Parts of a Revolver: A Breakdown
Few handguns are more iconic than the revolver. American lore is full of revolvers, from Civil War calvary men to cowboys taming the west, and in law enforcement up to and through the 1990s, revolvers are an embedded piece of Americana. Revolvers are still in widespread use today. They are used by hunters carrying big-bore cartridges like .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, and .500 S&W. They are favored for self-defense by many, and millions of them have been handed down for generations. They may be dated but the prevalence of revolvers is undeniable.
Revolvers are one of the first repeating firearms. The design has been used in a lot of firearms that would look foreign to us. By the mid-1800s, however, revolvers were widely used that are easily recognizable to day. In 1873 the Colt Model 73, better known as the Single-Action Army came along. Known as the “gun that won the West,” this is one of the most recognizable revolvers in history. Double-action revolvers came along soon after that with Smith & Wesson and Colt leading the pack for decades. Ruger came along in the 1950s and also became a serious player. Many more revolver brands are
With millions of revolvers out there, there’s a decent chance you, dear reader, own one. If you don’t, you may at some point, and you almost certainly know someone who does. We hope that this piece will familiarize you with the parts of a revolver – important information should u
Anatomy of a Revolver
Revolvers are often accused of being “simple” firearms. In reality, revolvers are fairly complicated. There are a lot of moving parts that have to act on a revolver’s action to both cock and drop the hammer, while simultaneously turning the cylinder, aligning its chambers perfectly with the bore (in six different positions), and locking and holding it there during firing. The revolver does not work linearly, and a lot of rounded surfaces have to mate with each other to make a revolver work.
The basic function of a revolver is as follows. The cylinder is loaded with cartridges and closed. As the trigger is pulled (on a double-action revolver) or the hammer is thumb-cocked (on a single-action revolver), the cylinder turns. It aligns a chamber with the barrel. As the trigger is pulled, the hammer falls, striking the firing pin, which strikes the primer. The cartridge is fired and the bullet is pushed out of the chamber and into the barrel. As the trigger is pulled or hammer is cocked again, the cycler repeats itself. until the revolver is empty. At this point the empties are manually ejected.
Now let’s look at the parts of the revolver, starting with the large, structural components.
Frame: The frame is the largest, single component in most revolvers. It consists of all the metal around the cylinder and the grip. The frame is the revolver’s chassis, the base component to which everything else is attached. It contains pretty much everything other than the barrel and cylinder and external grip panels. The frame has quite a few individual components. Let’s start at the top.
The topmost portion of the frame is called the “top strap;” whether this is one word or two is subject of some debate. The top strap usually houses the rear sight and covers the cylinder. Some break-top revolvers – almost always rimfires – lack a top strap, but almost all centerfire revolvers have one. The big hole where the cylinder sits is called the “frame window.” The portion of the frame extending down into the grip is called the “grip frame,” and this is where grip panels are attached.
The frame also has a good deal to do with the revolver’s size. Smith & Wesson has a line of frame sizes that are identified with letters. The J-frame is the smallest, and is there line of snubnose revolvers. Other manufacturers often make a comparable frame-size. The K-frame is a medium frame revolver like the Model 66 or Ruger’s defunct Security Six. The L-frame is S&W’s “medium-large” frame. The Colt Python is comparably sized. The N-frame is a true large frame an is mostly used for big-bore cartridges like .44 Magnum.
Barrel: The barrel is the tube through which bullets are expelled when the gun is fired. The inside of the barrel is “rifled” with hands and grooves that impart a spin to the bullet. This makes the bullet stable in flight and is necessary for accuracy. The barrel is also the mounting location for the front sight. Common revolver barrel lengths are 2-, 3-, and 4-inches for defensive-oriented revolvers, and 4-, 6- and 8- inches for hunting revolvers.
Most current-production revolvers have a full- or partial underlug. The underlug is simply additional metal along the bottom of the barrel. A full underlug like that seen on a S&W Model 686 can add weight, which helps to control recoil. A partial underlug, like that see on the Ruger GP100 Match Champion provides protection for the ejector rod, cuts down on weight, making the revolver lighter and more easily carried.
