Rimfire vs Centerfire – 2022 Comparison

| Last Updated: May 15, 2021

Are you trying to establish what primer ignition system you prefer between rimfire and centerfire? You're not alone. Many new gun enthusiasts are keen to learn everything there is to know before making a purchase. 

You may have heard specific facts regarding rimfire or centerfire weapons and what they’re capable of, but you want to do your research. This article will provide you with factual information regarding each of these items.

The post ends with some of the most commonly asked questions about the topic, which could assist you if you have a burning question about primer ignition systems not touched on in the article.

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Rimfire vs Centerfire

Rimfire

Centerfire

Pros

Pros

Affordable

Ideal for training

Reliable

Versatile calibers available

Cons

Cons

Not many caliber options

Expensive

Best For

Best For

Training

Owners looking to save on plinking

Accuracy, or any application requiring calibers only available in centerfire

How Does Rimfire Work?

The rimfire ignition system has a bead of primer on the rim's circumference at the bottom of the ammunition casing. The hammer on a rimfire weapon strikes this rim of the casing, which ignites the propellant that dispatches the bullet.

When these cartridges were initially invented in France, the primer bead was the sole force used to expel the bullet. At this stage, it didn't contain powder. It was relatively weak and targeted at indoor shooting.

Beginning in 1857, ammunition manufacturers began adding the powder to the cartridge in .22 rimfire rounds. These cartridges are generally made from metallic substances. The ignition system gets its name from the location that the hammer hits to fire a round.

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These cartridges are restricted to low pressures because the case needs to be thin enough to allow the firing pin to crush the rim. If it's too thick, you can't ignite the primer. Most modern rimfire ammunition utilizes smokeless powder.

Standard rimfire ammunition includes:

  • .22 short
  • .22 magnum
  • 22 standard
  • 22 long rifle
  • .22WMR
  • 17HMR

The important point to note is that you should never dry fire a rimfire weapon, as the firing pin will strike the steel breech face.

This could wear down the firing pin or chamber rim. Some manufacturers state that you can dry fire their weapons; however, it's best to err on the side of caution and instead use snap caps for practice.

How Does Centerfire Work?

The main difference is the location of the primer. It's situated in the center of the cartridge base, also referred to as the case head. 

This primer is a separate component set in the primer pocket, it’s known by various names such as percussion cap or igniter a recessed space by the case head. Most modern weapons use centerfire ignition systems. To identify centerfire ammunition, you need to check if there's a distinguishable circle at the base of the cartridge.

It functions similarly to the rimfire, with the main difference being that the firing pin hits the center part and not the rim. Once the firing pin has crushed the explosive, sparks ignite the powder. This, in turn, discharges the bullet.

The history of centerfire ammunition dates back to the early 1800s. The first fully integrated centerfire cartridge was invented somewhere between 1808 and 1812.

These didn't have a percussion cap. Several improvements were made to these ammunition casings before they became modernized.

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Relevant Characteristics Between Rimfire and Centerfire

Header

Rimfire

Centerfire

Available Calibers

Most .22 & .17HMR


9mm Flobert

Nearly All

Cost

Less Expensive

More Expensive

Reliability

Less Reliable

Reliable

Reloadability

Not reloadable

Most cartridges are reloadable

Cartridge Thickness

Thinner than Centerfire

Thicker than rimfire

Similarities and Differences

Both types of ammunition work similarly, but each developed differently. There are variations in the way each of these functions. 

Below, we highlight the similarities and differences between the rimfire and centerfire. Some of these may explain why one is typically more popular than the other.

Rimfire and Centerfire Differences

The main difference is the primer or the source where the hammer or firing pin hits the ammunition casing. This is already taken into account when the cartridge is designed. 

In a rimfire product, it's located on the casing's outer rim, at the base of the cartridge. When the cartridge is made initially, it's a metallic cup that's flattened at the bottom and filled with primer material that covers the rim and solidifies.

The next step in the manufacturing process is adding the powder and the bullet to complete the cartridge. This differs from a centerfire cartridge where the primer is located at the center of the casing.

When a centerfire cartridge is created, the primer material is placed in a separate containment vessel and covered with an anvil. This is then placed inside the cartridge into the primer pocket. 

