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Making Paper Cartridges

Most of the cartridges used in the Civil War were made of rolled paper.

The paper is presoaked in potassium nitrate to make it completely combustible for those times when the paper is rammed down in a hurry with the powder.  Don't be in such a hurry for recreational shooting as any remaining sparks down the barrel of a rifle or shotgun or the chamber of a revolver can set off the charge of power with dangerous results when the gun is pointed the wrong way.  Safe shooting practices are necessary as black powder is much more easily set off then more modern propellant powders.

The paper is rolled in a dowel rod and the edge glued. In the Civil War, they waxed a wooden dowel as in this image. Modern suppliers sell an aluminum dowel. The dowel rod should be slightly larger in diameter than the bullet.

Rolling a paper cartridge

Add the bullet in one end and tie or glue the end. Measure the powder and pour it in the other end. Bend the extra paper over and glue or tie it down.

58 Caliber Paper Cartridge  

A .58 Caliber paper cartridge with the end folded up. 69 Caliber Paper Cartridge A .69 paper cartridge with the end tied.

The end result looks ragged by comparison to modern products.  They used drawings in the books way back then, such as the 58 Minie cartridge to the left and 69 round ball Musket cartridge to the right.

There is no primer with the exception of the European Dreyse Needlegun. Flintlock guns are fired by the flint striking an iron frizzen showing sparks onto a small amount of powder outside the barrel with a touch hole to carry the resulting miniature fire into the barrel. The later percussion guns have the hammer snap down on a percussion cap where an explosive mixture sends burning sparks down a tube and hole to ignite the powder charge.

From late in the 19th century until a few decades ago, there wasn't a convenient source for combustible paper until the North-South Skirmish Association popularized shooting the Civil War guns and Dixie Gun Works became a well recognized supplier.  Until then, the only commonly available alternate source was to use the paper sold for rolling one's own cigarettes, which already had glue along one edge.  Those who were familiar with the dexterity needed to roll their own cigarettes found making combustible cartridges an interesting and enjoyable challenge.  Since then, however, it's much easier and more satisfactory to make your own combustible cartridges with previously nitrated paper already cut into handy sizes.

Disclaimer--The guns that use paper cartridges and some of the components are illegal for some people to own in some places. Check your national, state, province, local, and planned unit or condominium laws, rules, and regulations.

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Emory Hackman

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