Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Why this blog?
- Quick history
- The kit
- Bullet mold
- .22 rimfire pressure
- The instructions
- The priming compound
- That’s all
- Why you need this
- What about the dent left by the firing pin?
- Sizing the empty cartridge case
- How to test?
I hope you have seen at least the first movie in the 3-part Karate Kid video series, because in this report you are going to be challenged by me. As I try to strike you with various karate blows, you will defend yourself from muscle memory gained while sanding the deck, waxing the cars and painting the fence! Hajime!
Why this blog?
Several months ago in a comment to a cartridge reloading report, reader Yogi asked what about reloading rimfire cartridges. As I have done for the 26 years I’ve been writing about airguns, I puffed up my chest and was about to bellow, “Rimfire cartridges cannot be reloaded.” However, in an uncharacteristic move, I went online, just to be sure. Lo and behold, not only can rimfire cartridges be reloaded, people have been doing so almost from the inception of the first .22-caliber rimfire cartridge by Smith & Wesson in 1856.
So why this series for airgunners? Because, you guys have learned so much from shooting airguns that you will see and understand this material better than most firearm shooters. Plus you’re going to see some parallels to airgunning as the series unfolds.
I learned in my research that the Inuit hunters were avid .22 rimfire cartridge reloaders. When I was a boy in the early 1950s, the Inuit hunters used a lot of .22 long cartridges. In fact my buddy Mac told me that the .22 long cartridge was partially kept alive to supply subsistence hunters like the Inuit. And they do reload their .22 cartridges. Of course they own centerfire rifles today, but the .22 rimfire always goes along on a trip. Countless polar bears have been taken with a shot behind the ear, not to mention seals, caribou and other wildlife.
During the Great Depression, rimfire reloading was quite popular. If you wanted to shoot, you reloaded. The airguns of the day weren’t as capable as they are today, which made the rimfire king of the field.
In a future report I will discuss how people reload rimfire cartridges without any of what you are about to see today, but I wanted you to know that this is a practice that’s more than a century old and it’s still flourishing today.
Today I’m going to show you a .22 rimfire reloading kit that has all the tools and instructions for reloading rimfire cartridges. Most importantly, it has a bullet mold for two different weights of heeled .22 rimfire bullets. Heeled bullets are best for shooting in rimfire cartridges.
This tool set also comes in .22 Magnum. It’s different because the .22 Magnum cartridge uses a .224-inch bullet, while the .22 short, long and long rifle cartridges use a .223-inch bullet. As airgunners you understand better than most how important that thousandth of an inch can be!
I will also show you a 4-part powder set that gives you enough priming powder for about 2,000 cartridges. It costs $20, so you are buying four 500-round bricks of .22 ammo for less than the cost of one brick! Of course there is the bullet, which we will cast, so it’s free. There is also about one grain of gunpowder. So you get 7,000 cartridges from a one-pound can of gunpowder that costs another $25. That adds four-tenths of a cent to the cost of each cartridge.
Based on these numbers a brick of 500 reloaded .22 cartridges will cost you about $5.25. Do away with the priming powder and the cost for a brick is 25 cents. Do away with the gunpowder and the cartridges are free!
Of course the problem these days is — you can’t find bricks of .22 rimfire or any gunpowder in the United States because of the hoarders, but in this report we are talking about the way around the .22 rimfire cartridge problem through reloading. I won’t get into the manufacture of gunpowder, but understand that it is possible.
The kit of tools for reloading rimfire cartridges is very complete. Everything on the list on the right of the card in this set is in this blister pack.
Here are the tools out of the blister pack.
Sharpshooter, the company that sells the kit of tools, says their mold is the only one on the market for a heeled .22-caliber bullet. A heeled bullet has a smaller diameter at the base of the bullet, to fit inside the cartridge case. The part of the bullet outside the case is the diameter of the bore. A .22 rimfire chamber is cut so the bullet enters the rifling immediately upon leaving the cartridge case. There is no “jump” into the rifling the way there is in a revolver and even in many centerfire rifles. This design cooperates with the smaller heel at the bullet’s base, to allow the base to obturate and seal the bore. See what your airgunning knowledge has taught you? I guarantee you, not many firearms shooters other than reloaders and black powder shooters understand the importance of obturation.
.22 rimfire pressure
SAAMI specifies that the pressure of a .22 rimfire cartridge never goes above 25,000 psi, but they probably never come close to that. I say probably because there is no reloading data for the cartridge, since very few people ever do it. The cartridge manufacturers certainly aren’t talking!
