Ammo Brief: The Adaptable And Inexpensive .32 Smith & Wesson

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32 SW Box

Designed for small, pocket-type revolvers, the .32 Smith & Wesson gained immense popularity in American and Europe, despite being underpowered.

What You Need To Know About The .32 Smith & Wesson:

  • Originally loaded with balckpowder, it’s exclusively used smokeless since 1940.
  • Comparable to the .32 Automatic, though the revolver cartridge is less powerful.
  • Despite being somewhat obscure at this point, factory loaded ammunition is still available.

Historical Notes

Designed for the Smith & Wesson Model 1½ hinged-frame, single-action revolver introduced in 1878, the .32 Smith & Wesson is an old and very popular cartridge that’s widely used in the United States and Europe for low-priced, pocket-type revolvers. Originally a black-powder cartridge, it’s been loaded with smokeless powder exclusively since 1940. In the United States, Colt, Harrington & Richardson, Hopkins & Allen, Iver Johnson, Smith & Wesson and others have made revolvers for this cartridge. In England, Webley & Scott made revolvers for it. Elsewhere in Europe, Bayard and Pickert revolvers chambered it. The original loading used nine grains of black powder.

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General Comments

The .32 Smith & Wesson formerly ranked with the .32 Automatic in general popularity—and for the same reasons. It’s low powered and adaptable to small, light, inexpensive, pocket-type handguns. Ballistically, it’s not quite as good as the .32 Automatic. It’s very similar to the .32 Short Colt, but the two aren’t interchangeable because of a difference in bullet and case diameter. Like the .32 Automatic, the .32 S&W is about the minimum cartridge for self-defense. It’s considered inadequate for police work. It’s used occasionally for hunting small game at very short ranges, but it’s too underpowered for consideration as a sporting cartridge. This ammunition is still available.

32 SW Table

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Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Cartridges of the World, 16th Edition.


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