My recent interest in shooting and modifying S&W .38 Safety Hammerless revolvers has spurred interest in top-break revolvers among my friends and raises the question of why there are no modern top-break auto-ejecting revolvers?Â It seems like an eminently practical thing- open the action and the shells pop out, drop in a speed-loader or moon clip full of fresh ammo and you are on your way. Better and faster, right? Yesâ€¦ and noâ€¦ and maybe.
With only a couple of exceptions top-break revolvers all but disappeared after World War 2.Â The only readily available new top-break revolvers are the Uberti copies of 19th Century Smith & Wesson designs- which run right around $1000 US. Later this year North American Arms will be reintroducing a .22 Magnum top-break micro-revolver as well, and as far as new top-breaks on the American market thatâ€
Most affordable antique top-breaks in the US are available in low-powered cartridges like .32 S&W and .38 S&W. By todays standards most people consider these to be too anemic for self-defense, and there is no commercially produced defensive ammo in these calibers that is recommended for firing in a top-break revolver. Buffalo-Bore does make defensive ammo in .38 S&W but advise that you restrict itâ€
The mechanism is not inherently too weak, as witnessed by Webleys which routinely fire .455 or .45 ACP cartridges, or the Uberti S&W copies that fire .44-40 or .45 Colt. Is it weaker than a solid-frame revolver? Yes, but it isnâ€
One reason is mechanical complexity. Auto-ejecting top-breaks have more to go wrong with them than conventional swing-out cylinder revolvers. Mechanical complexity is also expensive- thereâ€
Another problem is that if you donâ€
But the real, largest and fatal flaw of top-break revolvers is simple; modern solid-frame swing-out cylinder designs are better. They are inherently stronger, they are easier to produce and contrary to what you might think they are just as fast to reload with speed-loaders or moon clips.
No, i am not on drugs. Rapidly and reliably reloading either sort of revolver is a two-hand operation that requires training. I do love the top-breaks so I am training- the S&W .38 top-breaks can use J-Frame speed loaders, so I developed a drill for using these. I can go into this in detail another time, but the net result was that with the proper drill for each revolver neither is notably faster than the other.Â A person that is pretty good at a reliable reloading method with either sort of gun should be able to manage a reload in about 4-1/2 seconds. Someone really dedicated might shave a second off that, especially using a competition set-up where the reload is very easy to access. The best revolver shooter Iâ€
So basically the reason for the lack of modern top-break revolvers is simple- they are more complex, more expensive and offer no practical advantage. Itâ€