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Thread: Making the .50 Alaskan

  1. #1

    Making the .50 Alaskan

    I'm not familiar with the laws in the British Isles regarding "wildcatting", so there may be little interest in this thread even in the general context of making custom cartridges.

    I thought I might cover a general topic - "So you wanna wildcat do ya?" - with a specific example - the .50 Alaskan. Below you will find the steps I use to make my .50 Alaskan ammo starting with .348 Winchester cases and cast bullets. The processes, in general, are applicable to any cartridge, be it wildcat or obsolete, that one would like to make starting with another case.

    The first photo is of the .348 Win case marked to length, trimmed to length, and the resulting .50 case.

    The second photo shows trimming the .348 case to length. I removed the shaft from a manual case trimmer and chucked it in a 1/2" power auger. There's lotsa metal to remove to get the case to proper length.

    The next step is to remove the burrs - both inside and out - caused by trimming the case.

    Since this case is going to get blown out essentially straight, the shoulder and neck get annealed first to soften them up as much as possible. I hold the case between my index finger and thumb while I am annealing. When the case gets too hot to hold onto, I drop it. I used to drop it in water, but it seems to me that that might just harden it a bit. I've been told by an internet metalurgist that brass does not "temper quench" like iron/steel does. Still... I'm certain it doesn't harden with air cooling.

    Here's what the annealed case looks like.

    After I have annealed all of the cases I intend to fireform, I charge them. You can see the components in this image. They are: About 15 grains of Bullseye; enough Cream of Wheat to fill the case about half way up the neck; and some paper towel for wadding. I put a piece of paper towel between the powder and the CoW just so there is no chance for the powder to get mixed with the CoW. Once the CoW is added, I put a wad of paper towel on top and tamp it down just so the CoW doesn't pour out the case mouth.

    Here are the powder-charged cases:

    Here are the CoW-charged cases:

    And here are the cases ready to be fire-formed:

    Here are the cases immediately after fire-forming. So far I've done this with 100 cases. Only one has split, and that one wasn't annealed. I fire-formed 40 cases before I started annealing, and only one split. Still, annealing is too easy to do, and even if it only saves 1% of the cases, it's still worth it to me.

    After fire-forming, the mouths are very uneven and need to be filed square. I tried to use the case trimmer, Brithunter even made a custom pilot for me. However, the cutter is just too small for the fire-formed case mouth. Filing isn't too tedious - at least not to me.

    After squaring the mouth, I remove the burr inside and out and chamfer.

    Next, I like to polish the cases. On one hand it's purely cosmetic. On the other hand, I can see any flaws better on a polished case. I polish the cases by using something wooden lathe turners will be familiar with - a jam chuck. I make the jam chick from an 8mm Mag case. The .50 case gets jammed on the 8mm case and spun. I use an artificial abrassive pad that is fine enough that it just polishes. Here is the polishing process in pictures:

    Now that the case is made, it's time to make the bullets. I'll spare you the casting process, and start out with the cast bullets in hand. These are bullets dropped from Lee's 450'grain mould. With my alloy, they turn out 439 grains.

    Notice that they have no gas-check heel. Try as I might, I have been unable to get un-gas-checked bullets to leave no lead in my bore. Put another way, bullets without gas-checks SERIOUSLY lead the bore of my rifle. I'm sure some casting guru could make an alloy that wouldn't lead, but I am simply not capable of doing so. So, I need to put a gas check heel on these bullets. Another fellow from The Hunter's Life came to my aid. Drinksgin made a little lathe for cutting gas checks in non-gas-checked bullets. (Don is quite a 'fixer'.)

    Here is the lathe in operation:

    Here is the result with gas check along side:

    And here is the finished product.

    Now it's time to lube the bullet. Again a THL member comes to my aid. Jay Edwards gave me some of his special lube to use in addition to the gas check, to try and alleviate the leading problem. Here are the GC'd bullets sitting in the melted lube.

    Here they have cooled, and along side is a removal die I made by fire-forming a 7.62x54R case to the .50 Alaskan chamber. (It didn't blow the head out enough to use as a suitable case for making .50 Alaskan cases.)

    The next two pictures show the die in place and the bullet in the die after removal from the lube.

    These are the lubed bullets.

    And here is a loaded .50 Alaskan cartridge.

    So... if you wanna make your own wildcat, be prepared to spend a little time in 'other' activities. As for me, I enjoy makin' 'em from scratch.

