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Old 03-10-2012, 11:06 AM
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Default 38 S&W cartridges from 357 cases?

Folks, I recently picked up an unfired 1895 DA Top-Break. It has finish issues (wish the previous owner(s) had wiped it down with an oily rag every decade or so) but mechanically perfect. I'd like to shoot it a little. Rather than trying to find the rather scarce and expensive factory cartridges, I thought I would try to make some.

My old Speer reloading manual shows the S&W cartridge using the same diameter bullet as the 38 Special/357 (.356 or thereabouts). I have quite a few differently branded fired .357 cases so sectioned a selection of them at the .773" S&W case length to see how thick the brass walls were at that height. Some of the brands were too thick at that height but I found some that seem thin enough to load (thick walls at that height would bulge the case out enough after bullet seating so that the loaded round would not chamber).

I plan on using a very light charge of Unique or Bullseye as directed by the Speer manual. I realize the gun I have was made for blackpowder but I know these guns are often shot with modern smokeless loads.

I have always heard that when they reamed out the 38S&W "Victory" model revolvers to take 38 Special rounds that the Special cases would bulge because the S&W chambers were larger in diameter than the Special's. But my Speer manual shows both cases to have about the same diameter.

Anyway, does anyone have any comments/warnings? Thanks, Ralph Boineau in central South Carolina
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:17 AM
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The .38 S & W case is supposed to be larger in diameter than the .38 Special/.357, and uses .361 diameter bullets. There is no way to be sure if your .38 DA will have problems using short .357 cases, but since you sound to be an experienced reloader and .38 S & W ammo and components are available I would go that route.
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:19 AM
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There is several thousandths difference in diameter between .38 S&W and .38 S&W Special cases.

Yes, you can make .38 S&W ammo from cutdown .38 Special or .357 Magnum cases, but you will get that characteristic case bulge from firing in a .38 S&W chamber. Not enough to worry about, usually, if you are loading to starting load pressures.

Please be advised that the only gun I have ever damaged was a late 19th century black powder breaktop .38 S&W. The starting load of Bullseye under a LRN 135 grain bullet split a chamber in the first cylinder load. The quality of steel used in those black powder days can make your reloading effort a mite risky.
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Old 03-10-2012, 03:27 PM
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A little bit of trouble to do, but .38 Special cases cut to length work OK in a .38 S&W chamber. Back in the day, I made a lot of such cases, but I eventually accumulated lots of the real thing. So the need for cut-down .38 Special cases went away. I've never had a case split. I've always used .357-.358 dia. lead bullets for loading the .38 S&W, and it seems to shoot accurately for me. I've always used a Lyman TLJ .38 Super die set for loading .38 S&W.

My standard load, of which I have fired a great many in a .38 DA 4th model, is 3 grains of Unique behind a .358 125 grain lead bullet. In a later model revolver, you can load somewhat hotter than that, and actually get to .38 Special ballistics.

Last edited by DWalt; 03-10-2012 at 03:48 PM.
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Old 03-10-2012, 04:49 PM
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I thank you gentlemen for your responses. Who can I sue if my gun blows up? Must be someone out there; it won't be my fault!

(Note: above comment about liability-shifting is a joke. In law school one of my professors mentioned a product-liability case where a man had lifted up his smallish gas-powered lawnmower to try to use it as a HEDGE CLIPPER! He stumbled, or some such, and was badly hurt. Yet he recovered damages from the mower manufacturer. His lawyer said they should have put a warning label on the mower saying not to use it as a hedge clipper and the jury bought that nonsense.)
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Old 03-11-2012, 08:37 AM
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as stated the 38 S&W is larger in dia than the 38 spl by quite a bit,a fired 38 s&w case is.388 where a fired 38spl is.376, so you can see that we have a diff of .012 thousands of an inch,lots of room to expand,if you only load bp in the case's i would think you would be ok,but if you load smokeless then ya got trouble.starline makes brass for the 38(think midway has it)and due to the popularty of cowboy action shooting there are plenty of bullet mfgs that make the right dia(.361) bullets for it,i got some from a guy in missouri as i plan to load for my victory mdl
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Old 03-11-2012, 09:38 AM
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Is the rim thickness the same for.38 S&W, .38spl, and .357mag?
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Old 03-11-2012, 10:15 AM
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jimmyj - Barnes cartrige book says the 38 Special and 357 has a rim diameter of .440" and 38S&W has a rim that is .433". The case of a 38 S&W is .007" larger than 38 Special.

