Can anyone explain the different types od 38 Special Wadcutter brass?


Well-Known Member
Hi Folks,
I have been taking a break from shooting cast bullets in my rifles so I can bring out my S&W pistols I have not shot since 2012!
Really getting hooked on this wad cutter thing since I had the loan of a nice Lyman 358495 mould....With my alloy it cast at about 144.5 grains

Now I have at least 3 versions of 38 Special wad cutter brass; one has 2 sets of case marking with the upper one having a "knurled" texture!
That one equates to the approximate depth of the seated wad cutter!
The Next one is exactly the same but both markings are just lines!
And the 3rd version seems to only be on my Federal brass cases..... That line is 1/2 way down from the mouth of the case and the top marking as mentioned above!

I do know it is easier to seat the bullets in all 3 as opposed to standard cases without these markings!
What does all this mean?


West Central AR
It is my understanding that the case canalures are to catch the base of the WC to prevent set back without an exposed nose to crimp .

I would venture that the grooves are set for the particular WC that was factory loaded . A deeper groove would acct for a HBWC vs Plain based or DEWC , nose out 148s being the shallowest with a 160 in between .


Active Member
Generally factory wadcutter brass has a cannelure(s) rolled in to keep the bullet in place with little deformation. The most accurate factory .38 Special HBWC ammunition I’ve ever fired was some Federal in the late 1970s. Unplated case with a cannelure rolled in the case at the base of the bullet. No perceptible roll crimp, possibly taper crimped. I’ve never been able to duplicate the accuracy of this ammunition. Wadcutter brass is also thinner and has less internal taper which is why bullets seat easier. I’ve always had best accuracy from wadcutters whether cast or swaged
in wadcutter brass and slightly taper crimped.

If you keep your wadcutter brass segregated you’ll be happiest.

The 358495 has a tempting crimp groove but I would avoid it. Seat them almost flush and lightly taper crimp. If no .38 Special taper crimp die adjust your roll crimp die to just take the flare from the case mouth. The 358495 seems to work best (as do most cast wadcutters) sized to .358 with the base grease groove lubed only or better yet as cast,
tumble lubed (preferably Ben’s recipe) and seated in wadcutter brass. It makes an accuracy difference.
Soft lead works best too.


Notorious member
Thank you, Matt, you just pointed out three things I've always done wrong with wadcutters and that's probably why I never fell in love with them. I do have a couple K of 1F RP brass sorted and in boxes, and two good moulds. Might have to give this another go.


Official forum enigma
Wadcutter brass usually doesn't get left laying around. Not for very long, anyway. I am not much for wadcutters, I got one chord of the St. Elmer Siren Song about SWCs and have been lost for 40+ years down that rabbit hole. The round flatnose gets some love around here, but wadcutter moulds are scarce here--exactly two, Lymans #313492 and 358432 (160 grain variant). OK--2-1/2, I have a #358101 as well. I have played foul tricks upon ammo scroungers in the past with those little hockey pucks, loaded two per round.
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Staff member
I haven’t cast a wad cutter in decades.
My brass is all mixed together. Wadcutter brass is just brass to me.


Active Member
I regularly shoot full charge wadcutters. These days, I shoot wadcutters from an original H&G #50 four cavity wadcutter mould. It casts extremely well (takes me about one and one half hours to cast 20 lbs. of bullets) and shoots extremely well (well under 1" at 25 yards off a rest).

I have a lovely original H&G dbl ended wadcutter #251 six cavity mold that the bullets just fall out of. Great mold, but it weighs nearly five pounds with handles and is very tiring to use (now that I have gotten old and feeble). It shoots extremely well but I seldom use it.

The full charge wadcutter is not only excellent on the range, but also works extremely well on edible small game. It would also make a fine self defense load if a person is comfortable using reloads for self defense.

I shoot my wadcutters in "regular" .38 Special brass as well as wadcutter brass. They shoot fine in either but it is best to shoot in sorted brass for consistency.

I MUCH prefer cast solid base wadcutters. I have personally been next to three different shooters using hollow base wadcutters that have blown the base off, leaving the skirt in the pistol. The next shot is a disaster - three ruined pistol barrels. So, long ago, I decided to use ONLY my own cast solid base wadcutters. I have had no problem getting target accuracy with solid bases without the problems associated with hollow base wadcutters.

