View Full Version : Too hard for c&b pistols?

September 25, 2010, 08:19 PM
I just cast a few balls today from some scrap lead I bought. I took one of the balls and put it against a Hornaday lead ball that I usually shoot and crushed them together in a bench vice. The Hornaday ball was a little softer so I tried putting one of each in the cylinder with the on pistol lever. I got the cast one in but it took a little more effort. This brings up the next question.. When is a ball too hard to be good to shoot in the pistol?

September 26, 2010, 01:24 AM
I have never heard a satisfactory explanation as to why harder alloyed lead bullets leave more fouling when black powder is used -- but avoid leading when smokeless powder is used.
It must be traceable to the temperature at which either propellant burns, all other things being equal: bullet diameter, unpitted bore, etc.
I don't know why soft lead bullets avoid leading when black powder is used, but they do.

When is a ball too hard? That's a very subjective issue.
Myself, I learned years ago that best accuracy was obtained with cap and ball revolvers using soft lead: pure or nearly so. I once cast some .380-inch diameter balls of Linotype, to try in my Colt 1851 Navy.
It was very difficult to seat the ball on the powder. Leading became immediately apparent. Accuracy was markedly worse, from an average of 3 to 4 inches at 25 yards to about 10 or 12 inches.
I wasn't able to recover the balls (I only cast six) to examine how well the rifling grabbed them.

I've also tried balls cast of wheelweights. Accuracy was not as good as soft lead, but it would suffice if it's all you could get. Ramming was more difficult than with pure lead balls, but not as difficult with the Linotype.

In the 19th century, during the golden age of target shooting with black powder rifles, an alloy of 1 part tin to 20 parts lead was considered very hard. Today, it's considered moderate. I've cast bullets as hard as 1:10 for use with smokeless powder, but I'd never use a bullet that hard with black powder; not if I wanted to avoid leading, which adversely affects accuracy.
In those old days, it was not unusual for competitors to use mixes of 1:30 or 1:40, which are approaching the softness of nearly pure lead.

When it comes to hard alloys in cap and ball sixguns, I'd be more concerned about damaging the loading lever from undue stress than leading. Some revolvers are not real high quality. You may bend the pivot screw on the rammer, such as on the 1851 Navy.
The 1860 Army has better leverage, owing to its creeping design. (It's late, I can't recall the official name for that lever design).
My Colt 2nd generation 1851 Navy is extremely well made with proper heat treatment throughout. A $200 revolver, assembled in a hurry and meant to be sold cheaply, may lack the strength for continued use of very hard balls.

If you can't use that hard alloy, perhaps you can sell it and apply the money toward properly soft balls. Sounds like it would be sufficient hardness to create bullets for more modern revolvers and perhaps semi-autos (which typically work best with a rather hard alloy, to ensure the bullet glides up the feed ramp and into the chamber without deformation).

I don't suggest you use that hard lead alloy for cap and ball revolvers.
In patched rifles it would be even more difficult to use. It's rather hard to push a hard, patched ball down the bore of a rifle. The ball resists allowing the rifling to push into it, through the patch.
Tried a hard alloy years ago in my CVA Mountain Rifle in .50caliber. I had to tap the ball down the bore with a hammer to get it seated on the powder charge.

There are sounds reasons for using dead-soft lead with black powder guns, it is not an affectation or just tradition.

Doc Hoy
September 26, 2010, 05:52 AM
When it comes to hard alloys in cap and ball sixguns, I'd be more concerned about damaging the loading lever from undue stress than leading.

I am thrilled to read this in your post. When I started shooting again, I loaded with the loading lever exclusively. Then I stopped to think about the stresses involved. That is when my quest for a press that would fit into my shooting box began.

I know...I know...These revolvers survived for a century while shooters loaded with the lever....I know.

But I have seen too many revolvers (both brass and steel) with loose arbors. The stress comes from shooting but if you load with the lever, it also comes from loading.

I never shoot with other people. I read only a little about shooting in books or magazines. My only source of new data is what I observe as I shoot and what I read in this and one other forum. But I think that those who minimize the effect of the stresses of loading with a lever are fooling themselves. I believe the tension placed on the arbor (open top revolver) could easily exceed three hundred pounds. I have a physicist on the faculty and he and I discussed the issue. He thinks the mechanical advantage of the loading lever is at least five.