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Old February 6, 2006, 10:28 AM   #1
Steve499
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Did the old-timers use lube in cap & ball revolvers?

I was visiting a civil war museum in Carthage, Missouri yesterday and saw a photograph of a fellow named Maddox, I believe, who was a member of Quantrill's band of raiders. He was posed with two 1858 Remington revolvers, one of which was positioned to allow the viewer to see into the front of the cylinder. The Remington was loaded and apparently Maddox was using the safety notch for the hammer between the nipples since you could see into three of the chambers. There was no lubricant on top of the balls. This photograph was taken while he was active with Quantrill so I think it's a safe assumption he just pulled out the pistols he had on him when the photographer sat him down.

We have chewed this subject around on here again and again but I found it very interesting to get a glimpse into the subject with a photograph which probably caught a real user with his walking around guns in their normal condition.

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Old February 6, 2006, 10:38 AM   #2
johnrtse
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The use of lube [on top of] the ball is a developement from our time, starting with the resurgence of blackpowder pistols in the 1950's-1960's.

Conical bullets were extremely common during the Civil War, and most factory-made paper combustable cartridges were conicals that had lube grooves & lube in them.

It is known, however, that melted candle wax was often used during the Civil War to cover the bullets in the cylinder and the percussion cap, in an effort to waterproof the gun.


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Old February 6, 2006, 11:12 AM   #3
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Colt's loading instructions never mentioned grease over the ball and it is very likely that many users didn't even think about it. The use of grease seems to be a field expedient adopted after experiencing multiple discharges. The Walker Colt produced a number of multiple ignitions and I've seen at least one credible period documentation of grease over the bullets used during the Mexican War.

The Walker picket bullet seated correctly, had very little contact with the chamber walls. the sharp pointed bullet made for a deep-edge cone in the chambers giving a lot of room for accumulation of powder spilled over from one chamber to another. during the loading process. If the bullet were undersized or seated cock-eyed, it could provide an open vent into the main charge that would be easily ignited by flash over from the chamber being fired. Undersized balls or other bullets would produce the same possibilities. Elmer Keith- who says he got his information from mid 19th century gunmen valididates both the grease over ball loading and the use of greased felt underwads./

