So you want a cap and ball revolver?


September 24, 2006, 02:10 PM
In checking my previous posts in The High Road, I could find no entry for this submission I wrote some time ago. Lately, I've noticed a few folks asking which cap and ball revolver to buy. I think this might be helpful for them.
If possible, post it as a Sticky so it remains at the top.
Many thanks. --- Gatofeo

So you want a cap and ball revolver?
Here are some points to ponder:
(Note: This is long, so print it out for future reference)

SIGHTS --- If you want one because of its historical context, then you'll get a revolver with crude sights (unless you buy one of the Remingtons with adjustable sights, which is historically incorrect). But don't despair, even with the rudimentary sights a cap and ball revolver can do some fine shooting.

CALIBER --- I have both .36 and .44 caliber revolvers and suggest that, for the beginner, he buy a .44-caliber. Hornady and Speer sell balls of .451 .454 and .457 inch, and they are readily available.
However, the two manufacturers only make a .375 inch ball for the .36 caliber. I prefer a .380-inch ball for better sealing in the chamber and improved accuracy. If you want .380 inch balls, you’ll have to cast them yourself or special-order them from a black powder supplier.
If you buy a .44, you won’t have the problem of special-ordering balls or making your own. However, if tomorrow Hornady or Speer introduce a .380 inch ball, then I’d recommend the .36-caliber because it uses less powder yet is plenty accurate and powerful for targets, tin cans and small game such as rabbits and grouse.

BUY A STEEL FRAME --- Brass frames may look pretty (I think they look gaudy and childish, personally) but they don't hold up as well as the steel frames. Also, I've seen few brass-framed revolvers that were truly well-made. Most are clunkers. Yes, there are clunker steel-framed guns out there but not nearly as many as brass-framed ones. Spend the extra few bucks and get a steel-framed gun.

PURPOSE --- Plan to use it for hunting? Frankly, most cap and ball revolvers are not suitable for hunting anything larger than coyotes.
The Ruger Old Army has taken deer, when a conical bullet is used, but you have to get awfully close.
The Walker and Dragoon revolvers have the power but lack the necessary accurate sights. A notch in the nose and a brass bead for a front sight are non-adjustable and not conducive to the fine accuracy required for hunting.
I don't recommend any cap and ball revolver for hunting anything larger than a coyote, and even then only at close range.
For target work, it used to be said that the .44 was king. But the .36 caliber can hold its own with the .44 caliber out to 50 yards. The trouble is, to my knowledge no one has ever made a .36 cap and ball revolver with modern, adjustable sights. I wish they would, I'd stand in line to buy one. The best that can be done is to buy a Remington .36 and add adjustable sights.
Or, if you'd rather not go through all that trouble, buy a Remington .44 with adjustable sights for use on the range, or buy the world's most modern cap and ball revolver, the Ruger Old Army .44-caliber with adjustable sights.

HOW ACCURATE? --- Just how accurate is a properly loaded cap and ball revolver? They’ll amaze you. At 25 yards, from a benchrest, it’s not uncommon for a fixed-sight revolver to put six lead balls into half a playing card. Some will do better. My Uberti-made Remington 1858 will often put six balls into a 1-1/2 inch or 2-inch circle from a benchrest. Most cap and ball revolvers will shoot tighter than a modern semi-auto pistol, and give a target-grade .38 Special a close run for its money out to 25 yards.

EASE OF MAINTENANCE --- A stainless steel revolver is best for easy maintenance. The Remington has fewer parts than the Colt, but is not quite as easily reassembled in my experience. You have to grasp the mainspring with pliers to wrestle it in. No big deal, just a minor aggravation. The Colt disassembles more easily than the Remington design but has more parts to lose or misplace.

CLEANING --- Cap and ball revolvers require cleaning far more quickly than a smokeless powder revolver. Black powder and Pyrodex are corrosive, as may be other approved propellants. In any case, all of the approved propellants create far more fouling than smokeless powder and will gum the action much sooner.
In a damp climate like New Orleans or Seattle, you may find rust on it the day after firing, because of the salts or perchlorates in the propellant.
Much of the time, you can get by with just cleaning the cylinder inside and out (remove the nipples and clean them as well), cleaning the bore and wiping fouling off from the frame, hammer and loading lever.
However, eventually you’ll need to clean the guts of that revolver as fouling builds. To do this, you’ll need to completely disassemble the revolver down to its last screw and tiny part, clean each part thoroughly, oil or grease as required and reassemble.
Many smokeless powder shooters have ruined their cap and ball revolvers by neglecting to clean them, or clean them thoroughly. If you’re lazy or procrastinate when it comes to cleaning smokeless powder guns, then a cap and ball revolver is not for you.
Owning a cap and ball revolver requires a little extra care --- almost immediately --- but with the proper cleaning equipment and knowledge it’s not an onerous task. Most of the time, a cap and ball revolver can be quick-cleaned in 20 or 30 minutes, or detail-cleaned in an hour or 90 minutes.
Some shooters just can’t handle this. If you’re one of them, cap and ball revolvers are not for you.

I prefer hot, soapy water for cleaning my revolvers. At the range, in my fishing tackle box of goodies I keep a small spray bottle with a mix of water, a few drops of Dawn dishwashing detergent (the dish kind, not the automatic washer kind) and a little rubbing alcohol. On a patch, this cuts the grease and fouling nicely.
At home, I use a plastic tub of hot, soapy water with a bar of Ivory soap. Ivory’s great because it floats and you can always find it to work up a lather on your brush.
Collect a variety of brushes, from tiny to toothpaste-sized. The smaller brushes are often found in gourmet cooking stores. They make short work of fouling inside the frame.
After cleaning with soapy water, rinse with hot water from the tap. Shake off excess water. Run a dry patch in the bore and chambers to remove all traces of water.
Place the parts in a shallow baking pan. Set the oven to 150 or less, put the panful of parts in, and leave the oven door cracked open to allow moisture to escape. After 20 or 30 minutes, retrieve the parts and coat liberally with olive oil or Crisco while still warm. Don’t be afraid to reapply later. Steel will soak up a lot of lubricant but that’s good. Allow the parts to soak up lubricant overnight or a few days then reassemble.
Don’t forget to run lubricant down the bore and in the chambers, to discourage rust.
Pack the innards workings with a little Crisco or my favorite, CVA Grease Patch. This will keep help the action shrug off fouling that accumulates from shooting. Put some grease on the rear of the cylinder too, where the hand bears against the ratchets. Coat the sides of the hammer, and the hammer channel in the frame, lightly with grease.
If you rely solely on oil on these parts, it will soon be dried by the hot blast of firing and parts will drag. Grease lasts longer than oil in this application. Use only natural greases, not any that are petroleum-based!

