Converting to Centerfire, making Ammunition, Loading for and SHOOTING the Swiss Vetterli Infantry Rifle with Bob Kull
Subj:Loading for and Shooting the Swiss Vetterli
Date: 01-01-10 23:38:36 EST
Thank you for your reply to my questions about the Swiss Vetterli and it's centerfire conversion. ......... I am very fond of the Dutch Beaumont and Vetterli style rifles.
I found out some very interesting things while doing the Vetterli conversion. It was very easy and when I finally loaded some rounds I used 9.0 gr. of Unique as a starter load. The accuracy was fantastic. I could bounce a tennis ball at 100 yards with ease. I used a 240 gr. semi- wadcutter bullet sized to .430 in medium/hard lead. This is the same as I use in my .44 magnum revolver.
In order to use the magazine I must make a different bullet as the overall length of the cartridge is critical and the semi-wadcutter is a bit too short to feed well. Standard (custom) RCBS dies require the use of a "heel" type bullet. I chose to go with something more easily available. RCBS is making a modified set for me to use the .430 diameter bullets and I expect to get them in soon. If you would like to know more about this conversion or I can be of any help to your readers please feel free to contact me any time. I have signed up for your e-mail in order to better keep in touch. Thanks again for the help and the great website. I'll be watching.
Subj: Vetterli Centerfire Conversion
Date: 01-02-08 13:19:33 EST
I sent some info to a couple of your readers who e-mailed me so they could do theirs. I will be starting the article next week and should have it to you a little after that. Since I mentioned that I had done this conversion several people have had me do it for them. They are having a ball with their new treasures. RCBS made the new special dies for me to use .431 diameter bullets and they work great.
One of your readers sent me some great loading data and I used it on my fifth conversion. Fantastic is all I can say for the results. Would you believe a five shot group that measured under four inches at 200 yards fired from a benchrest. Watch the mail. You really must try this. (Editor's note: This load is the XMP load listed later in this article).
Dear Readers .... the wait has been worth it.
Here is Bob's article on converting rifle and making ammunition:
((a special note from the editor: this is not the only way to do it. some people will fit a central firing pin into the center of the old firing pin and grind off the rimfire "ears" and this certainly works. Some have welded an extension onto the striker and then ground it to fit a newly drilled center hole. These methods work, but I like Bob's technique as it preserves the original firing pin whole, doesn't particularly muck up the striker and is both clean and elegant. But just know that there are various alternatives. enjoy! Keith))
CONVERTING THE MODEL 1869/71 (1871) SWISS VETTERLI RIFLE FROM RIMFIRE TO CENTERFIRE
The conversion of the Swiss Vetterli Model 1871 rifle to use a reloadable centerfire cartridge, is a easy and fun project that can be done by anyone with a well equipped home shop. The project will generally take a skilled firearm hobbyist about an hour or two. The method outlined here has been used by the author on several rifles, and has proven to function very well. The supplies and materials listed, were previously used on similar projects and thus were already present at the time of the conversion. There are many other products which may be substituted, the choice is yours. Before starting this project, it is recommended that you read the section on making the cartridges. While the cost of this conversion is modest, the investment needed to make the ammunition may be prohibitive.
A converted bolt, seen bolt-face on, above left, unconverted bolt, above right
A converted striker, immediately above, unconverted, very bottom.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: Only persons familiar with working on firearms and the hazards involved with such modifications should attempt this project. Serious injury or death can result from modifications done by other than trained personnel. The author does not offer this information with any warranty of suitability and assumes no liability for it's use. IN SHORT... IF YOU BLOW YOURSELF UP, DON'T BLAME ME!
