Loading .38 spl to near .357 loads


January 2, 2009, 06:35 AM
I'm fairly new to reloading but I have been doing a ton of research and learning. I work with a guy who claims that he and some of his buddies load .38 spl cases with near .357 loads. He said they shoot them in a .357 so it's fine. From what I've read, the shorter length of the .38 loaded like that could raise the pressure far above what the same charge would achieve in a .357 case. I havn't said a word to him because I wasn't positive. Am I thinking right? No, don't caution me not to do it. It just sounds like a science experience that could go bad wrong and I don't play like that. I just want more info before I say something. Regardless, I know all he'll say is "we've never had a problem".

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January 2, 2009, 07:22 AM
Just read the SAAMI guides on what can a +P+ .38special round can be loaded to compared to a light .357 magnum load.

From what I recall, there is still a 10,000 or 15,000 cup difference between the most power 38spcl loads versus the weakest 357 loads.

I wouldn't risk it. Is a little more power worth a gun blowing up in your face or taking your hands with it or both?

January 2, 2009, 08:06 AM
I didn't think +p+ were listed. I think it's a very bad and dangerous idea to do this. I'm just looking for more ammo to argue with him.

January 2, 2009, 08:26 AM
Skeeter Skelton, Elmer Keith, and Ray Thompson hung their hats on just what you ask...


Looking at a late 50's Lyman cast bullet manual shows loads that were listed as ".38 Special High Velocity (Heavy Frame Guns Only)" which refers to the 38/44 revolver. Max charges listed for Hercules 2400 using a 148, 150, and 158 grain cast lead bullets was 13.5 grains with velocities at a very near magnumish 1200 fps+.

Again, I only list this to help answer your question, NOT in any way shape or form as data for .38 Special loading.

Ben Shepherd
January 2, 2009, 09:23 AM
When the 357 was developed, the case was lengthened specifically to prevent the high pressure round from being chambered in a 38 special, the longer case had nothing to do with case capacity.

If your friend knows what he's doing and is careful, it's perfecty fine. But it is adding a lot of risk of trouble in several different ways, that's for sure.

January 2, 2009, 09:28 AM
Thanks. Maybe it's not as dangerous as I thought but at least I can tell him he's really pushing it. Personally, I'm only loading for the range. My carry ammo is and always will be factory. I may load up some brisk .357 to go pig hunting someday but that will probably be the hottest thing I load. Some of mu buddies think I'm over doing it with my caution but I don't think that's possible. I don't want to have to take my shoes off to count past 7.

The Bushmaster
January 2, 2009, 09:30 AM
Let's see now. We load .38 Specials to basement .357 magnum loadings. Some guy unknowingly comes along and loads these in his .38 revolver. BOOM!!!

On the other hand. We have people like me who have been reloading for 20 years or much more. I have some nice Mod 10s and never exceed maximum powder charge for them (mod 10s are tough). But I would never load a .38 Special to low magnum levels on the off chance that I might load one in one of my .38 Specials. Besides I have some .357 magnum revolvers too. So if I want to shoot heavier powder charges I'll load up some .357 magnum cases...

Looking through my loading manuals. I noted that there is VERY little .38 Special data that comes anywhere near the low end for .357 magnum data. In fact I couldn't find any in my six manuals. Closest I found was 3.0 grains difference. No...I wouldn't load anything past +P in .38 Special cases...

Old Fuff
January 2, 2009, 09:56 AM
A little knowldege can be a dangerous thing.

Skeeter Skelton, Elmer Keith, and Ray Thompson hung their hats on just what you ask...

Indeed they did, but at the time the popular .357 Magnum was the one Smith & Wesson made on their N-frame (now called the pre-model 27 or model 27) that had a short cylinder. The above mentioned gentlemen prefered to have the bullet's shoulder outside the case, and they discovered that they could do this using .38 Special cases, where they couldn't when using .357 ones. However they only shot these "super-38 Special's" :D in revolvers built on .44 or .45 frames. If one had got dropped into an old Military & Police model, or an early J-frame the gun would have probably been damaged (expanded or cracked chamber) and maybe the shooter too.

January 2, 2009, 11:14 AM
Bad idea to load .38 cases to .357 levels. An accident waiting to happen. No need to do so either. :)

Steve C
January 2, 2009, 01:27 PM
As others have pointed out using mag level loads in the .38 spl is a bad idea from the safety point and one of the reasons you shouldn't use other peoples reloads unless you know them very well.

Skeeter Skelton and others that wrote about using such loads did so in wartime 1940's when .357 brass was all but unavailable. There's absolutely no reason to do this now as brass is readily available.

January 2, 2009, 02:05 PM
JMHO, but if you want a .357, buy a .357. The .38 is plenty for self defense as is with factory +P ammo or even standard pressure loads. I rely on it a lot. .357 is rather harsh in a 12 ounce unobtainium pocket revolver anyway. I like the SP101 for magnums, about as light as a gun gets with full power .357 loads and I can still shoot it comfortably.

