© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!


You've probably heard about the flap MKS Distributing caused last week. MKS, a former promoter of Charter Arms, is the primary distributor for Chiappa guns - including the Rhino revolver.

Chiappa disclosed that starting in 2012 all their guns would carry an RFID chip. The chip is attached at the time of manufacture, and presumably contains information such as the gun's serial number, place of origin, lot number, and that sort of thing. Because it's applied at the factory, it can't contain any data on the eventual purchaser.

I can see why Chiappa would want to do this, even if their government wasn't requiring them to: it makes for more accurate inventory of a controlled item. While a barcode on a box ensures that the box is present, it doesn't say anything about the contents. The RFID tag allows inventory of actual units, as opposed to the boxes which surround them. Were I in that business, I'd probably consider something similar to prevent what is termed "leakage" - mysterious disappearances from stock.

RFID inventory tags are not new, but their application to firearms is. It's this novelty, the potential for abuse, and how their distributor has handled the news which is causing problems.

When the news hit the blogosphere, some of which contained rampant and ill-informed speculation, the distributor (through their PR agent - with whom I am familiar and not all that fond)
sent out a scathing release belittling not just the public's fears but also the blogger's concerns. It was that haughty and scornful statement which has turned the public against Chiappa and, by extension, MKS. The release, obviously intended to quash rumors, contained some erroneous information of its own.

There are, as I see it, two relevant facts. First, the RFID chip contains information about the gun, and only about the gun. It contains nothing about the purchaser or user. Second, an RFID chip can in fact be read at a considerable distance, although the extent of such reading is a matter of debate. I think it's generally accepted that a read distance of a few yards is easily doable, much more than the “2-3 inches” that MKS/Chiappa insists.

Beyond those two facts, nothing is clear. Could an RFID chip be used in the future as some sort of marker for a concealed weapon? Possibly. Could they be used to track a buyer? That might be a bit overblown, but the technology exists. Is it happening now, or could it in the near future? Not probable. Could legislation be introduced tomorrow requiring all guns without an RFID chip be destroyed to facilitate some draconian tracking scheme? Extremely unlikely. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, mind you, but I don’t think it’s worth your or my time to worry about. At least, not at the current stage of implementation.

It's the attitude, the dismissive manner in which the concerns of the buying public were addressed that's really at issue. Many people are calling for a boycott of MKS/Chiappa for that reason.

I find this amusing, inasmuch as Smith & Wesson - through their owners, Saf-T-Hammer Inc. - foisted a dubious internal locking system on the public and similarly (though far more politely) dismissed buyer's concerns over the efficacy and reliability of the mechanism. Many people, including yours truly, called for a boycott of S&W. It didn't happen, at least to any meaningful degree, and today their business is booming. What's more, you can go to any gun forum and find lots of people who proclaim in the face of evidence to the contrary that the locks are just fine. That’s what happens when corporate blunders are well handled.

People will find a reason to buy what they want to buy; giving them that reason is the job of the PR people, but sometimes that effort backfires - like it did here. Based on my past interaction with all three parties involved, I’m not surprised.

MKS and Chiappa are very small companies and I doubt that they can easily weather the storm that their inept PR has brewed. This faux pas may be the end of their aspirations in the American market, but I think it's a little silly for us to manufacture a reason not to buy their products when the flaws of those products should be reason enough to avoid them.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part VII: the roller bearing system.

One of the features that Chiappa touts about the Rhino are the roller bearings used in the action. The Rhino has four such bearings, two each on the hammer spring lever and the return lever:

The picture shows the back (underside) of the two parts, because the rollers are not visible when installed in the gun. (Please refer to pictures from previous episodes showing these parts installed in the Rhino.)

Each lever has a captured roller bearing on which an arm of the mainspring rides. The other roller on each is on an open pin, and the rollers are easily removed. (They're also easy to lose when installing the parts in the gun, unless they've been greased ahead of time and thus stuck to their pins as they're assembled.)

The mainspring rollers ride along the surface of the wire torsion mainspring. As the parts move they slide up and down the mainspring; if the rollers weren't there this sliding would a source of significant friction. This approach isn't completely successful, however, due largely to how the rollers are constructed.

Because the surface of the rollers is flat the mainspring can ride from side to side. At virtually no time does the mainspring
not rub on the sides that contain the rollers, and this means friction. If the roller bearings are designed to reduce friction, they are only partially successful.

