How often/bad were the revolving rifle chainfires?


October 1, 2006, 10:33 PM
Because I'm flipping through my 2006 Blackpowder Annual, and staring at me is a gorgeous Italian reproduction of the 1855 Colt Root revolving percussion rifle in .44. Berdan's Sharpshooters and some elements of the Wisconsin regiments carried them in the war of Southern Treason/Northern Aggression.

I knew one didn't put one's off hand in front of the cylinder when firing those rifles, but we've got oodles of cap & ball revolver shooter who somehow never manage to get a chainfire.

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4v50 Gary
October 1, 2006, 10:36 PM
The Colt Revolving Rifles were larger bore than the current production guns. I think they were .54 but don't quote me on that. Anyhow, the vast majority of Berdan Sharp Shooters hated the Colts. They were busy picking lead out from each other's faces as well as wrists and arms. It's the same spitting promblem that modern revolvers face today. Additionally, as you've mentioned, there has been chain fires and one Berdan Sharp Shooter lost some digits because of it. They were happy to exchange them for breech-loading Sharps.

October 1, 2006, 11:12 PM
As stated, cap & ball revolver shooters somehow manage not to have chainfires in their guns. With a proper Wonderwad or lube cookie over each powder charge, wouldn't I be reasonably assured of similar good fortune when shooting this big revolver?

I agree, the forcing cone may spit lead, hence both hands holding the rifle behind the triggerguard. I do that when shooting from the bench, anyway.

Or is it simply the fact that it's a huge powder charge capable of burning past even the most tenacious bullet/lube combo in adjacent chambers? I'd want a full charge regardless, to avoid sticking a bullet halfway down the barrel...

.38 Special
October 1, 2006, 11:15 PM
If one is truly worried about chain fires, one can use a wad over the powder charge and add a layer of grease over the seated ball.

Assuming then that the individual chambers are in good condition, i.e. not rusted through, it seems to me that a chain fire is highly unlikely.

4v50 Gary
October 2, 2006, 12:35 AM
Elmer Keith attributed chain-fires to loose percussion caps. I would still keep my mits behind the cylinder. No need to read about it in the papers or here on THR that someone lost some digits or their hand because of a BP revolver, rifle or otherwise.

The Colt Root Revolving Rifle is safe, if used within its limits. Keep the non-dominant hand off the forearm. Keep the powder load within the manufacturer's specifications. You'll do just fine.

BTW, I'd buy one if it was a bigger bore .56 caliber like the Berdan Sharp Shooters carried.

October 2, 2006, 08:52 AM
I know you've been around the block a time or two, Gewehr98, so I'm confident you could manage a revolving rifle without any problems. What I would be concerned about is the maker of the Root rifle reproduction. There may be others, but the only one I've seen is offered by Palmetto. In my opinion, receiving a good Palmetto would be about as likely as finding religious tolerance in the Taliban. I coveted one badly only until I saw the manufacturer. Then I got over it.


October 2, 2006, 09:48 AM
Newspapers gleefully reported shooters setting their sleeves on fire and there were reports that you could tell how long a sharpshooter had been in service by counting his remaining digits. The roots became known as "Colonel Colt's Revolving Wheel of Misfortune."
The current replica is quite pretty unfortunately, it is made by Palmetto Arms and buyers have not had much luck with them as shooters. There were a number of negative reviews on the Dixie site but they are now erased.

October 2, 2006, 10:27 AM
I've been trying to find reviews of the current Colt Root reproductions, to no avail. My Pedersoli 1874 Sharps has been an absolute delight, but evidently that doesn't mean that all Italian firearm reproductions are alike in quality and function.

So I'll stay with a pretty picture as desktop wallpaper, and maybe someday I'll see a person with burning sleeves at Lodi and strike up a conversation about their rifle. ;)

October 2, 2006, 04:21 PM
Davide Pedersoli and Company is probably the best Italian replica maker today. Their quality is about on par with modern firearms in the same price range. Even Uberti, in second place, doesn't hold a candle to them (though Uberti's cartridge guns are supposed to be extremely good). Pietta, Palmetto, and the others, well... you'd be lucky if you get one that's even made out of heat-treated steel.

October 2, 2006, 09:00 PM
In R.L.Wilson's Colt book he quotes a report by John Scoffern on revolving rifles: "Fire a revolving pistol at night; observe the escape of the lateral flame like the halo around the head of a saint. How would you like your arm to be in that burning halo of flame? Colt tells you his carbines need to be held with two hands. I tell you they cannot be held with two hands; the coat sleeve would be burned through presently....I tell you revolving full length arms are a failure."
Also, he quotes Amos Colt after a demonstration of a revolving shotgun: "It took me all the evening to pick the powder and pieces of lead out of my face."

4v50 Gary
October 2, 2006, 09:14 PM
Steve - thank you for your insights on the maker. If it was made by Colt, I'd buy it. But since it's made by Palmetto, I'd only buy it if it were cheap and even then it's for decoration. I suppose a red tag announcing it as a Hand Grenade would be necessary, but that'll invite the ATF over for a visit. :uhoh:

October 2, 2006, 10:27 PM
Considering how much closer the cylinder is to your face, would have to say that a chain fire with the revolving rifle would have the potential to be a lot worse. In well loaded guns, including correctly fitted caps as there is a train of thought that I do happen to agree with holds that chainfire can happen from that end, it's a pretty rare event. only takes once to be pretty memorable.

