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Old June 2, 2011, 09:31 PM   #1
rodwhaincamo
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Hardness of Lead Round Ball, Mini Ball, and Old West Cartridges

Can anyone tell me if pure lead or an alloy was used for lead round ball, the mini ball, as well the old west cowboy loads?
What caliber(s) and weight were the mini balls, and what kind of velocity could they achieve?
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Old June 2, 2011, 11:37 PM   #2
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pure lead (or as close to as could be achieved) would be the typical. My 1851 navy shoots 135gr. round ball and 180gr. conical. Couldn't tell you velocities off-hand though.

Pretty sure the early cowboy loads were also pure, though I'm no expert on that issue.
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Old June 3, 2011, 06:32 AM   #3
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Round balls for muzzleloaders and Minie balls generally were pure lead.

As I understand it, US companies didn't start alloying (with tin) lead for bullets until right around the end of the Civil War, and that was primarily to aid with casting qualities.

Antimony, to the best of my knowledge, didn't come into use until into the smokeless powder age.

Mercury was also used as a hardening agent, from what I understand.
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Old June 3, 2011, 08:27 AM   #4
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I'm not trying to be a smart aleck here. How is mercury used as a hardening agent? Just curious.
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Old June 3, 2011, 08:44 AM   #5
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Mercury amalgamates easily with lead, which is how it used to be used to remove leading from a bore. Turns the lead into a weak, brittle, chalk-like textured amalgam. And that happens at room temperature, so getting mercury to combine with lead is no problem. Perhaps if the amalgam is melted and diluted with a lot more lead, you'll get some hardening without excessive embrittlement, but I don't know? Not about to try, either, as the mercury fumes coming off the melt would be toxic, and condensation of mercury or deposition of its oxides on surfaces around the melt could also cause significant contamination issues.
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Old June 3, 2011, 09:24 AM   #6
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What Nick said.

Mercury hardening was primarily a British thing, and I've only seen references to it being done in the late 1800s. I don't think it survived into the smokeless powder age.

Oh, look at this! A thread from 2001 that talks about this...

According to one poster, the mercury was actually used as a... combinant? to get zinc to alloy with lead, and it was the zinc that did the actual hardening.


http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=65986
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Old June 3, 2011, 01:32 PM   #7
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For 58 caliber muskets, minie balls, 460 and 510 grains were the two common ball weights during the Civil War. I believe the 460 was the new Minie and is the most common ball found at battlefields.

These minie balls are dead soft. I think that is a BHM less than 7. However Civil war minie balls may be slightly harder than modern. I cast all my minie's, but I heard Civil War minie balls may have been impact extruded and that would be consistant with one vintage minie I own. It has a star inside the top of the hollow. I understand these are Frankford Arsenal made. I don't know how that could have been cast there. Impact fabrication would add work hardening to lead, but still, it is lead and not hard at all.
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Old June 3, 2011, 04:08 PM   #8
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Tin was also added to lead to harden it. But to stick with the thread I have never come across any Cival War projectile that was not near pure lead.
With the minis this was due to the need to expand and grip the rifling upon firing. Hardened ammo (20-1 lead to tin) would not due so properly.
With the revolvers a hardened ball will cause excess strain on the rammer teeth and the rammer will strip or break.
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Old June 4, 2011, 09:50 AM   #9
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Mike,

Thanks for finding that. I was unaware of that trick. Still won't try it.
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