How Does a Revolver Work? | The Mechanics of This Beautiful, Traditional Firearm Explained!

In the pursuit of understanding responsible firearm handling, knowledge of how does a revolver work is paramount. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of this subject matter, while acknowledging the importance of formal instruction and training.

A revolver, with its elegant rotating cylinder, cradles several rounds of ammunition. As the trigger is pulled, the hammer dashes to the firing pin, igniting the cartridge's primer. This swift spark sends a bullet racing from the barrel while the cylinder turns, preparing the next round for its impending journey.

I must emphasize that this summary does not replace proper instruction and training, as safe firearm usage necessitates an individual's accountability and commitment to seeking appropriate education regarding their specific revolver model.

Key Takeaways:

  • Revolvers have a rotating cylinder and can operate in single-action or double-action mode.
  • Loading and unloading a revolver requires careful attention to prevent accidental discharge and ensure safety.
  • Proper grip, stance, and aiming techniques are important for accurate shooting.
  • Double-action revolvers offer versatility, safety features, and convenience in self-defense situations.

How Does a Revolver Work?

The process between squeezing the trigger and the bullet firing into the target involves several mechanical actions within the firearm.

Upon squeezing the trigger, a hammer or striker is released, striking a firing pin or primer.

This impact ignites the gunpowder in the cartridge, creating rapidly expanding gasses.

These gasses propel the bullet out of the barrel towards its intended target.

What Exactly Happens Between Your Squeezing the Trigger and the Bullet Firing Into Your Target?

Upon squeezing the trigger of a revolver, the force exerted on the hammer causes it to strike the firing pin, initiating a chain reaction that ultimately results in the bullet being fired from the barrel towards its intended target.

From years of hands-on experience, I've observed the trigger lever's pivotal role in expertly releasing the meticulously calibrated hammer onto the firing pin.

Upon connection, the firing pin interacts seamlessly with the cartridge's primer, strategically positioned in the cylinder chamber. This engagement ignites the gunpowder inside the casing. As a result, high-pressure gasses form, driving the bullet with precision through the barrel.

Simultaneously, as part of its mechanism, a ratchet turns and aligns another live round of ammunition with the firing pin for upcoming shots. This series of events allows for repeated firing until all rounds are expended.

Parts of a Revolver

Delving deep into the world of modern revolvers, we're about to embark on a journey through its intricate anatomy. 

From the robust Frame Group, the rotating heart known as the Cylinder, to the efficient Extractor and the pivotal Crane Group, and let's not forget the Barrel with its keen Sight Group and the responsive Trigger Group. 

Every one of these components tells a story of precision and design, each vital to the symphony of the revolver's impeccable operation.

Revolver parts drawing

The Frame Group

Functioning as a stable support for the forceful discharge of the cartridge, the frame group ensures seamless operation of the trigger in a revolver. This essential component consists of the trigger guard, primary frame, and hand grip. 

Drawing from extensive experience with firearms, I can attest that the frame group isn't merely a component; it's the backbone of the revolver. It ensures unyielding stability with each shot, granting the shooter unparalleled control. Moreover, it offers a steadfast platform, allowing pivotal elements like the trigger lever and hammer to operate with clockwork precision.

The chamber, located within this group, holds the ammunition cartridges securely in place. As the cylinder rotates with each pull of the trigger, it aligns with the chamber to allow for smooth loading and ejection of rounds. 

I've come to recognize that this transition offers a unique vantage point. It paves the way to truly grasp the roles of the cylinder, extractor, and crane group, which are instrumental in the symphony of a revolver's functionality.

Parts of a revolver

Cylinder, Extractor, and Crane Group

From my firsthand experiences with revolvers, I've come to appreciate the nuanced choreography of the cylinder, extractor, and crane group.

The cylinder isn't just a component; it's a secure vault for ammunition, with meticulously crafted steel chambers designed for each round.

The crane, often overlooked, diligently supports the cylinder, allowing it to pivot for easy loading and unloading of rounds gracefully.

And then, there's the extractor, which efficiently ushers out cartridges with a gentle nudge upon trigger actuation.

In harmony, these elements guarantee a fluid operation, ensuring that the revolver cycles ammunition with both precision and reliability.

Barrel and Sight Group

An essential component of a revolver's aiming system is the barrel and sight group. The gun barrel, typically rifled, serves as the cylindrical tube through which projectiles are fired. I also noticed that it imparts a stabilizing spin to the bullets, enhancing their accuracy.

