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Revolving Rifles, Why Didn't They Catch On?

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collimatrix #81 Posted Feb 12 2013 - 21:35

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As I said before, I think the claim that rotary barrel designs are more accurate is baloney.  I have had no reason to mention the potential advantages of rotary barrel designs, but since you ask:


1)  Because the bore axis does not tilt during unlocking, feeding and ejection do not occur off-angle.  For full-sized pistols this isn't a big deal, as the angular misalignment is small.  For compact tilting-barrel pistols, it's much larger because the breech end where the locking surfaces are has to move the same distance, but the fulcrum is much closer.  This is especially advantageous during extraction, since the extractor is usually at the top of the breech face.  When a tilting-barrel design unlocks the barrel moves down, moving the case head of the round away from the extractor.  This motion forces certain compromises in extractor design in tilting-barrel designs.

2)  In a tilting-barrel design the locking surface between the barrel and the slide is on the top.  In a rotating barrel design there are usually two lugs opposing each other, although there can be many, many more as in the GsH-18.

Having locking surface on both sides of the barrel distributes the stress from firing much more symmetrically, which is particularly important in the case of the GsH-18, which is designed to fire insane Russian armor-piercing ammo that generates 45KPSI.

3)  The barrel axis of a rotating barrel design can be lower than the barrel axis of a tilting barrel design.  This is a theoretical advantage; as far as I can tell, nobody has taken advantage of it.  However, in a tilting barrel design, the barrel must be located a certain height above the top round in the magazine, so that when the breech end tilts downwards it will be in proper alignment.  In a rotating barrel design, the breech could be located at the same height at the moment of firing where a tilting barrel design's is at moment of feeding.

4)  The return spring can be wrapped around the barrel in a rotating barrel design, and cannot in a tilting-barrel design.  For a full-sized service pistol this is not a big issue, since the area under the barrel will be sporting rails and maybe lasers and lights.  For a compact or subcompact designed for concealment, getting rid of the conventional, underslung return spring would be a significant boon to compactness.

rivit #82 Posted Feb 14 2013 - 22:03

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Not to take this off topic, but does anyone know the reason the Winchester rifle was never improved upon with more range ect... I thought the show Tales of the Gun on history channel gave a reason why it couldn't but I can't remember what that reason was.

Edited by rivit, Feb 14 2013 - 22:04.


collimatrix #83 Posted Feb 15 2013 - 07:12

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Do you mean the Winchester lever actions?  If so, the answer is the piss-weak locking mechanism, which could not withstand the forces generated by powerful, long-range cartridges.

Now, that said, there was an improved lever action rifle with a breech mechanism strong enough to handle the stiffest cartridges of the era; the glorious Winchester 1895.  Manliness radiates from it.  That's because it was Theodore Roosevelt's favorite rifle.  He used one on his famous Africa safari to slaughter hundreds of helpless lions, which he wrote was a significant improvement on his previous method of running them down, wrestling them into submission and then strangling them to death.  Indeed, the former president was most pleased when it was helpfully pointed out by a Winchester representative that he didn't have to beat the lions to death with the rifle, he could also shoot bullets out of it.

Ahem.  Anyway, a few 1895s were used by various militaries around the world, but by the time this beauty made its appearance, the bolt action rifle was rapidly becoming predominant.  Most 1895s were therefore made up as hunting rifles.

Xlucine #84 Posted Feb 15 2013 - 14:33

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:Smile_teethhappy:  :Smile_teethhappy:  :Smile_teethhappy:

rivit #85 Posted Feb 15 2013 - 14:47

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Thank you that was very informative.

I guess if you have to supply millions of troops with a standard rifle then a simpler to produce, less expensive bolt action is the way to go. I can't imagine the lever mechanism design on the Winchester as being cheaper or easier to mass produce.

Edited by rivit, Feb 15 2013 - 14:51.


CFagan1987 #86 Posted Feb 15 2013 - 16:26

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IIRC there was a special US Army cavalry unit during our (American) Civil War that was entirely equipped the Colt revolving rifles. They were used for raids and special missions behind Confederate lines and in the Kansas/Missouri border area.

