Why is .38 Special so long?


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Brass Rain
February 7, 2011, 02:30 AM
Okay, so I know .38 Special started as a black powder cartridge that needed the extra space, and we just kept the dimensions the same when we loaded smokeless powder. It's been that way for a while. But couldn't some company load a shorter case to the exact same ballistics? This new ".38 Special Short" could be fired from any .357, .38+P, or .38 Special revolver, because it's not like the cylinder would know the difference. It would also allow for shorter cylinders designed for the .38 Spl Short with no loss in ballistics. In stead of wasting that space in the cylinder, it could be used for longer barrel lengths with the same OAL, or just a shorter OAL in general.

Is there any particular idea why this would be a bad idea?

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ArchAngelCD
February 7, 2011, 02:40 AM
We already have a short .38 Special, it's called the 9mm Parabellum.

Because the 9mm was designed as a smokeless powder cartridge from the start it's short. I have a feeling if they made a short .38 Special it would cause all kinds of problems so it's probably a bad idea.

pikid89
February 7, 2011, 02:45 AM
i wish someone would make a proportionally sized 9mm revolver

Brass Rain
February 7, 2011, 02:50 AM
We already have a short .38 Special, it's called the 9mm Parabellum.

Because the 9mm was designed as a smokeless powder cartridge from the start it's short. I have a feeling if they made a short .38 Special it would cause all kinds of problems so it's probably a bad idea.
Well, I guess a rimmed 9mm then. I really don't see how any problems could come from it. There's open space in the .38 Special that doesn't need to be there, so why have it waste room?

ArchAngelCD
February 7, 2011, 02:57 AM
Maybe back when the Blackpowder guns were around for only 3 years before the smokeless 38's were made they could have changed over to a smaller case but after over 100 years of revolver production I highly doubt anyone would want to change the dimensions of the .38 Special. I do understand your frustration but it's not only the .38 Special that's like this. Another one that comes to mind is the .45 Colt. Now that's a huge case that is left mostly empty unless you use Trail Boss to load it!!!

Cearbhall
February 7, 2011, 03:03 AM
It might be because it was originally a black powder cartridge.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.38_Special

A .38 Special Short does exist, and is not the same as the .38 S&W.

Cosmoline
February 7, 2011, 03:21 AM
i wish someone would make a proportionally sized 9mm revolver

There are some out there, but not too easy to find. Taurus made one.

Oyeboten
February 7, 2011, 03:50 AM
One could always get a Case Trimmer, and, lean into it a little bit, and, shorten them to 9mm P-'08 length...

joneb
February 7, 2011, 04:36 AM
Why is .38 Special so long?
Firearms designed to shoot the .38-44 cartridge made good use of it.
I'm not sure why the 9mm Federal never caught on :confused:
I've thought a rimmed 40S&W would be kinda cool, but having a shorter cylinder with a high pressure round could be hard on the fingers.

1911Tuner
February 7, 2011, 07:59 AM
I've thought a rimmed 40S&W would be kinda cool, but having a shorter cylinder with a high pressure round could be hard on the fingers.

Bingo. When Smith & Wesson marketed a K-frame 3-inch round butt 9mm revolver, it retained the full cylinder length. You really don't want a barrel-cylinder gap poised over your support hand...even if there is a frame between'em. "Like a Cutting Torch" is the operative phrase.

Deanimator
February 7, 2011, 09:11 AM
Well, I guess a rimmed 9mm then. I really don't see how any problems could come from it. There's open space in the .38 Special that doesn't need to be there, so why have it waste room?
One advantage is that you have greater powder space and lower chamber pressures.

I won't carry anything lighter than 158gr. in a .38 or .357 Magnum. Try to load a 158gr. bullet in a 9x19mm case and see what kind of pressures you get at any useful velocity.

There's no reason why you should be bothered by the case length, but if you are, you can always use .38 Long Colt or .38 Short Colt. Apparently, .38 Long Colt has a certain popularity in Cowboy Action Shooting.

dnovo
February 7, 2011, 09:40 AM
The cheapest alternative is to buy some Fiocchi 38S&W which will work just fine as 'range fodder' in your gun. 38 Long Colt etc is more expensive to shoot, unless you are going to roll your own. Dave

Jim Watson
February 7, 2011, 10:25 AM
The Charter Arms 9mm Federal (rimmed) was a flop.
Some say they dropped it because it turned out you could load 9mm Fed into a .38 S&W and subject it to about triple pressure.
Some say it just didn't sell.
It was on a Special length cylinder and frame anyhow. Tooling up for a new frame would be an expensive experiment.