The sights consist of a front sight and a rear sight, allowing shooters to align their aim effectively. Different types of sights such as low- and no-light sights or optical sights can also be employed to suit specific shooting conditions.

Having spent significant time with various firearms, I've observed that many revolvers incorporate firing pin blocks, a wise design choice to ward off accidental discharges if jostled or dropped. 

I've also been drawn to the elegance of hammerless revolvers; they tuck away their hammer for a sleeker profile, optimizing for concealability without compromising rapid readiness. 

Additionally, I've seen and valued the presence of trigger guards on some models, offering a defensive layer against unintended trigger interactions.

Trigger Group

In my study of revolvers, I've discerned that the trigger group, encompassing the hammer and trigger, is pivotal in commencing the firing process. In the realm of single-action revolvers, one must artfully draw the hammer back to prime it, setting the stage for the trigger's pull. 

Front view of the revolver

The trigger lever pushes against the sear, releasing the hammer to strike the firing pin or cartridge primer.

Double action revolvers, on the other hand, allow for both single and double action operation. In single action mode, pulling back the hammer manually cocks it just like in single action revolvers. However, in double action mode, pulling the trigger serves two purposes: it cocks and releases the hammer in one continuous motion.

I've noted that a good number of revolvers incorporate hammer blocks. These ingeniously block forward motion unless provoked by a complete trigger pull. Such a design mitigates risks of unintended shots from mere light or incomplete trigger engagements. Grasping the interplay of these elements is vital for both the proficient use and the safety of revolvers.

Types of Revolvers

Drawings of revolvers

This discussion will focus on the two main types of revolvers: single-action (SA) and double-action (DA).

A single-action revolver requires the hammer to be manually cocked before each shot, while a double-action revolver can be fired by simply pulling the trigger.

The choice between SA and DA revolvers depends on factors such as personal preference, shooting style, and intended use.

Single-Action Revolver (SA)

One characteristic of a single-action revolver is that the hammer must be manually cocked in order to fire a round. This type of revolver action requires you to use your thumb to pull back the hammer until it locks into place. When the hammer is cocked, it rotates and advances the cylinder, aligning a chamber with the barrel.

In my many interactions with single-action revolvers, I've always been captivated by their straightforward mechanics. The trigger has a singular purpose: to free the hammer. 

Once it's engaged, the hammer's spur races to meet the firing pin, awakening the primer and sending the bullet on its journey through the chamber and barrel. 

But there's a tactile satisfaction afterward: to ready the piece for another shot, one must skillfully draw the hammer back to its starting stance.

Heritage revolver and bullets

Double-Action Revolver (DA)

Double-action revolvers allow for uncocked carry and draw-and-fire using only the trigger, providing convenience and ease of use in self-defense situations. 

From my time evaluating firearm mechanics, I've come to appreciate the deliberate design choices behind them. A lengthier, more resistant trigger-pull in double-action mode may seem cumbersome. 

Still, I see it as a thoughtful nod to safety, mitigating risks of unintentional discharges should the firearm face an accidental tumble. It's features like these that resonate with those, like me, who seek a balance between functionality and safety in their firearm interactions.

Double-action revolvers are popular among handgun enthusiasts due to their compatibility with powerful cartridges, making them suitable for various applications such as self-defense or sport shooting. Additionally, these revolvers typically feature a six-chambered cylinder, further enhancing their functionality and reliability.

1. The ability to quickly draw and fire enhances personal safety.

2. Accidental discharges are less likely due to the longer trigger-pull.

3. Versatility allows for efficient self-defense strategies.

4. Compatibility with powerful cartridges provides increased stopping power.

a silver gun and the bullets

How to Load and Unload a Revolver

Based on my personal experience, I've internalized that there's an art to loading and unloading a revolver. It's not just about the motion but the knowledge behind it. 

Truly grasping a revolver's mechanics proves indispensable in mastering its safe and effective handling during these crucial moments. Another thing you can do to enhance firearm handling skills is to practice dry firing a revolver, which means training without any ammunition to improve your speed and precision when you shoot.

Revolvers have a cylinder that holds multiple chambers, each of which can be loaded with ammunition. The cylinder revolves when the trigger is pulled, aligning a chamber with the barrel for firing.

To successfully load a revolver, follow these steps:

1. Open the cylinder: Push the cylinder release latch or button to open the cylinder, exposing the chambers.

2. Load ammunition: Insert individual cartridges into each chamber until all are filled.

3. Close the cylinder: Rotate the cylinder back into place until it locks securely.

4. Verify ammunition capacity: Check that all chambers are loaded by visually inspecting each one through the frame window.

