Revolvers fail, too. I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but I’ll probably keep bringing it up until people stop spreading misinformation about revolvers being “100% reliable.” In the video below, I describe yet another revolver failure I recently encountered. Two of them, actually. And I’m not talking about the kind of problems you can fix in a couple of seconds on the firing line. I mean, “put it in a box and mail it to the men with tools” kind of problems.

Details in the video, or scroll down for the full transcript (along with a few additional comments and links those lazy video watchers won’t ever see).

 

This is a Ruger GP100 Match Champion:

We bought this last year and used it in our ballistic gel tests. I did a short review video of it a few months ago to go along with a more detailed review from Lounge contributor Spencer Blue. It’s a nice gun. But check this out…

 

This gun has probably less than 1000 rounds through it, it’s squeaky clean right now, but the action will not move. It’s totally non-functional. Now, Ruger has really good customer service in my experience. I’ll send it to them and I’m sure they will fix it and it’ll be fine. I’m not trying to pick on Ruger or tell you not to buy a GP100. This could have just as easily happened to a Smith & Wesson.

Like maybe the model 43C I picked up a couple of months ago. This is a 10 ounce 8-shot 22:

S&W 43c .22LR

It’s a pretty cool little gun. But you know what’s not cool? When this happens:

This is what my 43 looked like on its first trip to the range after I fired about five or six rounds. For those of you who may not be familiar with double action only J-frames, there is no reason the trigger should ever be stuck in the rear position like that unless your finger is holding it there. But this gun would not go through a whole cylinder without the trigger getting stuck and I would have to manually reset it (Greg Ellifritz encountered an almost identical problem a few years ago with a brand new S&W 351) Fortunately, Smith & Wesson fixed it, no questions asked. They paid for shipping and I had it back in about 10 days.

So again, I’m not trying to slam either of these companies. If you’re looking for a revolver to use for self-defense, you’re probably not going to find anything remotely affordable in current production that’s better than what Ruger and Smith are offering.

My point is that revolvers, in general, break a lot more often than most people realize. Last year I did a video on the pros and cons of using a revolver for self-defense and in that video I listed several types of revolver failures that I had either experienced myself, or had witnessed at the range. And that seems to have made a lot of people… unhappy. I’ve been accused of implying that revolvers malfunction at a higher rate than semi-autos, or that I just made all of that stuff up because of some deep-seated hatred or bias I have against revolvers.

I can’t prove that I’m telling the truth about having seen a bunch of broken revolvers (except for these two). But I certainly don’t hate revolvers. If anything, I have an irrational bias in favor of revolvers and that’s why I talk about them so often. I am not opposed to revolvers. I am opposed to ignorant people perpetuating stupid myths about revolvers, like the idea that they are immune to any type of malfunction or that they don’t have to be cleaned or maintained, or that having fewer rounds on board somehow imparts a supernatural calm upon the user so they always take more careful aim than those reckless semi-auto shooters. My favorite myth is that revolvers are inherently more reliable because they are mechanically less complex than semi-autos. If you have taken the sideplate off of a Smith & Wesson, you know it looks like the guts of a 19th century clock threw up in there. Any time one thing moves, everything else moves. That means if any one of those little parts is slightly out of spec, the whole thing is compromised.

Even having said all of that, I have never intended to imply that revolvers are generally less reliable than semi-autos. I’m not going to say they’re more reliable either. That is completely context dependent. But I have seen a disproportionate number of supposedly good-quality revolvers break on the firing line to the point where they could not be fired again without getting tools involved.

Now, let me add some context. The revolvers I have seen with the biggest problems, for the most part, have been those made within the last 10 years or so that have a relatively low round count. And that leads me to believe that in the 21st century, revolvers, in general, are just not made to the same standards they used to be. It also seems like there is probably some reverse-survival bias going on. So, if a revolver is going to have a serious issue, it’s most likely to happen within the first few hundred rounds, and then if it makes it past that point, it’s probably fine for a while as long as it’s well maintained. And I’m not saying that older revolvers don’t have problems, too, I just personally have seen them completely stop working less often than newer ones.

