Saturday, January 16, 2021

Combustible Paper Cartridges for Cap and Ball Revolvers

 During the 1850s and '60s, percussion revolvers were often loaded using combustible cartridges. This was especially true during the Civil War when both sides bought millions of them for issue to their armies. Originally, Colt's cartridges were made from foil but this proved troublesome and they switched to nitrated gut or paper.

Before the cartridges were constructed the gut or paper was soaked in a strong solution of potassium nitrate (KN03) AKA saltpeter. This helped ensure that the cartridge casing would burn as completely as possible.

Cartridges for .36 caliber Navy revolvers usually contained around 17 grains of powder and a ~145 grain conical. Those for .44 Army revolvers carried around 25 grains of powder and a 200 - 260 grain conical bullet.

However, loose powder and ball were also widely used. Revolvers sold on the civilian market often came with a mold which could cast one bullet and one ball. Powder was carried in and dispensed from a flask with a spout that could measure the right charge.

Usually the entire cartridge was loaded into the revolver chamber without first tearing it open to dump in the powder, or pricking the base through the nipple. This wasn't necessary for a couple reasons. First, on percussion revolvers the flash channel from the nipple is right at the base of the chamber so the flash from the cap will be strong. Second, the cartridges were tapered. When it was rammed home it ruptured and powder was exposted to the flash.

Several years ago I experimented with combustible cartridges made from cigarette rolling papers and they worked pretty well. I recently saw the kits sold by Guns of the Old West and available on Etsy. They include a forming mandrel, funnel/powder measure, a forming die, rolling papers, pre-cut cartridge bases, a glue stick, and a tube of bullet lube (50/50 beeswax and lamb's tallow), all in a nice plastic case. The mandrels, dies, and funnel are 3D printed.

I ordered a kit for making cartridges for my .36 and .44 caliber revolvers, and some extra papers. They arrived about a week later and I put together two dozen .44 caliber cartridges the other day.

The rounds I made are loaded with a Hornady .454 round ball on top of about 25 grains of 3Fg black powder.

The seller didn't include any instructions but he has a good video on YouTube demonstrating how to make the cartridges.

Basically, you make a tapered paper tube around the mandrel, glue on a base using the forming die, and cut the tube to length. After the glue dries you pour a measured amount of powder in and glue in your ball or bullet. The .44 mandrel has a 25 grain measure built in, while the .36 has a 17 grain measure.

I also tried using an empty .303 British case for a mandrel and found it easier to roll tight tubes on it. A 7.62x54R empty should work as well. The outside diameter near the base is perfect for a .454 ball. I then transferred the tube to the mandrel from the kit and used that to add the cap and trim to length.

Some pictures, first, some of the envelopes/cases while the glue dried:

I used a loading block to hold them:

Until I shoot them I'm keeping them in a small cardboard box.

I made some others using a slightly different technique. Instead of trimming the ball end I left it uncut and just twisted them over the top. I put a little glue on the excess material and then twisted it shut.

This is not period correct but has some advantages:

  1. It’s less work.
  2. It’s less mess.
  3. There is enough room for a lube cookie or wad. I tried putting a wad in one but it’s too large and couldn’t get it to go in straight. A smaller diameter wad would work.
  4. I could bump the charge to 30 grains.
  5. The twist over the ball holds the projectile more securely, as I just proved to myself when I tried smearing some Bore Butter on the cartridges.

I'm planning to shoot them tomorrow in this Euroarms Remington Army.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Cheap Spot Lighting for Work Areas

Ever since I added a workbench to my home office, I've enjoyed tinkering with things inside, rather than out in my shop, where it's not climate controlled. The workbench has an LED light strip mounted on the bottom of the shelf that's attached to the backboard, but it doesn't give me good direct overhead lighting.

So, I found some inexpensive, LED sewing machine lights on Amazon. The referral link sends you to Amazon for a set of two. See below, top center.

The lights have a magnetic base. I have this one stuck to the metal top shelf, but the set also comes with two adhesive-backed metal disks that you can use to mount them to non-magnetic surfaces. The lights run off standard 120VAC.

I'm planning to use the other one on my milling machine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Loaded Some .32 Smith & Wesson Longs

 Today I loaded up 50 rounds of .32 Smith & Wesson Long. My recipe today was:

  • Mixed brass, mostly Fiocchi
  • Sellier & Bellot small pistol primers
  • 2.7 grains of Alliant Bullseye powder
  • 96 grain round nose flat point bullet from Desperado Cowboy Bullets
Actually, since I used a RNFP bullet, I could call them .32 Colt New Police loads. :)


I ran into an issue priming the cases, however. I generally use a Lee hand priming tool, but today it decided it didn't like the combination of Fiocchi brass and S&B primers. Fiocchi brass tends to have snug primer pockets. I would up using my antique Ideal tool for .32 S&W to prime the cases. It's slow, but it works.

According to the data I have from, this should give about 910 FPS from a 4" barrel. I'll probably shoot this batch from my Ruger Single Six Vacquero, chambered in .32 H&R Magnum.

I have plans to head to a friend's place tomorrow to burn it up.

RCBS Little Dandy Powder Measure

 I’m a fan of the RCBS Little Dandy powder measure, which uses small, fixed-capacity rotors for volumetric measuring. I use it when loading smokeless in .32 S&W Long, .38 Special, .38 WCF, and .44 WCF.