I prefer keeping .357 loads in .357 brass if for no other reason than to keep any possibility of putting a hot round in my aluminum framed ultralite revolver, the reason the .357 was lengthened in the first place.

January 2, 2009, 02:19 PM
If you want 357 velocities in a 357 revolver use 357s. It's that easy and a lot safer than loading them in 38 brass.

January 2, 2009, 02:42 PM
You probably won't be able to change your workmate's mind, but what he's doing is dangerous.

Contrary to what some believe, the .357 Magnum case is heavier walled and thicker based than .38 cases. You can certainly tell the difference when sizing them, and it was done for a reason. The .38 Special case was designed to contain roughly 18,000 +/- psi, while the .357 Magnum case was designed to contain roughly 35,000 +/- psi. Those are rough figures, but you get the idea. The .357 Magnum case is engineered to withstand approximately twice the pressure of the .38 Special case.

The danger of using the high pressure loaded .38 ammunition in a light frame .38 revolver is just too great. Your workmate will probably tell you he only shoots it in his guns, but what if he drops a loaded round at the range and someone not knowing any better comes along and picks it up and shoots it in their new J frame?

Hope this helps.


The Bushmaster
January 2, 2009, 05:55 PM
notorious...You are saying that you load magnum loads for a J frame .38 Special? Can you spell "suicide"?

January 2, 2009, 05:58 PM
Hmmm... my J-frame M640-1 is rated for magnum loads. As a matter of fact, I don't know any 38 special revolvers that can even CHAMBER a magnum load.

Allow me to clarify, use magnum loads in a J-frame revolver that is rated for magnum loads... which Smith has a lot of in their catalogue.

January 2, 2009, 05:58 PM
What's the purpose? If he's firing from a .357 gun, why not just load .357 brass? The shorter case length will also have a bearing on pressure. May be ok the first XX times but eventually....if you play with fire...

January 2, 2009, 06:05 PM
.38 or .357 J frame.? .357 OK.

The subject was shooting .38 cases loaded to mag pressures in .38 guns. Bad joo joo.

Sounds like we misinterpreted what you said. It sounded like you were shooting magnum level .38's in a .38 gun.

January 2, 2009, 06:08 PM
But if he's shooting a near .357 load from a .38 case, i wonder if the shorter case is being taken into consideration. It will have a considerable affect on the pressure.

January 2, 2009, 06:09 PM
No way... I like having all 10 fingers unlike my shop teacher who needs both his hands and 1 foot to count to ten.

In my M640-1, I use either +P+ or light mag loads. The full loads are too punishing.

Smith compromised a bit too and has a lighter weight J-frame rated for +P+ 38 specials but not for magnums. I think those would handle a bit more but still nowhere close to what the OP's friend wants to do.

January 2, 2009, 07:12 PM
If he's firing from a .357 gun, why not just load .357 brass? The shorter case length will also have a bearing on pressure.

But I would never load a .38 Special to low magnum levels on the off chance that I might load one in one of my .38 Specials.


Gun safety is more than Jeff Cooper's 4 rules. No disrespect for our fellow shooters who'd load .38 spl to .357 magnum levels (or close), but common sense should dictate one's behavior, particularly when it involves safety.

January 3, 2009, 02:44 AM
I bypass those problems by not having any 38 special guns, just 357 guns so I can be free of mixups.

January 3, 2009, 04:51 AM
Walkalong, I am talking about .38 brass loaded to .357 levels shot out of a .357. The whole reason for starting this thread was to confirm my thoughts on why this was such a bad idea. I feel that a given .357 load in a .38 case would have the same effects as seating the bullet too deep. The pressure would be higher than what it would be in the .357 case.

January 3, 2009, 04:55 AM
I would agree. Also, the 38 case would likely rupture since it is thinner and the shorter case would increase pressure beyond its design parameters.

January 3, 2009, 06:06 AM
The case thickness is a point I didn't think of. I'll be comparing them later today. I think I've got enough 'ammo' to state my 'case' monday morning. Bottom line......it's just plain stupid.

January 3, 2009, 08:36 AM
The case thickness is a point I didn't think of. I'll be comparing them later today.

Cut one each lengthwise of 38 Special and .357 mag and compare web thickness.

January 3, 2009, 09:01 AM
It tool 27 posts to get here???:confused:... look at # 18 again. I ask again... what is the purpose of doing this? If the guy needs .357 brass, I have plenty I will send along. Otherwise this is an accident waiting to happen.:eek::uhoh: Excuse me... IMHO ...

January 3, 2009, 10:34 AM
We haven't seen the actual load data.

Yes, you can find loading data for 38 Special +P. And you can find +P rated brass. So... is the load run up to spec for +P loads?

I know that some brass manufacturers make all their .38 brass to +P spec and mark some of them without the "+P" marking to sell to the .38 Special market and some of them WITH the "+P" mark so reloaders can keep them separate. Same brass, different headstamp.

Maybe the guy is loading to +P spec with proper brass and saying "It's close to .357."

We don't know :scrutiny: either way.

So.... we STILL wind up with the caution - to keep your loads within the bounds of the published data.

