So, first let's start with the definition of a rim. If you look at the back part of any metallic cartridge case (the end opposite the bullet), you will see a sort of a flange at the base of the cartridge. This flange is called a "rim" and has existed ever since the first metallic cartridge was invented. It serves multiple purposes:
- During manufacturing the cartridge, it helps hold the case in position while the propellant and bullet are being loaded into the case.
- It provides a place for the firearm's extractor to latch on to, to pull out a fired cartridge case out of the chamber.
- In some cartridge types, it helps to headspace the cartridge (i.e.) place it into position in the chamber at the correct depth.
- In a particular type of cartridge called rimfire cartridge, the rim contains the priming compound that serves to ignite the propellant of the cartridge, when struck on the rim.
Rims can be added to a cartridge case by various methods: stamping, pressing, casting, molding etc.
With that said, let us look at various rim types. The first one we will study today is the Rimmed cartridge.
This is the oldest type of cartridge and dates back to the time when metallic cartridges were first invented. These cartridges have a rim that is quite a bit larger in diameter than the base diameter of the cartridge. The image below shows a rimmed cartridge.
A rimmed .22 LR cartridge. Click on the image to enlarge. Public domain image
Back in the old days when metallic cartridges were invented, mass manufacturing technologies were not so precise and cartridges of the same caliber would have varying lengths. Therefore, there needed to be some way to hold the cartridge to the proper depth in the chamber so that the firing pin could impact it. Providing a rim larger than the diameter of the cartridge case proved to be a simple solution to this problem, since it could be manufactured cheaply.
Click on the image to enlarge. Public domain image.
As you can see in the above figure, the rim of the cartridge is what prevents it from sliding all the way down through the barrel, since it is significantly larger than the hole in the barrel. Therefore, the rim provides positive headspacing. Since the cartridge headspaces on the rim, the overall length of the cartridge is not critical. Back when cartridge manufacturing technologies were fairly basic, you can see how rims solved the problem of seating the cartridges in the chamber correctly.
The rim also provides a secondary function. Firearms such as shotguns and revolvers need to have some way to easily extract the cartridge cases. The rims provide the means for the extractor to hook on to them and pull out the cartridges from the cylinder (for a revolver) or chamber (for a shotgun):
Most revolvers and shotguns still use rimmed cartridges to this day.
For the .22 LR cartridge (which is the most popular cartridge in the world), the rim also serves a third function. The .22 LR belongs to a family of cartridges called the rimfire cartridges. The patent for rimfire cartridges date back to 1831. The idea is that the priming compound is placed on the entire rim and the rim is designed of thin material. When the rim is struck, it ignites the primer, which burns along the entire rim and ignites the main propellant. Back when black powder was not so high-quality, this provided a reliable source of ignition. The .22 LR is only one of a family of rimfire cartridges, but it is the most popular cartridge in the world and has been in production since 1887.
One more interesting thing about rimmed cartridges is that since they headspace on the rim, it is possible for a firearm that is designed to fire longer cartridges to safely fire shorter cartridges if they have the same sized rim. For instance:
From left to right: .22 CB, .22 Short and .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) cartridges
Public domain image.
The above three cartridges are of different lengths, but the cartridge case diameters and the bullet diameters are the same and they all have the same sized rims. This means that a firearm that is designed to fire the longest one of the three (the .22 LR) can also fire the lesser powered cartridges, the .22 CB and .22 Short. This is because the three cartridges all headspace to the same depth in the chamber because their rims are all the same size.
Similarly, .38 Special cartridges may be fired from a revolver designed for .357 Magnum because the two cases share the same rim diameter (and the .357 revolver is designed to fire higher pressures than what the .38 Special cartridge produces).
A word of warning: While different sized cartridges may fit into chambers designed for other cartridges, it is not always a good idea to try this out. For instance, .38 Long Colt, .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges all headspace the same, but firing a .38 Special or a .357 Magnum out of a revolver designed for .38 Long Colt is a bad idea, since the revolver is not built to the pressure that these cartridges can produce.
In the metric system of naming cartridges, a capital "R" added to the end of the cartridge designation indicates that this is a rimmed cartridge. For example, 7.62x54mmR is a cartridge that has a 7.62 mm. diameter bullet and the "R" at the end indicates that this is a rimmed cartridge case. The same is true with the 5.6x35mmR (known in the US as .22 Hornet), 7.7x56mmR (a.k.a .303 British), 9x33mmR (a.k.a. the .357 Magnum) etc.
Rimmed cartridges work very well with revolvers and shotguns, as well as some early repeating rifles that loaded from tubular magazines. Unfortunately, they don't work so well with firearms using box magazines, because the rims tend to interfere with each other during the reload cycle. Since the rims don't ride easily over each other, the rim of the cartridge being chambered often tries to strip the round beneath it in the box magazine. However, certain rifles (notably the British .303 Lee Enfield and the Soviet Mosin-Nagant) solve this problem by carefully arranging the cartridges when the magazine is initially loaded, so that the rim of each case is loaded ahead of the round beneath it. If this arrangement of the cartridges is not done properly, there will be misfeeds and jams with box magazines. We will study how this was solved in the next post, when we study about semi-rimmed and rimless cartridges.