Some of you may profit from my 30 years of shooting cap and ball revolvers, so I've written a long treatise on how best to load them and what you need. This is long, so you'll want to print this out for later reference. 1. When you first receive your revolver, familiarize yourself with its operation. Particularly important is learning how to completely disassemble it down to the last screw and part because you'll need to do this later for cleaning. Use a good quality screwdriver that fits well in the screwheads. This will prevent burred screw heads down the line. Some nipple wrenches have screwdrivers on them, but they almost all fit poorly and should not be used. Most bores of new black powder revolvers need smoothing. Buy some JB Bore Cleaning Compound (in a little white plastic jar) or Iosso Bore Cleaner (in a white metal tube) and work this into a patch that will fit snugly in the bore. Work this back and forth for a polishing effect. I would suggest at least a dozen patches of this treatment for a new bore. After six or so patches, you'll notice that the bore is noticeably smoother. You may also smooth the chambers in your cylinder with the same treatment. Do this all by hand; a drill or other machines can remove metal too quickly. 1a. BEWARE OF BRASS FRAMES: Unless you wish to replicate what a few Confederates carried, steer clear of brass-framed guns. Brass is not as strong as steel and will get stretched over time with the pressures of firing. Also, in my experience, brass-framed guns are simply not as well-made as their steel brethren. 2. Black powder is usually more accurate in these revolvers than Pyrodex. I don't know why, but that's been my experience. However, considering that every firearm is an individual, with its own likes and dislikes, it behooves you to try both under careful conditions of comparison. I use Goex FFFG in all my black powder revolvers. If you can't find black powder in your area, then try Pyrodex P or any of the other black powder substitutes. I haven't tried any of the newer black powder substitutes and cannot comment on them. 3. Use lubricated, felt wads between the ball and powder. During hot days of low humidity, I also put lubricant over the ball in conjunction with the wad. I've found that the extra lubricant during dry conditions keeps fouling softer and helps accuracy. Well-lubricated felt wads may leave an exceedingly clean bore. NEVER use smokeless powder in any black powder arm. Period. 4. Snap at least two caps on each nipple before the first loading. This blows all crud and oil out of the nipples and chamber. 5. Hot, soapy water is best for cleaning these revolvers. I've tried all kinds of wonder cleaners but still return to hot, soapy water. I fill a plastic basin half full of water, put in a chunk of Ivory soap (it floats, so you never have to search for it), and while the water is getting soapy I disassemble my revolver down to its last screw and part. Don't forget to remove the nipples from the cylinder. Everything but the wooden grips go into the water. An assortment of small, stiff, plastic brushes aid cleaning immeasurably. Pipe cleaners and Q-tips are good too, for reaching those tight spaces inside the frame. I work up a good lather on my brushes before cleaning each part. The soap really cuts grease. Pipe cleaners fit perfectly inside the nipple cone. A quick twist of the pipe cleaner in the cone, underwater, will clean it quickly. Purchase a small, plastic colander to fit in your basin. When you've finished cleaning the part, separate it from the rest by placing it in this submerged colander. Keep all of your parts under water until the final rinse later. If you take them out, they will rust in minutes. When all parts are clean, move to the kitchen sink. Preheat the oven to its lowest setting, usually about 150 degrees, and leave the oven door slightly open. Put a sink-stop with built in strainer in the sinkhole to catch any parts that might escape the colander. Rinse the parts in the colander under hot, tap water. Immediately pat parts dry with paper towels. Run at least three dry patches down the bore to remove any moisture. Each cylinder chamber should get at least two dry patches. Give a quick puff of breath through each nipple, from the flat end. This will blow out any water in the nipple. Puts all parts (except wooden grips, of course) in a low metal pan and place in the warm oven. Leave in the oven at least 30 minutes. This will drive any moisture out of the metal parts. While the parts are still warm, cover well with olive oil, lard, tallow, Crisco or any commercially made black powder lubricant. Vegetable or animal-based oils are best for black powder, as they reduce fouling. These warm