    However, there is an easier way. You could simply buy the .50 Alaskan cases at ~$1.00 apiece, and loading them with Barnes' 450-grain .510 Original bullets.

    Last edited by gitano; 27-09-2010 at 18:54. Reason: Formatting for readability

  2. #2
    Hi Paul,

    A very interesting read. Not sure i would have the time.


  3. #3
    Thanks, ATB, and I understand the "time" issue.

    Here is the story on the rifle that I made to shoot those cartridges:

    I got the 1878 Martini Enfield several years ago. It arrived chambered in .22/.30-30 and dressed out in the most garrish of stocks. Having the .17 Remington, I have little practical use for CF .22s. I have nothing against them, I just don't need one, and my attention was headed in the opposite direction of "small".

    I was looking for something in a "big" caliber, and a fellow suggested a .50-90 "look-alike", the .50-.348 Winchester. There was a lot to be said for the .50-90, and I decided that was what I wanted this rifle chamber in. However, getting a new barrel put on the old 1878 receiver wasn't something I was particularly comfortable having done. There are no gunsmiths in Alaska that I know that I would trust to perform the work. Plus I'd have to find someone to match the bluing on the receiver. So I muddled around for a bit waiting for something to 'break'. Then, another fellow told me about a fellow in Arizona that rebored barrels, and had in fact rebored a barrel for him. For $285 I could get the Martini rebored to .510, and chambered in .50-90, (AKA .50-.348 Win, AKA .50 Alaskan). I sent it off for reboring. When it came back, I was very pleased with the results. I started making bullets and working up loads.

    Hunterbug had invited me down to Colorado to hunt elk with him, and as it turned out, we were drawn for cow elk. The .50 came back from Cut Rifle with little time to work up loads and get it restocked, but I did my best. I didn't have the confidence in the loads that I would have liked to have had, and the stock was the best I could throw together in a couple of days. Still, it went elk hunting. Unfortunately, but not too big a deal, I wasn't able to blood the rifle.

    When I returned home from the elk hunt, I set to work getting the rifle into the shape I wanted it in. Since my primary purpose for the rifle was to shoot a bison, and since it was a rifle originally made in 1878, I decided that it should look the part. In other words, it should have a "traditional" look. I wanted an express rear sight, banded front sight, and a sort of traditional stock. New England Custom Guns (via Midway USA) supplied the sights. A "traditional" stock would be more difficult to come by. Jay, again, tells me that he has a pattern for the butt of a Martini. (Whooda thunk it. ) I have a good candidate (nice straight grain, aged 20+ years), piece of walnut. We decided to get them together.

    Shortly thereafter, I took my family to Idaho for a little vacation, and on our way there, we visited Jay and his wife. Besides having a grand time, Jay and I cut butt and forearm blanks from my board, and drilled the through-hole in the butt for the bolt. None of which would have been possible without the assistance of Jay. Once back home, I started shaping the blanks into their final form.

    What you see below is the almost finished product. The front ramp has to be blued and installed in its final position, one more mounting hole needs to be drilled and tapped for the rear ramp, and the rear sight needs to be regulated. (It has 3 folding and one standing blade, and I intend to regulate them at 50, 100, 200, and 300 yds.)

    This is the first rifle stock I have made from "beginning to end". I have finished many stocks that I got from stock-makers with partial inletting and a "starter channel" for the barrel. I've also re-shaped and refinished several stocks for friends and aquaintances. In this case though, I started with a chunk of wood.

    I'm partial to "animal parts", and I wanted to incorporate animal parts in the finished product if I could maintain a "respectable" and "traditional" look. I decided to put a Dall sheep horn cap on the forarm. Also, I wanted to put a skeletonized steel buttplate on, but the through-hole for the bolt excluded all of the few of them commercially offered. So... I am making my own. In the interim, I have installed the recoil pad you see. Ultimately, I will install a sheep horn skeletonized buttplate.

    The forearm of the origninal .22/.30-30 was jerked from the receiver by the recoil of the .50, so I had to come up with another way to attach the forearm to the receiver. Again Jay has the answer. Use "staples" and pin it to the barrel as is done with muzzle loaders. (Again, whooda thought Jay would come up with a solution from the muzzle loading world? ) So, the two pins you see in the forearm are through-pins that pass through staples attached to the bottom of the barrel.

    Finally, of course I wanted the stock to fit me perfectly, and it does. As I throw the rifle to my shoulder, the sights align perfectly,.. and I do mean perfectly. Elk and bison (and maybe even a moose) beware!