It WOULD be cute if S&W did it; the old Terrier with heat treated cylinder to handle the hotter load. But again, what if you loaded a .38 S&W with ".38 Short Special +P+"?
The big companies worry about stuff like that, they don't want to get sued on the "deep pockets" theory.

Sunray
February 7, 2011, 10:32 AM
"...called the 9mm Parabellum..." It's called a Colt .38 Short, Colt .38 Long, .38 S&W, etc.
The .38 Special case is longer so you can't load it into a .38 Long Colt revolver.

Deanimator
February 7, 2011, 10:47 AM
The cheapest alternative is to buy some Fiocchi 38S&W which will work just fine as 'range fodder' in your gun.
.38 S&W is different from .38 Special. The case diameter is larger and will NOT chamber in a properly set up .38 Special revolver. .38 Special can usually be chambered in the .38 S&W, but the improperly supported cases bulge or split.

Jim Watson
February 7, 2011, 10:55 AM
I haven't seen a .38 S&W that you could chamber .38 Special in on account of the .4" longer case. Except for British surplus Lend-Lease and Victory models reamed out for surplus sale back in the Colonies, that is.

Old Fuff
February 7, 2011, 11:07 AM
The .38 Special case is longer so you can't load it into a .38 Long Colt revolver.

Not really. Revolvers chambered to use the .38 Long Colt have bored-straight-through chambers, and because of this will accept .38 Special cartridges. Some of them will also accept a .357 Magnum round.

Obviously this is not a recomendation to use either .38 Special or .357 Magnum cartridges in a revolver intended to be used with .38 Short Colt or .38 Long Colt ammnition.

The .38 S&W Special cartridge, which was introduced in 1899, was intended to be an improved .38 Long Colt, and offered an additional advantage at the time, which was that one could also shoot U.S. .38 service ammunition (.38 Long Colt) in a .38 Special revolver. Smith & Wesson, Military & Police barrels were so marked on the side.

Recently some combat gamers have taken to using handloaded .38 Short Colt cartridges in .38 Special revolvers, as it's faster to load and eject the shorter length round. As a result loading dies are available, and this should provide an easy answer for those that want a "short" .38 Special.

Carl N. Brown
February 7, 2011, 11:24 AM
.38 S&W and .38 Special are both black powder era cartridges. .38 Special is long enough to hold a 18 grain charge of FFFg that would give the same velocity as 3.7 grains Unique smokeless powder. And 3.7 grains Unique will fit a shorter .38 S&W case with room to spare.

I had considered shooting a .38 S&W in the black powder cartridge matches and acquired .38 S&W casings for reloading. The factory spec unfired casings will not fit in a .38 Special chamber: the casing diameter and rim thickness are a bit thicker than .38 Special.

However, I did come across a small lot of ammo marked .38 S&W that were .38 Special rim thickness and case diameter but .38 S&W length. That means they would have been slightly undersized in a .38 S&W gun. Most .38 S&W ammo and casings will not fit a .38 Special gun.

Looking at my J-frame .38, the length of the .38 Special puts the cylinder/barrel gap a safe distance ahead of my trigger finger, and I don't think I would be comfortable with a shorter cyclinder. Especially with a two-hand hold.

Double check: the odd casings that I have are head stamped .38 S&W yet appear to be either .38 Special or .38 Colt dimensions.

zoom6zoom
February 7, 2011, 11:42 AM
Why is .38 Special so long?
Gets the bullet that much closer to the target.

9mm+
February 7, 2011, 11:52 AM
Why is .38 Special so long?

Gets the bullet that much closer to the target.

I laughed so hard that coffee came out of my nose. Good one! I certainly appreciate this type of humor! :)

herohog
February 7, 2011, 02:32 PM
.38 Super ya mean (rimmed 9mm)?

