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Myth Busted: Revolvers Don’t Fail

top break revolver

My old Top-Break US Revlover Co. This is a very old, and non-functioning gun.

I'm sure I'm about to ruffle some feathers on this one, and that's okay because what I'm about to say is true and that's all that really matters. There are tons of myths floating around from folks and I'd like to put one of them to rest today.

The myth in question, is that revolvers don't malfunction.

Read my lips, er, words — that's just not true.

It may not be malicious. They may just be misinformed people saying things they think to be true but aren't. Or, maybe because they've never had a malfunction with a revolver they group them all together as being the ultimate non-breaking mechanical device.

Let me be clear, I've never had a mechanical revolver malfunction, myself, and I own a few and shoot them regularly. (I say it that way, because I have had the front sight fall off a 627 PC)

But revolvers do fail.

Maybe not as often, but when they do break they usually have a catastrophic malfunction that cannot be fixed as you're using it or defending yourself against an attack with it.

Yes, they do break less often. They have less malfunctions than a semi-auto handgun does, but they DO have them.

Now, I'm not beating up on the revolver here, I do own a few of them and carry them on a semi-regular basis. I'm just trying to fix something untrue that's caught on like wildfire: the myth that revolvers never malfunction.

How can I prove it to you? It's not scientific, unfortunately. Remember I've never had a revolver malfunction myself.

However, I'm a member of a Facebook Group called Wheel Gun Fun. A question was recently posed by a member:

That person asked a very serious question in the private group, and there are hundreds of comments so far. The answers ranged from people saying that they've never experienced a revolver malfunction of any kind, to people experiencing several.

Please note that the following screen shots are from actual people in the group, though I have chosen to hide their identity because it took place in a private group.

This first comment is from someone who has had multiple revolvers fail —

And, if there were a couple of themes I feel like I noticed, it's that “hammerless” revolvers seem to have more problems, in general, than their hammered brethren.

By the way, I'm not the only one who has heard the myth that revolvers don't fail, here is someone who has heard the same thing, to the point where he yelled at everyone —

Here's another —

It is a common myth and something I've unfortunately heard many times.

This next one was a DA/SA (double action / single action) gun–a S&W 686 in 357 Mag that seemed to only want to fire single action. On one hand, at least the gun still worked.

But, I can't imagine having to defend myself with a gun that only worked each time I pulled back the hammer —

This next one lists out multiple different issues that a revolver can have, from a certified S&W armorer. While many gun failures, for both revolvers and semi-autos, are ammo or operator error, sometimes mechanical parts just break —

Then again, sometimes it's just a maintenance issue, like we see in this next screenshot —

And of course, we have ammo failures like we see here —

The point of all this is simple and not to pick on revolvers. Revolvers do malfunction. Maybe not as often as semi-autos, but they do fail. To say otherwise, to say that a mechanical thing won't or cannot break is false.

The key with all firearms is to keep them well maintained and in tip top shape, especially if your life depends on it.

The reason why I'm addressing this, is because false information can be deadly. Imagine if you will, someone new to guns buys a revolver for self-protection and one day actually has to use it. Only, for some reason it goes out of time.

The person then has to stop defending himself with a dumbfounded look thinking to him or herself, but revolvers aren't supposed to malfunction. What happened?

What happened is that well-intentioned people misinformed you.

I mentioned above that I carry a revolver on a semi-regular basis. When I do, and for a few of my semi-autos as well, I tend to carry in a JM4 Tactical Quick Click & Carry Holster. They are definitely worth checking out.

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18 Responses to Myth Busted: Revolvers Don’t Fail

  1. thebobo March 18, 2019 at 2:37 pm #

    Anything mechanical can fail , but removing the failure to feed and stovepipe by not having a magazine is to me a good thing . But I do prefer to carry my revolver, so I am biased….lol

    • John M. March 20, 2019 at 8:39 pm #

      Long time ago in a place far away, I was ordered to run a requal course for members of the US military unit I was assigned to. It was 15 people using their assigned weapons, which were 3 1911’s and 12 revolvers (2 inch barrels, probably Smith 10’s but I don’t actually remember any more). During the requal shoot, one 1911 and two revolvers busted and would no longer function. Finished the course with spare weapons. Don’t recall exact malfunctions (wasn’t my problem), but not ammunition related, everybody using GI ball. Probably a matter of many years of use and indifferent maintenance (although these were our “assigned” weapons, none of us had ever seen them before, and didn’t again, for that matter.

      Later, in RVN, I was issued a brand new 1911 which I actually carried all the time, and shot, discovering in the process that the brand new extractor had very sharp edges which would hang up on cartridge rims and cause failure to feed. A file fixed that. But what I learned from all that was to always test anything you are going to depend upon, and know it inside and out.

