Smoke Signals

Sept/Oct 2011


 The Making of Paper Patch Black Powder Cartridges


Since acquiring my 1819 Hall Breech Loading Flintlock rifle I have been making an attempt at gathering correct accoutrements that would have been used in the daily routine of using and caring for this firearm. You know the story, correct shootin’ bag, day haversack, powder flask, and all the other little items required to have a “kit”. I have been amazingly lucky at finding some original items still available as well as reproduction wares which has been very satisfying in this endeavor. The one component that I haven’t found was paper patch cartridges of this size (caliber) used on the early guns made by Simeon North for the Hall patent guns. My gun is a .52 caliber using a .510 diameter round ball, different than the later guns shooting the .54 caliber conical bullet paper patch cartridge. So it was now the time to learn about making these animals and figuring out just how hard or easy it would be to produce a quantity of such ammo.

Paper Patch Black Powder Cartridges

Before the invention of cartridges, bullets with powder was held in paper casing. Early hunters and soldiers like us loaded their firearms with black powder, patching and a lead bullet separately. Black powder was poured into the barrel before placing a ball and patch over the powder.

The military preferred pre-made paper patched black powder cartridges. These cartridges had the powder and bullet already inside a paper container with the paper acting as the patch. All that was needed was tamp the assembled cartridge into the gun use your nipple pick to clear a passage from the pan to the powder in the paper casing, prime the pan - your ready. This cut down loading time giving the user more shots fired in a shorter period.

You too can easily make your own cartridges for reenactment duties. Just be aware of how much powder your firearm safely uses before you begin cranking out cartridges.


  • Cartridge papers.
  • Dowel rod.
  • Black powder.
  • Non-plastic container if loading more than one cartridge at a time.
  • Small tin funnel.
  • Lead balls of the proper size.

* "Non-plastic" - never use any kind of plastic items around black powder has been a “general rule of thumb” for years as plastic can make static electricity that can cause a spark making an unwanted discharge.

Wrap a cartridge paper around your dowel rod. Moisten the edge of the paper and press it down to secure. The paper should be snug on the rod, but loose enough that you can easily slide it up and down. Choose a dowel rod that fits snugly into your barrel, usually a 1/2 inch dowel for a .50 cal and larger or smaller depending on the caliber of what you are shooting.

Slide the paper tube off of your dowel and slip a ball into the end. Push the ball into the tube just far enough that you can twist the paper tightly below it. Set the tube aside.

Measure out the amount of powder required for your charge and pour it into a small non-plastic container. If making more than one cartridge, measure out all your black powder at the same time to save time.

Place a small tin funnel into the open end of your tube. Pour the black powder into the funnel and let it slide into the tube. Twist the other end of the paper closed. When loading the cartridge into your firearm be sure that the powder-end is loaded first, ball goes in last.


Making Paper Cartridges

Most of the cartridges used in the Civil War were made of rolled paper. The paper was presoaked in potassium nitrate to make it completely combustible for those times when the paper was rammed down in a hurry with the powder usually in the heat of battle. 

Today for our recreational shooting caution should be used when loading to be sure there is no remaining sparks down the barrel of your rifle or shotgun or in the chamber of a revolver which could set off the charge of power with dangerous results. 

The paper is rolled on a dowel rod as mentioned and the edge glued in some cases. In the Civil War era a waxed wooden dowel was used. Today suppliers sell aluminum dowels slightly larger than the desired bullet diameter to fit your needs.

Add the bullet in one end and tie or glue the end. Measure the powder and pour it in the other end. Bend the extra paper over and glue or tie it down.

round ball patched

conical bullet patched

The end result looks a little rough by comparison to our modern products.

As you are aware flintlock guns are fired by the flint striking an iron “frizzen” showing sparks onto a small amount of powder on the outside of the barrel into a “pan” which has a “touch hole” to carry the fire into the barrel. The later percussion guns have a hammer snapping down on a “percussion cap” where an explosive mixture sends burning sparks down a hole into the barrel to ignite the powder charge.

From late in the 19th century until a few decades ago, there wasn't a convenient source for combustible paper until different groups became aware of and popularized shooting of Civil War guns and Dixie Gun Works became a well recognized supplier. Before then the only available source was to use the paper sold for rolling cigarettes, which already had glue along one edge. Since then it's much easier and more satisfactory to make your own combustible cartridges with previously nitrated paper already cut into handy sizes.


Here is what you need.

  • FFFg Goex in the flask
  • A 30 or 40 grain spout depending on caliber shooting
  • Rolling papers (several sources have pre-cut paper available, some of period newspaper print).

Here's another way to make your cartridges. Roll paper around ball and moisten where it touches ball.

Moisten entire front end of paper and twist shut gently.

Pour in the powder.

Hold the end of the paper away from the ball and shake gently to settle the powder. Moisten the entire length of the paper past the powder and begin to twist the paper closed. The powder will form the paper into a cone shape. Continue to twist and shake until the powder no longer moves. This must be done gently.

This is what it should look like when you are done.

Cut the tails off, and you have a paper cartridge.

This works best if you let the paper dry after each time you moisten it. If you are rolling 20 or 30 at a time, the first one is dry by the time you do the last one. Pouring the powder in, moistening the side, and twisting it closed are all done at the same time, in that order.

Disclaimer--The guns that use paper cartridges and some of the components are illegal for some people to own in some locations. Check your national, state, province, local laws, rules, and regulations.





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