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Are .357 and .38 really the same size?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Spyvie, Jan 9, 2008.

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  1. Spyvie

    Spyvie Member

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    Since a .38 and a .357 are supposedly the same size, and can be fired out of the same .357 chamber and barrel, why the difference in the numbers? Are they really the same diameter? .357” is definitely smaller than .38”.

    What about .44 and .45, the difference here is smaller than the difference above. Why can't you shoot .44s out of a .45 barrel, or vice-versa, provided the chambers would accept the cartridges? (I don't intend to try this, I'm just wondering)
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2008
  2. Brian Williams

    Brian Williams Moderator Emeritus

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    Yes and No, the 357 is dimensionally the same as the 38, except that the 357 is .135" longer. a 38 spec uses a .358 diameter bullet.

    NO .44 and .45 are not the same
    44= .429
    45 = .451, .454 and sometimes even .458
     
  3. kludge

    kludge Member

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    .357 Magnum is a derivative of the .38 Special. The bullets are .357" for both. The case of the .357 Magnum is 1/8" longer to prevent the round from being chambers in the .38 Special gun (preventing a Ka-Boom). You can shoot .38 Specials out of a .357 Magnum gun, but the not the othere way around.

    Similarly the .44 Magnum was a lengthened .44 Special and uses a .429" bullet while the .45 Colt and .45 ACP use a .452" bullet (or thereabout), so there is a significant difference in bullet size there.

    You can however shoot .44 Specials out of a .44 Magnum.
     
  4. Spyvie

    Spyvie Member

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    So .38 and .44 aren't really accurate descriptions, they're just names I guess.
     
  5. JohnMcD348

    JohnMcD348 Member

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    I read an article along time ago about that and it was basically speculated that the .38/.357 issue was more of a marketing thing. When teh .38 caliber was introduced, they people in charge felt that (38) sounded better than 357 or 36 special. 38 kinda rolled off the tongue. When the larger "Magnum" caliber was introduced to give the .38 more punch it seemed to sound right to call it by it's proper caliber and add the word MAGNUM to it.

    Basically, just a marketing thing.
     
  6. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    The .357 Magnum cartridge resulted from the .38-44 cartridge, which was a .38 Special loaded to pressures that would damage the standard .38 Special revolvers of the day. So...the large-framed Colt and Smith & Wesson
    revolvers that were normally chambered for the .44 Special cartridge were used. A ".38 Special on a .44 frame." Hence the caliber designation. .38-44

    The ammunition that was packaged and headstamped .38-44 let the holder know that it was intended only for the ."38-44" revolvers and not to be fired in lighter framed guns. I have some of the old .38-44 ammo, and...trust me...it's hot.

    Dimensionally, it was exactly the same as the .38 Special, and the problems started soon after with people firing the round in K-frame Smiths and Colt .38 revolvers. The case was lengthened to prevent the .38 Special chambers from accepting it, and the ".38 on a .44 Frame" revolvers were renamed "357 Magnum" and the rest is history. Smith & Wesson now refers to these large-framed revolvers as "N" frames.

    Incidentally, the term .357 Magnum" is a Smith & Wesson trademark, and the other revolvers that take the cartridge...whether .357 or .41 or .44 Magnum...
    have the caliber roll-marked on the barrel. Colt's Python is not a .357 Magnum. It's a Colt revolver that's chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge, and says so on the barrel. ".357 Magnum Ctg."

    The .44 Magnum had no intermediate step between it and the .44 Special cartridge. The .41 Magnum has no .41 Special. It was a "magnum" from go street. The closest thing it had to a special counterpart was the early
    "Police" loading that consisted of a 210-grain lead Keith-style SWC loaded to
    an advertised 970 fps. Dimensionally, the police loading was identical to the
    full-powered "magnum" offering.
     
  7. The Lone Haranguer

    The Lone Haranguer Member

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    With American cartridge/caliber designations? Yep. ;)
     
  8. MrTuffPaws

    MrTuffPaws Member

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    38s were named for the case size. 357mag for the bullet size.
     
  9. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    Except for the .41 Magnum. It's a true .41 caliber.

