Vetterli 1878/81 casting and reloading

Pb2au

Active Member
Alright, let's get started.
The purpose of this thread is not so much a "how to", but more of a "how I do".

The Vetterli rifle series is a pretty well documented series of rifles that have a following of people that for some strange reason go to great lengths to shoot a rifle that pretty much no cases are available for, little load data exists, and only a handful of molds make any sense to use.
That being said, I decided that it sounds like a project right in my wheel house.
I purchased a decent example of an 1878/81 model at the beginning of this year. For those not familiar, the Vetterli is in original form a rim fire rifle. As any ammo is long out of production, it is necessary to:
1) Convert the bolt to centerfire. (I won't go over this as it is better documented many times elsewhere on the interwebz)
2) Convert brass.
3) Select and cast a bullet to use.

The conversion of brass is not too painful. Two parent cases are popular, 348 Winchester and 8mm Lebel. I chose to use 348 win. It is in this step that you really need to consider carefully what bullet you want to use. Why? The reason is the rifle is sensitive to OAL for feeding. Anything over and under 2.2" and it will jam on the feeding. You bullet selection will have some bearing on the length you will need to trim your brass.
The bullet that has a lot of popularity for use is the Lee mold, C430-310-Rf.
leeC430-310-rf.jpg
I cast mine from a very soft alloy, not exactly dead soft, but around 8 BHN.
Barrel groove diameters can vary on these rifles, but most run around .428"-ish, with examples as high as .432" to, in my case .424". The throat is more like a funnel to accommodate fouling from older black powder service loads. I sized my bullets to .427" and let the barrel do the rest of the work.
Its weight is very close to the original service load, and the length plays well with the case, and ultimately the OAL. More on this in a moment.
Understanding that I would use the Lee mold, I had to do a bit of math.... Yeah I know, your teacher was right, you would need math as a grown up........ That math involved is this. Understanding that we need an OAL of 2.2", and knowing the length of the bullet, we can make some decisions about how long we need to trim the brass. Normal, standard length of the the 10.4x38 (.41) Swiss Rimfire case is 38mm. If we trim our brass to the length and use the lee bullet, we arrive to a situation where there is very little of the bullet supported by the neck of the case.
As a side note, the Lee mold is a gas check design, but I do not use a gas check in this application.
As a test, I trimmed a case to 44mm, (after doing some math to predict where the neck would end on the bullet) and this allowed the case mouth to land soundly on the top grease groove, while giving plenty of support to the bullet. A few dummy rounds were made up, and a feed test was performed with great success.
Load data:
Being a later production rifle, and after doing A LOT of research, a modest load of Unique was selected as the propellant. The earlier rifles I would not feel too warm and fuzzy doing this however. As a concurrent note, later production of Vetterli service ammo was indeed fueled with smokeless.
The Lee bullet was lubed with 50/50 beeswax and Vaseline.
You end up with a cartridge that looks like this:
vet.JPG

Please ignore the bandage, a knife got in the way of my finger....

Accuracy.
Offhand shooting at around 60 yards proved this loading to be accurate enough to destroy clay pigeons. Proper bench work is next, with real groups measured being the goal. Recoil is modest. All in all, a huge amount of fun.

If anyone has any questions or comments, feel free to reach out, I will do my best to answer them.
Thanks,
Phil
 
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Pb2au

Active Member
Addendum:
Our Friends at Lee Precision sell dies for loading the 41 swiss. Overall, they are good dies, but be aware of a couple of things.
1) The chambers of the rifles can vary a bit, so when you go to resize the brass after shooting, it can work them quite a bit. It just depends on how big the chambers are. In general, they are completely serviceable in this respect.
2) The seating/crimp die stem insert is almost too long. It takes some gyrations to get the OAL and crimp set up. Moving forward, the stem insert on my set has a hot date with my lathe, as it is simply too long. This is due to the use of the Lee bullet I think. I believe if I shave about .100" off of the length, it should work just fine.
 

Brad

Administrator
Staff member
Don't you love it when things come together?
Got any photos of the complete rifle? We like photos!
nice job figuring out what needed to happen to make it all work. That is the area where so many fail.
 