There is another potential downside to this design. Though I had no problems in testing, there exists the possibility - however remote - that the mainspring could "jump the tracks" and come off the roller. If that happened the gun would be non functional until disassembled. This is not dissimilar to a rare condition faced by the trigger return spring in the small frame Dan Wesson revolvers, which on occasion would slip off its saddle on the trigger, tying up the gun. Again, I haven't seen or heard of any problem, but having experience with a revolver which on occasion does exhibit such a weakness I'd prefer that Chiappa err on the side of prevention.

The solution found for the Dan Wesson may be useful in the Rhino: make the part with a groove in which the mainspring can ride. This would ensure that the mainspring is always following the most friction-free path, and would make it much less likely that the mainspring could be forced off track.

The other two rollers transmit the mainspring power to other operating parts. The hammer spring lever's roller rides in a slot on the hammer (clearly visible in earlier pictures.) The roller bearing is always pushing on the side of that slot to power the hammer, and sliding back and forth as the hammer moves. Were it not for the roller bearing, this sliding - under the full force of the mainspring - would make the gun much more difficult than it already is to cock in either single or double action.

The other roller, on the return lever, pulls the lifting lever (hand) back to the rest position as the trigger is released. This force is transmitted back through the action, working against the leverage of the parts, to reset the entire lockwork. Excess friction at this point could cause the trigger to stick during reset, and that's what the roller is designed to prevent.

Given their importance to the design, I was surprised to find that the machining quality wasn't as good as the rest of the gun. The operating surfaces of the bearings were surprisingly rough and no doubt generated more friction than they probably should. In addition the bearings were quite sloppy on their pivots, which raises the possibility of backlash and attendant friction losses. This sloppiness also contributes to the mainspring friction problem detailed above, as the rollers get pushed to one side and create a trough in which the mainspring rides.

Closely fitted bearings with perfectly smooth surfaces should result in small but noticeable changes to the operating effort that the Rhino requires, as well as helping to smooth the very gritty trigger return the gun exhibits. Though I haven't analyzed this from a strength of materials standpoint, replacement bearings carefully made from impregnated bronze might be an excellent choice to improve the Rhino's function.

I hope this teardown of the Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver has been useful to you! If you haven't listened to my ProArms Podcast interview about the Rhino
pop over to their site and listen - there's a lot to say about my shooting experience with this unusual revolver. If you're a United States Concealed Carry Association member, check out my review in the next issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (Not a member? You should be!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rhino Revolver. ProArms Podcast. Yours Truly. What could go wrong?

I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and
it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part VI: the hand and cylinder rotation.

First let's take a look at the assembled action for some perspective:

The mainspring serves two functions. Through the Hammer Spring Lever, it powers the hammer to fire the rounds, and through the Return Lever it resets the trigger and all the internal mechanisms. This is not different conceptually than the single spring used in a traditional "V"-spring Colt, or the single coil spring used in the Ruger Redhawk - though it is substantially more complicated than either of those.

The Hammer Spring Lever and the Return Lever share a common pivot pin, and the mainspring is held under tension between them. The mainspring forces the Hammer Spring Lever to rotate counter-clockwise, while it simultaneously applies force to the Return Lever in a clockwise direction. Taking out the unnecessary parts for clarity, we can get a better look at how the Return Lever functions:

The Return Lever's force is clockwise, and as a result is always trying to pull the Lifting Lever (what everyone else calls a 'hand') downward. The Lifting Lever has a hook shape at its bottom end, which curls around a projection on the underside of the Return Lever. The Interlink Lever has a projection on its left end, which also has a peg on the underside. This peg fits into a hole in the Lifting Lever.

The Cylinder Stop Lever projects up through the frame and engages the notches on the cylinder, locking it in place so that the chamber is aligned with the barrel. As the trigger is operated, the Interlink Lever rotates clockwise; a rounded projection on its right side fits into a semi-circular recess in the Cylinder Stop Lever. As the projection moves downward it pulls the Cylinder Stop Lever with it, releasing the cylinder so that it can turn.

The Interlink Lever, connected to the Lifting Lever through the hidden pin on its backside, also transmits its clockwise rotation to the Lifting Lever, causing it to rise. The Lifting Lever has a finger that projects through the frame (in a more-or-less conventional fashion), engaging the unlocked cylinder and rotating it.

As the trigger completes its travel and the gun has fired, the shooter relaxes pressure on the trigger. The Return Lever - now under a fully tensioned mainspring - rotates clockwise, the projection on its right side engaging the large "C" on the Lifting Lever and pulling it back down to the rest position. The Lifting Lever pushes the Interlink Lever downward (counter-clockwise), which in turn pushes the trigger back to its home position.

If your head isn't swimming yet you may have a future as a Rhino gunsmith!

