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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I saw a S&W revolver in a shop today that caught my eye. Something was odd about it and I'm curious.

It was a small framed revolver, nickel plated, blonde walnut grips. Immediately upon seeing it I thought that's a .32, it was such a small framed revolver. But when I looked at the store tag, it was labeled as a Model 33 in .38 Special. I thought no way, the cylinder is obviously too short to be a .38 Special. So I inspected the gun and sure enough, the barrel is stamped "38 S&W SPECIAL CTG."

So I asked the staff about it. It took a minute to convince them I wasn't a complete novice. I had them place it side by side with a true .38 Special . Clearly the cylinder was shorter. So they found a .38 Special round and, sure enough, it was too long for the cylinder. It wouldn't even go completely into the cylinder by close to a quarter inch before jamming.

I had already concluded that it is likely an older .38 S&W gun. But they didn't have any of that ammo to test it, so I am not absolutely certain. But I'm perplexed as to the marking on the barrel indicating it is a .38 Special.

There is no model number marking that I could find. Which leads me to conclude it's likely an older S&W Regulation Police revolver. The Blue Book says it was only made in .38 S&W. I neglected to get the serial number.

One other oddity. The cylinder release button does not look original. In fact, it doesn't even look like a S&W part. It's not shaped correctly and instead of a diamond pattern cut for friction as typical of S&W, the cuts are parallel lines. If I had to guess, I'd say it has been re-nickeled at some point because the markings aren't quite as sharp as they should be.

Any idea on the inconsistency between the chambering and the barrel markings? Any insights are appreciated.
 

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If it's a I frame (as evidenced by the 38 Spl. being too long, AND the barrel says .38 S&W SPECIAL CTG, then it's a rebarreled 38 S&W (NOT Special).
I have a number of regulation police that are in 38 S&W (No SPL on the barrel)

Re: the thumbpiece, does it look like this? - that's S&W
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for your reply. So I'm guessing that at some point the gun was in pretty rough shape and needed a new barrel, along with re-nickeling. Would re-barreling likely have been done at the factory, or could any competent gunsmith handle this with a factory part? There is probably no way to know with any degree of certainty.

Yes, the thumb piece does look like the one in your picture.

As I understand it, a .38 Special projectile is slightly smaller than the .38 S&W. While the difference may be only marginal, would that be enough to make firing the gun unsafe or otherwise affect the performance?
 

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So I'm guessing that at some point the gun was in pretty rough shape and needed a new barrel, along with re-nickeling. Would re-barreling likely have been done at the factory, or could any competent gunsmith handle this with a factory part?
That’s a definite No on the factory; they would never mount an incorrect barrel on a gun nor let a gun out the door with a caliber marking on the barrel which is different from the caliber the gun is chambered for. Actually, I don’t think any really competent gunsmith would agree to do this.

In practical terms, the difference in diameter is so minor that you can shoot .38 S&W through a .38 Special barrel with no concerns; it may actually help accuracy, although you’ll get more bullet residue from the slightly higher friction in the barrel with jacketed bullets.
 

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It will shave lead off of the .38 SW
 

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.38 S&W is .361 - .38 S&W Special is .357.
.38 S&W case is .3855 neck diameter, .38 S&W Special is .379 neck diameter.

Definitely slug the barrel to determine its actual bore.

If the barrel is .357, it might be best to hand-load with .38 S&W Special cases (shortened to .38 S&W specs) and .357 diameter bullets. Note that the cases might split due to the larger chamber diameter.
Otherwise, use soft lead .361 bullets with .38 S&W cases and reduce the powder charge a bit.

if the barrel is .361, then go ahead and use factory .38 S&W rounds and/or standard .38 S&W hand-loading data.
 

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My Regulation Police turned 101 back in July.

483320
 
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Stay away from that revolver.(n)
^^^ Definitely this.

Since you said you saw the gun at a shop, that's where you should leave it. It was obviously somebody's Franken-project. I wonder what model's barrel they used. How long was it?

In terms of the difference between .38 S&W and Special, the wikipedia numbers above are just nominal, in reality diameters of loads tend to be well within each other's margin of errors. Quite a few .38 Special/.357 Mag guns will happily chamber .38 S&W without any modification, even though they are not supposed to. So that thing would be safe to shoot, but there is just no reason to acquire a refinished project with mismatched parts, no collector value, and no particular virtues as a shooter.
 
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