Homemade Ball Patch

Obtaining round ball patches for a .32 caliber squirrel rifle is a problem here in the backwoods. The local Wal-Mart and the local gun shop both carry .50 and .54 caliber round ball patches, but .32 caliber patches are available only via special order, taking about a week to arrive and costing about $4 per hundred. Several times, I almost ordered the $27 round patch cutter sold by Dixie Gun Works. I figured it would amortize itself after about 700 patches. But lo and behold in the new Lyman Black Powder Handbook & Loading Manual Sam Fadala said that square patches work just as well as round patches.

Heck, I could cut square patches with scissors! Nothing for me to do but see if Sam knew what he was talking about.

First, patching material must be (1) 100% cotton and (2) must be tightly woven and (3) must measure between .014 and .018 in thickness. I started by micrometer measuring the 100% cotton clothing in my closets. Nothing met the requirements but new T-shirts. So, micrometer in hand, off I headed to the fabric section in the local Wal-Mart, hoping to find the perfect patch material in some bright color like red or purple.

I quickly discovered that almost all the bolts of cotton fabric contained 35% to 75% polyester. The few 100% cotton bolts I found measured .007 to .009. Alas, my hopes of having brightly colored patches died. Then I put the micrometer to a bolt of 100% cotton pillow ticking. It read .018".

2000+ patches in the rough
About 2,000 .32 caliber round ball patches in the rough. For some reason, the photo doesn't show the blue lines in the fabric. In the 4 o'clock position, you see the price slip still attached—$3.17.
When the Wal-Mart lady cut me a yard of it, folded it, then pinned a price slip to it, I asked, "How much does it cost?"

"$3.17," she said.

That's me holding it in the photo on the right. It measured 36" x 33". That's somewhere around 2,000 .32 caliber patches. To look at it in reference to money, that's more than 600 patches for a dollar or around 6 patches for a penny. Any way you look at it, it spells Cheap with a capital C.

To mark it for cutting I flattened it in the middle of my kitchen floor. I decided to cut it in 3/4" strips and to cut only two strips since that would give me 80+ patches. Using a black felt tip pen, I made black dots along opposite edges and spaced 3/4" apart. (Since the store-cut edge was crooked, I cut it out.) Then I aligned an edge of a 1" x 6" board on two opposite dots. Then I stood on the board so it would hold the fabric in place, and I then drew a line along the edge of the board, connecting the two dots.

Cutting the strips
Making .32 caliber patches from 3/4" strips of pillow ticking.
It was a simple and easy process to take scissors and cut along the lines, removing two 3/4" x 33" strips from the yard of fabric.

To cut the 3/4" patches from the 33" strips, I aligned a CD jewel case 3/4" from the edge of my kitchen table, gently shoved the end of a strip against it, and cut it with scissors aligned with the edge of the table. Quick, easy, simple.

If you prefer to cut your patches on the muzzle with a patch knife, leave the material in strips.

If you shoot a .50 or .54 caliber rifle, determine the size of your square patches by measuring the diameter of a round patch.

I lubed my square patches with Cold Weather Junior Lube and headed for the range. It was time to see if ol' Sam knew what he was talking about.

Here's a sampling of the results and with a penny included for scale:

All groups shot at 25 yards and shown approximately actual size.

Cutting the strips
5 shots in 3/4"
.310 Hornady round ball
10 grs Pyrodex P, measured
.018 square patch
Cold Weather Junior Lube

Av velocity = 1037 fps
Ext spread = 99
SD = 39


Cutting the strips
3 shots in 5/8"
.311 Lee cast round ball
20 grs Pyrodex P, measured
.018 square patch
Cold Weather Junior Lube

Av velocity = 1495 fps
Ext spread = 69
SD = 49


Cutting the strips
3 shots in 1/2"
.310 Hornady round ball
10 grs Pyrodex P, measured
.018 square patch
Cold Weather Junior Lube

Av velocity = 962 fps
Ext spread = 61
SD = 43

A dozen or more 3 and 5 shot groups averaged around 1" with several sub-1" groups. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't tell the difference in accuracy between factory-made round patches and home-made square patches.

A pleasant surprise was the great results with the Lee .311 cast round ball. With .014 round patches it had performed poorly. So not only have I bought my last package of factory-made patches, I've bought my last box of factory-made round balls.

Thanks, Sam.

Copyright 2001 by Junior Doughty


Dixie Gun Works
2001 Catalog No. 150.   Pg 288.
Black Powder Handbook & Loading Manual, 2nd Edition.   Pgs 9, 92.


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