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Thread: 38 Long Colt Original Configuration with .375" Heeled Bullets

  1. #1
    Boolit Master



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    38 Long Colt Original Configuration with .375" Heeled Bullets

    After investigating the installation and use of a 45 Colt cartridge conversion cylinder for a Cap & Ball revolver, I decided that the price of one did not justify getting one to make a half-baked 45 Colt revolver when, with just another one hundred dollars, I could purchase a 45 Colt revolver of the 1873 SAA variety. The economics of it simply put me off. The “38” conversion cylinders were always (and still are) marketed as being capable of handling 38 Special ammunition and to a point they are. It’s not the regular ammunition they can shoot accurately however but the Hollow-Base Wad Cutters that can be used. With the “38” conversion cylinder, the issue is that most folks will ignorantly purchase commercial 38 Special ammunition with .357” bullets and shoot them in a Cap & Ball revolver with a .375” groove-to-groove barrel diameter. Obviously the bullet will bounce its way down the barrel and come out the muzzle in some configuration other than aligned. If a “belly gun” is what you need, that’s what you have with this arrangement.

    Around 1870, the age of cartridge guns dawned and they were rapidly becoming the replacement to Cap & Ball revolvers. In 1872 Colt introduced their first true cartridge revolver, the 1872 Open Top, designed to fire cartridges from its inception. In 1873 of course, Colt introduced their 1873 SAA and the rest is history. Know however that from the mid 1870’s until 1890, it was definitely less expensive to have your Cap & Ball revolver “converted” to fire cartridges than purchasing a new cartridge revolver. Many gunsmiths cropped up to perform these conversion services and several styles of conversions were available to the consumer wishing to use the more convenient cartridges of the day.

    The owners of the converted 1860 Army Cap & Ball revolvers could easily use the new 45 Caliber cartridges since the groove-to-groove diameter of the Cap & Ball guns matched the bullet diameter of the newly introduced 45 Colt ammunition. Even though the 1860 Army was listed as a 44 caliber revolver, in actuality it had a 44 caliber bore (lands) with a 45 caliber groove diameter.

    The 1851 and 1861 Navy converted percussion revolvers with their 36 caliber bores and 38 caliber (.375”) grooves necessitated the manufacture of “38 Caliber” cartridges using heeled .375” bullets in cases. These were outside lubricated .375” bullets which fit the barrels nicely. The original cartridges were named 38 Long Colt and utilized the heeled .375” bullets. As the gun industry rapidly tooled up for the newer ammunition being developed and produced, guns were manufactured with smaller bores to utilize bullets of .357” and enclosed within the brass cases. This avoided the messy outside lubricated bullets and the associated issues with them.

    The 38 Long Colt was released initially with a .375” heeled bullet to be used in converted Cap & Ball revolvers but within a few short years the cartridge was modified to use a .357” hollow base bullet enclosed within the case which could be fired fairly accurately in the original Cap & Ball revolvers and the newly manufactured firearms using the now smaller (tighter) bores.

    Since the modern 38 caliber conversion cylinders have a true .375” chamber mouth and can fire 38 Short Colt, 38 Long Colt and 38 Special HBWC ammunition, I decided to get the 38 caliber cylinder and shoot original 38 Long Colt ammunition. These cartridges would need to be made since no commercially available 38LC ammunition is available. Even the single source of 38 Short Colt which is Remington now uses .357” inside case bullets. I just don’t want my bullets wobbling down the bore.
    Fortunately I already cast 36 caliber (.375”) heeled bullets since Mark Hubbs of Eras Gone Bullet Molds contracted with Lee to produce a mold which is an exact replica of the 36 Colt Cartridge Works conical bullet for their 1851 and 1861 percussion revolvers. 38 Special brass can be trimmed to the correct length for either 38SC or 38LC ammunition. I trimmed the brass to 1.020” for 38LC rounds. It became obvious that a crimp on a heeled bullet was going to be difficult but, low and behold, a company called Old West Bullet Molds makes a heeled bullet crimp die for the 38 Colt family of cartridges. Looks like I had all the pieces needed to generate my original 38LC cartridges!

