BLACK POWDER CAP AND BALL RELOADING

Copyright 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. You’ll want to print this out, it’s long and will require frequent referral.

BORE SMOOTHING

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 accurate.

GREASED WADS

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 you’d 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. Don’t 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 stores)
1 part mutton tallow (sold by Dixie Gun Works)
1/2 part beeswax (available in hardware stores as a toilet gasket)
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 Mason jar.
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 moistures in.
This lubricant is also excellent for other black powder applications: patch grease, lubricating fiber shotgun wads and as a bullet lubricant in muzzleloaders or cartridge guns.
In fact, it’s 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 cheaper.

PARAFFIN NOTES
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 what’s 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 bore.

MUTTON TALLOW

Sold by Dixie Gun Works in Tennessee, you may also find it if you live in sheep country. Mutton tallow makes a superior product. I’m told that unlike beef lard and other tallows, mutton tallow contains lanolin. I’m unsure about this, but it makes a difference in the lubricant.

TUNA CAN

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.

LOADING PROCEDURE

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.

BALL SIZES

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 don’t' have to deal with the sprue left from cast balls.
If you use cast balls, the sprue must be up and centered before ramming.
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 it’s suggested.

BALL SEATING

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 fingers.

CONICAL BULLETS

I’ve 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 it’s 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 ramming.
The Lee and Buffalo Bullet designs have this rim but I still haven’t 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 Grease Patch.

PERCUSSION CAPS

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.

SIGHTING NOTES

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 sooner.

USE PROTECTION

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.

FINAL WORDS

I’ve 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 I’ve 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.

Happy shooting!


Copyright 2006 by Gatofeo of Utah. Used with permission.


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