A firearms action describes how it operates. It commonly refers to a cartridge firearm and simply describes how the firearm functions. First up are single shot weapons. They are single, double or more barrels that require manual loading on the part of the shooter. Simplest is the break-action like a single or double-barreled shot gun. Others are typified by such as the rolling-block Remington, the Trap Door 1873 Springfield as used by the US Cavalry, and there are some single-shot bolt actions that were adopted by European armies. Another is the Snyder and the tilting block Martini-Henry (Zulu Wars). The Sharps was a falling block single shot as is the modern Ruger #1 Rifle. All demand operator intervention to manually reload the gun. There is no magazine, but various actions used to seal the breach. All or most use a metallic cartridge or shotgun shell. The only exception that comes to mind is the 1859 Sharps that used linen cloth or paper cartridges and required an external cap for ignition.
Repeaters come in various actions, the mechanism loads, seals the breech and fires and ejects the round. Revolvers where early repeaters, though many where cap ‘n ball as well as cartridge guns. All repeaters have a magazine of some type to hold multiple shots. The revolver was an early and practical solution following the pepper-box. The pepper-box had rotating barrels and chambers and was quite popular in the mid-18th century.
Single Action vs Double Action
Single action vs double action refers to trigger function. Single action fire on the release of the trigger. Single action Colts, Remington and Smith-Wesson revolvers require you to cock the hammer then fire pulling the trigger and releasing the hammer. Cooper produce a .31 caliber 5-shot cap ‘n ball double actions revolver as a concealable or backup weapon. Double-action refers to the action of the trigger on pulling that cocks and releases the hammer strictly by trigger pull. Virtually all modern revolvers are double action as is the Glock pistol, a double action only pistol that utilizes a striker and is hammerless. In fact, most modern pistols are double action on the first round then revert to single action on subsequent shots. The 1911 Colt Automatic is a single action gun and requires manual cocking for the first shot, and the trigger will fire the cocked weapon with a pull of the trigger.
Bolt, slide or pump, lever and autoloading are the rifle actions. All use a magazine, some internal other external. The most copied action is the K98 Mauser, the rifle that served Germany through two world wars and Germany’s imperial ambitions. Almost all military rifles of this era where bolt action, had an internal magazine of 5-6 rounds and loaded via stripper clip through the top of the receiver. The British Lee-Enfield held 10 round in an extended magazine.
Lever actions generally us a tubular magazine the required flat or round nosed bullets and preferred rimmed cartridges. Receiver box magazines like the Model 1895 Winchester and the Savage Model 99 that used a rotary magazine are the exceptions. Pump or slide operated weapons where either tubular magazine rifle (most .22 rimfires) or external 4 or 5 shot box magazines exemplified by the Remington Model 760 and almost every shotgun manufacturers usually have various models of pump shotguns.
Semi & Full Automatic
Semi and full autoloading guns are either blowback like the Ruger 10-22 depending on the bolt mass to seal and hold the breech until the pressure drops. Recoil operated weapons include most pistols like the 1911, Sig, Glocks and others. The slide and barrel recoil together unlocking the barrel and allowing the slide to move backwards under inertia ejecting the spent round and stripping the next one from the magazine and chambering the round all under spring pressure. The Browning designed machineguns including M2 .50 caliber exemplify the recoil mechanism in machineguns. The Vickers/Maxum were recoil operated as well.
Gas systems are popular in rifles and machineguns. They are short stroke, long stroke or direct impingement. AR-15/M16 family used by US forces are direct impingement. The gases are directed directly into the receiver to operate the rifle. Short stroke systems utilize a piston with the gas tap at the barrel forcing the piston back and tapping the carrier inducing inertia to operate the mechanism. Long stroke, like those using in formally Soviet weapons like the AK-47 and AK-74 attach the piston to the carrier and they recoil together. The M240/249 machineguns are gas operated as was the old Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
Solutions to Weapon Design
Varying solutions addressing a plethora of weapons design exist. Even bolt actions have varied in design criteria. Magazine cutoffs turn the rifle into a single shot reserving the magazine for close in action. The British Lee-Enfield move the bolt lugs to the rear. Most have two lugs to the front, but the Krag only has one lug. Turn bolts are used in the M16 and most modern weapons, the tilting block is used as well, and very popular in shot guns. So many interesting ways to get around varying problems. Shooting Range Industries offers custom indoor shooting ranges for your firearm practice and training. Contact us today!