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Thread: Old top-break, black powder .32 Long

  1. #1
    Boolit Master

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    Old top-break, black powder .32 Long

    I picked up this old revolver last year some time, and have been tinkering with it off and on. It's an H&R top-break from around 1890 (black powder), and chambered in .32 H&R, near as I can tell from a little research. It seems that .32 H&R is a long obsolete black powder cartridge very similar to the .32 S&W Long.

    The chambers are bored straight through (no throat), so S&W Long brass fits fine. This is a cheap, weak old gun. I don't intend to shoot it much at all, but figured it would be fun to load up a few just for fun and shoot it a little. I'm being very cautious because I know it's a weak gun designed for black powder only, and I don't want to damage it. I loaded some up with Lee 314-90-SWC bullets and 2.1gr. of 231, a little under the book starting charge for 32 S&W Long. They clocked at about 480 fps. I know I can go up from there, figured that working up to around 600 fps should still be plenty conservative? Maybe I'm being too cautious?

    I know I posted about this last year sometime, then forgot about the project. Anyone tinker with these old guns? Any idea what ballpark velocity would be with original black powder loads? Just how weak are they?

    It's fun to shoot a few round through a 130 year old gun, but when I set it down and shoot a few rounds through my old beat-up S&W Model 10, the Model 10 feels like a Cadillac!

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
    dtknowles's Avatar
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    I think loading smokeless powder in old and known to be weak guns is a bad idea. If you are only shooting it rarely why not use black powder use a case full, no air space and then you should be good.

    Tim
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    The tongue is mightier than the blade - Euripides

  3. #3
    Boolit Master

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    I probably worded my question poorly. I wasn't necessarily asking if it should be done, just for ideas and directions from those who do it. I know there are those on here who safely load with smokeless for black-powder era cartridge guns. I also didn't mean to imply that this specific gun is particularly weak, just that the top-break in general is a weaker design, especially one from 1890 before the advent of smokeless powder.

    It's in excellent condition mechanically, and a conservative smokeless load that is well within the pressure range of the original black powder loads should be perfectly fine, I would think. I've done some black powder cartridge loads before, and am just not interested in going down that road again when I don't need to.

  4. #4
    Boolit Grand Master

    Wayne Smith's Avatar
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    Most who have never shot them are amazed at the power of the original loads. I shoot my 44-40 with a copy of the original load - just with a Big Lube 200gr boolit and 37gr FFG filling a modern case. I get 750fps out of a 7.5" barrel and 1300 out of a 20" barrel.

    Give it a try with the original loads, you just might be suprised.
    Wayne the Shrink

    There is no 'right' that requires me to work for you or you to work for me!

  5. #5
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    Heck I'd like to see a picture of it.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master

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    It's just a cheap, old, turn of the century revolver, nothing special. I think I'll just bump up the powder charge a little until I get about 600 fps. That should be pretty conservative for this old gun. I don't think these were really made to be fired very much. I won't fire it much either.

    The black powder idea is a good one, really the right one, but I would really rather not go that route. I have loaded black powder .45 Colt before. It was fun, but more hassle than I care to mess with for this. I do have a bunch of old balloon head .32 Long brass though; at some point I may load a few with black powder just for kicks.

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    One of these days I'd like to find a quality .32 revolver. I really like the caliber. I passed up a S&W 31 a couple years ago. The finish was rough but it seemed fairly tight, and it was probably a pretty good deal for $250.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    Wow that is in nice shape. I like the look of those top break revolvers. Thanks for sharing.

    I can't blame you for not wanting to mess with BP, I wouldn't either.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Ive got an old S&W 4th model in 32 S&W. I've loaded some BP and light smokeless rounds for it. Its a fun little gun and works fine.

    Here some info I found on the net and saved a while back.

    "I wanted to try Trail Boss powder in loads for the antique .32 top-break revolvers. Realizing this bulky powder was developed to provide good loading density in large cases, I was still curious as to how it would perform in the tiny .32 case. Loads of 1.5 and 1.4 grains proved to be practical. I used four projectiles, shown in the pic with loaded cartridges, left to right: Hornady .310” round ball; Hunter’s Supply 76 grain hard-cast flat nose; Berry 83-grain, copper-plated hollow-base wadcutter; and Magtech 85-grain soft lead round nose.

    "In spite of its large flakes, Trail Boss is promoted as a powder that meters well and user ratings seem to agree. I adjusted a Lee Perfect measure so that it would repeatedly throw ten consecutive charges with a total weight of 15.0 grains. The measure so adjusted gave individual charges of 1.5 grains with an occasional deviation to 1.4, but never to more than 1.5. Satisfied with accurate measure adjustment, I proceeded to load with no additional weighing except for a check-weigh every 25 loads. I used a Lee .32 S&W die set in which the seater die is the .32 ACP, which works OK. The 76-gr bullets from Hunter’s Supply measured .313” so I sized them to .311” to be closer to the slug measurement of .308” of my old pistols. A crimp was applied to all loads. Results with 10-shot strings for the 1.5-grain charge are:

    S&W Model 1-1/2 Single-action Top-break (3.5” bbl).
    Hunter’ Supply 76-grain: Ave 660 fps, Extreme Spread 56 fps, Std Deviation 17 fps
    Hornady round ball: Average 645 fps, ES 144 fps, SD 46 fps.