The incidence of blown walker cylinders seems to have come primarily from the habit of some of the solldiers of seating the bullet backwards. This increased pressure against the chamber walls and Adj. John Ford said that the practice almost always resulted in a ruptured gun.
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Old February 11, 2006, 09:43 PM   #4
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Steve and Mec, Thought I would resurrect this one due to the interest from a few on here about Lube over ball and so on.
I have always been an advocate for Lube over the ball even if you are using wad over the powder. My thinking was that it would help keep the fouling in the barrel soft as well as cut down on leading but my thinking may not be accurate.Have I been waisting my Lube ? It seems when you shave a good ring off the lead and elongate the ball to some extent it would be just about impossible for a chain fire from the cylinder chambers.
Have either of you eliminated the lube over the ball or no wad over the powder and if so what were the results for fouling and leading? Any difference at all?
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Old February 11, 2006, 09:55 PM   #5
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I've omitted the step sometimes with no ill effect. I've found that with or without lube, wads etc, I still need to wipe fouling out of the barrel fairly frequently and take either a cleaning rod or pull-through to the shooting area with me. Bates doesn't bother with lube when he is shooting American Pioneer. I can only remember one chain fire and that was 30+ years ago with a loosely constituted brass framed navy that belonged to somebody else. I don't think its an issue with tight fitting balls.
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Old February 11, 2006, 10:57 PM   #6
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Thanks Mec, Think I'll try a few cylinders to see what happens in my Navy tomorrow. That is if I can find my work shop in all this snow
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Old February 12, 2006, 12:02 PM   #7
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Just finished firing 36 rounds (6 full cylinders) from my .36 Navy with no lube over the ball and no wad between the powder and the ball. No problem at all and it seems to shoot just as well.
I always clean well between each cylinder load anyway but this time I did shoot 3 full cylinders before I cleaned just to see if the fouling and lead would hurt anything or build up way to much. Cleaning the barrel spotless didn't take anymore effort than when I used grease. Just a little windex on a patch down the barrel a few times,scrub with the wire brush a few seconds and another windex patch and a dry patch, Clean as new! Then I use a patch with a little of my lube in the barrel.I'm still lubing the works and the arbor real well also.
Guess there really is no need for the lube as long as your ball is REALLY TIGHT and shaves a good lead ring.
My main reason for using lube over the ball was to help keep the fouling down or soft but it changed nothing by not using it. Guess I have been wasting lube for years! Mike
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Old February 12, 2006, 12:28 PM   #8
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There may be variables like atmospheric humidity, bore texture or size and such that influences fouling build-up and make the lube more beneficial, but I'm not surprised by your observation.
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Old February 12, 2006, 02:18 PM   #9
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Mec, I'm going to stick with this method for a while just to see how it goes and I agree that the atmosphere could be a big factor on fouling .One thing about where I live....If you don't like the weather just stick around, it will change.
The humidity in the summer can really be hell so let's just see what happens. After carrying it around in the woods in 98 degree weather with 90% humidity should tell us something. If I notice anything different I'll let you know. Mike
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Old February 12, 2006, 09:31 PM   #10
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I used to use a rod and brush to clean my barrel every now and then and sometimes after every cylinder. I ended up making lube pills with beeswax and mutton tallow and bore butter and olive oil and canola no-stick spray or some combination of that. I'd add paraffin wax if the mix seemed sticky.Using the lube pills keeps the barrel and chambers from the pill up pretty clean. Now I can shoot 200+ balls and still have a barrel that's pretty darn clean. I still drop a few drops of ballistol or solvent from a visine bottle on the arbor by the front of the cylinder some but not too often because waxy lube gets melted in that area and sticks there. Using a wonder wad saturated with the waxy lube works pretty good too. I put the lube pill under the ball and since it's a solid it doesn't contaminate the powder. Funny thing though. The 44's like the lube pill under the ball but the 36's don't. With a 36cal. I swipe some lube pill wax over the ball(close to the top of the chamber). The waxy lube doesn't get blown off by the other chambers going off like greasy lube does. With the wax lube over the ball in the 36's the barrel gets dirty and needs to be cleaned but nowhere as much as when I used greasy lube over the ball. I think with the 36's and the wax lube over the ball that some of the wax lube is pushed to the side when the ball takes off and gets caught around the forcing cone and then is blown down the barrel in front of the powder gases.I make the pills hard enough to handle and soft enough to squish between the fingers. I won't shoot without the lube pills anymore they work so good. Sometimes I just make the pills from SPG lube with more beeswax added.I'll throw a dab of crisco or better yet lard into my lube pill mix sometimes.
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Old February 13, 2006, 08:13 AM   #11
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Mike, that's really interesting! I always used some kind of lube because I was told it was absolutely necessary for safety. I have kinda over the years decided that maybe it isn't as important to prevent chain fires as I thought, but was convinced it still was required to preserve accuracy. I've never tested for accuracy with an un-lubed revolver. My experience with black powder cartridges without any lube where about 4 shots caused hard fouling in the bore that made a group at 100 yards into a pattern just reinforced my certainty. If the groups don't open up without lube and a tight ball is used, it would sure simplify reloading while hunting. I'll have to test it, too, when it warms up some.

