The text from Handloads.com
Revolver checkout: how to tell if a particular specimen is any good
By Jim March
So you’re buying a revolver. New, used, doesn’t matter, you want a good one, right? How do check one over without firing it, right at the dealer’s counter or gun show table? This is how. All of this works with DA or SA wheelguns…”close the action” on most DAs means swing the cylinder in, on SA types, close the loading gate, on break opens, close ‘em. UNLOADED.
WARNING: most of these tests require violation of the “finger off trigger” rule. Therefore, be extremely careful about safe muzzle direction and making sure the gun is unloaded ahead of time, PERSONALLY, as you begin handling it.
Note: bring a small flashlight, something small and concentrated. A Photon or similar high-powered LED light is perfect. You also want feeler gauges if you’re not used to eyeballing cylinder gaps; at a minimum, bring a .002″, .004″ and .006″.
Note 2: no dry firing is required or desired at any point. It just pisses off the gun’s current owner.
1) With the gun UNLOADED (check for yourself!), close the action.
2) Thumb the hammer back, and while pulling the trigger, gently lower the hammer all the way down while keeping the trigger back – and KEEP holding the trigger once the hammer is down. (You’ve now put the gun in “full lockup” – keep it there for this and most other tests.)
3) With the trigger still back all the way, check for cylinder wiggle. Front/back is particularly undesirable; a bit of side to side is OK but it’s a bad thing if you can wiggle it one way, let go, and then spin it the other way a fraction of an inch and it stays there too. At the very least, it should “want” to stop in just one place (later, we’ll see if that place is any good). The ultimate is a “welded to the frame” feeling.
4) Still holding the trigger at full lockup, look sideways through the barrel/cylinder gap. If you can get a credit card in there, that ain’t good…velocity drops rapidly as the gap increases. Too tight isn’t good either, because burnt powder crud will “fill the gap” and start making the cylinder spin funky. My personal .38 snubbie is set at .002, usually considered the minimum…after about 40 shots at the range, I have to give the front of the cylinder a quick wipe so it spins free again. I consider that a reasonable tradeoff for the increased velocity because in a real fight, I ain’t gonna crank 40 rounds out of a 5-shot snub.
If you’re eyeballing it, you’ll have to hold it up sideways against an overhead light source.