Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reply: The Myth of Revolver Reliability and 22LR for Defense

Anon 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 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.
I agree with most of your post (the hammer is cocked, not the slide). The origin of the revolver reliability reputation comes from way back when autos failed miserably often. They didn´t feed reliably, they broke and jamed often. Reliable autos were rare.
Today the story is very different. You have pistols like the Glock that can fire thousands of rounds without a problem, drop the thing from a speeding car in the pavement, pick it up and keep shooting, something that would be short of miracle in a revolver with its comparably much more delicate revolving sistem.
Even in the old days, pistols like the 1911 and Hi Power were much more resistant and reliable than the revolvers of their age. Proof of that is that if you pick service revolvers from the 50´s or 60´s  that have been well used, they generally work much worse or dont work at all, when pistols general age much better. Its common to find fifty year old 1911s and Hi Powers, just to mention a couple, that still work reliably and shoot accurately while revolvers that have been used extensively from that era will spit lead all over or dont work at all.
There´s nothing wrong with a good revolver, but you have to understand what it can and what it can´t withstand.

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Anonymous said...

finally, post something with which i strongly disagree. Revolvers Rule! (given that we are comparing Smiths to Glocks or *quality to quality*) here's why: for those willing to spend the time and the money to practice and train, the semi-auto would work best. for the other 80% of handgun owners, the revolver is best for them. it's like the difference between a chainsaw and an axe. in an emergency, your 10-year-old can instinctively swing an axe, but not start a chainsaw.
in our handgun training, we have
a scenario whereby we must use a
'wounded' police officers' gun to
stop the bad guy. the revolvers
win this competition since the
semis are so slightly different
from each other. bottom line:
if a new handgun will most likely
never be shot 1000 times, then the
best choice is a revolver.

Anonymous said...


An anonymous commenter (not me) left an intersting comment on November 29 about practical home security upgrades. This seems like very useful information for the average American. Do you think these measure would be effective?

Merry Christmas and best wishes to your family.

Like so many Americans, I live in a suburb, in a tract, semi-custom house. That means the structure is fairly sound, but the little things - like the windows and doors, have not been installed in the best manner. Only expensive custom homes seem to have the little things done right.

Following a rash of burglaries, I had a company assess our security. One of the cheapest and best upgrades was to have the doors re-hung, this time running steel screws into the studs, not just into the door frames, upgrade the locks to commercial grade, add heavy striker plates affixed to studs, and upgrade all other related hardware. While not the security level of steel euro framed doors (about $4,000 for a typical double door entrance in a US home), we vastly upgraded the time involved for a home invader to make it through this first layer. Per my security consultant, the fire department and police can get in with a ram and two or three men, but it will take them a little while. Same for any bad guys. By that time I'll have an appropriate weapon pointed in the right direction. We also installed 3M 14 mil film on all the windows and sealed that film to the frames with Dow Corning 995 sealant. Likewise, one can get in through the glass, but it will take some time, and severe lacerations are likely. Finally, we added a CCTV system as a part of the doorbell/intercom system to better identify anyone at the door without having to open the door. And of course, a standard hard wired burglar alarm system with battery back up.

Just following the common sense rules that security is performed in layers. If most people did this the number of burglaries, let alone home invasions would drop. And in the grand scheme of things, a few thousand dollars for this level of prevention is priceless. All of my defensive weapons are useless without a passive defense to buy me time in the event of disaster.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity Ferfal, I was wondering if you heard anything about this:

Argentina has blockaded the Falklands? I never knew this.

Is there any sabre rattling about the Falklands in the Argentinian press?

Anonymous said...

That revolvers are more reliable than semi automatics was somewhat accurate 30-40 years ago. Lots of those old semi auto's sucked though good name brand milspec type 1911's and HP's were on the good end of the auto spectrum. This is the same school of thought where a .45 is clearly vastly superior to a 9mm. In a time when either lead round nose or FMJ ammo was all that was available it was right, but that was a long time ago.

In terms of user friendliness the proliferation of DAO semi automatic pistols like Glocks, XD's and the S@W MP series go a long way to leveling the playing field. No worries about hammer down, halfcock or cocked and locked. No safety on or safety off like the old DA guns. Load them and pull the trigger.

The biggest advantage of revolvers is that the "failure drill" is to just pull the trigger again. No tap, rack, bang, no unload, clear, reload. Just pull the trigger again. Usually it will go bang. If it doesn't then it is empty or totally broken and you have the choice to throw it at someone and run away or use it as a club.

