Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reloading in Restricted Circumstances

Disassembled battery cup 209 primer.  This inner cap measures .210 after firing.

Caution! Reloading with salvaged materials can be dangerous.  The information in this article is for educational purposes only.

I recently read about the plight of people in India who struggle against reams of regulations bound with red tape to be able to fire a few rounds a year. I noticed that it is not illegal for India residents to reload cartridges for their own use, once they have secured the permit to legally possess a firearm.

Unfortunately, no one markets reloading supplies in India; no importation of reloading supplies is currently allowed; and reloading tools are difficult to find.

In the United States, we are blessed with multiple manufacturers of inexpensive, durable and effective reloading tools, multiple shops that sell all manner of reloading supplies over the counter; and thousands of gun shows a year, all over the country, where not only guns and ammunition, but reloading supplies are bought, sold, and traded, mostly without interference from the government.

If you want a bullet that is not made anywhere, you can, for a modest sum, contact a manufacturer to machine a custom bullet mold for you.  If you find a fine rifle or pistol in an obscure caliber, you can find a way to reform brass for it, or, if necessary, machine brass cases from stock.  You can pay someone to do these things for you, if you choose to do so.

Many people around the world do not have these advantages, created by free enterprise in a system where the government generally follows the law, where the basis of the system is that everything that is not forbidden is allowed, rather than everything that is not allowed is forbidden.

It is possible for much to be accomplished with limited resources, knowledge, a bit of ingenuity, and time. It can be done even under the restrictions in India and be done relatively safely.  

First, realise that  this is not a new topic.  People have been faced with the necessity of reloading their own ammunition with limited resources for a century and a half.  Quite a bit has been written about the subject.  If you are interested, I highly recommend Modern Handloading by Maj. George C. Nonte, Jr.  It is out of print, but used copies are readily available on the net.  Maj. Nonte goes into extensive details about equipment and bullet casting.  He has a chapter on "Case Forming and Alteration".  He has another chapter on Home-Brewed Tools and Equipment.  For most small scale applications, tools can be relatively simple and easily made.  If you are not handy, a small local shop can likely make the tool for you.  The book was published in 1972, so it is a little dated.  For the purposes of this article, it is perfect.

Much useful information can be obtained from reloading manuals, especially those published before 1970.  I especially like the old Ideal Handbooks. I started reloading using one of them.  The current edition of Modern Reloading by Richard Lee goes into a fair amount of detail on the mechanical issues of reloading cartridges, and has a good section on casting bullets.  I highly recommend it.

In India, components to reload the cartridges with are the more difficult problem. If you have access to loaded cartridges of some kind, you have access to a source of components.  Nonte says not to attempt to salvage berdan primers.  Of course, they can be used in the original case, reloaded as you would any other primed case.

Warning! These methods carry significant risk!  Do not use them if you can easily access factory components.

Shotgun cartridges can be disassembled, as can boxer primed cartridges.  Shotguns mostly use "battery cup" primers, which are likely the easiest and safest to deprime live. A kit for recharging battery cup primers was available in the United States into the 1970's.  A cap similar to a berdan primer or a percussion cap was used to replace the spent inner cap.  Battery cup primers can be used in rifles and pistols, if the cases are modified to use them; alternatively, special cases could be made for their use. I would not use them in any cartridges that would develop pressures over 20,000 pounds per square inch (psi).  Fortunately, most non-magnum revolver cartridges fall into that category.

Note: This official government website, in India, says that the shotgun primers use mercury fulminate in their primers!  Mercury fulminate destroys brass cases.  I did not think any arsenal, anywhere in the world, still used mercury fulminate in their priming mixtures!  The site also give useful information about the amount and types of powder and priming type used in many (but not all) of the cartridges listed.  It appears likely that the .32 revolver cartridges are Berdan primed.  Perhaps an Indian reader can confirm this.

Decaping boxer primed cartridges is more dangerous than decaping shotgun shells, especially if the primers are crimped in place.  Nonte explains some safety precautions, such as using ear and eye protection, and orienting tools so as to direct an inadvertent primer discharge away from the user. He describes one user who was able to salvage primers from .30 carbine ammunition, even though they were crimped in place!

The gunpowders used in shotgun shells are commonly used in pistol cartridges.  A typical 12 gauge shotgun shell will use about 15-30 grains (1- 2 grams) of smokeless powder.  A typical pistol cartridge uses between 1.4 and 15 grains (.1 to 1 grams) of smokeless powder, for standard, non-magnum, loads.  Smokeless powder loads must be approached with considerable caution. Double loads have often blown up revolver chambers.

If percussion caps are available, it might be practical for a battery cup system to be made to use the percussion caps in centerfire cartridges.  A similar system, the Draper Cartridge, was used in the United States for a short while, used a percussion nipple as part of the cartridge.  A system designed to use Boxer primers in muzzle loading rifles that are originally designed for 209 shotgun primers, is sold in the United States.

