.38 Specials will damage .357 cylinders?


Bart Noir
May 30, 2006, 05:11 PM
From John Farnam: http://www.defense-training.com/quips/15May06.html

Text is (more or less):

On 357Mg revolvers, from a student:

"John; I have been shooting a Colt Python 357Mg revolver I recently picked up, used, but in nice condition. Unfortunately, the extractor rod cannot push spent casings out without a good deal of pounding. Casings (Winchester white-box 357Mg) keep sticking in chambers. I love the pistol, but lack the confidence that I will be able to fire more than six rounds!
Do you know what is causing this dilemma?"

My Reply:

The problem with your Python is probably the same one endemic to all 357Mg revolvers which have had a lot of 38Spl rounds fired through them.

A revolver chambered for the 357 Magnum cartridge will also chamber and fire the shorter 38 Special cartridge. The same is true for 44 Magnum and 44 Special cartridges. This is claimed by many to be a great advantage of the 357 Magnum revolver since 38 Special ammunition is less expensive than 357 Magnum ammunition. However, there are some problems with this practice. Hot gases associated with bullet launch eventually cause spalling on the walls of the chamber. The chamber will gradually be ringed with tiny spall marks where the bullet comes off the 38 Special case. When the longer 357 Magnums are then fired in the same chambers, the brass will expand into the spall ring, making rapid case extraction difficult and eventually impossible, as you noted. What all this means is that shooting a lot of 38 Specials in a 357 Magnum revolver will eventually ruin the weapon for 357 Magnum rounds. As a solution to the problem you can do one of two things:

(1) Simply dedicate the weapon to 38 Special and do not bother with 357 Magnum rounds at all. (2) Shoot only 357 Magnum rounds in it, both for practice and for duty, forsaking 38Spl ammunition altogether. This solution only applies, of course, to new guns

With your revolver as it is, solution (1) will make the most sense.
/John "

So, fellow wheelgunners, do you agree with Farnam?

Bart Noir

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May 30, 2006, 05:41 PM
He is as full of it as a Christmas turkey. If that was the case then why does the throats stay smooth? Why isn't the front of the cylinders scored? Why isn't the forcing cones eroded? The hot gases just don't hit the chamber. Since he says this is a problem with the .38 spl then shouldn't it be a greater problem with the hotter magnums?
What could happen is if the chambers are not cleaned then moisture can accumulate under the fouling in the chamber which causes the metal to erode. When the chambers are finally cleaned you can find that it is pitted.

May 30, 2006, 05:41 PM
I noticed this problem in my J frame, so I decided to shoot only 38 special in the J frame, and bought a GP 100 for .357.

May 30, 2006, 06:05 PM
I know what you mean about the cases sticking. If you look in the cylinders, there will probably be a little ring. Clean the cylinders really well and your problem will go away. What happens is that repeated firing of 38’s in a 357, especially one a tight as a python, will build up this rind of powder residue, copper, lead or what have you, and when the case is fired and expands a little, the cartridges wedge them selves in the cylinder. This happens with 38’s because their case is shorter than the case of a 357, thus the bullet once fired is in the cylinder longer. Sounds far fetched, I know, but I have heard this from multiple sources, and it seems to work.

May 30, 2006, 06:11 PM
I know that the top straps of revolvers get flame cut do to the hot gases coming out the cylinder to forcing cone gap. However, have yet to see it in the cylinder. Keep in mind that the flame cutting is due to repetitive shooting and the gas being concentrated in one area. The heat will build up and then some metal lost will take place. However, the erosion only goes so far and then stops. This loss stoppage, maybe due to the distance and the fact that the temper has changed in the metal to make it harder. Much like a surface hardening or annealing process.

If you could repetitively shoot all 6 rounds in the same chamber without cooling, you would see the erosion. I have .357's that I shoot .38's in and have not seen it. I do agree that the dirt/soot will gum up and cause a hard install on a 357. I have had no problem fixing it by cleaning the gun. Keep the gun clean and don't shoot Plus Plus loads and the gun and you will be happy...

Disclaimer.... "Not a gunsmith; nor, do I play one on TV":rolleyes:

May 30, 2006, 06:17 PM
After more than 10k rounds of .38 Special though my GP100, I am still waiting for it to not feed .357 Magnum ammo properly...

