Ken Mollohan; William Iorg
Why Paper Patch Cast Bullets?
Bore diameter muzzle loading target
rifle bullets were often patched with paper, in one or two or three strips
oriented in the false muzzle. These lead bullets were swaged, often from
two cast parts; a hard rear part and a soft front part. Either the two
parts were swaged together, or the single part cast bullet was swaged to
This swaging meant that there could not
be any grease grooves on the bullet, and without grease grooves the
bullets leaded the barrel. The only way to eliminate the leading was with
the paper (sometimes linen) patch.
cartridges were introduced they were frequently loaded with paper patched
bullets; both the long, large caliber "buffalo" cartridges like the 45/90
and the shorter target cartridges such as 32/40.
My suspicion is that paper patches
were used because the bullets in these cartridges were swaged, with no
grease grooves, and the paper patches were needed to eliminate leading. I
also suspect that the use of paper patches was a matter of habit and
tradition, with no substantial advantage to the paper patching. Certainly
paper patched bullets were replaced entirely by lubricated grease-grooved
bullets in factory ammunition.
Today the long range black powder
cartridge and muzzle loader shooters use both the paper patched bullet and
the grease-grooved lubricated bullet.
The paper patched guys contend that the
swaged pure lead bullet has no bubbles or imperfections, has a higher
ballistic coefficient because of the non-grease-grooved sides, and is
therefore more accurate.
The cast grease-grooved bullet guys
seem to shoot equally as well with a much smaller investment in equipment
and less time spent in preparation.
Roberts, in "The Muzzle Loading Cap Lock Rifle", said in 1940 that his
choice for a target rifle was the cast grease-grooved bullet, "....used
without any kind of a patch which only wears out the rifling and causes
much extra work in loading without in any way improving the accuracy."
Given the above, there are several
reasons for paper patching bullets today.
Sometimes there is no suitable mold
available in the proper diameter for some of the older calibers. Or the
only mold that fits the bore is too light or too heavy. Sometimes the bore
is out of specification for the cartridge. (Iíve had a 7x57 Mauser with
cut rifling so deep it needed a 0.300Ē bullet.)
Paper patching offers a way to increase
the effective diameter of a bullet to bore (or groove) size while still
providing good performance. It enables you to get good results with cast
bullets that would otherwise be so undersize theyíd drop through the bore,
and be wildly inaccurate.
(As a side note,
this also applies to jacketed bullets, which can also be paper patched,
but thatís outside the scope of this discussion.)
Paper patching prevents leading and
resulting inaccuracy at high velocity. Paper - though combustible - will
not melt. And the passage through a gun barrel is so brief that it doesnít
have time to catch fire. This may sound improbable to someone who knows
that the gas temperature is high enough to melt and etch steel, but if you
quickly wave your hand through a flame, it wonít burn as it would if your
hand was held in the flame. In the same way, the paper jacket will survive
a brief exposure to the high pressure, incandescent gas from the gunpowder
and protect the lead bullet from being etched. This etching is the source
of the lead that eventually coats the bore in poor loads.
Bullets cast from pure lead or soft
alloys that will expand readily on game are very difficult to drive at
high velocity with any semblance of accuracy unless they are paper
Paper patching will also upgrade the
performance potential of harder alloy cast bullets, enabling casters to
reach magnum rifle velocities with excellent accuracy.
(Side note: This action of paper
patching is very similar to why modern jacketed bullets perform well at
high power: The gilding metal jacket that surrounds the lead core protects
it from the hot gas, so that the bore doesnít get leaded. The copper
jacket also offers structural reinforcement, which the paper patch cannot
Most anything you can name has been
tried for patching bullets at one time or another. Even paper patching has
taken many forms, from the traditional (and currently modern) wrapped
bullet to crossed strips of paper that enveloped the bullet as it was
loaded into the false muzzle of some black powder bench rifles. Iíve read
of patching with Teflon pipe threading tape, masking tape and even thin
leather (including of all things, fish skin!) Iíve personally played with
a 30-06 using cast bullets wrapped with household aluminum foil with
fairly decent results, but it sure takes a LOT of wraps to build the
diameter enough. That darn foil is THIN!) Patching per se has a long and
honorable history with firearms projectiles. The Pennsylvania / Kentucky
rifle would not have been so accurate or fast loading without patches.
