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Old June 18, 2017, 10:25 PM   #1
Prof Young
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38 special and 357 mag . . . cases?

So I could probably do some research and figure this out but I thought I'd query here first. I mean, that's research too . . . right?

Is there a difference between 38 special and 357 mag brass?

I'm guessing you can load 357's as 38 specials, but not the other way around. Yes? No? Help?

Haven't done any loading of either one yet. Just got the gun. (see post in revolver forum) Still need to get dies and bullets. Have lotta powder and primers.

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Old June 18, 2017, 10:43 PM   #2
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Being in a fully supported revolver chamber, the only difference in brass that matters is length. Length of the brass is the only difference between the two, as thickness bears no relevance as it is a revolver round. Some have essentially loaded 357 rounds in 38 brass by seating the bullet WAY out, essentially creating the same powder capacity as 357. There was a particular Lee cast no!d that was popular for this as it had two lube groves and the higher one can be used as a crimp groove to put you very near 357 OAL. I'm not recommending this as there are some liability issues. For example, your children get hold of some of your reloads after you kick it and shoot the 357/38 (because the headstamp is 38) out of a 38... Being unsafe.

Yes you can load download 357 to where its essentially a hot 38. I have a very good 158 wadcutter load in 357 that mirrors a 38 158 LRN in velocity, but is stupid accurate.
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Old June 18, 2017, 11:51 PM   #3
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Everything 5whiskey said is correct. The only difference is the length. It is possible and easy to load .357 to .38 special levels and even .38 brass to .357 power, however it is not wise to hot rod .38 special brass on the chance the hot .38 load ends up in a gun chambered for .38. .357 Magnum runs at a pressure almost double .38 Special. There are lots of guns chmabered in .38 special where it would be most problematic to use the high pressure loads.

.38 special is a super easy round to reload. The data is plentiful along with bullet selections unmatched be any other round.

My suggestion would be to pick up some 38 and 357 brass and use the appropriate loads in each. It is the easiest and most logical answer. The loads and rounds are much easier to keep track of and it prevents the possibility of someone accidentally damaging their gun.
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Old June 19, 2017, 12:51 AM   #4
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Saw your revolver in the revolver forum. (EAA Windicator).

Personally, just to make my life easier in the reloading room, I only keep .357 brass. I don't buy .38 Special ammo and any .38 Special cases I happen to pick up I trade for .357 or something else I can use.

I can and do load very light .357 loads sometimes. My light loads don't punish me much more than .38 Specials loads and I don't have to worry about the carbon ring in the cylinder the shorter .38 Specials would leave. (BTW the problem with the 'carbon ring' is, IMhO over rated---it's not that hard to clean out.)

Please note, I do this stuff just to make my life easier. If I fell heir to a ton of .38 Special brass I'd probably change my tune because, you know, I'm cheap.
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Old June 19, 2017, 02:28 AM   #5
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I load everything in 357 brass, from cat sneeze loads to 38 level loads to light magnum loads, that way I don't have to worry about crossing the pressure line with 38 brass.

Cuts way down on fiddlin' time too. (fiddling your dies back and forth between calibers).

Plenty of data out there for light loads in 357 brass if you want.

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Old June 19, 2017, 05:25 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by 5whiskey View Post

Yes you can load download 357 to where its essentially a hot 38. I have a very good 158 wadcutter load in 357 that mirrors a 38 158 LRN in velocity, but is stupid accurate.


Agree... one of my favorite, most accurate 357 loads is a 148 gr DEWC in my 357 cases. Very soft and incredibly accurate.
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Old June 19, 2017, 08:02 AM   #7
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Let me see if I can make this understandable;
I have loaded very light loads in 357 magnum cases, probably below light 38 special loads and I have loaded 38 special cases to 357 magnum pressures but not to the same loads as the 357 magnum.
38 brass is shorter and if you load a 357 magnum charge you will have a cartridge that develops much more pressure than a 357 case. It could (likely would) damage your gun and injure you and the people around you. Since you don't own brass yet buy only the 357 brass and work your loads down to the 38 special pressures slowly. You will likely never reach the minimum 38 special starting loads because of the added volume of the 357 brass but you can develop loads that are as mild or even milder than 38 special in your 357 brass.
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Old June 19, 2017, 08:10 AM   #8
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Check out the .38/44 that preceded the .357 using .38 cases.
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Old June 19, 2017, 09:18 AM   #9
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Personally, just to make my life easier in the reloading room, I only keep .357 brass. I don't buy .38 Special ammo and any .38 Special cases I happen to pick up I trade for .357 or something else I can use.
That is also what I do. I don't want to be bothered with the possibility of confusing brass.
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Old June 19, 2017, 10:24 AM   #10
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Like others here, I only load .357 mag brass and I still haven't even worked up a true .357 mag load. All I've shot so far is .38 +P loads and have enjoyed them plenty. One of these days I'll work up a wrist breaker load, but I'm enjoying what I have for now.

Choosing to only load .357 was for simplicity reasons only. Why worry about maintaining 2 calibers of brass and dies when you can do it all with 1?


