Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Russian 7.62 Nagant Revolver

Typical Nagant Revolver

The Nagant Revolver
During the course of firearms development there were many strange and unusual designs submitted and used. That’s what makes this hobby so fascinating is the history of these sort of weapons. One of the stranger revolvers was the Russian Nagant. Everything was strange about it from the chambering to the 7 shot cylinder. One thing about military pistols of that period was that power apparently wasn’t a priority. Some of the contemporaries of that period like the Nagant lacked serious power such as the French 8 mm Lebel revolver and the 9 mm Jap. Apparently the sidearms of that period were more for decoration then actual combat. The 38 Colt brought out by the U.S. is another example of the underpowered side arms of that period. One advantage of this revolver over some of the others is that it’s cheap and plentiful like the Mosen Nagant rifles. It could be appealing to a beginning collector.

No flash gap when Nagant is fired

The original patent was brought out in 1879 by Emil Nagant a British citizen. The model 78 was adopted by Belgium in the 9 mm and the 83 by Sweden in the 7.5. Norway also adopted it in 9 mm then the 7.65 caliber. The model 83 was made in both double & single actions. The double actions were made for NCOs and officers while the single action was reserved for privates. The 7.5 Nagant cartridge was similar to the 32 S & W being a bit shorter and larger in diameter. A 32 S & W can be fired in it but the case will split full length. While probably not dangerous I would advise against the practice as accuracy will be nill and it may be hard to extract. Do not fire 32 H & R magnums in any Nagant as they have higher pressure and could be very dangerous providing they fit. Proper brass can be obtained from Buffalo Arms in Idaho. Buffaloarms.com They make brass for many obsolete calibers and I have found their brass of high quality without exception.

Nagant ammo from 32-20 cases

The revolver that was brought out in 1895 for the Russians chambered for the 7.62 caliber. It was patented by Leon Nagant the brother of Emil. It was in general use until 1930 when the Tokarev was adopted. They were made and used as late as WWll for some units. There was a smaller model for police use as well as a 22 caliber training model that were available. The cartridge looks something like a blank with the bullet fully in the case. They came out in single and double action models. When cocked the cylinder moved forward making it airtight unlike most revolvers. The gas sealing idea was in use years before the Nagant came out with it however. Among others using it was the Lang and Parker Field percussion revolvers. Patents dating from 1852 and 1858 by Moore & Harris as well as Webley covered the gas seal principal so there is nothing new under the sun. Others tackled the problem but no one made the gas seal revolver in any quantities. While it is an interesting idea due to the low power of the round and complexity of the action there would be very little ballistic benefit to this round. With a 357 magnum or some other high power round the forward moving cylinder might have some merit if the technical problems could be resolved.

Bullets can be seated out in 32-20 cases

The Russian version is available at various places advertised in the Shotgun News. They are inexpensive and plentiful. Gunshows are another good source to pick up the Nagant as well as other odd ball guns. If you are looking for an odd gun to own and accuracy and power isn’t important then this could be your weapon. The sample that I have was made in 1944 according to the date on the barrel. It is somewhat crude looking showing tool marks on various parts of the frame. It is blued and the bluing is fairly decent looking. It is a double action but the trigger pull is so heavy in the double action mode I did all my shooting single action. A trip to the gunsmith may help with that problem but for various reasons I chose to leave as is. The single action pull is estimated at between 12 and 15 lbs somewhat heavy but workable. Since I don’t plan on using this revolver for any practical use the trigger is fine. Loading and unloading the Nagant is a slow operation again not a problem for a toy. You pull back the loading gate and drop in as with a conventional single action. To unload move the rod located beneath the barrel and knock them out one at a time. The rod rotates to line up with the chambers. I sure wouldn’t want to manipulate this gun in cold weather with stiff hands. It makes you wonder how much it was used during the Russian winters which are famous for being super cold. There was a swing out cylinder model made to alleviate this problem but they are not real common. The sights are very rudimentary and crude. There is a notch in the frame for the rear while the front has a blade sight that is dovetailed in. It looks like it could be adjustable for windage by tapping it one way or the other. Remember when moving the front sight that it is moved in the opposite direction that you want the bullet to hit. The barrel is 4 & ½” long and is slender. There are various markings on the frame including the date and serial number. There is a star on the hammer. The firing pin is attached to the hammer and is about ½” long. The ATF defines it as a curio and relic for legal purposes.