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Old February 13, 2006, 09:32 AM   #12
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Steve , Let me know how it works out for you. I shot several more cylinders yesterday afternoon and still no problems at all.
I haven't tested it from a bench rest yet but I have a 1'x1' x 1/4" steel plate
hanging from a tree with a 4" circle painted on it 30 yards from my shop porch. Only missed the plate off hand a couple times in over 60 shots and that may be because I was shaking due to standing outside in my t-shirt and 25 degrees out I like the steel plate because I can hear "ding" when I hit it and never had to walk through the snow to find out...I know, I know, I'm just lazy!
As long as you are shaving off lead or you have a really tight ball or conical I don't see how a spark or flame could possibly get to the powder unless you loose a cap. I'm really not convinced of that either. Most of the pics I've seen of a C&B revolver being fired does not show any flame at all going to the back of the cylinder. After slugging the chamber's a couple times right after I got it and seeing that leaves about a 3/16th line around the ball due to the tightness there is no way fire or spark is getting through.
As for leading I'm not convinced that the lube would help with that very much but I really figured it helped with the fouling. Now I'm not so sure. I can honestly say that after firing 3 cylinders with no lube over ball I can't see much difference in the fouling at all. I'm going to continue this method until I have a problem but I really don't have any fear of chain fires anymore, Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 02:21 AM   #13
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Don't ever shoot a cap and ball revolver without lube! You are tempting fate by not using lube, either over the balls or by use of a grease soaked felt wad between the ball and powder to prevent a chainfire. I've witnessed a chain fire first hand, and it's something I don't want to experience again. On my first experience with black powder shooting, a friend got lazy and neglected to use lube to speed the loading process. He damaged his father's original Colt 1860 when all 6 chambers let go on the first shot. That left a lasting impression on me. You can't just go by an assumption that tight fitting balls (as evidenced by shaving lead on loading) will prevent a chainfire. This gun shaved off lead when the balls were loaded too. Yeah, it may have been 30 years ago, but it can always happen again. Why take the chance?
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Old February 14, 2006, 08:18 AM   #14
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muskeg13 , Chain fires happen for a reason and for all six chambers to ignite there had to be a major malfunction somewhere!
C&B revolvers were shot for years without any problems and after a few people tried tricks as Mec mentioned above (turning the bullets around) or using loose balls or spilling powder over the balls then they started using lube over the ball or lubed wads. Nothing wrong with using it to be really safe but it would take a lot to convince me that fire or spark can get around a lead ball that that is mashed into a cylinder to the point that it's forced to be elongated and had to shave lead off the edge just to start it in the chamber.
I could be wrong and only time will tell but I know of others who have not used lube over the ball or wads and have shot that way for years with no problems. Thanks for the warning and the info on your friends revolver and misfortune, Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 09:45 AM   #15
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The other day I took a look at Elmer Keith's Sixguns chapter on Cap and Ball revolvers. He said that he had seen originals with chambers rusted through to the point that a chain fire would take place. At the time he wrote this, the replica business was just about to get started and his comments were all about original revolvers. I looked it up because somebody on another forum was holding forth that original colts did not have pins between the chambers and that these were added by the replica makers. We all know from Colt's original material and from looking at original revolvers that this isn't true but I wanted to see what EK had said about it.
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Old February 14, 2006, 10:23 AM   #16
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There's a lot of pressure exerted from the gases and sparks when a chamber fires. Swag a ball into a chamber and screw a bullet puller into it and see how easy it can slip out of the chamber. Ever see the balls move forward from recoil? I have.There is a hard fouling that builds on the chamber walls even when grease is used. That can actually cause the ball to be swagged smaller. That hard fouling chips loose from the chamber walls when the ball is chambered at times. It can chip loose in one small area and leave a tiny opening to let sparks in. Shoot your gun at night and it illustrates the amazing amount of sparks. Balls have voids in them from air sometimes. More than we may realize. A void in the right place opened by the "shaving" of lead on chambering a ball can let an opening be along the chamber wall. Ball aren't actually perfectly round either. Balls get dropped on hard floors and get flat spots that can get along the side walls of the chambers. Chambers aren't always perfectly round either. Get a ball with a flat spot in a chamber that's not perfectly round and there can be an opening for sparks.There can be a factory defect in the shape of the end of the loading plunger that can not be swagging lead against the chamber walls. A proper loading lever plunger will have it's concave end push lead off the ball and against the chamber walls to effect a better seal of the ball in the chamber. All plunger ends are not always properly shaped to do the job they are designed to do. If it wasn't neccesary to effect a better seal after the ball is swagged in the chamber and shaving lead then the loading plunger ends wouldn't be shaped the way they are to move lead against the chamber walls. Well I've reshaped a few plunger ends that were factory defected and weren't doing the final seal after the ball is chambered. I've fixed several that had the property of sticking in the lead and pulling the ball back out of the chamber pertially or completely. The lip of the concave on the end of the plunger was too sharp in those cases. Chambers aren't always smooth walled either. Sometimes there are drill rings in the metal on the chamber walls. I've seen it plenty of times. Those rings can abrade the ball when it's chambered and leave a loose fitting ball. Like they say,"sh-- happens". Sometimes the obvious isn't poking it's ugly little head out of it's hole to be observed easily.Sometimes things aren't as they seem to be. Like ta gamble? Russian roulette anyone? Not me. I'll use the grease or lube pill/grease cookie or lube saturated wool wads. Thank you very much.
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Old February 14, 2006, 11:47 AM   #17
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Wayner, "Sometimes things aren't as they seem to be." well said.
If your balls are sliding forward then you are asking for problems to accrue. It would be a good idea to move up a little in the size of the ball.
There are many variables but I happen to believe that the hype of lube over the ball or wet wads that contaminate the powder as a product of fear developed over years by exaggeration on the part of a few who have had chain fires caused by stupidity or carelessness on the part of the shooter.
Don't get me wrong here... I agree with what your saying as far as shi44 happens and can happen with these revolvers but keep this in mind.
Some people believe that chain fires don't come from the front of the cylinder but from the back from loose of fallen off caps....They could be right and if they are then all the lube over the ball in the world wont stop a chain fire.
If that's the case or even possible (I believe it is) then your playing Russian Roulette every time you fire your cap and ball Revolver.
Nothing wrong with sticking with lube however you use it but I will continue to try this until there is a problem one way or the other. I'll let you know if it happens that I do have a chain fire but then how do we know what end it came from and what caused it? Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 12:03 PM   #18
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Gatofeo has said that he doesn't believe that grease over the ball is as effective as the felt wad underneath. He has observed that after the first or second shot, most of the grease is blown out of the chambers and no longer there to keep the fouling soft or prevent chain fires assuming that they derive from the front of the chamber.

