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Discussion Starter #61
Point well taken.

Even in modern brass a full case of BP and a 255gr lead bullet is likely as much as most folks what to shoot in a 7.5" Colt. That is a stout load and no question hard on the the gun...any gun. Full cases of BP and the heavier bullets in a 44-40 are right up there as well.

Lots of options today to tone that down and make it some what easier on the gun. 45 Schofield cases or even the 45 acp size case, the "Cowboy 45 Special" for the 45s. And/or lighter bullets in what ever case you choose.

Not a lot of options to lower the stress on the guns in the 44-40, 38-40, .41 or 32-20 but lighter than the original bullet weights. But at least you have lighter bullets than the 45 to start with, thicker cylinder walls and the option of a lighter weight bullet in most of them than the original factory loads.

Interesting. Early on prior to the 44 magnum, that Elmer Keith always said if he couldn't hand load, his choice of handgun cartridges would be a BP 45 Colt.
 

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I have 3 BP SAAs that I shoot all the time with smokeless. However, all were converted to .22 RF (I got them that way).
 

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Probably the best thing to call this is a "gray area". Conventional wisdom for years was cross-pin retained base pin = safe for smokeless. Now, a large group of people say don't use smokeless before guns made in 1912, ammo manufacturer says 1920. There is plenty evidence of blown SAA frames over the years, but I suspect a large number are due to timing issues (namely the bolt spring breaking but leaving the trigger return spring side intact). If it's your gun and you take the risks, you get to shoot what you want in it. I would probably be extremely safe shooting a 32-20 smokeless load in my 1905 (as long as I didn't get one of those "high speed loads" offered with a BIG warning to not use in SAA) because of the thickness of everything. If it was a 45 Colt I would probably use a light load of Trail Boss with a 200 grain bullet - the pressures are quite reasonable and the recoil is light - a pleasure to shoot. But I would literally take every spring out and replace with new ones and put the old ones in a bag with the serial number on it.
 

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My Marlin ‘93 in .32-40 has a barrel marked “For Black Powder,” but it is a later smokeless era gun. As I understand, it is a Grade B gun. These were produced from 1905 to 1917. People were still shooting black powder cartridges well past 1900 and the Grade B was cheaper and it allowed Marlin to use up parts. I suspect that Colt used up black powder parts during this same period. In my opinion, just because a gun has a smokeless proof, it doesn’t mean there were no black powder parts, it just did not fail the proof test. I do not how you would know by looking at a transitional SAA frame what metal was used in it.
8622B146-58BD-4D2A-993D-A7A6B686A643.jpeg
 
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Discussion Starter #65
The question for me is, "was there a smokeless proof load tested at Colt during these time frames or just a workman's stamp saying the gun was "proofed". I suspect the later.

 

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You know Cozmo, this discussion brings to mind my first SAA; 1881, 5 1/2 inch 44-40 nickel. While I was in the Army, 1961-63, I changed the caliber to 45ACP so I could shoot free ammo from Post AMU. Pretty sure I bought the barrel and cylinder from Hy Hunter. Anyway the cylinder blew out one of the cylinder stops. I sent the cylinder back and they quickly replaced it with one that lasted many years and no telling how many rounds of that 45 Hardball. I know I shot it enough to get pretty good at killing armadillos. I kept that old barrel and cylinder for 30 years but the gun was stolen so I never did get to change it back. Use mostly black now and 44-40 is my favorite caliber. I've no idea how much stress all that Hardball put on that old cast iron frame but it had to be a lot.
 

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Modern ammo and shootability of old guns is a really interesting topic of discussion depending especially on the firearm in question.

Unquestionably to me--Colt SAAs prior to 1910 or so should be handled extremely careful regarding ammunition used in them. As Mr. Martin and I have discussed a few times the danger of damage to one of my 2 family pre 1890 colts is just too great when BP loads are easily obtainable and a Colt SAA is quite easy to clean black powder from...compared to say an old 1873.... This is even more so if some poor soul happened to put some of the high velocity 1892 loadings into an old BP SAA.

When it comes to old Winchesters there is more debate--1892s are considered fine across the board for what modern 44wcf, 38wcf, and 32wcf is loaded at. Old/early 73s and 76s are a different story. People debate them up and down the internet on if they are safe to shoot modern ammo in. I limit myself to BP on my early 73, but shoot my 92 way more often anyway.

