Cap & Ball Sixgun: Advice from 1930

Discussion in 'Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns' started by Gatofeo, Mar 13, 2010.

  1. Gatofeo

    Gatofeo New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2005
    Messages:
    87
    Location:
    Remote Utah desert, separated from Oblivion by a s
    I have a complete set of American Rifleman magazines dating from 1929 to the latest issue, about 900 issues. Reading these old issues often reveals something interesting.
    The Dope Bag column of the May 1930 issue (p. 41) caught my eye : LOADS FOR A CAP-AND-BALL.
    A reader, J.F.D., wrote to ask what loads are suggested for a Remington .44 cap and ball revolver. Remember, this is for an original Remington; reproductions were not produced until nearly 40 years later.
    Major Julian S. Hatcher responded to J.F.D. with responses that remain interesting 80 years after they were published. Among the most interesting points:

    This marks the earliest record I’ve encountered where a greased, felt wad was suggested for use between the ball and powder of a cap and ball revolver. Prior to this 1930 report, the earliest reference I’ve found was Elmer Keith’s 1955 book, “Sixguns.”
    Born in 1899, Keith was 13 when Civil War veterans showed him how to load his original Colt 1851 Navy. To my knowledge, Keith never said where he learned to use a greased felt wad.

    The lubricant that Hatcher suggests is interesting: Vaseline and paraffin or beeswax. Today’s experienced black powder shooters prefer natural greases and oils, rather than those based on petroleum. Experience has shown that petroleum lubricants, when used with black powder, often produce a hard, tarry fouling. Natural greases and oils keep fouling soft and easily removed by each shot, or with a damp patch.

    King’s Semi-Smokeless powder is mentioned and recommended. It was once popular for old shotguns and target rifles originally designed for black powder. King’s Semi-Smokeless was made to measure in the same volume as black powder, and produce equal pressures, but with less smoke and fouling. It was discontinued about 1936, probably because America was swinging into pre-World War II production and the older, black powder guns had fallen out of favor.
    Today, there is no smokeless powder safe to use in a cap and ball revolver, even revolvers of modern design and materials.

    Hatcher advises not to use black powder granulation smaller than FFG, but cap and ball revolver shooters have been using FFFG granulation for decades, with improved burning characteristics. Interestingly, in “Sixguns” Keith suggests FFFG grade for revolvers of .28 and .31 caliber, and FFG for those .36 caliber and larger.
    Myself, I’ve had excellent results in all bore sizes, from .31 to .44, with FFFG and I believe that most experienced cap and ball revolver shooters would agree it’s the grade of choice. But if you can’t find FFFG, then FFG will certainly work well.

    The need for plenty of lubrication is noted by Hatcher, and that remains true today. Not only does the lubricant ease the passage of the projectile down the bore, but excess lubricant tends to get sprayed onto and into areas covered with black powder fouling, keeping the fouling soft and reducing drag and binding of moving parts.
    The best lubricant remains some type of natural soft grease, such as Crisco, lard, Bore Butter, mutton tallow or related blends. These soft greases are readily distributed with each shot, and don’t dry out from the heat of firing, as oils do.

    Back to the 1930 inquiry from J.F.D. to The Dope Bag:
    The reader notes that he’s been using Ideal (Lyman) 450225 conical and 451118 (.451 inch ball).
    “I have used the latter (.451 inch ball) with good results with 40 grains FFG. Are there any other bullets that you would recommend?” J.F.D. wrote.
    “Is FFFG black better than FFG? With the load mentioned above I got excessive fouling. I suppose this is due to an over charge rather than to the size of grain of the powder.
    “Is there any smokeless powder that I could use, such as bulk smokeless?,” J.F.D. wrote

    Major Julian S. Hatcher replied:
    “The two Ideal bullets you are using are O.K. for your gun. Forty grains of black powder is a heavy load. You can use this or any smaller one with these bullets. As long as you use over 20 grains of powder. Do not use any smaller size than FFG.
    “The only other powder I have tried for a gun of this kind is King’s Semismokeless. You might try 20 grains of FFG with this powder.
    “The excessive fouling may be due to insufficient lubrication. Fouling with black powder is almost always severe under any conditions, and the only way to avoid having it bother you is to use a well-lubricated wad between your bullet and powder,” Hatcher wrote.
    “To get good results with these guns, it is essential to use plenty of lubrication. One way to do this is to use greased shotgun wads, and another way is to use greased felt wads that you can make yourself out of an old hat or any other similar material. The felt should be soaked in an equal mixture of Vaseline and paraffin or beeswax.
    “The use of these wads will greatly alleviate the fouling you obtained,” Hatcher replied.

