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Old January 9, 2020, 11:40 PM   #1
Tinker Pearce
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.38 S&W tests- factory and reloads

I had two test guns for this- a Harrington & Richardson .38 Safety Hammerless 2nd Model with a stock 3-1/4" barrel, and a S&W .38 Double Action safety Hammerless 4th Model, customized with an ergonomic grip, a 1-5/8" barrel and a new front sight. The H&R was a Christmas present from my wife; prior to this test I'd put a couple of dozen rounds through it. I've had the S&W for several years and put over 3,000 rounds through it. The test results were measured on a Caldwell Chronograph. Five shots were fired from each gun, and the result represents the average of those shots. The exception is the 150gr SWC load; I only had five of these with me at the time of the test.

The loads tested are suitable for top-break guns; this round can be loaded considerably stouter in British military top-breaks or S&W K-frames made for the British in WW2.


Winchester 145gr. (modern) factory ammunition

S&W- 1-5/8″ barrel: 535 fps. 92 ft./lbs SD: 39

H&R- 3-1/4″ barrel: 478 fps. 74 ft./lbs SD: 42

This modern factory ammunition is very under-powered, probably to make it safe to shoot in even the poorest-quality antique handguns.

125gr. TCL, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 621 fps. 107 ft./lbs SD: 21

H&R 3-1/4″ barrel: 566 fps. 89 ft./lbs SD: 11

This is a deliberately light load meant to be ‘top-break friendly,’ in the interest of being kind to antique guns of this type.

150gr. LSWC, 2.7gr. of Unique with a CCI 500 small pistol primer

S&W 1-5/8″ barrel: 672 fps. 150 ft./lbs SD: 14

I only had five of these with me, so I decided to shoot them out of the shorter gun as these are the loads I use when I carry this as a pocket-gun.

It’s interesting that the much shorter barrel on the S&W consistently produced significantly higher velocities than the longer barrel on the H&R. Over the years I've checked the tolerances on the S&W, and everything from the .361" bore to the chamber throats are exactly as they should be. I strongly suspect that I will find a number of tolerances out of spec on the H&R, but they were an 'economy' gun and the S&W was the undisputed top of the line in this class of American revolvers.

Next I'll be doing my best to replicate the original black powder load for this cartridge and testing that, alongside another reload or two.
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Old January 10, 2020, 07:07 AM   #2
mcb66
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Great post.
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Old January 10, 2020, 09:32 AM   #3
hounddawg
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thanks for taking the time to test and post. love the pic, those are some nice wheel guns
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