Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Myth of Revolver Reliability and 22LR for Defense

Smith & Wesson Model 12 AIrweight

We´ve all heaerd it a million times or more. Revolvers are more reliable than autos pistols. Six for sure, buddy.
Let me tell you something I learned over the years: The hardest handguns to fix when they fail happen to be revolvers, they fail more often than autos and when they do they always require lots of time and patience to fix, very often they require serious amounts of gunsmithing experience as well.
A couple days ago I took some of my guns to the range for some informal plinking, three pistols and one revolver. Ive posted about the difference between plinking and serious defensive training recently. While plinking, target shooting or any other form of sport or “trick” shooting canot be taken as formal training, it does help regarding weapon familiarization and handling. Action shoooting while being a sport does help with trigger control, speed and accuracy. Its not fighting though, and unless you´ve received formal training in that area, please dont asume any form of sport is ¨as good as¨, that´s what I meant with the comment in my earlier post.
Of the three pistols I took, the old 1908 Colt Pocket Hammerless ran through 25 rounds without problems, proving again the genious of Jhon Moses Browning.
The Ballester Molina 45 ACP functioned very well too. In spite of the dated small sights its a serious weapon that puts a fair sized chunk of lead on target, fast and accurate. While some consider the BM a poor man´s 1911clone, I think its an upgraded version of the 1911. Now that I gave a heart attack to all 1911 fans reading this, do rememeber that JMB originaly did not want to include a grip safety and only did so becuase of the pistol´s military requirements. The Ballester Molina is the 1911 as Browning would have wanted it except for the trigger which I dont care much about either way. Second heart attack there for the 1911 fans!
My Bersa 22LR failed to work reliably with bulk ammo as expected, but did much better with hotter 40 gr. ammo. A well known fact is that 22LR while cheap when buying bulk also happens to be less reliable. Few 22LR will shoot all sorts of ammo and do so well. If the recoil spring is too hard for weaker bulk ammo or lighter loades, it only works reliably when using hotter, heavier ammo. If its too light it does well with the weak bulk ammo ammo but gets aboused a lot when you use hotter or heavier loads. Loose tolerances in both weapons and ammo, the lack of reliability in general terms in the ammo department combined with the natural lack of power of the cartidge makes it clearly one of the worst choices you can make. While better than a sharp stick in some cases, people please just say no to 22LR guns for defensive purposes!
The Smith & Wesson model 12 Airweight that I”ve come to trust finaly failed me. Preiviously I have sold three Taurus revolvers, all of which have failed me at some point. This time the S&W would lock as if out of timing in one chamber. Letting go and pulling the trigger again did nothing. You had to half cock by hand and then rotate the cylinder so as to skip that chamer. This sort of failure could have gotten me or my wife killed. It worked fine when back at home. Seems that the temperature difference in this tight aluminum framed classic caused it to jam in one chamber, at least that´s what I´ve seen so far. The gunsmith looking over it now will have the final work. On the other hand a simple failure to feed in a pistol gets solved in a matter of a second or less. Other failures get little more time than that to solve.
If anyone else rants about revolver reliability vs autos I swear by head will spontaneausly explode.
Take care everyone,

Join the forum discussion on this post!


Anonymous said...

Here's your real problem: The Myth Of S&W Quality.

S&W's are beautiful, they are classic, they are NEATO. But, if you own an S&W revolver and shoot it, you WILL periodically send it back to the factory to be re-aligned, a part called the "hand" replaced, etc. This is shooting ammo they're intended to shoot, no fancy +P+ loads involved!

For contrast, consider the humble Ruger. Good value for money, kinda have a "Fisher-Price" feel about their design, loved by millions. Made by a company that also makes a mean golf club, and possibly the strongest rifle action EVAR, the Ruger No. 1.

I did a TON of research, online, looking at people's actual experiences, and the conclusion I came to is, Rugers are cheaper, sand-cast, utilitarian weapons. Also, people shoot the hell out of them and after punishment that would knock out a Smith, they still "lock up like a safe".

When you look on-line, in the magazines, etc., for the "best" revolvers, the writers and reviewers tend to look at things like "heritage" and "beauty" and all kinds of things. where a practical man just wants the dang thing to work and keep working. So you'll see grudging nods to Ruger "If you are on a budget", bot for keep-on-going, they come out way on top.

Dunno how to tell you this FerFal, but most of those guns of yours belong in a museum. See if you can trade one or two of your "collectible" Colts/Smiths for a Ruger SP101 or some such, and try that out.

Anonymous said...

I have several revolvers, one stainless 4 inch .22 S and W "kit gun", model 34 , I think. Like your aluminum gun, these cylinders were badly machined or with poor steel and when the hot shells expand, they are very difficult to extract. The gun has been sent back twice over the years to S and W. It never worked well new from the factory when I got it 30 years ago and still doesn't work. This company has had several owners and variable quality. Maybe it now makes reliable weapons but I've never purchased another one and never will. JMHO.


Anonymous said...

I've had the same problem with Taurus, though not yet with S&W.

It seems that semi-autos have gotten a lot better in the last thirty years. I guess the revolver reliablity wisdom may be outdated.

Based on the broken down little handguns I've seen at gunshows, any small handgun, like aluminum framed revolvers or pocket semi-autos trade some longevity for concealability.

