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Titanium is a Wonderful Thing!

I am a proud owner of a Smith & Wesson 329PD revolver. This is a firearm that is wonderful in every way but one…it is beautifully designed and built and is a pleasure to shoot, if you don’t mind brutal recoil. The weight of the handgun loaded is but 32 ounces and with stout loads, it’s a real hand full.

Some years ago while doing load development for a “mild” load for use during local pistol matches, I had a real surprise. I had loaded up 5 each of a couple different loads with Hodgdon HS-6 and a 240 grain round nose I cast in a Lee mold. I was hoping for something that would be interesting to shoot, but with maneageable recoil so at the end of a 125 or so round match I would not have a cuts or bruises. The first load I tested was 9.6 grains of powder and as you can see from the printout [photo or photos of printout] from my Ehler 35P, the mean velocity was 735 fps. This seemed about right so I proceeded to shoot the next group of 5 rounds…as you can see from the printout, I stopped after 2 shots. Why, you may ask? Take a look at the velocity…the first shot read 790 fps., which is probably about right for an added .3 grains, but the second one read 1435 fps! This is not “about right” by any standard, I apparently double charged the case. After recovering my composure (sort of) and driving the fired case out with a range rod, I found the gun still functioned, and it still functions, several years later.

View of the topstrap, cylinder and forcing cone.

Here is what I believe happened. For some time I had used my Dillon XL650 for loading nearly everything, including load development. This is fine, and easy in some respects, but makes it far more likely that if interrupted, distracted or suffering from the dreaded H.U.Y.A. Sydrome, a problem could occur.

Bottom of topstrap showing threaded hole that left the mark.

(True story, at an aerial mapping company I worked for in the early 80’s the lab where the photos were printed had a plastic scale used to measure the overlap of the photo sequence…this was marked H.U.Y.A. Scale, which stood for “Head up Your ***”. No kidding.)

When this sydrome is experenced, all sorts of things can happen, as illustrated by my double charge of the case. The maximum published load from Hodgdon for HS-6 with a 240 grain bullet is 15.1 grains, so I exceeded the maximum by 4.7 grains. Not good, not good at all.

Note the “flatter than a proverbial fritter” primer, and the distinct pressure ring.

This brings me to my original thesis, which is the wonderful nature of titanium. This marvelous material is light in weight, very strong and has the peculiar ability to stretch rather more than steel without fracturing. Note the small round mark on the cylinder in the flat between flutes….

Photo of cylinder/gap

The space between the top strap and the cylinder is .012” measured with an old fashioned feeler gauge. Each flat between each of the six flutes has this same mark, which corresponds to the hole in the top strap for the front sight screw. It appears that the cylinder stretches enough on firing, at least with heavy loads, to touch the top strap. I do not know this for a fact, I am merely pointing out the mark on the sides of the cylinder.

For what it’s worth (nod to Paul Harvey) I no longer do load development on the Dillon progressive. Since I have installed a micrometer adjustment on my RCBS Uniflow measure, it is very fast and easy to make the small adjustments necessary to make incremental changes in powder charge.

Jeremy Brown