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Old March 13, 2010, 07:07 PM   #1
Gatofeo
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Cap & Ball Revolver: Advice from 1930

I have a complete set of American Rifleman magazines dating from 1929 to the latest issue, about 900 issues. Reading these old issues often reveals something interesting.
The Dope Bag column of the May 1930 issue (p. 41) caught my eye : LOADS FOR A CAP-AND-BALL.
A reader, J.F.D., wrote to ask what loads are suggested for a Remington .44 cap and ball revolver. Remember, this is for an original Remington; reproductions were not produced until nearly 40 years later.
Major Julian S. Hatcher responded to J.F.D. with responses that remain interesting 80 years after they were published. Among the most interesting points:

This marks the earliest record I’ve encountered where a greased, felt wad was suggested for use between the ball and powder of a cap and ball revolver. Prior to this 1930 report, the earliest reference I’ve found was Elmer Keith’s 1955 book, “Sixguns.”
Born in 1899, Keith was 13 when Civil War veterans showed him how to load his original Colt 1851 Navy. To my knowledge, Keith never said where he learned to use a greased felt wad.

The lubricant that Hatcher suggests is interesting: Vaseline and paraffin or beeswax. Today’s experienced black powder shooters prefer natural greases and oils, rather than those based on petroleum. Experience has shown that petroleum lubricants, when used with black powder, often produce a hard, tarry fouling. Natural greases and oils keep fouling soft and easily removed by each shot, or with a damp patch.

King’s Semi-Smokeless powder is mentioned and recommended. It was once popular for old shotguns and target rifles originally designed for black powder. King’s Semi-Smokeless was made to measure in the same volume as black powder, and produce equal pressures, but with less smoke and fouling. It was discontinued about 1936, probably because America was swinging into pre-World War II production and the older, black powder guns had fallen out of favor.
Today, there is no smokeless powder safe to use in a cap and ball revolver, even revolvers of modern design and materials.

Hatcher advises not to use black powder granulation smaller than FFG, but cap and ball revolver shooters have been using FFFG granulation for decades, with improved burning characteristics. Interestingly, in “Sixguns” Keith suggests FFFG grade for revolvers of .28 and .31 caliber, and FFG for those .36 caliber and larger.
Myself, I’ve had excellent results in all bore sizes, from .31 to .44, with FFFG and I believe that most experienced cap and ball revolver shooters would agree it’s the grade of choice. But if you can’t find FFFG, then FFG will certainly work well.

The need for plenty of lubrication is noted by Hatcher, and that remains true today. Not only does the lubricant ease the passage of the projectile down the bore, but excess lubricant tends to get sprayed onto and into areas covered with black powder fouling, keeping the fouling soft and reducing drag and binding of moving parts.
The best lubricant remains some type of natural soft grease, such as Crisco, lard, Bore Butter, mutton tallow or related blends. These soft greases are readily distributed with each shot, and don’t dry out from the heat of firing, as oils do.

Back to the 1930 inquiry from J.F.D. to The Dope Bag:
The reader notes that he’s been using Ideal (Lyman) 450225 conical and 451118 (.451 inch ball).
“I have used the latter (.451 inch ball) with good results with 40 grains FFG. Are there any other bullets that you would recommend?” J.F.D. wrote.
“Is FFFG black better than FFG? With the load mentioned above I got excessive fouling. I suppose this is due to an over charge rather than to the size of grain of the powder.
“Is there any smokeless powder that I could use, such as bulk smokeless?,” J.F.D. wrote

Major Julian S. Hatcher replied:
“The two Ideal bullets you are using are O.K. for your gun. Forty grains of black powder is a heavy load. You can use this or any smaller one with these bullets. As long as you use over 20 grains of powder. Do not use any smaller size than FFG.
“The only other powder I have tried for a gun of this kind is King’s Semismokeless. You might try 20 grains of FFG with this powder.
“The excessive fouling may be due to insufficient lubrication. Fouling with black powder is almost always severe under any conditions, and the only way to avoid having it bother you is to use a well-lubricated wad between your bullet and powder,” Hatcher wrote.
“To get good results with these guns, it is essential to use plenty of lubrication. One way to do this is to use greased shotgun wads, and another way is to use greased felt wads that you can make yourself out of an old hat or any other similar material. The felt should be soaked in an equal mixture of Vaseline and paraffin or beeswax.
“The use of these wads will greatly alleviate the fouling you obtained,” Hatcher replied.

This is now the earliest reference I’ve found to the use of greased, felt wads in cap and ball revolvers. Their use prior to this 1930 reference remains unknown, but it must have been common knowledge for some time before this date. Ideally, I’d like to discover a reference to greased felt wads in cap and ball revolvers in the Civil War, or earlier. We may never know when this practice began.
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Old March 13, 2010, 08:55 PM   #2
wogpotter
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I remember reading somewhere that the process of cracking petroleum distillates actually removes the components that cause the "black tar" before it reaches the stage where Vaseline is the condensed product.
Something to do with the volatility of the actual sub-compound that is responsible being boiled off earlier (lower temperature) in the cracking (distillation) process than the dropping out of Vaseline IIRC.
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Old March 13, 2010, 09:23 PM   #3
zippy13
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Thanks for an interesting and informative posting, Gatofeo. For those unfamiliar with Major General (then Major) Julian S. Hatcher, may I recommend his Hatcher's Notebook, Revised Edition (available from Amazon) Find out what can happen if you rattle a bucket full of primers or shoot straight up. Eventually the Commanding General of Ordinance Training and Chief of Field Service, General Hatcher was an unbelievable font of knowledge.
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Old March 14, 2010, 03:32 AM   #4
Andy Griffith
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Quote:
Today, there is no smokeless powder safe to use in a cap and ball revolver, even revolvers of modern design and materials.
If I recall correctly:
Triple 7, Pyrodex and most black powder substitutes are "smokeless powder" (with the notable exception of the vitamin-C based propellants, which I don't know exactly how to classify these things) because this group primarily relies upon nitrocellulose as their main ingredient.

