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Old September 23, 2012, 09:56 AM   #1
Kimio
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Break top revolvers? Questions regarding this design.

I think these are also called "Speed Loader" revolvers. I've always been intrigued about this design, I've seen some revolvers of this design that appear to have a spring loaded mechanism to eject spent casings from the cylinders.

My question is what is the merit of this system, does it affect the revolvers accuracy at all? I've been told that the normal (Not sure what qualifies as normal) revolvers that has the cylinder sliding out to the side, have a more rigid frame, thus tend to b more accurate. What models would one look at if they wanted to purchase a "speed loader" or "break top" revolver. Is there any reason you would pick this design over a more conventional revolver design?

For the record, the largest caliber I feel reasonably comfortable shooting is .45 and below.
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:18 AM   #2
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Accurate enough, but inherently weaker than a solid frame.
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:29 AM   #3
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What killed the top break design was that there were so many cheap, poorly made ones on the market.
The good ones include the S&W Schofield and the British military revolvers.
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Old September 23, 2012, 10:43 AM   #4
Kimio
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I take it that they no longer manufacture break top revolvers then?
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Old September 23, 2012, 11:06 AM   #5
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Kimio the # 3 S&W 44 Russian was used quite a bit in target shooting, Aldo Uberti still make these revolvers along with the Scholfield try Cimarron arms and Navy Arms along with the Uberti web site, the guns are well made and shoot well but the invention of the swing out cylinder put em out of business.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:15 PM   #6
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They don't really make top-breaks for serious use. For collectors, or cowboy action types, reproduction Schofields are available - the ones I have seen are not true reproductions, though, as they have been hardened and lengthened a bit.

Schofields were originally made in .44 Russian and .45 Schofield. The reproductions I have seen were .44 Special and (IIRC) .45 Colt. Pretty sure only cowboy (lower velocity and pressure) loads should be used in those, but not completely sure.

You could probably find a used Webley or Enfield, though .455 Webley and .38-200 / .38 S&W ammo are not what I would call common.

There are a bunch of old Iver Johnsons floating around, also in .38 S&W. Wouldn't be my choice, but they don't cost much.

Older, top-break S&W revolvers are usually viewed more as collectibles than shooters, but some members here will probably disagree.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:41 PM   #7
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Uberti supposedly offers their schofield reproductions in .38 special, .44-40, .44 russian, and .45 colt. I always though that a .38 special one with a 5 1/2 inch barrel would be cheap to shoot and fun, and would not put as much stress on the latch.

It has been out of production for maybe 25 years, but another possibility would be a used harrington and richardson, 999 sportsman, chambered for the .22 long rifle. It's a quality, double action top break, and will shoot more accurately than you can. I see them pop up occasionally and they're not prohibitively expensive.

Last edited by hammie; September 23, 2012 at 01:52 PM.
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Old September 23, 2012, 12:55 PM   #8
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I love top breaks I've been on the fence about a uberti and I am currently looking for a H&R 999...

Fun guns for sure.
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Old September 23, 2012, 01:02 PM   #9
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They may not be the best or the strongest, but back in the day when a quick reload was important, I'd take one over any Colt.

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Old September 23, 2012, 01:18 PM   #10
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If we look at the lot of them as I do (from the standpoint of a gunsmith) all were made in the days before modern high strength steel alloys.

The "weakness" they share is from the fact that they wear out and they mash out in use over time, and could not be made to work with pressures that we commonly use today or the "wear' was much accelerated. Their frames were all made of very soft steel.

With all that said, I will point out the other side of the coin.

If a modern gun company were to make one today and use the steels that they have available today, the break top design would be just fine, and could be used in all but the most powerful shells available. (I think they would be impractical for the long 500 and 460 magnums, but I could be wrong)

If we look at the steel of a Freedom Arms Casull, (17-4 Stainless) and see what kind of pressure it’s able to handle in stride, and were to use such steel in the frame of the top-break revolver and it’s lock, any shell up to and including a 44 magnum would be easy enough to work with.