parts will soak up these natural oils quickly. Don't be afraid to reapply. These will season the metal and prevent fouling from sticking so readily. I saturate a clean patch with tallow or Crisco and push it down the bore. A hot barrel will soak up a lot of this natural grease but that's good. A non-petroleum grease on the cylinder pin (Crisco is good) will keep the cylinder from binding from fouling. The revolver may be stored with this grease on it; Crisco doesn't seem to dry out like other natural greases. I also like to lubricate all screw theads with Crisco or beeswax; it makes them easier to remove later after a long firing session. Wooden grips can be cleaned with a damp cloth to remove black powder fouling. Allow to dry for a bit, then apply lemon oil (available at the grocery store) to the wood, inside and out. This will keep the wood from drying and warping. When reassembling a Colt revolver, ensure the wedge is tight in the frame. I tap my wedge with a small nylon-faced hammer until the cylinder begins to drag when rotated. Then, I give it a couple of small taps OUT until the cylinder revolves freely again. A Colt-design cap and ball revolver will not shoot nearly as accurately if the wedge is comparatively loose. If you can push it out with your fingers, it's much too loose. 6. Use a separate powder measure or flask with screw-on powder measure to charge the chambers with powder. Trying to guess the amount of powder by looking at its level in the chambers is very inconsistent. After charging the chambers, seat a felt wad (commercially available or hand-punched) with your thumb into the mouth of each chamber. Then seat the wad firmly onto the powder with the rammer in a separate operation. It's much harder to seat a ball if it also has to push the wad down and compress the powder. This resistance can deform your ball. Also, should you forget to put powder in a chamber, and seat the wad, it's easier to remove a felt wad than it is a tightly gripped ball. .36-caliber wads may be cut from stiff felt with a 3/8-inch hole punch. Cut .44 wads from a .45-caliber wad punch, sold by Buffalo Arms of Sandpoint, Idaho. The limp felt sold in hobby shops is unsuitable for wads. I use the nail-on felt weatherseal sold by Frost King of Mahwah, N.J. or Sparks, Nev., and sold in most hardware stores. Sold in a 17-foot roll, 1-1/4" wide and 3/16 inch thick for less than $4, this will provide you with hundreds of wads. Whatever you use, ensure it is truly wool felt! A lot of felt is polyester --- a plastic that will leave melted deposits in your bore that must be scrubbed out. Go with wool! After seating all wads, seat the balls. Each ball should be tight enough to shave a small ring of lead from its diameter upon seating. If it doesn't, a larger ball may be needed. In the chambers of my own Colt Navy, the standard .375 inch ball is nearly a slip-fit. Therefore, I use balls of .380 inch for a proper fit. Warren Muzzleloading of Arkansas (www.warrenmuzzleloading.com) sell excellent, sprueless .380 inch balls. If you're using cast balls that have a sprue or teat from casting, center this sprue UP in the cylinder. It is difficult to get the sprue mark perfectly centered in the chamber, when viewing from the side, so I remove the cylinder when possible for this operation, if I'm target shooting at the benchrest. In my Navy, I can set three sprued balls in place with a light tap from a brass hammer (never use ferrous metal, as it may cause sparks). This light tap keeps them in place and from falling out when I replace the cylinder. Then I replace the cylinder into the Navy and seat the three balls with the rammer. My Remingtons will only allow two balls at a time to be tapped in because the frame is in the way. If possible, use a mould that doesn't create sprues (Lee makes them), or use swaged lead balls. It will eliminate centering the sprue mark. 7. Don't change components indiscriminately. Caps differ remarkably. I have had my best grouping with Remington No. 10 caps in the Navy, and CCI No. 10 caps in the Remington .36 and .44 calibers. Some nipples prefer No. 10 caps, others prefer No. 11. If the cap is a snug fit and bottoms out on the nipple, that's the one to go with. Some of the Colt Dragoon and Walker replicas are made for the No. 12 cap, as were the originals. This cap is difficult to find but I recently saw some Remington No. 12 caps in new packages; apparently production has been resumed. I pinch the cap together a bit, into an elliptical shape, to make it cling better to the nipple. I wish some manufacturer would market elliptically-shaped caps. Revolver and rifle shooters usually pinch their caps, so why have them round? Use lead as soft as possible, pure lead if you can find it, if you cast your own. Harder lead bullets are not nearly as accurate and are much more difficult to ram down into the chamber. But if wheelweight lead is all you can find, use it. It's not hard enough to cause damage when seating. I once used it when it was all I could get. Accuracy was fine, but it caused leading in my revolvers (the only time I've seen that happen). 