    PS - "ATB" - I get it - "All the Best". Boy do I feel stoopid...
    Last edited by gitano; 30-09-2010 at 08:22. Reason: PS

  4. #4
    Here's a moose I took with this rifle, the hand-made cases mentioned above, and hand-made jacketed bullet. I'll post some info and pictures on fabricating the bullets later.


  5. #5
    "Don't tell me I can't swage .510" bullets in a reloading press."

    This is the first bullet I made from the swaging die I cut. It's a bit heavy at 550, but that's easily remedied. Dave Corbin, and others, have repeatedly told me that it is not possible to swage bullets larger than about .30 caliber on 'regular' reloading presses. When I pressed for reasons, the 'weather' suddenly got hazy. Continued pressing on my part lead to reasons like, "It takes too much pressure" and "The strokes are too short on reloading presses".

    Both those justifications may be true for some kinds of swaging operations, but I was very clear - repeatedly - that my needs were simple. Of course "simple" often doesn't sell hardware. I need neither great force, nor a long stroke to make these bullets. The jacket - the forward part of a 'magnum' cartridge case - is nearly pre-formed, and the core is too, as it is simply the Lee 458 Postell 3R cast bullet. Here's a picture of the starting components.

    On the left is a .338 Win Mag case. Next is the case with the head parted (I use the rear of the case as a jacket too after turning the belt off), and the neck turned off the shoulder. The forward part is what is used for the jacket in these bullets. In the middle is the Lee .458 3R Postell (507-grains from my mould). I simply insert the Postell into the front of the Mag case, and press into the swaging die.

    Of course, I haven't shot them yet, but my previous experiments using the case heads as jackets was very promising. I expect these to do at least as well. Consistency will be necessary for good precision shooting, but I think I can get all the consistency I need in final weight by weighing each 'jacket' and core prior to swaging.

    I also like the long nose on these bullets. That turns out to be purely serendipity (blind good fortune) as it is the profile of the "reamer" I used. That reamer cost me $21.99 (13.90 for the reamer, 6.10 for shipping, and 1.99 for "handling") off EBay. Custom reamer-making shops either said they couldn't make one, or quoted a price of at least $140 (some MUCH higher). The "reamer" is actually a 1/2" "tree burr".

    While the reamer is only 0.500" in maximum diameter, I could mount it in my tool-holder and offset it the necessary 0.010" to ream the ID I wanted. (Actually I reamed it to 0.515" so I could run it through my .510" Lee bullet sizer for an exact final diameter.) Worked like I knew what I was doin'.

    Reaming the die is tedious, as the whole surface of the burr is cutting. In order to make the cavity as smooth as possible, I was only able to take 0.020" cut between clearing chips from the cavity and the burr. Since the cavity is 1.5" deep (deep enough to make a 600-grain bullet), that was 75 cuts (1.500"/0.020" = 75).

    It wasn't 'easy' to get to this point of actually making bullets, but it wasn't 'hard' either. It just required a hard head. Once the burr was found, the process went like this:

    1) Thread a 3" piece of 1" diameter steel rod to 7/8-14 to fit a standard reloading die.
    2) Drill a 3/16" pilot hole (later to become the hole through which the bullet is removed from the swage) through the threaded billet.
    3) Ream to 1" depth with the burr mounted in the tail-stock.
    4) Ream (with 1/2" drill) "shank" to 0.5" deep.
    5) Install burr in tool-holder - off-set desired amount for exact diameter.
    6) "Cut" (as opposed to "ream", as now the burr is only cutting on one side) into full depth of 1.5".
    7) Polish.
    8) Make a 'ram' that fits in the reloading die ram, for pressing the unswaged components into the swage.

    Making the core should be obvious - it's just a cast bullet. Making the jacket is a bit more complicated, but not too big a deal.
    1) Chuck the magnum case (.338, 7mm, .300, etc., any 'standard' magnum case) in the lathe with the head out.
    2) Turn off belt.
    3) Remove and chuck case in lathe with mouth out.
    4) Turn off neck.
    5) Part case at predetermined length for specific bullet weight.

    At that point, it's just a matter of inserting the nose of the core into the 'jacket', applying a little lube to the outside of the jacket, and pressing into the swage. A tap on the nose through the top hole drops the bullet out of the swage. It pops out at about 0.5145" in diameter. I then run it through the Lee sizing die, and Voila`- it's 0.5103".

