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Old 05-02-2009, 10:14   #1
Restless28
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How Do I Quick-Check a Used Revolver?

Give me some easy pointers on what I should check on a used revolver.
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:30   #2
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There's a very good write-up in a thread on another board, found here.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jim March back in 2001 on another message board:
So you're buying a revolver. New, used, doesn't matter, you want a good one, right?

How do check one over without firing it, right at the dealer's counter or gun show table?

This is how. All of this works with DA or SA wheelguns..."close the action" on most DAs means swing the cylinder in, on SA types, close the loading gate, on breakopens, close 'em. UNLOADED.

WARNING: most of these tests require violation of the "finger off trigger" rule. Therefore, be extremely careful about safe muzzle direction and making sure the gun is unloaded ahead of time, PERSONALLY, as you begin handling it.

Note: bring a small flashlight, something small and concentrated. A Photon or similar high-powered LED light is perfect. You also want feeler gauges if you're not used to eyeballing cylinder gaps; at a minimum, bring a .002", .004" and .006".

Note2: no dry firing is required or desired at any point. It just pisses off the gun's current owner.

Cylinder play.

1) With the gun UNLOADED (check for yourself!), close the action.

2) Thumb the hammer back, and while pulling the trigger, gently lower the hammer all the way down while keeping the trigger back - and KEEP holding the trigger once the hammer is down. (You've now put the gun in "full lockup" - keep it there for this and most other tests.)

3) With the trigger still back all the way, check for cylinder wiggle. Front/back is particularly undesirable; a bit of side to side is OK but it's a bad thing if you can wiggle it one way, let go, and then spin it the other way a fraction of an inch and it stays there too. At the very least, it should "want" to stop in just one place (later, we'll see if that place is any good). The ultimate is a "welded to the frame" feeling.

Cylinder gap

4) Still holding the trigger at full lockup, look sideways through the barrel/cylinder gap. If you can get a credit card in there, that ain't good...velocity drops rapidly as the gap increases. Too tight isn't good either, because burnt powder crud will "fill the gap" and start making the cylinder spin funky. My personal .38snubbie is set at .002, usually considered the minimum...after about 40 shots at the range, I have to give the front of the cylinder a quick wipe so it spins free again. I consider that a reasonable tradeoff for the increased velocity because in a real fight, I ain't gonna crank 40 rounds out of a 5-shot snub .

If you're eyeballing it, you'll have to hold it up sideways against an overhead light source.

SAFETY WARNING: This step in particular is where you MUST watch your muzzle direction. Look, part of what's happening here is that you're convincing the seller you know your poop . It helps the haggling process. If you do anything unsafe, that impression comes completely unglued.

Timing

5) You really, REALLY want an unloaded gun for this one. This is where the light comes in. With the gun STILL held in full lockup, trigger back after lowering the hammer by thumb, you want to shine a light right into the area at the rear of the cylinder near the firing pin. You then look down the barrel. You're looking to make sure the cylinder bore lines up with the barrel. Check every cylinder - that means putting the gun in full lockup for each cylinder before lighting it up.

You're looking for the cylinder and barrel holes to line up perfectly, it's easy to eyeball if there's even a faint light source at the very rear of both bores. And with no rounds present, it's generally easy to get some light in past where the rims would be.

Bore

6) Swing the cylinder open, or with most SAs pull the cylinder. Use the small flashlight to scope the bore out. This part's easy - you want to avoid pitting, worn-out rifling, bulges of any sort. You want more light on the subject than just what creeps in from the rear of the cylinder on the timing check.

You also want to check each cylinder bore, in this case with the light coming in from the FRONT of each hole, you looking in from the back where the primers would be. You're looking for wear at the "restrictions" at the front of each cylinder bore. That's the "forcing cone" area and it can wear rapidly with some Magnum loads. (Special thanks to Salvo below for this bit!)

Trigger

7) To test a trigger without dry-firing it, use a plastic pen in front of the hammer to "catch" it with the off hand, especially if it's a "firing pin on the hammer" type. Or see if the seller has any snap-caps, that's the best solution. Flat-faced hammers as found in transfer-bar guns (Ruger, etc) can be caught with the off-hand without too much pain .

SA triggers (or of course a DA with the hammer cocked) should feel "like a glass rod breaking". A tiny amount of take-up slack is tolerable, and is common on anything with a transfer bar or hammerblock safety.

DA triggers are subjective. Some people like a dead-smooth feel from beginning of stroke to the end, with no "warning" that it's about to fire. Others (myself included) actually prefer a slight "hitch" right at the end, so we know when it's about to go. With that sort of trigger, you can actually "hold it" right at the "about to fire" point and do a short light stroke from there that rivals an SA shot for accuracy. Takes a lot of practice though. Either way, you don't want "grinding" through the length of the stroke, and the final stack-up at the end (if any) shouldn't be overly pronounced.

