Top 10 Revolver Manufacturers

According to 2018 Reports
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1986 was the last year revolver production surpassed that of pistols.

If seeing is believing, gun store shelves might lead you to believe revolvers are falling out of style. But what if I told you more wheelguns were manufactured between 2014-2018 than any 5-year period in the last three decades? Armed with the Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report (AFMER) published by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), we have the data to prove it.

Under U.S. Code, all federally licensed firearm manufacturers are required to submit a report of manufacturing and export activity to the government agency each April. That information is then compiled and released one calendar year later in January, in accordance with the Trade Secrets Act. For example, as of this past April, all 2019 data has been collected but will not be made public until 2021.

Because of this delay, the most recent data available is from 2018. The ATF also provides historical data dating back to 1986 via the annual Firearms Commerce in the U.S. Report, which draws data from multiple reports into one comprehensive document.

While this article will only focus on the production of revolvers, our sister publication, Shooting Industry, will publish a full breakdown of the 2018 AFMER in their upcoming July issue.

More rimfire revolvers were manufactured in 2018 than any other caliber.

Data Context

The AFMER defines production as firearms “disposed of in commerce,” or sold to a non-manufacturer. This is noteworthy as the reported numbers do not account for guns a manufacturer may have produced but retained in their possession.

The report separates handguns into two categories — pistols and revolvers — each broken down by caliber. However, rather than listing every possible chambering, calibers are listed in six groups that account for a wider range of cartridges. For pistols, calibers include .22, .25, .32, .380, 9mm and To .50. This last group accounts for calibers larger than 9mm, such as .40 S&W, 10mm and .45 ACP. For revolvers, caliber groups include .22, .32, .357 Mag, .38 Spec, To .44 Mag and To .50.

With that information, here are the top 10 revolver manufacturers of 2018.

Smith & Wesson Performance Center 686 Plus, .357 Mag

1. Smith & Wesson Corp.

The second-largest manufacturer in 2018 with more than 1.3 million total firearms, Smith & Wesson comes in atop this list, having produced 210,333 revolvers. Of those, more than half (113,296) were chambered in .38 Spec. — a popular carry cartridge and their most annually-produced revolver caliber dating back to 2007. Second most was .357 Mag with 51,525 guns, and among other chamberings, a lone .32-caliber revolver.

In 2018, Big Blue released a non-laser model of their M&P Bodyguard 38 with gray grips, as well as 4- and 6-inch models of the .357 Mag Performance Center 686 Plus.

Total Revolvers: 210,333

2. Heritage Mfg.

While you might be surprised to find the Taurus-owned Heritage Manufacturing so high on this list, as a company known for their rimfire single-action Rough Rider revolvers, it’s no surprise 99.7% of the 187,104 revolvers they produced in 2018 were chambered in .22.

But Heritage doesn’t just make rimfires. Lesser known are their big bore revolvers, chambered in .357 Mag and .45 Colt, of which just 376 and 219 guns were produced, respectively.

Total Revolvers: 187,104

Ruger GP100 Match Champion, 10mm

3. Sturm, Ruger & Co. (Ruger)

From the plinking Single-Six and carry-size LCR to the handgun hunting Super Redhawk and Blackhawk, Ruger produces a revolver for seemingly every cartridge.

Producing 145,534 total revolvers, 57,870 (39.7%) were chambered in .357 Mag. Over 20,000 revolvers were also produced in .22, .38 Spec. and To .44 Mag, each. Another 16,468 were manufactured To .50, with just 677 guns in .32.

Looking back on 2018, Ruger released a GP100 Match Champion and Super Redhawk in 10mm, as well as two SP101 models in .357 Mag.

4. North American Arms

When it comes to pocket pistols, they don’t get any smaller than North American Arms. While NAA produces semi-auto pistols in .25, .32 and .380 calibers, they specialize in rimfire mini revolvers.

In 2018, NAA produced over 49,000 such revolvers in various .22 calibers, including their then-new break-top Ranger II in .22 Long Rifle and .22 Mag — the second-most rimfire revolvers made, only to Heritage Mfg.

Fun fact: In the 1980s, wildcatter Dick Casull (of .454 Casull fame) owned Rocky Mountain Arms, which later became North American Arms. After several years, Dick and his then partner, Wayne Baker, “sold” NAA to Frank Talley of Talley Manufacturing and moved to Freedom, Wyo. to reengineer NAA’s line of mini-revolvers and large frame single-action revolvers. NAA’s version was chambered in 45 Long Colt/450 Magnum Express, while the new Freedom Arms’ models were chambered in the eponymous 454 Casull.

After both companies manufactured both product lines for several years, NAA discontinued manufacturing of the large revolver and Freedom discontinued producing the mini-revolvers. Today, NAA is known for its mini-revolvers while Freedom Arms, which ranks 11th (435 total revolvers) on this list, is known for their big-bores.

(Thanks to NAA President Sandy Chisholm for the history lesson!)

