Tapered Paper Cartridges

This information comes to us from our friend, Bruce Strickling, to whom we are most grateful for sharing this valuable and thought provoking method to achieve a quick and accurate second shot.

Making Tapered Paper Cartridges


Bruce Strickling

A Little History:

In the days of the War Between the States, a ball was lubed with tallow and tied into a straight paper cartridge. The powder end was bitten off and a small amount of powder was used to prime the pan.

The rest was poured down the barrel; the cartridge was reversed and ball was pushed into the bore. The excess paper was torn off and the ball was rammed down the barrel.

The paper cartridges were carried in bulk using a leather pouch with internal dividers and covered by a flap for easy access.

These pre-made cartridges were must faster to use than the conventional way of measuring out the powder from a horn or flask, pouring it into the bore, and then patching and seating a ball.

No more reversing the cartridge - just load and shoot!

From Straight to Tapered:

An improvement over the straight paper cartridge is one that is tapered, which can be loaded by only biting the powder end off and inserting the tapered end into the bore. While drawing the ramrod the powder will spill down the barrel. Then thumb seat the whole cartridge and seat it on the powder.

Testing showed identical accuracy to cloth patched round balls using the same loads and  up to 10 of these could be fired without loss of accuracy or difficult loading. Due to the ball size and thickness of paper around it's perimeter the rifling actually engraved the paper slightly which must have also allowed the ball to follow the rifling and deliver most excellent accuracy. With practice one can load and fire a shot in 8 seconds.

Loading is rather simple. Due to the tapered shape of my design in cartridges the ball end sits down in the pocket, with the narrow end up. A cartridge is grasped, tail torn off (little or no powder spilled), then shoved into the muzzle, pointed end down. It will stop at the ball and sit there while you withdraw the ramrod from the pipes. By the time you have the rod out, the powder has trickled down into the barrel's breech. I choke up on the rod to get the ball started as it is a fairly snug fit at the muzzle and push it down a couple inches with the rod, then once there, one long push on the rod will shove it all the way onto the powder charge, compressing the paper between the ball and the powder charge. Replace (or drop) the rod, cap the rifle (leather disk capper is quick), aim and fire. With practice, this can be accomplished in 8 seconds, for an accurate, aimed second shot.

There is no difference in point of impact, from my .73 or .62 carbine, with a clean barrel and patched load or a Tapered Paper Cartridge reload as can be seen on this 75-yard target. 

From the bench, the first shot was a tight fitting .725 Ø* canvas-patched and lubed soft lead ball. The second shot was loaded with a soft .720 Ø RB in two wraps of paper, that hit an inch to the right at 75 yards. 
I repeated this test 3 times using a soft .725 Ø PRB and .715 hard balls in paper cartridges. Clean bore for the first shot, then loaded the paper cartridge for the second shot. The three hard lead follow-up shots were in a horizontal string, 2”, 1” and 4”s to the right of center.
* Ø is the symbol for diameter. 
Speed of Loading:
If everything is laid out and ready, shots can be fired every eight seconds with a cap loader. In a hunting situation, I have re-loaded in twelve seconds, even having to fumble with a cap. Being able to re-load quickly, with an accurate shot is a very nice feeling.
Ever try to run and pour powder down a bore? Only about half of it goes in! [True story] I bet plenty of paper ends have been bitten off while on the run. If they were tapered, loading would have been much easier. 
Run a well lubed patched ball down the bore every three to five shots. This will help keep the fouling to a minimum and let you shoot all day without cleaning. 
Mainly used in smoothbores, this concept really works well in rifled barrels. It works in any style rifling, but should be ideal in the Forsyth Style, narrow lands, wide grooves and shallow depth. The narrow lands should give maximum grip on the paper; the shallow depth will give less chance of 'blow by' and will clean more easily.

How to make a tapered dowel:
While it is possible to purchase a tapered ring-polishing dowel from E-bay (search for item # 360177532932) for $3.88 including shipping, some may wish to make their own tapered dowel. Here’s how to do it. 

Marked at ball diameters: 
We will start with a long dowel. The extra length will be used for holding, and will be cut-off later. The dowel diameter is 1/8" larger than the ball diameter. I used a hand plane to rough shape the six-inch taper, then sanded on a flat surface. Try to spin or rotate as you round and flatten, while you sand. Roundness isn't as important as straight flat sides, the flatter the sides of the taper, the better the paper will fit without wrinkles. 
The small end should be between 1/4 and 3/8" diameters. The smaller the diameter, the easier it is to fit into the bore, but you will have less powder capacity. 

A cone made in the end for your index finger to fit into will help with rolling the paper. 
Ball and Bore Size:
With calipers, you need to measure the bore, ball diameter and the paper thickness. The bore is .690, the ball is .675 and the paper is .0035. One wrap is .007, so 2 wraps is a good place to start at .0014. [.675 + .014 = .689] 
Making a template:
Now that we know that we need two wraps for a tight fit, we are ready to make a master template used to trace the shape of the paper needed. I use 20# printer paper, 8 1/2 x 11, the thickness is .0035 thick. Cut the sheet of paper into quarters. 4 1/4 x 5 1/2, a nice size for most cartridges. It will work for up to 2 1/2 wraps. 