LUBRICANT --- Avoid petroleum-based lubricants such as chassis grease, WD-40, motor oil, STP, etc. Petroleum products tend to create a hard, tarry fouling that clogs the rifling and moving parts. Instead, use natural greases and oils such as lard, tallow, vegetable oil (safflower, peanut, canola, etc.), Crisco, etc. My preference is a mixture of mutton tallow (sold by Dixie Gun Works), beeswax and canning paraffin. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize that canning paraffin IS a petroleum product. It is, but it apparently lacks the offending ingredient of other petroleum products. See LOADING PROCEDURE below.

EASE OF LOADING --- In my experience, the Colt is more forgiving during the loading procedure. If you can't quite get a ball down past the mouth of the chamber, because of an accidental overcharge, you can remove the ball by firing the Colt without its barrel assembly.
Remove the barrel assembly by tapping the wedge from right to left all the way.
B. Place caps on all loaded chambers to prevent flashover and deftly rotate the cylinder by hand and cock the hammer to bring the offending cylinder under the cocked hammer.
Obviously, you must be very careful when doing this. Keep your hand and fingers away from the front of the cylinder.
C. Fire the ball out of the cylinder to clear the chamber.
I've done this a number of times.
If you can't seat the ball in a Remington, you have to remove the cylinder, remove the nipple, then use a toothpick or brass pick (never a spark-producing metal) to pick out some of the powder. With some of the powder out, replace the nipple, return the cylinder into the frame, reseat the ball deeper and recap it.
The Remington has more clearance between the frame and cylinder than the earlier Colts, so you can more easily load conical bullets. The Colt 1860 .44 and 1861 .36 have even more room for conicals.

LOADING PROCEDURE --- The procedure is identical for all makes of cap and ball revolvers.
A. Snap two caps on each nipple, before loading, to blow all dust, oil or crud from the chambers.
B. Use black powder if you can get it. My experiences have shown it beats Pyrodex for accuracy.
C. Use a well-greased wad between the ball and powder, and seat it firmly on the powder before seating the ball. The rammer should come to its full stop, or nearly so, when seating the wad.
I lubricate my felt wads with a mix of 1 part canning paraffin, 1 part mutton tallow and 1 part beeswax. With a kitchen scale measure 200/200/100 grams of the ingredients and melt them in a quart Mason jar, placed in 3 or 4 inches of boiling water. Mix the ingredients well with a clean stick or disposable chopstick and allow cooling at room temperature.

Incidentally, the above mutton tallow/beeswax/paraffin lubricant which has come to be known as Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant is now sold by Big Iron Barrel Works. Greased hard felt wads, lubricated with Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant, are also sold. Visit its website at

Now, get a clean tuna can. Add two or three Tablespoons of hardened lubricant to it, heat it at a low temperature, and when the lubricant is melted add 100 wads. Stir the wads with the chopstick to ensure they all soak up the lubricant. Allow to cool at room temperature and snap a pet food can over the can.
The paraffin is crucial to this recipe. It significantly stiffens the wads, helping them to scrape out the fouling.
D. Use a well-oversized ball. For the .36 this means .380-inch, for the .44 it means .454 or .457 inch balls. Forget what the manuals recommend (.375 and .451 inch) and use the larger balls, they're more accurate. Why? When you ram the balls into the chamber, the larger ones create a wider bearing surface for the rifling to grip. This aids accuracy.
E. Seat the ball firmly on the seated wad. There must be NO air space between the powder, wad or ball.
F. Use a lead ball. In my experience, conical bullets are not nearly as accurate as a lead ball. Plus, they are often more expensive unless you cast your own from scrap lead.
G. Use proper-fitting caps. Some nipples require No. 10 caps, others require No. 11 caps. Initially, buy both to determine which fits all the way down on your nipples. Before seating, pinch the cap into an oval shape so it clings to the nipple better. That unusable tin of caps may be used before loading, to clear the nipples by firing a cap on each nipple (see A above).

STRENGTH --- This is largely a moot point when you're talking about the use of black powder and Pyrodex.
However, Hodgon 777 generates higher pressures than black powder when measured volume-to-volume against black powder. For this reason, if you use Hodgdon 777, reduce the load recommended for black powder by 15 percent.
If you plan to use nothing but 777 powder, then the Remington would be better. It is definitely stronger than the Colt. But as I've said, if you’re using black powder or Pyrodex, then the matter of strength is moot. Incidentally, Hodgdon does NOT recommend 777 in any brass-framed revolver. It’s stout stuff!

QUIRKS --- There are certain peculiarities of the Colt and Remington.
The Colt has a large cylinder pin, with circular grooves in it, to collect fouling and hold grease. The Remington has a small diameter cylinder pin without grooves. Generally, the Colt fires more shots than the Remington before the cylinder begins to drag from fouling built up on the pin.
The Remington is much easier to sight on a target. Its square groove in the top of the frame, and square front sight, line up well.
Both of my Remingtons came with unusually tall front sights, which had to be filed down a lick at a time at the range until the sights hit to point of aim.
The Colt employs a wedge to keep the barrel assembly attached to the frame. This must hold them together tightly. If the wedge is not tight in the frame, accuracy suffers.
The Remington is a solid-frame and no such adjustment is required.
In time, particularly with heavy loads, the Colt's wedge will be battered narrower and no longer hold the barrel assembly as tightly as it once did. A new wedge is required, or you can put the wedge on an anvil and carefully widen it again by a few taps with a heavy hammer. A lot of checking is required with this method. Don't overdo it.
The Remington is pretty much trouble-free but it doesn’t balance or point as well as the Colt.