I don't even know at this point how many rounds have gone down the pipe of that gun. I stopped counting around 10k.


May 30, 2006, 06:34 PM
I have two .357s, a model 66 Taurus and a model 66 S&W. They've each had many thousands of .38 Sp rds through them and the cylinders are fine. If firing both during a range session, a brush through the chambers a few times before firing the .357s gets the soot and any powder granules out that possibly could cause the .357 rd to hang a bit. Clean them with solvent after shooting like you normally would. I read one time that when Jeff Cooper was editor of one of the gun mags he called people that fussed about this, "nitpickers"!!:p

May 30, 2006, 06:37 PM

May 30, 2006, 06:40 PM
Hooey. Clean the chambers properly and it's no problem.

Ron James
May 30, 2006, 07:14 PM
I'm now down to one .357, a very old and nice Model 19. I've fire both .38 Special and .357 thur it with out cleaning and have never had a problem. Perhaps if you fired several hunred rounds of .38 Special with out cleaning, .357 might be tight chambering, but as was stated, clean the chambers and problem gos a way

May 30, 2006, 07:23 PM
I shoot mostly .38 wadcutters in my .357s. I think they're loaded to probably 12-15K CUP or something. How is that going to cause any damage in the cylinder when a .357 magnum doesn't???? Pure horse pucky. :D Yeah, i've heard about fouling causing sticky cases in .357, but I clean my guns after every range session. I have yet to see this happen in one of my revolvers.

The flame cutting of the top strap is with .357 ammo, high pressure stuff. I think that's what pretty much killed the .357 Maximum. It was really bad about the flame cutting, more pressure, more gasses. You won't find a flame cutting problem in any .38 loaded to standard or +P levels, not enough pressure to cause such. And, even at .357 Maximum pressures, I've never heard of a chamber errosion problem.

pete f
May 30, 2006, 07:24 PM
go buy a good stainless chamber brush. soak the cylinder in solvent for a half hour then scrub, repeat till the .357 rounds drop right in)

IF this were true, you would only get difficulty extracting fire rounds, not unfired.

I have a model 13 that has shot nearly 21K rounds, there is no ring in the chambers.

May 30, 2006, 07:24 PM
I've always found that if you clean the gun, it will reliably eject both types of ammo. Now, if you don't clean it, yes, the longer magnums will stick. But I have yet to note hard ejections with magnums if you do what you're supposed to be doing anyway, which is clean the darned chambers.


Bart Noir
May 30, 2006, 09:23 PM
A lively thread, so far.

Coronach, what does that Latin translate into?

Bart Noir

May 31, 2006, 01:01 AM
Bull feces. I've fired thousands of .38 special rounds through .357 magnum guns by at least 6 different manufacturers. Just doesn't happen unless you simply don't clean your cylinder after shooting a ton of .38's then start shooting .357's. Even then, after a few cylinders of .357 have been fired, any sticking usually self corrects in my experience.

May 31, 2006, 01:33 AM
Coronach, what does that Latin translate into?Very roughly, "peace through superior firepower." Since "firepower" has no direct equivalent in latin, it actually states "peace through better arms." I think. I did not do the translation.

Mike ;)

May 31, 2006, 07:15 AM
The shorter case in a longer chamber can be a 'real' problem, particularly with the higher velocity round employing very fast powder. My first 'example' was my 7.5" .454 SRH... repeated .45 Colt use was fine - just brush with a proper sized bronze chamber brush, slightly larger OD and length than a bore brush, wetted with Hoppes #9, etc, and let some time elapse before you rewet and brush again... then swipe clean. Always allow time for any solvent to work. I often used a drill motor to power said bronze brush, running it in and out of the chamber... with proper respect for the Hoppes, etc that flies about. I believe that the mop I coated with Flitz and polished those SRH chambers with early in it's life helped future cleanings.

