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Old August 18, 2005, 09:40 AM   #1
drdirk
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smokeless powder in Cap and Ball- why not???

ok, I have read all the warnings of not using smokeless powder in a Black Powder Cap and Ball revolver. And I WILL NOT TRY IT... but.... I really would like to understand why it can not be done. Maybe you guys can help. Here is my reasoning and please let me know what is wrong with my line of thought here: I have found the reasons for NOT using smokeless powder below.

Reason 1:
The guns are not strong enough and will blow up in your face!

Reason 2:

Smokeless powder is too fine and can not be loaded in the cylinder.

Reason 3:

Smokeless powder is much too fast for a BP gun.

Here is my problem with this:

Reason 1: How about using a '58 Remington?? Plenty stong and can be shot with a conversion cylinder all day long. So does reason 1 only apply to Brass Frames????

Reason 2. How about some of the "fluffy" powders such as the new Trail Boss powder? Looks to be about as much volume as Black Powder? Why could you not just put a mild load of this stuff in your '58 Remington???

Reason 3: How about using a slow buring powder?

Any insight would be welcome. And please... stick with BP in your gun! Smells a lot better anyway.

As I said, I am just curious why we can't shoot smokeless? Since I can't find a reason that seems to make sense to me I sometimes wonder if this is just a "cover your ass" lawyer thing.

Happy shooting! I love my Ruger Old Army and my Pietta 58 Remington!
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Old August 18, 2005, 10:18 AM   #2
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Basically it's a matter of the difference between the design of black powder guns and those designed to use smokeless.

Black powder burns while smokeless detonates. Its the force of the explosion rather than the gases created by black powder that propell smokless loads. The thinner spots around the cylinder nipples can and usually will blow out using smokeless sending shrapnell into your face and arm. A conversion cylinder is safe because the rounds are encased in brass.
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Old August 18, 2005, 11:19 AM   #3
drdirk
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what about the Ruger testing then?

Not sure if this is true or not but I read that as part of the testing of the Ruger Old Army the filled up the chamber with smokeless to make sure it does not blow up?

Also, if it has to do with the speed of combustion how about using a slow burning smokeless powder such as Clays???
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Old August 18, 2005, 11:37 AM   #4
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There is a very detailed article on this subject at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articl...50/ai_n6038094
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Old August 18, 2005, 12:20 PM   #5
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Try it, if it works, great. If not let me know where to send the flowers. I don't think it's worth the risk of loosing your face to find out. Do you?
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Old August 18, 2005, 12:27 PM   #6
Jim Watson
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Uh, drdirk, there are a couple of potential problems here.

Lyman once built a cap 'n ball pressure gun, back when they were importing them. Real black powder loads ran from 5,000 to 8,000 psi. Smokeless powder loads in a common revolver caliber like .38 Special START at 8,000 psi and really need about 11,000 psi for a complete burn even in a light target load. SAAMI standard maximum for .38 Special is 18,000 psi.

A strong gun like a Ruger Old Army might stand smokeless pressure... for a while.

The fine print that comes with those cartridge converters for C&B revolvers says they should be limited to the "Cowboy" ammo which is very lightly loaded, them buckaroos don't like to get kicked.

You need to study up on your powder characteristics. Hodgdon Clays is NOT a slow burning powder. In fact it is one of the fastest on the market.

Cap n Ball, you need to be careful, too.
In the first place, smokeless powder doesn't detonate and black powder does. Which is why you can buy smokeless and fake smoky powders about anywhere but real black is hard to get.
In the second place, that Taffin article loses a lot of credibility with me when he says "all black powder cartridges are loaded by volume, not weight." I guarandamtee you he has not seen anybody loading BPCR target ammo. The volume business is suitable only for period muzzleloaders and cowboy shooting with a low standard of accuracy. Yes, I know the fake smoky powders are meant to be loaded to the volume of a proper charge of black because they are low density.
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Old August 18, 2005, 01:22 PM   #7
mec
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We've always heard not to use it. I've never been there when one let go but a local gun dealer who was big into western living history a few decades ago said that he had seen them unlatch even when the shooter used a small initiator charge under a full load of black powder.

The original Walkers and the early fluetted cylinder 60 armies blew up with some regularity using black powder loads. The replica steel-soft as some of it seems to be, is stronger than the originals- or at least free of flaws and occusions. Still, Smokeless is to be avoided completely.

I know one prominent Single action authority who has loaded IMR rifle powder in the Remingtons. He will not publish this and considers himself probably lucky that the gun didn't blow up. He did note that the center of the individual powder sticks seem to burn out leaving the outside cylinder intact. He did not say, but I suspect that his ballistic results were very wierd.

I read a test by an Englishman who had gotten hold of a revolver made up by a European gunsmith. It was set up to use boxer primers, a charge of bullseye and front-loaded .38 wadcutters. English and Europeans are somewhat desperate to find shootable handguns and this was an attempt to add something to the targetshooting game over there. The accuracy results were not good and, as I recall, the shot to shot variations were pretty spastic.
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Old August 18, 2005, 03:59 PM   #8
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interesting answers!

