The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > The North Corral > Black Powder and Cowboy Action Shooting

Reply
 
Thread Tools
Old March 20, 2014, 03:26 PM   #1
Magnum Wheel Man
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2006
Location: Southern Minnesota
Posts: 8,355
Early cartridge conversions... 38 S&W ever find their way into one ???

I've got a 38 S&W thread in the revolver section, I reload a lot of them just finished 650 rounds loaded in 3 load levels...

...a couple weeks ago, I was at the only gun show I get tables & sell at... during this last show... a guy brought in an old C&B revolver that was the ugliest thing I've seen in a long time... it was the mid sized frame, open top, did not see much "Colt" stuff on it, but did see a Colt patent... I thought it an early replica... guy said he had it since Vietnam & a buddy owed him money, so he took this gun in for what he owed him... the original cylinder was through bored, & a firing pin added to the hammer, the ball seat rod, was riveted solid, & the gun was shot so loose, I'd swear it could shoot around corners... anyway... I think it was 36 caliber, & I'd suspect they either shot 38 S&W, or 38 special in the gun... much of the base of the case was exposed, because of the shape of the back of the cylinder, there was no loading gate, or extractor added... I asked him what he was thinking for a price on this hammered old gun, he said the guy owed him $500.00 way back then, so he thought he need that or a little more... I laughed, & said I'd think $75.00 would be generous... needles to say, we didn't make a deal...

this got me wondering, if the 38 S&W with it's larger bullet diameter, & lower pressures might have found it's way into quite a few early original conversion guns ???

this also got me thinking, that a pair of 38 S&W conversion cylinders might be kinda cool on a 36 caliber revolver, for CAS use...

thoughts or comments ???
__________________
In life you either make dust or eat dust...

Last edited by Magnum Wheel Man; March 20, 2014 at 04:18 PM.
Magnum Wheel Man is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 04:18 PM   #2
Kappe
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 28, 2013
Location: New Jersey
Posts: 149
I have no doubt someone, somewhere could have converted a .36 caliber revolver to .38 S&W. Accuracy would be nothing to brag about though, unless the barrel was lined.

The bore (land) diameter of .36 caliber revolvers was nominally .360, the groove diameter being .375.
The .357 bullet of the .38 Special would pinball around. The .361 bullet of the .38 S&W would be barely scraping the grooves.

Still, there were a handful of 1860 Armies that were converted by gunsmiths to .44 Rimfire, which IIRC was somewhere between .443 and .447, again vs. the nominal .440 land, .451 groove diameter of the bore.
Kappe is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 04:21 PM   #3
Magnum Wheel Man
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2006
Location: Southern Minnesota
Posts: 8,355
thanks for the reply...I'm sure on this gun, the barrel was not lined...

if I built a pair for CAS, ( which I think would be cool ) I'd throw in a TJ's liner in the right bore diameter...
__________________
In life you either make dust or eat dust...
Magnum Wheel Man is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 05:14 PM   #4
Kadmos
Member
 
Join Date: April 27, 2010
Posts: 93
I'm not sure about early one's but I recall a recent kit called "the legal defender" kit, by theoldsarge. Which if memory is serving me correctly is/was a gated conversion kit to turn old Navy's into .38 S&W.

Don't know who it sold through, if it's still around, etc. But that might be enough info to give you a start for a search..

Good luck
Kadmos is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 06:26 PM   #5
Hawg
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 11,755
Original navies were converted to .38 Short Colt.
Hawg is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 07:17 PM   #6
James K
Staff
 
Join Date: March 17, 1999
Posts: 19,665
The .38 Short Colt, as first introduced, used a heel type outside lubricated bullet of around .378" diameter, fine for converted .36 caliber percussion revolvers. When the long version (.38 Long Colt) was adopted by the Army in 1892, the bullet was changed to an inside lubricated type of .357" diameter, and that type and diameter was carried over to .38 Special, .357 Magnum and .357 Maximum.

The .38 S&W was introduced in 1876, much too late to be used in percussion conversions; it always had an inside lubricated bullet of a nominal .360" (SAAMI says .355" to .361"), but in practice, most modern loadings appear to use a .357" bullet.

Jim
__________________
Jim K
James K is online now  
Old March 20, 2014, 08:32 PM   #7
sltm1
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 25, 2009
Location: Idaho
Posts: 303
Not to hijack the thread, but if 38's are so miserable in a 36, why do they work so well in a S&W 357?
sltm1 is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 10:45 PM   #8
Kadmos
Member
 
Join Date: April 27, 2010
Posts: 93
Quote:
Not to hijack the thread, but if 38's are so miserable in a 36, why do they work so well in a S&W 357?
The .38 long colt and S&W both use a bullet diameter of .361

the .38 short colt was slightly smaller at .359

The .38 Special uses a .357 bullet.

