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Why a .38 spl

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Karate, Aug 29, 2004.

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  1. Karate

    Karate Member

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    Why a .38spl. Why the name 38spl?....the bullet measures .357 so how did anyone come up with the Name .38spl
     
  2. saltydog452

    saltydog452 Member

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    Why call it a 'Special"

    The 38 Special was the 38 S&W 'magnumized'. Hence they used a different name to distinguish between the two.

    salty.
     
  3. JoeHatley

    JoeHatley Member

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    I seem to remember reading the the parent cartrige was a black powder round, that used a heel style bullet. The out side diameter of the bullet was .38 caliber at that time.

    Maybe...

    Joe
     
  4. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    The "orginal" .38 Special ancestor was the .38 Colt, later re-named the .38 Short Colt when the .38 Long Colt came out. Neither of these two cartridges set the world on fire (altough the .38 Long Colt was our standard military pistol cartridge from around 1892 to about 1909.)

    To understand the .38/.357 issue, we have to go back to the Civil War, where the cap and ball revolver ruled.

    With a cap and ball revolver the chambers are not drilled all the way through the cylinder -- a wall or floor is left at the back of the chamber. Then a smaller hole is drilled through, threaded for the nipple.

    To load a cap and ball revolver, the chamber is filled with a charge of black powder, and a ball is rammed on top of that (most cap and ball revolvers had a compound lever rammer attached to the barrel for that purpose). Then the mouths of the chambers were smeared heavily with grease -- absolutely essential for firing a bare lead ball in a rifled barrel -- and the nipples capped.

    Notice that this arrangement requires chamber, ball, and barrel to be the same diameter -- the ball must fight tightly in the chamber, and can be neither much bigger or smaller than the bore.

    When metalic cartridges came along, the simple thing was to bore the chambers all the way through, add a loading gate, modify the nose of the hammer, and voila! a "modern" cartridge revolver!

    But there was a problem. The bullet had to fit in the case mouth, and the case had to fit in the chamber -- which meant the bullet now had to be SMALLER (by twice the thickness of the case walls.)

    The solution was the "heeled" bullet -- the base of the bullet was made smaller than the rest -- like the current .22 LR bullet. The forepart of the bullet was the same diameter as the chamber and bore.

    Remember the grease that has to be added when firing a lead bullet in a rifled barrel? That grease was smeared on the bullet now, and it got rubbed off when carrying ammo in the pocket, washed off by the rain when carrying in belt loops while on the trail, and picked up grit and grime.

    The solution to THAT was to make grooves around the bullet, fill the grooves with grease, and seat the bullet so the grooves were below the case mouth (this is called "inside lubricated" ammunition.) That worked, but you now had too much bullet in the case, and making the rest of the bullet bore size didn't work any more.

    What to do? Make the chamber larger, or the barrel smaller? For practical purposes, it was better to make the barrel smaller, and leave chamber and case dimensions the same. The bullet that used to be around .380" was now only .357" or .358". For a long time, the new .38 ammo was loaded with soft lead bullets with hollow bases, which could also work in the older, larger bores.

    The Army abandoned the .38 Long Colt in 1909 (re-adopting the .45 Colt in the Model 1909 revolver until an automatic could be developed and put into service), but police liked the smaller, less powerful .38s. Smith and Wesson got the idea that they could load the .38 to higher pressure and make it a more effective cartridge. To make sure the new .38s could NOT be fired in older, weaker revolvers, they made the case a bit longer, producing the .38 Special.

    By the 1930s, the .38 Special was the overwhelming choice for police. But that was the era of the "motor bandit" -- John Dillinger, Machinegun Kelly, and so on. Thirty-eight specials would not reliably penetrate steel car bodies in pursuits. So Smith and Wesson chambered their Hand Ejector revolver (designed for the .44 Special) for .38 Special, and developed a very high pressure .38 Special load.

    They called both revolver and ammo "38/44" and ammo makers printed warnings on the cases, "For use in 38/44 Revolvers ONLY." Before long, someone woke up and smelled the coffee -- it's only a matter of time before someone loads a 38/44 round into an older, weaker .38, and KA-BOOM.

