Howdah ammo advice


February 5, 2013, 08:30 PM
Okay, so my Howdah arrived today. Now, I did quite a bit of research into the gun itself before buying it, but the one thing I failed to research was the cost of ammo. That was an unpleasant sticker shock, at $2.70 per round. I have some questions for you fine folk.

TOTW has round ball in a variety of diameters. I've seen a number of listed diameters in my research, anywhere from .600 up to .620. Is there a preferred size for the 20 gauge Howdah, or is it simply a matter of grabbing whatever you like and adjusting the thickness of the patch to compensate? My thoughts would be that the larger the ball and thinner the patch, the more accurate the load should be, yes?

With that in mind, what size should I purchase to get started? I think I should probably buy some commercial RB to figure out sizes, and then consider casting my own.

Part 2: Casting

Looking at the cost of ammo, I realize that casting is probably the only way to go if I intend to shoot this thing much. Additionally, it would be simple to get another mold for my revolvers.

MidwayUSA has a Lee mold for .600 diameter for 19.99, which sounds like the best way to go. I see lead ingots are available online for 15-20$ per 5 pound ingot. Based on my real quick math, that puts the cost down closer to .20$ per round, which is about on par with what I pay now for Speer RB .454

Would this be the best way to go? What sort of costs am I going to be looking at to get started? It seems like I should be able to get the mold, I'll need a cast iron pan for melting, something to melt with, (camp stove?) and maybe something to recast ingots when I'm done (bread pans?). Now, the question then becomes, what am I missing, or am I just off my rocker?

If you enjoyed reading about "Howdah ammo advice" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
February 5, 2013, 10:57 PM
Your not off your rocker, the price of reloading has gotten rather high if you don't cast your own bullets. Frankly, I am surprised that more people don't do this. As far as what you will need:

Something to melt lead with is the first priority. You can do it the old fashioned way on the stove top with a cast iron pot, but I prefer to keep my casting out of the house. Do yourself a favor and purchase a simple lee electric melter. Last time I checked these were around $50.00, though they might be a bit more by now. The convenience factor is there and you don't have to have a separate dipper to get the lead out of the pot as these come with a pour spout at the bottom of the pot.

You will also need the mold, but you seem to have this covered based on your post. Despite what some would tell you, Lee works just fine as long as you take care of them. I have been using them for years and actually prefer them to my more expensive Lyman blocks in many cases.

The lead can be ordered for sure, but you would do well to keep an eye out for scrap. I have found this in a number of places. You will want relatively pure lead so keep an eye out for lead piping from construction sites and various other lead sources. If it is soft enough to dent easily with your fingernail it is soft enough for muzzle loading bullets. Don't miss the opportunity to pick up other stuff when you find it however, old wheel weights, linotype, and other scrap lead can be great for the more modern stuff too.

Other than that you will need a good place to setup, I usually do this in my shop. Good ventilation is essential if you don't want to breath the fumes (and you don't). I also keep a candle handy and use a bit of wax once the lead has melted to flux the melt. Do this by taking a small lump the size of a pea and pushing it down to the bottom of the pot with a steel rod, or some other handy utensil. A quick stirring of the lead will bring any impurities to the surface and you can than scoop them out with an old spoon (don't plan on ever using it for food again). I typically keep the dross that you take off the top in an old coffee can, the stuff is nasty so be careful what you do with it.

Other than that you should have an old towel to drop freshly cast bullets into and a wood mallet to knock the sprue plate to the side.

That's about it. Probably the whole mess of it will cost less than $100.00 complete with a couple of Lee molds. If you shoot even a moderate amount this will soon pay for itself.

February 5, 2013, 11:33 PM

You mean something like this? I'm pretty sure this has the pour spout on the bottom of the melter so you can just drop it straight into the mold or whatever.

Anyone know anything about this particular melter? The reviews look pretty good.

February 6, 2013, 12:06 AM
Thanks to your thread I finally broke down and ordered one myself!

There's definitely no consensus as to the right ball size. For patched round ball I was going to measure my particular barrel and subtract a bit then get a variety of thickness of patches and see what's the most accurate, easy to load, etc. It's kind of a process. I definitely wouldn't buy a mold until after you've done some testing.

