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Range Report: Comparing Lubed Wads to Over-The-Ball Lube in a Ruger Old Army Revolver

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by J-Bar, Mar 15, 2012.

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  1. J-Bar

    J-Bar Member

    Nov 24, 2010
    Springfield, MO
    Range Report
    Comparing Lubed Wads to Over-The-Ball Lube in an ROA

    I am one of the few persons I know who uses over-the-ball lube instead of a lubricated wad between powder and ball in a cap and ball revolver. I think I can reload faster at a Cowboy Action Match without fumbling with lubed wads and having to chase the wads that blow off the table. I would rather not be spending money on commercial wads or take the time to punch out wads and lube them myself.

    But maybe I have been wrong, since most folks prefer to use lubed wads. So I decided to run my own test…is there a enough of a difference between using lubed wads or over-the-ball lube to make me switch?

    I tested 4 different options:
    • no lube at all
    • correctly sized commercial lubed wad
    • oversized commercial lubed wad
    • over-the-ball lube

    These were the only variables. I used a Stainless Steel adjustable sighted 7.5 inch Ruger Old Army with Treso nipples, Hornady .457 round balls, 30 grains of Goex 2F powder, and Remington #10 caps for each test shot fired over a rest at 15 yards. All four options were tested on the same day, with no wind. When loading with lubed wads, I used purchased 45 caliber and 50 caliber wads made by "Muzzleloader Originals; Center Lubed with Precision Lube 2000Plus". My over-the-ball lube is the same homemade stuff I use in Cowboy Action matches, 50/50 beeswax/Crisco. This combination is more firm than Bore Butter or straight Crisco, and retains its shape even in summer temperatures. It is about the viscosity of refrigerated butter. I just smear it over the balls after all the chambers are charged. Inspection of the chamber mouths after firing a shot shows that this lube is not blown out by the gasses from the chamber next door like softer lubes.

    I shot the equivalent of a 5-stage cowboy action match for each lube option:

    • 5 shots each on 5 different targets with no lube and no wad
    • 5 shots each on 5 different targets with the .45 commercial lubed wad between powder and ball
    • 5 shots each on 5 different targets with the .50 commercial lubed wad between powder and ball. (If a wad is good, is more lube from a bigger wad better??)
    • 5 shots each on 5 different targets using my 50-50 beeswax/Crisco over the ball.

    I did not clean or lubricate the gun between the 5 sequential targets in each test set. But I did clean the gun thoroughly after shooting all 5 targets in each set so that each type of lube option got a fresh clean gun at the start of the test.


    Conclusion #1: This particular gun did not have any dragging or binding problems with any of the options, even when using no lube at all. So I used group size to judge differences in lube performance.

    Conclusion #2: Group sizes with no lube at all averaged bigger than the other three options. No real surprise there, but the difference averaged less than an inch, which was not as much as I expected.

    Conclusion #3: Using an oversized lubed wad increased group size compared to a properly sized lubed wad. In other words, a lubed wad that is too big is better than no lube at all, but not as good as the lubed wad that matches the caliber.

    Conclusion#4: There was no significant difference in group size between a 45 caliber lubed wad and my over-the-ball lube. This is what I really wanted to find out. I have not been putting myself at a competitive disadvantage by using over-the-ball lube.

    Results Details (photos):

    Group size usually increased after the first set of 5 shots for each option. This was most noticeable when using no lube at all; the no-lube groups measured 1.25, 2.5, 2.5, 3.5, 3.5.
    Average group spread with no lube was 2.65", range 1.25 to 3.5"

    Group sizes for the 45 caliber wad were 1.5, 1.0, 1.75, 1.75, 2.75
    Average group spread with the 45 caliber wad is 1.70", range 1.0 to 2.75"

    Group sizes for the 50 caliber wad were 2.0, 1.75, 2.5, 3.5, 1.5
    Average group spread with the 50 caliber wad is 2.25" range 1.5 to 3.5"

    Group sizes for the over-the-ball lube were 1.25, 2.25, 2.75, 2.25, 1.0
    Average group spread with over-the-ball lube is 1.90", range 1.0 to 2.75

    Using the over-the-ball lube, the gun seemed to shoot better as it got hotter. The last 5 shots with over the ball lube were the prettiest group of the day, one ragged hole.

