View Full Version : breakdown and cleaning of the Pietta 1851 colt navy

September 14, 2010, 08:35 PM
well..I followed the directions of you pros here, and fully disassembled my Pietta 1851 navy for cleaning before taking it to the range ..It was of course, the first BP gun I ever owned, so there was lots to learn.The schematic,including the directions here,while greatly helpful, didnt exactly show how all the parts went back together and worked..I had some big problems in re-assembly, and the fact that the revolver, upon re-assembly, wouldnt revolve, until I realized the revolver spring was bent, as the hammer didnt exactly come out as it was described here...nor did the hand, as the hand is attached to the frame by a screw..in any case, I bent back the spring to where it originally was, and it seems to revolve again..I now know how it all works..personally , I dont see why the trigger mechanism, hand, or any of those other parts would need to be disassembled at all, since I cant see
how any black powder residue would get in those areas to begin with..in any case..I should be shooting this sometime this week..

September 14, 2010, 08:55 PM
Are you sure you have an 1851 Navy? What you are describing sure doesn't sound like it. In any case no revolver has he hand attached to the frame by a screw. The Remingtons have the hand attached to the hammer by a screw and the Remingtons come apart differently than the Colts. If you have a Remington I can understand why you had trouble taking it apart and re assembling it using directions for the Colt. Your statement that you don't see how powder fouling could get into the action also leads me to think you may have purchased a Remington Navy. With the Colt there is a direct path from the nipple along the curve of the hammer that virtually directs fouling into the innards. Simple way to tell the difference is if your gun has a topstrap over the cylinder it is a Remington if it does not it is a Colt.

September 14, 2010, 09:03 PM
my apologies..it is indeed a Colt 1851 navy by pietta...the part I was referring to is called "the cylinder stop"...the revolver spring.. got pretty bent upon removing, it and the hammer, as it did not come out as easily as I thought it would per directions..that, as well as since I am so new at this, I wasnt sure how it went back in...and the screws on these guns are pretty soft...I was very careful and easy with them, and used the remington gunsmith screwdriver set, and they still got somewhat "chewed up"...It was quite a learning curve...Since there were so many extra things to buy before shooting this, I had to wait for the brass punch, the nipple wrench, and the lubed wads to get here before I could strip it down..I doubt I will take this gun down completely again...I will clean the bore ,cylinder and hammer and of course the nipples , from what I had seen, and that should be it

September 14, 2010, 10:48 PM
You migh want to rethink your plans. The Colts are renowned for getting powder fouling into the guts of the revolver. This happens for two reasons. The first is that the current breed of caps are much hotter than they used to be and virtually explode on the nipple and allow gasses to blow back from the nipple. Years ago when I first started shooting C&B the cap would just puff up some on the nipple and kept a lot of the gasses from blowing back, the second is the design of the gun when it fires the hammer is pushed back slightly and gasses follow its curve right into the innards. If you shoot frequently, like every couple of days, you can get by for a couple of weeks by just cleaning the barrel and cylinder but then you should do a complete tear down and cleaning as you should if you intend to put the gun up for any period of time. Failing to do this will result in the action parts rusting up and you will have the devils own time of cleaning it and putting it back into service. If this sounds like too much work then you might want to consider another hobby.
I'm guessing that what you are calling the revolver spring is the hand spring. This is attached to the part that attaches to the hammer and turns the cylinder on the revolver. Am I Correct. If so that spring is supposed to have a significant bow in it.
I'm surprised that you had so much trouble with the screws, if you followed the directions, there is a reason that in some areas you loosen one screw before you remove others. This is in the areas of the backstrap and trigger guard where the parts are sometimes under tension. Doing it in another order can result in boogered screw heads.
After you've done it a few times it really becomes pretty easy. I can completely tear down a Colt belt pistol in under three minutes and reassemble it in about the same time and that is without rushing.

September 14, 2010, 11:37 PM
well, Denster..its not about "thinking of another hobby"..its about not tearing apart this gun so much as to mess up any factory adjustments..I did follow your instructions about loosening some screws first, then others..when you stated that the hammer and the hand should come out at the same time..it sure didnt happen in my case..and I followed your guide step by step..I guess perhaps I may just have to get used to it...but it sure seems like alot of work to me, but then again, I have all modern guns in my collection...but I really absolutely love this gun...so I am going to take it out and shoot it, and take it from there..right now..I need to find a company that has some replacement screws.. I only need three..

September 14, 2010, 11:51 PM
Well excuse me for spending all that time typing those instructions and trying to be helpful and causing you to mess up your gun. Obviously I don't have a clue what I am talking about. Since it's my fault I feel obligated to tell you that you can get replacement screws at either Dixie Gun Works or VTI Gunparts.

