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Revolver vs Pistol: Comparing Power, Capacity, & More

WriterAubrey McShan
12 min read
A revolver and ammo are in a gun case on the left side, while a pistol and ammo are shown on the right in a gun case.

Stuck between choosing a revolver or a pistol? Each firearm has a lot to offer: revolvers with their classic western look and pistols with their size options and plenty of features. In this guide, you’ll learn all about the differences between revolvers vs pistols and so much more!

Key Takeaways

  • Revolvers vs Pistols (What You Should Know): Revolvers store ammo in their chambers and rely on the hammer to initiate the firing sequence. Pistols feed cartridges into the chamber via a magazine and use a hammer or striker to fire.
  • Pros & Cons of Pistols: Pistols have a larger capacity and are easier to reload. Some shooters may find bigger pistols more difficult to conceal carry.
  • Pros & Cons of Revolvers: Revolvers are reliable firearms that are beginner-friendly. Due to a heavy trigger pull and limited capacity, they may not be optimal for certain shooting situations.

What’s the Difference Between Revolvers & Pistols?

The major differences between a revolver and a pistol include the following: revolver’s chamber vs pistol’s magazine, general operation, ammo capacity (pistols commonly have 15 rounds), size, and firing chamber mechanism (a revolver’s chamber spins).

  • To operate a revolver, the shooter loads rounds into the cylinder, cocks the hammer back, and then fires the weapon.

  • In a pistol, cartridges are taken from the magazine and fed into the fixed chamber. When fired, the firing pin strikes the primer, and the expanding gasses propel the bullet through the barrel.

A Smith and Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus TS 9mm Pistol is featured on the left, while a Ruger Wrangler 2003 .22 LR Rimfire Revolver is showcased on the right.

Ultimate Breakdown of Revolvers vs Pistols

Revolvers feature a cylinder that commonly houses about 6 rounds in its chambers. Typically, they produce more felt recoil compared to pistols. Pistols, however, offer a larger ammunition capacity.

While some shooters may refer to these guns interchangeably, they have distinct characteristics worth noting! Explore the differences between them in the table below:

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Revolver vs Pistol: Key Differences
Category Pistols Revolvers
Firing Operation Pistols load a cartridge and ignite the primer with a hammer or striker Once the hammer is cocked, the trigger initiates the firing sequence
Action Types Semi-automatic, single-shot, multi-barrel Single-action, double action/single action (DA/SA), double-action
Popular Calibers 9mm, .45 ACP, .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .22 LR, .44 Magnum .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .22 LR, .44 Special, .327 Federal Magnum
Popular Use Cases Self-defense, concealed carry, law enforcement, sport shooting Self-defense, concealed carry, sport shooting, cowboy action shooting (or single-action shooting)
Capacity, Magazines, & Clips Typically higher capacity (e.g. 10+ rounds); can be used with a magazine Limited cylinder capacity, e.g., 6 rounds. Can be used with half and full-moon clips
Reloading Times Quick and easy magazine changes Slower reloading, one round at a time

Firing Operation

Both pistols and revolvers rely on the trigger to initiate the firing sequence. Revolvers rely solely on a hammer, while pistols can use a hammer or striker.

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Pistol Firing Operation

  • Single Action triggers release the hammer without cocking it when the slide is cycled to chamber a round. After firing,the hammer is re-cocked.
  • Double Action triggers serve a dual function of cocking and releasing the hammer. Once fired, the hammer resets to its decocked position.

Revolver Firing Operation

  • In Double Action, the shooter pulls the trigger, which cocks the hammer. The release of the trigger initiates the firing sequence.
  • In Single Action, the hammer is cocked and held in place by the sear. The shooter squeezes the trigger to fire. In Double Action Only, the hammer is inside the frame.
Gasses propel a bullet through the barrel as it exits the muzzle. The hammer of a revolver is cocked and is pressed down on the firing pin on the right.

Action Types

In both the pistol and revolver categories, there are various types to explore. If possible, you can try shooting different types to see which feels best.

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Pistol Actions

  • Semiautomatic pistols are known for rapid firing without manual reloading. They come in either single-action or striker-fired variants.
  • Break-action pistols feature a unique hinged frame that exposes the chamber for loading or ejecting cartridges.

