When conducting handgun classes, a common question is about the difference between hammer-fired and striker-fired handguns.
The mechanical description is easy enough. But what are the real differences between them?
How Each Action Works
First, let’s go over a how each action works, in case you aren’t familiar (or you need a refresher).
With the typical striker-fired handgun, such as the GLOCK or Smith & Wesson M&P, the end of the striker is the firing pin. Early striker-fired handguns were simply cocked by the slide’s motion and the trigger tripped the sear to fire the handgun.
This isn’t the safest arrangement, particularly with inexpensive handguns. There is actually a dual-stage process with GLOCK-like actions. When the slide is racked, the striker is partially prepped against the striker spring. This is the ready position.
There is a firing pin block preventing the striker from running forward—and the striker, if released from half-cock, probably would not have enough force to fire the primer.
When finger pressure is exerted against the trigger, the trigger presses against an action bar, which presses against the striker. The striker moves to the rear, the firing pin block falls away, and the striker breaks against spring pressure and moves forward.
The pistol fires. The process begins again.
With a hammer-fired handgun, the slide is racked and this action cocks the hammer. The hammer is maintained fully to the rear state by locking into the sear and also by a mainspring.
Most single-action pistols have a manual safety that allows carrying the pistol hammer to the rear and safety on. This is a very safe arrangement when done properly. The pistol is fired by first moving the safety to the off position.
(Some single-action, hammer-fired guns have firing pin blocks, some do not.) The trigger is pressed and it bears against the sear, releasing the hammer. The mainspring drives the hammer forward. The hammer face smacks the firing pin.
The firing pin is driven forward where it strikes the cartridge primer. The pistol fires. After firing the firing pin is drawn to the rear by the firing pin spring, the slide recocks the hammer (This is called re-set) and the pistol is ready to fire again.
A Quick History Lesson
Younger readers may not realize that prior to the advent of the GLOCK handgun, most self-loaders were hammer-fired.
There were exceptions, of course, and they are noteworthy. The great firearms designer John Moses Browning began with hammer-fired handguns such as the Colt 1903.
But the Browning 1910 was designed as a striker-fired handgun. Browning felt it did not need a safety save for the sear blocking grip safety.
He added a slide lock safety at the insistence of FN. But few striker-fired handguns were of the quality of the Browning pistol.
Most striker-fired .25 and .32 automatics were poor quality at best. Many would slip the sear and fire in the pocket.
I am aware of two such injuries. One occurred to a security guard who was working with a striker-fired pistol in his pocket, and another man carrying a pistol in his jacket pocket.
One was shot in the finger and the other wound was more serious.
While there are junky hammer-fired pistols as well, most would not go off in the pocket simply by the firing pin jumping off its rather small notch.
The hammer-fired pistols at least had to be dropped to go off. The geometry of such a fall is predictable.
If the owner drops the handgun at a correct angle for it to land on the hammer, the barrel is pointed up and the standing man was shot just below the belt.
It was ugly and occurred more than once. In one case, the accident resulted in a fatality and the deceased shooter’s wife was charged with murder, initially.
But she was let go when the crime lab and several geometric equations proved the event was an accident.
Variations in Designs
Today, firing pin blocks and safety designs make the two types equal in safety in general terms.
I carry the Glock striker-fired pistol, hammer-fired 1911 and double-action SIG DA types without fear.
There are variations on the designs. The Arex Rex Delta striker-fired handgun, for example, differs from the Glock and may be preferable to many shooters.
Most (but not all) striker-fired handguns feature a lever set in the trigger. Then there are the DAO hammer-fired guns with spurless flush fit hammers.
All striker-fired handguns are not the same. The Glock and the Smith and Wesson, HK and other types, feature a striker spring that is partially cocked or prepped by slide action.
The Springfield XD and the Canik SA are single-action striker-fired handguns. The striker is cocked by the slide action and the trigger releases it.
Despite safety measures, I am less enthusiastic concerning carrying these handguns, but the Springfield XD has sure-fire safety features in place.
In my experience, the 1911 single-action (and to a lesser extent the CZ 75 and Browning High Power) may be tuned to an excellent and crisp trigger break.
Some striker-fired designs, such as the Arex Rex Delta, feature a two-stage trigger that offers excellent accuracy potential.
What About Readiness?
When you consider modes of readiness, the only means of keeping the springs relaxed for long term storage with the striker-fired pistol is to keep the pistol unloaded with the trigger unprepped.
With the single action, the hammer may simply be lowered. Neither is ideal.
Each should be carried chamber-loaded and, in the case of the single-action, cocked and locked, hammer to the rear, safety on.
The hammer strikes a heavier blow to the primer than the striker, but then ignition reliability isn’t a question with the Glock or Arex pistols.
The striker is light and the striker spring is strong. As for as safety and trigger action, the more modern designs — beginning with the Glock and the Colt Series 80 — are the best choice in either type.
Striker-Fired vs. Hammer-Fired Efficiency
The striker-fired gun features a slick snag-free slide. This makes for good concealed carry.
The manual of arms of the striker-fired DAO pistol is simple: load, rack the slide, holster, draw, fire.
With the hammer-fired pistol in single-action types, it goes like this: load, rack the slide, apply the safety, draw, release the safety, fire.
With a double-action first-shot pistol, the manual of arms is: load, rack the slide, decock the hammer, draw, disengage the safety in some types, and fire.
Which is the most efficient? In my experience, the cocked and locked single action pistol offers excellent, even match-grade accuracy and hit potential.
The DAO striker-fired handgun offers excellent combat potential and the same predictable trigger action for each shot.
The double-action first-shot pistol offers less hit probability and offers the daunting proposition of learning two trigger actions.
For those that never have enough training time (and that is all of us at some point), the modern DAO striker-fired handgun is almost certainly the best choice.
Just the same, to each his own. Modern hammer-fired handguns such as the Ruger Security 9 are better than ever and competitively priced with the striker-fired guns.
There are many choices. Study the right one for you.
Which do you prefer, striker-fired or hammer-fired? Why? Let us know in the comments below.