The world of revolver speedloaders is a tough one. Selecting a speedloader is usually some sort of a compromise. I am here to tell you that the absolute best speedloader *not* on the market is the S.L. Variant speedloader.
How the S.L. Variant Works
The S.L. Variant is, without question, the finest revolver speedloader ever produced. Period. The plastic used in the body of the loader is extremely high quality. It is one of the very few speedloaders on the market that offers positive loading.
Each round is under spring tension and is held in place individually by a plastic tab. When you insert the rounds into their chambers, the center post is depressed against the cylinder pin. This releases all the plastic tabs and the rounds are forced into the cylinder by their respective springs.
So why doesn’t everyone run this speedloader? Unfortunately, they are notoriously difficult to find. The S.L. Variant is manufactured in Germany. Though they are imported to the U.S., importation happens infrequently and in small numbers. With patience you can probably find a few of these speedloaders, especially for mainstream, modern revolvers. I currently own about half a dozen S.L. Variant speedloaders each for K- and L-Frame Smiths, but I have yet to find any J-Frame compatible models. See the end of the article for tips on tracking some these down for your gun.
Why Bother With the S.L. Variant?
With the difficulty in locating them and the cost when you find them, you may be asking: “why bother?” The best feature of the S.L. Variant is that each round is individually spring-loaded. Spring tension rather than gravity alone is forcing each round into its charge hole.
Because each round is thrust into the charge hole you, don’t have to get the gun vertical to reload it. Placing the gun vertical forces you to look downward during reloads. I don’t like this. The S.L. Variant allows the revolver to be loaded in a horizontal attitude. You can reload reload in your “workspace” while keeping an eye on the downrange area, similar to how you reload a semi-auto. This is also how Clint Smith recommends reloading (go to 2:25 in this video). Though he doesn’t do so with S.L. Variants, I believe these reloaders are a huge help.
You may have also noticed that as your revolver gets dirty, rounds become reluctant to fully seat in the chamber under gravity alone. Likewise, if you have been shooting .38s in your .357, the carbon ring can impede the introduction of the longer Magnum rounds. Again, the spring tension is a benefit, as it can overcome a dirty chamber and get rounds into place without requiring a palm-smack.
Another nice feature of the S.L. Variant is that each round locks in place individually. You can load up one of of these speedloaders one-at-a-time rather than attempting to get all six seated and then lock them into place. As each round is pressed into its hole and secured, an audible and tactile click is produced.
I absolutely love these speedloaders, but I don’t use them for field carry. The tolerances of S.L. Variants is quite tight and a small amount of grit can bind them up. I consider them perfectly adequate for carry about town, but when afield I use JetLoader or Safariland loaders.
Acquiring the S.L. Variant
Contrary to popular belief, it is (sometimes) possible to find these speedloaders. The first place I always check is Bobby Mac’s. Bobby Mac is the only authorized stocking dealer of S.L. Variant speedloaders in the U.S. Unfortunately, ol’ Bobby sells out of them about as soon as he gets a shipment in. On the bright side, Bobby is also working on manufacturing his own version, right here in the U.S. of A.
In the meantime, there are a couple of other places you can check. The Electronic Bay (eBay) is a great place to start. I would search variations of “S.L. Variant”, “SL Variant”, etc. Interestingly, I would also search “Longwitz speedloader” which usually results in a few hits. Another option is to search sites in Germany. Because these are manufactured in Germany it is sometimes easier to find them there. Go to google.de or ebay.de and do your searching.
When all else fails you can try Gunbroker.com, Armslist.com, and the other auction sites. I haven’t had much luck on these sites, but it’s worth looking. They’ll be expensive but if you find ’em, buy ’em! Reloading a revolver is hard. S.L. Variant speedloaders make it easier.