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Thread: Loaded a New to me but very Old caliber - 38 S&W

  1. #1
    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    Loaded a New to me but very Old caliber - 38 S&W

    Old as in developed in 1877, new as I figured I needed to load some, but had not loaded them before. After a few relatives and friends had asked me if I reloaded 38 S&W's, and one of the members on here advertised a set of dies and brass, I figured it was time. Since I already load various varieties of 38 Specials the boolits were not a problem... 148 grain Speer swaged wad cutters (miked out close to .360 and with a hollow base), 160 grain Speer swaged swc's, and pulled Winchester 158 grain round nose boolits from a box of 38 Specials a buddy bought for me when Walmart got out of the gun bidness. All sitting on top of 2.3 grains of Bullseye - per Hatcher's Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers - the section on the 38 S&W. Now I just need to distribute them and see how they shoot.
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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Your loads are safe and satisfactory for the S&W top-breaks and similar. For the S&W Victory model I use 2.5 grains of Bullseye and Accurate 36-190T, which shoots to the sights and gives 630 fps from its 5-inch barrel with generous 0.009" cylinder gap and 667 fps from my tight 1936 .355-bored Colt .38 New Police snub which has only 0.003" cylinder gap.

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    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Your loads are safe and satisfactory for the S&W top-breaks and similar. For the S&W Victory model I use 2.5 grains of Bullseye and Accurate 36-190T, which shoots to the sights and gives 630 fps from its 5-inch barrel with generous 0.009" cylinder gap and 667 fps from my tight 1936 .355-bored Colt .38 New Police snub which has only 0.003" cylinder gap.

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    The friend that asked if I loaded them has a Webley in 38/200; so I figured the above load would not strain the milk, and I am hoping if it is bored kindly loose the hollow base swaged wad cutters might obturate enough to be a good start anyhow. The lead round nose and the swc boolits are trimmings just to see what might work. Another thought too; since I did not have any 200 grain boolits, I figure the potentially slow speed of my loads might reflect well on the long dwell time of the inherently slow and heavy 38/200 load. After he reports back, I figure I will end up boosting the wc loads to 2.5 grains.
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    Boolit Master murf205's Avatar
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ID:	254067 There's just something ya' gotta love about the llittle 38 S&W and the guns that shoot them. My Accurate 358160H mold drops at 158 grs and powder coats at .361 unsized and my model 33 shoots them well. Let us know how yours shoot .
    Last edited by murf205; 01-02-2020 at 02:05 PM.
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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJames View Post
    The friend that asked if I loaded them has a Webley in 38/200; so I figured the above load would not strain the milk, and I am hoping if it is bored kindly loose the hollow base swaged wad cutters might obturate enough to be a good start anyhow. The lead round nose and the swc boolits are trimmings just to see what might work. Another thought too; since I did not have any 200 grain boolits, I figure the potentially slow speed of my loads might reflect well on the long dwell time of the inherently slow and heavy 38/200 load. After he reports back, I figure I will end up boosting the wc loads to 2.5 grains.
    You may find also, as I did, that bullet weight affects windage as well as elevation. If your friend's Webley & Scott is set up for MkII Ball with the 178-grain FMJ bullet, Accurate has several molds which approximate that weight in more blunt shapes which are more effective than the long, slender round-nose.

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    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    Powder coating bullets for this fine old 19th century round borders on sacrilege.
    flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo

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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJames View Post
    Old as in developed in 1877, new as I figured I needed to load some, but had not loaded them before. After a few relatives and friends had asked me if I reloaded 38 S&W's, and one of the members on here advertised a set of dies and brass, I figured it was time. Since I already load various varieties of 38 Specials the boolits were not a problem... 148 grain Speer swaged wad cutters (miked out close to .360 and with a hollow base), 160 grain Speer swaged swc's, and pulled Winchester 158 grain round nose boolits from a box of 38 Specials a buddy bought for me when Walmart got out of the gun bidness. All sitting on top of 2.3 grains of Bullseye - per Hatcher's Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers - the section on the 38 S&W. Now I just need to distribute them and see how they shoot.
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    I'm fascinated with 38 S&W bore variations over time and manufacturer. At some point I think S&W just started using the same barrels as 38 special - like in the 60s or 70s. That is just a wild old opinion based strictly on my experiences. My victory model runs about .359, my terrier runs about .358. It would be interesting to see what variation there is in any 38 S&W between .357 and .360 as far as accuracy and velocity goes.

    Optimum loads for me are 160gr to 198gr running at around 700fps. I love 4227 powder but it's too slow in most cases for these guns. Unique and bullseye will get you there and I imagine there isn't much need to look elsewhere unless you really have limited powders. My victory model is extremely accurate and I love this little round.....

