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Thread: .38 Iver Johnson

  1. #1

    .38 Iver Johnson

    This is what happens when I get bored and go to the gun show lol! Picked up this beat up IJ project. After an hour of google-fu it appears to be a deeper rabbit hole than I thought. With 2 pins in the main frame I think this is an old model black powder unit. I'm loading Mo Cast 145g RN over 2.5g HP38 for my S&W Victory, but think that might be a little stout for this old dog. You think backing off to 2g might be ok? I only have HP38 so no other powder need apply.
    It looks plenty rough but has strong rifling left in the frosted bore, and locks the cyl. up nice and tight. The project part is the trigger won't return, so probably needs whatever spring that is.
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  2. #2
    Boolit Bub
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    If it was originally intended for black powder I would not use any smokeless in it.

  3. #3
    Boolit Grand Master


    Larry Gibson's Avatar
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    Just information and not a recommendation but 1.8 - 2 gr HP38 should put the psi in the range of factory loads. If you've a chronograph I would start at 1.5 gr and work up in .1 gr increments until velocity average [absolute minimum of 5 shots but 10 shots would be preferred] reached 550 fps and call that good. Given the manufacture and condition of your revolver i would suggest loading with BP also.

    While I have not pressure tested that powder with that bullet I have pressure tested 125 and 155 gr cast with bullseye and Unique in the 38 S&W along with 3 different factory loads. The factory load giving the highest average psi was R-P with the lead 146 gr RN. That psi average was 16,300. The factory rounds had 2.2 gr of a flake powder under the 146 gr LRN bullet. That load gave 655 fps out of the 3 2/16" barrel of my H&R revolver. The two Winchester factory loads [western with Lubaloy bullets and Super-X with 146 LRN bullet] both ran 556 and 594 fps out of the H&R and failed to give any pressure reading [that means the psi was less than 11,700 psi which is the lowest psi I recorded during the test].
    Larry Gibson

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

  4. #4
    Thanks Larry. I don't plan on shooting this much. I'm going to look for some BP.

  5. #5
    Boolit Man hporter's Avatar
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    Don,

    I have a .32 S&W version of a similar vintage Iver Johnson.

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    After I read up on the two pin models, I came to the conclusion it was probably safest to shoot just BP rounds through it.

    I did try a 1.2 grain load of Bullseye in it which shot OK, but now I just shoot FFFG in it.

    Numrich Arms is a good place to look for your broken parts. The hand broke on mine, and I was able to buy a replacement there.

    They are fun little revolvers.

    Regards,

    Harold

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    I recently bought one that looks just like the OPs. After research it appears to be a BP revolver. I shot a few factory Win rounds in it but decided that was not a good idea and went to 10.5grs of reenactment BP that shoots well and fills the case with slight compression. I'm using a 120 gr swc boolit. My only issue is that it shoots about 8 to 10 inches high at 20 feet.

  7. #7
    hporter, that's a nice looking pistol! Last night found a youtube disassembly vid and got the trigger guard off. The trigger spring wasn't broke, it was gone. Got all the replacement springs ordered this morning.

    rbuck351, do you load the BP with a scoop? I don't want to risk BP in my powder measure due to possible static. Never used BP. All I think I know about it is the charge has to be somewhat compressed, no air gap under the bullet.

    Thank you all for the help.

  8. #8
    Boolit Man hporter's Avatar
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    Don,

    I load all of my BP pistol ammo with Lee Auto Disk powder measures. I have never had a problem doing so. You are correct, it is easy to use the Lee powder scoops, or a homemade powder scoop made from a discarded brass handgun case. You are also correct that there should not be a air gap.

    I use a powder compression die for my 40-65 and 45-70 BP rifle loads, but don't worry about it with my .32 S&W, 44-40 and 45 Colt BP hand loads. You can visually judge the powder level needed to form a compressed load, and when seating the bullet you can feel and hear the powder compress. I load my BP handgun ammo on a Dillon 650 progressive and have never had an issue.

    I have drop tubed the powder into handgun brass, and vibrated the powder down as well. I can't tell the difference between those methods and just compressing the powder on my press - when shooting the rounds in my handguns. Perhaps there would be a difference in rifles, but I have not experimented enough in my replica 1873 Winchester 44-40 rifle to be able to express an opinion one way or another.

    Good luck, that is great news that you were able to get the springs you needed.

