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Old June 6, 2009, 03:39 PM   #26
Senior Member
Join Date: October 1, 2004
Location: Remote Utah desert
Posts: 224
As the writer of "So you want a cap and ball revolver?" let me get us back on topic.

I've been asked to recommend good books on shooting and cleaning cap and ball revolvers.
Unfortunately, they are few. Most black powder books repeat information that was offered in the 1950s. However, some books are good:

"Percussion Pistols and Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use," by Johnny Bates and Mike Cumpston. Copyright 2005. Printed by iUniverse of Lincoln, Nebraska.
This book covers both revolvers and single-shot percussion pistols. The authors took the right approach by writing a chapter specific to each type or model.
Each model has its quirks, attributes and [I]cussitudes[I] so it's best to discuss them separately.
A newcomer can easily be confused by general remarks covering a wide field, so this book really shines for its specificity.

Single-shot percussion pistols covers one section. That section is broken down into deringers, belt and overcoat pistols, target pistols, dueling pistols, etc.

The following section, and the bulk of the book, concerns percussion revolvers.
A chapter is assigned to each of the more common cap and ball revolvers: Paterson, 1851 Navy, 1860 Army, 1858 Remington, pocket pistols such as the Colt 1849, Walker, Confederate LeMat, Colt Dragoons, Ruger Old Army and so on.

This section includes chapters on disassembly, and one chapter on an often-overlooked topic: holsters, hooks and sashes (Wild Bill Hickok carried two Colt 1851 revolvers in a wide sash tied around his waist, forgoing any sort of holster).

I am particularly pleased to see that the authors used a variety of black powder and black powder substitutes: Goex, Swiss, Pyrodex P, Hodgdon 777 and American Pioneer.
Not everyone can find black powder, especially with today's hoarding madness, so it's fitting to include powder that may be more readily available.

I was also pleased to see that the authors used balls of varying diameters: .375, .380, .451, 454 and .457 inch, tailoring them to the particular make of revolver.

In my own practice, I simplify things by using a ball of .454 inch. If I owned a Ruger Old Army, which requires balls of .457 inch, I'd have a lot more of that size. A few years ago I bought a few boxes of Speer .457 inch balls on a discount table, so I do use that size from time to time. In my non-Ruger revolvers I can tell no difference in accuracy between a .454 or .457 inch ball, but I do find that the .451 inch ball -- as is often recommended -- doesn't seat as tightly or give as good accuracy as the .454 inch.

The authors also used a variety of conical bullets, in single shot and revolvers. It's always interesting to see how conicals compare to round balls. In my own experience the ball has been more accurate than any conical I've found but some conicals are on the heels of the ball, accuracy wise.
The Lee 200 gr. .44 bullet has proven the most accurate conical I've fired, but it still can't compete with the ball at the standard target range of 25 yards.
Yet conicals have their applications, especially for hunting where greater mass means more weight and more killing energy.
The authors used conical bullets that are replicas of those issued with the original guns, as well as modern conicals such as the Lee and Buffalo. Their results make for good reading.

Overall, "Percussion Pistols and Revolvers" by Johnny Bates and Mike Cumpston is a fine book that will serve newcomer and experienced shooter alike.
It's well organized, based on real experience, informs and entertains. It should be on every shooter's bookshelf, and percussion pistol manufacturers should enclose a copy of it with each gun they sell.

Lyman Black Powder Handbook & Loading Manual is very good, offering information on a variety of guns: pistols revolvers, rifles, shotguns, and loading black powder in cartridge cases.
There is also a section on casting your own ball and conical bullets for rifles, pistols and revolvers.
Particularly interesting is a short section on Black Powder Fact and Fancy. Many of the "old truths" are put to rest here, slain by sound testing methods with scientific equipment.
A section on Using Chronographed Data is also quite welcome. A chronograph -- which is an instrument that measures a projectile's velocity a few feet from the gun's muzzle -- can help you find your most accurate or powerful load.

My biggest gripe about the Lyman book is the separation of shooting data from the specific chapters. The shooting tables that list projectile, brand or type of powder, velocity and so on are at the rear of the book. They should have followed each chapter on rifles, shotguns and pistols, for easier reference.

I also am disappointed that Lyman didn't use any Lee cast bullets, but it did list Buffalo bullets. However, I can understand why: Lee is undoubtedly Lyman's greatest competitor in the cast bullet market; it's poor business to mention your competition in print.