    S&W Double-action Top break, 4th Model (3.5” bbl).
    Hunter’s Supply 76-grain: Ave 676 fps, ES 89 fps, SD 25 fps
    Berry’s 83-grain HBWC: Ave 511 fps, ES 103 fps, SD 31 fps
    Mag Tech 85-gr RN: Ave 691 fps, ES 64, SD 23 fps

    I feel the very poor uniformity of the round ball load in the Mod 1-1/2 was due to the difficulty in getting uniform seating and crimping, not to powder performance. This needs more work. The Berry HBWC showed evidence of inadequate stabilization and might work better at 600+ yet to be tried. The MagTech load is equivalent to a factory S&W load and I suppose pressure is about the same, probably not dangerous but a little too high for my taste for old guns. Confined to one bullet I would use the HS 76-grainer. Its lighter weight helps keep pressure down for the oldies, and it gives good velocity and accuracy. I wondered what a tenth-grain difference would do in the teeny case, so I readjusted the measure to throw ten charges with a total weight of 14.0 grains. The average velocity of 10 shots (using the DA) for the HS 76-gr fell to 630 fps, and the MagTech 85gr dropped a whole 108 fps down to 583, a better and safer load for this bullet in antique iron.
    Ten-shot groups (rest, tiny sights, poor eyes) generally went into less than 2 inches at 25 feet and some were considerably better. The cluster of eight in the last pic measures a smidge over 1 inch. Sweet little cartridge. Sweet little guns."
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  9. #9
    Boolit Master Drm50's Avatar
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    When I was about 12 I got one of these BP H&R 32s. Not knowing any better I took some of my dads 32 long and cut bullets off and filed them flat so they didn't stick out cylinder. ( My dad was at work) Was at dump with buddy to try out. When I touched it off it came apart like a hand grenade. Both us had little cuts and bruises from flying scrapnel. My dad found out and I got hurt worse.

  10. #10
    Boolit Grand Master


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    fatelk

    I've pressure tested some old 32 S&W factory which had BP in them. The R-P load ran right at 14,000 psi and the WRA (had about 4 gr of what appeared to be 4f BP) ran at 16,000 psi. I loaded some 88 gr lead bullets over 7 gr GOEX 4F and only got 10,800 psi which leads me to believe the WRA load was not BP(?).

    As to loading in 32 S&WL cases for your BP revolver I wouldn't load more than 1.0 gr Bullseye or Red Dot under an 88 or 90 gr cast bullet.

    Some recent manufacture R-P (Green Box) had 1.0 gr smokeless under an 88 gr lead bullet. It ran at 13,300 psi. That will run 10,000 psi +/-.
    Larry Gibson

    “Deficient observation is merely a form of ignorance and responsible for the many morbid notions and foolish ideas prevailing.”
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  11. #11
    Boolit Master

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    Thanks guys. I started with 1.3gr of 231, and promptly stuck a bullet in the barrel. I worked up to 2.1gr and clocked 480 fps through the chronograph. I don't have any .32 bullets lighter than 93 grains.

    I haven't tried any Bullseye or Red Dot, but after my experience with removing a stuck bullet after 1.3gr of 231, is 1.0gr of Bullseye enough to even get the bullet down the barrel? This gun is not a .32 S&W (short). The cylinder is long enough to accept unmodified .32 S&W Long ammo. I thought that was what it was until I did some research.

    When I was working up to where I stopped on the 231 load, they were clearly very low pressure loads- unburned powder everywhere, primers backed way out, sooty cases. the 2.1gr load was where it finally stopped doing those things, and started to look like a (very light) normal load. That, combined with the very low velocity, made me think that I was still quite safe as far as pressure.

    I wonder if the lack of chamber throats makes a difference, as far as velocity and pressure. Maybe the original round was outside lubricated? It's hard to find much info on the original .32 H&R round, seems like it's a bit obscure. Maybe I should just load up a few with black powder (though all I have is 2f) and see what they do for velocity.

    On the other hand, I'm not married to the idea that I really have to shoot this old gun. I thought it would be fun to do once in a while, but I'm finding that it's not terribly accurate (actually borders on terrible), and not particularly fun to shoot. My old beat-up Model 10 is an absolute Cadillac by comparison. Maybe I should just make a nice shadow box for it and relegate it to wall-hanger status. Even if it's perfectly safe to shoot with whatever light loads I'd come up with, I don't see myself actually shooting it hardly at all.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    How about loading a case full of APP 3F? Safe pressure like real BP, but no fouling build up. APP can be found at many sporting goods stores.

