There’s something cool, charming and dare I say manly (the best succinct description I can come up with) about shooting a revolver, especially a vintage revolver.
Drum roll please! Enter the horror show that is handloading for the M1895 Nagant Revolver.
Commercial ammunition for M1895, at least in Australia, is about as common as rocking horse shit. Besides being extremely rare and prohibitively expensive (for what it is), factory ammo I shot felt underpowered and underwhelming. Well, what’s there to do…
And here is where we learn our first lesson… The difference between quality and cheap. Or, as I like to call it, Lee. Where tolerances are measured with a rubber band and QA is optional. Don’t even get me started on their Carcano dies, but whatever. I still love them, like a child that I never wanted. They make dies for the most obscure and obsolete cartridges. It’s a love hate relationship. As long as it’s something common, it’s fine. But the moment we get into obscure dies… Well, either the machinist needs to stop smoking weed or start, in any case the dosage is incorrect! From a three die set (Nagant M1895) there is, as a matter of fact, only one die – the FL sizing die that is a true Nagant M1895 die. The rest are for 32-whatever cartridge that I don’t care about. Because, that’s exactly how things work, right?
Full disclosure, I’ve done enough research to expect that, but still, WTF, is that even legal? Anyway, beggars, can’t be choosers, so we move on… Emotionally.
First thing first thing first – components.
Brass: I actually purchased a bag of brass well before I even started looking for the revolver (just knew it was on the cards, so snapped one up when I saw it for sale online), so that’s a big tick!
Projectiles: little more involved – DIY. I cast .311″ bullets (roughly 102gr), powder coated, because I am hipster like that; and sized to .311″ (as per the Nagant’s 7.91mm bullet diameter).
Primers: small pistol primers. However, after testing, I think and will verify soon – small magnum pistol primers and/or faster burning powder would have been a better choice. To be continued…
Next, the charge! Unfortunately Leon was unavailable and nobody else knows. So, after a little bit (actually quite a lot) of research and cross referencing suggestions, I zoomed in on two variants.
One was to use Trail Boss. The recommendation suggested a weight which I immediately knew was too big for the cartridge by volume (yes, I use TB enough to ‘eyeball’ too much). After following more links to other forums, the same author did mentioned that it was a compressed Trail Boss charge. This is not recommended for TB. That’s not to say that he was wrong, results seemed to be good and consistent and he documented everything. But I wanted to start with something, shall we say, ‘more bang and less boom’, while working with an unfamiliar cartridge. I decided to give it a wide berth, until I test my current loads and have a little more time to do my own Trail Boss calculations for Nagant cartridge. Especially when seating depth has a direct impact on TB charge and I didn’t know how deep I was going to seat, until I started seating bullets and running into a few challenges).
The second variant pointed to Unique. Its equivalent is AP70N (which I have) and somewhat similar to AP50N, very common powders for 9mm. Being familiar with 9mm, this charge seemed to be proportional to bullet weight and low pressure cartridge. I backed off a few tenth of a grain (yeah, dealing with really small charges here) and worked my way back up to the recommended charge; and a little over in one tenth of grain increments. At this stage, I wasn’t concerned with accuracy, I wanted to find pressure signs, if any.
TL;DR still a little underpowered, by about 200 ft/s. I think testing with AP50N and magnum primers will get me there.
So , I have the components, I have the charge range, good to go…
First thing first FL size, yep, so far so good. The shell holder has a bit of slop and I was concerned about case slipping out and needing to extract it, but as always, with enough lubrication anything is possible.
The first stuff-up!
I primed a few cases with small pistol primers for magnum loads. Something nagged at me, so I double checked the primer box and yep, grabbed the wrong box.
Remember kids, check, check and check again.
I am certain now that it wouldn’t have made material effect on safety (hindsight), but better safe than sorry. I wanted to stick to the plan. I was less than a quarter of the way in, so I decided to de-prime and use the correct primer.
I was chilling and priming one by one on my press, slow and steady, but by the time I de-primed my mistakes, I ran out of chill factor and cracked out Lee Auto Bench Primer to power through priming these little buggers.