Cylinder: The cylinder is the revolver’s namesake component because it revolves around a cylinder pin, aligning successive chambers with the barrel. A revolver cylinder usually has six chambers. Small, J-frame (and similar) revolvers have only five chambers. Larger revolvers may have as many as seven or eight center fire chambers, and rimfire revolvers may have as many as ten.
The cylinder swings out of the revolver on a part known as the yoke or crane; S&W calls it the yoke while Colt has always called it a crane. We say take your pick. Most revolver cylinders lock into the place at the front and rear. The cylinder pin is the most common locking mechanism for the rear lock up of the cylinder. It is the spring-loaded pin in the center of the cylinder.
Trigger: The revolver’s trigger is responsible for firing the gun. Revolvers are either Single Action (SA) or Double Action (DA). Single action means that the trigger does not cock the hammer. The hammer must be thumb cocked, then the trigger will release the hammer. A double action revolver trigger will cock the hammer and release it in one pull of the trigger. Most DA revolvers can also be fired single action.
Hammer: All revolvers have a hammer. The hammer falls and strikes the primer, setting off a chain of events that results in a round of ammunition being fired. Some older revolvers have a firing pin that is mounted directly on the hammer. Most newer revolvers have the firing pin mounted in the frame.
The hammer is cocked via an appendage called the hammer spur. Some revolvers will lack a hammer spur; such hammers are usually called “bobbed” hammers. If the revolver has no visible hammer at all it may be called “hammerless,” even though it has one (it’s just hidden). So-called hammerless revolvers are a special type of double-action known as Double Action Only (DAO).
Sights: Revolver sights typically come in one of two varieties: fixed and adjustable. The fixed sights are nearly always some sort of front sight mated to a single groove machined in the top strap. The front sight may simply be milled out of the barrel stock, or it may be a separate part, pinned in place. These fixed sights are often fairly small. There is almost no chance whatsoever of them breaking, but they can leave something to be desired in the accuracy department.
Adjustable revolver sights are common on larger (K-frame and up) revolvers meant for duty or field use. These revolvers have a fixed front sight and a rear sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. Adjustable revolver sights are slightly less durable, but can be extremely accurate.
Grips: One of the biggest benefits of revolvers is that they can be made to fit a large variety of hand sizes. Most revolver grip frames are much smaller than the actual grips on the gun, so grips may be very small through very large, and everything in between. Revolver grips are made from a wide variety of materials including wood, rubber, and G10. They can be smooth or checkered, or some combination to suit your needs. Revolver grips are easily changed and a very accessible means of customizing your revolver.
Trigger Guard: The trigger guard on most revolvers is integral to the frame. Most trigger guards found on revolvers are fairly large and can accommodate shooting with gloved hands. Some revolvers, like Colt’s 2019 remake of the King Cobra, have an enlarged trigger guard for this purpose. Some very old, custom revolvers like the “Fitz Specials” have the trigger guard cut off (or partially cut off) but this practice is strongly discouraged today.
Cylinder Release Latch: The cylinder release (on double-action revolvers with a swing-out cylinder) is located on the left side of the frame, just behind the cylinder. There are several styles: S&W’s must be pushed forward, Colt’s must be pulled backwards, and Ruger’s is a button that must be pushed in to allow the cylinder to swing out. Most other manufacturers use some variation of these three themes.
Ejector Rod: the ejector rod protrudes out the forward end of the cylinder. When the cylinder is open, it can be depressed. This rod acts on the extractor star, which pulls empties out of the chambers. If the revolver is held muzzle up and the ejector rod is slapped, it will usually push all the brass out, clearing the chambers for reload. When the cylinder is closed the ejector rod lives under the barrel, usually in a groove milled out of the underlug.
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Revolvers are some of the most popular handguns in America to this day! Despite being mid-1800s technology, revolvers still bring some outstanding capability to the table. Very compact revolvers make reliable, tough, and powerful defensive handguns and backup guns, especially when loaded up with something like our .38 Special 125-grain +P JHP. Revolvers – especially in .357 Magnum or .44 Special – make great, general-purpose backcountry and trail guns. The big boys – the .44 Mags, .475 Linebaughs, and .480 Rugers, will put down the most dangerous game. Regardless of what revolver you have, shop Grizzly cartridge for the highest quality, most powerful, purpose-built revolver ammunition out there!