Vintage Bullet Seaters
Seating a bullet to a consistent depth is critical to accuracy. These seaters also serve other purposes. It depends on whether you are shooting a Single-Shot or a Repeating Rifle.
Single Shot Rifles, with Paper Patch or Grooved Lubricated bullets required different tools. The bullets were not normally "Crimped" in place. Our Ancestors thought their rifles were more accurate without crimping! Bullets that were "Crimped" in place, were for "Hunting Use Only"! Not for accuracy!
Repeating Rifles like the Winchester Lever Actions required a Flat Nosed Bullet that was crimped in place. The cartridges were lined up in a spring loaded magazine. You did not want a pointed bullet poking the primers when the rifle was fired. The shock might ignite a primer in the magazine. Black powder usually filled the cartridge case and supported the base of the bullet in the cartridge case. Shock to the cartridges in the magazine could still compress the powder and move the bullet. A "Crimp" was necessary to keep the bullet were you put it.
Revolvers had to have bullets "Crimped" in place too! An Un-Crimped bullet might bounce forward and lock up the cylinder. (Then you would be chopped to pieces with a Tomahawk!) Tomahawks do not jam or run out of ammo!
The basic Bullet seater was a simple item and is still used today. Modern target shooters and accuracy enthusiasts even have micrometers built into these basic seaters, to fine tune the bullet seating depth.
Here I focus on the earliest tools. I welcome pictures and information.
The Ballard Bullet Seater
These are fairly common Bullet seaters. They were made in all the centerfire calibers offered for the Ballard Single Shot Rifle. If you want to Reload a "Standard Factory Load", these were slightly useful. All they did was seat a particular length and weight bullet, to one depth only. They did not size the case neck or crimp a bullet in place.
A new Factory load would hold the paper patch bullet in place.(Mostly) After you fire a cartridge the case mouth gets bigger. Marlin never offered a tool to squeeze the case mouth back down to fit the bullet. If you wanted to size the case mouth, you could buy a Remington neck sizing tool? That would be the only way you could make a hunting cartridge to carry in the field. Otherwise your bullet might fall out!
Target Shooters quickly adopted a breech seating tool. At the range, you could seat a grooved or paper patch bullet out in the rifling, in front of the cartridge case. Then fill the cartridge case with powder and place a wad on it. This was considered best for accuracy.
A Bridgeport Gun Implement Bullet Seater
When I first bought this little bullet seater I had no idea who made it. Another one was pictured in "Reloading Tools" by Rowe and Curtis, Volume 1, page 196. They thought it might be a B.G.I. product. The tool they illustrate had a seating chamber and plunger only. I was lucky enough to get a few more parts with mine. Both tools were marked 38W which usually indicates the 38-40 W.C.F. A cartridge for Winchester Repeating Rifles.
The de-capping pin was .397. That seemed correct for a 38-40 because this is actually a Small 40 caliber cartridge. The Lyman "Handbook of Cast Bullets" illustrates 38-40 bullets that are .401 diameter. I tried the de-capping pin in a fired 38-40 case. It went right in. A slip fit in the cartridge case. I was pretty sure this was for the 38-40.
I tried the fired cartridge case in the bullet seating chamber. It goes in and stops with just the rim sticking out about 1/16 of an inch. That indicates this is a tool that Crimps the bullet in place. That is important for both Repeating Rifles and Revolvers. In both of these firearm types, the bullet cannot move around.
In the image above left, you can see the plunger is machined to seat a flat nose bullet in the cartridge case. This is important for Repeating Rifles with a tubular magazine. You do not want a pointed bullet poking the primers of that row of cartridges during recoil. Of course the cartridges would also work in a revolver. Some folks liked to have a Winchester and a Colt in the same caliber.
This is an attractive little tool set. It is very well finished. After I determined it was for 38-40 repeating firearms, I set it aside. The little flat faced pin or rod was a puzzle. The de-capping pin has an unusual hollow around the small pin. I thought that might be to fit around early balloon head type cartridge cases. The primer pocket stuck out inside those early cases. The rims and base were thin. They could be deformed easily. That is all I noticed at the time. I set the tools aside. Just another odd set of tools that Might be BGI.
Later I got this image of a 44-40 BGI set. It is much more complete and in fine condition. You can see tools that are like my smaller set.
This is why I am building this website. Often, we do not know who made a particular tool. Sharing images and information can help identify an unknown tool. Now, I am pretty sure my bullet seater is a BGI product. I also learned these were made in other calibers. I bet there are more of these out there, but they are hidden away in collections. A set in it's original box would be interesting to see. They often have labels with a picture of the tools.
My bullet seater had this little steel pin (above Left) along with it. I thought it was a homemade item and forgot about it. When I got the image of this 44-40 set I noticed another pin like mine. Two of these would indicate this is a factory item.
I got out my pin and my trusty old Starrett Micrometer.
The nose on my pin has a curved taper and a shoulder. Just below the shoulder, the pin measures .406. That is just a bit larger than the .401, 38-40 bullet. This tells me the pin is intended to flare the case mouth. The shoulder is a stop. You can only flare the case a little. Flaring the case prevents tearing the bullet when it is pushed into the cartridge case.
When you put a heavy crimp on a cartridge case it stays there, to some degree, after firing. The brass expands and lets go of the bullet and then shrinks back down part way. BGI recognized this and offered this little tool. Winchester had a flaring bevel on their 1882 de-capping pins. The 1894 Winchester Reloading Tool had a small shoulder on the bottom of the sizing die to flare the case mouth. Ideal had a tapered surface on the end of all their bullet seating chambers and dies to flare the case mouth. This was an important feature when loading delicate lead bullets.
Most accounts say that the 38-40 Cartridge was introduced by Winchester in 1874. Winchester offered the 1874 Reloading Tool in 38-40 as soon as it was introduced and it was a nice tool.
B.G.I seems to have been started up in 1878, then was no longer listed after about 1908. These seaters must have been offered during this period of time. B.G.I probably fell victim to Ideal. They were hard to compete with for everyone.
B.G.I produced a lot of Boxed Reloading Sets. These boxes are great because they show what was supposed to be in the box and included instructions. Some of these tools were rough, and some seem to be finished very well. They were called "Deluxe" sets. These were very popular. You can find them fairly often, mostly in small calibers. If you come across one of these, it would be fun to try. They should work just as well today for your Winchester or Colt or any 38-40 firearm.