In case you are wondering, shell holder (for priming tool) #19 is compatible.
Time to flare the mouth… Remember that Lee eating glue issue? Well, yeah, of course the expander die is for 32, not 7.62x38mmR. Way too big, not even with enough lubrication! I could have filed and cut and fart and whatever, but I do have a universal expander die, so I just went with that.
Thing about this cartridge, is that the bullet seats below the case mouth.
This required a lot more flare than my usual approach to ‘normal’ cartridges. There was a little trial and error there, but again, got there in the end.
FMD! I want an auto trickler! Really! It will happen! This mad science bullshit cannot continue with manually trickling 40 charges at 0.1gr increments. Anyhow, moving on!
Back to Lee and… Yeah…
The bullet is seated below the case mouth, but the stem doesn’t go below that line! That’s okay, I thought to myself, I am just going to clamp the stem in my redneck lathe (AKA drill press) and take to it with a file.
And of course, now the stem can slide through the hole, but too short to be engaged. That’s okay, cut a bolt and used it as a spacer.
This is where I messed-up and overlooked the fact that the damn stem looks more like a hole bunch, than anything else. And the amount of pressure required to shove that bullet below the mouth ended up swaging the little turd. Filing material around the radius of the stem only made the problem worse.
Back to drawing board! Behind door number two, we have a 308 bullet sizing die and in my research, I recalled someone suggesting using the ramp from that as a bullet seating stem. Very well… Let’s do that.
Nope! Nope! Nope! The crayon is strong with Lee. The hole for the stem on my die was obviously smaller than the dude who was suggesting this solution (because, you know, who cares about consistency in die manufacturing process anyway, YOLO). So, it’s almost 2am now and I am looking at my drill press, thinking, I will seat this bullet, I don’t care what it takes!
Collected my thoughts and luck would have it, I had just the right file.
Opened the hole just enough and dropped the ramp in. Well, well, well, we now have a bullet seating die for Nagant.
So I seat the bullets… And of course, I am reminded about the ‘QA-is-optional’. The shell holder for the cartridge has way too much slop and concentricity is an issue.
Carefully, one by one, I guide them into the die and try to step it up, to avoid this banana business.
As luck would have it, 223 FL die without a pin is just what is needed to apply the most perfect crimp to Nagant case. That’s right, it takes a capitalist cartridge to make a communist cartridge (oh, the irony).
Yay, we are done!
No! Of course we are not done! Did a plunk test and… Why would it be so easy, no. no, no, why would I even expect that, after this amount of pain.
The bulge from the bullet is not playing nice with the cylinder. Sooooo, what to do, what to do? Alright, so, all you need at this stage is 5 washers, electrical tape, a concertina, a lama, a small acrobat and an M1895 FL sizing die! A little abstract, but that’s how the entire process feels at this stage. Back to Full Length die, I am thinking, maybe I could smooth it out somehow. Removed the pin and started stepping one of the cartridges in there (actually very common process with 9mm cartridges, so not as crazy as it sounds), doing a plunk test between cycles.
Yep! Found the sweet spot, which equates to 5 washers. Hacked up a spacer and did the rest!
I wasn’t kidding about washers and electrical tape. The rest, I am not allowed to discuss in public.
But of course, the madness continues. At 15m the gun is shooting 20cm to the left. Next time, I will need to bring high precision Russian sight adjustment tool (AKA a hammer). Well, to shoot I came, so shooting I will (and holdover I must, to avoid shooting the chronograph).
Got some unburned powder at my max charge, which was actually a really small charge, with no signs of pressure and cases freely falling out of the cylinder. Which made me think that AP50N would be a better option here or Trail Boss for that matter (need to check TB burn rate vs AP70N).
Average velocity at 654.83 ft/s, with goal being:
- 900 ft/s according to some forums; or
- 891 ft/s according to Wikipedia.
So, just a little bit more work and I think I am going to get there.
I also recovered a bullet (I love finding bullets I shot):
…to be continued.
Random thought: this is why I think a single-stage press is the best way to start reloading. Unlike a progressive type press, which abstracts a lot of fundamentals that I think are very important.