The downside is that when revolvers break they really break. The saying goes that fixing an auto (particularly a Glock, XD, etc) is as close as the nearest spare parts and fixing a revolver is as close as a qualified gunsmith. Something to think about.

I own both types of guns but the revolvers are mostly for fun.

Mountainman said...

I live in Alaska and did some winter testing on firearm reliability. What I found is that ammunition exposed to subzero F temps for 24 hours and more, will show a reduced power. Don't ask me why. It is especially noticeable when you get to prolonged -20 F and lower. Anyhow this reduced pressure tended to cause stovepipe jams and failure to feed in auto loading rifles/pistols I tested. I tested ARs, Garands, Mini-30s, Browning BAR, 1911s, Glock, Rugers and EAA Witness. I did the same with bolt actions, lever actions and revolvers. No doubt in my mind manual actions when are my selection for winter Arctic conditions.

Just my .02 cents.

Double Tapper said...

A note on gear.

It's more of a matter of personal preference and need. As I have said before, many times but perhaps not on this forum, the VAST majority of cops in the US need way less equipment. Most never use a fire arm. Most are not gun people. What the average beat cop needs is a good 4-inch 357 mag revolver with a 7 round cylinder capacity loaded with 110grn SJSP or SJHP. A further 2 to 4 speed loaders on the belt.

Then they need a good concealable, stab resistant Level II vest with trauma inserts. The vest should be the most comfortable and protective at that NIJ rating as possible.

All cops should carry an expandable asp and high strength pepper spray. No tazers or stun guns - they are increasingly used for extra-judicial punishment here.

Finally, each patrol car should carry a .223 carbine, either an M-4 clone or a Mini-14 along with a chest vest with 4 loaded mags. The rifle should have a quality red dot reflex sight for CQB.

Certain designated cops should be equipped with a Remington Model 700 .308 accurized to sniper standards. Some cops should be issued 12-gauge shottys.

This basic set up enabled cops to deal with a wide variety of threats ranging from a domestic violence complaint to a full-fledged terrorist attack.

The money saved from all the bullshit gadgetry would be spend on better training both classroom and tactical.

In the US, at least, I do not feel undergunned with a good revolver.

Anonymous said...

To Mountainman,

It is not surprising that ammunition performs differently at different temperatures. Firearms work via the principle of confined combustion of a fuel (in this case a solid propellant) in a manner very similar to an internal combustion engine. The bullet is essentially an unrestrained piston contained inside a cylinder (the barrel). When the propellant burns, it changes from a solid to a gas. Gases obey the following relationship (known as the ideal gas law which neglects nonideal thermodyanmics for simplicity here):


where P is the pressure, V is the occupied volume, n is the number of moles of the substance (i.e., the amount), R is the universal gas constant, and T is the absolute temperature.

During the combustion, you have a large change in n (since you convert solid to gas). If we assume combustion is initially much faster than expansion, then we get a very high pressure spike due to the very small volume. This pressure then pushes the bullet down the barrel increasing the volume and accelerating the bullet.

So far we have ignored temperature. If you live in Alaska in the winter, T is going to be lower than most ammunition was designed for. The flame temperature (i.e., the temperature in the chamber) is controlled both by the amount of energy released during combustion and by the amount of energy lost to the environment -- the lower the ambient temperature, the more energy you lose. This is going to reduce the pressure in the chamber and produce less force to cycle the action in a semi-auto. Similarly, if you live in Death Valley in the summer, you will experience higher pressures than normal, and if you have a poor quality firearm with very hotly loaded ammunition, you could wind up with a kaboom.

Some other problems you will run into in very cold environments are lubes freezing up/turning into wax and ice forming in the barrel/action if you bring a firearm inside, allow condensation to form inside, and then take it back outside.

I hope that helps somebody. (Yes, I am a chemical engineer.)


Grandpappy said...

A 62 yr. old fit grandma is abandoning autopistols. She has some issues with arthritic hands, pulling back the slide is too hard after a few hours at the range. My 23 year old daughter says the same about SIL 1911. She didn't notice that so much with the Glock.

Another 64 year old grandma had her Charter Arms revolver fall apart at the range. Kind of put me off the whole revolver reliability/ruggedness concept.

So there are issues with revolver reliability, still some problems with auto pistols. Sure like the idea of high capacity magazines. I would have to settle for a stainless Ruger .357. Better than nothing.