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Myth Busted: Revolvers Don’t Fail

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

top break revolver

Here is a photo of my old Top-Break US Revolver Co., a very old and non-functioning gun.

Revolver Reliability Myth–

Have you ever heard someone say something like:

the thing I like about revolvers is that they never malfunction

I know I have, and I probably have said it in the past. It sounds rational but isn't true.

Yeah, sure, there are other, more important issues in the world. So if you disagree and want to stop reading, it's your choice. However, I don't write this to stir up arguments like the never-ending, ‘what is the best caliber‘ war.

I write because many have put unwarranted trust into a revolver because they believe it can't fail. And no, I'm not saying revolvers are bad guns for everyday carry (EDC), but not because ‘they never malfunction.'

Sample Size Matters–

‘But I've never had a malfunction with my revolver.' Glock owners say the same thing. So do Sig owners, Smith and Wesson owners, and on and on. So are we to believe the only guns that malfunction are made by Taurus and Skyy? Nope, because I just offended the Taurus and Skyy owners who have ‘never had a malfunction with their ___.”

–Some manufacturers and models have a more solid track record for reliability than others–

I hope you're getting the point. Every gun can malfunction, and it doesn't matter what platform or manufacturer from which it comes.

If you shoot a box of ammo every few months, you might never have a malfunction. However, shooting a high volume of rounds under many different conditions will eventually experience a malfunction.

Personally, I've never had a mechanical revolver malfunction. I own a few and shoot them somewhat regularly. However, the front sight fell off a 627 PC I was evaluating for a review one time.

Revolvers Do Fail–

Revolvers are not as susceptible to some of the same issues semi-automatics have (feeding issues with hollow points, slide obstruction, magazine feeding issues, etc.,) but they indeed fail. And when they do break, it's usually catastrophic and cannot be easily or quickly fixed.

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 want to do my part to fight against fake news.

Where's the Proof?

Admittedly I haven't researched the topic past my personal experiences. However, I've asked some of my instructor friends if they see revolvers fail in their classes. Every one of them said they have. Thankfully, a guy who knows a lot about revolvers called Darryl Bolke wrote a Facebook post explaining his extensive experience with revolvers. In addition, Greg Ellifritz from Active Response Training put it into a blog post and then followed up with his thoughts on the topic.

In summary, revolvers fail. They especially fail when pressure testing the gear under ‘real-world' use. Nevertheless, I highly recommend reading the articles. You will find it well worth the time.

A fun Exercise–

While not as scientific as Ellifritz and Bolke's study, I went for an ‘entertaining' look into the myth.

I'm in a private Facebook group for revolver ‘fanatics.' Below is an honest question someone posted to the group.

 

What followed was a typical social media frenzy response from well-meaning individuals, trolls who only insult, as well as responses from experienced and novice gun owners.

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

Actual Responses, ‘Not Paid Actors'–

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 and is fed up 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 only to want to fire single action. 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 is from a certified S&W armorer and lists multiple issues revolvers may have. 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 following screenshot —

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

Finally, What's The Point?

The point of all this is simple and not to pick on revolvers. Revolvers do malfunction. 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 you're carrying the gun for self-defense.

False information can be deadly.

You don't have to have malice to spread false information. So let's get the facts out there so people can choose the gun based on actual data.

Regardless of what kind of gun you like, safety applies universally to us all. I recommend gifting this free course to a new gun owner or possibly someone who needs a refresher on utilizing the pistol in a self-defense context and doing so safely.

Concealed Carry gun Safety Course

gun safety course

*This post is updated and was originally published in March or 2019

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21 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.

  14. Steven November 5, 2020 at 6:10 am #

    If the timing is off it will skip a beat usually in older revolvers!

  15. Joseph Marino December 19, 2021 at 9:39 pm #

    How do I reply

  16. Joseph Marino December 19, 2021 at 9:43 pm #

    Revolvers do fail , in 1981 while I was at work the store was held up by 3 armed perps and before fleeing one of them put a 38 revolver to my head and pulled the trigger , and by the grace of god the gun failed , however less then 10 minutes later the same 38 was fully functional during a shootout with the police , so I’m here to say they can fail

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