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.38 Special and .357 mag. question

brummiejimbrummiejim Member Posts: 324 ✭✭✭
edited September 2014 in Ask the Experts
Hi, Experts. This has probably been asked previously, but if so, I didn't see it here. Question: I believe that a revolver chambered for .357 magnum can also ingest .38 Special ammo, but is the reverse true, that is, can a revolver chambered for .38 Special also handle
357magnum ammo.? Thanks for the info. Jim

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    andrewsw16andrewsw16 Member Posts: 10,728 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    General answer: NO The cylinder in a .38 Special is USUALLY too short to chamber a .357 magnum cartridge.
    BUT, you may find exceptions.
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    11b6r11b6r Member Posts: 16,588 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    No. The .38 Special is the same diameter (despite it's name, it is not a .38). The .357 Magnum is a longer case, loaded to much higher pressure. In MOST .38 Special revolvers, a .357case hits against an interior "lip" in the cylinder, and will not go all the way in.

    Even if it does fit, the pressure can be high enough to damage or destroy a .38 Special handgun.

    and yes, the shorter, lower powered .38 Special can be fired from a .357 Magnum gun. Clean cylinder good after doing that.
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    KAMsalesKAMsales Member Posts: 1,672 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    The .357 was made 1/8" longer than the .38 Special specifically to keep people from accidentally/intentionally loading them in a .38 gun. The operating pressures for the .357 are much higher and can cause death/injury if used in a .38 gun. Some cheaper old .38's will have through-bored cylinders that could fit a .357, many have blown up because someone made this mistake.
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    brummiejimbrummiejim Member Posts: 324 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Thanks for the information. Very helpful. I knew I came to the right place for help. Jim
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    beantownshootahbeantownshootah Member Posts: 12,776 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by brummiejim
    can a revolver chambered for .38 Special also handle
    357magnum ammo.? Thanks for the info. Jim

    Yes, any 357 magnum revolver should be able to fire unlimited amounts of .38 special or .38+P ammo. The two caveats there are that some think you get decreased accuracy with .38 special cases fired in .357 magnum revolvers. I think that depends on the loads in question. For sure firing a bunch of shorter .38 special rounds in longer cylindered 357 magnum guns can create fouling inside the cylinder that can make it harder to later fire ordinary 357 rounds on the gun without a good scrubbing first.

    As already mentioned, the .357 magnum cartridge itself was specifically designed so that it would NOT fit into ordinary .38 special revolvers. That's because 357 operates at 35000 PSI pressure and .38 only 20000 PSI.

    In reality, most modern 38+P special guns are manufactured to the exact same metallurgic and other specs as 357s from the same manufacturers, and therefore (in theory) strong enough to handle 357 magnum pressures, at least in limited quantity.

    *BUT* older/borderline guns ones are simply not strong enough, and firing even one 357 in a gun like that can potentially "grenade" the gun, destroying it and causing severe injury to the shooter, and/or nearby environment (including bystanders).

    Under normal conditions if you were to insert a 357 magnum cartridge into a .38 special revolver, the cartridge would stick out the back and you will not be able to close the cylinder.

    While I've heard stories of a .38 revolvers so damaged/out of spec that they "could" accept a 357 magnum cartridge, I've never actually seen such a beast. A gun like that would be so out of spec, bluntly, I'd question its safety in shooting *ANY* ammo (period).

    I have seen revolvers that were effectively 357 magnum guns that were either barreled at the factory or rebarreled with 38 special LABELLED barrels. A gun like that might be LABELLED "38 special" on it, but its effectively a 357 magnum gun, and safe for 357 magnum ammo.
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    gunnut505gunnut505 Member Posts: 10,290
    edited November -1
    Don't be an idiot; use the ammunition that is marked on your gun ONLY!
    If you care to experiment; sell the gun in question.
    Or send the gun and a few rounds to beantown; he's apparently willing to shoot anything out of any gun just to verify a simple law of physics.
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    beantownshootahbeantownshootah Member Posts: 12,776 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by gunnut505
    Don't be an idiot; use the ammunition that is marked on your gun ONLY!
    If you care to experiment; sell the gun in question.
    Or send the gun and a few rounds to beantown; he's apparently willing to shoot anything out of any gun just to verify a simple law of physics.

