Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cartridge Interchangeability

After writing my about the history of the .44 Magnum and beginning my research on the history of the .357 Magnum I decided that I would like to delve into the issue of cartridge interchangeability.

Most everyone knows that a .38 Special can be safely fired in a .357 Magnum chambered gun, not everyone knows why. Also there are other guns whose chambers will safely fire other cartridges. In addition there are guns that come with additional cylinders to shoot different cartridges of the same bullet diameter.

We'll start with the largest calibers and work our way down.

The .475 Linebaugh was developed by John Linebaugh in the later part of the 1980s. He used a 45-70 Government case cut down and sized to fit a .475 diameter bullet. A gun chambered for the .475 Linebaugh can also fire the slightly less powerful .480 Ruger which shares the same case dimensions except for the case length which is .115" shorter than the Linebaugh. Here is a picture comparing the two:

 The .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum was designed as a handgun hunting round. The cartridge is chambered in the X-frame revolver that Smith & Wesson developed for the .500 Magnum. The bullet diameter is .452, which means it will safely fire the .454 Casull. The .454 Casull is a high powered version of the .45 Colt, developed in 1958 by Dick Casull, surpassing the then still new .44 Magnum which came out just 2 years prior. The 454 Casull in turn can fire the .45 Colt, which is a longer version of the .45 Schofield. 
So the .460 S&W revolver can safely chamber and fire the .460 S&W, .454 Casull, .45 Colt and the .45 Schofield. 
Of course accuracy may be affected by shooting a short cartridge in a long cylinder. As always check your owner's manual before firing any cartridge besides the one printed on the barrel. Here is a picture showing the four cartridges.
L to R .460 Magnum, .454 Casull, .45 Colt and the .45 S&W Schofield
There exists another .460 cartridge, only this one is for an automatic pistol. The .460 Rowland is a high pressure, longer cased version of the .45 ACP. Now you can shoot the .45 ACP in an automatic chambered for the .460, but the springs may need to be changed for the gun to function reliably. Dan Wesson once made a revolver chambered for the .460 Rowland, it could safely fire the .460, .45 ACP. .45 Super and even the longer .45 Winchester Magnum. Here is a picture showing the .45 auto family. Missing from the picture is the .45 G.A.P. which has a case length of .755', .143" shorter than the .45 ACP, again, this is not a problem in the revolvers, but may present an issue in the autos.

Next we move to the .44 caliber cartridges, which are really .43 caliber.....see my post on The 44 Magnum & cartridge naming conventions for explanation.

The .44 Magnum was at one time the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world. That didn't last long, even if the 454 Casull hadn't come along, it was only a matter of time.

The .44 Magnum does have a bigger brother in the .445 Super Magnum, developed by Elgin Gates. He lengthened the case from 1.285" to 1.61". Again a gun chambered for the more powerful .445 Supermag can fire the .44 Magnum, the .44 Special and the .44 Russian. Just as the .44 Magnum guns can fire the shorter .44 Special & .44 Russian.

Here is a picture showing the difference between the rare .445 SuperMag and the quite common .44 Magnum

Here is a picture of the remaining .44 family cases, the .44 Russian, .44 S&W Special and .44 Remington Magnum.

Next up is the .414 Supermag, another Elgin Gates designed cartridge, it's little brother the lonely .41 Magnum which can also be fired in its place.

I couldn't find a picture of them together, but here is the .414, the case is 1.61" which is .32" longer than the 1.29" length of the .41 Magnum case.

The next group of cartridges on our list is the .357 family. The longest of which is the .357 Remington Maximum, which is nearly identical to the Elgin Gates .357 Supermag. The .357 Maximum was developed by Remington and Ruger. To date Ruger and Dan Wesson are the only two revolver manufactures to chamber the cartridge.
Of course the .357 Magnum can be safely fired in a gun chambered for the Maximum, as can be the .38 Special, the .38 Long Colt and the .38 Short Colt. As always check your manual for guidance before shooting anything your gun was not originally chambered for.

