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Thread: Original .38 Smith & Wesson Special B.P. Ballistics

  1. #1
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    Original .38 Smith & Wesson Special B.P. Ballistics

    Fellow darksiders,
    I've recently acquired an interest in the original .38 Smith & Wesson Special b.p. load.

    Historically speaking, early 1900's info that I have show that the factory specifications were: 21 1/2 grs. of b.p. / 158 gr. bullet.

    Published velocity was 960 f.p.s. in a 6" barrel.

    I'd say that's moving right along. I'm going to try that combination in my lever gun to see how it does.

    Anyone currently loading b.p. in a .38 / .357 close to that charge weight? Powder type? Bullet? Velocity? Accuracy?

    Thank you,
    w30wcf
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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    I find that hard to believe. I know those early bp 38 Special cases had to be balloon head, so they held more powder. A 38 case today filled to the top with 3F bp 23 to 25 grains by volume/weight. I'm only showing 755 fps about the average velocity for the old bp loadings. I wonder if you could even get 21 grs of bp in a balloon head case and still seat a 158 gr bullet? Where did you dig that up?

    Joe

  3. #3
    Boolit Grand Master
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    I haven't given this sort of recreation much thought, mostly because the idea of running 3F through my Colt OMT would cause me the sorts of dreams that produce the "bolt upright in bed at 2 A.M." sort of reaction.

    Not having any experience, about all I have is book-reading info--and Joe covered that nicely. His 755 FPS data matches my own reading. 22 grains of Goex 3F in a couple different 36 caliber C&B revolvers produces about 850-875 FPS with a 70 grain RB, and life is too short to bother with conicals in those critters. Ya need three hands to load the things anyway, so only blessed with a right and a left--I'm physically challenged on a good day with a following wind as it is.

    Goex isn't exactly the best BP on earth--it's best attribute is general availability. If you can locate some Swiss or maybe KIK 3F, that might provide a few more FPS. In a rifle barrel, you can likely get to your 950 FPS goal, but like Joe I think you might fall a little short in a handgun barrel.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  4. #4
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    Well...... the velocity was listed in a mid 1920's REM-UMC ballistics sheet. The powder charge and bullet weight is shown on a box of UMC .38 Smith & Wesson black powder cartridges I have that contain fired balloon head casings.

    No problem at all with the cases holding 21 1/2 grs. of Goex b.p. with plenty of room for the bullet with some compression. Interestingly, a current .38 Special Winchester case holds only 1 grain less of b.p. with the same seating depth of the bullet.

    A check on the Goex site shows the following with 160 gr. bullets:
    .38 Special 6" barrel - 23 grs - 777 f.p.s.
    .38 Special 18" barrel - 23 grs. - 1010 f.p.s.

    .357 Mag. 6" barrel - 25 grs. - 897 f.p.s.
    .357 Mag. 18" barrel - 25 grs. - 1098 f.p.s.

    It is known that the highly refined black powders of the late 1800's, early 1900's had a higher ballistic strength than today's Goex. In fact, when I tested some original UMC .45 Colt cartridges a few years ago, they turned up almost 1,250 f.p.s. in a 24" barrel. 40 grs. of Goex was 100 f.p.s. slower.

    Anyway, it will be interesting. I'll let you know how the testing goes.

    Deputy Al, I do have some SWISS and will be testing with that powder since it would be closer to the early b.p.'s in performance.

    w30wcf
    Last edited by w30wcf; 08-11-2006 at 10:31 PM.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Grand Master
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    The most interesting facet of W30WCF's text is the black powder data for the 357 Magnum......the caliber only gains half-again more velocity with modern powders, while the 38 Special gains only about 75-100 FPS over that provided by The Holy Black.

    Maybe this white/smokeless stuff IS just a passing fad.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Deputy Al
    Maybe this white/smokeless stuff IS just a passing fad.
    You may be right, but...
    It will probably hang on as long as there are some who like to spit out Nosler Partition bullets, at those 'flat shooting' velocities, without wiping between shots...or getting a crick in the neck from blow tubing a bolt gun.
    CM
    Retired...TWICE. Now just raisin' cows and livin' on borrowed time.

  7. #7
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    I couldn't stand the suspense, so I loaded the 21.5 gr. charges of both Swiss 2F and 3F and headed to the range today.

