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Thread: .44 Special ballon head vs solid head - foto

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    .44 Special ballon head vs solid head - foto

    This week I've been handloading .44 Special cases from a 2 pound coffee can full of tumbled brass that's been sitting on a shelf for about 20 years. I knew there was some ballon head cases in there from finding them in the distant past so I checked every single one of the 450 rds I loaded this week.

    Found several mfg of cases that were ballon head, 13 pieces out of that 2 pound coffee can.




  2. #2
    Boolit Master
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    I'm curious as to when the companies quit making balloon head cases, and why? Were the handloaders blowing up too many revolvers, or would it have been cheaper and faster to make the solid head design?

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    Boolit Master Bazoo's Avatar
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    Dang that's neat, thanks for sharing that. I'd like to find a couple for my collection, as well as learning why they stopped making them that way.

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    Balloon head cases aren't as strong as solid head cases. You can see that from the cross sectioned cases, since there's less brass in the base. They pretty much quit making balloon head cases when just about everything was switched over to smokeless powder. The pressure is different with smokeless vs black powder, too.

    Some of the old black powder loads aren't possible with solid head cases, as there's less volume in the solid head case, and you can't get as much black powder stuffed in there.

    Hope this helps.

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  5. #5
    Boolit Buddy
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    Somebody help me out here, please. I was under the impression that the .44 Special was a smokeless powder cartridge from its inception.

    Howard

  6. #6
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    Well, the story as I heard it, was that while the 44 Spl. was a smokeless cartridge from 1908 on, the technology and equipment for making the brass was the same as its black powder predecessor, the 44 Russian. Stamping and drawing equipment costs money and the cartridge companies were delighted to get double duty from their existing machinery. Eventually, that older stuff wore out and with the experience of building billions of rounds of ammunition for use in the World Wars, they swapped over to the "modern", stronger solid head stuff.
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  7. #7
    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    There are photos of .44 special factory black powder loads online. Not sure when they were produced but they were made.
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    Got out my copy of "Letters From Elmer Keith" and on page 40 he is responding to a Mr. Council about using 18.5 grains of 2400 in the Special case and this was July 1956. Nothing more until years later and then he mentions the solid head case. By that time Elmer was heavy into the .44 Magnum.

  9. #9
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    Cool, thanx for posting......
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    The case pictured does not appear to be a true balloon head case. Balloon head cases were even weaker, having been drawn like a rimfire case (often Bennett primed with two retaining dents around the bottom) with the hollow rim squashed flat and with the attendant weakness of a hollow rim. Okay for BP pressures but not more. The pictured case is known as a semi-balloon head button pocket case. The rim is actually solid and the brass does get a bit thicker toward the head, but notice how close to the end of the chamber the pressure-bearing thin cross-section is. It's a step up from balloon head, but lacks the short cylinder of solid brass .180" or so thick plugging the end of the chamber that modern brass exhibits. IIRC, Elmer's load for these is the 18.5gr of 2400 under his 250gr Lyman 429421, reduced to 17.5gr for solid head cases to compensate for the solid heads reduced vo0lume. He lamented that the excellent .44 Spl was never brought up to its modern potential and is still loaded to 700-something fps by the major manufacturers. In his book, "Sixguns", he went to the .44 from the .45 because he could use the same bullet weights as in the .45 and chamber walls were thick enough to hold the increased pressures to get the velocities he was after.

    I discovered a handful of these cases in .45 Colt and set them aside for BP use. I can get the whole 40gr of 3f BP in them with about 1/16" of compression under a Lee 255 RNFP. Shooting those out of a 5.5" Vaquero shows why they were the magnum of the day.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeahbub View Post
    The case pictured does not appear to be a true balloon head case. Balloon head cases were even weaker, having been drawn like a rimfire case (often Bennett primed with two retaining dents around the bottom) with the hollow rim squashed flat and with the attendant weakness of a hollow rim. <snipped for brevity>
    While this is true, it wasn't my intent to delve into the history of the development of the cartridge case. You could say the image I shared represents a 2nd generation balloon head, a furtherance of earlier designs. I believe the Hiram Berdan patent of 1868 is a pretty good illustration of what you're describing.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    Indeed it is! My interest in old ammo designs began when I found a .43 cal bottleneck case similar to the one in your photo with no visible primer. Oldtimers in the area had several different takes on what it was, but I didn't want to mess it up pulling it apart. When I was older and got into reloading, I used an inertial puller on it. It turned out to be a rimfire loaded with black powder. I had wondered whether it was Bennett primed, but no retainer dents around the sides. I admit to having some fascination with all the variations in the development of ammo, particularly the more arcane and short-lived idea which showed so much ingenuity.

