Learning your way around a modern American gun shop for the first time can seem a little bit like a college physics class, only with more facial hair and testosterone. This is particularly true of those who might not have grown up in this world, with the terminology alone bring seemingly overwhelming. Sometimes certain things that should be simple are not. As a case in point, let us consider the humble handgun.
A particularly insightful five-year-old once entertained me in my medical clinic extolling the many manifest virtues of frogs. He patiently explained that all toads were frogs but not all frogs were toads. So it is with handguns.
Revolver vs. Pistol
Any small-statured firearm designed to be fired with the arms outstretched is termed a handgun. In general, a handgun can be a pistol or a revolver. The origins of the term pistol hearken back to 16th century France. The French “pistolet” at that time meant a small gun or knife.
In modern parlance, the word “pistol” is typically used to describe a semi-automatic autoloading handgun. Semi-automatic means that the gun fires one shot with each pull of the trigger. Autoloading means that the gun’s mechanism ejects the spent case and loads a fresh cartridge using the gun’s intrinsic recoil energy.
By contrast, the word “revolver” is shorthand for revolving pistol. This particular design dates back to before the American Civil War. While the first revolving gun actions arose some 500 years ago, the mechanism was not made truly useful until Sam Colt designed his eponymous Colt revolver in 1836.
So, in terms of name alone, the revolver vs pistol debate should simply note that the revolver is a subset of the pistol genre.
The Semi-Automatic Pistol
The world’s first autoloading pistol was the obscure Salvator-Dormus semi-automatic handgun patented in July of 1891. There have been lots of different kinds since then, but today’s pistols follow certain common conventions. The typical modern autoloading pistol feeds from a spring-loaded box of cartridges called a magazine that is retained within the grip of the gun.
When you pull the trigger of a semi-automatic pistol, the cartridge fires, propelling the bullet out of the barrel. Recoil energy pushes a reciprocating slide backwards to extract and eject the empty cartridge case. Spring pressure then drives the slide forward to push another cartridge into the firing chamber. Pressing the trigger again repeats the cycle. This process can continue until the ammunition in the magazine has run dry.
Most modern revolvers carry six cartridges circumferentially in a round steel cylinder that rotates around a central shaft. In most cases, you activate a latch on the side of the gun that allows the cylinder to swing out of the frame. You then load the round cylinder with individual cartridges and snap it back in place.
Most revolvers can be fired two ways. When fired in the double-action mode, you simply pull the trigger. This maneuver rotates the cylinder, indexes an individual chamber in line with the barrel, and cocks the hammer and then drops it to fire the round. Releasing and then pulling the trigger again repeats the process.
As an alternative, most revolvers also allow you to manually cock the hammer back with your thumb. This mode of fire is called single-action. This maneuver automatically rotates the cylinder and aligns a cartridge with the barrel when you use your thumb to cock the hammer. Pulling the trigger then simply drops the hammer, firing the shot. As the hammer is manually cocked in this mode, single-action fire produces a shorter, lighter, crisper trigger pull over double-action operation which is longer and heavier. This is because the gun’s mechanism has so much less work to do when compared to the double-action mode.
Despite its age, the classic revolver still maintains a healthy following even today. Revolver actions are exceptionally strong and are as a result generally able to manage heavier cartridges than might reasonably fire in a semi-automatic pistol. The heavy nature of the design also lends itself to excellent accuracy. Lastly, the nature of the firing mechanism is such that revolver triggers are amenable to exceptionally crisp performance. Downsides include bulk, weight, and limited ammunition capacity.
While revolvers are still widely used for target shooting and hunting applications, most modern shooters use semi-automatic pistols for concealed carry and personal defense. Advances in metallurgy and design have made these autoloading pistols comparably reliable to revolvers, and they are almost invariably easier to carry and conceal. However, variety is the spice of life.
Some shooters gravitate towards trim pocket pistols. Others will run a revolver or nothing at all. In shooting like most human pursuits our innate individuality expresses itself in our personal preferences.
