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The Snider-Enfield

Brass Conversion and Shooting a Snider Rifle

 

By J. Simon And R. Ted Jeo

 

snider.jpg

 

Not so many years ago, the mention of a Snider rifle would have been greeted by blank stares and confused looks. Even among gun enthusiasts it was relatively unknown. How could a rifle that served the British Empire for almost fifty years remain so obscure? Well, this stop gap breach loader was a first line weapon for less than five years, and no collectable numbers of them were imported into the U.S. for decades.

 

The release of the Nepal arms cache has ended those years of obscurity. Snider rifles are once again available and the gun press has written several articles about them. Mention a Snider rifle today and you’ll be greeted with a bit more knowing looks and a discussion comparing its merits and weaknesses to those of the American trapdoor Springfield.

 

Once your Snider arrives, you realize you’ll have to feed the beast. Ammo, if you can find it, costs about five dollars a round. Brass prices range from three to five dollars a round. Reloading will save you some money, but brass forming is where the real savings start. For the cost of a few boxes of commercial ammo you can outfit yourself with all you need to complete the process.  This is especially true if you have already outfitted yourself to reload for your Martini Henry rifle (a shameless plug for our other article!)

 

 What is a Snider-Enfield?

 

The short answer is that it’s an Enfield rifle musket converted to a breach loader. At its adoption in 1866, officials were already looking for a replacement, and by 1871 they found it in the Martini-Henry.   Still, as an avid collector and shooter, the rifle has merit for ownership and shooting, regardless of length of military service.  After all, if collecting a gun were based on length of service, the vastly loved M14 (aka M1A) would not rank very high on our list.

 

As mentioned, the Snider is a conversion of a muzzle loading firearm into a breach loader, much along the same lines of the trap door Springfield.

 

snider action cu

Figure 1, From the side, you can see the hinge of the breach door.  The rifle retains the external hammer and you can see the converted nipple to firing pin assembly.

snider action open

Figure 2, With the breach door all the way open, you can see the expansive loading chamber of the rifle.  Note, however, you do not simply drop a round into this area; you still need to push it forward into the chamber.

 

snider action top

Figure 3, A top view of the breach door closed and you can clearly see the angle of the hammer has been changed in order strike the fixed firing pin assembly.

 

snider%20act%20brass%202

Figure 4, Once a shell is placed into the breach area, you will need to push it forward with a finger into the chamber.  Note, in the photo above, part of the breach door mechanism acts as your extractor.

 

snider%20act%20brass%203

Figure 5, Here you can see how the breach door engages the lip of the case for extraction.  The actual motion is to pull back on the open breach door to extract the spent case from the chamber.  It still requires the rifle to be tipped to actually drop the spent case from the gun.

 

The Snider rifle that was used in this article was borrowed from a friend.  It is in fairly decent condition, with the usual stock dings, cracks and scrapes one would expect.  The quality of the metal was above average with little rust and/or pitting.  The bore was decent as well, however, as we will see, left something to be desired.

 

Brass forming and reloading for the Snider

 

What’s needed to reload the Snider? Unfortunately, some of your standard reloading equipment simply won’t work. The Snider round is best described as jumbo or in terms of those of us from the 70’s…husky.  The cartridge requires the larger family of dies as well as a press that can accommodate them.  Rounds in this size range require 1 ¼” dies instead of the standard 7/8” dies. For most of us this means a new press. We chose the Lee classic cast press, its price is tough to beat. This is the same press that we used in our earlier Martini Henry reloading article.  Other items are listed below.   

 

  • Lee Snider .577 dies. (# 90929)

  • Redding Imperial Sizing Wax (a MUST for forming)

  • Magtech 24ga. brass

  • Small pipe cutter

  • Black powder measure

  • 1” Forstner bit w/ drill press

  • Propane torch

  • Lazy Susan and metal pie pan

die comp

Figure 6, Here is a good comparison photo of how massive these dies are.  On the left, the Snider dies, on the right are standard size dies.

 

magtech%20brass%20boxmagtech box info

Figure 7, A box of Magtech 24g brass shells are more commonly reloaded for such things as Cowboy action shooting.  You can see that it uses a large pistol primer.

 

wax cutter

Figure 8, Imperial Sizing Die Wax, a MUST for this project.  On the bottom, a pipe cutter.  You can pick these up in the plumbing section of your hardware store.

 

These are the essential items for forming brass for the Snider rifle.   Some other items will be discussed shortly.

 

The steps for brass forming are simple

·         Trim the 24g brass to 2”.

·         Anneal it.

·         Form it.

 

NOTE:  Many of the steps are the same as what we used in our Martini Henry article, so we will not repeat them in detail here.  For details, go to: 

 

http://surplusrifle.com/articles2008/loadingforthemartinihenry/index.asp

 

Trimming

 

Magtech’s 24ga. brass is 2 ½” long. The Snider .577 trim length is 2”.  Coarse trimming the brass was done with a pipe cutter, followed by a finish trim job using the 1” Forstner bit method that we used in the Martini Henry article. 

 

brass comp 1

Figure 9, Unformed 24g brass on the left.  You will need to trim off a good ½” of brass.  Use a pipe cutter to make things go faster and the Forstner bit method for final trim.

 

Annealing

 

Annealing was done in a cake pan on a lazy Susan. The bottom of the pan is filled with between ¾” and 1” of water. This acts as a heat sink to protect the case head and allows you to tip the case for rapid cooling. The Magtech 24g brass is thin compared to rifle brass and has not been annealed yet. If it is not well annealed it will buckle when formed.  Please refer to our previous article for details of the annealing method.