Iíve also emulated the PA/KY rifle by using denim patches to load round
balls (i.e. buckshot) into cartridge cases for modern rifles. This works
surprisingly well if the patches are lubricated, and a tight fit in the
un-sized case, even with loads with notably more snap than the usual round
ball squib loads. A patched RB will do a fine job on squirrels and similar
small game, whether itís driven from a pea rifle with FFFg, or from a
32-20 with Unique.
An excellent source of information on
paper patching is the series of articles first published by Col. Harrison
in the NRAís ĎAmerican Riflemaní magazine and later published in his book:
How to Paper
First of all, I recommend that you get
your feet wet with a low velocity big bore rifle like a 45-70. This will
give you a very forgiving setup to make success come more easily, and
nothing builds confidence and skill like getting good results from the
very beginning. My initial PP experience came about because I couldnít
find a suitable bullet to enable me to reload for an 11.43 MM
Vetterli-Vitali rifle Iíd picked up. For that matter, neither could I find
a suitable mold that was anywhere near the right diameter to be patched up
to fit the bore properly. Lacking proper components, I set the rifle aside
to rust in dignity until I noticed one of the old Ideal mold designs for
casting paper patching bullets: It was little more than a smooth hole
drilled into a solid block of metal, with an ejection pin at the bottom
and a sprue cutter at the top.
Hmmm. I had plenty
of sprue cutters Ö..
A little digging through my bits gave
me one that was a loose slip fit in the bore, and it wasnít long before I
was casting some rather unusual, but quite effective Ďcustomí bullets for
the Vetterli. At first, I spent a lot of time looking for
the right paper as specified by the articles in the RIFLEMAN, but I was
out in the country, with no ready supply of specialty items like that. In
frustration, I decided to see what I could do with what I had on hand:
Ordinary printer paper. It took a while, but I finally got a bit of thin
sheet steel trimmed at the approved 60 degree angle, and just wide enough
to wrap exactly twice around the bullets. Then the problems really began.
When the paper was wet, it wrapped more
than twice: There was always some overlap. I finally figured out that the
wet paper had a lot more stretch than when it was dry (DUH!), and I needed
to wrap it on the bullet without pulling it tight in the process. But then
the darn thing would almost always be so loose after drying on the bullet
that it was too delicate to lube and load.
I donít recall where I read it, but
someone recommended using a clear soft drink (Sprite, I believe) instead
of water or saliva. This did the trick: Apparently a small amount of corn
syrup is enough to hold the wraps together, and stick the paper to the
lead without affecting results. It also keeps the tail from unwrapping
when you clip it off after drying.
Now things began to pick up: I could
wrap my bullets to a good fit in the bore, and the wrapping was handleable
enough to lube easily by hand. I used straight Alox 2138F, and it worked
fine. The Alox - Beeswax blend also worked well.
So I had proper sized and lubricated
slugs, even though I had no sizing dies. Cases were (substantially!)
reworked 348 Win, and yes, I had to swage the bases to enable them to
chamber in the rifle.
Considering the age and original
loadings for the rifle, I used smokeless loading data for BP 45-70 rifles.
The resulting accuracy ran about 2.5 to 3 MOA (iron sights), which
wouldnít win any bench matches, but sure wasnít a handicap in the deer
woods either. Velocity? I donít know. I didnít have a chronograph then,
but the gentleman whose farm hospitality I was enjoying expressed some
curiosity about the old gun, so I let him shoot it. The pure lead slug had
no problem penetrating about four or five feet of pasture, and I suddenly
found myself on the defensive, and my friend became concerned that the
rifle was too powerful, and might constitute a safety hazard when the
bullet exited a deer.
Donít misunderstand: I later learned
that smaller bores and higher velocities would need greater care in
selection of paper and bullets. But thatís at the upper end of the
learning curve, and Iím just trying to encourage you to give it a try by
showing that good results can be had with the most elementary procedures
One innovation Iíll recommend harkens
back to the tedious process of properly wrapping the paper patch around
the bullet. Itís slow work, and itís easy to damage the PP in the process,
especially if you happened to be a klutz like me.