You will need the following supplies,
1 - #43 (.089) Drill Bit
1 - #42 (.093) Drill Bit
1 - # 1 Center Drill / Countersink
Brownells' "Heat Stop Paste" (Part #083-012-100)
Brownwlls "Silver Braze Past" STL- 1205 (Part #322-100-650)
A lathe with a steady rest or drillpress and holding fixture
A good quality PROPANE torch (Do NOT use Acetylene)
A Dremel tool with the following:
An abrasive cutoff wheel
A fine grinding stone wheel
A fine rubberized abrasive dressing wheel or point
Fine steel wool (small amount)
Fine grit emery cloth (one small piece)
Before starting to do the conversion, make sure that the firearm is UNLOADED and placed in a safe position, such as a bench holding fixture. Check the barrel for obstructions and if all is well, proceed with the project. Be certain to use eye protection when using power tools or machinery.
Step 1: Disassembly
Strip the rile action by removing the large screw on the left side of the receiver. This will allow the carrier and arm assemblies to be removed from the bottom. Move the bolt retainer wedge to the left side of it's slot and remove the bolt.
Remove the spring tension from the bolt by pressing down on the back end of the extractor near the locking lugs, while rotating the handle to the clockwise position. Be careful not to get your fingers pinched by the cocking piece under the spring cover as it can come foreword suddenly. Unscrew the end cap (a slight amount of spring pressure may remain). Remove the bolt components and place them on a clean shop cloth. You may have to tap the end of the extractor to get it to move back slightly for removal.
You should wind up with a group of parts that look like this:
Clockwise from left: Striker, bolt handle, striker spring, striker spring cap, retainer screw, receiver screw, elevator mechanism assembly, elevator casting.
Center top: Extractor. Center bottom: bolt. (Missing from this photo is the two-pronged rimfire firing pin. It is not used in the conversion and should be carefully stored should anyone ever want to re-convert the rifle to it's original configuration at some future date.)
Step 3. Seating the Firing Pin:
Place the striker rod in the chuck of the lathe, (or held firmly in a drill press) and support the free end with a steady rest, to prevent whipping or movement off center. Using the #1 center drill / countersink, drill a starter hole in the center of the small end of the striker rod. Drill this hole deep enough to leave a countersink slightly larger than the #43 drill bit.
Using the #43 drill bit, drill a hole about 3/8 of an inch deep in the small end of the striker rod. Make sure that there is a small amount of countersink left showing. When finished, remove the striker rod from the lathe and degrease it using a good quality solvent. Roughen the shank of the #43 drill bit with emery cloth, and then degrease it in the same manner. Make sure to dry the parts completely, leaving no traces of moisture, solvents, or lubricants.
Place the striker rod in a vise with the small end in the up position. Use soft jaws or padding material to prevent denting or scratching the rod end. Coat the striker rod shaft with "Heat Stop Paste" about an inch back from the bottom of the drilled hole. Coat the shank end of the #43 drill bit with "Silver Braze Paste", being sure to place a small extra amount on the tip of the shank. Insert the drill bit shank into the hole until it bottoms out.
Using the PROPANE torch, with the flame adjusted as fine as possible, apply heat to the striker shaft only. Do not, place the flame directly on the junction of the two parts or allow the drill bit to become red hot. When the "Silver Braze Paste" has melted, apply a small amount of pressure to the tip of the drill bit to cause it to remain bottomed in the drilled hole. Keep this pressure on and remove the torch flame. Remove the pressure once the "Silver Braze Paste" has hardened. Allow the rod to cool naturally, DO NOT quench it in water or oil.
Step 6. Center-drilling the Bolt
Place the bolt body in the lathe (or held securely on a drill press) and using the # 1 center drill / countersink spot drill the exact center of the bolt face. Take the #42 drill bit and drill through the face of the bolt into the cavity where the old type firing pin was located.
Using the Dremel tool and the fine rubberized abrasive point, remove any burrs from the bolt face and the exit hole in the firing pin cavity. DO NOT remove any metal other than the burrs. DO NOT allow the abrasive point to cause a countersink in the bolt face.
Step 8. Putting the Firing Pin and Bolt Together:
With the abrasive cutoff wheel, remove the fluted portion of the #43 drill bit from the striker shaft, leaving the silver brazed shank in place.
Remove any burrs from the end of the shank with the fine grinding wheel.
