If youre in the market for a new firearm, there are many pros and cons of a gun you consider. Many models seem very similar, and sometimes you can choose between two similar options, thinking that theres not much difference. But there is always a difference, and thats no exception for striker fired vs hammer fired weapons. So then, what distinguishes them? What do they have in common? Which gun would be most effective for your needs?
The firing methods have changed drastically over the years, for both striker fired pistols and hammer fired pistols. In fact, their development coincided with the introduction of metallic cartridges and more advanced manufacturing techniques. As a result, the Hammer-fired and striker-fired weapons techniques were standardized and are still used today.
When we talk about hammer-fired pistols, the slide is shifted back in a pistol with a firing pin, thereby cocking the hammer. The hammer is held fully back by engagement in the trigger lug and additionally by a tension spring.
Striker-fired pistol triggers offer the shooter an easy operating experience; simply load the handgun, cock the slide, and its ready to shoot. Even pulling the trigger is easy since it weighs a lot less than the one on a double-action pistol.
The main difference between hammer fired and striker fired is in their methods. When we speak about functionality, a hammer fire weapon is partly external, while a striker-fired gun is entirely internal. Also, each of these systems has a different utility and depends mainly on the type of gun you want or need it for.
First, lets talk about striker fired vs hammer fired power. A striker-fired gun will have a consistent trigger pull all its lifetime. Of course, unless the weapon is modified. And even if it is, the trigger weight will remain the same after the modifications. And this is a great and convenient feature since it gives you more consistency. When you train with this pistol, the trigger weight will remain the same. It will provide you with a lot more control over the gun, especially as the practice hours pile up.
Of course, safety is the most crucial thing no matter what model, regardless if we talk about Glock, Heckler & Koch, Beretta, or any other model. We encourage you to use weapons in a safe way. According to the National Rifle Association, there are few rules to take into consideration when using a gun, regardless of what type. And one of the most important ones is to make sure that the gun is unloaded and the safety is on.
Now, the good thing is that some hammer fired pistols have a decocking mechanism that locks the firing pin. This is the main difference compared to a standard decocking lever. So if someone with ill intentions gets their hand on your pistol and doesnt know how to disarm the safety, it can save your life.
All and all, the striker-fired pistol offers excellent fight potential and an equal trigger pull with every shot. For those who didnt have enough time to practice (and we all are sometimes), the latest striker-fired pistol is undoubtedly the most suitable choice. And that is thanks to their consistency and simplicity.
Another important thing to remember when weighing the pros and cons of striker fired vs hammer fired weapons is that one is not inherently better than the other. Both guns can be excellent for self-defense; they simply function differently, and it is up to you to decide which design you prefer.
Over the years firearms have developed different methods of fire. With the advent of metallic cartridges and more modern manufacturing techniques we saw the rise of different methods of engaging the firing pin.
As what happens when there are different variations of anything people argue over which is better. The problem is that both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, so we're going to look at them individually to point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of each and their accompanying systems.
There are three major actions that we encounter in handguns. These are double action, single action, and double action/single action. These three actions are the core of all modern handguns ranging from late 1800s revolvers all the way to the newest semi-automatics.
The single action method is first found on fixed firing pin revolvers. This means that in order to achieve detonation the firing pin would have to be accelerated enough to detonate the primer. This tended to be a hammer fired method, eventually divorcing the firing pin from the hammer and having them be two separate pieces that work together in many of John Browning's designs. The most famous and copied of these designed being the 1911 and Browning Hi-Power, both featuring external hammers.
This method cocks and releases the firing pin with a single pull of the trigger. This method of firing was very popular on European, particularly British Empire era, revolvers. This method was adopted the world over in various forms and allowed for faster shooting in target rich environments.
Double action revolvers allowed for the shooter to not change their grip on the gun in order to fire the next shot. This also helped with early cap and ball revolvers, allowing for continued use of the gun if it misfires or if the cap didn't detonate.
Double action continued its use well through the 20th century with two major variants. The more simple variation was the double action only system. This was found on many striker fired guns, most notably the famed Glock brand of semi-automatic pistols.