Classic Shotguns-AKA Damascus barreled American Side x Sides--These are a bit of a different story and where things get quite interesting. Along about the 1920s....probably earlier warnings began appearing on shotgun shell boxes about not using in damascus barrels and has been printed ever since. While there were some poor quality imported shotguns from belgium and such that had poor barrels, most american shotguns with damascus barrels were perfectly capable of handling smokeless shells. In fact Parker Bros had been proofing their damascus barrels with smokeless since 1894. Modern trials have shown "wallhanger" condition damascus barrels don't fail until 32000 psi loads are reached. Now the wood in the stock will fail long before that due to age but I digress. So why the sudden anti damascus barrels trend and warning? If you read the Elder Charles Askins writtings on shotguns in the early 20th century he spends an awful lot of time talking about how people were refusing to trust the "new" fluid steel barrels compared to their old dependable damascus barrels. This is a product not only of the familiarity but also marketing. A good bit of what you paid for when you bought a higher grade shotgun from Parker Bros, Fox, Lafever, LC Smith, or even Remington was "stronger barrels" with a nicer pattern of damascus. There was nothing to fluid steel barrels to show any increased value or strength from one grade to the next. So the ammo companies started putting the damascus barrel warnings on the ammo as damascus became more expensive and harder to produce versus cheaper fluid steel. By WW 1, damascus had all but disappeared from the American market as importation of barrels from Europe was ended. So to get people to buy these new fangled fluid steel shotguns and stop using their perfectly good damascus guns and buy new ones, the damascus barrel warning was born.

 

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Thanks Rooster. I appreciate the time offered and your guns.

One of Rooster's heavily modified early SAA Colts rebuilt as a much stronger flat top with a new barrel and a rechambered Colt 357 magnum cylinder among other mods. Nice gun.

"The flat-top rendition I had done in relation to Keiths #5 & his Roosevelt Colt though, that was done on an 1897 SAA, one year newer than what the #5 was, but has-not had any heat treat done like I just finished explaining whatsoever. The thickened, heavy flat-top welded up like the #5 & Roosevelt Colts were is where the strength comes from on it. The barrel too, started as a bran new (very current manufacture) pac-nor blank, and the cylinder as an unused, new old stock 2nd Gen 357 cylinder reamed instead to 41 special. The advantage I feel this one has (besides the top strap) is in the base pin, by being a modern tool steel material that uses a lock up inside the bottom circumference of the barrel"

View attachment 709071


Been an interesting discussion to date.

I got curious as to what some of those I have quoted prior had any reason to rethink the VP proof marked guns or the 192000 number as the "golden rule".

This from noted author John Taffin today via email. Short and succinct.

"The "experts" can't seem to agree just when smokeless really began with SAAs so it is probably better to err on the side of caution with a valuable old sixgun."

I'll add, YMMV :)

.
Is that frame topstrap the same as a New Frontier frame in thickness?
 

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I haven't got a New Frontier to measure against, but if someone else here has, and can measure theirs for me I'd gladly say.
Rooster, My New Frontier 3rd Gen (I think) mic at .260 in. on top strap Between the forcing cone and beginning of the rear sight base.
 

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Rooster, My New Frontier 3rd Gen (I think) mic at .260 in. on top strap Between the forcing cone and beginning of the rear sight base.
I have some variance on this one as it was done by hand, welded, the way of old... goes .220-.225

Bit thinner than the New Frontiers were done looks like, mind you without a cutout for the rear sight as far ahead as the NF goes, above the frame window ... so could be very comparable strength-wise regardless. I have always liked the New Frontiers, I'll own one in 44 special someday. I've never yet come across one anyplace but cross-border though, and ordering new is obviously impossible. Shame really.
 

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Just got the book (the 36 calibers of the colt single action-1965). In there is a paragraph besides the 1895 date. “Colt changed the steel in the colt actions so grey powder can be used. Colt SAA revolvers made before 1895 are referred to black powder models. Those made after 1895 are referred to gray powder models.”
 

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Discussion Starter #74
Seemingly few of the know authorities today can agree on what changed and when with Colt. The most optimistic pretty much agree that 1900 (Keith Cochran and Kopec as examples saying that) in print as the first known Colt proofing for smokeless. Not sure we know much more on what Colt did between 1890 and 1912, even now.

The 36 calibers of the Colt single action army, Hardcover – January 1, 1965
by David M Brown


Your guns....best to be aware.
 