    Mike
    -Mike

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    Boolit Master murf205's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by uscra112 View Post
    Powder coating bullets for this fine old 19th century round borders on sacrilege.
    Well count me as a heathun, but I needed the extra diameter to keep from leading the barrel on this fine old 19th century round.
    IT AINT what ya shoot--its how ya shoot it

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    38 s&w

    Quote Originally Posted by uscra112 View Post
    Powder coating bullets for this fine old 19th century round borders on sacrilege.
    +1 on that feeling. There are molds out there that cast large enough for the 38 S&W. i have several older Lyman molds that cast .361 or a little larger. Also NOE and Accurate make fine molds that cast the required size.

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    Boolit Master
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    I see you are crimping wadcutters to the second groove.

    Is this a common practise for 38 S&W or just your preferred way?

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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Petander View Post
    I see you are crimping wadcutters to the second groove.

    Is this a common practise for 38 S&W or just your preferred way?
    Seating the wadcutter bullets out long to about 3.5cm overall cartridge length is necessary to avoid spiking chamber pressure in the shorter .38 S&W case, as compared to .38 Special. Speer reloading handbook has some discussion of this.
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    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Seating the wadcutter bullets out long to about 3.5cm overall cartridge length is necessary to avoid spiking chamber pressure in the shorter .38 S&W case, as compared to .38 Special. Speer reloading handbook has some discussion of this.
    Thanks Outpost75.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NorthMoccasin View Post
    +1 on that feeling. There are molds out there that cast large enough for the 38 S&W. i have several older Lyman molds that cast .361 or a little larger. Also NOE and Accurate make fine molds that cast the required size.
    I agree it seems the bestest and safest way to add a few extra fractions of an inch to a bullet while maintaining pressures...
    -Mike

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    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Seating the wadcutter bullets out long to about 3.5cm overall cartridge length is necessary to avoid spiking chamber pressure in the shorter .38 S&W case, as compared to .38 Special. Speer reloading handbook has some discussion of this.
    1. I have noticed some of the Victories have a groove diameter of @ .360, and that is why I loaded quite a few Speer swaged soft lead hollow base wad cutters which mike out close to .360 and should obturate nicely. 2. Further I seated them at the 2nd lube groove per Speer Manual No. 10.
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    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Both of my S&W Victories have groove diameter of .360" and cylinder throats of .362"

    My S&W Model 32-1 has groove diameter of .358" and cylinder throats of .362", as does my Webley & Scott MkIV.

    My 1935 Colt Police Positive has groove diameter of .355" and cylinder throats of .359".
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    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Both of my S&W Victories have groove diameter of .360" and cylinder throats of .362"

    My S&W Model 32-1 has groove diameter of .358" and cylinder throats of .362", as does my Webley & Scott MkIV.

    My 1935 Colt Police Positive has groove diameter of .355" and cylinder throats of .359".
    I reloaded the above for a buddy who has a Victory, and a Webley. What is the best all round load for yours?
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  17. #17
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeJames View Post
    I reloaded the above for a buddy who has a Victory, and a Webley. What is the best all round load for yours?
    In Victory use Starline case, Remington 1-1/2 primer, 2.5 grains Bullseye, Accurate 36-190T cast 1:30 tin-lead unsized .362"

    In top-break Webley reduce to 2.1 grains Bullseye.

    If his revolver requires a lighter bullet to zero these same charges are OK with 36-176P, 36-159H or 36-145D. A soft-swaged 148-grain HBWC seated to 1.38" OAL is OK with 2.5 grains of Bullseye or to 1.25" OAL with 2.1 grains of Bullseye in the small S&W and H&R top-breaks.

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    Joe

    You may find some of the info in this test results useful;


    38 S&W Pressure Tests

    Earlier in this thread I offered to test some of the loads mentioned for pressure to determine what level of safety there was for the different strength of revolvers made for the 38 S&W cartridge. Ed Harris graciously sent me some bullets and the data for several test loads. I also had on hand three 38 S&W factory loads plus my own 38 S&W load I use in my Harrington & Richardson revolver.

    The test handgun is a TC Contender with a 7.94” long 357 magnum barrel. The bore is .347 and the groove is .357. A strain gauge is attached over the center of the chamber (as per SAAMI specifications). With a 38 S&W cartridge chambered the gauge is over the case just below the base of a factory seated bullet. The strain gauge is attached to an Oehler M43 PBL that is interfaced with a laptop computer which has the software. As you will note on the Oehler data sheets there is considerable data input on the conditions, test firearm and load information prior to testing. Each strain gauge is calibrated by the manufacturer and that is also input. I also use factory ammunition as a “reference”. Before each test the M43 runs a check on the gauge to ensure all is correct. A test cannot be done if that test is not correct.