However before Glock entered the pistol world, double action was paired with the single action method of firing, resulting in the designation double action/single action (DA/SA). This hybrid design combined the quick firing of double action and the light trigger pull of single action to try and provide speed and accuracy with the same trigger set.
Now almost every handgun manufactured during the 1900s used one of these systems with double action and double action/single action being some of the more popular systems outside of the 1911. With that in mind let's get into the different firing methods themselves.
In singe action revolvers the hammer has to be manually cocked back in order to ready the spring assembly and rotate the cylinder so the gun can be fired again. Because of this the trigger only releases the hammer which makes the triggers in these types of guns extremely light.
This light trigger required less effort for the shooter to put into firing which translated into better accuracy. This carried on into semi-automatic pistols in single action such as the 1911 and its related designs.
In semi-automatics the slide would recock the hammer and chamber the next round, taking the excess energy from firing the bullet to perform these tasks. This maintained the trigger's job of just dropping the hammer allowing for still comparatively light triggers.
Where we see an increase of trigger weight is when double action/single action comes into play. The idea behind this combination of actions was to maintain that lighter trigger pull with single action while enabling the faster fire with double action.
This goes in to a number of different methods in regards to safety as well. Single action guns either had a built in safety of having to manually cock the hammer while others required a manual safety to be featured. The 1911 was designed to be Cocked and locked as its default carry method.
However some double action/single action revolvers did not feature an external safety. These styles instead relied on the heavier trigger pull of the double action to prevent the gun from going off when paired with a proper holster. This allowed for the gun to be brought into play and fired very easily once it was out of the holster.
In order to achieve this we tend to see 7 pound to 10 pound trigger weights in these types of revolvers. This is more than enough to help prevent accidental discharges. However when we encounter semi-automatics with 5 pound triggers it becomes more of a problem. This is because the single action portion of a double action/single action is generally half the weight of the double action. Generally this equates to a 2.5 pound trigger.
Adding in this light weight with the fact that the hammer would have to be pulled back first in order to achieve this weight and we have a safety issue. The shooter would have to break their firing grip in order to cock the hammer back which is why we generally see training to have an initial shot on double action instead of cocking that hammer back before the initial shot.
This brings us to the other firing method, striker fire. The beauty of the striker fired pistol is its relative simplicity. Within a striker fired gun the firing pin is propelled by a spring. Once the spring is cocked or partially cocked a single trigger pull will finish the cocking process and release the striker. The striker causes the firing pin to impact the primer resulting in detonation.
All of this happens within the frame of the pistol, be that a hammerless revolver or any of the pistols that mimic Glock brand pistols. This protects the striker from outside debris especially if the pistol is well sealed against the elements.
Now let's get to the differences between the two systems. The most obvious difference is that one method is partially external and the other is entirely internal when it comes to functioning. Each of these has a different benefits and will mostly hinge on the type of pistol you want or the role you need it for.
Striker fired pistols are the easiest to learn on. They are easy to maintain and they offer a consistent trigger pull. Most variations do not have a restrike capability, although this is model dependent. That being said they have no means of being damaged by something that is outside of the frame of the pistol.
Strikers might break from stress, over use, or sometimes faulty manufacturing but nothing outside of the pistol will cause it to break. This is true until we factor in accidental discharges from dropping the gun but this risk is ever present even for modern manufactured guns that have been drop tested thousands of times.
Hammer fired pistols have external hammers. This allows for an individual to see if the gun is cocked or not. For 1911s this will generally indicate that the firearm might be loaded and ready to fire already. For other guns this will indicate that the gun is in single action mode.
A double action/single action semi-automatic has an extra risk when it comes to being in single action. Putting the gun in single action makes it easier to put the pistol out of battery, especially on Beretta M9/92FS style pistols. When the hammer is back the slide is moved slightly further back making pressure against the front of the slide more likely to put the slide out of battery.
Next we come to performance. A striker fired pistol will have a consistent trigger pull through its life cycle if it is unmodified and even if it is, the trigger weight will remain the same after the change. This creates consistency for the shooter. When they are training with that pistol the weight will always be the same for that pistol. No variation. This will allow them to learn when the trigger breaks and be able to get it to break when they want it to.