    At no time did the gun become difficult to cock, even using no lube at all. So this particular ROA does not require a lot of lube to keep the barrel/cylinder gap from binding up, at least for 25 shots in a row. The gap measures 0.006" on this revolver. I suspect my 1851 Navies would not be so forgiving. Someday I will repeat the experiment using one of them. Any excuse to go shooting, you know!!

    I did not formally investigate another question of recent interest for those who make their own wads at home; whether it is worth the trouble to ream out a 7/16 punch to 15/32 to make a little bigger wad, but based on what I see in this experiment, I doubt that one would see any measurable difference in group size when using a 15/32” wad versus a 7/16 wad in a .45 caliber gun. Based on these results, I cannot imagine that a 1/32” difference in wad diameter would produce an improvement in accuracy. If a 0.05" increase in wad diameter did not improve performance over a .45 wad, then I would not expect a 0.03" increase (1/32") to make an improvement either. Run your own experiment and prove me wrong.

    I did not do this to persuade anyone else to change loading procedures. I just wanted to check to see if using over-the-ball lube put me at a disadvantage at a cowboy action shooting match. I don't think it does.

    Attached Files:

  2. Prairie Dawg

    Prairie Dawg Member

    Mar 16, 2008
    Nice Report J-Bar.
    Of course, The 2-time National Champion & current World Champion Frontiersman -- Split Rail -- Uses powder + cornmeal + ball + lube.
    So, yer not at a competitive disadvantage!
    Nice to have the data
  3. Armored farmer

    Armored farmer Member

    Mar 28, 2010
    South Eastern Illinois
    Thanks for a great report.
    I have been fretting over this subject for some time. I load both ways, but prefer to load with lubed wad.
  4. mykeal

    mykeal Member

    Sep 9, 2006
    Well done. Thanks.
  5. Pancho

    Pancho Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    Southwestern, Ohio out in the country about 40 mil
    scientific method

    Great information based on sound scientific method, changing only one variable. It makes for a conclusion that is hard to argue with.
  6. Hellgate

    Hellgate Member

    Jan 11, 2004

    Great, well done study.

    I was hoping for one more test group (the way I shoot all my C&Bs): proper size lube wad + over ball lube.

    I do not have a ROA which has a cylinder bushing so the extra lube keeps me rolling longer and the barrel clean all day in my Colt & Remington repros. I guess I gotta do my own study (some day).
  7. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

    Dec 19, 2002
    Thanks J-Bar.

    Historically the Civil War soldier didn't have wads and that didn't hinder their fighting ability.
  8. Mike 56

    Mike 56 Member

    Nov 20, 2007
    I have been playing around with using lubes, wads and fillers for it seams like for ever. I got good results using powder, lubed wad, .454 ball and small amount of Crisco around the ball. Then i started loading powder lubed wad with a little Crisco on top of the wad then loading the ball. Just enough Crisco so it does not get to the powder. My guns shot a little better with this load and i could shoot as much as i wanted and got no hard fouling on the hammer, cylinder pin, cylinder face and i could push one dry patch though the barrel and it was clean. Next i tried a lite load of 20gr of FFF powder, 20gr of cornmeal a little Crisco on the corn meal then a .454 ball and it was very accurate and shot very clean. I also tried bore butter it worked good in fact i think it was a little better than crisco but like the crisco it was a little soft. I started adding 15% bees wax to Crisco that seemed to be just right. Their always seems some thing new to try. I guess that is why i like shooting black powder.
  9. Ultravox

    Ultravox Member

    Jan 10, 2011
    Minneapolis, MN
    Thanks for the great report!
  10. Pyro

    Pyro Member

    Aug 22, 2010
    After loading a chamber I fill the rest of it with lube (vegetable shortening--Crisco).
    Lubed wads would kill the powder if I kept it loaded for a few weeks (chainfires, still worked but not great).
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