Every once and a while, I like to completely detail strip a revolver. While I’m in there, I try to clean it up thoroughly, but that’s not my real reason for cracking it open. My primary motivation is just a fascination with watching the revolver work. I might be able to detail strip a semi-auto and put it all back together, but I can’t ever actually watch how all the internal parts work together. With the sideplate removed from a Smith and Wesson revolver, I can move the trigger rearward and actually see all the parts interacting, literally like clockwork.

S&W 686 SSR
Smith and Wesson 686SSR with sideplate and cylinder removed.

To me, taking a peek inside the action actually makes the revolver seem like some kind of elaborate-yet-elegant technology from an alternate steampunk universe. And in a way, that’s exactly what revolvers are. Like the exotic inventions found in steampunk fiction, revolvers are products of the Victorian era. Although they are often described as “robust” and “simple”, on the inside, they’re really quite complex and, to some extent, delicate. And in today’s market of flat black stealth polymer covert tactical mil-spec firearms technology, a stainless or blued steel revolver comparatively has the appearance of a device from another world and another time. At least in my imagination.

If you own a revolver with a removable sideplate and you have any kind of curiosity about mechanical things, I’m guessing you’ve already had a look yourself. But if not, give it a try. You can really learn a lot about how revolvers work just by watching the parts interact. For most revolver models, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding disassembly instructions with a quick search. A word of warning, however; removing the sideplate screws is the step you’re most likely to mess up. Use screwdrivers that fit the screw slots exactly (a set of gunsmith driver bits is not expensive) and be aware that on many revolvers, each of the screws may be a slightly different width.

Most revolvers don’t ever need to have their sideplate removed, and if you do open up yours, I wouldn’t suggest you cut coils off of springs or grind away with a dremel just because you can. But purely for the satisfaction of knowing exactly what’s happening when you pull the trigger, examining your revolver’s guts can be pretty rewarding. In reality, this could apply to just about any gun that you enjoy taking apart and reassembling, I just happen to have a particular fondness for tinkering with revolvers. I also enjoy looking at the internals of the M1 Garand. If you’re new to this kind of thing, Glocks are an easy place to start, and the market is full of “drop in” parts to experiment with. Let me know in the comments about your favorite gun to detail strip and what you’ve been able to learn from it.


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