Also virtually no law enforcement officers carry revolvers anymore ... here in the US at least. Some British and British Overseas Territory police forces did however issue revolvers to Authorized Firearms Officers until quite recently.

Krazny13 #87 Posted Feb 19 2013 - 18:39

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View Postcollimatrix, on Feb 12 2013 - 21:35, said:

As I said before, I think the claim that rotary barrel designs are more accurate is baloney.

Agreed.  In order to gain a mechanical accuracy advantage, you have to shrink the tolerances, which means reliability goes out the window. .

View Postcollimatrix, on Feb 12 2013 - 21:35, said:

1)  Because the bore axis does not tilt during unlocking, feeding and ejection do not occur off-angle.  For full-sized pistols this isn't a big deal, as the angular misalignment is small.  For compact tilting-barrel pistols, it's much larger because the breech end where the locking surfaces are has to move the same distance, but the fulcrum is much closer.  This is especially advantageous during extraction, since the extractor is usually at the top of the breech face.  When a tilting-barrel design unlocks the barrel moves down, moving the case head of the round away from the extractor.  This motion forces certain compromises in extractor design in tilting-barrel designs.

But the trade off is that you now are using that extractor to oppose a rotational force being applied to the case, and on the rim.  It can increase the risk of a torn rim, causing a FTE.

View Postcollimatrix, on Feb 12 2013 - 21:35, said:

2)  In a tilting-barrel design the locking surface between the barrel and the slide is on the top.  In a rotating barrel design there are usually two lugs opposing each other, although there can be many, many more as in the GsH-18.
Having locking surface on both sides of the barrel distributes the stress from firing much more symmetrically, which is particularly important in the case of the GsH-18, which is designed to fire insane Russian armor-piercing ammo that generates 45KPSI.

Usually, not a big deal in low pressure pistol rounds.  Its proven accurate enough over the years, and as a byproduct results in an  easier, and cheaper manufacturing processes.
The Russian Gsh-18 is rather interesting.  Its quite a simple design, with a number of complex parts.  This will make it difficult and expensive to manufacture.
BTW the MP-443, which fires the same rounds, uses a tilting barrel design.

God only knows why they hotrodded the 9x19 instead of just using 9x23. . . .

View Postcollimatrix, on Feb 12 2013 - 21:35, said:

3)  The barrel axis of a rotating barrel design can be lower than the barrel axis of a tilting barrel design.  This is a theoretical advantage; as far as I can tell, nobody has taken advantage of it.  However, in a tilting barrel design, the barrel must be located a certain height above the top round in the magazine, so that when the breech end tilts downwards it will be in proper alignment.  In a rotating barrel design, the breech could be located at the same height at the moment of firing where a tilting barrel design's is at moment of feeding.

Interesting, but as noone's taken advantage of this supposed 'advantage', its a bit of a moot point. As far as the mag position is concerned, that really doesn't have much bearing on bore axis, as a magazine can be positioned independently inside the butt, to meet the angle/clearance requirements needed.

View Postcollimatrix, on Feb 12 2013 - 21:35, said:

4)  The return spring can be wrapped around the barrel in a rotating barrel design, and cannot in a tilting-barrel design.  For a full-sized service pistol this is not a big issue, since the area under the barrel will be sporting rails and maybe lasers and lights.  For a compact or subcompact designed for concealment, getting rid of the conventional, underslung return spring would be a significant boon to compactness.

You'd create a number of other issues.
Larger spring - has to wrap around the barrel.  More weight.
Increased drag on the barrel during cycling from the spring.
Have to keep the spring away from the camming features on the slide/frame and barrel.
Still require the spring to oppose the initial locked movement of the slide and barrel, lest you peen/fail the frame.  More weight and complexity. . . .
Some of this can be overcome, but not without making it heavier, more expensive, or a royal pain the the arse to disassemble/reassemble.

Edited cause I can't apparently get my formatting correct. . . .

