Revolver Loading Mechanisms

Loading Gate

revolver loading gate
closeup of revolver loading gate

A single-action revolver with a fixed cylinder uses a loading gate at the rear of the cylinder that allows insertion of one cartridge at a time for loading, while a rod under the barrel can be pressed rearward to eject fired cases. The cylinder is rotated after each chamber is loaded or unloaded to bring the next chamber in line. The gate cover is closed after the desired chambers are reloaded or the gun is emptied.

Top Break

revolver with top break mechanism
top break on revolver

A top-break mechanism on a revolver is hinged near the front-bottom of the cylinder. The user can open the revolver and load new cartridges in quickly and easily. In many top-break revolvers, the action of breaking open also pushes an extractor lever upward, which ejects all the cartridges or empty cases or moves them far enough out of the cylinder that they can be pulled out easily.

Did You Know?

Schofield Top Break

One of the most recognizable top-break revolvers in American history is Smith & Wesson’s Schofield. Brevet Brigadier General George W. Schofield, brother of Lieutenant General John M. Schofield, modified a Smith & Wesson Model 3 and presented it to the U.S. Army, which then placed an order for 3,000 of these unique revolvers in 1874. Outlaw brothers Jesse and Frank James reportedly carried Schofields, as did legendary lawman Bill Tilghman.

photo of antique silver top break revolver
(Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions,
Image of top-break revolver with carved wood gril
(Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions,

Swing Out

revolver with swing out mechanism
closeup ejecting casings from revolver

A revolver with a swing-out cylinder mechanism is one with a cylinder that is mounted on a pivot that swings out of and down from the frame. The rod on the front of the cylinder unlocks the mechanism and allows it to swing out. It can then be pushed in to operate the extractor and eject the contents of the chambers. Loading bullets can then be done one at a time or simultaneously using a speedloader. After loading, the cylinder is pushed back to the body of the revolver and locked in place.

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