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358156 hp

Well-Known Member
I was once a wadcutter "junkie", I had a large number of WC moulds, and like Dale I preferred full charge 38 solid base wadcutters. FWIW, most 38/357 range shooting is done under 50 yards, and well within the stability limits of the wadcutter design. There, I said it out loud. Times changed, and I sold off all my wadcutter moulds and toed the semiwadcutter line. After a few years, I bought a single wadcutter mould, Lyman 358432, just a two cavity so as not to push the limits of self-control. Besides, I really need a 358432. Then I bought a bargain priced 4 cavity 358063. an RCBS 38-140, my personal favorite followed a little later. Then a 4 cavity 358091, and finally a 10 cavity H&G 36, because you know, it goes with my 358432. I know I haven't listed everything, but I'm too lazy to go through the mould boxes.

Matt & Dale give excellent loading advice above, and my only suggestion would be to consider using steel tapered sizing dies for your cases, if you resize your cases at all, many bullseye shooters I've talked with, or stalked on the internet don't size their cases. If they'll chamber for you, consider not sizing your bullets at all, just tumble-lube them and load unsized, IF it works out reliably for you. Remember to check and make sure ammo loaded unsized must also work in hot, dirty guns too. Some post size the case & bullet together, and the methods for doing this sometimes vary.

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
While the SWC is the bullet profile that I load & shoot the most in 38 Special, I have some real love for the wadcutter profile.

Back before I was casting my own, I probably loaded a truckload or two of commercial hollow base wadcutters. After I went down the casting path (more like stepping off the cliff never to return to the old path), I found renewed use for the solid wadcutter.

As others have stated, the taper of the case walls for WC brass is located closer to the base of the casing. I segregate my wadcutter brass and save it for selected use. However, I don't exclusively use wadcutter brass with wadcutter bullets.
With a custom made expander that expands the case enough for cast bullets and extends deep enough into the casing to accommodate wadcutter bullets, I find that regular 38 Special brass works fine with solid wadcutters.
On occasion I will use a neck turner to thin the case walls deeper into a casing to duplicate wadcutter brass from standard casings but that is labor intensive.

The WC profile has uses beyond just making nice sharp holes in targets. A full charge wadcutter has merit as a self-defense load in a short barreled revolver (although I still prefer the FBI Load in a snubnose) and a full charge WC has always been an excellent small game bullet. Plus the wadcutter profile allows for quick identification of a particular load. I have a few "standard loads" and one quick method I use to identify those loads is bullet type and casing. A wadcutter that I loaded in a brass casing is one of my target loads and a WC I loaded in a nickel plated casing is one of my full charge WC loads.

I have several WC molds but they are all flat base designs. I'm giving serious thought to buying a Star Lubersizer and getting a SAECO #348 double end WC mold but that's a significant cash outlay.


Active Member
I now have two categories of .38 special brass, “flush seated wadcutters will chamber every time brass!”, and then all the other stuff.

Remington and Winchester stamped brass are sorted separately, and have been working fine when loaded with wadcutters. I don’t use Rem +p or Win +p because the brass gets thicker quicker, and won’t chamber in my guns.

When I first started reloading .38 special I had a bunch of PMC brass. It’s wall thickness starts tapering early, it gets thick quick.

My first mold was a Lee 148gr tumble lube wadcutter. You can see where this is going.

I was so proud of that first batch of ammo, all made with my own cast bullets. Until I tried to shoot it. About twenty percent wouldn’t chamber, mostly these were the rounds loaded in the PMC brass. Mistakes can teach us a lot.

I have two wadcutter molds now, a Lyman 358495 and the Lee mold. I could refine my wadcutter loading even more, segregate the two cannelure brass from the other brass, play with seating length, or charge weights. But I’m happy, for now, with the accuracy I’m getting.



Springfield, Oregon
The only WC mold I have is an RCBS 148 DEWC. My only complaint is it’s just two cavities. Awhile back I picked up 1K once fired .38 WC brass from a member here. R-P and W-W. Good looking stuff from an indoor police range IIRC. I haven’t tried any yet but did cast up and PC about half a coffee can full. I have less than a pound of Bullseye on hand but just acquired a pound of IMR Target, their equivalent. I also have Titegroup and Redot. 2F9B3AA2-11EB-4B13-B534-B467F4FDA0C0.jpeg

Charles Graff

Moderator Emeritus
The primary difference in wadcutter brass is longer/deeper parallel case walls before the internal case taper begins. This is to prevent the hollow base of a hollow base wadcutter from being crushed by the case wall. Hollow base wadcutters are longer for their weight than solid base wadcutters, hence the need for longer/deeper parallel case walls. Thus when using wadcutter brass and HBWCs, the case expanding die should go deeper into the case. At one time, RCBS made a special expander for this purpose.

Flush seating and the "button nose" on the bullet are only helpful in autoloading pistols. That is why factory WC loads are flush seated. For revolvers having a band or two of the bullet out of the case to guide the bullet into the chamber throat is a good idea.

From a reliable source (Ed Harris), I learn that 38 Special Starline brass has the same internal taper as factory wadcutter brass, so no need to scrounge around for WC brass.

Charles Graff

Moderator Emeritus
Here is a pic of different RCBS 38/357 expanders. On the far left is one from the 50's that measures .358 next to it is one from the 80s that measures .356. The next one if an old one I modified on the lathe to go deeper for solid base wadcutters and on the far right is a special order expander for the HB wadcutter an it measures .3585. These special order expanders are no longer available from RCBS and in fact, the last time I talked to them, they didn't know they ever made them. Oh yes, if you are going to attack one of these expanders in a lathe, better us a carbide bit, for they are hard, hard, hard.
RCBS 38 expanders.jpg
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Active Member
I feel silly! I just put two and two together. Your collection of RCBS expanders gave it away, Charles=Char, Graff=Gar. Reading your posts about wadcutters over at the other sight was so very helpful when I was having troubles early on! Thank you for sharing your experience with new guys like me.



Active Member
If one has two wadcutters, one hollow based and one solid, of equal weight, does the powder charge need to be adjusted (up or down) for safe (flush-seated) use in a Model 52 target pistol?


Official forum enigma
Excessive pressures can cause HBWC skirts to "stick" in the bore while the front half of the bullet continues downrange. Some one above described the results of firing behind such a bore onstruction.

In this context, "Excessive" pressures means ANY powder weight that exceeds book recommendations. 2.7 grains of Bullseye and 3.0 grains of WW-231/HP-38 are tops with these bullets. The full-pressure wadcutter loads are SOLID BASES ONLY.


Official forum enigma
Thank You Guys!
I'm learning a lot here....& there is a lot to learn & I like that
That bit about Starline Brass' 38 Special product being wadcutter-friendly is certainly good to learn. C.E. Harris has kept me out of trouble for many years.

Petrol & Powder

Well-Known Member
If one has two wadcutters, one hollow based and one solid, of equal weight, does the powder charge need to be adjusted (up or down) for safe (flush-seated) use in a Model 52 target pistol?
A Hollow Base wadcutter bullet will be slightly longer than a solid wadcutter of equal weight. When both bullets are seated flush with the case mouth, the base of the hollow base bullet will be closer to the case head than the base of the solid WC. However, HBWC's do not tolerate high pressures, so the loads are held low when HBWC's are used. I'm not sure the phrase "adjusting" the powder charge is the correct way to look at that. I think a more appropriate way to look at that is to say, a solid wadcutter can tolerate higher pressures.
Because there is slightly greater available case volume behind the shorter solid WC (compared to a HBWC of the same length when both are seated flush to the case mouth), there may be slight variations in velocities between the two bullets types if the same powder charge is used. Those differences are rather small and the solid WC may benefit from slightly higher charge weights to help the bullet obturate the bore.
When loading for a S&W Model 52, there is no need to abuse the gun and there is real incentive to keep the recoil low. So loading to the minimum pressure that will reliably cycle the action, prevent leading and produce the best accuracy; is the goal.

As far as the case volume behind those two types of bullets are concerned, you're going to be holding the HBWC's to a lower level anyway, so the available case volume really isn't the limiting factor; it's the bullet construction that sets the limit.

The HBWC performs beautifully at low pressures. When I was loading factory HBWC's (usually Speer bullets) 3.0 grains of WW231 was a typical load. The manuals show a slightly higher max level of 3.3 grains of ww231 with that bullet but I never saw a need to push HBWC's faster.
I think people get in trouble with HBWC's when they forget what bullet they are loading.