 

folded brass 1

Figure 10, What can happen if you do not properly anneal and/or use the right forming wax?  Here is a good indication of what folded brass looks like.

 

Forming/Sizing

 

Sizing the brass is easy if it has been properly annealed. The procedure used is as follows.

·         Lube brass with sizing wax, normal case lube just does not cut it.

·         Size brass until you feel firm resistance, then back off, re-spread lube and size again.

This process will take between 3 and 15 passes to complete. Forming does require a sense of feel that can only be gained through experience. 

 

Do not get complacent with your forming, and do not assume that because the Snider does not have a case neck, that it is any faster than forming a Martini Henry case.  The Snider still has a slight taper to the case.  Again, for details on the forming step, please refer to the Martini Henry article.

 

mh snider comp 2

Figure 11, Just because the Snider case (right) does not have the obvious shoulder that the Martini Henry does, do not assume that case forming can be faster.

 

Something Extra

 

Loading blocks are another item that will be difficult to find when loading for the Snider. Fortunately they are easy to make. A 3/4” Forstner bit drills a perfect hole for 24 gauge brass.  A 5/8” Forstner bit works well for large rimmed cartridges like 45-70, 7.62-54R and 8- 56R that often do not fit in standard loading blocks. Be “green” and recycle an old block of wood into a useful reloading block!

 

loading bolt 1

Figure 12, A scrap piece of wood and ¾” Forstner bit and you have yourself a usable reloading block for your Snider hand loads.

 

The Load

 

The load that we selected to trial shoot the Snider rifle was based on the original military load used with the rifle.  Using 70 grains of ffg black powder (measured by volume) we put a Lee .577 soft lead Minie ball on top of the case with a sheet of toilet paper to be used as a wad between the powder charge and base of bullet.  The primer was a large pistol primer.

 

lee mould

Figure 13, Lee’s Minie bullet mold with pure lead was used.  The bullets cast with the lead turned out to be 0.584” on the skirt.

minnie cu

Figure 14, The Lee mold made a nicely shaped chunk of lead bullet.  The Minie is designed as a hollow based bullet where the idea is that the powder combustion will force the skirts of the base out and engage the rifling of the barrel. The original intent of the Minie bullet design was to make reloading muzzle loading rifles easier by using the expanding skirt of the hollow base.  These Lee Minie’s were lubed with Lee Alox.

 

bullet comp 22

 

Figure 15, Overall loading length of the Snider using the Minie ball was 2.391”.  A size comparison shows just how big these old timers are in comparison to a .22 LR round.

 

 

 Loading Sequence

 

As previously discussed, the loading sequence of the Snider rifle is different than most. 

 

open breach

1.    1. Place hammer on a half cock and flip open breach block. Note, some models have a detent that needs to be pushed, others do not.

 

 

push into chamber

2.   2. Place the round into the breach. Push the cartridge into the chamber all the way flush.

 

close breach

3.  3. Close the breach.  At this point, consider the rifle loaded.

 

cock hammer

4.  4.  The final step in the sequence is to cock the hammer and you are ready to go boom.

 

 

 

pull back on extractor

5.   5. After firing, open the breach again.  Note here that the case is still all the way in the chamber.  No auto extractor here…Pull back on the breach cover and it engages the built in extractor to pull the fired shell out of the chamber.

 

tilt to drop

6.   6.  Tilt the rifle and let the shell drop out.  Being that these shells are pretty much custom made, you may want to make sure you don’t just drop it on the ground!  Also, remember black powder is not nice to brass, at this point you may want to drop it into a container of soapy water to help clean them up once you get home.

 

Results

 

After the decent results that we got from the Martini Henry rifle that we formed and reloaded for, we fully expected to see similar results with the Snider rifle.  Uh, well, perhaps a bit on the premature side. 

 

Placing the rifle in a rifle rest and sand bagging it down, we attached a long string to the trigger and stepped back.  Boom she went with nice billowing amounts of black powder smoke.  We did this several times to make sure that all was well.  The one issue we had was one case that split.  This was most likely caused by an incompletely annealed brass and had a weakened area on the case.  All the cases fired, even the split one, and all of them extracted with no difficulty.  Recall, this is a black powder round and to say that the shooting was dirty would be an understatement.

 

split brass cu

Figure 16, Close up of the split case.  Most likely caused by an inconsistent annealing procedure that caused a slight fold. Note that the split stops at the water line.

 

           

 

You will notice that we post no targets for range results.  The reason for that is because we didn’t get any shots on the paper!  At 50 yards, the rifle was shooting a 6 foot pattern of random shots.  Going back and taking a look at what we had, there are a few conclusions that we came up with.  We thought that perhaps the barrel was worn and the Minie’s were not engaging the rifling, but the projectile did fit tight when pressed into the bore.  These rounds were crimped, perhaps they should not have been.   In combination of the shallow rifling, the charge and/or the configuration of the charge was such that the skirts of the Minie ball may not have expanded to engage what rifling there is in the rifle.  Given the chance, we will revisit the charge issue of the equation.  The rifle itself won’t change as we don’t have access to a different Snider rifle!  Hence, we will call this experiment partly successful.   We did, at least, show that one can form the brass from readily available materials.  In the future, as new ideas are tossed out to us and information is mined from sources, we will have to re visit this topic!

 

 

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