Hanshi
February 7, 2011, 02:39 PM
The extra space in the .38spl is not wasted even though black powder is rarely used. There are smokeless powders that take up a fair amount of that room for improved ballistics. 2400, 4227, etc. Even the pinch of Bullseye in target loads don't end up with a cavernous space. The .38spl is like the .45 Colt and .44spl. They all do well with black or smokeless just the way they are.

BCRider
February 7, 2011, 04:08 PM
One could always get a Case Trimmer, and, lean into it a little bit, and, shorten them to 9mm P-'08 length...

Not a good idea for two reasons. First is that the chamber pressure would rise to far too high a level unless the powder load is reduced a LOT. Look at the chamber pressure in 9mm vs .38Spl for loads using the same amount of powder and with 124vs 125gn bullets. The larger case room of the .38Spl holds the peak pressures down to about half.

Another reason is that the chambers in the cylinder DO have a step in them. THe idea is that the bullet is into the forward portion and supported and sealed before the tail of the bullet leaves the case. If a very short case is put into a long chamber the bullet would leave the case before it enters the bore sized portion of the chamber. Much gas blowly would occur with resulting leading. An there's an excellent risk of the bullet tumbling during this unsupported if short bit of flight and shave lead as it enters the bore sized forward portion.

We get away with it when shooting .38Spl from .357 guns because the difference in case lengths is less than the bullet insertion depth in the case. So the bullet from a .38 is sealed in the bore size forward portion before it leaves the seal of the case.

rcmodel
February 7, 2011, 04:27 PM
But couldn't some company load a shorter case to the exact same ballistics? Yes they could, but they never will.

The natural progression of revolver cartridges has always been to make the new more powferful round longer then the one that preceeded it.

Why?
So you can't stick a .357 Magnum in a 1915 era .38 Spl Hand Ejector.
Or a .38 Spl +P in a 1880's S&W .38 S&W top-break.

rc

Brass Rain
February 7, 2011, 07:31 PM
Yes they could, but they never will.

The natural progression of revolver cartridges has always been to make the new more powferful round longer then the one that preceeded it.

Why?
So you can't stick a .357 Magnum in a 1915 era .38 Spl Hand Ejector.
Or a .38 Spl +P in a 1880's S&W .38 S&W top-break.

rc
I guess we can't just assume people aren't going to be idiots and put the wrong ammo in the wrong gun.

savit260
February 7, 2011, 07:47 PM
.38 Special was NOT an evolution of the 38 S&W, which uses a .360 bullet. The 38 S&W is a fatter cartridge than the Special.


The .38 Special is a longer version of the 38 Long Colt brass

herohog
February 8, 2011, 07:54 PM
By the way, a rimless 38 Special is a 9mm Magnum (9x29) and DOES exist! They are rare as hens teeth though. I was lucky enough to own 2 of them!
http://herohog.com/images/guns/ammo/Compare9mms.jpg

http://herohog.com/images/guns/9mmWinMagL.jpg

halfmoonclip
February 8, 2011, 10:11 PM
It is a clever idea, and something like that new revolver that fires the bottom chamber would be an ideal way to go. It should be possible to engineer a blast shield so that the cylinder gap gas goes up and away from the fingers. Attach the shield to the crane, so it rolls out with the cylinder when you reload.
Because an odd caliber is apt to be an orphan (tried to buy any .45 GAP lately?), why not chamber our new wonder gun in 9mm and offer it set up for moon clips? The cylinder need not be much longer than the nine round itself; number of shots would be predicated by the most convenient cylinder diameter.
It would take some clever engineering to get the ergonomics and the trigger right, but recoil should be easy to control due to the low bore axis. Because of the short cylinder, it would be possible to use a longer barrel, or keep the barrel short for minimum size.
Who says nothing new under the sun?
Moon

Jim Watson
February 8, 2011, 10:20 PM
why not chamber our new wonder gun in 9mm and offer it set up for moon clips?

Because the ones already offered did not sell well enough for the manufacturers to think a new frame good only for 9mm would be worth setting up for.

sm
February 8, 2011, 10:29 PM
Just me mind you, and my feelings go back 5 decades and some...still...and most appreciated now that I am older...

