you wanted to know about the 41 Long Colt
(and probably more)
* How I got started with the 41 Long Colt
* How to form low-cost 41 Long Colt cases
How I got started with the 41 Long
It all started when I found an Ideal 310 nutcracker reloading
tool for the 41 Colt in the corner of an old gunshop. This was
an old one with steel handles, 5 dies, a hole in the handle for
the case instead of a removable ring, and was stamped "41
Colt" on the side. It was not very expensive, so I bought
it. Little did I know what I was getting into.
The 41 Long Colt cartridge was created in 1877 for Colt's double
action "Thunderer" revolver. The front of the bullet
was about 0.406"OD, approximately the same diameter as the
barrel grooves and the O.D. of the case. The bullet lubrication
was outside of the case. The base of the bullet was smaller in
diameter at 0.388"OD to fit inside the case. This is known
as a "heel-base" bullet. In other words, the bullet
was a lot like a really big .22LR.
After a while, Colt reduced the entire diameter of the bullet to
0.386" and lengthened the brass case in order to put the
bullet and its lubrication inside the case. The bore of the
revolver was reduced slightly to match the diameter of the more
popular 38-40 at 0.401" groove diameter. The soft lead
bullet was made with a large hollow base like Civil War Minie'-Balls.
The intent was for the base of the bullet to expand with the
pressure of the gunpowder to grip the rifling. Surprisingly, it
worked pretty well. Although it will never be a target gun, the
accuracy is adequate for close-range self-defense.
After a while, I ran across a fairly cheap Colt 1892 Army/Navy
revolver in 41LC, so naturally I had to buy it (to use the
reloading dies I already owned of course). It was in poor shape
(which is why it was cheap), but it cleaned up pretty good.
There is still some pitting in the bore, but the rifling is
fairly strong. Then I had to find bullets and brass. Bullets
were not much of a problem. Several places sell them (sources
listed below). All seem to be made from the same type of Rapine
hollow-base mold so the only difference is cost and how fast
they fill the order.
Obtaining brass was something entirely different. Starline has
said that they are going to produce 41LC brass "soon"
for at least the last 5 or 6 years. Nothing firm yet. Rumors are
that they are nearer to producing it, but the projected price
(if and when it ever arrives) is expected to be approximately 50
cents each. Not cheap. Many places sell Bertram brass from
Australia. It costs about $1.00 per case wherever you find it.
Original fired brass usually runs a 50 to 75 cents on the
auction boards and varies greatly in quality. A fair percentage
of the used brass is balloon-head, black powder brass. Stay away
from it unless it is dirt cheap (not likely) -- much of it is
brittle and it is heartbreaking to see a 50 to 75 cent case
break in two the first time it is sized. Don't even bother with
anything that has green (verdigris) on it. Also, the primer
pocket in a balloon-head case gets loose very quickly.
There are a few places that sell brass made from 30-30 cases for
nearly the same cost as the Bertram. Doing this yourself
requires a heavy forming-die/bench-press and also a lathe too
machine down the rim. Do NO try to form a 30-30 case with
ordinary loading dies. They will stick (regardless of the lube)
and may damage your very expensive and hard to find 41LC dies.
All loaded cartridges are collectors items. They seem to be
running $1.25 to $2.00 for shootable cartridges right now.
Except for a small run made by Winchester in the 1960's-70's
(for L.M. Burney Co. of Texas. But don't call -- they have been
sold out for a long time), the last 41LC cartridges were made in
I started looking at case dimensions and noticed that the .38
Special case is almost exactly the same length as the 41LC. The
rim thickness and rim diameter are almost exactly the same, too.
However, the case diameter is too small by 0.026". I
wondered if it would be possible to fireform .38 Special brass
to 41LC size. The advantage of this is that the .38 Special
brass is dirt cheap, you can use standard loading dies to form
them, and do not have to machine the rim afterwards. I tried
several experiments before I found out how to make .38 Special
and .357 Magnum brass work.
Incidentally, I have since found out that the exact length of a
41 Long Colt case is unimportant. All the 41LC handguns I have
inspected have straight through chambers. There is no throat.
Only the case diameter and rim diameter are important. I have a
selection of original factory brass now that ranges from
0.932" long (for heel-base bullets) to 1.132" long
(for hollow-base bullets). Because the 41 Colt chambers were
bored straight through, anything that is loaded shorter than the
cylinder will work. For example, loading a "normal"
length 1.132" case with a heel-base bullet makes a
cartridge that is too long to fit in an 1892 Colt cylinder.
