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Old June 22, 2008, 07:19 PM   #1
Oquirrh
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Chain fire, mostly myth?

Or constant danger?

I'm a novice, and everytime I read something about C&B revolvers, it includes a mention of CHAIN FIRES.

Today at the range, one of the volunteer range masters was asking me what precautions I was taking to avoid a CHAIN FIRE. (smearing on crisco and beeswax doesn't inspire confidence)

Truth is, my 51 Navy always blows all the goop off the cylinder chambers on the first shot and often loses a cap or two (Yes, I'm getting better nipples ASAP). Am I on borrowed time?

SHOW OF HANDS: Who has witnessed a chain fire? If you did, what happened? Did all hell break loose with balls and frags flying all over? Do you have an eye patch and a peg leg?
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Old June 22, 2008, 07:36 PM   #2
Hawg Haggen
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No they're not a myth. As long as you have lube where the ball meets the chamber you're ok. I have shot my 60 Colt without lube and it didn't chain but I don't recommend the practice. I've got an old 58 that will fire anywhere from two to all six chambers if they're not lubed or have wads. I had hundreds of chain fires with it when I first got it because I didn't know what to do to stop them. The worst I had happen was exploding caps from the flash back through the nipples would pepper my arm. Eventually the loading lever did break but it took three years to happen and I think it was more from trying to force the balls down on too much powder than the chain fires. BTW that was in 69 and I still have the gun and it's one of my most accurate.
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Old June 22, 2008, 07:47 PM   #3
mykeal
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Neither myth nor constant danger

I've witnessed two chain fire events in 30 years of bp revolver shooting; neither actually happened to me, however.

There is a debate about whether they start from the nipple end or the mouth of the chamber - in my opinion it's an interesting but ultimately meaningless debate. Chain fires are one of the many physical events that are predictable only by chaos theory, like the weather.

The fact is that they CAN start from either end, but nothing you can do will guarantee that one WILL start from a particular end.

For your range officer: the best defense against a chain fire is 1) the proper size round (ROUND, not oblong) ball and 2) the proper size (as in, they actually fit) caps. Use of a lubed wad or grease over the ball is insurance, but a ball that shaves a complete ring of lead upon loading and caps that stay on when firing will do, and are enough to do, the job.
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Old June 22, 2008, 08:00 PM   #4
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Real

Its partially why we dont have wheel rifles anymore
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Old June 22, 2008, 08:33 PM   #5
James K
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FWIW, I have shot quite a bit with BP revolvers, both original and repro, using either cartridges or a greased felt wad under the ball, and I have never had a chain fire. I always make sure the ball/bullet fit tightly and that the revolver was in good condition.

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Old June 22, 2008, 08:38 PM   #6
Hawg Haggen
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The only one I've had since 69 was when I left lube off of one chamber in my old 58 to see if it would chain with Pyrodex like it did with bp in the old days. It did. Once I started lubing the balls and back then that was a drop of 3n1 on top of the balls I never had another one.
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Old June 22, 2008, 08:39 PM   #7
Raider2000
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I've had a few in my time but mostly due to me rushing the loading process & either not using a wad or greasing over the balls.
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Old June 22, 2008, 11:07 PM   #8
Fingers McGee
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Oquirrh - Chainfires are just something to be aware of & try to avoid.

I related my experience on another thread; but I'll restate it here. I have personally only had one chainfire in all the years I've been using C&B revolvers for SASS competition. However, my first C&B was a brass framed 1851 Navy that was made sometime in the early 60s. This was in 1966. My friends and I couldnt afford to buy powder, caps & balls all the time; so we used wads of tinfoil for balls. We didnt really know what we were doing, and were lucky we didnt maim or kill ourselves. We figured out pretty quickly that you had to get the wad of tinfoil pretty solid and fill the mouth of the chamber up real tight or all 6 would go off at once.

The one chainfire I had in competition was a 2nd Gen Colt 1851 Navy I was using in a SASS match. As I was firing the third round in the pistol, the chamber to the left of the chamber being fired went off also. There was no damage done to the pistol, and other than the sound of a double bang and an empty chamber, the only way you could tell that it had happened was a smudge of lead on the wedge. Apparently, during the capping process at the loading table I had not been paying close enough attention to what I was doing and left one of the charged chambers uncapped and this is the one that went off. I handed the pistol off as a malfunction when it happened, and when we looked at it at the unloading table, the chamber that went off didnt have a cap on it. The remaining chamber was still live, so it was uncapped. Now, I make it a point to not carry on a converstaion at the loading table when I'm capping my revolvers.

