LeFever 1888 12 Gauge - Question on acceptable ammunition

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by bear166, Jan 22, 2022.

  1. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Howdy folks. Happened upon a LeFever 12 gauge today at the local gun store. I don't know a lot about shotguns, but being into antique guns in general and having been in the market for a double barrel, I had to jump on it when I was offered a price of $350. The latest patent year listed on the bottom was '88, so I reckon she's been around the block a few times.

    I should have taken a few more pictures (can't at the moment), at least one of the stock, as somewhere along the way someone absolutely butchered it while trying to add a soft pad to the butt. Guessing this is why I got such a good deal on it, as the rest of the gun appears to be in pretty good shape, all things considered. I'll warn you now, the pictures aren't great and make it look worse than it is - under proper lighting, the bores are very shiny, pitting is minor (relative to its age anyway, my Trapdoor is worse), and while there is some light surface rust it seems to be mostly relegated to where the shell would sit. I didn't even notice it there at first glance, only became apparent after looking at the picture I took. Should come out relatively easy I think. Locks up pretty tight. Overall, I'm quite certain she's in good shape to shoot.

    However, as I said, I know little about shotguns, and I'm no stranger to the fact that these old black powder-era firearms tend to be quite particular about modern ammo. And if it were up to me, black powder is the only thing I'd ever shoot out of it. As it is, I have none of the equipment necessary to load for shotguns, and because of some upcoming moving expenses (probably shouldn't have bought this either, if I hadn't got such a nice deal on it) I can't really get any of it right now. But you know how it goes... Hard not to want to go play with a brand new toy.

    So I figure it's worth asking you knowledgeable folk if there are any lighter loads on the market the old girl might be able to handle. Obviously I don't want to put anything too mean through it, just hoping to find something I can try it out with in the meantime. I know there are folks that put light smokeless loads through their Trapdoors (I personally stick to black powder only with mine), and wondering if there are similar rules for these old shotguns. And if the answer is "better safe than sorry," then that's that, she'll just have to hang on the wall for a while.

    Pictures below. I'll try and get some more later. Note the surface rust and pitting - again, I think the flash from the camera exaggerated it quite a bit, but definitely worth showing in case that presents further issues.

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  2. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    I may have answered my own question folks, after doing a little more reading. Although I myself don't have the expertise to determine this for myself, I was told that the barrels are made from Damascus steel - it seems every resource I've found so far seems to agree that smokeless powder should never be fired through one of these, and in fact I'm thinking it seems rather necessary to have a gunsmith check it out even before putting any black powder through it. Luckily I know a good one right here in town, so I think that's the first step for me. Disappointing but I'd rather keep myself (and the gun) safe.

    Still open to any additional information you might have... Just hope I don't find out that I own a wall hanger after all. We'll see what the smith says.
     
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  3. hawg

    hawg Member

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    Another thing is chamber length. Shotguns made before the turn of the century and some after had chambers anywhere from 2 inches to 2 5/8 inches. Plus the forcing cones were made for roll crimps. Also shell length is measured after firing. Just because a 2 3/4 shell will chamber doesn't mean it's what it was designed for.
     
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  4. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Thanks hawg, always appreciate your answers. That's what I'm finding as well. Of course that's something I will ask the gunsmith to determine for sure.

    It appears many suggest to never fire anything through these old Damascus barrels, good shape or not, which is very unfortunate. I will still take it to the gunsmith just to see, but it seems at a glance I may be out of luck. Though some talk of inserts to bring it down to a 20 gauge or a .410 that may make it an option, although they are expensive. Something to look into I guess.
     
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  5. hawg

    hawg Member

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    I would take it to a competent gunsmith experienced in Damascus barrels, if you can find one. I have no problems shooting Damascus barreled guns with proper loads. I have yet to see one blow out that wasn't fired with smokeless powder. Do so at your own risk. Not because I say to.
     