But regardless, what I hope people take away from this is that no gun is immune to having problems. Any firearm you rely on for self-defense — whether it’s a revolver or a semi-auto or new or old or cheap or expensive — it needs to be test fired with your chosen defensive ammo before you trust it to work. It needs to be cleaned and lubricated as appropriate, and if you use it a lot, it needs to have springs and certain other parts replaced periodically. If you’re keeping a gun around as a potentially life-saving device, keep in mind, it is a man-made thing that can fail and you can’t trust it to work solely based on the design or the name of the factory it came out of.


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  • James Wegman

    Indeed, they really don’t make them like they used to! Revolvers in the 60s.70s. & 80s were simply better made. Smith did have a quality control problem when Bangor Punta owned them, but Customer service was always great!

    • Brandon Smith

      Still….I’d give anything to own a LNIB Bangor Punta era Smith.

      • retfed

        I owned a couple of Bangor Punta-era Smiths. One was a Model 60 that would consistently misfire twice per cylinder. I don’t remember much about the other one(s), except that I sold them all. Smith’s quality control was terrible back then. Not having bought a Smith revolver since the 2000 design change, I can’t speak for it now.

  • kyew

    Thanks for this. As a gunsmith, I try to tell people that wheel guns are not the magical solution to malfunctions, but so many people just have this hard-headed belief that a revolver will always function. It’s like the fanaticism some 1911 fans have (myself being a fan of them). Many think their 1911 will never jam, FTF or FTE. I got a little surprise one day when shooting. I locked the slide back on my Colt M1911A1 and put it down on the table next to a sand bag used for rifle support, and the very fine sand leaked out of the bag straight into my open ejection port. Curious, I dumped it out, shook it a bit, loaded it and tried to fire it. It wouldn’t go fully into battery unless I bumped the slide forward, and this persisted through two mags until I disassembled it and cleaned it thoroughly. And this is a well-worn 1911 with plenty of “rattle” to it.

  • Greyson

    I had an SP101 that behaved the same way that GP100 is behaving. It turned out that I had put the hammer strut in backwards (which changes the angle slightly) and it was running into the grip peg. I’m guessing isn’t the case on this gun (you don’t mention when the problem appeared, but I suspect you would have found it if it occurred right after reassembly), and the GP100 is arranged just enough different that it may not be a concern. I figured I would mention it, though, just in case someone else has the same problem.

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    But Glocks… They never fail. The internet told me that Glock holds the record as being the only handgun that has never malfunctioned.

    • Peakoiler

      Funny, everyone said that about quality-made 1911s, until mine failed 🙂 But it was my stupid fault for not replacing the recoil spring after such a long time..16 years of regular range practice, in fact. Now I keep an extra handy.

    • Banana Xango

      That’s crazy talk, the internet says they will eventually explode and they hold the record for the worst mods.

    • Jim H

      🙂 I wish my Glocks would log into the web and read that! But alas they seem to be illiterate.

    • Chilibreath

      A little update is needed here, of all the semi autos that I have ever fired (and they are many) the Glock is King of The Hill right out of the box, except for this little hiccup: while on the range recently during a mandated qualification my G-21 jammed with the slide partially back, after inspecting all the parts we found that a small portion if the polymer magazine (at the top) chipped off and it caused a failure to feed. A one-in-a-million event? Maybe, but if the situation was life-and-death this sort of thing should never happen. Perhaps the “lips” of the magazine should be made of metal just as a matter of caution because the last thing anyone needs when the balloon goes up is a fair to feed. I would definitely love to hear/read other comments on this issue.

  • Peakoiler

    I do wonder how much of this could be due to recent quality control. Other than stupid mistakes I have made with reloads that caused a squib load, I have never had a revolver fail after a few thousand rounds. My pair are both older guns from the 1980s.

    But it can and probably will happen eventually. It tells me that no matter what gun you have for personal defense, you do well to have a backup available.

