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  • New brass...

    I usually have brass for all sorts of odd ball calibers stacked on the shelves of my loading bench. I sold a friend 200 rounds of Winchester 38-55 brass then found a rifle I just had to have, in 38-55 caliber. Well that left me with only fifty rounds of brass, which I thought I could replace easily. Not so! It seems the Winchester headstamp on brass, has an uncertain future.

    Starline doesn't make it (yet) but Jamison, of Sturgis S.D. does, and I found it listed on the Buffalo Arms webb site. I called, they were out of stock, back ordered, soon to arrive, I gave them my wife's VISA number.

    Intersting thing about the BA webb site, they list the Wnchester (also out of stock) with a "standard length" of 2.080" and the Jamison with the "original length" of 2.120" and also some Jameson with small primer pockets at a length of 2.130". Since the Jamison was promised in soon, I ordered a quantity of each, I can always trim to correct length.

    A little more research turned up some interesting info about this caliber. I did find evidence that the small rifle primer would enhance uniform ignition and accuracy but I wanted to know what is "original" length and more specifically, for my vintage rifle, what is correct length. A chamber cast with cero-safe will tell the dimensions of my rifle (this week ends project), so on to the research.

    I have Mike Venturino's book Shooting Lever Guns and in it he shows a drawing of the old cartridges for which these guns were chambered and his tests are in vintage rifles. The drawing with dimensions for the 38-55 Ballard gives the brass length of 2.129". This is longer than the 30-30 and calibers of similar size (32 spcl and 25-35), but of course the 38-55 pre-dates all of them.

    Ken Howell's excellent book of cartridges gives the brass length for the 38-55 Ballard as 2.080". Back to square one.

    Does anyone have any source of info for this oldie in regard to brass dimensions? I tend to believe the Venturino book because he uses older rifles and shoots as close to authentic original brass and bullets as possible. Just another obstacle on the path of the handloader!
    Last edited by Murphy; 12-04-2006, 10:32.
    Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?

  • #2
    My assortment of manuals goes back to Phil Sharpe, 1937. He doesn't give case lengths. There's nothing on 38-55 in Speer manuals #1 (1954) through #6 (1964) or in the Hornady #1.

    Lyman's 39th (1953) lists a length of 2.129", not specificying whether that's max or trim. Their 45th lists a tim of 2.118" and a max of 2.1285".

    Donnelly's cartridge conversions lists the 2.129" SAAMI spec, as does Ken Waters in his pet loads. The last one may be the most interesting for you because he uses a variety of rifles and experimented with case forming from others, including a brief discussion of case lengths.
    Last edited by BrownBear; 12-01-2006, 10:08. Reason: typo
    "Lay in the weeds and wait, and when you get your chance to say something, say something good."
    Merle Haggard


    • #3
      38-55 Brass

      Brown Bear,

      Thanks for the lead, I don't have any old Lyman manuals here but do have the Pet Loads book. I'll check Ken's notes tonite. He is a very good source, I didn't think to check that one when I was looking last night.

      That further supports the 2.129" length in Venturino's book. The SR primer pocket brass is 2.130" which would be max and normlly we would trim to 2.120". It's funny that Jameson makes a 2.120" and a 2.130" length. I'll feel more comfortable about the longer brass after I chamber cast my rifle.

      I wonder if Winchester didn't change the length to 2.080" long ago when they began to chamber for it. Must have come with the name, 38-55 Winchester. I always thought that odd to have their name on it anyway, it was originally a Ballard/Marlin round. Maybe they shortened it to fit the M94 action. Hmmm, interesting. Thanks again.
      Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?


      • #4
        38-55 brass

        Murphy; I took a look in the Barnes Manual #3 and found that they have the 38-55 listed as having a case length of 2.085 and suggest trimming cases to 2.075. The cases listed are Winchester with large primer pockets. I will try to find more.
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        • #5
          38-55 length

          You may be right in thinking that Win shortened the "standard" from 2.120 +/- to 2.080 +/-. Either to define "their" cartridge/gun or as a result of the switch from blackpowder to smokeless. One source I've read hints that the change came at the time of the smokeless development. Also, I've found some very large differences in so-called "standard" dimensions when working with oldie guns and cartridges. No matter either way as long as you get a good measurement on your chamber length. All a bit before my time


          • #6
            idle thoughts...

            Perhaps WW shortened it to make it function reliably when they introduced the Model 1894 chambered to the round.....?


            • #7
              The Winding Winchester Brass...

              Thanks guys, that was my thinking DW.

              This 38-55 was originally a single shot rifle round and there is no restriction on brass length or bullet for them. Marlin chambered it in their 1881 model in 1884 but the '81 will also handle longer and larger cases and may have used the "original" length brass. It seems apparent that my little 1893 Marlin will handle a longer overall length, as is the norm with Marlins, so they are not the likely the perpetrators of the infamous brass shortening. It does seem a little odd that no one has discovered this or written about this before. Maybe we are the first, we are quite a team! :-)

              There is obviously more than one length of brass out there and there discrepancies in the dimensions given in the various loading journals and other text written on the subject. The older manuals, if they go back far enough, list the 2.129" length and Ken Waters and Mike Venturino also give 2.129". But, most other loading manuals list 2.080" as does Ken Howell, I'll have to ask him about that. This ain't over yet!
              Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?