    Where did THIS come from? Really, no need to put words in my mouth.

    With due respect, its well accepted that ALL 357 magnum revolvers can take .38 special ammo. Every manufacturer indicates that this is safe; they just don't write it on the actual gun.

    Please don't take MY word for it. Here it EXPLICITLY is from Smith and Wesson, on page 9 of their modern revolver instruction manual:

    http://www.smith-wesson.com/wcsstore/SmWesson2/upload/other/S&W_Revolver_Manual_08-15-2013.pdf

    So contrary to what you wrote above, with MOST revolver models you CAN safely use CERTAIN TYPES OF ammunition that are NOT marked on the gun. You just have to make sure, obviously, that you are using one of the acceptable types of ammo for the revolver in question.

    As to the converse, perhaps what I wrote earlier wasn't clear to you, but here it is again:
    quote:While I've heard stories of a .38 revolvers so damaged/out of spec that they "could" accept a 357 magnum cartridge, I've never actually seen such a beast. A gun like that would be so out of spec, bluntly, I'd question its safety in shooting *ANY* ammo (period).

    *BUT* older/borderline guns ones are simply not strong enough, and firing even one 357 in a gun like that can potentially "grenade" the gun, destroying it and causing severe injury to the shooter, and/or nearby environment (including bystanders).
    It is really hard to grasp my point here, that firing .357 magnum rounds from. 38 special guns is potentially extremely dangerous? (IE, NO, I'm NOT willing to shoot "any" ammo from "any" gun!).

    On the topic of .357 guns with .38 (MIS)LABELLED barrels, obviously, this is a rare and specific exception. In reality, unless you see a LOT of guns, you're probably not going to run into one like this, and as long as you follow the above rule (don't try to fire .357s through .38 labelled guns) you'd be fine even if you did.

    As to why this happens, there are a few reasons. Back in the day, sometimes people put .38 special "match" barrels on .357s hoping for more accuracy. There are times when either in repairing a gun or "upgrading" it people have put more readily available and/or cheaper.38 special barrels onto .357 magnum frames. Also back in the day, Smith gunsmiths would sometimes make prototypes or cobble together non-standard guns from various parts.

    In all these cases, assuming the gun is otherwise in spec, there is nothing fundamentally unsafe about a .357 magnum gun with a .38 barrel. In many cases, the only difference between a ".38" barrel and a ".357" one is the engraving on the outside of the barrel.

    The "key", of course, being absolutely sure that this is what you're dealing with before you try loading it with high pressure .357 ammo! Ways one might do that are checking the cylinder/frame specs, and/or contacting Smith for the manufacture specs on the gun in question via serial number.
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    bpostbpost Member Posts: 32,664 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by gunnut505
    Don't be an idiot; use the ammunition that is marked on your gun ONLY!
    If you care to experiment; sell the gun in question.
    Or send the gun and a few rounds to beantown; he's apparently willing to shoot anything out of any gun just to verify a simple law of physics.


    That seems a quite rude and uncalled for way to voice your opinion.

    Can I not shoot 30 government from my 30-06 marked rifle barrel?

    Since I have shot about 45,000 rounds of 38's through a S&W 28, 27 and 686 that makes me an idiot too. I shot the Mdl 28 so much the end of the barrel was rounded inside and out.
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    beantownshootahbeantownshootah Member Posts: 12,776 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by bpost
    That seems a quite rude and uncalled for way to voice your opinion.

    I agree, though I'm more offended by the inaccuracy of the opinion in question than its rudeness.

    As a matter of practice, most people firing .357s shoot .38s through them. Not only is that perfectly safe (and normal), but the .357 magnum cartridge itself was designed on purpose to enable this.

    In addition to .38 special and .38+P (which SAAMI considers a different round), its also safe to shoot .38 short Colt from any .38 special or .357 magnum revolver. In practice there is little reason to actually do it, you probably won't find the actual ammo on most store shelves (and if you do, it will cost more than ordinary 38 special), but you "could" do it, if you wanted to.