    • sully v

      PeaKoiler — hi, back in 1989 when the Ruger SP-101 was first introduced I bought one, after firing only 100 rounds of mixed .357 mag and .38spl ammo the trigger return spring broke–Ruger sent me a replacement part. I also had issues with a S&W Model 66 2.5″ barrel in 1985 that I was qualifying with. The cylinder locked up tight (revolver was only a year old), I had to send it back to S&W for repair, something gave way inside. Life happens, every mechanical device can and will break, this is why I have spare parts for my CCW guns… 🙂

  • Bill Woods

    Great video. I used to be in the “revolvers can’t fail” camp. One afternoon I was at the range with my young son comparing autos and revolvers. At the end of the session we finished up with some revolver work and I was in the process of explaining the trade-offs that while the sp-101 only had 5 rounds, it can’t fail… Almost on cue I had a jumped crimp (didn’t know what that was at the time) that completely locked the cylinder. I was shocked and it wasn’t a quick fix like most auto fails solved with a tap/rack. Good lesson to learn…at the range.

    • Brandon Smith

      Bill…I’ve had the same issue with another type of .357 snubbie. It is worse with the S&W because the crimp jumped bullet is usually on the opposite side of the cylinder release….in other words you can’t even open the cylinder as easily as on a Ruger. I don’t consider this a revolver failure…but rather an ammo failure. True…it does disable the revolver the same as any other failure…but if you use properly constructed ammo and don’t limp wrist it during firing, the crimp jump is easy to eliminate. I carry a small wooden dowel…and I simply place it against the nose of the offending bullet and tap it with whatever is around. It doesn’t take much to tap the bullet back into place and to render the gun operable again. People often criticize my choice of cast bullets for concealed carry/self-defense ammo…and my reply is always “because it goes bang every time…unlike jacketed bullets”

  • Chris McFadden

    I believe the revolvers are more reliable myth sprung out of the era when ammuntion quality and firearms design and engineering were so much worse. Say what you want about the present day quality of manufacturing but prersent day machine tools, computer assited design, and higher quality metals and alloys generaly produce better products with longer life spans then most previous firearms. Early semi-automatics were not as well designed or executed as their contemporary revolvers. I love old Smith&Wesson revolvers and often carry a modern one. Despite quality of craftmanship of mid twentieth cuntury Smith’s who would want to carry a revolver with a firing pin mounted on the hammer? But back in the day before the big transitions away from six-guns a revolver shooter could deal with bad ammo by simply appling another trigger press, and jams and failure to feed issues convinced many people too rooted in what they knew to recognize progress when it was staring them in the face. Revolvers are more complex machines, they have a rotating timed cylinder, and more moving parts. What they don’t have is a common need for a user to know immediate action or clearence drills so the users can just keep pulling a trigger and hoping its works until it doesn’t. Which is pretty much what we all do with guns anyway.

  • Jay Eimer

    A revolver is “more reliable” in that it is not dependent on ammo “power” to cycle – it’s dependent on trigger finger (or thumb, in the case of single actions) strength. However, ammo problems (light crimp, high primer) can make that cylinder awful hard to turn!

    A revolver is “less reliable” in that it has more moving parts (in most cases) and those parts are often more delicate/more temperamental than semi-autos. A revolver has an intricate linkage between trigger and hammer, trigger and hand to rotate the cylinder, trigger AND hammer and bolt to lock the cylinder in firing position – AND in most cases every one of these has an associated spring. Tuning revolvers often involves changing the shape or at least smoothing the surfaces where these parts touch, and sometimes changing the springs for lighter ones (thus potentially more likely to break). Some early Colts were known for the hand breaking – you could cock the hammer, then turn the cylinder by hand, then fire, but they wouldn’t cock and rotate together until repaired. And if the bolt spring breaks, the cylinder turns, but won’t STOP turning, leading to rotating past the next chamber – either resulting in failure to ignite (hammer misses primer) or frame strikes when the hammer hits, but it’s off enough that the bullet strikes the flat of the forcing cone.

    The “advantage” of a well tuned and not broken revolver is that with reliable ammo, you can usually correct ANY problem with another pull of the trigger. If you call that the equivalent of a tap-rack, then I’d say they’re a wash.

