Sunday, October 30, 2011

Single action

Single action refers to a firearm in which the trigger performs only a single action: to release the cocked hammer or striker. If it isn't cocked, nothing happens when the trigger is pulled. A single action revolver must be manually cocked between each firing.

In a double action revolver, the trigger performs both the act of cocking and of releasing the hammer or striker. This means that the piece will fire every time the trigger is pulled, although the trigger pull becomes longer.


  1. Of course you are referring to civil war era pistols, but since you mention Double Action (DA) pistols, there is an another configuration for revolvers knows as Double Action Only (DAO). It gets complicated since if you count cocking the hammer as one action and release the hammer as a second action- then this designation makes no sense. DAO pistols were designed for law enforcement to reduce accidental misfire and rate of fire. A pistol with the hammer cocked requires about a 4 pound trigger pull while a double action pistol requires about an 8 pound trigger pull.

    You can also see the example of “fanning” (which is totally a Hollywood invention) single action revolvers where the shooter uses his off-hand to “slap” the hammer back and fire repeatedly.

    I am a gun enthusiast and have discussed this topic before and only now realize that a better definition is that double action refers to the hammer travel and not the cocking action. When you pull the trigger without the hammer cocked it would be impossible to only pull the trigger until the hammer is cocked. When the hammer reaches its fully back position- it returns forward and the weapon fires.

  2. Of course you are right - talking about old Colt Peacemakers and the like. Not possible to cock a double action revolver by pulling the trigger "halfway". This is harder to explain than one would think, as you say. :) And I was about to move on to more modern magazine fed handguns and how they are "cocked" by utilizing the energy of the recoil or the escaping gasses, but realized how often I have been accused of having too long posts. So I will try to talk only in the comments, which is what I like to do anyway.

    I was going to talk about what semi-automatic means as opposed to fully automatic, and that the terms are different to the military. But again...

    Fanning. Not only Hollywood. My research shows it started back in "wild west" shows, most notably Buffalo Bill's traveling show. Fancy trick shooting and all that. One holds the trigger without letting up and fires the piece by slapping the hammer, not by pulling the trigger repeatedly. It simply KILLS the action of the weapon and it won't last long. Modern quick draw artists (who fan for show) mostly shoot blanks of course and customize with aluminum or alloy for more longevity of the mechanism.

    Finally, a "slip gun" or "slip shot" has been modified to disconnect the trigger from the hammer, so that one can simply pull back the hammer manually, as if to cock it, and then let the thumb "slip" off the hammer, thus firing it without the trigger at all. Why? Beats me. (again, talking about old time revolvers.) I have never read of these things being done by actual shootists in the old west, especially "fanning" - they don't work nearly as well when someone is shooting back at you. :)

  3. And, speaking of the definition of an "action". It has always seemed to me that the trigger making the chamber on a revolver rotate a live round into place before firing is itself another "action". Just saying.

  4. That fanning business, I can tell you it worked quite well with my "Lone-Star" six-shooter cap guns, back in the day. Yes, you'd get misfires, and occasionally the little roll of paper would get stuck, but it always impressed the opponents, whether they be cattle rustlers, bank, robbers, the Sheriff's posse, or injuns.

    Of course, you had to stop to reload occasionally, which was usually about the time you got shot. I survived some terrible wounds. Which of course always led to fights, because when the kid you definitely just shot dead rolls out from under the garden table, which is being an overturned wagon, and yells that "Bang! You're dead!".... "I'm not dead, you're dead!"...

    More to the point of real shooters though, I can't help but think that fanning might be a desperately poor choice, I know revolvers aren't famed for their accuracy, but fanning would seem to lead simply to a random distribution of lead in a general direction. And then, of course, an embarrassing silence, which the enemy is bound to take advantage of, with a single, unfanned shot.

  5. @Soubriquet - Did you ever discover, through experimentation, whether a roll of caps will be set off if placed on a railroad track and having a train pass over them? Did your parents ever tell you to stop hammering a roll of caps on a rock because you would put your eye out?

    I discovered and mine did.

    Childhood is a thirst. At least for boys.



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