Are you new to guns and wondering what, exactly, the difference between a striker-fired and hammer-fired gun is? Or maybe you’ve shot for a while, missed the difference between the two, and are now too afraid to ask.
Whatever your reason for wanting to know, we’ve got you covered.
First, for any of this to make sense, you need to have a basic understanding of how a gun works.
In order to fire, a firearm needs to ignite the primer on the ammo cartridge so that the gunpowder can burn. The two main ways a firearm will do that will be with either a hammer or striker driving a firing pin.
Firearms that use the first are described as “hammer-fired,” while those that use the latter are called “striker-fired.” Not a lot of creative terminology here, I know.
Now let’s break down hammer-fired and striker-fired guns, one at a time.
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Hammer-fired guns have a spring-powered weight, called the hammer, that drives the firing pin into the primer. The firing pin and hammer may be attached or separate.
The attached setup is more common in revolvers, particularly older models.
Similarly, the hammer can be internal or external. If it’s external, it’ll be visible, and you can operate it manually without messing with the slide.
If it’s internal, the hammer will be part of the frame of the gun, and the firing pin will be located in the slide.
Hammer-fired guns can be either both double-action and single-action or double-action-only.
With a double-action hammer-fired pistol, you either have a longer trigger pull, which both cocks the hammer and fires the gun, or you cock the hammer manually before firing.
With that longer trigger pull, the pull is also heavier, making it more difficult, especially for those with smaller or weaker hands. With that said, every shot after the first is single-action and has a lighter trigger pull.
With a single-action gun, you have to rack the slide to cock the hammer. You can’t cock it by pulling the trigger.
Most hammer-fired guns have double-action and single-action modes that you can choose between. There are some that are double-action-only, though.
Some popular hammer-fired guns you may have seen include the Colt M1911, Sig Sauer P226, Beretta M9, Browning Hi-Power, Springfield Armory XD-E, CZ 75, and H&K P30.
- Manually cock or decock the gun
- Easy to tell if the gun is cocked or not
- Easier to manipulate the slide
- Hammer-fired pistols usually have better triggers
- Single actions can potentially have a shorter trigger stroke and lighter trigger pull
- Heavier first trigger pull with double-action
- Must remember to decock double-actions
- Have to remember the manual safeties with a single-action
Striker-fired guns have a simpler design.
There’s no hammer. Instead, the spring acts directly on the firing pin, called a striker, rather than affecting the hammer, which would then act on the pin.
For single-action striker-fired guns, the slide cocks the striker, so all the trigger has to do is release the striker.
For double-action striker-fired guns, the trigger pull is responsible for both cocking and releasing the striker. There are some double-action/single-action striker-fired pistols, and some also have an external decocker.
All in all, the striker-fired design leads to a gun that’s easier to learn and shoot.
They’re a great option for beginners, and some are even designed specifically with beginners in mind. These are also popular for defense because firing off a shot is quick and easy.
All you have to do is rack the slide and pull the trigger. And that trigger pull is typically lighter than you’d experience on a hammer-fired gun, too.
In addition, the simpler design means that striker-fired guns tend to be lighter and cheaper.
On the other hand, the lack of external safety on most striker-fired guns, combined with the lighter trigger pull, which can make accidental discharges easier, trigger discipline, and other gun safety practices are even more important with striker-fired guns. Of course, you should be using safe practices whenever you handle a gun, but it’s worth emphasizing.
- Easier to learn and operate
- Usually cheaper
- Lighter trigger pull
- Tend to be lighter
- Don’t typically have to deal with a manual safety
- Frequently do not have external safeties
- Trigger may be easier to accidentally discharge
Now that you’ve got the basics down, I want to emphasize that everything I said above is a generalization.
Every striker-fired gun isn’t going to have a lighter trigger pull than every hammer-fired gun. Some striker-fired guns have manual safeties, while some hammer-fired guns don’t.
A beginner won’t necessarily struggle with a hammer-fired gun, even though a striker-fired gun will typically be a bit easier.
And there are both striker-fired and hammer-fired guns for any purpose under the sun.
Ultimately, the thing that matters the most is what you like. If you can, it’s a good idea to try a few guns of both types to get a feel for what you like.
Do you prefer one design over the other? Let us know in the comments. Ready to pick a gun for carry? Check out our article on the 12 Best Concealed Carry Guns.