Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Manufacturing Cartridges in the 19th Century - Part IV

In our last few posts, we saw how they manufactured cartridge cases, primer caps and bullets in the 19th century. In today's post, we will see how these components were combined together to form the finished cartridges. As before, this is the process that was followed at Kynoch, a large British manufacturer of ammunition and the equipment they used was the latest available for that era.

Since Kynoch manufactured large quantities of cartridges daily, they used machinery to help load the cartridges. The process started by placing a bunch of cartridge cases in frames of up to 100 cartridge cases per frame. Each frame was then taken to a loading room to be filled with gunpowder.

For safety reasons, only minimal personnel were allowed into each loading room. The gunpowder was placed in a container  that was attached to the wall outside of the loading room. The container had a rubber pipe attached to the bottom of it, and the other end of the pipe ran into the loading room. The other end of the pipe also had an accurate measuring device attached to its end that allowed it to dispense a precise amount of powder each time. A worker would use one hand to move the pipe from case to case and the other hand to work the measuring device and dispense a measured quantity of powder in each case. Each worker could easily fill around 30,000 cartridge cases per shift.

After the cases were filled, the frames were then taken to another room, where wads were added to the cartridges. The purpose of a wad is to reduce the air pocket between the bullet and the gunpowder in a cartridge case. Each wad was placed on top of the cartridge case and then pushed into the case using a hand rammer tool.

After adding with wads, each cartridge case had a bullet placed in the mouth and then, each bullet was pushed in. After that, the whole cartridge was inserted into a swedge, which would close the lip of the case and crimp it. This was done to make the case fit the bullet and prevent it from slipping out from the cartridge case. The finished cartridges were then packed in boxes and shipped out from the factory.

Cartridges made with this process could be placed under water for a fortnight and still work fine. Leading manufacturers like Kynoch could manufacture ammunition that was far superior to cartridges produced by hand by amateurs and low-end gunsmiths, and at a much faster rate as well.

While this process involves some human labor, Kynoch was working on making machinery to fully automate the loading process.

For loading .303 ammunition, Kynoch also made machinery for weighing, cutting and loading the strings of cordite.

In the next post, we will look at some modern methods of manufacturing cartridges.

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