A handgun is the weapon of choice for many shooters, and if you’re trying to narrow down the best piece, there’s a good chance you’ve pondered over what revolvers and pistols each have to offer.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they’re quite different, and it’s worth learning about them separately.
What’s better, a revolver or a pistol? Revolvers and pistols are both popular styles of handguns but ultimately it comes down to the person using the weapon as to what they prefer.
Ultimately, the shooter’s preference and skill level are what will determine the best choice in a firearm.
With that in mind though, we’re here to compare pistols and revolvers in all the key categories to see which one comes out on top.
Table of Contents
What is a Revolver?
A revolver is a type of repeating handgun that has at least one barrel and works with a revolving cylinder featuring multiple chambers that each holds a cartridge.
The first revolver was invented in the 16th century as a way to combat the long wait time until another round could be loaded, and they’re still popular today.
However, the handgun style is the most popular and includes historical favorites like the Colt Python, Colt Official Police, and the Smith & Wesson Model 29, used by private civilians, law enforcement, and others.
- Ease of use: The revolver has a reputation for being one of the easiest firearms to maneuver. If you’re brand new to gun ownership or would feel safer with something readily available and easy to master, consider the revolver for your weapon of choice.
- They’re hardy: The design of a revolver is such that it doesn’t feature lots of tiny bits and pieces that can ultimately get damaged or stuck. If you live in cold weather or worry about dirt getting into your firearm’s inner mechanisms, a revolver is the best choice.
- You can fix problems easily: Revolvers have remained true to their simplistic design from the olden days which means taking one apart and inspecting it for issues is easy. Better still, this type of firearm will rarely malfunction and they’re known for longevity.
- Safe to fire: If you’re worried about a weapon being accidentally fired, the revolver is one way to get around this. Because their trigger pulls are heavier there’s less chance you’ll shoot one when you didn’t mean to, which is a bonus for people with kids at home.
- Good stopping power: The most common handgun calibers used for revolvers are the big ones like .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum. This makes their stopping power exceptional which can be worthwhile for just about any use, including hunting large game.
- Heavy: If you find heavier weapons to be cumbersome you might prefer a pistol instead. The revolver isn’t usually made of lighter materials like some modern weapons and because they can hold higher calibers, they need to be tough enough to do so.
- Low round capacity: A classic revolver holds on average just six rounds which may not be enough, depending on how you plan on using it. You have a limited number of shots to use and they can be slow to reload when compared to other handguns, so it’s not always the best option.
- Stiff trigger pull: For those who don’t find a harder trigger pull to be a benefit, you’ll likely find it to be a hindrance. The double-action triggers on many revolvers require additional effort to pull which means you can fire off shots as quickly.
What is a Pistol?
A pistol is a type of handgun that features one or more stationary chambers that are integrated with the barrel, although the term ‘pistol’ has been used throughout history to describe any type of handgun.
The most popular and efficient pistol is a semi-automatic one as it offers far more efficient than the traditional single shot or manual repeating styles from days past.
The first pistol was also invented in the 16th century but the semi-automatic version that’s so popular today wasn’t developed until 1892, with the firearm not gaining commercial following until a few years later.
Some of the most famous pistols in history and still used today include the Glock 17, Walther P .38, and the Luger.
- Fast and efficient: Firing a semi-automatic pistol is fast and accurate, as long as you know how to use one. Not only do people find it easier to aim and fire with accuracy, but they can also reload quickly which can be crucial in a self-defense situation.
- Round capacity: The biggest benefit of using a semi-auto pistol is that you can have up to 21 rounds of ammo, and sometimes more or less, depending on its configuration. This makes it a smart choice for everything from concealed carry to home defense.
- Lightweight feel: There’s an obvious difference between holding a pistol after a revolver thanks to the lightweight materials like polymer used to make them. This means a pistol is easier to handle and won’t feel as clunky in your hands.
- Not as powerful: Because most semi-automatic pistols use smaller caliber bullets, you’ll find they have less stopping power. If your goal is to take something or someone down with ease, a revolver might be better.
- Issues with mechanisms: Modern guns are designed to have a low failure rate but because they have additional parts and fiddly mechanisms, pistols might still malfunction. Cleaning and maintenance are especially important with these firearms.
- Harder to master: Pistols take time to learn how to use correctly and in the grand scheme of handguns, they’re some of the toughest. However, any gun owner should take the time needed to understand and master their weapon, but a pistol can take more effort.