  • Gee

    Only revolver I ever owned failed on me. Never had a semi-auto fail and I own(ed) dozens of them. No more revolvers for me.

  • Gary Griffiths

    I had a Smith & Wesson Model 60 fail when the cylinder latch release broke. The broken piece jammed the piece completely, so I had to disassemble it to open the cylinder and clear the weapon. It happens. Luckily, not two rounds into a five-round gunfight! :

  • Jim H

    I am certainly not anti revolver, in fact this time of year my 2nd gun is normally an N-frame S&W (in a caliber that begins with .4).

    That said, over my several decades with a sideline of gunsmithing I’ve sure seen plenty of quality made revolvers that quit working – some with remarkably few rounds – and one that the only rounds fired through it were likely the ones in the factory test (it had broken the sear on the trigger and the part tied up the gun – from dry fire).

    So, yes, revolvers are not perfect – and neither is anything else.

    I do tend to agree Chris that those made more recently are not as tough or durable – in fact I like to buy them a lot older than 10 years – the one on my left hip right now is 100 years old this year and the one I’m hunting with is 62′

    Onward
    Jim H.

    PS, this reminded me I just broke a Colt Diamondback a couple of weeks ago during dry fire – the firing pin broke off, fortunately I had a spare.

  • klit

    Revolvers should be shot often, cleaned religiously and loaded with the appropriate ammo. Ive never had a Colt, Smith or Ruger that was shot often that didn’t warn me that it needed some attention and my daily carry is a Charter Arms Bulldog that doesnt get fed ANY Buffalo Bore.

    Every mechanical object needs maintenance.

  • saltshaker

    “If you have taken the sideplate off of a Smith & Wesson, you know it
    looks like the guts of a 19th century clock threw up in there. Any time
    one thing moves, everything else moves. ”

    I love revolvers for the exact reason. It just feels more… “mechanical” than a semi-auto. I think the lack of polymer parts also contributes to that feel.

    I agree with another comment, that the semi-autos are more reliable with the QC of modern ammo. I still choose to carry a revolver, just like I still wear a mechanical watch, even though a G-shock is probably 100 times more functional and reliable.

  • Mike Mollenhour

    Very good, Chris. I, too, have had a revolver “lock up.” It’s a shock because of the myth. So, we are reminded — hopefully at the range only — that guns are machines. And machines do what machines do: they fail. At some point. But, I let mine get a bit pocket-lint dusty, and dry of oil. And, it behaved accordingly. I should have remembered having to low crawl into the river and do push-ups for a dirty rifle.

  • LTC (Retired) LD

    Inherited two revolvers from my father that were malfunctioning similarly to those in the article: a Taurus Model 85 and my Dad’s prized Colt Diamondback. The Taurus trigger and hammer would move freely, but the cylinder would hang up; with the Colt, everything was locked up, nothing moved. A little D&A on both revealed old gunk in the mechanisms, particularly in the Colt; no broken parts, nothing out of place. After a good cleaning and lubrication with a good Teflon-based oil, both are back at full operation. The Colt is a Safe Queen; not going to put another round through it. But the Taurus is a sweet shooting little revolver, comfortable and amazingly accurate. Definitely a keeper, despite the attitudes of some folks.

    • Spudnut

      I love my little 85 too. It really is amazingly accurate for a 2″. Surprisingly so.

      And thank you for your service, Sir.

      • LTC (Retired) LD

        Thank you, and enjoy exercising your Freedoms!

    • Peakoiler

      Love our 85. First handgun I owned, made in the early 90s. Accurate and after so many rounds, very smooth. It does get light strikes on reloads rather often, but I am going to switch primers.

    • Carlos Corrales

      Had similar problem sent to TAURUS and changed cylinder to no avail
      They suggested to change ammo brand .Voila problem solved

  • Tim

    Word!

    I’m a huge proponent of revolver’s and own several and am glad that you are telling it like it is about their pros and cons.

    Carry one in harsh condition and you’ll come to respect the vintage holsters that cover the entire firearm.

  • Sarge

    In over 6000 incidents NYPD never had a revolver fail. Looks like you may have put the strut w/main spring in backwards? The S&W is just piss poor QC which is no SOP for that once great American company

  • Gary Breton

    My first gun (from just 1/2 a year ago…i.e., newbie) was a S&W 686. After perhaps 500-600 rounds, I couldn’t cock the hammer (it either would not stay cocked or would feel really tenuous). Double action also began to fail. Sent it back to S&W (they didn’t give me any trouble about this at all) and they sent it back to me within about 2 weeks (all paid by them). Seems to work great now, but have only put a few hundred rounds through it. Since then I’ve picked up a Taurus PT 92 9mm (awesome looking gun and shoots like a champion) and more recently a 1911. These have been remarkably consistent and trouble free, but when I can’t help but love when everyone at the range stops what they are doing and look over to see what I’m shooting when my S&W revolver blasts those 357 magnums! Plus, a revolver just looks cool and you gotta love ejecting the spent shells.

  • George

    Thanks chris. I have had the feeling that in the last few decades the hands on craftsmanship has decreased and the prices for a decent revolver are over inflated. I’ve had a 20 year old sp101 fail from too much gunk but a good cleaning fixed it right up. My son got a Taurus full size 357 that within 200 rounds blew out the ejection rod and the weapon couldn’t even be emptied of the remaining live rounds. Alot of folks don’t understand the amount of moving parts and the timing that comes into play in revolvers and how important true gunsmithing and engineering. Dying artforms sadly. Good stuff to know. Thanks for spreading the facts.

  • Chris C

    Direct Hit. A firearm is a machine and like all machines are prone to failure. That said, the point about older is better is a point well taken and one I have been saying for many years. As a professional mechanic and longer time tinkerer, (that’s how we get started), I’ve watched parts and tools decline in quality over the years, some drastically. I think the major reason is because the Blue Collar segment of Americans have been forced out of the picture by lost jobs/import of foreign goods. That fairly large segment of society who worked with tools and knew the difference between a good and poor one, (as well as the finished product) have dwindled, and the amount of discerning buyers in the know just aren’t there in numbers to make a difference to a company’s bottom line. Throw it away and buy another short service-life piece of junk is the new norm. Sad. Apparently firearm manufacturers are joining that mindset. Also, a lifetime guarantee on a piece of junk tool means nothing when you have a machine apart that needs to go back together post haste. A firearm in that condition in the middle of a life and death situation ? Heaven help us.

  • Marc Leif

    Only time I had a problem was when the ejector rod on a Security Six loosened. Just a tiny bit, but it migrated forward under recoil – imperceptibly – but completely tied up the gun. Couldn’t open the cylinder, work the action. Stopped cold. A drop of Loc-Tite fixed it, but – yes, revolvers can be stopped.

  • Chilibreath

    Let’s face it… we all have our favorites when it comes to booze, ladies, sports and guns, and when it comes to guns there will never be a final-final opinion on whether a revolver is better than a semi or vice versa. Personally I like both for different uses and different jobs, but when I go out into the big city for business or pleasure I generally carry an S&W 442. For the record I’m a retired big city LEO who came into competition shooting in the early 70s (along with two hair raising shootings on the job), I have also competed in a number high-dollar matches and won my share of money and trophies, and I appreciate both well made revolvers and semi-autos, but for me it boils down to this: if I want absolute-no-questions-asked dependability in a one-on-one crises situation I will opt for a good wheelman every time, but if I believe I may need pure firepower and a greater number of rounds (as in war!) I will choose a semi. Since I don’t intend to see waves of enemy combatants coming at me over a wall when I go into town I will most generally (silly me!) suit up with a 5-shot snubby. Hate me if you will for my personal decision on this matter, but if you do I respectfully ask that you go back to my first sentence and read it again.

    • Joe Long

      No complaint from me. I admit that right after I purchased my M38, I dropped it off at Northern Virginia Gun Works, Newington VA, a first class pistol smith and had it smoothed up. With the iron sights it is extremely accurate at 15 yds.

    • Peakoiler

      That has pretty much been our reasoning for home defense. If the SHTF in our neighborhood, there’s always an AR-15.