So it looks like the weak point may be the niple area on a black powder revolver. I measured the wall thickness of the black powder cylinder and it is about the same as the cartidige cylinder so that part can't be worse.

This brings up another interesting argument: Volume vs weight. Sounds like a lot of the target shooters not using the Volume equivalent but measure by weight.

Jim: You are right, I am no expert on powder. Load all my stuff with Win 231 and that is all I use and know. Thanks for your response. So if I understand this correctly, black powder as you say "detonates" I assume that means it burns faster than smokeless? I had always thought that black powder burns slower and that is why the recoil is lighter and one gets more a push than a snap.
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Old August 18, 2005, 04:04 PM   #9
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thanks for the flowers...

Clayfish: I have been shooting BP for a long time and don't plan on using smokeless... but... the point of a forum for me is to learn and understand more of the WHY. In shooting just like a lot of things are many "old wifes tales" that are just not true. As I pilot I have seen my share of this about aviation. Just watch the news reporting on any airplane accident or incident and you will see the garbage that gets reported by the general news guys.
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Old August 18, 2005, 04:07 PM   #10
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Many years ago this was explained to me. As I recall, when confined, smokeless powder burns at 7 times the rate of black powder. Way faster pressure spike. Good luck, and warn bystanders first. Oh yes, is your insurance paid up?
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Old August 19, 2005, 09:28 AM   #11
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BP is an explosive, i.e., it doesn't burn it blows up. The rules for storing BP are different than smokeless, that's why so few places will stock it.

Detonate means to blow up and that means the whole charge goes off at once. Julian Hatcher had a good description of the difference between detonate and burn in one of his books. Blow up is instantaneous, burn is a thing that happens over some increment of time.
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Old August 19, 2005, 11:07 AM   #12
Mk VII
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some conversion have been done and sold here, on Rugers and Pietta Remingtons. They use shotshell primers. see http://www.westlakeengineering.com/4640/4694.html
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Old August 19, 2005, 03:04 PM   #13
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Simple minded.

I guess I am a simple minded guy, but I have always just taken it at face value.
The box, gun, and instructions all say black powder or substitute only, so that's what I have used.
Like most people, I believe in the simple answer:
It creates a different type and amount of pressure, that a BP was not designed for. Not saying that a C&B revolver could or could not handle it, they just weren't designed with it in mind.

Kind of like using a 22oz. roofing hammer to hang a picture on drywall. You could do it, but there are better tools designed specifically for it.
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Old August 20, 2005, 12:37 AM   #14
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Black powder and smokeless powder work in fundamentally very different ways. The smokeless powder "way of working" is not compatible with black-powder guns.

Not only that, but most guns intended for black powder are BUILT for black powder. That means that they often use different steels, different hardening processes, etc. Measuring a smokeless powder gun and a black powder gun and saying there's the same amount of metal in a given spot is not giving anywhere near the entire picture.

You MUST not try to apply logic to this problem because without the proper background you have no chance of drawing valid conclusions. Not trying to be nasty, just trying to save you from spinning your wheels or getting injured. BTW, very few people have the kind of background required to fully understand the answer the question--and I'm not one of them.

Your question is a very dangerous one in that it sounds very simple but the full answer is very complex. Because you don't get a full answer, or because someone tries to give you a full answer that you can't comprehend because of your lack of background in the subject, you will remain convinced that you are right. That's how people get hurt. The old saw about knowing enough to be dangerous is DEAD on the money in this case.
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Old August 20, 2005, 03:36 AM   #15
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Smokeless powder burns, it DOES NOT Detonate.
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Old August 20, 2005, 09:48 AM   #16
drdirk
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Black powder: Slow or Fast????

ok, now I am even more confused: Some of the answers indicate that Black powder "explodes" and burns faster than smokeless. Some say the opposite. What is true?? It seems to be that it should be SLOWER burning than smokeless since the felt recoil is usually softer. Anybody know for sure here ??
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Old August 20, 2005, 12:49 PM   #17
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Black gunpowder is an explosive. Smokless powder is merely realy, really combustible.

When I was young and (more) foolish I disposed of some old gunpowders I found among my dad's things by breaking them up into small charges and setting fire to them. Black powder went PHOOF!! and sent up a little mushroom cloud of smoke. Smokeless powder burned with an intense, steady flame-- slightly purplish if I remember, but don't quote me on that.

In practice this means that black powder can kaboom on ya even if it's not contained. Smokeless won't do that; it will only kaboom if you confine it in a strong container until the pressure builds up to the point that the container gives way. That's why black gunpowder is only shipped carefully and reluctantly while smokeless can go almost anywhere-- should it catch fire, smokeless will definitely make the fire a lot worse, but at least it won't detonate all at once.

However, this characteristic doesn't have a direct connection to the ultimate pressure the stuff can generate. Once you DO have it confined in a tight container-- like a cartridge case locked inside a firing chamber-- smokeless tends to burn very fast and hot.

