Improvised Matchbook 38 Special

IMPORTANT WARNING: Improvising or modifying ammunition can result in great injury or death.  Do not attempt. The fact that is is shown on this site does not mean its safe.

I had heard of ammunition being loaded using crushed match heads and was curious if a mild round like 38 Special could be loaded only with a matchbook.

To create the ‘powder’ I shaved the heads from two matchbooks then crushed them to a desirable consistency.  I removed much of the paper debris although I’m not sure it would have bothered.

Reconstituting a used primer is tedious work.  Striking a match on the red-phosphorous strip causes ignition, which is what I need.  

Here is how I reconstituted the primer in the first video:

  • Pried anvil from the used primer
  • Scraped residue out
  • Cut a piece of the phosphor striker strip and put it in the primer shell
  • Places some of the ‘matchbook powder’ on top
  • Carefully re installed the anvil

Primer reliability was not great.  I found that it often worked but sometimes failed to ignite.   Other people have used the ‘strike anywere’ tips from matches as priming compound but my goal here was a ‘matchbook only’ round.  Perhaps scraping the red-phosphorous from the strips would improve reliability.

Overall this resulted in a slow but functional round of almost half the velocity of commercial smokeless powder.  This could be the results of slow burning matchbook powder and the short barrel Ruger SP101 revolver. 

Round Velocity Gel Penetration Bullet Powder
Matchbook 365 fps 11 inches 155 gr LCSWC 4.1 grains matchbook
Regular 602 fps 16″+ (pass through) 155 gr LCSWC 4.1 grains Unique


The matchbook round was corrosive.  I unintentionally let the gun sit, uncleaned for one month, and found significant pitting in the stainless steel.

The second video at the top of this page shows further testing that I performed to work up a matchbook load and provide further comparison against commercial smokeless powder.