BALANCE & POINTABILITY --- The Colt revolvers win hands down. Even today, the Colt 1851 or 1861 Navies are considered the best-balanced revolvers ever produced. You can easily develop a point-shooting instinct with them that is amazing. The Remington feels massive in the hands and doesn't point nearly as well.

ACCURACY --- For a long time, the Remington was credited with being far more accurate than the Colt. In more recent years, shooters have begun to understand that the wedge in the Colt must be in tight for it to be accurate. A well-made Colt pattern can be just as accurate as the Remington. I shoot both and have proven this to myself many times.

SAFETY FIRST! --- Wear hearing protection and impact resistant glasses whenever shooting. While shooting, keep all black powder and caps behind you, away from the sparks your revolver produces.
Do NOT stand to the side or let someone stand beside you when firing. Gases, lead shavings, hot lubricant and other debris are ejected to the side when firing.
Also, I cannot stress enough that these revolvers are not toys. They were used with deadly effect for about 45 years (1836 to the early 1880s) and are still deadly.
The late gun writer Elmer Keith, who was taught how to use cap and ball sixguns by Civil War veterans, wrote, “For its size and weight, nothing is so deadly as a pure lead ball driven at 1,000 feet per second.”
The ghosts of millions would sigh and agree.
Give a cap and ball sixgun the same respect you would any modern firearm. They are not playthings.

CARRY A GRAIN OF SALT --- Some of what is related at the range, and on the internet, is exaggeration, fabrication, unsubstantiated or downright dangerous. Some of the things I've listed here are opinion. Others may disagree with me, and they’re entitled, but I base the above on my own experience.
Sooner or later, some jackleg will tell you, "Ya know, if ya put a pinch of smokeless powder in the chamber first, it'll shoot cleaner." Beware of this person; he's a moron. Cap and ball revolvers are NOT designed for smokeless powder. Period.

SUMMARY --- what you buy largely boils down to personal preference. I like the Remington for its ease of target shooting, and the Colt for its handling qualities. I shoot both.
If you really get bitten by the bug, as I have, you’ll end up owning more than one cap and ball revolver.

Shooting a cap and ball revolver is work, but it’s fun to see how the old timers fared with these pistols. Keep the components in a fishing tackle box and buy a box larger than you think you’ll need, because sure enough you’ll buy more accessories.
Store the powder and caps in a cool, dry place such as a spare room, but not near each other. Avoid storage areas with high humidity or heat fluctuations (garage, shed, vehicle, etc.). If you have children or childish adults in the house, keep the powder and caps locked in separate containers.

Enjoy your cap and ball revolver. It’s taken me 35 years to learn what I’ve related to you. I wish I’d had a primer like this when I started back in 1970.

Copyright 2006 by Gatofeo. Posted by the author.
Contact Gatofeo at

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September 24, 2006, 02:31 PM
While I doubt I will ever be buying a cap and ball revolver, it's still pretty interesting stuff. As far as I can tell, this is a very well written introduction to them. Thanks for the content Gatofeo.

September 24, 2006, 02:40 PM

Excellent! Thank you for doing this.

Moderators please sticky this and add to THR Library.


Dave Markowitz
September 24, 2006, 03:57 PM
Great post. I second the motion that it should be made a sticky.

September 24, 2006, 09:50 PM
Great post! Definately sticky material.

October 17, 2006, 11:07 AM
Hi UglyCat (et al)...

First, many thanks for the "primer" on C&B revolvers! Though quite familiar with "modern" handguns the C&Bs are a totally new venture for me.
I bought (from Cabela's) a Colt 1851 .44 cal. "Civilian" revolver made by Pietta (and haven't fired it yet). The salesman also sold me Pyrodex pellets, Cabela's lubed over-powder wads, some other lube, .451 Hornady round balls, and a nipple wrench.
Are there conical bullets that can be used in these handguns? If so, what is the source and how do they compare to the round balls?

I liked the feel of the .36 cal. 1851 (a tad better than the heft of the .44) but chose the .44 because the salesman said the Pyrodex "pellets" do not come in .36 caliber and that the .36 is more prone to fouling and harder to clean. Would like to hear anyone's thoughts on those "factoids", as I would not hesitate to add a .36 (1851) to my "collection".

Thanks All for any information and opinion and shared experience !!

October 17, 2006, 11:11 AM
I haven't noticed any difference between cleaning a .36 and a .44. Blackpowder gets everywhere and all BP guns need thorough cleaning to prevent rust.
I haven't used those pyrodex pellets and don't know how easy they make cleaning, but I think regular Pyrodex P is a bit harder than normal BP.

October 17, 2006, 11:59 AM
I own both a .36 1851 and a .44 1858 and I can say that both clean up the same way, only difference is the way the internals come apart. As for the pellets, I personally would stick to loose powder anyways. It is cheaper and you can work with it to find the best load for your gun. Different guns like different amounts of powder when it comes to accuracy.

October 18, 2006, 02:20 PM
Question about natural vs. petroleum lube: is it something about the interaction between black powder and petroleum that creates the hard fouling? Certainly high-quality petroleum lubricants have been used with much success for many years in smokeless guns... or are you advocating natural lubricants on every gun? I can't imagine smearing crisco on my Glock...:D

October 18, 2006, 04:08 PM
To answer the question from my point of view, I only use the natural lubes with Black Powder guns. I have had it happen to me when I used regular oil on my gun. It created a hard residue on my gun. I believe it has to do with chemicals in the oil reacting with the BP residue from firing. Smokeless powder is made from different ingredients and doesn't react to oil like BP. When I use my smokeless guns, its oil for lube. My BP guns I use Crisco over the ball and Bore Butter for the gun lube.

October 18, 2006, 04:33 PM
Cool. Thanks.:cool:

October 28, 2006, 11:46 PM
So what lube does one use with pyrodex

October 28, 2006, 11:48 PM
Same as Black Powder. I use Bore Butter for lube and Crisco for over the chambers.