However, I have some virgin Remington/Peters brass that was
originally manufactured at 1.010" long. When it is loaded
with either a hollow-base or heel-base bullet, the finished
cartridge will fit the gun. In addition, a few of my factory
cases have pockets for large pistol primers instead of the usual
small pistol primers. Evidently, there were not very many
standards for this cartridge.
Anyway, the following is what I did to form low cost 41 Long
How to form low-cost 41 Long Colt
1. Start with .38 Special brass or shorten .357 Magnum brass. I
used a Lee .38 Special trimmer in a power drill to speed it up
(the difference between the length of the 41LC and .38 Special
cases is only .030" and after expanding it is virtually
2. Anneal the brass. I did this by inserting a long 5/16"
steel rod in the mouth of the case, holding the case upside
down, and rotating it in a propane torch flame starting from the
center of the case and working toward the case mouth. When there
was a noticeable change in color (brownish starting to turn dull
cherry red -- bright cherry red or orange is too much), I
dropped it in a bucket of water to stop the heat from migrating
completely through the base (head) of the cartridge. Even if the
head softens, this is not particularly dangerous at 41LC
pressures. The primer pocket will expand on firing and make the
case useless in one or two reloadings. After annealing, parts of
the case will be discolored (brownish). This has no effect on
it and will lessen with each cleaning.
3. I put a .38 Special case holder in my press and screwed in a
Redding 41LC neck expanding die (my wife bought me a Redding set
for Christmas). The Ideal 310 nutcracker will work, but it is
4. Put the
annealed case in the case holder and raise it into the neck
expanding die. Do it gently and it will expand straight and even
from 0.357" ID to 0.386" ID in the front 1/2" of
case. Remove it from the die.
5. Roll the case on a flat surface. If it did not expand evenly
all around, you will see it "wiggle" as it rolls. If
it wiggles, throw it
out. The primer will not line up with the firing pin if it did
not expand straight. There are VERY few crooked cases with the
Redding die, but the Ideal nutcracker turns out more mistakes.
It is because the hole for the 41LC case in the handle is larger
than the .38 Special case and the case "tilts" easily.
This is not a defect of the Ideal 310. It loads 41LC cases
perfectly. That is what it was designed for. It was not designed
for expanding .38 Special cases.
6. Prime the cases as usual. Use a .38 Special shellholder.
7. Add powder. I use 3.3gr of Bullseye in my 1892 Colt.
8. Seat a bullet. I use 185gr Rapine HB-RNL bullets which are
available from several sources. You cannot seat it as deeply as
normal. The neck expander is not long (deep) enough, so the
expanded part of the case is too short. There are three lube
grooves in the Rapine bullets. You can seat it so that two lube
grooves are inside the case and one is outside the case. I just
screw out the bullet seating bolt a little, but leave the crimp
setting in place.
9. They look strange when you are done loading them. There is a
larger diameter bullet and case in the front and a smaller
diameter case behind that. Don't worry. You can load them in the
cylinder without spacers in the rear or pointing the gun upward
or anything else unusual. Just load them into the gun like you
would any normal 41LC case and shoot them. If they are straight,
they will fire, and they seem to be about as accurate as
"real" 41LC cartridges even in the "pre-fireformed"
10. What you have now is an expanded (fireformed) .38 Special
case that looks just like a real 41LC case in the front 3/4 of
the case. It gently necks down to a standard .38 Special rim in
the rear 1/4. It is sort of like a large extractor groove for a
rimless case. The 41LC is not really rimless, but it does have a
VERY small rim. There is no longer any hint of where the neck
expanding stopped and the fireforming started.
11. Reload them as normal 41LC cases from now on. Use a .38
Special shellholder. BTW, in spite of what the reloading
companies say, a .38 Special shellholder will not accept a REAL
41LC case. You have to use a motodremel tool to open up the
inside slightly (you don't need to do this for the formed
cases). Don't overdo it. The 41LC rim is very small.
12. I have not had any cases fail during firing using this
method. However, if you wish to do the same, you do it at your
own risk (just like handloading is done at your own risk). At
this writing, I have reloaded the first ones I fireformed ten or
more times. Like any case, it will eventually crack at the neck
from repeatedly forming, neck expanding, and crimping. However,
it looks like they will last a long time at 41LC pressures. I
have not had any let go (split) near the base.
Reloading the 41LC is actually pretty easy once you find all the
components. After all, it is a straight-forward, straight-sided
case. Much of the reloading information I have on the 41LC is
from two very old Lyman reloading manuals. I have only found a
couple of mentions in shooting books about loading the 41LC, but
they match the reloading manual. Although I went up to the
maximum in stages, I went back to a little less (4.5gr for the
Unique and 3.3gr for the Bullseye) for the 1892DA.