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ok, Now Im wondering what in the hell I should be shooting out of my gun! LOL!!I have a SAA in 45lc made in 1910, which I know we have shot smokeless out of, but i really need a new cylinder as this one is just worn out and sloppy. all new internals as it was always a shooter, but here is the problem... What if the broken springs and worn cylinder are from smokeless powder use instead of BP?
When i got the gun back in the late 80's early 90's from my dad I shot it with modern- 1970's to 1980's ammo as we had a stock pile i was shooting up. The cylinder got sloppy after a year and of course the hammer second step wore out, so I stopped shooting it. I replaced all internals springs and trigger but in the process noticed some odd bluing when taking it apart as this was a nickle finish gun so i was confused. I wanted to clean all surface rust from the years before putting in a new cylinder so I began to clean it and low and behold discovered someone had refinished the gun.

Here is the tricky part I wanted to remove the new nickel and see what was under, which was bluing and nickel..I researched and It came as a nickle finish gun from factory , someone blued over it, or at least some of it as all the numbers match, and then someone put nickle over that I guess. To say the least It turned into a mess as now I was removing 2 finishes it seemed and it was a nightmare, the barrel had always been canted to the left to adjust for windage, I would hope that was why, and the ejector tube would never really get tight. Screw was a nightmare to remove and part of the screw housing was broke and came off with it when it finally came off so now I would have to fix that someday- someday never happened yet. I wish I had known about the wonders of vinegar back then but alas the internet was not really helpful back then and I was hand scrubbing and, don't scream, using sand paper and such to remove ever so slightly- I thought - layers of bad. I can not see any prove mark on it and until I started removing things could not even see the single line on top of the barrel. It has never been pretty since to many people but I loved the gun and wanted to be able to shoot it again one day so stopped mucking about with it. I still have the bad cylinder in it and have only shot wax and ear plugs out of it and no real loads and always used it as a thumb trainer and indoor shooter- earplugs at 10 paces- but now I want to shoot it again and have it be my every day carry on the ranch alongside my 22 but I have reservations now as to why this gun may have had so many issues all the time, springs breaking and the cylinder getting so worn, and maybe it was from smokeless, or maybe it was just from so much use. It has lasted this long shooing smokeless but now I have to decide if I get a smokeless cylinder or BP cylinder. I already have a first gen BP 45 that I just do not want to start loading but if this is a BP 45 maybe I will start loading BP shells for them
Some great info in this thread for sure and I'm glad I joined the group and hope to gain even more knowledge from here. My dad was the colt guy but I love my ruger and uberti replicas better as they do not seem to break springs as often! All my colts have broken hammers and many springs through out the years - second gen and third gen- and just did not stand up to cowboy action shooting as well but since I no longer do cowboy action I wanted to start shooting my old colts again.
JW
 

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Discussion Starter #76
JW, makes one wonder doesn't it. Jim Marin here is the 1st Gen gunsmith guru. If you wanted to shoot that 1910 gun again I would recommend you send off to him to have it rebuilt and a new cylinder put into the gun. He has all the parts a gun can use and the skill to put it back together right.

A phone call to Jim might well be worth your time.

928 757 2318
 

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"SOME frames with the crosspin can be fired with smokeless rounds, these having been produced 1905 or after, or perhaps 1912, as suggested in this thread."

We are back where we started. What happened in 1905, or 1912, that made SAAs stronger and capable of shooting smokeless powder. What new verifiable information has recently come forward to support these 2 dates and contradict the statements of experts in the field who published different information in the past? If it is said that previous experts were wrong, and Colt period advertising and the VP application on rebuilt guns (by the manufacturer) was wrong, we need documentable proof. I am willing to learn, but want to see some source information.

"The "experts" can't seem to agree just when smokeless really began with SAAs so it is probably better to err on the side of caution with a valuable old sixgun."

That statement by Taffin is very vague and does not add any opinion on the proper date for the use of smokeless powder. Erring on the side of caution is good advice for all aspects of life, but his statement really does not add anything to this conversation from a research standpoint. Taffin made it more clear when wrote-

"The company did not guarantee their revolvers for use with smokeless powder cartridges in catalogs and other forms of advertising until 1898. A notation in Colts’ shipping record specifically states that Single Actions serial numbered between #175,000 and #180,000 are NOT guaranteed for smokeless powder use." (A Study Of The Colt Single Action Army Revolver, by Graham, Kopec, and Moore, 1976).
We could conclude from this the #180,000 of 1898 began the smokeless powder sixguns."
The thing to note is they were not GUUARANTEED, it didn't say not to shoot them with gray or smokless powder. There was no warning about shooting as found on certain military rifles of the time. As today, the factory had no way to guarantee a handloader wouldn't over charge a case with smokless powder. It's pretty obvious that millions of rounds of smokless were shot through both black powder frame and smokless frame guns. Smokless powders of the time were designed to be equivalent to black powder loads.

