Looking for help


April 6, 2010, 08:15 AM
Hi everyone , first post, new to THR glad to be here. I have become somewhat confused by the unending information (and drivel) I have found on the internet. I have read over this sight and think I can get some straight answers.

I am interested in getting a black powder ball and cap revolver. Always loved the look of the 1851 Navy. Please verify or correct some of the information I have gathered.

1.) 1851 Navy originally only came in .36 caliber ( Any reason to go to .44 caliber)
2,) the brass frames will shoot loose (not sure exactly what this means) after a while even if shooting recommended loads.
3.) The lubricated muzzle pads (Cabellas) will stop chain fire by blocking sparks from entering the front anyway.
4.) A properly sized ball will stop chain fire from the front withpout the pads.
5.) Most chain fire is caused from the cap end, loose caps.
6.) Is bore lube really necessary?
7.) Clean the gun with dish soap.
8.) Any other advice from the experts.

Thanks to all who would help. After I digest the answers, I am sure I will have more questions.

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April 6, 2010, 09:42 AM
1.) 1851 Navy originally only came in .36 caliber ( Any reason to go to .44 caliber)

True. .36 calibers are known as "Navy". .44 calibers are known as "Army". If its a 1851 Navy then it is .36 caliber. No such thing as a 1851 Army unless it is in the imaginative minds of today's Pietta designers. Most people frown on those historically inaccurate .44 caliber "1851 Navies" but to each his own.

2,) the brass frames will shoot loose (not sure exactly what this means) after a while even if shooting recommended loads.

The brass could stretch over time with larger loads. Brass is a soft metal that can not handle large loads without eventual stretching. Either shoot mouse fart loads or don't buy brass. Your choice.

3.) The lubricated muzzle pads (Cabellas) will stop chain fire by blocking sparks from entering the front anyway.

They could help but if the ball is proper size/form and the firearm is made properly then the ball should seal the chamber. However, the lubricated "wads" help with keeping BP fouling soft and keep you shooting longer without stopping and cleaning the fouling.

4.) A properly sized ball will stop chain fire from the front withpout the pads.

True, and also assuming the chambers do not have any defects such as not being perfectly round.

5.) Most chain fire is caused from the cap end, loose caps.

I believe that most chain fires are caused from the cap/nipple side. Others may disagree. Most likely it is either poor fitting caps or caps that fall off while you are shooting. Just buy the right caps and install them properly....consider aftermarket precision nipples like bronze Treso nipples.

6.) Is bore lube really necessary?

Naw. Just use lubricated wads. Much easier and less messy. I don't cover the ball with bore butter, grease, crisco, or any other ridiculous things....ugh, what a mess!

7.) Clean the gun with dish soap.

Just use really hot waters and some mild detergent. I use liquid dish soap. Of course rinse well, dry well, and oil well too.

8.) Any other advice from the experts.

Watch your bank account as the addiction to BP firearms increases you will find yourself spending more and more money. :D

p.s. Welcome to the forum and the madness!

April 6, 2010, 10:12 AM
Clembert covered pretty much everything.I would only add,if you want a brass framed gun,get a Spiller and Burr.Solid frame with a top strap,about as strong a brass framed gun as they make.

April 6, 2010, 11:03 AM
Welcome to the forum.

Clembert pretty much covered your questions. Here are some suggestions.

I used a brass frame 1851 Navy for years and know others who have as well. BUT we tended to load the lightest charges that gave decent accuracy. These revolvers were just for targets and plinking. If you regularly need heavier loads for any reason, stick with a steel frame gun.

Before you buy, try to handle as many brands and models as possible if you get the chance. There is considerable difference in feel and balance among the various guns and even between the Uberti and Pietta 1860 Army. I happen to prefer the grip and balance of the Colt 1851 and 1860 models and shoot them well. Others like the feel of Remingtons with the top strap. It's all personal preference. The only way to know for sure is to handle them yourself. My Uberti 1860 Army is the nicest balanced, most naturally pointing handgun I own. The only ones I've found comperable are the S&W K-22 and K-38 Target Masterpiece.

Adjustable sights are nice and I have them on my Ruger Old Army. But you may be surprised at the accuracy of the fixed sights on both Colt and Remington C&B revolvers.