The mechanism is full of friction points, and the only way this guns works as well as it does is because of how those friction points are handled. In the final installment of this series, we'll look at what makes all this complication possible: the Rhino's unique roller bearing system.

Tune in next Wednesday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part IV: single action lockwork.

One of the things that struck me when I first opened the Rhino is that the trigger doesn't directly
do anything. In every other double action revolver the trigger directly contacts the hammer in both single and double action, but not the Rhino!

In a traditional revolver's single action the sear (which is usually a pointed projection on the trigger) drops into some sort of notch on the hammer. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slips out of the hammer notch, allowing the hammer to be propelled by the mainspring and fire the cartridge. This system has persisted with only minor change for over a century. It's a simple, robust method that's easy to make and easy to maintain.

It's not nearly so simple on the Rhino.

Take a good look at the pictures, because this gets very complicated very quickly!

The Rhino is cocked, as we learned last time, by pulling back the external hammer, which pushes the cocking lever down, which pushes the hammer spring lever down against the tension of the mainspring. The hammer spring lever draws the hammer back.

At this point, the long extension on the front (right) side of the hammer slips past the spring-loaded single action lever (aka 'sear'); the single action lever springs back (counter-clockwise), trapping the hammer in the cocked position.

When the trigger is pulled, it pushes on the connecting rod which is connected to the interlink lever. (These are all official Chiappa part names!) The interlink lever and the single action lever share a common pivot point, and are separated by a phosphor bronze washer (not seen in these pics.) As the interlink lever rotates clockwise, a small pin on it contacts the downward-pointing extension on the single action lever, pushing the extension and causing the sear surface to rotate upwards and slip off the hammer extension. The hammer is now free to rotate clockwise, propelled by the mainspring through the hammer spring lever, which brings the top of the hammer into contact with the frame-mounted firing pin.

Got that?

It's an extremely complicated way to approach the function, though those familiar with high-end rifle triggers, which typically use a series of levers to do the same task, will recognize what the Rhino is doing. Those more familiar with handguns will be left staring at the pictures, scratching their heads, and saying "what the ****?" (It very much reminds me of the operation of a Hermle chiming clock, a mechanism with which I am intimately familiar. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is good or bad.)

In the next installment we'll have a peek at how double action works. It's a little more conventional, but still unique.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday catch-up.

Whew! What a week I had! I’m actually glad it's Monday, as I might finally be able to catch my breath!

I spent a few days last week helping to teach a Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Development (CFSID) course in Washington (as in 'state', as in WA.) We had a great group, all of whom were there to learn how to teach progressive, reality-based shooting in both the public and private sectors. Rob Pincus was the lead instructor, and I had the pleasure of interacting with three other Combat Focus instructors who were also there to help out. Teaching something is the best way to learn the subject, thus teaching how to teach makes one a better teacher. (Seems almost circular, doesn't it?)


One of the take-aways from this session was a new way of looking at the concept of precision in combat. You'll be hearing more about this as I flesh out my thoughts.


Speaking of Combat Focus Shooting, I've received a number of emails showing interest in booking classes for next year. Some of them have been from sunny or very scenic locations out of state, which is much appreciated, but I'm also looking to do more courses here in Oregon. If you'd like to see either Combat Focus Shooting or my Revolver Doctrine class come to your town, let me know - perhaps you could be the one to host it!

Here's something to consider: host a Revolver Doctrine class on a Saturday, followed immediately by a Fundamentals of Combat Focus Shooting class on Sunday. The former teaches you how to run your revolver properly, while the latter shows you how to use it efficiently to protect yourself. It's a great one-two combination!

If you're interested, email me for the details. (Remember that while I love teaching in Oregon, I will travel in the Western states to hold classes.)


Last week was particularly full because I was working feverishly to finish my Chiappa Rhino review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Deadline was Sunday, and I managed to slip in under the wire. The review turned out to be very long - over 3600 words - and I'm concerned that it will need to be heavily edited to fit into the magazine's allotted space. (Lots of pics, too.) My editor at CCM, Kathy Jackson, has her work cut out for her!

I'll be posting the next installment of the blog's series covering the technical features of the Rhino on Wednesday. Coincidentally, I'll be recording an interview about the Rhino with the ProArms Podcast folks that day. I'll certainly let you know when that gets released.


One of last week's frustrations was my outgoing mail server. It stopped accepting my login name and password, thus no mail went out for about four days. Qwest's technical support (the pride of Bangalore) was of no use: "I'm sorry that you're not happy with your service, Mr. Cunningham. First I'd like you to turn off your computer and turn it back on again." I swear that if you called them instead of dialing 911, they'd respond to your request for an ambulance by telling you to turn your computer off!

