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Thread: S&W 32-20 revolver

  1. #1
    Boolit Bub
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    S&W 32-20 revolver

    Picked this up today. Kind of rough but locks up tight and it was cheap. Serial # 5844 puts it in the 1902-1903 range I think. Notice different grips on either side. Have a couple of single shot rifles in this caliber so ammo is taken care of. Go to work up a load and try this out soon. Any old S&W revolver experts in here?




  2. #2
    Boolit Master
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    Hi Jimmy,

    The panel on the left looks like a very nicely done homemade replacement. I have one of these that I inherited. Mine is in very good condition. It was owned most recently by my Uncle Junior, who passed away about 20 years ago. I have no idea who the first owner was, but judging from the condition of the revolver I suspect Uncle Junior bought it new. Your photos don't have anything by which to judge the size of the gun, and the impression is that it is fairly large. In fact, my medium sized hand will completely cover the entire revolver; they are quite tiny.

    I haven't shot mine, but would like to. I strongly suspect that if you look closely at the barrel marking you will find it says "32 Long Ctg." I do not believe your revolver is chambered for the 32-20, which as you know uses a bottle-necked case. Instead, the gun is chambered for the 32 S&W Long cartridge, and Smith and Wesson shortened the designation to better fit the space on the barrel. The 32 S&W Long is a straight-sided cartridge, and you can verify this by simply looking in the chambers. Also notice that your cylinder is only 1.25" long, shorter than the empty 32-20 cartridge case.

    The 32 Long was adopted by the NYC PD under Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt chose to use Colt revolvers, and Colt called the cartridge the "Colt's New Police" cartridge. The only difference between the Colt's New Police cartridge and the 32 S&W Long was the bullet shape. Colt used a flat point and S&W used a round-nosed bullet. They were interchangable.

    The 32 S&W Long has since been modernized by lengthening the case to form the 32 H&R Magnum. Dies for the 32 H&R can be used to reload 32 S&W Long ammunition. If I had some bullets I would load some ammo for my S&W revolver, as I have the dies. When the hoarding craze dies down maybe I'll get a Lee two-cavity mold and put my old gun back in service. I even have the belt holster that Uncle Junior used to carry his gun. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Take care, Tom

  3. #3
    Boolit Master
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    Hi Jimmy,

    Your post inspired me, and I found that Midway has Starline brass and the Lee 90300 mold, so I orderd them. Within a couple of weeks I'll have my gun shooting again for the first time this century. I'm looking forward to wearing it in the Viking holster (proudly hand made in Mexico) when I go to the gun club. Thanks again.

    Take care, Tom

  4. #4
    Boolit Bub
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    It is marked 32 winchester ctg. 32-20. Already chambered a round. I have several 32 smith top breaks.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master

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    Jimmy, make sure the timing looks ok. I have a couple of these older ones and love them. The Single action on these is usually really smooth.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    I have 2, both responded well to fairly stiff handloads with the RCBS 98 gr. Swc. The one I worked with most had/has a pretty rough bore, but after a recrown and a marathon firelapping, it will hold about 2.5" at 50 yards. The second has a good bore, but I haven't worked with it much yet. Have fun.
    Last edited by dubber123; 03-18-2013 at 06:56 PM.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master


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    Keep in mind that S&W cylinders weren't heat treated untill after 1920.
    Best,
    Mike

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  8. #8
    Boolit Bub
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    "Keep in mind that S&W cylinders weren't heat treated untill after 1920. "

    This is one thing I was wondering. My 32-20 rifles, one is a stevens 44 model. So my reloads are fairly light.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master

