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32 Smith & Wesson

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The 32 S&W was introduced in 1878 for chambering in a very small S&W revolver. Originally, a very low-powered blackpowder round, it has the distinction of remaining a very low-power round throughout production history. The name of this round refers to the diameter of the case mouth, not the bullet; just as is true with many other revolver cartridges of the era.

Production was generally discontinued around 1970 but the advent of Cowboy Action Shooting reinvigorated this and many other rounds of the 1800s. Manufacturers occasionally run batches of cases for handloading and ammunition manufacturers occasionally run batches of cartridges.

32 S&W ballistics are, as noted above, dismal, and always have been. Owing to the tiny case and the weak guns typically chambered for this round, it is inadvisable to attempt to improve on factory-load performance. Some of those guns are made of such soft steel that an increase of 0.1-grain in propellant charge above the maximum listed in a reputable manual can result in a ruined gun.

I saw something akin to this happen with a fine survivor revolver from the 1880s. A young handloader figured if 2.7-grains of the recommended propellant was good, then 3.0 grains should be better. He fired a cylinder full and bulged all five chambers to uselessness. I suspect even 2.8-grains might have ruined the gun. Due and extreme prudence is the order of the day when working with this round and the original guns.

As with any revolver round, best practice is to apply a roll-crimp after seating the bullet. A roll-crimp eases loading of rounds into the cylinder and can help limit bullet pull under recoil if only modestly. I cannot too-strongly recommend getting a second seating-and-crimping die so you can have one adjusted to seat the bullet and the second adjusted to only crimp the case mouth. Generally, attempting to do both operations in one step is a recipe for damaged and destroyed cases.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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