I notice at ToW that .600 and .610 are both $8.99 for 25, so 36 cents each. I'm not sure where you're getting the $2.70 cost from but even with powder and cap that seems excessive... but in any case I personally find that the slow speed of loading means that I never run up that big of a bill while shooting black powder.

February 6, 2013, 10:00 AM
EljaySL, my most humble apologies on getting you infected. :P

After your post, I realized I'd fat-fingered the math on the Cost Per Round. I did it backwards. I went back to TOTW, and priced out shipping. At $8.99 per 25, plus 10.67 ground shipping, that works out to about $.79 per round. Granted, I can save some by buying greater quantities.

Based on my quick math of buying a casting setup, I'm looking at $20 for a mold, about $60 for the electric melter discussed above, plus some lead. Ace Hardware has 5Lb ingots for $18.99, with free shipping to one of their stores, which is right down the road. If I recall my THR lurking correctly, a 20gauge shotgun will require 20 bore-sized lead balls to equal 1Lb of lead. So, a 5Lb lead order will yield me 100 balls, for a shipped cost of $95.95 (EDIT: after further discussion below, I realize I messed up the math yet again. My $95.95 order of lead will get me 500 balls, not 100, since that was actually 25 pounds of lead, at five pounds per ingot. This brings the raw cost per ball down to about $.19, rather than the amounts discussed below, assuming I don't include the melter or mold costs in the cost per ball. Thanks to Eljay for pointing this out to me.)

That makes my cost about $175 for the setup and first 100 balls, putting the cost at $1.75 each for the first 100 rounds. Alternatively, I can consider the mold and melter to be a sunk cost, and leave them out of the calculation, which would put me at about $.95 per ball, and this is the long-term cost, unless I luck into a decent supply of free/much cheaper lead.

Based upon that, I don't see that it makes sense to cast, it would be significantly cheaper to buy commercial rounds. Unless I've messed up my math somewhere else, or unless I can get a lot more balls out of a pound of lead than I think I can, I'd say it makes more sense to just buy from TOTW. Yes?

February 6, 2013, 11:38 AM
It was bound to happen eventually.

Normally I'd say get the balls from Grafs - they have flat rate shipping - but I don't think they have sizes that large.

Your numbers might be slightly off - the gauge is based on 20 balls to the pound but I *think* that should be if it totally fills the space, and your balls will be a little smaller. But, yeah, obviously the cost of the lead is critical. If you're paying almost $4/pound for lead that's not going to help much. rotometals has free shipping over $99 and I think they're somewhere around half that. And I think if you basically go down to a junkyard the lead's more like a dollar a pound, maybe less, you just need to research a bit what pure lead looks like (thumbnail test, etc.)

Personally I just don't think I'm going to be putting enough balls through the Howdah to make it worthwhile. If I started casting I'd probably start with .454s since I use a lot of those and you get a bunch in a pound...

February 6, 2013, 11:39 AM
PS I looked up the ball weights

.600 = 325 grains
.610 = 342 grains

7000 grains in a pound. So call it 21 balls, something like that.

PPS Looks like rotometals is up to $2.40/pound. Ouch.

PPPS You screwed up your math on the Ace Hardware order. I think you multiplied by 5 to get the cost and then just took 5 pounds as the total weight. You get 25 pounds = 500 balls for your $95.95. So 19.2 cents each. At rotometals pricing it's more like 11-12 cents each.

February 6, 2013, 12:01 PM
Another number - with shipping to my location 500 balls from ToW would be $217. 250 balls is $117. So 43-47 cents each. So you're looking at something like a 33 cents saving per ball. So with a $100 outlay your break even is around 300 balls. *but* if you shoot multiple calibers you'll have more complicated math since the incremental cost isn't that bad (cost of a mold).

Personally I tend to pick up a box or two of balls to fill out orders, or if I'm getting something at Grafs anyway, etc. etc. so I have a decent supply. But I think no question I'll start casting eventually.

February 6, 2013, 02:15 PM
Eljay, good call on the math. That's exactly what I did. For the sake of posterity and anyone coming across this down the road, I've modified my above post to reflect this cost analysis. Thanks a bunch for the help on that.

Well, that shifts it drastically back in favor of casting. I also just found out that my boss' uncle is a dealer for Lee, so I might be able to get the casting tools at a slight discount, which would definitely skew the decision.

Any further insight into ball diameters? Or patch diameter, for that matter?

February 6, 2013, 02:18 PM
Personally I just don't think I'm going to be putting enough balls through the Howdah to make it worthwhile. If I started casting I'd probably start with .454s since I use a lot of those and you get a bunch in a pound...

That's probably true for me too, although I said the same thing about my BP revolvers, and that's rapidly becoming untrue, as I've started shooting them a lot more lately. Last trip out to the range, I put about 16 cylinders through my 1858, which is over twice what I typically do. I'm hoping that if I were to start casting for the Howdah, I'd also end up shooting that a lot more. At any rate, the part I haven't so far discussed on this thread is that I'd almost certainly spend the $20 on a .454 RB mold as well, since I shoot those a fair amount too.

February 6, 2013, 02:26 PM
Yeah, Packman ~
I've used that model melting pot for many years, for .45 & .50 cal. balls & 220gr conicals. Bought a 2nd when the original got too ratty. Always worked great.

Went to the Lee Pro model, 20lb pot, 220v, when I started casting 450gr bullets for the Sharps. Smaller model just didn't hold enuff lead. Temperature stays more stable w/the larger pot too.

I use a round, portable, buffet electric coil burner w/a 1/8'' thick steel plate on top, to keep the Lyman steel mould blocks up to temp. Lay the mould on the hot plate when fluxing or stirring. Use something to shim up the handles, which are off to the side of the hot plate. And ensure the mould block bottoms are sitting flat on the hot plate. Keep the hot plate near the set-up, and adjust it's temp. as needed. Works on aluminum moulds too.

I also float a thick layer of pulverized charcoal on top of the melt. Cuts down on dross (slag) and extends fluxing time. It's consumed slowly, over time, and needs to be replaced now 'n' then.

I also drop bullets, from the mould, into a bread-pan filled w/cornmeal. When there's no more openings, for another bullet, on the surface of the cornmeal, shake the pan back 'n' forth, on the table top. The bullets on top sink down into the cornmeal and reveal a fresh new surface. Dump it all out on a coarse screen, over a large bowl...etc, etc. Blow the corn dust off the bullets w/compressed air. Return the cornmeal to the bread-pan and power up. When not in use, keep the cornmeal/bread-pan in a zip-lock bag. Keeps the bugs out.

OK. These are just some tips ya mite find useful. Well, hey! They work for me...

Kindest Regards,

Addendum: Also, I recommend rolling a given size of cast balls, between 2 plates of glass. Mine are 12'' x 9.5'' & 7/32'' thick. Built a simple wood frame atop a 3/4'' thick board of plywood. Glued wood strips on top of the plywood to hold the bottom glass plate in place, & provide a low wall around the plate, so the balls can't roll off.

Spread a bunch a balls around on the bottom glass plate, lay the other glass plate on top of the balls, & w/both hands pushing down gently & evenly on the top plate, roll the balls around, in constantly changing patterns, between the plates. Gotta stop 'n' spread 'em out now 'n' then, to keep the glass plates supported & parallel. Keep rollin' 'em 'til you're satisfied w/how they look.

This process knocks the sprues down and blends 'em in w/the sphere, and makes the balls very round. Accuracy w/balls is directly related to how uniformly round they are. One of the selling points of swedged balls is that they are spherically perfect. This is a way to achieve that feature, at home, w/cast balls.

February 6, 2013, 04:30 PM
I think where I'm at right now with the casting is I'll pick up a couple of boxes of .610's to get going and basically the next time I get close to running out of a caliber I'll probably just give in and try it with whatever caliber I run out of first. But there's kind of no rush - I have a lot on my plate right now!

February 6, 2013, 05:00 PM
Oh, and re patch sizes - I'm not doing anything until I get the thing and actually measure the barrel but pretty much when I start shooting a new caliber I just bite the bullet and get some shooting patches in every thickness they have - typically .010, .015, .018, .020. They're not that expensive.

loose noose
February 6, 2013, 05:28 PM
Packman, I've used the Lee Production melter for over 20 years and it still works like new (10# model) the only thing ya gotta keep in mind is it wiil get clogged up a bit if ya don't use Marvelux. Also the steel stopper will start leaking if ya don't use a screw driver to turn the rod in a few times while it is hot. That is all elementary dear holmes, as the Production heater works very well indeed.:D Also you can get lead from all kinds of different places such as wheel weights, dentist aprons (pure lead) you might even try metalurgy plants in your area. Note the wheel weights will work if your going to patch the ball with a quality BP lube and patch material, especially in a smooth bore.

February 6, 2013, 06:42 PM
Assuming wheel weights are even still lead in your area!

February 6, 2013, 07:21 PM
BTW, you do NOT have to use soft lead with the 20 gauge Howdah.
It's a smoothbore, and does not have to have pure lead.
I ordered the Pedersoli mold when I ordered the Howdah.
The balls drop at .61, when cast from wheelweights. I cast them from wheelweights and save my soft lead for my C&B revolvers, and my rifled muzzle loaders.
They hit HARD and penetrate deep.
I've loaded mine with 48, 60, and 80 grains of BP.

In retrospect, I wish I'd bought the Lee mold instead. The Pedersoli mold handles are short and get HOT.

February 6, 2013, 09:12 PM
Doak, I've been off the forums for a while, and I'm just now returning with any frequency. I hadn't seen you before I left, but I'm finding an awful lot of threads with some really unusual but especially helpful advice from you. I'd never heard of the glass before, but that's a really cool idea. I'm guessing that with enough patience, one could probably get the sprue essentially gone, yes?

Eljay, I'm with you on the patch thing. My boss has a set of calipers at work. I don't have any with the neccesary precision, so I'll bring the howdah in tomorrow and check the actual bore size and then get a variety of patch thicknesses to explore. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards just getting the .600 size balls from TOTW to range test. Unless I get something more expensive than I want (like RCBS molds), I'll probably just end up with the .600 diameter Lee molds. Might as well get a few commercial ones to test out.

Jaymo, I'd figured I'd probably be okay with a little bit of alloy in the lead mix, given that it's smoothbore. My only two hangups there are that 1-I haven't had a chance to check out availability of scrap lead locally (like wheel weights) and 2-If I start casting, I'm going to do it for my revolvers too, and I want pure lead (or really dang close) for those. I can only imagine what the kinetic energy of a 300+ grain alloyed RB with 80 grains of powder behind it must be like. :eek:

February 6, 2013, 09:28 PM
And just to be clear - re: the wheel weights - a bunch of states have made lead wheel weights illegal. It's not just a question purity as that they might not even be lead at all. (Google "lead wheel weight ban" and you'll get a bunch of articles). I agree that a smoothbore won't care if the purity isn't perfect but you don't want to be dropping a lot of random extra metal in there either.

PS Here's a map: There are also people trying to enact a national ban. Looks like Florida's OK but I don't know how you would guarantee that you didn't have one that originated out of state...

February 6, 2013, 09:32 PM
As far as my (five minutes worth) research has indicated, there's nothing stopping me from acquiring lead wheel weights in Florida. I'm off on Saturday, so I may take a drive around town to a couple of the local tire shops and junkyards to see what's up. There's also a local scrap metal place, I'll give them a call and see what the story is. Given my preference, I'd rather deal with 100% pure lead anyway. There's issues associated with melting alloys, and I don't like issues. I'm inherently lazy and willing to pay a tiny bit more to eliminate work.

February 6, 2013, 10:05 PM
Doak, I also use a hot plate to keep my mold blocks hot. I get better bullets that way.
For me, it's also easier to preheat the mold blocks that way. i put the mold blocks on the hot plate when I put the ingots in the pot to melt.
Sure is easier than trying to hold a mold with one corner in the pot of molten lead.

February 6, 2013, 10:12 PM
Packman, I did most of my BP long gun shooting in the 1990's. Then all my shootin' buds died off. Was makin' my own flint rifles & fowlers back then. Most us ol' timers started out w/cap guns and graduated backward to flinters. Picked up allota tricks over the years before computer forums existed, so now I got this huge memory archive to regurgitate. Been kinda holdin' back cuz nobody likes a "know-it-all", or a forum hog. I think they're fed up w/me over at the Ruger Old Army Club.:-D

re: rolling balls between glass plates, yes, the sprue's will nearly disappear. Depends on the mould. Most of the Lee moulds cut a low sprue, so after rolling, there's usually a small flat spot in the middle of where the sprue used to be. Doesn't take that long to roll a batch o' balls. Now 'n' then ya gotta use a razor blade to skin off a thin layer of lead that starts to build up on the surface of the top plate, mostly.

Jaymo! I'm so proud of you! I knew you were a whiz-kid! :-D

February 6, 2013, 10:24 PM
Packman, I did most of my BP long gun shooting in the 1990's. Then all my shootin' buds died off. Was makin' my own flint rifles & fowlers back then. Most us ol' timers started out w/cap guns and graduated backward to flinters. Picked up allota tricks over the years before computer forums existed, so now I got this huge memory archive to regurgitate. Been kinda holdin' back cuz nobody likes a "know-it-all", or a forum hog. I think they're fed up w/me over at the Ruger Old Army Club.:-D

Well, believe me, those of us in the younger crowd appreciate all the hints, tips and tricks we can get our hands on. Well, I shouldn't speak for the rest of them, but this one's my thread, and I appreciate it. I'm definitely a fan of learning from other people mistakes so I don't mess my stuff up. :P

I'll have to find some glass plates to try that out with!

Rookie question, but after you pour the lead into the mold, how long does it take to set so you can pull the ball out?

February 6, 2013, 11:07 PM
I watch the puddle over the sprue hole. As soon as it solidifies, I tap the sprue cutter w/a 1'' dowel, open the moulds over the cornmeal, tilt the blocks so the bullet won't hit the other block, as it falls out, & tap the block holders where it does the most good to dislodge the bullet.

How long it takes depends on the size of the object being cast. In any case, it's only a few seconds.

Then get those blocks closed quickly, cuz the empty one is cooling faster than the one that contained the hot bullet.

When the bullet looks like "guts", it's too cool. When it's frosty, it's too hot. Bright, shiny, sharp, & smooth is what you're after.

loose noose
February 7, 2013, 12:01 PM
What Doak said!:D Except I use a cardboard box with a soft towel in it to catch the balls or the bullets.

February 7, 2013, 06:40 PM
Thanks Doak.

I sized the bores today. Both of them came up right at .630 inches. So, my thought is that a .600 ball with a .015 patch should make a really nice, tight projectile, with hopefully decent accuracy. Is this true, or do I want something a little thinner, or even a little thicker to account for compression?

I'm 99% sure I'm going to drop the hammer shortly on a casting setup, but I want to do as much research as possible. Unless you fine folks say I'm off my rocker, I'll probably buy 25 rds of .600 from TOTW and some .015 patches to check it out. If it works, I'll go for the casting setup.

February 7, 2013, 09:45 PM
You're right to double the thickness. The conventional wisdom is that you want some compression. So I'd buy .15 and .18 and also maybe get one box of .610 balls and try those with .10 and .15. (somebody check my math). Then see what's the most accurate and go from there.

February 7, 2013, 09:53 PM
Mine appears to be closer to .620, maybe a tiny bit larger. So I'll probably go with a .600 ball and try .10's and .15's.

February 8, 2013, 12:45 AM
Yeah, ya gotta try patch/ball/lube combos 'til ya find the one your shooter likes. It may not necessarily be the tightest one.

The only criterion I would recommend, and insist upon for myself, is pure linen for patch material. A simple 90' weave. And cut your patches, from a pre-lubed, rolled up strip, at the muzzle, w/a patch knife. Don't use pre-cut round patches. I think I covered this on another thread.