The same thing will occur on single action only pistols like 1911s. The difference between the striker and the single action in the 1911 is the speed at which the gun fires. This is not the cycle rate but the fraction of a second that separates pulling the trigger and the gun going Bang.
On the 1911 this happens faster than most people react. This means that the gun will fire before the shooter can flinch, twitch, or other wise move after pulling the trigger. This makes certain hammer fired guns more forgiving than others, especially when compared to striker fired guns.
For double action/single action firearms you can get the best of both worlds but at the cost of complexity. The longer trigger pull can throw off the shooter especially if they only practice in the single action mode.
This creates a variable in in the pistol. Some times the trigger will have a heavier weight, other times it won't. This can be mitigated by training but requires many more repetitions than a simpler system.
Another drawback to external hammers is that they create a snag area. Now this is dependent on the type of hammer you have on it but it is still a potential snag point if you are not aware of what is against the hammer.
The simplicity and consistency of striker fired guns make them ideal for quickly training people in how to properly use handguns by minimizing the manual of arms. Many striker fired guns are safe enough that they don't have an external safety which cuts down on the amount of training that is needed to consistently remove that safety. Even some hammered fired guns have gone this way becoming double action only or featuring a decocker rather than a safety.
Where the difference really lies in in the actions of the pistols. As previously stated 1911s are much more forgiving because of their single action design especially on high end 1911s. They just so happen to feature an external hammer. On the other side of things competition shooter features both 1911s and highly modified striker pistols depending on the competition. What it really comes down to is the individual's needs, wants, and more importantly training.
People will still prefer one to the other and some may prefer both. What matters is their familiarity with the system they have selected which comes down to practice, training, and competing. Not all guns are created equal but many are within spitting distance of each other.
Striker fired guns are the standard because of their ease of use, consistency, and reliability. Hammer fired guns are generally setup to allow for better accuracy more easily. Weigh the performance of the particular pistol you want to use with the parameters of the situation you will use it in and select accordingly.
As instructors and influencers, we have a significant impact on what our students and followers perceive to be the best firearms for them. Most probably carry a similar gun to that of an instructor because its what students have seen the instructor training with or even what that instructor directly recommended.
But if we are to be sincere in our teaching, knowing that each student will have his or her own set of varying circumstances, would it not be incumbent on us to explain the different options and the pros and cons of each or, at a minimum, briefly define and cover the operational aspects of hammer-fired versus striker-fired pistols?
Many people, for instance, dont know the difference between double-action-only, single-action-only and double-action/single-action trigger mechanisms, let alone a few variables and how any of them apply to striker-fired and hammer-fired pistols. The handling and safety considerations of these variables will add to a students knowledge base in being confident and capable in his or her selection of an everyday carry pistol and will keep him or her safer as he or she continues to interact with firearms of all kinds.
A simple way of differentiating a hammer-fired pistol from a striker-fired pistol is by determining how the primer of the chambered cartridge is struck to fire the gun. A hammer-fired gun has a firing pin that must be struck by a visible hammer when the trigger is pulled to fire the gun.
A major benefit of the hammer-fired design is that it can be visually or physically determined whether the hammer is cocked or not. As one might expect, there are exceptions currently in production where the hammer is concealed, insignificant enough to be ignored unless one is present in a class.
A striker-fired gun uses a spring-loaded firing pin, commonly referred to as a striker, to indent the primer of the chambered cartridge to fire the gun. The entire mechanism is housed within the slide of the pistol, making it easy to differentiate from those equipped with a hammer. Though these differences are obvious, the differences between how a trigger operates on hammer- and striker-fired pistols are equally stark.
Time-tested and widely accepted definitions of how the triggers on hammer-fired guns operate have been applied to striker-fired guns, and this can often be misleading. Because the striker is not exposed, the shooter has to take the manufacturers terminology at face value with regard to how the trigger operates as in, the manufacturer is basically comparing the striker-fired pistol to hammer-fired guns. This may or may not be completely true when weighed against previously accepted industry definitions of trigger operation.