Actually, this is the scenario that cost me my treasured 629MG earlier this year. I had shot 200-250 .44 Russians & Specials, all 240gr LSWC's, in a day at the range. I just needed to 'ping' the steel plate at 100yd another time or two. I loaded, with some difficulty, a cylinderfull of 300gr LSWC .44 Magnums, with 6.2gr of fast Titegroup powder. I had shot hundreds of these rounds - from the round non-f.g. Ahrends-gripped 629MG. They made ~880fps - pretty decent big bullet round. I hit the plate with the third and fourth round. The fifth round burst the cylinder and topstrap. S&W tested the remnants - the metal was fine. It had burst on that round, they thought, by a pressure spike... as if by an obstruction. My contention, which they agreed with, was that the crimp wouldn't open enough to easily - and quickly - release the large bullet. The build-up of lead ahead of the mouth step literally hides said step in the errant chamber's remnants. It is present in the other chambers to a lessor extent.

Yes, I shoot only my reloads. I tried a double charge... the long bullet used wouldn't seat all of the way with anything over 12.0gr of Titegroup... a 12.4gr double load was impossible. I am convinced that the buildup was the cause... I am totally responsible... and I knew better! It just makes good sense... clean the chambers before using the longer cased rounds. A better scenario, shoot the longer cased rounds first during a day at the range - then the short cased ones. Yeah, I know... typical diatribe from a retired teacher... do as I say, not as I do... or did!


May 31, 2006, 07:35 AM
After more than 10k rounds of .38 Special though my GP100, I am still waiting for it to not feed .357 Magnum ammo properly...

Dido with my Dan Wesson. (full as a christmas turkey....I like that)

May 31, 2006, 09:06 AM
38 target loads are notoriously dirty. Mr. Dirt is not your friend. All it needs is a good cleaning with a bronze brush and it will be good to go.

May 31, 2006, 09:35 AM
What could happen is if the chambers are not cleaned then moisture can accumulate under the fouling in the chamber which causes the metal to erode. When the chambers are finally cleaned you can find that it is pitted.

I've seen this. I traded for a filthy Smith and Wesson Model 27 that had seen nothing but .38 Special ammo. The previous owner admitted that he was (very) lax about cleaning it but oiled the outside after every time he used it. It was never holstered and the outside looked very nice.

The inside was a different story. There was a nasty ring of crud inside each chamber that I was (finally) able to brush out. However the chambers all had a ring of pitting that made ejection of the magnum rounds near-impossible.

Fortunately, I was able to untrade it.

May 31, 2006, 09:43 AM
Farnham is wrong on this one.

The chambers may be dirty (already addressed) or pitted due to corrosion, a product of neglect, but low pressure .38 Specials are not going to damage a .357 revolver unless SO many are fired the revolver is completely worn out anyway.

Also, the difference in case length is just over 1/8" . . . just how much would the THINNEST part of the LAST 1/8" of a .357 case have to expand in order to need "a good deal of pounding" to extract?

One more thought . . . the Python was purchased used. It's possible that somewhere along the line, an overly courageous handloader fired loads that were a little bit TOO hot, and bulged the chambers a bit. This would cause future extractions problems, and might be a reason the revolver was sold.

May 31, 2006, 10:33 AM
I had the same problem with a used S&W Mod 28. I didn't shoot any .38 Spl through the revolver, only .357 Mag 158 gr at 1150. But the cases from these relatively mild rounds soldered themselves to the chamber wall and I had to wait for the cylinder to cool before extracting. Under close examination I could see a lead buildup in a couple cylinders. I cleaned the chambers thoroughly with a Kroil and a bore brush. That fixed it.

May 31, 2006, 02:53 PM
I think I'll still use my .38's in mine.

bigger jon
May 31, 2006, 03:54 PM
i have seen the cylinders that look like they were not finished, (with rings cut into the side walls? this will cause a full house mag to stick. but ive only seen that a couple times and both times it was a ruger blackhawk, next time you clean it look for them? also is your ejector rod straight? if its bent that can also be a reason for the gun not wanting to let them go, good luck and if you never figger it out ill take it cheep,ha ha, big,

Vern Humphrey
May 31, 2006, 04:39 PM
Hot gases associated with bullet launch eventually cause spalling on the walls of the chamber.

Spalling is caused by shock waves passing through the metal and is associated with detonations, not with propellents.

To quote someone else, "He's full of it."