Anonymous said...

Revolvers are more user friendly than semi automatics and that's where the myth of revolver reliability finds it's origin. A person who operates a semi automatic needs to actually know something about the pistol to operate it reliably. There's the basic things like turning off the safety, not limpwristing, but what about keeping it oiled, using the correct ammunition, replacing springs when worn out and using clean and reliable magazines. Even very reliable designs like the 1911 and Browning Hi-Power had their serious issues. The 1911 for quite a while only reliable with 230gr FMJ ammo and the BHP needing to have it's magazines underloaded. Then there was the not uncommon practice of leaving the chamber empty and forgetting to cock the slide. How many times has someone fired a semi automatic and heard it go click? Then you have firing pins breaking due to dryfiring. A revolver (Ruger/S&W at least) in contrast doesn't really have any of these issues.

Nowadays with the prelubed, no external safety, difficult to limpwrist Glock's the semi auto pistol is a lot more user friendly. Leaving the chamber empty seems to be the biggest issue that still remains and so anyone that might be tempted to do that would better be served with a revolver. (where the practice of leaving a chamber empty for safety purposes is rare and more importantly easily rectified by pulling the trigger again, unlike a semi auto) The slide being pushed back isn't an issue if the gun comes with a holster.

Revolvers though have become less reliable nowadays. First we have the 'safety lock' mechanism in some S&W's, the real issue of using overpowered ammunition in an older revolver and S&W's use of exotic revolver material like aluminum alloy and polymer, the former well known not to stand the test of time if used regularly. (I think that was the problem with your Model 12 airweight Ferfal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_%26_Wesson_Model_12). There's the issue of rounds coming unstuck and jamming the cylinder in lightweight revolvers using .357 ammo. Getting dirt in it's mechanism jamming it. The real possibility of hitting your cylinder on something hard and it jamming.

Inspite of all those above problems many involving serious downtime of minutes to days, as long as we are talking about quality steel revolvers by Ruger and S&W for the average civilian a revolver is still more reliable.

But anyone who would be considered to be 'above average' in regards to learning new skills or better yet sees the their purchase of a handgun as a serious decision that they are willing to pay to learn how to use (training class), deserves a semi auto. A more reliable and a more effective handgun than a revolver.

David said...

@Anon (Ruger lover): I owned a couple Ruger wheelguns and sold them off. One (a GP100) had a slight timing problem and kicked an amazing amount of crap sideways out from the cylinder gap, the other (an SP101) was painful to shoot with full mag rounds.

By definition, revolvers require more propellant to achieve the required velocities of the rounds they fire because of pressure loss at the cylinder gap.

Since the blast of any round (the pressure wave exiting the barrel behind the bullet) is directly related to volume of propellant, you will always get more blast from a revolver than a semi-auto, bullet size/weight/velocity being equal.

Blast = distraction, flinching, headache & fatigue. That's why low pressure rounds like 45ACP or rounds with relatively less propellant like 9X19 are often much easier to practice with, yielding better results when it counts.

Blackthorn D. Stick said...

Sorry Ferfal,
I like your Blog and most of your material, but Three Tauruses and an Aluminum Airweight do not constitute a good survey or cross section.
I'm still in possession of my dads two S7W .38's. One is a Model 10 Military & Police Heavy barrel, and the other is a Chiefs Pecial snubnose. He was Cop in nyc for 20 yrs. Both guns are now approcahing the 60yr old mark, the sstill get used, and they have never failed.

Then again maybe the old saying that 'they don't make them like they used to' applies here.

As for the guy at your forum who complained that revolvers are a pain in the ass to clean, all i can say is, you must be kidding. When your dissassembly consists of opening the cylinder, to clean it compared to placing the (on most pistols) 6+/- pieces depending on what make/model you own on the table, don't tell me that the revolver is more difficult.

As for .22 ammo, If that's all you have, fine, but get a centerfire caliber as soon as you can afford one.

FerFAL said...

Hi Blakcthorn, I'm a registered Firearms collector and firearms instructor. I've owned not two or three, but DOZENS of revolvers, Colt, S&W, Rossi, Taurus and Ruger and some you've never heard of. My opinion is based on the experience I've had with all of them.
I've owned MOdels 10, Even older Hand Ejectors and various colts from the 60´s. True, they dont make them like they used to, but I can tell you that old jewels, as nice as they are, they will FAIL and BREAK on you much faster than any Auto of similar age and 5x the wear, tear and honest use. Revolvers just dont age well, they dont hold together as autos.
If you care for your dad's guns, dont shoot them too much and treat them with lots of care. As good as they are they dont hold a candle to modern firearms in the ruggedness department.
Take care,

Anonymous said...

I agree FerFal. MY police department is about 325 folks carrying guns, give or take from year to year. I started back when we were issued .357mag revolvers. If was common for guys to not make it through a 60 round qualification without having to either clean out unburned powder to get the gun running or to have the gun fixed by the armorer due to broken parts. Since we went to 9mms, first the S&W 3rd gen guns, now the Glock 17s, we have had FAR fewer problems with parts breakage or malfunctions.
Military grade pistols are much more reliable, much more durable, and far easier to fix when needed than revolvers.
There is a reason why no modern military issues revolvers anymore.