Definition of "Revolver" in Gun and Firearms Terminology

Toy Revolver
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A revolver is a gun or firearm which contains a cylinder with multiple chambers. When the action of the revolver is operated, this cylinder rotates about a central pin. It differs from a pistol, in that a pistol does not hold its ammunition in a revolving chamber, but in a chamber that is in line with the barrel. 

The number of chambers in a revolver's cylinder may vary in number. The most common number of chambers is six, and this is why many revolvers are called six-shooters--but many guns have been built with varying numbers of chambers.I have handled revolvers having five, six, seven, and nine chambers, and other variations are in existence.

How Does a Revolver Work?

Each chamber in the cylinder is aligned with the barrel, hammer, and firing pin when the cylinder is locked in place for firing. After firing, the cylinder can be advanced (rotated) to align the next chamber so that if a cartridge is in place in that chamber, it is in position to be fired. Revolvers may operate on either the single-action or double-action principle.

Single-action revolvers require that the hammer is manually cocked by pulling rearward on the hammer spur. The rearward movement of the hammer causes internal mechanical actions to rotate the cylinder one graduation and lock it in place in alignment with the barrel when the hammer locks back in the cocked position. When the trigger is next pulled, the hammer will fall and thus fire any cartridge which may be in place in the chamber that's lined up with the barrel. 

Double-action revolvers are a little more complex in their mechanics, but most of them they are more flexible in the firing options they offer.

In other words, you can either cock and fire it in the single action manner as described above, or you may fire it in "double action."

When firing double action, it is not necessary to pull the hammer back--in fact, you never have to touch the hammer at all. With the gun in the uncocked condition, one long pull of the trigger will cause the cylinder to rotate, the hammer to move back into the cocked position, the cylinder to lock in place an alignment with the barrel, and the hammer to fall.

In other words, each pull of the trigger can cock and fire a double-action revolver.

Some revolvers are double action ONLY, which means you don't have the option of firing it single action, but must perform the long double action trigger pull whenever you wish to fire the gun.

With either type, the spent cartridge casings remain in their cylinder chambers until removed manually--unlike an automatic pistol, which ejects its spent shell casing automatically. 


While some revolvers have multiple barrels, most of them only have one.

While most revolvers are handguns, there are some shoulder-fired firearms such as rifles and shotguns, that are also revolvers. These shoulder-mounted guns are often referred to as long guns, and naturally, these firearms have longer barrels and shoulder stocks.

Revolvers are usually of centerfire or percussion type, but Elisha Collier's patented flintlock revolver did see some success in the early 1800s.

Revolvers Are Not Pistols

The vast majority of revolvers are not pistols because the chambers contained within the cylinder are separate from the gun's barrel. Those revolvers that do contain multiple barrels in the cylinder are usually referred to as pepperboxes rather than revolvers.