    Here are the results:
    Bullet: 358250 (original .38 Special B.P. bullet) seated to compress the powder .06
    Lube: SPG
    Alloy: w.w + 2% tin
    Primer: Rem. 1 1/2
    Case: R-P

    21.5 grs. Swiss 2F - 1,127 f.p.s.
    21.5 grs. Swiss 3F - 1,212 f.p.s.

    Both loads shot fairly well @ 50 yards giving groups in the 1 1/2" range.

    Based on the results, there is a good possibility that .38 Special cartridges loading with "Sporting Rate" burn powders round the turn of the last century did eclipse the 900 f.p.s. barrier in 6" revolver barrels.

    Presently, I don't have a revolver in .38 / .357 chambering. to find out, but hopefully, befor the snow flys, I'll be able to run some tests in a friends revolver.
    Stay tuned............

    w30wcf
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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    What did you shoot those 38 BP loads out of? I must have missed it if you stated it.

    Joe

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    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    Joe,

    Oops.... I neglected to mention the rifle I used.....must be older age, I guess.

    Rifle: .357 Marlin 1894 Cowboy - 24" barrel

    Another interesting bit of info on b.p. pistol cartridges in rifles.....
    A few years ago, I tested some early black powder UMC headstamped .45 Colt cartridges in my .45 Colt Marlin Cowboy rifle - also with a 24" barrel. THey clocked 1,241 f.p.s.

    Early ballistic charts show the .45 Colt b.p. cartridge giving 910 f.p.s. from a revolver. If the same differnce would apply in the case of the .38, then the velocity from a pistol with the proper black powder (SWISS 3F) should be at least in the high 800 f.p.s. bracket.

    Time will tell........

    w30wcf
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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    Thanks,

    Boy you know, that's flat moving even if it's a rifle. Very impressive, at least to me.

    Joe

  11. #11
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    StarMetal,

    Thank you for the "thanks". We learn something new from time to time.

    I've had an interest in original b.p. pistol cartridges and how they would have performed in rifles....if there were rifles available for them back in "the day". That originally lead to my purchasing some original UMC .45 Colt cartridges for testing in my Marlin Cowboy rifle.

    Since I had acquired a .357 Mag. Marlin Cowboy rifle just recently, I did some research on the .38 Special b.p. cartridge and was somewhat surprised at the reported velocity. Now I need to find some original UMC headstamped .38 Special b.p. cartridges (pre 1911) for testing.


    Regarding the b.p.'s used in the early b.p. loadings, here's some historic info from "Dutch Bill" aka Bill Knight who is an authority on black powder history...

    w30wcf,
    In addition to having a faster burn rate, the true sporting powders produced a greater amount of what was then called "expansive force" due to the use of a greater amount of potassium nitrate in the powder's formulation.
    This greater degree of expansive force made the sporting powders more effecient - more powerfull in short barrels.

    From the days of the first cap and ball revolvers into the early years of the 1900's the pistols were usually loaded with a sporting grade powder. Usually in a grain size best described as a mixture of our 2F and 3F.

    By the opening years of the 1900's the commercial cartridge companys went on a cost cutting kick with bp pistol cartridges. At the time they paid around 21 to 22 cents per pound for sporting powder in bulk. A rifle type powder sold for around 18 cents per pound. To cut costs they switched from sporting grade to rifle burn rate and went to a grain size best described as a mixture of 3F and 4F. Keep in mind that this was the time when 4F was a specific grain size range rather than simply screening process tailings as is often seen now.
    Interesting b.p. history.

    w30wcf
    Last edited by w30wcf; 08-13-2006 at 12:33 PM.
    aka w44wcf
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    w30wcf,

    Yes interesting. I was a real big cap and ball shooter in my younger beginning. I came to find out those things really aren't "toy" as many smokeless shooters tend to believe. There was this old abandoned farm, due to interstate 70 cutting through it. It had a very old 3 story brick house still on the site. the first floor joists were actually logs with the top floor side flattened, the walls had 4x4 oak studs, and then the good old lathe with base plaster and final plaster. The outer walls were double rows of solid red bricks. The house in other words was very solidly built. I use to take my 158 Remington with round lead balls up to that house and set a brick on the window sill here and there and go back to the railroad track and shoot at them as though it was Civil War battle. Well upon investigating inside the house, what the balls had done, I was in awe. It was nothing for those balls to cut easily through the walls, more then one even. They did some heavy damage on those 4x4 oaks too. Yup they broke the bricks I have up too. In other words I gained alot of respect for bp cap n ball power.

