S&W 36 - ammo problems, or just dirty?


April 19, 2007, 11:28 PM
Recently inherited an older S&W 36 in .38 spl.

After a thorough cleaning, an attempt to shoot it hasn't worked so well. When loading, the rounds will not chamber in the cylinder completely, the case heads protrude slightly (<1/32) and the rims do not sit flush on top of cylinder. Repeated cleanings, esp in each chamber, do not solve the problem. The rounds do not protrude so much as to prevent the cylinder from closing and locking up properly, however, they do cause the cylinder to drag excessively against the frame, making double action firing nearly impossible. Ejection is also especially difficult.

Each chamber appears to be mirror smooth except for a ring (~1/4") about 2/3 of the way down in each. Not being a revolver expert, I don't know if these rings are machined or remnants of powder and residue from repeated firing without cleaning. My grandfather, while a great guy, was not particularly careful with the condition of his firearms.

Is my problem related to cleaning, or is it just the cheap S&B ammo that I am using (158 grn FMJ)? Please help.

Thanks in advance

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April 20, 2007, 12:08 AM
Strange issue. Just guessing (and don't even know if this would be possible) but could you perhaps mistakenly have .38 S&W ammo rather than .38 special?

April 20, 2007, 12:12 AM
Definitely not the case, both gun and ammo (box and headstamp) are marked .38 special, I just wondered if this particular load had some oal issues?

April 20, 2007, 12:23 AM
Sounds like you have cleaned the chambers well . . . Hmmm. Dunno.

Paging Old Fuff or Jim March . . . Likely they know exactly what's up.

Jim March
April 20, 2007, 01:45 AM
This is a weird one. Ummmm...have you tried other ammo? It's just possible this gun has tight chambers and that particular stuff (or lot of same) doesn't fit?

Worst case, if you can't figure out why the rounds aren't inserting...take one loaded round, cover it end to end with a black felt permanent marker. Let it dry for a bit. Shove it in there, give it a bit of a push (don't go all gorilla on it), take it out, look at where the black stuff has been disturbed to see what's jamming it up.

Or, it's off to a gunsmith...

April 20, 2007, 07:42 AM
How many rounds are you shooting at a time?

My wife's Mod. 36, purchased a month or so ago NIB but 1969/70 vintage, will start to exhibit similar issues if 1) she fires a lot of ammo through it, and 2) that ammo is very dirty.

A quick boresnake through the cylinder, and a quick wipe of (and under) the ejector star, and she's back in business.

I believe in her case it's the ammo. She likes these handloaded 38 special target wadcutters that I buy locally; they're very mild. But very VERY dirty. I often find little powder balls that can gum the works.

April 20, 2007, 08:30 AM
Try to clean under the ejector. It's possible some grime has gotten trapped under it.

April 20, 2007, 08:56 AM
Try chambering a factory wadcutter and see if it goes completely into the cylinder and allows the cylinder to rotate freely. If so then I'd say there is still more crud in the chambers to get out. You can do this with repeated soakings and brushings with a lead solvent like Hoppe's or buy a Lewis Lead Remover from Midway. I've seen crud build up in revolvers when I was a LE firearms Instructor and Armorer. What some people say is clean I call just wiped down. One method I've used to clean this crud out I hesitate to tell you as it is easy to overdo. Chuck a cleaning rod with a bronze brush in a portable drill. Go in through the front of the cylinder to avoid the cleaning rod from making any contact with the cylinder walls. Use plenty of Hoppe's #9. Only the bronze bristles on the brush make any contact with the cylinder. Use short bursts, no more than 1 second and mop out the chamber with solvent. You are not trying to drill a hole just spin the brush. Repaet brushing and swabbing with solvent until clean. Very messy but will clean out the chamber. The cleaning rod and drill should never contact the cylinder. I've done this dozens of times and never damaged anything but you have to be careful. Also check under the extractor as Shear Stress said.

I don't have any S&B FMJ ammo but have the US GI 130 fmj . If I fire a lot of lead bullets in some of my 38s the US GI will have to be pushed into the chamber as the bullet is pretty much full diameter as it comes out of the case. The bullet starts scraping against the crud in the cylinder and will be hard to chamber. I haven't had this happen often but it does on some revolvers (tighter chambers?).

Master Blaster
April 20, 2007, 09:28 AM
It sounds to me like it could be the ammo, what brand are you using?
Billy Bobs gunshop reloads? Amerc? or a reputable brand ?

Or it could very well be that you haven't cleaned the cylinder out good enough, the baked on crap and lead can be very difficult to remove, and perhaps grandad only shot wadcutters so he didn't notice the problem.

I would remove the cylinder, chuck a cleaning rod segment with a new .38 caliber bronze brush in it, in your cordless drill, dip the brush in solvent and spin it a bit in each cylinder then follow with a patch and see if the ring disappears and along with it your problem. Also make sure the area under the star is clean and dry.

Steve C
April 20, 2007, 06:45 PM
This is the kind of problem you get with reloads using 158gr SWC bullets seated out just a tad too far. The front shoulder of the bullet is hanging up on the cylinder throats. Using reloads just seat the bullet a tad deeper. If you are using re-manufactured ammo and do not reload yourself you should either return the ammo or find a reloading buddy who could seat the bullet in a couple thou. If its hanging up with factory fresh ammo then the problem lies elsewhere.

Matt Almeda
April 20, 2007, 07:01 PM
It's hard to tell without seeing it in person.
There are a couple of items that you might want to check after trying a different brand of ammo.
(I usually see this with reloads that are not sized correctly.)

Other items to check:
Look for the possibility of cylinder distortion or rupture from home hot loads.
Look for lead build up near the front of the cylinder.

Good luck!

If you need more help, give me a call or email.

Seven High
April 20, 2007, 08:00 PM
Locate another revolver in the same caliber. Drop some of the ammunition into the cylinder and see if they completely drop in. If they do, it is your revolvers problem. If they do not, then it is the ammunitions fault.

April 20, 2007, 08:19 PM
Guys, Thanks for all the ideas,

I should have a chance to try some different ammo this weekend, I'll post results.

For what it's worth, ammo is factory loaded S&B (Sellier and Bellot) and my inclination is to say that it is the problem.

Also, the odds of this pistol having been damaged by hot reloads is slim to none, as my grandfather was not a reloader, and he probably didn't fire 50 rounds through it since new. I also doubt that the problem could be to damage caused by hot factory loads, for the same reason.

As far as I can tell, this problem is not due to excessive firing or dirty ammo, as this is occuring with the first five rounds through a clean gun.

I'll give it another thorough cleaning tonight, with extra attention to the extractor, I doubt I'll use the drill just yet, but I will use a bronze brush in the chambers one more time (this is how I cleaned them to start with)

Again, thanks for all the suggestions, I'll let you know how it works on Monday.

April 20, 2007, 09:46 PM
My vote goes to cleaning UNDER the extractor star. It only takes one or two unburned grains of powder or lint from a patch to make it act like that.

deputy tom
April 20, 2007, 10:02 PM
I bought a used S&W a long time ago and had similar trouble.It was lead rings built up in the chambers that were caused from firing a bunch of lead full wadcutters in it.After scraping out these little lead dough-nuts it would chamber full sized rounds.YMMV.tom.:cool:

April 20, 2007, 11:05 PM
Another vote for cleaning under the ejector.

April 21, 2007, 09:13 AM
My vote goes to cleaning UNDER the extractor star. It only takes one or two unburned grains of powder or lint from a patch to make it act like that.

+1, as I mentioned above, my wife's M 36 exhibits this trait.

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