8. Buy a revolver-loading stand. This holds the revolver upright while loading and gives you a much better "feel" for how much pressure you're applying to wads and projectiles as you seat them. It also stores the revolver upright, in a safe position, if you're not quite ready to fire. 9. Do not use greases or oils that are petroleum-based. The older black powder manuals suggest using automotive grease over the chambers of revolvers. Don't do it. Petroleum-based greases somehow create a hard, tar-like fouling when combined with the black powder. The proper grease or oil is animal or vegetable-based, such as Crisco, canola, beeswax, sunflower, commercial lard, mutton tallow and similar substances. An exception appears to be canning paraffin, used to seal jars of preserves. I've used it for a number of years in a lubricant recipe and it has never caused the hard, tarry fouling associated with petroleum products, though paraffin is decidedly a petroleum product. I'm told that canning paraffin lacks the hydrocarbons of other petroleum products, which is apparently the culprit. My own patch, wad and bullet lubricant is a 19th century recipe, found in a 1943 issue of the American Rifleman. The recipe is: 1 part paraffin (I use canning paraffin, found in grocery stores) 1 part mutton tallow (sold by Dixie Gun Works) 1/2 part beeswax (available at hobby and hardware stores) All measures are by weight, not volume. I use a kitchen scale to measure 200 grams of paraffin, 200 grams of mutton tallow and 100 grams of beeswax. This nearly fills a quart Mason jar. Place the Mason jar in a pot or coffee can with about 4 inches of boiling water. This gives a double-boiler effect, which is the safest way to melt waxes and greases. When the ingredients in the jar are thoroughly melted, stir well with a clean stick or a disposable chopstick. Remove from water and allow to cool at room temperature. Hastening cooling by placing in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to separate. This creates a lubricant nearly identical to commercially available black powder lubricants, at a much cheaper price. To use, place a small amount of the lubricant in a clean tuna or pet food can. Melt in a shallow pan of water. Drop your revolver wads or patches into the can and stir them around with a clean stick until all wads or patches are saturated. Allow to cool then snap a plastic lid (available in the pet food aisle) over the can and store in a cool, dry place. This keeps dust and crud out and retains the lubricant's natural moistness. I don't bother to squeeze out the excess lubricant from patches or wads but use them as-is. This is an excellent bullet lubricant for all black powder uses. I also use it for patches in my .50-caliber muzzleloading rifle, and lubricating cast bullets for my .44-40 and .45-70 rifles. I've tried it with .357 Magnum bullets at up to 1,200 feet per second and it prevents leading. I haven't tried it at a higher velocity with smokeless powder. I like the addition of paraffin in this bullet lubricant, because it stiffens the felt wad, which scrapes out fouling better. I've used the Ox-Yoke Wonder Wads in the past and they're good, but lack enough lubricant for my likes. I soak them in the above lubricant. With a well-lubricated wad twixt ball and powder, you can shoot all day without ever swabbing the bore, unless it is exceedingly hot and dry. In this instance, I place a bit of natural grease over the ball to augment the wad's lubricant. 10. Find your most accurate load by firing at regular targets, at a known range (usually 25 yards) and keep meticulous notes. I use a large sheet of plywood as a holder, covered in butcher paper. Then I place the target in the middle of this. Having such a wide area will reveal any tell-tale flyers that show a load is inaccurate. Holes in the white paper can be covered with a bit of cheap, narrow masking tape. Holes in the black may be covered with black target pasters (available at gun stores) or black electrician's tape. I keep notes of each session, showing date, temperature, components, wind direction in relation to which direction I'm shooting and other factors. It's amazing how much this can mean down the road. Many shooters think, "I'm just going to plink with it and I don't want to go through all that bother." Perhaps. But