A closeup look at Fiocchi ammo

Ammo for this gun is available though pricey. Fiocchi makes factory ammo but sometimes it’s hard to find. Graf makes empty cases for the reloader and they are available from Huntington Die among others. Huntington also provides the loading dies. The 32-20 case can be used also but it is a bit short. SOG International also sells Nagant ammo made in the 1970’s in Russia. The situation is getting better for the reloader and non reloader alike. The best bullets are 32 caliber wad cutters or other lead bullets sized to 311 to 313 weighing from 85 to 90 grains. This gun is not a power house nor should a reloader attempt to make it one.

Undersize bullets produce poor accuracy and keyholing

Shooting the Nagant is an interesting experience. Due to the balance and trigger it takes some getting use to. Once you shoot it for a while it can be made to shoot pretty decently. Recoil is not a problem due to the low power of the cartridge. It would be a fairly decent small game gun if you could hit the target. I put it on sandbags at 10 yards at the local range. My best groups were 3” or so as the trigger was heavy and the sights weren’t the best. The groups were consistently 3 to 4” high and to the left with my reloads or the Russian ammo that I had. Probably someone with better eyes and hands could shrink the groups a little but I doubt by much. Recoil was mild but the muzzle jumped somewhat due to the light weight of the gun. Under no circumstances would I entertain the thought of shooting a deer size animal. It just doesn’t have enough steam to do the job. I doubt that it would anchor a coyote with any consistency. If you reload it can be pretty economical to shoot once you get the dies and cases. A pinch of powder and a lead bullet of the correct diameter and you are in business. I would strongly advise against trying to soup up the loads as the gun isn’t designed for hot ammo. Besides why try and make it something it isn’t. It’s a fun gun to shoot and let it be at that.

Fiocchi ammo is sometimes available

Reloading the Nagant round is fairly normal except that the bullet is seated down inside the case. Most of your powders such as Unique and Herco work well. Powders such as 231 can also be used to good effect. Slower burning pistol powders such as 2400 or WW 296 should not be used at all. A small amount wouldn’t burn cleanly and a larger amount may create excess pressure. If you use 32-20 cases the bullet can be seated out about ¼” or so depending on what type of slug is utilized. I would not attempt to shoot regular 32-20 ammo in it as may be too long and may be too hot in some instances. I ran across some references indicating that the correct bullet diameter was .295 which I found curious. Anyway I slugged the bore and it came out at .313 which would explain if a 295 or similar diameter bullets were used why accuracy would be poor. The openings in the front of the cylinder measured .330 to .331 which would do nothing for accuracy either. When I was loading some of the bullets in the Nagant cases I noticed that some of the bullets were slightly swaged down when going into the cases. That is another factor that would not help much with accuracy. Hornady makes a hollow base wad cutter which may help with the accuracy problems. In any event they are worth a try. A 32-20 115 grain bullet can also be utilized as long as the powder charge is adjusted downward. Anything heavier shouldn’t be used as velocity will drop quite a bit with safe loads. Hornady makes .310 diameter round balls if you want something to shoot that is different. There are a couple of jacketed bullets that can be used but I don’t see the advantage of that. Besides being more expensive they probably wouldn’t be as accurate. As with any loading data approach with caution. Since I have no control over methods or use of data I can assume no responsibility for its use.