I am a writer and photographer by trade, so I'm more than a little disappointed at the poor quality photos in the Lyman book. Lyman's photographer needs to get a little closer and use bounce-flash or studio lights to illuminate the specific topic of discussion.
In many instances the photos are dark, adding to a newcomer's natural confusion.
I suspect that many of these black and white photos were converted from color. In doing so, red comes out black, and gray and black are even darker.
But the photos are not totally dark and newcomers will get the meaning if they examine the photos closely.

But overall, the Lyman Black Powder Handbook and Loading Manual is a fine piece, reflecting a great deal of scientific research in the ballistics lab, as well as practical shooting application.

If you'd like to get into black powder shooting, and want one book to cover rifle, handgun and shotgun, this is the one. When you're at the gun store buying your first black powder firearm, spend an extra $20 or so and get it.

Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards and Pyrotechnics - The History of the Explosive that Changed the World by Jack Kelly. Copyright 2004, published by Basic Books.

Wow. This book leaves me speechless. It's a fascinating, fabulous and frequently funny history of what we call "Black Powder" today, but for centuries was simply known as gunpowder.
Kelly does a magnificent job of tracing the history of gunpowder, and offers modern shooters pause for thought: it is clear that our lil' ol' mixture of charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter isn't the simple compound we think it is.
Even today, with all the modern devices, scientists still cannot satisfactorily explain the actions of the world's oldest chemical propellant.

Some aspects were known, but their reason eluded us until recently.
Why is charcoal made from willow the best? Under a microscope it is seen that willow charcoal is nicely porous, aiding ignition.
Why is the urine of heavy drinkers best for making saltpeter? The liver's metabolizing of alcohol produces urine rich in ammonium, a food that nitrate microbes thrive upon, thereby producing the best saltpeter.

These are other facts will leave you with not only a better understanding of black powder, but its rich history.

Consider what Kelly says about the history of gunpowder:
"By putting a new form of lethal power into the hands of commoners, gunpowder was among the elements that fertilized the long, slow growth of feelings of rights and entitlements that would blossom into democracy."

Profound stuff, and a lesson too long overlooked in the history books in our schools.

Nearly the entire book is dedicated to the history, physics and chemistry of black powder -- all of it written for the layman. It is frequently interspersed with amusing or macabre anecdotes.
It also stays on course with its topic, not meandering much into arms and projectile development. You won't find much about rifling, the Minie' bullet or development of cartridge guns. I believe this is as it should be.

I was particularly pleased to see a thorough explanation of its use in pyrotechnics, a topic long overlooked by those of us use it as a firearms propellant. Without black powder, Fourth of July would be as dull as Arbor Day.

"Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics - The History of the Explosive that Changed the World" is an absolute must for every shooter, reloader, muzzleloader, historian or pyrotechnician.
Even if you've never held a gun in your life, you'll be fascinated by this book; it would be a good gift for the student majoring in chemistry, history or engineering.

My only complaint is that the book is almost totally void of illustrations, with perhaps a dozen small illustrations in its 262 pages. But what illustrations are selected are applicable to the topic and frequently lend a better understanding.

If Hollywood needs a huge epic movie in the future, it should trace the history of gunpowder and use Kelly's book as the basis for the script.
Even the most anti-gun viewer would be fascinated by the twists, turns, happenstance, victories, defeats and occasional humor found in the development of gunpowder and the devices that use it.

The three books above will give any black powder shooter, new or long-experienced, a wealth of information from which to draw.
Perhaps most importantly, you'll soon learn to tell the self-styled experts from the truly informed.
Put your name prominently inside each of these books, and never loan them out; their pages are that valuable.

And now, I'll leave you with a chuckle from Kelly's "Gunpowder" book, largely because I can't figure out how to properly end this posting, but mostly because I can't stand not sharing it:

"Over time official fireworks displays grew in extravagance. The era of excess culminated in the celebration of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, a treaty that temporarily ended hostilities across Europe in 1748 ... (In Paris), a dispute over who was to light the city's magnificent display led to a brawl between French and Italian pyrotechnicians and an explosion that killed 40 spectators."

-- Gatofeo
"And lo, did I see an ugly cat. Smoke. Brimstone. Holes in parchment. And this ugly cat was much amused." --- The Prophesies of Gatodamus (1503 - 1566)
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