My understanding is they used to measure caliber from groove to groove, but then changed it to the more accurate land to land and the 38 special kinda got caught partway through the process.

Well, actually all those rounds did. We are talking ".38" rounds that go into ".36" guns

Essentially you can use the same bullet diameter in loading both a .38 special or a .357 magnum cartridge.

The .357 magnum came after the change, hence why it is named a ".357"

Interestingly though, I believe one can load and safely fire .38 short or long colt from a .38 special chambered gun (or .357), but not a .38 S&W round.

That said, be really careful about older guns, there are some old .38's that will chamber a .357 magnum and "set it off". I say "set it off" rather than fire because it may be more likely to blow apart than to actually "shoot".
Kadmos is offline  
Old March 20, 2014, 11:27 PM   #9
Kappe
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 28, 2013
Location: New Jersey
Posts: 149
@Kadmos You're close, but not quite.

In the era of cap & ball, bore was measured land to land. That's why a .36 caliber revolver actually takes a ball that's roughly .38 (.375) in diameter.

When the first early cartridges were introduced in the 1860s and early 1870s, they changed the measurement from groove to groove.
Early heeled .38 caliber cartridges like the .38 Rimfire and .38 Short Colt actually were .38 caliber, as they were .375-.380 in diameter to fit the percussion guns.

In the case of the .38 Long Colt, they simply lengthened the Short Colt case and switched from a heeled bullet to a modern internally-lubricated bullet.
They retained the .38 caliber designation for familiarity despite now being .357 in diameter, which would carry on to the .38 Special.

The .357 Magnum is still named after groove diameter, the same groove diameter as the .38 Special, but now .357 actually is the real diameter.

Nowadays we have cartridges like the .444 Marlin whose names have almost nothing to do with the actual diameter. Got that?

P.S.: Currently, .38 Short Colt, Long Colt, Special, and .357 Magnum all share the same bullet diameter, and the Colts can be fired in .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers.
.38 S&W is .361 and is not really interchangeable with any of them, but tolerances are known to overlap.

Historically, I don't think the .38 Short Colt was ever offered with non-heeled bullets. .38 LC was offered with both types.

Last edited by Kappe; March 20, 2014 at 11:45 PM. Reason: See P.S.
Kappe is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 07:14 AM   #10
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
"In the case of the .38 Long Colt, they simply lengthened the Short Colt case and switched from a heeled bullet to a modern internally-lubricated bullet."

When it was first introduced in 1874-75, the .38 Long Colt also had a heeled, externally lubricated bullet. It was a centerfire verision of the .38 Long Rimfire.

In 1889 the US Navy bought 5,000 Colt revolvers chambered in .38. The Model 1889 became known was the Colt Navy revolver, and the round the .38 Navy.

In 1892 the United States Army adopted the cartridge and a Colt revolver as military standard, but changed the cartridge to an internally lubricated bullet of .357 diameter. This version became known as the .38 Colt Army.

Not long after, ammunition companies began loading a single diameter bullet of .357. So that these round would work in the larger bores of the older revolvers, the bullets were very soft lead and had a large hollow base, with the sidewalls forming a skirt that would be blown out into the rifling upon firing.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 07:19 AM   #11
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
"Historically, I don't think the .38 Short Colt was ever offered with non-heeled bullets."

Yes, it was.

American manufacturer's started dropping heeled bullets wherever possible in the 1890s. The heeled bullet did hang on with some companies for quite a few years, though.

Western seems to have hung on to the externally lubricated bullet right up to about World War II, but not in the form of grease grooves, but in a Lubaloy plating and possibly wax, as is done with modern .22 LRs.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 07:49 AM   #12
Magnum Wheel Man
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2006
Location: Southern Minnesota
Posts: 8,355
interesting info guys... thanks for the replies...

makes me wonder what the revolver I looked at at the gun show was actually chambered for ???

& if I wanted to be correct for a pair of conversions for CAS, I'd have to use short Colt cases & a heel seated bullet...

