BLACK POWDER CAP AND BALL RELOADING
2006 by Gatofeo of Utah. Used with permission.
So you have a new cap and ball revolver?
Here's how to wring the best accuracy from it.
Youll want to print this out, its long and
will require frequent referral.
Buy some JB Bore Compound or Iosso Bore cleaner. These
are pastes, very mildly abrasive, designed to clean bores
without harm. Put this paste on a patch that fits snugly
and work it back and forth in the bore until the patch
becomes a loose fit (usually six to 8 passes).
Do this at least a dozen times. This will remove factory
preservatives and help smooth the bore somewhat.
If the chambers are rough, this may also be done but do
so by hand. Resist the temptation to chuck your cleaning
rod in a drill; you can too easily enlarge the chamber.
After the bore or chambers are smoothed, remove the paste
with patches wet with Ronson lighter fluid. Lighter fluid
evaporates without leaving behind deposits.
BLACK POWDER IS BEST
In my experience, FFFG black powder has been the most
accurate propellant in .36 and .44-caliber revolvers.
I've tried FFG and Pyrodex P and not found it as
Use Wonder Wads, as sold by Ox-Yoke, or punch your own
wads from stiff felt. A 3/8 inch punch is perfect to
create .36 caliber wads. Use a .45-caliber wad punch for
the .44 revolvers. In metric, this would translate to
about 9.5mm and 11.25mm wad punches.
Old cowboy hats are a good source of stiff felt. Look in
thrift stores for old hats. Some hardware stores sell
wool felt on a roll, for use as window insulation.
Whatever the felt, it should be at least 1/16th of an
inch thick and preferably 3/8 inch.
Don't use the felt sold in hobby shops, as it's too limp.
Check the label on the felt, much of it is partly or
wholly polyester (plastic) which will deposit melted
plastic in your bore.
If youd rather not bother, Wonder Wads are okay but
do not use them as-is. In my experience, they lack
sufficient lubricant to work properly. Soak the wads in
melted lard, mutton tallow, bacon grease or any other
natural (animal or plant) grease. Dont use
petroleum greases, they create a hard, tarry fouling when
mixed with black powder.
BEST WAD LUBRICANT
The best wad lubricant I've found is listed in a 1943
American Rifleman magazine. It is made of:
1 part paraffin (I use canning paraffin, sold in grocery
1 part mutton tallow (sold by Dixie Gun Works)
1/2 part beeswax (available in hardware stores as a
All measurements are by weight, NOT volume.
I use a kitchen scale to measure 200/200/100 grams of
ingredients, which will nearly fill a quart, wide mouth
With the jar filled, place it in three to four inches of
boiling water (the safest way to melt greases and waxes)
until all ingredients are thoroughly melted. Stir with a
clean stick or disposable chopstick.
Allow the lubricant to cool at room temperature. Placing
the jar in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to
separate. When the lubricant is cool and solid, screw the
jar lid down tight and store it in a cool, dry place.
This will keep dust and crud out and keep natural
This lubricant is also excellent for other black powder
applications: patch grease, lubricating fiber shotgun
wads and as a bullet lubricant in muzzleloaders or
In fact, its all I use. I no longer buy commercial
black powder bullet lubricants such as SPG or Lyman Black
Powder Gold. This recipe is as good or better and much
Canning paraffin is the hard, translucent wax sold to
melt and pour over preserves, such as jams and jellies.
Use canning paraffin only. Who knows whats in old
candles, especially the scented variety? But if old
candles are all you can find, use them.
Some sharp-eyed black powder shooters may see paraffin
among the ingredients and gasp because paraffin is a
petroleum product, and petroleum products cause hard,
tarry fouling. However, a chemist told me that paraffin
lacks the hydrocarbons of other petroleum products, which
appears to be the offender.
The paraffin is necessary in this recipe because it
stiffens the wad, which helps it scrape fouling from the
Sold by Dixie Gun Works in Tennessee, you may also find
it if you live in sheep country. Mutton tallow makes a
superior product. Im told that unlike beef lard and
other tallows, mutton tallow contains lanolin. Im
unsure about this, but it makes a difference in the
For about 100 .36 or .44 caliber wads, melt two or three
Tablespoons of lubricant in a clean tuna can at a low
temperature. There's no need to cook the lubricant, just
melt it. Add the wads. Stir them in the melted lubricant
until thoroughly saturated. Cool at room temperature.
I carry the wads to the range in the same can, with a
plastic pet-food lid snapped on. Store them in a cool,
dry place with the lid snapped tightly.
USE A LOADING STAND
A loading stand that holds the revolver upright on the
range table is best. It allows you to get a better
"feel" for how much pressure you're applying to
the wad and projectile. It also holds the revolver
securely in an upright position if you need to interrupt
the loading process.
Add a measured powder charge to each chamber.
I've found that 20 grs. of FFFG is a good starting load
in my .36 caliber Colt Navy and Remington, and 30 grs. is
good in the Remington and Colt .44 revolvers. For the
1862 Colt Pocket in .36-caliber, use 15 grains of FFFG.
Place a lubricated wad over the mouth of each charged
chamber, then thumb-press the wad slightly below the
mouth of the chamber. Now, seat each wad firmly onto the
powder charge. Don't crush the powder; just seat the wad
firmly against it.
There are good reasons for seating the wad separately.
First, should you forget to add powder to the chamber,
it's easier to remove a felt wad than a stuck ball.
Secondly, this gives you a better feel for how much
pressure you're applying. Thirdly, it makes it easier to
seat the ball.
Use a .380 inch ball for the .36 caliber, and a .454 or
.457 inch ball for the .44 revolvers (the Ruger Old Army
requires a .457-inch ball).
