(Editor’s note: This is just one man’s opinion. Remember that. You are entitled to disagree and respectfully respond to his arguments in the comment section below if you so wish.)
One of the most common questions I hear asked in gun shops and online “I’m looking for a handgun but I don’t have a lot to spend. Can you recommend a budget revolver?” This question in particular comes up with people new to shooting, which makes things even more difficult. The truth is–especially for new shooters–there are more reasons not to get a budget revolver then there are to get one.
People like the idea of buying revolvers because at a glance they’re simple to use and less complicated-looking than semi-automatic pistols. Gun stores across the country repeat this every day. But they aren’t telling the whole story; it’s their business to sell guns, after all.
And it’s easy to sell revolvers. They’ve got a long, proven track record, ammo is easy to find and not really expensive, ammo options run from light target and self-defense loads to roaring magnums, people intuitively know how to make them fire and the organic outline appeals to the eye and conceals easily…it’s just not that simple.
“Simple” is the most misleading word ever used to describe revolvers. The manual of arms is usually called “simple,” as in, to make it work, all you have to do is pull the trigger–simple, right?
That all falls apart as soon as the revolver needs reloading. Reloading revolvers is tricky and so are revolver reloading systems. Stripper clips are slow, speed-loaders are hard to carry, and moon clips, well, moon clips don’t fall into the budget category very often. Even the process of swinging out the cylinder and ejecting spent cases can be difficult and it requires serious practice to perform under stress.
Many people are under the impression that because revolvers are based on older technology that internally, they’re simple, too. The reality is that on the inside they’re more complex than almost every modern semi-automatic service pistol in production today.
Revolvers were developed in an era of handcraft where clockwork mechanics were themselves in mass production. They’re complex, with many small, precisely- and individually-hand-fit components.
Today’s manufacturers have developed ways to overcome some of the complexity and necessary hand-fitting through engineering, though, which brings us to the first reason not to buy a budget revolver.
1. Budget Revolvers Can be Clunky
If the main reason good revolvers are good is because they are an assembly of intricate hand-fit parts, and you take away the intricacy and work with tolerances and clearances that eliminate the need for hand-fitting, you’re eliminating the essence of what makes them good.
When you look at a lot of budget revolvers they have heavy double-action triggers and in many cases heavy, gritty and otherwise sub-par single-action triggers, if they even have single-action triggers.
Some of this is because of the geometry of the parts but a lot of this is the use of heavy springs, which are necessary to overcome rough, unfinished surfaces that have a lot of friction and drag on each other. With lighter springs those rough surfaces become a liability and can lead to poor reliability.
The end product is a gun that’s harder to use, harder to aim well and ultimately will not last long.
2. Budget Revolvers Can be Loose
In order to reduce or eliminate the need for hand-fitting, budget revolvers designs tolerate wider gaps between parts. This isn’t a huge deal for internal trigger components; they’re under spring tension which takes out any noticeable slack. But it is a huge deal for the cylinder.
The cylinder is the heart of the revolver. Everything about a revolver centers on getting the cylinder turned to and aligned with the barrel. There are a lot of moving parts involved and the gap around each adds up.
There are mechanism on every revolver to lock the cylinder in place while firing, but like with the rest of the gun, budget manufacturers will accept more play with these parts, and the result is a revolver with looser timing.
The worse the cylinder timing is–its alignment with the barrel–the worse the wear on the cylinder parts will be. This is cumulative with every shot and worst with magnum loads. Every gun wears a little with every shot, but revolvers that don’t lock up tightly don’t wear, they self-destruct.
Some of this can be addressed by using low-pressure ammo, but then the revolver loses one of it’s best selling points, the ability to shoot ammo that is off the table for all but the most exotic semi-autos.
3. Budget Revolvers Can use Cheap Metal
Even if the timing is pretty good on a budget revolver, one of the most cut corners is the cost of quality alloys for frames. It’s not just the metal used to manufacture parts that saves budget manufacturers money, it’s all the tooling used to cut and finish those parts–everything costs more when a company chooses use harder alloys for their products.
All of the problems that are caused by loose timing are exaggerated when a revolver is made using inexpensive materials. The cylinder parts wear faster, the timing goes out more with every shot and the frame can begin to stretch, increasing the cylinder gap and mis-aligning the barrel and cylinder.
These can, and have, lead to the death of many cheap revolvers. The thing is, most people don’t put the round count on a budget revolver to cause these kinds of problems, and that’s something the people making these guns rely on.
4. Used Revolvers Can be Better
Thirty-eight Special has been kicking around for a century and then some and there are plenty of used handguns out there to prove it. With patience and a little knowledge its not to hard to find what you’re looking for.
These guns may have surface wear and dull finishes but they were made to a higher standard, and even used with often unknown round counts, are still tougher and better-fit than many new budget revolvers.
You don’t need Python money to get a good used revolver from a private sale or police trade-in. People find and trade old guns all the time–something GunsAmerica.com knows more than a little about–and there are many good guides out there to help you buy guns online and in person.
If you’re on a budget the condition isn’t quite as important, and if the gun has been refinished that just makes it more affordable. You might not find a deal today but there will be one down the road.
Buy a Used Model 10 on GunsAmerica.com: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=smith%20wesson%20model%2010
Buy a Used Single Six on GunsAmerica.com: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=single%20six
If you feel like you need a new gun in a hurry, you can always buy a budget semi-automatic instead.
5. New Semi-Autos are Everywhere
For self-defense there are few reasons to pick up a revolver over an automatic today. The era of unreliable subcompacts and pocket pistols has been over for a long time and today not only are they proven, they’re affordable, too.
Automatics in general have a much greater capacity, less felt recoil for high-pressure rounds, shoot faster follow-up shots and often have provisions for night sights and weaponlights. They’re a million times easier to reload and spare magazines carry easily.
The argument that they’re simple is only a half-truth, and when a revolver has a stoppage it can take a trip to a gunsmith to fix. Should you experience a failure to eject or double-feed on a semi-auto–as unlikely as they are today even with cheap pistols–they’re easy to fix with a malfunction drill.
Revolvers have one advantage that is often touted in the revolver-versus-automatic debate, and it’s undeniable: you do not have to rack the slide on a revolver; you can’t, it obviously doesn’t have one. That single element has sold more revolvers, budget or otherwise, than any other revolver characteristic. The thing is, that, too, is misleading.
Short of a disability anyone can learn to rack the slide on a handgun. It’s a matter of technique, not sheer strength, and in extreme cases there are slide-racking accessories including hooked sights, extended striker plates and tabbed slides to make it possible for anyone to get their pistol loaded and ready.
Now with this all said, does that mean there’s no reason to buy a budget revolver? No, not at all. Knowing what their deal is and their shortcomings, a budget revolver can be a fun and useful addition to any handgun collection. But for a first gun, or a gun you may need to depend on, a budget revolver can come up short. Keep an eye out for wear, don’t shoot them if they stop locking up tightly, and never forget that they have a half-life of sorts, and every round gets you closer to it.
Check Out These Guns at $350 or less on GunsAmerica.com: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.htm?T=<id-cl=1&as=365&mx=350&cid=3&ns=0&numberperpage=50&