Darn things are easier to get ahold of when fingers and hands are injured, or numb with cold, or with gloves on, and so forth and so on...
Add-
Easier to get into bifocal seeing distance when you drop the cartridge, or spent case on the ground too.

You whippersnappers, if'n you live long enough, will unnerstand some day.


*grin*

jhvaughan2
February 8, 2011, 11:25 PM
RC model hit it. Revolver cartridges will never get smaller because there is no way of stoping them from going into an older gun.

On the other hand this gives the revolver shooter so much more flexibility with multiple cartridge guns.

Also stepped or tapered cartridges have not worked that well in a revolver (Yes there are some exceptions), so something like a 357 sig would not take off.

Automatics can handle this with magazines and feed ramps that. only use one cartridge

Jim Watson
February 8, 2011, 11:33 PM
Hmm.
How small could you make a .40?
That would about eliminate any chance of a modern hot round getting in an old weak gun.
And have you shooting the leading police cartridge in the country. Might be able to sell some backup guns to make the tooling worthwhile.

jhvaughan2
February 8, 2011, 11:38 PM
I'd love to see a 10mm auto-rim (new cartridge) with a shortened cylinder. You could shoot 10mm or .40S&W with moon clips. While we are at it make it in an airweight L-frame. With a 2.5" barrel.

joneb
February 9, 2011, 01:16 AM
That would about eliminate any chance of a modern hot round getting in an old weak gun.

Maybe not, http://www.chuckhawks.com/41_LC.htm

Jim Watson
February 9, 2011, 01:37 PM
.41 LC is right around .408" case diameter. I could not find the chamber dimensions but doubt they are sloppy enough to take a .424" diameter .40 S&W round.

Old Fuff
February 9, 2011, 02:02 PM
I could not find the chamber dimensions but doubt they are sloppy enough to take a .424" diameter .40 S&W round.

You are right. According to an old Colt blueprint, the chamber was straight, with no shoulder. The diameter was .413" - 4103". Remember as originally loaded, the .41 Long Colt used a heeled bullet.

Guillermo
February 9, 2011, 02:06 PM
Why is .38 Special so long?

genetics

Peter M. Eick
February 9, 2011, 05:53 PM
Its all relative.

My 357 SuperMag rounds make the 38 special look short!

gamestalker
February 9, 2011, 08:14 PM
It would make me very nervous to shoot a revolver that puts my fingers any where near the cylinder gap. Those pressures are so high they cause pressure cutting in the top strap of revolvers and would certainly do some serious harm to flesh. I know a guy who works for a bullet manufacturer as an expert who said he was missing part of a finger the result of getting the path of the DANGER ZONE. I would think shortening the cylinder on a revolver would probably lead more injuries than would be worth the reduction in weight or size.

1KPerDay
February 10, 2011, 01:53 AM
I could not find the chamber dimensions but doubt they are sloppy enough to take a .424" diameter .40 S&W round. Just for fun I tried chambering .40 S&W in my Colt .41... the bullet enters but the case mouth will not. .38 specials drop in and are stopped by the rim of course, and rattle just a bit, and 9mm and .380s drop right through the cylinder.

Lucky Derby
February 10, 2011, 04:14 AM
Well, I guess a rimmed 9mm then. I really don't see how any problems could come from it. There's open space in the .38 Special that doesn't need to be there, so why have it waste room?
They did. 9mm Federal. It didn't sell.

Hanshi
February 10, 2011, 02:30 PM
If you want a really short .38; find a .38S&W which is just a shorter, slightly larger .38.

halfmoonclip
February 10, 2011, 03:22 PM
Jim, I fear you are right about the 9mm moonclip guns, tho' I've been keeping an eye open for one myself.
It may take Chiappa or another oddball manufacturer to come up with anything really different in a wheelgun. I keep hearing that their bottom firing revo has easily controlled recoil but a trigger straight from hell. Too bad, it's a neat idea, along with the similar auto-revolvers. Saw one in a gunshop the other day, and it would make a great movie prop with an exotic flavor.
A lot of the trouble is aesthetics; we wheelgunners tend to be more than a little hidebound.
A forty with a short cylinder might make sense. I don't think we can rule out calibers because some lunkhead puts the wrong cartridge in the gun. It is really hard to make something foolproof, fools being as creative as they are.
Moon

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