I don't know what your general shooting experience is. The pace with most BP shooting is slower and more relaxed. That pace is part of their appeal for me.

Good luck with your search.


April 6, 2010, 11:21 AM
As far as brass framed, don't let us scare you off. If you like the looks and feel, get it. I've been shooting a brass .44 Navy Knock-off Pietta in Cowboy Action for several years, using 30 grain loads. It hasn't stretched out yet. If it does I'll get another one. The only thing I don't like about it is, like the others say, it's not a replica of anything but Pietta's imagination.

BTW, it's still the only Cowboy Action gun I have that I have never missed a target with in a match, and I shoot it left handed.

I probably just jinxed myself. Next match I won't hit a thing with it.

Foto Joe
April 6, 2010, 11:24 AM
As you probably have already noticed, there are a lot of opinions on this site and the vast majority of those opinions are good ones.

I happen to be one of those folks who like the brass Colt replica's. I've got probably close to 1,000 rounds through a Pietta '51 Confederate Navy in non historically accurate .44 from Cabela's. I load it with 20 gr. 3f. Compared to a Dragoon or a Walker it might seem a little light but it shoots well.

Pick what you like and be prepared to get addicted to these things. You'll find that the Remmie guys swear by them and us Colt guys are a little bit more humble, yeah right!!

It is almost a requirement of this site though that when you do purchase one, you need to post "Gun Porn".

April 6, 2010, 11:32 AM
The 44 "Navy" is pretty, but the frame and cylinder are 44 Army parts, so why not just get an 1860 Army, if you want a 44, it's one of the prettiest revolvers ever made, and has a better, stronger loading lever setup. Get a 36 caliber in the 51, it's authentic, it's perfectly balanced and shoots fine, unless you are trying to put down heavy knockdown targets. My only issue with Piettsa's Navy is the shape of the backstrap with its un-Colt-like shape.

The frame stretch with a brass frame is because the cylinder arbor is threaded into the frame, and is pulled on sharply by every shot as the ball strikes the forcing cone and drives down the bore. Since the barrel wedge connects the barrel to the arbor. Eventually distorts the threads and can even pull the entire barrel assembly out of the frame... Most likely even a greater stress in the 44 version.

April 6, 2010, 01:36 PM
"can even pull the entire barrel assembly out of the frame... Most likely even a greater stress in the 44 version."

Yup, had that happen many years ago. I had gotten back to the truck after hunting all day and was going to shoot it empty. It was already dark, so I just aimed at a tree and pulled the trigger. I'm still not really sure what happened, other than a huge flash and BOOM. I was standing there with nothing but a grip in my hand. I never did find the cylinder or barrel. That was a new gun BTW. I didn't buy another one for a long time.:)

April 6, 2010, 04:02 PM
Welcome to the gang barksdale....get use to yer first shooter....then ..by all means....get ya a walker!! Stay happy and shoot safe.

Texas Moon
April 6, 2010, 04:21 PM
Some years back I had a CVA brass framed .44.
Over time it stretched and became a risk to shoot.
The barrel/cylinder gap became too wide and would spit really bad on discharge.
Had to retire it.
Steel frame guns are stronger.

Yes, some type of lube is necessary if you want to fire more than one cylinder. All lube really does is keep the powder fouling soft enough where it doesn't bind up the cylinder turning. It also keeps the bore from becoming crusty and deforming the bullet as it passes down the bore on firing affecting accuracy. Without lube the gun will bind up very quickly and need to be field stripped so the fouling can be cleaned off.
Even with lube you'll have to do this occasionally.

April 6, 2010, 05:56 PM
Join the crowd. I once repaired a brass frame that I advised the owner not to shoot. There was a large gap between the cylinder and the forcing cone. The recoil shield was imprinted with the cap end of the cylinder and it had, over time, caused the gap at the forcing cone. It had been shot a long time and with all the powder they could cram in and get a ball in. The cylinder pin was loose and had been braised before. Worst Ive ever seen.
I own brass frames and shoot them with about 20 grains and have no bad effects.

April 6, 2010, 08:20 PM
Thanks to all, I'll count coming here one of the right decisions in life. Mostly I do target shooting. I have a 10/22 that I am working on. Right now shoots about a quarter - fifty cent size hole at 50 yards once it settles in. Still experimenting with ammo. I am interested in BP for the same reason Bullrunbear said. A little more relaxed pace. I have an XD and I find myself going thropugh a box of ammo in no time at the range. Black powder seems the right way to go. Slow it down and make the fun last.