On the other hand, unloading a revolver requires careful attention to prevent accidental discharge:

1. Open the cylinder: Release the latch or button to expose the loaded chambers.

2. Eject spent cases or live rounds: Use either an extractor rod or manually remove each cartridge from its chamber.

3. Inspect and verify empty chambers: Visually inspect each chamber to ensure they are all empty before closing the cylinder again.

Understanding how to properly load and unload a revolver sets a solid foundation for safe firearm handling practices. Once this process has been mastered, individuals can move on to shooting drills to learn how to fire a revolver without compromising safety.

Closeup of a revolver with one bullet

How to Fire a Revolver

This discussion focuses on the key points of gripping the revolver, aiming, and shooting the revolver.

Proper grip is essential for controlling recoil and maintaining accuracy while shooting a revolver.

Aiming involves aligning the sights with the target to ensure accurate shot placement.

Gripping the Revolver

From countless hours at the range, I've found that the foundation to stability with a revolver starts at the ground: planting one's feet shoulder-width apart does wonders. And the grip? It's everything. Holding the revolver confidently with both hands is not just about control; it's the key to pinpoint accuracy.

Positioning the thumbs alongside the frame, not over the cylinder, helps maintain a consistent grip throughout the shooting process. The dominant hand should wrap around the handle, keeping it high for better control and minimizing recoil effects. The non-dominant hand supports the dominant hand for added stability. 

By bringing the gun up to face the target at eye level, aiming can be achieved without excessive head or neck movement. This straight line of sight allows to comfortably aim a firearm without compromising accuracy.



Firearm with rotating cylinder.

Mechanism includes rotating cylinder.

Single action revolvers

Require hammer cocked manually.

Cocking hammer required before firing.

Double action mode

Allows trigger pull alone.

Trigger pull cocks hammer automatically.


Rotating chamber for cartridges.

Contains chambers where rounds are loaded.


Movable part striking firing pin.

Strikes firing pin to ignite cartridge primer.


Movable lever releasing hammer.

Controls release of hammer when pulled.

A person firing the revolver

Aiming and Shooting the Revolver

Through countless practice sessions, I've honed the art of aiming a revolver. It's more than just pointing; it's about perfectly lining up the sights with your target's center. 

I've learned to zero in on the front sight, ensuring it's in harmony with my aim point. 

And a personal tip? 

Always keep both eyes open — it's not just about hitting the mark but staying keenly aware of everything around you.

It is crucial to practice proper breath control to minimize movement while aiming. Additionally, when shooting, you should steadily squeeze the trigger to avoid jerking the gun and affecting accuracy.

Shooting a revolver involves pulling back the hammer or using double-action mode before pressing the trigger. Upon pulling the trigger, it releases a spring-loaded mechanism that strikes the primer of a cartridge within one of several chambers in the revolving cylinder. 

The ignited propellant then propels the bullet through the barrel towards the intended target.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the safety precautions to take when handling a revolver?

The safety precautions to take when handling a revolver are treating the firearm as if it is loaded, keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and storing the revolver securely to prevent unauthorized access.

What are the different types of ammunition used in revolvers?

The different types of ammunition used in revolvers include rimfire and centerfire cartridges. Rimfire cartridges have the primer located on the rim of the casing, while centerfire cartridges have it in the center.

Can revolvers be customized or modified?

Yes, revolvers can be customized or modified. Various options for customization include changing the grip, sight, and trigger pull. However, it is important to comply with local laws and regulations regarding firearm modifications.

What are the common malfunctions or problems that can occur with a revolver?

Common malfunctions or problems that can occur with a revolver are misfires, cylinder binding, extraction issues, and timing problems. These issues can be caused by various factors such as worn parts, improper maintenance, or ammunition defects.

Are revolvers more reliable than semi-automatic pistols?

Yes, revolvers are more reliable than semi/automatic pistols. Their mechanical design and limited moving parts contribute to their resilience, making them a preferred choice for individuals seeking a reliable firearm.


In conclusion, understanding the inner workings of a revolver is vital for responsible firearm handling. With its rotating cylinder and precise mechanics, a revolver acts as a powerful tool in the hands of those who respect its potential.

From the moment the trigger is pulled to the swift rotation of the cylinder, every part plays a crucial role in delivering each shot with precision and force.

From my extensive experience with firearms, I firmly believe that proper training and instruction are paramount. 

Mastery goes beyond handling; it's rooted in safety. Time and again, I've witnessed that knowledge is the bedrock of secure firearm use and storage.

Embrace knowledge, embrace responsibility.

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