Rimfire VS Centerfire: Ammo Comparisons – Max Blagg

Rimfire vs Centerfire

There isn’t a lot of difference on how guns work. The major difference lies in the type of primer ignition system used in the gun which leaves beginners in a fix as they constantly wonder about the better primer ignition option between rimfire vs. centerfire.

The functioning mechanism of guns is designed on the same concept. A powder charge is filled in a pipe that is sealed from one end. Ignition in the powder charge stimulates an explosion where a projectile is launched from the sealed end of the pipe.

The question of choosing one ignition mechanism over the other depends on the purpose for which a gun is going to be used. These activities include using a gun for hunting or simply learning to shoot at a shooting class.

Modern bullets use one of the two primer ignition systems - rimfire or centerfire where each mechanism has its own purpose and uses. The major difference between these two ignition mechanisms is their design and method of operation.

We will be exploring the details of rimfire vs centerfire in this article and help you understand the niches in which they operate along with their working mechanisms and differences.

Parts of a Cartridge: Both Rimfire and Centerfire

Every cartridge, or "round" in other words, has four parts to it: 

  • Bullet (not the entire cartridge, just the projectile)
  • Propellant
  • Primer
  • Case

It doesn't matter if the cartridge is centerfire ammunition or rimfire ammunition, these four components exist in every single cartridge. Generally, all bullets work the same way. The firing pin hits the primer, and that creates a very small explosion.

The small explosion that it creates will set off the gunpowder, and that forces the bullet to shoot forward, out of the gun through the barrel.

So, where exactly is the difference between centerfire vs rimfire ammunition? That lies within where the primer is located.

What Is Rimfire?

Rimfire

A rimfire cartridge was first used in the year 1845 and was made by evenly distributing the primer inside the rim pipe. It worked wonders as the cartridge was one-piece and did not require any assembly before firing. The single piece structure also helped to prevent the entry of dirt, dust and moisture inside the cartridge and made it very convenient to use.

Rimfire design faced two major challenges during the initial period. The first was to distribute the primer evenly at the base of the cartridge. Then, the second was the need to utilize a soft metal for the construction of the rim.

The rim was needed to be created out of a highly malleable metal so that it could be dented easily by the firing pin. Copper was the most preferred choice but it came with a disadvantage - it was not possible to load a highly powered load because of the risk of blowback.

Rimfire technology was used during the Civil War in the Spencer repeating rifle which fired a .52 caliber rimfire bullet. Even though the bullet speed was low, it was capable of inflicting major damage wherever it hit. It also displayed a capacity of firing 20 to 30 shots per minute. This was far superious when compared to other guns used during that time.

Common Types of Rimfire Ammunition

  • .22 Long Rifle -- this is the most common type
  • .22 Short
  • .17 Hornady Mach 2
  • .17 Hornady Magnum Rifle
  • .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire

Pros of Rimfire:

  • Low recoil: this makes rimfire ammo perfect for beginners
  • Cheap: rimfire ammo is easy to manufacture, so it's able to sell for a lower price

Cons of Rimfire:

  • Reliability issues: Sometimes the primer compound doesn't make full contact with the entire rim, so it may fail to fire at times. 
  • Not reloadable: this is because the primer is inside the bottom of the case
  • Small calibers: this is because of its design

What Is Centerfire?

Centerfire

First off, to keep things simple, centerfire rounds look exactly how they sound. If you can see a circular primer in the middle, at the base of the casing, then it is a centerfire round. Centerfire ammunition always has the primer in the center, hence the name of it. If it doesn't have this, then it is most likely rimfire. 

Now, for more of a backstory and details on centerfire ammunition.

Centerfire cartridges were invented close to 1812, much before rimfire cartridges were discovered. However, they were not quite reliable to use and continuous changes were made to its design until it was finally perfected during the year 1855.

It started gaining a lot of popularity and was used as a standard ignition mechanism for both rifles and handguns by the year 1860. This comprised of a primer cap that was placed at the center of a cartridge. The primer cap was made out of brass or copper.

It was possible to construct the cartridge and the primer cap using different materials as the primer cap was an external component and could be fit into the cartridge separately. This enabled the makers to construct a stronger cartridge. That could be dispelled with greater velocity and could be used on bullets of all sizes.

Where Could This Go Wrong?

An issue that cropped up with using separate metals was sealing. It was very difficult to seal two different metals together so that they could be extremely cohesive. This gave space for moisture and dirt to enter these cartridges and made them difficult to use.

The solution to this problem was found in the form of lacquer, which was used to seal the different metals tightly and prevent the entry of foreign particles inside the cartridge, which could compromise the ammunition. The result was a highly developed and effective ignition mechanism that was safe to use and could fire at a long range.

