Monthly Archives: March 2020

Mischief Managed- Smith & Wesson .38 Single Action (2nd Model)

Also known as the Model 2, not to be confused with the Number 2 Army, this was the gun that introduced the .38 S&W cartridge. Which is, of course, .36 caliber… but we’re not going to worry about that. The 1st model was produced from 1876-1877. These became known as the ‘Baby Russian’ because the long ejector housing gave it a similar profile.

The 2nd Model was produced from 1878-1891, and had a shorter ejector housing and other improvements. This model seems to be the one most commonly found these days, and it was the last model with a spur-trigger. The 3rd Model dispensed with this in favor of a conventional trigger and trigger guard, though a small batch of 3rd Models was made for the Mexican government with a spur trigger.

Between all models around 223,000 of these handy little guns were made, so they were successful and quite popular. It’s not hard too see why; the auto-ejector made for fast reloads, and the svelte little gun is quite easy to hide. Operation is simple as well, and thanks to it’s safety notch on the hammer the gun could safely be carried with all five chambers loaded. It’s worth noting if you happen across one of these guns and the cylinder free-rotates when the hammer is down it’s not necessarily broken; it might simply be that the hammer is in the safety notch. The cylinder does fully lock when the hammer is in the fired position.

A few years back I came to fancy S&W’s small top-breaks, but wasn’t much attracted to the single actions until I saw one an internet pal had put together. It had the barrel shortened to two inches, a nice, deep blue refinish and Mother of Pearl grips.

Magnumwheelman’s Model 2 snubby. Quite an attractive little gun, and he carries it regularly.

Now, having a thing for snubbies and S&W top breaks this little gun ticked all the buttons for me, and I decided if opportunity presented I would do one up for myself. Well opportunity presented itself last year; a friend spotted a 2nd Model in his local gun store at an excellent price, and I was able to pick it up.

Rather sad cosmetics, but no way to argue with the price!

Not in excellent cosmetic shape, but the bore and chambers were good, and the cylinder exhibits no endplay and locks up dead tight. The trigger is a bit stiff, but nicely crisp. The barrel slugged dead-on at .361″, and the chamber throats were likewise an exact .361″. Having acquired a suitable gun I was ready to get started.

Now at this point some might question my decision to modify an antique like this. Fair enough, but bear in mind these are not currently much sought after by the collector market, and even then they are mainly interested in pristine examples. There are plenty of guns like this one in circulation, and Smith & Wesson themselves frequently modified these guns at a customers request.

First things first- I shortened the barrel to 1-5/8″, the same as on my .38 Safety Hammerless. The looks of this length just work for me, and besides I am already familiar with the ballistics of this barrel-length. I crowned the barrel, then made a new front sight and silver-soldered it in place. I made the sight from bronze because in most lighting conditions it’s quite visible.

Once the barrel was shortened I made a new set of grips to replace the original Gutta Percha grips (which I kept.) I had some moose antler on-hand thanks to a buddy of mine from Alaska, and it made a nice set. I took the gun to the range to try out, and it shot very well, and right to the point of aim.

Quite adequate at seven yards, and the gun is a pleasure to shoot!

The next order of business was to dispose of the nasty old nickel. I’ve always done this , slowly and painstakingly, with abrasives, and was determined to never do so again. I was advised that Hoppe’s #9 is a copper solvent, and got a large bottle. I disassembled the gun, then put the barrel, cylinder frame and sideplate in to soak… and soak… and soak.

No joy. the Hoppe’s had zero effect on the nickel plating.

In the end I gave up. The reason this often works on nickel guns is that it is common practice to plate the gun with copper, then plate over the copper with nickel. S&W apparently didn’t have an under-layer of copper for the Hoppe’s to attack, so it had no effect. Bugger. On the bright side I have a life-time supply of Hoppe’s #9.