Look for example at the locking area available on a top break design. The actual locking surface of the latch and frame could be about the same as the surface of contact in some bolt action rifles. If the hinge pin were made of sufficient size and the lock also made to cover about 3 square centimeters, the strength would be all we could ask for.

Look at the hinge pin in a Ruger #1 Rifle. It’s very strong. It’s not huge however.

Look at the total square locking surface on an AK47. Again, it’s quite strong, but the total surface is about 2.4 square centimeters.

Design is not the problem. Higher strength steels would cover the bases easily. Demand is the problem. So far, there has not been any.

For an outdoorsman I believe the break top revolver is a very fine design and not too bad as a fighting gun either. I cannot say it’s any better than a side swing cylinder but I don’t think its any worse either.
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Old September 23, 2012, 01:25 PM   #11
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Top Breaks...

Were a quantum leap forward in reloading speed when they first appeared. MUCH faster than the usual single action (colt style) system.

Accuracy? In principle, they should not be as accurate as "solid" frame revolvers, but, in practice there isn't any significant difference in average hands at normal pistol ranges.

Some models of top break revolvers were target guns and were quite popular for many years.

What killed the top break revolver as a serious use gun? A number of things, including cost and complexity, but mostly it was the in ability to use a powerful cartridge. There are no top breaks in magnum calibers, and even the original .45 Colt loading was not useable in the original S&W N0.3/Schoefield guns, as the cylinder & frame were too short to take the length of the round.

Modern "reproductions" of the S&W can be had in .45 Colt, but loads must be suited to the gun, no magnum or "Ruger only" level loads can safely be used.

Even the big Webley Mk VI is strength limited. Many (most?) of these gun were converted from .455 Webley to .45ACP during the 50s, when original ammo was scarce. But the .45ACP in ball load is essentially a proof load for the Webley, and should not be used. If you have one of these converted guns (using full, 1/2, or 1/3 moon clips), use the ACP brass and load "light" (compared to .45acp) to match the .455 pressures.

There are tons of .32 and .38 S&W top breaks out there, mostly very cheap guns, cheaply made, and cheap when new. The best of them, in good condition is a decent gun, providing one doesn't expect more from it than it is. But there were a great many that are (and never were) the best.
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Old September 23, 2012, 01:57 PM   #12
magmax
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This is a Uberti Schofield that I bought a month ago. I put about 300 rounds of .45 Colt thru this gun so far, 255 gr. reloads at standard pressure. I got to say, I haven't enjoyed shooting any gun as much as I have enjoyed shooting this for a long time. Can't seem to get tired of handling & shooting this gun.
Also pictured is an old Iver Johnson top break in .22 cal.



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Old September 23, 2012, 02:53 PM   #13
rrruger
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My top break H&R 999 is vastly more accurate than I am, and it is 73 years old.
The ejector rod is spring loaded. With a speed loader I would guess that it is as quick as reloading an auto magazine.
Granted the .22LR is pretty low pressure but the general design hasn't hurt the accuracy at all. If it was going to loosen up it would have happened in 75 years or so.
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Old September 23, 2012, 02:59 PM   #14
Bill DeShivs
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"Demand" can be created. Look at the Taurus Judge.
I have said for years that if a major manufacturer produced a pocket-sized top break DA revolver chambered in (and scaled to) .32 ACP, LOTS of people would buy them.
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Old September 23, 2012, 03:09 PM   #15
Kimio
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Hmm...wonder how difficult it would be to make one nowadays. I doubt I'd ever have the disposable income to have a completely custom made firearm, but I imagine that it could be done, if a smith had the know how and the proper monetary incentive to make a modernized break top revolver that could handle the more powerful loads.
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Old September 23, 2012, 04:08 PM   #16
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People apparently bought them in large numbers when they were widely available before WWII, mostly Iver Johnson and H&R, although S&W were still offering a model in 1940. They were all chambered in less powerful rounds, though they weren't all small or pocket revolvers. Apparently the latch is the critical point in a top-break revolver but it's also a critical point in swing-out cylinder models, too. Webley probably had the strongest but they were never really sold commercially in this country. A Webley variation is still manufactured in India in .32, probably on original Webley machinery.

