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How to Troubleshoot a Revolver; Inspection May Tell You Why Your Gun's Messed Up

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How to Troubleshoot a Revolver - Inspect the Hammer and Firing Pin
Cocking the hammer of a revolver often allows inspection of the firing pin.

The hammer is cocked on this Smith & Wesson Model 66 revolver, allowing inspection of the firing pin. The firing pin (indicated by the arrow) should be rounded on the end - not jagged or sharp.

Photo © Russ Chastain
I recently received this inquiry from a reader:

"I am having misfires with all types of ammo. Visually everything appears okay, but suddenly it is only putting a dent in the cartridge and only one or two rounds will fire. Any help?"

This shooter clearly has a problem. Let's walk through the steps that I would take in a case like that in order to determine what was wrong with my gun.

Before you begin, review the basic rules of gun safety.

First, unload the gun. If you think it's unloaded, check anyway. Check it twice - eyeball every chamber in the cylinder to ensure that there is no ammunition in the gun.

If it's a double action revolver, close the cylinder.

Cock the hammer and examine it. The reader above was shooting a Smith & Wesson Model 66, which is the same model shown above. The firing pin on this model - and on many other revolvers as well - is attached to the hammer.

By the way, a revolver is not a pistol, and vice versa.

If your firing pin is attached to the hammer, look closely at it and make sure the end of it is rounded, not jagged or sharp. If it's not nicely rounded, the firing pin may have broken, and if it fires a cartridge at all it may pierce the primer, allowing hot gases to spew rearward. Not good.

On many models with hammer-mounted firing pins, the firing pin is mounted loosely to the hammer. If so, don't panic. This is okay, it's meant to be that way.

If the firing pin isn't present, examine the hammer's face. With use, it may become slightly peened, and that's usually okay - but severe damage to its forward face (which hammers on the firing pin or transfer bar in order to fire a cartridge) could result in misfires.

If the firing pin is broken or doesn't look right, it's time to head down to the gunsmith's shop to confirm your diagnosis and have the pin replaced if necessary.

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