Brass Conversion and Shooting a
By J. Simon And
R. Ted Jeo
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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. (#
Redding Imperial Sizing Wax
(a MUST for forming)
Magtech 24ga. brass
Small pipe cutter
Black powder measure
1” Forstner bit w/ drill
Lazy Susan and metal pie pan
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.
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.
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”.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
As previously discussed, the loading sequence of the Snider
rifle is different than most.
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.
Place the round into the breach. Push the cartridge into the chamber all
the way flush.
Close the breach. At this point, consider the rifle loaded.
The final step in the sequence is to cock the hammer and you are ready
to go boom.
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
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.
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.
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!