    The conversion cylinder arrived and I am one of the fortunate customers whose cylinder dropped right into my Pietta 1861 Navy revolver. Whew. I have read horror stories about this and frankly that was my biggest concern. I was not looking forward to working the action parts to make the cylinder work correctly in the revolver. I dodged the bullet there (pun intended). The crimp die arrived the same day as the Taylor’s conversion cylinder and so after dinner I headed to the loading bench to see how things would work. I trimmed a few cases and started.

    When SLIGHTLY flaring the case mouth to accept the heeled bullets, I used my newly acquired Lee die set for the 38SC/38LC cartridges. Unfortunately their new mouth flaring/charging die has a sharp, small, almost full diameter pilot and it just kept eating cases. I switched to my RCBS expander plug and we were off to the races. I will have to address this significant design issue with Lee at some point in the immediate future. I may just return the whole set for a refund since truthfully, every step for the 38LC except crimping can be done with a 38/357 die set. Since the 38LC cartridges with the Eras Gone 36 Navy heeled bullet fit in the cylinder, I have no desire or need to generate 38SC cartridges.

    After flaring the case mouths, I filled the cases with 20.5gr by weight of Graf & Sons FFFG black powder. I applied a little glue to the heel of the bullet and seated it to the base driving band. I then used the Old West Bullet Molds crimp tool to apply a crimp. It all worked just fine and my first 5 cartridges are ready to shoot! I’ll put some homemade Paul Matthews Formula #1 bullet lubricant on them, chamber them and off we go to see how they shoot.

    Making these cartridges is rather time consuming at this point since trimming 38 Special cases down takes some time. Once the trimming operation is complete and I have a hundred or so shells, that whole step is eliminated and the operation will be smoother and faster. The bullet nose is just about .0005” too long and is easily scraped off during cylinder rotation but that is rather annoying. I will have to trim the remainder of the cases that much shorter and adjust the crimp die accordingly.

    All in all this has been a great project so far and will continue to be one into the future. I just can’t wait to get these to the range and see how they shoot!

    Old West Bullet Molds
    https://oldwestbulletmoulds.com/

    Eras Gone Molds
    https://erasgonebullets.com

    Taylor’s & Company Firearms
    https://taylorsfirearms.com



    A completed original 38 Long Colt cartridge with a heeled .375" bullet for use in 36 caliber Cap & Ball revolvers converted for use of cartridges. Notice the bullet diameter is the same as the case diameter.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Top is a 38 Special cartridge with an enclosed inside lubricated .357" bullet. Bottom is a 38 Long Colt cartridge with an outside lubricated heeled .375" bullet for use in converted Cap & Ball revolvers.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Left is a Lyman 358311 158gr .357" 38 Special bullet. Right is a Eras Gone Molds 126gr Colt Cartridge Works heeled .380" bullet for use in unmodified Cap & Ball revolvers or used in 38 Long Colt cartridges in converted Cap & Ball revolvers.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    The Taylor's & Company 38 caliber conversion cylinder for 36 caliber Cap & Ball revolvers with 38 Long Colt dummy cartridges inserted. Parent brass is 38 Special which has been trimmed to 1.020".
    Click image for larger version. 

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    A small batch of authentic 38 Long Colt black powder cartridges with .375" heeled bullets.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Tar Heel; 02-13-2021 at 07:43 PM.

  2. #2
    Hello Tar Heel,

    Very nice write-up, I just needed to add a few points.

    1. In the day the Colt model 1860's were converted to 44 Colt (not 45 Colt) and required a new cylinder.
    The original .44 Colt loading used a heeled, outside lubricated bullet.
    The major diameter of the bullet was approximately the groove diameter (.451") of the converted ".44" cap and ball revolver.
    The smaller "heel" at the base of the bullet was sized to fit inside the brass case at approximately .430".
    This was the First Official Handgun Cartridge of the US Army, used from 1871 - 1873.
    The modern version of the 44 Colt is loaded with a .430 lead bullet.
    Brass is available from Starline.