Step 9. Reassembly and Tuning
Reassemble the bolt with the new firing pin in place. Make sure that the bolt handle is in the closed (clockwise) position and the mainspring is relaxed. Using this as a guide, remove the excess material of the new pin as necessary. You will have to repeat this step several times.
Continue removing material until when assembled, in the manner described above, you have .045 (forty-five thousandths) of an inch protrusion, with a nice round tip remaining.
Clean lines of the finished product. (Photo on right is bolt conversion that Bob did for me.)
When this is done, clean off any remaining dirt or grinding particles from the components, and properly lubricate the bolt parts. Reassemble the bolt, and place it back into the rifle.
Step 10. Testing:
Now for testing. Assuming that you may not have cartridges made yet, you can test the new conversion in this manner. Take a .348 Winchester shell casing and cut it off leaving about ½ inch beyond the rim. Insert a new primer into the case and then, after checking the barrel for any possible obstructions, place the case into the chamber of the rifle and close the bolt. WITH THE RIFLE POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION, AND WHILE YOU ARE WEARING EYE AND HEARING PROTECTION, fire the round. If the primer goes off, you did everything right. Remove the dummy round from the rifle and examine it. You should have a nice, round deep "witness mark'. You may have to adjust the length of the firing pin once you use live ammunition. The higher pressures of loaded rounds may require this in order to prevent "piercing" the primers due to deformation.
If all went well you now have a rifle that will provide you with many hours of great fun. There are a few sources for ammunition available, however I make my own. This is the subject of the next part of this article.
I would like to thank Jason Corbett for the photography, and Keith for being so patient. After all, showing someone how to do the project is one thing. Writing it down is another. Good luck, and good shooting.
MAKING 10.4 x 38R CENTERFIRE CARTRIDGES FOR THE CONVERTED MODEL 1869/71 SWISS VETTERLI RIFLE
((editor's note: Again there are alternatives. In my past, I have simply filed down a 10mm brass rod to shape, drilled a hole through it through which I would place a long nail, hammered the punch into the case to open it up and used my loading press to pull out the punch which I had supported with the nail across the top of the punch. Of course, I crushed some cases too!!
If this is too much trouble for you, allow me to suggest that you go the my "RESOURCES" page on this website and look up the brass suppliers and order ready-made cases. By way of example, Buffalo Arms currently sells center-fire cases for the .41 Swiss (also formed from .348 Win brass) for $1.00 per case in quantity. There are other suppliers as well. But if you enjoy the satisfaction of making it yourself, herebelow is an excellent system for you. Again, enjoy! Keith))
The following information is for use in the fabrication of the centerfire version of the ammunition used in the converted Model 1869/71 Swiss Vetterli rifle. It consists of a method for using .348 Winchester cases and custom bullets in order to provide cartridges which will function in the feeding system and provide a reliable outcome.
For those who have chosen to convert a SwissVetterli rifle to centerfire, a few facts might be in order before starting such a project. First is the cost. While the conversion of the rifle is a simple task, and not very expensive at all, the ammunition is another story. In order to form and load rounds which will function properly in the firearm it can cost an initial outlay of around $500.00. Needless to say, this is not to be undertaken by the faint in heart, or pocketbook.
You will need the following supplies, in addition to basic tools such as a reloading press, powder measure, scale etc.
Materials for making a chamber casting (Cerosafe - Brownells)
Materials for "slugging" the rifle bore
A tin of Imperial Sizing Wax
A metal saw (hacksaw) with a fine tooth blade
A good quality fine flat file with handle
A quantity of NEW .348 Winchester cartridge cases (Winchester)
A set of case forming dies and throat reamer (RCBS Custom)
A set of loading dies (RCBS Custom)
An extended//5 shell holder (RCBS Special Order)
Start by "slugging" the bore of your rifle. This method of pushing a soft lead "slug" through the barrel will give you the proper bullet diameter to use. In the case of the Vetterli rifle, you will find that the bore is actually .44 cal. The "slug" should measure about .431 - .433 in diameter. This is because, the original rounds used a "heeled" type of bullet with a large hollow base. The front of the bullet was of a size to touch only on the lands of the rifling, while the hollow base or "Skirt" flared out upon firing to fill the grooves. This is similar to the old "Minie Ball" used in the Civil War. Most any .44 cal. cast bullet will work, if you don't mind shooting single-shot.