November 6, 2006, 06:14 AM
I've been digging around the web for answers, and better questions. i came across a website that offered "conversions" to use 45LC "cowboy" rounds( whatever they are) ... any thoughts? These things aint cheap... cost more than the gun itself.
Also, any thoughts for the earlier question concerning conical bullets? wondering if any manufacturers have saboted rounds for the 1860 army's...
Any suggestions in Literature for Beginners of B/P Firarms?
thank you

highlander 5
November 6, 2006, 08:58 AM
the "conversions" are cylinders that fit your revolver that can use
metallic cartridges. Friend of mine converted his 36 cal C&B to fire 38 S&W (not spl) AFAK it works but can't swear to accuracy.
I don't own a C&B revolver but if you should decide to go the conversion route I would stick to BP,pyrodex or of the other BP subsitutes for your loads as not to end up blowing up you or your pistol with smokeless powder loads. Oh just one other thing check bore size so that you can match bullet dia for cartridges to bore dia.

November 6, 2006, 05:52 PM
i came across a website that offered "conversions" to use 45LC "cowboy" rounds( whatever they are) ... any thoughts?

"Cowboy" or "Cowboy Action" ammunition is generally loaded to a lower level than the other factory ammunition.

November 12, 2006, 06:37 PM
Great article on BP-Revolvers. I have one I recently bought and I've been wondering if those plugs to take the place of BP work and how you change the qrains,or if you can buy them with different grains. I like mine now but it is a bit tiering loading all the time. Mine needs 12-15 grains-its a 44. How high can I really go on grains? They recommend 12-15, I've shot it already and it seems ok but I wish it was more powerful. My target shots are at the top right and I have to aim down and to the left 1" from the target at 15yrds.
This is on a 25yrd target. Hay thanks for any input Don-

January 13, 2008, 11:01 PM
Something you could add to this is the anti seize compound that you use on your spark plugs is good to use on your nipples

January 13, 2008, 11:13 PM
W, As a new member you did what a lot of people don't do and that is to read the stickie at the beginning. There is a lot of great info there. Anti-seize would work just fine for nipples. I've got some anti-seize that was sold just for muzzleloading breechplugs and I bet there's little or no difference

January 14, 2008, 01:13 AM
Very good article. But, oddly enough I know of one feller that removes the grips then dunks the whole revolver in a 5 gallon bucket of WD-40, then lets them drip dry. Another feller uses white lithium grease for over bullet lube. Neither has had none of the problems usually associated with petroleum products.
Me, I'm like y'all. It's Bore Butter, Crisco, Ballistol for me.

Captain U-96
January 14, 2008, 05:21 AM
I use Bore Butter for sealing the ball, and Thompson's Breach Plug Grease to keep my nipples free. Good luck so far, and a little goes a long way. I even use the Bore Butter as a lubricant on the cylinder pin--where ever it's needed. Cleans up nice too.

January 14, 2008, 03:24 PM
A 30 grain load is the max I use for my Uberti Colts but 24g is more accurate.

January 14, 2008, 05:26 PM
I like Bore Butter but the one thing that would make it better would be a screw on nozzle type lid like you get with silicone sealant it sure would make it easier to top off the charges.

January 14, 2008, 05:29 PM
I'll merely point out that a lot of match shooters are using Cream of Wheat as a filler for light loads. You could try corn meal for this...but I wouldn't come near the stuff, as it compresses too much.

January 14, 2008, 05:35 PM
I never understood the use of "filler" in a light load unless the load was so light that the loading lever bottomed out before the load was seated.

January 14, 2008, 06:51 PM
Pancho, I use light loads in both my colt 1860 clone and my ROA.. 18 grains 3 FFFg as the spout is cut on the flask. The clone won't ram deep enuff, while the ROA will, but then the ball is way down in the chamber.

I have come to understand a ball doesn't like to be way down in the chamber and likes to be close to the forcing cone, back enough for a light coat of grease.

My solution was another flask cut down to apx 15 FF? (food fodder).

I suppose I should be more fussy and find one food to fling, but what ever is in that mixed hot cearial box works for me, except the maple flavored ones which I eat.

January 14, 2008, 09:24 PM
Mac are you saying you use oatmeal as a filler? I have been reading up on this some and wondered what to use.

what about them pad things I read of that people shove in between powder and ball?

January 14, 2008, 11:26 PM
Im283, I have use wool pads as well. Umm not oat meal in the common large grinds I find, but wheatena, is it Royalston? Finer grains just a bit bigger than 3 FFFg.

If oatmeal was ground finer than I see it i would. So far as i know in what I see of oatmeal is like but smaller than cracked and pressed corn, so it won't pour from a flask. My only concerns are if sugar is in a mix. I won't try it then as i believe the sugar will stick up the gun and the carbon will make cleaning harder.

Now my 6 guns don't go hunting, and I am not the best of the best hand gun shooters either, so minuet of beans at 25 yards works for me.

If you have no idea what minuet of beans is, well I shoot paper plates and make holes so big no beans could stay on the plate afterwards...

I find apx 18 grains is fair for accuracy, 1/2 the normal charge, so I get to shoot 2 for 1..

I have never used a chrongraph, but I might take a wild guess .457's are moving around 450 fps..maybe.... plenty on paper plates

January 15, 2008, 04:21 PM
Great post - +1 for sticky.....

My own 'lazy mans' tip - once you have cleaned the threads on the cones (nipples here in England) re-install them with a couple of wraps round of PTFE plumbers tape. It's thin enough to not interfere with installation, but fills any gaps and keeps the threads clean. This has saved me having to remove and clean them every time. Just make sure that the flash hole is not obscured.


January 19, 2008, 10:22 AM
I never thought I would buy a C&B revolver (Old Army).......until I shot one! Years later, I have three, and two muzzleloading rifles! What happened?

January 19, 2008, 07:38 PM
That is an interesting observation about round balls being more accurate than conical bullets. That is counter-intuitive. Would not the concical bullet have a more pronounced spin owing to a larger area of contact with the rifling? A round ball would seem to be unstable in flight as it has to natural leading point. Does that matter?