I purchase .380 inch, sprueless balls from Warren
Muzzleloading at http://www.ozonemountain.com so I dont' have to deal
with the sprue left from cast balls.
If you use cast balls, the sprue must be up and centered
Many black powder manuals suggest .375 and .451 inch
balls for these revolvers but they typically are not as
accurate. The larger balls create a wider bearing surface
for the rifling to grip, which aids accuracy.
CORN MEAL FILLER
For less than maximum loads, I sometimes use a little
corn meal on top of the wad. Wipe it slightly below flush
with your finger. Use corn meal; Cream of Wheat does not
compress so it's not as forgiving if you add too much.
The use of corn meal is not mandatory but for light loads
With wads seated firmly on the powder in each chamber,
it's time to seat the ball.
With the rammer, seat the ball firmly on the wad. The
ball should be large enough that the chamber shaves a
ring from it.
If you don't get a ring of lead, it may be that your
chamber mouths are so chamfered that a ring is not cut,
or that you need a larger ball.
Seat the ball firmly into the chamber. If the first ball
takes too much pressure to push in below flush, add less
corn meal to the other chambers.
The ball should be seated just slightly below flush of
the chamber. If it is seated too far into the chamber,
the ball has a long jump before it engages the rifling in
the forcing cone. This long jump can affect accuracy.
The ball MUST be seated firmly onto the wad, or corn meal
if you use it. There must be NO space between ball, wad,
corn meal (if you use it) or powder. A space creates a
dangerous condition that may markedly increase pressures.
By using a lubricated wad, grease over the ball is not
usually needed. I live in the Utah desert where
temperatures may get to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.5
Celsius) with less than 6 percent humidity. On such days,
I've found it useful to add lubricant over the ball but
these days are not frequent so I rarely do so.
The same lubricant as used for the wads may be smeared
over the ball with a Popsicle stick, to avoid messy
Ive yet to find a conical bullet as accurate as a
lead ball. The Lyman 37583 bullet, intended for the
.38-55 rifle, is often used for .36 caliber revolvers but
its hard to seat straight. This is a common problem
with many conicals. They lack a rebated rim that will
slip into the chamber and align the bullet before
The Lee and Buffalo Bullet designs have this rim but I
still havent found them as accurate as a ball.
Conical bullets must be lubricated before seating. The
above lubricant works quite well, or you can use Crisco,
Bore Butter or my favorite commercial lubricant, CVA
With all balls seated firmly in the cylinder, it's time
to cap the revolver. I like Remington No. 10 or 11 caps
in my revolvers but use CCI on occasion. The Remingtons
fit my revolvers' nipples better .
I can't tell you which size cap to use; you'll have to
find that through trial and error on your nipples. The
cap should fit snugly on the nipple, and "bottom
out" so that the tiny bit of priming compound in the
cap rests against the cone of the nipple. If it doesn't
go down this far, use the larger cap.
If the cap is loose on the nipple, use the smaller cap.
Whichever cap you use, squeeze it into an oval shape so
it clings to the nipple. This will keep it from falling
off during recoil or handling.
Use a standard 25-yard pistol target, at 25 yards, and a
benchrest. The backing around the target should be out at
least two feet in each direction, to reveal any stray
shots. This is best done with a piece of large plywood,
at least 3 feet square, with the surface covered by
butcher paper and the target in the center.
Colt percussion revolvers, original and reproduction,
almost always shoot high at 25 yards, as much as 12
inches above point of aim.
Most Remington replicas shoot low at 25 yards. This is
good, because all you have to do is file down the front
sight until point of aim. But file it down slowly, a lick
or two at a time. If you file down too far, you'll have
to replace the front sight.
But before you do any filing, find the most accurate load
then adjust your sights to that load.
If the revolver hits above the point of aim, you can
either add height to the front sight or file the sighting
groove at the rear deeper. In Colt revolvers, this means
filing a slightly deeper notch in the hammer nose but you
typically can't get it much deeper without the frame
blocking the view of your front sight.
Also, if you file a deeper notch in the hammer nose,
you'll also need to widen the notch a bit to more easily
see the brass bead front sight.
You may reach a point where the Remington's front sight
cannot be filed down any farther, when the plane of the
barrel interferes with sight picture. If this occurs,
you'll just have to aim a little higher or lower,
depending on what is needed.
Do NOT do any filing on an original revolver; you will
reduce its monetary value.
AT THE BENCH
Grasp the revolver with two hands and let your hands rest
on the sandbag or rolled blanket. If the revolver is
placed on the rest, or touches it, you may experience
flyers because the revolver doesn't recoil naturally if
it contacts the rest.
Use Birchwood Casey Sight Black on your sights. This
places a sooty surface on your sights and eliminates
glare, which is especially bad with the brass bead on
Colt front sights. A lit candle stub will place soot on
the sights too. BUT keep that flame well-away from all
powder and caps. Obviously, don't do this with a loaded
cylinder in the revolver!
Bring a small notebook with you and note the load, type
of powder, type of projectile, size of projectile (.375
or .380 inch?), caps, weather, wind, distance and
whatever else you deem important. This will save you a
lot of duplication and help you find that perfect load
Use ear and eye protection when shooting percussion
revolvers. Cap fragments can fly off and most revolvers
are very loud. If your club denies you the use of eye and
ear protection in order to preserve Western authenticity,
find another club. Your sight and hearing are not worth
their petty aesthetics.
Ive been shooting cap and ball revolvers for nearly
35 years. It took me that long to learn or stumble across
the above. Print this out and file it away for future
reference. What Ive related is not an absolute; it
is intended as a guide. Each gun, like its shooter, is an
individual and has particular likes and dislikes.
Copyright 2006 by Gatofeo of Utah. Used with permission.