The Truth About Triple 7?


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rodwha
December 9, 2012, 08:44 AM
So I've been looking for accounts of max loads of Triple 7 needing to be reduced for safety, and don't find that on Hogdgon's site, nor get any real answers from those claiming it is a must.

What it does actually say about the reduction of load is to replicate a BP load, and as far as safety what it says is:

But a fellow on another forum and I were talking about 4F in cap n ball revolvers, which lead to the use of T7. He pointed me to this:


Gunpowder Grades and Percussion Revolver Performance
by
Greg Nelson
The Percussion Revolver Yahoo Group

For those interested in useful information over historical details, I will get straight to the point. Gunpowder grades have enormous impact on percussion revolver performance. For example, 30 grains of GOEX FFg under an Army Revolver's 0.454" round ball will have lower velocity than 30 grains of GOEX FFFg; 30 grains of GOEX FFFg will have lower velocity than the 30 Grains of FFFg Swiss Black Powder. The difference in Swiss and GOEX is that Swiss is a Sporting Grade black powder, while GOEX is a Rifle Grade black powder. The lowest grade of black powder performance is Musket Grade, (also called Government Powder). Rifle Grade black powder has a faster combustion than Musket Grade, and Sporting grade has a faster combustion rate than Rifle Grade black powder.

There was a special grade of Sporting black powder that disappeared in the mid-1870's, and it is critical to our knowledge of the true capability of percussion revolvers. It was called "Revolver Powder" in the 1850 to 1875 era, and its formulation was for the percussion revolver's unique combustion characteristics.

Percussion revolvers are capable of excellent ballistic power, IF used with black powders and substitutes that can perform at the level of a 19th Century "Revolver Powder". My testing shows that Hodgdon 777 FFFg performs close to the level of a 19th Century "Revolver Powder". That is the "Three F-G" 777, not the "Two F-G" 777. The Hodgdon 777 brochure recommends using 777 FFg in cartridges, and does not list 777 FFFg as a powder for cartridge use, so the Hodgdon 777 FFFg formulation is clearly very potent.

In recent tests of an Uberti Remington Army percussion revolver, only 23 grains of a Swiss Black Powder roughly equivalent to "Revolver Powder" launched a 216-grain conical bullet at 940 fps. That performance approaches the power level of a 45 ACP +P load. The 23-grain charge was chosen because it was common in original combustible cartridges using bullets in the 210-grain range. The Swiss "Revolver Powder" equivalent actually outperforms Hodgdon 777 FFFg by a small margin.

The recent Remington tests, using Swiss Black Powder and 777 FFFg, demonstrated high conical velocities with relatively small powder charges. It seems very likely, that when properly loaded, the Army .44 revolvers could probably kill a grizzly with one or two properly placed shots, as reported by eyewitness Captain Randolph Marcy
in his book THE PRAIRIE TRAVELER published in 1859.

There is the useful information. What follows are the historical details.

When I first began shooting percussion revolvers back in 1972, the only black powders available were DuPont and Curtis & Harvey. Pyrodex production was still several years
in the future. The 1970's Gun Press reported that Curtis & Harvey was fairly consistent but DuPont outperformed it charge-for-charge.

My first percussion revolver was a Ruger Old Army. I quickly acquired a Lee 2-cavity mould # 456-220-1R, casting a 220-grain round-nose conical. I cast my first batch of conicals and eagerly began testing them for accuracy and power.

I soon discovered that Curtis & Harvey FFFg was lacking in performance. With a 30-grain charge the 220-grain, Lee conical would barely penetrate two 2X4's. A 45 ACP 230 grain FMJ from a Colt 1911 Government Model would easily penetrate three
2X4's. I was very disappointed in the Ruger's performance. At the time, I assumed that percussion revolvers were very underpowered compared to modern ammunition.

In 1975, I bought the LYMAN BLACK POWDER HANDBOOK. The ballistics data listed in LBPHB for the Ruger Old Army and the .44 Army revolvers revealed very anemic performance. GOEX and Curtis & Harvey 33 grain charges of FFFg gave velocities of only 780 fps and 709 fps respectively, to a lightweight 190-grain conical bullet. The .44 Army revolvers were a bit better. Using a lightweight conical of only 155 grains, a 28-grain charge of FFFg, gave 861 fps with GOEX, and 785 fps with Curtis and Harvey, as listed on page 77 of LBPHB.

Eyewitness reports from the Western Frontier and the American Civil War clearly indicated that the percussion revolvers were accurate, deadly and powerful handguns, capable of easily killing large animals such as horses and grizzlies. In his classic book SIXGUNS, Elmer Keith wrote of percussion sixguns killing grizzly bears and buffalo, and talked impressively of the accuracy and good stopping power of the Colt Navy revolvers at close range with the pure lead round ball over a full powder charge.

Based on my mid-1970's percussion revolver tests, and the tests of Lyman and the articles of numerous gun writers of the 1970's, it was hard to believe the actual historical reports of percussion revolver performance. The amazing stories I had read from history, the stories of buffalo killed, and of cavalry horses dropped with the percussion sixgun, were all apparently simply tall tales, and did not seem possible. Either the eyewitness reports from the past were lies, or we were doing something wrong in our loading of these 19th Century weapons in the late 20th Century.

It turns out that we were doing something wrong. First, we were loading black powder inferior in grade-for-grade performance to the excellent black powders available in the middle of the 19th Century. In addition, we were also missing a special high-performance grade of black powder available in the 19th century called "Revolver Powder", and also known by the names of "Cartridge Powder" or "Number One Pistol Powder". "Revolver Powder" formulation was for the unique combustion requirements of the percussion revolver, particularly in combustible cartridge use.


