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Old January 21, 2017, 12:07 PM   #1
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Newbie revolver help

For Christmas I got my Dad an .44 caliber 1851 Pietta repro black powder revolver. We have cleaned it, fired some caps on otherwise unloaded cylinders to clean out the passageways, etc. But I'm confused about a couple of details.

1) One manual says use .451 balls, another says .454 balls. The local shooting store had those two sizes plus .457. They also had patches that were 0.010 thick, as well as 0.015. I understand (I think) the concept that every gun will like a particular combination, but I'm willing to sacrifice a little accuracy for a little easier loading for my father (he's 81).

2) It seems like many favor using a wad over powder, then a ball, then maybe lube over that (although it seems that may be both redundant and unnecessary). If you use a wad, do you still use a patch with the ball?

In summary, I'm trying to avoid buying supplies I won't use, and I'm looking for a good starting recipe for wad (yes/no), ball diameter (which one), patch (both yes/no and thickness). I'm an avid reloaded, so I can sort out the powder recommendations easily enough. Thanks for the help.
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Old January 21, 2017, 12:42 PM   #2
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Yes to the wad. No to the patch, those are for rifles.
I use .454 balls. You want it to shave a ring of lead off the ball when seating. That seals the chamber. Soft lead balls won't be hard to shave in that gun, as that loading lever is one of the best for leverage on stuffing a ball home.
Be sure you do seat the ball and wad against the powder tightly. The wad should take up any extra space if you use a light load, but don't just toss 18gr in there and just get the ball and wad started..... ram her down tight.
If you are going to use light loads, you can just put a little cream-of-wheat or cornmeal over the powder before you put the wad/ball in there. Otherwise, I like to load it up a little more and don't need filler. If you have wad and sealed ball, you don't need grease over the top. If you use a nicely fitting ball and don't want a wad, then grease over the top is also very acceptable (which is what I use).
Good luck and have fun!!

There might be a chance that you have a gun that will shave a complete ring off a .451 ball.... but I can't know that without testing it with an actual ball. I just use .454 balls in all of my '51s and '60s and it works like a charm.
Have a Colt and a smile.
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Old January 21, 2017, 04:34 PM   #3
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No to patches, they are for muzzle loading guns only (percussion, flintlock, rifle, single shot pistol, etc.) where you literally ram the ball down the muzzle. In revolvers just pour powder into each cylinder, put a lubed wad on top of the powder, bullet on top of that and ram it home. Cap it and you are ready to go.

Oh, and it is a good idea to lube the arbor (Colt's) or cylinder pin (Remington's) with a non-petroleum based lube to help keep the cylinder from binding.

Edit: Both .451 or .454 balls work fine. .457 are too big as they are for Ruger Old Army's and Pietta's Shooters Model cap and ball revolvers..

Last edited by Bishop Creek; January 21, 2017 at 04:46 PM.
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Old January 21, 2017, 05:02 PM   #4
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I'd go with the .454 balls. Yeah you might be able to use .451 but you will be able to use .454. If the frame is brass keep powder charges to 20 grains and under. I won't go over 15 in a brass frame.
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Old January 21, 2017, 05:08 PM   #5
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As others have stated a .454" ball is ideal, though Pietta generally states a .451" ball. The more bearing surface increases what's there for obturation and grabs more rifling. It also slightly increases the pressure giving it a mild boost (20-50 fps or so). Match shooters generally seem to prefer a larger ball.

Pietta generally has chambers around 0.446" and the bore of my 2013 Pietta Remington NMA is 0.452". Uberti generally runs around 0.450" and Ruger around 0.453". I had my chambers reamed to 0.449" and use the 0.457" balls and 0.456" boolits that I cast for my Ruger.

In general it seems match shooters find a very light load around 15-20 grns (typically 3F) to be the most accurate. But they also use some sort of filler to bring the ball up the the chamber mouth. Anything under 20 grns will likely require some form of filler to ensure the ball is seated firmly against the powder.

My Remington is pretty accurate with 30 grns of 3F. But I don't use mild loads as I prefer mine for hunting where I require enough oomph. This load likely gives close to 350 ft/lbs but I prefer my cast boolits (170 or 195 grns) which give something close to 400 ft/lbs. These figures are for more energetic powders (I use both Triple 7 and Olde Eynsford) as most others are rather weak in comparison. For paper punching energy figures don't mean much though...

I use Ballistol on my cylinder pin as well as an oil for the whole gun. Works great.

I make my own lube (Gatofeos #1) for wads, pistol boolits, and rifle boolits. It's cheap and easy. By weight it is:
1 part mutton tallow (Dixie Gun Works seems cheapest
1 part paraffin wax (Gulf Wax)
1/2 part beeswax
This is melted together in a double boiler.

I punch my own felt wads buying my rolls of felt from Durofelt (

I assume your father may be interested in a hobby that gives him plenty to do.

There's a retired machinist who I buy my custom wad punches from. He charged $10 + shipping. He also sells a few other things.

Rem #10 caps fit quite well on my stock nipples. CCI #11's may also work well, but I've not tried them as I can't find them. All I ever see are the magnum version which don't work with my Ruger, though the Ruger nipples are slightly larger so those may work ok on the Pietta.
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Old January 21, 2017, 07:04 PM   #6
Driftwood Johnson
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Here's the deal. You want to shave off a thin ring of lead all around the ball when you seat it into the chamber. You do not want any voids. A void can leave a clear path for a spark to follow down to the powder, possibly resulting in a chain fire.

You can try both sizes of ball once, but observe closely if you are shaving off a continuous ring around the chamber. I suspect the .454 ball will shave off a more complete ring. Plus, with the slightly larger ring you get a seal against the chamber which is slightly longer than with the smaller ball.

Generally speaking, .457 balls are for the Ruger Old Army which had more generous chambers.
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Old January 21, 2017, 07:42 PM   #7
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What they ^^ said.

Just my $0.02 worth.
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Old January 21, 2017, 08:02 PM   #8
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If the frame is brass keep powder charges to 20 grains and under. I won't go over 15 in a brass frame.
That is a very important detail, if the gun is a brass framed 1851, keep the loads like Hawg recommends and it should last you a good while
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Old January 21, 2017, 09:01 PM   #9
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what they said above
But if you are going to make your own lube eliminate the paraffin wax as it is redundant.
paraffin is a petroleum based product and can sometimes cause a residue you don't want.
Paraffin was distilled in the 1830's or so, but wasn't common in the field etc.

start with an equal amount of Lard ( tallow) and beeswax melted, blend the two together.
Let setup, check the consistency for your desires. Too hard a measured amount of melted lard too thin beeswax
Always measure so you can duplicate later.

Wads if you are going to shoot right away then lubed wads are fine. But if you leave the gun loaded they may degrade the powder causing delay fire or no fire.
These guns are very easy to clean many people use plain hot water and soap
I been using rubbing alcohol since the 1970's because you don't always have the water at the range or the field or way to heat it

Popping caps to clean the nipples is wasteful. Just look to make sure they are clean, swab out with rubbing alcohol or such before loading and firing to remove any residual lube.
I don't carry often anymore, but when I do I carry the 1858 in 5 1/2 barrel.
Have never had a failure to go bang in over 20 years.
Most replica BP revolvers today work great with the .454 balls.
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Old January 21, 2017, 11:15 PM   #10
Bishop Creek
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It seems like many favor using a wad over powder, then a ball, then maybe lube over that (although it seems that may be both redundant and unnecessary).
In re-reading your post, I must say that lube is VERY important when shooting black powder. The lubed wad really helps keep fouling down. Nothing like being unable to even cock your revolver because of heavy fouling which can happen after only six shots with no lube of any kind. I sometimes lube over the ball too even when using lubed wads.
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Old January 22, 2017, 01:14 AM   #11
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Actually there are far too many people who use Gatofeo's lube to refute it leaving the residue you speak of. I've used it solely for my cap n ball pistols and REALs in my rifle and have never had an issue myself, nor have I read of one person complain about it themselves.
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Old January 22, 2017, 01:35 PM   #12
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A stiff lube pill under the ball in lieu of a wad works well too.
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Old January 22, 2017, 01:40 PM   #13
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Or just use 'cream of wheat' for your wad. That's all I've ever used. .454 Ball for the Replicas, and .457 ball for my ROAs.
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Old January 22, 2017, 04:15 PM   #14
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As you can see, there are many variations. Discovering what works for you (or your Dad) is part of the fun. I have a Pietta 1851 in .44 and find that it shaves a complete ring with the .451 ball. That's just what I bought first.

If your father will be loading for himself, you may need to judge whether the .454 larger ball requires too much effort for him to load, and go with the .451. If he has plenty of hand strength, then the .454 ball will provide a firmer cylinder/barrel seal, and possibly more accuracy.
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