              • #8
                Ya got me to thinking last weekend...

                and I got to looking, and my own supply is rather low. Less than 40 rounds in the house after I loaded Dad up. Anyhow, went looking around the east end of the Snake River Valley, and apparently was a half hour behind someone who's stockpiling .38-55, as well as all the .375 Winchester brass and WW .375 H&H. Not a round to be found of any of it. Well, I DID find two twenty round 'white box' WW .38-55, the stuff that had the 'crimp' about midships. I'm sure that it'll start showing up at the gunshows loaded up and about 4X what it's worth. Quite a few fellas are shooting the round in the black powder cartridge long range matches down here.


                • #9
                  38-55 length

                  Did you get the chamber length of your Marlin yet? Just curious for the info to store away in the memory bank. Also, (I think) SAAMI lists the max case length for the 38-55 as 2.85". And, was looking at the IMR guide last night and they list the case trim length at 2.120" !!! Seems some folks are operating with one set of lengths and others are operating with another. Shows it pays to get an accurate chamber length for new or newly acquired guns.


                  • #10
                    My old Lyman book list the 38-55 Winchester.

                    Here is te info:

                    Jacketed bullet diameter .376
                    Cast bullet diameter .377 to .380
                    MAX case length 2.1285
                    Trim-To case length 2.118

                    Maximum overall loaded length for a 94 Winchester 2.550
                    Primer size large rifle
                    Lyman # 6 shell holder
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                    • #11
                      IMR correction

                      Correction... the latest IMR guide lists a trim length for the 38-55 at 2.075 not 2.120 as my previous post stated. "Carts of the World" lists two lengths- 2.120 & 2.085 with the 2.085 being the current SAAMI spec. As Float Pilot stated, the older Lyman Handbook dated 1970, listed only the longer case lengths. The 2003 Lee book lists the case length at 2.085. The 2004 Lyman Handbook book lists the trim length at 2.075 and the max case length at 2.085 with a notation that the original max case length was 2.129. The 2001 Lyman BP Handbook lists the trim length at 2.118 with a notation that this may exceed current SAAMI specs and the longer lengths are designed for longer chambers. As to exactly when SAAMI set the standard at 2.085- ??.


                      • #12
                        SAAMI Specs...

                        SAAMI came on the scene about 1926 and it seems for the 38-55 the brass length was there after 2.085" (max length) Trim is normally .010" less. I think the old length was a maximum of 2.129" and would be trimmed to 2.119" or 2.120".

                        I called the brass company Jamison International of Sturgis, today. I was told that they make two lengths of brass for the 38-55. 2.085" and 2.115".

                        Yeah! New numbers. I asked about the brass Buffalo Arms carries of 2.120" and 2.130" and I was told that it is special ordered for them. The very helpful lady on the other end of the phone told me the longer brass was for older rifles and people liked it because it held more black powder. But then said the 2.115" brass would fit in older or newer guns. (^$#@!%#@!)

                        I would guess any gun made after SAAMI established the length of 2.085" will be chambered thusly. There is also good reason to believe that guns made before that date might be longer chambered. I will know more when my chamber casting stuff arrives.

                        I had thoughts of sitting quietly along a wooded river bottom at the break of dawn cradling a light weight and handy lever carbine in my arms. I watch for a good whitetail buck to emerge from the brush at the rivers edge. My mind goes back to a time, a century ago, when a good rifle and cast bullets could feed a family. This rifle could have been used by my grandfather or great-grandfather at a time when hunting was necessary for survival. I wait to see this winters venison step into the first rays of the morning sun, fully confident in my skills, my rifle and my well tested hand made cartridge.

                        Will this confidence fade before I catch a glimpse of the heavy ten pointer? Will his appearance haunt me because I'm afraid to pull the trigger on my vintage rifle? A rifle in a caliber that's older than my grandfather! A caliber so obsolete that no one can make correct brass, and all ammo may or may not even fire. Will the gun stay together? Will it be safe to shoot? What if my gun blows up?! I can't do this....I could be injured...I... uh... ah.....there he is! Wow! He's BIG! L..L..L..Look at that head gear! I'm gonna take him.....what...where th.... what did I do w.....
                        Where the heck is my rifle?! Arghh!!!!

                        There's always next year.
                        Last edited by Murphy; 12-04-2006, 22:27.
                        Is there nothing so sacred on this earth that you aren't willing to kill or die for?


                        • #13

                          Ya could just slap some loads together, forget about all the numbers after the decimal point, take a good sammich and a thermos of nasty coffee, and go find that buck!


                          • #14
                            If you can get by for a bit,,, Starline is going to be making it soon according to their website. They make top quality stuff from what I've seen.



                            • #15

                              My LFD program shows the 38-55 Winchester and Ballard to have a length of 2.129

                              My Original "Cartridges of he World" book shows 2.1295 and indicates a Large Primer.

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