American Powder, Hazard Powder, Laflin & Rand, and other American gunpowder producers of that era produced "Revolver Powder". Such "Revolver Powders" were originally available from roughly 1850 to 1875. From the mid-1870's onward, black powder formulations were for metallic cartridge use, so the production of "Revolver Powder" apparently tailed off or ended at around that time.

The information concerning "Revolver Powder" revealed itself as I was researching the ammunition actually used in the active percussion revolver era of roughly 1847 to 1875.
I will detail this research in later articles for those of you interested in the actual details concerning "Revolver Powder" and the manufacture of that black powder grade. Listed at this article's end are several references, for those interested in further details.

In the article immediately to follow, I will be testing Uberti's new 2007 production of the Remington New Model Army, and the tests will include a Swiss black powder that is very close to 19th Century "Revolver Powder, and actually outperforms the Hodgdon 777 FFFg recommended earlier, using identical powder charges measured volumetrically.

In the article to follow the Uberti Remington test, I will compare modern black powders and substitutes to 19th Century gunpowder. That article will clearly demonstrate what revolver-grade black powder is, and explain why. That article will also go somewhat against modern thinking and "Expert Advice" concerning the loading of percussion revolvers. However, the written and pictorial evidence from the 19th century concerning revolver-grade black powder clearly demonstrates what it is, regardless of the thinking of the "Experts" of today.



REFERENCES
(ABHBP)A BRIEF HISTORY OF BLACK POWDER PRODUCTION
William Knight (2003) Short paper on technical description of gunpowder grades, available at "thunder-ridge-muzzleloading.com"; at home page bottom, click on "All you'd probably want to know about black powder"

(AMCA) AMERICAN MANUFACTURERS of COMBUSTIBLE AMMUNITION
Terry A. White (2002) [Pgs 75-108]

(CCF)COLT Company Flyer, dated "January 1, 1858"; [Ray Riling research reprint]

HODGDON 777 (2002); Hodgdon company brochure
[Loading Notes: Cartridges]

(LBPHB) LYMAN BLACK POWDER HANDBOOK
C. Kenneth Ramage, editor (1975)[Pgs 70-81]

(PAP) PERCUSSION AMMUNITION PACKETS 1845-1888
John J Malloy; Dean S. Thomas; Terry A. White (2003)[Chap 1,3,4; Apdx C]



(RBRF) ROUND BALL to RIMFIRE, Part 3 (Federal Pistols & Revolvers)
Dean S. Thomas (2003) [Chapters 1 through 4]

(SXGNS) SIXGUNS
Elmer Keith (1961) [Chaps 1 & 10]

(TG) THE GUN
W. W. Greener (1974 Bonanza reprint of original 1910 edition)
[Chap 22; black powder granulation picture on pg 552 very enlightening]

(TPT) THE PRAIRIE TRAVELER
Captain Randolph B. Marcy (Reprint of the 1859 Edition)

I found this here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thepercussionrevolver/files/General%20Info/Black%20Powder%20%26%20Substitutes/Revolver%20Gunpowder/

I see manufacturers such as Uberti claiming not to use any other sub but Pyrodex. And I have to wonder about it. On one hand they claim their guns are better built than the originals, yet claim they shouldn't be used at all with a 15% more powerful powder.

I figure it has a lot to do with being liable, yet I feel it a bit foolish to just disregard their warnings.

So what do you think about this?

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brushhippie
December 9, 2012, 08:53 AM
Triple 7 loads should be reduced by 15% the way I understand it.

rodwha
December 9, 2012, 09:11 AM
This is what they have to say about safety:

"The owner's manual for your firearm should specify a maximum allowable load. Under no circumstances should this maximum be exceeded."

And this is what they say about reducing the load"

"Triple Seven is a high energy product designed to provide the muzzleloading hunter with higher velocities when used in the same VOLUME as blackpowder. To duplicate a blackpowder load velocity using Triple Seven, you must decrease the powder charge by 15%."

I've seen it said that you must reduce the charge for safety, but it's not what Hogdgon's actually says. I can't seem to find anything, other than people's opinion, that you must reduce the max charge for safety.

brushhippie
December 9, 2012, 09:17 AM
It does not say on the container to reduce the loads...I guess I heard it by word of mouth (so to speak). I know 50 grains of 777 IS too much for a Walker.

rodwha
December 9, 2012, 09:18 AM
Swiss is more powerful the Goex, yet nobody says it needs to be reduced. Not that the pressures are similar to T7 when ignited, but Swiss is certainly more energetic than Goex. And T7 isn't that far off from Goex if all that's needed is a 15% reduction.

DurangoKid
December 9, 2012, 09:35 AM
A very outstanding post. I use heavy loads of T 7 in the Rogers & Spencer and ROAs. In the ROA I shoot a load of 30/T7 under a 260 grs. .452 Alox tumble lubed bullet. This load poured from WW alloy gives a velocity of 840 FPS. It would be a "Horse Killer".

brushhippie
December 9, 2012, 09:44 AM
I thought I had read that triple is sugar based instead of charcoal..

What is the Difference between Black, Pyrodex, Triple Seven, and Smokeless Powders?

By Randy Wakeman


That is a question that often comes up at this time of year, and understandably so. Though classified by the DOT as smokeless propellants, most muzzleloaders can be safely fired with black powder, Pyrodex, Triple Seven, Black Mag3, Pyrodex pellets, and Triple Seven Pellets. Only the Savage 10ML-II was designed to be used with all of these propellants, just like other muzzleloaders, plus certain recommended nitrocellulose (smokeless) powders. Smokeless powders are non-corrosive, offer less recoil, and leave very little residue. Here is a quick look at the basics.

Black powder is an old propellant, formed from a blend of natural ingredients: sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal. Classified as an explosive, few muzzleloaders use true black powder these days because of limited availability. The energy produced by black powder in small arms use varies by manufacturer. "Swiss" black powder, for example, is considered a hotter propellant than "Goex" brand.