September 15, 2010, 07:32 AM
Absolutely NOT, Denster..in NO way did I ever say it had to do with you..and your directions were very helpful, and I am very appreciative of them, but as with anything that requires breakdown..visually can different than print.If I gave that impression, it was not what I had intended..I came in this forum since you all have been at it for so long..I guess its just a learning curve and I will get it , as I like these guns so much, I aint gonna let the learning curve stop me.And if it wasnt for your directions, I wouldn't have remotely known where to begin breaking that pistol down..

September 15, 2010, 07:35 AM
Have you any pics to post here for the parts you need help. That could be pretty good to help you.

September 15, 2010, 09:10 AM
personally , I dont see why the trigger mechanism, hand, or any of those other parts would need to be disassembled at all, since I cant see
how any black powder residue would get in those areas to begin with..

Now you have begun to learn.

I disagree with denster. I rarely clean the interior of my 1860 Pietta Colt clones. Two things will make me clean, heavy rain exposure or a broken part to be replaced. Six or eight months of fouling accumulation can be removed with a q-tip.
If you have followed a practice of liberal amounts of Ballistol or Ballistol moosemilk the fouling will be soft an greasy feeling. No problems.

September 15, 2010, 10:20 AM
Several things. First an off topic question: Why are your posts showing up in all bold? Not a big deal but it's not normal and it makes it hard to read them for me (and I suspect some others). Are you posting on a net book or smartphone?? :p Just kidding, but I'm serious about the bold so if you could put a stop to that I think it would be helpful.

Second, forums are notorious for making posts sound harsher than intended. Denster: don't get yer dander up. Your "consider a new hobby" comment is actually well taken but it can come across harsh and his reply was just a man replying to something like that! Give/get. Let's all lighten up please.

To the OP: these guns are notoriously rough machined and their metal notoriously soft. They work just fine, with maintenance, but due to the roughness it can make a complicated tear down even more difficult with parts hanging up etc. Look for opporunities to knock down edges on parts that would have been better finished on a more expensive firearm and read up on how to time and slick them up - it'll be a big help over the long haul. Regarding the dastardly screws, I am no machinist by any stretch but I'm also pretty handy with tools - I know how to avoid buggering a screw, I have a large gunsmith's screw driver set and I'll make a custom blade to fit properly if I need one - yet I STILL have had it happen on these dang Italian stallions from time to time! It's frustrating but part of the learning curve and part of the experience. VTI gun parts has the screws and they're inexpensive but expensive enough with shipping to punish you when you mess up. Just make sure you're not all caffeinated and in a hurry when you work on these things and you'll eventually get it down.

I started with a Pietta 1851 brasser on which the machining was so basic and unpolished that it had edges that would literally draw blood while handling it. I used that gun to learn about how these things work, timed it, slicked it up over time, had to buy a few screws along the way, and eventually had it to where when I'd hand it to someone else their eyes would light up. I sold that gun for a profit and moved on to steel 1860s and Remingtons (which I discovered I like better) and it's been fun. Enjoy the journey!

And by the way, if you'd like one of these things that does not require a lot of messing around with, is easy to clean, and runs like a clock right out of the box - consider a Ruger Old Army! They're sweeeet. :)


Hang in there.


September 15, 2010, 10:28 AM
Gee Noz why bother to clean the exterior then just spray it down with ballistol and forget it. Sure saves a lot of work.
Actually you can get away with that if you shoot your guns a lot, and I gather that you do. But it can work against you.
Here a couple of years ago I had my favorite Uberti 61 Navy with fluted cylinder out to my friends house and we put about 100 rounds or so through it. When I got home I cleaned the exterior and sprayed the interior liberally with Ballistol intending to do some more shooting the next week. Well that didn't happen and four or five months later when I picked it up again and tried to cock it, no way. Opened it up and the ballistol had dried and everything was rusted together. It took a week in a bucket of kerosene to get things apart and a lot of work to put it back into order. Fortunately I had cleaned the outside and it was still pristene. I take extra precautions now.

September 15, 2010, 12:27 PM
OK Oly point taken. Maybe I am a little too quick getting worked up. Sorry Zathras.

September 15, 2010, 01:04 PM
I don't take my colt apart completely after each session bit I do take the barrel and nipples out out and soak everything in hot soapy water (after removing the wood) before running a brush/mop into each cylinder chamber and the barrel. That said, I think It is best to break the action open from time to time because I have seen that even with submersing the whole thing in hot soapy water I find that there is still crud in there that attracts moisture and corossion and that accelerates the wear of the pistol.
Good luck with what ever you decide to do.


September 15, 2010, 01:49 PM
Yeah, I shoot my 1860s a lot. Frequently will run 60+ every weekend and 100+ on big match weekends. My guns are fired more in a month than a lot of the same style original guns were fired in their lifetime. Actually do some pppppractice too.

