Revolver history is interesting. I am leading up to something because the revolver on my desk as I write this has me going back over everything I have learned about the revolver.
A Bit of Revolver History
The revolver is older than commonly believed. Double-barrel and combination barrels were common during the flintlock era, although they are not true repeaters. Revolvers with multiple chambers were not rare—they were expensive. The revolving-cylinder handgun dates back to at least 1540, so it was a case of the technology of the day not catching up with the thinking man’s dreams.
The German Wender is among the most interesting revolvers, as is the two-chambered Jacques Gorgo design, with two chambers around a single barrel and dual flints for ignition. In the 1700s came the Collier, with five chambers that rotated around a single barrel, most manually operated. You fired one chamber, then unlocked and rotated the cylinder by hand.
The Pepperbox is debatable, although by definition it is a revolver. By 1830, double-action-only Pepperboxes that used an operating bar (pawl) to push up a ratchet were common. Colt did not invent the revolver, but he perfected and changed the revolver from a curiosity to a fighting handgun more people could afford. Colt’s English Patent #6909 secured the rights to a revolver using a fixed barrel and a pawl linked to the hammer.
Just as importantly, the Colt included a means of locking the cylinder in place. However, there was room for improvement. The Adams revolver, arguably, was stronger than the Colt due to its one-piece forged frame with top strap. Finally, in 1889, Colt introduced the swing-out cylinder, solid-frame revolver. Now we had machined, steel, cast and sintered parts. The coil spring has replaced the leaf spring in modern revolvers.
Many modern revolvers have changed little in a hundred years or so. Some believe the Colt Detective Special, Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum and Ruger GP 100 perfected the revolver.
The Most Modern and Innovative Revolver
Arguably, the most modern and innovative revolver in the world at the moment is the Ruger Lightweight Carry Revolver.
The LCR weighs a light 13.5 ounces, and the original features a hidden hammer for snag-free use. A new version with exposed hammer and a single-action option is now available. That configuration has some appeal to outdoorsmen, although a concealed-hammer type is best as a dedicated personal-defense handgun. The LCR features a fully shrouded hammer to dampen recoil and a smooth, double-action pull, plus it is rated for +P loads. Thankfully, the LCR fits most J-frame holsters, so holstering the piece is not a hassle.
The most interesting feature of the LCR revolver is the polymer frame. The LCR comprises an upper cylinder/frame and barrel assembly; the lower assembly is the action. Then there is the cylinder and crane assembly, which is a mix of polymer and plastic parts, along with steel in the right places and aluminum in others.
Many of the parts and pins are hardened steel. The barrell fitting is different from any other revolver I have examined. Ruger used threads so precise that there is little or no fitting in the forcing cone during assembly. The LCR also relies on fewer moving parts than most revolvers.
The finish, hard-anodized coupled with a baked-on powder polymer surface filler, is particularly rugged. According to Ruger, the finish has a hardness of RC (Rockwell hardness) 60. While the Ruger design emphasizes toughness, compactness also is an asset. The cylinder diameter is smaller than any 5-shot .38 Special I know. Instead of locking on the ejector rod, the revolver locks at the rear and the crane. The center pin of the ejector rod and the front latch insert are titanium.
There is no side plate, but that is nothing new with Ruger revolvers. The hammer, sear and trigger are in the lower housing. Unlike the larger GP100, the hammer is in the lower mechanism. Torx head cross-screws keep the revolver together during the stress of recoil. Recoil actually moves the parts together instead of loosening them—a big step in engineering.
I must admit that I had concerns about any firearm with a steel and polymer interface—especially a hard-kicking revolver. After much study and examination, I find those concerns groundless. The LCR may be the best hard-use, snub-nose revolver in the world.
There are practical aspects of the LCR I find appealing. As an example, the grip frame’s soft rubber handles are excellent—designed for hand fit and control. This is as comfortable a standard revolver grip as ever designed, while retaining a compact outline. After all of this engineering revolution, Ruger did not leave us with a heavy trigger action.
The double-action-only trigger is an action requiring less resistance among the moving parts than any previous design. The bane of small, double-action revolvers has been the hard trigger action. If you or your partners have limited hand strength or an aging parent has limited strength and finds other designs too heavy, The Ruger LCR just might be the best choice.
The action is smooth and useful in rapid-fire drills. However, I could not stage the action. Staging is an old trick in which you bring the double-action trigger almost to the point that the pistol fires. You affirm the sight picture and break the shot. This makes for increased accuracy at longer range. It is more difficult to stage the Colt Detective Special than the Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special, and the Ruger does not stage at all. Considering the smoothness and feel of the double-action trigger, that is more than acceptable. You should fire a defensive firearm double action at all times.
Ruger claims that the LCR will prove more comfortable to fire than any revolver in the weight class and durability is excellent. There is no way I could fire enough rounds to break this revolver, and I tested the piece with a good mix of ammunition.
A few years ago, I did a hand-loading project involving 190- to 196-grain bullets in the .38 Special. With careful loading, I was able to convince a Tennessee Valley Bullets 190-grain SWC out of a 2-inch .38 at 850 fps. That seems useful and pressure is normal, plus momentum and wear on small parts was up there. Heavy loads do not blow up guns when worked up carefully, although they are hard on small parts. I fired my last 50 in the LCR.
Recoil was there, but I admit it was much more manageable than most small revolvers. The Hogue-designed grip and lower bore axis are payoffs from starting the design with a clean slate. The broad and easily acquired sights are another big plus.
Among the .38 Special loads I keep on the shelf for my ready-carry guns is the Remington 125-grain Golden Saber. This load pushes the well-designed bullet to just over 900 fps. When firing this load from the LCR, recoil was manageable. Well, actually the revolver was pleasant to fire. When firing off of a solid barricade rest at 15 yards, I placed all five rounds into a three-inch group—even though I could not stage the trigger.
The sights are well regulated for this load. With 158-grain loads, the revolver shoots a little high. The snub-nose .38 Special revolver is a traditional defense gun and a good, go-anywhere revolver for the fishing kit, backup when hunting or to get rid of dangerous reptiles.
The LCR is a great choice—a revolver that should give good service. It is the most modern revolver in the world.