I regulary shoot with a SASS member that had an 1860 Army that would chainfire regularly when he used caps that were too big for the nipples. Not every time; but often enough to give the timer operator the shakes. I shoot with another SASS member that has had occasional chainfires with no rhyme or reason to what casued them.

To quote Mykeal:
Quote:
For your range officer: the best defense against a chain fire is 1) the proper size round (ROUND, not oblong) ball and 2) the proper size (as in, they actually fit) caps. Use of a lubed wad or grease over the ball is insurance, but a ball that shaves a complete ring of lead upon loading and caps that stay on when firing will do, and are enough to do, the job.
This is the best way to avoid them
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Last edited by Fingers McGee; June 24, 2008 at 11:50 AM.
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Old June 22, 2008, 11:13 PM   #9
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As others have said, as long as you use round balls that shave off lead all the way around and use good nipples and caps you shouldn't have any problems.
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Old June 23, 2008, 02:01 AM   #10
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I've been doing this about 30 some years, had two chain fires. The second one I barely remember when it happen, but the first on sure suprised me.
Was the first year and me & a friend had bought new 1860 Armys. I had a traditions Pietta and e has an ASM. We traded Revs to shoot each others he loaded his I loaded mine. Both started firing and first shot baaboom! Sounded and felt funny, sorta just suried me bein'about a year into it. Was a chain fire don't know from what end. Nothin' harmed not hurt. Not a big deal if operating in a safe manner of dissapline.
Sawan article of a guy testing/simulating/assesing chainfire damage.
The Rev in a vice remotely discharged. Just frame and cylinder in a jig set off single and multiple discharges. The veloscity was extremely low enough to not cause death or dismemberment or damage a round to the side of a rev. Just be aware chain fires exist and practice safely...now go make smoke and have fun...

SG

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Old June 23, 2008, 07:50 AM   #11
sundance44s
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I`ve never had one and I only put lube over the first 2 balls ..but I do use caps that fit the nipples ( in my case #10 Remingtons ) on all my 1858 Remmies and Colts too . I did watch a guy have 3 chain fires in about 30 mins once he was useing some very loose fitting caps ...I gave him some of my caps and he didn`t have anymore chain fires . ( he was shooting a 1858 Remmington , it scared me as bad as it did him , but didn`t hurt the pistol or him at all) .
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Old June 23, 2008, 07:03 PM   #12
wiking
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A norwegian who runs a BP forum and website (and wrote a book about BP firearms history and competition shooting in modern times) did a test on it.

http://www.svartkrutt.net/articles/vis.php?id=13
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Old June 24, 2008, 10:58 AM   #13
Oquirrh
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Excellent chainfire article!

I'm repeating part here, so it's around for the next noobie search. This is from Svartkrutt.net:

1. You will probably not experience a multiple discharge:

* if the ball is of correct size and is perfect without damages or wrinkles.
* if the caps are tight and don't get lost while shooting.
* if you use correct size nipples.
* if you seat the caps on the nipples.
* if the nipples are securely tightened to the cylinder.

2. You are in danger of having a multiple discharge:

* if the balls you are using are too small or are damaged/wrinkled.
* if you have a heavily pitted chamber.
* if you keep losing caps while shooting.
* if you have too long nipples, perhaps in combination with either:
o a. caps that are not seated on the nipples or
o b. nipples that are not properly fastened (it makes them longer, same as a).
* if you ignore the other points and depend on greased chambers to prevent any chainfire. If you do this you are in danger of being nominated to the Darwin Award."

BTW, I checked around my range and no one remembers a chain fire (which doesn't mean it didn't happen and no one but the shooter noticed).