    And it didn't cost me $2000 dollars, which is what it would have cost me (including shipping) to get Corbin's complete set-up. Of course his equipment might very likely make 'better' bullets. However, if these shoot as straight as the seriously clunky ones I made "by hand" before shot, I'll be happy as a clam.

    Calculated BC for this bullet is .454 -

    I spent a few hours working on getting consistent weights, using difference parts of the mag case, and generally getting to know how things work. I'll post some pictures tomorrow of the "good, the bad, and the ugly". I learned a lot in that exercise.

    I figured out how to make a good boat-tail, but there were several "uglies" before I got it right. Looks like I can easily keep the BC above .400 if I stay at least 500 grains. If they shoot straight, I'll have an elk and buffalo bullet that should let me shoot as far as I care to - 300 yds and less.

    Attached are a couple of pictures of my latest attempts.

    The first order of business was to get the components weighed so that they can be assembled into a specific weight. That involved a lot of trial-and-error. The 560-grainer is bigger than I thought I wanted, but if I can live with, (literally), 3450 ft-lbs at the muzzle, (1675 f/s MV), this bullet will deliver 2000 ft-lbs to 300 yds and drop only about 27" at 300 when sighted in dead on at 190 (+6" at 100). That's a thumper for sure. Unfortunately, it 'thumps' at my end too. My current 500-grain load produces about 3216 ft-lbs at the muzzle.

    The 500-grainer drops about 32" at 300 and retains "only" about 1750 ft-lbs.

    I suspect that the true BC of the flat-base 536-grainer won't really be .416. (Which reminds me, I have the BCs swapped on the two right-hand bullets. The boat-tail should be .416 and the FB .414.) There is no practical difference between .416 and .414. The variability in muzzle velocity between shots will generate greater point of impact differences than 2-one-hundredths of a unit in BC. And that boat-tail angle is the one that yields the highest BC for that bullet.

    I learned a couple of things in this exercise so far. First, ALL of the bullet MUST be in the swage, regarless of whether it is touching the walls or not, before the real swaging commences. Otherwise you end up with the left and middle bullets below.

    Also, the swage probably needs a little "easing" at the mouth, lest you end up with the bullet on the right.

    Swaging a .50 caliber bullet on a handloading press DOES require some definite muscle. However, I figured a way to do it that minimized the groaning. I seat the swage 'til the lever 'cams over' fairly easy. Then I retract the lever, rotate the die 1/4 turn deeper, and 'cam over' again. I repeat that until it's all I can do to cam over - so far about 4 times. Then I rotate only 1/8th of a turn, and use some 'extra' muscle. Usually, the second 1/8th rotation completes the forming.

    It should also be noted that the core material here is NOT pure lead. Pure lead will make a BIG difference. I simply wanted to see what I could do using a lead alloy with a BHN of about 22-ish. I MAY be able to do all of the forming in one stroke with a pure lead core. I am annealing the jackets, but I really don't think that matters too much with regard to the swaging.

    I've decided to make a 'jackscrew' swaging press. (The kind of screw represented by a vice.) With a jackscrew with a pitch equal to the pitch on my lathe's leade screw (8 turns per inch), and a 15" wheel/lever, I can get about 40 tons of pressure on the base of the bullet. I like a jackscrew better than either a lever like a reloading press or a hydraulic-driven one. Just seems like I'd have more "feel". While the hydraulic-driven ram might deliver more force, the jackscrew will definitely deliver more than the lever-driven ram.


  6. #6
    very interesting indeed thanks for sharing ,look forward to reading more from you all the best,wayne

  7. #7
    paul one question ,when you say a jack press do you mean something like a flypress,wayne

  8. #8
    Thanks, Wayne.

    Are "wildcats" difficult get on one's "license" in the UK?


  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by gitano View Post
    Thanks, Wayne.

    Are "wildcats" difficult get on one's "license" in the UK?

    paul i would think so but would love to see the look on my feo's face when i ask him ,wayne

  10. #10
    do you mean something like a flypress,
    I'm sorry, Wayne, I don't know what a "flypress" is. What I am talking about is a screw with a wheel on the "people end", a frame in which to hold the item to be pressed, and a ram that presses on the object as the screw is tightened. Home wine presses come to mind as an example. Here is a picture of something like I'm going to make, except it will hold the swaging die, not grapes.

    Wine Making Fruit Presses and Crushers | Fourth down from the top - Item #5509


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