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Cap n Ball revolvers loaded long term....

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by Loosenock, Apr 23, 2010.

  1. Loosenock

    Loosenock Well-Known Member

    Back in the 60's I remember an old timer friend of my dad who carried an original C & B revolver, could have been a 1851 Colt's or clone, maybe 4 1/2" to 5 1/2" barrel. I remember looking at it often. One of the things I remember clearly was the wax over the ball in the cylinder. Ace explained to me the cross fire that could happen in these types. I think it was bees wax and oil mixture of some sort. Dad said he always had it loaded this way and he could go years before shooting it.

    I can see the powder staying good, but how long could the cap stay good? I guess it would be easy enough to change the cap now and then.

    Anyone ever keep a C & B long term loaded? How long?

    I've always kept mine unloaded until ready to fire.

    Just a curious ponderance. Any comments would be appreciated.

  2. Pulp

    Pulp Well-Known Member

    I've kept mine loaded up to 6 months using Bore Butter over the bullets. Caps form a fairly airtight seal if they're the right size.

    For extreme long term storage, I would seal the chambers with bee's wax, then drip bee's wax over the caps and nipples.

    A friend of mine, on a bet, loaded and capped his Navy, sealed the chambers with bear tallow, then put it in a bucket of water over night. All six fired the next AM.
  3. JNewell

    JNewell Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't do it but I can't cite a scientific study to prove it's a bad idea. My reasons both relate to the fact that black powder is hygroscopic (sucks water out of the air). Since you can't hermetically seal the chambers (though I'm very impressed by the post above, honestly), eventually the BP is going to lose potency, become harder to ignite. Also, and possibly more likely, it's going to corrode the chambers and, if they're steel, the nipples.

    There must be some 19th century learning/writing on this? It's an interesting question.
  4. Palehorseman

    Palehorseman Well-Known Member

    Wild Bill Hickok meticulously reloaded his Colt Navies every morning, but that was just because his life depended on them firing when needed.
  5. kanook

    kanook Well-Known Member

    Haven't PB revolvers found from the Civil War been found still charged and fired?
  6. Texas Moon

    Texas Moon Well-Known Member

    I keep mine unloaded.
    Have one of them new fangled back-end loaders for short notice work.

    I'd suspect if you could get the chamber clean and dry of oils, once loaded correctly, the charge would stay good for many many years if kept dry.
    Why would you want to tho?
  7. mykeal

    mykeal Well-Known Member

    Civil War era cap and ball revolvers and rifles have been found with viable black powder loads dating over 100 years. By viable I mean they fired. I do not know of any chronograph data from such guns, so we don't know if the loads were degraded.

    We do know that loads dating several months old have produced chrono results that matched fresh loads.

    Yes, black powder is mildly hygroscopic. However, the absorption of small amounts of water don't materially degrade the performance, and people who have left their guns loaded report no significant corrosion. The absorbed water is contained in the powder matrix and is not available to provide the free ions necessary to support oxidation (rusting). In addition, black powder which has been saturated with water can be dried out and thus returned to full performance.

    I don't advocate keeping black powder guns loaded for any significant period of time, but not because of concerns about corrosion or performance degradation. I just believe you should be proficient with your guns, especially if you're going to hunt with them or use them for self protection. And being proficient means regular practice - actually using them. If you stay proficient, you need to shoot them, which keeps them loaded, then unloaded, cleaned and maintained. Kind of the opposite if keeping them loaded for a long time.
  8. Acorn Mush

    Acorn Mush Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't bet my life on it NOT going off, sealed in the manner described. Regarding powder losing its potency, I have personally used percussion caps that were well in excess of 60 years old to ignite black powder that was almost 90 years old. Both caps and powder worked VERY well! Also, if black powder corrodes steel, it takes a very long time to do so in my experience. The above-mentioned powder was dispensed from its original steel DuPont can which had no corrosion on the inside. It didn't look new inside, but it wasn't rusted either. Wish I still had that old can!

    The point of these comments is to state the fact that black powder, kept dry, will last many, many, many years, unlike modern smokeless powder.
  9. kenno

    kenno Well-Known Member

    It is a known historical fact that the old gun fighters would reload daily when they could. Black powder is so hydroscopic that it can swell in the chamber and move the ball foward causing the gun to jam during cycling. Grease on both ends of the cylinder can prevent this but apparently that was not a common practice amongst gun slingers back in the day.
  10. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    Far as I know...

    If a Loaded Cap and Ball Revolver had been found in King Tut's Tomb, chances are it would fire just fine as-is, with the Caps and load that it has...even if one might want to Lube the Mechanism first, before firing.

    Dry climes, it could probably sit loaded and ready for ever.

    If BP may absorb ambient atmospheric humidity in humid surrounds, it can also later release it in arid aurrounds...so, that aspect would depend on the phase of continuity of climatic conditions of when the Arm is being tried, as for how good ignition is going to be.

    A little Bee's Wax around the Caps, melted and applied with a fine Brush, and ditto around the Ball ends in the Cylinder, would probably be best if a long term sitting is anticipated.
  11. MCgunner

    MCgunner Well-Known Member

    With the heat and humidity around here, I'd not trust it more'n a few days if carried. I'd at least recap it. But, if kept in the AC I don't see a big problem. Maybe I'm too paranoid, just me. I have carried one in the saddle bags of a motorcycle for several days in summer and it still fired, though, and it was in the bags in the heat/humidity the whole time. It was loaded with Pyrodex.
  12. mykeal

    mykeal Well-Known Member

    Do you have any documentation of that?
  13. Oblofusc

    Oblofusc Member

    Loaded Dragoon repro 1.5 years, had misfires.

