The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club

Return to the index to LASC

A collection of comments and articles on the many aspects of bullet casting by various cast bullet shooters
Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan
Chapter 4.4 Paper-Patched Bullets

Ken Mollohan; William Iorg

Why Paper Patch Cast Bullets?

Ken Mollohan

   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 final dimensions.

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.

        When 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.

        Ned 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 patched. 

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 offer.)

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: "Cast Bullets"

How to Paper Patch Bullets

Ken Mollohan

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 a exactly 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 and materials.

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

Paper Patching

William Iorg

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 of.

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 satisfactory.

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

Ken Mollohan

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 reassemble.

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.


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.


Ken Mollohan









Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned.

Always consult recognized reloading manuals.


The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club