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Loading .38 special

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by TonyAngel, Feb 14, 2010.

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  1. TonyAngel

    TonyAngel Member

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    I recently bought myself a Ruger Blackhawk in .357. It has a 4 and 5/8" barrel in blue steel. It was an impulse buy, but the more I shoot it, the more I like it. It kind of forces you to take your time and make every shot count. I've found myself taking it with me on range days and neglecting my other toys.

    In any case, I've been making my own loads for it. I had a bunch of .38 brass sitting around, so that's what I've been using. I have yet to shoot a .357 home brew out of it. A few weeks ago, I was looking around on line for some .357 brass and was surprised to find how hard it is to locate and the price of it at those places that have it in stock.

    **ANY LOAD DATA CONTAINED HEREIN IS NOT CLAIMED TO BE SAFE. I ONLY USE IT IN REVOLVERS CHAMBERED FOR .357 MAGNUM AND WHETHER I AM GOING TO BLOW MYSELF UP REMAINS TO BE SEEN**

    Anyway, I've been using .38 brass exclusively and to tell the truth, I'd like to keep using it. Not only is it cheap (and I have a ton of it), but it's easier to extract as well. I load my .38 with 158gr LSWC from Missouri Bullet Company. I've been using these exclusively (the "action" bullets that are harder). I also use both Accurate No. 2 and No. 5. My load with the No. 2 is at 4.4 grains and with the No. 5 it's at 6.2 grains. These loads are beyond the recommendations within the data published by Accurate, but I have yet to see any signs of pressure. Brass is easy to extract and I haven't seen any flattened primers.

    I did some research on the .357 and from what I gather, the .357 is just an extension of the .38. The first .357 loads were developed using .38 brass. At some point in time, .357 brass was lengthened to prevent the use of the hot loads in revolvers meant for .38s only.

    I'm not talking about using .357 data with .38 special brass, but was wondering how hot can you get with .38 brass? From what I understand, .38 special brass can handle pressures way beyond those generated by SAAMI spec .38 special loads. I'd love to be able to get into the 1100 to 1200 FPS range using .38 special brass with the projectiles that I'm using and if it is attainable, it will be done at a bit of a reduced cost considering that I'll be using less powder and cheaper brass.

    If you can share your personal experiences, I'd appeciate it.
     
  2. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Member

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    .357 brass is not one bit stronger than .38 Special brass.

    The strength is all in the gun.
    The Ruger is so strong that you could loads so hot that the headstamp is obliterated, and the gun will still hold it.
    Although, I don't recommend that kind of abuse.

    Work your loads up until you find something you are satisfied with.
    The Ruger has plenty of "headroom" when it comes to pushing the +P range in .38 Special brass.

    Brass will get sticky on extraction as you get in the "too hot" range.

    You will probably find a comfortable load somewhere a good ways south of "too hot" for the Ruger.
     
  3. jfh

    jfh Member

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    I've loaded 38 Special brass up into the 1100 fps range--from a 2 barrel. I do not recommend this.

    Here's why:

    • overpressure 38 Special rounds fit in any 38 Special revolver, and someone else may want to try the same.
    • only his revolver is 38 Special-only...
    • the pressures generated may well exceed 357 Magnum max pressures.

    There are no reliable pressure tests for the 357 data in a 38 Special case. 'Pressure Data Techniques'--for measuring handgun cartridge changes have been shown to be uncorrelated with actual tests. These techniques--case expansion, primer reading, etc.--developed in the 60s and 70s simply are not reliable.

    Recently--as in, the last two years or so--the SR-4756 / Speer 8 data became widely-dispersed again. AFAIK, the pressures at the upper end have been found to easily be 43000 PSI (not CUP), and there may be a pressure spike into the 55,000+ PSI range.

    My tests were all done in a 357-framed 640, or bigger. Another guy did this with his 38 Special Airweight, running loads only out past 950 fps or so--and he stretched the frame. It's your gun--and your body. The recipes are out there, make what you will.

    Added on Edit: Don't forget--there is a significant drawback to shooting 38 Special brass in 357 chambers / cylinders: A crud ring is built up--that ring is not only a nuisance to remove, but it may result in NOT allowing 357 rounds to chamber easily--or, conceivably, create a constriction / overpressure situation for a normal 357 Magnum round.

    Jim H.
     