Black powder, Pyrodex, Black Mag3, and Triple Seven loose powder are all in the category of deflagrating powders. "Deflagrating" is just a fancy way of saying "fast-burning." These powders burn just as fast as they can as long as they can. Their grain size controls the burn rate. FFFF black powder is very, very easy to ignite; that is why the common application is as pan powder for flintlocks. FFF black powder is used often in .45 caliber or smaller bore muzzleloaders and sidelocks, FF is the standard for .50 caliber inline muzzleloaders. The "F" designation is just the screen size used in manufacture and the resultant grain size (coarseness).

In black powder the fuel is carbon; we are just burning charcoal. Black powder is horribly inefficient, as only about 50% of its mass turns into gas. The rest is solid residue that is forced out the muzzle as white smoke or left in the bore as corrosive fouling crud.

Pyrodex is the most common "black powder substitute." It is really the only synthetic black powder "performance" substitute in common use. By performance substitute, I refer to a charge of loose powder measure by volume. A 100 grain volumetric charge of Pyrodex RS (Rifle/Shotgun) is very close in performance to Goex FFg black powder.

There are differences, though, and this is where things get a bit convoluted. Pyrodex is bulkier, another way of saying "less dense." By weight, it is more powerful than Goex black powder. But, the traditional method of measuring black powder is indeed by volume, so in that sense it is a black powder performance substitute.

By actual weight, it is not the same. 100 grains measured by volume of Goex FFg is about 101.3 grains by weight. 100 grains measured by volume of Pyrodex RS is about 72.5 grains by weight. Pyrodex is where confusion can start to set in, as the standard "F" designations of powder coarseness start to go out the window.

Pyrodex "Select," formulated for use in muzzleloading rifles, is touted as an "extremely consistent" grade of Pyrodex, and has the largest grain size of them all. It is even farther away from black powder by actual weight; 100 grains volumetric equals about 63.9 grains by actual weight.

Pyrodex, though man-made and with a variety of additives, still has sulfur in it and is corrosive. It is classified as a smokeless powder by the DOT, and bears little resemblance to traditional black powder in actual weight or grain size. It is a bit harder to ignite than black powder, and is safer to handle, use, and store due to this fact. It is also not as impact-sensitive as is true black powder. Pyrodex is not classified as an explosive as is black powder, and is sold at many chain stores due to this fact.

Triple Seven, Black Mag3, and Goex Clear Shot get us into an area where the muzzleloading industry has drifted into double-talk, sidestepping, and confusion. These propellants have nothing in common with true black powder at all; chemically, neither sulfur nor charcoal is present. They are still carbon-burning propellants, though, of the deflagrating (fast-burning) type. They are measured volumetrically, but only Goex Clear Shot can be considered a black powder performance substitute.

Triple Seven and Black Mag3 are far hotter (or more energetic) than good old black powder, and produce higher velocities and pressures. Still burning carbon, the carbon-based fuel burned here is from the sugar family, not from wood (charcoal). These propellants are actually far more modern than nitrocellulose based powders. Triple Seven and Black Mag3 only become available in the 21st Century.

Referring to Triple Seven and Black Mag3, the only thing that they have in common with black powder is they can be volumetrically measured with old black powder measures. They are not as corrosive as black powder (Black Mag3 claims to be non-corrosive), have little in common chemically, and produce more pressure, heat, and velocity than black powder. They are considered smokeless powder by the DOT, and should be used with caution in older muzzleloaders, as there is no way that 100 grains volumetric charge of Triple Seven or Black Mag3 can be considered "the same" as traditional black powder. They are still relatively inefficient propellants, leaving behind close to 50% of their mass as non-combusted, solid residue.

Referring to Triple Seven, that 50% unburned material is substantially less fouling than black powder for the simple reason that a 100 grain volumetric charge of Triple Seven, though it produces more energy than black powder, is far less by actual weight. More directly stated, you still have about 50% of the garbage left, but you start with less garbage to burn in the first place.




Well this tells you what the differences are, dont know that it answers any questions. interesting read

ivankerley
December 9, 2012, 12:29 PM
i had some given to me, havent shot it, will do in the spring but i'd read up on it and hodgens says to adjust the load.
Gene
4th paragraph down has a big red warning next to it
http://www.hodgdon.com/loading.html

72coupe
December 9, 2012, 03:36 PM
I started shooting blackpowder in 1967. I could only get Elephant brand and DuPont powders.

I could tell by the recoil of my Colt clones that the DuPont was more powerful than Elephant Brand.

I am currently using 777 in the 3F granulation and I like it very much.

Especially in this little gun.
http://i203.photobucket.com/albums/aa170/72coupe/FLOOD015.jpg

mykeal
December 9, 2012, 04:01 PM
Your Yahoo Groups link is unusable unless you have a Yahoo password.

Nelson's treatise is interesting but of little practical use.
tests will include a Swiss black powder that is very close to 19th Century "Revolver Powder, and actually outperforms the Hodgdon 777 FFFg recommended earlier, using identical powder charges measured volumetrically
What Swiss version is equivalent to "Revolver Powder"?

I've seen it said that you must reduce the charge for safety, but it's not what Hogdgon's actually says. I can't seem to find anything, other than people's opinion, that you must reduce the max charge for safety.
I suspect the reason you can't find anything about reducing 777 loads for safety is because, as I've said a number of times before, it isn't true.

72coupe
December 9, 2012, 04:59 PM
I have read this warning as: To get the equivelant black powder charge reduce 777 weight by 15%.

Which doesn't seem like a warning at all but a way to reproduce a blackpowder charge.

Or am I miss reading it?

rodwha
December 9, 2012, 06:11 PM
That is precisely what it says. It says to reduce by 15% to replicate the performance of BP. Nowhere does it say for safety.