    2. I believe the 1871-72 Open Top's were originally chambered in 44 Henry, a Rim Fired case with a Heeled Bullet.
    Of course the new made Italian replica's come in a modern cartridge.

    3. Both 38 Long & Short Colt brass is available from Starline, so cutting down 38 Special cases is not required.

    AntiqueSledMan.
    Last edited by AntiqueSledMan; 02-14-2021 at 09:38 AM.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master smkummer's Avatar
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    I am making hollow base wadcutters work in a 38 special case for my 1901 Colt DA army with 2.8 grains bullseye. Which is the old tried and true match wadcutter for 38 special for many years. I am going to try the heeled bullet intended for cap-n- ball 36 cal. revolvers with blackpowder in the future though.

  4. #4
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    Thanks AntiqueSledMan. I wanted to keep a macro perspective and not roll the eyes of the reader with details which would generate 2,834,739 comments of correction.

    As you correctly indicated, the original 44's, or 45's if you wish, were 44 Colt followed shortly with the 45 Colt. I just didn't want to go down the rimfire road since the dates of conversion cylinders were narrow indeed and the cornucopia of "new" cartridges was getting immense. The 1872 was originally rimfire as well but not really in the scope of the 38 Colt conversion since it was originally a metallic 44 rimfire cartridge revolver. I just mentioned it in passing.

    The only brass Starline had in stock, at last check, is the 38SC but I wanted 38LC so hence the trimming. I needed the exercise anyway. Making these cartridges is a labor of love and every shot will be savored. That's the point for me. I won't be making thousands of these rascals, just a few cylinder spins with each range trip.

    Can't wait to chrono these and see how they group. Waiting for the rain to stop.

    BTW Mike Belliveau will be doing another video soon on this very subject. His original video is here if you haven't seen it. It's one way to skin a cat. https://youtu.be/UdFTf0xrpRA

  5. #5
    Tar Heel,

    You will enjoy shooting the heeled bullets, I know I love shooting my 44 Colt with heeled.
    I thought Colt re-did the Navy's also, never heard about an 1871-72 being altered to 38 LC.
    Not saying it wasn't, will have to dig into that one. When the day comes that I no longer learn, I give up.
    Mike does great video's, I enjoy watching them. There are a lot of pointers to pick up on.

    Shoot straight, AntiqueSledMan.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master



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    Quote Originally Posted by AntiqueSledMan View Post
    Tar Heel,

    You will enjoy shooting the heeled bullets, I know I love shooting my 44 Colt with heeled.
    I thought Colt re-did the Navy's also, never heard about an 1871-72 being altered to 38 LC.
    Not saying it wasn't, will have to dig into that one. When the day comes that I no longer learn, I give up.
    Mike does great video's, I enjoy watching them. There are a lot of pointers to pick up on.

    Shoot straight, AntiqueSledMan.
    No they never were. I included the gun as a reference to Colt's first cartridge gun by design, not a conversion. As you are probably aware, most of the 1872's went south to Mexico as graft since the 1873 SAA was the darling gun after its release on the market. Like you say though, wait long enough and we will see an original 1872 converted to <centerfire> from <rimfire>. Oh jeez, now I have to look.

    Agree with Mike's videos. He is a tinkerer and chock full of great ideas. Mark Hubbs, Cap&Ball, Dustin, and a few others do fantastic videos too. All worth the watch. I wish I was as well spoken as those hombres.

    Later...

  7. #7
    Boolit Master bedbugbilly's Avatar
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    Tar Heel - very nice write up! You're going to love shooting the heeled 38LC.

    Glad the Eras Gone .36 Colt boolit worked out. I'm curious as to why you are putting glue on the heel? If you can seat that boolit and it hold with neck tension, using the Old
    west collet crimp should hold it just fine. If you apply a little extra crimp for any reason, at least with the heeled boolit you don't have to worry about swaging down the diameter of the drive bands like you wield with a standard 38 loading.

    If a person hasn't loaded heeled boolits before, it does take time to get used to it but once you get a technique down that works for you, you'll soon be pumping them out in good order.