I roll clockwise. I'm not sure if it matters with a left or right twist barrel. Do what is easy.
1. Make a start mark about 1/4 to 3/8 inch above the bullet diameter. [ 1/2 the ball diameter]
2. At the START mark align the corner edge with the center if the dowel, Scotch Tape the paper to the dowel.
3. At one roll, you should be able to see the paper edge underneath, make a heavy mark on it. [1 Wrap]
4. Continue rolling, mark the second wrap at the top and bottom. [You should be able to see the heavy mark from the first wrap and the edge of the bottom.]
5. Draw a line thru the marks of the second wrap and cut. 

Save this piece to make a template for 2 Wraps, transfer to heavier card stock or aluminum flashing. Write all information on this template, caliber, number of wraps, type of paper and thickness. 
Lay your template over the cutout 1/4 sheets of printer paper, and mark along the tapered edge to cut. [I staple and cut 6 or 7 at a time.] 

Rolling Begins: 

1. I align the edge at the start mark, parallel and on center of the mandrel. Precise alignment and tight wraps will give consistent fit of the ball.
2. At slightly past one turn, pinch the overlapping edge, tighten, and run a line of glue along the paper. [Wood glue, thinned with water, applied with your finger]
3. Roll and apply more glue, along the inside edge of the paper and smooth flat.
4. Glue the inside of the small end, pinch or fold.
5. Let dry, cut to length, pour in the powder, drop a ball in, and crimp the paper over and glue. 
Do not get glue on the mandrel! A damp towel will help to keep your fingers clean.
Now you’re ready to shoot with fast reloads and you’ll be able to 
shoot hard lead balls accurately. 
Other things to remember: 
Ball Fit:
If you are using hard lead, which casts about .002” oversize, you will need to reduce the number of wraps or use thinner paper. 
You have three choices when the using a tapered dowel to adjust the ball fit.
1. Moving the paper up or down the dowel will change the ball's depth.
2. Increasing the number of wraps will create a tighter fit. Less wraps will make for a looser fit.
3. Using thicker paper will also tighten the fit; thinner paper will loosen it.
Tapered tools that might work:
A large tapered alignment punch made of steel, should work for bullets up to size .62 or a ring sizing mandrel such as the one found on E-bay, made of wood, brass, plastic or steel that tapers from 3/8 to 1 inch would also probably work well. 
Many types of paper can be used, from cigarette to shopping bags. They all seem to work; I just have scrap printer paper that needs to be recycled. 
Caution, printer paper will smoke and glow. It took many shots, but I did get one to smolder. Although a remote chance, be careful in the field not to start of fire from a smoldering cone. If at all possible, retrieve your fired cones and you won’t need to worry.

Fired Cones:

Retrieved after firing, the paper cone clearly displays rifling marks. 

A partially completed cartridge using a .717” diameter hard lead ball and
recovered cones. When testing loads, don't glue the end, just pour the powder
down the bore and load. 
Additional information: 
Tapered Paper Cartridges also works in a .50 and .54 cal. I just made a Tapered Paper Cartridge for my 50 cal. I wasn't sure that there would be enough powder capacity for a hunting load. I was able to get in 90 grains, using a tapered alignment punch. 
The punch is 1/4 x 5/8 that is 12's long. These punches are sizes by the diameter of the punch end 1/4 and the diameter of the body, 5/8 and length of 12". Each maker has their own size configuration. 
Less taper means more powder capacity, but not as easy to load. I may have to make one from wood that tapers to 5/16 and is slightly longer. I could just use 90 grains of 3F and not mess with a new tapered dowel. 
I first tried 1 1/2 wraps with a .530 ball......loose. Then 2 wraps, a nice snug fit. Takes a little thumb pressure, but pops right in! 
I loaded 90grs of 3f in the clean barrel with a .537 ball and pillow ticking lubed with "Moose Milk." Shot and quickly reloaded with a Tapered Paper Cartridge. It slid down easy, with just slight thumb pressure. 

The longer you wait to reload, the harder the powder residue gets. So reload quickly after the previous shot. 

Rolling Tip!
Keep the paper wraps tight and smooth around the ball diameter. This matters most for a good fit.

Bruce’s Cap Remover and Holder 

Made from an old fork with the center slot widened, then trimmed and filed to size. Round leather holder has punched holes for both #11 and musket caps.  
Thoughts about priming powder for Flinter's. 
Pour some 4f in the TPC, tie it off with some string, then pour in the hunting load.
Tear the powder above the string, pour and load. This will leave you with a small pack of priming powder to tear open and use. Only one container and two powders, with a little refinement it might work. 
You might need to use longer paper to get both powder in one TPC. 
Good luck!

~ Bruce Strickling

About Me

Hi. I've been a student, admirer, designer, and builder of underhammer firearms for over 30 years. In that span I've crafted over 200 high-quality Forsyth-rifled underhammer guns, having explored the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a quality underhammer rifle. The justly-famous Zephyr was the result of that effort. Thankfully, there was and still is great interest in quality underhammer arms. Although I sold PRC in 2006, I continue to design and craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - a condition which can be contagious!