When you experience a chain fire on a BP revolver what's it like?

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by Tallbald, Jul 12, 2017.

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  1. Tallbald

    Tallbald Member

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    I've never had a chain fire on any of my Ruger Old Armys. But it could, I realize, happen despite me taking what I think are all proper cautions. I'm not a really experienced BP revolver shooter, with only maybe 600 rounds or so under my belt in my years at it. I use .457 round ball that shaves a ring, over a waxed thick felt home made wad as taught elsewhere here on the forum. Triple Seven FFFG substitute exclusively. I always cap while pointed downrange too, and make sure caps are snug (still working on perfect seating though). Safety glasses and ear protection always.
    I've studied the reported causes of chain fires. But I've not seen much discussion on the results to a shooter and the gun when a chain fire occurs. In my reading, chain fires are at times referred to as a surprising thing more startling than anything else, with maybe a jammed ball between cylinder front and frame. Doesn't it sort of depend on which and how many chambers fire in the "chain" scenario? Does a chain fire remove fingers and hands? Not being funny here. I just want to understand the worst case and the most common case sort of chain fire results.
    Thanks as always for the education as shared. Don.
     
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  2. rodwha

    rodwha Member

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    My father had a chain fire while we were at the range. It startled him. He used felt wads too.

    There was a fast dome where the barrel was removed from a Colt Army and the ball was clocked at something like 100 fps or so. It only had about 10 ft/lbs of energy and it was figured it may not even break the skin. I certainly wouldn't test it!

    Your hands shouldn't ever be in front of the cylinder though.
     
  3. Tallbald

    Tallbald Member

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    The felt wads I make are from 1/8 inch thick wool felt (Durofelt) cut using a drill press mounted plug cutter. I use a double boiler setup to mix up a concoction of beeswax/shortening/olive oil, then pour the hot mix over the felt which is laid out flat in a shallow pan and the felt is allowed to cool hard. I get thousands of wads for just a few dollars. The wads have accumulated wax mix on them that really seals the chambers over the powder. The ball further seals the chamber as a ring is shaved when loading. Cleanup has been easy. I still cringe a little though when capping. Sometimes wonder if I'll ever get over the cringe thing. Don.
     
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  4. Erwan

    Erwan Member

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    Hi,
    You can do all you want when loading by the front of the cylinder: if you must have a chainfire you'll get a chainfire....

    The chainfires aren't coming from the front of the cylinder but from the rear side.
    To get chainfire from front side after loading that can be only if your are using undersized bullets, this never exist with the right size.

    You better look behind and look the primers, if nipples are correctly joinning with them and if all is free of black powder residues.
    Be careful if you pinch yours primers and if your granulation is good, also the holes of the nipples: dirty alveoles, pinched primers, too small granulation and big holes aren't pretty good for safety and to prevent chainfires.

    If the loading is good the chambers are perfectly sealed and the fire can only come from behind...

    Chainfire isn't a myth, but from the front of the barrel you can be sure that this is a myth...
     
  5. Crawdad1

    Crawdad1 Member

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    I'll always believe that you really have to go out of your way to get a chain fire. Not just one stupid mistake but a lot of them and almost to the point where you're loading your revolver saying to yourself, I really NEED this revolver to chain fire so this is what I'm going to do.

    Just keep following some common sense rules.
     
  6. 44 Dave

    44 Dave Member

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    Extra smoke and mess and wasted shot!
    The last one was caused by wrong nipples allowing the cap to hit the recoil shield.
    50 years ago, under size balls cast with brass mold in a cased set. They were greased with Crisco but may have moved from recoil.
     
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  7. 792mauser

    792mauser Member

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    I've had a few chain fires. Only one unintended. Set up a few to really see if it was a chain fire and if I could replicate it.
    They feel like a extended recoil impulse.
    The first one was a shock.
     
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  8. drobs

    drobs Member

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    Before ever firing my 1st cap & ball revolver, I looked into chain-fires.
    There is a similar thread running on the firing line right now. I'm copying my post over to here.

