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Revolver malfunctions, Part Two.


In the first installment we looked at revolver malfunctions caused by ammunition. (I've edited that entry to consider dirty ammunition, which can also cause stoppages. I recommend that you go back and re-read it for that discussion.) It's important to note that ammunition failures are not the fault of the revolver and they're not unique to the revolver (they happen to autoloaders too.) They do, however, account for the majority of revolver failures and thus must be understood and dealt with.

The autoloader shooter who gleefully points at an ammunition-induced stoppage as "proof" that "revolvers break too" is not terribly discerning, for these are common malfunctions which can occur to any gun (including rifles and shotguns.) I used to try to educate such people, but now I just shake my head and go about my business. (Sometimes, in a fit of enlightened self-interest, I suggest that they buy my book. It may not help them, but it sure makes me feel good!)

Today we're going to consider the second most common cause of revolver malfunctions: user maintenance. I've often said that the revolver is quite tolerant of neglect compared to the autoloader, and it is; a revolver that sits in a nightstand for several decades will usually function enough to discharge the rounds in its cylinder, while an autoloader similarly treated usually will not. However, if the user performs maintenance poorly the revolver can suffer premature failures, ones that its fault-tolerant design would otherwise shrug off.

The major maintenance issue is simply making sure the gun stays reasonably clean. Far too many people spend inordinate amounts of time getting the last little speck of dirt out of the barrel - an objective which is both difficult to meet and of no importance. It's better instead to settle for "good enough" in terms of barrel cleanliness, and spend the freed time attending to other parts of the gun. (I should point out that if the barrel is leaded, time should be spent to remove all traces of the lead fouling. That is something which cannot be allowed to remain, as the lead will build up again when fired. If you do not shoot lead bullets, this will not be an issue.)

The cylinder window in the frame should be thoroughly cleaned, as should the underside of the extractor (star) and the recess into which it fits.

The lubricants used on the gun can have a dramatic affect on function when the gun is stored for any length of time. Never, EVER use WD-40 on any gun! The stuff dries to a sticky goo in short order, and can gum up any gun - even a revolver. I've lost count of the number of revolvers I've opened up that had the telltale WD-40 shellac, and there's no reason for it. DON'T USE WD-40 ON YOUR GUNS!

Finally, part of maintenance is checking the gun's physical and mechanical condition. Check all screws and firmly tighten any loose ones. On S&W and Colt revolvers, check that the ejector rod is tight; this is especially important for S&W guns, as even a slight loosening can bind the cylinder very tightly. On a Colt, it's usually more of a nuisance. If a S&W rod is found loose, it's best to drop into the local gunsmith and have him tighten it with the special tool made for the purpose; a pliers will simply mar the ejector rod and may even deform it enough to require replacement. While you're there, make sure he puts some thread locker on it (either LocTite #222 Low-Yield or Vibra-Tite VC-3; I strongly favor the latter.) That's also a good idea for the screws.

A timing problem that results in the gun being unshootable is, I believe, a user maintenance issue because it's both predictable and preventable. The revolver should be checked frequently for proper timing; if you don't know how to do so, there are many resources online that will give you instructions. (I keep promising myself that I'll make a video of the procedure, and someday I will, but in the interim I'll suggest that you let Google show you the way.) I've written many times that Colt revolvers are more sensitive to timing errors, and Colt owners need to be more vigilant and precise about this than owners of other revolvers. If there is a timing issue, get it fixed immediately instead of shooting it!

Next Monday we'll look at malfunctions initiated by the shooter while the gun is in use. There aren't many.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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