I recently picked up a storage block for the rotors from an eBay vendor. It’s made from red oak and will allow me to keep the rotors more organized.

Link to the eBay listing:

The dimensions of the block are ~7.5” x 4.75” and with the rotors in it, about 2.75” tall. I ran out to Lowe’s today and picked up a small toolbox that holds the storage block in the bottom and the measure on the top tray. There’s plenty of room left in the toolbox for related items. E.g., you could easily fit a pocket-sized electronic scale in it.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

On the Passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Well, as if 2020 wasn't interesting enough, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from pancreatic cancer yesterday, only 45 days before what is likely to be a hotly contested presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement last night that whomever President Trump nominates to replace Ginsburg will get a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

This is good, and I hope it happens before the election.

Unlike Obama when he nominated Merrick Garland for SCOTUS, Trump is not a lame duck president working with a Senate controlled by the opposing party. The Republicans were given control over both the presidency and the Senate by the people because the people preferred their vision. They should do their jobs to the best of their ability. That includes filling vacancies on the Federal bench, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

As for not politicizing her replacement, consider a few things:

RBG could easily have stepped down while Obama was president and allowed him to pick her successor. However, she was so confident that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016 that she stayed on the bench in the hopes that her seat would be filled by an HRC appointment. And in the wake of Trump's victory in 2016, RBG held on as long as she could in the hope that he would lose reelection, and a Democrat president would fill the seat. By her actions, RBG politicized her seat and the replacement process.

It's being reported that her last dying wish was that her replacement would not take place until after a new president is "installed." First off, "installing" leaders is some real banana republic shit right there. We elect leaders in this country. Second, what if Trump wins reelection? Do we wait another four years? That's ridiculous.

Let's not forget the Democrats' appalling conduct since Trump became the Republican nominee in 2016. A four year long tantrum of one faked, debunked scandal after another, all in an effort to stymie the peaceful transition of power that is a hallmark of American government.

Let's also not forget the Democrats' unforgivable conduct during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, when they brought forth a slew of witnesses with no credibility to smear Trump's nominee as a rapist. This was merely the latest of a line of Democrat smear jobs against Republican Supreme Court nominees, e.g., Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Finally, even before RBG's death, Democrats were already signalling that they do not intend to accept the results of the election if Biden loses, and are already assembling an army of lawyers to challenge a Trump victory in the courts. This, after a summer of civil unrest that was and continues to be enabled by Democratic politicians in several cities. We'll need a fully staffed Supreme Court if this comes to pass.

It would be insane for Trump to not nominate a replacement for RBG and for the Senate to confirm that person.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Loaded Some More Black Powder 12 Gauge Ammo

Last weekend I primed 25 Magtech brass 12 gauge shotgun shells and on my lunch break today I finished loading them. The details:

  • Magtech 2.5" all brass hull
  • CCI Large Pistol Primer
  • 80 grains of 2Fg Goex black powder
  • 11 gauge nitro card (over powder card)
  • 11 gauge fiber cushion wad
  • Lubricated felt wad
  • 1 1/8 oz. of mixed No.7.5 shot
  • 10 gauge overshot card
  • Sealed with Duco cement

Magtech hulls require the use of oversized components because the case walls are thinner than 12 gauge plastic or paper hulls.

The felt wads were punched out of 1/8" thick wool felt with a .75" punch, then soaked in a mixture of 50/50 beeswax/mutton tallow. This is to help keep powder fouling soft.

The shot is a mix of plated that I bought from Rotometals, along with some unplated shot scavenged from miscellaneous promo loads. No. 7.5 shot is primarily for clay busting but it will work on doves, as well. Otherwise I'd load No. 5s for small game hunting.

I'll let the Duco cement cure overnight before boxing them up.

These will be good for informal clay target shooting. They shoot well in my Russian-made Baikal MP-310 over/under. Cleanup in a chrome-lined smoothbore isn't bad.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Keeping my Nissan Xterra on the Road

 Last Saturday when I got up to our campsite in Tioga County my two friends who I met onsite smelled antifreeze from my 2007 Nissan Xterra after I pulled into camp. My sense of smell sucks, to put it mildly, and I didn't smell anything. We popped the hood and after the engine cooled down, checked the antifreeze level. Sure enough it was low. One of my friends had a gallon of premix so we topped it off. (Given the age of the vehicle I should have been carrying some.)

We also noticed that a hose going from air cleaner to the engine was cracked. I'm now carrying some Rescue Tape (self-fusing silicone tape) in my truck toolkit in case any other hoses crack.

The joys of owning an older vehicle. 😐

Yesterday, I brought the truck to a local mechanic who confirmed that it has a leak, so I had him replace the radiator. It must have been a very small leak since the truck didn't overheat either way on the trip (about 240 miles each way).

I've actually been thinking of getting this done to prevent the Xterra Strawberry Milkshake of Death from happening, anyway. The Xterras were designed with an automatic transmission fluid cooler integrated with the radiator. Unfortunately, sometimes there's a failure which allow cross-contamination between antifreeze and ATF fluid, causing the SMOD, which kills the transmission. It's both a clever and dumb design.

Although my truck is 13 years old it only has 110,000 miles on it, so I'd like to keep it for several more years, therefore replacing the radiator is worth it to me.