And the warning it gives, if you look further down where the explanation is doesn't have anything to do with reducing a max charge for safety.

In fact what it says in the beginning is not to exceed your manufacturers max charge.

"The owner's manual for your firearm should specify a maximum allowable load. Under no circumstances should this maximum be exceeded."

none of them specifies what the charge is if using Triple 7, though some, such as Uberti, claim not to use anything other than BP or Pyrodex, but also claim their guns are built stronger and better than the originals were.

MCgunner
December 9, 2012, 06:19 PM
I reduce 777 loads either for accuracy or in reverence to a brass frame's lack of strength. But, my ROA ain't gonna blow up and is accurate with a full charge under a 220 conical, accurate enough for hunting to 50 yards.

I mostly shoot pyrodex in my Navy brasser .44 caliber (okay, fake Navy) and my steel framed Remmy. Full charges in those guns lack accuracy and the Navy shouldn't exceed 25 grain equi. of Pyrodex due to the material of construction. I actually shoot 21 grains in it with cornmeal filler and a round ball. 30 grains Pyrodex under a .454" round ball in the Pietta 5.5" Remmy is pretty impressive for accuracy. I figure I gotta HIT what I'm shootin' at, first. :D

brushhippie
December 9, 2012, 06:22 PM
I think the reason they say that is about weight/density.

arcticap
December 9, 2012, 06:37 PM
28 Grain Pyrodex P 966
28 Grain Goex FFFG 795
28 Grain Swiss FFFG 959
35 Grain Swiss FFFG 1089
40 Grains Swiss FFFG 1104
40 Grains Pyrodex P 1125
.454 ball- Uberti 58

http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=193394&highlight=velocity



According to these velocity results, if Swiss is like the old revolver powder then Pyrodex P is capable of performing like the old revolver powder too.
We're lucky to have such a good product that's so widely available and also made in the USA.
And I imagine that with some well placed shots, a grizzly bear could also be killed using a C&B revolver loaded with Pyrodex P.
I guess that it would be best if the shots hit it in the skull. :)

Logan5579
December 10, 2012, 04:07 PM
Brushhippie, fascinating article by Randy Wakeman! Thanks for posting.
Rodwha, as far as reduced loads of 777 and safety go, the literature does speak about replicating BP loads as you already posted. Having shot 777 in the past, I don't think you're in any danger loading 30gr/vol of 777 if you've been shooting 30gr/vol of goex (just as example) you'll just get a bit more oomph! My personal preference though is for pyrodex, cheaper than 777 around here and its more consistent both with ignition and velocity for the way I load my gun. When I was younger I fired some pretty heavy charges of 777 out of my Remmie, just because I had to try it for myself to see what would happen, but I didn't blow the gun up or set the county on fire or anything...no worse for wear, but I'd say when shooting targets using a lighter load saves powder.

brushhippie
December 10, 2012, 04:46 PM
I saw an episode of how its made recently and they said the manufacture (they didnt say who it was) test fires each revolver at pressures three times what they recommend, this was a SAA style revolver but I assume they test all models in the same fashion. You can damage the frame or batter the recoil shield (Colt), but I really dont think you can blow one up unless you load it with smokeless or the like.

rodwha
February 27, 2013, 12:56 PM
Here is another article by the same guy:

"REVOLVER GUNPOWDER
of the
Percussion Revolver Era

By
Greg Nelson
The Percussion Revolver Yahoo Group

NOTE: Photos referred to in this article are in the PHOTO section folder entitled "Revolver Gunpowder". Capital letters enclosed in parenthesis (BHBP) refer to a reference in the REFERENCE section at this article's end.

Gunpowder, today commonly called "black powder", has seen documented use as a firearms propellant since the 14th Century. It is a mechanical mix of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur, mixed in approximate proportions respectively, of 75%, 15% and 10%... Gunpowder's burn rate is controlled by particle size (granulation) and by the grade of powder. Powder grades used as firearms propellants are, from fastest burn rate to slowest, Sporting-grade gunpowder, Rifle-grade gunpowder and Musket-grade gunpowder. The peak of gunpowder quantity and quality occurred from 1850 to 1890, particularly in the United States. All three grades of gunpowder were available to shooters of that era. (BHBP).

From the 1950's to 2000, the quality of gunpowder available to muzzle loading shooters was not very good. DuPont (GOEX after 1975), was the primary gunpowder available, and its performance fell between Musket-grade and Rifle-grade. In the mid-to-late 1990's, while moving operations to Louisiana, GOEX gunpowder performance actually fell to roughly Musket-grade. Around the year 2000, Swiss Black Powder arrived in the United States. For the first time in more than 100 years, Americans could fire true Sporting-grade gunpowder with the newly available Swiss Black Powder!

Sporting-Grade gunpowder is made by using special Alder-wood charcoal, and by extra milling time, which reduces the charcoal to very fine particles for the fastest burn rate possible with black powder. (BHBP). In the 1850's, using Sporting-grade gunpowder, muzzle-loading target rifles in the .38 to .45 caliber range, firing picket bullets patched with paper or cloth, produced muzzle velocities approaching 2000 FPS (feet-per-second). The accuracy of these "40-Rod" picket rifles at 220 yards (40 rods distance) is amazing, with 10-shot strings often grouping 1 inch or even less!

The peak years of gunpowder quality happened to coincide with the golden age of the percussion revolver. The revolver, like the 40 Rod picket rifles, benefited enormously from the premium gunpowder then available.