BTW... I'm trying to reload some 44 Bulldog cases with heel seated bullets & trying not to re-invent the wheel... how did they crimp the cases on a heel seated bullet, without swagging down the bullet diameter ???
__________________
In life you either make dust or eat dust...
Magnum Wheel Man is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 09:27 AM   #13
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 11,186
I don't know how it was done in the old days, but Lee will make a collet crimp die for some heel bullets like .41 Long Colt.

A period cartridge conversion would have been for .38 rimfire or centerfire (.38 Long Colt.) The .38 S&W did not come out until 1876 when most of the conversion work was winding down. Not that Colt would have chambered or rechambered for a S&W round anyhow.

I have a Legal Defender such as Kadmos refers to.
They were originally sold in the 1970s as a way to evade restrictive gun laws, there was no CAS at the time. You can buy a cap and ball repro by mailorder, no requirement to go through a FFL.
You can buy a spare part like a cylinder by mailorder.

The Legal Defender cylinder came with a conversion ring with floating firing pin. Installation required drilling and tapping two holes in the breechface, screwing in the conversion ring, and filing the face of the hammer flat to hit the firing pin. If you wanted to be able to load the gun without taking the cylinder out, you had to grind out the capping channel to pass cartridges. There is no loading gate, it depends on friction to keep rounds in the cylinder as they index past the opening. When in firing or fired position, there is not a chamber aligned with the opening, it won't unload itself while being carried or handled. I shot mine a fair amount in CAS, it is quite accurate, (after lining the barrel to .358"), and never dropped a round while cocking.
Unloading is with a stick poked down the cylinder, no extractor was included.

They probably made it for .38 S&W because the cylinder is too short for a maximum OAL .38 Special and .38 S&W was more readily available than .38 Long Colt. I would not want a .38 Spl +P to sneak into an open top, either.
Accuracy was nil out of the percussion barrel, but probably adequate to repel boarders in your Manhattan apartment. I tried hollowbase wadcutters in hopes of a Minie ball effect but they were not reliable, so I had the barrel lined down.

I once saw one at a gun show on a defarbed repro revolver. The gun had been artificially antiqued to realistic patina and wear and was offered at an original's price. I could tell it was a fake because the Legal Defender's conversion ring has a distinctively shaped integral rear sight unlike anything ever done by Mr Richards at Colt.
Jim Watson is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 09:38 AM   #14
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
"I don't know how it was done in the old days,"

Street urchins crimped them with their teeth.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 09:56 AM   #15
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
"if I wanted to be correct for a pair of conversions for CAS, I'd have to use short Colt cases & a heel seated bullet..."

I've found some information that seems to indicate that Colt converted some 1861 revolvers to .38 Long.

Given that both .38 Lond and Short cartridges were loaded with later inside lubricated bullets using a hollow base, I wouldn't even worry about hyper authenticity, especially if you're not having to go through the painful process of loading and crimping your own heeled bullets.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 10:37 AM   #16
Magnum Wheel Man
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2006
Location: Southern Minnesota
Posts: 8,355
Mike... I could probably fit in a barrel liner & still call it "close enough" I see Starline offers both 38 long & short cartridges... I doubt there is much need for the long, since I could likely get the needed ( for CAS ) 600 -800 fps out of a Short Colt case, but either should be close enough to at least "look" period...

on the 44... I called my retired machinist buddy, & we are discussing the practicality of making a collet die... one issue, is the 44 bulldog cases are 44 special cases trimmed to 38 S&W length... so they are quite short to put a functioning collet in place... but he has an idea... we'll discuss later this afternoon

we're currently working on a Walker "black powder magnum" cartridge conversion, & after that, I'm seriously thinking about converting a pair of C&B 36's, to 38 cartridges, just for fancy cowboy shoots like regionals or state, I'd have a hard time giving up my stainless Ruger Montados in 45 Colt for everyday CAS use

another interesting question...

JIM said... "Not that Colt would have chambered or rechambered for a S&W round anyhow." I'm curious if the bulk of the original conversions out there were sent back to Colt, or if many of the local "gun smiths" did more actual conversions than the Colt factory ( yes I know it's hollywood ) but I remember some old western, where the hero takes in some C&B revolvers to a "good local gun smith" for conversion to cartridge guns... I'm thinking, that in actual numbers, probably more were converted outside the Colt factory... but admit, some of you would have a much better idea ???
__________________
In life you either make dust or eat dust...

Last edited by Magnum Wheel Man; March 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM.
Magnum Wheel Man is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 11:19 AM   #17
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
"I could probably fit in a barrel liner & still call it "close enough""

Why?