If a trigger is single-action, that means that the firing mechanism, be it a hammer or striker, is fully cocked and ready to fire the gun when the trigger is pulled. The firing mechanism must be cocked prior to the trigger being pulled in order for the gun to discharge.
Double-action means that two things happen when the trigger is pulled: The firing mechanism (hammer or striker) is cocked and then released. Double-action-only means that the trigger must cock and release the firing mechanism every time a shot is fired.
Double-action/single-action means the first shot out of the gun is fired by cocking and releasing the firing mechanism hammer or striker with the first trigger pull. Each subsequent shot is fired single-action since the cycling of the slide from the first shot cocks the firing mechanism and continues to do so with each subsequent shot. Pistols having this type of trigger mechanism are usually equipped with a de-cocking lever, which safely releases the firing mechanism from the cocked to the uncocked position.
The reasons this information is important for the instructor as well as the student to know are many. Besides the need to be generally familiar with multiple types of trigger mechanisms, handling and safety with each type of trigger system is enhanced. This is important for a shooter, and it is essential for an instructor.
LEFT: Double-Action Only This Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 can only be fired double-action. Its concealed hammer makes it exceptionally easy to carry. RIGHT: DA/SA A double-action/single-action pistol, like this SIG P226 Legion, operates with a double-action trigger press for the first shot, but subsequent shots are sent with a single-action trigger press.
An attractive advantage of striker-fired pistols is how easy the guns are to shoot. Most of the popular models fire with the firing mechanisms pre-cocked, requiring lighter pressure on and little movement of the triggers to discharge the pistols. This, combined with short trigger reset for follow-up shots, makes for extremely efficient handguns. Fitting a gun to a shooter can be easier because the trigger stroke is short and the reach for trigger-finger placement remains consistent for each shot.
The downside of striker-fired triggers is that many of these guns lack the external manual safeties like those on hammer-fired pistols. This makes trigger-finger discipline paramount, especially when drawing and reholstering.
A continuing argument among some trainers is that the light, short triggers on these guns can be too easy to accidentally manipulate and cause discharge at inappropriate times, especially while under stress. Weigh the facts and draw your own conclusions. Stress or no, if the shooter never places the trigger finger anywhere but straight alongside the frame until he or she is ready to shoot, such problems can be readily avoided.
The hammer-fired fans have as many reasons for their preference as there are options. The single-action fans have the short trigger stroke that can be adjusted to an even lighter pull weight than the striker-fired pistols, if desired, and a short trigger reset. However, these designs have the extra requirement of manipulating the manual safety or safeties during the draw and as otherwise appropriate, such as prior to reholstering.
Double-action/single-action proponents prefer the longer, smooth trigger stroke for the first shot, followed by the short reset, short stroke and lighter pull weight of each shot thereafter. They contend that there is no manual safety to manipulate for the first shot and all the advantage of the single-action trigger pull for subsequent shots. De-cocking the pistol prior to reholstering is an additional step that must be remembered for safety, complicating matters somewhat.
The critics find fault with the transition between the double-action trigger stroke and the following single-action manipulations as well as forgetting to de-cock before holstering under stress. If you havent yet heard such declarations, give it time. You will.
Double-action-only triggers offer the simplest and, many contend, the safest of the choices for everyday carry pistols. Every pull of the trigger is the same from the first shot to the last, and there are no manual safeties or de-cocking levers to be concerned with. Former or current revolver shooters often favor double-action-only semi-automatic pistols because they handle and operate similarly to the old DA/SA revolvers.
Even if a reload is involved, there is little new to learn from previously acquired skills. Whether a striker- or hammer-fired pistol is preferred, double-action-only models in several brands and sizes are available.
As instructors, we must be familiar with what might work best with regard to how, where and why a student intends to carry his or her EDC pistol. As always, you will need that information to offer recommendations on whether a striker-fired or hammer-fired pistol will be a better fit.
George Harris has been a leading firearms educator and trainer for more than 40 years. He is the co-founder of SIG Academy, an internationally recognized and highly sought after training institution for armed professionals and responsible citizens. He was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished badges for both Service Pistol and Service Rifle, and served as a coach and team member of the World Champion U.S. Army Reserve International Combat Team. George...