View Full Version : .38's in a .357?

05-30-2005, 10:34 PM
I've got 3 double action revolvers in .357 mag. that I want to do a lot of practice with. What is the feeling of the members of this forum on using .38 spec. rather than .357 mag? Once I get the brass accumulated the cost will be about the same but in looking at cost of brass, either new or once fired on ebay or other auction sites, .38's are much cheaper. I prefer to do most of my high volume practice with loads well below max. The .38's will hold plenty of powder for this. I guess I am sensitive to the Freedom Arms caution against shooting shorter brass in their guns. Mine are a long way from FA. All loads will be with cast boolets.

05-30-2005, 10:44 PM
The answer is in your question. Cost aside, which is a couple cents per case, use .357, because you said 'a lot'. Then you will avoid any unwanted carbon build up, especially at an unwanted time, and have to ream out that build up. Besides, straight wall pissola brass lasts many loadings, and it's not hard to down load a .357. You do what you want, but for me, I no longer use .38 Spl in .357 nor .44 Spl in 44 Mag. An ocassional excursion is not going to hurt anything. sundog

05-30-2005, 11:24 PM
Ditto to Sundog's text. Those carbon/lead/gunk-fouled chambers are a PITA to clean out.

David R
05-31-2005, 06:53 AM
You won't hurt a thing. It will work just fine. You WILL have to clean out the cylinder like those above said. If you don't and want to shoot 357, they won't fit.

38 cases are cheaper and easier to size.

You can use 38 Load Dats in a 357 case with no problem.

I never wore out the original 500 357 brass I bought.

Your post says I intend on using loads well below max. 38 brass will not take any more than 38 rated loads. It will split.

To answer your questioin, you can do it, but in the long run its easier to just load down the 357 cases.

05-31-2005, 07:09 AM
"I never wore out the original 500 357 brass I bought."

I lose it before I've 'shot it out', don't bother with the 38 Special. It ain't that much more expensive for 357. $83.49 for a thousand Starline at Midway. That'll last a lifetime IMHO. Or find a friendly local range and go through the bins.

05-31-2005, 09:08 AM
I will say that 38 is sure cheaper, it is 16-18 per thousand for once fired, just a few years back it was 7 or 8 per thousand


05-31-2005, 09:14 AM
When Practicing for PPC matches in the 70's I was issued and shot over 30,000 rounds of 38 special in a M28 Highway Patrolan revolver. I cleaned the gun after each session and had NO problems, no carbon build up and no damage to the gun. In our 28 man department we all carried 357 revolvers and we all practiced with 38's the same as most ever other department at that time. I spent time on the range at the state academy and saw no problems. Skeeter Skelton recommended a hot load 38 for use in a 357. If you intend to clean your gun you should have no problems with this. If ou are lax use the 357 brass.

05-31-2005, 09:51 AM
I'd safely say that 75% of the shooting in my .357 Magnums has been using .38 Special cases. It's safe and if you clean right after firing, you'll have no problems.

If you're wanting to get the most out of the .38 Special cases as I'm sure you will, do a little research on data for the old .38/44 S & W Outdoorsman. It's available in older Lyman and Ideal manuals but is no longet published in current manuals.

In the past, Brian Pierce has written an article in Handloader magazine on it and Paco Kelley on Sixgunner.com has an article on it.

These loads surpass .38 Special ++P loads and usually run in excess of 1,000 FPS with a bullet like the 358429 and are pretty good field loads. Just insure that none gravitate to some of the less well built revolvers.

I shoot a bunch in my Ruger Blackhawk and also in my Marlin .357 carbine./beagle

05-31-2005, 09:54 AM
Alamo; clean the cylinders good after a day of shootin' you'll never know the difference- I keep 2000+ 38's loaded for 357.

Iron River Red
05-31-2005, 01:07 PM
Have any of you guys ever heard of a 38 short? I wanted to try shooting something really light for the cowboy action matches and got to looking at reduced velocity 38's. Well, I started scrounging around in my brass bin and uncovered some 38 s&w cases. Hummpf! I thought why not try them? I used my 38 Special dies and was able to successfully load them up (with a little creativity) and they went right in the gun.