    Ditto for .38 long colt. That one has its own set of issues, which I won't get into here, but again, if you wanted to shoot these from a .38 or .357 gun, you could do so safely.

    There are a few others that may or may not work, depending on exact case, bullet, and cylinder dimensions, but the above are the ones generally considered safe.

    And just to be comprehensive about this, with the right base gun, if you're willing to permanently modify your guns cylinder or have a conversion cylinder fitted, you its also possible to safely run certain 9mm class auto cartridges in a .357 magnum revolver, including 9mm luger, .38 super, and a bunch of others. For example, Ruger has offered its 357 blackhawk with a 9mm luger conversion option.

    You may not get the best accuracy, and there are other potential drawbacks, but it can be done. Trying these auto rounds in a NON-modified gun. . .no. . .you probably don't want to do that!
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    gunnut505gunnut505 Member Posts: 10,290
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by beantownshootah
    quote:Originally posted by brummiejim
    can a revolver chambered for .38 Special also handle
    357magnum ammo.? Thanks for the info. Jim

    Yes, any 357 magnum revolver should be able to fire unlimited amounts of .38 special or .38+P ammo. The two caveats there are that some think you get decreased accuracy with .38 special cases fired in .357 magnum revolvers. I think that depends on the loads in question. For sure firing a bunch of shorter .38 special rounds in longer cylindered 357 magnum guns can create fouling inside the cylinder that can make it harder to later fire ordinary 357 rounds on the gun without a good scrubbing first.

    As already mentioned, the .357 magnum cartridge itself was specifically designed so that it would NOT fit into ordinary .38 special revolvers. That's because 357 operates at 35000 PSI pressure and .38 only 20000 PSI.

    In reality, most modern 38+P special guns are manufactured to the exact same metallurgic and other specs as 357s from the same manufacturers, and therefore (in theory) strong enough to handle 357 magnum pressures, at least in limited quantity.

    *BUT* older/borderline guns ones are simply not strong enough, and firing even one 357 in a gun like that can potentially "grenade" the gun, destroying it and causing severe injury to the shooter, and/or nearby environment (including bystanders).

    Under normal conditions if you were to insert a 357 magnum cartridge into a .38 special revolver, the cartridge would stick out the back and you will not be able to close the cylinder.

    While I've heard stories of a .38 revolvers so damaged/out of spec that they "could" accept a 357 magnum cartridge, I've never actually seen such a beast. A gun like that would be so out of spec, bluntly, I'd question its safety in shooting *ANY* ammo (period).

    I have seen revolvers that were effectively 357 magnum guns that were either barreled at the factory or rebarreled with 38 special LABELLED barrels. A gun like that might be LABELLED "38 special" on it, but its effectively a 357 magnum gun, and safe for 357 magnum ammo.





    Y'all might think I'm being "rude", but it's BTS's own words with which I disagree.
    The OP was from a person who, by his own admission, hasn't seen an answer to the question of ammo interchangeability in the instance of 38/357 revolvers.
    The guy's obviously not a knowledgeable gunsmith or familiar with the concept of KaBoom.
    So BTS proceeds to give him what any thinking gun owner who is familiar with revolvers chambered for either caliber would normally say.
    Then, in red above, he proceeds to tell the guy that it's ("in theory") OK to do something idiotic. Like trying to fire a 357 in a 38.
    Sure, he gives the caveat ("in theory"); but parenthetical warnings are disregarded on the interwebs like the stupid tags that come with every gun sold since Clinton.
    My point is that if one doesn't KNOW the differences and consequences; why even "theorize" about firing a round with nearly TWICE the pressure in a gun that might be inherently weaker (or maybe "older" or "borderline")?
    Some experts know just enough to satisfy themselves that information has no boundaries, and shouldn't be withheld just because "someone else" might misconstrue or misunderstand it, and possibly become "differently abled" because of it.
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    beantownshootahbeantownshootah Member Posts: 12,776 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    quote:Originally posted by gunnut505
    Y'all might think I'm being "rude", but it's BTS's own words with which I disagree.
    You know, its possible to disagree with someone without calling them names. . . yes, even on the internet! [;)] What exactly is it that I posted that you think is factually incorrect?

    quote:Then, in red above, he proceeds to tell the guy that it's ("in theory") OK to do something idiotic. Like trying to fire a 357 in a 38. Sure, he gives the caveat ("in theory"); but parenthetical warnings are disregarded on the interwebs like the stupid tags that come with every gun sold since Clinton.
    Maybe you should re-read what I ACTUALLY posted (you highlighted it in red), because not only did I not say what you just attributed to me (its "OK" to stick 357 in 38 special guns), but I explicitly said the exact opposite.