    Backing up a few decades, we had some true .38s as well. It's gettin' late, so I'll let some of the other historians fill in the blanks...and there are many blanks...and it can get confusing...but it's interesting.

    One last thing. The .223 Remington cartridge fires a .224 diameter bullet.
    So does the .222 and .222 magnum, while the good ol' .22 rimfire bullet is .221 diameter...as is the .22 Hornet's slug.

    Ain't this fun? :D
     
  10. Gator

    Gator Member

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    The .38 Special got the "38" from the cartridge's early black powder loading which used a heel based bullet the same diameter as the case (like a .22 LR). When they changed to the smaller bullet they didn't change the name. Its the same story with the .44s. The original .44 American also used a heel based bullet.
     
  11. mikec

    mikec Member

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    Both the .38 and .357 use .357" jacketed bullets, .358" lead bullets.


    The bullet for a .32ACP round is either .308" or .309", not .320".
     
  12. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    Close. It's .312

    Thanks Gator and Mr.Tuff. Good info on heel-based bullets.

    To further confuse the issue...

    The "Big .45" rifle calibers like the .45-70 and .45-90 are closer to .46 caliber with nominal bore/bullet diameters of .458 inch. The .458 Win Mag and the .460 Weatherby fit this category.

    Also, standard .22 rimfire and .22 Magnum...or .22 WMRF...share the same bullet diameter, but not the same case diameter. The .22 Short/Long/LongRifle rounds are heel-based, while the .22 Magnum isn't. So, one should never fire standard .22 rimfire ammunition in a .22 Magnum chamber.
     
  13. SDC

    SDC Member

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    When S&W was looking to introduce the 357 Magnum as a commercial round in their revolvers, they wanted some sort of advertising "hook" to get it to stick in potential buyers' minds; they COULD have just explained that the 357 is a supercharged version of the 38 Special, but by calling it the "357 Magnum", they gave it its own "mystique" (the same thing Ricardo Montalban did for "fine Corinthian leather"; there's no such thing as "fine Corinthian leather", but it sticks in your mind as a potential buyer). So, they went with the true bullet diameter, and added "Magnum" (which is a double-sized wine bottle) to get the name of the new factory round.
     
  14. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    SDC...Yep. And thus the "Magnum" craze was born. Pretty soon, anybody who designed a high-performance cartridge and a gun to take it, used the term to let the potential customer know that they would get a little something "more" by buying it. Magnum...from the Latin...essentially meaning "A little more" or "A little extra." In the gun culture, it's widely accepted that a "magnum" cartridge is loaded to fairly adventurous pressures and velocities.
     
  15. mikec

    mikec Member

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    Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook, copyright 1992, seventh printing 2000, lists a grove diameter of .309".

    Yes it is an older book, but since I don't reload at this time it works for me as a reference.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2008
  16. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    To understand why the .38 and .357 are the same size, we have to go back to the Civil War. Revolvers in those day were almost all what today we call "cap and ball" -- designed to be loaded with loose powder, a separate projectile and ignited by a percussion cap.

    To make such a revolver, you drill the chambers from the front, leaving a wall in the back of each chamber. Smaller threaded holes are drilled for the nipples.

    To load such a revolver, point it straight up, pour a charge of powder into one chamber, then seat a ball in the mouth of the chamber and ram it home. The ball must be a tight fit. A proper "fit" would actually leave a thin ring of lead shaved off the ball, and most revolvers had a compound lever rammer mounted under the barrel to give the shooter the necessary power to ram such a ball home. When all the chambers were loaded, grease was smeared in the mouths of the chamber (lead bullets must be lubricated, especially when shot in rifled barrels.) Putting caps on the nipples left the gun ready for action.

    Note what this all tells us -- in a cap and ball revolver, the chamber, ball and barrel had to be the same diameter!

    At the end of the war, it was obvious the metallic cartridge was the wave of the future. Now, how do we make a revolver for mettalic cartridges?

    The simplest way was to modify the old cap-and-ball revolver. Simply drill the chambers all the way through, hinge the right recoil shield to make a loading gate, and reshape the hammer nose to ignite the primer.

