Consumer Information|Firearms

Striker-Fired vs. Hammer-Fired: What’s the Difference?

Hammer-fired and striker-fired handguns - side view

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).

Striker-Fired

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.

Snag opportunities of hammer-fired handguns.
The primary disadvantage quoted by most of the hammer-fired handgun opponents is that the hammer may snag on clothing in concealed carry. Holster choice helps alleviate this concern.

Hammer-Fired

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.

The trend-setting Mauser HSC.
Some hammer-fired handguns have a shrouded or hidden hammer, such as this trend-setting Mauser HSC.

He added a slide lock safety at the insistence of FN. But few striker-fired handguns were of the quality of the Browning pistol.

Misfiring Issues

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.

SIG 1911 .45 and Glock
When the author carries his SIG 1911 .45 in his new Versa Carry holster, the hammer is rocked back. The Glock features a slick slide.

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.

SIG double action first shot pistol and striker-fired CZ P10
The SIG double action first shot pistol, top, is a double-action first-shot pistol. The single-action option allows good accuracy. The striker-fired CZ P10s, below, is a very useful firearm.

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.

Hammer-fired double action pistol side view
For carrying close to the body, the hammer-fired double action first shot pistol is often a good choice.

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.

CZ manual safety view
A selective double action first shot pistol allows a clean single-action shot as well. Note the CZ’s manual safety.

Conclusion

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.

Hammer or Striker Fired? The choice is yours.
Excellent work may be done with either type. Choose the one that suited you best.

Which do you prefer, striker-fired or hammer-fired? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. LOL! Comments all over the map, as it should be. Per usual, there are a lot of negative Glock comments;) But, to stay on topic, I do the striker fired, no safety save the trigger & striker block, simply because it is faster, with no ‘remembering’ required – Draw, press the trigger, BANG! 2 shots on target fr 10 ft in under 2 sec – 1) 1.3s 2) 1.5s, from concealment. I do not anticipate having to pull a Matt Dillon; however, I do know that any ‘sane’ BG won’t be standing @ some stationary target distance waiting for me to shoot him! They want to appear at your elbow, before letting you in on their game plan.

    Although there are a ‘few’ hammer fired rigs that won’t have your hand positioned lower than optimum (closest to the center line of the bore is optimum), any rig with that ‘beavertail’ “meat saver” will always be slower in followup shots. You can get your hand much higher on the grip and closer to that center line with almost any striker fired rig. My G29, as well as the G30, surprised me, bak-in-tha-day, with the less felt recoil than my experiences with the 1911 boys. I always shot expert with John’s boy, but I never liked the old slab sided wonder-killer (one handed shooting in that day), as it always, for me with no Popeye forearms, was a torquey feller.

    Over a decade ago, I also was no Glock fan boy, and pretty much detested any of those plasticky, fugugly, excuses for ‘real’ handguns. Then, my son talked me into shooting those GSSF (Glock Sports Shooting Foundation) matches, and you can only use Glock pistols. Hey, they were fun, and unlike those old Bullseye competitions, they gave GUNS and gear as prizes, and more of a ‘family’ oriented style of competing than I remembered from Bullseye. But I digress, main deal was, practice, and matches, we put (no brag, just fact) over 50,000 rounds through ONE G17, with just minor parts, mostly springs, replacement. My son would run 4 rounds through the course using a G17, G26, G30 – 400 rounds in one days shoot! Me;) I pulled three, not shooting in the open category. That’s just to point out that it doesn’t take long to burn through several thousands of rounds, just in competition, not counting practice. Think the boy has won 35-40 Glocks, me quite a bit fewer;)

    After all that, I’m still not some Glock fan boy. The main reason I carry my G29 is, NOBODY else builds a high capacity, near 41 magnum in power, lightweight, fully concealable ‘pistol!’ Nearly ALL the negatives about Glocks are true; however, many of those negatives are remedied inexpensively. Sights: I run Warren Tactical – Sevigny Carry Night Sight 2 Lamp Set; Trigger: Completely adjustable, flat faced, aluminum, w/Ghost connector – consistent ‘clean’ just short of 3.5lb break; RSA is a German manufactured, three progressive springs set up. End of adjustment;) That prolly runs my under $500 G29 to something just over $750 – so some may think NOT that cheap.

    Some give Glocks a bum rap for accuracy, my final nail in that argument, is wut I call my off-hand Mickey Mouse group:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ulzi2pi8pumcfxk/G29.jpg?dl=0

  2. I like the safety aspect of carrying hammer down. At the short ranges self defense shootings tend to occur, I don’t think first shot accuracy is that big an issue. My Sig P220 is one of the most accurate pieces I own.

