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  Paper cartridges for muzzle loaders

ShootingPaper cartridges for muzzle loaders
by Mike Hines

When I started doing Civil War reenactments in 1981 the first thing I learned was to make paper cartridges for my reproduction 1853 Enfield. Over time I experimented some and found a method that has worked well for me. “Rolling” a live cartridge is slightly different than making up a blank one so I’ll explain both methods.

My tools for rolling paper cartridges consist of a brass tube with a plastic funnel glued into one end and wooden dowel that will slide inside the brass tube. For a .58 or .69 caliber cartridge I use a 0.5” diameter brass tube. I want the cartridge to fit inside the muzzle for easy pouring. For a smaller cartridge I’d use a smaller tube, maybe a 0.375” diameter tube for a .45 caliber. An easy way to cut the paper is suggested, I use an X-Acto cutting board.

The original Civil War paper cartridges consisted of five parts: the bullet, the powder, a paper powder tube, a paper wrapper and a piece of thread to tie off the end of the cartridge. The powder tube was made of a heavy paper; card stock seems to work well. The wrapper needs to be sturdy enough to endure moderate handling but weak enough to be easily torn using the teeth. Newsprint paper works well.

You might have to do some experimenting to determine what size to cut your paper for the powder tube. You want the tube to hold your powder charge with just a little room to spare. For the 60 grain charge (by volume) used in the .58 caliber I found that a 2” by 2.5” rectangle would work. I marked my brass tube with a permanent marker 1.5” from the end so I’d have a powder tube that tall.

The standard wrapper for the .58 caliber cartridge is a trapezoid shape with base measuring 4.33”, the short side measuring 3.0” and the long side measuring 5.25”. The long side runs the length of the cartridge and the pointed end will be the part you tie off. I again marked my brass tube 4” from the end to show the correct position for the wrapper.

Now to get to rolling…

Place the piece of card stock for the powder tube in position on the brass tube and roll it around the brass. Fold the seam across the opening of the brass and then fold the rest of the paper in to close the end. Use the wooden dowel to push down through the brass to help secure this fold.

Position the bullet at the closed end of the powder tube and wrap them both with the outer wrapper. Twist the exposed end to conform to the shape of the nose of the bullet. You can stand this on the funnel end of the brass tube while you tie the pointed end off with a piece of strong thread.

Invert the brass tube and pour your pre-measured powder charge into the cartridge through the funnel. Slide the cartridge off of the brass tube, nose down of course!

Flatten the wrapper tube from the end to just above the powder tube. Fold this flat across the mouth of the powder tube and then up the side of the cartridge. Some like to fold this tail in half lengthwise, or even into thirds, to provide a better grip for your teeth when opening it.

For a blank cartridge I dispense with the powder tube, and obviously the bullet! I cut a 4” square of newsprint and wrap it around the brass tube, leaving about 0.5” hanging off the end. Fold this as you do with the powder tube to close the end. Dump the pre-measured powder into the funnel. For .58 caliber blanks I use 30 grains of powder, all you need is the bang and some smoke. For .69 caliber I have to step up to 50 grains to get reliable ignition. Apparently the smaller charge can lie beneath the path of the spark in the larger bore. Slide the cartridge off of the tube and fold the tail as before, a little above the level of the powder. Note that the cartridge paper is discarded and NEVER placed in the bore for reenactments!

To use the cartridge you hold it in the right hand with the bullet down. Grip the cartridge so you control the powder tube and push the tail up for easy access. Grip the tail in your teeth and tear it off, exposing the open end of the powder tube. Spit the tail out, unless you like chewing newsprint. Dump the powder into the muzzle of the gun. Break or tear the wrapper again to remove the powder tube. This can sometimes be done by striking the muzzle with the tube, right behind the base of the bullet. You should now have just the wrapped bullet in your hand. Squeeze the bullet out of the wrapper into the muzzle, discard the rest of the wrapper and ram it home. A really accomplished shooter is said to be able to fire three rounds per minute. Really makes you appreciate metallic cartridges, doesn’t it!

Posted by Pumpkinslinger on Monday, December 30, 2013 (17:53:00) (2362 reads) [ Administration ]
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