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  6. J-Bar

    J-Bar Member

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    I would only shoot light Blackpowder/ BP substitute shells in that one. It is an excellent idea to have it inspected by a gunsmith. About 40 grains (volume) under 7/8 or 1 ounce of shot will have almost no recoil (low pressure) and still provide good patterns for rabbits and birds at close range. I used that recipe for many years in cowboy action competition. There are videos on YouTube that show how to reload shotshells without a commercial press. The old tabletop “whackamole” Lee Loaders work dandy and can be found on eBay and flea markets and pawn shops. Finding powder and primers these days may be a challenge.
     
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  7. entropy

    entropy Member

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    Don't over look RST shells, Yes, they are out of stock right now, but eventually they will have some inventory. If your gunsmith gives it the OK, they can be fired in Damascus barreled Shotguns.

    https://www.rstshells.com/
     
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  8. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    If it is a Damascus barrel, that should be readily evident by looking for the tell tale swirls of a Damascus barrel.

    Google Damascus Barrel to see some images of Damascus barrels.

    There was another type of barrel made similar to Damascus called Twist Steel barrels, or Laminated Steel Barrels. The difference being Damascus barrels were made up of twisted layers of iron and steel, Laminated Steel barrels were made up of twisted layers of steel.

    In either case, these barrels consist of very long, twisted welds. A gunsmith may think one of these is OK by visual inspection, but there is no way to tell how much corrosion has taken place in the interior of the welds over the years.

    The only way to truly tell if a Damascus Barrel or Twisted Steel Barrel is safe is to bolt it down and fire a proof load in it remotely. If it does not blow up, it is probably safe.

    Over the years many Damascus or Twist steel barrels have probably been fired with modern smokeless shells, but I wouldn't.

    Plus there is the issue of the shorter chambers for the old roll crimped shells.

    Do have a competent gunsmith who is familiar with old shotguns take a look at it.

    Personally, with a shotgun that old I would not shoot it with anything other than Black Powder shells.

    I load Black Powder shells for CAS all the time, it is not that hard.
     
  9. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Thanks for the advice fellas, I'll answer these individually since they're all full of good info.

    That's a good call, I didn't even think about using a Lee Loader. Would eventually like to get a proper set up (and since writing the initial question I may actually have found a lead on one) but that is a good idea if that falls through. Thank you for the idea on a load as well, I am interested in using it for hunting in the future if it proves to be a trusty gun so I'm glad to know that there is a low-power but effective load that could be useful.

    I did come across those in my searches. I may give them a shot but I think I do want to try some real black powder first.

    Always appreciate your replies as well Driftwood, always comprehensive and informative. The pattern of the Damascus method has faded pretty significantly but upon closer inspection, the swirls are there so I am confident in saying that it is indeed Damascus (or at least some sort of twisted steel). I did observe a small dent on the barrel as well. I will definitely take it to the gunsmith regardless, but I believe you are right in suggesting to fire a proof load remotely. That is the direction I will go if he gives it the OK.

    For now at least I think I will plan on sticking to black powder. I'm not too worried about how difficult it would be to load, most of my reloading is done with black powder these days. Although I'm new to shotguns, I'm aware of the anatomy of a black powder shotgun shell and don't expect too many issues with that. Just gotta get the right tools!
     
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  10. LaneP

    LaneP Member

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    Just an anecdote to your acquisition but my dad collected a number of antique longarms in the 50's and 60's when they were practically giving them away. Including a Civil War era British Tower musket, a percussion converted 1827 Springfield and a Parker double caplock 10 gauge shotgun. He would load them up with a healthy dose of BP, securely tie them to a tire and touch them off with a long string while behind cover. None of them blew up, and after passing his remote fire test he would shoot them regularly.

    Good advice to have it looked over though, one can never be too careful.
     
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  11. Big Bore 44

    Big Bore 44 Member

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    I personally would and have shot Damascus barreled shotguns using smokeless loads. The trick is to keep chamber pressures low. 7500 psi should be about max. A 3 dram 12 gauge can make up to 12000 psi with BP. IMR 4756 and SR7625 using IIRC Ballistic Products load data, get some 1330 FPS Pheasant smackers under 7500PSI.
     