    I use to load the old 12 ga paper shotgun hulls with bp too. I didn't notice too much difference between them and the smokeless shells, except they made alot more smoke, which to me was fun.

    Now I new the 45 Colt shot pretty potent for a bp cartridge. It was a formiable round for alot of years. They say the Colt Walker Dragoon was the most powerful handgun until the advent of the 357 Magnum.

    Keep up the good work, it's interesting for sure.

    Joe

  13. #13
    Boolit Master and Generous Donator
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    John:

    "Dutch Bill", eh; where's he posting now? I first met him in 2000 on the old "Shooters" (as "Mad Monk") where he helped clear up some misconceptions of mine about BP, and I've got a whole notebook full of his fascinating writings.

    Doug
    NOV SHMOZ KA POP?

  14. #14
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    Dutch Bill

    Floodgate,

    Bill has been somewhat active on the "Open Range" forum, mostly in the "Dark Side" category. My handle there is w44wcf.

    www.theopenrange.net

    As you know, Bill certainly has a wonderful knowledge about the history of black powder and is a terrific resource for it.

    Sincerely,
    John
    aka w44wcf
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  15. #15
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    StarMetal,

    I haven't been bitten by the cap and ball bug yet......but one never knows what the future has in store. Interesting the amount of damage those b.p. propelled round balls did.

    Thank you for sharing.

    w30wcf
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    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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    I didn't have time to read everyones posts but that data is way WRONG! The 38 S and W pushed a 160 Gr bullet with 12 grains of powder at about 675 fps. I have an Ideal #1 loading set in the original box with the original loading data and have used this set to make ammo. From a S and W with a 3" bbl 650 fps is about right. The 38 Special when introduced used 21 grains of Powder to puch a 158 gr bullet at 800 fps. I've got the loader for this one too. With FFFg in a 38 special case you can push a 158 at 825 in a 4 3/4 bbl. I just finished loadng about 100 of these for a cowboy shoot. The same load from a 24" rifle will go a tad over 1100fps.

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    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    Ksco,
    Thank you for your response including your chronographed info.

    I should have indicated .38 Special rather than .38 Smith & Wesson Special (nomenclature from 1905 UMC Catalog) to make things less confusing. The 960 f.p.s. figure is early factory published data for the .38 Special b.p. cartridge with a 158 gr. bullet.

    Nice to see that you are loading black in this cartridge for an upcoming cowboy shoot ....... like stepping back in time.......

    Please see post #7 for my data using Swiss b.p. which would come close to replicating early b.p. performance. The data was taken in a 24" barrel.

    Please see post #11 for an interesting history regard the b.p's used to give 960 f.p.s. in early .38 Special b.p. factory loadings.

    I'm now in the process of contacting some cartridge collector friends to see if I can find some early .38 Special b.p. cartridges to test.


    w30wcf
    Last edited by w30wcf; 08-14-2006 at 07:18 PM.
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    Hey w30wcf,

    I wonder if one could take some modern 38 Special cases and put them in a lathe and lathen them out to old balloon head specs? I got a mini-lathe, maybe I'll experiment.

    Buckshot

    What type of boring bar tool would you make for that adventure?

    Joe

  19. #19
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    Baloon heade cases arn't woth messing with, especially with B/P. If a baloon head seperates it is usually right at the base. I have had two of these let go in my 66 and ALL the blast goes out the top. For the extra 1.5 grain capacity in the cases its better just to go to FFF instead of FF.

  20. #20
    In Remembrance w30wcf's Avatar
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    StarMetal,
    I would not recommend doing that since, as Kcso indicated, there is little to be gained. In checking the capacity of a .38 Special UMC balloon head case, I found it held only 1.0 more grain of powder than a .38 Special Winchester case with the bullet seated to a depth of .37".

    Regarding balloon head cases, I have about 100 .44-40's that I have been using over the years with black powder with nary a problem along with about 70 .45 Colt balloon heads.

    If one is going to use balloon head cases with black powder, the only ones to use are ones that are unfired, still intact as the factory shipped them. Pull the bullets, discard the primers, anneal and use.

    Cases that have been fired, may have had mercuric priming which will attack the brass, leading to case failure on firing.......not pleasant as Kcso indicated.

    w30wcf
    aka w44wcf
    aka Jack Christian SASS 11993 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
    aka John Kort
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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