But while preparing a batch of .30
caliber PP slugs one night, I was struck at the resemblance of a row of
drying bullets to a row of cigarettes. Out of curiosity, I dug out an old
cigarette-wrapping machine that tobacco companies used to give away with a
can of tobacco. Iím not sure but I think the brand was Prince Albert, and
someone told me they are still available in a good tobacco store today.
This particular machine consisted of a sheet of rubberized cloth stretched
over a tinplate arch. A handle with a small roller flips back and forth
under the rubberized cloth. In use, one simply depresses the cloth at one
end of the machine to form a small trough into which is places a small
sheet of paper and the tobacco. A quick flip of the handle wraps the paper
snuggly around the tobacco, and a cigarette emerges from the other end.
Dropping a cast bullet on the (damp)
paper instead of tobacco will result in a perfectly wrapped bullet, with
little effort or time. All you need to do is twist the tail and set it
aside to dry. For uniformity of results, consistent placement of the paper
and bullet is important, but thatís easily done too: The paper is aligned
using a small mark on the rubberized sheet. I position the bullet by
sliding it until the tip touches the side of the machine. Just drop in the
paper and slug, flip the handle and twist the tail. Itís that fast and
easy. Give it a try.
Oh, by the way, another trick I
developed later to simplify the uniformity of patch bullets was to simply
patch the entire length of the bullet, with enough left over to twist and
seal the base. Once the bullet is dry, you can take a single edged razor
blade and use the sharp edge to roll the patched bullet across a firm
surface. (Roll so you arenít unwrapping the paper patch.)The razorís edge
will cut off the excess patching, and leave you a clean edge. If your
chamber and cast bullet design permit (mine did), doing this cutting at a
groove like the front lube groove or the crimping groove will enable you
to get very consistent and uniform patching. Itís sure a lot less trouble
that the exacting care needed to roll the patch on uniformly by hand (or
by cigarette machine.) Ken Mollohan
I have been shooting paper patch
bullets at full power in modern firearms for quite awhile.
My favorite bullet is a paper patch
specific bullet from NEI. #38 167 grain. This bullet has a slight boat
tail, which helps to fold or twist the patch, as it is not hollow base. I
shoot this bullet in the .307 Winchester, an M-94 B.B. It is just as
accurate as most jacketed bullet loads.
I have paper patched the Lee 170 grain
flat nose gas check bullet. I leave them as they are patched, generally
around .312" to .314". I have sized many of them down when using thick
patch paper. I run them through the Lee push through bullet sizing die.
Prior to sizing I use the Lee cartridge case sizing lubricant. This is a
die maker's wax. I coat the applied patch with the wax and allow it to dry
prior to sizing. After sizing the patch looks as if it is ceramic. If you
are not reducing the size too far the patch will not be loose on the
bullet after sizing.
We have found that bullets lubed with
the Lee case sizing lubricant are VERY tough and water-resistant. We
regularly feed them through the tubular magazines of both Winchester and
Marlin lever action rifles.
You should experiment with both folded
and twisted patch tails. To fold start at the joint of the rolled patch
and fold inward in four quarters. This forms a paper gas-check-well sort
I have not tried many glued patches.
When I did I used the Chase patch system and did not have a folded or
twisted tail. I left the bare base flush with the bottom of the patch. I
did not have much luck with glued patches. I have also tried gummed
computer labels in the same manner.
You should find that the gas check
shank is helpful in twisting or folding your patch.
Our best accuracy has been with softer
lead alloys. For hunting bullets I sort out .22 rim fire bullets from
scrap lead. These are soft enough to be easily deformed by the seating
stem. I use a Lyman M-die and Lyman seating die with the closest fitting
seating stems whenever possible.
I have not used paper patch bullets in
a gas operated semi-auto rifle before. I have tried them in the 18" ported
barrel of a Marlin 1895 Guide Gun. The resulting accuracy was less than
P. S. I messed this up and it did go
through which is just as well. I had meant to comment on the 1 1/2 turns
of paper. I suggest two full wraps. It makes for a tougher patch if you
are sizing down. If you can step out ahead of the firing line after a few
shots and take a look at your patch pieces. You will be surprised at the
size of some of them. William Iorg
How to make a paper patched bullet mold
Iíd like to share a trick
thatís so old itís been just about forgotten, and is probably new to a lot
of todayís shooters. Decades ago, the old Ideal company (now Lyman) used
to sell a very simple and elegant mold for making paper patched bullets.