The shot used in a shotgun shell can be melted and recast into pistol or rifle bullets. In the United States, one of the best sources for casting bullets are used car wheel weights. These bullets would not give the performance of jacketed bullets, but they can be very effective at lower velocities, typically 1500 feet per second (450 meters per second) or less.  They have to be lubricated, but there are many lubricants available.  Beeswax can work fairly well.  There are lots of formulas for good lubes

If black powder is available, black powder can be used to produce usable loads for most revolvers and many rifles.   In modern firearms, it is nearly impossible to put too much black powder in the case.  A full case is the most common load.

If a source of centerfire cartridges is available, powder and bullets can be salvaged from them.  Bullets can be swaged to smaller diameters.  Swaging dies are fairly easy to make.  Even a simple polished hole in a mild steel plate can be used for lead bullets.  A slightly more complex die, of a polished, tapered hole in a strong tube for squeezing a jacketed bullet down to a smaller caliber, can be used for jacketed bullets, with good lubrication.  I have done this using Lee bullet sizing dies polished out to the diameter needed.  Swaging jacketed bullets down 10-15 thousands is not hard and seems to work reasonably well.  It is easy to swage .312 bullets to .308.

Using smokeless powder loaded in one high power rifle caliber in another cartridge is trickier than using shotgun powder for pistol loads, but it can be done.  For example, the powder used for the .50 Browning Machine Gun is designed to be slow burning to build maximum velocity in the long barrel of the .50 BMG.   By careful experimentation, a long time reloader found that you could not put enough of .50 BMG powder in a 30.06 to cause pressure problems.  With a full case and heavy bullets, he could get usable velocities, in the neighborhood of 2000 feet per second (fps) or so.  He is a careful man, and after a long life of reloading and load experimentation, has all his fingers and both eyes.

In general, I believe that you can use powders salvaged from centerfire rifle cartridges for mild loads in cartridges that are not too dissimilar.  There are clear dangers involved, but if you have a supply of cartridges, and therefore a reliable amount of powder of the same type and consistency, careful experimentation could result in a usable mild load for a rifle that is useless without cartridges. Safety can be greatly enhanced by studying reloading manuals and considering relative loads for the same powders in different cartridges.  Loads should always be started low, and worked up to modest levels. The more study, the greater safety.  Initial testing should always be done remotely, and cases examined carefully for pressure signs and problems.  This is not something that I recommend be done routinely.  But it can be done of necessity.

It is possible to recharge primers from other available materials.  Those that seem practical to me are all corrosive.  Care must be taken to clean the firearms used with hot, soapy water the same day they are used. There are numerous sources on the Internet that show how to recharge primers using strike anywhere matches and toy pistol caps.

Priming compound can be produced from fairly simple chemicals.  Those chemicals are generally available.  One formula requires potassium chlorate and sulfur.  Sulfur is commonly available as a garden supply. In India, potassium chlorate is used in the village craft production of matches, so I would expect small quantities to be available.  10 grams would be enough for 500 primers.  Potasssium chlorate, sulfur, and fine grit make corrosive primers.

Here is one method for recharging primers, of many that are discussed in depth on the forum Over 20 pages of careful experimentation by professionals is in this thread.
 Tested Ron Brown's modified. This is more of hot spark primer. Should be a good all around.

Dry. Small pistol cup. Filled cup & pack(this is called 1/2 cup). Filled cup again & packed(this is called 3/4 cup). 1/2 cup did work each time. The amount of mix for 1/2 was 0.3 grains. The 3/4 did work each time. The amount of mix for 3/4 was 0.5 grains. When fired in the pistol, the flame from the end of the pistol was about the same as CCI small pistol.

Chem %weight by volume
Potassium chlorate 46.6% 3
Sulfur 19.41% 2
Grit* 33.98% 1.5

Add 1% baking soda to this mix.

* The grit I used was 4030 sandblasting sand. Just measured it out. I think this is to a little course. I also, think one could use less of it.

1. Measure out 2 volumes of sulfur and put it on a sheet of paper. Crush out any lumps.
2. Measure out 1 1/2 volumes of fine sand. Add this to the sulfur.
3. Pour the above back & forth between 2 sheets of paper 10 to 20 times.
4. Beside this pile of mix, measure out 3 volumes of potassium chlorate. Crush out any lumps.
5. Combine it all together.
6. Pour it back & forth between 2 sheets of paper until your very bored. 20 to 30 times for me.
7. Reload primers.
Note: Potassium chlorate, sulfur and grit combined become a very sensitive and powerful mixture.  They should never be combined in anything other than very small quantities (under 2 grams) and in strictly controlled conditions.