COMPARISONS OF SPECIES OF WOOD FOR GUNSTOCKS”
By BENSON H. PAUL, Silviculturist
Forest Products Laboratory, 1– Forest Service
U. S. Department of Agriculture
The use of large quantities of black walnut for gunstocks, with its
consequent inroads upon merchantable stands, prompted the Forest Products
Laboratory during the present war to investigate the possibility of gunstock
production from other species. Studies of alternative species showed black
cherry (Prunus serotina), red maple (Acer rubrum), yellow-poplar
(Liriodendron tulipifera), sugar map1;77Cer saccharophorupl, and yellow
birch (Betula lutea) to be suitable for such use.
A comprehensive study of black walnut by the Forest Products Laboratory provided a basis for its comparison with other species.? Data were
Obtained on the rate of growth of black walnut, its variation in specific
gravity for both open-grown and forest-grown trees, measurements of shrinkage
in the radial, tangential, and longitudinal directions with respect to the
orientation of samples in the trees, and tests of hardness for wood representing various types of growth.
Subsequent studies produced comparative data on these characteristics
for a number of other species recommended as of possible usefulness for gunstocks (tables 1 and 2 and figure 1). In addition to the Laboratory tests
of wood quality, gunstock blanks were experimentally machined by several
cooperating gunstock manufacturers, who subjected the recommended species to
the manufacturing procedure and proofing tests given black walnut stocks.
The species studied were also considered with respect to their availability. Several are more abundant than black walnut in certain areas and
doubtless can be brought to shipping and manufacturing points with greater
ease and lower hauling and transportation costs than can black walnut. Such
advantages may be enhanced by logging of more than one species in the same
forest. Differences in log prices ordinarily favor these so-called
“substitute” species .
Comparison of Species
Black cherry closely resembles black walnut in most of the characteristics investigated. Samples gave a somewhat smaller range in specific
-Maintained at Madison, Wis., in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin.
2″Black Walnut for Gunstocks,” by B. H. Paul. Southern Lumberman, April 15,
Rept. No.D1725 Agriculture-Madison
gravity, with an average of 0.49 as compared with 0.52 for black walnut. In
radial, tangential, and end hardness, black cherry wood averaged a little
lower than black walnut in the green condition. In the dry condition, however,
end hardness of black cherry averaged slightly more than that of black walnut.
Differences were greater toward the upper limits of the ranges than at the
lower limits; that is, while much black walnut was considerably harder than
black cherry, none of the black cherry was softer than the softest black
Average shrinkage in volume was 12.9 percent for black cherry and 13.2
percent for black walnut. Tangential shrinkage of black walnut averaged 9.0
percent, that of black cherry 8.7 percent. Radial shrinkage of black cherry
was decidedly less, averaging only 4 percent as compared with 5.9 percent for
black walnut. There was only a slight average difference between longitudinal
shrinkage of black cherry and black walnut, the averages being 0.27 and 0.25
Black cherry is reported to be rather plentiful in the northern
Appalachian region, particularly in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.
Many second-growth stands now of merchantable size contain a considerable
proportion of black cherry.
Red maple follows closely the specific gravity range of black cherry
with a low value of 0.40 and a high value of 0.60. The average is 0.51, very
close to the average for black walnut. In hardness, red maple and black
cherry were about the same in the green condition. This was also true for
side hardness of these species when dry, but average end hardness of dry red
maple exceeded that of dry black cherry by about 10 percent.
Shrinkage values for red maple in all directions are well within or
close to corresponding limits for black walnut and black cherry. Its radial
shrinkage is relatively small, ranging from 2.6 to 4.4 percent and averaging
4.0 percent, the same as black cherry. Longitudinal shrinkage keeps well
within the range for black walnut but averages slightly more.
Red maple grows from Canada to Florida and from the Atlantic Coast
westward to Texas and the Plains States. It is a common tree in moist
situations, becoming a swamp tree in the South. Red maple is fairly abundant
in many parts of its range, far exceeding either walnut or black cherry in
total volume and availability.