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Old June 19, 2017, 11:52 AM   #11
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I always use the cases that match what is stamped on the barrel. I don't always use .357 Magnum data though. I use cowboy load data for SASS and similar reduced loads for small guns chambered in .357 Magnum. I also have guns that are chambered in 38 Special, with no reason to load them hot and no basis for doing so. The .357 case is the same caliber as 38 Special, actually both .357, but is 1/8 longer. With that increase in case volume, the pressure of 38 Special loads is reduced, so I use data toward the upper end of 38 Special loadings to ensure I don't stick a bullet, especially in a rifle length barrel.

.357 cartridges will not fit in a 38 Special chamber, nor will 38 Special cartridges with bullets seated way out to suit the action of a .357 Magnum rifle. You only play games with the bullets to avoid dealing with two sizes of cases. That problem is easy enough to overcome. In my SASS shooting I am currently using two 38 Special revolvers (not .357s) and a rifle that will only feed .357 Magnum, and then with a specific bullet shape and heavier to keep the velocity down. So my cases are different as well as my bullets.
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Old June 20, 2017, 02:08 AM   #12
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Check out the .38/44 that preceded the .357 using .38 cases.
These heavy .38 Special loads are called .38/44 because they were intended to be used in the larger stronger "44 frame" guns. NOT suitable for lighter, smaller frame guns.

The original .357 Magnum loads were developed in .38 Special cases. It was the revolver that made the difference. The longer case was done to prevent the high pressure load from chambering in .38 Special guns. It was not needed for the load, but needed for keeping the hot load out of guns not made to take it.

The PRUDENT thing to do is never load .357 mag pressures in .38 Special brass, to ensure it never gets in .38 Special guns.
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Old June 21, 2017, 08:03 AM   #13
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Still need to get dies and bullets.
Get the 38 dies. You can use it on both, however, if you get the 357 dies you wont be able to crimp the 38 cases without going out and buying separate crimping die.

Which isn't a bad ideal, I use the Lee Carbide Factory Crimp die for crimping. But that requires another separate step if you aren't using a progressive press.
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Old June 21, 2017, 08:31 AM   #14
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Should not load 357 mag loads in 38 spec. T easy to get the ammo mixed up and blow something up. That said, I had a couple 357's over the years and after the first, never got 257 case's again, to much recoil for me. Instead I hd 357 handgun's but mostly loaded 38 case's in them. Weight of the guns helped control recoil and on that used mostly cast bullet's. I drove for a living in those days and had a handgun with me every where I went. 357 Trooper and used hot 125gr 38 loads in it. I had a friend years ago that had a detective special and some factory loads for it. Couldn't believe how light that gun was and shooting it stung my hand pretty good. Today I have a 38/44. Heavy gun that's easy to shoot with 38 loads. Actually I don't know what it would be like with hot jacketed loads, I only use light cast loads in it and it's great to shoot. I can't remember the last time I kept 357 case's around.
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Old June 21, 2017, 08:48 AM   #15
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As 44 AMP said, the .357 Mag loads were originally developed using .38 Special brass in heavier frame revolvers chambered in .38 Special. Same with .44 Mag having been developed in .44 Special brass in heavy revolvers. In both cases, the original Special case had plenty of strength and capacity, but they didn't want to make what today might be called a +++P+++ load because, while the +P loads are still well under Special proof pressure, the Magnum load pressures exceed Special proof pressure. So, anyone accidentally chambering the hot loads in light revolvers stood a serious chance of damaging the gun and themselves.

To prevent that, they needed a way to be sure the high pressure loads could not fit in a Special chamber. So they made them longer so they run into the throat of the chambers before the rim is seated. This prevents an action from closing on them. They could just as well have made the rims extra thick, but that would use up a lot more brass and give no extra case capacity to those who wanted it.

Anyway, the bottom line is the Special cases will handle the pressures just fine. The only funny anomaly I've seen is in Hodgdon's 148 grain wadcutter data for .38 Special and .357 Magnum using HP38/231. It puts a larger charge in the Special case and gets lower peak pressure from it. When I first noticed it, I thought it had to be an error, but via email Hodgdon told me they had a signed sheet from a ballistic technician saying that's what he measured. I can only speculate that the space under the WC is so small in the .38 Special brass that the bullet is unseated earlier in the powder burn, putting it further down the bore (more expansion) at the time the pressure peaks. It would take some 'Special' measuring to figure that out.
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Old June 21, 2017, 11:17 AM   #16
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Get the 38 dies. You can use it on both, however, if you get the 357 dies you wont be able to crimp the 38 cases without going out and buying separate crimping die.
Any of the common die sets in .357 Mag will do .38Spl as well. Most are marked so. Remember, we are only talking a 0.135" difference in case length. Slightly more than 1/8".

I suppose it is possible that someone, somewhere has made a .357 Mag ONLY seater die, though I've never heard of one. No idea why one would do it, though.

Standard .38 Special dies will do .357 Magums just fine when correctly adjusted. I believe the only difference in the dies themselves is the marking. RCBS used to (I don't know if they still do) include a "spacer ring" (aka washer) of the correct thickness in their .357 die sets. That was the only difference between .357 and .38 die sets. The idea was, you set your dies for .38 cases, and then putting the washer between the die and the press automatically adjusted for .357 length.

