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Old October 28, 2013, 01:02 PM   #1
OldFotoMan
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Black powder or smokeless ?

I don't mean to seem dumb, but I have a question about ammo for old guns.

I have several old guns that I would like to shoot, but need to know what is safe to shoot in them. I certainly do understand that they should not be fired with normal, modern, higher power loads; but is it safe to shoot smokeless cartridges that were designed to replace or duplicate the original BP loads and pressures in some of these old guns.

As an example, I have an old WC Scott 10 gauge double with Damascus barrels (made 1890), a Colt SAA (made 1872), and a Colt 1877 Lightning (made 1891).

I shot these guns many times when I was young, and don't remember any heavy or excessive smoke being produced by them, but that was about 50 years ago. I fired the SAA about 20 years ago with some old ammo that was with it when I inherited it.

Again, I know not to use modern higher power loads, but from everything I've read in cartridge books, the original smokeless loads were designed to duplicate the pressures and ballistic performance of the original BP loads in order for them to be able to be used safely in these older guns. I know smokeless burns slower and BP is an almost instant detonation, but from my understanding of basic physics, as long as the total pressures are the same, that should be safer in theory, since the smokeless would build the pressure slower.

I would probably even reduce the loads slightly from what the original pressures were if I hand loaded or had them loaded, but smokeless is certainly less corrosive and easier to clean, so I would rather go that route if it would be safe.

All input will be appreciated.

I’m not sure whether this question should be in the C&R or the Black Powder and Cowboy Action section, but am posting it in both as it would seem to be of interest and fall into both. Administrators, please feel free to let me know or remove it from either if you feel it’s in the wrong place or if duplicating to reach different readers is not allowed.

Thanks.
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Old October 28, 2013, 02:29 PM   #2
maillemaker
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If the firearm was designed to shoot black powder, then you should only shoot black powder with it.

Assuming the firearm is in sound condition, you should be able to continue to shoot it with the loads it was designed to shoot.

Do not shoot smokeless powder in a firearm designed for only black powder. You can go look on YouTube for some nice videos of the destruction that happens when you do that.

I am not familiar with your firearms, but given their dates of manufacture it is highly likely that they were designed for black powder cartridges.

While it is possible, and some people have done so, to experiment and come up with smokeless loads that are similar in performance to BP loads, this is something well beyond the scope of something an amateur should do and something I would never recommend for a firearm manufactured prior to the age of smokeless powder.

Unless you know for certain that your firearm was manufactured to shoot smokeless powder, I would not attempt to do so. Black Powder is easily available today.

Steve
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Old October 28, 2013, 02:32 PM   #3
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SU1lGa1iH9E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmsBF6CXs18

Unless you really, really know what you are doing, and you really, really want to risk blowing up a 140-year-old firearm, I would not experiment with smokeless in any BP firearm.

Steve
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Old October 28, 2013, 02:44 PM   #4
SIGSHR
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Yes, Black Powder ONLY in any firearms designed for Black Powder whether original or reproduction. A combination of higher burning temperatures, higher pressue and different ignition makes smokeless powder unsafe in them. An Iron Rule of Gun Safety is use only the correct ammunition loaded to safe pressures.
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Old October 28, 2013, 03:09 PM   #5
Hawg Haggen
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All of those are bp guns. The shotgun will have short chambers and the barrels should really be checked out by someone knowledgeable on damascus barrels. You will get many responses telling you not to shoot it at all but if they check out ok I personally wouldn't be afraid to shoot moderate bp loads out of it.
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Old October 28, 2013, 03:35 PM   #6
OldFotoMan
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Steve, I'm 100% sure these were designed for BP. But as stated, I'm not thinking of working up loads, but rather of using factory loads which are supposed to duplicate the original BP loads. Examples: the 45 Colt BP and smokeless loads both indicate about 850mv and 420 me; the 38 Long Colt says 770mv and 195me. I haven't found actual pressure ratings for either, but if the velocity and energy are the same, it's pretty safe to assume that the pressures are also very close to the same.

Again. I'm not thinking of working up loads, or using smokeless instead of BP in a muzzle loader. I'm talking about using factory cartridges which were designed to duplicate the specs of the original BP loading. My buddies are telling me that they think it would be unsafe due to the different ways the powders burn, but logically, that should make the slower burning smokeless safer to use.

