View Full Version : Making and using greased felt wads

February 6, 2005, 08:05 PM
This is part II of my complementary post, "Found! Proper Felt to Make Wads!"

In most instances, the felt wad should be lubricated if it will be used with black powder. An exception is the use of one dry felt wad over the powder, with a lubricated felt wad over it and the projectile on top. This arrangement will keep lubricant from reaching the powder and affecting it over long periods of carry, as in hunting. In warm weather, when the lubricant may be rather fluid, this can greatly increase the reliability of a black powder gun.
For black powder shooting, a proper lubricant is required. Avoid petroleum-based greases and oils. When mixed with black powder, petroleum greases and oils often create a hard, tarry fouling that affects accuracy and is more difficult to remove.
Use a natural grease, wax or oil, made from animals or plants. Examples include lard, vegetable oils (canola, peanut, olive, etc.), Crisco, animal tallows, beeswax or carnauba wax, which is derived from palm trees (!).
The best substance I’ve found, bar none, is mutton tallow. It’s been in use with black powder arms, by the British military and others, for more than 150 years and I don’t think it’s by coincidence.

You can use Crisco, vegetable oils, lard or beeswax and they’ll all work okay. But, by far, the best lubricant I’ve found is a recipe I stumbled across in a 1943 American Rifleman magazine.
The article listed 10 pounds tallow, 10 pounds paraffin and 5 pounds beeswax as the factory recipe for outside-lubricated bullets.
I’ve settled on more specific ingredients when I make it: mutton tallow, canning paraffin and beeswax. With these specific ingredients, you’ll make a black powder lubricant with a variety of uses: felt wads, patches, lead bullets in muzzleloaders and black powder cartridge guns, etc.
Of course, you don’t need 25 pounds of lubricants. I use a kitchen scale to measure 200 grams of mutton tallow, 200 grams of canning paraffin and 100 grams of beeswax for the same ratio.
A note on beeswax: Most of the beeswax sold as toilet seals is no longer real beeswax but a synthetic. You’ll get an inferior lubricant if you use this stuff. Get the real beeswax from Muzzleloading Rendezvous, Renaissance Fairs, or hobby shops (they’ll charge you a lot, though). Also look under Beekeepers in your Yellow Pages or contact your local County Extension Agent to find out who rides herd on bees in your area. Most beekeepers will sell you a few pounds at a good price.
Raw beeswax will have fragments of the hive and dead bees in it. This can be a good deal if you’re willing to filter it a bit. Heat the raw beeswax at low heat in an old pan (thrift stores are good for old, knockabout pans) until the contaminants settle. Then, gently pour the clean, top beeswax through a paper coffee filter into mini-bread loaf pans or an old muffin pan, to make cakes.
You won’t remove every last speck of contaminant but it will be plenty good for use in bullet lubricants.
Or you can order unfiltered or filtered beeswax Beeswax from Beekepers in Minnesota at http://www.beeswaxfrombeekeepers.com or Stony Mountain Botanicals in Ohio at http://www.wildroots.com

Mutton tallow, made from sheep, is harder to find. The only source I’ve found is Dixie Gun Works, which sells a tub of 6 to 8 ounces for $3.50. Thankfully, it’s not expensive. Buy two tubs and you won’t run out at a bad moment. If you live in sheep country, you may be able to find it at the local butcher shop or processing plant.
It’s remarkable stuff. If kept well sealed and at room temperature, it doesn’t go rancid.

Canning paraffin is the solid wax used by canners to seal off the tops of jars of jams and jellies. It’s most often seen this way, in homemade preserves. You’ll find it in the baking section of your grocery store. A 1 lb. block is less than $2 in most stores.