    I have a Uberti 2nd model Dragoon repro--great gun, 100% reliable, accurate as heck. I only use black powder, 35 grains FFFg if I remember right, and use Hornady swaged lead .457" balls that shave nice rings off when loading 'em into the cylinders. Above the powder/under the balls I put in the lube-soaked felt .44 wads as in my experience they seem to keep things a bit cleaner in extended shooting sessions. I use Remington or CCI caps, I forget, but whichever they are they fit good & snug. As with all my BP guns I clean them impeccably and lube/protect with only natural (non-petroleum) lubes & oils. I don't put anything over the balls, because chain fires aren't caused by fire coming in around the balls (especially where they've shaved lead off going in) but by fire coming in through loose or ill-fitting caps. I thought everyone knew that. But I digress . . .

    So a few years back I loaded the Dragoon during BP season and carried it in a holster. As I expected to hunt again before season was over I did not fire it and went home. Turned out I never went back, and it sat in the garage. I live in north Florida and it's generally humid most of the time, but the garage door stays closed mostly and it's not like it sat outside. Guns and tools don't spontaneously rust in my garage so that ought to give you a general idea of the humidity level.

    I think it was at least a year and a half until I shot it. To my great surprise, it failed to fire on 2 or 3 of the 5 loaded cylinders. I seem to recall that the caps went off but not the charge. I recapped the unfired cylinders and one fired, but I recall I had to recap at least one again before it finally went off.

    I had not expected that. I was confident that all would fire as though I had just loaded them.

    The lesson for me, anyway, is that BP guns ought not sit too long and be relied upon to work.
  14. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    This must have been a drag for folks in the Cap and Ball era, explorers, settlers, military, when in the Tropics or other very humid and rainy climes.


    I bet the painted-on-molten with a fine Brush Wax would help though.

    Might be modern day compositions of Caps are more sensitive to humidity than the old Fulminating Murcury was...don't know, but could be...then again, don't know how well the old fomulas did if unsealed, for that matter.
  15. RebelRabbi

    RebelRabbi Well-Known Member

    I read that General Lee's 1851 Navy was found and fired some years after he loaded it during the Civil War. There is no reason that Dry Powder would harm the metal.
  16. button

    button Well-Known Member

    Dealing with this subject, I have been told by gun dealers that Pyrodex is highly corrosive than BP and to never shot Pyrodex in a BP gun due to this. So Mcgunner you have not noticed this or was I told another sales pitch to buy what they want me to, so there pockets would contain more of my money?
  17. Hellgate

    Hellgate Well-Known Member

    I've had two different C&Bs that I CAREFULLY loaded with powder and ball being very sure to not have any oil in the chambers or on the nipples. I did put some automotive grease over the balls but no lube wads. One gun was kept under my pillow in a seedy rental where the landlord kept wiping pus out of his bad eye. The other gun was loaded up for a "finishing gun" in case I wounded a deer and since I got no deer that year the gun sat in the dry safe for about 6 months. In each case when I fired the guns months later at least two chambers per gun failed to go off and those that did were varying in their report for the pillow gun ('61 Navy 36cal) but OK for the finishing gun (44 cal US Marshall). So, it is my firm opinion that one would be best to rely on modern guns with FRESH modern ammo to save your life unless there is absolutely no alternative. Both guns are reliable when shot in CAS matches or plinking and freshly loaded.
  18. Oyeboten

    Oyeboten Well-Known Member

    Automotive grease, or anything which can or will 'migrate' would be a bad idea for having on any Ammunition or C&P sealing...it will migrate and wick into things, spoiling Powders, spoiling Primers, whether C&B or Metallic Cartridge.

    Non petroleum based Wax...stays put, no seperations, no migration...no spoiling.
  19. OYE

    OYE Well-Known Member

    Here's some data for a cylinder that was loaded for 30 days in a relative dry climate. We had it in the field several times during that span. Had no precipitation.

    First the reference data for a fresh cylinder load with the same lot number
    powder and caps.

    1858 New Army ( Remington ) 40 grains Pyrodex Pistol Powder
    Reminton #10 caps, no wad, Beeswax (softened) over ball ) .454 cast roundball.

    Ave: 1185 fps E.S. : 67 S.D. : 25
    ( common performance from this pistol )

    Data from the cylinder left loaded 30 days. Note: same load as above.
    Nipples and caps were not sealed with beeswax on this cylinder.

    Ave: 1084 fps E.S. 5 S.D 2

    We don't have data from a cylinder with the caps and nipples sealed
    ( that we have valid reference data from the same powder- cap lots at least.) We have a cylinder loaded at present that we may get that data on
    if it's not discharged in the normal course of " doing business".

    We generally don't like to leave cylinders loaded long term, but 2 weeks or so
    is fairly common around here and 30 days happen now and then as well.
    We generally keep one cylinder loaded for "serious" work and one loaded for
    "less serious " work.
  20. madcratebuilder

    madcratebuilder Well-Known Member

    The stories of old west gun fighters reloading daily is a little over blown IMHO. That would be 2,190 round balls and caps each year, and 12,775 grs of black powder. In a time and place where resources were not always available I would think these men would have learned to seal the balls and nipples with bees wax and only reload after being caught in wet weather for a period of time.

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