September 15, 2010, 02:04 PM
I clean my revovler after 60 hits, when i come home.
That's an important think to clean your revolver, because the calamin could make damage if you don't use the gun, for a long time. Any way, that's good for it, to have a nice gun before you use it to get the best from your revolver.
If you want to see how you do it to breakdown, here, a link to a french forum that show you how you can do with your Colt.
Good luck, that's very simple to do. :D

September 15, 2010, 02:11 PM
Gosh Noz! I hope that ppppractice doesnt translate into sqsqsqsqueezzzzzing the trigger.:D

September 15, 2010, 06:33 PM
I only tear mine down once a year if I think about it. I do remove the grips and swish the action around in soapy water tho. Then after shaking as much water out as I can I spray it out liberally with WD-40 and again with Remoil.

Fingers McGee
September 15, 2010, 06:41 PM
Actually do some pppppractice too.

AHA :eek: !!!! I knew it, you old gamer !!!!!!!!!!!

Denster, I use straight Balistol from aerosol can to wet down my cap guns after a match. Don't have to worry about the water in moose milk causing a rust problem. Straight Balistol works as well as moosemilk in loosening the fouling making it easier to wipe off. I shoot as much as Noz does - at some of the same matches even - and usually do a teardown and cleaning about every 3 months or so. The fouling and Balistol in the action is usually the consistency of automotive grease.


September 15, 2010, 07:09 PM
It's amazing how many of the original, old guns are rough and pitted on the outsides and in the bores and chambers, yet the insides of the actions are like new. Likewise, with all the BP fouling and water used to clean you'd think the barrels on all of them would be rusted tight in the frames, but they usually aren't. What gives?

Well, the secret is oil. BP causes rust because it attracts moisture from the air which mixes with it to form a weak acid. If you can keep the fouling suspended in a non-hygroscopic oil, then moisture can't mix with it. Barrels are usually installed with grease on the threads, and the innards of the actions are routinely oiled, even if not completely disassembled. I suspect that the old timers would clean their bores, chambers and exterior of their guns when they had the chance, and often that would translate into too little too late, whereas the interior would still have lubricant that wasn't being fired out or rubbed off in the holster or by one's hands, and the fouling that did get into the action (and don't kid yourself. BP fouling gets everywhere!) was in essence neutralized in the abundance of oil. I really doubt many of the old timers completely disassembled their revolvers very often at all, yet the insides, if well oiled, stayed good.

With modern corrosion resistant oils we have nowadays, we have it even better. I use CLP, and have never had a problem with the action parts rusting, even though the oil gets nice and black with fouling after a short time. Using a hygroscopic oil or one that "dries" or doesn't stay put is useless.

JMO. Whatever works for y'all.

September 15, 2010, 09:03 PM
Ok, Boys..now I am reading here about "ballistol".or "moosemilk"..what are they and where do I get them?? and where on this gun do I use them?..
next question..: is it preferrable to use WD 40 in the action???

Denster: I did fix the hand, based on you saying it is supposed to have a significant bow..it all works fine, now ..And your instructions were practically invaluable to this BP newbie..

Again, I guess being a newbie at this, and since all I own are modern revolvers, and semi autos...this seemed a far cry from the usual home plate, gunwise..but make no mistake..I am hooked...I am wild about this gun...and intend to shoot it as soon as I can. but I just want to make sure I keep it well maintenanced and in good firing order.

September 15, 2010, 09:05 PM
What is a hygroscopic oil?

I know what hygroscopic means, and I'm aware of oils that will readily form oil/water emulsions. But I've never come across a hygroscopic oil.

September 15, 2010, 10:20 PM
Probably none we need to concern ourselves with, unless you use motor oil or brake fluid on your guns. I've seen some claims that Rem Oil is hygroscopic, but nothing solid, and you can't believe everything you read on the internet anyway. "Hygroscopic" probably wasn't worth mentioning, but I offered it as a type of oil that should not be used. I'm sure most, if not all, commercial firearms oils are fine.

But, some oils are known to be good lubricants, and some are good protectants, but not always both. WD-40 is known for its property as a water displacer, but is not considered by most to be a good protectant. That is not one I would rely on to keep moisture out of fouling for the long term.

Mostly, I was just making the observation about the relative degrees of typical corrosion inside versus outside of antique firearms.

September 15, 2010, 10:40 PM
Ok, Boys..now I am reading here about "ballistol".or "moosemilk"..what are they and where do I get them?? and where on this gun do I use them?..

Ballistol is a unique commercial cleaner & lubricant that you can learn all about on the company website:




It available from many retailers:


Moose milk is a homemade cleaning concoction that some folks may have developed slightly different recipes for. Here's one of them and IIRC it's better to make it with the 91% alcohol rather than the 70%.