I take it Gatofeo is highly experienced in BP shooting so I will take him at his word.

January 19, 2008, 07:46 PM
burnt sulfur has that effect on some people. I huffed my first in 1964 and haven't gotten over it yet. I've bought three new bp revolvers in the past two months. It's a devastating habit the symptoms usually show itself as a stupid grin on the shooter's face after setting of a large boom and having his head wreathed in smoke.

January 19, 2008, 07:47 PM
Blacksmoke Rifling in a barrel is made to spin a certain projectile.

A slow twist is usually better for a round ball, and so a fast twist is usually better for a conical.

Some company's making guns, try to make an inbetween twist in the thinking this type of gun will stablize both types of ammo.

The surface in contact, has less to do with rate of twist. The surface areas just follow the twist.

January 19, 2008, 08:09 PM
I am aware of the twist rate differences in barrels made for round balls versus conicals. It just seems that a spinning round ball would not be as stable a form in flight as a spinning concial projectile. This might be a great subject for engineering or physics students but it is bordering on the arcane for a BP forum. If the consensus of experienced shooters is that round balls out perform conicals then so be it. Intersting to wonder about it though.

January 19, 2008, 08:40 PM
One thought, you can't cant a roundball you can cant a conical. Sounds like a beginning of a song.

January 19, 2008, 09:00 PM
I applaud Gatofeo efforts on this. But there are some statements that are are controversial at best. Such as black powder being the most accurate. I just don't buy this. Accuracy is a matter of consistency. And the statement about brass frames. This would be a good sticky if there is an attempt to address these issues. Opinions should not be elevated to the level of fact.

January 19, 2008, 09:12 PM
Blacksmoke, are you anywhere near Lincoln County? My wife and I visited that area in 1977 because I was so interested in the Lincoln County war

January 19, 2008, 11:12 PM
I have a 1851 Cabela's Colt Navy and I load with a "less than science" approach.

I fill each chamber with powder directly from the flask. I then clean off the powder above the chamber and seat a lubed wad. From there I can either seat the ball or leave it as such.

I'm not sure the actual grains but its similar to the max measured charge.

January 19, 2008, 11:26 PM
Woof! Now that is what I'd call a maximum charge.

January 20, 2008, 09:06 AM
dispatch's post made me wonder something.

Why is the cylinder so much deeper than what is needed for a maximum charge and ball? If the cylinder was shorter wouldn't the revolvers work better, more efficiently? There would be no need for fillers, or for worrying about accuracy as the ball jumps into the rifling.

whats the deal?

January 20, 2008, 10:40 AM
dispatch55126 , similar to the max charge? How can you add any more?

I read this as you pour loose powder from a flask and fill to the brim, each chamber, brush off what doesn't fit, seat a wad aand cram a ball. WOW

Then kill a paper plate ?

January 20, 2008, 02:57 PM
By using the max measured FFFg charge, it was nearly filling each chamber. As such, I now skip that step and fill the chamber directly. This is ONLY for my revolver since I can use the chamber as its own powder measure. I should also add the the wadding and ball still seat below the cylinder face with this charge.

I still use a traditional measure for my rifle so I can get the proper charge.

I know I'm at the max charge but this revolver isn't fired enough to where fatigue would be of major concern. If it was a regular shooter, I would back the grains down.

January 20, 2008, 05:27 PM
LOL yeah, it is probably a good thing you don't load that hawken this way!

February 9, 2008, 03:04 PM
Misfire99 questions my views on brass frames and black powder being the most accurate propellant. He apparently feels that what I've written in this post is opinion given as fact.
If I appear to be some strutting peacock, spouting my opinions and observations as fact, then that was not my intent. I just wanted to help out shooters with a wealth of information in one place.
Perhaps what I view as "wealth" others may view as garbage. It's certainly their right to view it as they wish.

Alas, Misfire99, I know exactly why you take me to task. I too have seen all manner of opinions given as fact. That is why I posted the following at the end of my submission:

CARRY A GRAIN OF SALT --- Some of what is related at the range, and on the internet, is exaggeration, fabrication, unsubstantiated or downright dangerous. Some of the things I've listed here are opinion. Others may disagree with me, and they’re entitled, but I base the above on my own experience.

I think this makes it clear that my opinion is offered. I mean no offense, Misfire99, and am pleased I can perhaps clarify what I wrote and opined.

I wrote the above treatise to help folks, some of whom had never fired a cap and ball sixgun, wade through mounds of information. It's a primer to inform the average person what they should know if they plan to buy a cap and ball sixgun.
When I began shooting cap and ball sixguns in 1970, the only guide was in the Lyman handbook. It counseled to use axle grease as a lubricant over the ball. No mention of a greased felt wad was made. Nor was there any mention of trying different powders, ball sizes or caps.
Lyman made it sound so simple: throw a measured amount of black powder in each chamber, ram down a ball of soft lead, slather grease over the ball, put on a cap and fire away.
We now know that there are many other variables that can enhance or detract from the accuracy of a cap and ball sixgun.

In my experience, black powder has always been more accurate than the synthetic powders such as Pyrodex, Hodgdon 777, Clearshot, etc. As of this writing (February 2008) I've tried them all and found that black powder is more accurate in all of my cap and ball pistols.
I've tried them from a benchrest, at a measured 25 yards, against standard bullseye targets while taking pains to gently squeeze the trigger.
My loading procedure was made as identical as I could make it, right down to how much pressure I used to seat the greased wad and ball.
I can't explain it, but then no one has been able to satisfactorily explain why certain smokeless powders in modern rifles and pistols are more accurate, all other things being equal (bullet, case, primer, etc.).

It is said that when you die, all the questions you ever had will be answered by your Maker.
Well, "Why are some powders more accurate than others, all other things being equal?" will be among those at the top of my list (along with, "Did that blonde in the yellow Corvette really wink at me back in 1985? :D).