I'm sure the biggest selling point for break-tops between the wars was the low prices.

The biggest reason probably no one would introduce a break-top or any new revolver design of a small size, not a reproduction, is the presumed current preference for automatics. Before WWII, some German pistols were being sold but the only small automatic still being made was Colt's pocket model, plus one from--H&R at only two-thirds the price of the Colt.
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Old September 23, 2012, 04:08 PM   #17
Newton24b
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the problem is that the companies dont think there is a demand, and its not tacticool enough. although they are the fastest to eject cartridge from and to reload
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Old September 23, 2012, 09:01 PM   #18
Bob Wright
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I had considerable experience with top breaks as a kid when they could be had for $1.50 ~$2.00 from junk shops and second hand stores.

The biggest problem with them was worn frame lugs where the latch slid over them in closing and latching the revolver. These wore to a rounded surface and the gun jumped open when fired. A welding shop or garage could build these up with weld metal or even a brazing rod. We could then file them back down to square and have a revolver good for many more days of shooting.

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Old September 24, 2012, 06:47 AM   #19
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NAA built a top break "modern gun" & found they couldn't sell them / or make them as cheaply or easily as they had thought... they are still around for sale, but command a very high price... ( I wished I'd have bought one at release )

... so it is possible, just would appear that there is too much hand work to overcome in building them???

...on my last CCW range re-qualification, I used a shortened ( snubbie ) S&W top break spur trigger in 38 S&W, & had no trouble qualifying

I collect them myself, & have more than a dozen of the various top break revolvers

BTW... they do have their quirks, & I had one happen when I was re-qualifying, but I shoot them enough, that I had no trouble "fixing it"... the stroke on the ejector is pretty short, & if you don't do everything right ( position of the gun, & ejection routine ) the empty cases can get caught under the extractor star... if this happens, it can be more difficult to fix than when it occasionally happens with a manual eject revolver
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Old September 24, 2012, 08:04 AM   #20
Mike Irwin
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"Schofields were originally made in .44 Russian and .45 Schofield."

Sorry, but no, Schofields were not made in .44 Russian.

Schofields were created for the US military, in .45 S&W, and refer only to those revolvers that had the modified latch assembly.

S&W used that modified latch only on the guns designed for governmnt service.

.
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Old September 24, 2012, 08:47 AM   #21
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My Albion Motors made Enfield No2 Mk1**



I load regular 158gr .358" lead in .38 S&W cases over 2gr of Red Dot...
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Old September 24, 2012, 08:55 AM   #22
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Mike Irwin is correct. The Schofield was a cartridge change and locking mechanism upgrade of the Smith and Wesson Model 3.

The revolvers are otherwise identical, but the Schofield is a specific subset of the Model 3.
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Old September 24, 2012, 10:25 AM   #23
Mike Irwin
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Always loved the 4 foot high front sight on those double-action only No. 2 Mk I*s...

Only way to get the bullet on target was to align the sights, which pointed the muzzle at the ground at your feet.

Then, as you pulled through the roughly 700-pound trigger pull, the muzzle naturally rises as your muscles contract...

What a system!
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Old September 24, 2012, 11:10 AM   #24
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I just like the sound when I shake it
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Old September 24, 2012, 11:23 AM   #25
ClydeFrog
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Indy!...; Rolling Stones music video: British troops....

To my limited knowledge, the "break-top" wheelguns were in use often with the UK's armed forces. I think the Webley .455 sidearm was issued to army officers & mounted(horse) troops.
If I recall, Dr. Henry Jones; aka: Indiana packed a big break-top revolver in the third adventure film. I may check www.imfdb.org or the special Indiana Jones film gear-weapons fan website.

BTW: any forum members know what kind of break-top revolver Keith Richards uses in the old Rolling Stones music video for "Undercover"?
I know it's an 80s era video but the big revolver looks like a 1800s era military sidearm. A .44 or maybe a .455 caliber.

Thanks:
Clyde
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