  12. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    I have a friend who shoots Damascus barrels with light loads.

    I reiterate what I said before. A Damascus barrel has many, many feet of welds in it.

    Look at the photos on this website showing how a Damascus barrel was made.

    http://www.hallowellco.com/damascus_twist_barrels.htm


    When first made, a Damascus barrel was fired with a proof load to make sure it was safe.

    But in the ensuing 100 years or so there is no way to tell if hidden corrosion has taken place in the interior of the welds.

    The only way to tell is to proof it again with a heavy load.
     
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  13. hawg

    hawg Member

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    I used off the shelf 2 3/4 smokeless loads in Damascus barrels when I was a kid and didn't know any better. I wont do it now.
     
  14. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    What does a heavy load (in terms of proofing the barrel) entail when it comes to black powder? Is there a particular amount of powder, type of shot, etc. one should be using for such a purpose?
     
  15. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    In an old video dating back to about 1969, Wallace Gusler, the gunsmith at Colonial Williamsburg would test his flintlock barrels by fastening them to a board and firing them remotely with a trail of powder on the ground, just like you see in movies about the Old West. These were iron rifle barrels he forged himself. He charged the barrel with 4X as much powder as his usual charge and his regular patched ball. If the barrel survived (they usually did) he then would build the rest of the rifle. From scratch. Gussler mentioned that the recoil from this charge would probably break a rifle stock, part of the reason he fastened the barrel to a board. The other reason was since these were custom made rifles, there was no point to building the rest of the rifle (Lock and Stock) if the barrel was no good.

    I AM NOT RECOMMENDING A CHARGE OF 4X THE NORMAL LOAD FOR AN OLD SHOTGUN, THAT IS WHAT ONE EXPERT GUNSMITH DID WHEN BUILDING A RIFLE FROM SCRATCH.

    I do not have any recommendation as to proofing an old Damascus barreled shotgun. My own Black Powder shot gun loads are relatively light, only about 65 grains of FFg Schuetzen under a 1 1/8 ounce load of #8 shot. I only fire these in shotguns with modern steel barrels, I do not own any Damascus barreled shotguns because I would not shoot them.

    Here is a link to the old video about Gusler building a Flintlock rifle from scratch. Terrific stuff. He proofs the barrel at about 15:00 into the video. Gusler was a young man when the video was made, he retired a few years ago.
    Be sure to watch the entire video, it is fascinating. Quiz: who is the narrator?

     
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  16. LaneP

    LaneP Member

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    Very cool vid. These days with the somewhat spotty supply and cost of BP, I'd use cannon fuse.
     
  17. beag_nut

    beag_nut Member

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    More than 50 years ago I had a dear friend who was quite an accomplished hunter. He used a 30-40 Krag, with blackpowder cartridges. One of the things he said I will never forget: "After the rifle went off I had to run around the cloud of smoke to see if I hit anything." (He had 17 deer head trophies in his farmhouse.) I might imagine the same would occur while birdhunting.
     
  18. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    John Facenda?
     
  19. Johnm1

    Johnm1 Member

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    Nope. It sounded like all those Inside the NFL shows I remember from the 60's and 70's. But it wasn't.
     
