North American Arms Black Widow Convertible Mini-Revolver

By Chuck Hawks

NAA Black Widow
Illustration courtesy of North American Arms

The NAA Black Widow mini-revolver is made in the USA of stainless steel with a nicely polished matte finish. It is a single action (SA) revolver with a spur trigger. The cylinder hold 5 cartridges, and there are safety notches between the chambers into which the nose of the hammer (which is also the firing pin) can be lowered to allow safe carry with the cylinder fully loaded. The grip frame is of the "bird's head" type and the Black Widow is supplied with black rubber grips that completely enclose the grip frame for a secure hold. It is supplied with decent fixed sights, and adjustable sights are optional.

The Black Widow is available with a .22 LR cylinder, a .22 WMR cylinder, or as a convertible model with both cylinders. The Black Widow is 5 7/8 inches long, 3 7/8 inches high, 7/8 inch wide, and weighs 8.8 ounces. It is the standout mini-revolver for concealed carry, especially in the more powerful .22 WMR caliber.

All NAA Long Rifle cylinders can be used to fire Hyper Velocity ammunition as well as .22 Short and .22 Long cartridges. Both Long Rifle and Magnum revolvers can be used to fire shot cartridges.

All NAA mini-revolvers are test fired with CCI and Winchester ammunition before leaving the factory. The Black Widow comes with a lifetime warranty to the original registered owner against all defects in material, workmanship, and mechanical function. NAA will replace the handgun or part thereof without charge.

The Black Widow model that is the specific subject of this review is the NAA-BW/CA, better known as the Black Widow Convertible. As noted above, this model is supplied with both .22 LR and .22 Magnum cylinders. Also included were adjustable sights, a gun rug (zipper case) and a leather holster.

I found the supplied adjustable sights too bulky for a deep concealment pistol and replaced them with a set of the flat black standard fixed sights. These consist of a low combat-style rear sight with a square notch and a (lower) square-top ramp front sight. Both the front and rear sight must be replaced when converting from adjustable to fixed sights or vice-versa. This is not difficult as they are dovetailed into the top of the frame and barrel rib. The fixed sights can be drifted laterally to adjust for windage.

The oversize black rubber grips allow a decent hold and the sights (whether fixed or adjustable) are actually useful for aiming, unlike most mini-revolvers, derringers, and pocket autos. The fixed sights proved to be sufficiently accurate at practical mini-revolver ranges.

Loading an empty gun is accomplished by first putting the hammer in its 1/4 cock (or "safe") position, which moves the tip of the hammer (the firing pin) clear of the cylinder, and then removing the cylinder pin. (To remove, grasp the knurled portion of the cylinder pin between the thumb and middle finger, press the center release pin with the index finger, and pull.) This allows the cylinder to be removed from the frame and the chambers loaded with 5 cartridges. If necessary, use the cylinder pin to push empty cases from the chambers, one at a time. The cylinder is then slipped back into place, most easily from the right side of the frame, and the cylinder pin replaced. A ball detent locks the cylinder pin in place when it is fully inserted. The hammer may now be cocked and the gun fired.

To render the revolver safe for carry, pull the hammer back with the thumb of the shooting hand until the cylinder bolt retracts and allows the cylinder to turn freely. Hold the hammer in that position and use the fingers of the other hand to rotate the cylinder so that one of the square safety notches between the cylinder chambers is aligned with the hammer. Then use the index finger of the shooting hand to pull the trigger and slowly lower the hammer all the way down. Visually verify that the hammer is indeed all the way forward and between two chambers. Alternatively, one chamber can be left empty and the hammer lowered over that chamber, as with any single action revolver.

These operations take a lot more time to describe than to accomplish. Anyone reasonably familiar with traditional single action revolvers will have no problem.

Since the cylinder must be removed from the gun to reload, the reloading process is very slow, and easy to fumble in a stressful situation. If you are using a mini-revolver for self-defense, make the first cylinder load count, as it is unlikely that you will get another.

The test Black Widow Convertible was purchased new from a local gun shop. Fit and finish were perfect. Unfortunately, contrary to everything I had read about the precision with which these small revolvers were manufactured, this sample had problems right out of the box and had to be returned to North American Arms. To quote excerpts from the letter I enclosed with the gun when I returned it to NAA:

"I purchased this revolver last Thursday and fired it for the first time the next day (Friday). Unfortunately, some problems immediately became apparent."

"1. Even with the adjustable rear sight screwed all the way down the gun shoots very high--approximately 5 to 6 inches high at 30 feet. I was using CCI and Winchester 40 grain JHP .22 WMR ammo to test; also CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR HP."

"2. The trigger pull is excessively heavy and very creepy. Please do your best to reduce it to no more than 4 pounds and eliminate the creep."

"3. Unfortunately, this pistol is very unreliable with .22 WMR ammunition (both CCI and Winchester brand ammo), failing to fire over half of the time. This appears to be due to an extremely light firing pin blow, caused by a short hammer nose. (Goodness knows, the mainspring is heavy enough!) I believe that you will have to replace the hammer to correct this condition."

"I trust that these matters can be handled promptly, as I need to have this pistol back in hand in 10 days." (That was true, I really did for the purposes of this article.)

No one likes to lay down his or her hard-earned cash for a new gun and then discover that it is defective the first time it is fired, certainly I don't. However, the good news is that NAA does stand behind their products. The Black Widow was returned with all problems eliminated and within the time limit I had requested. It has performed flawlessly ever since, a period of some 10 years as I write these words. NAA's service was courteous, effective, and prompt. I later learned that problems of any kind with their mini-revolvers are very rare. My faith in NAA was restored.

Here is a list of the parts that were replaced, taken from the invoice that accompanied the returned revolver: main spring, trigger, trigger pin, and hammer. The good folks at NAA even sent me another copy of the owner's manual and a set of Mini-Master fixed sights (which I immediately installed). This was all done at no charge and NAA paid for the shipping and handling. It was an unfortunate situation, but NAA handled it perfectly. You realistically can't ask for more than that.

Anyone who carries one of these little guns should also practice with it. That is why I like the convertible Black Widow. The extra .22 LR cylinder allows pleasant and economical practice.

The Black Widow's rubber grip is large enough for a conventional two-hand hold. Use the thumb of the support hand to cock the revolver for repeat shots. This is usually the fastest and most accurate technique for aimed fire with any SA revolver, as it does not require disturbing the grip of the shooting hand. With a little practice it is not too difficult to put 5 slow fire shots into a 4" group at 10 yards (30 feet), shooting from the Weaver stance.

The Black Widow .22 Mag. is more accurate, more reliable, more powerful, and easier to shoot accurately than any .22 LR or .25 ACP pocket auto I have ever fired. In addition, the Black Widow can be concealed in the vest pocket of a three piece suit. To me it is the minimum satisfactory concealed carry handgun.

It is, however, not for everyone. At any distance beyond contact range the shooter should take advantage of its decent sights and aim. The little gun only holds 5 rounds, so they must be used carefully. This is not a gun for the "spray and pray" shooter used to high capacity semi-auto pistols. Nor is it a gun for anyone unfamiliar with and unwilling to learn about the correct and safe use of a traditional single action revolver.

The first rule of gun fighting is "bring a gun." North American Arms mini-revolvers allow a person to do exactly that, very inconspicuously.

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Copyright 2003, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.