This post describes the design and performance of a fine Smith & Wesson .32 revolver.
I have been a .32 fan since dad showed me Great Grandma’s old Harrington and Richardson. She carried it in her apron pocket during the Great Depression when hobos would stop for a handout at her house. The Smith & Wesson Model 30-1 considered here never saw such menial duty. The blue box is worn and the gun has a light cylinder ring but was unfired when purchased. It came from the collection of a fellow who bought and squirreled away some guns in the mid-twentieth century. When he passed recenty, his family found and consigned them for sale. Lucky for me I connected with this beautifully finished little revolver before someone else did.
The Smith & Wesson Model 30-1
The gun is an example of the tried-and-true hand ejector design that appeared in 1896.
Being late in the series of improved versions that have appeared since, this one has the J frame, ramp front sight on a 4-in. barrel, flat thumb piece, diamond in the grip, and serial no. 725XXX that means production in 1963. I like the looks of the long, serrated front sight and the round grips. This syle of grip seems appropriate on a gun of this size. Although it is small for my average male hand, it is still comfortable. The great workmanship and appearance of the gun shows why I like Smith & Wessons. They are among the finest of affordable mechanical devices.
This gun has been patiently awaiting its destiny in its box for fifty years. Turns out its destiny is to be shot by me and I am going to shoot the heck out of it. Its strength and quality will surely mean it can take it.
Shooting the Model 30-1
There are four bullet designs in the factory ammo that I had on hand for this test: Several different brands have the standard round nose, one has a half-jacketed hollow point, one has a flat nose that is like an old version called the .32 Colt New Police, and a couple of others have target wadcutter bullets. The picture shows, left to right, an Aguila 98 gr RN, a MagTech 98 gr half-jacket hollow point, a Sellier and Bellot 100 gr flat nose, and a Fiocchi 100 gr wadcutter.
Here are the velocity results for these loads (Ave = average velocity, 10 rounds, ES = extreme spread,and SD = the standard deviation):
Winchester 98 gr Round Nose Ave 665 fps ES 108 fps SD 34 fps
MAGTECH 98 gr Round Nose Ave 620 fps ES 79 fps SD 30 fps
PRVI Partizan 98 gr Round Nose Ave 542 fps ES 112 fps SD 37 fps
Sellier and Bellot 100 gr Flat Nose Ave 696 fps ES 107 fps SD 31 fps
Aguila 98 gr Round Nose Ave 624 fps ES 52 fps SD 14 fps
MAGTECH 98 gr Jacketed HP Ave 483 fps ES 154 fps SD 43 fps
Fiocchi 100 gr Wadcutter Ave 616 fps ES 101 fps SD 30 fps
Federal 98 gr Wadcutter Ave 734 fps ES 74 FPS SD 28 fps
I found that fired cases came out very dirty, because the cases obturate (seal) poorly at these low pressures. Extreme spreads were large, exceeding 100 fps for more than half the brands; Standard deviations were correspondingly large, 30 fps or more for three fourths of the brands. Considering an SD of 30, and knowing this means that 95% of shots will fall within a range of plus or minus two standard deviations, I see that it takes a range of 120 fps to catch 95% of my shots. That is a wide range when the average velocity is only in the 600s.
The Federal wadcutter load won the velocity race, and it would be the best factory choice
for small game or self defense. It is also the most expensive load. I liked the Sellier and Bellot a lot. It gave good velocity and the flat-nosed bullet would be more effective on small game than the round noses. The Aguila had the best uniformity. The MagTech jacketed round was worthless.
Overall accuracy of the loads was good to very good. I used an NRA 25-ft slow fire target and a sandbag rest when putting 10 rounds of each brand over my chronograph. Ten-shot groups ranged from 1-1/4” to 2-1/8”. The Sellier and Bellot, the Fiocchi wadcutter and the Federal wadcutter all managed groups of 1-1/4”. The Aguila was close at 1-5/16”. My eyesight is a limiting factor in group shooting, so I think these could be tightened up a bit.
I found that there were a couple things I could do to get better zing from some factory loads. When I noticed that the Winchester round nose loads did not have much, if any, crimp, I got my 32 seating die out and set the bullet in several of them 0.06” lower and then roll-crimped them over the shoulder. Average velocity jumped to 730 fps (from 665 fps), with an ES of 35 fps and an SD of 12 fps. This was a considerable improvement in velocity and uniformity. These data were taken on a different day than the first Winchester numbers, but, no reason to doubt the chronograph on either day.
The second thing I found is that temperature really matters. The Sellier and Bellot ammo, after sitting in a cardboard box in the sun on the range bench, and feeling decidedly warm to the touch, gave an average velocity of 743 fps (from 696 fps) with an ES of 46 fps and an SD of 13 fps. I am not recommending this practice. The results are reported for your information.
It is a joy to use a gun as finely wrought as this little, mid-20th-century Smith and Wesson. Function was perfect and smooth, and I am quite satisfied with the accuracy.
I will need to make some handloads to get the best out of this Model 30-1 and that is where I am headed next. Handloading the .32 Long for good performance is easy for an experienced loader. The small case capacity makes it possible to get 2000 good loads from a pound of powder and cast bullets work very well.