The Bushmaster
January 3, 2009, 10:49 AM
JJ...Not true...Manufacturers use the same brass for standard .38 special loads and +P loads. They only mark the +P loadings so that those that buy factory ammunition know that they have +P. Other then that all (well almost all) .38 Special brass is the same...

.357 magnum brass is a bit heavier. Especially in the head and web.

January 3, 2009, 11:45 AM
We have been down this run a few times. 99% of .38 +P is the same as standard. .357 cases are thicker than .38. I like to load +P loads in +P brass to help identify them, not because the brass is any different. I should have cut a regular .38 brass for the pic as well.

Old Pic from another thread. (http://www.thehighroad.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=62241&d=1186865605)

January 3, 2009, 01:09 PM
The brass case is only a GASKET, used to seal the firing chamber against the high-pressure gases. The STRENGTH lies in the material and design of the firearm itself. Rimfires are about the only current ammunition where CASE strength is critical to the safe operation of the firearm.

This subject came up on the Cast Boolit site some time back, and at that time I shortened .357 cases of several makes to .38 Special length. Guess what? The shortened .357 brass was almost precisely the same weight as .38 brass from the same maker. This means that there is no practical difference in the amount of actual metal in the .357 cases, as compared to .38 brass of the same headstamp.

Those old Lyman handbooks were NOT giving data for using .38 brass in .357 guns. They were specifically providing heavy .38 loads for use in .38 Special revolvers. I will 'fess up now, and tell y'all that I, myself, personally (not the guy down the street, or a friend of my brother-in-law) used MANY hundreds of "Skeeter" loads (155-grain 358156/ SPECIFIC POWDER LOAD REMOVED BY STAFF ) in a K-frame .38 Special without harm to myself or the gun. Accuracy was superb, extraction was easy, and the gun was still in excellent working order when I sold it.

Would I do that today? No, because I have a goodly number of .357 revolvers, and a limited number of .38 Specials which includes the J-frame 642. I wouldn't want one of the Skeeter loads to find its way into the little gun. However, this discontinuance of heavy-loaded .38s occurred rather recently, when the 642 moved in with us maybe five years ago. It ended about thirty years of successful use of .38 brass in heavy loads, and I'm now using .357 guns for .357 jobs, with .357 brass.

That 358156, incidentally, has two crimp grooves. Used in .357 brass, it's crimped in the front groove. In .38 brass, we have the option of using the rear groove for more case capacity with heavy loads or for use in longer .357 chambers. The front groove can also be used with .38 cases for altering burning characteristics, or normal use in .38 chambers. The bullet is a gas-check design, but I find it works well in many loads without the gas-check attached.

The .38/.357 guns have given me a lot of fun over the years. If faced with that perennial gun-forum question, "If you could only have ONE....", my choice might well fall on the .357.

January 3, 2009, 01:29 PM
Those old Lyman handbooks were NOT giving data for using .38 brass in .357 guns. They were specifically providing heavy .38 loads for use in .38 Special revolvers.

Already said that in my first post:

".38 Special High Velocity (Heavy Frame Guns Only)" which refers to the 38/44 revolver."

Perhaps they now make .38 Special and .357 brass with the same web thickness for whatever reason? I seem to remember an article in Handloader Digest or some sort of digest from many years ago where they had an article about Skelton, his guns, loads, and a cross section cut-away of 38 vs .357 mag brass demonstrating the thicker web of .357 at the time.

Wish I still had that book, and perhaps someone here can confirm/deny what I say. I remember it had a big article about the Freedom Arms .454 Casull if that helps.

January 3, 2009, 03:06 PM
Wow, I never expected this kind of response. JJ, he's loading "right at" .357 loads per his words. I'll ask him the actual charge but I'll bet he's doing it half *!% knowing him. Thanks for the pic Walkalong. I've saved it and also plan on geting out the hacksaw tomorrow. Personally, if he wants to be this stupid, let him. But what about the person standing next to him? Thanks to everyone for all the great input.

January 3, 2009, 03:13 PM
The brass case is only a GASKET
It is that, but not just that. Brass for high pressure loads is a bit thicker as well. It doesn't take much more thickness to increase strength substantially.

January 3, 2009, 03:31 PM
Ditto with the guys saying DON'T DO IT. It's an accident waiting to happen.

January 3, 2009, 03:50 PM
A lot of people get all hung up on the weight of certain brass, and that's fine, as far as it goes. What really matters is where that weight is. Is it in the base, web or walls? If it's in the case walls of one piece of brass, then two pieces of brass weighing the same may have different thicknesses in the walls, base or web.

I don't get excited when someone says two pieces of brass weighed the same. I do take note when someone has actually measured the thickness of the brass like Walkalong did in his post. That shows where the real difference is, unlike simple weighing.

It's still a bad idea to load .357 Magnum loads in .38 cases. I've seen too many blown up guns already(not my own), and don't need to see anymore.

Hope this helps.


Johnny Guest
January 4, 2009, 12:03 AM
Fred summed it up well. No use hashing it over yet again.


Johnny Guest
THR Staff

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