Frame Cracks in .22 H&R Automatic “Premier” revolvers
A total of nine different small frame .22 H&R Automatic ejecting .22 revolvers have been examined. I must stress that these were the small frame top brakes, not the large frame .22 revolvers. In general, the overall condition of these nine little 22s were from very good to very poor.
All but one of the nine revolvers examined had a crack in the frame running from the firing pin slot to the top of the hand slot. Most of them had an additional crack starting from the lower hand slot down. This lower hand slot crack sometimes went as far as the cylinder bolt stop slot. Each crack was rather thin.
These cracks are not always easy to see, especially if the frame is greasy or rusted. The best way to check is to open the revolver unload it, and look at the inside of the frame in the area were the .22 shell head recoils against the frame. It may be necessary to clean the area with a bronze brush.
The subject revolvers:
The nine revolvers examined had various barrel lengths and a wide range of serial numbers. All were the basic 7 shot .22 “Premier” type. All of them were made for firing pins mounted on the hammer. Some, but not all of them were marked “Premier” on the side of the barrel, some of them had nothing on the side of the barrel, others had caliber markings on the side. Of the eight revolvers with cracked frames the lowest serial number was 114,0xx. The highest cracked frame serial number was A876,8xx. The only one with no crack was serial number 66,3xx. This was the lowest number of the nine revolvers examined. I can’t say one way or the other if early frames are less likely to crack, it may be that this one example was not subjected to the same amount of firing as the others.
It’s unclear if these thin frame cracks make these revolvers entirely unsafe to shoot. I have fired cracked small frame Premier’s without trouble (always with safety glasses and hearing protection). However, if you are going to shoot one at the least one should use low pressure ammo, maybe .22 shorts, to avoid excessive pressure and making things worse. Another precaution is to be sure the revolver indexes properly in both double action and single action fire. Failure to index and line up the chamber to the barrel causes increased pressure as well as shaved lead spitting. Indexing trouble is a frequent problem with the .22 Premier. Another issue with these early revolvers is that the .22 case heads are not recessed into the chambers. All the more reason to use low pressure ammo. A further precaution is that the early revolvers in this series were made for black powder ammo.
Repairing and strengthening a cracked frame appears to be entirely possible. Perhaps a threaded cross pin below the firing pin slot would arrest the crack and strengthen the frame? Such a pin might also weaken the frame so check with your gunsmith on this one.