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A Brand New Spin: Ruger Lightweight Carry Revolver Review

by G&A Staff   |  January 24th, 2009 2

Ruger is not known for overhyping its products, so when company spokesman Ken Jorgensen stood up in front of me in the conference room at Ruger’s Newport, New Hampshire, plant and said, “we’re about to show you the most significant change in revolver design in the past century,” he had my attention. He also had to convince me he wasn’t just  blowing smoke—especially considering that what he was holding appeared, at a casual glance, to be simply another small-frame snubnosed .38.

The new Ruger Lightweight Carry Revolver (LCR) is a compact five-shot .38 Special that weighs only 13 1/2 ounces, has a fully shrouded hammer and double-action-only trigger pull, a 1 7/8-inch barrel, and is rated for +P ammunition. It is essentially the same size as a classic S&W Chiefs Special or Taurus Model 85, and maintains basic holster compatibility with those guns. But here’s the kicker the LCR’s lower half, which contains the entire operating mechanism, is constructed of polymer. Yes, that’s what I said. The Ruger LCR is a +P .38 Special revolver with a plastic frame; it is the first such specimen in the history of firearms.

The LCR consists of three major modular subcomponents an upper-cylinder frame/barrel assembly, a lower-frame fire control housing assembly, and a cylinder/crane assembly. The cylinder frame/barrel assembly is constructed of a 7000-series aluminum forging with a 1714 stainless-steel barrel sleeve threaded into the barrel shroud. There are also hardened insert bushings for the center pin and firing pin opening in the recoil shield at the rear of the cylinder window. The barrel is controlled for barrel/cylinder gap by its thread-in depth (so there is no filing required at the breech end), allowing for a precisely finished and dimensioned forcing cone area for consistent transition of the bullet from the cylinder into the barrel. There are no moving parts in the cylinder frame/barrel assembly except for the cylinder-release latch mechanism; it merely serves as a housing for the cylinder crane assembly and interfaces with the lower-frame/fire-control housing.

The black finish on the aluminum cylinder frame/barrel unit is a two-element coating, consisting of a hard anodized outer surface to which is fused a baked-on black polymer surface filler. The resulting finish has a C60 Rockwell hardness—essentially hard as a file—and Ruger’s testing consultants finally gave up on trying to make it rust after a month of continuous saltwater exposure.
Ruger also tested the finish for resistance to body-secreted chemicals, and to common cosmetic substances that a carry-concealed handgun might encounter when carried either on the person or in a purse. It proved impervious to everything they could think of.

The cylinder/crane subassembly consists of a black forged 400-series stainless cylinder, which is aggressively fluted and has the smallest overall diameter of any .38 Special revolver on the market. The black stainless crane is the only part on the gun that is a casting. The cylinder opens by pressure on a thumb-latch that resembles that on all other current Ruger DA revolvers. However, unlike other models, the LCR does not employ a front cylinder latch at the crane/frame interface, but instead uses a spring-loaded front latch insert in the forward end of the ejector rod housing—similar to that on Ruger’s original Security Six/Speed-Six line, or the classic S&W Hand Ejector.

The center pin in the LCR’s ejector rod and the front latch insert in the shroud are each made of titanium, to reduce their mass and inertia—thereby ensuring that the cylinder stays locked, even under recoil. Both these parts are spring-loaded, and when the gun moves backward in recoil, those springs compress. High-speed photographic analysis of the LCR when it is fired revealed that a steel center pin and latch insert has sufficient mass/inertia at rest to unlock fully, allowing the cylinder assembly to be momentarily “unlatched” at the exact instant that the weapon is fired. Using lightweight titanium for those parts prevents that from happening. (Titanium’s low inertia is why it has long been used for firearms parts that do not need to resist moving in a hurry—such as firing pins on fast lock-time rifles.)

Inner Workings
The heart of the LCR design, of course, is the polymer lower frame assembly, which Ruger calls the “Fire Control Housing.” Sideplate free, it is constructed of a high-intensity proprietary composition glass-filled polymer, and contains all the revolver’s operating parts trigger mechanism, hammer/sear mechanism, cylinder-rotation mechanism, and cylinder locking bolt system. In a sense, the design takes its point of origin from the original Ruger Security Six design, which (like the subsequent GP100, RedHawk and SP101) featured a modular steel trigger assembly; this could be removed as a unit from the bottom of the sideplate-free upper frame. In these earlier designs, however, the hammer mechanism was contained in the upper frame. In the LCR everything is contained within the polymer lower unit.

