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Old September 3, 2013, 06:34 PM   #1
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S&W Model 38, vintage "bodyguard"

Through some crazy trade that involved guns money and ammo I just became an owner of a vintage ca. 1960, S&W Model 38. It's a cool little snub-nose with aluminum frame. The main reason I agreed to own it is because I recently shot Ruger LCR and realized that shooting snubs with fixed sights is a different experience from shooting long-barreled revolvers with target sights. My accuracy was mediocre and hopefully this little beauty will help me improve it. I have a few questions about this revolver though...

The gun seems to be pretty clean. It has a shiny bore and good lockup with a very little play, so I don't expect any unpleasant surprises on the range. However the gun shows a fair amount of finish wear... On the frame it has a bunch of little "dots" where finish flaked from the aluminum. Structurally this is irrelevant as aluminum does not rust , but if there is a fairly inexpensive way to touch up the finish, please let me know. If not, I can leave it alone, it's not that bad.

The second question I have is whether this gun can handle +P ammo. It's a pretty old gun and I am not sure if it's strong enough for it. Please let me know. Thanks.



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Old September 3, 2013, 07:49 PM   #2
weblance
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Birchwood Casey makes a product called Aluminum Black. I dont know if you will be able to make the spots disappear, but it will make them much less noticeable.
Keep in mind, you will possibly lower the value by trying to restore the finish. There are collectors who value the original finish, blotches included.

The new 638 is marked .38 +P, so I would be hesitant to fire +P loads in a vintage Model 38.
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Old September 3, 2013, 08:11 PM   #3
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My own Model 38 is circa 1965. I carry it loaded with +P Remington SWCHP, but I only shoot +P moderately.
It is a great little revolver, and very light to carry.
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Old September 3, 2013, 10:27 PM   #4
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Thank you for the replies. The statement that the value of this gun may be decreased if I touch it up got me puzzled a little. I never thought this could be a collectable item. Is it really? I did not pay cash for the gun, thus it's hard for me to tell what it really worth, but the "estimated value" during the trade was $500 and I thought this was inflated. The only reason I did not question this number is because I got so much ammo along with this gun, it hardly mattered even if the real value is lower...

Interesting side note: I just learned that Remington UMC ammo does not fit in the chambers of this gun! The bullet is longer and cylinder does not close... PMC, Winchester and some third party reloads seem to fit perfectly fine, but they all have a bit shorter bullets. Good thing I saw it before I took it to the range
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Old September 3, 2013, 10:44 PM   #5
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ANY .38 special ammunition should fit your chambers. If not, then it's not .38 Special.
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Old September 3, 2013, 10:52 PM   #6
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It''ll handle the +P loads, but these older frames are susceptible to bending the top strap on HOTTER loads. I have a 36 Chief's Special Airweight I love, and only shoot lite loads for training. +P's go in for CCW though.
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Old September 3, 2013, 10:54 PM   #7
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Bill, I swear Remington UMC doesn't fit! It fits into a chamber, but it sticks out a little and the cylinder would not close. I couldn't understand what's going on until I put it next to a PMC and a factory reload rounds (which both fit perfect) and Remington is about 1mm taller.
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Old September 3, 2013, 10:57 PM   #8
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I also own a Model 38. It's size and shape makes it a good candidate for pocket carry. I would recommend against +P ammo. The gun could probably take a little but the frame would likely stretch if you shot very much. I've got splotches on mine, too. It just comes with actually carrying this pistol.

If you want to retouch it, go ahead. I think some folks here get overly stressed when they hear of someone wanting to touch up or modify a gun that isn't all that valuable as a collectible.
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Old September 6, 2013, 07:01 PM   #9
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If anyone cares to do a lot of reading on this gun, here is a link to a post how it broke on me after about 30 rounds. It has a happy ending though!

http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=532175

So far I like this gun a lot. The only other gun I can compare it with is Ruger LCR and while they feel very similar having an advantage of shooting single action is huge.
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Old September 6, 2013, 08:00 PM   #10
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S&W did not rate any .38 Special J-Frames for +P ammunition until the introduction of the "Magnum" J-Frame in 1999. While pre-1999 steel J-Frames such as the Models 36, 40, and 49 will handle limited amounts of +P ammo, airweights such as the Models 37, 38, and 42 should be fed a diet of standard pressure ammo only. The issue is that the aluminum frame is not as strong as the steel one (which was marginal for +P in the first place) and thus can and will stretch if fed too much +P ammo.

