Revolver malfunctions, Part Four: design and engineering issues.

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Very often an autoloader fails to function as a result of design. The reciprocation of the slide is governed by a combination of spring pressure, cartridge power, and system friction. The parameters inside which that system operates are actually pretty narrow, and it’s a testament to both design and care of manufacture that today’s modern autoloading pistols work as well as they do – which is to say, generally very well. Short of a non-externally-caused catastrophic parts failure (which is quite rare for either autos or revolvers), today’s autoloading pistols are fairly reliable. Still, design-induced failures will occasionally occur.

The revolver, being powered by the operator and a very mature technology to boot, doesn’t usually suffer failures directly related to its design. It is a very fault tolerant system, and given a modicum of maintenance (including attention paid to screws) it will continue to operate under relatively harsh conditions.

The major exception is the S&W internal locking mechanism, which has been reported to self-engage in some cases. I’ve written about this on numerous occasions; some people opine that it isn’t an issue, but I’ve collected many first-person accounts of inadvertent activation of the lock that renders the gun useless. It’s sufficiently common that I recommend not using a revolver so equipped for self defense.

Ruger’s revolvers do have a pronounced false reset in their trigger system, causing many users to short-stroke their triggers and momentarily tie up the gun. This is, as I’ve mentioned, more a training issue than a design flaw, but occurs more often with their guns than any other. Design flaw? You could make the case either way, so I’ll mention it here.

The propensity for Colt revolvers to break firing pins might be considered a design flaw, and I’d probably agree with that assessment, but the problem is easily avoided by the use of snap-caps during dry fire.

Save for the aforementioned Colt firing pin issue, parts failures in revolvers are very rare. Other than things like hammer spurs being broken from impact or cylinders being blown apart by faulty handloads, broken parts are few and far between. The only major exception that occurs to me is the hammer block safety in very recent Smith & Wesson “J” frame revolvers (those with external hammers only – the shrouded hammer Centennial series does not have that part.) This part is relatively thin and S&W decided to make it with the MIM (metal injection molding) process.

I’ve written previously about my opinions of MIM parts (I’m OK with them), but this particular part was a very bad engineering choice. Long, thin objects are not good candidates for MIM production, and S&W engineers should have known that. They break with some frequency and can tie up the gun. Again, the Centennials don’t have that part and as a result are preferred for a defensive arm.

That’s it for my more-or-less comprehensive look at revolver malfunctions. Maintain your revolver properly, feed it reasonably decent ammunition, and it is quite unlikely to ever fail you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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