  4. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    .357 brass is thicker than .38 Spl. It is loaded to much higher pressures.

    I like to use .357 brass for my light .38 Spl type .357 loads for much the same reasons jfh put forth. I wish .357 brass was as plentiful and cheap as .38, but right now it isn't.

    Millions of rounds of .38 Spl are shot through .357's with no problems other than having to clean out the chambers for the reasons jfh mentioned. I am not against it, I just don't do it.

    [​IMG]
     

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  5. fecmech

    fecmech Member

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    Tony--The only danger with using .38 spl brass for .357 mag loads is that a cartridge loaded to magnum pressures (35000 psi) can be loaded into a gun that is only safe to 18000 psi. If you don't own any plain 38 spl revolvers it should be no problem, if you do it will be, I know! I got lucky, my S&W chief special survived my screw up.

    PS. I have NEVER worried about 38+P in "J" frame Smiths!
     
  6. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    Yep. Forgot to address that. I always recommend against loading .38 brass over .38 pressure levels, just in case. Just in case. (Yep, worth saying twice)
     
  7. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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    "...the 1100 to 1200 FPS range..." You won't get that using safe loads. Likely lead your barrel too. .38 Special +P data for a 158 jacketed bullet runs between 835ish to about 956 fps. depending on the powder used.
    The lube gunk ring is just a nuisance. Comes right out with regular cleaning.
     
  8. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Hi Tony
    Here's one more reason you don't want to do this.

    I'd love to be able to get into the 1100 to 1200 FPS range using .38 special brass with the projectiles that I'm using and if it is attainable, it will be done at a bit of a reduced cost considering that I'll be using less powder and cheaper brass.

    This velocity is right about the speed of sound at sea level. Depending on the temperature, humidity, and air pressure, the speed of sound is ~1120 fps. Bullets crossing the sound barrier become very unstable do to the buffeting of the shock wave, and accuracy greatly deteriorates!

    A good rule of thumb for maximum accuracy is either keep your bullets completely below the sound barrier, or so fast that they don't slow down to the speed of sound before they reach their target!
    Michael
     
  9. bluetopper

    bluetopper Member

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    PM Sent.........
     
  10. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Member

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    CAUTION: The following post includes loading data beyond currently published maximums for this cartridge. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. Neither the writer, The High Road, nor the staff of THR assume any liability for any damage or injury resulting from use of this information.

    I load .38-44 (look it up) cartridges like that for my Marlin carbine. I mark the entire case heads red with a Magic Marker and write on the box: "DANGER! For Rifle Only" (of course they are just fine in any .357 Magnum.)

    12.5 to 13 grains of Alliant 2400 with 158 grain cast bullets. RNFP is better for rifle, SWC is better for a revolver. The original load (Skeeter Skelton?) was 13.5 grains of Hercules 2400 with 158 grain bullets or a particular 173 grain bullet crimped in the 2nd groove, but Alliant 2400 might be hotter now than the old Hercules powder. However there's a reason you cannot buy factory .38-44 ammo anymore. It could fit in any old POS .38 Special gun, perhaps with tragic results. So consider the responsibility before you create any cartridges like this.

    (I've also had case head separations when trying to develop the same type of load using Blue Dot powder, so don't even try that.)
     
  11. TonyAngel

    TonyAngel Member

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    I'm really not worried about my loads winding up in the wrong handgun. I don't own any .38's and my home brews never get loaded into a firearm that I don't own. I'm not willing to accept that responsibility.

    I've seen some .357 cases that spec'ed out a bit heavier duty than .38 special and I've seen some that didn't. I'm probably over thinking this. As it is now, I'm not seeing any signs of over pressure and until I do, the Blackhawk shouldn't have any problems.

    With the AA No. 2 load, I think I'm just going to bump it up to 4.5gr and call it a day. With the 4.4gr load it burns super clean and I am getting no leading at all. In fact, the way the gun looked after the last range session, you would have thought that I was shooting jacketed bullets through it.

    With the AA No. 5 load at 6.2gr it isn't quite as clean and there is more felt recoil. I don't know if I'm getting that much more velocity or if it's just because of the slower powder. I'd like to bump this load up a couple tenths of a grain to see if I can get it burning as clean as the No. 2 load.

