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Thread: Are balloon head casings safe?

  1. #1
    Boolit Master Stopsign32v's Avatar
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    Are balloon head casings safe?

    Well I ran into enough balloon head cases to make reloading them worth while. I was going to do it for nostalgia and not to get the max amount of powder in the cases. I will probably load them at around a comfortable plinking level with BP only and was wondering if this would be safe for me and the handgun to shoot these?

  2. #2
    Boolit Grand Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quite often when full length resizing balloon - head cases in .44-40 and .45 Colt that the heads separate and pull off, leaving the case body in the sizing die, which is a nuisance to remove. Segregate them to one gun only and neck size in the Ideal tong tool and you are OK.
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  3. #3
    Boolit Master

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    They're probably OK if you keep the pressure way down.
    However; I wouldn't load them except as maybe dummy rounds.
    They were weak even in their BP days.
    And this far down the road, I'd wonder about corrosive primers having chewed on them a little,
    maybe the brass wanting to split or separate, etc.

    The rims are a soft spot, and why the old guns were chambered for the rim to go on down into the rear of the cylinder/chamber.
    Even now with .22 rimfires, they are sort of a balloon head design,
    and the outside edge of the rim is supported or countersunk into the chamber for the same reason.
    Last edited by Winger Ed.; 10-06-2021 at 11:00 PM.
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  4. #4
    Boolit Master

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    I handloaded a bunch of 44 specials with some vintage #80 powder that work fine. Now I didn’t use Elmer’s full power load of 12 grains!
    Last edited by smithnframe; 10-07-2021 at 06:48 AM.
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  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    Good grief smith....where on earth did you come up with #80? I've never seen a container of it. How did it shoot?
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  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    I have been using them for 40+ yrs, and have had no complete head separations, but have had cracks appear, then I discard them. I load them mostly with BP, loads. jmho.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    I have a dwindling number of very early cases in .44-40 that I load with black powder. They’re safe to shoot but don’t last long; typically, the case mouths start cracking after a few reloads. I’ve also seen the occasional primer pocket swell so that the new primer falls out after insertion.

    Have a couple hundred in .44 Spl that I load to the original ballistics with smokeless. These hold up much better; case attrition is like modern shells. The case walls (and balloon pockets) are thicker than the .44-40s.

    All these shells are actually semi-balloon head cases. They have solid rims, rather than folded-over ones, like rimfire shells only without the priming.

    IME, the ones that break ahead of rims, either when fired or when resized, are those that were originally loaded with smokeless and mercuric primers. Got a bunch of .32-40 High-Velocity fired brass once that I could snap like string beans with my hands.

    I still have half a can of #80. The smell after firing is like no other powder.

  8. #8
    Boolit Grand Master

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    Most of them were shot with mercuric primers and if not water cleaned they rot out at the case head, this si why so many of them come apart when reloaded. I put all I find in the scrap brass pile as I had a case fail in a 73 winchester one time and got a whole face full of blow back.

  9. #9
    Boolit Grand Master Char-Gar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    Quite often when full length resizing balloon - head cases in .44-40 and .45 Colt that the heads separate and pull off, leaving the case body in the sizing die, which is a nuisance to remove. Segregate them to one gun only and neck size in the Ideal tong tool and you are OK.
    Yes to all of the above. I use a Lyman Shell Resizer to full length resize and then an Ideal tong tool for the rest of the jobs. The last Mercuric primers were used well over 100 years ago, so it is not likely any of those cases are still being reloaded. Balloon head cases were made for many years after Mercuric primers went by-by. Balloon head cases were used by Elmer Keith to develop his top end 44 Special loads. When solid head cases came out, he reduced the powder charge a smidge to compensate for the lesser case capacity and still maintain the same velocity. I load 45 Colt BH cases with standard charges of BE powder.
    Disclaimer: The above is not holy writ. It is just my opinion based on my experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Char-Gar View Post
    Yes to all of the above. I use a Lyman Shell Resizer to full length resize and then an Ideal tong tool for the rest of the jobs. The last Mercuric primers were used well over 100 years ago, so it is not likely any of those cases are still being reloaded. Balloon head cases were made for many years after Mercuric primers went by-by. Balloon head cases were used by Elmer Keith to develop his top end 44 Special loads. When solid head cases came out, he reduced the powder charge a smidge to compensate for the lesser case capacity and still maintain the same velocity. I load 45 Colt BH cases with standard charges of BE powder.
    Char-Gar is spot on. Thicker cases are not capable of handling stronger loads. I’m still using over 1k Denver ‘42 cases that were pulled down and never fired. So long as the mercuric primers weren’t used they will last just as long as newer brass. As is most things with this hobby or passion, it would seem that many of the rules were created in an attempt to stop Darwin from affecting the 5% that is too ignorant to think about what they are doing.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    I to have had the primer pockets push out when seating primer's.