The large, heavy Colt Dragoon, weighing in at an impressive 4 pounds 2 ounces, was the primary .44 revolver available from 1847 to 1858. The large Dragoon cylinder had chambers capable of handling 40 grains of rifle-grade gunpowder under the 220-grain conical cast by the brass mould sold with the revolver. When fully loaded with common, rifle-grade gunpowder, the Dragoon could produce velocities over 950 FPS (feet-per-second) with the 220-grain conical. This is the power level of a modern 45 ACP +P load. Moving at over 950 FPS the 220-grain 0.455" conical would penetrate around 6 inches of pine. That penetration depth is well beyond the minimum 4.5-inch pine penetration requirement for pistols established by the U. S. Ordnance Department in the days of the single shot .54 caliber pistols firing a patched-round-ball. (NOTE : See the informative article in the January 2005 AMERICAN HANDGUNNER (AH1-05); author Mike Venturino tested the pine penetration levels of various cartridges as well as percussion revolvers using round balls.)

In a test documented in Colt's January, 1858 company flyer (CCF), the U. S. Ordnance Department had actually achieved 7 inches of pine penetration firing the Colt Dragoon. That level of pine penetration would require the Dragoon 220-grain conical to travel at a velocity of around 1100 FPS. Until recently, many knowledgeable firearms enthusiasts would have scoffed at the mere suggestion that a percussion revolver was capable of velocities much beyond 700 FPS. However in their excellent book, PERCUSSION PISTOLS AND REVOLVERS (2005) (PP&R), on page 88, authors Mike Cumpston and Johnny Bates actually chronographed 1100 FPS conical velocity levels from a Uberti replica of the Colt 3rd Model Dragoon. Forty grains of 1997 GOEX FFFg, is not capable of that kind of performance, but 40 grains of Swiss FFFg Sporting-grade gunpowder is! Percussion revolver performance is all about the quality of the gunpowder loaded.

High-performance gunpowder made especially for revolvers arrived around 1855 with Colt's first production attempts at revolver cartridges using tinfoil as the powder envelope. Colt's tinfoil cartridges were too trouble-prone to achieve popularity. Colt's switch to combustible paper powder envelopes around late 1857, made the new "combustible cartridges" practical, and instantly successful. The manufacture of revolver combustible cartridges, in particular, demanded high-performance gunpowder capable of producing excellent power with minimum charges in order to keep fouling low.

This new gunpowder formulation allowed .44 Army revolvers loaded with 40% smaller powder charges to achieve similar velocity and penetration levels that required full-chamber loads of rifle-grade gunpowder in the Colt Dragoon. With smaller gunpowder charges able to provide similar performance, the massive cylinders and deep chambers of the Colt Dragoons were no longer required. The newer .44 Army revolvers could be made similar in size and weight to the popular .36 caliber Navy revolvers, yet provide practically the same hard-hitting power for which the big Colt Dragoons had achieved worldwide renown.

The period from 1858 to 1864, saw the new .44 caliber "Army" revolvers reduced considerably in size compared with the Dragoon .44's that had preceded them. By 1860, the Colt, Remington and Starr .44 Army revolvers each weighed less than 3 pounds and the average chamber depth had reduced to the capacity of roughly 28 grains maximum powder charge under a 0.455" 220-grain conical bullet. Colt advertised the size reduction as being due to use of "Superior Steel".

Use of "Superior Steel" of course, was only part of the story in the size reduction of the .44 Army revolvers. The new high performance gunpowder, made for revolvers was the real reason for size reduction and "Superior Steel".

The new powder for revolvers was at first called "Cartridge Powder", due to its initial use for revolver combustible cartridges. Using "Cartridge Powder", a charge of only 25 grains would move a 220-grain conical close to velocities requiring 40 grains of rifle-grade gunpowder in the Colt Dragoon. The use of a smaller charge of gunpowder for the same performance, also gave the advantage of less fouling, so that a revolver could be fired more often until disabled by fouling buildup.

In 1855, at the time Colt's Cartridge Works began operation, Samuel Colt and Colonel Augustus Hazard were well acquainted. Colonel Hazard was the owner of Hazard Powder Company, so it is no coincidence that Colt's Cartridge packets are all marked "Made with Hazard's Powder", as shown on the Dragoon combustible packet illustrated in Photo "A". It seems likely and probable, that Hazard Powder Company was the originator of a "Cartridge Powder" formulated for best performance in revolvers. The early 1860's packet of D. C. Sage .44 Army Combustibles illustrated in Photo "B" are marked "Made of Hazard's First Quality Cartridge Powder".

In AMERICAN MANUFACTURERS of COMBUSTIBLE AMMUNITION (AMCA), author Terry White discovered the gunpowder type "Number 1 Pistol Powder" in the records of H. W. Mason. Both Hazard Powder and American Powder Company supplied this gunpowder type to Mason's combustible cartridge shop. Illustrated in Photo "C" is a .44 Army combustible packet made by H. W. Mason marked "Made with Hazard's Powder". Hazard's "First Quality Cartridge Powder" and "Number 1 Pistol Powder" are trade names for the generic powder type clearly identified as "Revolver Powder" in "THE GUN" (TG) by author W. W. Greener.

Knowing that a special "Revolver Powder" existed for percussion revolvers, and even knowing all the names for that special powder still does not describe what it is and how it differs from the familiar FFFg and FFg powders, for those of us in the 21st Century rediscovering the percussion revolver. Lucky for us, however, in the last half of the 19th Century, Major John Symington at the Allegheny Arsenal near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dissected and test fired some of Colt's revolver combustibles and wrote a very clear description of "Revolver Powder". W.W. Greener went even further, and provided an illustration of gunpowder granulations in his book "THE GUN"! Pictured among those granulations is a grade marked "Revolver Powder" and it precisely matches the written description of Major Symington.

Major Symington's written description of the Hazard Powder used in Colt's combustible cartridges is quoted from pages 5 and 7 of "ROUND BALL to RIMFIRE, PART 3" (RBRF3), and is from reports written to Chief of Ordnance Colonel Henry K. Craig in June 1860.