Here is a picture of the group, from L to R: .38 Special, .357 Magnum & .357 Maximum

The next group is the .32 caliber group. The largest of the .32s is the .327 Federal Magnum, introduced in 2007, it was a joint venture between Ruger and Federal Cartridge. The older .32 H&R Magnum can be fired in the .327's chamber as can the .32 S&W Long & .32 S&W (Short).

From L to R: The .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, .32 H&R Magnum & .327 Federal Magnum

The last group is the .22 caliber. There is a .22 Magnum, but you cannot fire a .22 Long Rifle cartridge safely in its chamber, despite the bullet diameters being the same. 
This is due to the .22 LR using a healed bullet design and the .22 Magnum using a now standard non-healed bullet.

You can however fire the .22 Short and the .22 Long in a Long Rifle chamber.

Here are the four .22 rim fires together. You might notice the .22 Magnum (on the right) has a larger diameter case.

You can also fire the once nearly extinct, but now revived .22 WRF (Winchester Rim Fire) in a .22 Magnum chamber as the .22 Magnum (.22 WMR) is a longer version of the .22 WRF.
Here (L to R) is the .22 LR, .22 WRF and the .22 Mag.

There were other .22 rimfires, but they are no longer in production.
This is where the interchangeable guns come in. 

We have guns like the Taurus Judge which can fire the .410 shot shell and the .45 Colt in the same chamber. This is because the dimensions of the two cases are close enough and the shot cup in the .410 spreads to fill the larger .452 diameter bore.

Smith & Wesson did the Judge one better with their Governor revolver. They added the ability to shoot .45 ACP cartridges via moon clips.

 Another gun that allows for multiple cartridges to be fired from the same chamber is the Medusa Revolver. It can fire almost any cartridge in the .35 caliber family, including the .38 Short Colt, .38 Long Colt, .38 S&W, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .380 ACP, .38 Auto, .38 Super, 9mm Luger, 9mm Makarov, 9mm Largo, 9mm Browning Long. The Medusa was short lived and are quite rare now.


Ruger pioneered the idea of "convertible" guns. Their .22 Single Six has for a long time come with both a .22 LR/L/S cylinder and a .22 Magnum cylinder (which can also shoot the .22 WRF). This was also an option (for a very short time) on the smallest Ruger: the Bearcat. 
Ruger also produced a .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire Single Six that had an extra cylinder chambered for the shorter .17 Mach 2. You cannot fire the .17 Mach 2 in the .17 HMR cylinder for the same reason you cannot fire a .22LR in a .22 Magnum cylinder....the two .17's are both based on the .22LR & .22 Mag cartridges respectively.

Ruger also produced Blackhawk convertibles. The .357 Magnum came with a cylinder designed to shoot 9mm Luger cartridges. The .45 Colt convertible came with a cylinder for .45 ACP. A special edition .38-40 Blackhawk came with a cylinder that could fire the 10mm Auto round. All of the auto cartridges headspaced on the case mouth, they did not need moon clips (impossible due to the design of the single action's loading gate).
They also made a special run of .32-20 Winchester Blackhawks that came with a .32 H&R Magnum cylinder.

Harrington & Richardson was on the same wavelength, they offered their model 676 with a .22 LR & a .22 Magnum cylinder.

Another gun with the same concept is the FN Barracuda. The Barracuda revolver was shipped with two cylinders, one for .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges and one for 9mm Luger.
The guns were made under contract by the Spanish firm Astra, the gun was produced from 1974 to 1989.
The concept has been revived by Brazillian gun maker Taurus.The Taurus 922 Tracker comes with a .22LR cylinder and a .22 Mag cylinder, each mounted on its own crane assembly. A button on the right side (replacing the screw the used to hold the crane in place) releases the crane so they can be easily swapped out.

American Handgunner
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  1. Hi
    You stated. "Of course the .357 Magnum can be safely fired in a gun chambered for the Maximum, as can be the .38 Special, .38 S&W, the .38 Long Colt and the .38 Short Colt."

    I may be wrong, but the .38 S&W bullet is .361 diameter, and .38 S&W ammo can't be fired on a .38 S%W Special - .357 Magnum handgun. Here in Chile and elsewere in South America this caliber and S&W top break revolvers were very popular in the first half of the last century.

    1. you are correct, my mistake, the .38 S&W is too large in diameter to chamber in the others.