Their Parts and Mechanisms
Although pistols and revolvers are often lumped in the handgun category without much regard, a quick look at their mechanisms can prove otherwise.
These two types of firearms work similarly in some regard as they require the hammer to be cocked to line up the cartridge, but other aspects are different.
A pistol requires you to manually pull the trigger to fire it, and as you do, it fires one round of ammunition.
This process then created energy which is recycled and used to eject the spent casing.
As the user moves the slide or bolt, it then cocks the hammer or striker, and a new round is pushed up and ready for action so that the process starts again.
The revolver features a revolving cylinder and inside that cylinder are many chambers that each have a cartridge to be fired.
As you prepare to shoot, you cock the hammer either by pulling it or which turns the cylinder so that a cartridge lines up with the barrel, and then when you pull the trigger, the bullet is fired through the bore of the gun.
Ease of Use
In terms of ease of use, whether a revolver or pistol is best comes down to the individual.
The revolver is generally touted as the simpler option so you may find that it’s easier to master and learn to shoot accurately, but those with a preference for pistols will think otherwise.
The revolver has the advantage of being simple to operate and allows users to keep pulling the trigger, even if there’s a bad round, which means minimal interruption.
The semi-automatic pistol wins some points because the trigger is easier to pull and feels lighter, so some feel they can shoot more accurately and with less effort.
Maintenance and Lifespan
If you’re looking for a low-key gun that doesn’t require as much in the form of maintenance, pistols, and revolvers are good choices.
However, that’s not to say that these firearms don’t still require regular cleaning and upkeep to ensure they’re in good working order.
For those wanting a long-term and reliable weapon, the slight edge here goes to the revolver, as it’s a classic design that’s continued to be dependable in this day and age.
These weapons are known for being easy to troubleshoot issues and more resilient in harsh conditions, both of which are strong points if you want a gun that’s going to last a lifetime.
Revolver vs Pistol Ammunition
Just as important as the firearms are the ammunition you’ll fire with them, and revolvers and pistols differ here as well.
The most obvious difference between cartridges is the shape of them, with a revolver using a rimmed design and a pistol’s cartridges being rimless but with a special groove that activates the extractor.
Firearm and ammunition manufacturers will develop rounds for specific calibers and with a shape and design made for either revolvers or semi-automatics.
For the best ammunition, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations for the gun that you own so you’re guaranteed to get the right fit.
The Best Choice for Home Defense
The right choice of firearm for home defense is the one that the user feels most comfortable with, and a handgun is always a smart option.
These guns are compact, easy to use, and accessible at a moment’s notice so either a revolver or pistol would do you well as your home’s defender.
The biggest advantage of using a revolver for home defense is that it’s easy to use and even those with minimal training will feel comfortable firing one.
However, they are limited in round capacity so you’ll only get six shots which might not be enough when you’re in the heat of the moment.
Those who prefer a pistol will love the fact that they hold up to 17 rounds, and that you can reload them without having to lose sight of your target.
Their limitations are that when they’re stored unloaded, you’ll need to spend some time doing so which could waste precious seconds, and generally, they’re harder to master and fire accurately.
The Right Handgun For You
The choice to pack either a pistol or a revolver is up to the individual to decide and only your skill and experience as a shooter will dictate how effective it is.
Before you jump into purchasing a handgun, consider both of these options as tried and tested firearms that both have lots of offer.
There are lots of differences and similarities between revolvers and pistols, so it can make the final decision even harder.
If you still want to find out more about the many types of handguns and how they operate, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions that can help you do just that.
Do Revolvers Have Safeties?
Not all revolvers have safeties and if they do, they’re not the same type of mechanism as you’d see used in a pistol.
A revolver may have an internal safety mechanism but it’s not common, so you should assume that any revolver you handle doesn’t have one unless you’ve been informed otherwise.
What’s the Difference Between a Long Gun and Handgun?
The difference between these firearms can be found in their name, with a long gun being longer and requiring two hands to use and fired from the shoulder, and a handgun being able to be held in one hand and fired.
Long gun examples include shotguns and rifles whereas handguns include types like pistols and revolvers.
What Handgun Does the FBI Use?
The FBI currently uses the range of Glock Gen 5 9mm handguns for their service weapon.
There are a variety of weapons used by the FBI and SWAT including Colt M4 carbine, MP5/10 submachine gun, and the Glock 17M 9mm handgun, depending on the team and operation.