Pistol vs. Revolver Part 1

You might be thinking what’s the difference? A revolver is a pistol.

While a revolver is a handgun, it is not a pistol, and I’d like to explain both and talk a little bit about their advantages and disadvantages.

A pistol is a semi automatic handgun that uses recoil to extract and chamber another round, it’s basic parts are the frame, grips, slide and barrel. It’s called a semi automatic, because only one round is fired with each trigger pull.

The Kahr MK9 is a semi automatic pistil chambered in 9mm.
The Kahr MK9 is a semi automatic pistol chambered in 9mm.

Firing a round with a semi automatic pistol causes causes the gasses of the fired round to move the slide backwards, which then ejects the fired casing. A recoil spring forced the slide forward, grabbing the next round from the magazine, and loading the round into the chamber, making the pistol ready to fire once again.

A revolver uses a rotating cylinder which rotates with each trigger pull.  The fired casings stay inside the cylinder until you eject them, typical revolvers hold 5-6 rounds. The basic parts of a revolver are the frame, grip, barrel and cylinder.

The S&W 642 is a double action revolver chambered in .38 Special.
The S&W 642 is a double action revolver chambered in .38 Special.

The main advantage of a revolver is that they are less likely to encounter “feeding” issues since the rounds are not ejected and ‘chambered’.  That said, they are not problem free, and can have issues of their own, such as cylinder lock up, where the cylinder will not rotate for whatever reason. A key disadvantage to a revolver is that is simply doesn’t have the ability to hold very many rounds, as mentioned the number of rounds is typically 5 or 6.

As you can imagine, the main advantage to a semi automatic pistol is that they typically hold more rounds (usually 7 or more and up to 19 or so in a standard configuration full size model). Magazines are also easy to change, as well as carry a spare. Another advantage of a pistol is that their design helps absorb felt recoil. The main disadvantage to a pistol is their action, which requires a lot of movement and things to happen at a high rate of speed (slide moving back, round extracted, new round loaded into chamber).

The differences will be gone through in more detail in an upcoming article regarding a pistol vs revolver for carry.


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