Moreover, other cap and ball shooters have told me they noticed the same thing: black powder tends to be more accurate in their revolvers. Some go beyond "tends to" and state with conviction that it is always more accurate.
I feel the evidence that black powder is more accurate than the synthetic powders is pretty good.
Of course, each revolver is an individual and some may show a marked preference for the synthetics.
As for accuracy, it's a relative term. What is "accurate" to one shooter may be barely adequate to another.
But when my Remington 58 puts six lead balls into a 1-1/2 inch circle at 25 yards from a benchrest, and the best I can get with synthetic is a 3-inch group, then I know that black powder is more accurate in that gun.
And when others tell me that they have experienced the same phenomenon, perhaps this information has crossed over from being opinion to fact, or as near to fact as could be.
And yet, there's one in every crowd: Some revolvers will undoubtedly be more accurate with synthetics.
I believe this is due to the Great Hairy Thunderer's penchant for going, "Boogah-Boogah!" just to keep us mystified! I have no doubt that He, She, It or They have a sense of humor. :D

I still believe that black powder, generally FFFG granulation, is most often more accurate than the synthetic powders in cap and ball sixguns. Until my targets and others indicate otherwise, I'll continue to tell others to use it for best results.
But you may have experienced the opposite. That's the nature of shooting, whether old or modern guns.

The best lesson in the vagaries of ammuntion in one firearm may be found in the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
Take out a rifle or pistol known to be accurate, along with at least 10 boxes of different ammo (Remington, Winchester, Wolf, Federal, CCI, Aguila, etc.) and shoot 10 shots of each type into its own target. Use a benchrest at 25 yards, or 50 yards for some rifles.
Compare targets. You will be amazed at the difference in group size with each type of ammo.
Each firearm is an individual, with marked preferences.
However, when it comes to cap and ball sixguns, I agree that more than propellant is responsible for accuracy.

Your point about consistency being the key to accuracy is well taken.
You and I agree on this point. And it's not just true about cap and ball sixguns, but all firearms and reloading.
I load my cap and ball sixguns meticulously. Always have. In fact, many have become impatient watching me load my guns but I take the time to ensure that all components are just-so, and I try to apply the same pressure to each wad and ball (I load them separately) each time.
This passion for consistency shows on the target.
I'm not out to load quickly to save my skin from Commanches, I'm out to shoot accurately.

Brass frames vs. steel frames
This is a bone of contention among many shooters. Myself, I don't like brass frames for what I believe to be solid reasons, or at least solid generalities.
Generally, guns with steel frames are better made than those of brass. It seems as though manufacturers, knowing that brass frames are more easily milled, rush through the job more quickly and don't take the time for final polishing and fitting.
Frankly, I believe they know their market: most purchasers of brass-framed guns know little or nothing about cap and ball sixguns and buy them because they're pretty or cool.
Manufacturers don't have to put a lot of work into brass-framed guns because odds are that the buyer will overlook other failings as long as the brass is shiny.
I'm sure some will take issue with me on this point, and I only base it on my suspicions, but I've witnessed dozens of buyers and potential buyers of brass-framed guns at shops and shows --- they're not the most informed or discerning lot of customers I've seen. They're entranced by the gleaming brass and can't see past that.
I've overheard more than one potential buyer ask if the shop also carried cartridges for it. :eek:

However, I admit I have seen a few brass-framed guns that were well made. But only a few. I have also seen steel-framed guns that were poorly made, but not nearly in the numbers I've seen brass frames.
Back in the 1970s there were many poorly made steel and brass-framed guns.
I don't see poorly made steel framed guns as much anymore, but I still see plenty of brass-framed guns bearing tool marks, unpolished chambers, rough bores, etc.
Look around the trigger guard of a brass-framed gun and you'll usually see where they missed polishing; I don't see that on steel guns.
As a general rule, I feel that steel-framed guns are not only more durable but better made. And we all want the best quality we can get with our hard-earned bucks, right?
I wrote the above treatise with today's buyer in mind, presumably buying a new gun.
Buy a brass-framed revolver if you wish, but I think the extra $20 to $30 invested in a steel frame of the same model is worth it.
The Confederates produced revolvers with brass frames not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Brass was easier to machine, and the Confederacy lacked the technology and raw materials to make steel-framed revolvers to any degree.
If you're a reenactor who wants to accurately portray a Rebel, then a brass-framed revolver would lend authenticity to your getup.
But for general shooting, I still believe that steel-framed revolvers are best for the average shooter. They are more durable, can accommodate heavier loads and are generally better made.
Do you need the extra power that a steel framed revolver offers? Probably not, especially if you're just putting holes in tin cans and paper, but it's nice to have the option.
Perhaps someday you'll want to hunt small game with your sixgun, or have an opportunity to shoot at long range and need the extra power. Why limit your options with a brass-framed revolver that demands you load it below capacity so you don't strain it?

Ball vs. conical bullet
Okay, we're back to my experience and the experience of others I've talked with, and read about on the internet.
Round balls (an oxymoron, since I've never seen a square ball of any type. Balls are, by nature, spheres) are more accurate than conical bullets.
My experience, and the experience of others, shows this as yet another one of those trends that is a generally accepted fact. Generally. Most times.
I have no doubt that some revolvers shoot conical bullets more accurately, but I don't believe they're the norm.
And again, I wrote the above treatise as a guide for new shooters.
Perhaps I was pedantic in some areas and should have disclaimed with, "in my opinion" but when something works for you, and has worked for a long time for you and others, you tend to forget to add that disclaimer.