you still want to hit that can, don't you? A little tedious work at the beginning will determine your most accurate load --- and result in a lot of cans lying label-down in the dust. 11. Check the tightness of your screws regularly when firing. I've lost screws that backed out from recoil. The Colt designs are particularly troublesome for this. The screws in the loading lever of a Colt design are particularly prone to jump ship and find a new home in the grass or rocks. They are exceedingly difficult to find. A cheap metal detector will pay for itself in found screws and missing cartridge cases from modern guns --- if all those .22 rimfire cases common to shooting areas don't confuse it. 12. Colt revolvers, whether original or reproductions, shoot high. They were made to hit dead-on at about 75 yards. My little Colt 1862 Pocket Model hits dead on at about 100-yards! Its groups cluster about 10 inches above the point of aim at 25 yards, from a benchrest. My Colt Navy hits about 6 inches high at 25 yards. Reproduction Remingtons have tall front sights and shoot low because of it. This must be intentional, to allow you to carefully file down the front sight, thus bringing the group up to hit dead-on at 25 or 50 yards (whichever you prefer). However, do this filing at the range and only one or two swipes at a time on the front sight. My Remington .44 shot about 14 inches low when I first got it. I've filed the front sight a bit, bringing it to shoot about 6 inches low at 25 yards from a benchrest. I'm doing one pass of the file at a time to slowly bring it up. It's tedious work, but it assures that I'll have it dead-on eventually. However, watch not only your sight alignment as you file but the appearance of the barrel. In some revolvers, the view of the frame in the sight alignment will interfere with the view of the front sight. If this is the case, you simply have to stop before the front sight is obscured, and aim low to compensate. Shooting cap and ball revolvers is a fascinating, fun hobby. To keep everything together, buy a large fishing box with plenty of compartments. As time goes by, you'll find yourself adding more items and gadgets to the box. You may also buy other revolvers in different calibers, each requiring their own wads, balls and caps. Aside from caps, balls, lubricants, wads and powder add the following to your box: Small notebook and pencils. Push-tacks for targets. Fine-tip felt pen for writing on targets you wish to keep. The felt tip shows up better. Screwdrivers. Length of wooden dowel, to tap out a stuck bullet. For the .36-caliber, use 5/16 dowel. For the .44, use 7/16 dowel. Small brass mallet. Plenty of pre-cut patches for cleaning. 1/8" brass rod, about 5 inches long. If you get a ball stuck in a chamber without powder, remove the cylinder from the revolver and the nipple behind the stuck ball. Insert the brass rod where the nipple was and tap out the ball. Small spray bottle of soapy water for quick swabbing. Masking tape and black electrician's tape or target pasters. Q-Tips and pipe cleaners. Nipple wrench. Various powder measures. Lee makes a dipper set that is very good. I have an excellent pistol measure that adjusts from 10 to 30 grains in 1-grain increments. Alas, I can't remember who made it. Good-sized rag to wipe hands. Pistol loading stand. New nipples, set of six. I always replace nipples as a set. This way, if one starts to go bad I can figure the others are not far behind. White grease pencil, to number chambers on the cylinder. This can show you which chamber is the most accurate or bothersome at the range, yet it's not a permanent marking. White grease pencils are found in stationery stores. They're often used to mark the back of china plates, and such. Sight Black by Birchwood Casey. This spray-can puts a thin layer of jet-black carbon on your sights. This is particularly useful on Colt revolvers with their brass bead that glares in the sun. Sight Black is easily rubbed or washed off. Film container to put scrap lead in. I save my lead shavings and any recovered balls for the melting pot. Stingy me, I know! Spare parts such as mainspring, trigger spring, screws, wedge and so on. This can save you weeks of waiting for a new part. It took me years to learn much of what I've offered here, much of it through trial, error and "Hey, why couldn't I? â€¦" I have no doubt you'll learn something new from it and you may even disagree with something but it's offered to advance the sport of cap and ball revolver shooting. I'm still learning, after nearly 35 years of shooting cap and ball revolvers. I expect I'll lie in my grave and mutter, "Damn, why didn't I try that?" Copyright by "Gatofeo" 2003. Printed by permission.