Firing .38 special in a .357 Magnum revolver.

My first gun (way back in the day.. like… April) was a Smith and Wesson 686P Revolver.
I purchased this gun because Smith and Wesson was a company I’d heard of, obviously, and because I trusted a revolver over a semi automatic, and because I had the option of shooting 2 calibers. .38 special and .357 magnum.

What I learned today, is that even though you can shoot both calibers in the same gun, it’s not necessarily wise to do so at the same time.

.38 special is a substantially shorter cartridge than the .357 magnum. When firing .38 spec in a .357 gun, the difference in length makes it’s presence abundantly clear in a revolver’s cylinder. .38 special rounds leave a nice black ring around the cylinder throat. From what I read and observed, some of this is carbon, some of it is gunked on lube from cast bullets. After working up gunk in the cylinder firing repeated .38 special rounds, subsequently firing .357 magnum cartridges bakes it on. The result is higher pressure, difficult case extractions, and in my case, today, a stuck bullet.

When my lead bullet stuck in the cylinder today, my first thought was that it was an improperly sized bullet. This caused the cylinder to stick, preventing it from rotating or opening, and ending my shooting session for the day.

When I took the gun home and examined the problem I could see that the actual cause was lead/lube/carbon buildup in the cylinder. I scrubbed the cylinder with a wire brush and chor boy for a good 2 hours using Hoppes #9 solvent, but it never really came clean.

I realized that I’d probably never *properly* cleaned the cylinder, and that this gunk had built up, and been baked on repeatedly over a (ridiculous) number of rounds. Probably thousands.

This was curious to me, as I do clean all of my firearms after every shoot. At least I thought I did. Because this was so baked on, even though I scrubbed the cylinder and ran patches through, it appeared to me as if everything were clean. The patches came out clean, rounds fit in the cylinder fine. Not the case.

So today I scrubbed. I ran kleen bore lead removal patches through. I soaked in solvent. I scrubbed more. Repeated.. but, now knowing to actually LOOK for buildup in the cylinder instead of just believing the patches told me the truth, I found nothing was working.

So I took to the forums… as I always do.. and read about how some people chuck their wire brushes on cordless drills.

I gave it a try.

About 15 seconds later, all 7 chambers were mirror clean. It.Was.Amazing. AMAZING.

I just wanted to share that little tip that I learned today. If you’re going to do this, wrap chor boy copper strips around a .357 bore brush, soak the brush in solvent, and drill out the gunk. It is suggested to only use the drill on the cylinder, and not on the bore itself… though I don’t see how using it on the bore would be a problem either.

It will make cleaning my revolver a less dreaded experience in the future. I’ve also learned, if I’m going to shoot .38 special, shoot .38 special. If I’m then going to shoot .357 magnum… clean the cylinder well first. A couple passes with a bore snake isn’t going to cut it.

Hope this helps someone.

This entry was posted in Guns.


  1. tcpsyn September 24, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    I would suggest using a wooden dowel and a hammer. The wood won’t scratch the barrel.

  2. Jessica May 19, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    We shot our 357 today using 38 special rounds and when we got home we realized that one of the rounds are stuck at the tip of the barrel. How do we get that out without damaging the gun?

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