    I know that shooting hotter loads is sometimes counter productive, but at other times, it's just plain fun. When I'm just plinking and looking to shoot something really light, I usually do that with my 1911 .45 loaded up with 200gr LSWC on top of 5gr of No. 2.

    I'm gonna try what I've proposed and see if the cases start getting sticky.

    Thanks guys.
     
  12. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Member

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    The cases won't get sticky, even when you are in dangerous territory. Flattened primers also don't mean much one way or the other with revolvers. Find load data of the approximate power that you want from a trusted source, then work up to the most accurate load (it will usually be near the top of the range but probably not right at the max)
     
  13. TonyAngel

    TonyAngel Member

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    I had always thought that cases get sticky as an indication of over pressure. Is there no way to tell that pressure is getting too high?
     
  14. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Member

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    If you are shooting inexpensive plain-lead bullets, as powder charges increase, you will run out of accuracy way before you run out of strength in the Ruger.
     
  15. TonyAngel

    TonyAngel Member

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    Yeah, I'm shooting the "action" series bullets from Missouri Bullet Company. They're supposed to have an 18 brinnell hardness and the only leading problems I've had with them was when I wasn't pushing them hard enough. My only goal is to be able to consistently hit a clay pigeon at 25 yards.
     
  16. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    By the time you see pressure signs in a low pressure round like the .38 Spl, you will be WAY over the pressure limit for it.
     
  17. jfh

    jfh Member

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    About those flattened-primers-tea-leaves-readings: think about it this way; The various manufacturers of Pistol Primers have those primers specified in 357 Magnum recipes as well as 38 Special. 357 Mag specs are (currently) 35,000 PSI; 38 Special, 17,000 (18,500, 38+P; 21,750, 38 CIP). People "read" primer deformation from those 357 cases--but the same primers will not show much change in deformation from 17,000 to 20,000. Can you tell the difference between a 38 Special primer fired at, say, 20,000 and 25,000? I can't--not with any reliability. That is, I can see a difference--but how objectively measurable is that difference, so that it can be repeated reliably?

    The only time I've had a sticky case from high-pressure reloads was in an overcharged case in which the pressures were at least 55,000 PSI (and, arguably, perhaps 72,000). For rifle cartridges and a few select high-pressure handgun cartridges, perhaps or yes. At typical handgun pressures, no.

    added on edit: With AA#5 and a 158-gr. LSWC, 38-CIP max. is about 5.8 gr.--so you are running pressure in the mid-twenties, it looks like. I'd be curious to know what the chrono shows for these rounds from your Blackhawk.

    Jim H.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2010
  18. TonyAngel

    TonyAngel Member

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    What I'm looking for is some info from guys that have experimented with what I'm talking about. I am well aware of SAAMI specs and the fact that the .38 special is a low pressure round. I am also aware that the loads that I've discussed exceed published load data.

    On the other hand, I have seen .38 special revolvers that were subjected to a steady diet of +P ammunition and the side effects, although detrimental to the firearm, were not catastrophic.

    The point that I'm trying to discuss is "how far can you push .38 special brass?" I've seen .38s with stretched frames and chambers in the cylinders that had become stretched, but seems to me to be more of an indication that it was the handgun that couldn't handle the pressure, and not the components.

    If the max spec for +P is 18,500psi and the max spec for .357 is 35,000psi (almost double that of the +P loads), will .38 brass handle something in between those specs? Like a .38 load that produces 25,000psi.

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I won't get sticky cases if the pressure gets too high. Why are you saying that the cases won't get sticky as a sign that the pressures are getting out of hand? I can understand that the loads that I'm talking about will tear a small frame .38 apart before any signs of pressure, but I'm not talking about firing these out of a .38.

    On a side note, I wonder why Ruger made these darned ejector rods in the Blackhawks so short. Believe it or not, this is the root of this whole discussion. It's a PITA when you're standing in the woods trying to reload and you hit a case where you didn't snap the ejector rod quickly enough to make the brass completely slide out of the cylinder and you loose your reloading rhythm, so your standing there with your handgun cradled in the same hand that you're catching spent brass in with the reload rounds in your right hand and you have to perform small feats of dexterity to extract the case that didn't come all the way out. .38 special is also just a bit easier to reload and it's cheaper.

    And I do need a Chrony.
     