  3. I, too, own and carry a Walther PPK/S (the InterArms version), and the beauty of that weapon is the pin block that drops the hammer and prevents it from hitting the firing pin when the safety is applied. As it is a DA weapon, it is true that the first-shot hit probability drops if you decide to squeeze through the first round, but at least you do have the option of cocking the hammer back if you have time after you draw. Not saying this is a viable option in real time, defensive posture situations, but it bears mentioning. Otherwise, I also carry – on occasion – a Kimber .45 ACP Ultra CDP II compact 1911 with ambi thumb safeties, and carry it as the author suggests: loaded, racked, safed, and holstered with the hammer back, ready to draw, drop the thumb safety, and fire. There are enough internal safeties on this weapon that I feel comfortable enough that the hammer cannot drop onto the firing pin without it being intentional.

  4. “,,,, and offers the daunting proposition of learning two trigger actions.” Good grief we’re shh\ooting a pistol, not giving ourselves a colonoscopy.. !! Double/single-action guns like CZ and its variants are some of the most accurate pistols you can buy. And Cajun works spring and/or trigger job will make an already fantastic gun be even better.
    For my money its a CZ SP01 Phantom and a recently purchased Tanfoglio P Match Pro(CZ variant) in .38 Super . Why in the heck would I want to shoot something like an overpriced blocky-Glock w/ its inferior mushy trigger ? Only thing that comes close to a good out of the box good factory trigger is Walther PPQ or CZ P10 ..

  5. I prefer hammer fired. My 92A1 is my home defense because I’ve fired it thousands of times and under duress. I’m cofident i can operate it if I need to in the middle of the night. I carry a striker compact M&P because most hammer fired are too heavy for someone my size.

  6. I have a CZ P-07 Hammer fired double action & I consider it the best pistol I’ve ever owned. A 4lb trigger pull is perfect for me. I like hammer fired simply because I can instantly feel if the hammer is down or cocked in the dark. Mine unloaded weighs the same as my S&W Model 39-2. The grip angle is the same on both of them, but the CZ P-07 has a significantly better trigger pull than the S&W. The CZ P-07 is heavier, but only because it has a 15 round double stack magazine. Since it has 8 more rounds than the S&W the extra weight is noticeable. The S&W is a better looking pistol than the CZ P-07, but it doesn’t have a Picantinny rail for mounting a laser sight.

  7. Having owned a number of both styles, I’ve settled on hammer-fired pistols for carry. This includes some 1911’s, a Springfield 911 in .380 and a Springfield XDE in 9mm. The latter is perhaps my favorite in that can be carried cocked and locked and still retains second strike capabilities. To me it’s the best of all worlds. While the XDE could be smaller and lighter, it’s easy to rack and the sights and trigger pull are exceptional.

  8. I’m a cocked and locked kinda person RI 1911 45 to be exact. I am totally not a Glock fan. All that said I’d like the author or someone with his expertise and experience to tell me how wrong I am about EDC of Phoenix Arms. 25 cal. pocket rocket. My reasoning is ninety percent or more gun fights happen 10 yards or less, besides if I can’t reach out and stick it in the assailants nose or ear , in the interest of self-defense and not going to jail I should probably just shelter in place or run like hell.

  9. I prefer the hammer DAO with a de-cocking lever that blocks striking of the firing pin by active intervention(hard wall) or turns the firing pin, or covers the firing pin with the de-cocking lever cam. With this system you can safely carry the weapon loaded and in a passive mode and not have to worry if it will go off when dropped. I believe for concealed carry, this is the only option for someone who is truly concerned about personal and public safety. If you do not carry your pistol for self defense and desire only to target shoot or compete in shooting matches then it doesn’t matter. In my opinion, there isn’t a weapon(pistol) that is Double Action and Single Action. If you have to pull the upper slide assembly to the rear or pull the hammer back with your thumb to cock the hammer it is a single action pistol that will operate in a semi-auto load and firing sequence until magazine is empty, hammer is stopped, or striker is engaged and stopped by the sear. Outdated military 1907/1911 models were designed to be carried by soldiers as a secondary defense weapon with their rifle, carbines or sub-machine gun being their primary systems. Soldiers of the era of the 1911 were not allowed to carry their pistols chambered and it was assumed that once their primary weapon failed or jammed and from a covered position could then chamber the pistol. Times changed and the need of a soldier to go into close quarter combat with a loaded, chambered, safe operating pistol arose. That is why the armed forces adopted the Baretta 92SF Pistol in the 1980’s.

  10. I like to see a hammer. That being said, as of late I carry a VP9 or Glock 19 on a regular basis. I carried a Colt 1911 for years and loved it – back in the days when we could customize them and have light triggers!

  11. I like striker fire, i shoot sig p320s mostly. I dont think ive ever had a light primer strike maybe once or twice, N i have 4k threw my m17. Now that im thinking may of happened with my old p320 compact. Idk they are pretty reliable tho, imo i would think hammer fired would be much more reliable. But i prefer striker. To the commenter about the Taurus pt111 9mm, hey i agree awesome budget pistol, the doubke strike capably make it imo the best carry option, so thats what i carry. I love my sigs, but Taurus pt111 is what i conceal carry. Owb, obviously my sig.