The fit between the aluminum cylinder frame assembly and the lower-frame fire control housing functions as a “trapped V-block,” which is reinforced by the direction of recoil. The two attachment points consist of a small black stainless Torx-head cross screw and captive nut at the top of the frame behind the fixed-notch rear sight, and a larger Torx-head attachment screw at the lower front of the combined frame assemblies, which serves both to attach the aluminum cylinder frame to the polymer lower frame and to hold the crane/cylinder assembly into the cylinder frame. The screw is secured by a threaded titanium insert, which is embedded in the polymer of the lower frame/fire control housing.

Chief Revolver Engineer Joseph Zajk, who designed the LCR, says that the upper screw behind the rear sight is not necessary to hold the system together; the V-block interface, lower attachment screw, and the direction of recoil are sufficient in themselves, and the LCR has in fact been fired extensively without the upper cross-screw—with no effect. It’s simply there as a hedge against anything that might happen with extended use. And for anyone with concerns about the inherent strength of any high-pressure revolver system involving an interface between polymer and metal, all I can say at this point is that prototypes have been fired in excess of 10,000 rounds with 158-grain +P ammo with zero malfunctions or loosening in the dimensional interfaces. The only thing that happens is that the DAO trigger pull gets smoother as it self-polishes with use.

The standard LCR grip is Hogue’s soft rubber “Tamer” monogrip design, which slides up over the grip-stud extension of the lower fire-control housing, and features a cushion insert in the wraparound behind the rear of the frame. It’s an exceedingly comfortable, effective design for small revolvers. The LCR will also be available with a Crimson Trace LaserGrip, which is made out of a harder polymer material, and has an open-backstrap design.

A Concept Takes Shape
Ruger Vice President Chris Killoy explains that the LCR project began at the 2007 SHOT Show, when the company started polling booth visitors as to what features they wanted in a compact carry revolver. The consensus? Very light weight, serious power, mild recoil, and an easy trigger pull. Trigger pull was critical Joe Zajk tells of watching potential female purchasers who were looking for personal defense revolvers pick up various smaller guns in Ruger’s—and other makers— SHOT Show booths, trying the DA triggers. Then they would walk away, shaking their heads. He went to work; two years later, the Ruger LCR is the result.

But the trigger pull was tricky. Small revolvers traditionally have stiffer DA trigger pulls than bigger ones because the leverage advantage of their operating parts is inherently less than that of the same parts in medium- or large-frame guns. The solution was a patent-pending interface between the trigger and hammer with a small camming surface dished out on the trigger. This positions the motion vectors of the two parts so they operate in tandem when set in motion by the pull of the trigger, instead of resisting each other. It works.

The trigger pull on the LCR specs out at about 10 pounds, but feels like eight. Most importantly, it does not have the initial full-weight stacking of most DA trigger designs, but rather increases gently from rest, until it peaks at the rollover point just before releasing. It is the smoothest and lightest small-frame revolver trigger I’ve ever experienced, and Ruger reports that it has thus far proved universally “pullable” by female and small-handed subjects.

As for recoil and comfort, well, you’ll have to try it yourself. There are numerous other .38 Special +P (even .357 Magnum) revolvers out there in this same dimension and weight class. I’ve shot 13-ounce .38 Special snubbies before. I even carry them. But they’re not fun to shoot. The LCR is different. Ruger states that with the LCR (with the same loads), you can expect up to 50 percent less felt recoil than with any similar-size revolver. There are two reasons first, the standard Hogue grips are effective at distributing recoil throughout the grasping hand’s entire surface, instead of just hitting the thumb/triggerfinger web. Second, the inherent elasticity of the polymer lower frame/fire control housing/grip stud extension diffuses the recoil impulse in a fashion unlike that of any metal fabrication.

I took two LCRs loaded with 158-grain +P ammunition, rapid-fired all five shots from the first, set it down on the bench, and fired all five shots through the second. I fired about 100 rounds this way in under 15 minutes; my shooting hand felt no punishment at all. The gun was entirely controllable, and the recoil was mild—no more than with standard-pressure loads through an all-steel snubbie. As far as I’m concerned, the LCR is a “shoot all day” gun—like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

The author found the LCR to be exceptionally controllable with 158-grain +Ps, considering its mere 13-ounce curb weight.

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