To make a long story short, I loaded a 100gr swc and .7gr of Titewad and they shot great! Wow, this is even better than the 38 Sp. So I get on the phone to Midway and in a few days I have 1000 new Starline brass. So I take them and load them up with the new 38 s&w dies and get ready for some fun...

Well it turns out that the Starline brass has a little thicker wall than the Remington cases do. Now, they won't fit the cylinder. Ouch!

I really wanted to shoot them because of the case capacity and the trickle of powder makes them real cheap to shoot.

I took to trimming the 38 sp down to the length of a 38 s&w and started shooting them. I have them down to 375fps and real consistent!

Well, thinking about the lead buildup I tried to put a 357 back in the gun and it still went right in. There has been 250 of these shorties thru each gun and I didn't clean them before the 357 went in.

I guess what I have observed is, there will be a certain amount of lead buildup when shooting the shorter cases, but it may be over-hyped.

I don't condone shooting that much without at least a tornado brush thru the bore and cylinder, but I didn't have one with me that day. Cowboy shooters will go thru a couple thousand rounds a week if they are staying sharp.

Take this personal experience for what it is worth... it and 50 cents will still get you a cup of coffee in some places.


05-31-2005, 01:36 PM
Maybe I'm missing something here, but here goes. The 38 S&W is just not a shorter 38 special. The 38 S&W actually had different case dimensions then just being shorter. It's alittle thicker. Because some 38 special and 357 mag revolver have generous chambers is the reason the 38 S&W chamber in those guns. Now I'm sure if you loaded those Starline brass using 38 special dies, that they would fit your chamber. I have a set of Bonanza 38 spcl/357 dies in which the sizer die doesn't size the cases down enough to fit all revolvers, so I had to buy a RCBS sizer die.


Iron River Red
05-31-2005, 02:02 PM
Are you saying the RCBS die would have sized the 38 s&w case enough to fit my cylinder?

I bought the Lee 3 die set and they would not go in my cylinder. So I took the 38 spl dies and ran the 38 s&w case thru them. The case would go all the way except for the last 1/8" or so. I seeing the case dimensions are very close to the 38 spl except by .001 on the od of the case and head. I guess the Remington was thinner walled and the cylinder was generous. This allowed me to use the 38 s&w in the 38 spl cylinder.

I would still like to find a fast way to trim the 38 spl down to the length of the 38 s&w.

05-31-2005, 02:32 PM
well after reading what you wrote...no. I'm not saying an RCBS sizer die sizes smaller then another brand. I just happen to have bought a RCBS die is all. Sounds like your handgun has fairly tight chambers. Actually the 1/8 inch they wouldn't go sounds like the solid part of the case, the part just ahead of the rim with just the primer flash hole through it. You might take a sized Remington and a Starline and measure where the Starline is thicker. That is after you size them in a 38 special die.


05-31-2005, 02:46 PM
Starline lists 38 short Colt on its website.

05-31-2005, 02:52 PM

I believe that is what the poster bought from Midway was the 38 S&W. The short Colt is little thinner body wise but the rim is alot larger.


05-31-2005, 03:09 PM
oops! My mistake, he did buy the 38 Short Colt. Now that is interesting that it didn't size down enough in the 38 special die to fit.


05-31-2005, 03:14 PM
I believe once you get that thick portion sized down that you will be okay using the 38 special dies there on out. I thought at first maybe size them down with a 9mm Luger die but the luger round is actually wider near the web/base. So I looked at the 380 Auto. Now that is smaller. You might try a few in a 380 sizer die see what you get. Becareful when trying to size down the solid portion of a case in a smaller sizing die because it's very possible and easy to crack the die.


05-31-2005, 03:49 PM
I think one could get tapioca and blow it through a soda straw to achieve comparable ballistics, as well as eliminating the brass rod CAS shooters carry to push the boolit on through the barrel.

