Join Date: October 1, 2004
Location: Remote Utah desert
Until you've tried to cast balls and conicals in a period-correct mould, in a campfire, you can't appreciate how aggravating it truly is.
The short handles of the Colt and Remington moulds get your hands uncomfortably close to the hot coals.
The handles, lacking wood insulation, become as hot as the cavity. This requires gloves, which worsen the task because the little Colt and Remington moulds are difficult to handle with gloves.
At times, it will feel like you're trying to thread a needle while wearing heavy leather mittens.
For the money, the best ball moulds are made by Lee. The cavities are round and produce a ball the same diameter as listed on the box. I've also found the Lee .44 conical bullet the most accurate conical available; the .36 version, not as accurate.
Lyman and RCBS round ball moulds are also very good, but cost more.
Casting balls with a Colt or Remington design mould via a campfire is fine for reenactments, but aggravating and poorly productive.
You'll do better with a modern mould with wooden handles, using an electric or propane source.
As to wads, I began using them in the 1970s and never looked back. I used a 3/8" wad cutter and old felt hats from the thrift stores. About a dozen years ago I discovered Duro Felt and essentially bought a lifetime supply of 1/8 and 1/4" hard felt, in sheets.
Buying in sheets allows me to also make wads for my .50 and .58-caliber rifles, as well as my .36 and .44 revolvers.
I also use lubricated .45-caliber wads in my .45-70 rifles when shooting black powder. That single, lubricated wad helps keep fouling down.
From DuroFelt, I obtained a piece of hard, 100% wool felt sheet that will make me about 8,000 .36 and .44-caliber wads. I paid $27 for it about 7 years ago. The 3/8" wad cutter cost me $1 at a yard sale. I paid $18 for a .45-caliber wad cutter from Buffalo Arms.
Spending $46 for 8,000 wads is, compared to the commercial wads, an unbelievable bargain.
I tried the 7/16" wad cutter that comes with the set from Harbor Freight, but found it too small for the .44 and .45-caliber revolvers and rifle. It's why I bought a full .45-caliber wad cutter.
However, the 7/16" wad cutter is just right for wads for the .44 Special, .44 Magnum and .44-40.
In the early 1970s I experienced three separate multiple ignitions ("chain fires") with the same revolver. The last incident ruined the revolver. I was unhurt each time.
This was with .451 balls cast in a Lyman mould, FFFG black powder, Remington caps and Crisco over the ball. From this, I began to refute the notion that multiple ignitions began at the front of the cylinder. Instead, I believe they begin when flame gets into the nipple, either around a loose cap or directly because a cap has been jarred off the nipple by recoil.
Yes, undersized balls or elliptically shaped chambers can be the cause but I don't believe this is a common cause.
Since the 1980s I've been using .454 and .380" balls in my cap and ball revolvers, to ensure a good seal. This larger than recommended ball also ensures a wider bearing surface to keep the ball from shifting in the chambers from recoil. It also creates a wider bearing band for the rifling to grip, very likely aiding accuracy.
I've tried lube pills and they work, but I'll still stay with wads. Lubricated felt wads are more versatile: to create shot loads in revolvers, take up space with light loads, in cartridge guns, to create blank loads, etc.
Having enough felt on hand for 8,000 .36 to .45-caliber wads, and the wad cutters to create wads from .25 to .58 caliber, is a good feeling.
I use a 19th century recipe, which I tweaked long ago, to create a black powder lubricant for wads, bullets and patches. I haven't found anything better.
The recipe, named after me about 10 years ago, is:
Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant
1 part canning paraffin
(Used to seal jars of preserves)
1 part mutton tallow
(Sold by Dixie Gun Works. No other tallow works as well)
1/2 part real beeswax
(Beware of synthetic beeswax. Toilet seals have not been made with real beeswax for about 10 years. Real beeswax can be difficult to find in quantity at a good price. At times, you can find it online but then it gets sold out quickly. Check Rendezvous and Renaissance Fairs for the real stuff).
All measurements are by weight, not volume. Use a small kitchen scale to measure smaller amounts, such as 200/200/100 grams.
Melt the ingredients together at low heat, or in a widmouth Mason jar placed in 3 or 4 inches of boiling water, for a double boiler effect.
Melt thoroughly, stir with clean stick or disposable chopstick, remove from heat and allow to cool at room temperature.
When cooled and hard, chunks can be cut out with a thrift-store knife. Or, you can remelt and pour into an old muffin pan, then store the "muffins" in the same widemouth Mason jar with the lid down tight.
Greasing wads is easy. Place a thumb-sized piece of lubricant in a clean tuna or pet food can. Place on the stove at low heat, just enough to melt it. When thoroughly melted, add wads. Stir wads to ensure full soaking.
When the wads are thoroughly soaked, remove from heat and allow to cool. When cool, snap a plastic pet food lid over the can to keep the lubricant from drying out, and to keep dust from entering.
Write the wad caliber on the side of the can with a large marker.
These cans stack nicely on top of each other, so you can create a selection of wads in different lubricants, dry wads, different calibers, or whatever.
Bring the proper can to the range when you go shooting. When you run low on wads, use the same can, add wads and lubricant, set on the stove at low heat, and make more.
I've gone into more detail than I intended, but I think many of you will benefit.
I've been shooting cap and ball revolvers since about 1970. I've learned a few things along the way, and I'm still learning.
Today, we have the greatest wealth of knowledge about shooting, maintaining and cleaning these revolvers than ever before.
When we all share, we all benefit.
"And lo, did I see an ugly cat. Smoke. Brimstone. Holes in parchment. And this ugly cat was much amused." --- The Prophesies of Gatodamus (1503 - 1566)