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    The Contender has a 2.5X scope mounted and with quality 357 cast loads will put 10 shots into one raged hole less than 1” ctc at 25 yards. However, with the shorter 38 S&W cartridge the bullet exits the case it is not supported as it is in a revolver by the cylinder throats before entering the barrel. In the Contender chamber there would be considerable space around the bullet in the longer chamber for probable misalignment before the bullet enters the leade. Previous testing showed accuracy could be quite good and very poor. Since I’m probably the only one shooting any 38 S&W out of a Contender that isn’t a problem those of you with bullets that properly fit your revolvers cylinder throats have. The test groups were cut out and pasted to the Oehler data sheets.

    With low pressure loads the M43 PBL will not provide any measurements unless sufficient data is measured. This means any data from such shots will be “lost” including the velocity. To alleviate that problem, I also set up a M35P Oehler in tandem with the M43 PBL screens to at least capture the velocity. It also is interesting to compare the measured velocity data. If the M43 PBL doesn’t measure all the shots in a test string, the M35P still provides velocity information (generally a lower velocity shot wasn’t measured) for study. An example of that will be shown. The M35P print out is pasted on the Oehler M43 data sheet left of the “shot Data” and “Summary” data.

    The start screen for the M43 PBL was at 15’ and at 12.5’ for the M35P. Shooting was done from the bench with a Hoppe’s pistol rest.

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    The chamber on the Contender is to minimum specifications for the 357 magnum and most 38 S&W cartridges will not chamber. However, the R-P factory 38 S&W cartridges would chamber very tightly. I had on hand 50 new Starline 38 S&W cases and W-W and R-P 38 S&W fired cases. All of the Starline and most of the fired R-P cases would chamber when FL sized in a steel RCBS 357 FL die. With bullets larger than .358 seated they would not chamber. Thus, all the test bullets other than the R-P factory that would chamber were sized .358 or .357. The R-P factory bullets measured .362 in front of the crimp and .354 on the seated bullet diameter. The W-W factory bullets were .350 - .352 on the seated portion. It is no wonder, as you will see, accuracy was less than stellar out of my H&R with its .362” cylinder throats, .351 bore and .360 groove diameter.

    In the following picture we see the bullets used: left to right; R-P factory, W-W factory, Western Lubaloy factory, Ed Harris provided the 36-125T, the 36-155D and the 36-151H and I provided the Lee 356-105-SWC. Also is a picture of the 3 bullets Ed provided loaded and another of the three factory loads. CC! 500 primers were used. A roll crimp was used in the crimp groove of each bullet. All powder charges were weighed individually on a Redding scale.

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    The R-P factory load was tested first as the rounds would chamber so it would give a “reference”. Previous chronograph results out of the H&R revolver showed the R-P to give 60 – 100+ fps greater velocity than other factory loads. It also had more powder; 2.2 gr vs the 1.7 and 2 gr of the W-W and Western factory loads. The MAP (Maximum Average Pressure) of the R-P measured 16,300 psi. SAAMI MAP for the 38 S&W is 14,500 psi. The SAAMI MAP for the 38 SPL is 17,000 psi and all 38 SPL factory ammunition I have tested (numerous actually) in this barrel fall below that MAP so the psi measurement is correct.

    I also pulled bullets of the W-W and Western factory and loaded them, and their factory powder charges into sized W-W 38 S&W cases that would chamber. Neither of those two factory loads produced enough psi for a measurement. It takes 5 – 7,000 psi to expand the case to put pressure on the barrel and another few thousand psi for a “strain” on the barrel to be measured. I have measured as low as 9,000 psi with this test barrel with target 38 SPL loads. However, given the expansion ratio and loose-fitting bullet in the longer chamber the lowest psi measured during this test was 11,700 psi. Thus, the W-W and Western factory loads were all less than 11,700 psi as were any other load that did not measure.

    Looking at the squiggly, uneven time/pressure traces to the uninitiated they can be of concern. Those are quite normal for low psi loads where the powder is not burning that efficiently. A comparison of the average velocities between the M35P and the M43 demonstrate very good consistency. The accuracy of the R-P load was extremely good.

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    Ed Harris 1 test is the 36-125T bullet over 3 gr Bullseye (Alliant). That is a short stubby bullet that was pre-sized at .357 and lubed with LLA(?). I feared accuracy would not be that good given the loose fit in the 357 length chamber and was correct. Nine shots went into 2.137” but a flyer (note the oval bullet hole) enlarged the group to 3.2”. The MAP measured 15,300 psi.

