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Thread: Conversion to .38 Super

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  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Conversion to .38 Super

    Is it possible, with a new barrel, slide and other accessories, to convert a .45 Colt to .38 Super? What parts needs to be replaced if it is possible at all?

    Best regards
    Johan

  2. #2
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    I assume you are talking about converting a .45 ACP pistol to a .38 Super one. Not easy to tell, it depends on the contour of your pistol's feeding ramp.

    Typically, a complete slide would be required plus magazines of course. And you will need to replace your ejector with the one from Wilson Combat which is .45ACP/.38Super compatible.

    On some pistols, the barrel ramp of the .38 Super barrel may overhang the feeding ramp on the frame, thus requiring some machining of the barrel's ramp to correct the problem. On others, it may just fit fine.
    John Caradimas SV1CEC
    The M1911 Pistols Organization
    http://www.m1911.org

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jaendel
    Is it possible, with a new barrel, slide and other accessories, to convert a .45 Colt to .38 Super? What parts needs to be replaced if it is possible at all?

    Best regards
    Johan
    I just recently did this to make a multicaliber pistol out of an older 1911 45 I had built years ago in gunsmithing school.

    First you need a slide. I got an Essex from Brownell's, but you can order from the Essex website as well. Get stainless if you can so you don't have to worry about refinishing the thing when you're done with it. I bought a 9mm slide in blue 'cause Brownells did not have a stainless in stock. I bought an "enhanced" model which is cut for a Bomar type rear (you can also get a Novak rear cut) and a dovetail front sight. If you go to the Brownell's website, you can see all the other stuff they offer. I bought an STI Bomar type rear from them and a fiber optic front dovetail sight .210 high by 60 cut I think, but you can check the slide specs listed on the site for the dovetail cut so you can get the right sight. There are many options available for sights. They also have experts you can email for info and help there.

    Of course you will need a barrel. I got mine on Ebay from a guy who sells them there. It was new. Actually I got 1 9mm barrel and 2 38 Supers. I will convert one of the Supers to 9X23 with a reamer I got from Brownell's also. The barrels cost about $60 each, but you can get a name brand one if you like for whatever you think you want to pay. Get a "drop in" type and avoid fitting problems with the lugs. Hopefully you will get one with the link already installed. Buy a bushing from the same maufacturer if possible and they will normally have a good fit to the barrel. Again, get a "drop in" type so you don't have to fit it to the slide. Fitting the shroud of the barrel to the slide, if necessary, is not too hard but you need a "safe edge" file for this so you are only filing on the shroud and not the face of the barrel. The shroud should just fit into the slide with no gaps on the sides. It can be slightly short of the breechface with no accuracy penalty, and may be desireable to some extent, but side to side play should be pretty close with no noticable gap. Some gunsmiths "lap" this fit in but you can get pretty close with a file and maybe some fine sandpaper mounted on a popsickle stick or some other device. This insures good accuracy more than slide to frame fit does. This and a good fit on the legs of the barrel (where the link is mounted) in the groove of the receiver, and a decent bushing fit will keep the barrel in good alignment and give best accuracy. Don't get obsessive about it all this though... you want it to function smoothly too. If all these things are too tight it will cause poor function. Even an "ok" fit will shoot better than you can hold it.

