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The continuing ammunition shortage is making people of the gun a tad desperate.  Perhaps it’s time to think about ammunition as a long-term proposition rather than a recurring annoyance.  We’ve long made use of reloading, which stretches the life of brass by several times.  But what do you do when the other cartridge components are unavailable?

Making bullets, especially cast lead bullets, is quite simple.  Smokeless powder poses a challenge to DIY. Finally, primers have been considered out of reach for manufacture by the reloader. But are they really?]

According to W. Marshall Thompson PhD, making primers isn’t out-of-the-question.  Yet, it seems to me that refurbishing fired cups and anvils isn’t really practical.  According to Frost, making cups and anvils from scratch is more straightforward than one might expect.  Yet, putting the whole package together seems out of reach for all but the most dedicated and desperate reloader.

If ammunition is a long-term proposition, then shouldn’t we start to think about a long-term solution?  One that could scale and be practical.

The problem to surmount is economies of scale.  The most tight-fisted DIY’er isn’t going to achieve the economies of scale enjoyed by the top four primer manufacturers in the country.  Not realistic.  Still, there might be a way to achieve enough economies of scale to produce primers in a practical manner at an acceptable price when in times of shortage.  It should be possible to build a short supply chain of three links.

First, stamping the cups and anvils from brass stock is a rudimentary process.  Once you have a set of tooling and an automated press you can produce tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of cups+anvils.  Far more than a single hobbiest reloader could use.

Second, mixing the chemicals to make the primer compound isn’t difficult — for a chemist.  Still, it’s more work than the typical reloader is interested in doing.  But a chemist could easily produce pounds of primer compound, or hundreds of pounds. Far more than a single hobbiest reloader could ever use.

Third, assembling the cup, primer compound, and anvil seems the most daunting part of the process.  Once these three are assembled to make a single primer, many primers have to be packaged.  But what if this was the only step left for the DIY’er?

Suppose a supply chain:

  • Tom, a machinist, makes the tooling to stamp cups and primers, buys raw brass stock, and then stamps 10,000 (or 100,000 or 1,000,000) sets of cups and anvils.
  • Dick, a chemist, buys the chemicals and mixes 10 lbs (or 100 lbs or 1,000 lbs) of primer compound.
  • Harry, a packager, buys the cups+anvils and primer compound from Tom and Dick, packages the materials in 1,000-unit kits, and offers them for sale via a web site.

Hundreds, and eventually thousands, of reloaders could buy a 1,000-primer kit and assemble their own primers.  Yes, it’s a tedious task; reloading is a tedious task.  If you can’t buy finished primers would you be willing to assemble the cups, compound, and anvils?  You only have to assemble as many primers as you plan to reload and shoot on your next range trip.  The remainder of your kit can be saved for later; perhaps much later for use during the next ammunition shortage.

If such a supply chain can be made to work for primers, could it also be made to work for smokeless powder?  How about melting and re-stamping cartridge brass?  How about jacketed bullets?

Ideally, the markets for manufactured ammunition will return to normal soon.  We will all be happy paying our Pittman-Robertson taxes and saving the effort of reloading. Yes, we will have to live with recurring shortages and the threat of increasing ammunition taxes.  Perhaps even the .gov buying up a large portion of the ammo that the manufacturers can produce.

But all these inconveniences will pass; until they don’t. When that day comes, will we have the cottage industry built for the necessary security of a free state?

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39 COMMENTS

    • You have, that’s quite amazing. I would have thought mixing the priming compound would have been a real bitch.
      Also it’s probably against the law to make priming compound, The E on BATFE

      • ” I would have thought mixing the priming compound would have been a real bitch.”

        Take precautions, small batches only, it’s not that bad…

      • If you think making your own primers is edgy let me tell you about what we can do with 3d printers, drop in polymer auto sears and a drill press.

        I’ve even made my own bullets on a 3d printer which is awesome – you can make shapes you couldn’t dream of with casting.

    • The process for making improvised primers is very straight forward, but like you said it is also very time consuming. Here is the entire process as seen on YouTube:

      Making primers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y3YvldELrs

      Primers in use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS0KyT_1Kk0

      “Primers made from strike anywhere match tips, powder charger for each round made from 2 books of crushed matches that are compressed into the case, and already fired bullets dug out of the dirt. I had fired 2 more before this but forgot to start the camera and they worked just like these 2”

      As you can see it is very simple to do, but very meticulous.