Detecting Bad Gunsmithing:

8) OK, so it's got a rock-solid cylinder, a .002" or .003" gap, and the trigger feels great. Odds are vastly in favor of it being tuned after leaving the factory.

So was the gunsmith any good?

First, cock it, then grab the hammer and "wiggle it around" a bit. Not too hard, don't bang on it, but give it a bit of up/down, left/right and circular action with finger off trigger and WATCH your muzzle direction.

You don't want that hammer slipping off an overly polished sear. You REALLY don't want that. It can be fixed by installing factory parts but that'll take modest money (more for installation than hardware costs) and it'll be bigtime unsafe until you do.

The other thing that commonly goes wrong is somebody will trim the spring, especially coil springs. You can spot that if you pull the grip panels, see if the spring was trimmed with wire cutters. If they get too wild with it, you'll get ignition failures on harder primers. But the good news is, replacement factory or Wolf springs are cheap both to buy and have installed.

There's also the legal problems Ayoob frequently describes regarding light triggers. If that's a concern, you can either swap back to stock springs, or since you bought it used there's no way to prove you knew it was modified at all.

In perspective:

Timing (test #5) is very critical...if that's off, the gun may not even be safe to test-fire. And naturally, a crappy barrel means a relatively pricey fix.

Cylinder gap is particularly critical on short-barreled and/or marginal caliber guns. If you need every possible ounce of energy, a tight gap helps. Some factory gaps will run as high as .006"; Taurus considers .007" "still in spec" (sigh). You'll be hard-pressed to find any new pieces under .004" - probably because the makers realize some people don't clean 'em often (or very well) and might complain about the cylinder binding up if they sell 'em at .002".

The guns in a dealer's "used pile" are often of unknown origin, from estate sales or whatever. Dealers don't have time to check every piece, and often don't know their history. These tests, especially cyliner gap and play, can spot a gun that's been sent off for professional tuning...like my snubbie, the best $180 I ever spent.

As long as the gun is otherwise sound (no cracks, etc) a gunsmith can fix any of this. So these tests can help you pick a particularly good new specimen, or find a good used gun, or help haggle the price down on something that'll need a bit of work.

Hope this helps.

Jim
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Old 05-02-2009, 15:56   #3
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Just one quick pointer: On a S&W or Ruger revolver, you've probably not going to get that "welded to the frame" lockup. That's OK though, as long as it comes back when to center when it wiggles.

But the quick-check is a good one. Helped me spot a tuned S&W M-19 under cover of worn-bluing and light freckling. Best deal I've ever gotten! Millet sights, Hogue grips, a Milt Sparks holster, almost perfect timing and lockup, and it is the only gun that has ever been CLEAN when I got it home.
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Old 05-02-2009, 16:05   #4
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That is the write-up I first thought of when I read the OP's question. That is a good one. I used that info and techniques on the last 2 revolvers that I bought. Made me a lot more comfortable with my purchases.

I wonder if that could be stickied for future reference.
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Old 05-02-2009, 16:18   #5
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That's a pretty good write-up eyescream put in there, and I'll add this:

If you pull the hammer back very slowly, make sure the cylinder locks up BEFORE the hammer does, on EVERY chamber. If it doesn't, you are relying on cylinder inertia to do this, and it's something that could be dangerous, under the wrong conditions. This should be under the "timing" category.

Wanderinwalker makes a good point about cylinder lock-up. Many people put too much importance on a "welded" lock up.....a few thousandths is perfect, but ten or fifteen thousandths should get your attention.

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Old 05-02-2009, 17:55   #6
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Only other point I would add is to check hammer strike as well.

On Smith's, with the cylinder open, pull cylinder latch backward and it will allow the piece to be cocked. Place your finger/thumb under firing pin hole and pull trigger. It should "slightly" sting.

Same action on Colt's. Rugers? Don't have a clue how to do it on theirs.

If you don't get that "sting", then you possibly have a weak hammer spring. Maybe not a deal breaker, but it is an aspect I check as well as timing, gap, etc.

Final thought is to look at the top of the topstrap, where the forcing cone protrudes from the frame. Is there "cutting" there? This will appear as a dug out area immediately above the forcing cone. If so, it is a pretty good indication that magnums or hot loads were fired pretty regularly. This is also often present in pre WW2 revolvers, just due to age, and if you are buying for collector value don't let it stop you. For shooters, I check this area as one of the first things I examine.