May 31, 2006, 05:07 PM
the problem i had was with my 460..shot many rounds of 45lc through nit and thouhgt i had it cleaned but all of a sudden i couldnt chamber a 460 round. cleaned it until it shined and loads fine now. then i did the same to my 357 and i noticed that spent shells just fall out now. just clean it until chamber shines.

June 1, 2006, 06:37 PM
For about four years I used a 3" GP-100 as my IDPA gun shooting +P+ level .38 specials. As long as you keep the chambers clean no problem. I have put more of those loads thru that gun than some people will shoot in a lifetime. Chambers are as slick as the day I bought it.

June 1, 2006, 06:50 PM
Powder fouling can give moisture a place to accumulate and I could see how moisture trapped in the fouling over time could cause pitting in the cylinders - if the gun was stored improperly for a lengthy period of time without being properly cleaned first. Someone might assume the damage was caused by the shorter rounds...

June 1, 2006, 11:08 PM
There will be a certain amount of flame erosion in the cylinders of .357 Magnum revolvers that have had large quantities of .38 Special +P and/or +P+ jacketed ammunition fired through them.
I have replaced cylinders on Model 19 Smith and Wessons that did suffer from this problem.
Standard .38 Special ammunition doesn't produce a hot enough flame at a long enough flash time to cause this, but as the other posters have noted, lead bullet ammunition can cause a ring of lead residue to build up and this will cause the cases of .357 magnum ammunition to stick as well as cause the unsightly pitting that goes along with not cleaning the mess out after each shooting session.

This is the same reason some older multi-cartridge .22 rimfire weapons have functioning and extraction problems with the longer .22 LR and Long cartridges but feed shorts just fine.
That lead residue builds up and causes pitting which will cause extraction problems even after the residue is cleaned out.

My advise, especially if you are a reloader, is to use standard .357 magnum cases in your .357 revolvers and download the shells to .38 special velocities.
You will not have to worry about cylinder sticking issues if you do this and clean frequently.
Because of the reduced bullet jump you will actually see an increase in the ability of the revolver to print tighter groups on paper, a big plus for using the longer cases in my book.
If you elect to use full wadcutter bullets then remember to increase your powder charge by at least ten percent in the longer cases as they will not detonate properly at the lighter charge weights and you can stick the lead wadcutter bullets in the bore if you try to use the lighter charges.

June 1, 2006, 11:17 PM
over my years of dealing with Wheelguns™, I have heard a lot of people's opinions about how I should go about it.
currently, I carry a Dan Wesson loaded with 38+p ammo. as long as I keep it clean, I have no problems. Since I don't want problems, I keep it clean.
No problem.
I like this guys explanation though. Very wordy and full of fuzzy science.

June 2, 2006, 12:13 PM
I've probably only put 500 or so rounds through my older Taurus .357...and am by no stretch of the imagination a "gunny" or even a highly experienced shooter.

About 2/3 of those 500 round have been inexpensive (white box Winchester) 38s and I definately have a "ring" in my cylinders.

I clean the gun after every range session using Outer's "Nitro" Solvent and a 38 cal copper brush....and I haven't been able to get rid of the rings.

I have had no problems with 357 casings sticking.....but I am the kind of guy who likes to take good care of all of my tools.....


What do I need to do to get rid of the rings?

I had never heard of a "cylinder" brush...but it makes sense that a slightly larger diameter would help. Will this make a difference?

Do I need so use a different solvent?

Do I need to disasemble the revolver (not sure how to do that) and soak the cylinder?

I'd appreciate any feedback.

June 2, 2006, 12:50 PM
No I do not agree with him and here's why .

My first .357 "S&W 586" had the same problem and I bought it brand new , it only had ejection problems with magnum cases , I took it in for repair and the extractor was oversized , I had it back a week later and shot it for years with both 38's and .357's and never had the problem again .

Now I do clean my 357's with a 45 brush instead of a 38 one because the oversized brush does a better job of getting it good and clean .

Yes the 38's will create a ring "as will the magniums but it will be farther in the cylinder" that your magnum casings will go over as they are longer but if your weapon is kept clean it wont be a problem .