Itís very easy to make something similar, and the ones Iíve made have all
worked well. Hereís how itís done.
The tooling youíll need
isnít much more than a drill press or a lathe, and a few simple hand tools
like files and taps. The old Ideal design was simply a vertical hole
drilled into a solid block of iron, with no lube grooves or gas check. The
hole had two diameters: The "bullet diameter" was most of it, and at the
very bottom was a smaller diameter hole that keeps the nose / ejection pin
from falling out. This pin also served to close the bottom of the mold
when pouring lead. I used a spare sprue cutter from a mold I'd ruined
trying to enlarge the nose portion. I just located the sprue pivot so that
the pour hole was centered over the cavity.
Clamp the mold-to-be in a
good vise if youíre using a drill press, and anchor it well to assure
concentricity when you drill the various holes. Drill the smaller hole
through the mold first. It will act as a pilot hole for the larger
("bullet diameter" hole later. Diameter of the ejection pin hole is not at
all critical. I suggest at least 1/8Ē, and something less than the
diameter of the bullet as the maximum.
The major ("bullet")
diameter is easy to determine: I just used the largest twist drill that
would slip into the bore of my rifle. If this is a really loose fit, you
might be well advised to find someone with a lathe to bore the mold
instead of just drilling it. When you drill the larger diameter hole for
the body of the bullet, leave at least ~ 1/4 inch length of the small hole
for easy operation of the ejection / nose pin. Drill a hole about 50%
longer than you think you will need in a bullet. This will leave space for
the end of the ejection pin, and let you adjust the bullet length /
weight. You may have problems with ejection if the hole isn't smooth, so
feed the bit into the mold very slowly and use a good grade of cutting oil
for a good finish. Polish with fine sandpaper if you need to. You can also
lap or bore the hole to make bullets that are a precision fit to you gun.
Now you need to make the
nose / ejection pin. It is just a steel rod turned to be a slip fit in the
bullet diameter hole, and machined on the end to whatever nose shape
strikes your fancy. The rear of the nose / ejection pin should be machined
to be a slip fit through the smaller hole, just as the larger end should
be a slip fit in the bullet diameter portion. You will need something to
keep the ejection pin in the mold. I threaded the end and used a nut, but
the pounding from ejection eventually buggered the threads. I recommend
drilling a small hole and putting a cross pin in it. The ejection pin
should be long enough that there is still some sticking out of the bottom
when the nose portion is against the sprue cutter.
Now drill a small hole in
the side of the mold (not into the bullet cavity) and thread it to attach
a handle. I'd recommend about 5/16" or so, but it's not critical. Slip a
wooden insulating grip on the other end and you're done.
Now if I haven't confused
you enough, maybe a description of how to use it would augment the
following sketch to help clarify its construction: Bring your lead alloy
to casting temperature, and pre-warm the mold. Close the sprue cutter and
pour the alloy. Wait for it to cool and strike off the sprue just as you
would with any ordinary mold.
Now turn the mold upside
down over a suitable soft cloth or a bucket of water (whatever your needs
suggest) and rap the ejection pin that is sticking up from the bottom of
the mold. This will drive the bullet out of the mold. The bullet should
have a nose that duplicates whatever you cut into the end of the ejection
pin, but it will probably be longer / heavier than you want. Adjustment of
bullet length / weight is simple: Measure the bullet length and trim the
base of the first decent bullet until it is the weight you need. Nothing
fancy: Even a pocket knife will do for this. Just take the trouble to keep
the base fairly flat as you trim it. Now re-measure the length of the
bullet. The difference will give you the adjustment needed so the mold
will throw the bullets you need.