After trying many different types which were of a weight close to that of the original, I was able to find one at a local caster which met all of the requirements. It has four lube grooves, a plain base and provides the correct length for magazine feeding, while allowing for a good crimp to hold it in place against the magazine spring pressure. You will want to request that it be held as close to your bore diameter as possible. I also request that all of the lube grooves be filled with lube, and then I remove the lube from the second one up from the base for crimping
The bullets are listed as a .44 cal. 320 grain and Penny's stock number 310429 SSK sized to .431.
The current price is $9.00 per hundred plus shipping. They may be ordered from:
Penny's Hand And Machine Casting
P.O. Box 314
Topanga, California 90290
Phone: (310) 455-1567 M-F, 4-6pm. PST
Next you will need to make a casting of the chamber in your rifle. This together with the bore slug can be sent to the RCBS Custom Shop to have the dies made. They may be contacted at 1-800-533-5000. Be sure to include a note stating that you are using a nonstandard bullet diameter and would also like the extended shell holder listed before. Otherwise you will get back a set of dies for loading the original type of bullet. This is of course fine, if you want to go to the added expense of securing an original bullet, to use in having a custom mould made.
If you are finally lucky enough to have all of the supplies in hand, you are ready to begin making your ammunition. Here is how I do it. There are only a few steps involved in the process, if you follow them it's easy to make a lot of cases in hour.
Lubricate the inside of the .348 Winchester case mouth with Imperial Sizing Wax. Using the neck expander die, increase the neck diameter as required.
Lubricate the outside of the case with Imperial Sizing Wax, USE SPARINGLY AS INSTRUCTED. Form the case in the form/trim die. Cut off the excess length with the metal saw and file the case mouth flat with the top of the die. Remove the formed case and chamfer the inside and outside edges of the mouth to
remove any burrs.
Insert the formed case into the throat reaming die and using the supplied reamer, remove the excess metal from the case throat. Chamfer the inside of the case mouth again to remove the sharp edge.
Lubricate the reformed case with the Imperial Sizing wax, being certain to use only a small amount and keep the neck and shoulder area clean. Full length size the new case in the sizing die of the reloading set.
Using the expander die in the reloading set, expand and flare the case mouth for loading. When finished, clean and polish the new cases to remove all traces of lubricant or other contamination.
Load the cartridges. If you use the bullet I have listed, crimp the case into the second lube groove up from it's base. This will give the correct length for feeding in the magazine assembly.
As to loading data, I have no control over your reloading abilities or the condition of your rifle. I have two loads that work well for me, but you use them at your own risk. They have worked well in the several rifles that I have converted and they are very mild to shoot. They both use the bullet I have listed (a .44 cal. 320 grain LFN-PB LBT bullet from Penny's Hand And Machine Casting) and Federal Large Rifle Primers.
9.0 - 10.0 gr. Unique = 1050 fps. appr.
21 grs. Accurate XMP5744 = 1150 fps. appr.
Though XMR-5744 produced the best accuracy, it tends to leave unburned residue behind. I contacted the powder manufacturer and was told that this was a normal condition for this powder. Several other reloaders have confirmed this for me. I have tried many other powder/primer combinations, but have found these two to work the best for me in my rifles.
Because the sights of the Model 1869/71 Vetterli start at 200 yards, you will find that even with these "light" loads the rifle will likely shoot about a foot high at 100 yards. However these loads put mine "right-on" at 200 yards. Not bad for a firearm of this age. Good Luck ..... Good Shooting.
Thanks again to Jason Corbett for the photographs and his patience.
Page first sketched January 11, 2001
Completed March 3, 2001
Updated: Nov 12, 2021