June 2, 2006, 12:56 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Spalling usually associated with stainless steel? I've never heard of it being a real problem with tool steel or traditional gunmetal

June 3, 2006, 07:59 AM
Bart, we have occasionally have the same problem with Lady45's Taurus .357 as the letter writer in your opening post does.

That comes from her shooting a lot of Miwall or HSM "bargain" ammo. It leaves a lot of Schmutt™ in the cylinder. A throuough cleaning always fixes the problem.

Her Taurus' chambers are a little tighter than those in my Models 27 & 28. It will happen in my S&Ws but not as fast as in the Taurus. Older Colt's often have tighter chambers too.

Schmutt. (sh-mut) n. sticky combination of soot from dirty powder and residue from cheap gooey bullet lube.

June 3, 2006, 10:23 AM
I could see this as a problem if one were to shoot vast ammounts of hot (38+p) short 38 in a .357,but most folks would use either regular mild 38sp or just jump to full .357.. In some type of extreme situation I suppose it is possible but generally it is just a case of the gun in question needing a beter cleaning. Chop off that old cleaning rod and chuck it up in your drill and go to town!

June 3, 2006, 12:17 PM
I fired .38 spl almost exclusivly through my 686 and 66, Each trip to the range I would shoot 2-300 38s and finish with 12-18 .357s. Once in a while when the revolvers were really dirty .357s would be a bit snug when loading and extracting. But after a good cleaning they worked just fine.

June 3, 2006, 02:53 PM
i didnt read them all..........but has anyone suggested using a spent .357 case to insert and scrape away the fouling caused by the shorter .38 bass?

this is a pre curser to normal cleaning but it will scrape away some build up.

i have no problems with my .357 shooting .38spl ammo.....proper gun maintanance will solve these signs of neglect.

June 5, 2006, 01:24 PM
I dont believe it one little bit. I've been shooting both 38 special and 357 magnums out of my Taurus 66 for over twenty some years, and I don't have any ejection problems. I probably shoot 3 boxes of DEWC's for every box of magnums.

June 5, 2006, 01:43 PM
38's out of the SP101 357 all the time. Never any problems..


Carl N. Brown
June 5, 2006, 02:15 PM
I have owned .357s from Ruger since the 1980s.
I currently own a stainless Security-Six.
I have shot thousands of rounds of .38 special,
much of it reloaded, and hundreds of .357.

My observation, for what is worth, is this:

Firing .38 Special in a .357 magnum chamber will
build up deposits of powder residue and bullet metal.
It will not cut or erode chamber metal from gas.
If .38 Spl gas was that hot, it would burn away the deposits.

If the deposits are not cleaned away, corrosion under
the deposits may eat away some metal
causing pitting or at worst a ring in the chamber.
Normal cleaning will prevent this from happening.

The regimental surgeon recommends a stiff wire brush
applied with vigor.

June 5, 2006, 07:41 PM
It had burst on that round, they thought, by a pressure spike... as if by an obstruction. My contention, which they agreed with, was that the crimp wouldn't open enough to easily - and quickly - release the large bullet. The build-up of lead ahead of the mouth step literally hides said step in the errant chamber's remnants. It is present in the other chambers to a lessor extent.

Sort of like an insufficiently short throat (or an over-length case in a normal throat) - this happens sometimes with rifles.

June 5, 2006, 08:28 PM
My 10-5 has been fired so much, starting off with my grandfather through today, that there is less than an inch of rifling left in the barrel. Most of the shooting was done by previous generations.

After a good cleaning the charge holes are smooth as glass, with no marks or erosion or "spalling".

There's been enough bullets down the barrel to wear the rifling, but the charge holes are fine. Maybe .38s are immune from "spalling" but if the .38 Spcl could "spall" a chamber I think we would have heard about it long ago.

June 5, 2006, 11:51 PM
Even if you end up damaging the chambers by not cleaning well after lots of .38 special, isn't it still pretty easy to change out the cylinder?

Its not like the pistol would be completely ruined.

Seems to me that if you shoot enough .38spec out of your .357mag that you have to replace the cylinder that you've probably got pretty good with it, so I fail to see the problem.

Guns are tools. All tools wear out eventually. Its how well you use the tools that's important.

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