How to Make Paper Cartridges for Black Powder Revolvers

This column sponsored by:
Star & Bullock Hardware – cartridgekits.com (opens in new window)
Etsy Store

For anyone who loves guns and loves shooting, our country is a pretty frustrating place right now. Even if you reload, try to get primers and powder. So it leaves you in a situation where it is now a decision to go shooting, or not because you don’t want to burn your ammo, and that stinks.

The answer (well the only answer available right now), possibly lies in black powder firearms. Specifically we are building a long series here at GunsAmerica Digest on black powder revolvers, and it is sponsored by Star & Bullock Hardware, at cartridgekits.com. These new high quality paper cartridge kits give you the ability to load hundreds of rounds before you get to the range, so you can spend your time there shooting, not loading.

Black powder is readily available right now online. You have to buy it in bulk because there is a special hazmat fee. Likewise your local dealer may have some, and most likely also has a can or two of percussion caps they can sell you. The black powder substitutes have also been showing up for sale online, and for a casual shooter, they are highly recommended.

For all black powder guns you have to clean them the same day, but the substitutes will give you much less headaches with crudding up your cylinder gap. I suggest Hodgdon Triple Se7en in either FFFG or FFG, and Pydodex in either the P or RS designation. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to use FFFG in pistols. Regular percussion caps are hot enough to ignite any black powder substitute, even those created specifically for 209 primers.

This is the first in a long series that we are building on black powder firearms, that will probably turn into it’s own separate publication. This article is meant for those who already have the guns, but had not yet seen the paper cartridge system sold by cartridgekits.com. There are other cartridge kit systems out there, but they tend to be overcomplicated, overengineered, and overpriced. This system is painfully simple, and the cartridges work great.

So for those of us who have been shooting black powder pistols for decades, (yes they are called pistols, not just revolvers), you have to ask.

What changed?

To that I would not answer that there is an ammo shortage. What I would answer is that erasgonebullets.com happened. It used to be that Lee made a few bullets for black powder revolvers, but they were not designed well and canted in the chamber as you compressed them. The Eras Gone bullets are copies of patterns made back in the day, copied from battlefield pickups from the Civil War.

The Eras Gone Bullets molds were custom ordered from Lee’s custom shop, and it looks like he gets a couple hundred at a time, so as they come back available, jump on them. If you aren’t into casting, there are bullets from his patterns available, and much cheaper than 9mm.

It isn’t that shooting roundballs isn’t fun. It is, and you can find .375 roundballs for the 36 caliber guns, and .451-.457 roundballs for the 44 caliber guns right now. So by all means, if that is all you can find, just buy and shoot them. They will also be a lot cheaper. The paper cartridge system works great on roundballs too.

But if you like the feel of a kick in a pistol, I can’t suggest the conicals more highly. We will be looking into accuracy and ballistics down the line. I shot one of my Walkers yesterday, and it sent those 240 grain bullets downrange at about 1,000 feet per second. That’s better than 45ACP!

Making a Paper Cartridge

A paper cartridge, going back to the originals from the Civil War days, consists of two pieces of very thin paper, the powder, the bullet, a little bit of gluestick, and bullet lube. See the videos on the page for the construction of the cartridge, and how to make the lube. The kits are available directly from Star & Bullock Hardware, or from their Etsy store.

We are using cigarette rolling paper for the cartridges. The S&B kits come with Elements rolling papers, which are a very thin rice paper. As you can see from the video, the cartridges are almost translucent, and I have experienced no hangfires whatsoever using this paper. I will be comparing different rolling papers in the future.

You don’t rip the paper as you load the cartridge, like you would think of with an Enfield cartridge from the Civil War. You just load it right into the chamber and press it in with the rod.

The process starts with circles. You have to cut them for the bottom of the paper cartridge. If you are conserving papers, you can get four circles from a standard size rolling paper, and two more from the longer size. Each circle that you cut, per rolling paper, gives you two base papers because the paper is folded.

We use a craft circle cutter. The S&B kit comes with a 5/8ths cutter, and a half inch one from Michaels will work just as well. Do not try to cut one paper. You have to remove at least 5 or 6, and cut them at the same time. Otherwise the cutter will bind as the paper bends instead of cutting clean. Those cutters are made for card stock, so the thicker the better.

If the cutter binds, just pop it free by sticking your thumb in the bottom hole. It can happen even with 6 folded papers, so just beware that you aren’t doing anything wrong, or damaging your cutter. It pops free and there is no permanent damage. The circles will have a little tab where the cutter stuck, but they will work fine.

Now cup the base pin your palm, and extend the pin down your index or middle finger. Put the fold of the paper under the pin so that they line up on the indexing line of the pin.