    Harold

  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    I have just been using a Lee perfect powder measure. I started by just seeing how far I wanted the boolit to seat in the case and then filled the case a bit more than to the base of the boolit. Then I weighed that charge which came out at 10.5grs. Not exactly rocket science but it works pretty good. I didn't even consider the static thing. Maybe I should make a powder scoop from a case. I bought the old gun because I've always thought the top breaks were kind of neat and found this one in fair shape at a going out of business sale. Once I got it home and cleaned it, I found it in fair condition and couldn't resist making it shoot again.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    I have a whole bunch of these old top breaks from several manufactures.
    I buy them cheap , because mostly they are not in working condition.
    I bought 6 from a lady and they were all missing parts or in such poor condition , that they were not shootable.
    I got 5 of them to shoot again.
    I only shoot them with BP because of their age.
    One of the 38 S&W IJ's had a barrel that was so rusted , that it wasn't shootable.
    So I Sleeved the barrel and cylinders to 32 S&W.
    I had to make most of the parts for the others since you can't find the right parts.
    It is fun and challenging to play with these pistols.
    But I would never trust them for self defense.

  11. #11
    Boolit Man rickomatic's Avatar
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    Must be something in the air. I recently got bitten by the Iver Johnson bug. I’ve gotten a couple off Gunbroker and other online auctions. Two are Old Model and two are Second model. I’ve learned a ton from YouTube. I’ve ordered a few springs from Wolf, and several parts off Ebay. It’s fun getting them up and running.
    I found that dating them can be tricky. I bought WE Goforth’s “Iver Johnson Firearms & Cycleworks,1871-1993” it is a treasure trove of information and second to none insofar as identifying and dating individual guns. If you need help nailing down exactly when yours was made, I may be able to help.
    "If God hadn't wanted us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat."

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    I mostly started collecting H&R pistols.
    Which I think came from a H&R 922 was the first gun I ever shot.
    It was my dad's 22 and I was about 12 years old.
    When he passed away in 2018 , I was given his pistol.
    It is in almost mint condition , in the original box with the receipt from 1952.
    A year before I was born.
    But I would like to find a nice looking Iver Johnson " Owls Head" .
    The one I still have Shoots , but it is not very reliable.
    Last edited by LAGS; 03-26-2021 at 02:35 AM.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    Some old timers still call them "Ivory Johnson"
    You'll go far providin' you ain't burnt alive or scalped."

    Will Geer as Bear Claw in "Jeramiah Johnson"

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by rickomatic View Post
    Must be something in the air. I recently got bitten by the Iver Johnson bug. I’ve gotten a couple off Gunbroker and other online auctions. Two are Old Model and two are Second model. I’ve learned a ton from YouTube. I’ve ordered a few springs from Wolf, and several parts off Ebay. It’s fun getting them up and running.
    I found that dating them can be tricky. I bought WE Goforth’s “Iver Johnson Firearms & Cycleworks,1871-1993” it is a treasure trove of information and second to none insofar as identifying and dating individual guns. If you need help nailing down exactly when yours was made, I may be able to help.
    The serial # is T 11370. If you get a chance to look for a date I'd appreciate it.

  15. #15
    Boolit Buddy

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    Here's my new acquisition. 5 1/2" Secret Service Special. SN 25296, 38S&W. Functions good and bore is excellent. Going to load up some BP ammo for it.

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    Fact: Some people are alive simply because it's illegal to kill them.

  16. #16
    Like all my projects, it's 2 steps forward and 1 back.
    For ammo, I settled on 1 .5cc and 1 .3cc scoop of Pyrodex P with an over powder card cut with a 3/8" hole punch out of a beer box divider. That left .1" compression, and gave them a stout roll crimp.
    I got the trigger return spring fitted and that works. Got it back together and noticed the cyl. timing was just this side of scary lol! I'm more parts changer than gunsmith, so have a question here. Looks like the little bump on top of the trigger controls the timing, and it's worn off beveled at the top. Getting another from GPC might be as bad as this one so I'm going to work with this one first. I'm thinking a dab of braze, or a dab from the mig and filing it flush with side of the bump. How would you go about this?

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    Last edited by TankerDon; 04-08-2021 at 02:22 PM.

  17. #17
    Boolit Man hporter's Avatar
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    Tanker Don,

    I don't have an answer with your question on adding material to the trigger. But I look forward to hearing the answer to it.

    I do have a suggestion on the hit or miss proposition with using GPC. They are a great company, and I have used them for years. But not being able to see what you are purchasing ahead of time, sometimes leads to frustration.

    Both lifters that I bought from GPC were the wrong ones for my revolver. On a whim, I looked on fleabay and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were several lifters that looked like mine. So I bought one and it did the job. So you might have a quick look there to see if there are any triggers that have more "meat" on them. The advantage of fleabay, over GPC, is that you can see a clear photograph of what you are proposing to purchase. It cost me less than $15 (shipping included) to get the correct part. I think that some folks are finding more value in parting out their guns, rather than letting them nickel and dime them to death like I seem to be doing.

    And I hear your two steps forward, one step back comment. After assembling the gun with the correct lifter, the trigger return spring then broke.... So I ordered a set of generic return springs from Wolff Springs to fashion a new one from. But I am determined to finish shooting the last box of BP loaded rounds that I was going through with great joy when my lifter broke.

    Harold

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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