In the ammunition world, “scarcity” has become the new normal that hunters and shooters have had to endure this year. Beyond ammunition, shortages have affected many products, particularly shooting components. Even many traditional muzzle-loading shooters find percussion caps to be almost non-existent. But what if you could make your own?
Making your own percussion caps would not only be a bit more durable, but also fit into the traditions of simplicity and self-sufficiency shared by many muzzleloading enthusiasts. Many already launch their own projectiles, make their own patches and lubricants, and even powder, so why not make percussion caps too? One day I stumbled across a tool that promised to do just that. The # 11 Impact Cap Maker seemed like an easy-to-use tool for making impact caps out of something anyone can find in abundance: aluminum cans. I immediately ordered one.
A percussion cap is not complicated. It is simply a small metal cup containing a tiny amount of percussion explosive which is used to ignite the charge in a muzzle-loading or percussion pistol. To be practical, the caps should fit snugly, pull reliably, and contain enough punch to consistently ignite your powder charge. Nearly 200 years old, percussion cap technology (and making your own percussion caps) isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. But caps have long been commercially abundantly produced, so it’s probably safe to say that most shooters have always bought them. I wanted to know how easy this tool would be to use and whether it offered a convenient option for caps, or if it was just a gimmick that I would try to tweak for the rest of my life.
How to make percussion caps
The percussion cap maker itself is straightforward. It is a machined steel die and punch that you can operate by hand on a flat surface, or with a wooden or synthetic mallet. The caps themselves are made from aluminum cans, which you prepare simply by cutting them into strips, flattening and carefully wiping off any liquid residue. The die has a slot for sliding the aluminum strip, then the punch is placed into the die, then a clean, quick stroke down on the punch will push it through the aluminum. Take out the awl, reverse it and drop your cap.
Most commercially made caps are very carefully drawn, and you will immediately notice the coarser appearance of these caps; in fact, rather than being stretched, the sides of the cap are folded back. The awl itself has what appears to be teeth. Although it cuts a perfectly round, oversized hole in the foil, when the punch is pushed in further it bends the excess foil to form the sides, resembling a paper cupcake. If you’ve pre-cut an aluminum can into strips, you can make caps very quickly, you just want to make sure and regularly brush your teeth on the awl to keep them clean.
The second part of making your own percussion caps is to prime them. They are not good if you cannot charge them. The easiest option to charge your caps is to order a Prime-All kit from the same manufacturer. This is a pre-dosed kit with the individually inert chemical components and the measuring spoons you will need for your primer compound. Each kit is supposed to prime around 2,000 shots, but even at half that, it’s a steal.
Follow the directions exactly and carefully, and you end up with a small amount of gray powder that looks like what you would find in the caps of children’s guns. You then fill your caps individually with the priming compound, wet with a drop or two of acetone, then let dry for 24 hours. Now you have percussion caps.
Another option for the priming compound is to use these kid snap caps, and even hit anywhere match heads, for which instructions are available. It’s going to be a much longer process, but you have the option.
In application, I found that this little tool worked as well as advertised. I could throw a lot of caps quickly and found that while I could use my hand to drive the punch, a plastic mallet was faster, more consistent, and more comfortable. I have punched over 1000 capsules with it and have yet to see any signs of wear or dulling of the punch teeth. For priming, I placed my caps in a plastic Winchester Large Rifle primer tray, which holds each individual cap securely. I mix the priming compound according to the directions in a paper cup, making sure to wear safety glasses. I use a dropper to wet the compound in each cap with acetone. This helps to deposit the powder in the cap and activate the binder. Once wet, I also gently tamp it with the square end of a match. Then I put it in a covered area out of the way to dry for 24 hours.
How well do homemade percussion caps work?
Thanks to the hundreds of caps I made and loaded, I had no performance issues. The caps fit snugly on a # 11 nipple, and I didn’t have a single cap that didn’t snap off instantly. In fact, they seem to shoot harder and with more force through the flash hole than the commercial caps I use. This observation is a bit anecdotal, but they are noisier, and by tucking a patch into the end of the empty barrel, it is blown with more force than with my commercial caps. I have noticed that they leave a rusty and oxidized residue when fired using the Prime-All compound and are probably more corrosive than commercial caps, but if you shoot black powder you are already well informed. of the need to clean your smoke pole.
The only downside I have found with these homemade caps is that they are a bit more fragile than their commercial competitors. If they are squeezed or handled too roughly, it can affect their fit on the nipple, and some users have had issues with the initiator compound falling out. I didn’t have this problem, but unlike factory plugs – which you can remove and put back into the container if they aren’t pulled out – once you press one of these plugs onto the nipple, you must use it or throw it away. Putting the cap on and then removing it could loosen your compound. With a few batches of practice and careful handling, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Read more: Is Manual Rifle Ammo Loading Really Worth It?
After using this # 11 plug maker for almost a year, I would confidently say it is worth it for any percussion weapon enthusiast, and a # 10 plug maker is also available. Whether your motivation is self-sufficiency, a nostalgia to make your own components, or just a cheaper option to pull a lot, you’ll likely find it’s worth buying. And if ammunition continues to be the new normal – or happens again in the future – find some aluminum cans to recycle, and you will be good to go.