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Why is .38 Special so long?

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Brass Rain, Feb 7, 2011.

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  1. Brass Rain

    Brass Rain Member

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    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?
     
  2. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    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.
     
  3. pikid89

    pikid89 Member

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    i wish someone would make a proportionally sized 9mm revolver
     
  4. Brass Rain

    Brass Rain Member

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    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?
     
  5. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    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!!!
     
  6. Cearbhall

    Cearbhall Member

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  7. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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

    Oyeboten Member

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    One could always get a Case Trimmer, and, lean into it a little bit, and, shorten them to 9mm P-'08 length...
     
  9. joneb

    joneb Member

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    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.
     
  10. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

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    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.
     
  11. Deanimator

    Deanimator Member

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    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.
     
  12. dnovo

    dnovo Member

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    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
     
  13. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    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.
     
  14. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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    "...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.
     
  15. Deanimator

    Deanimator Member

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    .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.
     
  16. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    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.
     
  17. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    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.
     
  18. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Member

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    .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.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2011
  19. zoom6zoom

    zoom6zoom Member

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    Gets the bullet that much closer to the target.
     
  20. 9mm+

    9mm+ Member

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

    herohog Member

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    .38 Super ya mean (rimmed 9mm)?
     
  22. Hanshi

    Hanshi Member

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    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.
     
  23. BCRider

    BCRider Member

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    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.
     
  24. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    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
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2011
  25. Brass Rain

    Brass Rain Member

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