Part of the fun of reloading is bringing hundred-year-old guns back to life, like 32 S&W top-break revolver. These revolvers can be very inexpensive—running around $200 or less for one in excellent condition—and ammunition and reloading supplies are also inexpensive. Loading and shooting this round offer some challenges, though, so below I offer my personal experience loading and shooting this round.
Buying Reloading Brass
A few companies do sell loaded ammunition for the .32 S&W top-break revolver; likewise, Starline and Magtech both offer unprimed brass at a low price. You should cast pure lead bullets and not worry about sizing them. Lee offers an inexpensive (around $19) 98 grain bullet mold that can cast an 88 grain bullet that’s .311” in diameter.
Choosing the Right Die
Now comes the difficult part. No one currently makes dedicated .32 S&W dies, but you have a few options that will work. Dies made for 32 S&W Long, 32 H&R Mag and .327 Federal magnum will all work to some degree. Even dies for 32 ACP will work.
The sizing die is the same for these options, but the expanding die and seating/crimp die can cause problems. The 32 ACP dies will size and expand the neck just fine and the seating die will seat the bullet well, but the 32 ACP uses a tapered crimp, which means you won’t have a nice factory roll crimp. Depending on the powder you use, this may not be a problem. Personally, I prefer a modest roll crimp to get a better powder burn and to burn the powder fast enough so the case expands to the chamber and creates a good seal. A faster burn also lessens the stress on the gun itself and prevents the chamber from getting dirty.
I use the Lee .32 S&W Long Die set because it comes with the correct shell holder at no extra cost. You can disassemble the Lee expanding die and insert a filler plug to make the expander plug extend down enough to properly expand the neck.
Now we have to address the seating die and crimp. One option is to simply screw the seating plug down enough to seat the bullet and the die will close the flared case, but that isn’t ideal. Fortunately, I have a small lathe in my workshop that enables me to chuck the factory die, shorten it by 3/16”, and recut the internal bevel so it accepts a flared case. This worked like a charm—I have a perfect roll crimp and I can still use the dies in the original calibers they were designed for.
Picking Your Powder
When it comes to loading, nobody can tell you exactly what’s safe for your antique revolver. However, I can tell you what works best for my 32. My 32 S&W is an H&R top-break made between 1895 and 1905 that is in excellent condition. I tried a few powders like Red Dot, Win 231 and Unique before finding that 1.6 grains of Tin Star was perfect. It filled the case to the base of the bullet, just as it was designed to do with old Black Powder cartridges. Tin Star burns very clean, though it does require at least a modest roll crimp. Using Tin Star, I can record a velocity of about 600 FPS. To my surprise, the soft lead cast bullet easily penetrated a pressure-treated 2×4.