them.
     
  20. Phil DeGraves

    Phil DeGraves Member

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    I've heard that was the problem with the originals, also. The locking piece would wear out in fairly short order. Be that as it may, I wish someone would make one in .44 Special.
     
  21. Phil DeGraves

    Phil DeGraves Member

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    Or even a repro of a S&W in 38 Spl.
     
  22. lee n. field

    lee n. field Member

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    When Marlin bought them they quit making handguns, is my understanding.
     
  23. happy7

    happy7 Member

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    You can buy a topbreak in 38 spl.

    Navy Arms/Uberti sells replicas of the old smiths in 38 spl and, while not in 44 spl, the do sell them in 44-40 or also 44 Russian, which is identical to a 44 special but a shorter case. In other words you can shoot 44 russians in a 44 special or magnum, but not vice versa. I have one of these chambered for 45 LC. I shoot 45 schofield in it. It is my favorite gun

    http://navyarms.com/html/top_break_rev.html
     
  24. Eightball

    Eightball Member

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    Welcome to THR, happy7! :D

    Okay, then, question.....if one were to buy a top break of some kind (probably a reproduction like what Happy has), would it presumeably last longer in a low-pressure round like .44-40 (as compared to .38spl), or would it not make a difference?
     
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