Revolver Actions

  • In Single Action Only revolvers, you need to use the trigger to release the hammer, and then manually cock the hammer for each shot. You also load one cartridge at a time.
  • For Double Action/Single Action revolvers, you have the choice to use either single action or double action.

Expert Tip:

In Double Action Only revolvers, there's no single-action option. These revolvers have a concealed hammer, which is good for carrying discreetly.

Popular Caliber

When it comes to calibers, shooters need to consider their comfort and familiarity with the firearm. Revolvers typically use rimmed cartridges, while pistols use rimless or semi-rimmed cartridges.

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Pistol Calibers

Revolver Calibers

  • Popular options include the .45 Colt, .22 LR, .44 Special, and the .327 Federal Magnum. Revolvers are highly reliable and rarely jam.
  • Powerful self-defense choices for revolvers include .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .38 Special.

Use Cases

Shooters often choose between revolvers and pistols based on their specific needs. For concealed carry, many prefer revolvers, while some shooters value pistols thanks to their firepower.

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Pistol Use Cases

  • Law enforcement agencies commonly utilize pistols in the field, with popular choices like the GLOCK 17 and GLOCK 19.
  • Pistols are also well-suited for home defense, offering both capacity and reliability.

Revolver Use Cases

  • Revolvers shine in the concealed carry category due to their compact nature. RugerGP 100, the .38 Special, and the .357 Magnum are popular options.
  • Shooters use revolvers in cowboy action shooting, also referred to as single-action shooting.

Capacity, Magazines & Clips

The gun magazine at the man's waist is ready to be used at the range with his sparkling pistol.

The pistol has a higher capacity than the revolver. This can be helpful in self-defense situations. However, there are ways to increase capacity with magazines and clips.

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Pistol Capacity

  • Semi-automatic pistols can typically hold between 6 to 30 rounds and feature either detachable magazines or integral ones.
  • Clips are used for rapid insertion into a magazine or cylinder, while magazines feed directly into the chamber.

Revolver Capacity

  • Revolvers have a capacity ranging from 5 to 10 rounds.
  • They can also utilize half and full-moon clips, which can increase their capacity by 3 to 6 rounds.

Reloading Times

Pistols generally offer faster reloading times when compared to revolvers. However, with practice and the use of a speedloader, you can achieve quicker reloads with a revolver.

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Pistol Reloading Time

  • You will want to engage the safety, remove the magazine, and retract the slide by pulling it to the rear.
  • Next, load the magazine until it audibly clicks into place.
  • Finally, release the slide, and your firearm is ready to use.

Revolver Reloading Time

  • You must hit the cylinder release latch, rotate the cylinder out, and hit the ejector rod.
  • From there, you can insert the speedloader (or individual rounds) and close the cylinder.

Pros & Cons of Pistols

Pistols have been prized for their fast reloading capabilities and used by law enforcement departments. If you’re thinking of buying a pistol, see the major pros and cons.

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Pistol Pros

  • Increase Ammo Capacity: Pistols have a capacity of 10-15 rounds, with some models holding up to 30+ rounds.
  • Fast Reloading: You can quickly insert a new magazine, rack the slide, and continue firing.

Pistol Cons

  • More Parts: Since pistols contain more parts, it’s more likely for your gun to jam compared to a revolver.
  • Concealed Carry: If you purchase a larger pistol, it may be more difficult to conceal carry.

Pros & Cons of Revolvers

Revolvers have a classic style and can be extremely fun to shoot, but it doesn’t mean they don’t come without drawbacks. See some of the pros and cons related to revolvers listed below.

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Revolver Pros

  • Beginner-Friendly: Revolvers are easy to use thanks to their straightforward design. You don’t need to worry about pulling back a slide, either.
  • Reliable: The simple design ensures that the revolver is less likely to jam or malfunction.

Revolver Cons

  • Capacity: Most revolvers can only hold 6-10 rounds in the chamber. This may be a major drawback in a self-defense situation.
  • Heavy Trigger Pull: If you lack grip strength, revolvers may not be ideal as they have a heavy trigger pull.

Have Fun Out There!

Ready to make your first revolver or pistol purchase? Whichever firearm you decide on, both provide ample firepower to meet your specific requirements. Explore our range of revolvers for a classic Western vibe, or consider a semi-automatic pistol for fast firing. Don't forget to stock up on ammunition while you're at it.