Jog down to the hardware
store and buy a few washers that will fit into the bullet diameter hole,
but not in the smaller hole. You may have to buy slightly oversize and
turn them down. Remove the keeper pin from the nose / ejector pin and add
an appropriate height of washers below the bullet diameter portion, and
Depending on the fit of
the parts and your workmanship, you may find that a bit of powdered
graphite might improve ease of using this mold.
You might want to experiment with different nose shapes: It would be
simple enough to make different ejection pins for round nose, wad cutters,
semi-wad cutter or even spitzers. You could also drill the nose / ejector
pin and insert a small pin to make hollow point bullets of whatever size
and shape strikes your fancy.
This design was originally intended only for making bullets to be paper
patched to groove or throat diameter, but Iíve also made some very nice
two-diameter bullets in them. Although I haven't gotten more ambitious
than two diameters, the same basic principles could be used to make a mold
producing any increasing series of diameters or tapers, should you wish to
make bullets with a bore riding nose and a throat diameter body, etc. Just
drill / bore the mold to whatever diameter(s) you want for the areas
behind the bore riding nose portion. Ideally, this should be throat
diameter, or at least not less than groove diameter, though tapers to
guide seating the bullet in the bore / throat are obviously feasible.
I've also had very good
luck using the two diameter versions in moderate loads with nothing but a
good wax wad behind the bare 'as cast' lead bullet. If you're just looking
for light plinking loads, make a two diameter mold like this, with the
bullet nose of bore diameter, and with the body at groove diameter or
slightly larger, and use wax wads below the base to avoid leading
problems. Even though they arenít patched and have no lube grooves, they
will usually work pretty well in a decent bore with just the wax wads for
lubrication until the loads get above about 1200 FPS or so. The wads I
used were (usually) yellow beeswax softened enough with Vaseline that I
could cut a wad by pressing a sheet over the loaded case before seating
the bullet. The wads were often ~ 3/16Ē thick, but I got decent results
with much thinner (down to ~ 1/16Ē) wads, though I donít recall exactly
which loads worked with which wad thickness. Youíll just have to
experiment. Another possibility would be to knurl the bullets and dip in
melted lube. This has worked pretty well in some commercial bullets, but
itís a bit more trouble than Iím willing to take personally.
I see no reason why a suitable length of copper or brass tubing couldn't
be precut and dropped into such a mold before pouring the lead, thus
enabling one to make "jacketed cast bullets". I've used 5/16" bands cut
from common copper tubing to provide a 'jacketed' bearing surface for .30
/ .32 caliber rifles (conventional molds). (Not original, BTW, but it
worked very well.)
Of course, this would
depend on the availability of suitable tubing diameters, but most hobby
shops sell quality telescoping brass tubing in very fine graduations: You
should be able to find something usable as a jacket for almost any bore
diameter. If you decide to try this, Iíd recommend using a tubing cutter,
to leave a slight diameter decrease on both ends of the tubing. This would
assure the tubing doesnít lose itís core when you shoot it.
That telescoping Hobby shop brass tubing can also be used to build up case
diameters and make very good cases for most any rifle or pistol you can
name. Handy stuff. Iíve used it to make any number of oddball or
unavailable cases. You just need to find a case with a suitable
rim and length. (You can just turn
oversized rims down with a lathe if you donít have a good fit.) Build up
the base diameter with short sections of this tubing until it fits your
chamber. Then just fireform the case. As the case expands, it will expand
in front of the tubing built-up area and lock it in place permanently. The
result is a very usable case, albeit of somewhat less case capacity than
the originals. (Loading data will have to be adjusted accordingly) But at
least you can get some of these proud old warriors shooting again.
Sometimes you can even increase the length of an otherwise suitable case.
Iíve had good luck by slipping tubing over a short case and slipping a
short section of the next tubing size over them both. When fire formed,
the resulting case will sure look odd, but it will have the right outside
dimensions, and the expansion of the original case will expand the longer
tubing, which in turn, will expand past the short ring of larger tubing.
This makes a mechanical interlock that holds the package together just
fine. Itís a lot of trouble, but sometimes thereís just no other way.
Things are different nowadays, but older cases were once all but
impossible to come by, particularly in a reloadable Berdan primed form. I
once used techniques like this to form 577/450 Martini cases out of 30-06!
And they lasted through many, many loadings.