Major Symington describes Colt's combustibles as, "The larger bullet was .456 in. diameter, and weighed 230 grains; the charge of powder weighed 20 grains. The small bullet was .383 in. diameter, and weighed 120 grains; the powder charge weighed 12 grains. The powder of both sizes of cartridges was of very fine grain called sporting powder, manufactured specially for these arms...."

After test firing Colt's combustibles, Major Symington reported, "The severity of shock [recoil] was due to the rapid combustion of such fine grained powder, particularly noted in Colt's cartridges, the powder of which is of special make.....'.

On page 552 of "THE GUN" (TG), the powder granulation illustration (Photo "D") shows "Revolver Powder" to be very fine grained exactly as Major Symington described the Hazard gunpowder used in Colt's combustible cartridges. The Hazard Powder described by Major Symington, and the "Revolver Powder" illustrated in THE GUN, is practically identical to FFFFg granulation today.

Original Colt revolver nipples are illustrated in Photo E. In Photo F, modern Uberti revolver nipples are pictured. Notice how tiny the flash holes are on the original Colt nipples compared to the much larger flash holes of the modern Uberti nipples. Very fine-grained gunpowder can be loaded without dribbling through the tiny flash holes of the original Colt nipples. The much larger diameter flash hole of the modern Uberti nipples allows very fine-grained gunpowder to dribble through the nipple. This dribble through of powder creates a danger of chain-fire, which is one of the two dangers of using FFFFg in a percussion revolver that will be addressed later in this article.

The charge of 20 grains under a 230-grain bullet sounds very underpowered to those of us accustomed to firing low-performance modern-made gunpowder in the years of the 1970's through 1990's. However, the low powder charge described by Major Symington apparently generated excellent performance, because the Major commented on the sharp shock [recoil] of the Colt combustible cartridges in particular! Sharper recoil equals higher velocity, as stated by Newton's Third Law of Motion, where every action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction.

In the section on "Black Powder" in UNDERSTANDING FIREARMS BALLISTICS (UFB), author Robert A. Rinker's clear explanation of gunpowder characteristics, clarifies the Hazard Powder Company decision to provide FFFFg sporting-grade gunpowder for revolver use. "Experience and experimentation taught early gunners that particle size controlled the speed of combustion...............FFFFg was the smallest particle with the fastest burn rate and is used mainly in handguns." (UFB, page 23).

With a bit of thought, it becomes clear why the short chambers of a revolver's rotating breech would require a special powder capable of rapid combustion. Obviously, coarse-grained musket and rifle-grade gunpowders designed for use in barrel lengths of 30 inches and longer are not going to perform efficiently in a combustion chamber averaging a bit over an inch in length. With that bit of reasoning in mind, the Hazard Powder Company decision that very fine grain (FFFFg) gunpowder was best suited to the percussion revolver's combustion dynamics makes a lot of sense.

Hazard Powder Company's "Revolver Powder" was a fast-combusting FFFFg made from high performance Sporting-grade gunpowder, providing the most power possible from a given charge of gunpowder! This very potent Hazard "Number 1 Pistol Powder" is precisely the "First Quality Cartridge Powder" Hazard provided to Colt, D.C. Sage, H. W. Mason and other manufacturers of revolver combustible cartridges.

Now, before anyone runs out to buy a can of Swiss Blackpowder FFFFg to stuff in their favorite percussion "smoke wagon", be aware that FFFFg can be VERY DANGEROUS, ESPECIALLY in a revolver, unless you precisely understand the problems unique to FFFFg, that can arise from FFFFg use in a revolver.

Loaded properly with due caution, and with CORRECT charges, FFFFg is perfectly safe, and makes an excellent percussion revolver propellant. Near the end of this article I will detail the dangers that can arise from FFFFg use in a revolver. By understanding the possible dangers that can arise with improper use of FFFFg, the proper and safe use of this very fine grain powder in revolvers will be very clear.

As explained earlier, "Revolver Gunpowder" of the period from 1855 to 1875, was revealed to be sporting-grade gunpowder in FFFFg granulation. Combustible cartridges made by Colt's Cartridge Works used very fine grain sporting-grade gunpowder as documented by Major John Symington in June 1860. Major Symington of the Allegheny Arsenal near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had dissected and test fired Colt's combustibles in .36 and .44 caliber, detailing their construction and performance in his June 1860 report to Chief of Ordnance Colonel Henry T. Craig.

Major Symington did not like Colt's combustible cartridges, because they recoiled sharply when fired, and because Colt's prices were too high. For test purposes, Major Symington constructed revolver combustibles at the Allegheny Arsenal, using tissue paper (similar to gift-wrapping tissue) envelopes and replacing the very fine grain sporting grade gunpowder with fine grain (FFFg) rifle grade powder. He thought the FFFg still generated too much recoil and recommended using musket-grade powder to keep recoil light! It appears that Major Symington was more interested in an easily controlled handgun rather than maximum power.

In my October/November article about testing the 2007 production Uberti Remington Army replica, I included Swiss "Revolver Powder" in the testing. The "Revolver Powder" was Swiss FFFFg loaded under conical bullets in a 23-grain charge weight.
In tests using the Lee 450-200-1R conical of 200 grains weight, the 23-grain FFFFg charge generated an impressive 944 fps (Feet-per-second) average muzzle velocity. Swiss FFFg with a 30-grain charge under the Lee conical, averaged 892 fps. The FFFFg averaged 6 percent higher velocity with a 30 percent lower powder charge as compared to Swiss FFFg!