April 6, 2010, 08:40 PM
For the few dollars difference, get a steel frame. Brass may or may not last, through your shooting. Odds are the steel will.

As another said, handle as many as you can. you don't have to dry fire. But just working the action speaks volumes. smooth as can be is a ten, gritty, feeling like it is full of sand, and pass on it. It's a zero. I prefer top strap guns, however I own a higher number of colt facsimiles. They are all fun to shoot, some a little harder to clean or reload. Besides smooth action, make sure that there is no play in the cylinder when the hammer is cocked. The chamber should line up with the barrel. (Sometimes they are visibly off of alignment.)

There are many ideas about lube and wads. I prefer lube on top the ball to lube the bore as the ball slides through, cuts leading and leaves a thin layer of grease before the powder fouling hits it and helps keep the fouling from sticking hard to the bore. Whether there is a noticeable difference, I don't really know. In my rifle the bullet is lubed, so it slides through the bore easier. Most commercial bullets are pre-lubed. That alone seems to indicate that lube between the ball/bullet and the bore is a good thing. many many others claim it makes no difference. Whether they use wads behind the ball or even none at all.

I have seen a cylinder with the side blown off from a chain fire. A 1960's Italian Walker. But I don't know if the shooter even used black powder. (A lot of foolish folks would load any powder colored black, some weren't even that cautious. A few belt and suspender types use wads under the ball and lube on top. I can't say they are wrong. Thay ARE careful.

April 7, 2010, 02:04 AM
As usual my fellow forum members have covered your question well and all have given good advice. I can add only one bit of advice. Try a can of Ballistol for final lube after cleaning. I've been using it for about five years now and my guns love it. Use it straight as a lube and corrosion protection. Mix it with water for a good patch lube and barrel swipe between shots.

April 7, 2010, 06:54 AM
+1 to Pancho's advise on Balistol! Another tip: the .36 '51 Navy Is usually more accurate than the .44 model. The 1860 Army and the Italian .44s built on the Navy frame all share in being "over-bore" for the design. The heavier ball and powder charge of the .44 puts a lot of stress on the Colt's open top configuration. This results in considerably more barrel movement when being fired. The lighter .36 is not so bad unless you go to those made on the smaller 1849 picket pistol frame. If you want an accurate ,44 "open top" revolver get the Dragoon or Walker. They are made heavier. The "Top-strap" designs like the 1858 Remington do not have this problem. Still, the '51 Navy .36 is a sweet-shooting handgun that handles and points beautifully. Get it you won't be disappointed!

April 7, 2010, 07:14 AM
Welcome to the darkside Barksdale. Hang on to your wallet and get ready for the time of your life.

There are many techniques here, try them all then pick the ones that work for you. The only thing I'll add is look at these replicas as semi finished fire arms, many well need some minor tweaking to get the best reliability. Good shooting.

April 10, 2010, 05:12 PM
Thanks again all. The .36 caliber navy should be here next week. Kinda expensive for me to get set up. Cabellas chargeds an extra $ 50.00 for the .36 Cal. :eek: Don't know why, but I wanted that configuration. I have the balls on order and the lubricated pads. Looking for the # 10 caps in quantities of 100 locally so I don't pay shipping. The fff powder is not an issue. I remember seeing somewhere a list of empty shells and their equivalent of grains of powder. ie .380 = 15 grains or whatever. Any ideas on this? I though if I could do this (what I remember is this advice said to wrap a peice of wire around the spent shell, I was thinking of soldering a handle to the side) Too dangerous? I thought the powder flask and measurer could come later. Yes I am also looking for the Balistol locally as well. I have found that if I go into some gun shops they look at me funny. No sure if its the black powder product request or they would look at me funny anyway.;)

April 10, 2010, 06:07 PM
"Most chain fire is caused from the cap end, loose caps."