05-31-2005, 04:03 PM
How about trying a .222 or .223 sizing die? Perhaps even a small base die...

Iron River Red
05-31-2005, 04:33 PM
Wills is about right on the ballistics of tapioca. The 375fps is really like a big fart, but it works...

I started testing the load simply while sitting in the barn and shooting it at a 2x4 lying nearby. The bullet just stuck the nose into the soft wood. I pulled it out with my fingers and dropped it back in the sizing die and it didn't deform enough to leave any sizing marks on it. So, being the mischievious type, I loaded it again... I wound up shooting that one bullet 11 times before I got tired of getting up and going and getting it. HAh!

Back to the case sizing, I tried using the 38spl and just could not get it to size down far enough on the case to get it into the cylinder. I guess Starmetal was correct about it being the solid part of the case, but the part that was unsized was in the tapered area [lead in] of the die.

The Remington case was not available from Midway. I just sent the cases back and started trimming the 38spls down instead.

Do you guys think the .223 or .380 dies will get the size down in the head area? If so, I would love to just order more of the 38 s&w to save time.

05-31-2005, 05:42 PM
What about some ever controversial filler to occupy space in the 38 special case?

05-31-2005, 06:04 PM
Iron Red River

Here's some interesting knowledge. You know the size of that thick part of the brass is about, what, .380? So what you do is get your reloading manual out, which all of them have the case dimensions of the round being loaded and you look for a case that has the dimension, near that web solid part, that will size it down. Scrounger mentioned the 223. It's dimension there is about .376. Actually that's alot to go with a sizing die, even though it doesn't seem like that much. Anyways look in the manual, then see what you have on hand for dies, or your friends even. Then size that brass down but go easy.


05-31-2005, 06:36 PM
For many years, I used .38 Special brass for VERY high-pressure loads in .357 revolvers, as well as some thousands of high-performance rounds for K-38 revolvers.

In the .357 guns, the 358156 bullet seated to the LOWER (second from the front) crimping groove in .38 Special cases yielded almost .357-capacity behind the bullet. Not quite as much room as the same bullet seated to the upper groove in .357 brass, but close. Dropping the normal .357 load of 2400 by 1/2 grain was more than ample for safe use in .38 brass with THIS bullet, seated as described.

For the .38 Special guns, I also loaded 358156 to the second crimp groove, and used 13.5 grains of 2400 in imitation of Skeeter Skelton. This was a great load, and even my K-frames weren't fazed by the pressures. Velocity was up in the 1200-plus class from the 6" barrels.

Even though the above techniques worked, and worked very well at that, I no longer follow such procedures. I have several .357s if I want .357 performance, and also a number of .38s when those levels are desired. ANY .38-cased load around our hacienda is now safe in ANY .38 revolver we own, including Airweights, etc., which is easier to keep track of.

.38 Special brass has performed perfectly for MANY repeat loadings at any pressure I care to run. It isn't at all fragile and will take any sane load we select, including pressures far above the wimpy +P level. Do NOT mix +P brass with standard-load (non- +P) .38 brass, as I have occasionally found some +P cases with less capacity due to heavier webs in the casehead.

05-31-2005, 06:38 PM
My Ruger .357 has been REBUILT by the folks at Ruger twice!

I have shot somewhere near 10,000 .357 loads, and the rest have been .38 special. I would conservatively estimate that about 125,00-150,000 .38 rounds have been put through it.

I have NEVER, NEVER ever had a single problem caused by using .38 special loads in the .357.

I can see no point whatsoever in using expensive .357 brass unless you are loading full house magnum loads.