    So Smith and Wesson and Winchester teamed up and stretched the .38 case again, creating a new, longer cartridge that couldn't be fired in .38 Special chambers. This time, they named it by the correct caliber, ".357 Magnum."

    You can safely fire .38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, and .38 Special ammunition in any .357 Magnum revolver.
     
  5. Paul "Fitz" Jones

    Paul "Fitz" Jones Moderator - Emeritus

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    .38/44

    As a commercial police reloader in the 70's while quality controlling my police ammo I found a case that says 38-44 and saved it along with some UMC cases.

    Fitz
     
  6. Marshall

    Marshall Member

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    Vern, fantastic explaination and interesting history lesson, thanks.
     
  7. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    [​IMG]

    I was out with my heavy duties today shooting near 38/44 levels of ammo. Pretty impressive when you get up over 1000 fps with a 158 hardcast.

    I would love to get my hands on some old 38/44 ammo and chrono it and see how it really would do out of my guns.



    By the way, detailed range report on both the heavy duties will come in a few days/weeks. They are sure fun to shoot!
     
  8. Karate

    Karate Member

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    Vern Humphrey

    Thanks Great Post
     
  9. telomerase

    telomerase Member

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    Yes, thanks Vern, I didn't know the story that far back. -hTERT
     
  10. antediluvianist

    antediluvianist Member

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    As many people know, the gauge of European railroad track actually goes all the way back to the distance between standard Roman Army chariot wheels.

    The measurement .38 was the standard diameter of Roman Army arrows.
     
  11. Jim March

    Jim March Member

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    Somewhere I recall hearing of 38-44 loads with a 158gr doing 1,200 from a 6" barrel. But I don't recall the source,
     
  12. Stainz

    Stainz Member

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    S&W has to bear the brunt of the blame for caliber mislabelling. It actually started just after our civil war, when S&W was attempting to make a deal with the Russian government. They wanted their new .44 American chambered Model 3 breaktop. That round was a vast improvement over the .44 Henry rimfire... it was a centerfire design. It needed the stepped bullet in order to seat the .440" diameter bullet's base into the metal case. The Ruskies wanted a simpler bullet design - and got it - a .429" bullet to seat inside the .44" case. This became known as the .44 Russian, generally loading a 246gr RNL over 26 gr fff. The case was lengthened a bit in 1907, and switched to smokeless, to become the .44 Special... lengthened & strengthened again by S&W & Remington in 1955 to become the .44 Magnum. Oddly, a bean counter/adman of the early days elected to mislabel it still as a '.44', and that stuck... just as the later '.38's'.

    Ante...,

    The gauge of much of European RR track is 1 meter... the US & GB 'standard' track is, indeed, based on the Roman chariot wheel spacing of 4' 8.5". Of course, like firearm calibers, other RR gauges exist even here... some of the New England lines, like several in Maine, were 2' gauge (I model the 'Sandy River & Rangley Lake' line in G scale.); in the rockies, etc, 3' gauges were used (Like my G-scale 'Colorado & Southern', etc).

    Stainz (My 'handle' is actually the name of a 1 meter 0-4-0T Austrian steam loco...)
     
  13. C.R.Sam

    C.R.Sam Moderator Emeritus

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    Jim March...

    158gr at 1200 plus published in Complete Guide to Handloading, Phil Sharpe.

    And in Lyman 41 (1957)

    Both with the warning "Heavy Frame Guns Only".

    Sam
     
  14. Jim March

    Jim March Member

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    CR: I have no doubt there was loading data in that ballpark.

    But what I recall was, 38-44 factory loads in that speed range. Again, from a 6".

    Then again, Bufallo Bore's new 158 lead hollowpoint +P will pull 1,000fps from a 2", so might come pretty dang close to that in a 6".
     
  15. sm

    sm member

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    Vern Humphrey

    Thanks Great Post
     
  16. Sistema1927

    Sistema1927 Member

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    If we go back to the old cap-and-ball days, we see that the percussion .31 became the modern .32, the percussion .36 became the modern .38, and the percussion .44 became the modern .45.

    Depends on whether you are measuring barrel diameter or bullet size, and the differences between a ball that you would end up shaving some lead off of while seating and a bullet in a cartridge case.
     
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