I tried valiantly to get them to escalate my call to someone who wasn't translating a script from Hindi to falsely accented Southern American English. I failed. The problem finally resolved itself sometime Saturday. For that I am grateful, even if a bit puzzled.


On a personal note, I'm very happy that tomorrow evening all of the campaign advertisements will cease. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part III: the non-hammer.

Quick: is this Rhino cocked, or not?

As it happens, it is. The "hammer" that you see isn't a hammer at all. Since the gun fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder, the hammer is buried deep within the frame. Since the hammer is inaccessible, to cock it for single action requires that something reach down into the works. That something is called the cocking lever, and it's connected to the thing that looks like a hammer but isn’t - but which, confusingly, is called the external hammer.

To cock the gun, the external hammer is pulled back; it pushes the cocking lever down, which certainly looks like it’s connected to the internal hammer - but it's not! The cocking lever actually works by forcing a piece called the hammer spring lever down. The hammer spring lever in turn rotates the hammer back, thereby cocking the gun. When the gun is cocked, a spring on the external hammer returns it to the rest position, pulling the cocking lever back up with it while the other parts stay in the cocked position. A red flag on the left top of the frame (which was cleverly not shown in the first picture) is pushed up by the hand (which they call a ‘lifting lever’ ) to let the user know the gun is cocked. You can see that part if you look carefully for the red line just under and to the right of the external hammer.

When the Rhino is cocked, the external hammer is held in the forward position under spring pressure. To decock the gun, it is pulled back and held while the trigger is pulled. Then the user allows the external hammer to slowly and carefully return to the rest position.

What's interesting is that the key to this whole operation is the cocking lever. If one wants to render his/her Rhino double action only, it's a simple matter of removing the sideplate and pulling out the cocking lever:

It simply lifts out of the works. The sideplate is replaced, and the gun is now DAO. The external hammer can still be manipulated (remember that it has its own spring to keep it in the forward position), but since there is nothing connecting it to any other part of the gun it performs no function. Actually, that's not quite true - since the rear sight is a notch machined into the external hammer, it still serves as the rear sight.

Next time we'll take a look at the Rhino's very different single action sear (bet you can’t spot it) and how it works. It’s anything but straightforward!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part II: the extractor.

By now everyone knows about the Rhino's unique hexagonal cylinder, but it's unusual in more ways than the shape. The extractor (star or ratchet, depending on the maker) on the Rhino is quite different in execution than any S&W, Colt, Ruger, Dan Wesson, or Taurus.

The orthodox method of making an extractor is to cut half circles to accept the cartridges, and mill cam surfaces in the center so that the hand can rotate the cylinder. The extractor does double duty, as it were.

Those cam surfaces are responsible for both rotating the cylinder and locking it in a precise position when the gun fires. The extractor must stay in perfect relation to each chamber if barrel-chamber alignment is to be maintained. If the extractor rotates even slightly relative to the cylinder, the chambers won't come to the exact position for every shot, and in severe cases an out-of-time condition can be caused.

The common method of maintaining that alignment was to insert a couple of steel pins (very small pins!) into the web between opposite chambers, and drill the extractor arms to fit over those holes. That requires precise machining and fitting, two things which have become cost prohibitive.

In recent years S&W has approached the problem by simply machining the outline of the extractor, and the cylinder recess into which it fits, into something resembling a square. This is not an entirely satisfactory approach, as there is significant play between the two pieces. Ironically, that's what the machining is supposed to prevent!

Because of this sloppy fit, modern Smiths must be timed with fired casings in the chambers, which immobilizes the extractor. The downside is that if live ammo is undersized, the extractor is free to rotate and the problems come back.

Chiappa decided on a very expensive method to obtain barrel/chamber alignment. They took the alignment pin idea, and instead of using them to fix the extractor they inserted four more, and use those as cams to rotate the cylinder! The extractor is drilled to simply fit over the pins, and serves only to push empties out of the gun.

(This concept of separation of function will show up later when I detail how the double- and single-action sears work.)

Chiappa's method has the advantage of taking all extractor movement out of the equation. The disadvantages include a) they are not easily adjusted if chamber/barrel alignment is off, and b) the system is very expensive to produce.

The first disadvantage is evident in the gun I'm reviewing: two of the chambers are ever-so-slightly off, and a correction will not be easy. Keep in mind that the amount of discrepancy is very small, and doesn't apparently affect the accuracy of the gun to a great degree, but the error does exist. The first gun, which I sent back because of a very heavy trigger, did not have the error.

