Some of you may have followed the story of this little gun in the blog, but here it is in a nutshell.
A few years back I ran across a S&W I-frame .32 Hand Ejector in a pretty miserable state. Basically there was no finish left, some minor pitting, the timing was buggered, there was massive endplay in the cylinder and an enormous cylinder gap and, to top it all off, the bore looked horribly pitted. I got it very cheap.
I detail-stripped the gun and cleaned a century of gunk out of the mechanism, which miraculously solved the timing problem. I wasn’t sure the bore was salvageable, but I cleaned it out with Hoppe’s #9 and some bronze wool. It took a while, but what eventually what had looked like a pitted, useless mess turned out to be a pretty decent bore.
I shimmed the cylinder to remove the endplay, then removed the barrel. I relieved the front of the frame slightly, allowing the barrel to set back to produce a decent cylinder-gap of .005″.
Lastly I sanded the frame to remove every trace of rust, some of the lighter pitting and the last traces of the original finish, then refinished it in Antique Gray (similar to French Gray.) Eventually I stripped it again and rust blued it. It’s been through a couple of different grips, but today I settled on these antique mother-of-pearl grips donated from another gun.
It’s a handsome gun and a great shooter, and a prized possession! Not bad for a gun well on it’s way to the junk-heap of history.
So why am I telling you about this? Because I didn’t know how to do any of this when I bought the gun. Some creative Googling, a few Youtube videos, common everyday tools and a few items (like the rust-blue solution) bought online and a few- OK, more than a few- evenings were all it took. The most ‘exotic’ tool used was a Harbor Freight bench vise. The important thing is this- if I can do it, so can you.
I hate politics, and I’ve tried to avoid them wherever possible in this blog. Hell, this post is about avoiding them. Sort of. Yet politics are very much central to this.
Democrats these days seem to be hewing to a strict gun control platform. Note- I said Democrats, not Liberals. The two main parties have been working to divide this country along partisan lines for decades, and each in their own way has used fear tactics to do this. The biggest difference is which fears they choose to focus on, but both are guilty. One of the things each has focussed on in their own way is the 2nd Amendment. They have done everything in their power to keep this issue from being settled one way or another, because they have made it part of their platform and need to keep the issue alive as way of dividing us. This is a fight that should have been resolved decades ago, and I think would have been but for totalitarian partisanship created and encouraged by the two major parties.
The idea that has been fostered is one of a ‘Culture War.’ Yes, Americans are an exceptionally diverse people, with many regional and ethnic cultures in the mix. But we only have one Constitution, and I have sworn to uphold it.
It’s very popular in mainstream gun culture to demonize Liberals and poke fun at them. But the fact of the matter is that by the latest estimates a minimum of 30% of gun owners in this country identify as ‘Liberal,’ and we can no longer afford to demonize almost 1/3 of the folks on our side. The NRA began pushing the notion of a ‘Culture war,’ and by all accounts they lost members. Probably an awful lot of those were Liberal gun owners.
Don’t mistake Democrats for Liberals either; they haven’t been the same thing for many years, and most liberals that I know consider the current Democrats to be ‘Center-Right’ rather than leftists. Leftists with any sense of history are very keen on private gun ownership, but we needn’t get into that.
The point is, now more than ever, America’s 2nd Amendment supporters need to discard totalitarian, party-line views about each other and come together. We all support the 2nd Amendment, and that’s more important than the things that divide us. There was a survey a few years back that was carefully worded to avoid political hot-buttons, and it determined that Conservative and Liberal Americans agreed on 80% of the issues. We have more common ground than not, and right now we can’t afford to worry about that other 20%. Win this fight and we can argue over the other stuff later. Right now we have bigger fish to fry.
The NRA is on the ropes- we needn’t get into why- and has not been particularly effective in recent years anyway. Other major groups don’t have the deep pockets and resources to fight every fight; they need to pick and choose their battles, and some fights that need to be fought slip through the cracks. If we come together we are more likely to be able to muster the resources we need.
Now more than ever we need to present a unified front. Liberal, Conservative, black, white, hispanic, gay, straight, trans, Christian, heathen- all secondary concerns.* The new standard needs to be ‘If you’re with us you’re welcome.’ Quit with the name calling, belittling and bullshit. Our commonality is greater than that which divides us. As a rather famous wit once said, ‘We must hang together, or surely we will hang separately!’
There is in fact an organization dedicated to this proposition, and I would encourage all of you to look into them, follow them on Twitter etc. You can find them at https://opensourcedefense.org
Michael Tinker Pearce, 24 July 2019
*The exception I would have to make to this would be race/religion based hate groups and the like; they poison the brand of gun owners. Besides, they are the worst.
This is a bit esoteric, butI thought some of you might be interested. .38 S&W is an obsolete cartridge; very little work is being done on it these days, and information is a little thin on the ground. Hopefully I can make a useful addition to that pool of knowledge.