05-31-2005, 11:39 PM

That last 1/8th inch is the part that never gets into the die at all, between the part buried in the shell-holder and the die lead-in taper. You'd have to use one of the old dies like Ideal / Lyman used to make where you drove the case in all the way up to the rim (like I did with forming 7.62 Nagants from .223's as posted this morning) with a mallet or in a vise and then punch it back out. Better bet would be to have RCBS make you up a custom "file trim" die (or get the standard .38 Spl. one and have it gound back to the length you want); these are dead-hard, and you just run a .38 / .357 case in with your press, cut that case off with a razor saw and file it flush with the top of the (shortened) die. Be sure to allow for the 1/8" that your shell holder will take up, though.


05-31-2005, 11:50 PM

That's an idea, but I would be concerned cutting a 38 spcl case that short, the bullet would run into the thicker part of the walls of the case.


06-01-2005, 12:12 AM
............As Floodgate mentioned. Take a 38 Special die and remove about 0.050" off the bottom of it to start. I had to do that with a Lyman 40-65 die when converting 45-40 brass, otherwise the last 1/4" remained too large.


06-01-2005, 12:21 AM

don't matter where he cuts that 38 die the part of the case in the shell holder is never going to get into the die. Floodgate was talking about cutting a 38 die back to use and a cut/file trim die I believe.

Thing he might do is lube up his brass and pound it into a 38 sizer then use a big as possible rod to pound it back out.


Iron River Red
06-01-2005, 09:58 AM
Floodgate has the best solution I have heard yet. As Starmetal pointed out, the case walls start to get thicker and the part of the case is always down in the shell holder area. This is what prevents me from getting it sized down far enough. I thought about the part of grinding the bottom of the die down, but it won't give me enough yet.

The trim die trick sounds good.

The use of filler material is too inconsistent and too much trouble for me. I have tried it enough to find it a pain to gain consistency.

That sounds like another topic all together. Is the filler more trouble than its worth?

06-01-2005, 10:06 AM
Yeah grinding the die bottom off some still won't size the part that is in the shell holder. Like I said I'd try to pound one in the sizing die and knocking it back out with a rod, that is if the sizing die permits a big enough rod through the top of it. You will of course have to take the decapping rod out. Lube the case too.


Iron River Red
06-01-2005, 10:21 AM
I should mention that when I have hand trimmed the 38spl case down to the 38 s&w length, about 1 in 10 of the cases are too thick in the wall area to get the bullets in. I have also found that the Federal cases are the best for this length.

06-01-2005, 11:06 AM
If anyone got the impression from my post that using 38 Special loads in the 357 Magnum was unsafe in some way, that was NOT my intention to relate. For the first 9 years of my career 38 Special +P's rode in 357 Magnums I carried on duty, because the 38's were all we were authorized to use. Life got better in 1987 with adoption of the 45 ACP, and improved GREATLY in 1991 with the addition of the 357 Magnum. Since 1991, there has ALWAYS been a 357 "on paper" with my agency, and that will remain the case upon retirement.

06-01-2005, 11:23 AM
I realize this may be heresy but there is always the option of obtaining .38 S&W brass and dies.

06-01-2005, 03:01 PM
about 1 in 10 of the cases are too thick in the wall area to get the bullets in.

Red: wadcutter cases should let you seat your boolits deeper. Identified by two cannalures around the case.


06-01-2005, 04:19 PM
Shoot all of the shorter shells you want to. It will not hurt anything. The only reason Freedom gives that warning is that their gun is designed for a backup stopper and if you shoot a lot of short boolits and do not clean, you MAY have trouble chambering a full length round when needed. I have not seen this problem with any gun, but if you do need the longer cases, just clean the gun.
I get the same thing from Magnum research when they say ABSOLUTELY no black powder in their revolvers. I don't understand why not if it is kept clean and lubed so the cylinder turns. Kind of a stupid thing since Black powder has WAY less pressure then smokeless.

Iron River Red
06-01-2005, 05:30 PM
Thanks for the tip on the wad cutter cases. That will cut down time tremendously!

06-09-2005, 04:35 PM
GO AHEAD. I've done it for over 30 yrs. in a S&W and a RUGER W/ no ill effect. I even get them up to about 1000'/s.