  2. Steven March 20, 2019 at 7:14 am #

    Great article! I make sure that my firearms are clean always just gives me more confidence and I always practice at home to get familiar with the firearm before I go to the range.Kudos to you thanx!!

  3. Sam March 20, 2019 at 8:33 am #

    You say you’ve never had a “mechanical” revolver fail. So, what other non-mechanical designs of revolver handguns have you shot?

    • Joshua Gillem March 20, 2019 at 6:43 pm #

      Hey Sam, I think you’re reading too far into what I said. I’m not saying I’ve shot other types of revolvers, just that there are other types of malfunctions. Ammo and operator error to name a couple. Thanks for the comment.

  4. David Jackson March 20, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    I was involved in a failure to fire in a situation of life and death years a go with my father in law and brother in law when we were attacked by 3 thugs outside a restaurant, my father in law had a Smith and Wesson model 36 which he carried in his waistband without a holster, gun failed to advance due to cylinder being rusted to the frame, luckily we were able to fight off attackers and prevail uninjured, all three were held for police after being subdued

    • Joshua Gillem March 20, 2019 at 9:39 am #

      Wow, I’m glad everything worked out good for you.

    • David Jackson March 21, 2019 at 6:35 am #

      Forgot to mention all 3 were armed with knives and tried unsuccessfully to file charges of felony assault for the beatings they received

  5. Tim March 20, 2019 at 8:46 am #

    Had a Charter Arms 38 Special break the part that slides the part up between hammer and firing pin. Would not fire. Still under warranty. Sent in and they returned it fixed. Only had about 150 rounds through it. A nice gun for a backup, but sold it shortly afterwards, not trusting it.

    • Joshua Gillem March 20, 2019 at 9:37 am #

      I have a Charter and love it. But, any gun can break. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Timothy Toroain March 20, 2019 at 8:54 am #

    Of course, revolvers fail. I’ve had a firing pin tip break off, a pivot stud for a hammer break, and various springs fail/weaken.

  7. Pat March 20, 2019 at 9:00 am #

    I have heard that if you shoot .357 +P in a S&W model 19, it can crack the frame. I have one of those guns, and I only shoot .38 special in it just to be sure.

  8. Mitt Radates March 20, 2019 at 11:31 am #

    Anyone who thinks revolvers are more robust and simpler than semi-autos has never disassembled one to do a spring replacement or trigger job. Cylinder timing and alignment, hammer spring and trigger-return spring pressures, cylinder gap clearance, hand and pawl wear are all potential failure points.

  9. Paul March 20, 2019 at 12:25 pm #

    The only failures I’ve had with revolvers were ammo related using reloads. Two very old guns; one S&W and one Colt both locked up when I used loads that were a bit hotter than the old steel could handle. Only shoot cowboy action loads in them now. Both were 32-20s. Two other guns found the rare round that didn’t have enough powder to get the bullet to leave the barrel. None of the guns were damaged by the incidents

  10. Hunter March 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm #

    Long ago, brother and I had a Colt that was worn with bad timing. It fired only when hammer-cocked. Fixed by ‘smith. In the last decade, Taurus 85 locked up and wouldn’t release the cylinder. More recently, the firing pin broke (same gun). ‘Smith fixed both.

  11. bob onit March 20, 2019 at 6:28 pm #

    mainspring 629 s&w snapped in two

  12. Charles W. VanEpps March 22, 2019 at 4:04 pm #

    Revolvers are a mechanical device and any mechanical device is subject to issues of a mechanical failure nature. Compared to the myriad of issues that can plague semi autos, revolvers are considered to be more reliable. Maintenance and regular cleaning care can greatly reduce failure and function issues in any firearm. I personally own S&W, Ruger, Colt and Taurus revolvers, S&W, Sig Sauer, Ruger, Beretta, Browning, Glock, SCCY and Walther semi autos. I have shot competitively since the early 60s and have had only one S&W revolver actually breakdown, it happened in practice for a short gun match, a Chief Special that locked up on double action. I boxed it up and sent it to the factory for repairs, that same 5 shot still works perfectly. I wish I could say the same for some of the semi autos I have owned over the years. Depending on the type of ammo your using revolvers will tolerate a lot more rounds through them than most semi autos before a good cleaning is required. Much of the powder residue in a revolver is expelled from the head space while it’s pretty much contained internally within a semi auto.

  13. Kent Beebe December 7, 2019 at 7:16 pm #

    After a day at the range with my S&W Chief’s Special.38 hammer fired snubnose, firing inexpensive but dirty Federal ammo, I neglected to clean the gun that night.
    Next day at the range I was able to fire the first aligned cartridge, then it carbon welded the cylinder advance in place. I couldn’t advance the cylinder in single action or even open the cylinder. A few hours of saturation with penetrating oil and a thorough cleanup has prevented a repeat performance.

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