Dies for reloading Nagant ammo

4 X Herco 2-47 grain balls 1058 Nagant case very consistent
4 X Herco 86 grain wad cutter 962 32-20 case very accurate
4 X Unique 77 grain round nose 1012 32-20 case accurate
3 X 231 48 grain round ball 709 32-20 case very mild
4 X Unique 90 grain swc 1052 32-20 case accurate
4 X Herco 77 grain round nose 1142 32-20 case good load
4 X Herco 86 grain wad cutter 1051 consistent
4 X Unique 90 grain Hornady hbwc 1003 backwards ok
4 X Unique 90 grain Hornady hbwc 988 forwards accurate
3 X Herco 115 grain round nose 785 fair
3 X Unique 118 grain flat point 948 low es
Russian Load 90 grain 1038 high es
Fiocchi 98 grain full metal jacket 669 mild

Russian Nagant ammo

Muzzle energy for an 86 grain bullet at 962 feet per second would be about 175 foot pounds. While that can be lethal it’s hardly earth shattering. Power wise it is between a 32 Smith & Wesson long and a 32 H & R magnum. However like any firearm it should be treated with respect at all times as it can kill someone. The loaded Russian ammo was 1.522” long while the Graf brass I loaded was 1.461” long. As a comparison the 32-20 ammo with a 118 grain lead bullet was 1.559” long and barely protruded beyond the cylinder. While they could possibly fire in some guns I wouldn’t recommend it. As a thought I loaded 4 X Unique in the 32-20 case with the 77 grain 313 diameter round nose seated just deep enough at 1.521” to allow the cylinder to rotate. The idea was an attempt to produce better accuracy as the bullet was closer to the rifling then the others. Also it allowed me to use the correct diameter bullet as opposed to the 308 slugs. The idea worked quite well. Hitting small targets at 15 yards was not much of a problem except for the sights. Paper targets show smaller groups with .313 diameter bullets especially the wad cutters. I had some groups that had 3 or 4 bullets touching at 10 yards with the rest from 1 to 3” away. That was measurably better then the Nagant factory or my Nagant ammo. With target sights and a better trigger I have little doubt that I could of done even better. Of course this ammo can be safely shot in a 32-20 revolver. Is it worth the trouble to get better accuracy out of the Nagant? You bet! One of the reasons to handload your own ammo is to improve accuracy. Another advantage in using 32-20 brass is that it’s cheap and plentiful. I also obtained some Hornady round balls to produce some novelty loads. They were .310 and .314 in diameter weighing 47 and 48 grains respectively. I put 2 -.310 diameter balls in the regular Nagant cases as they easily fit and 1- 314 diameter in a 32-20 case seated out. Another novel load I used was 80 grains of 7 & ½ shot in the full length Nagant case. Using 4 grains of 231 behind ½ of a 38 caliber styrafoam blank wad worked out real good. Holding the shot in was a Hornady 30 caliber gas check. It would kill a mouse at 15 feet away without blowing a hole in a wall. At 10 feet it made a nice round circle and had an even pattern. Loads like these just show what a person can do with a little imagination to broaden the use of a gun such as this. If you want a blank pistol then blanks can easily be made from 32-20 cases see Shotgun News 8/15/05 on how to make blanks. I used a round ball loaded light such as a gallery load. At 10 yards I was able to hit a soda can every time as long as I did my job. I tried the Hornady 90 grain hollow base wad cutter loaded backwards an old trick in 38 specials. While not the most accurate load it expanded well in catalogs and retained all its weight. If you were going to use the Nagant for a home defense load that along with the 2 ball load would be the best. During the test for this article I fired the gun over 500 times plus some shooting by other shooters and I had no misfires or other functional problems associated with the revolver. During the tests I did not clean the gun in any way just to see how it would function. Brass loss with all cases was nil because I didn’t try to make a magnum out of it. Such reloading practices would also extend the life of the gun. While not as smooth as a good quality revolver in will none the less give good service life given proper care.

Good bullets for Nagant 312 in diameter

The revolver can be disassembled fairly easily. A screw up front holds in the rod that when removed can be used to knocks out the empties. Actually when I shoot it I carry something else with me to knock out the empties which is more convenient. A ten penny nail is perfect. There is a shroud that turns enabling the cylinder pin to be removed thus taking out the cylinder. The cylinder can be removed for cleaning or replacement. There is a cylinder available for the 32 auto pistol cartridge. However I have had a hard time finding one with anyone who advertises them. SOG advertises the cylinders a well as a verity of other models including a sporter model. I suppose that would make the Nagant marginally more useful as 32 ammo is easy to get. The grips are made of a hard brown plastic and deeply checkered. They are fairly comfortable and would be easy to hold on to during bad weather. Since recoil is light the checkering won’t hurt your hands during shooting. Since it weighs only1lb and 12ozs its easy to carry. A holster comes with it that revolver has a small pouch for carrying ammo.