Four Fingers of Death
06-10-2005, 07:37 AM
First, the 38 in 357 question, I have shot mostly 38s in my 586. I have empty cast boolit boxes which I counted up some yeras ago, I had bought and used about 50k (since 1986) and I have also cast a bunch, probably as many again. The gun was second hand when I got it and the previous owner obviously did the same as it had blooms on the cylinder blueing. The only trouble that I ave experienced with this gun is a broken firing pin. It is difficult to clean out sometimes and it needs to be cleaned when shooting 357s. I initially used the 38s because I was given a bucket full of well worn brass and they eject easier than 357s, which is handy in competition. I wouldn't get too excited about it, 200 cases will last you a long time. I like to load up a thousand or two at a time, thats where he 38s come in handy.

Tread warily using hot loads in 38 cases, check out Paco Kelly's articles on www.sixgunner.com. He uses 38+P+ cases (as I do) for smart loads.

If you are using 38 cases, experiment with sitting the bullet out a little andyou might improve accuracy.

As to the 38 S&W, isn't that where the 38 description came from? It was a 38 cal bullet with a 357 heel I have been led to believe. I was give some, they definetly wont chamber.

06-10-2005, 08:54 AM
Just another voice that has shot perhaps a hundred thousand 38 Specials in various 357 Magnum sixguns, telling you there is no significant problems in doing so. However, a couple of points about the issue.

1) Don't let the crud accumulate in the charge holes of your sixgun. Clean it out every time you shoot. I use a stainless steel brush and it makes short work of it. I would never use a steel brush in the barrel, but it doesn't hurt the charge holes.

If you ever allow the stuff to harden and accumulate to the pont that using the longer magnum brass becomes a problem issue, Clymer makes a reamer to remove it.

2) In some (but not all) sixguns, the use of the shorter cases causes accuracy to degrade a smidgen. You will just have to try it and see. I have found the slight reduction in accuracy not to be a real world concern.

Enjoy and have fun...

06-10-2005, 11:34 AM

"As to the 38 S&W, isn't that where the 38 description came from? It was a 38 cal bullet with a 357 heel I have been led to believe. I was give some, they definetly wont chamber."

No, it was the .38 Short Colt and the early .38 Long Colt that were adapted originally to conversions of the ".36" cal. percussers, with groove diameters around .375" - .380"; later they went to bullets seated inside the same case, and reduced bullet and barrel groove diameter to .354" (Colt) to .357 (S&W), as in the .38 Spl. and .357 Mag.

The .38 S&W started as a scaled-down version of the .44 Russian; the Russians didn't like the exposed lube on the heel-crimped .44 "American" (which, developed for the conversions, used the .44 percussions' .454"+/- groove diameter), and insisted that the bullet be seated inside the case, reducing the groove diameter to our present .429"-.431" or so. The .38 S&W was designed this way from the start, and ended up with a slightly larger case and bullet/groove diameter (.360 -.361") than the Colt family and their descendants.

The .32's evolved - with similarly confusing differences between the Colt and S&W families - from the .31 cal. percussion revolvers.


06-10-2005, 01:43 PM
The case diameters also differ between 38 S&W (about .386") and 38 Special/357 Magnum (.379"). Fatter boolits AND fatter cases, but all three calibers were always inside-lubricated. I haven't tried reducing my 38 S&W's to the 38/357 diameter, although it might be possible to fit a few more of those short little 38's into a lever action 357 with tubular magazine.

06-13-2005, 09:54 AM
Some 357's will not only chamber the 357 & 38 special, but also the 38 long colt & the 38 S&W. But I don't see why anyone would really want to. The obsolet 38 long colt & 38 S&W are so animic . There has been so much work done on the 38 special the you can find many low power target loads that are very good.
You can also long load the 38 special bullets in a 357 to get mid 357 preformance.
Personally that's what I do.
Also I would not buy any brass as all my 38 brass for the last 20 yrs has been picked up off the ground at the range.

06-13-2005, 10:23 AM
Most 357's will chamber 38 Supers too.