The Unique load gave poor accuracy. That was surprising to me.
Unique has always been "old reliable" for me. The best
groups were about 3-1/2" to 4" at 15 yards offhand and
were high and a little to the left. I believe that Unique is too
slow to expand the hollow base of the bullet quickly enough.
Bullseye was better, in-between 2-1/2" and 3", and a
little high on the black. I also tried using plastic shot buffer
as a filler with the Bullseye. If you use filler make sure there
is enough so that the bullet compresses the filler when the
bullet is seated. If this is not done, the filler and powder
will mix with handling, leading to variable ignition up to and
including hangfires. Also reduce the powder charge whenever you
use filler. The weight of the filler adds to the weight of the
bullet when figuring pressure. This is an important
consideration with an old gun. Anyway, there was no noticeable
difference in accuracy between the loads with and without filler
I have also fired a slightly compressed case of FFFg black
powder in it. I didn't weigh them once I found the right size
scoop -- one that fills the case to where the bullet compresses
the powder slightly when it is seated. Black powder gave by far
the best accuracy and the most recoil of any of the 41LC load I
tried (this is with old balloon-head cases). It's best groups
were only 2" at 15 yards offhand and they were centered in
the black. I tried a few groups at 25 yards, but this gun and
cartridge are not well suited for anything more than 15 yards.
It is not a target gun or a hunting gun, but it is certainly
adequate for close range self defense. But more importantly, it
is fun to shoot. More fun than it has a right to be. I don't
understand why, but maybe it is because it shouldn't work at
all. But it does work and it works surprisingly well.
The amount of BP that 41LC cases can hold varies considerably.
From tests, the different kinds of brass hold the following
amounts of FFFg BP. However, keep in mind that the amount of BP
will vary depending on how much pressure you use to compress the
powder. Be very careful not to damage the hollow base of the
soft lead bullet, though.
1. Original balloon-head BP case (0.932") for heel-base
bullets = 18.5gr.
2. Original balloon-head BP case (1.132") for hollow-base
bullets = 21.5gr.
3. Original solid-head BP case (1.132") for hollow-base
bullets = 19.5gr.
4. Formed .38 Special cases for hollow-base bullets = 18.0 gr.
5. Formed .357 Magnum cases (unshortened) for hollow-base
bullets = 20.5gr.
The unshortened .357 Magnum case is longer than the originals,
but will fit some 41LC handguns because the chambers are bored
straight through. However, the OAL loaded length must fit in the
cylinder. That means it won't fit the 1892 Colt (and probably
not the Thunderer). It will fit an 1873 Colt, Colt clone, or any
handgun made with those dimensions. I am currently having a
Uberti Bisley Colt-clone in 38-40 changed over to 41LC. The
gunsmith is rechambering a .357 Magnum cylinder to 41LC. The
unshortened .357 Magnum cases should fit it and come close to
holding the original amount of BP.
The only problem with BP is the cleaning. It is filthy. I highly
recommend using special "BP" cleaning solutions
instead of the usual oil-based solvents to clean BP. BP also not
welcome in some indoor ranges. In fact, it got me kicked out of
an indoor range once and the owner eyed me suspiciously when
shooting Unique and Bullseye for several visits afterward.
Pyrodex P was between smokeless and BP when it came to fouling,
but did not have BP's accuracy. Incidentally, the accuracy tests
were made with real (original) solid-head 41LC brass, not
fireformed brass, although I have not seen any noticeable
difference between the two. Also, I have not found any practical
difference between smokeless lube and BP lube when used with
smokeless powder. Do use BP lube (it is softer) if you are
I have also tried heel-base bullets, but have not had any
success with any powder, charge, type of case, or method of
crimping. I personally don't think that heel-base bullets are
worth pursuing. The original Lyman/Ideal molds are oversized for
later guns. It is difficult to even chamber outside lubed
0.406"OD bullets in a 0.410"ID chamber. Crimping is
difficult, too. If you want to try them yourself, you need to
shorten the cases. The originals are 0.932" long. Keep in
mind that there these lengths are approximate. There is more
variation in 41LC cases than any other case I have worked with.
* 386176 which is a 0.388/0.406"OD, 163gr RNL, heel-base
for the 41Short Colt, but will work in the 41LC.
* 386177 which is a 0.388/0.406"OD, 196gr RNL, heel-base
for the 41LC.
* 386178 which is a 0.386"OD, 200gr RNL, hollow-base for
(recommended, but make sure that they are made from very soft
alloy --hard alloy will NOT work).