Friday, October 29, 2010


I touched briefly on what revolvers were.  Now I’m going to dig into them in detail.
Single action revolvers require that the hammer be pulled back by hand in order to cock them.  This can make them much more accurate than a double action, because far less effort is expended to pull the trigger.  On the other hand, they are slower.  The rate of fire isn’t any slower, really, but the reloading time is.
To reload a single action revolver, you open a little gate at the back of the gun.  This is found just below and to one side of the hammer.  It will allow you to see into one chamber at a time.  On the front of the cylinder, under the barrel is a small rod on a spring.  You use this to force the spent casing out of the chamber.
Once the empty is out, a new round can be loaded.  This has to be done for each chamber.  Once all six have been reloaded, the gun is ready for use.

For a double action, including DAOs, there is a small sliding latch on the left side of the frame, behind and below the cylinder.  When this is pressed forward (in most cases), the cylinder will swing out to the left and expose all chambers at once.  On the front of the cylinder is a rod that will force all rounds out of the chambers at the same time.  New rounds can be loaded one at a time, or they can be loaded with a “speed loader”.
A speed loader is a round thing that holds the live rounds in the right position to place them all in the cylinder at once.  They are a little tricky to get used to, but with practice, a DA revolver can be reloaded in under a second or two.
There is also a special situation that comes up with some types of rounds.  Back in the ammunition section, I mentioned that some rounds have rims and some do not.  Normally, a rimmed case is used in a revolver, and a rimless is used in an automatic.  The reason for this is that a rimless case has nothing to stop it from sliding forward in the chamber and falling out of reach of the firing pin.  The workaround for this is something called a Moon Clip.
Moon clips are flat bits of metal with a cut out just big enough to fit the recessed part of a rimless case.  When fully loaded, it places the full cylinders worth of rounds in position to drop into the revolver as a single unit.  Where these differ from speed loaders is that a moon clip stays in the gun as firing takes place.  When the rounds are ejected, they come out as a single item as well.
Generally, this isn’t an issue.  In certain combat situations it can be.  There isn’t really a way to load a single round without adjusting the contents of the clip, and most moon clips are wicked hard to adjust.  My dad actually makes custom tools on a lathe for doing it.
Advantages of a revolver include:
  • Generally better accuracy since the sights and barrel remain fixed at all times.
  • It’s nearly impossible to jam one, and if they do malfunction in some way, pulling the trigger again will generally clear the problem.  If it doesn’t, then the revolver becomes a club until you can get it taken apart.  The odds of a failure like this in a modern revolver is very rare.
  • A greater variety of specialty ammunition can be fired
  • No safety to mess with.  A loaded revolver is always ready to fire.  This can be a disadvantage as well.  Technically, a monkey could shoot it.
  • Unlike an automatic, a revolver can be used effectively with one hand.  I don’t mean just firing it, I mean reloading and clearing jams.  One of my characters lost his left hand.  While he can use the prosthetic hook to hold an automatic to clear a jam and reload, it’s time consuming and awkward.
Disadvantages include:
  • Reduced ammunition capacity.  Small revolvers hold five rounds.  Most hold six, and some can hold seven or eight.  In contrast, most autos will hold 6 to 18 with 10 to 12 being the most common.
  • They are bulkier than an auto.  The width of a revolver is determines by the size of the cylinder.  This it determined by the diameter of the ammunition and the number of rounds it holds.  An 8 shot .45 ACP revolver will be nearly twice as wide as a .45 ACP automatic with an 8 round capacity.
  • They cannot be effectively “silenced” with a suppressor.  Because of the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, there will always be noise and fire leaking out.  The few exceptions to this were Russian* revolvers made in a way that the case actually moved forward to seal the gap when fired.  They are not common.  Don’t give your bad guy a “silenced” revolver.  *See the correction in the comment section about the "Russian" revolver mentioned.
  • Indexing the cylinder.  This is something I’ll go into more in the Peeves and Common Errors section, but I’ll mention it here.  If I fire two rounds, then cock the gun to show someone I “mean business”, then de-cock it when they comply, the gun doesn’t know I didn’t fire that round.  Rather than having four rounds in a row left to fire, I have three rounds, then two empties, then one live one.  It’s still four total, but they are no longer in sequence.


  1. Great website. It's a huge peeve of mine as well when firearms are depicted unrealistically in fiction.

    One very small fact check: The "Russian" revolvers were actually Belgian Nagant M1895s contracted by the Russian military. The sealing cartridges they fired were 7.62x38 R (R being Rimfire). The handguns themselves aren't that hard to find, but the ammunition is. I've been told they'll fire .32 cartridges safely, but I've never actually done it myself. In any case the .32 rounds wouldn't complete the gas seal and therefore wouldn't silence.

  2. Corrected. Thanks for the information.