In Photo B, the D.C. Sage packet of 44 Army combustibles lists a charge of 18 grains. Interpolating from test results using the 23-grain charge, the 200-grain Lee conical would make around 860 fps with the D.C. Sage 18 grain charge using FFFFg. In practical terms, that means around 5 inches of pine penetration, which is 45 ACP performance level.

The D. C. Sage example illustrates the proper use of FFFFg in a percussion revolver. Determine the performance needed (5 inches of pine penetration) and then use the minimum powder charge to achieve that performance. By using a minimum powder charge of FFFFg, fouling will be kept as low as possible using black powder, and the charge will be far too low to approach dangerous pressure levels.

It is true that FFFFg can generate very high pressure levels, capable of blowing a firearm apart. The good news is that in most percussion revolvers, the chamber capacity is much too limited to even approach such pressure levels. The obvious exceptions in revolvers are the Walker and Dragoon revolvers, which have relatively large chamber capacity. Walker revolvers should never be loaded with any finer granulation than FFFg. In Dragoon revolvers, FFFFg use should be limited to conical bullets only, and charge levels should never exceed 30 grains. The reason for the 30-grain Dragoon charge will become clear shortly. (NOTE: Colt's combustible cartridges for the Dragoons, used a conical bullet of 230 to 260 grains weight, with a powder charge of 20 grains.)

In THE GUN (TG), on pages 570 to 572, author W.W. Greener documents the destruction of a .450 Express Rifle. The picture of the rifle is on page 571, and it has been blown apart. The rifle owner loaded FFFFg in the cartridge cases and fired several shots before the rifle exploded. The .450 Express cartridge case is 3.25 inches long and takes a 125 grain powder charge. The owner loaded a maximum charge, in which the powder column in the cartridge case was nearly 3 inches long. Very fine grain gunpowder, such as FFFFg burns so rapidly, that the rear of the powder column accelerates, slamming into the long powder column between the bullet and and burning powder, causing the powder column to detonate. The detonation of FFFFg can result in pressures above 100,000 psi, a pressure level nearly double that of a high-powered rifle cartridge. The danger of detonation and extreme pressure lies in long, compressed powder columns of FFFFg. Long powder columns just aren't possible in most percussion revolvers.

The Walker has a chamber length of about 1.8 inches and a full 60-grain charge of FFFFg under a round ball could possibly cause a detonation of an FFFFg charge, blowing the revolver apart. Because of the Walker's long 1.8-inch chamber, it is safest to use no powder granulation finer grained than FFFg. The Dragoon has a chamber length of 1.6 inches, and a full 50-grain charge of FFFFg under a round ball could also come dangerously close to detonation. A conical bullet, much longer than a round ball, allows the loading of much lower powder charges with the Dragoon's loading lever. A 30-grain powder charge loaded under a conical in the Dragoon, will only be 0.6" long, and is well under the 3-inch long powder column that detonated in the .450 Express rifle.

The main danger in using FFFFg in a revolver is that the very fine grain powder dribbles through modern nipples with over-sized flash holes, causing a powder dusting all over the breech face and in the cylinder nipple recesses. Such a powder dusting is almost guaranteed to cause a chain fire. The first time I loaded FFFFg in the Uberti Remington, I had to remove the cylinder and brush away all the loose powder. The best cure for this problem, for those wanting to try FFFFg, is to replace the factory nipples with Ampco or Thunder Ridge stainless steel nipples, both of which have very tiny flash holes of around 0.028". This is very close to the tiny flash holes of original revolver nipples as shown in Photo E. Uberti revolver nipples are shown in Photo F; note how much larger the Uberti flash holes are than the original Colt nipples in photo E!"

rodwha
February 27, 2013, 12:58 PM
Continued:

"The Thunder Ridge Muzzle Loading website is at http://www.thunder-ridge.com/. They provide Ampco or their own stainless steel nipples in handy 5-or-6 packs for revolvers.
The nipples with smaller flash holes have much less blow back when fired, resulting in almost no cap fragment problems and reduced fouling around the hammer and inside the revolver.

To sum up this article's subject, the modern equivalent of 19th century "Revolver Powder", FFFFg, can be used safely in percussion revolvers, if the nipples are replaced with replacements having very tiny flash holes as described earlier, to prevent chainfires caused by dribble through of powder to the nipple recesses and breech face. The best use of FFFFg in a revolver is under conical bullets using light charges that will deliver the performance desired while keeping fouling low. The charge in a .44 would be 18 to 24 grains under a conical of around 200 grains weight. The charge in a .36 would be 12 to 17 grains under a conical of around 120 grains weight. These charge levels are in line with original combustible cartridge loads. If your percussion revolver shooting is limited to round balls, then it is best to use FFFg, especially if you use maximum charges under a round ball.

Do not use FFFFg in a Walker Colt; FFFg is the finest powder granulation that should ever be used in the Walker. Do not use FFFFg in Dragoon Colts under heavy charge round ball loads; FFFFg can be used in the Dragoon under a conical, but do not exceed 30 grains of FFFFg. For maximum loads in a Dragoon, stick with FFFg.

NOTE: Photos referred to in this article are in the PHOTO section folder entitled "Revolver Gunpowder". Capital letters enclosed in parenthesis (BHBP) refer to a reference in the REFERENCE section at this article's end.






REFERENCES

(AH1-05)AMERICAN HANDGUNNER, January 2005
Mike Venturino Article on pine penetration tests, table page 53; when consulting the table on penetration, remember the "1-inch" dressed pine boards are actually 0.75" thick.