    This gentleman purposely made his firearms chain-fire and theorizes that the majority of chain-fires happen on the 2nd loading from shooters who use lube over ball.

    http://www.geojohn.org/BlackPowder/bps2.html

    On the 2nd loading, grains of BP can be caught in the grease between the ball and chamber wall.

    PowderTrain.jpg

    I'm not opposed to purposely trying to get my gun to chain-fire but unfortunately I'm on the other side of the world.
     
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  9. rodwha

    rodwha Member

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    I have a huge problem with this theory. I don't find it even remotely possible that hard lead gave way to a black powder granule creating a channel. My sense of logic has failed me before but I just don't see how this could be possible.
     
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  10. RPRNY

    RPRNY Member

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    Surprising and unpleasant, one imagines. But there is no reason to find out.

    As is usual in such matters, the vehement orthodoxy of various schools of thought have come out: "chainfires only occur from the rear" etc. And, as is always the case with such rigid orthodoxy, the correct response is poppycock.

    Chainfires occur due to sloppy loading practices. If they are occurring due to "loose caps" or some such at the rear of the cylinder, the wisdom of the operator continuing to use such complicated firearms, let alone drive a car or operate machinery, is at serious question.

    If they are happening at the front, it is due to sloppiness. Overball lube is a major contributor to sloppiness and, in this day and age with all manner of wads available, is both unnecessary and ill-advised. That you have been doing so since 1975 without a single chainfire does not matter one little bit. It is not necessary and remains inadvisable. If you load cylinder on the gun with loose powder, you increase the risk of a chainfire vs loading off the gun and being able to ensure you don't have powder dribbling through some absurdly large nipples or caking around chamber mouths etc. If one wishes to avoid risk to the greatest extent possible, swabbing chambers before reloading to get any residue out and using paper cartridges with a lubed wad under ball is about as risk free as one can get. Since we are none of us using these revolvers in combat, loading on the gun with loose powder is an indulgence rather than necessity and one must accept that increased risk according to one's own calculation of risk/return.

    If the powder is in the chamber only, under wad and ball, and one has appropriately sized nipples and caps that fit them, one will not get chainfires.
     
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  11. drobs

    drobs Member

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    RPRNY basically explained it - sloppy loading practices w/ grains of power being crushed between the ball and chamber wall is one of the multiple possible causes.
    I agree under size ball could cause it, wrong size nipples that hit the recoil shield could cause it, a gouge or high spot on the recoil shield, could cause it. Improperly drilled / cut chambers could cause it. Powder leaking out a of an oversized nipple hole could cause it.
     
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  12. 792mauser

    792mauser Member

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    ^^^^^^^^^^^
    Yup. I had to get really sloppy to get it to set off more than one chamber. Never could zero in on exactly how. But when I got purposely sloppy, after a while boom...pop.pop, chain fire.
     
  13. Crawdad1

    Crawdad1 Member

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    Here's a good video.



    Notice how undersized the balls were when it chain fired at 1:38, Like I said before you really have to go out of your way to get a chain fire.
     
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  14. rodwha

    rodwha Member

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    When my father had his chain fire next to me I wouldn't say he was sloppy. I'll have to ask him, but I don't think he had cap fit issues, but he certainly us d wads and what I figured to be proper sized balls. I'll have to ascertain that too, though flame won't pass through a wad which makes the front moot anyway.

    I must admit that the idea of flame making a 180* turn and passing down the tiny channel hard to swallow too, but then it's the only thing that makes sense in my father's case.

    I've read of another testing this by loading but not capping but one chamber and no issues with a chainfire.
     
  15. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    I don't often get too riled by some of the arrogant opinions that I see on this board, but this one really ticks me off.

    Just for the record sonny, the last time I had a chainfire was almost fifty years ago. And I did not do anything stupid.

    I can still remember exactly what it felt like, the gun jumped forward, not backward, in recoil.