Cartridges of the World, and several other cartridge books, seem to state that when most of these calibers which were designed as BP cartridges were originally loaded with smokeless, the manufacturers specifically kept the pressure rating the same so that they could safely be used in the original BP guns without damage or danger. Now, over 100 years later, the common thought is that you should not use smokeless in anything designed for BP ! So if they were designed to replace the original BP loads safely, won't they still do that? Using the original loadings of course, not any of the loads designed to produce more power in today's modern guns, does the way either burn really make any difference in safety? In other words, if I stick to loads that have equal or less velocity and energy than the original BP loads; is there an inherit safety risk involved in using smokeless as opposed to BP?
The obvious plus side being the easier cleaning.

Thanks for your input. As I said in my original post, I'm 100% sure that I have fired these 3 guns which were designed for BP many times back in the 1950's and 60's. I'm about 75% sure that we were using smokeless cartridges because I can't recall any excessive smoke; but my memory isn't quite what it use to be.
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Old October 28, 2013, 04:01 PM   #7
Hawg Haggen
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Colt didn't warranty their guns for smokeless until 1900. They may have been proofed for it a few years before but certainly not as far back as 1891. Before then the frames were made from wrought iron. I'll do a lot of things many people frown on like shooting damascus barrels but I wouldn't shoot any amount of smokeless out of a pre 1900 Colt.
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Old October 28, 2013, 04:25 PM   #8
Bezoar
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shotgun blackpowder only. The chambers will undoubtedly be the european length, and youd have to cut modern shells down to fit before loading.

That colt is a blackpowder piece only. Personally id just load up bp or possibly trailboss 45 schofield loads for it.
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Old October 28, 2013, 04:42 PM   #9
Sure Shot Mc Gee
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Since I've never held a 120-130 yr. old weapon in my hands. Or know anything about a couple of yours OldFotoMan. I'm not going to speculate and/or comment to a stranger that I do.
As I see your situation. All may require a good cleaning and safety inspection by a competent person familiar with their designs before their firings. If they were my inherited firearms. This advice freely given is what I would do first thing if my intentions were wanting to shoot any of them. But, There your firearms. Your decision Sir.
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Old October 28, 2013, 04:58 PM   #10
maillemaker
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Quote:
I'm talking about using factory cartridges which were designed to duplicate the specs of the original BP loading. My buddies are telling me that they think it would be unsafe due to the different ways the powders burn, but logically, that should make the slower burning smokeless safer to use.
I understand. That's why I caveated that unless you really, really know what you are doing, it's a bad idea to try and figure out what the smokeless equivalent of a BP load is. I have read of people who have successfully done it, but I personally would not risk it in an antique firearm manufactured with steels before the age of smokeless powder. Especially since the firearms are irreplaceable.

Quote:
Now, over 100 years later, the common thought is that you should not use smokeless in anything designed for BP ! So if they were designed to replace the original BP loads safely, won't they still do that? Using the original loadings of course, not any of the loads designed to produce more power in today's modern guns, does the way either burn really make any difference in safety? In other words, if I stick to loads that have equal or less velocity and energy than the original BP loads; is there an inherit safety risk involved in using smokeless as opposed to BP?
In theory, I believe you are correct. The issue is, can you be certain that the smokeless load you are going to test is going to actually safely work?

You only get once chance to be wrong.

I have found some YouTube videos where people are shooting 45 LC cartridges in both BP and Smokeless:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hzJKLYySlk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mTfeF4yhc8

However, the Winchester appears to be a reproduction and the Colt SAA was sent back to the factory in the 1950's where it had a new barrel and cylinder put in it. That means modern metallurgy.

If there are companies out there selling factory smokeless cartridges marketed as safe to use in BP firearms, you might be OK. Personally, I would not risk it. If you absolutely are set on trying it, I'd call the ammunition manufacturer and see if they warrant it for use in pre-smokeless firearms.

Steve
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Old October 28, 2013, 05:31 PM   #11
Captchee
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first what i would do is take a look at your proof marks . are they BP marks or proofed for smokeless . but even then if proofed for smokeless , that smokeless was more like our low base today .
By as early as 1860 they were starting to produce different powders in Europe so every now and then you can run across something that doesn’t carry a BP proof yet has Damascus or varying types and qualities of laminated barrels
myself i use Bp in my Damascus laminated and fluid steel barreled ,SXS . However BP can also , under the right conditions , produce very high pressures so make sure you gun is in proper shape

In my muzzleloaders I don’t use smokeless of any type .
The exception tot hat is in my 1851 uberti with a conversion . In that I shoot 3.8 grains of A.S
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Old October 28, 2013, 08:30 PM   #12
Bill Akins
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Can't he shoot cowboy action loads in them?


.
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"This is my Remy and this is my Colt. Remy loads easy and topstrap strong, Colt balances better and never feels wrong. A repro black powder revolver gun, they smoke and shoot lead and give me much fun. I can't figure out which one I like better, they're both fine revolvers that fit in my leather".
"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target".
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Old October 28, 2013, 09:31 PM   #13
maillemaker
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If you are buying commercial smokeless loads that simulate BP loads, I'd call the factory and ask them what they thought of shooting it in your guns.

