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The Parts of a Pistol: A Detailed Guide

Parts of a Pistol

There are two general categories of devices that people take for granted: those with big effects and those with commonplace effects. Computers have become so ubiquitous to daily life that people stop thinking about how they work, they simply 'work'.

Guns fall into the other category. They're relatively simple devices, with early ones dating back over a thousand years. They are effective and a lot of this is owed to the parts of a pistol or other firearm being so simple.

From there, the proliferation of film tropes steps in. The soldier who can assemble and disassemble a pistol blindfolded shows expertise. If nothing else, it demonstrates that it's certainly a teachable skill.

You won't necessarily ever need to assemble a pistol blindfolded, but knowing the components does help you make smart choices about pistols.

Parts of a Pistol Explored

The first thing to do is lay down definitions. While all pistols are handguns, not all handguns are pistols. This becomes more true the longer terms find specific use.

Pistol refers most commonly to semi-automatic handguns. Revolvers are also a form of handgun and you may hear 'revolver pistol' used but it's falling out of the lexicon. Muzzleloaders are also handguns but you also normally see these listed as flintlocks, matchlocks, or wheellocks.

Looking at a list, such as these pistols for sale, you'll see the occasional revolver but far more semi-autos. Machine pistols also exist but are rarely on the open market and more commonly lumped in with submachine guns and other more military-style firearms.

Main Components

These are the core parts of a gun you'll find across most handguns and all pistols. The quality and tolerance of each part changes, depending on the manufacturer.


The most vital component of a pistol is the action. The action consists of a striking lever, usually a hammer, and the firing pin that contacts the ammunition.

Striking levers range in size and external functionality. Most semi-autos have a hammer that can be manually cocked or racked and recocks each time the weapon fires. This is what provides semi-automatic functionality.

Trigger Assembly

The trigger assembly consists of the trigger, a spoke, some springs, and some pins.

Trigger assemblies are built into the frame of a pistol and require you to disassemble a gun further than a basic tear-down for cleaning to access.


The barrel of a pistol provides a space for the ammunition to travel through once fired. Barrels consist of several parts: the bore, the breach, the muzzle.

The breach is the part nearest the action that holds ammunition ready to fire. The bore is the rifling inside the tube that spins the bullet to create accuracy. The muzzle is the end of the barrel that the bullet leaves from.

The Minute of Angle (MOA) measures the accuracy of a pistol's barrel and represents the spread of shots at specific ranges. A tight firing pattern indicates a low MOA. Knowing the MOA assists you in finding the effective range of a pistol.


The part of the pistol you hold onto. Grips are part of the frame. They also offer a reservoir for the ammunition, typically in the form of a magazine.


The frame consists of the grip, undercarriage, and trigger assembly. Manufacturers make frames out of durable materials such as metals or polymer compounds.

Manufacturers also engineer frames to hold the other components of the pistol. Additional options and modifications are often attached to their respective parts. serious modifications to the frame are difficult and usually require a gunsmith.


The slide fits on top of the frame and holds the barrel. A recoil spring in the slide provides recocking functionality. An extractor assembly pushes the spent casing out and moves a new cartridge into place to ready the gun to fire again.

Slides also hold the ejection port for pushing out spent castings as the gun fires.

Removing components from the slide for cleaning is easier than pulling apart the frame.

Additional Features

The main components are standardized with differences being small to fine-tune performance from one make/model to another. The following are elements that range more widely and don't exist in all pistols.


Double action pistols have two hammer positions to fully cock or half-cock a pistol. The de-cocker allows you to unready a weapon so that it is in a safe position but still ready with a cartridge in the firing chamber.

Hammerless pistols have an internal assembly that resets.


A safety is either a manual switch or a button on a pistol This either locks the trigger assembly or disables the firing pin.

Slide Release

A slide release is a lever or button that disconnects the slide from the frame for cleaning and servicing. Not all semi-auto pistols have a slide release.

Slide Lock

When a pistol is empty the slide lock holds the slide back to allow the magazine to disengage or be inserted. Some slide locks are internal, locking the slide back until a magazine is inserted.

Others are external and allow the slide to move forward without a magazine in place.

Magazine Release

Magazine releases are built into the slide, allowing them to be removed and inserted only when the slide is locked back in safe position.

Some allow the magazine to be disengaged while the pistol is ready to fire.

Useful Knowledge

Knowing the parts of a pistol helps you to understand an aspect of guns and gun culture. Like any tool, the function determines the form. Knowing what you need a gun for, what you want it to do, and under what conditions it will see use all come into play.

Understanding the tool gives you the ability to make smart decisions in purchasing, handling, and storage. Once a topic is demystified with knowledge, you will find more opportunities to explore further.

Read more here about Handgun Safety.

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