Buy a .38/.357 set from any major maker and you will be fine.

buy ONLY bullets that have a crimp groove or cannelure, for now. Avoid plated bullets (for now). these bullets can be used, but loading & crimping them is a little more complex, and something a beginner should avoid until they get a bit more experience, in my opinion.

Do a little searching and you will find numerous threads discussing "what load?" and "how do I crimp?" plated bullets, etc., it can get confusing, and is something to get into AFTER you have more experience.
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Old June 21, 2017, 12:28 PM   #17
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The difference between 38 special and 357 mag brass is 135 thou of length. Everything else is identical. .357 brass is not any thicker or stronger or anything else. It's just longer.
"...you can load 357's as 38 Specials..." Yep. Works really well with a .357 revolver. No .357 loads in a .38 case though. Far too easy to forget and load 'em into a .38 Special revolver.
Anyway, the Bullseye load range for a cast 158 in .38 is 3.2 to 3.5. 4.3 to 4.8 for a .357.
"...funny anomaly I've seen is in Hodgdon's..." Lotta funny anomalies on Hodgdon's site.
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Old June 21, 2017, 03:38 PM   #18
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RCBS used to (I don't know if they still do) include a "spacer ring" (aka washer) of the correct thickness in their .357 die sets. That was the only difference between .357 and .38 die sets. The idea was, you set your dies for .38 cases, and then putting the washer between the die and the press automatically adjusted for .357 length.


This is correct as I had purchased a set last year.
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Old June 21, 2017, 03:51 PM   #19
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I suppose it is possible that someone, somewhere has made a .357 Mag ONLY seater die, though I've never heard of one.
But they have made .44 Magnum ONLY dies.
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Old June 21, 2017, 08:52 PM   #20
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I am really surprised how many use exclusively 357 Mag cases, even for their super light - 38 Special-type target level - loads. Fair enough. Not my cup of tea. I have never mistaken or mixed up one for the other - so I don't see that as an issue.

I have "evolved" into a couple patterns . . .

As for the dies, I have separate dies for 38 Spl and 357 Mag. As much as I load both, I got tired of switching 'em back n forth (RCBS still has the spacer in the 38/357 die set - 44 too), and so for me, it was an easy investment.

I have both 38 and 357 guns, so I need to load both. But I have kind of fallen into only shooting 357 ammo in my 357 guns (and of course, only 38 ammo in my 38 guns).

I don't "download," however. My weakest 357 round would be characterized as a "very strong 38+P." But it handles nice in my 686's with a tame recoil. If I want something softer, I'd just shoot my 38 gun (like I did today ). I still shoot 38's in my 357's, but not often.

Here's what doesn't sit well with me: The 38 Special case is cavernous as it is. There's lots of space inside for even the hottest (within saami spec) rounds. Some target 38 rounds only occupy some 35% of the case space. And of course, the 357 case is even longer. I find the concept of loading weak rounds in the larger 357 case unsavory. It seems counter-intuitive to the logic of loading quality ammo.

I know. Lots of people do it (as we see here) and are evidently pleased with the results. So it's all well n good. But it's just not something I have any desire to do.
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Old June 22, 2017, 06:05 AM   #21
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But they have made .44 Magnum ONLY dies.
Hornady is the only 41 Magnum crimp die that will do 41 Special, so we have "41 Magnum only" sets.
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Old June 22, 2017, 06:10 AM   #22
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Nick_C_S <snip>Here's what doesn't sit well with me: The 38 Special case is cavernous as it is. There's lots of space inside for even the hottest (within saami spec) rounds. Some target 38 rounds only occupy some 35% of the case space. And of course, the 357 case is even longer. I find the concept of loading weak rounds in the larger 357 case unsavory. It seems counter-intuitive to the logic of loading quality ammo.
Trailboss, Tin Star, and the like do a good job of filling cases for light to moderate loads. As noted, it isn't really necessary, it's what you get with a transition to smokeless powder, but any special concerns about powder volume can be addressed with the high VMD powders.
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Old June 22, 2017, 08:23 AM   #23
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I agree with the experts who say if you don't know how to keep track of your high pressure loads, you shouldn't use .38 spec. brass. I foolishly load Skeeter and Keith type loads for my .357s and expect any day now I will accidently slip one of these in my Colt Cobra. After all, I have been doing this for 40 years, I'm due.
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Old June 22, 2017, 11:49 PM   #24
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It is a bit more hassle, and expense, but I have found that using brass .357 cases for rifle loads, and the usual nickel cases for everything else is a good way to keep them separate. OK, it won't work in complete darkness, but no system is perfect.
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Old June 23, 2017, 12:55 AM   #25
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Thanks for all the info. And . . .

I think what I will do is load only 38 spl loads in 38 spl brass and 357 mag loads in 357 mag brass. Not hard to keep the brass separated as there is nothing on the range floor to pick up (hey it's a revolver).

Still need to buy dies and bullets. Gonna shoot a few more boxes of factory ammo to build up a brass supply.

Really like shooting the gun.

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