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This pocket is a hole located in the center of the base of the casing. To complete the centerfire round, they then add the powder and the bullet. 

The way a weapon fires the rounds also differs. On a rimfire gun, the firing pin strikes the edge of the rim of the casing. This crimps the metal, thereby igniting the primer charge. The primer then ignites the powder and the shot goes off, dispatching the bullet.

A centerfire's firing pin hits the ammunition at the center of the casing where the primer is located. It also crimps the metal against the anvil. This ignites the primer charge, which in turn ignites the powder and discharges the projectile.

Another difference between these two cartridges is that you can reload the centerfire. Rimfire ammunition is strictly single-use. You can also find a wider variety of calibers in centerfire.

There's only one type of rimfire, but centerfire has two options. These are Boxer or Berdan.

Rimfire and Centerfire Similarities

Both centerfire and rimfire products are available for pistols and rifles. They're made from metallic materials, and the primers are located at the base. They both require gun powder to ignite before they release a projectile.

The weapon needs to strike the primer for a shot to go off. These ammunition types come in cartridges that expel a single projectile at a time, unlike shotgun ammunition.

Another similarity is that once a cartridge has been used, an indent is visible on the base of both types of the casing.

Advantages of Rimfire

Rimfire isn't as popular as centerfire, but the main advantage of this type of ammunition is affordability. The main reason for the low cost of rimfire cartridges is because of how it's manufactured. 

It costs substantially less to produce a casing with a thin wall and flat base than it does to produce a centerfire with more components. The cheap manufacturing costs are then passed onto consumers. This is ideal for gun enthusiasts on a budget.

Rimfire firearms are often designed more compact than some of the centerfire weapons. This is ideal for concealed carry or training purposes. Some say that these firearms also have lower recoil.

Advantages of Centerfire

Centerfire is the ammunition choice for most gun enthusiasts. Centerfire cartridges are available in nearly every caliber, ranging from home defense-type ammunition to game hunting cartridges.

This ammunition is extremely reliable and functions well in various types of weather. The primer mechanism identifies cartridges that are slightly softer than the rest of the casing. 

This ensures that there's a smoother transfer of kinetic energy, the pin to the primer.

You can reload centerfire cartridges, which is a huge advantage over the rimfire. There are also arguments that state that centerfire ammo is more accurate over longer distances. Centerfire bullets are more expensive but offer more in terms of quality and versatility.

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What About Pinfire Cartridges?

Unlike centerfires and rimfires, pinfires are rare. The primer is located externally. It consists of a small pin that protrudes from above the base of the casing.

To ignite this primer, you have to strike this compound. It was invented in the 1830s by a Frenchman, and it was patented in 1835. Popular ammunition in this form includes 15mm, 12mm, 9mm, 7mm, 5mm, and 2mm pinfire cartridges.

These cartridges included powder and a projectile, much like the centerfire and rimfire ammunition, but are technically obsolete today. You may still find samples of these in novelty gun stores or as collector's items.

Bottom Line

When comparing the different types of ammunition available, there are many similarities in the way they’re designed. The main difference is the method that ignites it. Both centerfire and rimfire have clear advantages and disadvantages.

The best way to decide between them is to establish what your priority is when it comes to ammunition. If cost-effectiveness is your primary concern, you may want to opt for rimfire as long as it's available in your desired caliber. On the other hand, if you're looking for versatility and reliability, you're probably better off with a centerfire. 

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People Also Ask

Ammunition is an interesting topic, and we've discussed most of the important facts regarding rimfire and centerfire. We will answer some other common questions regarding ammunition in this section. 

Are Glocks Centerfire or Rimfire?

Most Glock pistols are centerfire, however, the Glock 44 is a rimfire.

Can You Shoot Rimfire in a Centerfire?

No, you can't. A different firing mechanism is required for rimfire ammunition.

How Long Does Rimfire Ammo Last?

There's no precise time limit, but it can last many years provided that you store it in a moisture-proof and air-tight container. Some gun enthusiasts claim that it can last indefinitely in such conditions.



Josh Lewis the managing editor at Gun Mann and when he isn't writing about guns he is more than likely tinkering with them. He also enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors. As a lifelong gun owner he knows his stuff!