Because it burns fast, smokeless tends to have a very "spikey" pressure curve. The pressure goes up fast and comes down fast. It's like the difference between moving a cart by pushing it by hand or by hitting it with the bumper of your car. Both methods might achieve the same velocity for the cart, but one is a lot more violent than the other.

This is also why black powder cartridges tend to be wimps when loaded with smokeless. They're limited to the same ultimate pressure, in order to be safe in guns designed for that pressure. But because smokeless burns more quickly and violently, it gives the bullet a quick kick at operating pressure and then stops. Black maintains that pressure longer, gives the bullet a (relatively) long, steady push at that pressure, and thus gives serious power levels even for low pressure levels.

As for using smokeless in muzzleloaders or cap and ball revolvers-- well. If I remember correctly there were German muskets imported for the Civil War that were rated for use with nitrocellulose powders, so it was possible even back then. But cap and ball revolvers were not designed to contain the pressures of smokeless, period. For one thing, a lot of them (especially the Colts) were designed to come apart easily because cleaning was such a big concern. Even the sturdier designs weren't designed for such pressure, and while they might stand it-- or might stand it once or twice-- you're taking your life into your own hands if you try it.

Look, if you reload at all you know you don't even substitute loading data between one smokeless powder and another, unless you're a pro trying to develop new reloading data. Substituting Bullseye for Unique or vice versi can be disastrous. And smokeless powders are a lot more similar to each other than they are to black. My advice would be that if you want to shoot smokeless powder, get yourself a nice .357 or something and be done with it.
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Old August 21, 2005, 09:09 PM   #18
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Maybe one reason is that most percussion caps are not hot enough to ignite smokeless powder reliably.

Some smokeless powders (I will not name them) can be used in BP revolvers, but the amounts that will produce BP pressures are so small that there are ignition problems, and lots of filler is needed. If smokeless pistol powder is loaded to fill the chamber, as BP normally is, the result is a huge overload that would blow up most .38 Special revolvers, and some .357's.

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Old August 22, 2005, 08:28 AM   #19
drdirk
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Thanks Hafoc!

Thanks for your detailed explanation. A lot of this is now starting to make sense. You seem to know quite a bit about this. Thanks for sharing.
You cleared up the apparent contradiction of fast and slow buring vs explosion here.
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Old September 18, 2005, 08:40 AM   #20
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Propellents-Confusion.

RE: "Ruger use of Smokeless", Yes, AT FACTORY, Special cylinder, Primers, was tested, strong enough so why not? Simple! Hole through nipple, and LOTS of high pressure gas! (IF ignition with percussion caps not problematic!) In-Time, inevitable erosion (Gas jet through nipple) will-have; "Rocket jet self cocking revolver" (Have done this 1860 Colt Army, do NOT try!!)

Additional factors in 19th Century, were; "Transition Propellents", specifically; "Grey Powder", (Ammomnium Nitrate-Based) to; "Kings Semi-Smokeless".

Such propellents as; "777" Or "Pyrodex" nothing-new!

I read in hand copy of ancient magazine; ("Guns" June 1965) Questions&Answers (Excerpt) "To reduce fouling, load 2.0 gr. Red Dot next to the cap (Followed by) 28.0 gr. FFG.........................")

Do NOT, I implore you do this! I have, with new 17-4PH or Maraging Steel Cylinders, other modifications.

What PASSES for "Steel" in these arms will NOT on Rockwell "C" scale register! Margin of safety very low, no one in Italy wasting money on metallurgy!


It CAN be done, done in my shop daily. BUT NOT with off the shelf guns!!!
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Old September 24, 2005, 11:03 PM   #21
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Black powder burn MUCH faster than smokless

BUt under pressure or contained smokless burn rate changes and black does not.
Smokless as the pressure goes up the burn rate goes up which caues the pressure to go up which causes the burn rate to,,,, well you get the idea.
For cap and ball revolvers I use a volume measure, Its a flask with a tube and a spring loaded valve.
I can get consistant loads to with in 1 or 2 granes of black and for round ball shooting thats really good enough,
The big thing with volume measurements you need to make sure they are completle full before dumping them in the chamber.
I for one would never even think of using smokless in a black powder gun.
There was one stupid person at the range that I shoot at several years ago blew a colt repo into about 20 parts.
The range officer confisgated the gun and what they found in one or the remaining chambers still full of powder was it was 1/4 filled with smokless and the remainder was black FFF.
This num nuts said he was trying to get the black powder to ignite faster.
He actualy fired two rounds before parts of the gun was inbedded in his face and hands.
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Old September 30, 2005, 12:19 AM   #22
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Old September 30, 2005, 11:17 PM   #23
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Old October 1, 2005, 05:03 AM   #24
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why not

so why doesnt anyone make a cap and ball revolver that will stand the high pressure smokelss loads? seems like it'd be a lot cleaner.
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Old October 1, 2005, 06:57 AM   #25
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Not enough demand. People who shoot frontstuffers generally want the BP experience as well - unless legislation confines them to muzzleloaders.
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