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Ideal No. 4 Reloading Tool

    The No. 4 Ideal Reloading Tool was the Classic, Basic, tool produced by Ideal. It was offered from about 1884 until about 1936. Check out the description on page 60 of "Reloading Tools of the Black Powder Era", Volume 1. There were many variations, but they did basically the same things. Cast a Bullet and Reload a Cartridge. 

    Bullet casting required a good pair of thick gloves. The Whole tool had to be heated HOT to get a good bullet. That is not really possible. The tool is too big. (Do not expect target grade bullets from this tool!) You could buy an excellent individual Ideal mold to cast the bullets and avoid that hot tool. If you could not afford the proper Ideal mold, you could "Make Do" with the mold on this tool. I often wonder how many Riflemen were disappointed with the tool and ordered a proper mold. ( I did try to cast bullets in one of these years ago. I do not plan to do it again!)

    A lot of these tools were sold. They were made for Small Rifle and Pistol Cartridges, which were very popular. You were stuck with making a standard load with a standard bullet. The bullet seating chamber was not adjustable, until a 'Special Tool" was offered later. This was necessary, because the cartridges the tool could reload, were for revolvers and repeating rifles. The cartridges had to work in the firearm! 

Ideal No. 4 Reloading Catalog Image

    This is a great image of the No. 4 Ideal Reloading Tool from an early Ideal Handbook. In "Reloading Tools of the Black Powder Era" they break these down into Eight different variations. This is probably an image of the third variation of this tool. You will likely come across more of these than any other type.

    This shows the Basic Tool and a list of Cartridges available in the No. 5 Ideal Handbook from 1894. The 44 Colt Old Model, and the 44 Merwin and Hulbert cartridges were not super common, but Ideal made a tool for them! Notice that Ideal considered the 32-20, 38-40 and 44-40 cartridges by Winchester and Marlin as different, or distinct cartridges. Winchester did this in their lists too. I have never been sure exactly why.

    An astute observer will notice the 22-20 Hornet cartridge mentioned up at the top of the list. Of course, the 22 Hornet came along in the 1920's, so what the heck?

    Back in the "Old Days", companies like Ideal would make you a tool for just about Anything! The Customer was KING!

    There was an early Shooter and Author named Ruben Harwood who experimented with a cartridge of his own back in the 1890's. He came up with a new cartridge by necking down the 25-20 WCF to 22 caliber. This was also called the 22 Harwood Hornet. An early Black Powder Wildcat! WAY before the modern 22 hornet. Did they steal his cartridge name? Looks like it!

    The 22 WCF ( Winchester Center Fire) was not mentioned in this list. It was introduced in 1885 for the Model 1885 Winchester Single Shot. I am surprised it is not listed here. It was the basis for the later 1920's, smokeless, 22 Hornet. It may have been offered in a different tool.

    This is why I like to look really close at these old catalogs. I always learn something new!

How do You Reload with a No. 4 Ideal Tool?

    This is a question I hear Endlessly! At gun shows! 

    Is this a Riveter? Why are you selling Riveters at a Gun Show?

    A Reloading Tool? Duh! Uh! Well...... how does it Work????

    I try to laugh it off, but sometimes it is hard to do. People will pick something up and not even look at it. 

    For you guys that like Rifles and Shooting, you already know the basics. For the Collector, the original instructions are fun to go over. Our Ancestors figured out how best to Reload, many years ago. They did much the same things we do today. The fancy new tools are not much better than those Great Grandad had. In some cases you may have better success using the old tools. The Antique Tools were designed for the Antique rifles and their particular flaws. Oversize Bores and Chambers were the biggest problems.

Ideal No. 4 Instructions

    I recently bought a late model No. 4 Ideal Reloading Tool. ( 1930 to 1936) It had changed hands several times and finally ended up on E-bay. I wanted this one because it was complete and in a great box. This one had everything still with it, including the instruction sheets. This is what a Serious Collector looks for!

    These instructions will tell you how to reload with Any Ideal Tool, when loading Black Powder. If you use Smokeless, you just need to find the correct powder and charge.

    You can find Ideal Reloading Tools everywhere. It is a challenge to find one that is all there and in nice shape.

    Normally, the tool was taken from the box. The box and wrapping were used to light a fire. The instructions were read and thrown away. The decapping pin and dipper were lost and the tool was abused and rusted. A rusted tool is not very interesting!

A Late Model No. 4 Reloading Tool

    For, I try to find Early, Exceptional or Rare Reloading Tools for your viewing pleasure. This is a late model tool, but it really fits the bill! The Ideal No. 3, 30-40 tool I picture in that article is another good example. Everything was there, but It was missing the wrapping paper! Sad because the wrapping paper prevents rust! Seems like it would be useful to have when storing the tool!

    This last version of the No. 4 Reloading Tool introduced the Removeable Bullet Mold Blocks. This might seem a little odd, but you could use a different bullet in this Fixed Seating Chamber Tool. A different bullet would seat just fine if it had the same nose shape and crimping groove location. If you go through the old Ideal Bullet Mold Lists, you will see Lots of 25 caliber molds.

    Ideal offered this No.4 tool and a No. 6 tool for larger Rifle Calibers. All From about 1930 to 1936. They Both had the Removable Mold Blocks. They must not have been super popular. They were dropped from the catalogs by 1937.

