How a revolver works
About Guns

How a Revolver Works

To best understand how a gun works,  let’s take a look at the two types of handguns separately. They each work differently and each have advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will look at the Revolver.

If you haven’t already, check out Parts Of a Revolver here to get an overview of the parts of this type of gun before learning how they work.

Click here to learn how a Semi-Automatic pistol woks.

The Revolver

S&W model 60ls

Revolvers have a cylinder with multiple chambers. Each chamber holds a round of ammunition holds a round of ammunition. Most models hold 5 or 6 rounds. Pulling the trigger rotates the cylinder and aligns the loaded chamber with the barrel and the gun then fires.

A revolver is a very simple machine; therefore there is little that can go wrong with the firing process. This makes a revolver a good and reliable choice for self-defense. Although all guns need to be cleaned regularly, the revolver’s simple mechanics makes it less-dependent on thorough cleaning. Revolvers, however, are bulkier and heavier than pistols and tend to hold fewer rounds of ammunition. They also lack many of the safety features commonly found on semi-automatic pistols, such as external safeties. However, Revolvers often have a longer and harder trigger pull, which makes it very difficult to accidentally pull the trigger.

What About Caliber?

The best defensive calibers in a revolver are .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and .45, as the speed and size of the bullet is great for a handgun. There are a number of lightweight and smaller, hammerless revolvers that are very popular with women. A hammerless revolver still has the hammer but it is shrouded within the gun and free from obstruction. The .38 Special and .357 caliber models are very popular with women but remember that the larger the caliber, generally the larger the recoil.

Revolvers are available in three different action types. The action type describes the way a gun functions. The three action types of revolvers are Single Action (SA), Double Action (DA), or Double Action Only (DAO).

Single-Action Revolver (SA)

In a single-action revolver, the hammer is manually cocked, usually with the thumb of the firing or supporting hand. This action rotates and advances the cylinder to the next round and locks the cylinder in place with the chamber aligned with the barrel. The trigger, when pulled, releases the hammer, which fires the round in the chamber. To fire again, the hammer must be manually cocked again. This is called “single-action” because the trigger only performs the single action of releasing the hammer.

Double-Action Revolver (DA)

In a double-action revolver, pulling the trigger generates two actions: First, the hammer is pulled back to the cocked position while the cylinder is being rotated to the next round, followed by the second action where is the hammer is released, striking the firing pin. This allows for uncocked carry and draw-and-fire using only the trigger. A longer and harder trigger-pull is the trade-off for the double-action. However, this drawback can also be viewed as a safety feature as accidental discharges are less likely if the gun is dropped. Most double-action revolvers may be fired in both ways, Single and Double action.

Double-Action-Only (DAO)


Ruger LCR

Certain revolvers, called double-action-only (DAO), lack the latch that locks the hammer to the rear. DAO designs tend to have bobbed or spurless hammers, and may even have the hammer completely covered by the revolver’s frame (i.e., shrouded or hooded, shown above). With no way to lock the hammer back, they can only be fired in the double action mode. These are generally intended for concealed carrying, where a hammer spur could snag when drawn from clothing or from a concealed carry purse, so these models make a good choice for concealed carry use.


DA and DAO revolvers are the recommended revolvers for self-defense. Single Action action revolvers require cocking for firing each round, which takes precious time and is harder to shoot multiple rounds quickly.

Let’s list and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of revolvers.


  • Extremely reliable
  • Simple to operate. Not necessary to “rack the slide” – This is a real advantage to anyone with weak or limited hand strength
  • Highly accurate at greater distances (approximately 15 yards and farther). This accuracy decreases with the smaller, shorter barreled revolvers
  • Generally more moderately priced
  • Double-Action models shoot multiple rounds quickly
  • Use of multiple calibers of ammunition in a some models (for example, both .38 Special and .357 Magnum can be fired from the same gun)
  • A better choice for concealed carry within a purse (The slide of a semi-auto needs ample room to fully cycle, which shooting from a purse does not allow)
  • Easy to clean and doesn’t require as meticulous cleaning


    • Bulkier
    • Heavier
    • Harder trigger pull
    • Holds fewer rounds
    • “Typically” greater recoil
    • There is no safety catch on a revolver (There are a few models that have locking trigger features such as many Taurus models.)
    • Firing in Single-Action models require cocking for each round. This makes shooting multiple rounds quickly more difficult

What Next?

Still want to learn more about guns? Read my article Let’s Learn About Guns to help guide you to more information!

Ready to

If you are ready to purchase a gun for yourself, here is a helpful article to guide you in the process. “The Best Gun For Women” . We also have a collection of gun reviews written by women. Here you can learn what they like or dislike about a variety of gun models.


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6 thoughts on “How a Revolver Works

  1. Rose says:

    I’m looking to buy my first gun. You mention “accidental discharges are less likely if the gun is dropped”. How likely are guns to be fired if dropped? I thought only if the trigger is pulled does it fire? Are you insinuating that if the hammer is pulled back accidentally, then pushed forward that will fire the firearm? How much concern should that be when looking into the specs of a gun?

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      It is very rare and even more so with newer guns. Most newer guns have firing pin blocks. Older antique guns don’t. Here are some articles that may be helpful to you. and

  2. Sandy Paavel says:

    Love a revolver over a semi auto any day. I have a Rugerthat is simply best lightweight revolver for have ever shot! I started. My career with a 4 “ S&w 38 police special! That how I learned to shoot now that I’m older retired and have arthritis in my hands . I prefer the small revolver to any other handgun!

  3. I’m 73 y/o. Just purchased my first handgun; a S&W 3″ .22 Revolver. You seem to promote a more powerful gun. But I was most comfortable and had excellent accuracy with this one. Have a 20 g. shotgun for the house. What’s your opinion? In the process of taking CCW classes and getting in much range practice to become more comfortable.

  4. Christine Speaks says:

    Do you know where I can take a class. I want to purchase a gun….but I want to learn how to shoot first.

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Good morning,
      We have an instructor database where you can search near your area to see if there is a TWAW certified instructor near you. You can find the directory here

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