(AMCA) AMERICAN MANUFACTURERS of COMBUSTIBLE AMMUNITION
Terry A. White (2002) [Pgs 75-108]

(BHBP) A BRIEF HISTORY of BLACK POWDER PRODUCTION
William Knight (January 2003)

(CCF)COLT Company Flyer, dated "January 1, 1858"; [Ray Riling research reprint]

(LBPHB) LYMAN BLACK POWDER HANDBOOK
C. Kenneth Ramage, editor (1975)[Pgs 70-81]

(PAP) PERCUSSION AMMUNITION PACKETS 1845-1888
John J Malloy; Dean S. Thomas; Terry A. White (2003)[Chap 1,3,4; Apdx C]

(PP&R)PERCUSSION PISTOLS AND REVOLVERS
Johnny Bates and Mike Cumpston (2005)

(RBRF3) ROUND BALL to RIMFIRE, Part 3 (Federal Pistols & Revolvers)
Dean S. Thomas (2003) [Chapters 1 through 4]

(SXGNS) SIXGUNS
Elmer Keith (1961) [Chaps 1 & 10]

(TG) THE GUN [First published in 1881]
W. W. Greener (1974 Bonanza reprint of original 1910 edition)
[Chap 22; black powder granulation chart on pg 552 very enlightening]

(UFB)UNDERSTANDING FIREARMS BALLISTICS
Robert A. Rinker (1999)[pg 23]"

woodnbow
February 27, 2013, 02:37 PM
Thanks! Lots of food for thought there! I recall pondering this back in the '70's. I'd read everything Elmer Keith wrote, carried and chronographed at that time a few different 1860 and 1873 colts as well as a couple 1851's and various Rugers. I liked the guns a lot but wondered if Elmer wasn't prone to exaggeration.

I have also seen first hand the results of a .44 round ball fired from a Remington replica directly into a mans chest at handshake ranges. Needless to say he didn't survive and it left an impression on me as well. But still, I'd always wanted to use C&B guns for hunting and beyond handshake ranges I couldn't see any way it could be done on our 200# Mule deer and 450# and over elk. Things are looking up...

VA27
February 27, 2013, 02:44 PM
Good stuff! Thanks for posting it.

woodnbow
February 27, 2013, 02:50 PM
I had thought to order a ROA cylinder from classicballistx but now I wonder is it really needed? I guess I'll need to get my hands on some Swiss FFFG and check this out...

Patocazador
February 27, 2013, 03:02 PM
I recall pondering this back in the '70's. I'd read everything Elmer Keith wrote, carried and chronographed at that time a few different 1860 and 1873 colts as well as a couple 1851's and various Rugers. I liked the guns a lot but wondered if Elmer wasn't prone to exaggeration.
A close acquaintance of Elmer Keith (his taxidermist from Salmon, Idaho) told me that Elmer was "often mistaken about what he claimed" and that he often "stretched the truth when it fit his purposes."
Take that for what you think it's worth.

I'm totally confused about these numbers in the various posts. Weights of different powders are being quoted but in few cases are the "weights" actually verified as being either actual weight (mass) or volume equivalent weight.

Nobody mentions the use of FFFF(4FG) black powder as being a possible equivalent of old "revolver" powder. I have an old muzzle-loading book by Sam Fadala that states the Ruger Old Army revolver will handle a load of up to 45 gr. of 4FG. It says he had shot this load but I don't remember the bullet type or weight.
I tried shooting a load of a cast 215 gr. conical bullet with as much 4FG as I could fit in the cylinder's chamber. It gave a muzzle flip and the accuracy was terrible.

I have had poor/erratic results trying to chronograph loads using black powder or bp substitutes. I think this is due to the card, smoke or residue (or all of them) causing errant readings.

woodnbow
February 27, 2013, 03:08 PM
;-) I was younger then than I am today...

DaveP (UK)
February 27, 2013, 03:34 PM
Thanks for some interesting info, Rodwha.
I had seen the first Nelson article somewhere before, which is only a way of saying its been around for a little while :) I remember being very frustrated because he was so cagy about identifying the Swiss powder. I never managed to find the second article - until now!

Folk might be interested to hear that Swiss Powders are popular among target shooters over here. They acknowledge that it has "a little more go" than some other brands, but they like it (and accept its extra cost) mainly because of its consistency and clean burning characteristics.

rodwha
February 27, 2013, 04:41 PM
You may want to consider 3F Triple 7 Woodnbow. Even if you reduce the charge (if max) it's still far and above more powerful than Goex or similar powders.

When Mike Beliveau did his testing of powders and projectiles in Old Armies he did reduce the loads and changed it from sub par to sub magnum.

40 grns 3F Goex and a RB produced 812 fps and 217 ft/lbs vs 33 grns of 3F Triple 7 which gave 1062 fps and 371 ft/lbs.

30 grns of Goex with a 255 grn bullet produced 744 fps with 314 ft/lbs vs 25 grns of T7 which gave 920 fps and 479 ft/lbs. And that's with a reduced load with mild compression. Hogdgon's states firm compression is needed with anything other than a cartridge, and I can't get them to define firm for me, but it sounds like more than mild as most people state is needed.

Odd that Hogdgon states the 15% reduction should give similar results as BP, but here is shown to well outdo it.

I've been wanting to try Swiss but can't seem to find it locally. It seems all of the other BP's are anemic.

rodwha
February 27, 2013, 04:43 PM
Brushhippie has made his own BP, which seems as, if not a little more energetic than Swiss. I'd certainly give it a go!

AbitNutz
February 27, 2013, 07:53 PM
I've put 40gr of 4FG Swiss in my ROA with a 210 conical bullet. It felt like 40gr of Triple 7. However, it WILL leak out of stock ROA niples. Treso's and Slixshot seem to hold 4FG fine.

VA27
February 27, 2013, 10:12 PM
What about a small piece of onionskin or flash paper dropped in the cylinder before loading? Would that cure the leaking problem? I'll try it next time I take the ROA's out.

rodwha
February 28, 2013, 10:16 AM
I've read fro the few people who have tried 4F in their ROA that it didn't behave consistently, and they didn't pursue it any longer.

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