Bullet seated deep in case as a typical Nagant load

There are various markings on the gun. On the left side of the frame is the date below a circle with a triangle inside with an arrow pointing up. There are stars on the hammer and trigger. Right above the trigger guard is a star and some symbols. On the right side of the frame is the letters kb1 hbg , pa Russia and M1895 7.62 Nagant. The serial number is located just above the trigger guard on the right side of the frame. The left front of the frame sports some more numbers and some sort of a symbol. To be honest I don’t know what all the markings mean though some are obvious. I imagine that they are inspector and arsenal markings. There are index marks on the barrel and frame. There is a lanyard on the grip with some sort of markings. The front of the cylinder has some markings on it. If nothing else the gun is well marked and other specimens that I examined had similar markings.
All in all it’s not the most useful gun in the cupboard. However if a person wanted an inexpensive gun and reloaded this could be a winner for them. Would I use it for self defense? Only if I couldn’t get my hands on something else except a 25 or 32 auto. With a couple of the better loads I developed it just might do the job. If I just wanted to go out and have some fun plinking I would most certainly consider taking it along.

Bob Shell

A 7.62 Swedish Nagant


MauserMedic said...

Mr. Shell;

Interesting article here. I purchased one of these some time ago, but haven't gotten around to shooting it, partially due to a deep reluctance to use ammunition that would likely be not reloadable. I look forward to trying out some of the 32-20 loads this summer.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Shell,

"Gas Seal" feature of 1895 Nagant
Revolver comes from the fact of
bullet pass through the crimped
mouth of shell case as enlarging
and forcefully sticking there to
the barrel cone resulting zero gas
escape therethrough. Mechanicaly
forwarding the cylinder is only
needed for inserting the crimped
section of case into the barrel
cone and upper front of the trigger
has a notch cooperating with an
enlarged rim of cylinder to extract
the sticked case mouth from the
barrel cone. jacketed bullet is
necessary to get real function and
effect and provides approximately
20 percent of added power compared
to unsealed construction.

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

The star marks are from the Tula Armory in Russia where the gun was manufactured. These revolvers are a piece of history. Mine is dated 1931 and has original wooden grips. If only it could talk and tell its story!

James Anderson, collector

me said...

Dear Sir -

Unlike the rather anemic target ammo widely available (which includes yellow boxed Russian surplus), the original military ball load for this pistol was somewhat heavier at 108 grains and achieved a muzzle velocity of 1100 FPS, yielding 290 ft/lb of energy.

While it's no .357 magnum, it did pack some real stopping power when issued as a military sidearm, especially before 1920 or so.

And what's this "if the technical problems could be resolved?" The design has only five moving parts, is robust and reliable as an anvil. Dare I say bulletproof? I so dare.

The stars everywhere are the forge mark of the Tula armory, by the way. There are a few from Izhevsk; they sport triangles.

While you might be an expert at reloading, you must needs brush up on your knowlege of European firearms.

Russ Bixby, curmudgeon of the plains

Joe Senter said...

I like your March 16 post, finally giving a li'l respect to the Nagant as being a viable pistol for defense. If it was good enough to defend mother Russia, it should be a worthy enough candidate to defend your house, apartment or double-wide here at home.

It seems most people have defined the revolver --- and more to the point, it's limitations --- by the modern commercial ammo from Fiocchi or Hot Shot. Oh, puh-leeeeeeaze! Those are so under-powered that you could almost THROW bullets harder than they can spit.

But when you load the Nagant with the REAL DEAL, actual honest-to-goodness full-power milsurp ammo, it's capabilities are at least comparable to those of a modern (and enormously popular) .380 auto. Still not exactly a Dirty Harry gun, in experienced hands it should be up to any reasonable task that a shooter has any business asking of a handgun --- including home defense.

Gunner Jacky said...

Thanks for talking about all this in detail. You people can also take help from the MA Gun License as I believe that having them is actually very interesting and must be a legal in any state. You people can also take help from the other firearms training centers to get proper licensing and training.