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Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

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Popeye
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Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

#1 Post by Popeye » Sat Jun 03, 2017 11:58 pm

In 2008, on another board, I was asked this question. The following is an accurate reproduction of my posts at that time.


This is a subjective topic. I find it difficult to objectify. Let's say, after you have examined a few (hundred?, thousand?) revolvers, what I'm about to post will make more sense.

First, take a good long look at the outside of the revolver. Is it rusted? Is it surface rust or are there pits? What do the grips look like? Are they aftermarkets, originals? Are they beat up on only one side? (If they are beat up on only one side, most likely, the revolver was a service revolver, at one time it was an agency trade in.) Is the finish worn, gouged, chipped? What does the crown of the barrel look like? Smooth? Damaged? A damaged crown is usually a deal killer as the gun will never shoot accurately without considerable work.

On a S&W revolver, look at the top of the sideplate, that little tip right between the hammer and the cylinder. Is it smooth? Or is it dimpled. If it is not smooth, but dimpled, then it was improperly removed by a bubba gunsmith. There's no telling what damage he caused inside. Unless you are permitted to remove the sideplate and look, this is a deal killer. Look at the mainspring tensioning screw. That's the screw at the bottom of the gripframe. Has it been backed out or is it tight, the way it left the factory? Backing out this screw is the "lazy man's" way of doing an action job. It can cause problems. Tightening the screw will resolve the problems.

With the cylinder closed, look where the cylinder crane meets the revolver's frame. Is the gap even or is it greater at the top than the bottom? GENTLY attempt to move the cylinder from side to side. Does the gap increase? Does the unevenness of the gap increase at the top? If the gap is uneven and if the gap increases under gentle pressure, put the gun down and walk away. The revolver has been damaged and will take a gunsmith's ability to repair.

With the cylinder still closed, look at the cylinder. Is there a gouge (not just a mark) around the cylinder where the cylinder stop (bolt) has contacted the cylinder during its rotation? If so, the revolver is out of time. This is a rather simple fix, for a gunsmith.

Now you may open the cylinder. Did it open smoothly? If not, check for rust or roughness at the pivot point. Look at the area around the forcing cone. Is it relatively clean or is it coated with lead? Is there more fouling on one side of the forcing cone than the other? If there is, then, at least, one cylinder hole does not line up with the forcing cone when in full lock up. Not good.

Look at the top strap above the cylinder gap. Is it excessively cut? Excessive cutting says that too many hot loads were fired for too long. This leads to other problems, like the gun being only fit for use as a paperweight without a considerable amount of money being spent. Continuing to examine the top strap, how far back does the fouling extend? Excessive blow back can denote an over large cylinder gap.

Take a look at the breech face. How is the finish? Evenly worn? If so, good. Push forward on the hammer. Does the firing pin protrude? If so, not good!

Look at the star on the back of the cylinder. Are the edges crisp, sharp and clean or are they overly rounded and gouged, excessively worn? Look down each cylinder hole. Smooth or scratched? Look at the cylinder face. How much fouling is there around the holes? Carefully examine the inner radius of each cylinder hole. Are they smooth and sharp? Is there excessive erosion? Turn the cylinder while watching the ejection rod. Does it wobble? Not good.

The following check is done with the cylinder open. On S&W revolvers: while holding the cylinder release back (not necessary on Colt revolvers) slowly cock the hammer while watching for the hand. The hand will move up and a bit out of that slot below, and to the side of, the breech face. Does it have sharp edges? Is it overly rounded? Is it damaged? (A damaged cylinder star will usually provide a clue to the state of the hand.)

With Colt revolvers; close the cylinder and slooowly cock the hammer. Attempt to rotate the cylinder into battery. Did it rotate a bit and click into battery? If so, the hand is worn. This is a common problem for all Colt revolvers. Its no big deal, the hand is relatively easy to replace.

For all revolvers; close the cylinder and cock the hammer. Pull the trigger and ease the hammer forward. While holding the trigger back (it doesn't work any other way, as this is the condition the revolver is in when the projectile leaves the cylinder and enters the forcing cone), GENTLY attempt to make the front of the cylinder move up and down, then back and forth. If there is movement put the revolver down and walk away. This ain't cheap to fix. No movement? Good, didn't expect any. Now, while continuing to hold the trigger to the rear, gently attempt to move the cylinder forward and rearward. Excessive movement is unacceptable although some movement is usual. Now gently attempt to rotate the cylinder. Once again, some movement is expected but too much movement is unacceptable. Do this for each hole in the cylinder. You will notice differences in the amount of movement between charge holes. You may not know what you are looking for but, believe me, an experienced sales clerk won't know that and may attempt to take the revolver from you. Let him. You didn't want that gun anyway.

Now the barrel. Carry one of the little high intensity flashlights with you. A Surefire of a Streamlight or the such. Open the cylinder, shine the light on the breech and look down the muzzle end of the barrel. Rust pitting will look like pepper in the bore, its a deal killer. Surface rust can be cleaned up. Leading will look like streaks of miniature alligator skin. Leading is a major PITA to remove but (along with leading around the forcing cone) it usually means that the barrel, under all that lead, is in great condition. A Lewis Lead Remover and Shooter's Choice Lead Away gel are essential tools for removing lead. I've already mentioned damage to the barrel crown at the lands and grooves. Its a deal killer.

I realize now that I only covered about 30% of what to look for, what different signs mean and their seriousness.

Well, I guess its a beginning.

I didn't go to school to learn this or how to make firearms repairs. I learned by doing and by repairing the things I did wrong. A "handy guy" with the proper tools, mindset and time (well, books help a lot, as does the ability to use the proper tools) can do most minor to moderate gunsmith jobs.
The difference between a Communist and a Socialist is; the Socialist doesn't have all the guns yet

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Re: Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

#2 Post by Popeye » Sat Jun 03, 2017 11:59 pm

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The difference between a Communist and a Socialist is; the Socialist doesn't have all the guns yet

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Re: Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

#3 Post by Popeye » Sun Jun 04, 2017 12:00 am

The difference between a Communist and a Socialist is; the Socialist doesn't have all the guns yet

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Re: Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

#4 Post by fordmech00 » Tue Jun 06, 2017 7:42 pm

Great info, thank you

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Re: Buying Used Revolvers: What to look for?

#5 Post by 72 usmc » Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:10 pm

Just great info and a great article.
To old to fight and to old to run, a Jar head will just shoot and be done with you.

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