Whether you use firearms for personal protection, home defense or recreational shooting, it’s in your best interest to maintain every firearm that you own. But properly maintaining a firearm involves a lot more than cleaning your gun after a practice session or whenever you expose a firearm to adverse conditions.

Firearms are a collection of moving and stationary parts that are affected by the force of recoil. As a result, after a certain amount of use you will be required to change certain parts to ensure the proper functioning of all firearms. Remember, if the force of discharging ammunition is enough to cause you to feel the effects of recoil, imagine the long term effect that recoil can have on the internal and external parts of your firearm.

Wear Factors

When you discharge a firearm on a limited basis the impact on the internal and external parts is not all that severe. In reality, the wear and tear on a firearm is cumulative in nature but can be accelerated when you discharge a firearm on a regular or sustained basis, especially over a period of time. The caliber of the firearm can also impact the level of wear on the internal and external moving and stationary parts—meaning that if you buy or use a handgun chambered in a substantial caliber and you discharge that firearm on a regular basis, it will eventually require more maintenance than if the same firearm is hardly used.

The quality and the type of construction can certainly impact the durability of firearms. Firearms that are manufactured using the highest quality parts and are assembled to the highest standards imaginable will generally hold up to regular or even excessive use better than a firearm of lesser quality. True of any handgun, revolvers are a bit different because a lot depends on how they are constructed.

Wheel Guns

A revolver that is manufactured in carbon or stainless steel will generally be able to fire a steady diet of high- velocity “service” ammunition longer than a lightweight revolver that is manufactured with alloy parts. This is one reason why folks tend to only fire enough ammunition through a lightweight revolver to make sure it works properly and to see how it shoots. The fact that lightweight revolvers produce more felt recoil is another reason why these types of handguns are carried more than they tend to be discharged in training sessions.

If you asked me to identify one of the worst problems that a revolver can experience, it has to be the excessive build-up of lead in the barrel, in and around the forcing cone, the cylinder face and on the extractor rod. This is a concern because most people cannot afford to shoot a large amount of law-enforcement style service ammunition that is made with nickel cases and a full metal jacket hollow-point or blue plastic Nyclad-coated bullets. Instead, most revolver shooters train with lead-tipped bullets and use more expensive law enforcement style specially coated or metal jacketed hollow-point ammunition for personal defense and home protection. Removing lead and fouling from above mentioned areas is critical to the long-term reliable use of any revolver.

Ever since I began my law enforcement career and since I retired I have always thoroughly cleaned my revolvers whenever they have been used or carried in adverse conditions, especially when I carry a handgun in an ankle holster. Also, making sure that you do not slam a loaded or unloaded cylinder closed like some actors are famous for doing in old movies can also keep your revolver in the proper working order for a long time to come.


When it comes to maintaining a supply of spare parts for pistols there are two basic parts that everyone should have in their kit. The first is a supply of spare magazines. When a pistol malfunctions, the first thing that you should do is inspect the ammunition. As long as the cartridge was not defective and the primer strike is within specifications, the next step you take is to inspect the magazine that was being used when the pistol malfunctioned. If you change magazines and your pistol operates reliably, you can assume that you used a worn out or defective magazine. I have also found that some pistols operate more reliably with certain brands or types of magazines. The two types of magazines that I am referring to are one with a plastic follower and one with a metal follower.

After magazines, the second most necessary spare part to have is an extra recoil spring. Anyone who has ever properly cleaned a pistol can change the recoil spring when this part has been weakened by excessive use. Different calibers and different recoil springs will require replacement after different amounts of use, so it’s best to check with the manufacturer to find out which parts need to be changed at different intervals of use. Bear in mind that some pistols use a captive metal recoil spring that is all one piece, while others use a recoil spring that is a separate part from a plastic or metal recoil pin.

Just like different vehicles require oil changes and parts replacement at different intervals, pistols also require parts to be changed after certain levels of use. To give you an idea about the difference between older-model pistols and today’s new breed of pistols, one famous manufacturer of polymer-framed pistols recommends that you change the recoil springs in their earlier generation of pistols every 2,500 rounds regardless of caliber. This same manufacturer recommends that you change the recoil spring in their more modern generation of pistols every 5,000 rounds regardless of caliber. These recommendations clearly indicate that more modern technology has improved the strength and the tension of captive double-strand recoil springs compared to yesteryear’s captive single-strand springs. Another common industry recommendation calls for the changing of the recoil spring in a .45 ACP caliber 1911 after 3,000 rounds of ammunition have been fired through that type of firearm.

Keep in mind that one manufacturer does not speak for the entire industry. I for one have always believed that a well-made pistol chambered in a substantial caliber such as .357 SIG or .40 S&W that is discharged on a regular or excessive basis will require replacement parts faster than a 9mm pistol that is made by the same manufacturer. However, using a steady diet of higher velocity +P ammunition can wear parts out faster on any pistol including one chambered in 9mm.

Consider, too that over time your gun’s sights can loosen, break or even fall off and become lost. This is one reason why it pays to hold onto your original set of sights if you’ve installed aftermarket sights on your favorite pistols.

Over-lubricating a pistol can also cause malfunctions if excess amounts of oil fill the firing-pin cavity. You should also never use a brand new magazine in any pistol until after that firearm is field-tested with live ammunition. In fact, you should test fire every pistol that you use for personal defense, recreational shooting or hunting with every magazine that you own and with all of the brands and types of ammunition that you use before you go operational with any loaded firearm.

Caution About Buying Used

When it comes to properly maintaining firearms the wild card in this discussion involves operating a used or previously issued firearm. Inspecting a used firearm and knowing where the firearm came from can help you determine its level of use. I once purchased a stainless steel .38 Special service revolver from a school district security force that transitioned to using .40 S&W pistols. I did so because an inspection of this wheelgun revealed that this particular service revolver was seldom carried and barely used. This meant that there was nothing that I had to do to this handgun to ensure that it was in proper working order.

On another occasion I purchased a used police pistol from a local FFL dealer who initially kept this pistol for his personal use. The only reason I decided to buy this used police pistol was because the FFL dealer had a qualified technician completely restore this handgun with a rebuild kit containing new springs and new pins. Even the night sights on this gun were replaced.

One example that explains the reason why you need to have all of your firearms periodically inspected by a qualified individual occurred during an unscheduled inspection of issued service pistols in a local police department. During this unscheduled inspection a police officer, who also serves as a certified department armorer, determined that two of his fellow officers were carrying .40 S&W caliber service pistols on duty for several months that contained broken pins. Needless to say, these pins are critical parts of a pistol. The question is, how often do you inspect the firearms that you carry for various legitimate reasons? If the answer is never, then you need to reconsider your position.

Even though it is possible to own a pistol that can operate reliably beyond the life span of its critical parts does not mean that you should continue to operate a heavily used pistol without making the necessary repairs. It’d be wise to err on the side of caution and have every gun you use for personal protection, home defense, recreational shooting and hunting inspected by a trained technician and equipped with new parts as needed to prevent reliability problems. When you properly maintain a firearm you ensure that you will be able to use that firearm with confidence, especially when your life could be on the line.

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