    To the point, guns are for grown ups. If you can't follow simple instructions, or have zero reading comprehension, or have trouble exercising common sense or self-restraint, then maybe you need to stick to tinker-toys instead of playing with guns or asking for expert opinions on the internet.

    Unlike you, I trust the original poster to "get it", where I said EXPLICITLY (not "in theory") that its potentially dangerous to fire .357s in .38 special revolvers, with careful explanation of why.

    If you know what you're doing, and you're careful, you'll be safe. If you don't, well. . .see above about guns and grown ups.

    quote:My point is that if one doesn't KNOW the differences and consequences; why even "theorize" about firing a round with nearly TWICE the pressure in a gun that might be inherently weaker (or maybe "older" or "borderline")?My answer specifically addressed the actual question, about whether or not 38 special revolvers "can" handle .357 magnum ammo.

    Again to the point, I was deliberately being coy when I said "in theory", for the reason you allude to below. I don't want to endorse this practice.

    In fact, this is not a "theory" at all. People have been firing overpressure rounds in .38 revolvers for at least 70+ years, and the consequences of doing so are fairly well known by now. As you know, the .357 magnum round itself was developed by Elmer Keith and others overloading conventional .38 special rounds to double pressure in large frame Smith revolvers. Keith made it to age 85 with all his fingers and eyes intact, and contrary to what you suggest, I don't think he was an "idiot". I've actually seen 357 magnum pressure rounds fired through a nominal .38 special Smith revolver without apparent damage.

    Now obviously, there is risk here, you're not "supposed" to do this, and again I strongly recommend AGAINST trying it (at least short of a life-threatening emergency). Overpressure ammo in the wrong gun can grenade it with one shot. Even if that doesn't happen its possible to ruin a .38 with only a small number of .357s by distorting the frame, ruining the timing, etc. There is also potentially an issue of metal fatigue, meaning that just because a gun may "look" OK, doesn't mean it is. Running overpressure loads in .38 cases has its own set of issues. In practice, 357 guns are common and inexpensive enough that there simply isn't a good reason to try to overload .38s any more. If you want to shoot 357s or get 357 like performance, just get a 357 gun.

    But the FACT (not theory) is that the frames and cylinders of modern .38 Smiths are made of the exact same steel and given the same heat treatment as those of their .357s. The FACT is that at least some of the the Smith guns in 38 are effectively designed for .357 magnum and "chambered down" to only accept .38s (rather than the other way around). The FACT is that all of the conventional Smith revolver platforms (J, K, L, N frames) have 357 variants, with even the current J frames having beefed up frames over earlier models. There is no fundamental reason why guns built to these standards can't handle .357-type pressures, and in practice (not theory) its been done plenty of times by plenty of people in plenty of places.

    If you've got something like a Smith 586 in .38 special (yes, Smith actually made these) or one of the N-frame .38s, I don't see any reason why it would be unsafe with 357 magnum type rounds, in effectively unlimited quantity. Bottom line is, there are CERTAIN .38s where .357 like rounds could be safe, though in practice, there are many good reasons not to try it.

    quote:Some experts know just enough to satisfy themselves that information has no boundaries, and shouldn't be withheld just because "someone else" might misconstrue or misunderstand it, and possibly become "differently abled" because of it.
    Some people, in asking for an expert opinion, want a comprehensive answer, not a watered down one. Some people, are intelligent adults, and have the ability to understand concepts, including ones that aren't entirely black or white. Some people understand that guns are fundamentally dangerous and behave accordingly. Some people assume responsibility for their own behavior, and insert a common sense filter in between what they see and what they do, etc.
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