View Full Version : Iver Johnson top break 38S&W

November 21, 2009, 11:46 AM
Hello everyone, this is my first post in TFL (I post on THR).

I wanted to share my project with this forum too. A few months ago I bought an Iver Johnson safety hammer in 38S&W, that I wanted to restore. The gun was very sound mechanically and in appearance, but I wanted it to look new. I bought a nickel stripping solution and got all the old nickel off, and deblued the trigger guard, latch, and extractor cam. I sanded everything up to 600 grit to remove scratches and a little spot of pitting, and then polished it by hand with a compound. I sent the parts to get nickeled, and the ones that needed to be blued I first tried to cold blue (what you'll see in the pictures) but then I decided to send to a hot bluing service, because I realized cold blue doesn't protect at all against rust.

I had to find 2 springs that were missing/broken, and after a few weeks of work the gun was done. I had a guy load me some 38S&W cartridges with black powder, and I took the gun to the range for the first time yesterday. It was loads of fun, it made a great boom and put out a cloud of smoke, but I couldn't hit anything with it! there is good rifling in the barrel, but the sights are very small, and the front blade is very hard to see. It seemed to be hitting about a foot high (me and my dad shot it) at about 10 yards. I'm sure I could learn to shoot it if I practiced with it, but this gun is just for fun and looks, and I don't want to put a lot of wear on it, and the ammo was expensive. But I am very glad I shot it, and will probably do so again on occasion.

Here are the pics: the first two are the "before":



November 21, 2009, 11:49 AM
After shots:




November 21, 2009, 11:52 AM
More pics:




November 22, 2009, 09:40 AM
Looks great. How good is the bore, exactly? Do you know if that gun is rated for smokeless or not? Although smokeless ammo will put more strain on the gun, shooting BP cartrs will require you to do alot of detail cleaning afterwards to prevent any rust. But do not attempt to shoot smokeless rounds unless you can absolutely confirm it was rated for that. Otherwise, I suspect factory ammo is pretty mild stuff. If your friend loads smokeless for it, he should stick to minimal power loads too. And lead bullets. For best accuracy with the black powder ammo the lead should be pretty soft, I gather. But it looks nice. All the ones I see for sale at gunshows like that, are pretty ate up looking. I might buy one if I could find one that is not junk.

November 22, 2009, 10:07 AM
The rifling looks good to me, all of the internals look great.

This gun is a second model safety hammer, and was not designed for smokeless. Even if the smokeless load is very mild, and if the pressure level is the same as black powder, the speed at which it builds up that pressure is way different than black powder, so one should avoid smokeless in that gun altogether.

I shoot a cap and ball replica, so I know all about cleaning black powder. It pretty much means taking the entire gun appart to clean it, which is fine. I won't be shooting the Iver Johnson much, as I don't want to put any wear on it, and the ammo is expensive.

November 22, 2009, 10:34 AM
Looks good.

I suspect the only way you are going to get the revolver to print lower is to install a very tall front sight.

I hope you are shooting BP in a BP era pistol.

If you look at the load path in the top strap of a top break revolver, the typical structural elements keeping the strap on are the strap pins. Or the side of the strap. Top breaks are extremely weak actions.

November 22, 2009, 11:08 AM
Yes, I am shooting black powder, as I said in both posts above. The cartridges were loaded with pinnacle black powder, which I believe is the same as GOEX.

The top latch is what keeps the assebly from opening, and I hear that's the part that stretches if one were to use smokeless.

Also, I have seen the Iver Johnsons with a new sight blade, but they look very unattractive. Like I said, this is a "for fun" gun that I won't shoot often, so it's ok if the sights are off.

November 22, 2009, 04:01 PM
I suppose BP does not swell the cases appreciably from firing, with the pressures being so low. Maybe you could make gallery loads for it by just repriming the cases, filling in some triple F and hand seating a 32 cal roundball in the case, thus eliminating the need for getting a fancy set of dies and tools to shoot it a little.

James K
November 22, 2009, 06:16 PM
That is a very nice restoration; it looks like a new gun. From the viewpoint of a fun gun, I guess the restoration was worth the cost, but anyone planning such a project needs to understand that the cost of such work on a gun like that will almost always exceed the value of the gun, often by three or four times.

As to ammunition, factory .38 S&W is loaded with smokeless powder but the pressures are kept so low that there is rarely any problem shooting the old guns. I have several revolvers in .32 S&W and .38 S&W and shoot factory ammo when I fire them, which is not very often.


November 22, 2009, 07:14 PM
The cases do not swell a lot, but they also don't just fall out. In fact the extractor doesn't throw the cases out because I think this brass is just a hair longer than what the period ammo was.

I have heard about the gallery loads of putting a round ball over some powder. It would have to be a .360 ball, which are easy to find. I just don't have any reloading equipment, I don't know how to reprime, etc. Also, since these cases were black powder, the cases are filthy! there is just black muck everywhere.

I shoot trippe 7 in my cap and ball, but that is easier to clean than GOEX.

Anyways, I did spend $100 dollars to refinish a $77 gun, but it's for me to enjoy and I'm really happy to have done it.

November 22, 2009, 09:03 PM
I gotta say thats one sweet lookin' piece. I have a few Ivor Johnsons in .38 & .32 s&w. Love shooting these little gems. And I load so thats not a problem. If I may ask, Who did the re-nickle & how costly was it? I have one in .38 S&W I'd like to re-do. Thanks.

November 23, 2009, 12:15 AM
Thanks to everyone for the complements.

Well I did the nickel stripping, sanding and polishing myself, so all that was left to do was nickel. It cost me $75 dollars, but it was done by someone that I know.

I did get some quotes for online services though, and if the gun is prepped like mine was, it would be around $100.

James K
November 23, 2009, 10:29 PM
Most extraction problems on those older guns are caused by the effects of corrosive primers and black powder on the chambers. Even if they don't look rusty or rough, they often are. If you can do it without marring the nickel, you might try polishing the chambers with 600 grit or finer emery cloth. You just need a slotted dowel rod and patience, and you seem to have plenty of the latter.