View Full Version : Modifying old factory rounds to be safer in old guns ???

Magnum Wheel Man
June 30, 2010, 08:24 AM
I have been collecting old black powder cartridge era guns typically smaller "pocket guns" over the last year or so... I typically like center fire cartridges, as I have found several light loads with Trailboss & soft lead round balls that shoot well in these guns...

I reciently picked up an old S&W model 1 1/2 tip up in 32 rimfire to add a top hinge to my collection...

BTW... all my guns are functional, & I shoot most of the center fires, some of the "stonger guns" fairly regularly... I have a 30 rimfire that we made rifled 22 chamber inserts that I shoot Super Colibri's in, & it works well...

I could make similar rifled chamber inserts for the 32 Tip up, but the 32 rimfire was popular enough that there are still "collector" cartridges out there ( finding 30 rimfire is / was pretty tough )... I had to do some restoration repair to my tip up, now, over all it looks & seems fully functional, but I will not keep it if it's not "shootable" being it's an obscure rimfire, means I won't be shooting it regularly, but I need to know that it functions correctly, & have a box of ammo or two on hand for it, before it belongs in my collection...

my local builder is pretty skeptical of shooting it with early 1900's smokeless ammo, ( which we figure would likely have the most stabil & actually useable priming compound ) & I certainly don't want to crack a cylinder ( they are really thin & made of pretty soft iron on this model ) my builder suggested I "lighten" the bullets if I'm going to test fire it with that type of ammo... we are thinking about pulling one bullet, & determining how much to cut off the tip of the bullet, basically making it a flat nose, then perhaps even drilling out the center of the bullet some to further lighten the bullet, making a light weight hollow point out of the old round nose factory ammo... this would greatly reduce the chamber pressure on that early smokeless ammo... for me to use to test fire the revolver...

I'm not so worried about the collectability of the ammo as having a box or two to keep with the gun... I could see altering as much as a whole box, & putting it in a modern plastic ammo box, & selling off the old collectable box... this would of course depend on if the old rimfire ammo would fire in the 1st place ( part of the reason I'm looking for as new a box of 32 short rimfire in the 1st place )

has anyone else ever "lightened up" bullets on factory loads, with lowering chamber pressures as a motivating factor ???

ever tried shooting good condition ( properly stored ) rimfire ammo of this era ??? if so, you have a ballpark on how many actually fired ???


June 30, 2010, 06:31 PM
Even if you lightened the bullet, I would be worried about the pressure curve of the early smokeless powder. They didn't have the best pressure measurement equipment when smokeless first came in; also the burn rate could be much higher if there has been any chemical separation or deterioration over the years.

If you want to test it, how about you pull the bullets and dump the old powder, then put in a pinch of black powder and some wadding to make blanks?

You could probably figure out a way to reload the spent shells with priming compound.

Magnum Wheel Man
July 1, 2010, 07:19 AM
I suppose I could just pull a cylinders worth of bullets, dump the powder & test fire only the priming compound to start with... but that doesn't get me shootable ammo for the gun

maybe what makes more sense, before trying my S&W with lightened bullets, is to pick up a cheap solid frame gun ( you can often find cheaper solid frame guns in 32 rimfire cheaper than a box full of ammo ) by shooting a couple modified bullets in a sturdier albeit cheaper gun, I can better evaluate the ammo & percieved pressures, before sticking it in my S&W ???

hey... that sounds like an excuse to buy another gun :D

July 1, 2010, 04:56 PM
If you lighten the bullets, it will reduce the recoil, but may not reduce the peak chamber pressure very much. I suppose you could get some sense of the pressure by listening to the sound of the report from your test gun. The only problem is I don't know what a safe pressure is or what it would sound like.

Do you have access to a chronograph? It would be nice to know how consistent the velocity is if you're testing old ammo.

Looks like there was some new .32 RF ammo produced at some point:

Magnum Wheel Man
July 2, 2010, 07:57 AM
I'm on G.B quite a bit lately, so I had seen the ammo you linked... it's 32 long... I'll be shooting 32 shorts, & I haven't seen any recient ammo in the 32 shorts...

using a lighter bullet with the same powder charge should also reduce chamber pressures... a quick look through most any load book that publishes pressures should display that...

however... yes, I do have an old chrony, & will likely be testing the velocities of the ammo...

I've been watching an old solid frame 32 rim fire that is supposed to be in shootable condition... it'll likely sell for less than some of the better condition boxes of "vintage" ammo... so it might make a good test gun, before firing my S&W tip up...

BTW... my S&W tip up had a broken off screw in the top hinge when I bought it ( it wouldn't come out though, & I suspect the previous owner didn't know that ) but the hinge was "too loose" after we got the screw out, my machinist made me a stronger screw, just slightly larger, made of harder tool steel, that tightened up the hinge nicely... the cylinder is still "loose" by normal gun standards, but not bad considering the cylinder pin doesn't go all the way through the cylinder... a "bead" on the front of the cylinder rides in a detent in the front to support the cylinder... we have figured out a way to tighten that up, at which point the gun will likely be stronger than it was when new... but there is still the paper thin iron cylinder wall issue that really isn't fixable, & most worries me when it comes to actually shooting it... ( reason for looking for lighter loads in the 1st place )

maybe a pinch of black powder, or a light loading of Trailboss could be added if the bullets were pulled & the priming compound was still functional on the cartridges I get... that is, if I can find some way to reseat the bullets & resize / crimp so they stay put ( the rimfire uses a heal seated bullet, & the cases are smaller in diameter than the other 32 caliber centerfire cartridges that I'm aware of, so my other 32 dies are too big... I've heard the 32 Colts were of smaller diameter, but haven't gotten the chance to look at one, or know if a sizing die or bullet seating die is available & of the right size to re-seat my bullets / resize or crimp the rimfire cases???

hmmm... maybe my 30 carbine die might be of some use here ???


July 2, 2010, 06:23 PM
Why are you sticking to .32 shorts, is there some reason to think they would be loaded to a lower pressure? I think the long case would produce less pressure because of it's higher case volume.

The Navy Arms ammo has a picture of your gun on the box, so it must work:


Jim Keenan (on this forum) says he's tried it:
I have fired the Navy Arms .32 Long Rimfire cartridges in S&W No. 1 1/2 and No. 2 revolvers with no apparent damage or harm. I wouldn't fire a ton of them, but if the gun is in good shape, I don't think a few would hurt.


Nice gun, but those cylinder walls do look pretty thin. Is there much pitting that might weaken them?