  12. Something that must be considered are us “older folks” out here. I have both striker fired and 1911 styles but don’t shoot the 1911’s much anymore. Arthritis and problems with my strong side shoulder make it nearly impossible to hold the weapon securely enough to prevent “short cycling”. The recoil on the striker fired weapons is a more straight back type of recoil and is easier to manage/control. For these reasons my carry weapons are both Springfield’s. One is a XD9 and the other a .45 cal. XDM.

  13. As a police officer I started my career with a S&W m66 moved to a 1911 then a Sig P220. I found learning to shoot the double action recover allowed me to shoot anything because you learned to control the trigger press. I don’t like short stroke triggers for defense because under stress I like something that requires an intention pull. I felt completely confident with the DA/SA system of the Sig because I learned to shoot. Now that I’m retired I tend to either carry a Smith J frame or Kahr pistol. The Kahr has a trigger that is almost like a smooth K frame. I like that better than a Glock or similar pistols. No matter what you carry learn to shoot it

  14. P99c AS is a DA/SA striker-fired pistol that, if needed can be placed into single action merely by snicking the slide back about a quarter inch and releasing. Decocking the weapon is as simple as depressing the decock button atop the left rear portion of the slide. And the double-action, rated at 8.8 lbs., is certainly easy to master even with limited range time. Single action is rated at half that at 4.4 lbs. That gives the P99 a much lighter double action trigger than most hammer fired DA/SA pistols, and a single action pull comparable to many SAO pistols

    Too bad this wonderful, light design never got the push it deserved. The PPQ gets all the press, but to me the P99 AS, both compact and full-size variants, are by far the best concealed carry options on the market, and have been since 1997.

  15. My concealed carry choice for over a decade now gives me the best of both worlds. The Walther P99c AS is a DA/SA striker-fired pistol that, if needed can be placed into single action merely by snicking the slide back about a quarter inch and releasing. Decocking the weapon is as simple as depressing the decock button atop the left rear portion of the slide. And the double-action, rated at 8.8 lbs., is certainly easy to master even with limited range time. Single action is rated at half that at 4.4 lbs. That gives the P99 a much lighter double action trigger than most hammer fired DA/SA pistols, and a single action pull comparable to many SAO pistols

    Too bad this wonder, light design never got the push it deserved. The PPQ gets all the press, but to me the P99 AS, both compact and full-size variants, are by far the best concealed carry options on the market, and have been since 1997.

  16. I prefer the DA/SA hammer fired to carry even though I own several Glocks and pocket guns. I particularly like a Beretta 85S that you can cock and lock at a halfway setting.

  17. Well one thing, he didn’t bring up between the two is this: +P ammo. +P ammo will destroy a striker-action pistol faster than a hammer-fire pistol. I think there are very few striker-fire pistols on the market that can handle +P ammo. Nonetheless, +P ammo will eventually break even a hammer fire pistol as it is overpowered munitions.

  18. I agree with BRYAN POTRATZ. I also carry my Taurus Millennium as my main EDC. Alto I do carry my 1911 .45 on certain occasions. Both are great guns. I also lean toward my Kahr CW45. Another great gun. I have been known to carry each of these 3 depending on the occasion and specific diction at the time.
    .

  19. Daunting task of learning two trigger pulls? The only problem I have encountered with my Sa/Da is that the DA pull on my CZ75BD is lighter and shorter than my hammer cited DAO PF9. Striker fired guns have unnecessarily light trigger pulls, and are more prone to reholstering NDs. Not the thing for new shooters, or those distracted during a stressful situation.

  20. I’m wondering why the need for carrying a DA with the hammer in the cocked position. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer moves through the cocking action automatically. In fact, the manual safety on my older DA Baby Desert Eagle 9mm does not allow the hammer to be in the cocked position, which doesn’t bother me a bit.

  21. I had always carried a SAO (1911 or High Power) until a few years ago when I went to the SA/DA Sig P226, which I love. Had never considered any Striker fired pistol until yesterday. I had picked up several at the NRA National Convention, but that’s all I did is pick them up. Like I said, that’s until yesterday when I picked up a Sig P320 at a firearms counter and stated manipulating it. I’ve got to say, I was impressed. Would I give up on hammer-fired pistols? It would be hard just because of habit and familiarity, but I’m seriously thinking about it.

  22. I carry as my EDC a Sig P220 DA/SA loaded. First shot is DA then SA after that. The only safety is keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. when done shooting engage the decocking lever.

  23. And what about the best of both worlds?

    I’m a DA/SA hammer drop guy… Because “hard primers happen”.

    But I have found the Taurus multi-strike striker in the “MILLENIUM” series to be a really, really handy inbetween that lets me go for a second press before I go to clearing drills.

    Enough so that a PT111 G2 is my EDC rather than my Glock.

    Thoughts on the Taurus system?

  24. I prefer the hammer fired, like the short trigger reset and ease of racking
    the slide. Give me a Bersa or Sig over a Glock anyday.

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