    Normally, you will need a Dremel tool or something like it to reshape the feed ramp to make hollowpoints feed and to "push back" the bottom of the barrel where it meets the feed ramp of the reciever so rounds will feed properly if the barrel's feed ramp sticks over the edge of the frame's feed ramp. It should be backed off by grinding with a small diameter sanding drum, fine grit (don't use medium or course as it will leave very hard to remove scratches), until it is recessed about 1/32 of an inch or a little more from the receiver's feed ramp where it meets the bottom of the barrel. This will insure good feeding. You can use the same little fine grit sanding drum to reshape the feed ramp of the barrel by opening the ramp up to the sides a little and smoothing it into the chamber area. Don't go overboard, but reduce the angle enough angle to feed whatever ammo you invsion using. On 9mm and 38 Super barrels most will have a little radius curve cut out on the bottom where it meets the reciever when you are done with it so ammo will not "trip" on the way into the ramp. Don't leave a knife like edge at the bottom. If it is too sharp, grind it a little and round it off so it won't shave bullet metal when they feed. Thin and rounded is ok, sharp is not. Try it out with the ammo you will be using by assembling the thing and trying it. Go slow, take it apart, do a little more, and soon you will get the rounds to feed properly. Then use a felt bob with some polishing compound to smooth it all out to a nice shine. You can use the felt bob to also "break" the edges of the entrance to the chamber all around so the front of the case will not hang up on them. Don't overdo this, but make sure the edges are no longer sharp to the touch. Avoid putting the bob completly into the chamber for any length of time so you don't enlarge the chamber area itself... just touch up the entrance edges for feeding purposes. On 38 Super barrels there is a small cut at the top of the shroud for the "semi-rim" of the cartridge, leave that alone as much as possible so as to not round it off or eliminate it. New 38 Super barrels should headspace on the mouth of the case, but older ones used to use that little groove for headspacing. In either case it will not be a good practice to bother it too much. There are other small things that might come up. Get a book if you are unsure of how to proceed or ask questions online.

    While you are in a buying mood, you will need other stuff. The firing pin is thinner than the 45 for the 9mm/38 Super as they use small pistol primers, so you need one of those (the firing pin hole in the 9mm/38 Super slide is smaller too, at least mine was) and also a new extractor for 9mm/38 Super. If you get an "enhanced" slide with the low cutout for the rear, you will need a firing pin stop to cut down to fit under the new sight(sometimes you can find ones already cut from various suppliers), or you can modify your old one to make it fit under the sight. Just scribe or draw a line on it when it is installed with a firing pin and spring so it will lock in place before you mount the rear sight, then grind or file the top down to fit the flat contour you will have under the new sight and put some touch-up blue on the cut, or get a stainless one and just grind or file cut it to fit and smooth it up with some 320 or higher wet or dry sandpaper.

    As to your frame or receiver... You need to replace the ejector on the receiver with a 9mm/38 Super one which can be had from various places. I got one from Brownell's made by Wilson I think. Just drive out the pin and carefully pry up on the old one (so you don't mar up the top of the frame) with a thin blade of some kind until you can get a wedge shapped screwdriver blade under it to complete the process. The new ejector will have a notch in it for the pin that goes through the frame... just push it in place, replace the pin and you're golden. The same goes for the slide stop if you want the slide to lock back on an empty magazine... the 45 version will not project into the frame far enough to do it, so you need a 9mm/38 Super one. I think that was a Wilson as well. Some magazines will need to be purchased, but there are a plethera of them for the various calibers from several manufacturers. MecGar is always good, others as well. Go with what you know about your 45 magazine suppliers if in doubt.

    If your reciever has good "specs" the Essex slide and other quality manufacturer's slides will fit pretty well if you buy the standard fit ones (not the gunsmith fit ones which are very tight and require hours of work), but you may need to get some mild abrasive paste like valve lapping compound from an auto parts store or maybe even mix some buffing compound with some cutting oil if you have that stuff handy and apply a smidgen of it to the slide or frame rails and mount them together and move it back and forth for a nice fit. Don't overdo it. Just get it to move nicely, clean the rails, oil it lightly and try it with just the slide and frame and no barrel in place. If it moves by gravity when you tip it, but has little or no play up and down or side to side, you are done. Sometimes you need to get a leather or rubber mallet to start the process, but you probably know this stuff already. Books can be had on fitting a 1911 slide if you think you need one. If it is loose already there are methods for tightening it up if need be, but I will not go into that here.

    Hope this helps. I didn't mean to make it so long.
    You do not examine legislation in light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered. —LYNDON B. JOHNSON e pluibus unum

  4. #4
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    9th March 2006
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    Thanks a lot for all the information.
    Likes (1) :
    chopperman (11th October 2020)


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