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.

  • 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.

  • 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.