Overall, I still believe that balls are most accurate. The rub lies not in the design of a conical bullet, but in the design of the revolver.
Seating a conical bullet straight into the chamber, no matter how careful you may be, is nearly impossible.
Because of tiny variations in each conical bullet, and the rammer's alignment with each individual chamber, you will never be able to seat a conical bullet as straight as a ball.
A ball plops down in the chamber mouth pretty much straight. It's the nature of a sphere to align itself in a hole.
An elongated bullet, however, can be tipped one way or the other --- however minutely --- during the seating process.
So, let's say that the bullet is seated a teensy-tiny-iddy-bitty way off to the side. Too little for the shooter to notice, but not quite straight nonetheless.
Upon firing, the conical bullet leaves the chamber at a slight angle to the center axis, and then is slammed into the rifling at the same slight angle.
It travels down the bore kerslonchwise too.
It leaves the muzzle with the center line of the bullet at a slight angle to the bullet itself.
Think of it as a toy top, nearing the end of its rotation, and spinning in a wide arc. That's exaggerated but you get the gist.
Spin a baseball at high speed, however, and it will end its rotation with far less pitch and yaw than a toy top.
Some conical bullets, in some revolvers, can be wonderfully accurate.
But I still believe that the greatest accuracy potential lies in the lead ball.
Lead balls are also generally easier to obtain and cheaper to buy.
Again, I suggested using lead balls with the new shooter in mind, or for the sake of convenience.
I play around with conical bullets on occasion. I've yet to find one design, in any of my revolvers, that can beat the lead ball for accuracy.
And to get near the accuracy of the humble ball, I have to tinker and tinker and get even more meticulous than I normally am.
After a while, the ol' desert cat's ears are flat on his head and he's growling, hissing and muttering. :cuss:
I don't feel that, for most shooters, conical bullets are worth the extra effort, certainly not to just put holes in paper or cans.
But they are worth it, by virtue of their greater weight, when hunting medium game such as coyote, up to small deer. Their greater weight means more energy expended on the animal, for a more certain kill.

Damn, the ol' cat rambled on and on didn't he?
Well, I just wanted to explain my position.
I understand your position as well, that I've offered opinion as facts.
Oh, no doubt I have. But as I said before, when you and others see the same result time and again --- and only a few contrary examples arise.

But thanks for taking me to task. We all need a "Hold on there a minute" often, to keep us on our toes.
I hope there are no hard feelings with my response. I respect your opinions and experience. In the end, I think we both want the same thing --- to pass on our experiences for the betterment of others.
Best wishes!
--- Gatofeo

February 9, 2008, 03:28 PM
Did you run out of reading material Gatofeo and still butt deep in snow? Good to see you on the forum again. You have left your mark and some of these newer guys think you're a mythological teacher from old.

Old Fuff
February 9, 2008, 04:37 PM
I understand your position as well, that I've offered opinion as facts.

Years ago I was having a chat with Jeff Cooper, and the subject turned to opinions...

"Everybody," he said, "has them - about just anything - but the value of an opinion is directly proportional to the holder's experience and knowledge of that particular subject, so one should always be judicious of what they listen to and what they don't."

I think that Gatofeo passes muster. ;)

February 9, 2008, 05:14 PM
Gatofeo, Nice readin... thanks.. Me: I am new around here.. but not so very new to BP and BP guns, but I know what I know from shooting them.

Some here, like Old Fuff, and Pancho I get on with pretty well in my opinion..

What is plain to tell is like you, they have shot some BP guns and what they say is based on experience. So sometimes this leads to the strangest arguments. These arguments tend to come from book larnis' and not shootin', or just making an error and coming to find the gun is question is some new fangled pea shooter with a big bore, and all in line.

Anyway I am pleased to met you.

It is nice still, to say thanks to Old Fuff for helping me in a project, and he told me things I didn't know.

And Old Fuff just gave me a surprise.. I didn't know he was on first names basis with Jeff Cooper.

On another board I know a guy who was on first names basis with Elmer Kieth. My lucky day..

Pancho I gut me 4+ feet O' that white stuff, and more on the way.... ye better watch that kinda' talk! ;-) LOL mac.....

Old Fuff
February 9, 2008, 05:51 PM
Oh I was blessed:

I was employed within the firearms industry in a capacity that gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting individuals, including, Jeff Cooper, Elmer Keith, Bill Jordan, Skeeter Skelton, Charles Askins, Bill Ruger, and Col. Rex Applegate (I have one of his personal revolvers, and believe it or not, an Italian 1861 Navy that belonged to him).

And that's only a partial list...

Of course I gave them all the benefit of my greater knowledge… :rolleyes: :D

February 9, 2008, 06:04 PM
Pancho – Your timing is perfect. There came a knock upon the door, this afternoon. And, yep, there she was. The ’58 had made its journey across the US and is, now, in my possession. Have to say that I feel like a kid, again. (Don’t mind getting “Older,” though. Must be getting downright good at it, in fact. Seems I’m able to do it much faster than I used to.)

What, with your having called up this particular post; believe my starting point for that serious reading, which needs to be caught up upon, has been found.

And, again, thanks to everyone for helping a feller gain some of the schoolin’, which might have, otherwise, passed him by. In this case, to Gatofeo, in particular. After all, sir, you did write the article.

February 9, 2008, 07:24 PM
Old Fuff, I don't suppose an old bounty hunter called Cj means anything to you? He makes a great pet these days. I sent his woman some hand made weepin heart earrings of sterling just to get under the old geezers skin, and because I have a certain respect for his leathery old hide.. I understand this is a real long shot... But it appears you knew guys in common....

Perk sorry to be OT, but sometimes I just gotta do what i gotta do..

Old Fuff
February 9, 2008, 07:49 PM
Old Fuff, I don't suppose an old bounty hunter called Cj means anything to you?

Don't think so, but there's still a lot of people out there that I haven't met, and wish I had.

Great knowledge and experience isn't always limited to the famous and renowned…

February 9, 2008, 08:00 PM
Macmac - Not a bit of harm done. Thanks, the same.

Carl N. Brown
February 9, 2008, 08:36 PM
Gatofeo wrote a good, brief but detailed intro to cap'n'ball.
Brass frames do not holdup to long years of shooting like
steel framed revolvers, but often during the American Civil
War it was easier for the REbels to make brass frame revolvers
as opposed to iron or steel frame, so brass frame revolvers
do have a rebel panache.

Lubed felt wads over powder under the ball eventually
contaminate the powder with lube the longer they sit.
I went back to crisco+beeswax lube over the ball after
seating it on the powder.

February 11, 2008, 03:17 PM
Gatofeo stated: " may find rust on it the day after firing, because of the salts or perchlorates in the propellant. ....."