Pros of Centerfire Ammo:

  • Perfect for long range hunting
  • Highly reliable and accurate: makes centerfire ammo perfect for self-defense
  • Made in just about any caliber size: allows you to use it with just about any gun
  • Reloadable
  • Higher bullet power and speed

Cons of Centerfire Ammo:

  • Higher priced than rimfire
  • Higher recoil

Rimfire VS Centerfire - Difference Between The Two

We have already taken a look at rimfire and centerfire cartridges and their mechanisms, along with their construction aspects and invention history. This has shed light on the fact that both of these cartridges are not the same and come with some differences, which are spotted in their design and operating mechanisms.

A rimfire cartridge has a lower power, and thus can operate well at a closer range. Though modern technology has enabled the use of different metals and alloys in their construction to make way for a longer range, the cost factor shoots up and they are not as effective as centerfire cartridges.

Centerfire cartridges can be reused multiple times by replacing the primer cap. This factor increases the cost of these cartridges, but one can avail the economies of scale in the long run. A rimfire cartridge, on the other hand, is inexpensive but cannot be reused, which makes it an expensive affair if you use it regularly.

Rimfire cartridges are available in .22 caliber shots whereas centerfire cartridges are available in almost every caliber size. This has made it a favorite with the police forces and the military who use ammunition and are constantly in need of better weapons and equipment.

Centerfire cartridges are also extremely safe to use. A shot with a higher caliber too is not as dangerous as it would be while using a rimfire cartridge. The primer pipes are completely sealed and are impervious to moisture and dust particles.

The Working Mechanism

The working mechanisms of rimfire and centerfire cartridges are different and it is essential to know them as they will help you pick the best cartridge which is suited to your needs.

Centerfire cartridges have a separate primer cap which is attached to the center of the rim pipe. This enables an even ignition when compared to the rimfire cartridge in which only a part of the gunpowder is ignited despite it being evenly distributed throughout the rim pipe.

The self-contained primer also makes centerfire cartridges more reliable and easier to shoot even while using high caliber models. Hence, these cartridges are more suitable for military use and for self-defense.

A rimfire cartridge is more suited for hunting and practice purposes because the primer casing is built into the cartridge, which makes it more susceptible to manufacturing defects. At the same time, a shot fired using a rimfire cartridge is more accurate as it generates lesser recoil when compared to a centerfire cartridge.

Comparison Table

Product Name

Image

Details

Rimfire

Rimfire

Cartridge has a lower power

Can operate well at a closer range

Centerfire cartridges are also extremely safe to use


Centerfire

Centerfire

Cartridges can be reused multiple times

Rimfire cartridges are available in .22 caliber shots

Cartridges are available in almost every caliber size

Which Is Better?

The general firing mechanism of a gun is based on the ignition of the primer. The explosion caused by igniting the primer will propel a bullet forward and help it to reach its target. This happens every time a gun is fired regardless of whether it is a rimfire cartridge or a centerfire cartridge.

When a centerfire cartridge is used, the explosion takes place at the center since that is where the primer is placed. This leads to a greater degree of efficiency and consistency and the bullet is fired with a greater velocity.

While rimfire cartridges are best suited for hunting game and close range targets, it is difficult to lay your hands on one because of their limited availability. They are also prone to manufacturing problems which may lead to misfires and accidents. Thus, it is not advisable to use them for self-defense.

A centerfire cartridge is widely available. While a rimfire cartridge is popular in the .22 caliber rifle, the centerfire cartridge is available in almost every other caliber size. It is very safe to use and is hence in great demand in police forces and military.

Centerfire cartridges can also be used for a number of times, which raises the bar for other cartridges. Multiple uses of a single cartridge help to even out the expense of buying a centerfire cartridge. which makes it a profitable investment in addition to being highly safe and effective.

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Our Final Thoughts

While comparing both types of ammunition, it is quite easy to say that centerfire cartridges are safer and more reliable when compared to rimfire cartridges. They are designed superiorly and are widely available today due to their use in almost every rifle and handgun available to us.

As we compare the differences, it is imperative to note that rimfire cartridges are on a decline whereas centerfire cartridges are the future. The use of a primer cap instead of a compound make centerfire cartridges more reliable and safe to use and the boxer design makes it very easy to extract a used primer and replace it with a new one.

While the reloading feature is available in rimfire cartridges too, it can be done only by using a specialized kit designed for this purpose. At the same time, the procedure is complex and needs delicate handling which makes it time-consuming and not worth all the effort.


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