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    Modern revolvers will not sufficiently support a balloon head case or semi balloon for that matter.
    The reason for this is because modern revolvers cylinders are not counter bored.
    Look at your 22 revolvers cylinder and notice how it supports The case head.
    It is easy to see why you do not want to shoot balloon heads in a modern revolver.
    If the case head ever lets go you do not want that coming back in your face.
    I'm sure someone will flame me on this, that's ok.
    I don't claim to be an expert, so if I'm wrong please educate me.
    I just don't want anyone to get hurt. Like minded people are too hard to come by these days.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gewehr-Guy View Post
    I'm curious as to when the companies quit making balloon head cases, and why? Were the handloaders blowing up too many revolvers, or would it have been cheaper and faster to make the solid head design?
    A good question but not a simple answer.

    The answer lies in the metallurgy of cartridge case material, the manufacturing process itself of deep drawing, and the firearm itself in it's ability to contain explosive pressures.

    Firearm design out-paced ammunition invention. It took into the 1870s for cartridge case design and manufacture to catch up to firearm designs. Even then it was well into the 1890s before ammunition manufacture sort of peaked out, so to speak. And it mostly had to do with the metallurgy of the cartridge case material and deep drawing technology. There really wasn't one single aspect of all this but more a whole ball of wax sort of situation. The rate of invention was frenzied at the U.S. Patent office. I have collection of firearm and ammunition patents that is around 3,000 files showing the chronology of development of firearms and ammunition. Its very interesting to see how it all plays out.

    Dutch

  15. #15
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    Another thing to consider is that a LOT of people reloaded with black powder well into the smokeless powder era. These were people who already had the necessary equipment and experience with BP. It was what they were used to, and they saw no immediate need to change. Unless I'm badly mistaken, I believe that the ammo companies provided BP data for use with nominally smokeless powder cartridges for many years.
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    Boolit Master Thumbcocker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nicholst55 View Post
    Another thing to consider is that a LOT of people reloaded with black powder well into the smokeless powder era. These were people who already had the necessary equipment and experience with BP. It was what they were used to, and they saw no immediate need to change. Unless I'm badly mistaken, I believe that the ammo companies provided BP data for use with nominally smokeless powder cartridges for many years.
    Plus smokeless powder wasn't immediately available to the public for handloading. The propellant and data were trade secrets in the early days.
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    I may be dis-remembering but; I think I read that all calibers from the early smokeless era with "special" in their names were Factory loaded with smokeless but were generally meant to be reloaded with black powder by the general public. If I am projecting false info, I am sorry and welcome more accurate info from more knowledgeable members.....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hrfunk View Post
    Somebody help me out here, please. I was under the impression that the .44 Special was a smokeless powder cartridge from its inception.

    Howard
    Yes, it was.

    .44 Special was merely a slightly longer Case than .44 Russian, and, a 'Smokeless' Cartridge, which duplicated exactly the Ballistics of .44 Russian in Black Powder.

    I have never understood why they did this, when it was a perfect opportunity to have upped the game from .44 Russian at least a little bit, like say even 10 or 15 percent more oomph, but it was simply the same Bullet weight and shape, and same FPS as .44 Russian.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dutchman View Post
    While this is true, it wasn't my intent to delve into the history of the development of the cartridge case. You could say the image I shared represents a 2nd generation balloon head, a furtherance of earlier designs. I believe the Hiram Berdan patent of 1868 is a pretty good illustration of what you're describing.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	us000082587-001 Berdan Metallic Cartridge 1868b.jpg 
Views:	9 
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    This is a Folded Head Case.

    Not a Balloon Head Case.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dutchman View Post
    This week I've been handloading .44 Special cases from a 2 pound coffee can full of tumbled brass that's been sitting on a shelf for about 20 years. I knew there was some ballon head cases in there from finding them in the distant past so I checked every single one of the 450 rds I loaded this week.

    Found several mfg of cases that were ballon head, 13 pieces out of that 2 pound coffee can.



    So far as I understand -

    What we now tend to call "Balloon Head" Cases, such as the example on the right, were actually called "Solid Head" Cases in their day.

    This was to distinguish them from the early Center Fire 'folded head' Cases.

    When we see late 1800s and early 1900s Ammo Boxes saying "Solid Head", this is what they meant.

    Bear in mind, what we now call "Balloon Head" Cases, ( aka: the original 'Solid Head' ) are what all the U. S. high pressure Semi Automatic Pistol Cartridges used from 1898 on to about WWII, as well as the .38 - 44 'Heavy Duty' and early .357 Magnum Ammunition.

    What we now call "Solid Head" like the example on the left, is the eventuating development of the original 'Solid Head' with the Head itself having become thicker, and lower side walls of the Case being thicker also, and thus more taper inside than the old Cases...and, how-ever much reduction in Case volume.

    With this in mind, we do well to appreciate, that the old Loading Tables presumed the user to be loading what we now call "Balloon Head" Cases, and with this, if we are instead using now-a-days Brass, we will have significantly less Case volume, and thus a differing loading density than the Authors intended...and we will be in "Over Pressure" if we follow the old Smokeless Loads with our volumetrically smaller Brass of today.

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BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
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