    This is now the earliest reference I’ve found to the use of greased, felt wads in cap and ball revolvers. Their use prior to this 1930 reference remains unknown, but it must have been common knowledge for some time before this date. Ideally, I’d like to discover a reference to greased felt wads in cap and ball revolvers in the Civil War, or earlier. We may never know when this practice began.
  2. Monkey Hollow

    Monkey Hollow New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2009
    Messages:
    65
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Thank you for taking the time with this post. Some very interesting reading here. I much prefer to read older publications to learn and do things the "old school" way.
  3. Hunting Man

    Hunting Man New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2010
    Messages:
    49
    Location:
    NW ohio
    The other issue back then was multible cylinder ignitions which usually meant someone lost a hand or fingers, this was fairly common in the old days. Holding a 44 when extra fire took place couldn't have been a good thing.
  4. todd51

    todd51 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2009
    Messages:
    2,932
    Location:
    Central, Ohio
    Thanks for posting the old info. Nice read. I have had good results using Crisco as a lube and no problems with excessive fouling.

    A short story about multiple ignition. A good friend and fellow firefighter took the son's new 1851 replica out to shoot. Used no felt pads and wiped nothing over the mouth of the cylinders. The first shot with the new pistol sent a round down the barrel as expected but it also sent the rounds of the adjacent cylinders down the outside of the barrel. Fortunately nothing was damaged but the seat of their britches. :D
  5. pinecone70

    pinecone70 New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2008
    Messages:
    4,729
    Location:
    Minnesota Gal!
    I like Crisco as well, but not when it's really hot out. I use Bore Butter when it's hot.
  6. rammed

    rammed New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2009
    Messages:
    57
    Location:
    Centerville Ohio
    A cheap lub can be made using a toilet bowl ring. Melt it and add a little Crisco in. Toilet bowl rings are mostly bee wax. Also works good as a minie ball lub.:D
  7. Gatofeo

    Gatofeo New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2005
    Messages:
    87
    Location:
    Remote Utah desert, separated from Oblivion by a s
    Few, if any, toilet seals are made of beeswax anymore. I know, because I used to buy them for the beeswax years ago. About 10 years ago I noticed that the packaging didn't say "beeswax" as it formerly did.
    Taking a chance I bought one without the beeswax label. Sure enough, it was something else.
    Real beeswax is getting more difficult to find. At least, at a good price. The best places I've found is Renaissance Fairs, Rendezvous and such. Crafts fairs will usually have it, but you'll pay $5 or so for a couple of ounces -- far more than the other places.
    Internet searches will reveal sources as well.

    The current crop of toilet seals I've found is made of petroleum grease. Petroleum greases, when used with black powder, create a hard, tarry fouling that is more difficult to remove than if you use natural greases such as vegetable (Crisco), lard, mutton tallow, Bore Butter, etc.

    There was a time when all toilet seals were made of beeswax, but that time has passed. There may be a few companies out there that still make them from beeswax, but I haven't encountered any. Old stock, forgotten on the shelf, may be made of beeswax.
    Alas, I haven't encountered such goodies for some years. And here in Utah, "The Beehive State" you'd think we'd be swimming in the stuff! :D
  8. rammed

    rammed New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2009
    Messages:
    57
    Location:
    Centerville Ohio
    Thanks that's nice to know. We had a Lowes open up next to a Builders Square.
    Builders Square went belly up. I was in the store when they had everything marked down to 25%. I bought a case of the rings. This was 15 to 18 years ago. I still have about 6 rings left and it's bee's wax based. I didn't know they changed the formula.:eek:
  9. Trouble 45-70

    Trouble 45-70 New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2009
    Messages:
    2,703
    Location:
    NE Ar. W. of Black River
    Great post. have been using Crisco but in hot weather it might have run out and I had several double ignitions. None since I started using felt wads and a slightly larger bullet.

    Just started using bore butter. Like the smell of it. I associate shooting with the smell of Hopp's 9 and now I a beginning to associate black powder with the smell of Bore Butter.
Similar Threads
Forum Title Date
Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns 1855 volcanic arms 50 cal cap and ball Feb 27, 2014
Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns Balls dropping out of chambers Feb 5, 2014
Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns 36 cal Hi standard Cap and ball bicentennial Jan 6, 2014
Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns .44 Cal. Revolver Ball Size .451 or .454 Nov 22, 2013
Black Powder Shooting / Muzzleloaders / Handguns Lubricating Minie Balls Aug 6, 2013