Steve
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Old October 29, 2013, 11:27 PM   #14
OldFotoMan
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Thanks a lot for all of the quick replies.

The Colt SAA was the gun my grandfather carried and used as a side arm on all of his hunting trips for deer, moose, or elk until the mid 1960's. The 10 gauge was what he used for goose and duck at that time. They were both guns that my father used to teach me to shoot pistol and shotgun back then. I think I recall grandfather firing the 1877 DA Lightning, but I'm not sure on that one. I do know they have been properly stored since then, but it has been 50 years now.

I do still have a couple of boxes of the 2 7/8 inch 10 gauge shells that we used to use in the W&C Scott, and some of the 45 Colts that we used in the SAA. Nothing for the 1877 DA Lightning. But I have been told that if they were actual BP loads, they may not be safe as old as they are anyway.

So as most of you point out, even though they are all excellent mechanically, time may have taken it's toll and it may not be worth the risk; especially with the values on the SAA. Sometimes, fond memories just give me a desire to fire them again.

Sometimes, checking with others helps me keep my head level, and maybe keep my hands in one piece. Thanks again.
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Old October 30, 2013, 06:53 AM   #15
Captchee
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Oldfoto
what i would suggest is that you post your question to the folks over on the double gun BBS, forum .

there you will find some of the most renown SXS makers and restoration people in the world . They can line you out properly and recommend places as to send your gun for proper inspection or restoration if needed .

Now speaking for myself . I find nothing more graceful , well fitted and balance then a good old SXS . Even the cheaper Creasents weld and feel so much better then the commonly available SXS of today.

It is best to have them looked over and inspected .
If you take one to someone who simply looks at it and says ;Damascus or Liege barrel , its not safe to shoot .
Well take it to someone else . The simple fact is that most of the manufactures we sometimes hold as producing some of the best quality guns , were using those very barrels . IE Colt , Winchester , Remington , Ithica , Perdy , Richards ,Greener, Parker ,,,, just to name a few , were all using such barrels .

But for your own safty , do have it checked out .
If you decide to shoot them or not , is up to you . There is as much joy IMO holding such a piece and thing wishing it could tell all its stories , as there is in firing it .

But in the case of the ones that are brought back to being safe or found to be safe , they then hold a whole new page which includes you
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Old October 30, 2013, 07:03 AM   #16
Hawg Haggen
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Quote:
There is as much joy IMO holding such a piece and thing wishing it could tell all its stories , as there is in firing it .

But in the case of the ones that are brought back to being safe or found to be safe , they then hold a whole new page which includes you
Well said Captchee.
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Old October 30, 2013, 05:04 PM   #17
PetahW
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OldFotoMan

I'm not thinking of working up loads, but rather of using factory loads which are supposed to duplicate the original BP loads. Examples: the 45 Colt BP and smokeless loads both indicate about 850mv and 420 me; the 38 Long Colt says 770mv and 195me.

I haven't found actual pressure ratings for either, but if the velocity and energy are the same, it's pretty safe to assume that the pressures are also very close to the same.

You know what "presume" means, right ? (makes an azz out of you & me)


Loads shouldn't be judged as being equal, looking only at V & E, since the makers of smokeless ammo changed/upgraded the powders around 1926 - which translates to the modern powders having different pressure curve characteristics that the earlier designs were not built to handle.


.
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Old October 31, 2013, 07:42 AM   #18
fdf
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There is a spring in the Lightning and Thunderer that is prone to breaking very easily. I have a gunsmith who can make them, but he will no longer do so and they are none available should one break the spring.

When I was at Texas Jacks this month they said that their Cimarron Lightning and the originals are interchangeable. I would not bet the farm on that though.

I tie wrapped the cylinders on mine so someone cannot rotate them.
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Old October 31, 2013, 09:38 AM   #19
MJN77
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Quote:
There is a spring in the Lightning and Thunderer that is prone to breaking very easily. I have a gunsmith who can make them, but he will no longer do so and they are none available should one break the spring.
First line written in red.
http://www.poppertsgunparts.com/

Quote:
When I was at Texas Jacks this month they said that their Cimarron Lightning and the originals are interchangeable. I would not bet the farm on that though.
Bulls**t. The Cimarron/Uberti "lightning" is a single action revolver (shrunken SAA) and the originals were double action. Completely different designs.

My advice to the OP would be to have the guns checked out for safety, then start reloading BP ammo for them. It's more fun than you think.
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