  20. paul harm

    paul harm Member

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    I've been shooting Damascus barreled SxSs for over 17 years, maybe 25 to 30 different guns. I also have put on a SxSs shoot for about 15 years and many guys show up every year with Damascus barreled SxSs. Everyone shoots smokeless powder in their guns, usually handloads. Sherman Bell did a series of articles in the Double Gun Journal where he tried to blow up over 20 Damascus barreled guns with Remington proof loads - 18,240psi. None of them blew. He even took one Parker to 30,000psi before it did blow. I'm not saying all Damascus guns are safe, but showing they're not inherently unsafe. And as far as I know there has never been a Damascus barrel gun that rusted from the inside of the barrel. The inside is sealed and oxygen is needed to form rust. But that's a debate for another time.
    My oldest at this time is a 1873 Remington hammer lifter made in 74 [ serial number ]. Your Lefever is a " Uncle Dan " Lefever and is considered better than a later one. There should be a big screw head at the front of the receiver. It's in there VERY, VERY tight but gives one the means to turn it out keeping the barrels tight against the face of the receiver. It's the only SxS made like that. My good friend has one and he shoots his all the time with Nitro powders.
    The British have always shot and proofed Damascus barreled shotguns, rifle and pistols even to this day. Lefever was a quality made gun back in the day. If you can't see light shinning through the side of the barrel :) and the breech end has .100 wall thickness and the muzzle end .040 or more, you should be good to go. I never had any of mine checked by a gunsmith. Probably 98% of the gunsmiths will tell you not to shoot it to cover their a$$ for lawsuits. It's pretty much common sense. Black powder loads were usually no more than 7500psi [ but some were much more ] so if you keep your loads in that range there should be no problem. I do because I'm more afraid of cracking the stock than blowing up the barrels. If the shot charge is 7/8 or less, there are many published hand loads out there lower than 7500psi. Don't be afraid to shoot it because it has a Damascus barrel. American gun makers needed something to boast sales of the " new steel fluid " barrels, so they told everyone how unsafe Damascus barrels were and you needed to buy a new gun. And that BS was repeated so much everyone over here believes it. Someone should have told the British Proof Houses. They some how missed the message.
    If you decide you don't want that " wall hanger ", let me know. I'll dispose of it in a safe manner for you at no expense.
     
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  21. paul harm

    paul harm Member

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    Don't get me wrong - I do at times shoot BP shells. About 75grs of 3F [ 80 of 2F], fiber wads, and 1 ounce of shot is a nice 12ga load. But after 45 years of shooting muzzle loading rifles, pistols, and shotguns, and the clean up involved, I usually stick to nitro powders in my shotguns. And for Damascus steel. I forged my own Damascus knives for about 15 years, so I do know something about Damascus. I won't buy a shotgun anymore unless it is Damascus. It's a lost art to make them, and there are only so many of them still around. Each one is a treasure to look at, and to shoot, as they were intended to do. That barrel don't know if it's 8000psi of BP, or nitro. It's still just so much pressure no matter how it's made.
     
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  22. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Amazing answer... I feel much better educated on this subject now, after reading all that. First of all... Even if she turns out to be a wall hanger, I'm afraid to say she'll be hanging on my wall, haha. But maybe that won't be the case anyways.

    I'll put some pictures in this post. First of all, as you'll see, I do believe someone already split this stock. And their repair was either haphazard, or just didn't hold up super well to time. I like it though. Adds character.

    There's a handful of screws on the receiver, and I'm not entirely sure which one you are referring to, if it's there at all. I'll add some pictures of the receiver. But one thing I have noticed after playing around with this thing a little more is it actually doesn't lock up all that well on closing. Interestingly, the lever doesn't seem to quite close all the way, and when I push it toward the left, it does lock up entirely as it should (note: the image of the lever shows a very exaggerated picture of this effect, so that I could show both screws under the lever; in actuality it makes more of a 91*/89* angle). However, after releasing pressure against the lever, it goes back to having a little bit of slop. Maybe this screw you mentioned could be adjusted to control that? Sorry, again, pretty new to these things! Also, for the record, I noticed the latest patent year is actually 1887, not 1888. Misspoke in the OP.

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  23. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Oh, and I forgot to mention, the wall thickness is over .055 at the muzzle, and nearly .175 at the breech if I'm doing my measurements right. So that's a good sign.
     
  24. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Did some looking around on the internet, and I found this interesting information: https://www.lefevercollectors.com/history-of-d-m-lefever/photo-gallery/

    Seems like there were shotguns with the same patent markings being made up until at least 1903 based on some of those pictures, so it's hard to say how old this thing really is aside from the fact that it must be later than '87. I also think I see what screw you're talking about in some of those pictures, and if it's the one you're talking about, it doesn't appear my Lefever has one.
     
  25. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    David Brinkley

    I am dating myself but I remember the Huntley Brinkley Report on the news every night.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brinkley
     
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