I set the project aside for a time, thinking at some point I would order some nickel stripper from Brownell’s, but somehow that never happened. Then the other week, with plenty of time on my hands, I caved. I detail-stripped the gun, then carefully sanded all the nickel off, taking special care to preserve the original lines of the gun. I sanded with the sideplate in place to avoid rolling it’s edges, which looks horrible when the gun is refinished. Finally I carefully sanded the gun to 280-grit, then rust blued it using mark Lee’s Instant Rust Blue.

Reassembling the gun involved holding the trigger and trigger-plate against spring tension, and naturally as I was trying to secure the plate the springs sprung and the lock-spring vanished into the nether realm, probably the same ones that socks go to out of the dryer… Bugger. Rather than searching the internet for another spring I simply flattened some music-wire and made a replacement. This time I got the gun reassembled without mishap.

I’ll let you judge the results for yourself, but I am excessively pleased with how it has come out!

Shown with a 3″ K-frame for size comparison

By it’s serial number this gun was made in the early to mid 1880s, and nearly 140 years later it’s still going to be used for it’s original purpose. I don’t plan on EDCing this gun, but it is admirably suited to situations where extra-discreet carry is appropriate, and it may be employed as a back-up if I feel the need.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 march 2020

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The Hunker Games

I’m not a serious prepper. Sure, I live in an area with a lot of potential for natural disasters; earthquakes, severe storms, and sooner or later there will be a lahar from Mt.Ranier. Might not be in my lifetime, but it will happen.

This being the case it makes sense to be prepared for a protracted loss of services; have a way of cooking without electricity, a source of clean water, some medical supplies, durable food stuff etc. Power might be out for days, even weeks in the case of a particularly severe event. Best to be prepared, and we are, but it doesn’t dominate our lives.

Such an event might include some breakdown of the social order but, well… duh. I write a gun blog; you can pretty much figure we’ve got that end of things covered. But honestly, for the type of emergencies we’ve anticipated guns and ammo have been the lowest priority. When this pandemic popped up I didn’t run out for ammo or reloading supplies; I bought canned food, pasta and dried beans to supplement our existing stocks. Because honestly, that’s a lot more likely to be useful.

Anyway, Linda and I are pushing 60, and she has COPD. We are at a heightened risk should we become infected, Linda very much so. Watching this thing from the beginning and living in a ‘Hot Spot’ has given me some perspective on this thing that a lot of folks are lacking. I’ve read the science and the medicine, and done the math. As of a week ago Linda and I have been hunkering down, avoiding going out and contact with others.

Given our situation, our neighborhood, age, physical condition etc. we always figured that in the event of a serious emergency we’d hunker down at home- a ‘bug-in’ so to speak. I did not imagine we’d be doing it with water, power, high-speed internet etc., but I’m hardly complaining! But still, it’s kind of weird…

I mean, you prepare for events like this, but you never expect them to, you know… actually happen. It’s kind of surreal, and it hits you in odd ways. Got a sweet tooth? Just run to the store and… nope. Go to dinner, to a movie, a shooting range? Nope. Have guests over? Nope. Sure, we’re home, comfortable, got pretty much everything we need… but it’s like a few layers of life have been stripped away.

We’re very lucky; I’ve worked at home for decades, so it isn’t costing me anything to stay home. In a given week aside from running to the store we don’t get out much. Might have a guest over for dinner or a visit, but we live a fairly secluded life. But choosing to be home and having to stay home? They’re different things.

The Governor has cancelled all public events and ordered all public gathering places to close; theaters, bars, restaurants etc. The major local super-market has stopped delivering groceries. Starbucks has gone to drive-through only. Really, there’s not a lot of places to go right now…

So here we sit. I work in the shop, we don’t go out or order food in. Got a sweet-tooth? Make something sweet. Bored? There’s about a jillion movies on Amazon, Netflix etc. There’s social media if I feel the need to be frustrated, amazed and appalled by people. Plenty to do. It’s not like we’re in jail or anything. It’s just… weird.

Nothing for it; I think we might be OK if we went about our business more normally. I think we’ll likely be OK even if we catch it. I think a lot of things, always have… so I know that what I think isn’t always right. In this case even a small risk is too much to take if it can be avoided, because if I decide not to put up with the inconvenience someone could die. Maybe not one of us, but if we spread the infection someone, somewhere down the line. Someone I don’t know and have never met, but that doesn’t matter; they are important to someone. Given the option I’ll pass, thanks.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 17 March, 2020

How Obsolete? .32 S&W Long

Factory loads in .32 S&W Long are anemic, and while fine for taking small game they are perhaps not very suitable to self-defense. I mean, sure, it’s going to beat a .22, and for folks that are particularly recoil-sensitive it’s arguably a better option. But it has to be considered a bit marginal by most standards. Even factory hollow points might as well be solids; they simply will not expand at the low velocity of these loads.

But if we go to handloads the outlook is less grim. Sharp’s 1937 ‘Complete book of Handloading’ lists some pretty hot loads that are within SAAMI pressures. My own testing using a 96gr. LRNFP over 4.3gr. of Unique with a Federal #100 small pistol primer developed 1089 fps. and 253 ft.lbs of energy from a 4″ barrel. In a 2″ barrel it did 984 fps. for 206 ft.lbs of energy. That’s respectable, and would definitely penetrate adequately for self defense. It’s not going to produce much of a wound cavity, but it will at least reach the important stuff.

Traditionally small bullets moving slowly offer a choice. You can have an expanding bullet, you can get enough penetration, but you cannot have both. But 1000-1100 fps. isn’t slow. How do .32 hollow points do in this range? We actually have an example in hand. There have been FBI-standard gel-tests using Fiocchi’s .32 ACP load with the 60gr. XTP hollow point. Tested against 4 layers of denim over Clear ballistics gel these bullets, at around 1050 fps., exhibited modest expansion (to approximately .400″) and reliably penetrated 11-12″. Not going to set the world on fire, but it’s not too bad.

.32 S&W Long loaded with the Hornady 85gr. XTP hollow point

I picked up some Hornady 85gr. XTP hollow points for my experiment. After looking at load data for both .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum I settled on a test load- 85gr. XTP, 4.0gr. of Unique, CCI 500 small pistol primer. Loading it in my 2″ Colt Detective Special I fired five rounds through the chronograph. Here’s what I got:

1044 fps., 206 ft.lbs., SD: 40 with an extreme spread of 101 fps.

I have to conclude that these bullets, like their 60gr. counterparts, will expand at least modestly, and with 1/3 more weight they will certainly penetrate deeper. We’ll put that to the test later this spring.

How are they to shoot? Recoil is mild. The report is sharp but not excessively loud or unpleasant, and at 7 yards they made a nice, tight group. There was slight, intermittent flattening of the primers; not worse than the 96gr. load referenced above. Cases extracted quite easily. I suspect that these loads are near SAAMI maximum pressure, and may even exceed it slightly. I have no way of measuring this of course.

That being the case I am reluctant to recommend this load, but consider this: SAAMI maximum pressure for .32 S&W Long is 15,000 CUP, but .32 S&W Long wadcutters are routinely loaded to 17,000 CUP. This is necessary so that they can operate the mechanism of semi-automatic pistols used in rapid-fire competition. neither I nor anyone I know has reported difficulty firing these in their revolvers, so take this for what it’s worth.

Walther GSP in .32 S&W Long Wadcutter

My Detective Special is designed for .38 Special, so when chambered in .32 S&W Long (which Colt calls .32 New Police- heaven forefend they should mark S&W on one of their guns!) it’s plenty ‘beefy’ enough for the XTP load. I have no doubt this load, used judiciously, would probably be alright in any good quality handgun. Nevertheless this is a high-pressure load, and such should always be approached with caution.

So, this antiquated cartridge might be more viable for self-defense than I had previously thought. I suppose the gel tests will tell the tale.

As always you use this load data at your own risk; I assume no risk or liability for the use or misuse of this data.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 March 2020