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?