Henry Repeating Rifle

                 The Spencer Repeating Rifle


Spencer Rifle Blanks

.56-50 Spencer Blank Development

Andrew L. Bresnan
Copyright: 2010 All Rights Reserved

The following information is meant as that, information only.  RD&T Ballistics Research as well as it's president take no responsibility nor recommend anyone doing the procedure described as it is not meant as loading data but merely as an informational report.  These blanks work in my Taylor Arms Spencer Rifle and may not work in anyone else’s Spencer therefore do NOT make any of these blanks. Blanks are very dangerous and can cause  injury.  Also, I am not a blank vendor or manufacturer.

The development of the blank for the .56-50 Spencer has been one of the greater challenges in my history of blank development.  The problem was not so much the development of a blank that would cycle through the rifle but to find an affordable blank that would work.  Many of the .56-50 blanks developed for sale by blank vendors use a very expensive “parent” case such as the .50-70 or .50-90.  Some are even custom made blank cases as made by Starline brass company.  All of these make for an expensive blank in the neighborhood of two dollars per blank. 

Other “parent” cases that have been used are the .348 Winchester, the 8mm Kropatcek and the 8mm Lebel.  Again all of these result in a blank that cost close to 75 cents each and that does not include labor to make them.  So could RD&T Ballistics Research design a cost effective .56-50 blank?  The answer to this question is, I think I have the answer, at a cost of around 22 cents each. That is a far cry from the two dollar mark vendors were charging. 

The breakthrough came when I decided to explore the possibility of using the 32 gauge shotgun shell as a “parent” case.  Most all of the dimensions were close with a small amount of sizing to the brass base of the shell.  As to the cost effectiveness of the 32 ga shells, they fit the bill at $145 per 1000 delivered and the added bonus is that they come already primed.  The only added cost is the powder, around 8 cents, and the foam rope plug, about a penny.

This is the first time that the 32 gauge shotgun shell has been used successfully in making the .56-50 blanks.  My Spencer is one of the new made Taylor Arms Spencer rifles.  I have not tested these in an original Spencer which has the blade extractor.  I do know that these function in mine and another individual's Taylor Arms Spencer rifle perfectly, well as close as you can get to perfect.

                             Loaded Spencer Blanks


.56-50 Blanks: Shooting and Loading Videos

Shooting .56-50 Spencer blanks: 32 gauge shotgun shells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCeXtqUgMJo

Loading the .56-50 Spencer Rifle Blank


  Making .56-50 Spencer Blank: Step by step.

 1.  “Parent” case:  32 gauge shotgun shell from Ballistic Products at
http://www.ballisticproducts.com/prodinfo.asp?number=0643200  These come already primed.

  Cut the 32 gauge shell to a length of 1.61. A table saw with a jig that holds 20 cases makes short work of cutting cases.  About 1300 cases can be cut in 3 hours or less.

  If the cases you have are already primed you might want to knock out the primers before doing this stage for safety.  With that said, I leave the primers in when I do this step. Size the 32 gauge shell in a .56-50 Taylor(Lyman makes the dies set and can be purchased at Midway USA at
http://www.midwayusa.com/viewproduct/?productnumber=265581 ) size die with the de-capping pin removed, do not use a shell holder but run the case all the way into the size die until the rim of the shell is touching the die.  To remove the case from the die I use a 7/16s bolt 4 inches long and washer run through the size die and tap out with a hammer, it does take an inital hard tap.  By doing this you do not have to keep removing the bolt from the die, just run up another case and tap out. MAKE SURE TO LOWER THE RAM OF THE RELOADER WHEN TAPPING OUT THE CASE. FAILURE TO LOWER THE RAM WILL DETONATE THE PRIMER WHEN TRYING TO TAP IT OUT!!!!!!!!!!!! No big deal but will scare the crap out of you. Always were safety glasses when reloading anything!!!!!!!

I use a chamfer tool to reduce the thickness of the inside of the mouth of the 32 gauge shell.  It only takes a couple of turns with the chamfer tool and that seems to be enough.  This will reduce the “memory” of the plastic causing it to remain closed a little more. You could also use a skiver as used by shotshell reloaders found at
I use an RCBS shell holder Number 31 from
http://www.buffaloarms.com/browse.cfm/4,4792.html you can also get the Lyman .56-50 Taylor dies from there also.

  Prime the case if need be and insert the amount of black powder you may want to use, I loaded 35 grains of FFFg.

  Using 5/8 inch foam rope cut a plug about ¼ inch long and insert this in the case until it sits on top of the powder.

  Crimp the case mouth 2/3s of the way closed using the .56 blank crimp die from C-H   

  Using a large pair of finger nail clippers clip the points off of the crimp at about a 45 degree angle.  I then push the loaded round into the side of my reloading bench to flatten the crimp. They will open back up slightly.
I think that step 9 may be better for long range storage of the blanks since they do not come open much, only time will tell.