Stumpy's Moose Milk
3 oz. Castor oil
1 oz. Murphy's Oil Soap
4 oz. Witch Hazel
8 oz. Isopropyl Alcohol
16 oz. Water

September 16, 2010, 02:36 AM
Moose milk is a homemade cleaning concoction that some folks may have developed slightly different recipes for. Here's one of them and IIRC it's better to make it with the 91% alcohol rather than the 70%.

Stumpy's Moose Milk
3 oz. Castor oil
1 oz. Murphy's Oil Soap
4 oz. Witch Hazel
8 oz. Isopropyl Alcohol
16 oz. Water

Can anyone tell me what the Witch Hazel does in this mix?

I suppose a person could use 8 oz. of Everclear (ethyl alcohol) to make the mix less toxic no?


September 16, 2010, 04:54 AM
Keep going guys this is interesting.

September 16, 2010, 08:36 AM
Yeah Fingers, I am a closet ppppppracticer. Obviously not enough as you usally beat me like a drum.

September 16, 2010, 08:54 AM
I believe the "Moose Milk" that Fingers and Noz made reference to is Ballistol and water. Correct me if I'm wrong guys.

September 16, 2010, 09:28 AM
You are correct. I added Ballistol to the water until the Ballistol would no longer go into the emulsion state. That works out to be about 7 part water to 1 part Ballistol. Some like a 10 to 1 ratio. The water in the ratio provides the black powder fouling cleansing and the oil protects the metal. You will find that after a period of time the metal seems to retain the oil even after being scrubed in water. I store and use mine from a laundry spray bottle. I, like Fingers, like the aerosol spray as well for quick squirts for short term protection.
I am a printer and my blanket wash is a water soluble material. It's adequate for cleaning but the petroleum part of the mix will evaporate leaving the metal unprotected, so all water soluble petroleum products are not suitable for our use.
Ballistol is touted as being one of the "miracle" materials. Use it topically for arthritis relief, posion ivy relief, wound cleansing. internally as a laxative. Useful in all areas which a light coat of oil is desired.

Fingers McGee
September 16, 2010, 10:32 AM
And, it is purported to grow hair on a billiard ball :rolleyes:

September 16, 2010, 12:37 PM
Witch Hazel is an astringent cleanser containing unique volitile oils. It shares some similarity with isopropyl alcohol but then I'm not sure why it's an effective ingredient or why it's branches have traditionally been used as divining rods either.



I don't know enough about the differences between one alcohol and another but personally, I would simply mix the ingredients as suggested using the isopropyl alcohol. Maybe it's more effective for displacing water or for evaporation or for some other reason like how it interacts with the other ingredients.
Substituting ingredients is the reason why there are so many different moose milk recipes.

September 16, 2010, 01:24 PM
I can't find the stuff locally.
I picked up some back in July from Brownells. $11.99 for the 16 oz can and $8.99 for the 6 oz Aerosol. Throw in $11.50 for S&H. That's $32.48.

I'm not cheap, just not easy, when it comes to some things. So I'm looking for a "better" source.

September 17, 2010, 09:40 AM
WOW, Fingers. Is that why I have to shave the palms of my hands?

Fingers McGee
September 17, 2010, 01:14 PM
I don't know. Are the palms of your hands made of ivory?? :rolleyes:. I though it was a hereditary thing in your case :D

September 17, 2010, 02:16 PM
After 40+ years of shooting various traditional bp firearms I finally fell back on my KISS rule.
For the C&B revolvers, I never fully disassembled for cleaning and never had a problem.
I remove cylinder and other easy to remove parts, like the loading lever on the Ruger OA. I plunge the whole works, sans grips, into a small tub of soapy water. The soap is not some magic formula, just whatever happens to be at the back of the sink at the moment, or sometimes car wash soap. I'll use an old toothbrush to get at the exposed crevices, like around the caps. I'll use a patched jag inside the cylinders and plunge back and forth under the soap solution a few times. This eliminates the need to remove the nipples. Repeat in barrel. Then I'll use running water (kitchen sink, garden hose, whatever is handy) to rinse out the inside. I'll let dry or even put on an oven rack at low heat. When dry I'll use either aerosol carburetor cleaner or WD-40 to squirt hidden crud from the inside. And, finally, when all is really dry I lube moving parts with a good lube like Break-Free although WD-40 has served me well many times.
Now, do not be mislead into thinking I am not careful about how I clean these. To the contrary. I am very thorough. That is the key. Using special mystical cleaners is not necessary as BP residue cleans 90% with water only, the soap, or whatever, removes the rest.
There is no need to get anal over this process. Just be prompt after a shooting session and be thorough.