Given the softness of the bullet I estimate a .22 long rifle cartridge reaches a pressure of around 12,000 psi, which is .38 Special territory. That’s enough to obturate the base of a soft lead heeled bullet.
The bullet mold that comes in the kit has two different size bullets. The larger one is a 38-grain round-nose solid for your powerful cartridges and the smaller one is a 25-grain pointed solid for your weaker rounds and your CB caps (cartridges made with priming compound alone).
The 38-grain solid bullet is on the right. The 25-grain bullet is in the center and on the left is the crimping die that crimps the end of the case around the bullet. This design is quite clever and both bullets are heeled.
I will have more to say more about the mold after I cast some bullets with it. I know that a .22-caliber bullet mold is hard to get up to casting temperature, so I’ll be looking at that. And the sprue plate on this mold has no positive stop, so aligning it with the mold cavities is an eyeball exercise. Also those metal handles look like they will get hot!
The instructions that come with this kit are the most important part. Not only do they tell you how to use all the parts of the kit, they also tell you how to make priming compound out of commonly available items like toy caps and strike-anywhere matches. Additionally they tell you how to make your own gunpowder from things like matches that don’t strike anywhere.
This instruction sheet unfolds again to be twice this size, with information and pictures on the back.
The priming compound
The same company that sells the tools also sells priming compound in 4 powders that you mix together. It should be obvious to everyone why there are four separate powders instead of just one. According to the instructions, one lot of powders makes enough priming compound for 2,000 cartridges.
You can purchase this bag of 4 powders that, when mixed together in the right proportions, makes priming compound. At the bottom of the bag is the powder scoop that’s used to measure the powders and many other things.
The powders are mixed in different proportions, using a small plastic powder measure that comes with both the kit of tools and with this batch of priming powders. It has a small measure on one end and a large measure on the other.
These four powders are mixed in differing proportions to make rimfire priming compound.
The directions for mixing the powders and priming the shells.
That’s all I’m going to say at this time about the kit of tools and the priming powders. I’ll have more for you in upcoming reports.
Why you need this
Okay, like BB you have squirreled away plenty of bricks of .22. Why is this report of interest to you? Well, what about making cartridges for that .41-caliber rimfire Remington derringer your grandfather left you? He left you a box with 32 cartridges inside and over the years you have fired ten of them. For reasons unbeknownst to you at the time you kept those empty cartridges, and now you have a way of reloading them again. A sealed box of 50 cartridges starts at $300 on Gun Broker, which provides a great incentive to learn!
Your grandfather’s .41-rimfire derringer is a good reason to reload rimfire.
Or you have a 9mm Flobert rifle that you want to shoot? It came with a box of 50 cartridges, but when they are gone, what will you do? Now you have an answer.
What about the dent left by the firing pin?
When a rimfire fires, the firing pin leaves a dent in the cartridge rim. What is to be done about that? Well, you can try to knock it out with a punch or even make a special tool to knock it out, but you risk weakening the case at that place if you do. It’s better to leave the dent in the cartridge and, when you load it, position it so the firing pin won’t strike in that place. That means reloaded rimfire cartridges are best used in bolt-action rifles or most any single-shot rifle. By no coincidence, the shooters who reload rimfire cartridges are the same sort who own single-shot rifles. But there is one more concern.
Sizing the empty cartridge case
When a cartridge is fired, it expands to fit the chamber precisely. It may be too large to fit into another rifle. There is a .22 rimfire cartridge case resizing die available, but why go to that expense and bother? Just use the same rifle and you’ll never need to worry.
What if you don’t have any .22 cartridges to shoot, so you can’t generate any empty cases? Well, all you have to do is use your rifle’s chamber to select or reject all the cases you pick up on the ground at the range.
How to test?
My plan so far is to cast some bullets then reload some cartridges and show you how all of that is done. Then I will shoot them. I plan to use my Remington model 33 single shot bolt action rifle for this. Before I do that, though, I will shoot some 25-yard groups in that same rifle with a cartridge I know to be accurate. That gives me a baseline for comparison, plus those will be the cases I reload.
I have some thoughts for tests after that, such as how accurate can I make a reloaded .22 long rifle cartridge, and so on. But I need to get this far first.
I’m not looking for gold dollar groups from this rifle — just some groups to compare my tailor-mades to store-boughten ammo.
We are looking at something pretty special today. This reloading kit is something not too many shooters know about. When we finish this series we should all know a lot more about our sport. Thanks, Yogi!