    At the same time, (1930) Lyman brought out the new Bullet Mold Blocks with Removable Handles. These were the mold blocks still available today. You probably have some in your Reloading stuff right now!

Ideal No. 4 Reloading Tool

     I was pleased to find this because it is 25-20. This should make the Winchester guys happy. We get an extra bonus because the label on the box shows exactly what is supposed to be In the box.  Until now, I only saw tools in the not so interesting 38 Special or 32-20, with ratty boxes and missing tools. My patience paid off. 


Ideal No.4 Reloading Tool

    This label shows all the little tools that came in the box. Most of the No.4 boxes do not show this. I find it funny that the tool used to make this engraving says 38 Special on the side. Obviously Ideal was thinking of Pistol Cartridges when they made this tool. The charge cup is supposed to vary according to which cartridge is being loaded.. The decapping pin has a  round nose that would be correct for the 38 Special Bullet.


     The Ideal Label above is in nice shape. This one seems to be marked 25-20 in pencil. Many of these are marked with Black India Ink.

     These No. 4 Reloading Tools must have been the Very First Introduction of the Removable Bullet Mold Blocks. You can tell they did not quite have their shit together. The Ideal Marking is shallow and the numbers are crooked. The Reloading Tool is not finished as well, with some deep casting pits showing. A Boss must have put his foot down! The Poor finish did not last long.

Ideal Bullet Mold

    Just a little while later, the finish on the new 1930 Mold was Beautiful. On this early example, every little part is polished perfectly. Ideal was going All Out to make Top of the Line Tools. This probably guaranteed their dominance for years to come! This was Darn Good Marketing!

Ideal Bullet Mold
Ideal Bullet Mold

    The other side of the mold shows the same rougher finishing. The 257283 Mold number is a little better. In the Ideal Bullet Mold Lists, the 257283 is said to be for the 25 Repeater. The little tapered groove at the front of the bullet is the "Crimping Groove". If you push the new cartridge all the way into the Bullet Seating Die in this tool, the mouth of the case will be pushed into this groove and squeezed down.

    Note that there are no Venting Grooves on these early Removable Mold Blocks. It is not unusual to see Home cut Venting Grooves "Around" the mold cavity on many early bullet molds. Harry Pope offered it on his Schuetzen molds for a few cents extra. His venting grooves did not touch the mold cavity. That would leave burrs and make the bullet stick in the mold.

    Right about this time someone at Ideal had a great idea. Cut Venting grooves in both sides of the mold to let air escape more easily. Do the Venting on All Molds. Production would be quick and easy. Then cut the mold Cavity Last. They describe this process in the Early 1958 "Handbook of Cast Bullets". Get a 1958 copy if you are interested. They are cheap and chock full of information! I look at mine all the time!

ideal mold 3.jpg

     This paragraph from an early Ideal handbook says it all. They offered this bullet mold in 1958 and probably still offer it today.

Ideal No. 4 Reloading Tool

    The Ideal markings were stamped so lightly on this tool, they were polished off before nickel plating. At this point in time, the tools were not super high quality!

    I was puzzled by the little bag with the two extra decapping pins in it. The Bag is waxed paper, not plastic. I got out my trusty computer and found that oiled or waxed paper has been used in America since before The Revolutionary War, to protect items from rust. This makes sense. Paper was around. Oil was around. Oil the paper and you have a preservative wrap!

    I unscrewed the cap on the decapping pin and found that all three pins were exactly the same. These pins are also different from what we can buy now. They have a flat head like a nail. I suspect these are original to the tool, though I have never seen these in a boxed set before.

    As usual, I wanted to see what the inside of the Bullet Seating Die looks like. There is no way to tell what is going on in there without making a cast. You can see the casting partly removed from the die in the image above. I put the big blob of casting material on there to give me something to get a hold on it. Otherwise the casting would be stuck in there and difficult to remove. In this case I filled the extractor groove too.

Ideal Reloading Tool

    The casting of the Seating Chamber makes everything clear. These Seating Chambers  only do Two Things. They seat the proper bullet nose shape to the correct depth. (No Matter how long the bullet is.) Then, they Crimp the bullet in place.

    The rest of the Bullet Seating Chamber is drilled out to clear the rest of the Cartridge Case. There is no sizing of the neck or body of the Cartridge.

    This should work fine in most situations. Black Powder and Bulk Smokeless did not produce high pressures. The Cartridge Case would expand to the Chamber Shape, then shrink back just a little. The Cartridge Case did not have to be resized.

    Higher pressure Smokeless might expand the Cartridge Case to the point that it was tight in the chamber. In a repeating rifle the Cartridge Cases would not feed easily into the Chamber of the rifle. In that case, if you did need to size a case, Ideal offered a die just for that purpose. But, this tool would not do it.

Ideal No. 4 Reloading Tool

    All told, these were great little Reloading Tools. They allowed you to save some money and "Roll" your own Cartridges. You could also vary the Bullet Size and Powder Charge to get the Most out of your Rifle and Ammo. 

    They also gave a Glimpse into the future. Ideal and then Lyman were developing the Ideas, Tools and Molds for our modern Reloading. 

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