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    Ed Harris 2 test is the 36-125T bullet over 7.0 gr 2400 (Alliant). It proved to be a very erratic load and the 3.86” group demonstrates that. Obviously there is not enough bullet mass for 2400 to burn efficiently at this low of a load.

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    Ed Harris 3 test is the 36-155D over 2.5 gr Bullseye (Alliant). The 36-155D is a very efficient looking bullet. It was presized at .357 and lubed with LLA. This is a very good load demonstrating excellent accuracy potential and a MAP of 16,600 psi which is very close to the R-P factory load. Note the 1st shot was out of the previously 2400 fouled barrel and was out of the remaining 9 shot group. Those 9 shots went into 1.32” which is very good.

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    Ed Harris 4 test is the 36-155D over 6.2 gr 2400 (Alliant). Here we see while we may assume accuracy to be good based on 8 shots the 2 high flyers tell us something is amiss. The internal ballistics identify that something; again 2400 at this low of a load is not burning efficiently as indicated by the very large ES figures for velocity and pressure measurements along with the erratic time/pressure curves.

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    Ed Harris test 5 is the 36-151H over 2.8 gr Bullseye (Alliant). This is a very consistent load and we are seeing how the time/pressure traces are smoothing out. Also note the low psi ES’s across the board. Hey, accuracy was pretty good too! The one high shot was the high velocity. The bad news here for the 38 S&W is this load is pushing into 38 SPL+P psi range.

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    Ed Harris 6 test is the 36-151H over 6.5 gr 2400 (Alliant). We see the powder is beginning to burn efficiently with low psi ES’s and much smoother time/pressure traces. Accuracy was excellent with 9 shots in 1.4”:. The lone flyer, shot #9, was an abnormally low velocity. This load had the highest velocity and test MAP at 19,600 psi…. definitely into 38 SPL+P range.

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    This test is my own 38 S&W load developed for the break open H&R and Iver Johnson revolvers. I use W-W 38 SPL cases trimmed back to 38 S&W length. WSP primers were used. The bullet is the Lee 356-105-SWC which drop the bullets at .361 with COWWs + 2% tin alloy. I leave them unsized and Lube with LLA. They are loaded over 2.5 gr Bullseye. Out of my H&R hammerless revolver (3 3/16” barrel) they hit point of aim out to 25 yards with very good accuracy. However, for this test so they would chamber in the Contender the bullets were sized .358 and the cases were sized in the 357 steel FL die. As we see from the Oehler M43 data sheet only one of the ten shot test gave sufficient psi to measure. That was shot #4 and the psi was 14,300 psi. The remaining nine shots then had a psi less than the SAAMI MAP for the 38 S&W (14,000 psi). Note, as mentioned earlier, the M35P printout (pasted to left of Shot Data and Summary gives the velocities for each shot. Thus we still have a record of the entire test string. Accuracy was very good with a 1.235” group.

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    The last test was to chronograph and test for accuracy the 3 factory loads out of my H&R hammerless revolver. I was quite pleased with the ES and SD of all 3 loads from the revolver. As we see the R-P gave 60 – 100 fps greater velocity. That was as it should be given the higher psi of the R-P load. Accuracy was very poor, consistently poor for all 3 loads actually, which given the undersized factory bullets didn’t surprise me. On the target the R-P bullets are in the lower circle, the W-W in the middle circle and the Western Lubaloys in the top circle. As the velocity increased the point of impact lowered as usual for a revolver.

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    And there we have the test results. My only caution is that with the exception of my load which was developed for the break open revolvers to keep under the SAAMI MAP that all the other tested loads, including the R-P factory load, were over the SAMMI MAP for the 38 S&W. A couple test loads were over the SAAMI MAP for the standard 38 SPL. Due caution should be exorcized to use those only in appropriate revolvers which are also chambered for the 38 SPL.
    Larry Gibson

    “Deficient observation is merely a form of ignorance and responsible for the many morbid notions and foolish ideas prevailing.”
    ― Nikola Tesla

  19. #19
    Boolit Buddy JoeJames's Avatar
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    Thanks, answered my question in mid stream. When you said you were shooting the 38S&W's in a 357 magnum Thompson Contender - my first thought was huh? I didn't think you could do that, and second "Wait a minute here, I've got a 357 Magnum TC, let the games begin". And then you stated the 38 S&W cases were sized full length in a 357 die - I instantly came back to earth. That was very interesting. But I will let you how the HBWC swaged boolits do.
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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
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check