You can get hollow base molds and cast the same kind of bullet that was loaded for decades.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 11:22 AM   #18
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,074
As for conversions, in reality I suspect that not that many were ever done. Colt did a few thousand at the factory, Remington did a few thousand on license from Smith & Wesson, and others would have been done by local gunsmiths.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 11:49 AM   #19
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 11,186
I have occasionally, even rarely, seen pictures of a "blacksmith conversion" of a percussion revolver to cartridge. I think most were done at the factory.

In many cases, "conversion" is a misnomer, they used parts on hand to assemble new revolvers that were never completed as percussion. Colt even made new barrels without rammer cuts for several versions.
Jim Watson is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 04:29 PM   #20
Gaucho Gringo
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 17, 2007
Location: Portland, Oregon
Posts: 215
Everyone interested in cartridge conversions should read Dennis Adler's book on cartridge conversions. It has great pictures and lot's of info on the subject. The one thing the book makes clear they run the entire spectrum from newly assembled to home smithed and any variation in between. Just the variation of barrels on a 1860 as an example, there could be 7 or 8 variations from the original percussion all the way to new S lug which was originally made for the Open tops.
__________________
.357 Taurus Gaucho, .22 Heritage RR, 2-Pietta 1858 .44 NMA Remingtons, Euroarms & ASM .36 1851 Navies, .31 Uberti Baby Dragoon, 12 ga H&R Topper, 16 Ga Western Field, .43 Spanish Remington Rolling Block, .44 ASM Colt Walker, High Point C9 9mm, Winchester 1906 .22, Rossi 62 .22 rifle, Uberti 1860 and IJ .32 S&W BreakTop, .36 Euroarms 1858, .32 S&W long H&R
Gaucho Gringo is offline  
Old March 21, 2014, 07:23 PM   #21
Hawg
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 11,755
You can trim down a .38 special to Long Colt length. Its not much shorter.
Hawg is offline  
Old March 22, 2014, 05:39 PM   #22
bedbugbilly
Senior Member
 
Join Date: November 19, 2009
Posts: 2,241
In regards to "conversions" - I've been loooking at "replica" conversions and those sold by Cimarron (Uberti) that are chambered in 38 Colt Long/ 38 Spl have barrels that are .357.

In regards to the conversions versus Colt assemblies . . . I've been looking at the 1872 Colt open top - will probably get one that is chambered in 38 Colt / 38 spl. since I can get the 38 Colt Short and cut down 38 spl to 38 Colt Long length. Anyways . . . in looking and inquiring over not he Colt forum . . .

the 1872 open top . . . which was not a conversion but a separate model . . about 7,000 produced . . . the early ones evidently had the Navy frame. It makes sense as the 1851 Navy was discontinued in 1872 and Colt would have had parts on hand. It was also available in the Army frame. Barrel length was 7 1/2". Cimarron offers their 1872 open tops in 4 3/4", 5 1/2" and 7 1/2" barrel length and I questioned that . . . and from photos of originals, the barrels were sometimes "cropped" by the owners at some point. The 1872 was made in .44 Henry rimfire to go well with the 1866 Winchester chambered in 44 Henry.

If the OP is thinking of conversion . . . . the option is there to retain the C & B .36 bore and use a heeled bullet . . . or line to .357 and utilize a flat base RN for CAS (I don't shoot CAS so don't' know what the rules are).

Originally, I was planing on getting a conversion cylinder for either one of my '51 Navies or my '58 Remington Navy. When I started looking at the price of conversion cylinders added on to the price of the C & B . . . I decided to go with one of the '72 open tops and / or one of the conversions that gave me the .357 bore.

I reload a lot of 38 Spl. to shoot in "vintage" revolvers but want to start loading BP cartridge as well . . . thus my reasoning for going with the 1872 open top (or possibly a conversion) that has the .357 bore. Basically, one less mold to buy for me. The replica conversions give you the "option" of 38 Colt Short, 38 Colt Long and 38 Spl. Personally, I want to try all three cartridges . . just to have something to "play with". I guess it all depends on how much time/effort you want to put in to it and in the end, either way should work fine . . a .357 bore and conventional .358 lead RN or the larger bore with a good "heeled" bullet.

Please keep us posted on what you end up doing . . all interesting stuff!
__________________
If a pair of '51 Navies were good enough for Billy Hickok, then a single Navy on my right hip is good enough for me . . . besides . . . I'm probably only half as good as he was anyways. Hiram's Rangers Badge #63
bedbugbilly is offline  
Reply

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:05 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2014 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent: thefiringline.com
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.12315 seconds with 9 queries