At most, I would recommend firing only a cylinder or two full of +P ammo to check POA/POI and crimp-jumping in a carry load and then using standard pressure for everything but carry. Better yet would be to get a good standard pressure carry load like Hornady's 110gr Critical Defense and avoid +P all together.

As for the finish, you can touch it up with something like the Birchwood Casey product if you like, but I doubt it will last long. Aluminum cannot be blued like steel can and, as such, most guns made of it have some sort of paint or other coating applied as a finish. As such, the finish on aluminum-frame guns generally isn't very durable and they will show holster/carry wear sooner than their steel-frame counterparts do. Even with modern J-Frame airweights, the silver-colored ones like the 642 are more popular than the black colored ones like the 442 because if/when the finish wears, it's less noticeable. Unfortunately, finish wear on aluminum is just the nature of the beast and part of the trade-off for a lighter weight gun.
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Old September 6, 2013, 10:24 PM   #11
Bill DeShivs
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Scrub the chambers out with a brush.
Again- ANY .38 special ammunition should fit in your chambers.
.357 magnum won't.
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Old September 6, 2013, 11:35 PM   #12
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Sorry Bill, but they just don't fit. The gun was cleaned today and chambers are as clean as they get... Remington UMC has a slightly longer bullet and that creates an issue. Refer to the image below. You can see a comparison of Remington and PMC and also how Remington fits the chambers. It sticks out about 1mm, even less, but just enough for the cylinder to not close. If I use some force it will close, but then would not revolve... PMC as well as a few other brands I tried on the range today fit all-the-way and shoot just fine.


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Old September 7, 2013, 01:00 AM   #13
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Odd. The length of the cartridge should have nothing to do with it (unless it was sticking out the end of the chamber.) The bullet is tapered.
Not sure what is up, but it should fit.
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Old September 7, 2013, 01:11 AM   #14
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I agree this is weird... but I can not comment beyond what I see as all my experience is with 357 revolvers, where chambers are longer. This is my first pure .38 gun... I took this gun to the range today and it shoots very well though, good accuracy and easy trigger. Just not with UMC
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Old September 7, 2013, 08:24 AM   #15
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It sounds like you have a gun with minimally dimensioned chamber throats, and that's what's causing the hang up.

I've seen it before.
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Old September 7, 2013, 09:19 AM   #16
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.

Not IMHO - The short cylinder (NOT short chamber) syndrome was also common to the early Ruger snub-nosed DA (Speed-Six ?) revolvers, albeit .357's (Ruger specified only the shorter 125gr load be used in them).

With a short cylinder .38 Special, while the cartridge case chambers readily, some boolits with a straighter ogive makes for a longer cartridge OAL, precluding closing the cylinder because the longer boolit nose sticks out beyond the face of the cylinder/chamber(s), hitting the side of the rear of the barrel that protrudes through the frame.

I used to shoot flush-seated wadcutters, reversed - the "flying ashtray" load - just because of the short cylinder issue.



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Old September 7, 2013, 10:34 AM   #17
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Quote:
The second question I have is whether this gun can handle +P ammo.
It can probably handle a limited amount, but S&W does not recommend it in the Model 49.

"...from a Smith & Wesson owner's manual printed in 1993:

Revolvers in which .38 Special +P ammunition can be used:
• J frames - Models 60-4 (full underlug barrel only), 60-7, 60-8, 640, 649-2
• K frames - Models 10, 13, 14, 15, 19, 64, 65, 66, 67
• L frames - Models 581, 586, 681, 686
• N frames - Models 27, 28, 627
Here is S&W's warning about +P ammunition -
Quote:
"Plus P" (+P) ammunition generates pressures significantly in excess of the pressures associated with standard .38 Special ammunition. Such Pressures may affect the wear characteristics or exceed the margin of safety built into many revolvers and could therefore be DANGEROUS.

"Plus P" (+P) ammunition should not be used in medium (K frame) revolvers manufactured prior to 1958. Such pre-1958 medium (K frame) revolvers can be identified by the absence of a Model Number stamped inside the yoke cut of the frame (i.e. the area of the frame exposed when the cylinder is in the open position).

The "Plus-P-Plus" (+P+) marking on ammunition merely designates that it exceed established industry standards, but the designation does not represent defined pressure limits and therefore such ammunition may vary significantly as to the pressures generated. "Plus-P-Plus" (+P+) ammunition is not recommended for use in Smith & Wesson firearms."

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