Of course, these are all black powder substitutes- but not all are created equal and the shooter must follow the guidelines of the powder companies recommendations.

My advice is to stick with the holy black if at all possible in your jurisdiction.
However, if substitutes are all that is available, by all means don't allow that to dissuade the thoughts of owning and enjoying a black powder firearm of any kind.
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Old March 14, 2010, 06:55 AM   #5
Hawg
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I dunno my Pyrodex smokes pretty good.
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Old March 14, 2010, 09:47 PM   #6
Gatofeo
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When I wrote that, I paused at noting that there are no smokeless powders today safe to use in black powder arms.
I knew someone would raise the Finger of Technicality.
But my reasoning was sound: I didn't want to confuse the issue, and give a false impression to a newcomer who might be tempted to dump some smokeless pistol powder in his cap and ball revolver.

As for the term, "smokeless."
All black powder substitutes create more smoke than the nitrocellulose-based gunpowders we lump together as "smokeless" powder. Again, I didn't want to confuse the issue.
I know that if it's NOT black powder than it's likely labeled as "smokeless" in the loosest terms, but with so many new shooters out there, I felt it best to avoid the issue altogether.

King's Semi-Smokeless was a bulk powder made as a black powder substitute, to be measured in equal measure to black powder. I'm unsure of its composition, but it was a transitional powder that appeared to have both black powder and nitrocellulose in its mixture. I may be wrong about that; I can't find the answer on the internet or in my books.

Are Hodgdon 777, Pyrodex and other black powder subsitutes "smokeless powder?" Yes, by definition and composition. Do they create very little smoke? No, they create quite a bit.
Pick your definition. The argument could go on as long as the classic, 9mm vs. .45 and .30-06 vs. .270 contentions.

Perhaps you've introduced a new argument.
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Old March 17, 2010, 08:09 AM   #7
arcticap
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Quote:
If I recall correctly:
Triple 7, Pyrodex and most black powder substitutes are "smokeless powder" (with the notable exception of the vitamin-C based propellants, which I don't know exactly how to classify these things) because this group primarily relies upon nitrocellulose as their main ingredient.
I don't agree that any of the substitute powders should be called smokeless except for the new Blackhorn 209 which I believe actually is a progressive burning smokeless powder.

I'm applying the definition that smokeless is nitrocellulose based.
According to Mad Monk on ALR, Pyrodex shares the same ingredients as black powder except in different amounts and with the addition of potassium perchlorate.

The substitute powders are simply substitute replacement propellants for black powder and are recognized as such by game department regulations.
I imagine that some game departments specifically outlaw the use of smokeless powders for muzzle loader hunting. But at least one state game dept. with such a prohibition does allow an exception for Blackhorn 209 by interpretation since they believe that it's acceptable. It's not stronger, it just has a different formula from other smokeless powders that makes it more similar to black powder in various ways than to any of the other true smokeless powders.
IIRC that state is Utah.

Last edited by arcticap; March 18, 2010 at 02:30 AM.
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Old March 17, 2010, 09:54 AM   #8
ClemBert
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatofeo
“The excessive fouling may be due to insufficient lubrication. Fouling with black powder is almost always severe under any conditions, and the only way to avoid having it bother you is to use a well-lubricated wad between your bullet and powder,” Hatcher wrote.
“To get good results with these guns, it is essential to use plenty of lubrication. One way to do this is to use greased shotgun wads, and another way is to use greased felt wads that you can make yourself out of an old hat or any other similar material. The felt should be soaked in an equal mixture of Vaseline and paraffin or beeswax.
“The use of these wads will greatly alleviate the fouling you obtained,” Hatcher replied.
That's a real jewel of a find Gatofeo. Thanks for posting that. I'm going to assume that Hatcher didn't just invent that on the spot in 1930. Likely that knowledge had been around awhile as it would seem that in 1930 there probably was less interest in cap-n-ball revolvers than there is today and the "modern" stuff was all the rage.
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Old March 17, 2010, 11:23 AM   #9
mykeal
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Griffith
Triple 7, Pyrodex and most black powder substitutes are "smokeless powder" (with the notable exception of the vitamin-C based propellants, which I don't know exactly how to classify these things) because this group primarily relies upon nitrocellulose as their main ingredient.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arcticap
I don't agree that any of the substitute powders should be called smokeless except for the new Blackhorn 209 which I believe actually is a progressive burning smokeless powder.
I strongly agree with Arcticap on this. In no way should Pyrodex, Triple 7 or any other black powder substitute be identified as smokeless powder. It would be very dangerous for someone not familiar with substitute black powders (as all of us were at one time) to get the idea that it's actually ok to use 45 grains of Accurate 2450 in his Lyman Great Plains pistol because his friend used 45 grains of another smokeless powder called Pyrodex.
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