View Full Version : Revolver Messy

May 27, 1999, 05:58 PM
Hi all,

I'm confused. I admit I am not a long time shooter, and most of my experience is with autos. But i recently bought a S&W .357 revolver with 4 inch barrel. I had it worked by a gunsmith and it shoots like a dream. Only one little problem.

When I shoot it, it gets incredibly dirty. I mean if I shoot 100 rounds I get the entire cylinder covered with soot, and of course my hands get filthy.

Now I don't mind the fact that shooting does get a bit messy, but this is crazy. Heck, if I shoot my Colt .45s (and don't pick up the brass) my hands stay clean. But when I shoot the S&W revolver, just reloading and shooting gets me filthy.

Is this normal for a revolver? Is there some adjustment that closes the gap between barrel and cylinder that reduces the amount of gunk on the gun?

Help sought.


May 27, 1999, 10:49 PM
Were you using lead bullet loads or jacketed bullet ammo? Lubricated lead bullets do make a bigger mess than jacketed bullets.
Jacketed ammo is more expensive, but somewhat easier to keep clean while shooting it.

George Stringer
May 28, 1999, 07:29 AM
It could just be the brand of ammo you're using. Some burn cleaner than others depending on the type of powder they use. Aguila is pretty dirty and several commercial reloaded ammo brands that I've tried are dirtier than Remington for instance. I don't know what the cleanest brand is, but in my autos Rem-UMC seems pretty clean. George

Walt Sherrill
May 28, 1999, 08:10 AM
I have several revolvers (a S&W 25-2, a Python, and a Rossi 877), and have the same problem whenever I shoot semi-wadcutter or other lead bullets. I think its just the nature of the beast -- although as George S. says, some brands of ammo are dirtier than other brands.

In the case of the Python, which is nickle-plated, it looks really nasty after firing, the fingers of my left hand are black, and it almost takes a FILE to get the lead off the front of the cylinder. (Just joking... a brass brush, elbow grease and some solvent generally does the job.) This particular gun is tight with a very small (but uniform) cylinder to barrel gap...

Check your barrel closely after shooting -- if you're getting that much mess on the outside, there's probably a lot more build up of lead inside than you realize -- and it'll be hard to see without a bore light.

Ken Cook
May 28, 1999, 03:55 PM
Also, you might want to get a set of feeler gages and check the barrel/cylinder gap.
.002 to .004 is within the normal range for S&W revolvers, anything over is too much and you need to have your cylinder shimmed to reset the gap.
See your gunsmith. I recommend a S&W certified repair station if you don't know how good your smith is. It's an easy job to screw up.

Your mind is your primary weapon.

May 28, 1999, 10:26 PM
To all replies,

Thanks. The smith I used is a failry well known S&W smith in my area. In fact, pretty much all he works is S&W revolvers or Colt autos. He has a reputation as a good smith.

The ammo I shoot is my own reloads, using lead SWC bullets and Winchester powder (which is supposed to be somewhat clean per Dillon). I took the gun back to the smith and, well, you have to know him. The designation character is a good one. So I can't always tell when he is serious. He didn't seem to pay any attention to my question, instead taking it back and cleaning it (and supposedly tacking a charge on my account for the cleaning).

Visually, the gap between cylinder and barrel is wider than on my Colt King Cobra. I just don't know.

Tomorrow I'm going to put 100 rounds each through the S&W and Colt. If the Colt is still reasonably clean and the S&W is filthy, I'm going to find a way to check the gap. I do have some feeler gauges for setting the gap on spark plugs, maybe they are adequate for the job.

I don't know what I'll do if this is normal. If this is normal, as Walt says his Python is, I'm not sure I'll shoot it much. I don't mind doing the cleanup after, it's the getting too filthy to touch any of my other guns at the range that bugs me.

Walt, as to build up inside, I promise that isn't the problem. While I don't like cleaning guns, I do take it seriously as I figure it is part of the price to shoot. The gun was clean to start the day, and a couple hundred rounds seems too few to cause a problem.

Maybe it is the nature of the beast. Guess I have to go load a few hundred rounds tonight and see in the AM.

Thanks again.