.38 S&W is the oldest ‘.38’ caliber revolver cartridge that is still in mass production. Modern .38s use .356-.358″ diameter bullets. .38 S&W cartridges use a .360-.362″ diameter bullet. It is not interchangeable with .38 Special and cannot be loaded in revolvers chamber for this or .357 Magnum. The cartridge’s dimensions may be found on Wikipedia; for our purposes suffice it to say it is shorter, slightly larger in diameter and less powerful than .38 Special.
The original load for this cartridge was a 147gr. lead round-nose bullet over a charge of around 10gr. of black powder. This yielded about the power of a light modern .38 Special target load. Modern Remington loads retain the 147gr RNL bullet, but seem significantly weaker than the black powder loads. More on that later…
We’ll go over the long history of this cartridge another time; the story of ‘the other .38’ is interesting and involved. But on with our blog…
As some of you might be aware I often carry a .38 S&W. To be precise a S&W DA Safety Hammerless (4th model.) I customized this gun originally as a novelty and conversation piece- a sort of ‘Steampunk Snubby.’ I discovered that it has a lot of practical utility; slightly smaller than a J-frame, an excellent DA trigger and, with a custom ergonomic grip, quite easy to shoot accurately. In short this charming little gun seduced me… but ammunition was an issue.
Standard commercial loads (like Remington etc.) are hopelessly anemic. Not surprising as they were designed not to blow up even the cheapest, crappiest guns made in this caliber, and there were quite a few of those…
A .380 ACP FMC round has more than adequate penetration, so to establish a baseline I test fired one at a free-standing 1-3/4″ thick kiln-dried Douglas Fir board. The bullet completely penetrated the first board and embedded it’s full length in the second board. I tested the Remington .38 S&W load and they don’t make it all the way through. Not really acceptable for self-defense, but hey, at least they are expensive and hard-to-find…
*Warning- the load data that follows may not work out in old, inexpensive guns, particularly top-breaks. It should be fine in any quality solid-frame gun, Enfield or Webley top-breaks. Use these loads at your own risk!
It was obvious from the start that I was going to need to ‘roll my own’ if I wanted to shoot these old guns regularly, but .361″ bullets are pretty thin on the ground. Bore diameters can vary, so I slugged the barrel to determine what my gun would be happiest with. The answer was .361 caliber, so it was spot-on.
First thing first- In terms of self-defense loads, hollow-points in this gun are a non-starter. They will almost certainly not expand, and if they do they will probably not penetrate deeply enough. I would need to depend on a solid and hit location.
I started out with Hornady .357 148gr. hollow-base wadcutters seated to roughly 2/3 of their length in the cartridge, and after some research and trials arrived at a load of 2.7gr. of Unique. These worked well in the gun, proved very accurate and, importantly, had the penetration I needed. Once again firing at 1-3/4″ kiln-dried Douglas Fir, they made a cookie-cutter hole in the front of the board and splintered the back before embedding the full length of the bullet in the board behind. Very comparable to .380 ball.
A little more experimentation revealed that .357 158gr. ‘cowboy’ bullets- which are quite soft- had no trouble bumping up to bore diameter when loaded over 2.5gr. of Unique. They were accurate, offered good penetration and were significantly cheaper than the HBWCs.
Between these two loads I’ve put over 2000 rounds through this little gun, with no signs of loosening or excessive wear. But they don’t call me ‘Tinker’ for nothing…
I had bought some cheap 125gr. .357 bullets and tried them in a number of different .38 Special guns, with different loads and powders. The best they managed was key-holing one shot in five, and it was usually worse than that. Not sure what the problem is; they look fine. They just don’t work. I don’t cast my own bullets, so melting them down was not an option. I decided to try swaging them to .361 SWCs.
Long story short, it worked. I load them over a larger charge of Unique and at seven yards they hit point of aim, punch nice holes and don’t keyhole. I decided to try some Montana Gold 115gr. FMC. They also worked out well. I’m going to have to test the penetration on these, but I am liking the results so far.
The swaging set- up was simple enough to make. I bored a hole in a small block of mild steel and reamed it to .361 to make the die. I took a piece of 3/8″ mild-steel rod, turned it down to .359, then hollowed out a cavity in one end with a drill-bit and a Dremel to make the punch. Set the die on the anvil, drop the bullet in, drive the punch down with a 2lb. hammer. Flip it over and drive the bullet out with a brass rod and Presto! A .361-caliber bullet. Pretty much anyone with a Dremel, dial-caliper and drill press could duplicate this.
It occurs to me that these lightweight bullets, loaded over a conservative powder charge, might be just the thing for shooting old top-break guns. The milder recoil from the lighter bullet will help avoid accelerated wear.
It appears that with the right load .38 S&W is still viable (though far from ideal) for self-defense, even in top-break revolvers.