  12. #12
    Boolit Grand Master Char-Gar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zarrinvz24 View Post
    Char-Gar is spot on. Thicker cases are not capable of handling stronger loads. I’m still using over 1k Denver ‘42 cases that were pulled down and never fired. So long as the mercuric primers weren’t used they will last just as long as newer brass. As is most things with this hobby or passion, it would seem that many of the rules were created in an attempt to stop Darwin from affecting the 5% that is too ignorant to think about what they are doing.
    There was no Mercury in those Den 42 primers. Those primers were contained Potassium Chlorate which deposited corrosive salts in the barrel, which needed to be cleaned out with water or a water based bore cleaner.
    Disclaimer: The above is not holy writ. It is just my opinion based on my experience and knowledge. Your mileage may vary.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master Savvy Jack's Avatar
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    I shot mine with black powder until I found this, then I stopped. Doesn't mean they are not safe, just means mine got weak!

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  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savvy Jack View Post
    I shot mine with black powder until I found this, then I stopped. Doesn't mean they are not safe, just means mine got weak!

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    hmmm I never saw a proper balloon head case (other than 22RF of course) - semi balloon head yes = Dominion brand from CIL in Canada, we bought all we could find in the 1960's - proly made middle 50's - we thought it was THE best ammo at the time - still got some of those old cases but I quit reloading them a couple years ago - no reason cept didnt have enough left to make a packet of ammo and thought they done their share of work.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master Savvy Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indian joe View Post
    hmmm I never saw a proper balloon head case (other than 22RF of course) - semi balloon head yes = Dominion brand from CIL in Canada, we bought all we could find in the 1960's - proly made middle 50's - we thought it was THE best ammo at the time - still got some of those old cases but I quit reloading them a couple years ago - no reason cept didnt have enough left to make a packet of ammo and thought they done their share of work.
    Well someone would be a fool to try and shoot old "Folded-Head Balloon-head" cases. They were bad enough when newly manufactured, much less trying to shoot them at over 133 years old.

    I have discovered that there are variations of the semi-balloon head cases with Winchester and Western cases as far as balloon pocket size. My pre-1884 44-40 unheadstamped cases have a large semi-balloon "pocket" while some WRA cases have a little smaller pocket area. The smallest pockets I have seen are the Western cases (which is shown with the split). Actually some later 44-40 cases of this manufacture have a small "hump".

    Aside from the very first Milbank primed 44-40 cases (reported never released), the folded-head, balloon-head 45 Colt cases are another story.

    Just to be clear, I am talking about the size of the balloon head pocket inside the case....don't misunderstand and think I am referring to the primer pocket. Winchester's very first packaging calls out "Solid Head" referring to the new semi-balloon head cases.

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    Last edited by Savvy Jack; 10-10-2021 at 07:30 PM.

  16. #16
    Boolit Grand Master

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    If the cases are balloon head ... chances are they are old .
    Back in the day mercuric and corrosive primers were common ... if old cases have been fired with mercuric primers ... the brass gets contaminated , over time , it will weaken and split at the neck, I've seen old loaded ammo with split necks ... or if loaded , even with black powder they do a partial or full head seperation .
    If you have a couple cases to sacrifice ...you might try a few test loads and see how the brass holds up ... if a loading or two shows no splits or seperations ...then go ahead and do some light loads .
    Keep a few for your case collection ...they're getting hard to find nowdays !
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  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    when you buy MAG-TEC brass hulls, 12 gauge or other gauges, they are all balloon head. but reloaders use them to reform into other rifle calibers. seams to be no problem in doing so?

  18. #18
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by sharps4590 View Post
    Good grief smith....where on earth did you come up with #80? I've never seen a container of it. How did it shoot?
    It shoots fine. I have a couple pounds of unopened cans I got from my dad.
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  19. #19
    Boolit Master Oyeboten's Avatar
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    I am looking for "Balloon Head" Cases for Revolver Cartridges - if anyone has some they do not need, I'd be happy to buy them...just message me...thanks!

    Like "No. 3" in the illustration -

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  20. #20
    Boolit Master Oyeboten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savvy Jack View Post
    I shot mine with black powder until I found this, then I stopped. Doesn't mean they are not safe, just means mine got weak!

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    I suspect that was from pressing the Primer in too far.

    That failure had nothing to do with pressures generated when Firing, even if it can be a liability when Priming these kind of Cases!

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check