The 38 Special is not a 38 caliber.

Discussion in 'General Handgun Discussion' started by Last Crow, Apr 28, 2010.

  1. Last Crow

    Last Crow New Member

    You can use a 38 special round in a 357 pistol. From what I have read the 38 special 357 Magnum 9mm 380 all are about 36 caliber and came about from the 36 caliber cap and ball Navy Colt.
    Does any one know of a true 38 caliber?
    Below is what I have found in my research.
    38 Special
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    The .38 Smith & Wesson Special (commonly .38 Special, .38 Spl, , or .38 Spc, pronounced "Thirty-eight Special") is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge designed by Smith & Wesson. It is most commonly used in revolvers, although some semi-automatic pistols and carbines also use this round. The .38 Special was the standard service cartridge of most police departments in the United States from the 1920s to the early 1990s. In other parts of the world, particularly Europe, it is known by its metric designation 9x29mmR

    Despite its name, its caliber is actually .357–.358 inches (9.0678 mm), with the ".38" referring to the approximate diameter of the loaded brass case. This came about because the original .38-caliber cartridge, the .38 Short Colt, was designed for use in converted .36-caliber cap-and-ball (muzzleloading) Navy revolvers, which had cylindrical firing chambers of approximately .374 inch diameter, requiring "heel-based" bullets, the exposed portion of which was the same diameter as the cartridge case (see the section on the .38 Long Colt).
    The .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) (also referred to as the "9mm Short", "9mm Browning", "9mm Kurz", "9mm Corto" or "9x17mm") pistol cartridge is a rimless, straight-walled pistol cartridge developed by firearms designer John Browning. It was introduced in 1908 by Colt, and has been a popular self-defense cartridge ever since.

    The .36 caliber Navy revolver was much lighter than the contemporary Third Model Dragoon revolvers developed from the .44 Walker Colt revolvers of 1847 that had been designed to be carried in holsters on either side of a saddle pommel. It is an enlarged version of the .31 caliber pocket revolvers that evolved from the earlier Baby Dragoon, and like them is a mechanically improved and simplified descendant of the 1836 Paterson revolver. As the factory designation implied, the Navy revolver was suitably sized for carrying in a belt holster. It became very popular in North America at the time of western expansion. Colt's aggressive promotions distributed the Navy and his other revolvers across Europe, Asia and Africa. The .36 caliber (.375-.380-inch) round lead ball weighs 86 grains and, at a velocity of 1,000 feet per second, is comparable to the modern .380 pistol cartridge in power. Loads consist of loose powder and ball or bullet, metallic foil cartridges (early) and combustible paper cartridges (Civil War era), all combinations being ignited by a fulminate percussion cap applied to the nipples at the rear of the chamber.
    The .357 S&W Magnum, or simply .357 Magnum, is a revolver cartridge created by Elmer Keith, Phillip B. Sharpe,[2] Colonel D. B. Wesson[2] of firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson, and Winchester.[3][4] It is based upon Smith & Wesson's earlier .38 Special cartridge. The .357 Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1934, and its use has since become widespread.
    [edit] Design
    The .357 Magnum was collaboratively developed over a period in the early to mid-1930s by a group of individuals in a direct response to Colt's .38 Super Automatic. At the time, the .38 Super was the only pistol cartridge capable of defeating automobile cover and the early ballistic vests that were just beginning to emerge in the post-World War I "Gangster Era."[3] Tests at the time revealed that those vests defeated any handgun cartridge traveling at less than about 1000 ft/s. Colt's .38 Super Automatic just edged over that velocity and was able to penetrate car doors and vests that bootleggers and gangsters were employing as cover.[6]
    Much credit for the .357's early development is given to hunter and experimenter Elmer Keith. Keith's early work in loading the .38 Special to increasingly higher pressure levels was made possible by the availability of heavy, target shooting-oriented revolvers like the Smith & Wesson 38/44 "Heavy Duty" and "Outdoorsman", .38-caliber revolvers built on .44-caliber frames. The .38-44 HV load, used the .38 Special cartridge loaded to a much higher velocity than standard .38 Special ammunition. The .38-44 revolvers were made by using a .44 Special size gun with the barrel and cylinder bored to .357 caliber (the true bullet diameter of the .38 Special).
  2. robocop10mm

    robocop10mm Lifetime Supporting Member Lifetime Supporter

    Yeah, pretty much right. I guess "thirty eight" sounds better than "three fifty eight"

    Kind of like the .44 spl/Mag being .429's and most .30 cal rifles being .308, etc. The names and designations of cartridges are definately not standardized in the US.