Cutting the patch material off, flush w/the muzzle, after the ball is started, always ensures the ball will be centered in the patch. That's very important. When the patch "sabot's", upon exiting the muzzle, ya want it to leave, off the back of the ball, w/neutral force vectors. If more material is flappin' off one side of the ball than the other, ya ain't got neutral force vectors anymore.

Pre-cut patches, never win matches...:-D

Linen is made from flax. When flax straw is broken, scraped, & combed, it makes "flax tow". Tow is what our ancestors used for cleaning "patches". It looks like beautiful blond hair, from a distance. Hence the nickname "tow-head" for blond kids.

When tow is woven into fabric, it becomes "linen". It's very tuff, and doesn't smolder like cotton patches do. And rifling won't cut thru it. It engraves well into lead balls, to grip 'em, while the rifling grabs the linen. The 90' weave grips better than bias patterns, like pillow ticking, which is cotton. You can orient, or position, the patch, relative to the bore, the same way every load, cuz it's a simple crisscross weave. This conforms to the priciple of "repeatability". Doing the exact same thing every load, which translates into accuracy.

I've shot just about every usable material there is, and linen beats 'em all, hands down.
The proof is on the paper. Your groups will shrink.

Linseed Oil = Linen Seed Oil = Flax Seed Oil...from pressing flax seeds.

Pete D.
February 8, 2013, 07:41 AM
What Doak said! Except I use a cardboard box with a soft towel in it to catch the balls or the bullets.

The box/towel is how I do it.
Note....when you are done with developing your loads for round balls, remember to load some birdshot, and also some buckshot, and pattern the gun. I would do the patterning at 15 or 20 yards. Closer with buckshot...I did mine at 10 yards.

About loads.....remember that you have a 20 gauge gun with a very short barrel. An 80 grain load of BP is nearly a full 3 dram load (81 is 3dr.) That is normally associated with a 12 gauge shotgun with a substantially longer barrel. I keep my Howdah loads at two drams (54 grains) with either LRBs or birdshot. Others may have different advice, or course.

February 17, 2013, 12:22 AM
So, I shot mine today. Turns out .600 balls and .015 patches ends up being thumb startable but nice and snug on mine. I'd probably go up to .018 if I were really trying for accuracy. But given the sights I think I'm just going to roll with it. No problem hitting A zones on an IPSC target but it's not exactly a precision tool.

One caution - I was using 777 powder and getting no ignition. Luckily I had a little real black with me and got her started. But I only had a little (my flintlock priming flask) so I just did duplex loads - dropping in a little of the real deal and then substitute on top of that. I normally only use the real black on the flintlocks because it's hard to get here and you can only have so much at one time blah blah blah.

I tried multiple brands of caps with no difference. I did notice that the CCI #11s were a bit loose and after shooting one side the other would come off, oops.

I'll probably put on some different nipples and see if that improves matters anyway, but it was running 100% with the duplex load so it's no big deal if I have to keep doing that. And let's put it this way - it was fun enough and going well enough that I was pretty irritated when I realized I'd shot through my bag of 25 balls.

February 21, 2013, 03:48 PM
Also, to follow up on the casting, I did that today. Sure enough it's really easy. Just make sure you have all the safety gear (goggles, welding gloves, work clothing) and follow one of the many guides online and no problem. I cast .600 balls because that's the caliber I care least about accuracy (I expect less from the Howdah than a Hawken!). Did a couple of runs until I had the feel for it, dumped those balls back in, cast 60 until I found my mind starting to drift a bit so I decided to declare victory and unplug everything. I weighed the balls and they were pretty consistent - I did throw two light ones back in the pot for next time so I got 58 balls out of it, which should be enough for two range sessions. They all have some minor visual surface flaws but nothing that should affect accuracy noticeably in a Howdah - I can't even feel most of it. If I really cared I'd just tumble them for a bit or something.

Proof's in the pudding, of course, and I haven't shot them yet, but I definitely encourage you to try casting if it sounds like something you would enjoy and/or you think you'll shoot enough to recover the cost.

If you enjoyed reading about "Howdah ammo advice" here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!