.32 S&W Conversion Cylinder

In the November 2018 issue, my story was about shooting the Uberti copy of the Colt .31 caliber Pocket Revolver, the Model of 1849. That is quite the little gun and I certainly still do recommend one for some great black powder shooting.
At the same time, I wanted something extra; not more, but just different. And that difference was found with a conversion cylinder that converted the .31 percussion revolver to shoot the .32 Smith&Wesson cartridge.
The old and little .32 Smith&Wesson cartridge dates back to the 1870s when it was introduced for the Model 1½ S&W top-break single action revolver. It quickly grew in popularity and at one time was just about as popular as the later .32 ACP cartridge.
Naturally, the .32 S&W was a black powder cartridge so it fits right into our little corner here where black powder is our favorite. So now let me tell you about the conversion cylinder for the Model 1849 and about making the loads to use in it.

SHOOTING THE .31 caliber percussion revolver was, in its own way, a real blast! However, I had my eye on something else for that gun. That was the conversion cylinder made by Howell Old West Conversions and I ordered mine from Buffalo Arms Company.
Almost as soon as I ordered that cylinder, it arrived at the mailbox, very good and fast service. The conversion cylinder allows .32 S&W cartridges to be shot in this little 5-shot revolver with no other alterations required. Just change the cylinder to shoot the cartridges or change it back to shoot the gun as a percussion.

Along with the new cylinder, I ordered 100 pieces of Star Line brass for the .32 S&W. Add those cases to the full box of Remington .32 S&W loads that I already had on hand and that gives me a supply that should last a fairly long time.

Naturally, some loading tools for the little .32 S&W were also on the list. Lee Precision makes a 3-die set for the .32, with a carbide sizing die. Those were ordered along with a mold for a 93-grain bullet also by Lee, number 311-93-1R. With the lead that I’m using, which is rather soft but of unknown alloy, the bullets from that mold weigh just about an even 88 grains.
The suggested diameter for sizing those bullets from the Lee mold is .311 inches, but I had my hopes for something a bit larger, mainly because the suggested round ball diameter for the .31 caliber revolver is .321 inches.
So instead of sizing those little bullets, they were placed in a metal lid from a large jar to be “pan” lubed. And to make a “kakekutter,” a .32 Winchester Special case was drilled out, over at Allen Cunniff’s shop, so a brass plunder rod could be run through the case to push the lubed bullets back out.
The .32 Special case was resized, which, I’m guessing, would squeeze the mouth of the case down to .316 to .318 inches. That should leave a little extra lube on the bullet but that’s OK.
That metal jar lid is big enough to lube 25 to 30 bullets at a time, which is plenty enough for me. And that “kakekutter” works very well.
The first loading of bullets from the Lee mold was done using the most recommended smokeless powder load, which needed only 1 grain of Bullseye powder. That is a soft-speaking load for sure. And a couple of them were fired over a chronograph, generating only about 480 fps.

IN ORDER TO find a good black powder load for the .32 S&W, I referred to my copy of the Lyman Handbook #29. (Every black powder reloader should have one of those!) There, the old factory black powder loads for the little .32 were listed at only 7 grains. Because I had no way of compressing the powder charge, I tried my first black powder loading, using Olde Eynsford 3F, at just 6 grains.

Even the charge of 6 grains was a little too much. That required some compression of the powder while seating the bullets. And, you can probably tell what’s coming, compressing with the soft bullets caused the bullets to “expand,” which didn’t allow the cartridges to be inserted in the conversion cylinder.
So those bullets were pulled and replaced with fresh “un-expanded” bullets. Those worked very well and with those loads, it was off to the range we went. Those loads with the 6 grains of OE 3F did shoot very well with pleasing accuracy.

For my next loading using black powder in the .32 S&W cases, the amount of powder was dropped to just 5 grains. With that much powder, the bullets can be seated very nicely.
There is still some slight compression of the powder, so there is no air space, but the bullets do not get expanded during the seating process. And the 5-grain loads of black powder certainly fired with more “snap” than the very light loads with Bullseye, with pleasing accuracy too.
The average velocity with the 88-grain bullets from the Lee mold over the 5 grains of Olde Eynsford 3F powder was 537.6 feet per second with an extreme spread of velocities for the small sample of five shots sent over the chronograph was just 30 feet per second.
For this little gun, I think that’s a pretty good load. That gives the smashing power of almost 57 foot pounds of energy, which really isn’t enough to make the earth tremble but it will sure make the gongs ring and the tin cans bounce.

BUT THE BULLET I really wanted to use in the .32 S&W was Lyman’s number 313249, the original Ideal bullet made for the little old .32. It took me some time to get one but it was certainly worth the wait. And I got it with a .314-inch diameter sizing die and the proper top punch.
Just one bullet from this new mold was weighed, 83½ grains. The Lyman catalog lists that bullet at 85 grains and it poured out just a little bit lighter with the 25-1 lead-tin alloy I was using.
The new mold was pre-heated by resting it over the lead pot while the lead melted and it dropped good bullets right from the first try. They were sized and lubricated with some BPC black powder lube from C. Sharps Arms.

Those new bullets were loaded in the Starline cases over 5 grains of Olde Eynsford 3F powder and taken to the range. A small target was posted at just 10 yards and the new bullets were tried for their first “burst of five.”
Those grouped rather well although hitting high, as this pocket revolver does. Next another target was posted and five more shots were fired while kneeling with one arm rested across my knee. Those grouped better, due to the steadier hold.
Now the Lyman number 313249 bullets are part of my “standard loading” for the .32 S&W, still using it with the 5-grain charge of Olde Eynsford 3F powder. I do plan on “lowering” the rear sight in the hammer to bring the point of impact down a bit.

Shooting this small revolver with the conversion cylinder is really a pleasure. In fact, I haven’t used this gun with the percussion cylinder since trying it with the .32 S&Ws.
What duties this gun will serve for now is rather hard to say; it is primarily a fun gun and shooting it with the light black powder loads simply makes shooting it even more fun.
Historically, there were some conversions for the old Colt .31s but those mainly focused on using the .32 rimfire cartridges. While using the 1849 Colt copy with the .32 S&W conversion cylinder, we can experience a little of that history and have a lot of fun at the same time.

Story and photos by Mike Nesbitt