The worst cap & ball mishap I heard about was unrelated to chainfires. A shooter was trying to get a live, but stuck, cap off a nipple in the 3 o'clock position. He was using a pocket knife to pry and the chamber went off. A large piece of ball somehow ricochetted off the concrete shooting table and back into his upper arm. A few years of therapy and the shooter, I was told, has regained most of the arm's mobility.
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Old June 24, 2008, 12:10 PM   #14
wiking
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It seems that those who have had a chain-fire or two are the 'old-timers' of Cap-and-ball shooting (alot of people who write they've had a chainfire write 'in 30 years') so i think it's also reasonable to assume that chainfires were in part caused by worn-out originals and low-quality repros from the early days of cap 'n ball revolvers from the 60's and 70's.
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Old June 24, 2008, 12:38 PM   #15
sundance44s
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The one thing I did notice about the guy I was watching have the 3 chain fires ...one thing after it happened 2 times I started watching every shot he made ..trying to see if I could gain some insight as to what was the cause ..( I`ve never had a chainfire myself in 30 + years of black powder revolver shooting .) So I really wanted to see one happen first hand . Second thing I noticed was every chain fire happened on the chamber to the left of the one being fired ..I watched the guy smear lube over the front of every chamber , so I`m thinking it has to be happening from the rear ....BUT what bothered me the most was the fact on the chainfire he had that I was watching the hammer fall and the chamber to the left at the same time ..The cap was in place on the chamber to the left as the hammer fell and it still chainfired .
OKOKOK how could it happen , watching him load and cap I noticed he was haveing to pinch every cap to make it fit and stay on ...so I came up with the idea because the chainfire happened on a caped nipple chamber / covered with lube on the front ..it had to be one of two things causeing the chainfires , first thought was a crack in the chamber wall ..I was hopeing this wasn`t the case , so I offered him a tin of my caps ...he started useing my caps and never had another chainfire the rest of the afternoon , and hasn`t had one since and I know the guy well , we shoot together all the time ..The ill fit of his caps had to be letting enough spark in around the base of his nipples to be the cause of his chain fire problem ..The revolver he was useing was a 1858 Remington made by Palmetto Arms ..I don`t think much of Palmetto Arms ..His Remington looked like a rough finished piece of junk ..but it indexed well and shot tight groups ...so I doubt the rough finish had anything to do with the chainfires ..I might add no damage was done to the pistol or him ..he left the range with only a scary memory of the events.
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Old June 24, 2008, 01:15 PM   #16
wiking
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might be too long nipples or caps, on the recoil they would then bump into the recoil-shield at the back, going bang.
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Old June 24, 2008, 02:27 PM   #17
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I've never had it happen to me but it ain't a myth. primary causes are loose fitting caps and undersize balls (or slugs) that have powder around the cylinder chamber mouth. always make sure the caps are a snug fit on nipples and balls 'shave' a ring of lead off when seating.
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Old June 24, 2008, 03:05 PM   #18
Fingers McGee
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The percussion ignition sequence in Civil War 44s

July/August issue of Man-At-Arms magazine had an article about what happend during the ignition sequence. Here are the photos that were included in the article:





It's no wonder that there are occasional chainfires.
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Old June 24, 2008, 05:07 PM   #19
mykeal
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Quote:
It seems that those who have had a chain-fire or two are the 'old-timers' of Cap-and-ball shooting (alot of people who write they've had a chainfire write 'in 30 years') so i think it's also reasonable to assume that chainfires were in part caused by worn-out originals and low-quality repros from the early days of cap 'n ball revolvers from the 60's and 70's.
That's an entirely unreasonable assumption.

One more time: chain fires may occur due to loose or missing caps or poorly fitting bullets in unsealed chambers.

They can (and have) happened with new guns of good quality.

The summary from the Norwegian paper is right on the mark.

Quote:
might be too long nipples or caps, on the recoil they would then bump into the recoil-shield at the back, going bang.
That would produce a double report, a characteristic which has not been reported by any observers to date.
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Old June 24, 2008, 05:55 PM   #20
Hawg Haggen
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I had a lot of them in 1969 but I was 12 and didn't know what I was doing. The gun was a Rigarmi 58 Remington. I used #11 caps on #9 nipples and believe me that is a sloppy fit. I also used 40+ grs. of bp. Chains quit once I figured out to lube the balls. I still have the gun and it's still a good shooter as long as you lube the balls or use wads. I use #10 caps now which are still a pinch fit but not as bad as the 11's(yes it still has the original nipples). Bore measures .440, chambers measure .450-.451
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