Measure out:
Mutton tallow – 200 grams
Canning paraffin – 200 grams
Beeswax – 100 grams
Place this amount in a widemouth, one quart Mason jar. Place the jar into a pot containing four or five inches of boiling water for a double-boiler effect. This is the safest way to melt waxes and greases. Just in case of a fire, keep a box of Baking Powder handy but not where you can’t get to it because of flames.
When the ingredients are thoroughly melted, stir well with a clean stick or disposable chopstick.
Remove from heat. Allow the lubricant to cool at room temperature. Hastening cooling by placing in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to separate. When cool and hardened, screw the cap down tight on the jar and store in a cool, dry place.
What makes this lubricant so good? I believe it’s not only the mutton tallow but the inclusion of paraffin, which stiffens the wad somewhat and makes it a more effective fouling scraper.
I’ve tried other lubricants, commercial and homemade, and still haven’t found one that works as well as this recipe. It works equally well in other black powder applications.
It doesn’t smell too bad, either. It’s different, but it won’t stink up the kitchen like melting chassis grease and other noxious ingredients often found in bullet lubricant recipes.

For rifle and revolver wads, I use a clean tuna or pet food can with the paper label removed.
Place the can on a cast iron skillet, or in a low pan of boiling water. You may also place the can directly on the burner, if it’s kept at low heat and you watch it like a hawk.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of lubricant in the can. Add the wads. I can usually get 100 .36 to .45 caliber wads in a can, the larger ones if I cram them in a bit.
Stir the wads into the lubricant until they’re thoroughly soaked. Add more lubricant if it looks like the wads are rather dry. You want a wad that is soaked with lubricant.
No need to squeeze out the excess lubricant, simply remove the can from the heat and allow to cool with the wads and lubricant in it. When cool, snap a plastic pet food cover over the can and store the wads in a cool, dry place.
Now, you have a container to take to the range. And when you run low on wads, simply reheat the can, add more lubricant and wads, and refill it.
Cans may be marked “.36” or “.44” or whatever on the side with a large felt pen and stacked on top of each other for easy identification.

Carrying the wads in the field can be a problem. They are greasy, and your hands are often greasy, so you need a container that is easily opened with greasy fingers.
Some stand-out containers include:
1. Shoe polish tin, with the key on the side for easy opening. Elmer Keith recommended this container years ago and it’s still good.
2. Altoids Sour Candies tin. The Altoids mint tin may be difficult to open with greasy fingers, but Altoids also sells a sour candy in a round tin, in apple, citrus and orange flavors. This can’s lid has a dimple on the side that, when pressed, pops the can open easily.
These two containers fit easily in the pocket, possibles bag or range bag.
I don’t suggest plastic pill container with the easy-pop lid may be used. It’s clumsy to fish out the wads from the bottom. Percussion cap tins may be used but they’re nearly impossible to open with greasy fingers.

Felt wads, lubricated as above, are outstanding in cap and ball revolvers. Charge the chamber with a measured amount of powder. Push the greased felt wad in with your thumb, so it’s slightly below flush. Go on to the remaining chambers, charging with powder and pushing the greased felt wad in.
Now, use the rammer to seat the wad in each chamber down firmly on the powder. Don’t crush the powder with undue force, just seat the wad until stiff resistance is felt.
Why do you seat the wads separately, and not along with the ball? Five reasons:
1. Should you forget to charge a chamber with powder, it will become apparent when you seat the wad. It’s a lot easier to remove a stuck wad than a stuck ball.
2. You get a better feel for how much pressure you’re applying to the wad with the rammer, when seated separately.
3. If you need to set the revolver down, for any reason, the felt wad will keep powder from spilling out of the chamber.
4. It’s easier to seat the ball if you don’t have to juggle a greased wad too.
5. You get a better feel for how much pressure you’re applying to the ball when you seat it.

In a muzzleloading rifle, a greased felt wad on the powder will often improve accuracy. It will protect the patch on round ball loads, and the base of the bullet on conicals.

A word of warning is in order:
NEVER use a wad of any kind under a hollow-based bullet, such as the .58-caliber Minie’. The wad will interfere with the expansion of the bullet’s skirt and affect accuracy.
NEVER place a wad over a solid projectile, no matter what type of gun you’re using. That wad may act as an obstruction in the bore as the bullet begins to move, raising pressures to catastrophic levels. An obvious exception is a muzzleloading shotgun, which requires a thin, paper top wad to keep the shot from rolling out.

Economy and tailoring your wads and lubricant are the reason to make your own wads.