Berdan Primers


Does anyone how europeans removed and reloaded their Berdan Primed ammunition in an efficient industrial operation? So far as I know, to reload Berdan Primed ammunition is very difficult, especailly the removal of the primers as compared to Boxer primed ammunition. But there must have been some sort of press that allowed large quanities of this type cartridge to be reloaded rapidly. I can not imagine that a workers removed each individual primer by hand.


I believe the large-scale repriming procedure used in Europe is hydraulic, the details of which aren’t available to me. Actually the biggest problem in reloading Berdan-primed cartridge cases in the U.S. is acquiring the primers; the procedures are a bit more labor-intensive than with the Boxer, but not painfully so. Jack


Certainly when I was removing Berdan primers from a large batch of 9mmP I used a hydraulic de-caper. It was fast and efficient. It could have been adapted for volume operation.


Yes hydraulic deprimers were used. In smaller scale they were pierced with a tool like a brad awl and levered out. Its not as primitive as it sounds, with a bit of practice you can get up a good speed. I have done hundreds.


VinceGreen, do you think the large batch hydraulic de-capers moved empty cartridge cases on a conver belt type of operation. I have seen both the hand hydraulic and can-opener type decaper. Both looked pretty inefficient, each cartridge had to be done one at a time by hand. Also, I have been told that the can-opener/brad-awl takes a long time to master and one can easily ruin cartridge cases even when the techinique is mastered. The Hydraulic type has been described as wet and messy and often the pressue would not be enough to force the primer out. If I understand you, once upon a time in europe great masses of berdan primed cases moved along an efficient assembly line like one sees in beer factories that fill bottles. Could it be that some sort of tube came down into the case, squirted a liquid, than a ram pushed into the case and the overpressure poped the primer. I wonder if these machines can still be seen in operation and where.


A greater mystery to me is how did the Canadians de-cap and re-prime thousands of LIVE .303 cartridges in order to remedy primer failures?



I to have wondered how .303" Cordite live rounds were decapped. If Cordite is removed it cannot be reloaded and removeing live primers from a round full of Cordite seems hazardous.


One) removing cordite from a loaded case is a PITA. the case is actually formed around the cordite. While people like me, Falcon, TonyE, Armourer and Gravelbelly have probably all done our share I would say they would all testify it is not an on line process.

Two) the depriming of berdan cases in britain using hydraulic deprimers reached a short lived peak about 20-25 years ago on 7.62 cases. I found it messy and wet and preferred the bradawl technique. I would imagine the same technique as hydraulic was used commercially using compressed air rather than water but I can offer no evidence to that effect.

Three) reprocessing ammunition to that degree remains suspect from a cost effective point of view, all you are saving is the case.



I agree with your comments above however the specific example which intrigues me was the replacement of defective primers on loaded, British-made, .303" cartridges on a large scale in Canada. They only changed the primers, the case, cordite, wad and bullet remained intact.



Could the primers have been removed from the outside by a vacuum?



I doubt whether the vacuum method would work on an empty case as the maximum pressure differential is 1 atmosphere or about 15 pounds per square inch. The area of a primer is small and the available force is less than 1 Pound. Certainly it would not work on loaded live cartridges.



Thats a tricky one and it does exercise the imagination a bit. The only way I can see how it could be done is to cut into exactly the right part of the primer with a lathe tool but that would be both risky and slow. Its an interesting question.


Thank you all for the replies to my question. In the meantime I went on UTube and found there are several UTube videos one can watch about removing Berdan primers. There are hydraulic and can-opener demonstrations. Also, there are very interesting methods that people have developed of their own. I found of partiuclar interest the punch made by Trex1268.


There was some discussion, possibly on this site, about a commercial operation in the US prior to the wide availability of 7.62x39 ammo, that was using a propane-powered chamber to mass de-prime cases.

Apparently, it used a series of holes with grease at the bottom and a large lid that locked in place. The created a sealed chamber. Once the propane/air mix was ignited, the primers were expelled through the holes. Very much like hydraulic decapping.

There is also the Efemes decapper which uses a small pistol primer in much the same way as the propane method, but one case at a time. They come up brand-new on ebay often.


In good old Prussia the decapping in peacetimes was the job of the soldiers.
On every barracks yard there was a cast iron water pressure apparatus mounted on a wooden bolster.
Here is the official reglemented wooden mallet :-)

and here the machine

after every shooting and training the empty cases where collected and decapped in the machine. The case inserted in the chamber, filled with water and a stroke with the mallet at the rod shot out the primer.Then finally cleaned in big vessels with hot water. One vessel has some vinegar the other soap added. A real dirty and beloved work. Well it was normally done by recruits and soldiers that fell to the attention of their sarges :-).
Needless to say that every washing and brushing was finally reglemented in the manual and an careful drying and mirror polishing process was developed by the NCOs :-).
Cases where very expensive - app. 100 rd. had the value of 1 rifle - so they did a lot of care and cleaning. The used primers where collected and send back to the arsenals too. Probably not for reloading but for metal reuse. There are exact schedules what had to be delivered back to the arsenals - including bullet lead. If there where delivered more, the regiment get paid for the metal and cases. Bed what was the main soldiers job in those days after shooting :-)

As far as I know for the Patrone 88 an in line pressed air machine decapping was used.




One Must remember that before WW I, very little Military ammo was crimped at the primers. So decapping was easy by water or in the case of Roth primed cases, small diameter Pin thru the Central Flash hole.

During WW I, the majority of belligerants went over to Primer crimping for MG use, to prevent loose blown back primers jamming the mechanisms. From WW I, the quantities of ammo made economically also made Reloading a Non-event. It was cheaper to use the cases for Blanks, Dummies, or as scrap brass. Only small nations like the Netherlands kept up their Reloading practices to 1939, for their Colonies such as the East Indies (KNIL).
Also the practice of “Re-capping” was discarded in the 1920s and 30s…Italy had done it quite often before WW I, as the Italian Berdan primer was not “crimped” New, and had two larger flash holes than other European Berdan Pockets.

As to the Compressed air, in-line decapping for Patrone 88 cases, it would be quite efficient, as the primers were not crimped, and fired ones are also distorted from a “pressfit” in the pocket. The Air die could also have been the Full sizing die as well, with a Push rod to eject the case after decapping. With all the Technology available in the 1890s Germany,
I am surprised they stopped at “In-line” decapping, and didn’t proceed to “Rotary Table” press decapping.

Of course, as the cost of mass produced brass cases dropped, the economics of reloading fell away as well…even without factoring in “crimped primers”…

Doc AV
AV Ballistics
Berdanner since 1967.

PS, BTW, The practice of reloading M71 and 71/84 cartridges in Barracks was usually a form of “Company Punishment” for wayward soldiers…

IN the USA, National Guard Units ( and Regular Army) were usually supplied with Ideal brand Armory Tools, which could reload up to 9 or 16 Rounds of 45/70 or 30 Krag at each operation. But later with .30/06, cases were washed in Washing Soda, dried, and returned to the Ammo Depot for disposal to one of the Army Arsenals for either re-use or reloading as training ammo.

Instructions to this effect( Washing etc) were still being printed on the packets till the 1920s, after that, the simple “Disposal according to AR” ( Army Regulations) was printed on the Label.

Does anybody collecting .30/06 packets have a change-over date for the Labels???

Doc AV