If you are using conicals, cut the paper at the end of the pin. If you are using roundballs, cut it about 1/8 of an inch or so longer.

If you are using roundballs, move that end you just cut to the edge of the pin so that the 1/8″ extends toward your palm. That is going to be where you drop in the balls. If you are using conicals, just leave the paper exactly on the forming pin’s length.

Now lick your finger and pat the glue on the rolling paper so it is wet, then tightly wrap it around the forming pin. If you are using roundballs, there will be an 1/8″ extra toward your palm.

Then take your glue stick, open it about an 1/8″, and run it around the paper at the end of the pin. Don’t intentionally put it on the bottom of the pin, but some will be stuck there. It helps us to pick up one of the circle dots we made above.

Now center the pin on the circle dot, and pick up the dot. Don’t sneeze or your dots will fly everywhere.

Then take your loading die block, and noticed that there is a wide end and a skinny end. You want to insert the of the pin that has a dot sticking to it into the skinny end, just a little. You are using the skinny end to just form the shoulder of the bottom of the cartridge, nice and crisp. Be gentle, especially when the die is new.

Then turn the block over and put the whole pin into the large side, right to the bottom. You have formed your first paper cartridge shell.

Pull the pin out, and the shell will be on it. Put the block down, and use your left hand to grip the end of the pin, where the dot formed the base. Twist the pin so that whatever glue was on the pin breaks free.

Then take the shell off of the pin and insert it into the block. You are going to use that to contain the power when you push the bullet in. Yes you can use the pin to put it in, but it can be tricky sometimes to get the pin out and leave the shell in. Just do your best.

Now drop your little powder funnel into the top of the cartridge shell, and fill your dipper with powder.

The dippers have some leeway as to how full you can fill them, depending on how high you want your bullet seated in the chamber. The dippers are designed so that if you fill them so that you can still see the entire rim of the dipper, a conical bullet will be pretty tippy top in the cylinder. If you overfill them, even with a little on the handle, a roundball will be pretty tippy top.

I strongly suggest that you slightly underfill your first one, then compress it into the cylinder of the gun you hope to shoot it in. That way you see where it fills to, so you don’t end up with a bullet stuck half way out of the chamber because you filled the powder too full. If that happens, remove the cylinder from the gun and cut it off with a hacksaw. Don’t hammer on your loading lever until you bend it.

For a conical, the powder should be about 1/8″ under the lip of the die block. For a roundball, it can come all the way up to the lip of the die block, because you have extra paper there to catch the ball.

Now, for conicals, run our glue stick around the outside. It can be tricky to hold onto the bullet. Then carefully, holding the bullet as straight as possible, lower it down into the hole of the block. Try not to catch the edge of the paper.

I intentionally showed you messing this up in the video, because 9 times out of 10 it’s not a big deal if you catch an edge. Just carefully rub the glue stick on that edge and put that one aside as more delicate than the others.

Crunch the bullet down into the powder. Some powders have a lot of give. Some do not. So be aware that you may not have a lot of paper above the edge of the bullet. Just be gentle throughout this whole process.

For roundballs, you are going to roll the ball in the top of the blue stick, then drop it into the paper so that the glue is on the circumference touching the paper. They are much less prone to error.

Then let all the blue dry. If the glue isn’t try, you will be plopping bullets and powder into your lube can.

See the video below on how to make black powder lube. It’s pretty simple, one to one tallow to beeswax. Both are available on ebay. The S&B kit can be ordered with a can of lube for about 200 bullets, if you keep the lube hot on the heat the whole time. If you heat it up then start dipping of the heat, it does not go as far. They sell a coffee mug heater for this purpose as well, but the small lube can is not heavy enough to keep the heat on, so you have to weight it.

Lubing the bullets is a matter of just dipping them up to past the glue line in the lube. As the lube gets less and less in the can just tilt it and roll the bullet. I got more than 200 to one can.

Then just put the cartridge upside down in an ammo box or whatever. They are now done, and even your goofs that where you caught the edge of the paper will be indistinguishable from the ones that were perfect.

Just be careful to make sure that the bullet is glued in good before you tip the cartridge over and stick it in the lube. I strongly suggest that you put it upside down over a paper bowl or something, then once you know it isn’t going to fail, dip it.

If you are loading a lot of roundballs, S&B sells a loading block that you can load up with 20 papers, then drop 20 powders, then do all of your balls at once. Rolling them in the blue gets your fingers sticky, when you go to do the next cartridge, it can make things unnecessarily difficult. If you don’t get the block, just make your shells, then dump the powder and seat the ball one at a time.

The process is painfully easy, which is why this partnership of the column and the kits at Star & Bullock made so much sense.

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