Variations on these systems are already in use all over the world in small illegal shops and black market manufactures.  I am sure that cartridges are commonly disassembled and reassembled for illicit purposes in village shops all over India.  India is said to contain about 40 million illegally possessed guns.

But that is not what we are considering here.  It is legal for legal Indian gun owners to reload cartridges for personal use. Recharging of the primers is simply part of the process, from my point of view.  But I do not live in India, nor do I pretend to be an Indian lawyer.  It is hard to believe that it would be illegal to disassemble shotgun shells to use the components for reloading lesser cartridges.

With access to the Internet, you have access to an enormous collection of human knowledge and experience.  It is likely that someone else has already tested methods to solve your problem.  It may be on a YouTube video or detailed in a discussion forum.  Use the experience of others to magnify your own capabilities and to reduce your difficulties.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. I would like to add a little information to this. I have been reloading since 1978. I load for Rifle, pistol and shot gun and have a couple of black powder weapons. I do a lot of casting, I have two ten pound pots. Wheel weights are mostly zinc and zinc is too hard for most barrels and will strip the riffling's out. When using wheels weights be sure to add some pure lead. about two or three to one lead to zinc. the best material to cast with is the same alloy that linotype machines use for making news print presses. It has some antimony in it to make the bullets shine like silver and the mix of lead to zinc is very good. I consider the bullets soft enough if I can make a good mark in the bullet with my thumb nail. if you can not make a mark on the bullet with your thumb nail it is too hard for the barrel in most modern guns. Black powder guns should always use pure lead bullets. You can use black power or Pyrodex in most modern guns but not the other way around. Smokeless powder will blow up a black powder gun. It seems strange to me but this is true. black powder burns so fast that is does not have a burning rate they just consider it explodes. smokeless powder has a burning rate thus the various different numbers and letter designations. Like H-110, Unique, 2400, 4756 and so on. also keep in mind that static electricity will cause Black powder to explode. but static does not bother Pyrodex or smokeless powders. also never mix powders. you have no idea of what the mix will do to the burning rates and pressures developed. When I had my gun shop I taught people to reload and sold them the equipment and supplies. I was trained to reload by the owners of the RCBS reloading equipment company.

I used to have a friend that was the manager of the press room of the local news paper and he would sell me scrap linotype alloy. I have not seen a well stocked gun store with reloading supplies since I closed my store. I'm retired. I would really like to find a well stocked store. I shop in Yuma and I have not found any stores there that I would call well stocked. I have to laugh at what some think is well stocked. In my store I had at least three cans of every powder available. a good selection of bullets in all most all calibers. Gas checks, Primers, and a very good selection of reloading tools and parts. Dies, molds, top punches, seizer dies, ingot molds, melting pots, presses, case trimmers and collets, charge bars and just bout anything else you might need. I delivered a ton of reclaim shot to one customer and I had a good selection of ammunition calibers and new brass. If it had to do with reloading and fire arms I had it and even did special orders for antique arms collectors.

I had a customer come in once that told me he had cleaned his rifle a couple weeks earlier and when he needed it, it would not fire. I had to make a firing pin for a Winchester 25-35. he lost the firing pin when he cleaned it. I had to make a floating firing pin for a revolver.

A guy sold me a 12 ga. bolt action for 10 dollars. after I refinished it he wanted to buy it back for 150.00. I still have it.

Dean Weingarten said...

Richard Lee, in Modern Reloading, second edition, writes of the problems of zinc in lead casting. Do not use zinc, or attempt to alloy zinc with lead.

I have used wheel weights to cast many thousands of bullets. They work well. But you must be careful not to include the occasional zinc wheel weight. Zinc wheel weights look different from lead. They are shiny, while lead is dull grey.

Wheel weights and zinc are considered on pages 162-166.

Here is a link on how to spot zinc wheel weights to keep them out of the casting pot.

Marshall said...

Zinc causes lead to curdle and will completely mess up a batch of casting lead. The only solution I know is to dilute the zinc contaminated batch with good lead until the zinc fails below a certain critical concentration and it becomes castable again. You can avoid contamination if you keep your lead pot just slightly above the melting point of lead. Zinc melts at a significantly higher temperature so the zinc wheel weights will float on top with the other dross. Skim them off with the dross and scrap them. Running your lead pot too hot will get you into trouble if it causes the zinc wheel weights to melt and mix with the lead.

I avoid this problem by using mostly range scrap. I buy inexpensive pewter at thrift stores to adjust my melt (love the personalized christmas ornaments which no one ever wants and bent up pewter bowls/plates).


Anonymous said...

Read the Speer number nine reloading manual on bullet alloys.

Anonymous said...

You can solve that problem with soldering flux.

Shooter said...

Good one dean!
Further to our phone conversation the other week, I would like to thank you for this useful article.
Hope to keep in touch.
Keep up the good work.
God bless.

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