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    Mine is marked "32 W.C.F. CTG" and is a 1920 gun, but a light load that shoots very well is the RCBS 32-98 SWC over 3.5 grains of WW-231. I have also used 3.3grns WW-231 with the RCBS 32-98 WC. Any of the loads listed in the 4th edition Lyman manual should be ok.
    _________________________________________________It's not that I can't spell: it is that I can't type.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    While I wouldn't shoot any of the loads that used to be marketed for 1892 Winchesters in one, the older guns don't need to be relegated to cream puff loads in my opinion. The steel wasn't heat treated in many as noted, but there is a good bit of it around that little .30 caliber hole in the cylinder. The one I worked with is an earlier model, and one of my best loads was 5.1 grains of Green Dot, with the RCBS 98 gr. SWC sized to .314" to fit the throats. It stayed around 2.5" at 50 yds. with the less than optimal sights of these early models, even with the poor bore. Another load that did OK was The LEE wadcutter over 2.5 grains of Bullseye. Accuracy was similar at 50 yds., and the wadcutter should be great on small game.These loads have proven safe in my gun, but work up in yours as per the normal procedure.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooter View Post
    Keep in mind that S&W cylinders weren't heat treated untill after 1920.
    I think the heat treating started with the third revision in 1915 but I am not sure.
    [The Montana Gianni] Front sight and squeeze

  12. #12
    Boolit Master Idaho Mule's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rintinglen View Post
    Mine is marked "32 W.C.F. CTG" and is a 1920 gun, but a light load that shoots very well is the RCBS 32-98 SWC over 3.5 grains of WW-231. I have also used 3.3grns WW-231 with the RCBS 32-98 WC. Any of the loads listed in the 4th edition Lyman manual should be ok.
    That 3.5 gr of 231 and rcbs 32-98 swc is also a great load in the one I have. I size to .314 for the throats. 3.5 gr of Unique works well too. JW

  13. #13
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by single shot jimmy View Post
    Picked this up today. Kind of rough but locks up tight and it was cheap. Serial # 5844 puts it in the 1902-1903 range I think. Notice different grips on either side. Have a couple of single shot rifles in this caliber so ammo is taken care of. Go to work up a load and try this out soon. Any old S&W revolver experts in here?
    According to Standard Catalog of S&W:

    .32-20 Hand Ejector Model 1902 2nd Model
    s/n 5312-9811
    mfg 1902-1905
    4,499 total production

    From History of S&W by Jinks:

    May 7, 1919: Order to heat treat all .32 Hand Ejector Winchester cylinders by J.H.Wesson.
    Last edited by Dutchman; 03-19-2013 at 10:07 PM.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    Serial # of changeover to heat treated cylinders is somewhere in the 75K range... just a little after my example. They are still OK for all currently loaded factory stuff, just don't go crazy hot rodding your reloads (stick to loads you would use in your 44 Stevens and you'll be fine.) My six inch is a little challenged cosmetically but handles and shoots quite well when I do my part (an increasingly rare event!)

    Froggie

  15. #15
    Boolit Master
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    Sad to say, but that's the "short end of the stick" when it comes to the older revolvers chambered for the .32 WCF. The pressure limits of the cylinder limit the revolver's use. This is why I am far more encouraged by the .327 Federal Magnum. It's "the little cartridge that can!"

    Scott

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    Lapping the bore is a good idea if theres even a little roughness.
    A .32 Iver Johnson I have would bend its latch screw on every cylinder fired , which required my backing it off a half turn to tighten the lock up for the next cylinder full.
    After polishing the bore using a tight molded to the rifling leather patch with extra fine white diamond( trade mark not really diamond dust) polishing compound there was no more shooting loose.
    I still need to find a replacement for the pivot screw, since I don't trust one bent and straightened that many times.
    I suppose the forcing cone and first inch of rifling are the most important areas to polish to avoid excessive engraving pressure. After that much bullet travel any excessive pressure would be vented at the gap.

    I also feel the straight case .32 high velocity rounds are a better choice in a new revolver, but the .32-20 revolvers have a charm all their own. It being a rifle cartridge with the revolvers adapted to it.

    Larger bore cartridges with tapered case bodies can cause the cylinder to drag, I suspect hot .32-20 loads would cause the same effect.

    PS
    The old girl looks good as is, a been there look about it, and you never have to worry about maring a finish thats pre-disastered.
    If you decide to plate the revolver you should look into having the markings deepened and cleared up by lazer engraving before plating. Self leveling nickel should fill in the right side pitting.

    This pistol looks like my I frame .32 S&W handejector only mine would be a scaled down version. Proportions are the same.
    Last edited by Multigunner; 03-20-2013 at 02:39 PM.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
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HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
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LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
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