    But we have a problem. In a metallic cartridge the bullet goes inside the case, and the case goes inside the chamber. The bullet is too small for the barrel and will not shoot accurately!

    So bullets were made more or less in the modern "bullet shape" but with the back end of the bullet reduced in diameter. That back end was called the "heel" and it fit inside the case and was crimped. The rest of the bullet was left at bore diameter.

    But what about the grease? It was smeared on the outside of the bullet. And it rubbed off if you carried cartridges in your pocket, collected sand and grit in a cartridge belt and so on. Not a satisfactory situation.

    The solution was to make the entire bullet the size of the heel. The grease was in grease grooves, and the bullet was seated deeper, so the grease grooves were inside the case. Such ammunition was called "inside lubricated" and is the style still used for lead handgun bullets today.

    But now the bullet is too small for the bore!! What can we do about that?

    Well, we can make the case larger -- which means making the chamber larger, and that means making the cylinder larger, and on and on. Or we can make the barrel smaller.

    If we make the barrel smaller, we can make the new bullets out of soft lead with hollow bases and they will still shoot fairly well in older revolvers with the larger bores.

    And that's what they did, and why the new ammunition was still called ".38" caliber, when it was actually smaller by twice the thickness of the case walls -- in the case of the .38 Colt, it became .357 in diameter.

    When Smith and Wesson "stretched" the .38 Special (which was a stretched version of the .38 Long Colt, which was a stretched version of the .38 Short Colt) and loaded it to higher pressures, Douglas Wesson, the president of Smith and Wesson, decided to give it a catchy name -- ".357 Magnum."
     
  17. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    Ah...Interesting. All the data I've seen give a nominal bullet diameter of .312 inch. Wonder if that was figured for a soft lead bullet for use in a .309 bore.
     
  18. mnw42

    mnw42 Member

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    Just to make things more confusing the .38 ACP, .38 Super, and (I think) .380 are all .356. 9mms are generally.355
     
  19. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    Mikec...It's the .32 ACP that lists a nominal .312 diameter. Maybe that's where the confusion is.

    Yep...and IIRC, the 9mm Steyr...or is it the Makarov...fires a .356 diameter bullet...or is it .354? It's confusing...

    Gettin' back to Vern's post...The .41 Long Colt wasn't a .41 at all. I believe that one was .405 diameter. Again...It's hard to remember all this.

    The .44 Rimfire that so many superposed two-shoot deringers were chambered for was a heel-based bullet that was...correct me if I'm wrong...
    .445 diameter, which would make it a 44.5 caliber bullet...or was that the .44 Henry?

    See how it gets? Headache, anyone?
     
  20. Sistema1927

    Sistema1927 Member

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    Welcome to the wonderful wacky world of ballistics terminology!
     
  21. Deanimator

    Deanimator Member

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    Cartridge names are frequently totally arbitrary, like .38-40 Winchester, which is .40 NOT .38.

    Buy yourself a copy of "Cartridges of the World". It'll explain all of these things to you.
     
  22. Silvanus

    Silvanus Member

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    European/metric designations are usually not exactly right too. 8x57/8mm Mauser as well as the 8x33/8mm Mauser kurz for example are 7.92mm;) And like somebody mentioned already, 9mm Makarov and 9mm Para/Luger are not the same either...
     
  23. RyanM

    RyanM Member

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    If a cartridge is called a ".38," you can be absolutely sure that the figure 0.38" has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    .380 ACP, .38 Auto, and .38 Super are all .356".
    .38 SPL is .357".
    .38 S&W, and the various .38 Colts are .360".
    .38-40 is .400".

    And the old .36 muzzleloading revolvers were about .370" or so.
     
  24. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    The various .38 Colts are .357 (revolver cartridges, that is.) Smith and Wesson "stretched" the .38 Long Colt to produce the .38 Special, and stretched the .38 Special to produce the .357 Magnum (and in conjuction with Winchester, loaded it to higher pressure.)
     
  25. RyanM

    RyanM Member

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    Well, poop. I thought the Colts were all something along the lines of... what was it, the "Colt Police Positive" or something like that? Basically identical to .38 S&W, only given another name because they didn't want to have to put S&W on their guns.
     
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