I have read this before with serious doubt. In order for this to occur the hot particles from the cap overspray would have to go 90 degrees to the side (bypassing the nipple recess of the cylinder) then 90 degrees again into the nipple orifice...down the hole and out the exit nozzle into the chamber! With the space between nipples and all that travel...if it could occur...one of the factors would be the percussion cap slag (spark) would be cooling down during it's travel and the other would be there wouldn't be enough spark to ignite the powder charge....not to mention the spark in the nipple may never find it's way into the exit nozzle! In order to ignite any powder...or any substance for that matter, you must have the proper temperature (heat) as well as duration (time) in contact with the substance you wish to ignite.
Having many years of experience in the pyrotechnic industry I have never seen black powder...FA or FG types... ignite with such little stimulus as related concerning backend ignition chain fires. CAN it happen? Anything can happen. DOES it happen? I've never heard of nor read any scientific studies to show proof of it.
Just my 2 cents worth.

April 10, 2010, 06:41 PM
Interesting, and if sparks were indeed the ignition source for a chain fire you'd be right. But, sparks don't cause chain fires, hot gas does. And hot gas will easily make it along that path you describe. And since it starts out at well over 1000 deg C it will easily retain enough heat to ignite black powder, which only requires 450 deg C.

Chain fires can happen from either end. And they do happen. All you need to do is provide an open path, regardless of geometry, to the powder and you'll get one. Perhaps this will clear up your reasoning:

April 10, 2010, 07:10 PM
"And hot gas will easily make it along that path you describe."

The gas at the rear will be diverted by the sides of the cylinder walls of the nipple recess as shown in your picture...mostly going straight up. The gas will follow the same path as the heated particles for the most part and gas will cool much faster in free air then solid particles. I have no doubts about chainfires originating at the front of the cylinder...never did.
I do question though why the hammer is at the full cock position in this picture...at the same time showing front and rear ignition!!!
In the case of black powder, over 70% of it after ignition is ejecta..only about 30% is actually useful gaseous propellant and that is quite evident in your photograph by all the spark trails and orange flame.
Your claim it is the gas being the culprit by useing this picture is not substantiated, I'm sorry to say.

April 10, 2010, 07:29 PM
It did happend at the Nationals a few years back, and after the investgation
it was determed the cause was from the back of cylinder.

April 10, 2010, 07:30 PM
Let's also not forget the nipple of the chamber we are questioning that can be ignited by ignition from the one that is being fired is covered by a percussion cap...sparks (or questionably, gas) making it's way past that is another obstacle to overcome..I stand by my orignal statement.

April 10, 2010, 07:33 PM
Who did the investigation? Where is the report?

April 10, 2010, 09:08 PM
Let's also not forget the nipple of the chamber we are questioning that can be ignited by ignition from the one that is being fired is covered by a percussion cap.

Huh, so you've never seen a percussion cap on an adjoining nipple fall off because they were ill-fitted and thus the percussion of the fired cylinder helped to knock one loose?

April 10, 2010, 09:21 PM
I would say the revolver in that pictue above is not in proper working order. Should be fixed. Blowing the hammer back like that is from to big of flash hole in nipple or weak hammer spring or both.

A gun set up properly should not blow off the spent cap.

As far as a chain fire from the rear it can happen on guns that have very little nipple clearance between the frame. Like the colt 1851. If a nipple isn't screwed all the way in, even just a little that cap can be fired by slamming into the frame when another chamber is fired. (whole cylinder moving back) There is only a couple thousands clearence between the cap and frame when loaded on the Colt.
Even a gun that is getting wore and the cylinder is moving back just a little to far will let the caps hit the frame.

April 10, 2010, 09:48 PM
The picture was taken at night with a flash camera, and it is a time exposure. It is not a chain fire event, it's a typical black powder revolver being fired in the dark; it only serves to show the hot gas cloud enveloping the cylinder - front and back.

The hammer was caught in the cocked position by the flash. The image then shows the time exposure of the gas burning; note the muzzle position moving up in recoil. The hammer is not rebounding off the cap; you can see it in the full down position faintly illuminated by the hot gas if you look very closely at the back of the cylinder.

You can also see that the back of the cylinder, as well as the front, is completely enveloped by the hot gas. The nipple chambers in the off battery positions are illuminated by the gas. That gas will find it's way through any open path to the powder in any chamber.

April 10, 2010, 10:32 PM
Ok. That makes sense about the flash catching the hammer before it hit the cap. But I still think there is to much gas preasure getting past the nipple. The hammer should seal it off better then that.
Did the spent cap blow open or off on that shot?