May 29, 1999, 12:31 AM
since you reload, what type of winchester powder are you using? 231 with moderate loads doesn't give me too much a problem with cast lead. maybe try Hodgden's new Titegroup or
Winchester's 452AA ( or its replacement). These might alleviate part of the problem. By nature, lead and its lubricants are dirty. Try changinbg your lubricant to one that has a higher temp than the conventional. Good Luck.

Paul B.
May 29, 1999, 12:12 PM
Sounds to me like you are getting the greasy soot from the bullet lubricant. I cast my own, and regardless of the type of lube I use, I get the mess. It's just part of the game. After 40 years of it, well I've learned to live with it. I just don't like jacketed bullets.
If you're using lead in your 45's too, they'll get just as dirty. It'll just be inside.
Paul B.

May 29, 1999, 05:02 PM
Well, I'm back from the range. Confused but happy.

I "think" I was using SWC lead bullets when I got the huge mess. Today I shot 100 rounds of semi jacketed hollow point (still reloads). In both I used Winchester 231 powder. But today - no mess.

Either the smith adjusted something when he was "cleaning" the gun and didn't want to admit it, or the bullets make all the difference. I'm leaning towards the bullets. My smith has a large enough ego to just say "oh, looky here, I can fix this" rather than hide it.

It must be the lube on the lead bullets that was creating the mess. While I like the nice clean holes a lead SWC makes, for the revolver I'm going to stick with the semi jacketed bullets.

I also just started loading lead SWC for the 45 autos. I don't see any difference in mess versus the jacketed bullets I was shooting before, but I haven't opened up the autos to clean yet. Still, if the mess stays inside until I'm ready to clean I don't mind. And I really loved the difference in the holes the SWC makes. Very clear when two holes overlap.

Reloader, thanks for the tips. I think it is the lube and not the powder. But I'll file away the suggestions for future alternatives.

Paul, also thanks for tips. I'm still a newby, especially to reloading. I'm curious why you don't like jacketed bullets. If I could find some that cut the nice clean holes the lead SWCs make, I'd be in hog heaven. I don't mind the small difference in price.

Thanks again.


Mal H
May 29, 1999, 06:57 PM
Jimmy, You have several bullet options if you want nice clean holes in the target with a lead bullet without the lube carbonizing problem. RanierBallistics makes an electroplated double ended wad cutter (DEWC) among others that has the characteristics of lead and uses lead powder loads. Most reloading suppliers sell them.

Also, National Bullet sells some very good copper plated lead bullets in most any WC configuration you could want. I have shot a ton of them, a few hundred grains at a time, and highly recommend them. They are in Eastlake, Ohio, phone is 216-951-1854. They'ld be happy to send a catalog.

May 30, 1999, 03:43 PM

Thanks for the tip. I'm calling ASAP Tuesday AM.


Mal H
May 31, 1999, 10:36 AM
Jimmy, I failed to mention that the copperized bullets from National Bullet do have a lube ring. But I get far less smoke from them than from other "naked" lead bullets. Some of the smoke and residue is from the lead itself, a health concern at some ranges which the copper plating eliminates. It is also a simple matter to remove the lube from each bullet if you want to experiment, it takes about a second per bullet. I thought you should be fully informed before you make the call. The Rainier bullets have a slightly thicker copper plating and do not have the lube ring.

Rainier has a web site at <a href="http://www.rainierballistics.com/"> RainierBallistics</a>. But, again, they only have the DEWC which are great for practice.

[This message has been edited by Mal H (edited May 31, 1999).]

May 31, 1999, 10:20 PM
Another source of really good plated bullets is "Berrys". Dillon carries them in their catalog right next to the "Rainer" bullets. I find the Berry bullets a little higher in quality and a little lower in price.

4V50 Gary
June 1, 1999, 10:52 PM
Ammo, lubricant, powders all contribute to how dirty a revolver will get. It's unavoidable since Sam Colt graced us with his design. So long as there a gap between the forcing cone and the face of the cylinder, gases will inevitably escape and soot up the cylinder. About the only revolver I can think of off hand which won't do this is the Moisin Nagant - the cylinder moves forward and engages the barrel, acting as a seal. Heck, a dirty cylinder is easily cleanned with a little bit of Hoppe's and elbow grease. My father's method was even better: "Son, clean the guns."

Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt

June 2, 1999, 03:53 AM
JimmyBCool - I think I have a cheap solution to your problem. Latex gloves. I started using them to work on my car to keep grease and dirt off my hands, and it worked like a charm. The advantage to the latex gloves is cost. For the price of a box of non-powered latex gloves at Costco for example, you could buy a pair of Uncle Mikes shooting gloves, but Uncle Mikes shooting gloves are padded and can cause grip problems if you have small hands. On the other hand, (sorry, couldn't resist) the latex gloves won't interfere with your grip, and may enhance your grip in fact, while solving the problem of powder fouling on your hands. When you're done shooting your revolver, pull off the gloves and throw them in the trash can. Now your hands are clean when you pick up your other guns or gear.


Paul B.
June 5, 1999, 10:47 AM
Jimmy. Why do I like cast bullets better than jacketed? Good question. One is independence. I was a kid during WW2. Several neighbors were reloaders and cast bullets. They let me watch. They loaded various cartridges with cast bullets and rented them out. During WW2, the only ammo you could buy was either .22LR or 30-30 Win. and most of that was allotted to farmers for pest control, as their crops were vital to the war effort. If you didn't cast bullets and reload, you were up a polluted puddle without any means of propulsion. They rented the brass at $5.00 each. $4.00 was returned when you brought the brass back. Under some of the provisions of GCA 68 this would be illegal, but I bet it could happen again.
Another reason i I sometimes hunt with a handgun. When I hike on Mt. Lemmon, I carry a 4 5/8's inch Ruger .44 Magnum. In the past few years they have had some problem bears up there. I load a 312 gr. cast bullet for that situation. Most of the time I load 240-250 gr. bullets i cast myself. Being retired, I have the time to do it. I also use cast bullets in rifles for low recoil practice. In a 30-30, i can duplicate factory loads with no sweat ot strain, and they work just as well on deer as factory stuff.
Making the larger 30's shoot well can be a challenge, but that's half the fun.
I'm in my 60's now, and I have been casting since I was 16. Fact is, when I get through with this post, I'm going out to my workshop and run another batch of bullets.
Over the year I have collected about 20 or 30 molds, some good; some not so good. Every time I go to a gun show, I look for good deals on molds. I have a source of reasonably priced bullet metal,(wheel weights, cleaned and molded in one pound ingots).
What can I say? It's fun, and in the long run a lot less expensive than store bought. It does take a while to amortize the equipment though.
Paul B.

June 5, 1999, 02:32 PM
Well, back again. I have now shot over 400 rounds and not had the old problem. Frankly, I think the gunsmith changed the gap between barrel and cylinder. But I'm happy.

To all, thanks for the tips on bullets. I think I'll stick with the semi-jacketed ones I'm getting from Dillon. They make a nice clean hole and are easy and clean to load.


I met another person at the range that cast his own bullets. It is intriguing as it eliminates one more external requirement to load your own ammo. But it sounds like a time consuming job (and as you said the amortization on the equipment is reaaaalll long). I sure do wish I cold figure out how to make my own primers though. I have a hunch ammo and primers are where the gun fanatics will strike next in an effort to annoy shooters. They'll limit supplies and tax the heck out of 'em.


Mal H
June 5, 1999, 02:58 PM
Jimmy, primers and powders are fairly cheap when you buy them in lots of 5000 or 8 lb. cans respectively. And they will last a long time if kept cool. Hint, hint.

James K
June 5, 1999, 09:50 PM

If your smith reduced the barrel cylinder gap on an S&W he is darned good (as a practical matter, it can't be done). I suspect he may have throated the barrel, which could reduce leading and mess.

FYI, a double edge razor blade runs about .045" and makes a pretty good gage for barrel cylinder gap. Much over that is not good and two thicknesses would be a factory trip for the gun. (Don't cut fingers trying this!)

BTW, you don't want too little gap either or cylinder will hang up when hot.


4V50 Gary
June 6, 1999, 09:41 AM
Too little gap and when the leading builds up, binding may result too.

Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt