Fantastic Beasts

Rino Chiappa and his revolutionary Rhino Revolver

Chiappa President Rino Chiappa compares a raw billet to the finished frame.
Two frames are still mounted on the cutting fixture in the huge machining center behind him.

When the Rhino .357 Magnum first appeared on the market just over a decade ago, its radical design and sci-fi look inspired curiosity. Those who took the time to fire it discovered immediately Chiappa Firearms was onto something important for the self-defense market. They’d made a lightweight snubnose in potent .357 Magnum most people could actually shoot effectively, and painlessly. Even if you have already invested a huge amount of muscle memory into your current concealed carry snubnose, or dismiss the .357 Magnum as uncontrollable in rapid-fire shooting from an alloy frame snubby, the Rhino will make you consider a change.

To find out more about the story of the Rhino, I was able to interview Rino Chiappa, president of Chiappa Firearms. He shared with me the story of how the Rhino came to be. The interview follows here:

FJ: What made you decide to call it the Rhino?

RC: The Rhino Revolver is very stubby and powerful like the rhinoceros and the front sight area recalled the rhino horn. I thought it was a very fitting name. It’s not named after me. My name looks similar but is pronounced differently.

FJ: Who came up with the idea of the Rhino?

RC: A gentleman named Mr. Antonio Cudazzo was the inventor of the Rhino. He came to us in 2008 with a prototype for a self-defense revolver with a 2″ barrel he made from 2D drawings. Cudazzo had some help designing the mechanics for the inner parts from the imaginative gun designer Emilio Ghisoni, creator of the Mateba revolver. Ghisoni died before we joined the project. Cudazzo, before coming to us, offered the Rhino to other manufacturers but none believed in it.

The assembly floor at Chiappa Firearms is where skilled workers, many trained
gunsmiths, turn precision-made parts into precision firearms. Here three men
work, each at their own bench, making Rhino revolvers.

You get an idea here of what’s involved in taking a frame from billet to eventually a final part.

FJ: Why was he unsuccessful getting it made?

RC: I think the problem was mostly they already attempted to produce the Mateba revolver, but with poor results. Also, the initial project had many critical points with complex components requiring extremely tight tolerances, making it very difficult and expensive to make. As initially designed, it was almost impossible to industrialize production of the revolver. Cudazzo was referred to me by a friend who didn’t want the project. He didn’t think I would want it either, but he was trying to get this crazy engineer out of his office, so he sent him to me. He actually called me to warn me and apologize in advance for wasting my time.

FJ: What was the fateful meeting with the Rhino’s inventor like?

RC: I met with Mr. Cudazzo in our office. I never met him before and the fact he was not from the gun business (he’s an architect who designs buildings and large hotels) didn’t help to build my trust. However, as our discussion progressed, he demonstrated to be really clever and prepared. Once I saw the prototype, I had the same reaction as almost all our customers when they handle it the first time. I thought, “This revolver is ugly.” As a businessman, I wondered if there would be anyone interested in buying it. As a manufacturer, I could see it was complicated to build and I personally wondered if we had the technical capability needed to do it efficiently.
Then, as I listened to Mr. Cudazzo and followed the reasons that brought him to develop this revolver I was fascinated and started looking at it as a new possible challenge. I wanted to shoot it and feel the advantages listed on the paper, and I must say after a few rounds I fell in love with it. Its recoil attenuation and rapid-fire shooting qualities were better than any revolver in the world.

FJ: How far from production-ready was the original design?

Closeup of the computer-guided measuring probes moving
over the pistol frame from point to point gathering data.

The Rhino’s unique lock work is unlike any other revolver.

RC: It was very far when we got it. My tech office manager and I worked on it for one year to convert the 2D drawings into 3D and to modify each piece to fit our production processes. We had to redesign and prototype many components several times to reach the level fitting production needs. I won’t say we overthrew the original design, but we worked hard to reach the product you now find on the market.

FJ: What is the Ergal aluminum alloy you use for Rhino frames and why didn’t you make it from steel?

RC: Ergal is the common name used in Italy for aluminum 7075-T6 alloy. We used it because its high mechanical resistance allowed the Rhino to have a reduced weight but a high resistance to chamber powerful high-pressure cartridges like the .357 Magnum. The Rhino’s boxy shape is given by the fact the barrel is below and also the lockwork mechanism is very low. Even if we had made the frame in steel, we could not make it much thinner and rounded. The fact the Rhino’s low barrel position dramatically reduced recoil sensation meant we didn’t need the added weight of steel to tame recoil force. Instead we sought to make the Rhino as light as practical.
FJ: What are the cylinder and barrel made out of?

RC: High-resistance steel, 42Ni Cr Mo4.

FJ: What unique aspect of the Rhino is patented and who owns the idea?

RC: Mr. Cudazzo registered the patent and he’s the owner. We negotiated an agreement with him for exclusive rights to the patent. The patent protects the position of the barrel, the Rhino’s key design element. It’s what makes the difference when shooting. Most importantly, it reduces the muzzle flip allowing more accurate rapid fire. It also redirects recoil, rather than truly reducing it. The barrel position and the grip angle, and grip material, minimize the perceived recoil.

It’s mostly in the geometry. The Rhino’s low barrel is close to the
centerline of the arm reducing perceived recoil and muzzle flip.

The self-defense snub-nose 20DS was the original and only
configuration envisioned by the Rhino’s inventors.

FJ: Was the Rhino always intended for self-defense carry?

RC: As mentioned, the Rhino was born as a self-defense carry product. In fact, many of its strong points compared to traditional revolvers were developed with this focus. It has lightweight, flat dimensions for concealment (it’s the thinnest six-round cylinder on the market), easy controllability of the powerful .357 Magnum caliber, and an internal hammer with a low-profile external cocking lever which presents no risk of hanging up on your clothes while drawing. What looks like a hammer is really a cocking lever for the Rhino’s internal hammer. The cocking lever is used to shoot in single action, but it doesn’t stay back like a traditional hammer. It doesn’t move while you shoot either.

So, Mr. Cudazzo saw the Rhino strictly as a concealed carry gun with 2″ or 2.5″ barrel. The sporting version was developed completely by us in 4″, 5″ and 6″ barrels. We saw a great potential market in all disciplines requiring shooting two or more rounds in rapid fire. With the Rhino it’s possible to do a double tap without losing sight alignment in a time very difficult to match with a traditional revolver. In 2017, we also added a 3″ barrel version to the self-defense line.

FJ: Why the odd-looking grip design and mounting method?

RC: Having a one-piece grip is better for ergonomics and for quality fitting. Ease of replacement and interchangeability are an added plus. We offer a do-it-yourself grip for those who want a custom grip fitted to their own hand. It’s a walnut blank assembled on the Rhino like the others but externally it is a blank so the shooters can shape it as they like.

FJ: Any plans for a five-shot .44 Special, .45 ACP or .44 Magnum?

RC: Yes, we have started development of a larger frame. We’ll be ready by spring 2020.

FJ: What inroads has the Rhino made in the self-defense market?

RC: For sure the self-defense buyer is an important part of our sales and we think we’ll grow it further with the new 9mm CBR Black Rhino.

FJ: Do all 2″ guns come with the nice leather holster?

RC: Absolutely! When we started distribution, we were aware there were no compatible concealed carry holsters able to accept our revolver, so we preferred to make an excellent quality holster in Italy, add it into the package and include it in the price. This way the buyer has everything they need to start using the Rhino.

FJ: Thank you very much for your time.

For more info:, Ph: (937) 835-5000

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