      And, of course, if YouTube ever bans the videos above they can be downloaded here:

      https://archive.org/details/gunplans2019

  1. RCBS (rock chuck bullet swage) started life as a press to make economical . 223 bullet jackets from discarded 22 l.r. cases for high volume shooters back in the day. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  2. Mixing compound is one thing.

    Acquiring tooling for anvil and cups isn’t so bad but safely combining everything together is another story.

    Also, being accused of having ‘bomb making materials’ doesn’t sound like a prospect I’m willing to chance… for now.

    • Yeah, I was wondering about that, putting together the things which cause the “bang” seems like a complex problem, possibly scary. OTOH, I have to admit that my reloading started with a Lee Loader, which seats the primer by means of hammering a rod into a case to force it down onto a primer in order to seat it. About one in a hundred went “bang” instead of seating, scaring the poop out of me and leaving burns on my fingers where they were holding the rod in place. But guess what? It did not kill me, nor did it cause me to stop reloading (which would mean “stop shooting”).
      Dunno about “bomb making materials”, seems like gunpowder would qualify by itself, reloading materials must be exempt or something.

    • Yeah, here’s the thing… I’m already screwed if someone comes in and see the amount of ammo I have, the number of gun safes I have, or all the gimp suits in the BDSM dungeon upstairs. Headline will be “Pervert with arsenal dead in home shootout. ‘Better equipped than our own SWAT’ says local police chief'”.

      Also having some bulk primer compound in my possession is not going to make my life any harder than it is, or my death any less confusing for the people who have to clean our my house.

  3. I saw a video once where a guy was trying to see if you could reloads using match heads as powder.

    He took fired primers, removed the anvil, used a punch to smooth back out the pin strike, placed a small piece of match striker paper in the bottom with some finely ground match head material, and finally replaced the anvil and put back in the casing. He actually made some working ammo that way but it was only some very low power .38. I thought it was still pretty impressive bit of improvisation even though he only got a couple hundred FPS.

  4. A number of months back, I mentioned there is a company that sells kits for re-loading primers for .22lr :

    Google 22 reloader, you’ll find it. (TTAG’s web code for some reason won’t let me post complete links.)

    Someone responded to that comment mentioning the chemicals in that kit are corrosive, and provided a link to what was claimed to be the ‘recipe’ for Eley primer compound.

    I bookmarked it, and had the hard drive crash not long after. If anyone can find that comment in TTAG’s archive, I’d really appreciate it (and so may others desiring non-corrosive primers).

    Anyways, after long thought, I’m no longer interested in re-manufacturing centerfire primers, simply out of concern of possible primer blowout, and the catastrophic consequences.

    Punching and stamping out brass sheet by hand with hardened steel tooling, on the other hand, interests me greatly. It will be slow as hell, but in a situation where you need to do it, speed won’t really matter. You can keep lever-action .38 SPL brass recycled many more times than you can high-pressure rounds like 5.56/.223. And .38 SPL has the bonus of being a black powder round initially, a serious bonus if the multi-based smokeless powders become unavailable in the future.

    Someone, *anyone* who can make the tooling, PLEASE do so!

    • Thinking of two gears, one with pins the other with holes being fed a coil of brass. About as far as I get before exceeding my engineering knowledge. Once upon a time I made percussion caps for black powder guns but that is a whole other animal.

      • Youtube some punch presses, coin stamping, etc.. and you will see why large volume will cost greater time and money than thought.
        A roll press as you describe has inherent issues as one side feeds before the other in a rocking motion causing elongated stamps.

    • Same with .45 Colt. Plus you have the choice of a wide variety of bullets and powders, from black powder and pistol powders to the faster rifle powders for use in lever action rifles.

  5. If a Kyber Pass or Filipino “gunsmith” can fashion a working AK or 1911 out of basically nothing anything is possible. Carry on…

    • Yes, but don’t forget that almost all of those firearms have massive failures due to lack of any heat treatment or alloys being used.
      Transfer that to your home made primer compound and you relocate your house.

  6. The problem is this story is written as if its relatively simple to do all these things.
    Like having someone tell you how to do your job who has never done it.

    Mixing primer compound is one of the most dangerous jobs in making ammunition, just stating that a chemist can make hundreds of pounds of it is like saying all you need is a machinist to make you millions of brass cases.
    You completely skip 90% of the important steps and talk only of the easiest things to do.

    Why don’t we just have a scientist make a cure for cancer, and Army guy can end war.

    “if I had an automated punch press I could make millions of anvils”, yea, no crap, they’re called ATK, that’s a functional business.