Pb2au

Active Member
I will get some pics up tonight. I may have to use a wide angle, that crazy rifle is pretty long!
I have always approached reloading as problem solving. To be honest, that is what makes projects like this a lot of fun. You get a big reward in the end for sifting through the issues, finding info, and discovering solutions. Oh low and behold, you learn stuff along the way... what a crazy thought!
 

Pb2au

Active Member
Ok, here is the gratuitous Veterlli pics
image.jpg image.jpg
Here is one with the bolt open, showing the very Winchester like elevator.
image.jpg

Enjoy!
 

Hummer

Member
Enjoyed your post on the Vetterli. I just fell into a 1870/86 in really nice condition that was found wrapped in blanket of wife's aunt's attic who passed and house was being cleaned out. No one wanted it so it was offered to me and not being one to look a gift rifle in the muzzle I snatched it up.

Got dies and 50 cases inbound and was looking at bullets and load data and found it on Quickload. Talk about doing research, the groove diameter on these things can run from .416-.430.

Got to researching on QuickLoad and they list BlueDot as having a gentle curve at top of pressure curve and loads around 10,000 PSI. I have some so once I get cases in and fireformed and fabricated I will be looking for a bullet mold to match or very slightly exceed groove diameter.

Bore looked pretty dark so I got a 45 cal bronze brush and black crud started pouring out using Ed's Red I make up.
Finally I got down to 38 cal stainless brushes wrapped in 30 cal patches and bore started looking much better. I wore the brush out so plugged the bore with a 45-70 cast bullet and tapped it in snug and put ER down barrel and it did not leak so I filled bore all the way to back of chamber, propped it in corner of my loading room and it has been soaking with muzzle in jar for about two weeks.

Gonna be interesting see groove diameter on this barrel.

I don't plan on making it a BIG BANG SPECIAL and will most likely try and get a mold around 275 gr and load it to between 1000 and 1100 FPS to make a nice quiet hunting piece. Then work on the sights so I can get POA/POI at about 120 yards and be useful to 150 yards as that is about as far as I can hope to see in the woods around me.

If you have Quick Load look up 10.35X47MM for loads.
 

quicksylver

Well-Known Member
When I was a kid I had one of those hanging over my bed...if I remember correctly it cost me all of $10.00...

I used to love to work the action and watch all the shenanigans that go on in order to load another round.

I been seeing a lot of them lately...that one you have is a fine example for sure...

Kin'da puts a new twist on the term "Big Bang" don't it..:):)
 

Pb2au

Active Member
Hi Hummer, welcome to the forum!
Thanks for the kind words on my post, I appreciate it.
My Vetterli has turned out to be one of my favorite rifles to shoot. It was a little challenging to get the cases sorted out, but in the end, as usual, it was worth the effort.
Just something to be mindful of is the case length vs. the bullet you select.
The OAL is pretty important to get right for reliable feeding out of the tube magazine. There is no cartridge stop like a Winchester or Marlin, so it relies on the length of the cartridge to supervise the release of the next cartridge into the elevator.
So, if you say have a bullet design that is a bit short, you may need to seat it father out to get the right OAL. Then you have to make sure you still have enough of the bullet in the case to ensure a good fit. In my case, I made my own brass, and had settled on the Lee 310 bullet. So to make sure I had enough bullet in the neck, I simply made the brass 44mm. The cool thing is that the chamber/throat on a Veterli is both long and kind of funnel shaped, so you have room do do stuff like this.
The groove diameters are indeed variable, but the throat and barrel will help you finish sizing the bulllet. ;)

Cant wait to hear a range report, it sounds like you were a lucky duck and have a nice rifle to get talking again! The Blue dot strategy is interesting, and I am eager for the results. As fortune would have it, I finally have access to a chrony, and plan on getting some data on my loads very soon.

@quicksylver,
If you still had your Veterli, I would be willing to double your money on it and kindly pay you 20$ for it!

Thanks and have a great day.
 