Second-growth yellow-poplar frequently produces wood of relatively
high density well within the specific gravity range of black walnut. Trees
selected for high density produced wood ranging in specific gravity from
0.34 to 0.60. More than 75 percent of the samples tested fell within the
specific gravity range of black walnut and coincided fairly well with the
ranges of black cherry and red maple. Yellow-poplar having a specific gravity
of less than 0.42, based on its weight when oven-dry and its volume when
green, is not recommended for gunstocks.
Shrinkage of yellow-poplar is relatively low. Radial shrinkage
averaged 4.2 percent, tangential shrinkage 7.7 percent, and longitudinal
shrinkage 0.27 percent.
Rept. No. D1725 –
Hardness of yellow-poplar in the green condition averaged lower than
that of the other species investigated, but most of the individual values for
samples with a specific gravity above 0.42 were within the hardness range of
black walnut. The same was true for material tested in the air-dry condition
(figure 1). While greater care must be taken to select yellow-poplar trees
that contain material of suitable weight and hardness, such trees give a
high yield in gunstocks because of their relative freedom from large knots,
cross grain, and other defects.
Yellow-poplar grows from central New York and southern Michigan to
northern Florida, west as far as Illinois and, in the South, as far as southeastern Missouri, eastern Arkansas, and northeastern Louisiana. The highdensity wood is found in thrifty second-growth trees on good sites. In order
to utilize this species successfully for gunstocks, a method of selection of
the trees in the woods is useful.-2
Specific gravity values of sugar maple are within the range of black
walnut but occur most frequently in the upper part of its range. The average
value for sugar maple is 0.58, as compared with 0.52 for black walnut. In
the United States sugar maple has ordinarily been considered somewhat too
heavy for gunstocks. It has, however, been used for British stocks produced
in Canada as well as in the United States to fill lend-lease orders, and
evidently has given satisfactory service.
Sugar maple averages a little higher than black walnut in tangential
shrinkage, yet the range 8.4 to 11.0 was no greater. Radial shrinkage
values for sugar maple fell within a narrower range and averaged lower than
black walnut. Along with higher specific gravity values, sugar maple has
greater hardness than the other species under consideration.
Birch has been used as a source of gunstocks in Europe, and our
native yellow birch has been used to supply machine gun butts and stocks
for nonmilitary guns. Its use for this purpose has, however, been restricted
by the freezing of this species for aircraft veneer. Nevertheless, there are
considerable quantities of yellow birch in logs below veneer grade that could
be used advantageously for gunstocks. This is a source of supply that could
be considered for lend-lease gunstocks or gunstock blanks.
The specific gravity range of yellow birch is closer to that of sugar
maple than to that of the other species investigated, the total range being
0.47 to 0.63 and the average value 0.55. Its radial shrinkage, 5.9 percent,
averages higher than that of any of the other species, while its average
tangential shrinkage is midway between that of black walnut and sugar maple.
The hardness of yellow birch is about the same as that of black cherry when
tested in a green condition and slightly higher than that of black cherry
when tested in an air-dry condition.
3″A Field Method of Determining Specific Gravity by Use of Increment Cores
or Auger Chips,” Forest Products Laboratory Report No. 1587.
Rept. No. D1723 –
Yellow birch grows in the Lake States, New England, New York, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, and south along the mountains into Georgia. There are
still large stands of yellow birch saw timber in the Lake States, the
Northeast, and the northern Appalachian region.
Broaden Sources of Supply
The wide range found in the important characteristics of black walnut
indicates that, unless some special attention is given to the selection of
black walnut, the other species investigated can supply material having
equal physical and mechanical properties. Regardless of the species chosen,
the best results in manufacture will be obtained if an attempt is made to
segregate the material on a basis of uniform weight and exclude material
with extremely high or extremely low values.
The use of additional species having satisfactory characteristics from
the standpoint of wood quality will facilitate gunstock production in the
following ways: (1) create a larger source; (2) make it possible to log for
more than one species in a locality; (3) shorten log hauls, thus expediting
production and cutting logging costs; (4) reduce length of rail shipments of
gunstock blanks; (5) expedite kiln drying by using species that will dry in
a shorter time than black walnut; and (6) utilize species of lower commercial