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Old December 3, 2019, 08:39 AM   #1
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H&R Top break .32 is it .32 S&W (Short) only or .32 S&W Long?

H&R Top break .32 is it .32 S&W (Short) only or .32 S&W Long?

I have seen a few threads on here talking about similar guns. Mine has .32 S&W CTGE on the side of the barrel which according t what I have read so far indicates smokeless (I think). I bought this gun on auction and it is coming my way soon. I just want to know if I can shoot S&W long out of it? Can I use factory ammo or just starting loads? I do reload and have .32 dies so I can customize ammo if needed.
Serial no. 490590
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Old December 3, 2019, 10:43 PM   #2
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You need to find someone expert in the H&R top break.

According to my books the .32 S&W was introduced in 1878, in a top break revolver. The .32 S&W Long was introduced in 1903 in a solid frame revolver.

H&R made guns in both calibers. Dimensionally both the "short" and Long cases are the same except for length, with the long case being approx. .32" longer than the short one. Factory loads used a 95gr bullet for the Long and an 86gr for the .32 S&W.

If your gun was made before 1903 it can't be a .32 S&W Long. If it was made after that, it could be either, though at a guess if it was made for the Long ctg, it would say .32 S&W Long ctg on it.

I do not know if H&R put the "ledge" in the chamber of their .32S&Ws. Not an expert on .32s but I believe S&W did put a ledge/step at the front of the chamber in their guns. Many other revolver makers did not.

IF your gun doesn't have that step at the front of the short chamber it could chamber the Long cartridge. This is considered a less than good idea. Unlikely the Long will blow up the gun, but top breaks are not very strong actions and the metallurgy used in budget guns of that era wasn't that good either. Fortunately neither round is a high pressure powerhouse, so disaster is unlikely, however if the gun is made for the short case, shooting the long one's slightly more powerful load could result in accelerated wear.

If the gun is made for the longer case, shooting the shorter one is not a concern, other than the eventual crud build up if you go too many rounds without cleaning.

I believe both rounds were loaded with black powder until at least the 1920s, possibly longer until the start of WWII ended ammo production for the duration of the war.
All else being equal (and it almost never is) bigger bullets tend to work better.
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Old December 3, 2019, 11:24 PM   #3
Jim Watson
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Until you get it in your hands, it would be best to assume it is in the caliber they saw fit to stamp on the barrel, .32 S&W.

Maybe it is S&W Long and not properly marked. Why worry or waste money stockpiling the wrong ammo?
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Old December 4, 2019, 03:13 AM   #4
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H&R didn't do a good job back then marking their barrels, but what I can figure is if it can chamber a .32 S&W Long, it's meant to fire it.

I have an H&R with the cartridge marked on the barrel indicating it's meant for smokeless and it's a 6 round model that chambers and fires .32 S&W Long. From what I have been told it's the 5 shot models that were .32 S&W Short only and the cylinder on those is a lot shorter than the 6 round models.

I would stick to just lead bullets and whatever is weakest for plinking, which would be the .32 wadcutter ammo, which is also the cheapest ammo in .32 S&W Long. If you intend to use this for any defensive shooting, get a lead round nose or semi-wadcutter, a bit more power, but still safe in these old guns.
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Old December 4, 2019, 05:06 AM   #5
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Looks exactly like my old H&R, which is definitely 32 S&W "short". You could look up my post describing replacement of that latch, the weak point of the gun. They made that model through 1904, barely into the smokeless era. Don't know for sure, but I doubt they were designed for smokeless. That said, Magtech makes 32 S&W smokeless ammo, and it functioned fine in mine, right up until the latch failed. I now load mine with Alliant Black MZ.
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Old December 6, 2019, 01:47 PM   #6
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That looks like the early Black Powder 32 S&W short cylinder without the positive cylinder stops.

Look at the cylinder in this later H&R that will handle the 32 S&W Long.

Also here you can see the cylinder on an H&R Top Break but 38S&W from the smokeless era. Again it has the large positive cylinder stop.

To be vintage it's gotta be older than me!
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Old December 6, 2019, 09:32 PM   #7
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Your H&R revolver is a Third Model, Automatic ejecting, 6th variation, .32 S&W Long. It is a 20th century revolver, ca 1934. The inscription on the top of the barrel should in two lines be exactly (HARRINGTON & RICHARDSON ARMS CO.)(WORCESTER,MASSACHUSETTS,U.S.A.). These revolvers were generally chambered for the .32S&W Long cartridge. If so, the more modern .32 H&R Magnum will not chamber. The shorter .32 S&W cartridge will, of course, chamber. Your gun should be safe to fire with factory ammo of either length. The S&W Long will give you about 650 fps with a 98 grain bullet. The main thing to check before firing is the timing. A single action cock should give a chamber aligned with the barrel and this is easily verified visually. If the chamber is not quite aligned you can rotate it further by hand and it should stop positively and be in alignment. The gun can them be fired but get your hand away from the cylinder and cylinder gap before you do.
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Old December 9, 2019, 01:08 AM   #8
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I decided with all the confusion about this that I would take a picture of mine with a .32 S&W Long round and a .32 ACP (I don't have or load .32 S&W shorts, but the length is roughly the same) in the cylinder, then I realized I didn't have any .32 S&W L., so I had to load some.

Anyway, you can see that there is a TON of space for the .32 ACP to jump until it reaches the throat, while the .32 S&W Long looks *gasp* almost perfect, as if it was meant to be shot in this gun.

It's not like this is the first time a revolver manufacturer failed to be more specific with the cartridge the revolver was chambered for, Charter Arms back in the 70s/80s had the 6 shot .32 Undercoverette and they never specified on the barrel whether it was .32 S&W, S&W Long, .32 ACP, or even if it was .32 Colt.

At the time .32 Colt was basically dead and obsolete, but they expected people to realize that if something didn't seem right they wouldn't shoot it.

When the cartridge is on the barrel and the cylinder closes and functions with .32 S&W Long in it, I can't think of a reason it's not the "right" ammo to be used.

The 5 shot H&R's with the shorter cylinders, I'll bet you can't even close them with a .32 S&W Long loaded in them.
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