Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which One Is Better?

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Various Ammunition Types

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Guns have operated the same way for about the last 600 to 700 years. Using a pipe-like chamber that is sealed on one end, an explosive powder is used to launch a projectile out of an opening on the other end and toward an intended target. Over the years the details of this design has changed, but the overall concept has stayed the same. In the 1850s, different types of primer ignition systems came about that would revolutionize the gun industry. So, what is the difference in rimfire vs centerfire cartridges?

There are more differences between rimfire vs centerfire than one might initially guess. Their purposes have shifted over the year, as have designs. Rimfire are at the easier-to-handle, lighter-power end of the spectrum. Centerfire cartridges are on the heavier, more powerful side of and are used for big game hunting, personal protection, and by the military and police.

What Is Rimfire vs Centerfire?

The most obvious difference rimfire vs centerfire is the location on the cartridge where the gun’s firing pin hits. The firing pin strikes rimfire cartridge on the rim and centerfire cartridge in the center.

Rimfire rounds started out as small size ammunition only (.22 caliber or less), but nowadays you might find larger caliber rimfire ammunition if you look hard enough. Centerfire cartridges are available in sizes bigger than .22 calibers.

Brief History on Rimfire

The first rimfire cartridge was designed as a .22 caliber and used in 1845. However, it didn’t contain any powder and seemed to be intended for play shooting. It was even used indoors. The first powder cartridge wasn’t designed until 1857.

Some larger rimfire rounds were made during its heyday, including for the .52 caliber Spencer rifle. However, shortly after the American Civil War, the larger rimfires lost popularity as the powerful and more reliable centerfire cartridges became popular.

Brief History on Centerfire

The centerfire cartridge as we know it was designed sometime during the 1870s. However, there are several primitive designs that came about before rimfire cartridges; some as early as 1808.

Casings grew more complicated and more reliable. The single-piece, thick, reusable casings developed for centerfire catridges proved more economical over the years, knocking rimfire cartridges down to smaller calibers only.

How They Are Made

Whether they are rimfire or centerfire, the basic components of cartridges are the same; but with a few innovational twists added to the centerfire. Making cartridges (both by-hand or in the factory) is dangerous work. Knowing how rimfire vs centerfire cartridges are made will help you better understand and appreciate the powerful tools we sometimes take for granted, along with knowing what type is right for your next hunting trip or visit to the shooting range.

The Parts of a Cartridge

The basic components of a cartridge (or round) are as follows: the bullet, the propellant, the primer, and finally the casing. Each can be made in many different ways, depending on the manufacturing process.

Manufacturing Rimfire vs Centerfire Cartridges

rifle bullets

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A very thin brass (sometimes steel, but usually brass) casing is used for rimfire vs centerfire cartridges. The cartridges also have more of an edge on the bottom rim, where the firing pin will strike. This is where the primer is placed using centrifugal force. Both rimfire and centerfire casings need to be within 0.001 inches of a standard caliber in order to properly function and not jam a gun. Even if it feeds into the magazine properly, it can have problems moving from the magazine into the chamber.

In centerfire cartridges, the casing has to be be a lot thicker for the heavier bullets and greater amount of powder, providing a lot more fire power. In this case, the primer bead is separate from the casing. During the manufacturing process, the bead is placed in the primer hole of the casing, and, at the same time, the top of the casing is slightly expanded to make room for packing in the powder and to make placing the bullet easier.

When packing black powder, a precise, and carefully measured amount must be used or there is a risk of inaccuracy from not enough power. Too much powder in a cartridge can be very dangerous and even cause a firearm to explode. When comparing rimfire vs centerfire cartridges, one detail really stands out. Since rimfire cartridges are limited to smaller calibers, less powder can be used; thus there is less power provided to the bullet when fired.

The next and final step in the manufacturing of cartridges is setting the bullet, which is usually covered in a lubricant to make things easier. Once the bullet is seated, the casing is crimped down to meet the proper length standards as well as reduce the diameter and secure the bullet. Special dies are used to seal the entire circumference of the cartridge so no moisture can affect the powder inside. If it even becomes damp, it won’t fire.

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which Is Better?

Many would guess that centerfire cartridges are the best since the design is an obvious improvement on the rimfire design. The truth is that rimfire very much still has its place. Many hunters and gun enthusiasts start out with a .22 long rifle: a rimfire.

Ignition Systems

TherRimfire ignition system doesn’t hold a candle to that of a centerfire. If you are looking for accuracy, reliability, velocity, and availability, centerfire takes the cake.

The rimfire burns from the one side it is struck by the firing pin. This presents the opportunity for uneven burns and inaccurate shots. The centerfire ignites from the center, creating an even burn.

Another hurdle that rimfire couldn’t quite make it over is working with large calibers. To provide a somewhat even blast for large bullets in a rimfire casing, more powder is needed: more than what is needed for a centerfire cartridge of the same caliber. Trying to make a rimfire cartridge for a large caliber can cause a rimfire firearm to explode, or other catastrophes.

When a rimfire cartridge is being assembled, the primer material is pressed and forced into the sides of the shell using a spinning machine. This can complicate things. It is unknown what segment of the rim will be hit by the firing pin, and there is a chance of unevenly placed primer. This can cause inaccurate shots and possible misfires.

Durability

The design of the rimfire cartridge requires it to be struck on the rim of the cartridge to set of the primer and ignite the powder with a single strike. To make this work effectively, it has to have a thin shell (usually made of brass). Once fired, rimfire shells can’t be reused because the shell is so thin. The upside is that they are usually so cheap most folks who still use rimfire cartridges don’t stress over it.

Another quick note on durability: because the rimfire shell has a built-in primer, it can be subject to manufacturer errors and possibly cause a misfire.

Recoil

While this may be a no-brainer to experienced gun hobbyists and enthusiasts, rimfire cartridges can’t hold too much powder. They are therefore limited to smaller calibers; thus they have less recoil. This is perfect for beginners or anyone having problems with the heavy recoil of centerfire firearms.

If you find yourself needing to re-line with your target after every shot, you could be affected by the recoil. Try using smaller caliber or rimfire rounds, as they only pack in so much power. Then work your way back up to a bigger caliber firearm.

Safety

Safety is number one when handling a weapon of any type or caliber. Centerfire is considered more stable and can withstand rougher handling than rimfire cartridges. Rimfires have been known to ignite from being dropped on a hard enough surface or being pinched suddenly. This is one of the many reasons professionals, and the military, prefer centerfire vs rimfire; along with accuracy, fire power, and consistency.

Reloadable

If you are a true gun hobbyist or enthusiasts, chances are you reload your rounds when you can. This is a good way of saving money and learning to appreciate the science and technological innovations behind such a power tool.

Rimfire rounds cannot be reloaded. Of course, rimfire cartridges are cheaper, so many might wonder, why bother? But they are also getting rarer and rarer, partly due to people hoarding stashes of rimfire cartridges for their own use. This is just another reason centerfire trumps rimfire.

Conclusion

It’s obvious who wins the rimfire vs centerfire argument: centerfire! With lack of availability, accuracy, and variety of calibers, rimfire has many reasons for losing favorability. Rimfire may still have a place in the hearts of gun history buffs and true gun enthusiasts, and many beginners will be thankful for how little recoil it produces and the cheap cartridges. Most hunters, professionals, and military personnel will continue to use centerfire ammunition for years to come until a new, more efficient technology takes its place.