Monthly Archives: October 2021

Your .44 is a .43? Blame the Russians!

OK, don’t blame it on the Russians. They started it, but Smith & Wesson is really the culprit here, and It all started with a cool gun…

The S&W Model 3

In 1868 S&W introduced a radical new revolver, the Model 3. This is a top-break, auto-ejecting single action revolver offered in .44 S&W. This was a moderately powerful centerfire cartridge; from the new revolver’s 6″ barrel this cartridge used a .440″ heel-base 218 gr. bullet at 660fps., yielding 196 ft./lbs of energy at the muzzle. Since it used a heel-base bullet the outside diameter of the case was also .440″.

This revolver gained moderate popularity, but the public was somewhat reluctant to give up their trusted percussion revolvers. But the Russians weren’t skeptical; in fact they were very interested.

The Plot Thickens…

In 1871 the Russians came calling. They were looking to update their military, and S&Ws revolver seemed like just the ticket. In fact it was… almost. They loved the revolver…but that cartridge… seriously?

.44 S&W ‘American’

It wasn’t the caliber. It wasn’t the power. It was the bullet. As it happens heel-base bullets need to be lubricated on the thick part- the part outside the case. The part that it exposed to weather, heat, dust, grit and all the other nice things encountered by soldiers in the field. ???????, ???!

What they really wanted was a cartridge where the bullet, and hence the lube ring, was inside the cartridge where it would not be subject to all that nastiness. S&W decided the customer is always right, at least if the contract was big enough. The logical thing to do would have been to increase the case-size to .450″, but they would need to retool and they had all these shiny new copper cases… They decided if it would be such a pain to come up with a whole new cartridge they could just make the bullet small enough to fit inside the case and bore barrels to match. How small does such a bullet need to be? About .429″, or about .43 caliber. The new cartridge was called .44 Russian, because people were used to .44s, not .43s. Of course the .44s they were used to were actually .45s, but that’s a story for another day.

This became the standard diameter for .44-caliber cartridges, causing generations to come to scratch their heads and say, “Wait, what?” This also established the time-honored tradition of lying about your caliber. Totally not Freudian. Really.

The original cartridge quickly became known as ‘.44 S&W American’ to distinguish it from the Russian contract cartridge, which in a stunning display of imagination they called ‘.44 Russian.’ The .44 Russian quickly displaced it’s parent cartridge because heel-base, outside-lubed bullets suck, and the .44 American soon vanished into the dust-bin of history.

Testing .44 S&W Russian

The new cartridge was rather more powerful than the old, driving a 246gr. bullet at 750fps. for a total of 310 ft/lbs at the muzzle. I had a fresh, shiny new block of Clear Ballistics ordinance gel (thank you Patreon supporters!) and a pair of discarded jeans… It was obvious what needed to happen.

The test-gun was my S&W 3rd Model New Navy, a double-action version of the original Model 3. It was listed in S&Ws catalogue as the New Navy because Russia was making noises about buying them for their navy. They didn’t.

The 3rd Model New Navy revolver.

I did a bit of research and settled on a 200gr. LRNFP bullet over 4.9gr. of Unique with a Winchester WLP primer. I set up the block and the chronograph and fired a shot. The results were, um, predictable. The bullet crossed the chronograph at 820 fps., penetrated 16″ of gel and bounded off the wood backstopping the gel. The resulting wound track was pretty un-exciting.

Good penetration, but basically a straight-through hole.
The bullet, which bounced off the backstop and was trapped between it and the gel-block, was is very good condition.


…now you know why your .44 is a .43. You’re welcome.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 October 2021.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

This is was not supposed to be my next post. Honestly I never expected to make this post or one like it. I certainly never expected to receive a bullet wound and I always assumed that if I did a firearm would be involved. But I am a man of unusual talents. Let me explain.

My every attempt to crimp 32.-20 cartridges has resulted in the shoulder collapsing, and if I don’t crimp them the bullet sometimes decides to wander off somewhere. My solution has been to run the reloaded cartridge into the sizing die after removing the primer-punch. Works a treat.

I noticed last evening that the bullets in some 9mm I reloaded some time back were not as secure as I would like them to be; apparently the seating-die had not been properly adjusted. The sensible thing to do would have been to adjust the seating die and run the cartridges through again. So of course I didn’t; I pulled the primer punch and ran them into the re-sizing die. Because .32-20.

9 x 19mm, you will note, is not a bottle-necked case like .32-20. Once there is a bullet in the case it does not want to go into the resizing die. Since I am the The Brute Squad I made it do so, with predictable results. Yep, the cartridge stuck. It was at this point I realized that I had !@#$ed up.

I have had empty cases stuck in a re-sizing die before (yes, I am looking at YOU. .44 Magnum.) Never mind that this was a cartridge, not an empty case; I did what I do. I clamped a set of vice-grips to the cartridge-head, put the die in the vice and tried to use the pliers to extract the primer. Nope. I tried harder. Uh-uh. I kept trying. Harder. No, this is not when the cartridge detonated.