My theory is not quite as sound as Gatofeo's since it is based on guesswork rather than observation. I make the claim that the firing blast, while removing most of the surface grease, forces at least some of it deeper around the ball and does something to ensure a fire wall on a less than optimum seal.
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Old February 14, 2006, 02:41 PM   #19
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Mec, I agree about most of the Lube blowing out but the chambers are still very wet and that has to help.
One of the way's that I liked the best for lubing against chain fire and fouling is to use a dry wad over powder with a little grease on top of that and then the ball. It works great and you don't have grease running down your holster on the hot day's. When I tried that with the Colt the powder was contaminated if I let it sit for a while. Don't know why it worked so well in the Remington but not in the Colt Navy but thats the way it was.
Tried lube pills and straight wax pills over the powder , was never happy with the powder results after sitting for any length of time. Big difference in the "BOOM " factor. Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 02:54 PM   #20
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Gatofeo highly recommends felt under the ball. He has a lubricating formula he uses that seems to work very well. I'm kind if into stage skipping and sticking pretty close to the original directions but have used wonder wads on occasion- usually just depending on whatever they treat them with. Can't tell any difference in accuracy or fouling and sometimes the velocities are the same as without. One Lemat even got lower velocities with them even though there was more compression.
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Old February 14, 2006, 05:47 PM   #21
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Mec, If I remember right you posted the original Colt before and it was something to the effect as follows:
Load the chamber with powder leaving just enough room for a ball.
They also went on and stated "Not" to use lube, wads or fillers.
That makes me believe that much of the chain fires were caused by careless or just reckless loading. It's my thinking that some of the chain fires today come from over sized caps and the practice of some to pinch the caps to an oval shape to make them stay on the nipple. This is a good way to lose caps or leave an open area under the cap for flame to inter the nipple.
This is all guessing on my part and no facts to back it up but I would think that Colt did some extensive testing of there Revolvers to arrive at a proper and safe loading method.
So far I'm way over a 100 shots with no lube over or under powder and ball with no ill effects, Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 06:31 PM   #22
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The colt dealy said not to use patches or wads but didn't mention grease. that never did make it into the literature until after cartridge guns became state of the art. I believe though that individuals were using grease over the bullets in the Mexican war since multiple discharges were an issue there. Not hard to see why that might be the case when you look at the shape of the picket bullet. Any mis-alignment on seating or an undersized bullet would open a vent right into the main charge.
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Old February 14, 2006, 06:44 PM   #23
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Thanks Mec, Thats the one I was talking about. Simplicity right from Colts instructions. Mike
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Old February 14, 2006, 07:47 PM   #24
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Hey mec....where by chance did ya get that old ad? I like to collect things like that..anyways..another queation on this chain firing subject. Do ya ever read or hear about Civil war soldiers ever being maimed, or possibly blinded by chain fires, or exessive gas leaks, or even cap fragments flyin back....cause im pretty sure The army on either side didnt require their soldiers to wear saftey goggles while firing.................
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Old February 14, 2006, 08:00 PM   #25
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Missoura Don , I'm sure Mec will be back on here soon but the one place I know of that has these copies of the original instructions is Dixie Gun Works. It seems to me that they are selling for about $10.00. Hope this helps, Mike
PS I have a copy of the original drawing of the Colt 51 Navy that was submitted for the patent . If you want I can post it here and you can print it out.
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