300BLK

Well-Known Member
You guys need to be loading those with real Blackpowder! Steel ''then" didn't hold a candle to what we call steel now, and time hasn't made it any stronger. I've burned quite a lot of BP, and put a couple of tons(literally) of lead-tin mix through the bores of blackplowder cartridge rifles. My current oldest is a '71 Mauser that dates to 1875 or 1876. I wouldn't think of loading it with anything other than real BP.
 

JSH

Active Member
Oh gee thanks! I thought I had this out of my system several years ago. Then some one goes and post up on these again.
Honestly though I think they are very interesting rifles. I ran across some odds and ends of 348 brass just for the project, though I have yet to lay my hands on one.
The first one I ran across some years back looked like new. By the time I researched it a bit and decided to convert it to center fire it was gone, less than three days.
I have ran across them since, but never for the price nor the shape as the first one I saw. If I were to find a nice one priced right, it would come home with me.
I did find one that had been turned into a lamp, it was priced by the past electric bills I am sure. The bozo that had it made claims that were far fetched to say the least.
Jeff
 

Pb2au

Active Member
You guys need to be loading those with real Blackpowder! Steel ''then" didn't hold a candle to what we call steel now, and time hasn't made it any stronger. I've burned quite a lot of BP, and put a couple of tons(literally) of lead-tin mix through the bores of blackplowder cartridge rifles. My current oldest is a '71 Mauser that dates to 1875 or 1876. I wouldn't think of loading it with anything other than real BP.
You make a good point to consider. Bear in mind, the later model Veterlis (like mine). were used with smokeless powder service loads towards the later part of the 19th century, replete with both standard lead projectile, then a paper patched one as well.
UMC produced smokeless ammo for them until the 50's I think to feed the many that were imported here and in Canada.
The point is that with careful approach, the odds are on you will be fine with smokeless in reasonable quantities. I also keep my mom on speed dial if my knees get too shaky.
That being said, I am planning on some testing with black powder, as soon as I wrap up my paper patch BP 45-70 development. ( yes guys, I know it's been a bit since I've updated the thread, but I have been a bit busy) I'm certain it will do well with BP.
 

Pb2au

Active Member
Oh gee thanks! I thought I had this out of my system several years ago. Then some one goes and post up on these again.
Honestly though I think they are very interesting rifles. I ran across some odds and ends of 348 brass just for the project, though I have yet to lay my hands on one.
The first one I ran across some years back looked like new. By the time I researched it a bit and decided to convert it to center fire it was gone, less than three days.
I have ran across them since, but never for the price nor the shape as the first one I saw. If I were to find a nice one priced right, it would come home with me.
I did find one that had been turned into a lamp, it was priced by the past electric bills I am sure. The bozo that had it made claims that were far fetched to say the least.
Jeff
Ug,,,,,,,, a lamp? Seriously,,,a lamp.......
That just gives me a headache.
Keep your eyes peeled, you will eventually find one!
 

Hummer

Member
Well things may be looking up. Got 348 brass and Lee dies today. Also got my 429421 mold I won on ebay and it appears to be a old one. I got my inside mic out today and measured the groove diameter and it is .429 in two directions so that means I can load Sierra 44 cal bullets as they are .4295.

I will try and get off a couple case forming rounds tomorrow. Plan is to load expand neck a tad and after priming and 10 gr of Blue Dot, seat a 357 cast bullet in neck after working case down so it will chamber and fire at least one.

Also hope to be able to measure chamber dimensions and may walk in and look around chamber with my bore scope as well.

Sure did not know ammo was loaded up to the 50s. That might confirm my wife's theory. She is sure this rifle used to belong to her grandfather.

I ran another bore brush in this afternoon and got out some more rust. I have had it soaking in Ed's Red about two weeks muzzle down in jar with muzzle plugged.
 

Pb2au

Active Member
Jacketed bullets shouldn't be used in those old, soft, meant for blackpowder barrels.
I agree, stick to cast for the rifle, it will thank you.

The only rub I have run into do far with 348 brass is the portion of the brass where it meets the rim. The diameter there is a hair big for my chamber, so I have had to polish some of the cases there to avoid them sticking in the chamber. By polish, I mean I have had to remove about a 0.001 or 0.002" to get reliable extraction.
Have fun!