Considering the larger number of revovlers made with detachable shoulder stocks and the Rem. carbines, the colt doesn't look to be any more prone to this kind of thing....but I'd certainly use very good eye protection.

Have read of the Colts blowing up..basically cracking in the web between cylinders, but a lot of that can be traced to the uaility of the steel used...Colt really didn't get top quaility steel until about 1859-1860.

"Bull" seemed to like his in "El Dorado"....other than that, don't remember seeing them in any Westerns.

October 2, 2006, 10:49 PM
I too would keep both hands behind the cylinder.

October 3, 2006, 12:21 AM
Revolving rifles have an unusual reputation for chain fires. I don't understand why; the design wasn't that much different than the handguns.
I recall the govt. sold off the revolving rifles they had purchased at the end of the civil war, for 25 cents apiece. No one seemed to like them very much.
I suspect modern ones are better made than originals, but if I owned one, I absolutly would keep BOTH HANDS behind the cyleinder and wear eye protection.
I have three Palmetto revolvers. I think they are made ok, but it does irk me they DO NOT engrave their cylinders like Pietta and Uberti. Even the now defunct Armi San Marco engraved the cylinders. Pietta revolvers ARE definantly better and this is evident by the finish.
If Pietta or Uberti ever started making the Colt Roots Rifle I might invest in one but the Palmetto.... heh. Maybe if I had a hankering after I won the lottery....:scrutiny:

October 3, 2006, 04:02 AM
Revolving rifles have an unusual reputation for chain fires. I don't understand why; the design wasn't that much different than the handguns.

Probably because the effects are much worse. Probably the biggest danger in a chainfire is the possibility of a cap fragment blasting backwards towards your face, or at least a bunch of hot powder gas.

Sorta like how Glocks are the only guns that ever have case web failures, because that will usually crack the frame, whereas if it occurs in a steel-framed gun, all that usually happens is the magazine gets pushed out, and the grip panels may crack.

October 3, 2006, 12:14 PM
Neat concept, flawed execution. I also see the .44 C&B carbines based on the 1858 Remington revolvers, and would imagine they suffer from similar problems, albeit with smaller powder charges.

It's a pity, because I do have some experience with revolving carbines.

In fact, I would love to build one on a Magnum Research BFR in .444 Marlin or .45-70 Gov. :D

October 3, 2006, 02:07 PM
Did you build that?

October 3, 2006, 03:26 PM
Built by a good friend, who has since left the PRK for greener pastures, shortly after I did.

I handled the gun, it shot nicely, but wanted mine to be built on a Dan Wesson or N-Frame Smith double action, or even a single-action Freedom Arms Casull with tight cylinder gap. I did like the double action concept, 6 quick shots with the pull of the trigger, and the fact that a Thompson-Contender forend and buttstock could be sourced and modified for the task made it even more attractive.

A BFR-based revolving carbine in .45-70 still gnaws at my brain to this day, although once upon a time I witnessed a gentleman cut through his digits to the bone by wrapping them around the front of the cylinder in a .454 Raging Bull.

Leather jacket/gloves when firing big chambered revolving carbines, anybody? ;)

October 3, 2006, 05:54 PM
Geeze! Talk about not thinking... revolver = no hand past the cylinder face. Ever. :uhoh:

October 3, 2006, 09:42 PM
Geeze! Talk about not thinking... revolver = no hand past the cylinder face. Ever.

Definitely need to watch new shooters closely, if they're using a revolver. Shooting a powerful round with a piece of cardboard or paper plate or something next to the gun usually makes the point well enough, though.

October 17, 2006, 03:47 AM
I made the dumb mistake of resting my cap n ball ruger 44 over my left fore arm to steady my shot, lit my shirt slieve up and I think it impregenated cream o wheat n bp particles in my forearm, if I was to get one of them revolving rifles I might to be inclined to purchase a firemans jacket also.

October 17, 2006, 08:36 AM
I also see the .44 C&B carbines based on the 1858 Remington revolvers, and would imagine they suffer from similar problems, albeit with smaller powder charges.Nope. The Remmie carbines are designed without a foregrip for a reason, so you don't put your arm up there. You're supposed to keep both hands behind the action on the grip-stock where they belong.

October 17, 2006, 09:15 AM
It would be just too tempting to use the wooden forearm on those rifles ....and thats a dangerous place to have ones hands . I handled one at Dixie Gun Works one day .. i really liked it, felt good ..but i noticed my hands being in the wrong place is why it felt nice ... i put it down ..and left it where i found it

December 3, 2006, 10:55 PM
I thought I was the only person who believed that the BFR would make the perfect modern revolving carbine.
I purchased a 45-70 BFR just last month for this exact purpose.
My only challenge now is finding a gunsmith who will help me with the project.


December 4, 2006, 05:18 AM
My face and a few others got peppered up by a revolver spiting yesterday at the range, two lanes down. even pulled a fair size piece of lead out of my scalp last night whilst watching TV.

Doesn't stop me from wanting another one though:D

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