    ALSGUN New Member

    Interesting read, thanks for the lesson
  4. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

    There are some TRUE .38s that are older than the 38 Special. They include the .38 S&W, and the .38-40. Part of the reason for the discrepancy in the name is the change of bullet styles. Early handguns fired a "heel seated" bullet- like a .22 RF, the case grabbed onto just the "heel" of the bullet- and the bullet was the same diameter as the cartridge case. However, as smokeless powder came into use, and they needed tougher brass cases, they went to the current "bullet slides inside the case" style- and the bullet will be smaller in diameter than the OUTSIDE diameter of the case. In the case of a .38 Special or a .357 Mag, throw a micrometer on a loaded cartridge case- runs about .370.

    There are at least a half dozen DIFFERENT cartridges NAMED .38- they include 38 Short Colt, .38 Colt Army, .38 Colt Navy, 38 Colt Special, .38 Webley, .38 Colt New Police, 38 Merwin & Hulbert, 38-40, 38-44 (target pistol round) and the forerunner to the .357 Mag, the 38/44 (slash, not dash) for the S&W Model 23, and the .38 Short and .38 Long RIMFIRES. And of course, the Smith & Wesson .38 Military & Police Special (for its full name) and the .38 Auto/ .38 Super.
  5. crossfire

    crossfire Member

    The .38-40 is not a "true" .38 either. It's the original 10mm and uses a .401" bullet. The .38-55 Winchester is a true .38 with a .379"-.380" bullet but it's a rifle round.
    By the way, the .38 High Velocity predates the S&W Heavy Duty (fixed sight) which predates the S&W Outdoorsman (adjustable sight). The revolvers were built as a result of the cartridge being developed, not the other way around.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  6. Gojubrian

    Gojubrian New Member

    I kind of like three-fifty-eight. I have a .358 LCR woohoo!!
  7. ScottA

    ScottA FAA licensed bugsmasher Lifetime Supporter

    Aw crud.... Next you're going to tell me that 2+2 doesn't equal 4.

    Is there nothing we can count on in this world anymore? :confused:
  8. Last Crow

    Last Crow New Member

    The name kind of says it all, it’s a 38 special not a 38 caliber. You have heard to many news reports saying some one was shot with a 38 caliber pistol. Before I looked it up I asked a cop I use to bowl with about this. He even said it was a 38 caliber.
  9. spittinfire

    spittinfire New Member Supporter

    I'm always surprised by how many people don't know that a 38 isn't actually .38"....think they know a 380 isn't .380? Just sayin....

    Spot on info, great post.
  10. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

    And a .303 uses......Um- that would be .311 ???

    And crossfire, you are correct. Will plead long day.
  11. Charger Fan

    Charger Fan New Member

    That whole "round up/round down" naming of calibers has often made me scratch my head too. However, it's not only limited to the gun industry, the automotive industry has been doing that for has the motorcycle industry. I'm sure there's a bunch of other industries who do that, too.
    Example, a Ford 302 is actually 300.8 cubic inches (or something close, I forget)
    A Yamaha 1200 V-max is really 1198 Cubic Centimeters.

    I think they name them something close, merely to coin a "catchy name" from a marketing standpoint.
  12. Last Crow

    Last Crow New Member

    Then the 30-06, .30 caliber designed in 1906.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2010
  13. utf59

    utf59 Member

    And the .30-30, .30 caliber with 30 grains of powder.

    Let's also not forget that some manufacturers measure caliber from the outside of the rifling grooves and others from the inside.

    And a 2x4 isn't.