The second disadvantage doesn't seem to concern them, as we saw in the previous article on their breechface insert. Again, the machining is quite well done, despite the slight error noted.

If properly done, this design would make for very precise and repeatable chamber indexing, but if extreme care isn’t taken in execution that pursuit of perfection can result in a permanent deficiency. This is not unlike Colt versus S&W cylinder locking: the more precise Colt requires more care in manufacture and maintenance, while the sloppier S&W mechanism makes for a more tolerant system. Both have advantages and disadvantages that the gun designer balances to get the desired performance characteristics.

In the next installment we'll dive into the internals, starting with the hammer that isn’t a hammer - and you might be amazed at what it takes to render the gun double action only.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A Rhino update.

Today I’m starting my promised technical evaluation of the new Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver. This will be strictly an analysis of how the gun is constructed and how it functions; my full shooting review, including my evaluation of its suitability for self defense, will appear in an upcoming issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (The review will be a must-read for anyone interested in the Rhino; I’ll be covering some aspects of the gun that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. If you’ve been thinking about
joining the USCCA and getting their superb magazine, now would be a good time!)

I received the Rhino some weeks ago, but had to return it and request another. There was a serious issue with the action on the first gun, as it had a pull that I estimated at 17 lbs. (I say estimated because my digital gauge only goes to 12 lbs, and it pegged out before the trigger even started to move!) An email to someone who I know had also gotten a Rhino for evaluation said that his example definitely didn't display that behavior. I concluded that the problem wasn't one of design but rather of production, and gave them a second chance.

The replacement arrived last week and is much better. I’m not holding it against the gun, as I’ve had out-of-the-box S&W and Ruger revolvers that displayed the same issue. In fact, I just recently sent a brand-new GP100 back to the factory for just that problem!

From a technical standpoint the Rhino is very interesting. The lockwork is complicated and very unusual, but that’s not all. The gun contains many examples of a decidedly unusual approach to building a revolver.

I’ll start my technical evaluation by saying that the engineering on the Rhino is typically Italian, and I mean that in a good way (as opposed to "typically British", which people usually take to mean the opposite. With good reason, I might add.) Having owned and worked on Italian cars and motorcycles I've grown used to how the Italians approach an engineering challenge, and while one can always find things to complain about, there are also things that make you smile and think “now THAT''S neat!" The Rhino is like that.

Take, for instance, the way the frame is constructed. The entire gun is made from an aluminum alloy, like a S&W Airweight. The breechface area of such guns, where the firing pin protrudes and the cylinder locks into place, is often subject to excessive wear (see
my article at the Personal Defense Network for a discussion.) In brief, the relatively soft aluminum wears prematurely, leading to headspacing, endshake, and cylinder lockup problems in guns that see a lot of use.

Chiappa came up with an interesting solution: make the breechface removable, and construct it from steel! Their breechface (red arrow) is polished smooth, nicely blued, and fits into the frame very precisely. It hangs off to each side of the frame, serving as the cartridge shields as well, and is quite thick - on the order of .300”.

The machining necessary to do this definitely adds to the cost of producing the Rhino, but it's a good way of ensuring that an aluminum gun will have a very long service life. I was surprised that they bothered, because no one else does and nobody would have thought twice if they hadn’t.

Next time we’ll take a look at their unique extractor star and the unintended consequences of precision.

-=[ Grant ]=-


The FedEx guy was just here and dropped this into my lap:

I’ll be doing a technical analysis here, and a shooting review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Emilio Ghisoni rides again!

From the Firearms Blog comes the news that Emilio Ghisoni's "Rhino" revolver is going to make it into production. The gun was first shown, with little or no explanation, at the German IWA show a number of years back. Chiappa Firearms apparently picked up the design from Ghisoni, and plans to introduce it next year.

Ghisoni is the owner and chief designer at
Macchine Termo Ballistica in Pavia, Italy. The company is better known by its acronym MATEBA, the brand under which the MTR8, 2006M, and Unica 6 revolvers were all sold. I do not yet know if they Rhino will carry the Mateba brand.

(A quick rant: the people who use 'Mateba' as a synonym or replacement for the model 'Unica' annoy the heck out of me. Mateba is the brand, Unica is the model. It's like referring to Word, Excel, or PowerPoint as simply "Microsoft." Yes, it's petty, but I'm complicated. Ask my wife.)

The Rhino looks like an interesting gun, and is certainly the most practical of Ghisoni's designs. Don't get me wrong, I like the MTR8 and would love to own one, but it's hardly a practical gun:

The Rhino, on the other hand, might be a viable carry piece. We'll just have to wait and see!

-=[ Grant ]=-