    When you get going and get dome range time in with the Eras Gone heeled boolit, please post and let us know how they shoot for you. Right now, I'm using the Old West 150 grain heeled as I haven't had the time to get any of the Eras Gone .36 Colt heeled cast up. All I have on hand is a couple of samples from my last casting session a year or so ago and I haven't set up to see how they seat and check the neck tension and then collet crimp. I using a Pietta '58 Remington Navy with Taylor conversion cylinder. While I like my 45 Colt conversions, the .36 c & b conversions are just a whole lot of fun with the heeled loads.

    Great write up and good luck - will be anxious to hear how they shoot.

  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master
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    Tar Heel, you don’t have to waste your time reforming cases for 38 Longs ... just go to Roberson Cartridge Co and buy a few CNC lathe turned new ones ...
    Regards
    John

  9. #9
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    I am also working with the .38 long CF, but in a Remington No. 1 Rolling Block. Lovely rifle, mint bore. I am also trimming down .38 Special cases to 1.000" length, and using the Old West crimping die (a LOVELY design, BTW). Using a custom mold I had Tom at Accurate Molds make for me. http://accuratemolds.com/bullet_deta...bullet=38-160H I've been experimenting with a dip lube, and still a work in progress. My issue is that with 20 grains Olde Eynsford 3F, I get excellent case obturation and seal, but with smokeless powders I've tried so far (Unique 5.0 gr and Blue Dot 6.5 gr), I get lousy obturation and a lot of soot along the outside of the case. I've loaded some experimental rounds with Trail Boss, but haven't shot any. I suppose the issue is the rather light bullet pull force given that the case is only grabbing about .150" at the bullet base.

    Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?
    John Wells in PA

    Peabody's and Peabody-Martini's wanted
    Also shoot a 10-PDR Parrott Rifle in competition

  10. #10
    Boolit Grand Master


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    Did you anneal your brass ?
    I may have missed that...
    We have a Colt Double Action which stays much cleaner with annealed brass.
    "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
    Male Guanaco out in dry lakebed at 10,800 feet south of Arequipa.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master



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    Quote Originally Posted by John Boy View Post
    Tar Heel, you don’t have to waste your time reforming cases for 38 Longs ... just go to Roberson Cartridge Co and buy a few CNC lathe turned new ones ...
    John Boy, thanks for the tip but frankly at $200.00 per 50 cases, that's WAY too rich for me. Starline brass is $25 per hundred. I'll trim some 38 SPL until brass is once again available from Starline.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    thanks for posting.

  13. #13
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    Tar Heel, buried in your excellent write-up, I stumbled across the comment "I applied a bit of glue to the bullet heel." Could you elaborate? I'm guessing the purpose of this is to increase bullet pull(?) Mine hold together quite well for normal handling, etc. by keeping case "necks" with minimal expansion. I actually only "neck-size" the fired cases, and flare case mouth barely enough to accept the heel, then mouth-crimp using the OW die to maximize bullet pull for more consistent combustion and pressures. Of course, since I'm shooting a Remington single shot rifle, they don't have to stand up to the recoil of cartridges in adjacent chambers as they would if fired in a revolver.
    Still, I'm wondering if I'd get any better case expansion with the smokeless loads with a bit of DUCO Cement (100% combustible) holding the heels a bit tighter?
    What glue are you using, and how are you applying it?
    John Wells in PA

    Peabody's and Peabody-Martini's wanted
    Also shoot a 10-PDR Parrott Rifle in competition

  14. #14
    Boolit Master



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    Quote Originally Posted by John in PA View Post
    Tar Heel, buried in your excellent write-up, I stumbled across the comment "I applied a bit of glue to the bullet heel." Could you elaborate?
    I hid that pretty well.
    I am using Elmer's Stick Glue. I take the bullet in my left fingers and roll the canted base of the bullet on the protruding glue. This places a thin film of glue to the rebated base. I set the bullet into the ever-so-slightly flared case mouth and then it goes directly into the bullet seating die. I seat all the bullets in the batch and then crimp all the bullets in the batch

    When I was first playing with these and before I purchased a heeled bullet crimp tool, the glue prevented the bullets from rotating in the cases. I continued to apply the glue even after the purchase and use of the bullet crimp tool since the crimp is more of a taper crimp. I am sure the glue assists with securing the bullet and increasing bullet pull. Since I am shooting the 38 Long, there is more recoil impetus and the original bullets (prior to using glue) jumped and jammed the cylinder since they are flush with the cylinder mouth, unlike a shorter 38 Short Colt.

