.41 Long Colt Update by Harry O

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.41 Long Colt Update by Harry O

Post by JimT »

(another in the series of articles by Harry O from the old Sixgunner.Com site)

Since my last article on the 41 Long Colt most importantly, Starline ( http://www.starlinebrass.com/ ) has started making 41LC cases. They are still fairly expensive at $112 per 250, but that is half what Bertram brass costs. I also don't fireform my cases any more. My brother-in-law finally got around to machining a "full length" neck expanding piece for me. I removed the decapping rod from an extra 44-40 sizing die I had and put the machined piece in its place. I still have to anneal the case, but once that is done, I just put it in a .38 Special case holder and run it up into the altered die. Out comes a formed 41LC case.

I also found out that I can form full-length .357 Magnum cases with the same altered die. This is not to create a 41LC "Magnum". It is to get the amount of black powder in the formed cases up to what it was in the original 41LC balloon-head cases. Original 41LC balloon-head, long-cases (1.132") hold about 21.5gr of FFFg with the bullet compressing it slightly. The .357 Magnum cases hold 20.5gr. The solid head and the necking down of the case walls near the base are the reason it holds less. Close enough, though. The problem with this is that the loaded cartridge using a .357 Magnum case is too long for an 1889 through 1905 version of the Colt DA revolver (which I generically called an 1892 revolver in my last article). It is probably too long for a Colt Thunderer, too, although I don't actually own one to check it.

However, it does fit my rechambered Uberti Colt Bisley clone, originally chambered in 38-40. The cylinder of that gun is long enough and the barrel is the right diameter. I sent it to a gunsmith who ordered a .357 Magnum cylinder from Uberti and bored out the chambers to 0.410"ID straight through. This matches all the chambers I have seen in original 41LC guns on gunshow tables. None of them had a reduced diameter neck in the front of the chamber (although the earliest guns did have larger 0.413"ID chambers full length). The gunsmith did a very good job. Anyway, shooting brass that holds the original amount of powder in an original style gun is fun. It is no more accurate than my 1892's, but it is not any less accurate, either and it is more consistent. Remember accuracy is inherently limited when shooting a 0.386"OD bullet through a 0.401"ID bore. It does work better than I have any right to expect, though.

I have received other types of formed cases from people who saw my original article and contacted me. Several are based on the 30-30 case. As mentioned before, considerable machining is needed on the rim and the case wall diameter must be squeezed down to a smaller ID. Some of them were machined on the outside of the case, particularly near the base, in order to get them to fit. Another batch of cases I received from Rob in New Orleans were made from 7.62x39mm cases. I had never heard of that conversion before, but it works. Again, the outside of the case was machined, but it does not look like the rim needed to be machined. If you have a metal lathe, these cases look a lot more "professional" than my fireformed cases, but I don't know how much work they are to make. Using reworked 7.62x39mm cases also solves the caseholder problem. One of the things I have noticed about machined cases. There are several failures during the first or second loads (cracked mouths, uneven neck expansion - all on one side -, etc.), but after that they seem to be as rugged as expanded cases. I have had little or no similar failures (a few neck cracks, but no uneven neck expansion) in the expanded .38 Special.357 Magnum cases.

Several people are concerned about the "unsupported" case wall near the rim where it necks down even though I have never had one let go there. Rob and I have sectioned several types of cases. The thickness of the .38 Special brass case wall is 20% more than the thickness of original 41LC brass. When using .357 Magnum brass, it is nearly 30% thicker. I have no doubt that the new brass is stronger than the old brass, too.

Rob is also experimenting with "loose" rings around the base of a .38 Special cartridge. This is not for strength. This holds the loaded cartridge in the center of the 41LC chamber to allow it to be fireformed without going through the work of annealing, neck expanding, and loading it with a 41LC bullet like I did. Just stick a .38 Special wadcutter load in a ring and load it into the gun. After fireforming the ring stays in place, not for strength, just because removing it would destroy the fireformed case you just made. Making the ring is still somewhat of a challenge since he has not found something that works directly without machining.

Rob also sent me a few 0.401"OD 38-40 soft-lead bullets with a step (or heel) machined at the base. I have loaded them and shot them. They are more accurate than the ones I tried before, no doubt because they are correctly sized and made from soft-lead instead of hard-lead. The fact that they are not oversized for later 41LC guns like the Lyman 386177 heel-base bullets (0.406"OD) also makes them much easier to load into the chambers without forcing. There were not enough for a thorough test, but they seem to be about as accurate the Rapine hollow-base bullets (maybe just a little less). This is much better than my earlier attempts with heel-base bullets, though. They are still difficult to crimp. I will leave these for others to experiment with.

I have started casting my own 41LC bullets now. I bought a Rapine 386185 bullet mold. One nice thing about the Rapine vs the Lyman 386178 hollow-base mold is that you do not have to remove the base-pin to remove each bullet with the Rapine. It is setup so that the base-pin stays in the center when you open the two-halves of the mold. You just invert the mold and dump the bullet out. This is a high quality mold that is easy to use. I was a little concerned with the hollow-base since I have read of other peoples' problems with filling-out of hollow-base molds. This was not a problem with the Rapine. I don't know if that is because it is made from an aluminum block, but my 3rd bullet was pretty good and by the time I cast my 5th bullet, it was a keeper. I am using a 40:1 lead/tin mixture. I did keep the casting temperature slightly higher than what I have used with flat-base bullets to make sure it did not prematurely harden while flowing around the base-pin. The only problem was overheating the mold. I solved that by plugging in a small fan and holding the sprue-plate in the breeze for 10 to 12 seconds before opening it. The thin part of the base was fully filled out and the top of the bullet was solid and smooth.

Another thing that has happened is that I have done some more experimenting with balloon-head, heel-base, short-case (0.932") reloads. Originally, I thought that the short cases held far less black powder than the later balloon-head, hollow-base, long-case (1.132") cartridges, 18.5gr vs 21.5gr. That was true when I only compressed the powder 1/16" to 1/8" in each case when seating the bullet. I have since found out that I can fill the short case full to the top and still seat a heel-base bullet. This brings the amount of powder to about 20.5gr of FFFg. The base of the heel-base bullet, being flat, is stronger than the base of the hollow-base bullet and can stand a lot more pressure during seating without damage. I have also pulled a couple of bullets loaded that way and the BP was not damaged as much as I thought it would be. I have not fired any of them, but they don't look dangerous. This may be the way that the originals were loaded.

Now that I have a modern 41LC with modern steel (the rechambered Uberti), I have upped the smokeless loads above what I felt comfortable with in my 1892's. I have gone up to 3.5gr of Bullseye, which is the maximum listed in my old Lyman reloading manuals. Accuracy was a little better than the 3.2gr I had been using before. However, black powder is still the most accurate powder with hollow-base bullets.

Good luck and good shooting.
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