I have trimmed down lots of 38 Special cases to load 38 S&W. The first time they are fired, the case expands to fill the chamber and subsequent loadings seem to load and shoot very well. Actually, if you use the larger bullet (.360"), the case will expand as you load that bullet the first time to almost the 38 S&W neck diameter. I have factory 38 S&W cases as well and do not see any accuracy difference between the 2 case types.
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:50 AM
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I use the Starline cases with 125 gr .358 LRN bullets and 3 grains of Unique. I have been very satisfied with this load with good accuracy and no (noticeable) bulging.

Stan
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Old 03-13-2012, 03:22 PM
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That's exactly my load, have used it many years (since the 1970s) for loading the .38 S&W.
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Old 03-13-2012, 05:27 PM
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I loaded and fired a couple of the cut-down .357 cases that had minimal wall-thickness at the cutoff point. Used 3 grains of Unique with some leftover lead 9mm bullets (125 grain). Saw very little if any case bulging (but admittedly did not 'mike' before/after--just visual).

Everything seems O.K. 'tho I was just firing off my back patio into the ground--don't know how accurate such a cobbled-up load is for now. I'm not too worried about hurting the gun with such a load--factory rounds use smokeless powder and probably are somewhat more powerful than the above.

"Your mileage may vary", but this has been for me an interesting way to try out the little gun on the cheap.
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Old 03-14-2012, 11:12 AM
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The only reservation I would have is the use of 9mm bullets, which are 0.355" diameter. Allegedly, the .38 S&W groove diameter is 0.360, so the smaller bullets might not be engraved by the rifling very much. But 0.357-0.358 bullets have always worked OK for me.

I have pulled some lead bullets from antique .38 S&W loaded cartridges for measurement, and have found they run 0.357-0.358.

For even cheaper shooting, use 0.375 lead round balls (as used in .3 C&B revolvers, or much cheaper still, use wax (parrifin) bullets with primers only - but drill the flash holes larger.
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Old 03-15-2012, 02:17 PM
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Default 2nd model hammerless 38s&w

I was reading the info from you guys in the thread and your advice sounds right.Have a question: don't want to overload this 2nd mod., and i have a bunch of 140gr. swc to use, so, could I use the 3grs. of unique behind this bullet, or just stick with Pyro, BP, or 777? many thanks. hunman55
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Old 03-15-2012, 05:01 PM
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I cannot give a precise answer, but the load should be OK. I can provide information from Quickload, which is a computer simulation program which PREDICTS internal ballistic information. I repeat, PREDICTS. This is NOT experimental data. Information is for a barrel length of 4".

Load: 141 grain Lead bullet, 3.0 grains Unique (no choice of 140 grain bullet available)
MV=677 f/s, Peak chamber pressure = 9506 psi@ 0.3 milliseconds after ignition

Load: 121 grain Lead bullet, 3.0 grains Unique. (no choice of 125 grain bullet available)
MV = 722 f/s, Peak chamber pressure = 9654 psi@ 0.3 milliseconds after ignition

The SAAMI maximum allowable average peak chamber pressure for the .38 S&W is 17,000 psi by the piezo chamber pressure gauge method, but I suspect the manufacturers keep it well below that level.

Note that it appears that the calculated peak chamber pressure for the heavier bullet is actually a bit less than for the lighter bullet at the same propellant charge, so if the 125 grain bullet load is OK, as it has proven to be for me, then a 140 grain bullet should also be OK.
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Old 03-15-2012, 06:59 PM
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Default 2nd mod. hammerless

Many thanks to you, DWalt, for that info. I'll try it. CAREFULLY. Hunman55
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:05 PM
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You can buy new ammo for $20/box at ammunitiontogo.com

A couple boxes should supply you with a lifetime supply of cases unless you plan to make a shooting career with the .38 S&W.

You'll need proper reloading dies too.

The wrong-caliber-for-the-gun thing will get old.

You can likely find a box or two at the gun show.
Dealers usually have a little bit, and nobody is buying it.

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Old 03-16-2012, 04:39 PM
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Hunman55, I also shot a couple of 140 grain SWC bullets I cast from linotype metal and had no problems with them either in my 1895 DA.
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Old 03-19-2012, 10:00 AM
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Many thanks for your replys. Hunman55 .........or is that replies?

Last edited by hunman55; 03-19-2012 at 10:02 AM.
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2nd model, 356, 357 magnum, 38spl, bullseye, chamber pressure, engraved, hammerless, s&w, smith & wesson, smith and wesson, starline, top-break, victory

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