    Too much theory and not enough real world.

    As stated above, there are many many articles written on making your own primers or rebuilding shot ones, its extremely time consuming and has high failure rates. But is possible.

    A better article to write would be the idea of a machine shop designing an at home tooling kit to make cups and anvils and possibly powder companies selling priming compound.

    Also agree above, buying and owning large amounts of explosive compound sounds like a gateway to ATF visits.

    I like the thought process but missing far too many critical steps.

  7. This is why everyone should be prepared to utilize the only ammunition which will *never* be in short supply. That would be 5.56 and 9 mm. You may like other calibers better, but that will end when there is no ammo for them anywhere.

  8. I would think along the lines of eliminating the primer. Something like a gas powered Paslode framing nailgun system could be adapted to the bolt of a firearm and fire a burst through the primer hole in the cartridge case…. Okay, feel free to tear the idea to shreds in 3, 2, 1…..

    • Black powder touch hole leading to the open hole where the primer once was. Now to just keep the powder in the case until ready……….

  9. There are a slew of federal laws governing the manufacture of explosives. Even precursor chemicals are controlled or their sales closely monitored. So be careful. The KGB tracks all pyro and explosive precursor chemical sales. And some pyro chems are used in illegal drug making. So the eyes of the DEA are also on you. But there are ways to get what one needs from drain cleaner, chlorox and stump killer to name a few. Unless the KGB bans everything there are ways to make or extract what one needs. The internet still is packed with books and instructions on this subject. But when combined into a final product, it still will fall under explosives laws.

    Get a copy of the ATF ORANGE BOOK. Its all in there.

    https://www.atf.gov/explosives/docs/report/publication-federal-explosives-laws-and-regulations-atf-p-54007

    As kids in the ‘60’s we got chemistry sets for Christmas and the first thing we did was make black powder. The local pharmacy stocked saltpeter and sulfur and charcoal came from the BBQ when the tiny chem set bottles ran dry.
    I advanced to building rockets, and things that go boom. Back then You could buy mail order kits to make M-80’ with chemicals and casings in kit form. I used to mail in my cash and 3 weeks later I was making M-80’s.
    Then I got into making fireworks, and all chemicals could be had by mail order. Aluminum powder and Perchlorate mixtures made bigger booms. A full array of chemicals were available and uncontrolled. Cannon fuse was pennies a foot. I could buy M-18 smoke grenades over the counter, and used hand grenade fuzes from my local surplus store.

    Then 9-11 came and Congress decided to tightly control all chemicals that have a use in making explosives and pyrotechnics. Chemistry sets had long dissappeared from store shelves, due to my guess is product safety law s did them in. But It also ended many future chemists as kids no longer had the tools of experimentation. Did I mention Nitrogen Triiodide- every 16 yr olds dream chemical of scaring mom.

    I have no doubt as the Communists enact their draconian gun laws on home made guns and parts kits, 30 rnd magazines and semi-auto guns, they will do the same with ammunition and ammunition components, and presses and tooling.

    The internet is a treasure trove of books, manuals, formulas, videos, on making arm, pyro, explosives. What was used in 1910 to make ammunition and shells, fillers and compounds can be used today.

    I suggest one download everything on this subject that the internet holds to a hard drive and make backups. The same for military manuals, medicine, etc. One day it will all be banned and scrubbed and Chinese type controls put on every American. Our survival under a communist regime will depend on our knowledge and abilities

    Amazon, Wall Mart, Home Depot and an auto junkyard can provide much of what one needs in this arena. For pyro chemicals here is one source

    https://www.firefox-fx.com/

    Be careful. We live in perilous times. Many a lad lost eyes and hands to homemade pyro.

  10. In terms of reloading I have done everything but make my own powder and primers. And I’m not about to start making primers now.

  11. I’ve took spent primers and hammered out the dent and used snapcap rolls and mixed that powder with acetone or extremely pure alcohol and pasted the primer, then put the anvil in. I used these with a cast 38spc load that used matcheads for powder, it worked out ok it, failed to fire first strike was about 70% but lord knows if I really need it its neat to know I’d have something

  12. True primer compound is somewhat dangerous in that you’ll have however much pressure sensitive explosive lying around.

    Out side of that, if you have nothing else to do it’ll keep you busy.

    Just be safe/smart about storage!

  13. I tried that link and it said my browser is not supported. Do this do that. Like I said earlier post, the feds are watching these sights.

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