    A little bit of background. I bought my first Black Powder revolver in 1968 when I was 18 years old. Yes, I am dating myself. I had learned that in New Jersey where I lived, it was legal for an 18 year old to own a Cap & Ball revolver. So I borrowed my Dad's car on a Saturday and drove down to the old Navy Arms showroom in Ridgefield NJ. There I parted with 40 hard earned dollars and bought what was advertised in the catalog at the time as the 'Army Model 60'. I remember it well. It was really a brass framed Navy with a rebated 44 caliber cylinder. I did not know at the time that the Navy model was never chambered for 44 caliber, and I did not know that a brass framed revolver was not the best C&B revolver to buy. But it was affordable, so that's what I drove home with. Yes, if you look you can see the Uberti symbol stamped on the side of the frame.

    FirstPistol.jpg

    In those days, there was no such thing as felt wads. Wonder Wads had not been invented yet. Standard practice in those days was to goop Crisco over the balls after charging the chambers with powder and ball. Also back then, none of the gun magazines mentioned light charges for a brass framed C&B, so I was using about 30 grains of Goex the standard charge for a 44 caliber C&B. No, I do not remember what granulation.

    I ALWAYS used oversized balls and ALWAYS made sure a ring was shaved off. That much we did know.

    Regarding the discussions of where a chain fire originates, in all the arguments I have heard over the years, nobody ever mentions the fact that an imperfection in the ball, a dent or a gouge, might leave a tiny void open for an errant spark to find its way to the powder in an adjacent chamber.

    The fact is, Crisco was a lousy way to cover a ball, but we did not know better back then. What would happen is the hot gasses blasted out of the barrel/cylinder gap would melt the Crisco in the adjacent chamber, reducing it to a runny constancy which would drip out of the chamber. Pretty useless as a spark arrester in case of a malformed ball.

    So one day, probably about 1970, I was drawing a bead on a woodchuck. When I pulled the trigger, the report was about twice as loud as usual, and the gun bucked forward in my hand. One ball went down the barrel, the one in the adjacent chamber struck the rear of the barrel assembly and took off for I don't know where. It was that woodchuck's lucky day.

    I have no idea exactly how the chainfire happened, if there was a void in the ball where it seated in the chamber, if a cap was fitted loosely, or anything else. But I can assure you that I did not do anything stupid, much less a bunch of them.

    I will say that once Wonder Wads became available on the market I always used them, placing one between the powder and the ball, making a more effective spark arrester than the tiny ring of shaved off lead, and I never used Crisco again.

    And I will also say that ever since the chainfire, that gun tended to shoot high, because the ball slamming into the rear of the barrel stretched the brass frame, causing the barrel to point slightly up when the wedge was snugged in the proper amount. Today it is just a wall hanger.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
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  16. Crawdad1

    Crawdad1 Member

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    I'm glad you're 'ticked off' buster because what I was trying to say to these new shooters is stop worrying about this 'chain fire' in a revolver. Its an extremely uncommon occurrence and a lot of things have to go wrong before one happens.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2017
  17. drobs

    drobs Member

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    Reminds me of a joke, I'm sure most here have already heard.
    Link:

    http://www.survivalistboards.com/showthread.php?t=315245
     
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  18. tartancat

    tartancat Member

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    My first C&B pistol was a Colt 1851 Navy made up from parts by the Museum Of Historical Arms.The nipples were burnt out to near 1/8", but this was 1955 and I had no way of obtaining replacements-- if I had even recognized that they were needed.I was in the RCAF, stationed at St Huberts Quebec, so got a friend to drive me a few miles away from the base and stopped beside a flooded/frozen-and re-thawed field, slung a gallon can onto the wet ice and unlimbered my new toy. Aimed carefully, touched her off, and-----brrrack!! -all 6 went, and they all went down the barrel!!The squirt of gas from those huge nipple-holes blew the hammer buck, which rotated the cylinder, the trigger was still pulled, the hammer dropped again--repeat, repeat repeat ! The first fully automatic gas operated percussion pistol ! Exciting, but hard on one,s underwear!
     