 Using the Lyman .56-50 expanding die run the round into it so that the crimp is closed flat . The crimp will still push open very slightly, about a 1/16th of an inch or so but this is where I

like the looks of the finished round as well as it is pretty well closed.

I have added this step as it puts a slight bottle-neck on the case which makes if feed better. I have a cut off die for a Spencer made by C-Hhttp://www.ch4d.com/  for cutting off 8mm Kropatcheck brass to make brass blanks.  I use this die as a size die to put the final bottle-neck on the case. These look great and I feel are perfect for a tactical blank.  The only draw back I can see to this blank is the fact that it is red.  Even that should not matter too much as they are enclosed in the magazine anyway.  This step could be left out and the blanks would still function perfectly.

They have a slight bottle-neck to the round that is hard to see in the pictures. These stayed pretty much closed and time will tell if they open much.  This is the procedure that I use for my Taylor Arms Spencer Rifle.  Others may be able to use the exact procedure or may need to adjust to fit their needs and equipment.  The equipment I use is an RCBS Rock Chucker press, Lyman .56-50 Taylor reloading dies, RCBS chamfer tool and a .56 caliber crimp die & cut off die.

 Safety Report: http://westernsharpshooters.webs.com/blankssafetytest.htm

     The 32 gauge based .56-50 in an Original Spencer

Using the 32 Gauge based .56-50 Blanks in an Original Spencer

This project of making Spencer .56-50 blanks from 32 gauge shot shells has been very educational.  The Taylor Arms Spencer Rifle in .56-50 seems to have no problems using these 32 gauge based .56-50 blanks.  These blanks have been tried in 4 of the Taylor Arms Spencer rifles and seem to work great.  Today I have not had access to a Taylor Arms Spencer carbine in .56-50 but I would assume they would work since they would have the same chamber.

Using the 32 gauge based .56-50 blanks in an original M1860 .56-56 has proved to be a real education.  Not all Spencer carbines are “equal”.  In one of the original Spencer carbines I tried these in I swaged the rims of the 32s to make them a little larger at .638-.640 to help with extraction.  However that created a problem that now the case rim was too thin and out of a seven round magazine there might be 3 misfires due to the firing pin not being able to reach the case.  Recocking the hammer and firing again fire the round most of the time.  To me that would be a pain and not worth the effort.  I then tried the blanks where I did not swage the rims in this same carbine.  They seem to feed and extract fine with little to no problems.  The misfiring was not eliminated but reduced.  Some time I could fire the entire magazine with no misfires and other times I might have a misfire.  My conclusion is ,at least for this carbine, not to swage the rims and use the same round that I use in my Taylor Arms Spencer.

 I recently purchased a M1860 carbine and it had some different results.  First off the blanks I make for the Taylor Arms would feed but extraction was not positive. My next test was to swage the rims to see how these preformed.  The result was a good positive extraction.  I have not been able to make it to the range so I just tried some of these with the primers in them to see if they would fire or not.  All of the first magazine,7, fired and extracted perfectly.  I then loaded the magazine with 7 more of the swaged rounds loaded with just primers again.  The results were the same, No misfires.  I will load up some swaged rim 32 gauge based .56-50 blanks for this carbine loaded with 30 grains of fffg and test them at the range next week.  My thought is that these will work without any problems.

I got a chance to get to the range to test my original Spencer M1860 Carbine.  I made up 50 of the 32 gauge based .56-50 blanks.  I swaged the case rims to a diameter of .640, used the deburring tool on the case mouth, loaded with 30 grains of fffg, crimped and clipped the points off.  That is the load I tested.  First off the report of the round was fantastic, definitely not a wimpy load.  All rounds cycled perfectly in feeding as well as extraction.  In fact with a brisk movement of the lever the case was thrown clear of the action and away.  I fired all 50 rounds and they all functioned perfectly, pretty much the exact way my Taylor Arms Spencer does.  After 50 rounds there was little to no fouling in the action of the Spencer.  The 32 gauge shot shell seals the chamber and does not allow any fouling to blow back. 

 I have not tried these .32 gauge based .56-50 blanks in any other original rifles or carbines.  My thought is that a person may have to experiment to see what works in their original.  However if you have a Taylor Arms Spencer I think that you would have not problems.


                      From the movie: Alexander's Bridge

13 Tube Blakeslee Box Reproduction

10 Tube Blakeslee Box

6 Tube Blakeslee Box

                         Spencer Reenactor Pictures

Jim Coon & Andrew L. Bresnan
5th Michigan Cavalry




President Lincoln was not using blanks when he shot this board in 1863.