I read up on the process and started. I found most of the pitfalls. Please read the entire article prior to beginning the process. I wrote this more or less as a log of my attempts. It worked well on the first try, more or less. I did find some easier or less damaging techniques and added them later.
All my sources and information indicates the Dutch cartridge is the same shape, size and pressure specifications as the 6.5×54 (rimless) Mannlicher-Schoenauer cartridge, save the rim. Since no one commonly makes dies for the Dutch cartridge (actually, RCBS does, but they run over $100 a set; more for ‘forming’ dies), I bought a set of 6.5x54MS dies (made by Lee and cost less).
Start with .303 British cases, preferably new and unfired. This actually simplifies the process, since no one I could find makes a dedicated 6.5x53mmR shell head holder. To simplify this essay, I’m going to refer to the round as “Dutch”, as that is the type of rifle I have.
.303 British case, unaltered.
.303 Brit cases are normally 54 to 56 millimeters (mm) long (depending if at maximum length or recently trimmed). Dutch cases are 53.5 mm when longest – according to my readings of the few schematics I found. Trimmed, Dutch cases are 52 mm. Therefore, the .303 cases need to be trimmed. The Dutch cases headspace on the rim, so the actual length is not crucial. However, too long a case will cause the shoulder to crush and rumple. Not desired. Too short a neck will not hold the bullet properly and securely. But even a full millimeter probably won’t stop the show. Also, one must turn the neck to allow the seated bullet to enter the neck portion of the chamber AND allow for some expansion so the case can release the bullet when fired. These actions will be discussed later.
I note a scratch on the shoulder of some of my resized cases. Debris in one of the sizing dies I used. It doesn’t seem more than a surface effect, but it does annoy me. I have located the problem. It doesn’t really mean much and the ‘defect’ is removed later (shooting the cases), but do inspect brass regularly during the forming procedure.
Step One: Size .303 British case in .308 Winchester sizing die, without decapper or expander
1. I found the best way to start was by removing the decapper/neck expander from, then sizing the original case in a .308 Winchester (Lee brand) sizing die. With the decapping and expander pin removed and the top mounted pin ‘holder’ removed, I didn’t have any difficulty with the 56 mm case in a 51 mm cartridge die, the reader may (depending on brand and style of dies used), and is encouraged to watch for it.
This step accomplishes two things; one, the neck size is reduced somewhat, making it easier to reduce the neck size smaller. (Obviously, it’s going to be 6.5 mm when finished; doing this in steps is easier and less brass is lost in the process.) Second, this sizing moves the shoulder back to where it almost should be. Almost.
Step Two: Size case in 7×57 Mauser sizing die.
2. Next, I sized the neck down again in a 7x57mm sizing die. Again with the decapper/neck expander removed. One notes the 57mm case die leaves the necked down portion of the case a bit longer than the finished product. However, with the already sized upper portion the case enters the next ‘size down’ procedure easier.
Step Three, Four and Five: Case sized in 6.5x55mm die and trimmed.
3. Neck down the neck in a 6.5×55 Swede sizing die. After this, most of the neck is roughly the correct diameter.
4. At this point, I shortened the cases to 52 mm, the correct length. (Check this length; mine came out a little shorter than some original collector rounds I have.) I did mine on a Forster case trimmer, as that’s what I have. There are other options and the reader is encouraged to investigate the matter. (Frankly, using a hand cranked trimmer to remove several millimeters of case neck is a pain in the neck.) But trim it anyway. AFTER I did the hand trimming, I ordered the Forster power adapter which allows an electric screw driver to do the cranking.
I later bought a rather inexpensive electric screw driver at the local “Harbor Freight” outlet. It seems to do the turning without the wear and tear on my fingers. In retrospect, I wish I had had it before.
5. Now, the only sizing left is the shoulder, which is still a bit long. I found using the 6.5x54MS dies made the cartridge ‘look’ right, but didn’t sufficiently set the shoulder back to chamber freely. After I purchased the MS dies, I heard the 6.5×53 Mannlicher-Carcano dies are a better fit. I later bought the Carcano dies (from Lee) and the cases ultimately chamber without difficulty.
So I resorted to brute force. (Don’t do this yet). I beat the bolt closed with rubber mallet (still with an unprimed, empty case). This does not seem to affect the bolt and does partially form the shoulder of the case to fit into the chamber. After one forcing, the case will chamber and the bolt lock with some minor pressure. This actually seems to be good, as when the case is fired, the base of the case is firmly seated on the bolt face and no stretching can occur.