And just for curiosity, how do you take pictures of guns fireing?
I have seen quite a few day time shots on this site too. how do you trip the camera at just the right time the shooter pulls the triger?

Fingers McGee
April 10, 2010, 11:55 PM
The only chain fire I've ever had was from a missing cap on a charged chamber. A fellow CAS shooter was having a problem with chainfires at a CAS match - 3 of them on three stages. He was using cpas that were too big for the nipples and was having to squeeze them so they'd stay on. Changing to a tighter fitting cap stopped the chainfires.

With that said, I've been around other shooters that have had chainfires that there was no definitive reason why it occured.

Here is another picture of an 1860 Army firing in time lapse. You can see the fireball around the back of the cylinder, as well as from the barrel/cylinder gap.

IMNSHO, in order to prevent chainfires, your best insurance is a tight fitting ball and tight fitting cap.


April 11, 2010, 01:07 AM
All of the advice and warnings about the role of loose fitting caps in contributing to chain fires will never be heeded by some folks.
Maybe that's because there are so many exceptions to having experienced one that those folks think that they're somehow immune to the real possibility.
But generations of cap & ball shooters have been made aware of it for a very good reason. To put it simply it's because it is the truth.
Hopefully people personally evolve enough over time to comprehend the phenomenon before it's too late and it affects them adversely.
It's just like back when we were all kids growing up and most all of our moms used to say, "If you play with matches & fire then you're going to get burned!"
Just because some folks don't want to listen to their mom's sound advice doesn't mean that they're certain to get burned, but they still ought to heed the warning if they want to be less likely to get burned by a chain fire.
When it comes to chain fires, safety comes first and revisionism isn't an option.

April 11, 2010, 04:46 AM
Taking a pic like the one shown at night is very simple as long as your camera is capable of manually keeping it's shutter open by useing the "bulb" feature or time exposure...and you need a sturdy tripod, a cable release and flash unit. (cable release is optional but it's best to use one)
Once on the tripod and you have set the proper exposure for the flash according to the distance the subject is away from the flash unit, you trip the shutter...the flash unit will fire but the shutter will not close and while the gun is fireing you keep the shutter open until the fireing sequence is over with. Because the light from the gun fireing will be very bright you should choose a lens aperature such as f8...f11...f16 or so and have your flash unit set to be compatible with that making sure the subject is within range of that. Useing a small lens opening will also give you more depth of field and keep everything sharp as long as you focused properly.
It would be a good idea to take several pictures while bracketing the lens opening...meaning take a pic at f8...then one at f11...and so on but leaving the flash setting where it was originally. That way you have a better chance of having a correct exposure of at least one picture.
This of course applies to film cameras...digital cameras would be similar but have their differences.
The pictures shown in the book were most likely taken with a high speed camera capable of taking hundreds to thousands of frames per second....such as a slow motion camera.

April 11, 2010, 05:14 AM
What you are describing as gas is simply the glow from the sparks and flame, illuminating the smoke...the gaseous product from black powder is basically invisible.

April 11, 2010, 07:10 AM
Like arcticap said.

April 11, 2010, 08:10 AM
Chain fires from the nipples have been discussed by Sam Colt among others, it's been a problems since the first cap and ball revolvers. Manhattan Fire Arms held a patient on a devise to reduce chain fires from the nipples. There are several historical documents published on the net that discuss this.

April 11, 2010, 11:39 AM

Chain fires from the nipples have been discussed by Sam Colt among others,


Sam Colt was convinced chain firing was caused at the rear of the cylinder, not the front. His "solution was tight fitting caps. I read that one of the demonstrations he put on had him load a C&B cylinder, powder, round ball, and cap but no grease or wads. He would then submerge the cylinder in a bucket of water for 5 minutes or more, depending on the length of his sales talk, retrieve the cylinder, install it on the frame and fire off the six shots. To me, that demonstrates what a tight fitting cap and oversized ball will accomplish.

April 11, 2010, 06:09 PM
Chain fires from the nipples have been discussed by Sam Colt among others........... There are several historical documents published on the net that discuss this.
Kindly show links to these.