  19. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Member

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    I've had case head separations at about 40000 psi without any sticky extraction first. I've also had what looked like flattened primers with normal factory ammo in revolvers just from the case head hitting the recoil shield. This tells me that neither is a reliable indicator.
    You need to take extraordinary steps to make sure those rounds never get fired in a light-framed or prewar (S&W .38/44 excepted) .38 Special even if you are not around to prevent it. That's why I conspicuously mark mine red and label the box as rifle ammo. Even if they get separated from the box, the red should be a warning even to most knuckleheads.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2010
  20. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Member

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    One poster asserted that .38 Special brass is not as "strong" as .357 brass.

    I question that.

    I've loaded a lot of .38 Special, and a lot of .357 Magnum.
    I see no difference whatsoever in the brass other than that the .357 is just a bit longer.

    My understanding is that the .38 vs. .357 STRENGTH issue pertains to the firearm and not to the brass.

    If there is some study out there that proves that .38 Special brass is weaker than .357 Magnum brass, I'd love to see it and get my education.

    Until I see such proof, I don't believe it.
     
  21. W.E.G.

    W.E.G. Member

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    Show me what this looks like.

    How do you get a "separation" on a straight-walled pistol cartridge?
     
  22. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

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    The brass seals the chamber from letting hot gases escape rearward and damaging the gun/shooter. The brass does play a critical part in the pressure a firearm can handle. The .357 operates at a much higher pressure than the .38 Special, and so the brass must be able to handle it. Naturally the chamber must also be able to handle the pressure.

    Believe what you will.

    The same way you get it on any caliber. It has, happened to folks here. A member will hopefully post some enlightening pics soon. ;)

    I wish I had the old thread marked. :)
     
  23. jfh

    jfh Member

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    OK. Here's what I'll say, now that the questions are getting refined here--Based on my reloading work with 38 Special and 357 Magnum in short barrels, I think some 38 Special brass is generally quite usable for pressures well up in the twenties. IOW, to be specific, 25,000 PSI may be routinely used with new and reused Starline 38 Special Brass, based on my use of it.

    I also have mixed 38 Special brass that I bought, as well as various headstamps from factory ammo. Some of this brass is obviously thinner, lighter weight--I think it's Remington brass from 148-gr. DEWC loads--that I would not routinely reload to higher pressures. It wears out faster--I got splits out of it in as few as 5 reloads.

    As for the sticky extraction issue: it seems to me a function of sticky extraction is much more likely to be the results of manufacturers' specs for polishing chambers. That is subject to a tolerance, range, as it were. Now add to that the variable of 'how dirty is that used brass, anyway?' and I don't see how we have a consistent stickiness factor that can be used for seat-of-the-pants reloading assessment.

    What I have found in the anecdotal reports found in forums like these, is the fact that enough of us (reloaders) have read reports of non-sticky extraction of 38 Special cases reloaded with recipes that, when tested elsewhere, in a lab, were found to be at full 357 Magnum pressures, and possibly more. [I'm referring to videos, comments from honest and knowledgable reloaders, etc. in the "Speer 8" discussions on the S&W forum--now, no longer available, unfortunately.]

    Finally, I admit to bias here--what I have gained from the anecdotal information and personal experience lead me to refine my reloading paradigms to avoid what I consider a bad practice--i.e., building overpressure rounds in cartridges that can be fired in other / less-specified firearms.

    Jim H.
     
  24. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    You can't see it looking at the outside of the case.

    Stand a .38 & .357 case on end and look down inside them.

    You will very likely see the bottom of the case at the flash hole on the .38 is much larger around due to thinner case web taper then the .357 case.

    You may also find .357 brass is "harder" when you resize it due to different case head temper.

    Trust me, most .357 brass is stronger then most .38 Spl brass.

    rc
     
  25. zxcvbob

    zxcvbob Member

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    You actually don't know if it is as strong or not. The .38 Special brass has lower specifications than .357 Magnum, so the manufacturer could make them thinner to save materials. Or they could use exactly the same blanks to reduce the number of supplies they have to maintain on hand, changeover, etc. You have no way of knowing.

    I assume it is the same, but I no longer push them as hard as I used to after the head separations. That's not a big deal in a strong single-action revolver. It might be a big deal in a rifle -- I don't want to find out. I also only use Winchester brass now instead of mixed brass for my high-pressure .38 loads.
     
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