Are there perchlorates in blackpower propellants or priming? I do know potasium chlorates were used by the military in primers to ignite smokeless power loads at one time. I thought black powder was made from charcoal (Carbon), saltpeter (potassium nitrate), and sulfur. Do the caps contain perclorates?

February 11, 2008, 03:44 PM
I don't think so. Looking at the MSDS sheet for modern Remington percussion caps (, they are based on shock sensitive compounds lead styphnate and tetrazene. Also listed is barium, possibly as the nitrate? Also anitmony, as the sulfide?

In the past, mercury fulminate was used as the shock sensitive material.

As stated, the oxidant in black powder is saltpeter, aka potassium nitrate.

February 11, 2008, 09:12 PM
Potassium perchlorate has been used in percussion caps in the recent past. Lead azide also.

February 12, 2008, 10:39 PM
Ping - I just wanted a record so I could search this in the future.

February 19, 2008, 05:58 PM
I was given 2 BP revolvers about a year ago. One is a Pietta '51 Navy repro done in .44 ca; the other is an Uberti '51 Navy in the proper .36 ca. On the Pietta, the action of the cylinder is far more loose than the Uberti. The Uberti seems to be a tighter firearm re the moving parts. Both have busted the trigger bolt/sear spring very quickly. The Pietta just had the mainspring break. I've probably shot less than 500 rounds through the Pietta; about 300 thru the Uberti. The Pietta is brass frame; the Uberti is case hardened steel. The Pietta has slightly oversize grip & cylinder. I need to know what I can do (within $$$ reason) to rectify the breaking spring situation. I would like my pistols to be more reliable and sturdier if possible. I use about 20 grains of BP for the .44 load and 15-17 g for the .36. Is there someplace I can get replacement springs made of high quality material or wire to use instead of the regular ones? Also, when I load, I usually just pour the powder in (spigot is proper size on the flask per ea firearm), ram the ball in till it is properly seated & wipe a glob of Crisco or other natural lube to seal the mouth against gas leakage. Seems to work OK. Is there a real reason to use those round pre-cut wads to separate powder & ball? Any/all advice is appreciated. Also, if anyone has a Ruger Old Army that they have tired of & want to sell cheap (sorry, I'm poor!) I would be a very happy camper. I have a Traditions .50 Pennsylvania rifle that cost over $500 new if anyone has the need. It's in very good condition, has been used fairly often & shoots straight as I could wish. Have some gear (stick props, tools, etc) to go with. Looking to swap for a lever action .44-40, period correct repro. I don't have a repeater & want one. Thanx,
the black meow:D

February 19, 2008, 08:59 PM
theblackmeow -

It would be more productive if you would start your own thread or topic rather than adding messages on to other people's subjects. That way we would see right up front that you want information on a particular subject, rather than discovering it buried under some other subject. It also keeps the threads from wandering off subject, a practice known as 'hijacking' the thread.

You will find a new topic posted under the subject, "Problems with Pietta 1851 brass Navy .44) in which some of your questions are answered. I notice that you have several other questions here as well. If you'd repost this message as a new topic I'll try to answer those as well.

October 21, 2008, 10:14 AM
Wow, this is quite a bit of info. Since I am at work right now, I will have to read it tonight at home. You really put some work into this. I use to have an 1851 Navy Colt (.44) about 20 years ago. I traded it for some work a guy did for me. I just last night, order another from Cabelas. I remember they are fun to shoot and I will print off your info, if that is ok with you, and will keep it close by.
The one I ordered was with the brass on it. I know that you said in one section that it was not the best, but since I have ordered it already, do you have any advice on that?

Again, I appreciate your knowledge on this subject.

October 21, 2008, 10:31 AM
Here's a helpful current thread:

January 23, 2009, 03:47 PM
However, the two manufacturers only make a .375 inch ball for the .36 caliber. I prefer a .380-inch ball for better sealing in the chamber and improved accuracy. If you want .380 inch balls, you’ll have to cast them yourself or special-order them from a black powder supplier.

I got a Cimarron/Uberti London Navy for Christmas; today was the first day I got a chance to take it to the range, and it shoots beautifully with .375s. The cylinders measure .373, and it does shave a ring upon seating.

I'm going to go back to .454s for my .44s (whose chambers measure .451) too. Easier loading, no observed performance penalty.

January 23, 2009, 03:50 PM
If I didn't have to clean the thing, I'd shoot it all the time!:)

January 29, 2009, 09:55 PM
The only advice I can offer with brass frames is to avoid the temptation to "Magnumize" it with stout loads.
In the .36-caliber, this means a maximum of about 20 grains of powder. In the .44, consider 30 grains as maximum.
This will lessen strain on the revolver and keep it operating longer.
Brass-framed revolvers can be accurate but they cannot take the same pressures as steel-framed guns and shrug it off. The higher pressure loads are harder on them than on steel-framed guns.
Stick to mild loads and your revolver will last a long time.

January 29, 2009, 10:07 PM
I bought my '58 Remington in the summer of '73. If it had been brass-framed, I doubt that it would still be around.

Don't save pennies and waste dollars. Get the steel frame.

January 30, 2009, 07:12 AM
The only advice I can offer with brass frames is to avoid the temptation to "Magnumize" it with stout loads.
In the .36-caliber, this means a maximum of about 20 grains of powder. In the .44, consider 30 grains as maximum.
This will lessen strain on the revolver and keep it operating longer.
Brass-framed revolvers can be accurate but they cannot take the same pressures as steel-framed guns and shrug it off. The higher pressure loads are harder on them than on steel-framed guns.
Stick to mild loads and your revolver will last a long time.

I'm even more conservative with brass frame loads. I have a 35 year old Uberti brass frame 1862 Confederate Griswold & Gunnison clone. I shoot 15-18gr loads and the revolver is still tight with no indentation on the recoil shield. The same with a .36 Spiller & Burr clone.

I just bought Cabela's brass frame Colt in .44. I put some 22 and 25gr loads through it, good shooter. I sure would not go over 26-28gr.

Brass or steel frame, if you abuse them, they well let you know.

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