Note: For some reason, the 6.5×54 MS dies did NOT set the shoulder back appropriately. Others have used them with reported success. Hopefully, your attempt will be easier. The rough-formed cases will not enter the rifle chamber easily. I obtained a set of 6.5×52 Carcano dies; the shoulder length from the base and length of case are both less. Doing the final sizing the the Carcano die allowed cases to chamber. I did not have to beat the bolt closed any longer.
As draconian as it may sound, I don’t think beating the bolt closed as I outlined did any harm to the rifle. All in all, I find using the Carcano dies a superior method. I strongly recommend NOT beating a loaded case into place.
Please note: The Carcano dies set the case mouth to .268” and the .264” bullets will not stay in the neck. So after setting the shoulder back with the Carcano dies, size the neck (at least) in the Mannlicher-Schonauer dies to properly hold the bullets. 6.5 x 55mm Swede dies have the correct sized expander (.264” bullets), but are too long to fully size the neck to the shoulder.
In retrospect, I probably should have annealed the cases at this point. I didn’t and everything seems to have worked out, but annealing sooner will not harm anything. Information below.
5. Prior to neck turning, I decided to fire-form the brass. Inspecting the thus formed cases, I decided to attempt a ‘live’ load to fire-form. I have a small pile of 140 grain 6.5 bullets from previous work with a 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. They are the correct bore diameter.
Large Rifle primers, a starting load of IMR 3031 and one of the aforementioned 140 grain bullets seated long seems to be about right. I did measure the loaded round and the outside diameter of the neck with bullet and it miked out just under the schematic dimension. It is rather disappointing in velocity at 2056 fps, but this was a starting load and merely for the purpose of forming the cases.
Outside diameter of neck is just below the one online dimensional drawing I found of the cartridge; therefore, the neck(s) should open enough in firing to release the bullet and not cause a pressure excursion.
Note: The cases you use may react somewhat differently and the dies you use may work a bit different. Do check the outside neck diameter with bullet in place to check if bullets will release. I did not include any dimensions as YOU need to find the information yourself and measure the outside diameter of the loaded round to assure yourself of the safety of the configuration.
Be sure and measure the neck and be sure there is enough space for the neck to open and completely release the bullet. If the bullet and case neck wedge together, pressures get truly unmanageable.
6.5x53Rmm finished and loaded round beside original FN loaded round.
The observer notes the ‘formed’ case (on the right) is a bit shorter than the original on the left. I possibly shortened them a bit too much. However, as the case is rimmed and headspaces on the rim, I don’t think it’s a tragic error. Were I fighting a war, or shooting constantly with the rifle (I am doing neither) I would be concerned about the burning powder gases cutting into the exposed end of the chamber under the missing case neck. I do not think for my purposes this makes a grosse affaire. If I make another set of cases, I will correct this, of course.
I also just ordered pilots (.264”) to ream necks both inside and outside. I have a feeling I will need them at some point.
The fire-forming worked swell. I should mention I tried a lighter charge of fast burning powder and it almost worked.
With all this cold working of the cases, I then annealed the cases to soften and return the malleability to the case necks and shoulders. Good information on line if you haven’t done this before. Not really a difficult operation, but one needs a proper place to do it.
According to Cartridges of the World the military loading of the 6.5 Dutch round features a 156-159 grain (10 grams in metric) round nosed bullet at 2433 feet per second. Wiki agrees with this, but that may mean it was copied. CotW also has a couple suggested loads.
My goal is to duplicate the original loading of cartridges for ‘obsolete’ military rifles. In my thinking the sights are set up for the ‘issue’ load. Also, one can reasonably try out the rifle as it was intended and intelligently form an opinion of the system.
Should one desire ‘lighter’ loads for plinking or fun – including those acquaintances who have never fired a rifle of such age – the loads shown in CotW can be reduced somewhat, or lighter bullets used, or ultimately use light loads for the 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Schonauer.
Cartridges of the World suggest either IMR 3031 or IMR 4350 to duplicate the original loading. See our next exciting episode – Bang! Please note, it is cold and snowy in the Central Plateau. I estimate the next proper shooting date to be at soonest mid April.