Total Revolvers: 49,171

Charter Arms Pitbull, 9mm

5. Charter Arms

A company founded on revolvers, Charter Arms has been in the wheelgun business since 1964. Famous for their .44 Spec. Bulldog and .38 Spec. Bulldog Pug, modern Charter revolvers can now be found in wide range of chamberings.

According to the AFMER, that range amounted to 21,761 revolvers in 2018. Of those, over 11,000 were chambered in .38 Spec., over 4,000 in .22 and more than 2,500 in both .357 Mag and To. 44 Mag. Another 739 were made To .50 and 395 in .32.

That year, Charter released new .44 Spec. Bulldog, .357 Mag and 9mm Pitbull and .22 LR Pathfinder Lite models. A unique 6-shot .380 ACP Pitbull was also announced ahead of the 2019 SHOT Show.

Total Revolvers: 21,761

6. Valley Steel Stamp

An unspoken part of the firearms industry, outsourcing is often a cheaper alternative to establishing full, in-house manufacturing. The first of two unfamiliar names on this list, Valley Steel Stamp is a precision machining company based in Massachusetts providing commercial production services to various industries.

Specializing in CNC-machined components, VSS projects includes bolt-action rifle bolts and receivers, as well as revolver cylinders — including single-action .357 Magnum cylinders, according to their website. As for who these parts are machined for, an article published by MassLive.com acknowledges VSS customers include Savage Arms, Mossberg and Ruger.

Based off photos and known information, one can speculate VSS might machine cylinders for Ruger models like the New Vaquero, however, the AFMER does not classify cylinders alone as revolvers. Further, the transfer of components to another manufacturer for final assembly and disposal would not count toward VSS’ numbers. This would imply VSS is doing more than just cylinders.

With that said, VSS produced a total of 21,438 revolvers in 2018, 94% (20,161) of which in .38 Special, with 937 chambered To .44 Mag and 340 in .357 Mag.

Total Revolvers: 21,438

Colt Night Cobra, .38 Spec.

7. Colt Mfg.

While Colt shocked the gun world this year with the release of a new production Python, 2018 saw the release of the Night Cobra — an upgraded version of their .38 Spec. Cobra revolver with a matte black frame, bobbed hammer, night sights and G10 grips.

This new model and others contributed to the more than 16,000 .38 Spec. revolvers they produced that year, in addition to 622 chambered To .50. Those familiar with Colt’s lineup will know those to be Single Action Army series chambered in .45 Long Colt, of which they offer various barrel lengths. Another handful were made in .357 Mag and To 44 Mag.

Total Revolvers: 16,697

8. Kimber Mfg.

The first manufacturer on our list to produce less than 10,000 total revolvers, Kimber finished the year with 9,609 wheelguns. Of course, the only revolver Kimber makes is the K6s, a 6-shot in .357 Mag with short barrel designed for concealed carry. Thus, all revolvers were chambered in .357 Mag.

In 2018, Kimber released three new versions of the K6s, including the Deep Cover, Custom Defense Package and a Stainless 3”. Two years later, Kimber continues to add to that lineup.

Total Revolvers: 9,609

Frank Roth Co. precision-machined 5-shot revolver cylinders

9. Frank Roth Co.

The second outsourcer on the list, Frank Roth Co. is a Connecticut-based engineering, machining and welding company serving aerospace, automotive, military/government and small arms industries.

While research did not yield specific customers, the company boasts they’ve worked with “some of the largest and most highly-respected small arms manufacturers,” and photos on their website portray revolver frames and cylinders.

Of the 1,490 revolvers they produced in 2018, 812 were in .22 and 678 were in .38 Spec.

Total Revolvers: 1,490

10. CZ-USA

Rounding out the top 10 revolver manufacturers is CZ-USA, owner of Dan Wesson, who purchased the company in 2005. Known for their 1911 pistols, 2018 saw the reintroduction of the classic switch-barrel 715 revolver chambered in .357 Mag.

Its first year in production, 440 of the revolvers were made — beating the aforementioned Freedom Arms out by just five guns.

Total Revolvers: 440

Nearly 665,000 total revolvers were produced in 2018.

Far From Dead

In 2018, a total of 4,545,993 handguns were manufactured, including 3,881,158 pistols and 664,835 revolvers (14.6%). Of total revolvers, 99.8% were made by the 10 manufacturers on this list.

While the 7th-highest total since 1986, revolver production was down 7.8% from 2017 and was more than 200,000 guns fewer than the 885,259-record total set in 2015, based on available AFMER data. Contrast that to the production of pistols, which was up 5.2% from the previous year and has been climbing since 2004.

Once the sidearm of choice for duty and concealed carry, revolvers are now often reserved for range plinking, backcountry carry and handgun hunting as modern compact and subcompact polymer semi-autos dominate the handgun market. However, it’s not all bad news for wheelgunners.

Of the top 10 firearm producers, three manufacture revolvers. And of the top 10 handgun manufacturers, four feature revolvers in their lineup — including one exclusively (Heritage Mfg). Despite the growth of pistols, revolver production is at its highest in decades, further proving wheelguns and those who enjoy them are far from dead.

Download 2018 AFMER
Download 2019 Firearms Commerce Report