Mykeal...I agree with Artic also in that proper fitting caps should be used...I just have serious doubts about ignitions from the rear when firing a properly loaded revolver that is in good repair. I didn't say it can't happen...I mentioned anything can happen in one post. One would think, after all these years though, there would be a modern scientific report somewhere, supporting or disproving, rear ignition chain fires. To date, I have not come across one.
I have an extensive library of the greatest pyrotechnic minds in history including Weingart, Lancaster, Shimizu, and many technical reports and treaties I refer to when developing pyrotechnic experiments and products and have never seen anything that supports this theory unless the proper procedures/precautions haven't been taken.

April 11, 2010, 09:57 PM
I experienced a multiple ignition three times back in the 1970s.
It was with a cheap, brass-framed .44 in 1851 Navy pattern. Type and caliber don't matter, but I mention it so someone doesn't ask.

My load at that time was with DuPont FFFG powder, .451 ball, Remington No. 11 cap and Crisco over the ball.
The third incident ruined the revolver. I gave it to a gunsmith for parts.

Later, I began using oversized balls, greased felt wads and pinched the caps into an elliptical shape so they clung to the nipple better.
Since adopting these practices in the early 1980s, I've never experienced another multiple ignition. Perhaps it was the cheaply made revolver I started with, or perhaps my use of larger balls, greased felt wad and pinched caps eliminated the problem.
I can't say.

But I've never been one to believe that the wrong chamber gets ignited from the front. I believe it starts at the back, from a cap loosened or knocked off from recoil.
I believe that loose or ill-fitting caps are the problem.

As for your first purchase, buy a steel frame. In my experience, brass-framed revolvers are not as well made as their steel-framed counterparts. It would seem that their fit and finish is sacrificed at the factory, but the brass is made to gleam to catch the unaware buyer's eye.
Yes, I have seen very well made brass-framed revolvers, and I've seen poorly made steel-framed guns, but anymore they are the exception and not the rule.
For a newcomer, I'd suggest a .44 caliber so you can easily purchase oversized balls of .454 and .457 inch. Forget the advice to use .451 inch balls, the larger ball not only seals better but tends to be more accurate.
This, I believe, is due to the wider bearing band created by the larger ball, which gives more of an area for the rifling to grip.
I posted this theory more than 10 years ago on internets. I had never seen it discussed before, or noted. Now, many post it as gospel and say it's proven.
I have yet to see a study proving it, but it's my belief and educated guess.
All I know is that my revolvers tend to shoot more accurately with the larger balls. I use .454 and .457 inch in all my .44s, and .380 inch in my .36s.

I've been shooting cap and ball revolvers since about 1970. Learned a few things along the way but it tooks years of trial and error to get there. And i'm still learning.

April 11, 2010, 10:45 PM
These black powder revolvers should not blow back from the nipples.

To do so the hammer has to be blowing back off of the nipple for a fraction of a second. This breaks the seal of the cap on the nipple. And either blowing the spent cap clear off the nipple or blowing it open depending on how far the hammer went back.

A properly made gun should not let this happen.
The cap should stay pressed on the nipple while firing. And it's not how tight the cap was on the nipple doing this, it is only the ability of the hammer to hold it on the nipple. If the flash hole was to big the hammer spring has to be heaver. And or lighter loads.

for sure you don't want a unfired cap to fall off before it is fired so they must fit the nipple to stop that.

I enlarged the second and third frame of the time lap picture of a revolver igniteing. As you can see in the second frame the hammer is being blown back. The third frame it is sitting back on the nipple. When that hammer flew back that ruined the cap seal causing the flash from the nipple. There should not be a flash there. Or a very small one if any. In that picture there is a full gas force comming from the nipple hole which is what blew the hammer back. To big of load, to big of flash hole or weak hammer spring or all three.


April 11, 2010, 11:14 PM
I forgot to mention that the hammer fit in the gun can also cause the cap to not seal. If the cylinder gap gets to large for the way the hammer was originally fitted then the hammer can't hold the cap seal tight.

A well made gun has a hammer that stops just short of touching the nipple with out a cap on it. This is with the cylinder pushed ahead. But will ignite the cap and hold the cap tight to the nipple when the charge is ignited.

April 12, 2010, 07:00 AM
I agree...the hammer should not blow back off the capped nipple during ignition. If it does...as mentioned by RodDoc...something is wrong.

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