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  19. Jimster

    Jimster Member

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    Had a chain fire back in about 1989. I had an old .44 brass framed farby revolver (bought at a Western Auto store way back in the 70s) and I pinched the caps to make a tighter fit but one time I guess the poorly fitting caps caused a chain fire which fired the main charge and the one next to it on the left. I knew something wrong happened because it felt different but it happened so fast that I was simply surprised for a moment. The wedge caught a chunk of round ball but no injury at all to my hand. Lesson learned: Use correct sized caps.
     
  20. Jimster

    Jimster Member

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    I still have it but it's too wiggly to shoot Image-1.jpg
     
  21. Crawdad1

    Crawdad1 Member

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    Here's an interesting video. He used the proper caliber ball in all his shooting. Watch his second or third shot he has a chain fire.

     
  22. TheSquire

    TheSquire Member

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    It wasn't a chain fire but I had a double discharge on a ASM Colt Walker, when an incorrectly screwed in nipple hit the recoil shield setting off the next round. Damn near s#@$ myself!
    I have had a couple of issues with it since then and have let it go. I lost faith in it and at the end of the day it was just to damned heavy for me.
     
  23. superc_1

    superc_1 Member

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    A few years before the Civil War Colt had managed to convince the Army to purchase a bunch of early percussion revolver rifles. Some issuance took place. Almost immediately injury reports, some serious began coming back from the field and the order of purchase was quickly cancelled. The rifles had a forearm stock and when the guns chainfired the bullet coming out the left side of the cylinder had a nasty habit of irrevocably destroying the wrist or forearm of the trooper firing the weapon. For some strange reason this made the gun unpopular with those witnessing or hearing about such an incident. The blame was placed on several mechanical issues. The first of course was occasional undersize projectiles. The second was a finding that sometimes with extended use without prompt cleaning unexpectedly sizeable amounts of very tiny unburnt gun powder granules slowly built up inside the nooks and crannies of the gun and it's cylinder. Under some conditions the spark of a primer or a chamber's charge being fired was sufficient to ignite those powder grains not actually inside the cylinder chamber. Some guns were wrecked in confirming this. All of the purchased weapons were then returned to Colt and the US Army remained focused on single shot weapons.
     
  24. BSA1

    BSA1 member

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    I have always wanted a true copy of a Pepperbox revolver ever since reading Roughing It by Mark Twain.

    “George Bemis was our fellow-traveler. We had never seen him before. He wore in his belt an old original "Allen" revolver, such as irreverent people called a "pepper-box." Simply drawing the trigger back, cocked and fired the pistol. As the trigger came back, the hammer would begin to rise and the barrel to turn over, and presently down would drop the hammer, and away would speed the ball. To aim along the turning barrel and hit the thing aimed at was a feat which was probably never done with an "Allen" in the world. But George's was a reliable weapon, nevertheless, because, as one of the stage-drivers afterward said, "If she didn't get what she went after, she would fetch something else." And so she did. She went after a deuce of spades nailed against a tree, once, and fetched a mule standing about thirty yards to the left of it. Bemis did not want the mule; but the owner came out with a double-barreled shotgun and persuaded him to buy it, anyhow. It was a cheerful weapon—the "Allen." Sometimes all its six barrels would go off at once, and then there was no safe place in all the region round about, but behind it.”
     
  25. robhof

    robhof Member

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    I shot B/p revolvers as a teen, never had a chain fire, probably did everything possible wrong, shot modern rifle/pistols for over 20 yrs courtesy of the USAF, retired and went back to the holy black, more safety minded than as a teen and after some 10 yrs had a chain fire... was due to cap falling off, probably due to recoil, I was using moderate charges and conicals, only know it was from the cap side because I found the unfired cap on the bench I was shooting over. I was using a ROA 36gr load with the Lee ROA conicals. Caps were #11's and snug fit, but as I said cap was off of #2 chamber that fired and cap found on bench. Tried cap alone and snugged on fine and fired. Only had lead smudge on screw head of cylinder pin retaining screw!
     
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