Hope this helps, but the above post is GREAT information imo.
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Old 05-02-2009, 19:35   #7
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Sweet. More good information. I sent true believer a PM and asked if he'd make this a sticky for us.
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Old 05-05-2009, 15:01   #8
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Sideplate screws with buggered heads would also indicate tinkering of the 'Bubba' nature, along with a peeled or lipped edge on the sideplate.
It's not unusual for the front sideplate screw (yoke) to be marked ,as many folks remove this screw when taking out the cylinder/yoke assembly for cleaning.
Also bear in mind; many bores, especially at pawn shops, may look shot out or excessively worn when in fact it's a leaded bore that only needs cleaning....guns don't always get cleaned before going on display.
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Old 05-08-2009, 14:36   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hogship View Post
That's a pretty good write-up eyescream put in there, and I'll add this:

If you pull the hammer back very slowly, make sure the cylinder locks up BEFORE the hammer does, on EVERY chamber. If it doesn't, you are relying on cylinder inertia to do this, and it's something that could be dangerous, under the wrong conditions. This should be under the "timing" category.

Wanderinwalker makes a good point about cylinder lock-up. Many people put too much importance on a "welded" lock up.....a few thousandths is perfect, but ten or fifteen thousandths should get your attention.

hog
When I test the cylinder timing, I also put a slight drag on the cylinder with one finger while slowly cocking the hammer. I check each chamber at least twice for any hint of a lack of a positive lock up.

You can also get an idea if the gun was shot much by looking at wear marks caused by case head wear marks on the recoil shield and also the chamber mouths by case rims.
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Old 06-06-2009, 02:37   #10
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As I found out recently sometimes you can only check a revolver by actually firing it. It showed no problems when being dry fired.
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Old 06-23-2009, 05:23   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skeeeter View Post
As I found out recently sometimes you can only check a revolver by actually firing it. It showed no problems when being dry fired.
That is true for the cylinder charge holes.
If they were sunk too deep, that charge hole may not fire.
The primer is too low to be hit properly.
Usually one of six only in a cylinder.
Unless it is a 5, 7, 8 shot.
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Old 06-28-2009, 08:12   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skeeeter View Post
As I found out recently sometimes you can only check a revolver by actually firing it. It showed no problems when being dry fired.

I found they usually kick you out of the shop for that unless they have a range.
I had one shop i used to go to that had a snail drum for test firing, pretty cool.
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Old 07-08-2009, 19:44   #13
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If I can convince the owner that I am not a TOTAL jerk, I am a firm believer in the pop a pencil out the barrel trick. This proves that the action/firing pin will actually bust a cap.

Pull hammer back, hold 38/357 revolver pointing upward, drop pencil with eraser down barrel, pull trigger. Should launch the pencil out and up a short distance. This proves firing pin will bust a cap.

Note that lightweight snubbies often will not bust harder caps ((CCI) reliably, but should bust softer caps like Federal. Just a fact of life.

I would not trust a gun/ammo combo without at least 100 rounds no/fail firing test.
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Old 07-08-2009, 19:52   #14
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Also, (after unloading revolver), you gently cup the revolver in non-firing hand on bottom of trigger guard, and fold thumb on left side of the cylinder and two or more fingers gently on the right side of the cylinder. Smoothly cycle and release through all six (or five) cycles. Hard to explain, but you can FEEL with your finger tips if timing of one cycle is "hinky". As others have noted, this does not show up on several other tests.
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Old 07-12-2009, 03:58   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hogship View Post
If you pull the hammer back very slowly, make sure the cylinder locks up BEFORE the hammer does, on EVERY chamber. If it doesn't, you are relying on cylinder inertia to do this, and it's something that could be dangerous, under the wrong conditions. This should be under the "timing" category.
This is checking carry-up. On later Smiths, without the pair of locating holes in the ejector star and corresponding pins in the cylinder, carry-up is checked with snap caps or SPENT cases in the charge holes. There is too much free play in the ejector to achieve reliable results without.
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Old 07-26-2009, 16:44   #16
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I was told about the “checking a revolver” thread since we are buying one tomorrow. I just wanted to thank you all for the information. I’m printing this and taking it with us. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>
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Old 07-26-2009, 20:00   #17
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Sweet. I'm glad it helped.
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Old 08-04-2009, 11:15   #18
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Everything must lock tight and most importantly its not out of time.

Cock the hammer back and make sure the charge holes line up with the barrel/forcing cone
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Old 08-17-2009, 13:05   #19
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All excellent tips. One last thing: take a strong flashlight with you. Shine it on the cylinder arm and make sure there are no cracks on the metal. Revolvers are very strong but every so often, someone decides to run +P loads just for the heck of it and you'll never know how many were fired. Also shine that light through all of the cylinder holes to make sure they're not cracked. I've never heard of a revolver ka-booming but I'm sure it wouldn't be a pretty sight.
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Old 10-08-2009, 22:57   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Restless28 View Post
Give me some easy pointers on what I should check on a used revolver.
Easy pointers? Flame cutting , timing, lockup, bore light the barrel.
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