    I don't load millions of these and so I have decided to continue applying a small amount of glue to the heel prior to insertion into the case. With the Eras Gone 36 Colt Cartridge Works bullet, there is not a whole lot of heel to work with so any extra help I can get holding that bullet in the case, I will take advantage of. Were I loading 100 of these at a time rather then 20 or 30, I may rethink the glue application. With smaller batches and the Eras Gone bullet, I will keep on making Elmer's Glue stock holders rich.

    Hope that helps.....

  15. #15
    Boolit Master

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    I've used loctite on heel bullets. It works quite well. I call it a chemical crimp

  16. #16
    Boolit Master bedbugbilly's Avatar
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    Tar Heel - thanks for the explanation on the use of the glue stick.

    As I said, I haven't played with the Eras Gone heeled boolit yet so maybe I[m missing something.

    I'm using Starline 38 Colt Long brass and you are using cut down 38 spl. - so that may make a difference ce as well as far as the casing thickness at the mouth. That Old West shell holder is adjustable. If you haunt's played with that - give it a try and adjust it just a tad and you might find that it gives more than an adequate crimp on the heel so the you could eliminate the extra step of having to use the glue.
    a few minutes and a few dummy rounds will tell you real quick.

  17. #17
    Gentlemen Thank you for such a fine thread. I have a early army navy that I need to fabricate ammo for some day. My initial loads consisted of the hbwc variety but shot lousy still. It has the old bore.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by meistermash View Post
    Gentlemen Thank you for such a fine thread. I have a early army navy that I need to fabricate ammo for some day. My initial loads consisted of the hbwc variety but shot lousy still. It has the old bore.
    Same for me; nothing seems to beat heeled bullets in this configuration (I tried Old West moulds' 125 gns bullets). Thanks also for all the informations here.

    Quote Originally Posted by John in PA View Post
    I am also working with the .38 long CF, but in a Remington No. 1 Rolling Block. [...] Using a custom mold I had Tom at Accurate Molds make for me. http://accuratemolds.com/bullet_deta...bullet=38-160H
    I really like your design. Do you think it would work in a standard 38 LC DA .375 or will it be to heavy? Do you have accurate shots with it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tar Heel View Post
    All in all this has been a great project so far and will continue to be one into the future. I just can’t wait to get these to the range and see how they shoot!
    Your finished cartridges look superb. Did you shoot them since then?

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by bedbugbilly View Post
    When you get going and get some range time in with the Eras Gone heeled boolit, please post and let us know how they shoot for you. Great write up and good luck - will be anxious to hear how they shoot.
    Went out and fired these over a chronograph today to get things rolling along. When trimming cases to 1.020", the Eras Gone Colt Cartridge Works bullet protrudes a wee bit from the cylinder face. I cure that with two draws of a fine file to remove the tip of the bullet. I noticed that the bullets tended to jump the crimp today since I attempted to get a tighter crimp on these. I can't seem to get enough crimp on this bullet with the Old West crimp tool. I think it's just this particular bullet and perhaps my brass. I'll keep using the Elmer's Glue stick on the bullet heel coupled with the crimp since that seems to work much better.

    These all shot well with no problems other than a few jumping crimp and popping out the face of the cylinder a few thousands. They were easily pressed back into the cases with my finger tip before indexing the cylinder. Average velocity was 685 fps with Graf & Sons (Wano) FFFG powder. Fouling after 25 shots was negligible with no leading. A few wet patches kept things rolling along. I think I will keep the glue stick for now since that helps secure the Eras Gone bullet a tad bit better in the cases. I haven't shot these for score yet, but the original ones grouped fine for general shooting. Chronograph data follows.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  20. #20
    Boolit Master

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    Loctite makes a good chemical crimp. I've used it in 32 and 44 cal heel bullets.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

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