Eventually the case-head was pretty mangled and the primer was crushed enough that I felt I could remove it with a small pick, and in fact I could. This was still not when the cartridge detonated. What I did not realize was that I might not have removed all of the insides of the primer. You know, the part where the bits that go bang are.

At this point I determined that the best course would be to cut the case-head off with the bandsaw, dump the powder and ream out the casing. I proceeded to do this, gripping the die firmly in my left had. THAT is when the cartridge detonated.

The view from the VA hospital Emergency Room.

As it turns out a carbide die makes a fair approximation of the chamber of the firearm. It propelled the brass out of the die forcefully, so I did I get the casing out. The bad news is the bullet came out the other end, with the results you can see above. The bullet passed neatly through the heel of my hand and vanished into the depths of the shop. Fortunately it wasn’t moving very fast and my hand slowed it down further, as there were no unaccounted-for holes in the walls or equipment.

I immediately and and succinctly exercised my command of colloquial English, and with significant dripping blood shut off the saw and exited the shop. Quickly wrapping my hand in a plastic bag to contain the blood, I locked up and went inside the house and informed Linda that I would require assistance. I have met me, so we have a trauma kit and I asked her to get it. This did not alarm her; she’s met me too. The fact that I was calm and not swearing scared the crap out of her, however.

I thoroughly washed my hands with anti-bacterial soap, then irrigated the wound for five minutes over the sink. This was especially fun as it had started to hurt, but having had migraines for decades I have an unrealistic appreciation of pain so no problem. After drying my hand we applied antibiotic cream and a fast-clotting dressing. Between Linda and I we got it taped up and I headed for the local VA Emergency room.

Fortunately 9 PM on a Monday night is not a busy time there, and a couple of not-very-pleasant hours later I drove home with a bag of medical supplies, a bottle of antibiotics and some Vicodin just in case the pain got really bad. I almost demurred at the pain-killer as I did not expect to need it, but I quite uncharacteristically opted to be sensible. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

The good news is that the bullet didn’t hit anything important. Other than my !@#$%&*! hand, I mean. Didn’t damage the bone, nerves, tendons etc. The x-ray didn’t show any significant fragments, which I didn’t expect with a FMC bullet anyway. As for the pain this morning, I’m 59 years old and in my youth I was very much not kind to my body; the discomfort has faded into the background noise of my normal level of discomfort. Tylenol’s got my back.

So for a few days I am limited in what I can do for work. My fingers work just fine, but gripping or otherwise putting pressure on the heel of my hand is not a good idea. It seems like an excellent time to sit around and watch the CNC router inlet grips for me.

In summary-

*If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

*Never trust a metal tube full of stuff that goes BANG.

*When in doubt don’t.

*Don’t be me.

Stay safe, and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 12 October, 2021

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More New Tricks for an Old Dog

This post is in the form of a photo-essay. Sort of. This is a 1949-production S&W M&P (the model that later was called a Model 10.) This ongoing project has the purpose of turning this old gun into the best concealed-carry fighting revolver I can devise. Sure, the very concept is dated, but it’s all in good fun. Without further ado-

Here’s the current state of the gun, dare I say it’s final form? Perhaps. Note that the trigger guard is cut away on the right side for faster access to the trigger from the safe position on the top of the frame.
The barrel is cut to 3″ and the hammer bobbed; It’s really meant for 99.9% double-action.
The Wonder Sight is a low-profile no-gunsmithing adjustable sight. This was mounted on my M1917, but the base-plate is the wrong size for an N-Frame, which allowed it to tilt under recoil. On the K-frame it bears against the blast shield as it should, holding it firmly in place.
I really should have cleaned the gun before before photographing it… Anyway, the custom front-sight has been modified with a brass insert silver-soldered to the top, and 40 LPI grooves cut across it. Quick to acquire, and it shows up well in a variety of lighting conditions.
40 Line Per Inch grooves are cut into the top of the frame to reduce glare. I probably should have cleaned the gun before I photographed it…
20 LPI grooves are cut into the bottom of the trigger guard. I use a very high-and-tight grip, so the index finger of my left-hand is pressed firmly against the trigger guard, and the effect of these grooves is surprising. They genuinely help anchor the gun when using a two-hand grip.
The hammer has 20 LPI grooves across the top to facilitate thumb-cocking. I expect I’ll use this feature rarely if ever; the trigger much be pressed part-way to start the hammer back before these grooves are accessible, I don’t really recommend it, but it’s there if I need it.
The Birdseye Maple grip is fitted to my hand specifically, and while it might appear to be a two-finger grip it actually isn’t. My pinky-finger curls around the bottom of the frame, and the sides of the grip are relieved to accommodate it. The chambers are lightly beveled, just enough to break the edge to facilitate reloading. I tried to photograph this, but it just doesn’t look like anything, so no pics.

So there you have it, and I hope you all enjoyed looking at this gun. While it’s mostly in good fun, this is a very capable gun, and I have every intention of carrying it when conditions and circumstances permit.

Stay safe and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 9 October 2021