Edited by Krazny13, Feb 19 2013 - 18:55.


collimatrix #88 Posted Feb 21 2013 - 08:13

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View PostKrazny13, on Feb 19 2013 - 18:39, said:

But the trade off is that you now are using that extractor to oppose a rotational force being applied to the case, and on the rim.  It can increase the risk of a torn rim, causing a FTE.
Demonstrably not a problem.  AKs also have an extractor that rotates relative to the case head, as do AR-15s, garands, or any other rotating bolt rifles I could mention.  The extractor force times the coefficient of friction between the case head and bolt face is trivial.  You're worried about yanking the rim off during the recoil motion of the bolt, but definitely not about twisting it off during unlocking.

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Usually, not a big deal in low pressure pistol rounds.  Its proven accurate enough over the years, and as a byproduct results in an  easier, and cheaper manufacturing processes.
I've seen enough pictures of shorn off locking elements from SIGs, Glocks, etc. to wonder.  Now, it's entirely possible that these might just be isolated metallurgical problems, but there is no denying that symmetrical distribution of force is a more efficient design in a load-bearing part.

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BTW the MP-443, which fires the same rounds, uses a tilting barrel design.
Yes, and the breech area is quite beefy compared to a Glock:

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The feeding offset problem I mentioned earlier will be even worse.

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God only knows why they hotrodded the 9x19 instead of just using 9x23. . . .
Yeah, I'm stumped on that one too.  One day, some poor fool will put that hot-rodded Russian stuff in a Glock and have a face full of technopolymer and steel to show for it.

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Interesting, but as noone's taken advantage of this supposed 'advantage', its a bit of a moot point. As far as the mag position is concerned, that really doesn't have much bearing on bore axis, as a magazine can be positioned independently inside the butt, to meet the angle/clearance requirements needed.
Again, my thesis is that most existing rotating barrel designs suck, but that this is due to poor design rather than inherent problems with the concept.
Also, there is absolutely a relation between the top round in the magazine and the position of the breech during feeding.  You can't place them arbitrarily far apart or feeding will become unreliable.

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You'd create a number of other issues.
Larger spring - has to wrap around the barrel.  More weight.
Um, no.  For starters, you'd more than make up any putative increase in return spring weight (which is a trivial fraction of pistol mass to begin with) by having a lighter frame, since it will lack the bulge at the front that houses under-barrel return spring, as well as ditching the return spring guide rod.  Second, no, there's no reason that the spring would be heavier.  Spring energy storage is largely a function of metallurgy and cross sectional area.  You'll end up with a coil spring that has a large diameter, but fairly thin wire thickness.

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Increased drag on the barrel during cycling from the spring.
Maybe a bit, but I doubt by much.  In a more typical design the spring is still rubbing up against either the housing in the frame or against the guide rod.  A bajillion makarovs and Browning 1910s seem to get by just fine with return springs mounted around the barrel.

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Have to keep the spring away from the camming features on the slide/frame and barrel.
Yes, this is a major concern.

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Still require the spring to oppose the initial locked movement of the slide and barrel, lest you peen/fail the frame.
I can think of three reasons this is not a valid objection to a rotary barrel design with a spring wrapped around the barrel vis a vis a tilt-locker with an underbarrel return spring:
1)  The return spring needs to resist slide movement in a tilt-locker too.
2)  The initial speed of moving parts in automatic firearm breech actions has very little to do with spring rates and much, much more to do with the forces on the parts and their masses.  The return spring is simply too weak and operating over too little area to perform much work in slowing down the moving parts during the initial stages of breech mechanism movement.  Chinn's The Machine Gun states this very explicitly.
3)  You can put a straight portion in the cam mechanism to delay unlocking.  Glocks do this, and so do Beretta cougars.

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More weight and complexity. . . .
From what?

PostApocalypse #89 Posted Feb 21 2013 - 08:41

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There have been a few other examples of revolver long guns but they have never been popular. They do allow one advantage compared to tubular mags - spitzer bullets. Recently soft tip LeverRevolution ammunition has provided a partial solution to this for tubular magazines. But, before that to use a tube you needed a design that would not have a chance of the bullet poking into the primer of the round in front of it, such as a round or flat nose. Of course, an internal or external stacked magazine solves this as well but there have feeding problems with rimmed ammunition in magazines. So, if the caliber you like happens to be rimmed but you want to use a spitzer bullet then a revolver long gun might be for you. This does however put you in a pretty small eccentric group.