JP
 

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"1902 or 1912?"

The question of, "What kind of ammo should I shoot in my old Colt?" gets asked repeatedly on the Colt forum. This thread is intended as public service announcement to save those old guns for future generations, nothing more.

Read on if you have ever needed to ask the question.

"Find a Colt SAA built after 1902 with a VP proof mark if you want to
shoot smokeless. No VP and more importantly built prior to 1902 shoot BP." Build date is a lot more important than the VP if you have a questions on what ammo is appropriate.

During the first half of the 1900s Colt often rebuilt very early
guns (as early as 1874 production dates) with smokeless parts (in both 38 Special and 45 Colt) that were then proof marked during the factory rebuilds. It would seem obvious, now 50 plus years later, that the early cross pin latch frames and single screw, or even earlier base pin retainer guns, shouldn't have been proof marked for smokeless powder when rebuild. Original condition guns prior to 1902 even with a VP for smokeless are best shot with BP. Those Colts made after 1902 that also sport the VP should be fine with shooting smokeless powder."

The caveat is, "Just use some common sense as to condition and age."

More to the point:

May 19, 2016 the Colt Forum by Old Colts
"Seemingly the only Reference book that gets it right is A Study. Ron
Graham suggests 1905 and any earlier single actions with the VP proof
either went back for rework after 1905 and was stamped during rework or
wasn't shipped until late 1905 or after. I've been tracking this and I've
maintained a database of serial numbers of single actions from 1902
through 1906 that I've examined and from my database I've narrowed it down to somewhere between serial number 268097 (no VP stamp) and 269201 (has VP stamp). All serial numbers in my database from 268097 and lower didn't have a VP except for three and they had Colt rework ampersands. All serial numbers in my database from 269201 and higher all had the VP stamp. I keep trying to narrow it down."

Old-Colts, a Colt Forum Member


Comments below by the master SAA gun smith, Jim Martin sez, 8/19/2020

"I found this (the info posted above) to be as accurate as anything I've seen posted lately, but to add a little more to it Colt did continue improving on the metallurgy until around 1912. Another bit of trivia about shooting blk pwdr ammo it was still being sold in hardware stores & general stores well into the early 50's because there were a lot of turn of the century colt's still in use on farms & ranches owned by people that knew that was what was supposed to be used in these guns. When WW 2 started all the ammo makers stopped making ammo for the 44/40's, 38/40's etc. because of war production. After the war the only ammo available was .45 & .38 which is what prompted a lot of the owners to have them converted by Colt & Christy but what they didn't take into consideration was the wear on the rest of the gun in some cases, nobody knew how much stress they had been thru over the many years that it had been used as a tool & that resulted in sometimes other damage occurring, wear on the base pin hole in the frame for instance could cause a slight bit of bbl cyl mis-alinement which could cause a pressure spike, there are so many unknown facts about the old guns that could cause pressure spikes that it's not worth the risk to use smokeless. There's an old cowboy saying that was used a lot & should be used here about blk pwdr vs. smokeless, it describes what "horse sense" is.

It's GOOD STABLE thinking."

Jim Martin Colt forum Member 8/19/2020
View attachment 708822
I read articles on older colts that stated that in 1901 they began designing for smokeless. They stated that serial numbers after 175,500 were redesigned to handle the new smokeless cartridges but anything prior to that weren’t.
‘My serial number is 206934 making it well after the 175,500 for BP only use. Have you read anything similar?
 

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So, I always went by the cross pin vs. screw standard, doesn’t make it right. Shot a few boxes of 50 smokeless from Gibson’s through 1890’s manufactured SAA’s back in the day with no I’ll effects. I note a lot of people today want the “black powder frame” when buying 3rd generation SAA’s which I assume they’re going to run hard with smokeless powder. Would I be correct in assuming the only issue is metallurgy between smokeless proofed guns and black powder guns ?

If so, I’m thinking testing frames for Rockwell hardness for certain individual guns might, maybe frame and top strap, might enable one to say, “this one’s OK for smokeless”. Reason I’m asking is a local pawn shop has a matching numbers nickel or nice re-nickeled frontier six shooter made around 1893 with, I think, a VP on the trigger guard and now I’m curious. Well, that and my mind works in screwball ways. I’ll go look at it again today.
 
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