      My only issue with revolvers has been a Taurus 85 that dislikes CCI primers in handloads; going to swap brands to see if I get fewer misfires. But for the house? Backup wheel guns + factory loads similar to what we train with (and we shoot a box of expensive factory around through the guns from time to time, too).

  • Joe Long

    For my 20+ years in LE (1966-1989) I was armed with a revolver. Started uniform with a Colt Police Positive. Last 20 were with Smiths. Models 19, 2.5″; Model 66, 4″; Model 66, 2.5″. Shot qualification at least 2x a year with all and competitive shooting with Smith Combat Masterpiece in the old NRA PPC matches. Never had a malfunction due to mechanics, but close calls w/ burnt powder on the back of the star binding the cylinder.. The 19 2.5s and the 66 2.5s will lock up on you if you do not keep the back of the star brushed off. The barrel is apparently too short for all of the powder to burn so when you open the cylinder and dump the empties, the unburned powder falls on the back of the star. I have qualified LEOSA with both my Smith M19, 2.5 and a Model 38, and a toothbrush in my waistband. If a wheelgun ever binds up from dirt on the back of the star and you manage to get the cylinder closed, you will not get it open.

  • Virgina Benet

    I purchased a brand new right from Ruger ,a 357 sp 101 Ruger,in box.first shot,cylander would not turn, so yes revolvers do mess up some times even brand new ones right out of the box.An I chose a revolver because I believed the saying ,revolvers don’t mess up.they made me feel a bit safer.But I still love mine.even brought it to a gun smith,he was stuned also that it locked up.

  • I have many revolvers. Smith, Colt, Charter, Ruger, Taurus. Thousands of rounds through them. The only one that ever failed was the Taurus junk. My 76 Model 29 finally went out of time. I am the third owner. That’s over 40 years of 44 magnum rounds. Less than 200 bucks and it is good as new. Check your ammo for high primers before you use it. Clean, lube, and check screw torque on them and they will give you many years of trouble free shooting.

  • swww

    I bought S&W 43C this month, had the first range trip today, and unfortunately I had the exact same issue as described in this article. Contacted S&W support, will ship back for repair. Is it because of the .22LR, the size of the hole in the cylinder makes it easily to be jammed, I guess? My S&W 642 never had this issue.

  • Martin

    I purchased a Rossi .357 on a black Friday special. Noticed while cleaning one day after a range trip that a screw had come loose from the side plate. So I sent back to manufacturer in April 2016. Now January 2018 and I’m still waiting for a replacement. What seemed like a fantastic price for a .357 magnum has turned into a complete disappointment.

  • Carter T

    The S&W revolver in this segment is plagued by the dreaded “long ratchet” issue.

    The hand is confined in the frame window, and if the
    ratchet(s) are not fit properly, after the cylinder locks in place at the end
    of the trigger pull, the further, necessary, upward movement of the hand when
    the trigger is pulled during SA after lockup, (or sometimes in double action)
    can cause the hand to be restricted in the inadequate space provided.

    You can confirm a long ratchet issue by opening the cylinder, and with the
    cylinder out, hold the thumpiece to the rear and cycle the action. If the
    action functions normally during this function test, then the malfunction you
    describe can likely be attributed to improper fitting of the ratchets….or “long
    ratchets” as the factory calls the issue.

    Dry firing, and some added lubrication can mitigate the problem over time. Best to send it back to have the issue resolved with some attention to the ratchets.

    My new 442-1 “Pro Series” was so bad that the trigger remained
    trapped at the rear when it was cycled. Easily solved by proper fitting.
    JCT

  • Smithhammer

    Such a great, no-nonsense series. I hope we will see more Wheelgun Wednesdays soon…

  • gunsncoffee

    Have the 43C. Had the same experience with MiniMag ammo. Reason: the brass is so soft it deforms after being HIT by the strong hammer/pin. The casing is being pushed further into the cylinder and at the same time the rim bends outward, now jamming/wedging the cylinder from moving freely. Tolerances are too low. I switched to Stinger ammo. All issues resolved.