  13. #13
    You can always shoot primer powered wax or glue bullets.
    They really fly out of a gun and will punch holes in paper, cardboard and aluminum beverage cans that are empty.
    Lots of fun and will be safe in your pistol.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    Unless marked differently, I am inclined to believe your revolver is chambered in the 32 S&W. Many revolver cylinders of that era were typically bored straight through. Designers of these revolvers typically floated from company to company, so that's why so many of the break top revolvers, all look the same. I have a 32 S&W Forehand Arms revolver of the same era, and a 327 Federal case actually will fit in the cylinder. Your barrel is likely .313 to .315, which makes accurate shooting difficult, with a .330 + cylinder. Severe leading will occur with the typical .313, 32 cal bullets. Factory bullets of this era were often hollow base, cast of soft lead, depending on obturation, to seal off the cylinder. For my revolver, I ultimately had two custom heel type bullet molds made of .314 diameter of the body, and a thin front driving band of .335, which easily swages when entering the barrel's forcing cone. I also tried 32 cal HBWC bullets in the 32 Long case, with light smokeless loads, but did not perform as well as the heel bullet did in the shorter 32 S&W case, which the gun was designed for.

    The heeled bullet worked quite well, providing decent accuracy, with no leading. These revolvers were designed for black powder. That being said, modest loads of smokeless can be used. I referred to the Hodgdon's Cowboy manual, which suggests loads in the 1.1 gr range of HP38 for the 32 S&W pocket pistol, as safe. I agree with Mr. Gibson, keep those loads light, as the break frames are weak to begin with, along with dubious quality of steel used in that era. Good enough for black powder. The frames will stretch at the back over time, causing the gun to come unlatched upon firing, and the cylinders can rupture quite easily with smokeless, if you are not cautious.
    Last edited by GBertolet; 03-26-2020 at 09:40 AM.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master
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    Please tell us more about your heel type bullet molds. I use heel bullets of the same diameter in my Remington rolling block rifle in .32 Ballard Extra Long.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    I will get some photo's. One mold is from Accurate Molds, and the other is from Old West. I never used the Old West mold. It's a brass one, and still in the wrapper. Both single cavity. The bullet weighs around 95 grains. I originally thought my revolver was chambered in S&W Long, so I got the traditional weight for that cartridge. I later learned it was for 32 S&W, which uses a slightly lighter bullet. I have to pan lube, with BP lube when I use with black powder, which was 6 gr of 3F. Tumble lube with LLA is fine for smokeless. Ideally you should have a heeled bullet crimper, which Old West sells. I can send you a few bullets to try, if you wish, PM me.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    Thanks - I have Bernie's .32 heel bullet crimp die. I've made spacers for it so I can do .32 Colt and .32 Ballard XL. It works great. Ive looked at his molds, but not bought one. Check out my current thread here:
    http://castboolits.gunloads.com/show...xtra-Long-(XL)

    I'm heading to the range this afternoon to chrono four new .32 Ballard XL heel bullet loads.

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Looks like you have the bases covered. Please let us know your results.Click image for larger version. 

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  19. #19
    Boolit Master

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    Looks like I'm far from the only one who tinkers with this old stuff. Thank for posting guys, and thanks for the info.

    When I first got it, I looked around all over the internet for info and found photos of my exact model, along with reference to it being chambered for a ".32 H&R Long" cartridge, a black powder cartridge that was longer than the .32 S&W yet not the same as the .32 S&W Long. Now that I look, I can't find that reference again, or any info on a cartridge by that name. It seems odd that the cylinder is so long for such a short cartridge as the 32 S&W, but if that's what it is, then that's what it is.

    It sounds like to really do it right, I should get some .32 short cases, black powder, and heeled bullets. I think it's going to go back in the safe to be a project for another day.

    I only paid $100 for it at a gun show, and probably overpaid, but I still don't want to damage the old gun by not knowing what I'm doing.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    I inherited mine about 40 years ago. It just sat in the sock drawer, until I rediscovered it last year. I spent more money on it, than the gun is worth. I just can't stand to have a gun that I cannot shoot, although not cost effective, I will spend the money on it. I get satisfaction, when I can run the plate rack at 10 yards with it, which is the distance it was designed to be used at. I have shot smokeless and BP with it. The BP is really a blast, with the increased fire and smoke. I think it shoots slightly more accurate with the BP. Cleanup is more extensive with BP. I fill the dishpan with hot water and dish detergent, placing the detached cylinder and the cracked open barrel in the water, sloshing them around, leaning the frame against the side of the pan, during the following soak, keeping the lockwork out of the water. Dry the bore and cylinder with clean patches, and run a patch through bore and cylinder with Hoppes BP solvent. Wipe the gun down with an oily rag and you are done. The dishwater is really dirty, showing how much BP crud is in there.

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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